By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
Bulgaria’s caretaker cabinet has recommended that the President confer high state honours on 23 people who were dissidents during the country’s communist era.
The decision, taken at a cabinet meeting on November 5, comes amid celebrations of 25 years of freedom after the end of Bulgaria’s communist era.
A statement by the caretaker cabinet said that it was proposing that President Rossen Plevneliev grant the Civil Merit First Degree award to the 23 for their significant contribution to the development and strengthening of civil society, development of democratic institutions and the protection of human rights and freedoms in Bulgaria.
The common thread among those to be honoured was, in the words of the cabinet statement, “opposition to the status quo, against the violation of civil rights and individual freedoms and a lack of openness and transparency in political decision-making”.
Those recommended for the honour had opposed totalitarianism and had made every effort for Bulgarian citizens to be given the opportunity to develop their knowledge and potential, to be free in their country and have the right to dignity.
Among those nominated are Albena Velkova, Todorka Bobeva, Evgeniya Zheleva, Stefka Monova, Tsonka Bukurova and the late Vyara Georgieva.
They were among the founders of the movement for the self-defence of Rousse and the public committee for the environmental protection of Rousse, the initiators and organisers of the first protest demonstrations in Bulgaria in the 1980s. The movement arose against the systematic pollution of the air by the Giurgiu chemical plant with various toxic chemicals.
Another, Alfred Foskolo, was born in Bulgaria to a Bulgarian mother and a French father. He lived with his family in Paris where he graduated in law and Bulgarian. After 1958, he regularly visited Bulgaria and at the time of the Prague Spring, called for Bulgaria to join free Europe.
Blagoy Topuzliev (1946-2010) was a priest, one of the founders of the Independent Society for the Defence of Human Rights, involved in the defence of religious rights. From 2000, he was a priest at the Bulgarian Orthodox Church parish in New York, where he served until his death.
Vassil Uzunov (1947-1994) took the difficult path of dedicating his life to upholding democratic views. Georgi Saruivanov, 82, was among those who drew the attention of the European Parliamentary Assembly (later the European Parliament) to the political situation in Bulgaria in the 1950s and 1960s. From 1972, he lived in West Germany, returning to Bulgaria permanently in 1996.
Georgi Zarkin (1940-1977) was a journalist and poet, whose poems were broadcast on Radio Free Europe. A political prisoner, found guilty of writing “counter-revolutionary” literature, he was murdered in prison.
Father Dimitar Ambarev, who died in 2014, was – with Topuzliev – one of the founders of the committee for the protection of religious rights, freedom of conscience and spiritual values. He was spokesman for the Independent Society for the Defence of Human Rights.
Dimitar Vlaychev (1942-1972) dedicated his life to fighting injustice and lack of respect for basic human rights. His grave is unknown.
Eduard Genov (1946-2009) was one of the signatories of the open letter to initiate compliance with the Helsinki Accords international conference in Vienna, known as the Appeal of Six. Through his appearances and democratic spirit, he stood for a democratic society in Bulgaria.
Zeynep Keles became a member in 1988 of the Independent Society for the Protection of Human Rights. He currently lives and works in Ankara at Ankara University and Ghazi University.
Kostadin Subev (1930-2014) was a member of the opposition Youth Agricultural Union, a political prisoner, and an artist.
Nuri Adala (1922-2004) spent 23 years of his life in prison and exile because of seeking to protect the rights of Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin under the communist regime. In 1989 he was forcibly expelled from Bulgaria to Turkey.
Petar Manolov is a poet and journalist. He was secretary of the Independent Society for the Protection of Human Rights in Bulgaria.
In early 1989, Manolov’s manuscripts were seized and he began a hunger strike, covered by Radio Free Europe and international media. He was publicly condemned and banished into exile, where he participated in international events for the freedom of the spirit and minority issues. He was one of the founders of the independent trade union Podkrepa.
Professor Yordan Todorov (1920-1996) was subjected to a political trial for anti-communist agitation. He was a corresponding member of the Society of Haematology and Oncology of Germany and an honorary member of the Luxembourg and Polish Society of Clinical Biology.
Roumyana Uzunova (1936-2011) was a writer, journalist and literary critic. In 1980, she began a new life in Paris. In 1988 and 1989, she produced about 400 interviews and reports, for Radio Free Europe, Deutsche Welle and the Voice of America, showing her unwavering stance in defence of democratic values.
Sabri Iskenderov was secretary of the Democratic League for the Protection of Human Rights in Bulgaria, a human rights organisation founded in 1988. From 1989 to date, he lives in Ankara and runs the Agency for Youth and Sports.
Stefan Valkov, defender of religious human rights, spent 21 years in prison. After the death of Ilia Minev, chairman of the Independent Society of Human Rights, Valkov had a leading position in the organization.
Todor Tsanev, a politician and public figure, was confined to a detention camp in Belene. He was Mayor of Rousse. After November 10 1989, he became one of the founding members of the Union of Democratic Forces and its first chairman.
(Photo, of part of an open-air exhibition of posters marking 25 Years Free Bulgaria, via Facebook)