Mar 14 2013
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Disgusted by corruption in his provincial hometown, a 36-year-old Bulgarian quietly doused himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze. This week, another man — the fourth in less than a month — carried out the same act of desperation in front of the presidential headquarters in the capital.
The dramatic self-immolations, three of which were fatal, bear a striking resemblance to events half a century ago in Eastern Europe when mostly young intellectuals rebelled against Soviet communist rule by setting themselves on fire, demanding freedom and democracy.
A quarter century after the fall of communism in Bulgaria, dreams of prosperity have turned sour in the Balkan country, which is the poorest in the European Union. One in five Bulgarians lives below the poverty line, unemployment is at record levels, incomes are half the European average and bribe-taking, sleaze and a woefully inadequate justice system are part of daily life.
Plamen Goranov, the 36-year-old man protesting against graft in his hometown of Varna, died after pouring gasoline and setting himself on fire in front of a public building on Feb. 20. The harrowing act was captured by security cameras while he stood alone. He became known as the “Bulgarian Jan Palach,” after the Czech student who set himself ablaze in 1969 to protest the Soviet occupation of then Czechoslovakia.
Despite appeals by Bulgaria’s influential Orthodox Church against such desperate actions, two other Bulgarian protesters, one of them a father of five children, followed Goranov’s steps, publicly set themselves on fire.
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