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Bulgaria - Government and Politics

ON NOVEMBER 10, 1989, after thirty-five years as undisputed leader, Todor Zhivkov resigned his positions as head of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) and head of state of Bulgaria. This act, forced by political opposition and turmoil, was the symbolic watershed between two very different eras in Bulgarian governance. One year after Zhivkov's resignation, Bulgaria had at least some of the primary building blocks for a democratic state: a freely elected parliament, a coalition cabinet, independent newspapers, and vigorous, independent trade unions.

Beginning with Soviet occupation of Nazi-allied Bulgaria in September 1944, the political culture of that country had been totally dominated by a monolithic communist party. In the following three years, that party took advantage of the presence of Soviet troops, decades-long disorder in the Bulgarian political system, and its own high visibility as an anti-Nazi resistance force to complete a rapid communization process.

Postwar communist rule in Bulgaria can be divided into three periods with varying political characteristics. The first period, 1944 through 1947, saw the consolidation of communist power. The Fatherland Front, which began in 1942 as a small illegal antifascist coalition, led a coup that coincided with the 1944 Soviet invasion and installed communists for the first time in crucial government positions. In the next three years, the BCP gradually eliminated disorganized blocks of political opposition, cut Bulgaria off from foreign influences except that of the Soviet Bloc, and confiscated most private economic resources. By the end of 1947, the last effective political opposition had been eliminated and Soviet troops had left Bulgaria. Longtime communist leader Georgi Dimitrov was prime minister of a Bulgarian government that ruled according to a new constitution modeled after that of the Soviet Union. Although that constitution left the political institutions of prewar Bulgaria nominally intact, the consolidation period set the pattern for a very different set of political relationships. Actual political power was concentrated entirely in the national BCP. From 1947 until 1989, nominations and elections to judicial, legislative, and executive posts required party approval. During that time, a nominal second party existed, but party nominees were elected without opposition at all levels of government. The National Assembly (Narodno Subranie) met only to rubber-stamp proposals from the party or the executive branch.

The second phase of the communist period, from 1948 through 1953, strengthened Bulgaria's traditionally close ties with the Soviet Union and established a pattern of imitating the Soviet Union in all major aspects of foreign and domestic policy. The first Bulgarian Five-Year Plan began in 1949, by which time most means of production were in state hands. In 1949 Dimitrov was succeeded by Vulko Chervenkov, a protégé of Soviet leader Joseph V. Stalin. Chervenkov imitated his patron's cult of personality by assuming total control of the BCP and the government and enforcing complete conformity to party policy through 1954. Chervenkov intensified the sovietization that began under Dimitrov; the only vestiges of political diversity at this point were a few national party leaders who survived Chervenkov's purges.

In 1953 the death of Stalin brought a strong reaction in Soviet politics against the cult of personality and in favor of collective leadership. Accordingly, in 1954 Todor Zhivkov replaced Chervenkov as first secretary of the BCP. In the next eight years, Zhivkov gradually consolidated his position as supreme leader. In doing so, he maintained the totalitarian state machinery of his predecessors but showed flexibility and resiliency--especially in maintaining power at home while following the winding path of Soviet policy to which Bulgaria remained scrupulously loyal. In spite of dramatic international changes and crises between 1954 and 1989, the Zhivkov era was the longest period of stable rule by a single administration in the history of the modern Bulgarian state.

In the 1980s, however, the Zhivkov regime was overtaken by the wave of political liberation that swept all of Eastern Europe, and by the lethargy and corruption of an administration totally without opposition for nearly thirty years. Immediately after Zhivkov's fall, Bulgaria returned to its precommunist political culture, a shifting mosaic of major and minor parties and coalitions. The National Assembly was resurrected as the vehicle for democratic representation, and the first free parliamentary election was held in 1990. Unlike the communist parties of other East European nations, the BCP (which changed its name in 1990 to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP) was based on a domestic political movement that predated the 1917 Russian Revolution. Partly for this reason, the BSP was able to win the first free elections that followed overthrow of the old regime. But internal fragmentation, economic crisis, and the party's connection with the wrongs of the Zhivkov era diminished the BSP's popular support as the 1990s began.

Meanwhile, based on very brief experimentation with true parliamentary democracy before World War II, and imitating its East European neighbors, Bulgaria had decisively rejected repressive one-party rule and professed allegiance to democracy. But formation of democratic institutions on the ruins of the early 1900s proved a formidable task in the early years of the postcommunist era. Coalition government, the main device of political stability in the precommunist era, functioned unevenly in solving the massive problems of the early 1990s, and the remaining power centers of the old regime hindered reform.

The Bulgarian Communist (Socialist) Party
<>The Union of Democratic Forces
<>Trade Unions
<>Youth Organizations
<>The Movement for Rights and Freedoms
<>Ecological Organizations and Revived Prewar Parties
<>The Monarchist Movement


From its separation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 until 1947, Bulgaria was ruled as a constitutional monarchy, with a parliamentary system based on the Turnovo Constitution of 1879. Although that document was one of the most progressive national constitutions in the world when it was written, actual governance of Bulgaria under it was a constant struggle for power among the tsar, the unicameral parliament, and the Council of Ministers. The many political factions that proliferated in the twentieth century added another dimension to this struggle. Parliaments were elected and dissolved for purely political reasons; strong prime ministers such as Stefan Stambolov (1886-94) and Aleksandur Stamboliiski (1918-23) ignored parliament to advance their own programs (the constitution had no provision for consultation among government branches, although the Council of Ministers was nominally subordinate to parliament); a succession of weak prime ministers were controlled by the tsar or by political factions such as the pro-fascist Zveno coalition of the 1930s; the need to placate the forces of Macedonian irredentism distorted both domestic and foreign politics throughout the post-independence period; and no prime minister survived without stitching together tenuous coalitions of parties, many of which had only narrow political agendas. Frequent appeals were made to amend the Turnovo Constitution; in other cases, the constitution simply was ignored.

The last arrangement of Bulgarian political forces before World War II was the royal dictatorship of Boris III. Boris devised a system of "controlled democracy" after the short totalitarian regime of Zveno had virtually abolished conventional political parties in 1934. Boris's system was based on judicious appointments and the balancing of civilian politicians against the army. His purpose was not authoritarian rule but to achieve a temporary centralization of power that would allow Bulgaria to return to stable constitutionality after the chaotic post-World War I period. Boris believed that independent parties would hinder this process, so such parties did not reemerge in Bulgaria under his rule. National elections were not held between 1931 and 1938, and subsequent prewar elections were held under strong government control. In spite of that control, an opposition bloc including the communists gained sixty parliament seats in the 1938 election, compared with ninety-five for Boris's nonpartisan government candidates. In the late 1930s, Boris struggled in vain to form a lasting coalition that could provide solid middle ground between the communist and pro-Nazi factions, both of which rapidly gained support between 1935 and 1940. But when Bulgaria entered the war in 1940, the same "temporary" balance remained in place.


During World War II, the BCP actively opposed Bulgaria's Axis alliance by forming partisan terrorist and sabotage groups. In 1942 the broad Fatherland Front coalition was formed as the communists attempted to involve legal opposition groups in exerting antiwar pressure on the government. The coalition's activities brought severe government reprisals. By 1944 partisan units also were being formed in the Bulgarian army.

The Red Army invasion of September 1944 found a temporary Bulgarian government desperately trying to avoid accommodation with the communist left or the pro-German right, but under intense diplomatic and military pressure from both Germany and the Soviet Union. Boris had died in 1943 and by 1944 severe wartime shortages (partly caused by peasants hoarding food supplies) eroded support for the government.

When Soviet troops entered Bulgaria, the Fatherland Front engineered a bloodless coup displacing the government of Prime Minister Konstantin Muraviev. In 1946 the first Fatherland Front government divided ministries among the BCP, Zveno, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BANU), and the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party (BSDP). Within a year, the BCP had used that power base to purge the government of all key opposition figures and dominate the Fatherland Front. In 1946 a national referendum rejected the monarchy in favor of a people's republic, leading to the immediate exile of Simeon II, nine-year-old son of Boris III. The following month, the communists easily won a national election for representatives to a subranie to write a new constitution over the objections of BANU, which sought a return to the Turnovo Constitution. In early 1947, the conclusion of peace between Bulgaria and the Allies eliminated the Allied Control Commission, through which Britain had maintained some influence on domestic Bulgarian politics. By that time, the only remaining obstacle to total BCP domination was Nikola Petkov's BANU, in a coalition with other noncommunist parties. The power struggle ended abruptly in mid-1947, when the Fatherland Front arrested and executed Petkov as a Western agent. This event paved the way for unanimous adoption of a new constitution in December 1947. The new document was closely modeled on the 1936 Soviet constitution.

The parliamentary election of fall 1946 gave the BCP 275 of 465 seats and made Georgi Dimitrov prime minister. The communists gained control of all significant ministries, beginning the last stage of consolidating communist dictatorship. The ensuing regimes of Dimitrov and Chervenkov defined Bulgaria as a highly conventional communist state and isolated it from nearly all noncommunist commercial and cultural influences.

The State under Dimitrov

In the 1946 elections, noncommunist parties in the Fatherland Front lost influence far out of proportion to the numerical election results. The most salient new feature of the Dimitrov Constitution was that it rejected the separation of powers among government branches in favor of a "unity of state power," lodged in a presidium wielding legislative, judicial, and executive powers and chosen by the National Assembly with party approval. As before, the National Assembly was a unicameral legislature; elections were to be held every four years, and members could be recalled at any time. The assembly would meet in regular sessions twice a year, or by special order of the Presidium--making the full assembly little more than a rubber-stamp body. The Presidium met continuously and exercised all constitutional powers of the National Assembly when the assembly was not in session. The Presidium's powers included controlling the selection of the Council of Ministers, amending the constitution, approving the national economic plan, declaring war, and making peace. The president of the nineteen-member Presidium thus became one of the two most powerful men in Bulgaria.

The Council of Ministers retained a nominal executive authority as a cabinet, but it was overshadowed by the designation of the National Assembly as "supreme organ of state power." In practice, the council chairman, who by office was prime minister of the country, was always the first secretary of the BCP. This gave the prime minister power equal to that of the Presidium president. The judiciary, now also chosen by the legislative branch at all levels of government, lost all independence. Independent local political power was eliminated when province and district jurisdictions were restructured into people's councils. The councils elected executive committees analogous to the national Presidium and overseen by that body. As at the national level, local government bodies were filled primarily with party officials. Thus, the Dimitrov Constitution achieved unprecedented centralization of political power in Bulgaria.

Like its Soviet model, the 1947 constitution guaranteed broad freedoms to all citizens (religion, conscience, assembly, speech, the press, emancipation of women, and inviolability of person, domicile, and correspondence). The Bulgarian document differed from the Soviet by allowing private property, but only if the privilege were not used "to the detriment of the public good." All means of production shifted to state ownership. Universal suffrage was guaranteed, as were welfare and employment. Guaranteed employment was restricted to socially useful occupations, however.

Government practice soon eroded the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. Between 1948 and 1952, several official acts repressed the Bulgarian religious community. In 1948 the exarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was forced into retirement for his refusal to defend the communist state and the Soviet Union. In 1949 the Law on Religious Organizations put all churches under state control; over the next four years, Catholic and Protestant clergy were harrassed and imprisoned as part of an overall policy of preventing contact with the West. During this period, the Dimitrov government continued purging party and nonparty officials, imitating the contemporaneous Stalinist practice of eliminating all possible political rivals. The most notable victim was the hardline Stalinist and long-time party leader Traicho Kostov, convicted and executed in 1949 as a collaborator with the fascists and Josip Broz Tito, the heretical Yugoslav communist leader.

