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Lecture on the Cold War and Bulgaria

Брой
№ 14 (2010)
Рубрика
Тема на броя
Автор
Камен Лозев

Бележка на редактора

 

В началото на тази година доц. Камен Лозев участва като лектор в международния проект „Студената война и обществото" (COLD WAR AND SOCIETY), финансиран по програма ЕРАЗЪМ на Европейския съюз. Проектът е три-годишен и се ръководи от Виенския университет, Института по история. Югозападният университет „Н. Рилски", Благоевград, заедно с университети от Италия, Германия и Унгария, участваха в изпълнението на първата фаза на проекта, изпращайки свои лектори и докторанти-слушатели на организирания едноименен семинар във Виена в периода 21 - 28 февруари, 2010.

 

По-долу публикуваме без редакция текста на изнесената от доц. Лозев лекция пред семинара.

 

 

 

LECTURE ON THE COLD WAR AND BULGARIA

Dr. Kamen Lozev

 

Dear Professor Rathkolb,

Dear Dr. Katherina Prager,

Dear participants in the Program COLD WAR AND SOCIETY!

 

I happen to be the last, but I very much hope, not the least, lecturer who will talk to you on certain aspects of the topic COLD WAR AND SOCIETY. Today I shall try to focus your attention on the topic BULGARIA AND THE COLD WAR and I shall attempt to delineate some interesting debates that have been taking place and that are still taking place in the contemporary/recent Bulgarian historiography on issues related to our topic.

 

I want you to know that I intend to speak for about 60-70 minutes at the most, and leave you enough time for questions and discussions, though I myself very much rely on you to enrich my knowledge on the COLD WAR. Please feel free to stop me, interrupt me in cases you feel something urgently needs to be clarified... If I can, I shall be happy to respond right away, if not - I shall leave the questions for the discussion...

 

*

When I was a student - and that was a long, long time ago - I do not think the word, the term COLD WAR, was used very often. Instead we used both terms - SOCIALIST and respectively CAPITALIST CAMPS. We were taught that both CAMPS are engaged in a competition. We were told that there is a STRUGGLE going on between them - mainly in the sphere of ideology, a struggle of ideas; there was a struggle in the sphere of economy, a struggle related to the standards of living; there was, of course, a struggle in the field of WEAPONS too - in the field of atomic weapons, the notorious atomic weapon RACE... But the word WAR was rarely used - no! We rarely, very rarely indeed used the word WAR. When I was in the army, serving my regular military service for two long years, we were always assured that our military might is much greater than the might of our enemy and that should the 'capitalists/imperialists' dare to first pull the trigger, or rather push the button!, we shall adequately respond with a blow, which will be both - RESPONSIVE and FORSTALLING, OVERTAKING (in the sense of first in time!). Please do not ask me questions to clarify this since to date it is still a MYSTERY to me!!!

 

Who was the enemy? Of course the neighbouring NATO countries - Turkey, Greece and the Sixth American Mediterranean Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

However, I don't think we ever feared a war. We lived with a strange optimism - our propaganda fed us with all kinds of hopes that we can be - no! - that we surely will be the winners and we never feared a long atomic night that would destroy life on earth forever. Of course, we watched TV and followed the negotiations on reducing missiles and setting limits on atomic weapons but this seemed to be so far away - as if on another planet! No matter how often we were told that there is a hard struggle going on between the two opposing camps, we took this to be a needed part/element of the ideological setting. We were living in peace, we enjoyed our peace, and we never believed that this peace could one day come to an end.

 

*

Perhaps, I was then too young to seriously think over serious issues but what I want to convey to you is that the ordinary person in the communist bloc never cared much about the struggle between the two rival camps. He was made totally passive and totally alienated from this field of BIG POLITICS, which was all left to our ruling elites. I clearly remember, for example, how in 1973 (I was a pupil then) we were brought together at a meeting and it was explained to us that due to the efforts of all socialist countries and the heroic struggle of our Vietnamese brothers the Vietnam war has been brought to completion. The forces of peace, that was we ourselves, have won the victory over the aggressors, the forces of the imperialists. Many years later I learnt more about the importance of public opinion in the USA, the anti-war movements, the protests of the students, and their influence on the policy of the US government and that this was, no doubt, one of the strongest factors bringing the war to an end.

