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Bulgaria: Former Communists' Influence Starts To Fade

Sofia, 24 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- About 11,000 members have left the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) - the former Communists - since 1996 in Sofia alone.

The Party leader Nicola Koichev called a Sofia news conference yesterday to announce this number, and to note that the Sofia Party branch is down to 39,000 members. The reason, Koichev said: "the lack of motivation," and, "the easy way the Party gave up power" in 1997.

According to the BSP's own statistics, 42,000 members have left the party - country wide - since 1994. In that same period, about 3,000 new members were recruited. At one point in the Communist-era, Bulgaria boasted perhaps Eastern Europe's largest Party membership, as a proportion of population.

But, as far as formal members is concerned, the BSP is still Bulgaria's largest party organization.

The governing Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) announced last month a coalition goal of registering 80,000 members.

The UDF maintains a comfortable, absolute majority in Parliament. And, recent public opinion polls - one year after the last parliamentary elections - suggests the UDF still maintains a 40 percent approval rating, while 15 percent of the population supports the BSP.

In last year's election, the BSP won 22 percent of the vote.

Opinion polls conducted to coincide with elections a year ago, suggest the UDF would again win a majority of seats in Parliament, while the BSP result would be virtually the same as in 1997.

The Socialist daily, the "Duma" this week cited age as another problem facing the Party, as it approaches it Party Congress. "Duma" notes that almost half the Party's members are over 60, while only about five percent are younger than age 34.

Our Sofia correspondent notes another indicator. The Party "Duma" - only six years ago Bulgaria's largest circulation daily - is now struggling to survive, and owes the state-owned printing company about 600,000 dollars.

Meanwhile yesterday, for a second successive day, a Bulgarian Socialist Party-organized protest blocked the main highway in northern Bulgaria to the border with Romania. Local Socialists continued to protest the decision by President Petar Stoyanov to change the name of a local town to Iskar from Pelovo.

Pelovo, a small town near the regional center of Pleven in northern Bulgaria, was named after local Communist Pelo Pelov. Stoyanov has said Pelov was known to have been responsible for killings associated with the political purges that followed the Communist takeover in 1944. Stoyanov said towns and villages in Bulgaria must no longer be named for people "responsible for the division of the nation."

The UDF has also proposed a name change for Dimitrovgrad. The town in southern Bulgaria was named after former Communist Party leader Georgy Dimitrov. And, a group of citizens in the southern town of Parvomay yesterday said they would seek a name change. The name of the town was changed during the Communist-era - it used to be named Borisovgrad, after Bulgaria's last Tsar, Boris.