Citizen initiative against bank policies and privileges set out in legislation, which has been initiated by lawyers working in the public interest and is supported by different civil society structures.
Photo courtesy of www.gef.eu
The civil movement “Protect yourself” was initiated by lawyers working in the public interest and is supported by different civil society structures. More concretely, the initiative includes active protection from banking arbitrariness, monopoly fees and real estate fraud that are widely distributed in the country - resulting in impoverishment and disempowerment. The activities are active through mutual and legal support, consultancies and proposals for normative changes.
Holding Organisation: Internet-based Movement “Protect Yourself” Status: Civil Initiative Financing: Raises funds from various law suits as well as from NGOs and business organisations People involved in the project: Lawyers and supporters (initiators), plus many other interested individuals Public Partners: NGOs, Union for Economic Initiative Private Partners: More than 9000 citizens and representatives of small and medium businesses Creation Date: February 2012 Sources & Links: http://www.zashtitise.eu/ Contact Persons: Veska Voleva; e-mail: veskavoleva à abv.bg
The Movement is intended to:
- Establish an Internet platform for online exchange of information, documentation, financial education and legal advise to citizens and businessmen harmed by banks;
- To initiate, through social internet-based networks, a national civic movement for self-defence, mutual support and legislative changes to eliminate or minimise attacks on financial interests, property, access to public services for citizens and business persons, households and local communities.
It should be against the unilateral privileges and benefits to banks, regulated by law (eg. the right of banks to set interest rates at its discretion), to alter rates of interest in already signed contracts and impose a number of charges, penalties, etc., as well as the extraordinary privilege of banks to collect receivables from borrowers, proclaiming them as faulty on the basis of a bank statement.
The local context
Cases of broken personal lives and destruction of small and medium businesses (which support many Bulgarians) have grown exponentially due to the failure to issue bank loans because of the vicious arbitrariness in the banking legislation. Some people and families have gone so far as to set themselves on fire, while others have been compelled to leave the country.
The problem of Bulgarian citizens with banks is primarily legal: the situation has been defined as "vulgar banking", in which banks play the role of a form of "cancer" that is slowly destroying businesses and the State. It is being caused by the vicious rules established by the Civil Procedure Code (published in the Official Gazette of 20.07.2007 and in force since 1.03.2008). With the insane interest rates and the arrogance of banks, thousands are finding themselves without a livelihood because they are in constant need/want of more money. And according to the law, they have the right to ask for as much as they need.
Meanwhile, private banks are being treated as state entities and municipalities, in Article 417, paragraph 2 of the Civil Procedure Code. This seemingly random error, in combination with article 420 of the Civil Procedure Code (under which the opposition does not suspend enforcement), led to the sale of cheap property to thousands of Bulgarians, who had been left homeless and without a livelihood. As the mortgage crisis deepened, and because of their great number, houses were sold at symbolic prices. Valuation of the property subject to public sale conducted by a bailiff is not subject to judicial review. The truth is: legislature intentionally left users of banking services completely unprotected, while almost all banks have built parallel structures of companies through which they buy the assets of clients and debtors on the cheap. Collectors' companies threaten and blackmail clients, while consulting companies mislead customers about their interests, insurance companies, etc. The need to limit the monopoly of banks and give more control to the public and businesses is of extreme importance.
The starting point
In early 2012, almost three years of work had already been carried out on behalf of disadvantaged bank customers and advocates against unfair clauses that banks require in their contracts with costumers, recipients of consumer and mortgage loans (for both personal and small and medium business needs), as well as resistance to coercive procedures for withdrawal of homes and other properties of the unilaterally declared defaulting borrowers.
Deceived Bulgarians staged protests, appealed to the competent institutions and brought the first lawsuits against the banks, subsequently winning some of them. Public advocates, lawyers and various NGOs have since decided that it is time for a civil defence movement. The initiative was launched at the beginning of February 2012 using the logo "protection", with the idea to remove Art. 417 of the Civil Procedure Code.
Furthermore, promoters appealed to the government to demand transparency of bankers' incomes. Civil associations indicated that the majority of bankers on the board of banks have parallel companies that are included in their scope of activities of debt collection. This activity is strictly illegal.
How does it work
The aim of the campaign is to mobilise citizens, households and businesses affected by the discriminatory provisions in the Civil Procedure Code, which puts them at a disadvantage in the event of a need for protection against banks.
The campaign includes:
- National civil petition to remove banking privileges stipulated in Art. 417 of the Civil Procedure Code;
- Lobbying in Parliament;
- Exchange of international / European practices;
A meeting with the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria has already taken place; he was quite supportive of the campaign.
These activities are combined with information about EU practices (for example, EU Council Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts, which has not been adopted in Bulgaria), intensified networking with NGOs and desk-research on companies established by different banks. All this is made public through different media outlets.
Participation and governance
The initiatived is based on the accumulation of various individual cases and its success relies on the mass support of Bulgarian citizens.
Added value of the project
The initiative, which is becoming more and more popular, has added value in several dimensions: it saves people and bussinesses from impoverishment; encourages cooperation; builds up social capital; and promotes citizen inclusion in decision-making processes.
There are strong bank lobbies in the country who influence the political decision-making process. They also openly attack active public figures, e.g. legal defenders and investigative journalists who are engaged with these problems. The aim of the crackdown - in both cases - has been to intimidate those that have successfully opposed the abuse of banks, won lawsuits, or publicised in the media facts about bankers' wrongdoings.
At the end of the petition process, we will present the signatures to the National Parliament. Sooner or later, the Parliament will be forced to remove the unconstitutional and anti-European banking privileges and introduce a new market regime for determining interest rates on loans, synonymous with the European directives.
The experience with this first thematic section of the Movement has been: 1. Protection of banking arbitrariness, to be used as well for activities in the other two thematic sections of the Movement; 2. Protection from monopoly fees; 3. Protection from real estate fraud.
Proposals for change
There should be obligatory ex-ante social impact assessments carried out on all laws before they are adopted.