The Chervenkov Era

The fifth party congress, held in December 1948, rightfully celebrated the complete political dominance of socialism in Bulgaria. When Dimitrov died in 1949, his successor, Stalin protégé Vulko Chervenkov, began four years of intense party purges (disqualifying nearly 100,000 of 460,000 Bulgarian communists). Chervenkov's cultivation of a cult of personality earned him the nickname "Little Stalin." The breakaway of Tito's Yugoslavia from the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) in 1948 caused Stalin and Chervenkov to put additional pressure on the BCP to conform with the Soviet line. Stalin's death in 1953 introduced new Soviet leaders who disapproved Chervenkov's methodology, but the Bulgarian leader remained prime minister and dominated politics until 1956. Chervenkov announced a "new course" in 1953, police terror abated, and some political prisoners were released. Meanwhile, Bulgarian government under the communists followed a postwar East European pattern by creating large numbers of bureaucratic posts, filled by party-approved functionaries, the nomenklatura. A swollen bureaucracy had been traditional in Bulgaria since the modern state was founded in 1878; but previously appointments had depended on membership in the civil service elite, not on membership in a particular party.


Todor Zhivkov was the dominant figure in Bulgarian government for about thirty-five years, during which time the political scene remained remarkably stable. In the context of post-Stalinist communist statecraft, Zhivkov was a masterful politician. In the context of popular demands for meaningful reform, he was an anachronism whose removal symbolized the beginning of a new approach to governance. The Rise of Zhivkov

The Chervenkov era firmly established Bulgarian reliance on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) for policy leadership and resolution of domestic party rivalries. Just as Stalin's condemnation had doomed Kostov, so condemnation of the cult of personality by Stalin's successors doomed Chervenkov and prepared the way for his successor, Todor Zhivkov. Zhivkov, who began his political career in the party youth organization and worked his way to the party Central Committee in 1948, became party chief when Chervenkov resigned that position in 1954. Both the Moscow authorities who ultimately chose new Bulgarian leaders and the BCP leaders in Sofia approved Zhivkov's flexibility, youth (he was forty-two when selected), and lack of powerful friends and enemies.

In 1956 Bulgarian politics again felt the influence of the Soviet Union. When Nikita S. Khrushchev became leader of the CPSU, he began a new phase of de-Stalinization and party reform that echoed strongly in Bulgaria. This left Chervenkov without support outside Bulgaria. Then, in 1956 the April Plenum of the BCP Central Committee began a broad party liberalization policy that caused Chervenkov to resign as prime minister. Rather than break completely with the past, however, the party retained Chervenkov as a member of a de facto ruling triumvirate that included Zhivkov and longtime party leader and purge participant Anton Yugov, who became prime minister. Although party liberalization was stalled by 1956 uprisings in Hungary and Poland, the April Plenum identified Zhivkov as the leader of the Politburo. In doing so, it also shifted power conclusively to the "home" branch of the BCP, more attuned to Bulgarian issues and less to total obedience to the Soviet line.

Zhivkov Takes Control

By the end of 1961, a new wave of Soviet anti-Stalinism gave Zhivkov the support he needed to oust Chervenkov and Yugov. Zhivkov's political position had deteriorated because his grandiose, failed plans for industrialization and agricultural collectivization had evoked strong social protests between 1959 and 1961, but he succeeded Yugov as prime minister in 1962. Khrushchev formally endorsed Zhivkov with a state visit to Bulgaria in 1962. Although no additional changes occurred in the party or the government until 1971, Zhivkov began introducing a new generation of leaders in the mid-1960s, and political repression eased noticeably. The old guard of officials remaining from the 1944 revolution remained a powerful party element with important Soviet connections; therefore, Zhivkov provided that group enough Politburo positions to ensure its support. Meanwhile, Zhivkov selectively purged officials throughout the early period to prevent development of alternative power centers in the party. In 1964 Zhivkov earned peasant support by appointing Georgi Traikov, chief of the nominally independent BANU, head of state and by pardoning comrades of the executed BANU leader Petkov.

In 1966 a strong resurgence of the conservative wing of the BCP at the Ninth Party Congress curtailed Bulgarian diplomatic and economic overtures to the West and to its Balkan neighbors. The new conservatism also tightened government control over the media and the arts, and the government resumed anti-Western propaganda to protect Bulgarian society from bourgeois influences. As was the case in the 1956 invasion of Hungary, Bulgarian support for the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia brought tighter party control of all social organizations, and reaffirmation of "democratic centralism" within the party--all with the goal of reassuring the Soviet Union that Bulgaria would not follow in the heretical footsteps of the Czechs.

The Constitution of 1971

A later echo of the events of 1968 was the drafting of a new constitution at the Tenth Party Congress in 1971. Unlike the Dimitrov Constitution, the new document specified the role of the BCP as "the leading force in society and the state," and the role of BANU as its collaborator within the Fatherland Front. The 1971 constitution also defined Bulgaria as a socialist state with membership in the international socialist community. As before, broad citizen rights were guaranteed but limited by the requirement that they be exercised only in the interest of the state. Citizen obligations included working according to one's ability to build the foundation of the socialist state and defend the state, compulsory military service, and paying taxes. Most of the governmental structure specified in the Dimitrov Constitution remained, but a new body, the State Council, replaced the Presidium as supreme organ of state power. This council consisted of twentytwo members and a chairman who was de facto head of state. The State Council was more powerful than the Presidium because it could initiate as well as approve legislation, and because it exercised some of the non-governmental supervision normally delegated to ruling parties in East European communist states of that period. Council members, nominally elected by the National Assembly, were members of the BCP or other mass organizations.

In 1971 Zhivkov resigned as prime minister to become chairman of the State Council. The National Assembly, traditional center of political power in Bulgaria until the 1947 constitution stripped it of power, received some new responsibilities. Permanent commissions were to supervise the work of ministries, and legislation could now be submitted by labor and youth groups (all of which were partycontrolled ). In practice, however, the National Assembly still rubber-stamped legislation and nominations for the State Council, Supreme Court, and Council of Ministers. As a follow-up to the constitution's prescription of private property rights, the 1973 Law on Citizens' Property virtually abolished private ownership of means of production, confining such ownership to "items for personal use."

The Tenth Party Congress also devised a new BCP program to coincide with the new constitutional description of party power. The program specified an orthodox hierarchical party structure of democratic centralism, each level responsible to the level above. The lowest-level party organizations were to be based in workplaces; all other levels would be determined by territorial divisions. Loyalty to the CPSU was reiterated. The BCP goal was described as building an advanced socialist society lacking differentiation by property and social standing--at that point, all of society was to be a single working class. Science and technology were to receive special attention by the party, to improve production that would make possible the next jump from advanced socialism to the first stage of communism.

After a decade of political calm and only occasional purges of party officials by Zhivkov, social unrest stirred in the mid-1970s and alarmed the Zhivkov government. International events such as the Helsinki Accords of 1975, the growth of Eurocommunism in the 1970s, and the 1973 oil crisis stimulated hope for liberalization and discontent with the domestic economy. Zhivkov responded in 1977 by purging Politburo member Boris Velchev and 38,500 party members--the largest such change since the early 1960s. Provincial party organizations also were substantially reorganized. In May 1978, the Bulgarian government acknowledged for the first time that an antigovernment demonstration had occurred-- indicating that the 1977 measures had not quelled domestic discontent.

The Last Zhivkov Decade

The period between 1978 and 1988 was one of political calm. With minor exceptions, the structure and operations of the government and the BCP remained unchanged. But the avoidance of meaningful change, despite cosmetic adjustments in the Zhivkov government, assumed that Bulgarian governance was the same uncomplicated procedure it had been in the 1970s and early 1980s--a major miscalculation.

Celebration of the 1,300th anniversary of the Bulgarian state in 1981 brought official liberalization and rehabilitation for some segments of Bulgarian society. Bourgeois political factions that had opposed the BCP before World War II were exonerated and described as comrades in the fight for Bulgarian democracy. Zhivkov also raised the official status of the Orthodox Church to codefender of the Bulgarian nationality, and restrictions on religious observances were eased.

By the second half of the 1980s, substantial maneuvering and speculation centered on identifying the successor to the seventyfour -year-old Zhivkov, who was increasingly isolated from everyday governance. Four younger politicians divided most of the key responsibilities of government and party in 1986. Although speculation grew that Zhivkov had become a figurehead or was preparing to resign, in the late 1980s he was still able to divide the power of his rivals and avoid naming a single successor.

The BCP maintained complete control over all major programs and policies in the Bulgarian government, although the role of the party in specific instances was not clear. In 1987, facing a budding opposition movement and pressure from the Soviet Union, the BCP began planning for multiple-candidate (not multiparty) regional elections to end citizen apathy toward both government and the party. Although some reforms were made in the nomination process, local electoral commissions retained control over final lists of nominees.

By February 1989, at least nine independent political groups had emerged. Spurred by the liberalized domestic policies of Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, such groups demanded similar concessions from the Bulgarian government. Given Bulgaria's long record of mimicking Soviet policy changes, this was a natural expectation. In fact, the 1987 BCP Central Committee plenum had endorsed officially perestroika and glasnost, the cornerstones of the Gorbachev reform program. The plenum also substantially reduced official state ceremonies, rituals, personal awards, and propaganda, explaining that such formalities alienated the people.

In the three years following the 1987 plenum, however, the Bulgarian government and the BCP gave lip service to Soviet reforms, while quietly taking a more hard-line approach to many issues. During this period, reform in the BCP and the government apparatus was confined to reshuffling ministries, departments, and personnel as a gesture of solidarity with perestroika. At the same time, dissident groups were harrassed, put under surveillance, and accused of unpatriotic activities.

Issues of Dissent

In the late 1980s, official repression of the Turkish minority was the most visible domestic issue in Bulgaria. By 1989 this policy had brought harsh international condemnation and provided a human rights issue for the domestic opposition. A total of 310,000 ethnic Turks were expelled or emigrated voluntarily in 1989, and the Bulgarian economy suffered greatly from this depletion of its work force.

In July 1989, more than a hundred well-known Bulgarian intellectuals petitioned the National Assembly to restore rights to the ethnic Turks suffering forced emigration. Bulgarian Turks formed the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, advocating a wide range of government reforms besides the Turkish issue. The regime responded by accusing Turkish agents of fomenting ethnic strife, denying the existence of a Turkish minority in Bulgaria, and fanning the racial animosity of Bulgarians toward Turks.

In addition to the ethnic and political problems, in the late 1980s Bulgaria faced the need for strenuous economic reforms to improve efficiency, technology, and product quality. Between 1987 and 1989, the Zhivkov regime promised expansion of trade and joint ventures with the West, banking reform, currency convertability, and decentralized planning. In actuality, however, the thirty-five- year-old regime lacked the political will and energy to press drastic economic reform. The economic stagnation that began in the early 1980s, with which Zhivkov had become identified, continued unchallenged and became another major cause of political discontent.

The Removal of Zhivkov

Despite the appeareance of numerous opposition groupsa in the preceding year, the Zhivkov regime was unprepared for the successive fall of communist regimes across Eastern Europe in late 1989. In October an all-European environmental conference, Ecoforum, was held in Sofia under the auspices of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). This event focused world attention on Bulgaria's history of repressing environmental activism and stimulated open demonstrations by human rights advocates and the Bulgarian Ekoglasnost environmental group. Although some demonstrators were beaten and detained, direct communication with the West inspired them to greater self-expression. This activity culminated in a mass demonstration in Sofia on November 3. Meanwhile, in a speech to a plenum of the BCP in late October, Zhivkov admitted that his latest restructuring program, begun in 1987 to achieve "fundamental renewal" of society, politics, and the economy, had been a failure. He unveiled a new, detailed program to counteract "alienation of the people from the government and the production process." Other party spokesmen increasingly noted recent drastic reforms in other socialist states and pointed to Bulgaria's failure to keep pace. Then, at the regular plenary meeting of the BCP Central Committee in November, Prime Minister Georgi Atanasov announced Zhivkov's resignation.

