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Bulgaria: Communism Has Stumbled, Not Fallen

Ten years ago tomorrow, the communist regime of Todor Zhivkov was ousted in what became known as Bulgaria's "palace coup." But some analysts say that ouster did not mean the destruction of Bulgarian communism. RFE/RL correspondent Anthony Georgieff talks to one scholar who says that Bulgarian communism has only stumbled, not fallen.

Copenhagen, 9 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The past decade has been called a time of transition, in Bulgaria as well as in the rest of the former East Bloc. But one leading Bulgarian intellectual says the Balkan countries have only been simulating reform all this time. Georgi Lozanov is a professor at Sofia University. Social behavior and public thinking, he says, remain almost unreconstructed.

Lozanov spoke to our correspondent by telephone.

"Communism in Bulgaria has not collapsed at all. It has rather begun an intricate process of mimicry after 10 November [1989], including in certain political circles and figures who have overtly manifested the opposite, [anti-Communist] political attitudes. Communism [in Bulgaria] turned out to be related not so much to the so-called Left Myth: the slogans, and so on. Communism transpired to have created a kind of social, public attitudes dominated by the desire to treat the people as a will-less mass, and to usurp the name of the people for one's -- a politician's -- speaking platform. To talk 'in the name of the people' has remained the most characteristic feature of [Bulgarian] Communism, and of the whole [transition] period."

According to Lozanov, the declared wish of the Bulgarian government to join the European Union, NATO, and other Western structures has little domestic support. Unlike the situation in central Europe, the post-communist transition in the Balkans has had few manifestations in daily life. The central Europeans, Lozanov says, have implemented reform -- they have created new laws and new standards for public behavior. But Bulgaria has paid mostly lip service to reform. Real reform in Bulgaria, Lozanov says, started just two years ago and has progressed very cautiously. He says typical Balkan attitudes toward society, politics, and reforms are complicating the transition.

"The Balkan region has its own intricacies. The big question is whether there is need to create new specifics, new models in the Balkans, which have to be substantiated from within, or whether the Balkans have to integrate themselves in some other environment without putting an emphasis on the local peculiarities. The nationalist tendencies have played a very nasty prank in this respect. There is this pan-Slavic, Orthodox, all-Balkan nationalist attitude which has become an ideology as much as the vision of Europe has been turned into an ideology."

The most obvious example of these nationalist tendencies, Lozanov says, have been the wars in neighboring Yugoslavia. He says the Balkans must become Europeanized, rather than Europe becoming Balkanized.

A development of the past decade has been the liberalization of the media, says Lozanov, who is a prominent member of the Bulgarian Media Council. But he emphasizes that censorship is still alive and well in Bulgaria.

"One of the most palpable privileges of the democratization of society has been a kind of free and largely irresponsible talkfest in all directions. In this sense, there has been -- and there continues to be -- no censorship. However, there is something else. This endless talking has so far failed to produce its own professional, ontological, and moral standards."

The government continues to interfere in the operation of the media, Lozanov says, especially in state-owned television and radio.

For the future, Lozanov sees mostly depressing developments. Bulgaria is stuck in a false idea of a perfect Europe that the real Europe can n-o-t measure up to. A most serious obstacle on the way out of this swamp is corruption. Present-day corruption has its origins under communism when people had to use all connections with their friends and relatives to perform everyday tasks like buying tomatoes. Now they use their friends and relatives to get articles published in the media.

In Lozanov's words, "Corruption as such will be extremely hard to eradicate in a place like Bulgaria, because the temptation to use one's administrative and social position to enrich one's self has had such long roots in the Balkans." According to him, there is a long time to go before things really start improving in Bulgarian society.