U.S. Embassy Assessment of Political Change in Bulgaria
On November 10, 1989, the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading figures in the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) forced Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s leader for more than 35 years, to resign. A coalition of opposition groups formed the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) on December 7, to coordinate efforts to “speed up the processes of democratization,” the group asserted in a statement calling for a multiparty system, market economy, independent unions, and a democratic constitution. Three days later, an estimated 50,000 protestors demonstrated in the streets of Sofia to pressure the new communist leadership, headed by Zhivkov’s former foreign minister, Petur Mladenov, for swifter reforms. The next day, Mladenov announced in a televised speech that the constitution would be amended to allow a multiparty system and that free parliamentary elections would be held in the spring. Following another mass protest a few days later, the Bulgarian leadership agreed to initiate roundtable talks with the opposition. The following communication from the American embassy in Sofia to Washington presents an assessment of the situation in late December with recommendations for the US to offer cautious support for opposition forces seeking democratic changes. In February 1990, Secretary of State James Baker visited Sofia and met both with the country’s BCP leaders, to whom he threatened to cut off G-24 and IMF assistance unless they undertook more efforts at liberalization, and with leading opposition figures, to whom he conveyed the message that although the US officially would remain neutral, the opposition groups would have their sympathy and support.
Sofia Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, 29 December 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
SUMMARY. WHEN THEN-FOREIGN MINISTER MLADENOV AND HIS ASSOCIATES ENGINEERED THE NOVEMBER 10 DISMISSAL OF TODOR ZHIVKOV, THEIR INTENT WAS PROBABLY TO PUT IN PLACE A TOP-DOWN SYSTEM OF REFORMS ROUGHLY FOLLOWING THE SOVIET MODEL. PRIORITIES INCLUDED MORE GLASNOST UNDER A SOCIALIST FORM OF GOVERNMENT, ECONOMIC REFORM, AND AN END TO THE MORE-AND-MORE EMBARRASSING AND STIFFLING REIGN OF ZHIVKOV. WITH THE ABRUPT END OF THE SEVERE REPRESSION OF THE EARLIER ERA, HOWEVER, THE WIDE VARIETY OF INDEPENDENT GROUPS IN BULGARIA QUICKLY SEIZED THE INITIATIVE AND, WITH EVER-INCREASING STRENGTH, HAVE PLACED THE GOVERNMENT AND THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN AN ALMOST TOTALLY REACTIVE MODE. WHILE THE POLITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE AVERAGE BULGARIAN IS DEFINITELY INCREASING, THE "STREET SUPPORT" FOR THESE GROUPS IS STILL FAR BELOW THAT IN EAST GERMAMY OR CZECHOSLOVAKIA. THE EMBASSY HAS BEEN IMPRESSED, THEREFORE, THAT THE GOVERNMENT AND PARTY HAVE APPARENTLY FELT CONSTRAINED TO RESPOND SO QUICKLY AND POSITIVELY TO THE DEMANDS MADE BY PODKREPA [the new independent labor union] AND THE OTHER GROUPS. THE LATEST EXAMPLE OF THIS APPROACH IS THE GOVERNMENTAL AGREEMENT TO HOLD DISCUSSIONS ON A ROUND-TABLE BASIS WITH THE INDEPENDENT GROUPS ON JANUARY 2-3 IN RESPONSE TO PODKREPA'S CALL FOR A GENERAL STRIKE. THE CHALLENGE FOR THE INDEPENDENT GROUPS IS TO KEEP THEIR OVERALL UNITY IN THE FACE OF THE VARIED VIEWS AND PHILOSOPHIES REPRESENTED UNDER THE "UNION OF DEMOCRATIC FORCES." THIS INCLUDES THE CRITICAL QUESTION OF TREATMENT OF THE ETHNIC TURKISH AND POMAK MINORITIES. END SUMMARY. . . .
20. GIVEN THE SUCCESS OF THE UDF AND PODKREPA IN BRINGING THE PARTY/GOVERNMENT TO ROUND-TABLE NEGOTIATIONS, THE EMBASSY BELIEVES IT WOULD BE IN THE USG INTEREST TO WELCOME, PERHAPS IN THE FORM OF A Q&A AT THE DEPARTMENT'S NOON BRIEFING, THE START OF THE NEGOTIATIONS AS AN ENCOURAGING DEVELOPMENT TOWARD DEMOCRATIC CHANGE IN BULGARIA. THE FOCUS OF THE COMMENT SHOULD BE ON THE RESPONSIBLE, REPRESENTATIVE NATURE OF THE UDF AND ITS CONSTITUENT ORGANIZATIONS IN SEEKING PEACEFUL, DEMOCRATIC CHANGES. DEPENDING ON THE SUCCESS OF THE ROUNDTABLE TALKS AND THE EMERGENCE OF CLEAR UDF LEADERS, THE EMBASSY BELIEVES EARLY THOUGHT SHOULD BE GIVEN . . . TO INVITING SOME OF THEM TO VISIT THE US.