Although the resignation appeared voluntary, Western observers agreed that top party figures, increasingly dissatisfied with Zhivkov's refusal to recognize problems and deal with public protests, had exerted substantial pressure on him. The leaders of the movement to remove Zhivkov--Atanasov, Foreign Minister Petur Mladenov (who became head of state), and Defense Minister Dobri Dzhurov--had received the advance blessing of Moscow and the majority of the Bulgarian Politburo. Soviet leader Gorbachev apparently approved the change because Zhivkov had not heeded warnings that cosmetic reform was insufficient given the drastic restructuring sought by Gorbachev. Within a month of his resignation, Zhivkov was expelled from the BCP, accused of abuse of power, and arrested. Mladenov became chairman of the State Council and chief of the BCP.


The Zhivkov ouster brought rapid change in some political institutions, little or no change in others. The official name of the country dropped "people's" to become simply the Republic of Bulgaria. For two years, the BCP remained entrenched as the most powerful party, slowing reform and clinging tenaciously to economic and political positions gained under Zhivkov. But a new constitution was ratified in mid-1991, laying the basis for accelerated reform on all fronts. The Mladenov Government

The first few months of the Mladenov regime brought few of the dramatic changes seen in Czechoslovakia or the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in the same period. Mladenov, who came to power without a personal following, left much of the old government in power and failed to separate state from party functions. Although initial reforms came from the Politburo, Mladenov achieved popularity by immediately legalizing political protest, giving the media unprecedented freedom, abolishing privileges of party officials, and scheduling free elections within six months. Article 1 of the 1971 constitution, which established the leading role of the BCP in Bulgarian government and society, was abolished in January 1990. Public repudiation of Zhivkov allowed his subordinates to treat him as a scapegoat, thus protecting themselves from blame by the proliferating opposition groups.

The Bulgarian communists avoided the immediate political rejection suffered by their East European comrades for several reasons. Because the BCP had begun as an indigenous Bulgarian movement in 1891, Bulgarians did not resent it as an artificially imposed foreign organization. In 1989 nearly one in nine Bulgarians belonged to the party, a very high ratio that included a large part of the intelligentsia. Early opposition groups were concentrated in Sofia and did not have the means to reach the more conservative hinterlands, reflecting a political dichotomy between town and country that had existed since pre-Ottoman times. Visible reorganization and reform occurred in the BCP shortly after Zhivkov left power; the Politburo was abolished and some old-guard communists were purged. The BCP invited opposition representation in the government and conducted a series of round-table discussions with opposition leaders. In February 1990, Mladenov resigned as party chief, removing the stigma of party interference in government; in April, the State Council was abolished and Mladenov was named president.

The 1990 Stalemate

The first free election of the postwar era, the national election of June 1990, was anticipated as an indicator of Bulgaria's post-Zhivkov political mood and as an end to the extreme uncertainty that followed the Zhivkov era. But the election results provided no decisive answers or conclusions. During the political maneuvering that preceded the election, the contest for control of the National Assembly narrowed to the BCP and the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), a coalition of several major and many minor parties and groups with diverse interests. The BCP presented a reformist image, liberally blaming Zhivkov for national problems and changing its name to the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) to stress that a new era had begun. In March an agreement with opposition groups had made approval of legislative proposals by the round table necessary before the BCP-dominated National Assembly could consider passage. The round table also signed accords defining future legal changes in the political system, including multiple parties, separation of powers, constitutional protection of media freedom, and legalization of private property.

The parliamentary election was followed by three months of inactivity and drift in the summer of 1990. Although the Council of Ministers had resigned immediately after the election, a new government was not formed until late August. BSP party official Andrei Lukanov finally became prime minister in an all-socialist cabinet because UDF and other opposition parties refused to form a coalition. At the same time, the National Assembly required several weeks to agree on compromise candidate Zheliu Zhelev to replace Mladenov as president. The most significant political situation was outside government institutions. The two major parties became deadlocked over UDF demands that the BSP acknowledge its responsibility for the economic ruin of Bulgaria, and that the government adopt the UDF plan for radical economic reform similar to that in Poland. Although much of the Zhivkov old guard had been forced out in favor of middle-of-the road socialists in 1990, the UDF demands activated strong pockets of reaction. Zhelev, a dissident philosopher and UDF leader, spent the rest of 1990 seeking compromises among the factions.

The Lukanov government, tied to an aging, largely conservative constituency and full of little-known BSP figures, met few of the reform demands. In October Lukanov presented a 100-day economic reform plan to serve as a transition to longer-term planning in 1991. The plan borrowed major parts of the program advocated by the UDF. The National Assembly remained too divided on the reform issue to give Lukanov the legislative support he needed. Meanwhile, polls showed a definite drop in popular support for the BSP; under these circumstances, the UDF intensified efforts to turn out the government by refusing to support any of Lukanov's proposals.

In November Bulgaria was paralyzed by student demonstrations and general strikes called to topple Lukanov. Lukanov's resignation ended the opposition's refusal to form a coalition government. Zhelev, who then commanded more political power than any other figure, proposed a compromise candidate, Dimitur Popov, as prime minister. Popov, a judge with no party allegiance, received a mandate to form a new cabinet and proceed with reforms as soon as possible. After considerable deliberation, cabinet posts were distributed among major factions, and reform legislation began slowly moving into the National Assembly in the first half of 1991.


In the years immediately following the Zhivkov regime, the nominal structure of the Bulgarian government remained essentially unchanged. Actual decision making, however, moved from the elite level of the communist leadership to a variety of political figures and institutions. The Role of Unofficial Organizations

An important quasigovernmental institution in the early stages of this process was the national round table. Conceived by opposition groups shortly after Zhivkov's fall, the round table format was accepted by the Atanasov government under threat of general strikes. In March 1990, a declaration on the role and status of the national round table, formulated by all major political groups, gave the round table approval rights to all major legislation proposed by the government, prior to formal consideration by the National Assembly. In 1990 round table discussions included key government figures and representatives of all constituent groups of the UDS and other opposition parties and trade unions. This forum was an effective bridge across the chaotic months preceding the first free election. It reached key compromises on election law, major provisions of the new constitution, and economic reforms. Compromise measures were then forwarded to the parliament for ratification. By mid-1990 round table proposals were dominated by the platform of the UDF, for which that forum had become the chief input to government policy. The national round table thus replaced the BCP as the de facto source of legislative initiatives, in the absence of a coalition government representing the major Bulgarian political factions.

In late 1990, President Zhelev convened a Political Consultative Council that was able to unite all major factions behind formation of a coalition government in December 1990. This step ended the threat that chaos would follow the resignation of the Lukanov government. In January 1991, the parties represented in the National Assembly signed a detailed agreement describing political rights, the legislative agenda for 1991, BCP (BSP) responsibility for the mistakes of the Zhivkov regime, property rights, resolution of social conflicts, and ethnic questions. The stated purpose of this agreement was to ease national tensions and provide a proper working atmosphere for the immense reform program envisioned for 1991.

The National Assembly

In the post-Zhivkov reforms, the National Assembly returned to its prewar status as a forum for debate of legislation among representatives of true political factions. This status had been lost completely from 1947 to 1989, when the assembly rubber-stamped legislation originating in the BCP hierarchy.

The Assembly under Zhivkov

According to the 1971 constitution, the unicameral National Assembly was the supreme organ of state power, acting as the national legislature and electing all the other bodies of the national government. In practice under the Zhivkov regime, the National Assembly met for three short sessions each year, long enough to approve policies and legislation formulated by the Council of Ministers and the State Council. The National Assembly had a chairman (elected by the entire body, until 1990 at the recommendation of the BCP Central Committee), and four deputy vice chairs. In the intervals between sessions, the functions of the assembly were conducted by permanent commissions whose number and designation varied through the years. Not enumerated in the 1971 constitution, the authority of the commissions often overlapped that of the ministerial departments. The National Assembly had the power to dissolve itself or extend its term in emergency session.

During the Zhivkov years, new assemblies were elected every five years to coincide with party congresses; the Central Committee of the BCP met immediately before the first session of each new assembly to approve candidates who were then rubber-stamped by the National Assembly for the leadership positions of the assembly, State Council, and Council of Ministers. The ninth National Assembly (1986-90) was rarely even notified of policy decisions of the Zhivkov-led State Council. Nevertheless, election of the National Assembly remained the most important political ritual in Bulgaria throughout the communist period, and the return to free assembly elections in 1990 recalled the direct popular representation prescribed in the Turnovo Constitution of 1879, still revered as a model for Bulgarian governance.

The First Freely Elected Assembly, 1990

The first significant post-Zhivkov act of the holdover (ninth) National Assembly was passage of twenty-one measures of constitutional reform. These measures included abolition of the article of the 1971 constitution giving the BCP sole right to govern. In April 1990, that National Assembly dissolved itself to make way for national election of a Grand National Assembly, charged with writing and ratifying a new constitution; this was the first voluntary adjournment of that body since World War II.

In accordance with the provisions under which the 1990 parliamentary elections were held, after passing the new constitution in July 1991 the Grand National Assembly voted to dissolve itself and continue working as a normal parliament until election of the new body. Thus, in the second half of 1991 work would continue on critical legislation covering issues such as privatization, election procedures, and local government reform.

After the 1990 national elections, the National Assembly remained a weak legislative body, but for a new reason. No longer required to follow party orders precisely, representatives often were split quite evenly on reform issues. The majority BSP included reform and reactionary factions, and the 144 UDF members were a formidable opposition group. Unlike the brief assemblies of the Zhivkov era, the new body remained in session several days a week throughout the remainder of 1990 through mid-1991, struggling for compromise on reform legislation.

The State Council and the Presidency

The State Council, technically an executive committee within the National Assembly, was created by the 1971 constitution as the primary executive agency of the national government. Because of that role, the chairman of the council was automatically president of the country and thus one of the two most powerful figures in Bulgaria in the Zhivkov years. The State Council included representatives from trade unions, the Communist Youth League of Bulgaria (Komsomol), and other mass organizations. The council supervised the Council of Ministers and had the right to repeal ministry decisions--a function that clearly reduced the Council of Ministers to secondary executive status. In addition to its executive functions, the State Council could issue direct decrees with full legal authority when the National Assembly was not in session, with no provision for later approval by the full legislative body. Under Zhivkov most members of the State Council were high officials of the BCP. When Petur Mladenov replaced Zhivkov as chairman of the State Council, he did not automatically become head of state. When the State Council was abolished in April 1990, the round table named Mladenov president of the republic, a new title for the Bulgarian head of state. The appointment was made with the understanding that the new constitution would set guidelines for this office. Meanwhile, Mladenov and his successor Zheliu Zhelev retained the power to form cabinets with the consent of the National Assembly, to represent the country abroad, and to act as commander in chief of the armed forces.

The Council of Ministers

The constitution of 1971 substantially diminished the power of the Council of Ministers, or cabinet, which had been an intermittent center of executive authority in Bulgarian governments since 1878. In the last two decades of the Zhivkov regime, the council acted as an advisory board to the State Council and directed everyday operations of the government bureaucracies. All members of the Council of Ministers belonged to the BCP or BANU, and many held top party posts and ministries simultaneously. Longtime Politburo member Stanko Todorov headed the executive committee of the council from its creation in 1971 until 1989. Within their areas of responsibility, the ministries had authority to form administrative organs and to overturn acts by local government agencies. The exact makeup of the council was not prescribed in the constitution; the National Assembly had authority to make changes as necessary, and the council's shape and size changed often in the last Zhivkov years.

