Bulgaria Marks 28 Years Since Fall of Communism

On November 10, Bulgaria marks the anniversary of the ousting of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, which led to the fall of the one-party regime and Bulgaria’s transition to democracy. 

On November 10, Bulgaria marks the day in 1989 when the central committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party dismissed the country’s leader Todor Zhivkov as Secretary General of the party, ending his 33-year-long dictatorship – the longest in the Eastern bloc.

The date is considered as marking the beginning of Bulgaria’s transition to democracy, although the one-party system was only abolished the next year, when the country held its first democratic elections after 45 years of communist rule.

On day earlier, on November 9, the world celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, separating Eastern from Western Germany.

Zhivkov’s stepping down was no coincidence. As the leader of one of the most hardline Soviet satellites, he looked like a spoke in the wheel of the reform process, launched by Moscow’s leader Mikhail Gorbachov, known as perestroika.

His resignation, announced to the party bureau on November 9, followed consistent pressure from the Russian ambassador to Sofia, Victor Sharopov, and had been backed even by the dictator’s closest allies in the party.

On November 17, during a session broadcast live on national television, the National Assembly adopted Zhivkov’s resignation and replaced him with his long-term foreign minister, Petar Mladenov.

Meanwhile, a number of civil rights groups, which had not been tolerated during Zhivkov’s rule, had also popped up.

On November 3, around 4,000 activists, organized by the environmental group Eco-glasnost, or eco-voice, took on the streets of Sofia to protest against the “Mesta” and “Rila” hydropower plants.

A day after Zhivkov’s ousting by the parliament, the first free rally since the communists took power in 1944, staged by EcoGlasnost and the syndicate “Podkrepa”, took place.

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians joined the protest in front of the Alexander Nevski church in central Sofia, demanding further changes to the political system.

On December 7, the Union of Democratic Forces, a coalition of newly formed parties and organizations which would take power later in the 1990s, was established.

Zhivkov was arrested on January 18, 1990, but was never sentenced for the crimes of the Communist regime. He died in 1998.

Seven months after November 7, the first democratic elections since 1944 took place in June 1990. The newly elected VII Great National Assembly appointed Zhelyo Zhelev as President of the Republic of Bulgaria.

In 1991, the Great National Assembly revoked the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria and adopted a new constitution, based on the division of powers.

Twenty-seven years later, Bulgaria is a member of the European Union and NATO, but the process of transition to democracy still invokes mixed feelings among Bulgarians.

The last study on the views of Bulgarians about the former regime, carried out by Alpha Research in 2014, to mark the 25th anniversary of the democratic changes, showed growing nostalgia for the regime, provoked largely by the failures of the democratic transition.

The polling agency compared the attitudes of Bulgarians towards Zhivkov shortly after the collapse of his system and a quarter of a century later.

While in 1991, 76 per cent of adult Bulgarians gave a negative assessment of Zhivkov’s rule, in 2004, 55 per cent of the respondents assessed the totalitarian leader positively.