 

My idea is that, with few exceptions, the ordinary man in the communist bloc had no significance, no say whatsoever on the policy of his government. We were forcefully alienated from politics. The public opinion in the Socialist Camp was deeply fallen asleep and it was not for nothing that the Brezhnev period was called "zastoy", which can be translated as 'stand still', 'stagnation', 'no movement' period.

 

*

Nowadays, the terminology COLD WAR is fully adopted in our historiography and the situation seems to me to be just the opposite - the terms SOCIALIST AND CAPITALIST CAMPS are less and less heard around...

 

Today we feel comfortable with the term COLD WAR and all terminology related to it. We have translated many books on the COLD WAR and what is interesting is that we clearly realized that the issues of the COLD WAR are closely intertwined with the issues of our SOCIALIST-COMUNIST past. All this, I guess, is for one simple and important reason - the end of the Cold War in fact was the end of the Socialist system or the other way about. Name it whatever you want, but these events are in fact one. Here are the last words of Michael Gorbachov announcing the disintegration, decomposition, the breaking down of the Soviet Union on the 25th of December 1991 (I am translating here from the Bulgarian translation):

 

'The Cold war came to an end; the arms race also came to an end and with it came to an end the mad militarization of our country which truncated our economy, deformed our thinking and undermined/disrupted our spirit. The threat of a new World war does not exist anymore.'

So my point is that from today's perspective learning more about the Cold War is in fact learning more about ourselves and perhaps vice versa.

 

*

In Bulgaria nowadays the issues of the Cold War are researched at several locations:

 

I should first mention the Sofia University, the Faculty of History, especially the Department of Bulgarian History. Second comes the Institute for History to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Third, are several Non-governmental Organizations: I should definitely emphasize on the newly founded Institute for the History of the Near Past led by Professor Ivaylo Znepolsky; there is also the Dimi Panica Foundation; the Center for Politilogical Research led by Nora Ananieva. There is a special project for investigating the Socialist period, financed by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. At the New Bulgarian University there is also a Documentary Project related to aspects of the Cold War. There is also a Center by the name of 'Dialogue Europe' at the Sofia University which has recently been awarded a large subsidy for conducting a new digital project 'Bulgaria and the Cold War'. There are also several other projects focused on the Bulgarian-Russian relations and the Soviet factor. Within some ten years four conferences have been held with monographs and collections of papers published. On the whole I may say today we are witnessing a tendency of widening and deepening the research in the field of the Cold War.

 

*

When I ponder upon the Cold War I always tend to associate it with two miracles. To my mind during the Second World War History played some kind of trick - History managed to bring together and to hold as allies the most incompatible and opposite in character states/societies like the US and Great Britain on the one side (personifying the democratic West) and the USSR or Communist Russia, an obvious dictatorship, a purely totalitarian-authoritarian state/society, on the other side. This was the first miracle and as long as the 'incompatibles' were facing a common enemy - Hitler and Hitlerism - the miracle was taking place and was accepted as the most natural and common-sense phenomenon. The enemy (Hitler) united the allies - the US, GB and the USSR.

 

Paradoxically AND logically to my mind the Cold War started as a result of the victory of the 'incompatible allies' over the common enemy - Hitler. The 'WAR', in inverted commas, was inevitable. And here comes, as I understand it, the second miracle. The Cold War, which lasted for several decades, waged between GIANTS armed with most destructive weapons we can ever imagine (or rather we can HARDLY ever imagine!), ended peacefully and quietly in the beginning of the last decade of the last century hardly causing any great damage at all. This - the quiet, quick and peaceful surrender and dissolvement of the Socialist system - to me was really a miracle, the second miracle.

 

*

Now the first thing which strikes my mind when I think of the Cold War is that it was a battle between GIANTS. On the one side is the USA, on the other is the USSR - both having their military alliances in the face of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. I don't know about you, but when I think of this CONFLICT BETWEEN GIANTS I come to better understand the situation of the smaller countries - Bulgaria in particular. We are a small country and practically we could do nothing in the Cold War BUT OBEY - obey the big brother in whose alliance we found ourselves to be, the Soviet Union.