After the elections of 1986, the Council of Ministers was reorganized and reduced in size. In the last years of the Zhivkov regime, it included eleven ministers, a chairman (the prime minister), a deputy prime minister, and the chairman of the Committee on State and People's Control. In early 1990, the new provisional council had fourteen ministries: agriculture and forests; construction, architecture, and public works; economy and planning; finance; foreign affairs; foreign economic relations; industry and technology; internal affairs; internal trade; justice; national defense; national education; public health and social welfare; and transport. The ambassador to the Soviet Union also had full cabinet status, as did the heads of the committees for protection of the environment and state and people's control. Five deputy prime ministers also sat in that cabinet, which was headed by Zhivkov-era holdover Georgi Atanasov. The second provisional cabinet, under Andrei Lukanov, included ministers of the environment, culture, and science and higher education in its seventeen departments. The ambassador to the Soviet Union was dropped, and a minister for economic reform added.

The new status of the Council of Ministers as the power center of Bulgarian government was signaled by the targeting of Prime Minister Lukanov for opposition pressure in the fall of 1990. A second signal was intense bargaining between the BSP and opposition parties for positions in the Popov cabinet. That bargaining produced a compromise agreement that gave the key ministries of foreign economic relations and finance to the BSP, with national defense going to the UDF. The Ministry of the Interior, very sensitive because of its role under Zhivkov as the enforcer of state security, was largely reorganized and headed by a nonpolitical figure whose two deputies represented the major parties. The splitting of the deputy minister positions was a key compromise to gain approval of the Popov cabinet. In all, five of the seventeen ministers in the new cabinet were politically unaffiliated; seven remained from the last Lukanov cabinet to soften the transition; and the UDF filled only three posts. The multiparty conference that reached this agreement also allowed for further adjustments in the cabinet structure for the Popov government. As an interim head of government, Popov's main goal was to establish minimal political and economic conditions favorable to long-term reforms.

The Judiciary

Members of the highest national judicial body, the Supreme Court, were elected to five-year terms by the National Assembly. Until 1990, however, National Assembly approval really meant control by the State Council, hence by the BCP. The national court system was divided into criminal, civil, and military courts; the Supreme Court had jurisdiction in both original and appellate cases, and it controlled the activities of all lower courts. The 1971 constitution called the court system and state prosecutor's office "weapons of the dictatorship of the proletariat." The chief prosecutor, chief legal official of Bulgaria, was responsible for compliance with the law by ordinary citizens, local and national political entities and officials, and other public organizations. The powers of this office were extended by law in 1980 in an effort to forestall public dissatisfaction with the crime prevention system. Like the justices of the Supreme Court, the chief prosecutor served at the approval of the State Council. Together with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the chief prosecutor provided absolute BCP control of the Bulgarian judicial system until 1990. The election of all judicial officials further guaranteed this control.

Lower courts functioned at the provincial and municipal levels; election was by people's councils at the provincial level and directly by citizens at the municipal level, using party-approved lists. In 1990 each of Bulgaria's provinces (including Sofia) had a province court. The 105 provincal courts tried minor offenses. Both professional judges and lay assessors sat in the lower courts. Specialized disputes were heard outside the regular court system. For example, international trade cases went to the Foreign Trade Court of Arbitration of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, civil disputes among enterprises and public organizations were heard by the State Court of Arbitration, and labor disputes were settled by the conciliation committees of enterprises.

Criticized before and after the fall of Zhivkov, the Bulgarian justice system changed little with the reform programs of 1990 and 1991. The round table resolutions of early 1990 alluded only to separation of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches to avoid concentration of power in any single branch. However, establishment of an independent, authoritative judiciary would be complicated by the universal view, instilled by forty-five years of complete control by the BCP, that the Bulgarian court system was only an extension of the state's executive power. In a 1991 poll, only 1.7 percent of Bulgarians expressed trust in the courts and the prosecutor's office. In 1990 the youngest judges were over forty years old, and the most talented had left for other careers because of the short term of office, poor pay, low professional status, and party control. In late 1990, Judge Dimitur Lozanchev became the first politically neutral chairman of the Supreme Court since World War II.

Local Government

In 1987 Bulgaria consolidated its local government structure by combining its twenty-eight districts (okruzi; sing. okrug), into nine provinces (oblasti; sing. oblast), including the city of Sofia. A tangible part of the Zhivkov regime's massive (and largely theoretical) plan for economic and political restructuring, the reorganization imitated restructuring plans in the Soviet Union. Local government consolidation was to eliminate the complex and inefficient okrug bureaucracies and improve the operation of "people's self-management," the system by which people's councils nominally managed area enterprises. The latter improvement was to result from narrowing the primary function of the new oblast government to the assistance of local workers' collectives. At the same time, municipalities and townships became somewhat more autonomous because the restructuring gave them some of the administrative power removed from the higher level.

Although the number of districts had remained stable from 1959 until the 1987 reform, the number and allocation of smaller urban and rural political entities changed rapidly during that period as the population shifted. In 1990 there were 299 political divisions smaller than the oblast and twentynine separate urban areas. Both oblasti and smaller constituencies were ruled by people's councils, elected for thirtymonth terms. The local multiple-candidate elections of February 1988 were another aspect of the restructuring program. Although local election commissions retained considerable influence over nominations, about 26 percent of successful candidates were nonparty in 1988. At that time, 51,161 councillors and 3,953 mayors were elected.

The people's councils at all levels were run by elected executive committees that met continuously. These committees had full executive power to act between sessions of the people's councils, in the same way as the State Council acted for the National Assembly in the Zhivkov-era national government. Each council was responsible to the council at the next higher level; financial planning was to conform to the goals of national economic programs. Local councils had authority over the People's Militia, or police, as well as over local services and administration. The Popov government scheduled new local elections for February 1991, after which time reforms were expected in the local government system. Meanwhile, most provincial governments remained under the control of Zhivkovite officials, intensifying the schism between the urban and provincial political climates.

Electoral Procedures

The round table reforms of 1990 included a new election law ratified by the National Assembly. As in other aspects of governance, prescribed election procedures did not change greatly under the new regime, but the intent and practice of the law did. The right to vote by direct secret ballot remained universal for all Bulgarians over eighteen, and the officials they elected remained thoretically responsible only to the voters. Prescriptions for eligibility for nomination and the nomination process changed little with the new law. The main difference was that in practice the BCP (BSP) no longer could indiscriminately remove elected representatives or members of people's councils, nor did it control the nomination function nominally given to public organizations, trade unions, youth groups, and cooperatives.

Under the election law of 1953, all candidate lists were approved by the communist-controlled Fatherland Front. Under the 1990 law, all parties and registered nonparty organizations could submit candidates; individuals could be nominated for the assembly with 500 signatures of voters from their district, and an unlimited number of candidates might run from each district. The State Council formerly had the power to call elections; for the 1990 Grand National Assembly election, the date was fixed by agreement of the UDF and the BCP. The Central Election Commission, formerly a creature of the State Council, was to supervise the equitable implementation of election laws, overseeing the operation of equivalent commissions at local levels. Election commissions at all levels included members from various parties; the Central Election Commission was headed by a professor of law with no political connection.

The new law also revised the representational system of the National Assembly. The new assembly continued to have 400 seats, but it would sit for four instead of five years. A new electoral structure also was introduced. Half the National Assembly members were elected in multiple-seat districts, in proportion to total votes cast for each party in the district. A 4 percent minimum was required for a party to achieve representation. The law designated twenty-eight multiple-seat voting districts, based on the pre-1987 okruzi. The other 200 members were elected from 200 singleseat voting districts. A runoff election was held in each district where no candidate received 50 percent of the initial vote (this occurred in 81 of the 200 districts). All voters in the 1990 election had one vote in each type of district.

The election was supervised by the CSCE. According to impartial observers and the parties themselves, the election was reasonably free of interference and coercion, considering that most of the electorate had never faced a true political choice and the registration and voting systems were quite complex. Party strategies were dictated by timing and geography. The UDF, lacking time and resources to campaign in the provinces, confined its efforts to the more congenial constituency in Sofia and other large cities. The BSP campaigned as a reform party in progressive Sofia, but it took advantage of the substantial residue of Zhivkovite local officials in the provinces (many of whom were accused of exerting pressure on their constituents to vote BSP) to gain 211 assembly seats to the UDF's 144. The UDF outpolled the BSP in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and most other Bulgarian cities.

The timing of the next national election was the topic of heated debate in the first half of 1991 as political factions maneuvered for advantage. After the new constitution was ratified in July 1991 and a new election law was scheduled for August, elections were tentatively set for October 1991. The new election law was to free the system of the cumbersome procedure used in 1990. Controversial elements of the law were a BSP-backed clause disallowing absentee ballots from émigrés and the restriction of all campaign activities to the Bulgarian language. The 1991 law prescribed a Central Electoral Commission of twenty-five, to be appointed by the president in consultation with major political factions. The central commission would then appoint and oversee like commissions at lower jurisdictions and set policy for election administration. National elections were to be held by the proportional system, eliminating the two-part system of 1990. Recognized parties, coalitions of parties, individual nominees, and combinations of individuals and parties would be eligible to run. The country was divided into thirty-one electoral constituencies, three of which were in Sofia.


Until 1989 the BCP exerted firm control over such nongovernmental political institutions as trade unions, youth groups, women's groups, and the nominally oppositionist BANU. The ouster of Zhivkov, however, brought a torrent of new and revived groups into the political arena. In the new open political climate, the groups' fragmented constituencies often spoke loudly for their own special interests, greatly complicating the process of coalition-building and compromise needed to accomplish national reform. The Bulgarian Communist (Socialist) Party

The Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP), which renamed itself the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) several months after the fall of Zhivkov, boasted one of the highest membership-to-population ratios (one in nine Bulgarians) in any communist country in the late 1980s. Between 1958 and 1987, membership grew by 442,000, mainly by adding bureaucrats and blue-collar workers in younger age groups. In 1986 women made up 32.7 percent of party membership but few women held high positions. The proportion of worker members had grown to 44.4 percent by 1986, and the proportion of farm members had dropped to 16.3 percent, reflecting an even sharper drop in the overall farming population of Bulgaria. Party recruitment in the 1980s targeted individuals already successful in public or economic life, and the proportion of whitecollar members increased in that decade.

In 1987 the BCP was organized into 2,900 local units. Until 1990 primary party organizations were based primarily in workplaces. The next level in the hierarchy was municipal organizations, which were overseen by city or province and ultimately national bodies. At every level, party and government personnel were closely interwoven, and the principle of democratic centralism kept the lower levels strictly subordinate to the national party. The primary organizations were charged with recruitment and mobilization. A major concession by the postZhivkov party was removal of party cells from all state offices, the judiciary, educational and health agencies, as well as all nongovernmental workplaces--a concession forced by the UDF's threat to boycott the round table negotiations that would set a national agenda for political reform early in 1990. That change significantly altered the primary level of party organization.

Until 1990 the top level of party leadership was the Politburo, of which Zhivkov was general secretary. That position had been abolished in the 1950s in the BCP as part of de-Stalinization. It was restored in 1981, however, to recognize Zhivkov's long service and conform to Soviet restoration under Leonid Brezhnev. Politburo members usually were selected from the central committee and nominally elected by party congresses, which normally met every five years. In 1986 the Thirteenth Party Congress elected an eleven-member Politburo dominated by party loyalists of Zhivkov's generation but supplemented by a few younger specialists in politics and economics. Following tradition, the 1986 congress made few changes in the previous Politburo. The party congresses were nominally the top policy-making body of the party, but, like the National Assembly, they rubber-stamped decisions handed them by the party elite.

