What do Bosnia, Bulgaria and Brazil have in common?

by Jerome Roos on June 15, 2013

Post image for What do Bosnia, Bulgaria and Brazil have in common?

Once again, it’s kicking off everywhere: from Turkey to Bosnia, Bulgaria and Brazil, the endless struggle for real democracy resonates around the globe.

What do a park in Istanbul, a baby in Sarajevo, a security chief in Sofia, a TV station in Athens and bus tickets in Sao Paulo have in common? However random the sequence may seem at first, a common theme runs through and connects all of them. Each reveals, in its own particular way, the deepening crisis of representative democracy at the heart of the modern nation state. And each has, as a result, given rise to popular protests that have in turn sparked nationwide demonstrations, occupations and confrontations between the people and the state.

In Turkey, protesters have been taking to the streets and clashing with riot police for over two weeks in response to government attempts to tear down the trees and resurrect an old Ottoman-era barracks at the location of Istanbul’s beloved Gezi Park. But, as I indicated in a lengthy analysis of the protests, the violent police crackdown on #OccupyGezi was just the spark that lit the prairie, allowing a wide range of grievances to tumble in, ultimately exposing the crisis of representation at the heart of Erdogan’s authoritarian neoliberal government.

Now, protests over similar seemingly “trivial” local grievances are sparking mass demonstrations elsewhere. In Brazil, small-scale protests against a hike in transportation fees in Sao Paulo revealed the extreme brutality of the police force, which violently assaulted protesters — even pepper spraying a camera man, shooting a photographer in the eye with a rubber bullet, and arresting those carrying vinegar to protect themselves from the tear gas. After four nights of violent repression this week, the protests now appear to be gaining momentum.

Fed up with increasing inflation, crumbling infrastructure and stubbornly high inequality and crime rates, many Brazilians are simply outraged that the government is willing to invest billions into pharaonic projects that do not only ignore the people’s plight but actively undermine it. The militarization and bulldozing of the poor favelas and indigenous villages ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics are a case in point. As usual, the ruling Workers’ Party seems more concerned about pleasing capital than helping workers.

Meanwhile, in Sarajevo, the inability of a family to obtain travel ID for their sick baby — who needs urgent medical attention that she cannot receive in Bosnia-Herzegovina — exposed the fundamental flaws at the heart of the nominally democratic post-Yugoslavian state. On June 5, while the government was busy negotiating with foreign bankers to attract new investment, thousands of people occupied parliament square, temporarily locking the nation’s politicians up inside and forcing the prime minister to escape through a window.

While competing ethnic factions vie for political power, the Bosnian people continue to suffer. By playing the race and religion cards, Bosnian politicians hope to keep the people divided while retaining the financial spoils of foreign investment and World Bank and EU development loans for themselves. But in a sign that most ethnic divisions are politically rather than socially constructed, the Occupy Sarajevo protesters now have a simple message for their politicians: “you are all disgusting, no matter what ethnicity you belong to.”

On Friday, Bulgaria joined the budding wave of struggles that began in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 and that was recently revived through the Turkish uprising. After the appointment of media (and mafia) mogul Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security, tens of thousands took to the streets of Sofia and other cities throughout the country to protest his appointment, which was approved by parliament without any debate and with a mere 15 minutes between his nomination and his (pre-guaranteed) election.

Chanting “Mafia” and calling upon Peevski to resign, the Bulgarians are warning their politicians that a limit has been reached. Ever since the transition from state communism to democratic capitalism empowered a tiny minority of oligarchs to enrich themselves by feeding off the state’s public possessions, Bulgaria has been effectively ruled by a Mafia kleptocracy. As in any capitalist state, political and business elites have become one, undermining the promise of democracy the Bulgarians were made at the so-called End of History.

Greece, in the meantime, finally appears to have been waken up from its austerity-induced slumber. Following the decision of the Troika’s neoliberal handmaiden, Antonis Samaras, to shut down the state’s public broadcaster ERT overnight and to fire its 2,700 workers without any warning whatsoever, the workers of ERT simply occupied the TV and radio stations and continued to emit their programs through livestreaming, making ERT the first worker-run public broadercaster in Europe. ERT workers have since been joined by tens of thousands of protesters and workers, who on Thursday held a nationwide general strike to protest the ERT’s closure.

At first sight, it may seem like these protests are all simply responses to local grievances and should be read as such. But while each context has its own specificities that must be taken into account, it would be naive to discard the common themes uniting them. As my friend, colleague and fellow ROAR contributor Leonidas Oikonomakis just pointed out in a new opinion piece, the Turkish uprising may have started over a couple of trees, but we shouldn’t let that blind us to the forest: the obvious structural dimension at play in this new wave of struggles.

