By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Opening the files of Bulgaria’s communist-era secret service State Security late was a big mistake in the country’s transition, President Rossen Plevneliev has said.
The head of state was speaking at the second and final day of an international conference in Sofia, “Dealing with the past while looking to the future,” part of the 25 Years Free Bulgaria campaign marking the quarter-century since the liberation of Bulgaria from the yoke of communism. He was accompanied at the conference by the president of Hungary, János Áder.
Plevneliev said that the communist regime in Bulgaria had been uncompromising in eliminating any dissident movement while still in its infancy. Those killed in the first years of the regime numbered about 30 000, he said.
Among the serious mistakes of Bulgaria’s post-communist transition, Plevneliev highlighted the poor handling of the privatisation process and the late opening of the State Security files.
Bad privatisation, the sale of assets worth tens of billions in a way that was opaque and lacked strategic investors and proper prices had become a symbol of the Bulgarian transition along with the half-open files and incomplete truth about the communist era, Plevneliev said.
With the delay in opening the files, the networks of the former State Security had become politico-economic and still were active today. This was an indisputable failure for Bulgaria, Plevneliev said.
Plevneliev said that after the changes towards democracy, Bulgarian society did not realise that the evolution of democracy was not an automatic and straightforward process.
“Today, people are tired of ‘transition’ because it seems unfair, not very effective, especially endless.”
He conceded that perhaps in Bulgaria, there had been an underestimation of the complexity of the first and most urgent task of the transition – “to get the public to believe in democracy, for political elites to learn that democratic rules are the only ones by which the country should be controlled and to get political leaders to be fierce defenders of democracy”.
He cited long-delayed reforms, such as in health care and pensions, that were difficult and burdensome. As carrying out these reforms became increasingly difficult as governments went by, the crisis became more severe and generated an increasing distrust in politicians, he said.
Plevneliev said that November 10 1989 was a symbol of change in Bulgaria, not a specific date – a reference to the date of the fall of long-time communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, and a minor controversy in some circles about statements by Plevneliev about having been present at a protest on that day.
He said that he had taken part in protests at that time, having – along with a friend – made two posters, “Send the guilty to court” and “Turn the palaces of the Bulgarian Communist Party into hospitals and schools”. This act was more important than the precise date on which it took place, Plevneliev said.
He announced intentions for a museum, 20th Century Bulgaria, which would encompass all the important events in Bulgaria in the previous century.
He expressed hope that Serbia, Macedonia and all the Western Balkans that were walking the path of European integration, would learn from Bulgaria’s mistakes, and would follow the examples of Hungary and Germany.
“These countries in a dignified manner, put communism and its secret services in museums and history books. They made good time, back in the 1990s, and then in an objective worthy, principled way,” President Plevneliev said.