The BCP hierarchy also included the Central Committee, whose members the congress unanimously approved from candidates supplied by the party leadership. Through a number of specialized departments, the Central Committee performed administrative party work between sessions of congress. After considerable size variation, the last Central Committee included 190 members and 131 candidate members in early 1990. The third elite group was the BCP Secretariat, a group somewhat smaller than the Politburo (its number also varied during the Zhivkov years), entrusted with implementing party policy.

Membership in the BCP required recommendation by three established members; if accepted at the primary and next-highest level, a candidate received full membership with no probationary period. Criminal or unethical behavior caused withdrawal of membership. Without benefit of explanation, a varying number of members also failed to receive the new party cards issued before each party congress. Abrupt purging of cadre and membership elements deemed potentially hostile to current programs was a procedure that Zhivkov used with great skill to balance and weaken opposition forces throughout his tenure in office.

The fall of Zhivkov brought immediate and dramatic changes in the BCP, including removal of the word "communist" from its name. The Extraordinary Fourteenth Party Congress of the BCP was held in the winter of 1990, over a year sooner than scheduled. That congress abolished the Central Committee and the Politburo in favor of a Supreme Party Council headed by a presidency. To streamline party activity, the new council had only 131 members, 59 fewer than the last Central Committee. The Secretariat was abolished. The party emerged from the congress with significant splits between reform and conservative factions and a new temporary program. Only about 10 percent of previous Central Committee members became members of the new Supreme Party Council; several party stalwarts who had survived the Zhivkov overthrow, including Prime Minister Atanasov, were not elected. The BCP's constitutional guarantee of the leading role in Bulgarian society already had been abolished. In a compromise with the UDF shortly after the congress, party organizations were banned from workplaces and the armed forces. The BSP had full control of the government (the UDF refused to form a coalition both before and after the 1990 elections), but BSP popularity and power ebbed rapidly during 1990 and 1991. By the first anniversary of Zhivkov's resignation, party membership had decreased to an estimated 250,000. (Membership had been reported as 984,000 at the time of the Fourteenth Party Congress.)

Bulgaria - The Union of Democratic Forces

The Union of Democratic Forces (UDF--Bulgarian Sayuz na Demokratichnite Sili--SDS), which emerged as the chief opposition faction to the BCP after 1989, was a motley coalition of several major and many minor parties and groups. Some of the parties, such as BANU, predated the communist era by several decades. Others, such as the Green Party, were organized after the overthrow of Zhivkov. When the UDF was founded in December 1989, it included ten organizations; by the following spring, six more parties and movements had joined.

The basis of the UDF was the dissident groups that formed under the faltering Zhivkov regime in the late 1980s. The all-European Ecoforum of October 1989 allowed many such groups to meet and exchange ideas for the first time; once Zhivkov fell, the initial contacts spawned an organizational declaration that envisioned a loose confederation. Within the confederation, constituent groups would continue to work for their own specific interests. The coordinating council was to include three members from each organization. Longtime dissident philosopher Zheliu Zhelev was elected chairman and Petur Beron, a well-known environmental scientist, was chosen secretary.

The diversity of membership required substantial compromise in the UDF program. At least one issue central to each member group was included in the program, however. The general goals of the program were: a civil society, market economy, multiparty system, and constitutional government. Sixteen specific steps were outlined to achieve those goals. The main criterion for acceptance of new member organizations was compatibility of their goals with those in the UDF program.

Shortly after the UDF was founded, a vital policy decision confronted its leaders: the BCP-dominated government revoked the Zhivkov program of Bulgarizing the names of all Turkish citizens. Alienating the extreme nationalist factions that opposed compromise with the ethnic minority, the UDF supported the government decision in its first major policy statement.

In the first half of 1990, the stature of the UDF was enhanced by its participation as an equal in round table discussions with the BCP (BSP) on a range of policy issues that would set future economic and political policy. By March 1990, the coalition's main goal was clearly stated: to push the interim National Assembly to draft a democratic constitution and urgent reform legislation as quickly as possible, over the opposition of remaining BSP hardliners and noncommunist splinter groups. All factions recognized that once this was completely accomplished, the coalition would dissolve and members would act as independent political parties with varying agendas.

In the parliamentary elections of June 1990, the UDF platform advocated a wide range of drastic reforms in government structure, the media, foreign policy, and the economy. Detailed proposals were offered for education, the environment, and a two-phase "shock therapy" reform leading to a free market economy. Finally, the UDF blamed the previous communist regime for Bulgaria's current crises. The UDF failed to gain a majority in the National Assembly because many rural areas remained in control of Zhivkovite BSP politicians. Many peasants had felt relatively secure under the old collective system, and the timing of the election had forced opposition parties to concentrate campaigns in the cities, their strongest regions. The BSP won 211 of the 400 seats.

In the year following parliamentary elections, BSP obstructionism stymied legalization of the UDF's reform goals. On the other hand, the UDF's refusal to participate in the Lukanov cabinet proved its popular strength by stalemating Lukanov's economic reform program. In the crisis-driven formation of the Popov government in December 1990, the UDF gained strategic cabinet posts. In January 1991, the UDF and the BSP agreed on a timetable for passage of the new constitution and other urgent legislation, but early in 1991 parliamentary disagreements set back the schedule. In March 1991, the UDF sponsored a protest rally attended by more than 50,000 people in Sofia. In May legislators from several smaller parties walked out of the National Assembly to protest its inaction; the BANU contingent promised to do the same if the parliament had not passed a new constitution by the end of June. Meanwhile, however, official UDF policy continued seeking to break the long stalemate by convincing the socialists in the National Assembly to abandon their go-slow approach to reform.

By mid-1991 a split developed between the largest member groups (the reconstituted BSDP, BANU, Ekoglasnost, and the Green Party) and the smaller ones over using quotas and preferential lists in the next election--a practice that would contradict the UDF's role as a single national movement and give larger parties substantially more influence in policy making. Easily the largest member organizations with about 100,000 members each, the BANU and BSDP would benefit most from such a shift. In July 1991, voting in the National Assembly on the new constitution clarified the split between factions viewing the UDF as a single national movement and those seeking individual identity within a loose confederation. The main issue was the constitutional prescription for legislative representation by party. By summer 1991, disagreements on ratification of the constitution had led splinter groups to form a new Political Consultative Council to rival the UDF's existing National Coordinating Council as a controlling agency of the UDF. This threatened to split the UDF into two or three slates of candidates for the 1991 national elections. Thus, by mid-1991 the relative harmony of the UDF's first year had evolved into persistent divisiveness affecting tactics, organizational structure, and the pace of reform. In spite of conciliatory efforts by the coordinating council, the effective united front that had forced major concessions from the BSP in 1990 seemed less potent in 1991.

Bulgaria - Trade Unions

The Bulgarian trade union movement was rejuvenated in the pluralist post-Zhivkov political atmosphere after being forced to adhere totally to BCP policy throughout the postwar period. By 1990 unions were a powerful policy-making force, using well-organized strikes and walkouts to emphasize their positions. Unions under Communist Regimes

In the decade before World War II, the benign dictatorship of Tsar Boris III abolished independent trade unions in favor of a single government-sponsored Bulgarian Workers' Union. As Bulgaria emerged from the war under Soviet occupation, communists abolished that union and replaced it with a General Workers' Professional Union that included both white- and blue-collar workers. Gradually, independent union organizations were forced to disband or join the communist organization. By 1947 union leaders were an important instrument in consolidation of the party's power. When capitalism was declared illegal in 1948, the Dimitrov government united thirteen unions under the Central Council of Trade Unions, which endured until 1989 as the single umbrella organization representing Bulgarian workers.

During that entire period, all workers' and professional organizations followed faithfully the economic policies of the BCP. The official goals of the Bulgarian trade unions were first to help management to fulfill state economic plans, then to defend workers' interests when they did not conflict with such fulfillment. As institutions the unions had no policy input. In individual enterprises, union leaders and managers developed informal advisory relationships. The only official role of the unions was as transmitters of party policies to the working masses. Although union and BCP membership were theoretically separate, officials at the national and local levels often overlapped to give the party direct control of workers. For example, members of the districtlevel people's councils often were also union executives.

General congresses of trade unions were held explicitly to carry out BCP policy; congress delegate structure (2,997 attended the ninth congress in 1982) and the holding of preliminary district congresses mimicked BCP procedures. The many industrial reorganization plans of the Zhivkov regime meant periodic restructuring, if not new roles, for the unions. In the early 1980s, for example, the decentralizing reforms of the New Economic Model (NEM) changed the labor union structure from one divided by region to one divided by brigade, collective, and enterprise, matching the NEM industrial structure of the time. Although this change was controversial, it did little to improve the influence of the Bulgarian working class on enterprise policy.

In the 1980s, union membership approached 4 million, encompassing an estimated 98 percent of Bulgarian workers. Almost a year before the fall of Zhivkov, the Independent Labor Federation, Podkrepa, organized as a white-collar opposition group inspired by the Polish Solidarity movement. In 1989 Podkrepa consistently was persecuted for its outspoken criticism of Zhivkov's policies.

Independent Union Organizations

When the communist regime was overthrown, the central council began restructuring the trade union system, declaring the organization independent of the BCP and renaming its umbrella organization the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CITU). In 1990 BCP organizations were banned from work places, although the continuing overlap of party and union officials maintained substantial communist influence in the CITU at local levels. In the early reform years, the CITU and Podkrepa were the two major trade union federations, although many independent unions also emerged in this revival period for the movement. Early in 1990, Podkrepa established its credibility by exacting an agreement with CITU guaranteeing its members all the rights (and the substantial privileges) accorded official trade unions under the previous system. From the beginning, Podkrepa sought maximum influence on government policy, repeatedly demanding radical economic reform.

Podkrepa grew rapidly in 1990 because of its roles as a charter member of the UDF, as a participant in the policy round tables with the BCP, and as the organizer of strikes and demonstrations against the communist-dominated Lukanov government. In early 1990, an estimated 300 strikes helped convince the government that talks with opposition groups were necessary. Although Podkrepa ran no candidates in the national elections of 1990, it vigorously supported candidates who espoused labor views. In late 1990, another wave of strikes pushed the Lukanov government out and led to the coalition Popov government. Although CITU and other unions participitated, Podkrepa usually was the prime organizer in such actions.

CITU, whose membership of 3 million dwarfed the 400,000 of Podkrepa, remained politically passive in the early post-Zhivkov period. In mid-1990 CITU began issuing statements critical of government inactivity, and it mobilized 500,000 workers to participate in the November 1990 strikes initiated by Podkrepa against the Lukanov government.

The strikes that forced Lukanov's resignation also raised criticism of the political role of both labor organizations late in 1990. CITU received criticism for both its continued ties with the BSP and its aggressive reformist stance. The Supreme Party Council of the BSP declared a policy of noninterference in CITU affairs. Meanwhile, Podkrepa, led by controversial, outspokenly anticommunist Konstantin Trenchev, responded to internal and external criticism by changing from active membership to observor status in the UDF.

The unions continued active participation in political decision making in 1991, however. Because economic reforms brought substantial unemployment and workplace disruption, representing worker interests was synonymous with such involvement in this period. In January 1991, CITU and Podkrepa signed a "social peace agreement" with the Popov government to refrain from striking during the first phase of economic reform in exchange for limitations on work-force cutbacks. However, jurisdictional and policy disputes threatened to undermine the agreement. Although both organizations continued to support the Popov government, in March 1991 Podkrepa proposed that UDF representatives boycott the National Assembly because it failed to pass reform measures.

