Post-communist Bulgaria

Post-communist Bulgaria

PART I. INCOMP LETE TRANSITION, 1989– 1997 Dismantling the apparatus of totalitarianism, November 1989–December 1990

Zhivkov’s fall was the work of the party hierarchy; it was a palace coup rather than a revolution, and ‘people power’ in Bulgaria was to be more the consequence than the cause of the change of leadership.

Soon after 10 November a number of new political organisations appeared. Some of these had lived a shadowy, semi-legal half-life in the final years or months of the old regime and were now assuming a full and open existence; some were entirely new creations; and others were reborn versions of historic parties, amongst which were the social democrats, and the agrarians who, to distinguish themselves from the collaborators of the post-1947 years, reverted to the name of Petkov’s agrarians: the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union – Nikola Petkov (BANU–NP).

On 14 November fourteen of the non-communist political groups came together in a federation which called itself the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF). As its leader the UDF chose Zheliu Zhelev, an academic philosopher who had incurred the displeasure of the old regime.Meanwhile the new leader of the BCP, Mladenov, had arranged for a central committee plenum to meet from 11 to 13 December. It expressed contrition for the mistakes of the past and promised that in future there would be more party democracy, and that there would be real parliamentary life rather than the stage-managed show it had been since 1947.

By now the anti-communist forces were demanding more than contrition or promises of change from the ruling party: they wanted real change. This was made manifest on 14 December when the UDF organised a huge demonstration in Sofia calling for the abolition of article one of the constitution which guaranteed the communist party a leading role in the state and in society. With communist rule crumbling all round them the Bulgarian comrades could not be deaf to such calls, the more so as the demonstrations had shown the UDF was able to command and control massive public support. The BCP leaders agreed to begin discussions with the opposition. The way was open to the creation of a Bulgarian ‘round table’ on the Polish and Hungarian models.

Before the round table convened there were further large-scale protests in Sofia. Even before the meeting of the BCP plenum in mid-December Mladenov had apologised for and repudiated the regen-erative process which was formally abandoned in a decree of 29 December. This provoked a fierce reaction. On 7 January thou-sands of protesters arrived in Sofia from all over Bulgaria, obviously with the connivance of local party officials who alone could have sanctioned use of so much rationed petrol. People power, it was clear, could be on the side of reaction as well as revolution. Counter-demonstrations in favour of the decree were held a week later. The demonstrations, together with the mayhem across the border in Romania, emphasised the need for the round table and encouraged a constructive attitude by both the BCP and the UDF which, it had been agreed, were to be represented equally at the discussions.

Almost everyone agreed that the apparatus of totalitarianism had to be destroyed. It was the round table’s function to determine how this should be done. It had to decide how to circumvent the con-tentious article one of the constitution and to secure the withdrawal of the party from its position of political and social dominance, and to separate the party from the social and political bodies it had penetrated and subdued for over forty years. In the event, it was eventually agreed to amend article one substantially, but here the round table was following as much as it was leading events.

Many institutions had taken their own action and abolished the primary party organisations in the workplace; the Union of Journalists banned them in its ranks at the end of January, and on 24 January the politburo dissolved those in the military and in places of work. Other changes followed rapidly. In February the old trades’ union central council was abolished and the unions entirely separated from any political organisation, a new body, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB), being established. A few days later another prominent landmark of communist Bulgaria disappeared when the communist youth organisation dis-solved itself. At the end of March the Fatherland Front underwent its dose of restructuring to emerge as the Fatherland Union.

At the end of January the BCP had called its fourteenth congress. It enacted a drastic restructuring of the party. Both the politburo and the central committee were replaced by larger bodies which were to be more responsible to the membership; the old regime, said Mladenov, had been a dictatorship over the party as well as over the people, and to underline his point it was announced that Zhivkov was to be arrested on charges which included embezzlement, the misuse of power, and incitement to racial hatred.

Mladenov also declared that the economy was to be restructured on the basis of privatisation, decentralisation, and demonopolisation; that a multi-party democ-racy was to be introduced; and that there was to be complete separa-tion of party and state, in conformity with which he relinquished his post of party chief which went to Aleksandˆur Lilov, Mladenov remaining head of state. At the same time a new government was formed with Andrei Lukanov as prime minister. The agrarians, embarrassed at their collaborationist record, did not join the new administration; ironically, the collapse of totalitarianism had pro-duced the first purely communist government in Bulgaria’s history. It was communist only in name, and not even that for long because at the beginning of April the BCP changed its name to the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

The attempt to separate the party from the state and from society involved the further extension of individual liberties and fundamen-tal social and economic reform. The most significant move to extend individual liberties was the abolition of the sixth department of the ministry of the interior, the old secret police. Between February and April private agriculture was legalised and there were decrees lifting restrictions on the employment of labour and allowing free enter-prise in retailing, the service industries, and tourism.

On 6 March strikes were legalised, after compulsory arbitration and mediation, though they were not to be permitted in the army, the police, the ports, the medical services and the power industry. There were also further concessions to the ethnic minorities; on 5 March the suˆb-ranie accepted a bill allowing free choice of names for all citizens.

The fourteenth congress of the BCP and discussion on issues such as ethnic minorities had delayed movement towards full constitu-tional revision. So too had a number of disagreements between the BCP and the UDF in the round table, but these were resolved at the end of March when it was agreed that a Grand National Assembly should be called to redesign Bulgaria’s political system. Concessions had to be made by both sides before it was finally agreed that half the GNA’s four hundred deputies would be elected by proportional representation and half by the first past the post system.

The elections were held on 10 and 17 June 1990 and gave the BSP 211 seats, the UDF 144, the predominantly Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) 23, and the agrarians 16. Lukanov remained prime minister.The meeting of the GNA should have marked the beginning of the phase of constitutional construction, but it did not. The ceremonial opening in Tuˆ rnovo was accompanied by noisy demonstrations by anti-Turks angered by the presence of the MRF, and when the assembly moved to Sofia students and others staged protests against the failure to investigate alleged electoral irregularities.

Early in July the protesters revealed a video tape which, they said, showed Mladenov urging the use of tanks against demonstrators in December 1989; Mladenov resigned and Zhelev succeeded him as president with Petuˆ r Beron, a zoologist, becoming leader of the UDF. Mladenov’s fall was not the end of the protests. Calls which had been heard for months for the ending of communist domination over the media and other aspects of national life continued and at the end of August led to the burning of a section of the party’s head-quarters in the centre of Sofia.

The fire induced a more sober mood but real progress towards change was still not possible. There had to be an emergency packet of economic reforms but Lukanov wanted these to be passed by a coalition government because that would give the appearance of full national backing for them. The UDF refused to be drawn. By November the political impasse and a deteriorating economic situa-tion was producing social unrest.

Demonstrations had been a con-stant feature of Bulgarian political life since 1989 and once more the streets filled with protesters, many of them students. Towards the end of the month both CITUB and its rival trade union organisation, Podkrepa, declared strikes and on 29 November Lukanov resigned, chased from office by public action on the streets rather than by due parliamentary process. On 20 December a new administration took office under the premiership of Dimituˆ r Popov, a non-party lawyer.