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Protesting with the Police on Your Side

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It seems the world is out on the street, protesting for change. From Taksim Square in Istanbul, through the streets of Athens and Rio to the catastrophe in Syria one theme stands out: protesters clashing with aggressive and often brutal police and government forces.

The exception to the rule turns out to be a little corner of Europe, a tiny and often forgotten part of the world facing its own large scale social unrest. Since the 14 June Bulgaria has been out on the streets. Every day since, tens of thousands of protesters have been filling the streets of the capital Sofia along with numerous other cities.

Photo by Simon Varsano

(Photo by Simon Varsano. Article edited with the help of Steve Keil)

The protests are a reaction to decisions of the newly elected government which, as one of its first strategic acts, decided to appoint a dubious media magnate as the Chairman of the State Agency for National Security (DANS) - with no prior public discussion and a 15 minute full-circle proposal and parliamentary vote . This single action, which followed on the heels of their decision to repeal the smoking ban, vaporised any shred of confidence and tolerance held by the Bulgarian people in this nascent government. In only 6 hours, a ten thousand strong protest organized to march on the parliament, and the daily protests have grown, now swelling to numbers between 15'000 and 30'000.

We all feel a sense of privilege from the fact that as we stand in front of parliament or the square in front of the National Assembly: the police calmly stand by - looking on in small numbers with a distinct note of sympathy, and perhaps even solidarity, in their eyes. We recognise and appreciate this tone of tolerance, whilst simultaneously very aware of how fortunate our position is: to freely express our discontent at the government without fear of oppression or reprisal from state forces.

The police are there to maintain calm and safety - whilst they cannot outright join the protests, their tolerance shows a tacit support for the civil rights and expectations of even basic state transparency.

Personally I feel both privileged and saddened: privileged to live in a country which, with all its faults, still shows humanity when we need it most - saddened because I see what a true luxury this is in a world racked by violent clashes and an even-greater portion unable to even consider rising up against oppressive regimes clinging to power at all costs.

It's incredibly important to recognise what a difference it makes to have a respectful police that, rather than turn on their own people, facilitate the democratic process by doing what they should be - protecting the public rather than provoking and oppressing.

To end with an anecdote: gathered on the Eagles' Bridge yesterday evening I saw a friend wandering through the crowd carrying two cases of 500ml mineral water. I made a quip about him stocking up for the protest when he replied:

"This water isn't for us, it's for the police. These men and women have been standing here in the 30 degree sun all afternoon and have shown us only respect. I think it's time we showed some back."