As opposition to the communists declined as a uniting factor, Bulgaria's trade unions maneuvered to shape new roles for themselves in 1991. Representing 40 percent of the population in a wide-open political culture, they exerted tremendous influence on policy even in the first post-Zhivkov year. The radical economic reform envisioned by Bulgarian leaders would include entirely new relationships among the government, enterprise management, and unions. Movement to a Western-style free-market economy would mean conceding some worker rights taken for granted under the command economy, but compromise with the Podkrepa-led union movement promised to be a severe test for other political institutions.

Bulgaria - Youth Organizations

Following the model of the Soviet Union, the BCP put massive resources into its party youth organization when it came to power. Officially called the Communist Youth League of Bulgaria (later the Dimitrov Communist Youth League of Bulgaria) and abbreviated to Komsomol, the league sought to ensure that proper socialist values would pass to the next generation and to supply new members for the party. With a peak membership of 1.5 million in 1987, the Komsomol had the same organizational structure as the BCP, with a secretariat and executive bureau analogous to the Politburo at the top and a pyramid of local and regional sub-organizations. Besides instilling party dogma in Bulgarian youth, the organization was a vehicle for enforcing party directives, a source of reserve personnel, an organizer of social and recreational activities, and, in the 1980s, an instrument for encouraging computer training in the schools. Beginning in the mid-1970s, the Komsomol's lack of self-confidence was revealed in a series of party meetings, speeches, and programs aimed at explaining and combatting apathy and materialism in Bulgarian youth. By the late 1980s, the Komsomol was widely seen as a hollow facade; between 1987 and 1989, membership dropped by 30 percent after compulsory registration ended in secondary schools.

Immediately after the overthrow of Zhivkov, alternative youth groups began to form. One such group, the Federation of Independent Students' Unions (FISU), gained support by advocating complete separation of student groups from the BCP/BSP and its ideological constraints and by proclaiming itself a student voice on questions of national policy. FISU gained stature by being a charter member of the UDF.

Meanwhile, the Komsomol acknowledged past failures, changed its name to the Bulgarian Democratic Youth (BDY), and began issuing policy statements on student rights and broader social issues. The organization was decentralized by giving local affiliates substantial autonomy, and democratized by limiting the terms of officials. Election of a political unknown, Rosen Karadimov, as first secretary was another signal that the youth organization had broken with conventional communist party practices.

The BDY was overwhelmed by a wave of student activism in alternative groups. Student strikes in support of the anti-Lukanov labor strikes in late 1990 shut down major universities. And, like the BSP, the BDY faced reminders and accusations of its misdeeds in the prereform era. In late 1990, the BDY returned to the state much of the property the Komsomol had accumulated during decades of BCP funding. It also renounced socialism and recast itself as an apolitical social organization.

Bulgaria - The Movement for Rights and Freedoms

With 120,000 members, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) was the fourth largest political organization in Bulgaria in 1991, but it occupied a special place in the political process. The leader of the movement, Ahmed Dogan, was imprisoned in 1986 for opposition to the Zhivkov policy of assimilating ethnic Turks. Founded in 1990 to represent the interests of the Turkish ethnic minority, the MRF gained twentythree seats in the first parliamentary election that year, giving it the fourth-largest parliamentary voting bloc. Its agenda precluded mass media coverage or building coalitions with other parties, because of the strong anti-Turkish element in Bulgaria's political culture. By mid-1991, the UDF had held only one joint demonstration with the MRF; their failure to reconcile differences was considered a major weakness in the opposition to the majority BSP. In early 1990, the MRF protested vigorously but unsuccessfully its exclusion from national round table discussions among the major Bulgarian parties.

In 1991 the MRF broadened its platform to embrace all issues of civil rights in Bulgaria, aiming "to contribute to the unity of the Bulgarian people and to the full and unequivocal compliance with the rights and freedoms of mankind and of all ethnic, religious, and cultural communities in Bulgaria." The MRF took this step partly to avoid the constitutional prohibition of political parties based on ethnic or religious groups. The group's specific goals were ensuring that the new constitution protect ethnic minorities adequately; introducing Turkish as an optional school subject; and bringing to trial the leaders of the assimilation campaign in the 1980s. To calm Bulgarian nationalist resentment, the MRF categorically renounced Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, and ambitions for autonomy within Bulgaria. Political overtures were made regularly to the UDF, and some local cooperation occurred in 1991. Although the MRF remained the fastest growing party in Bulgaria, however, the sensitivity of the Turkish issue caused official UDF policy to keep the MRF in isolation.

Bulgaria - Ecological Organizations and Revived Prewar Parties

Besides the BSP and BANU, parties officially sanctioned under Zhivkov, an unofficial list of political organizations in early 1990 contained fourteen political parties, seven unions and labor federations, and sixteen forums, clubs, movements, committees, and associations--diverging widely in scope, special interests, and size. Ecological Organizations

Two ecological organizations, the Green Party in Bulgaria and Ekoglasnost, were founding members of the UDF. The Greens, which separated from Ekoglasnost shortly after Zhivkov's fall, included mostly scientists and academics. Their platform stressed decentralized government and a strong role for the individual in determining quality of life and preservation of the environment. The government was to play a leading role, however, in providing social security, health care, and support for scientific reasearch. Ekoglasnost, which described itself as nonpolitical despite its role in the UDF, was founded in early 1989 as an open association of environmentally concerned citizens. Its purpose was to collect and publicize ecological information about proposed projects, and to assist decision makers in following environmentally sound policy. Ekoglasnost had a membership of 35,000 at the end of 1990.

Revived Prewar Parties

The Bulgarian Social Democratic Party (BSDP) was an offshoot of the movement that produced the BCP. The main socialist party in Bulgaria between the world wars, the BSDP was disbanded by the communists in 1948. It resurfaced in 1990, resuming its advocacy of government reform and elimination of social privilege. The BSDP saw a freely elected National Assembly as the chief instrument of popular democracy. The BSDP party platform also called for close economic ties with Europe, disarmament, and respect for private property. The BSDP was a founding member of the UDF and, under the controversial leadership of Petur Dertliev, one of its most active participants.

The history of the BSDP followed closely that of the communists, except that the latter had a larger following. The BSDP recovered official status in 1990 after being disbanded in 1948. Representing the middle class, the party stood for private property rights, a multiparty parliamentary system of government, radical reduction of the military budget, and active participation in the European Community. Membership in 1991 was 25,000 to 30,000.

The Petkov branch of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BANU), the third of the prewar parties to emerge as an independent entity after Zhivkov, was the part of the agrarian movement that had actively opposed the communists between 1944 and 1947 and thus did not survive the postwar communist consolidation. The "official" BANU, showpiece opposition party to the BCP from 1947 until 1989, also was revitalized in 1990. In 1990 and 1991, efforts were made to reunite the two factions. (Petkov himself was officially rehabilitated by the National Assembly in 1990.) In its new incarnation, the Petkov branch advocated complete government decentralization, extensive support for agricultural privatization and investment, punishment of the communists and "official" agrarians for crimes against the Petkov branch, and a general return to the populist ideas of Stamboliiski. Together with the BSDP, the Petkov BANU was the largest (110,000 members in 1991) and most active constituent of the UDF.

Bulgaria - The Monarchist Movement

Simeon II, exiled son of Tsar Boris III, was 54 years old in 1991, healthy, and popular with many Bulgarians. In the difficult reform years, he was the center of a small but significant movement that saw restoration of the monarchy as a solution to the dilemmas of governing society. Simeon encouraged the movement by agreeing to return if his people wished a restoration. Newly available publications on the history of the Bulgarian monarchy, especially Boris III, had evoked considerable public interest by 1991. A referendum on monarchy-versus-republic was scheduled for July 1991, then cancelled by the National Assembly because of its potentially divisive impact and because of strong opposition from the BSP and most UDF factions. The new constitution's description of Bulgaria as a republic ended official consideration of restoration in 1991, but Simeon's personal popularity preserved monarchism as a political option for many disillusioned Bulgarians in the early 1990s.


In the post-Zhivkov era, extreme diversification of political organizations and activities paralleled a similar liberation in the media and the arts. Under Zhivkov Bulgaria had followed the totalitarian formula for media control, allowing only official radio and television stations and newspapers that were conduits for the official party line on all subjects. Limited artistic freedom came in several "thaw" periods (notably in the mid-1960s and the late 1970s) that closely followed similar relaxation in the Soviet Union. The charisma of Liudmila Zhivkova, appointed by her father to oversee cultural affairs in 1975, notably lightened the Bulgarian cultural scene from the late 1970s through 1981. The early 1980s was a time of unprecedented freedom for media discussion of controversial topics; the Law on Plebiscites (1983) was to have promoted discussion of preselected issues of public interest, but by 1984 party reactionaries had reasserted control. The 1984 Bulgarian Writers' Conference called for more ideological content in literature, signaling a change that lasted through the end of the Zhivkov regime.

The Intelligentsia

Intellectual groups developed no formal organizations comparable to groups in other East European countries, because the small intellectual community centered in one city (Sofia) required no such measures. Furthermore, the Bulgarian Writers' Union already contained a large percentage of the intelligentsia. Especially during the "thaw" periods, factions in the union showed substantial diversity in their approach to the role of art versus that of the state. A much smaller Bulgarian Artist's Union and Bulgarian Journalists' Union had similar status. A samizdat (underground publication network) did circulate dissident writings from the Soviet Union and elsewhere. Among official publications, Narodna kultura (People's Culture) gained a singular reputation between 1984 and 1988 by publishing provocative articles on politics, economics, education, and the environment. In 1988 Zhivkov fired its editor Stefan Prodev for helping found a dissident organization.

Zhivkov and the Intelligentsia

Until the late 1980s, Zhivkov successfully prevented unrest in the Bulgarian intellectual community. Membership in the writers' union brought enormous privilege and social stature, and that drew many dissident writers such as Georgi Dzhagarov and Liubomir Levchev into the circle of the officially approved intelligentsia. On the other hand, entry required intellectual compromise, and refusal to compromise led to dismissal from the union and loss of all privileges. The punishment of dissident writers sometimes went far beyond loss of privileges. In 1978 émigré writer Georgi Markov was murdered in London for his anticommunist broadcasts for the British Broadcasting Corporation, and Blaga Dimitrova was harshly denounced for her critical portrayal of party officials in her 1982 novel Litse.

Zhivkov also softened organized opposition by restoring symbols of the Bulgarian cultural past that had been cast aside in the postwar campaign to consolidate Soviet-style party control. Beginning in 1967, he appealed loudly to the people to remember "our motherland Bulgaria." In the late 1970s, Zhivkov mended relations with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and in 1981 Liudmila Zhivkova's national celebration of Bulgaria's 1,300th anniversary raised patriotic feeling. Zhivkov's extensive campaign of cultural restoration provided at least some common ground between him and the Bulgarian intelligentsia.

The Ferment of 1988-90

In late 1987, dissatisfaction with government corruption, pollution, the Turkish issue, and repeated failure of economic reform programs began to stimulate open political dissent. By that time, a younger generation had matured, unimpressed by communist doctrine and disinclined to blind obedience. In November 1987, the Federation of Clubs for Glasnost and Democracy (originally the Discussion Club for Support of Glasnost and Perestroika) was founded by communist intellectuals to promote openness in Bulgarian society. In early 1988, the appearance of the Independent Association for Defense of Human Rights in Bulgaria publicized the repression of the regime. Meanwhile, the fragmented intellectual community had been galvanized by a single issue: environmental degradation. In the winter of 1987-88, an ecological exhibition in Ruse, one of the most seriously polluted industrial centers in Bulgaria, received national media attention. The communist regime's failure to protect its people from such dangers became a symbol for the general aura of incompetence that surrounded Zhivkov in the late 1980s.

