On the 7th of August 2022 in Sofia took place a press conference at which the left platform “Progress” was launched. Its leaders announced that the platform is an informal alliance of left voters, workers, intellectuals and politicians. It has no intentions to become a political party, but is eager to resurrect the left-wing tendency in the Bulgarian society, which is plagued by great inequalities and strong conservatism, including among parties, which consider themselves “left-wing”.
According to the site of the platform “Progress aims to:
- provide mechanisms for the long-term unification of the left by discovering common aspirations and differences and by reclaiming authentic left searches and conversations;
- provide a basis for common action;
- restore to left political identity its place as a legitimate choice, but also as a solution to the global crises in which the world finds itself.”
Its founders declare that they “unite around core political positions and advocacy guidelines expressed in the platform’s Manifesto. Acceptance of the Manifesto is a condition of participation for all who wish to actively join our activities and causes.”
Cross-border Talks publishes below a translation of the manifesto into English:
We live in momentous times. The world is undergoing a radical transformation. Numerous crisis processes, both domestically and internationally, raise the question of the fate of our country. No one seems to notice the growing physical and spiritual scarcity, the drastic levels of poverty and inequality. Children of poor parents do not have access to adequate education and healthcare, which condemns them to an unhappy fate. This is the startling reality, not the one seen from the luxury establishments of the inner city, and it shows a total breakdown of statehood and society. This disintegration has been going on for nearly three decades and is a direct consequence of the right-wing policies pursued in Bulgaria, linked to the constant restriction of the role of the state, the curtsies to the representatives of big capital, the elevation of egoism and conspicuous consumption into a cult, and the adoption of market mechanisms as the universal and infallible judge in all spheres of life.
83% of the world’s profits go into the pockets of 1% of the people! This shows unequivocally that we have a system that works for a small privileged elite at the expense of everyone else. So in our country this is not an exception arising from a Balkan psyche or a special oligarchy, but an essential feature of the capitalism we have in our country.
The struggle for the rights of wage-labour people, of small producers and traders, of the discriminated, is more urgent than ever. It is a battle to create the conditions for all to be able to develop and to stop the right-wing mythologem that if you are born poor you will die stupid; a battle against growing socio-economic inequality, because it is at the root of all other social ills. A battle against the subjugation of the state machine to big capital.
There is a need to put an end to pettiness and mandated thinking in politics, and to adopt a long-term vision for the development of the country. It is urgent to elevate equality, solidarity, caring and social justice as the highest values of our society. Bulgaria needs a new ideal, new horizons and perspectives.
With this manifesto we unite around the need for a genuine social alternative for the governance of Bulgaria.
This manifesto sets a framework of political priorities and serves as a starting point in an ongoing process of policy formulation and bringing people together. It sets a horizon rather than expressing concrete measures tied to budgets and time.
We commit ourselves to ensuring that any expansion and development of this document into programmatic texts and actions happens through the means of democratic debate.
We believe in
- equality not only before the law and not only of opportunities, but also of conditions: social protection, access to public services, housing, self-realisation, a clean environment and a life of dignity in a community of solidarity and not in an alienated and alienated society;
- justice not only in the courtroom and before the law enforcement authorities, but also in the distribution of wealth and before the institutions; not through the principle of “no forgiveness for a chicken, no laws for millions”, but with real consequences for the attackers of the public interest; a real fight against corruption and lobbying as instruments for the enrichment of the political elite and close economic circles; fair access to public goods, not concentration in private monopolies.
- solidarity not just as a brooch on the lapel, but as concrete actions to support and empower all the dispossessed and marginalised, whether for economic or xenophobic reasons;
- freedom not only as the right to define our own aspirations, but also as a guaranteed material basis to pursue them; not only as the right of both rich and poor to sleep in a box on the street, but as the true autonomy of every person and every community;
- democracy not just as an electoral promise or a hollow and façade procedure, but as a real practice of institutions and people in their personal and community life; as an opportunity for participation and equal representation and voice in public life as a whole;
- prosperity, not for the economically powerful, but for society as a whole, where small producers have a real chance to compete with large corporations; where natural monopolies are under public control; where production and agriculture respond to the needs of the people, not to financial interests and economic conjunctures.
We stand for
Fair redistribution of wealth and Improving public systems
Fair income for all
We will fight for a fundamental change in labour market and socio-economic policies. Labour must be decently and motivatingly paid, socially insured and democratically controlled. We want no working poor, we want social security and measures against social exclusion, we want new and decent labour relations and a dignified old age for all. We want integration instead of creating segregated neighbourhoods for the working and unemployed poor of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
We argue for a qualitatively new incomes policy that bridges the gap between pay and the level of labour productivity. Key elements of this policy should be minimum wages, social security thresholds and collective bargaining mechanisms.
We want to bring about a radical change towards a society of solidarity and put an end to neoliberal economic and social policies, in line with the objective realities and international dependencies in which we are involved.