 

Of course this situation was not something extraordinary for BULGARIA - History has regularly been showing/warning us as to where we are on the world arena. And the message is that when you are small, you are insignificant. Your plight is to be one of the members in a big alliance led and ruled by the GIANTS. This view might sound cynical to you but in its modern history BULGARIA has had many occasions to prove this principle. Take the First World War for example - BULGARIA had to be an ally of Germany and was amongst the losers; the same was replicated in the Second World War. The involvement came as KARMA of the small and insignificant states.

 

There is a clear and vivid example to support my thesis. To illustrate what plight awaited the small and insignificant countries I want to take you back in time to October 1944, namely to the Moscow meeting between Churchill and Stalin (9 - 17 October 1944). This is a good example of how the fate of BULGARIA, as well as the fate of Romania, was sealed then. I am quoting from Churchill's memoirs and again I had to re-translate the Bulgarian translation into English. I hope you will get the idea.

 

'As the autumn approached, Churchill writes, the situation on the Eastern front grew more strenuous. I felt I needed a new meeting with Stalin.....At the moment the Russian army was unfolded on the Balkan theater. Both Romania and Bulgaria were under its sway... As it became more and more obvious that the Great Allies will win, the Russian ambitions grew bigger and bigger. I have never felt our relations with Romania and Bulgaria so close as to be worth any special sacrifice on our side. The fate of Greece and Poland, however, really worried us... I was sure that there were chances to reach a good agreement with Russia only during the time when we were comradely united against the common enemy. Hitler and Hitlerism were foredoomed but after Hitler - what?' ---

Now it is well known that Roosevelt strongly opposed the idea of dividing/splitting Europe into 'spheres of influences'. So - to my mind - what went on between Stalin and Churchill at this Moscow meeting happened somehow behind Roosevelt's back, although the US Ambassador to the USSR at that time, Averill Harriman, was present at the official talks between Stalin and Churchill.

 

One evening, however, at a late, unusually late, meeting which did not have official character, Harriman was absent. Churchill assessed the moment as suitable to propose to Stalin the division of the Balkans into "spheres of influence". Both men have already agreed that in Romania the Soviets will have 90% influence against 10% for Great Britain, while in Greece it will be just the opposite - 10% influence for the Soviets and 90% for Great Britain. Now Churchill had added three more countries: Bulgaria with - 75 % Soviet influence and 25% Western influence; for Yugoslavia and Hungary - Churchill proposed a balance of 50 % Soviet and Western influence. In his memoires Churchill recreates Stalin's reaction:

 

"I pushed the piece of paper to Stalin who had already heard the translation. There was a pause. Then he took his blue pencil, made a large stroke and gave it back. Everything was settled in less time than the time one needs to sit down. I wanted to burn the paper but Stalin insisted: "No, no, keep it, keep it!".

 

So you can now clearly see that there was no hope whatsoever for Bulgaria, and Romania, to be left outside the Soviet 'sphere of influence'.

 

*

We always have to keep in mind that one of the important consequences of the Second World War was the formation of the so called 'Socialist system'. Both, in practice and in theory, this was really an important event which very much concerned Bulgaria. Socialism now existed not simply in one 'isolated' country (no matter how big it was) but transformed itself into a 'Socialist System'. New ambitions and aims were put on the 'socialist' agenda; new troubles now faced the Western democracies.

 

Sometimes the question is raised: Did Bulgaria have any other alternative? My answer to this is: definitely NO.

 

(In brackets, however, I should mention Churchill's idea related to the opening of the Western front in Europe. Initially Churchill proposed in September 1943 that the landing of the Allied forces took place on the Balkans. Churchill - unfortunately - was quickly dissuaded at the Tehran Meeting in December 1943 by the other two GIANTS on pure military grounds that the landing should be done through the Channel. With this, sadly, the possibility for an alternative to Bulgaria completely died. This plan was part of a wider vision: Churchill wanted to see the Balkans united in a Federation, influenced by the West, which together with a Central European and a Scandinavian Federation would be a reliable shield to protect the West from the Russian communism. The Federation was not to be...

