A taste of capitalism has Bulgarians demanding more
January 16, 1997
Web posted at: 8:10 p.m. EST (0110 GMT)
SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNN) -- Robert Stambouli is a one of the most successful businessmen in Bulgaria. He owns
a chain of 56 stores, four factories and 21 wholesale outlets.
He sells a wide range of products, mostly imported, from ski wear to make-up. He even sells pots and pans. It's the kind of choice that Bulgarians never had in state-run shops in communist times.
But when the nation's currency collapsed last spring, even Stambouli's business took a sharp dive.
Protests generated by that economic crisis reached their 11th consecutive day Thursday with signs that support for the ruling Socialist party was continuing to unravel.
Schools, hospitals and factories held protests ranging from one-hour warning strikes and rallies to wearing blue ribbons symbolizing protest.
About 2,000 students marched past government buildings in their daily protest and President Zhelyu Zhelev came out to shake their hands and invite student leaders in for talks.
Some 15,000 people, more than on Wednesday, attended a rally
and concert outside Sofia's gold-domed cathedral.
"I can promise you that we will never again allow another
Socialist government to rule this country because we do not want chaos to prevail over democracy any more," Nadezhda Mihailova, spokeswoman of the main opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), told the rally.
Also Thursday, four leading reformers -- Andrei Raichev, Rossen Karadimov, Dimitar Yonchev and Andrei Bundjulov -- said they were leaving the Socialist party because it had failed to adapt to the demands of the post-communist era.
And an opinion poll by the MBMD polling agency, published in the daily Novinar, showed that public support for the ruling Socialists is just eight percent.
Former Prime Minister Zhan Videnov called for a "parliamentary mandate" so that negotiations can begin with international lending institutions such as the World Bank.
Otherwise, he said, Bulgaria will spend the last of its foreign exchange reserves and "further isolate itself from the world." Videnov resigned on December 21st and is blamed by the opposition for the country's economic crisis.
Stambouli said that Bulgarians had never seen the kind of the choice of goods he offers in his stores until after Communist rule ended.
"They never thought about them," he said. "Now, they see them, and for awhile they could buy them. But they can't afford them any more, and this has created social unrest."
Businessmen and business-minded politicians say only real market reforms can revive the economy now.
"We really believe we should go back to production, go back to internal Bulgarian investment, and now the Socialists are taxing the investor," says George Ganchev, president of the Bulgarian Business Block. "This is absolutely ridiculous."
About 350 out of 5,000 big enterprises have been privatized, but only 11 have been purchased by foreigners. Stambouli, who's Lebanese, says he hasn't won a single privatization
contract. Instead, he has bought bankrupt businesses.
He complains that there are few tax or other incentives for investors, and yet he says his own supermarkets and shops prove the place has potential.
"Use western technology, western ideas, and wherever you implement them they work," he says. "There is nothing wrong with this country. The country's OK, but the system is wrong."
Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Reuters contributed to this report.
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