Bulgaria Unchained

Though the hard-line communist regime of Todor Zhivkov is gone, his network of apparatchiks and spies still permeates the government

THE paradox is inescapable: The more things change in Bulgaria, the more they seem to stay the same. More than a year after the June 1990 elections, in which the communists (now euphemistically renamed Socialists) won an absolute majority in the new parliament, the country is in a state of leadership drift and political paralysis.A year ago, the post-Zhivkov communist leaders, faced with a severe economic crisis and the danger of civil war, decided on a tactical gamble. They acquiesced in the election of the leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) as president after the communist candidate had already failed to win the required number of votes in several fruitless rounds of parliamentary voting. Then, amidst a nationwide wave of wildcat strikes and worsening food shortages, the ex-communists were forced to make another tactical retreat. In November 1990, their one-party cabinet resigned and was replaced by a coalition government headed by an independent prime minister. At the time, many observers of the Bulgarian scene optimistically predicted that the days of the totalitarian system of communism in Bulgaria were numbered. This early optimism has faded. The efforts of President Zhelev to wrestle political power from the ex-communists have failed. Using its parliamentary clout, the Socialist Party has preserved its positions of power and privilege. Not only are Socialist ministers in charge of over half of the government ministries in Sofia, but the vast government bureaucracy has remained intact and has retained its loyalty to the former regime. The easiness with which proto-communist bureaucrats have been able to subvert democratic reforms has reinforced suspicions that many activists in the pro-democracy camp, who until the downfall of Zhivkov were card-carrying members of the Communist Party and prominent office-holders, are political opportunists who have their own political ambitions rather than the cause of democracy at heart. Nowhere has the failure of the president to break the stranglehold of the former communists over the government been more conspicuous than in his inability to control the critically important ministries of defense, internal security, and foreign affairs. As one retired Bulgarian army colonel, who is an ardent supporter of the Socialist Party, assured me recently, the Bulgariam army and secret police remain firmly in communist hands. And he warned darkly: "We are not going to surrender power peacefully. We spilled blood to win it and we will not relinquish it without bloodshed." SOFIA'S bungled investigations of the role played by Bulgarian State Security (formerly known under its dreaded acronym of DS) in the poison-umbrella murder of Bulgarian emigre writer Georgi Markov in London 13 years ago, and in the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in May 1981 confirm that the security apparatus is still populated by neo-Communists who can easily derail any probe into their past misdeeds. Nor has there been any progress in the probe of the suspected Bulgarian complicity in the papal assassination plot. Ordered by President Zhelev, the investigation has bogged down and has so far failed to produce any incriminating evidence linking the Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, to the Bulgarian secret service. Inexplicable errors and omissions in these investigations give credence to reports in the Bulgarian press that the Ministry of Internal Affairs, though currently headed by an independent, has remained a refuge for Zhivkov's cronies and is now stonewalling efforts to delve into its rather sinister past. Likewise, the winds of change appear to have completely bypassed the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has always served as a convenient cover for Bulgaria's spying operations abroad. The new foreign minister, who is also the leader of the pro-communist wing of the UDF-affiliated Agrarian Party, has retained all diplomats of the Zhivkov era, including those who have worked for the secret police. In an effort to change Bulgaria's tarnished image in the eyes of the outside world, President Zhelev has recently ordered a halt to all clandestine operations in the countries which Sofia is now begging for financial help and the recall of intelligence agents assigned to Bulgarian embassies abroad. As expected, the foreign ministry has managed to circumvent this presidential directive. While a number of intelligence operatives have returned home, others have been allowed to stay, including some high-rank ing DS officials posted as Bulgarian ambassadors to Holland, Sweden, and other West European countries. Even after the recent adoption of a new Bulgarian constitution, the Socialist Party remains the most potent political force in the country. By virtue of their continuing control over the foreign ministry, the security apparatus, and the armed forces, the former communists have been able to dictate Bulgaria's domestic and foreign policies. Given the prevailing condition of dual power in Bulgaria, it is only natural that Bulgarian reform has come to resemble a seesaw: now you see it, now you don't. It remains to be seen if the new parliamentary elections scheduled for Sept. 29 will change this disappointing state of affairs. Today the question is: Will Bulgaria at last follow the example set by Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, or will it continue like Romania, Albania, and Serbia to be an isolated and ridiculous relic of Eastern Europe's tragic Communist past?

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