In mid-1988 Zhivkov responded to the new opposition by purging two high pro-glasnost party officials, signaling that the party would permit glasnost only on its own terms. The BCP also tried to preempt environmental opposition by forming the Movement for Environmental Protection and Restoration amid promises for stiffer environmental regulation.

In late 1988 and early 1989, many leaders of independent Bulgarian groups were deported or harrassed. Nevertheless, by mid1989 at least thirteen independent associations and committees had been founded for the defense of human rights and the environment. Then in 1989, communism was discredited by successful freedom movements in Hungary, Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia. By that time, glasnost had stimulated political dialog in the Soviet Union, which was still the model for Bulgarian political behavior. Under these new conditions, government intimidation failed. Although Zhivkov sought reconciliation with the intelligentsia by proclaiming a "new cultural revolution" in early 1989, the unions of writers, journalists, and artists leveled strong criticism on the environment and other issues. When Ekoglasnost was formed that year, it made a formidable public appeal for an accounting of economic policies that harmed the environment.

In 1989 the Federation of Clubs backed the National Assembly petition against Turkish assimilation by characterizing the policy as against the best traditions of the Bulgarian nation. According to one theory, the Zhivkov policy toward the Turks was calculated to alienate the intelligentsia from the ethnocentric Bulgarian majority by forcing the former to take sides with the Turks; whatever its purpose, the policy failed amid the massive Turkish exodus of 1989. Leaders of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, deported for defending the Turks, were welcomed at a session of the CSCE, severely damaging Zhivkov's image in Europe. In the fall of 1989, dissident groups received further validation at the CSCE Conference on the Environment in Sofia, where they held public meetings and were received by Western delegates. The mass demonstrations that followed convinced the BCP that the Zhivkov regime could not survive.

Dramatic expression of public discontent continued after the Zhivkov ouster. In mid-1990 tent-city demonstrations in Sofia continued for several weeks, encountering no effective official resistance. Patterned after peaceful antigovernment protests of the 1960s in the West, the Sofia campsite of over 100 tents near the BSP headquarters building began as a protest against communist retention of power in the national elections of June 1990. The protest eventually included demonstrators of many political viewpoints. Besides election fraud by the BSP, issues targeted were the Chernobyl' coverup, corruption among former and present BCP/BSP officials, Bulgaria's role in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and past actions of present government officials such as Lukanov and Interior Minister Atanas Semerdzhiev. The tent city played an important role in publicizing reform issues as a new national government was being formed.

The Media and Public Issues

In the wake of Zhivkov's overthrow, fast-spreading pluralism in the media and intellectual circles brought a din of conflicting opinion to the public. In 1987 Bulgaria had seventeen daily newspapers, most of which were local. By 1991 eight national newspapers were publishing, and an expanding variety of local and weekly papers was available. Until 1990 the chief daily newspaper was Rabotnichesko delo, the official organ of the BCP. After the fall of Zhivkov, the daily was renamed Duma; in its new format, it began to feature more balanced accounts of national problems, reflecting the moderate image now cultivated by its sponsoring organization. The fragmentation of politics in 1990 brought a newspaper boom that included a full spectrum of political views. In 1991 the leading papers by circulation were Duma, Demokratsiya (an independent), the trade union daily Trud, and Zemia, aimed primarily at rural readers. The most popular weeklies were Sturshel, featuring folk humor, and the long-running Pogled. The weekly 168 Chasa went furthest in rejecting traditional Bulgarian journalism in favor of sophisticated parody and Western-style indepth features.

Universities dropped their required study of Marxist-Leninist ideology, and student organizations emerged immediately to assert positions on a wide variety of issues. In numerous national polls, the public expressed dissatisfaction with government leaders, economic policies (as both too radical and too conservative), and the BSP. Vestiges of the traditional gap between city and village remained, however: on the average, rural Bulgarians expressed less support for market reform and noncommunist leaders, placed less blame on the communists for current problems, and opposed complete rights for the Turkish minority more strongly.

In 1990-91 the media featured major exposés on malfeasance by the Zhivkov regime (acknowledged by the present BSP under public pressure), coverups of radiation exposure from the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant and the Chernobyl' disaster in the Soviet Union, and the murder of Georgi Markov (a full-scale investigation of which opened in 1990). In mid-1991 Bulgaria opened its archives to an international commission investigating the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. In spite of those developments, in 1991 government agencies and individuals still threatened independent publications with court action for "treasonous" statements. In a 1991 poll by the independent 168 chasa, 46 percent of respondents expressed the belief that a campaign had been organized to control the Bulgarian media (the BSP and party officials were most often named responsible), and 37 percent said that freedom of the press was not in danger in Bulgaria.

The Permanent Commission for Human Rights and the National Problem was created in 1990 as an advisory and investigatory agency of the National Assembly. Composed of thirty-nine members of parliament, the commission received the nominal assignment of investigating past and present human rights violations in Bulgaria, recommending appropriate compensation, and drafting new human rights legislation. Among the issues addressed in the commission's first year were restoration of government-confiscated property to churches and Turkish citizens; verifying complaints of unfair sentencing and inhumane prison conditions; proposing laws to replace restrictive legislation such as the Law on Religious Beliefs and the Law on Passports; and erecting legal barriers against state persecution for political reasons. In January 1991, commission chairman Svetoslav Shivarov reported that all political prisoners in Bulgaria had been freed.

The Turkish Problem

As in other parts of Eastern Europe, the repeal of single-party rule in Bulgaria exposed the long-standing grievances of an ethnic minority. Especially in the 1980s, the Zhivkov regime had systematically persecuted the Turkish population, which at one time numbered 1.5 million and was estimated at 1.25 million in 1991. Mosques were closed, Turks were forced to Slavicize their names, education in the native language was denied, and police brutality was used to discourage resistance. The urban intelligentsia that partcipated in the 1990 reform movement pushed the post-Zhivkov governments toward restoring constitutionally guaranteed human rights to the Turks. But abrogation of Zhivkov's assimilation program soon after his fall brought massive protests by ethnic Bulgarians, even in Sofia.

In January 1990, the Social Council of Citizens, a national body representing all political and ethnic groups, reached a compromise that guaranteed the Turks freedom of religion, choice of names, and unimpeded practice of cultural traditions and use of Turkish within the community. In turn the Bulgarian nationalists were promised that Bulgarian would remain the official language and that no movement for autonomy or separatism would be tolerated. Especially in areas where Turks outnumbered Bulgarians, the latter feared progressive "Islamification" or even invasion and annexation by Turkey--a fear that had been fed consciously by the Zhivkov assimilation campaign and was revived by the BSP in 1991. Because radical elements of the Turkish population did advocate separatism, however, the nonannexation provision of the compromise was vital.

The Bulgarian governments that followed Zhivkov tried to realize the conditions of the compromise as quickly as possible. In the multiparty election of 1990, the Turks won representation in the National Assembly by twenty-three candidates of the predominantly Turkish MRF. At that point, ethnic Bulgarians, many remaining from the Zhivkov regime, still held nearly all top jobs in government and industry, even in the predominantly Turkish Kurdzhali Province. Nevertheless, parts of Bulgarian society felt threatened by the rise of the MRF. In 1990 that faction collided with a hard-line Bulgarian group, the National Committee for Defense of National Interests--an organization containing many former communists instrumental in the Zhivkov assimilation program. In November 1990, Bulgarian nationalists established the Razgrad Bulgarian Republic in a heavily Turkish region to protest the government's program of restoring rights to the Turks. In the first half of 1991, intermittent violence and demonstrations were directed at both Turks and Bulgarians in Razgrad.

These conditions forced the government to find a balance between Turkish demands and demonstrations for full recognition of their culture and language, and Bulgarian nationalist complaints against preferential treatment for the ethnic minority. In 1991 the most important issue of the controversy was restoring Turkishlanguage teaching in the schools of Turkish ethnic districts. In 1991 the Popov government took initial steps in this direction, but long delays brought massive Turkish protests, especially in Kurdzhali. In mid-1991 continuing strikes and protests on both sides of the issue had brought no new discussions of compromise. Frustration with unmet promises encouraged Turkish separatists in both Bulgaria and Turkey, which in turn fueled the ethnocentric fears of the Bulgarian majority-- and the entire issue diverted valuable energy from the national reform effort. Although most political parties supported full minority rights, in 1991 the strength of Bulgarian nationalist sentiment, deeply rooted in centuries of conflict with the Ottoman Empire and not inclined to compromise, promised to make the Turkish question the most pressing human rights issue in Bulgaria for the foreseeable future.


From World War II until 1989, Bulgarian foreign policy revolved around the Soviet Union. Without exception Sofia imitated or supported Soviet twists and turns such as Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Substantial historical and economic ties supplemented the ideological foundation of the relationship. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bulgaria improved its diplomatic relations with nations outside the Soviet sphere. But in 1989, domestic and international events jolted Bulgaria from forty years of uniformity and forced it to consider for the first time major diversification of its foreign policy, abandoning its paramount reliance on the Soviet Union. This meant a lengthy period of reevaluation, during which general goals were agreed upon but specific policy was hotly debated.

In 1991 Foreign Affairs Minister Viktor Vulkov listed several general goals of his ministry: the integration of Bulgaria as fully as possible into the unified European Community to facilitate development of a market economy and Western political institutions; improving relations with all Bulgaria's Balkan neighbors and the countries of the Black Sea region, with emphasis on mutual territorial integrity and sovereignty; active participation in the United Nations and other international organizations able to guarantee the security of small states; and maintaining as much as possible of Bulgaria's unique relationship with the Soviet Union while drawing much closer to the United States. Once the economic advantages of membership in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) disappeared in 1990 and instability became chronic in the Soviet Union, other sources of economic and geopolitical security became the primary quest in Bulgaria's pragmatic search for foreign partners. In 1990 indications of the new pragmatism were recognition of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Israel and an official invitation for the pope to visit Bulgaria.

The Foreign Policy Establishment

Major changes were made in the organizations conducting Bulgarian foreign affairs after the ouster of Zhivkov. Post-Zhivkov governments ended the practice of selecting members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for diplomatic positions in which they gathered intelligence and carried out subversive activities abroad. Admitting that the Bulgarian intelligence presence abroad had been extensive under Zhivkov, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared in mid-1991 that henceforth only a single, identified intelligence officer would remain in each Western embassy. In a sharp streamlining of the diplomatic corps, 200 of Bulgaria's 544 foreign diplomats were called home in 1990 and 1991, and 20 of its 79 foreign missions were closed, mostly in Third World countries (relations with those countries continued, however).

Under the communist Lukanov government of 1990, President Zheliu Zhelev assumed major responsibilities as head of state in talks with foreign leaders; his nonpartisan political position at home and his direct approach to foreign and economic issues gained Zhelev respect as a spokesman in Bulgaria and abroad, as well as large-scale commitments of aid from several Western sources. When Popov formed his government in 1991, Vulkov (leader of BANU) replaced a former Zhivkovite intelligence official as minister of foreign affairs, supplementing Zhelev's efforts and improving the world image of Bulgaria's official foreign policy agency.