 

I can also agree that perhaps there was another chance for Bulgaria to have a different future. I have in mind that right after the war Stalin was very much hopeful that amongst the ex-allies, and especially the US and the capitalist European countries contradictions will arise which will inevitably lead to disintegration of the capitalist system. He expected several capitalist states to fall under his sway. It is true that after the Second World War the Soviet Union came out as a highly valued state - the war was interpreted as a test between capitalism and socialism and a great victory of socialism. Left-wing intellectuals in the West grew in number and for some time there was a strange feeling that - yes! - the whole world will soon be socialist.

 

So the West really had a problem with this high respect and authority of the USSR. (The West only had to wait and see the events of 1956 in Hungry and of 1968 in Czechoslovakia to be completely disillusioned!) The adequate response to the situation after the war, I think, came under the form of the Marshall plan. I have no time to deal with this topic here but I have to emphasize that the whole philosophy behind the American economic help rested on the assumption - very true to my understanding! - that poverty and backwardness breed revolutions and communism. Communist ideology, I believe, is an extremist radical doctrine, which can be accepted by desperate and miserable people, who - as Marx put it - really have nothing to lose in a revolution but their chains! So reviving Europe's economy was of vital importance to stop the spread of communism and was a part not only of the economic competition between the two systems but of the ideological struggle as well! Therefore Europe, Western Europe in particular, had to be helped at any cost and made prosperous, that is - not vulnerable to communist ideology. I want to suggest here that if the US had not put so strict conditions to the countries benefiting from the Marshall plan, which in the end aroused Stalin's suspicions, and if Bulgaria were involved in all this process of reviving its economy using the Marshall plan, this, I presume, could have opened possibilities for the Western influence in our country, challenging the communists and weakening Stalin's grip on Bulgaria. Unfortunately, this also was not meant to be and with the years the communist system was stabilized. I should not hide it that to date there is a strong feeling in Bulgaria and a widely held opinion that 'the West has betrayed us, that the West has left us to the Soviets'.)

 

*

As I already mentioned, in both world wars Bulgaria was an ally of Germany and this brought us two national catastrophes. Our involvement in the Second World War on the side of Germany was motivated by the idea to 'realize the national ideals', that is to annex/integrate the regions populated by ethnic Bulgarians in Macedonia and Greece to 'Mother Bulgaria'. In 1941 we sent troops and occupied these territories and for several years, that is during the war-years, we lived with this ideal come-true. With the end of the war, as you understand, we again faced a catastrophe. In the last phase of the war, however, Bulgaria sent its army to fight the Germans during the so called Drava-Mur operation in Yugoslavia and Hungary. The hope was that we might be granted the status of a 'co-warring' country. This was another illusion. However, we gave some 30 000 victims in this phase of the war and this - to a certain extent - alleviated the consequences and the terms of the peace treaty signed by the winners.

 

*

At this point one thing has to be made clear. Right after the war in the Eastern European countries, Bulgaria included, political power was taken over by the so called 'Popular Fronts'; in Bulgaria - the Fatherland Front. The regimes established were called 'people's democracies'. This was a time when Stalin and the West played MILDLY refraining from radical actions. Now I really have difficulties in understanding how Churchill and Stalin interpreted this percentage ratio of their influence - say, ten percent Western influence against ninety percent Soviet influence. My guess is that they calculated the number of communist and non-communist (pro-western) members of the governments set up right after the war in these countries. (If you have any other guesses, I shall be happy to discuss them.) Churchill, I guess, believed - WRONGLY in my opinion! - that as the regimes will be democratic, the national political life in these countries will show best which direction the society will take. This was a naïve picture Churchill drew of what was in store to be. Why? Simply because all regimes dominated by communists are essentially totalitarian in character. It is a Lenin's principle that to be a communist, means to be intolerable to any other kind of ideology (this is a good similarity between communism and religion!). Therefore, any regime dominated by communists would not tolerate IN PRINCIPLE other parties sharing the political power. This means that with the removal (and it often meant physical annihilation) of the non-communist parties all normal political life is destroyed, removed. In the Soviet Union for example there was practically no political life. In Bulgaria, just like in any other totalitarian country there was hardly any political life: there was no variety of political parties, doctrines or ideologies, no competition for the votes of the constituencies, no free elections. Normal political life was destroyed by the one-party monopoly/hegemony and the dictatorship of one person. Churchill and all other Western democracies were soon to see how very naive they have been in the negotiations with Stalin.