A radical rethink of the tax and social security system
In Bulgaria, it is the poor who fill the state coffers, while a few merely accumulate wealth. Inequalities in our country have reached devastating dimensions for society, while countries with progressive taxation enjoy an incomparably better quality of life. We insist on the introduction of a tax-free minimum income equal to the minimum wage; the introduction of a progressive personal income tax and a progressive corporate tax; the reduction of VAT on basic goods to a minimum; and the abolition of the maximum social security income.
A determined fight against the roots of poverty and the abandonment of people, communities and regions
For years, poor people have been blamed for the situation to which an unjust economic system has brought them. It is time to eliminate fuel poverty and oppose market deregulation in the energy sector; to expand the base of social housing (used for this purpose only) through a national housing fund to finance municipalities; to introduce an indexed rent cap; to redirect more European, public and private funds to lagging regions in order to pursue a regional policy of solidarity and reduce regional disparities.
Free and quality healthcare for all
Medicine is not a commercial activity but a social necessity. Therefore, the social side of healthcare, not financial expediency and even less profit, should be the guiding principle in defining healthcare strategies and the healthcare system.
The flawed healthcare reform has turned health into an prohibitively expensive commodity, ruining dwindling healthcare professionals and facilities. We are advocating a model of universal healthcare instead of the current flawed system, in which human health has been turned into an object of purchase and sale, dental treatment is a luxury for a few, people’s physical survival is directly dependent on their ability to pay and where they live, and private hospitals parasitise on the backs of state and municipal health facilities.
We will work for a new model that transforms hospitals from commercial companies into a special category of legal entities – medical establishments; maintains the status of the NHIF as a public fund and stops the process of its state-building; increases funding for dental care and revises insured dental services, especially for the elderly; ensures the accessibility of primary and specialised pre-hospital care and puts prevention at the forefront; introduces a mandatory health card and electronic
Public care for children
Left to their own devices, crumbling societal systems are squeezing more and more strength from parents and especially mothers. Raising and developing children is a daily battle with inaccessible and destroyed childcare and urban environments, and for many, brutal segregation along various lines. We demand the expansion of social infrastructure for children, including crèches, kindergartens, children’s kitchens, playgrounds/playgrounds, etc. Significant wage increases for care workers; guaranteeing decent working conditions, reduced shifts and increases in recreational opportunities.
Equal access to quality development opportunities
Favoured indicators of human development such as functional literacy, the number of young people neither in education nor employment, the consumption of culture and cultural products, or obesity are systematically read superficially and perversely. We cannot have a healthy, harmonious and developing society if education, science, culture and sport are the privilege of a few in their gated communities, in inaccessible spaces, while state resources for these sectors remain minimal.
We will work to make education, science and culture national priorities. The share of funds in the state budget for these sectors must be increased. The role of the market in them must be ended, and public funding for private institutions must be discontinued. Curricula, practices and facilities must aim to create critical citizens who are active participants in the country’s democratic processes. Education should develop creative thinking and expression, knowledge of contemporary culture and excellence in technical and mathematical subjects. We advocate increasing school budgets and reducing class sizes across the country to a number that allows teachers to give each student, regardless of school type, thorough and special attention. We want accessible sporting opportunities for all, meaningful leisure time for all, whatever their age, including inclusive programmes and spaces for the development of youth policies and activities.
There is a need for a change in the ‘money follows the student’ model in higher education institutions, and priority policies to expand young people’s access to quality higher education. There is a need to improve working conditions, pay and retraining of teachers in higher education institutions. Funding for research in all scientific fields must be increased, and with it the access and conditions for researchers in Bulgaria to have the opportunity to produce even more high-quality scientific work that contributes to our development as a society. There is a need to strengthen and expand the material and teaching facilities of universities and to increase student and doctoral scholarships in order to guarantee a decent life for students and to stop the brain drain; to bring back state scholarships for foreign students in order to promote international knowledge exchange; to increase the budget of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the research institutes of higher education institutions, as well as that for cultural activities.
Active involvement of the State in economic life
The state must end its abdication from socio-economic life and set the direction of our country’s development for the coming decades. The Bulgarian economy must acquire a new structure in order to be able to provide adequate resources for raising the standard of living in Bulgaria. Today, it is “crushed” to the production and export of raw materials and cheap services. We will work to change the structure of the Bulgarian economy in the next 10-15 years. This means increasing the share of companies that have the potential to maintain high competitiveness on international markets, to reach a higher share of production of industrial and high-tech goods. We advocate the return of the controlling stake in public utilities (water and electricity supply) into public hands and a moratorium on privatisation and concession of activities/objects related to national security and natural monopolies (water supply, district heating, etc.).
All this, alongside dramatically improved social and cultural systems, to allow a transition to a next stage of an even more efficient socialized economy.
