Отклонения, лирически и прозаически
Articles
Teachers Talk Back

October 2007

Strikes are always inconvenient. They are caused by the discomfort of people and aim to upset the leisure of those responsible for this discomfort. A strike is most effective when it disturbs the largest number of people possible. This should answer the question why teachers did not go on strike in summer, asked by some truly bright Bulgarian MPs recently.

The current turmoil has been caused by Education Minister Daniel Vulchev, who believes that 300-350 leva a month can buy teachers their daily bread and pay for all other necessities. Vulchev’s appreciation of the situation is perhaps best illustrated by his statement that he cared more for the possibility that Halley’s Comet may suddenly change its course than for the fact that teachers would go on a termless strike.

The nation-wide teachers’ strike began on September 15, the start of the school year. Initially, protests were symbolic (wearing a badge) until September 20, when teachers had a Day of Silence (taught their lessons by only writing on the blackboard). On September 24, classes were discontinued by 90% of the teachers throughout Bulgaria.

Hoping that this strike would be no more effective than the previous one*, Education Minister Vulchev did not bother to even try and talk to teacher representatives and syndicates for two weeks!

Indifference, accompanied by manipulation of facts was the general ministerial attitude towards the protests. Warned about an impending strike as early as May, Vulchev not only showed lack of willingness for resolving the issue before September 15, but actually announced the wrong data about the funds saved by the optimization of the education system during the previous school year. As the strike turned effective, misinformation was again the ministry’s main tool – while syndicates reported 80-90% of teachers in the country on strike, “official” data said 20-30% were protesting. Another  misrepresentation of the facts by Finance Minister Oresharski was when he announced that the average teacher’s salary was 472 leva, which appeared to be more than the average for the country.**

Further attempts to delude the public about the possible consequences of meeting teachers’ demands for a 100% salary hike included a number of statements made to play on the average person’s limited knowledge of economics and their fear of even worse times (see page 13 for Oresharski’s profound analysis).

Raising teachers’ salaries, ministers said, would mean that all other sectors, including policemen, nurses and doctors, social workers etc would have to be neglected – “we’ll have to take from them, in order to give to you,” Vulchev said. PM Stanishev, for his part, concocted an incomprehensible excuse for the reason why the government could not take 500 M out of the 3 Billion leva budget surplus and give it to teachers. Then, he added that if teachers’ salaries were indeed raised by 100%, this would cause hyperinflation in the country. Ridiculous as this may seem, after the 60-100% increase of most foodstuffs prices in July-September, it did appear to scare people further. Taking the baton, and applying the skill of the lawyer he is, education head Vulchev tried to influence students by threatening to cut short their holidays and even extend the school year well into the summer months. Seeing the little effect this produced and that many people still support teachers and their demands, Finance Minister Oresharski played another trump card – he said that the flat tax to be introduced as of January 1st may have to be more than 10% in order to meet higher salaries demands.

With a humbled voice, syndicates appeared to yield at the negotiations held on October 5 and 7, asking for 25% as of October 1st, 25% as of January 1st, and 25% as of July 1st, but then something happened that revealed the ministers’ true attitude towards the teachers and their demands. A bTV microphone accidentally captured the lighthearted and even ridiculing comments of Oresharski and Vulchev regarding the measures to be taken with regard to “breaking up the working bee” at the break of the negotiations meeting. This actually managed to renew the vigour of protesting teachers, who now, in an even louder voice, demanded Vulchev’s resignation and rushed back onto the streets. As thousands continue to protest in Sofia and in other cities and towns in Bulgaria, the ministers, aided by experts, are calculating how much further they can ‘downsize the education personnel’.

Teachers have said they are not going to give up, no, not this time. In a society where mass protests are a very recent phenomenon, amazingly, the ever increasing number of anti-government comments and protests might finally move the Bulgarian people into disposing of their current shameless bosses.

 

* The 2004 strike lasted for 2-3 days with demands for 10% increase and for improvement of the equipment and resources; the then minister only agreed to 3% and allotted 4.2% of the GDP for education needs.

** Ten years of working experience are currently rewarded with 310 leva and 25 years - with 404 leva, before taxes (39%, including income tax and social and health insurance).