 

*

During the 'mild period', however, (I think we can date it between 1945 - 48) when Stalin and the local 'national' communists did not act radically, we had in Bulgaria a government of the Fatherland Front comprised of members from various parties. This was the time when Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were planning to unite and form a Balkan Federation. Stalin then welcomed this idea and it was believed that the future Federation will solve all contradictions which - as you well know - inevitably arise between neighbours. In the meantime a difficulty popped up: the issue was whether the unification should be realized on the basis of 1 + 1, that is Yugoslavia unites with Bulgaria to form the Balkan Federation, or on the basis of 1 + 6, that is Bulgaria becomes the sixth republic within Yugoslavia. As you can guess, Tito strongly insisted on the latter plan and this - very luckily for Bulgaria! - created a problem and was taking time.

 

*

Meanwhile on the world arena the two opposing camps were in the process of formation. The obvious leaders were the Soviet Russia and the US. The leaders, however, were both facing a similar issue, namely - how do we keep the status quo stable, how do we keep our formations stable, how do we exclude any kind of challenge to our leadership?

 

Perhaps you sense now that I shall refer to the very important principle mentioned in the beginning: the enemy outside unites us inside (remember that Hitler UNITED the Great Allies!). Let me put it directly: both leaders, the US and Soviet Russia, needed each other in the capacity of ENEMY in order to stabilize their power within and over their own formation. Therefore they mutually DEMONIZED each other giving in this way a serious impetus to the real start of the Cold War. (Let me remind you here that these were the years when the US had its monopoly over the atomic weapon and there were voices heard, among them of Bertrand Russell, that the US should use its atomic monopoly to confine Russia's ambitions. Stalin, however, was clever enough to understand that the world was too tired to endure another war and so he pushed forward with his plans of expanding socialism and constructing the 'Socialist system'.)

 

*

The West was faced with the issue of the high respect and authority of Soviet Russia and Stalin as well as the danger of the strength of the Western Communist parties which also dreamt of communism in the West. Obviously, the high respect and authority of 'socialism' endangered the stability of the anti-communist camp. Stalin, however, was faced with another issue: he was a dictator through and through, body and soul, so he knew of no other method of keeping stable the status quo and the socialist system but the method of terror, of repressions, of absolute power over people, parties, nations, states. At this moment he was faced with a somewhat 'personal' issue whose name was again 'Joseph' but this time 'Tito'. After the Second World War Joseph Tito came out as the undisputed leader of the communist resistance of his country against the fascists and he even claimed to have liberated Yugoslavia with his own partisan movement. He had that self-awareness and self-confidence to be as great as the 'Father of all nations' Joseph Djugashvili Stalin. The clash between both 'Josephs', Tito and Stalin, was inevitable and the consequences of this clash were devastating. I mean for Bulgaria, but also for the other Eastern European countries, the process of 'stalinization' of the society, the party and the state was accelerated. (Tito accused Bulgaria of being too obedient to the USSR and it was from that moment on that the bilateral relations worsened and echoes of this squabble between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia can be heard in the media of Yugoslavia all through the years of the socialist period right to our days.)

 

To understand these consequences better I need to throw more light on the following: During the 'mild period' of transition to socialism/communism Stalin agreed to the idea that the regime of 'people's democracy' could be viewed as specific, national ways leading to socialism in the countries of Eastern Europe. As a matter of fact, Stalin never fully trusted these national-specific paths to socialism, since they presupposed some room for independence of the countries themselves. The case with Tito's Yugoslavia, however, reassured Stalin how dangerous these 'nation-specific' roads to socialism can be. His reaction was quick, decisive and brutal: Tito and his Yugoslavia were literally ostracated. From this moment on the term 'proletarian dictatorship' intensively came into use again and now the 'people's democracies' were viewed as equivalent to nation-specific 'proletarian dictatorship'. The 'mild period' abruptly came to an end.

