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Museums and galleries in Bulgaria go on protest

In recent days, protests in Bulgaria have become a commonplace phenomenon, but not because of the pandemic-related restrictive measures, as in Europe, Canada or Australia, but because of the offensively low pay in a number of sectors. First came the scholars at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, who for years have been neglected by the governing authorities as a relict from the Socialist period when the state generously allocated funds for science. The scientific community was followed by firefighters and police officers and today  workers in galleries, libraries and museums join this protest and declare their readiness to go on an effective strike.

Museums and galleries in Bulgaria have been called upon by the Culture National Federation at the Podkrepa Labour Confederation to close their doors to visitors as a token of protest. This step is due to the humiliating and ill-considered parameters of the funds provided for the development of their institutions in the forthcoming State Budget Act for 2022.

"We had high hopes, perhaps in vain, for the new government and the new governance style for change," said Kiril Binev, chairman of the Culture National Federation at Podkrepa trade union. “People who work in libraries, galleries, and museums have long been forgotten by the government and their salaries have remained at the bottom of the social ladder and are very close to the country’s minimum wage. All promises over the years that their salaries will be increased have been in vain. They are, in fact, falling in the category of the working poor who, in some places, even need to pay for their own Covid-19 tests in order to go to work.”

Unlike the salaries of teachers, which have been increased several times in the past few years and will soon reach BGN 2,000 (EUR 1,000), the gross salary of employees in museums, galleries and libraries is below BGN 900 (EUR 450). All this regardless of the fact that the qualifications, education and scientific achievements of the most prominent among them in the field of history, archeology, literature and art are of world-class level. The last significant increase in wages, by about 15-20% in 2015, has long been eaten away by inflation. At present, the planned 5% increase in the budget for museums will completely equalize their salaries with the minimum threshold. The funds allocated are for maintenance and salaries, and museums are unable to cover their electricity costs, as well.

„For example, the Natural History Museum in Sofia, which maintains aquariums with exotic fish, tropical animals, birds, and others in the autumn paid BGN 3,000 for electricity, and for the last month the bill has swelled to BGN 17,000. If the electricity supply is stopped for only three hours, these animal species will die. People are really at a dead end. They can't feed their families."

The final vote on the 2022 state budget is forthcoming. There is a proposal to allocate additional funds to museums and galleries but for projects, not for salaries of people who “simply wipe the dust all day”, as Finance Minister Assen Vassilev referred to museum staff. However, how and on what principle the projects will be implemented is not clear, but one thing is certain - if the demands of the protesters are not met, the next step is a strike.

English version: Rositsa Petkova

Photo: BNR

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