If we take a closer look at each of the protests, we find that they are not so local after all. In fact, each of them in one way or another deals with the increasing encroachment of financial interests and business power on traditional democratic processes, and the profound crisis of representation that this has wrought. Furthermore, the protests show a dawning awareness that the divide-and-rule practices of the ruling class everywhere — pitching the religious against the secular, Bosnians against Serbs, blacks against indigenous against whites, poor against slightly-less-poor, and ‘natives’ against immigrants — are just part of a strategy to keep us from realizing our own power.

In a word, what we are witnessing is what Leonidas Oikonomakis and I have called the resonance of resistance: social struggles in one place in the world transcending their local boundaries and inspiring protesters elsewhere to take matters into their own hands and defy their governments in order to bring about genuine freedom, social justice and real democracy. The resonance of these struggles across national, ethnic and religious boundaries tells us that three decades of neoliberal peace since the End of History were not really “peace” at all; they were merely the temporary victory of other side in a hidden global class war.

Now that has come to an end. A new Left has risen, inspired by a fresh autonomous spirit that has long since cleansed itself of the stale ideological legacies and collective self-delusions that animated the political conflicts of the Cold War and beyond. One chant of the protesters in Sao Paulo revealed it all: “Peace is over, Turkey is here!” And so are Bulgaria, Bosnia and Greece — as well as Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Chile, Mexico, Québec and every other place in the world where the people have risen up in the global struggle for real democracy.

The ominous bottom-line for those in power is simple: we are everywhere. And this global occupation thing? It’s only just getting started.


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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Belinda June 15, 2013 at 19:16

glad Chile is mentioned too!


angel June 16, 2013 at 22:03

Chile is great!!!!! es un pueblo que lucha, un orgullo y una inspiracion para nosotros brasileños!!!


Lara June 16, 2013 at 11:17

Hello. I’m from Brazil and I’d like to translate this article to Brazilian portuguese and post on my blog. I’ll obviously post the credits. Can I do this? Our people need to read about what’s going on around the globe. Thank you.


Jerome Roos June 17, 2013 at 14:29

Thanks for your interest and please feel free, all original content on ROAR is published under CopyLeft license!


SocietysChild June 16, 2013 at 13:34

Beautiful essay, my friend, pulling the relevant traits from separate events & showing their significance in what i too see as one of the most prescient global movements… (if you amend ‘fraction’ to ‘faction’ i’ll let the other typos go ;) ) I’d go a step further to add that each of these rebellions proves the masses – the majority – can & do unite against the evil (controlling/ governing/ greedy/ polluting/ selfish) few, & that true democracy (even world peace) is & has always has been possible once the enemies’ identities are exposed. These revelations could not be more timely, with Nature’s resources (sustainer of all life on Earth, on which we are dependent) in a crisis of unsustainability & governments pandering to polluters rather than doing their jobs as public servants & protecting their people’s (& Earth’s) best interests. The main goal for all of us ‘Earth-dwellers’ must be sustainability – i.e. leaving our kids the priceless legacy of systems that regenerate supply/demand indefinitely, otherwise known as ‘A Future’. The key challenge is to get governments on board with this, away from corruption, or bypass them completely to get the job done. NASA has warned there is little time left to turn things around, stop deforestation & rising greenhouse gasses & save our planet, so the margin of error is minimal. The good sign is, people all over the world are uniting in solidarity against corruption… Tks for the inspiration!


warren swil June 20, 2013 at 13:55

You are SO right. Did you catch the BBC last night make the same connection?
I am writing a blog post on it RIGHT NOW. can you email me for additional comment? Please? or call me on skype – warren.swil is user ID (DOT in middle)


asd June 16, 2013 at 13:42

the problem is not democracy the problem is capitalism and monopoly….


trueillusion June 18, 2013 at 17:12

How come capitalism AND monopoly are the problem, when it’s exactly through STATE PROTECTION of big business that they are able to become and stay monopolies? Monopolies are a problem indeed but if you are to investigate what is their actual cause – it has nothing to do with capitalism in and of itself and everything to do with state CONTROLLED capitalism. If the state didn’t intervene at all in the markets, not protecting big business (corporations) from competition through criminal legislature, these monstrous monopolies wouldn’t be able to become monopolies at the first place or even would go bankrupt after a short period of time (when left unprotected to compete with better producers of goods and services)


Jerome Roos June 18, 2013 at 17:45

Nonsense. Everyone knows that market liberalization leads to market concentration, even mainstream economics recognizes this, and calls it a ‘negative externality’. In fact, even the most laissez-faire economic ideologues like Friedman agreed that for the market to function properly the state needs to intervene by preventing monopolies from forming, which is a logical outgrowth of competitive markets (after all survival-of-the-fittest gradually reduces the amount of competitors in the market and concentrates assets within the hands of the biggest and most powerful companies). Just look at Microsoft, Google or the big Wall Street banks prior to the crash of 2008. No sane person would have argued that these monopolies and oligopolies formed as a result of excessive government interference; it’s precisely the opposite.


rob June 16, 2013 at 15:43

The real problem is society doesn’t give a sh*t if it is not directly affecting them.