 

What did it all mean for Bulgaria? As you can imagine, this only meant repressions, purges, brutal deed on the part of the communists who now showed what the real face of 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' is. There was a scholastic, and to my opinion somewhat funny, discussion at that time on the character of the 'people's democracy' in Bulgaria - whether it was itself a form of proletarian dictatorship or it carried out the functions of the proletarian dictatorship. Stalin was involved in the discussion and his words, spoken out without sparing the self-confidence of Georgi Dimitrov and the Bulgarian communists, were to be remembered for a long time. No matter how you view the 'people's democracy', he said, without the Soviet army, which put you to power, you would hardly ever do something in Bulgaria.

 

As I said, this is a big discussion to date in our historiography. I obviously cannot go into details here but the key issues were: What exactly happened on the 9th of September 1944, this sacred day for the communists, which was made for more than forty years our National Day? Did the Soviet army play any role in the political take-over? Was it a factor contributing to the changes in Bulgaria? Was there really a 'popular revolt' or a 'revolution' supported by the masses, the people, as the communists claimed? Did it really have 'socialist' character from the very beginning as the official version of the Communist party goes?

 

These questions were debated in the past and are still debated in contemporary Bulgarian historiography. No matter in what way we answer them the changes in Bulgaria led to establishing a totalitarian communist regime with its classical elements:

  • One-party political system; all power in the hands of the Communist Party;

  • Leading role of the Communist Party in all spheres of life;

  • Nationalization and liquidation of all private property;

  • Collectivization of agriculture;

  • Complete centralization and control over everything;

  • Administration of the economy and all-embracing PLAN, establishment of the COMMAND ECONOMY;

  • Communist ideology in everything - Marxism-Leninism becoming state religion;

The main Party postulates/axioms of the regime were:

-leading role of the Communist Party;

-democratic centralism - the other name of the command system;

-social/communal but in practice state property

-planning and central management of the economy]

-brotherhood and friendship with the Soviet Union - the Soviet advisors were installed everywhere, in all corners of society; they pervaded all space in politics, culture, economy

 

*

Now the duplication of the Communist Party of all structures and functions of the state, economy, culture, social life, etc., is very important since it clearly reveals where the center or the heart of power in Bulgaria is - it can be nowhere else but in the offices of the Communist Party, and especially of the General Secretary. As you well know, in a totalitarian state all important decisions related to internal and externals issues, political, economic, security, etc. issues are taken by the Communist Party leaders. Therefore, when the changes in November 1989 took place and in December the same year the Communist Party Archives together with the 'personal archives' of some of the communist leaders like Georgi Dimitrov, Vasil Kolarov and others were opened (some of them were stolen and then opened, some were unfortunately destroyed and lost forever) our historiography benefited the most.

 

It goes without saying that the Communist Party Archives are very informative and interesting. Especially the archives of Todor Zhyvkov and Milko Balev. We managed also to open the archives of the various departments of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

 

Besides the archives of the Communist Party our historiography benefited from the opening of the archives of the Ministry of Interior. These archives can now be used until July '91.

There is also the Diplomatic Archives which can be searched and used until 1979 and it is especially valuable source when researching issues of the Cold War. There is also the Military Archives located not in Sofia but in Veliko Turnovo.

We have also the so called Trusted Archives to the Council of Ministers which had been opened only twice - in the year of 2000 and later in 2004. One finds lots if interesting materials right to the year of 1992, including decisions for deals of weapons, etc.

 

*

It is only natural that right after the changes in 1989 the public interest was focused on the issues of repressions - both at the beginning and setting up of the totalitarian regime and then during the long years of the authoritarian rule of Todor Zhyvkov.