Empowerment and democratisation
Democracy at work
Women and men workers in Bulgaria are caught in the ever tightening noose of the ‘flexible’ market, low pay and suppression of resistance. Many no longer believe in their power to fight for decent pay and working conditions. The solution has always been only one – democracy at work! We demand the extension and embellishment of labour and trade union rights for all workers; the encouragement of unionisation and self-organisation; the strengthening of labour legislation to stop exploitation, the relaxation of legal requirements for the organisation of strike action and the settlement of the right to a national strike; the strengthening of controls and requirements regarding safe working conditions and active measures to curb accidents at work.
Democratic reform of human rights system
Justice reform has been a sore subject on the public agenda that has been stalling for too long. In large part, this is because it places too narrow a focus on prosecution and too limited an understanding of corruption as a problem only of the corrupt but not of the corrupters, and remains blind to the links between justice, law enforcement, law enforcement and social justice. We advocate for legislation and process to seek justice against corruption and other abuses of power, starting at the highest levels of political power and the economic elite; eliminating instances of police brutality; placing the security function of the police under public control; moving fire and public protection into its own ministry, or at least an agency within the Council of Ministers; decriminalizing possession of cannabis in small quantities for personal use so as not to pervert the justice system with p
Development of democratic participation and attitudes
Democracy reserved for a narrow range of people is not democracy! We need to change the social, economic and cultural conditions that inhibit the voice and participation of all citizens in public affairs. We demand rules and opportunities for full and inclusive citizen participation in decision-making; facilitation of administrative interactions between citizens and institutions; an active anti-discrimination policy at all levels and against all forms of discrimination and hate crimes; the elimination of conditions of segregation along socio-economic and ethnic lines in pre-school and school education; phased reforms of the school curriculum in order to develop critical and active citizens defending the principles of
A determined fight against social exclusion, discrimination and violence against oppressed groups
More and more people have been excluded from the economic, social and political life of the country in recent years. For many, this comes through systemic violence and discriminatory practices, often made possible by the actions and inactions of the state. We will never build a democratic society unless we protect and empower the weak and eliminate the systemic causes of exclusion. We will work against violence against women in all its forms; for real measures to support the independent and dignified lives of people with disabilities; to ensure decent living conditions, equal working conditions and access to social systems and fair administrative procedures for all asylum seekers, foreign workers and refugees; to improve the housing conditions of all the poor, regardless of their background, including preventing forced evictions and the demolition of homes that are their only home, regulating unregulated estates and c
A just green transition and environmental protection
Climate change negatively impacts poor and vulnerable social groups the most. Urgent measures are needed to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, but their costs should not be borne by the poor and those employed in the coal industry. We demand a just and timely energy transition with decent wages, retraining and employment guaranteed by the state for workers in the affected regions and economic sectors. The closure of high-emission sectors must take place according to a plan that reflects the needs of workers and the Bulgarian energy sector. Mobilising the necessary public funding for the green transition must be done at the expense of the polluters – the big corporations. The future of coal workers and their communities must be guaranteed.
Serious investment is needed in cheap, regular and convenient urban and intercity transport, and to stimulate the development of the rail network as a major modern alternative to cars and planes.
We insist on regulations for the beneficial use of goods and resources, including recycling, a ban on the import of garbage from third countries, a ban on the programmed obsolescence of goods, and a reduction in unnecessary/excessive production.
There is a need to introduce effective restrictions on high emitting sectors such as construction and buildings, chemical industry, industrial animal husbandry.
End encroachment on the commons
The view of nature as an inexhaustible resource is at the root of climate change and the rendering of whole areas uninhabitable. Neither local communities nor society have enough control to stop the plunder of nature for corporate profit. It is time for this to stop.
We demand: a halt to illegal logging and reforestation of logged areas in the mountains and a ban on logging in watersheds; a ban on construction in protected areas – dunes, seashores, nature parks; an end to the draining of dams; a reduction in water grid losses; and an end to new exploration concessions for oil, natural gas and other mineral extraction.
We want clean air. Programs are needed to ensure cleaner air in Bulgaria’s cities – replacing polluting heating plants, introducing solid fuel standards, policing polluting industries and against unregulated burning, installing air measuring stations next to industrial polluters with real-time information.
International cooperation and solidarity
Bulgaria’s international positions and actions must be guided not only by national interest and loyalty to the alliances of which it is a part, but also by the search for and implementation of lasting solutions to strengthen international solidarity and peace. Therefore, we will work to build and strengthen productive, economic, cultural, scientific and educational ties with the countries of the Global South; engaging in international efforts to ensure cross-border social justice, labour protection and portability of social rights for the migrant poor.
We declare Bulgaria as a critical, constructive and full partner in European and Euro-Atlantic structures, which is not only an implementer of the decisions taken, but actively participates in their formation and defends the interests of Bulgarian society. We are in favour of building equal relations with Russia aimed at its democratisation and reintegration into the system of international relations. We are in favour of guaranteeing the security and independence of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and we are in favour of an unequivocally pacifist position of the country towards any war, with the priority of diplomacy, peace and the well-being of each nation at the expense of military solutions, as well as not allowing an increase in the defence budget, but redirecting the money towards social needs and investments.
Photo: The launch of the left platform “Progress” in Sofia (source)