Assessing the Future of the Bulgarian Communist Party
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 developing political situation that artist and dissident BCP Central Committee member Svetlin Rusev gave to visiting US Congressman Tom Lantos.
Sofia Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, telegram, 28 December 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
SUMMARY. IN A MEETING WITH CONGRESSMAN LANTOS, BULGARIA'S LEADING PAINTER AND RESTORED BCP CENTRAL COMMITTEE MEMBER SVETLIN RUSEV ADMITTED THAT THE PARTY'S DAYS AT THE HEAD OF BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT ARE NUMBERED. HE PREDICTED FURTHER PURGES IN 1990: A "SURVIVAL RATE" OF ONLY TEN PERCENT OF CURRENT CENTRAL COMMITTEE AND NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MEMBERS AT THE END OF MAY. HE ALSO PREDICTED FURTHER TROUBLES FOR OUSTED LEADER TODOR ZHIVKOV AS INVESTIGATIONS OF HIS ACTIVITIES BEGIN. FINALLY, HE PREDICTED A SATISFACTORY BUT NOT NECESSARILY RAPID RESOLUTION OF THE COUNTRY'S MINORITY PROBLEMS. END SUMMARY. . . .
3. SVETLIN RUSEV IS PERHAPS BULGARIA'S BEST KNOWN AND MOST WIDELY RESPECTED PAINTER. . . . IN 1976, HE WAS ELECTED TO THE COMMUNIST PARTY'S (BCP) CENTRAL COMMITTEE, BUT HE WAS EXPELLED BY ZHIVKOV IN 1988 AFTER CRITICIZING THE TOTALITARIAN NATURE OF ZHIVKOV'S GOVERNMENT AND AFTER PARTICIPATING IN WRITTEN PROTESTS AGAINST POLLUTION IN RUSE. . . . AFTER MLADENOV'S ASCENDANCY TO POWER, HE WAS RESTORED TO ALL OF HIS FORMER POSITIONS . . . . ON 23 DECEMBER, CONGRESSMAN AND MRS. TOM LANTOS AND POST HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICER CALLED ON HIM AT HIS LARGE STUDIO NEAR SOFIA'S NEVSKI CATHEDRAL.
4. RUSEV TOLD LANTOS THAT THE OUSTER OF ZHIVKOV WAS A STEP WHICH SAVED BULGARIA FROM THE VIOLENCE WHICH SWEPT THROUGH ROMANIA. THIS WAS ONLY THE BEGINNING, HE SAID, AS THE NEW LEADERSHIP ALSO PREPARED FOR "FURTHER LIBERALIZATIONS." THE PEOPLE ARE EXPECTING THESE, HE ADDED. THEY HAVE "LOST CONFIDENCE IN THE STATE AND THE PARTY" AND ARE "WELL AWARE OF THE SITUATION." THEY "HAVE BECOME MORE ACTIVE," AND THIS FORMS "PRESSURE AND SUPPORT FOR CHANGE."
5. WHEN LANTOS ASKED WHETHER THE RESTRUCTURING IN BULGARIA WOULD FOLLOW THE HUNGARIAN MODEL OF PARTY PLURALISM OR THE SOVIET MODEL OF MERE LIBERALIZATION OF THE SINGLE POLITICAL PARTY, RUSEV SAID THAT SEVERAL PARTIES WERE LIKELY TO DEVELOP IN BULGARIA. . . . THE INDEPENDENT GROUPS ARE ALREADY PLAYING AN IMPORTANT ROLE BY PROVIDING "PRESSURE" FOR CHANGE AND "ACCELERATING THE PROCESS."
6. THE NEW BCP LEADERSHIP CONTAINS A REFORMIST, "LIBERAL" ELEMENT WHICH MAKES RUSEV CONFIDENT THAT IT WILL REMAIN "IN CHARGE" FOR NOW. . . . WITH THE LEADERSHIP WELL AWARE OF THE COUNTRY'S PROBLEMS, "THIS IS THEIR CHANCE TO CONTROL THE SITUATION AND MAKE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES IN HISTORY AS REFORMERS." WHEN PRESSED, HOWEVER, HE ADMITTED THAT THE PARTY'S DAYS ON TOP ARE NUMBERED: FIVE YEARS FROM NOW, "ANOTHER PARTY WILL HAVE THE LEAD, I THINK."