 

I shall hardly break any news to you if I say that the regime established in Bulgaria during the decade following the Second World War owed its existence to terror, repressions and violence. After the changes in 1989 this chapter of the communist repressions was of primary interest in our historiography. It is not possible for me to go into details here but I want to mention the investigations related to the work of the so-called 'People's Court', organized after the war in violation of the Turnovo Constitution; then we have the purges in the army and the state administration; then the murders resulting from the so-called 'people's rage' after the 9th of September 1944; then the Bulgarian GULAGS, especially in Belene and Lovech. And I have to mention here that when Stalin was alive he invented a special wave of repression, a purge within the Communist Party - not only in the USSR but within the Communist Parties all over the Socialist system - under the principle enemy with a red license. The 'theoretical' idea of Stalin behind this purge was that as socialist societies approach communism, the class struggle intensifies and therefore appropriate measures should be taken.

 

*

A very important, and perhaps the most important, characteristic of the totalitarian regime in Bulgaria (I presume it was the same with the other Eastern bloc states) was its dependence on the Soviet Union, on its economy and market. In our country we were brought up with the words of Georgi Dimitrov:

 

'For Bulgaria the friendship with the Soviet Union is as vitally important as the air and the sun for every living creature.'

 

For Bulgaria this was a conditio sine qua non for existence. Now Todor Zhyvkov, a man of mediocre intellectual capacity to my opinion, who installed himself as the undisputed leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party and ruled over the country for more than thirty years, outliving Hruschev, Brezhnev, Chernenko and Andropov, was witty enough to fully understand the exclusive importance of this principle for his own survival on top of the Communist Party hierarchy. He never ever missed an opportunity to show to the Russian communist brothers how faithful, obedient and always-ready to sacrifice his own (meaning Bulgarian) interests for the sake of the soviet cause.

 

Let me give you a vivid and somehow unbelievable example in this respect. Todor Zhyvkov twice proposed (in 1963 and in 1973) the idea that Bulgaria became the 16th Republic of the USSR! It was no secret that this move was in the direction of saving and strengthening his own status as the first Communist Party leader. In practice this was pure trade, a deal: Bulgaria for my leadership.

 

*

I have already mentioned that the Soviet Union had no problems with Bulgaria whatsoever. In terms of the Cold War this meant that the Southern Frontier of the Communist bloc, or the socialist System, was very secure. We were so obedient, we would never betray communism and this was well known not only amidst the states of the 'socialist family' but also by the enemy in the opposite camp. Our obedience to the Soviets was proverbial.

 

I have to emphasize now one thing and I want you to understand it since it is both - simple and important. Todor Zhyvkov rightly sensed that geographically Bulgaria was important to the Socialist System. He managed to play this card very well with the Soviet Union. Todor Zhyvkov applied the principle: POLITICAL LOYALTY FOR ECONOMIC BENEFITS. This was the basis - political and economic - of his authoritarian regime. It is no secret that Bulgaria benefited a lot from the friendship with the Soviet Union. (I can tell you a personal episode here------) Unfortunately the vast and all-eating Soviet market did not stimulate the development and the increase of quality of our goods - anything we produced would be realized on the Soviet market! This killed the competitiveness of our goods - it was obvious that Bulgaria cannot survive in really competitive, that is un-friendly markets.

 

How obedient we were, and how far we were ready to go with our obedience to the USSR, was perfectly displayed in 1968 when Bulgaria played decisive role in taking the decision for the brutal suppression of the Prague Spring. We sent a special battalion to Czechoslovakia to put down the revolt in Prague. This episode forged the image of Bulgaria as the closest ally of the Soviet Union and I am inclined to believe some of the interpretations of certain events, unfavourable to the image of Bulgaria as assaults not particularly on Bulgaria but rather on the Soviet Union and the Socialist System on the whole.

 

*

With this I want to refer to perhaps the most notorious event in the beginning of the eighties, which became emblematic for the Cold War period - the attempt to kill/murder the Pope John Paul II. The attempt was carried out by Ali Agdja, who belonged to a terrorist organization (Grey Wolves), a man not very stable mentally, who could easily in a minute make two contradictory statements before the court in Italy. The names of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian diplomat Sergey Antonov were involved in the process but nothing was proved. The Pope himself when visiting Bulgaria admitted he never believed in the so-called 'Bulgarian track'. (I find everything related to the process obscure and mysterious and I shall be grateful if some of you could shed more light or interpret the events.)

