As anti-austerity protests continue across Bulgaria, the act of setting oneself alight could soon become synonymous with the struggle and desperation facing Bulgarians today. Six men have recently burned themselves to death across the country; one man set himself on fire because he could no longer buy bread for his child.

But the fire deaths and suicides are not isolated cases; they follow violent demonstrations in the capital city Sofia which spread across the country. The Prime Minister Boiko Borisov resigned in February following angry demonstrations where protestors violently clashed with Police.

Author, professor and researcher of Ethnographic Studies in Bulgaria Kristen Ghodsee says the government are not meeting the demands of the people:

"I was in Bulgaria last week standing just a street away from a man who set himself on fire in front of the Bulgarian Presidency. It’s a desperate act, it's derivative from the Arab spring but the guy who recently set himself on fire in Varna is being compared with student Jan Palach who set himself on fire in Prague in 1968. But what we’ve seen in the last few months even after the government resigned, six men who have self-immolated a rash of suicides and continued frustration with the caretaker government who isn’t meeting the demands of the people."

Journalist and university lecturer Danail Danov lives in the capital city Sofia and says poverty is pushing a minority of men over the edge:

"Some people say setting oneself on fire is like a disease and certainly those who do that is out of sheer desperation. It is the desperation that brings about this but there have been appeals by the church and politicians asking people not to self-immolate - but I’m not sure how this will go down because the number of desperate people in the country is really high which is pushing people towards these extreme acts."

Professor Ghodsee says the six men who have set themselves alight were making a political statement driven by personal desperation and political frustration:

"Many Bulgarians make less than $500 dollars a month and electricity bills have exceeded people’s wages and pensions, making this an impossible situation. But the frustration and the political act of setting oneself on fire is the result of a lack of opportunities and an inability to see a way out of the political situation. All the political parties are implicated in one way in the corruption and economic chaos of the last 23 years of transition and Bulgarians feel trapped in democracy in the way it has been formed. They’re asking for a non-party democracy, they’re trying to change the system to make it responsive to people’s needs but politicians in power are threatened by this and there’s been very little change."

Elections initially planned for July have been brought forward to May.

Photos of the protests in Bulgaria by Kristen Ghodsee.