What they fail to realize is….. WHEN it’s on their door step, no else will give a shit, it’s a global “Fu*k you Jack, I’m ok” attitude.

Hyenas have better ethics than so-called humanity today…


i don't like bad people December 29, 2013 at 17:25

True. And the US must be the maximum expression of that. If not, how would they send thousands of their own to fight a bullsh*t-let’s-pretend-we’re-fighiting-for-democracy-but-we-really-want-the-the-oil war far away accross the globe? If bombs were falling on their own children, my guess is that they would rethink all the war culture. The same goes for countries that sell weaponry – again, like the US, but also like Sweden, for instance – they live very well, are very eco-responsible and all that sh*t but a big part of their economy is based on killing people. Do they care? Not really. And so on and so on. Damn…


Lua June 16, 2013 at 16:31

I gree with it all!! Congrats for the post!


Michael Kenny June 16, 2013 at 18:00

There are certain ressemblances with 1968 and, being old enough to remember that fateful year, I think that’s all for the best. The protests in 1968 didn’t produce the “revolution” that some of the pipedreamers hoped for, but they did change the face of the world. The anti-Vietnam war protests destroyed the image of the US as the “city on the hill” and the repression of the Prague Spring destroyed all hope that something good could come of communism. My generation, born shortly after WWII, saw in JFK and Alexander Dubcek a hope that both American liberalism and communism would both evolve into democratic socialism. With Kennedy dead and Dubcek a gardener, we realised that we were going to have to look elsewhere for our democratic socialism and destroy the two monsters in order to do so. Communism is dead and the American superpower is slowly but surely collpasing, so 1968 actually ahieved more than some people think. Thus, that young people should want to carry on the process of widening and deepening deomcracy is both unsurprising and highly desirable. As I’ve said before, it’s a great pity Mr Roos doesn’t get an article from Daniel Cohen -Bendit MEP on all this. In 1968, Danny the Red was a leader of the protests in Paris and in 2013, Danny the Green is a Member of the European Parliament. It would be interesting to hear why he followed thr road he did.


dave fryett July 6, 2013 at 04:36

Michael, I too am old enough to remember 1968 (altho I was quite young), and I don’t know anybody now, nor remember anybody then, who sees it as you do. For whom did 1968 the image of America as the city on the hill? Those doing the protesting understood that image as the rank, delusional, bourgeois propaganda it was and is, and those opposing the protests clung to this kind of American exceptionalist ideology.

Sixty-eight destroyed the hope that something good might come of communism? Bolshevism is only one tendency which claims the word communism, and even for it ’68 wasn’t a death knell (tragically). As for libertarian communism, ’68 was a great leap forward. Much good libertarian theorizing came from the study of the events of that year (think Richard Gombin, Castiorides, Maurice Brinton, Socialism or Barbarism Collective etc).

Who, other than yourself, saw in K. and D. the hope that liberalism and communism would lead to democratic socialism. One name please. Anybody thinking K’s conciliatory approach with the USSR (commendable tho it was) would lead to socialism was/is out of his mind. But it is a mot point as nobody, with the possible exception of you, has ever said anything like this. you might think so, but to say yr generation as a group was seeing it that way is simply nonsense.

No anarchist I know takes Cohn-Bendit seriously. He may or may not have been a serious revolutionary in his youth (opinion is boisterously divided on this point), even up to and beyond ’68, but it is clear that he sold out and is now a tool of European capital. I say he always was, but in either case his memoir of 1968 is perhaps the worst thing ever written on the topic and why he has chosen the path he has is of no interest to any real revolutionary. He is a reactionary dead end.

Since we are on the topic, here’s something worth reading:


Bruna June 16, 2013 at 22:32

Great article! One of the best I’ve read so far. I do hope this is democracy showing its shout.


kingfelix June 17, 2013 at 17:41


Greetings from Taiwan.

This is more of a thank you, and I wanted to make a small point. At a time when higher education is becoming more and more expensive in Europe, and social mobility is grinding to a halt, I see you and your comrades at Roar as part of a beautiful project, that seeks to both engage in principled intellectual inquiry and, crucially, to share its fruits as widely as possible, working towards the end of a fully inclusive democratic society.

This is a noble enterprise, as we live in an age when so much knowledge and expertise is applied, often behind the scenes, and has as its aim the crippling of the ability of others to think clearly, to deprive them of the necessary facts, to deceive them into supporting wars of aggression, etc. We see it with the latest revelations regarding NSA surveillance, where the fruits of high technology are used not to liberate, but to oppress; a conscious choice taken by small groups of people who have come to such a low estimation of the public’s capacity to be fully human.