Bulgaria - Relations with Yugoslavia, Romania, Greece and Turkey

Although the Zhivkov regime often advocated closer relations and multilateral cooperation with Yugoslavia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, and Romania, a number of traditional issues barred significant improvement until the late 1980s. Bulgarian proposals to make the Balkans a zone free of chemical and nuclear weapons, or a "zone of peace and understanding" (advanced by Zhivkov at the behest of the Soviet Union, and to eliminate weapons of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from the region) was vetoed on several occasions. But in 1990, Zhelev was able to remove some of the suspicion that had barred rapprochement by the Zhivkov regime. Post-Zhivkov regimes sought closer relations with both Greece and Turkey, partly in the hope that NATO would grant Bulgaria membership to form a bridge between its two mutually hostile members.


Bulgarian relations with Yugoslavia were conditioned by old issues of Balkan politics and by strong domestic political forces at work in both countries. Throughout the 1980s, the Yugoslav media complained loudly that Bulgaria mistreated its Macedonian citizens by insisting that Macedonians were ethnically Bulgarians, making separate ethnic recognition inappropriate. The Zhivkov regime (and its successors), fearing that inflamed nationalism in Yugoslavia would intensify demands for Macedonian autonomy across the border in Bulgaria, largely ignored the Yugoslav propaganda campaign on the Macedonian issue. The dispute over Macedonia survived and prospered after communism lost its grip on both countries. Bulgarian nationalists, stronger after Zhivkov, held that the Slavic population of the Republic of Macedonia was ethnically Bulgarian, a claim leading naturally to assertion of a Greater Bulgaria. To defuse nationalist fervor on both sides, and in keeping with the policy of improved relations with all neighbors, Zhelev officially advocated nonintervention in the ethnic affairs of other nations.

The nonintervention strategy assumed greater importance when the Republic of Macedonia sought independence from the Yugoslav federation in 1991 in an effort to escape the increasing dominance of the Republic of Serbia in the federation. That effort reinforced the protective attitude of Macedonian nationalists in Bulgaria toward Yugoslav Macedonia, which had been part of Serbia in the interwar period. Serbia's use of force to prevent the breakup of the Yugoslav federation in 1991 triggered Bulgarian fears of wider destabilization in the Balkans if Serbian expansionism were fully revived.

In 1991 Bulgarian policy toward Yugoslavia was complicated by the rejuvenation of Macedonian national groups in Bulgaria. The largest of these was the Union of Macedonian Societies, a longstanding cultural and educational society that in 1990 took the prefix IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization), which was the name of the terrorist organization active in Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia between 1893 and 1935. But the threat posed by such groups remained small because the focus of Bulgarian nationalism was the Turkish issue in 1991, and because economic reform was the major concern of all factions. In spite of claims by the Serbian press that Bulgaria was aiding Croatia in the civil war of 1991 and that Bulgaria owed Serbia reparations from World War II, Bulgaria followed Zhelev's policy of nonintervention as the Yugoslav civil war continued.


In the early 1980s, Bulgarian relations with Romania featured regular official visits by Zhivkov and Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu and diplomatic avoidance of differing approaches to internal control (Romania being the more totalitarian) and the Warsaw Pact (Bulgaria being the more loyal member). At that point, both countries concentrated on more pressing foreign issues, and both advocated creating a Balkan nuclear-free zone. But during the 1980s, relations were strained by the independent foreign policy of Romania, its opposition to perestroika in the late 1980s, and mutual accusations of environmental pollution affecting the other country. Deteriorating personal relations between Zhivkov and the maverick Ceausescu also may have contributed to the decline. But, in the name of Warsaw Pact solidarity, the Zhivkov regime subdued criticism of chemical pollution from Romanian plants across the Danube, and it remained neutral in the Hungarian-Romanian dispute over Romanian treatment of ethnic Hungarians in that country in the late 1980s. After the emergence of the environment as a political issue in 1989, however, accusations became more harsh on both sides. In 1991 joint commissions attempted to reach a compromise on the environmental issue and restore the pragmatic, relatively amicable relationship of the postwar years.


Bulgarian relations with Greece, a traditional enemy, were stable throughout the 1970s and 1980s, in spite of major government changes in both countries. Zhivkov made this stability a model for the overall Balkan cooperation that was a centerpiece of his foreign policy in the 1980s. In 1986 the two countries signed a declaration of good-neighborliness, friendship, and cooperation that was based on mutual enmity toward Turkey and toward Yugoslav demands for recognition of Macedonian minorities in Bulgaria and Greece. An important motivation for friendship with Greece was to exploit NATO's Greek-Turkish split, which was based on the claims of the two countries in Cyprus. In early 1989, Bulgaria signed a ten-year bilateral economic agreement with Greece.

The main historical issue between Bulgaria and Greece, disposition of their Macedonian minorities, was settled during the 1970s; after that time, the parties adopted mutual policies of strict noninterference in internal affairs. In mid-1991 the possibility of independence for Yugoslav Macedonia threatened to renew tension in that area. Post-Zhivkov Bulgarian policy toward Greece remained very conciliatory, however; in 1991 Zhelev stressed cooperation with Greece as a foundation for Balkan stability and reassured the Greeks that Bulgarian rapprochement with Turkey did not threaten this relationship.


In spite of intermittent rapprochement, Turkey was hostile to Bulgaria through most of the 1980s because of Zhivkov's mistreatment of Bulgarian Turks and the economic hardship caused in Turkey by mass immigration of Turks from Bulgaria in 1989. The last rapprochement, a protocol of friendship in early 1988, was signed by Bulgaria to defuse international criticism of its ethnic policy. That agreement dissolved rapidly in 1988, when Turkey saw no change in Bulgarian ethnic assimilation; by 1989 Turkey was vowing to defend the Turkish minority, while Bulgaria claimed that its "Turks" were all Bulgarians converted to Islam under the Ottoman Empire.

The ouster of Zhivkov and subsequent Bulgarian commitment to repatriate deported Turks and grant them full human rights brought a marked change in Turkish policy. Despite delays and complaints from the Bulgarian Turks, Turkey remained patient and positive toward all signs of progress. The former dissident Zhelev, long a vocal critic of assimilation, became president and met with Turkish President Turgut Özal in September 1990. That meeting began a series of high-level economic talks in 1990-91 that yielded Turkish loans and technical assistance to Bulgaria and promised to bolster bilateral trade, which had shrunk by 80 to 90 percent in the mid1980s . A new treaty of friendship and cooperation was prepared in the summer of 1991.

Despite the thaw, obstacles remained in Bulgarian-Turkish rapprochement. The ill will caused by Zhivkov's shrill anti-Turkish propaganda remained fresh in the early 1990s. Strident anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish statements in the media by Bulgarian nationalist factions kept tension high, and minor border incidents continued in 1991. And Bulgarian friendship with Greece created a precarious balancing act that required caution toward such moves as the Bulgarian-Turkish nonagression pact proposed by Turkey in late 1990.

Bulgaria - The Soviet Union

In the post-Zhivkov era, the most controversial foreign policy problem was defining Bulgaria's new relationship with its traditional protector and best trading partner, the Soviet Union. Although Zhivkov's relations with Gorbachev had not been as warm as those with earlier Soviet leaders, Bulgaria remained strongly dependent on the Soviet Union economically even in the years immediately following Zhivkov's ouster (permission for which Bulgarian Politburo members duly sought and received from Moscow). In mid-1992 the 1967 Treaty for Cooperation, Security, and Friendship with the Soviet Union was to expire.

Because the treaty called for notice of abrogation to be given a year in advance, by mid-1991 Bulgarian national opinion was divided over what terms should be included in the National Assembly's draft of a new treaty. Led by the BSP, one body of Bulgarian opinion advocated essentially renewing the existing treaty, giving the Soviet Union top priority in the new foreign policy to ensure continued supply of fuels and other vital materials. A second body of opinion, led by the UDF and Podkrepa, conceded the pragmatic necessity of continued economic relations but urged that a new treaty eliminate all subordination of Bulgarian to Soviet interests and provide complete flexibility for Bulgaria to establish commercial and diplomatic ties with the West. Amid heated public debate, the Popov government reached agreement with the Soviet Union on a short-term abrogation followed by accelerated joint development of a new treaty reflecting the changed positions of both sides. The Bulgarian National Assembly was expected to pass a bill to that effect in August 1991.

Because the two countries had no disputed territory and were on roughly parallel paths of political reform in 1991, major issues between them were mostly economic. The primary Bulgarian concern was to protect its newborn geopolitical independence from any recurrence of the Warsaw Pact mentality in Moscow. Other critical goals in 1991 were stabilizing the unpredictable supply of Soviet oil, protecting large numbers of Bulgarian guest workers threatened with layoff in the Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Komi ASSR), and reestablishing Soviet markets for Bulgarian goods that had shrunk drastically in 1990. A new bilateral defense agreement also was a priority in the wake of Warsaw Pact disestablishment. In July 1991, Bulgaria set a precedent by signing a trade agreement with the Byelorussian Republic, the first intergovernmental pact made directly with one of the Soviet republics.

Bulgaria - Western Europe and the United States

Under Zhivkov Bulgaria's policy toward Western Europe and the United States was determined largely by the position of the Soviet Union. Events such as the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan automatically distanced Bulgaria from the West; then, in the early 1980s Soviet efforts to split NATO by cultivating Western Europe brought Bulgaria closer to France and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany)--a position that continued through the 1980s. A 1988 application for membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was refused because of the Turkish assimilation program, after widespread expectations of success.

Decades of complete isolation from the West left traces on Bulgarian policy even in the 1980s. In early 1989, President François Mitterrand of France was the first Western head of state to visit Bulgaria since before World War II. Between 1945 and 1989, the highest visiting United States official was an assistant secretary of state. And in 1985 Sir Jeffrey Howe became the first British foreign secretary to visit Bulgaria since the nineteenth century--an indication that isolation began before the onset of communism.

The first post-Zhivkov regime recognized quite early, however, that Cold War politics no longer could limit Bulgaria's choice of economic or diplomatic partners. Within a few months of the Zhivkov ouster, the National Assembly Committee on Foreign Policy had received the head of the Council of Europe and received a pledge of closer ties, and Bulgarian diplomats and businessmen had described reform goals, priorities, and investment opportunities to a CSCE Conference on Economic Cooperation. Shortly thereafter Prime Minister Lukanov visited the headquarters of the European Economic Community (EEC) in Brussels. Lukanov signed a treaty on trade and economic cooperation to remove all trade barriers by 1995 and guarantee Bulgarian access to EEC markets. Lukanov also gained substantial support for Bulgarian membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and GATT.

A critical stage in the new policy was Zhelev's meeting with Western leaders in Europe and the United States in the fall of 1990. Zhelev explained Bulgaria's nonaligned position and its needs to United States President George H.W. Bush and to Mitterrand, receiving substantial pledges of aid from both leaders. Traditional trading partner Austria also pledged substantial new investment in the Bulgarian economy during Zhelev's tour of the West.

Bulgaria's new policy toward the West was reflected in a series of decisions taken in 1990. Diplomatic relations were restored with South Korea and Israel, Western allies in sensitive areas of Cold War confrontation. An official invitation for Pope John Paul II to visit Bulgaria constituted a new level of recognition of that religious leader's authority. And in early 1991, Bulgaria sent token noncombat forces in support of the United States-led Persian Gulf War effort. In 1991 Zhelev's cooperation with an international investigation of the Markov murder was another significant gesture to the Western world.

From the beginning, the success of Bulgaria's intense campaign for closer relations with the West depended on continued progress in economic and human rights reform and was measured in economic terms. As the stature of the Soviet Union dwindled steadily in 1991, the hope of gaining full status in the European community was a powerful weapon for reformers within Bulgaria. Given Bulgaria's strategic position and chronic instability elsewhere in the Balkans, Western nations monitored Bulgaria carefully and rewarded its progressive steps. Nonetheless, in 1991 Bulgaria remained far behind Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland in receiving Western aid.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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