 

However it all was, I do not exclude that the secret services of Bulgaria and perhaps the KGB had something to do with the attempt to eliminate the Pope, that is I can agree to accept some distant, very distant involvement of the secret services in the case. (After all the Cold War was really a war between intelligence services!) However, I cannot imagine that if KGB, CIA, MOSAD or any other state intelligence service decided to eliminate anyone, they would not succeed. To my opinion the simple reason for this is that today's world is a world of market economy and one can do anything with money - where money does not help, a lot of money will surely do the job.

 

*

You may think I am again cynical now but I am doing it on purpose. And my purpose is to convey to you that no matter how strongly Marxist theory emphasized on the importance of the economic basis, the material life, determining the whole spiritual superstructure of society, the communists seemed to have not properly understood this point. I think it is only right to repeat what, I believe, is obvious to everyone: the Socialist System collapsed and was defeated in the Cold War because of the economic strength of the West. One can sense this in the last statement of Michael Gorbachov in his capacity of the last President of the Soviet Union, which I already quoted: the militarization of the Soviet economy exhausted it and led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

 

Did this apply to Bulgaria? My answer is: definitely YES, and it cannot be otherwise since Bulgaria was part of the Socialist System, totally dependent on the Soviet Union. In economic terms the eighties were a very difficult period for Bulgaria and this fact, combined with the funny 'gerontological episodes' in the USSR after Brezhnev's death, led to devastating effects for socialism. All this produced an atmosphere of deep disbelief, anticipation of big changes needed to happen soon. (I should stress here that Gorbachov did not betray these anticipations (though, I think, he did not well understand which direction they were leading to).

 

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How did Todor Zhyvkov respond to the new situation of 'glasnost and perestroyka', very unfavourable to him and his regime? What did he do? I shall hardly take you by surprise when I say that his last maneuver, his last attempt to save his regime was to resort again to the principle of enemy. Todor Zhyvkov decided to mobilize and energize the masses, the Bulgarian nation, to make them again enthusiastic about socialism reviving again the idea of the enemy. This time it was not the external enemy, the Western countries, the imperialists, but the internal enemy in the face of the Turkish minority. Todor Zhyvkov invented the term 'socialist nation' and stressed on the high birth rate of the Turks in Bulgaria. The aim was to divert the attention to this 'internal enemy' and to engage the nation with something which would make him famous as savior, or rather builder of the Bulgarian 'socialist nation'.

 

Many things can be said on this sad episode of the eighties, which I consider to be part of the Cold War, because it had international repercussions for Bulgaria. The so called 'grand excursion', when more than 300 000 Bulgarian citizens left for Turkey, only revealed how desperate the communist regime has become. (The Turks responded by terrorist acts never mentioned in our media at the time.) And all this was happening after Bulgaria had supported the Helsinki process and signed the documents related to observing the human rights.

 

This episode, together with the murder of Georgi Markov in London in 1981 were black points for Todor Zhyvkov himself and they surely served as the nails in the coffin of his regime.

 

I do not intend to deal neither with the difficult relations between Todor Zhyvkov and Michael Gorbachov, nor with the dismissal of Todor Zhyvkov from his party post. Instead, I would like to end with a brief survey of the developments after the changes in 1989. Bulgaria, as usual, was again on the losing side of the Cold War. The end of the Cold War however did not mean the end of Bulgaria.

 

Unfortunately, our closeness with the Soviet Union, especially in economic terms, the strength and influence of the Communist Party, quickly re-named to Socialist Party, but still un-reformed in many respects, the still existing power of the secret services people and many other unfavourable factors meant that Bulgaria will have a long way to go to real market economy and political democracy. Bulgaria, however, managed to raise several priorities which united the nation and helped to overcome the difficulties of the transition period. Finally, these priorities led us out on the road to a better future and we find ourselves today to be a full-fledged member both of NATO, since 2004, and of the European Union, since 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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