I have had a measure of optimism restored to my outlook through engaging with the material on your site, and have also recommended it to many friends, as being a venue where the reporting on offer far outstrips that offered through the mainstream channels.

Thank you so much.


Jerome Roos June 17, 2013 at 17:44

Thank you for these beautiful words, it’s comments like these that keep us going! Thank you, it means a lot. If there’s ever anything we can do to help you or to cover a topic of your interest, please do not hesitate to write to us at editor[at]roarmag[dot]org.

All the best!



john q. adams June 17, 2013 at 17:59

Makes me wonder when americans will finally start to demand real democracy as opposed to the current plutocracy with a strong theocratic leaning.


Anon Nymous June 17, 2013 at 19:37


….oh wait we don’t have one here in THE USA…. ppl in Turkey are starting shit over a F@#$ING park, meanwhile we’re sitting here letting the government stick their noses in our wallets and our personal communication logs without so much as a complaint…


Vogter June 17, 2013 at 20:43

Very good essay. Ive seen what you see. I just hope it will also reach Denmark. The current gvt here and the one before.. have been screwing us over since 2001 with the neolibertarian capilatist ass licking politicies.


Лазар Стайков June 18, 2013 at 00:30

The protests in Bulgaria started a while ago and are anything but resonance of the enlisted events arround the world. Simply the people of Bulgaria are recovering up from the shock imposed by the noe-cons in the early 90ies. As Naomi Klein observed elsewhere (including Brasil, Chile etc.) the recovery from the shock starts in about 20-25 years after the implementation of the disastrous doctrine.


Slaven June 18, 2013 at 18:30

You must be joking. Where real neo-cons shocked (e.g. Poland), the countries are already up. Poland survived the crisis much better than more developed countries. If you said what you just said on this website right now in front of the protesters at the national assembly people will be shocked.


turan tanrıverdi June 18, 2013 at 17:08

Hello everyone. From Turkey with love :)


Slaven June 18, 2013 at 18:29

Nice article to show people around the world is fighting for basic democratic rights. I would strongly advise you to rethink that sentence “As in any capitalist state, political and business elites have become one”, since most people in Bulgaria want a more capitalist and market driven country, with less of the former socialist elite that pretty much privatised the state’s asset during the 90s. Even in its current state, it is so much better than during communism.

People in this prostest mostly want to be able to run a business without crony oligarchs to be able to seize it, want to have transparent media and government deals, which are in most ways capitalist goods. Leave the strong state to socialists (who the protests are directed at) and crooks even further towards the left.


pepino June 19, 2013 at 02:47

Greetings to all from Bulgaria. Power to the people!


dani June 19, 2013 at 07:18

I’m from Bosnia,and realy hate whats happening there,i dont like our goverment. but please dont talk about demokracy,and something you dont know, big,strong “democratic”countries make this shit which heppening in whole world. maybe they have some spare bombs to trow on some of these countries,like they used to do. its better to clean they own shit,ask the african american in usa about demokracy,200 years of american demokracy like everybody forget that till 70th african americans were sitting in back of the bus,bullshit… we were gr8 ,befofe you try to FIX something…


Jerome Roos June 19, 2013 at 15:36

We are all in the struggle for real democracy together! The US is not a democracy and the EU isn’t either. By talking about “real democracy” we are not lecturing our brothers and sisters abroad about what democracy means, but we are expressing solidarity with people *everywhere* who have chosen to rise up and struggle for a life in which they themselves have a say over their own future. And that includes those who struggle against the greatest imperial monsters of all!


Penko Penkov June 19, 2013 at 11:09

Hi, from Bulgaria! Nice article!
Congrats, and thank you for your position. This article is read by many remonstrants here for the last few days.
If you like to know what happens these days in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas and many other Bulgarian cities, use this #tag in facebook:


Frankie June 26, 2013 at 03:12

you also forgot to mention a linkage with Otpor, and Gene Sharp’s “tactics for non-violent warfare”, and also the role of US National Endowment for Democracy that is largely funding all the key organisers of these protests through various “grants”.
this is not to say that people’s intentions are insincere, on the contrary people are sick and tired of injustice world-wide, but this has often been exploited by those wolves in sheeps clothing.


Jerome Roos June 26, 2013 at 18:21

Hi Frankie, thanks for your comment. I didn’t “forget” to mention it, though. I deliberately do not mention things that I consider to be nonsense. If you have any evidence to back up your claims I would be happy to engage in a conversation on this though.


msl January 1, 2014 at 19:38

Bulgaria is totally controlled by organized crime
the only difference between governments since 1945 is which small group of mobsters will get the total control


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