(Reuters) – Hundreds of Bulgarians, inspired by a shaggy-haired poet, protested in front of parliament on Saturday, some of them throwing tomatoes in what they are calling a “tomato revolution” against corruption.
Waving banners saying “Stop political hypocrisy”, the protesters were kept too far away from parliament by police to hit the building. But they vowed their protests would grow ahead of a parliamentary election due next July.
“This is only the beginning of the protests,” dissident Nikolay Kolev, also known as “Bosiya” (The Barefooted), said.
The 61-year-old poet, imprisoned several times during the communist regime, had already been detained briefly on Tuesday after throwing a tomato at the parliament building in the capital Sofia.
“I wanted to give an example of how to protest,” he said.
Last week Kolev sent a letter to parliament, leading political figures, the Supreme Judicial Council, state TV and radio, threatening to throw tomatoes at their buildings and saying they were responsible for widespread corruption, crime and lack of media freedom in Bulgaria.
“I can no longer remain a hostage to hope and good manners. Go to hell!” Kolev wrote at the end of his letter.
Corruption and organized crime blight Bulgaria 23 years after the end of communist rule, hindering growth and delaying its entry into the European Union’s Schengen agreement, which allows passport-free travel between countries.
Bulgarians gave about 150,000 bribes to civil servants every month in 2011, exceeding the number in the previous year as a government effort to curb corruption faltered, a survey showed in September.
Living standards in Bulgaria remain among the EU’s lowest, while the jobless rate rose to 11 percent in October.
Thousands protested last Saturday against the government’s handling of the weak economy and also called on the ruling GERB party to resign.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Myra MacDonald)