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Bulgaria: Parliament Suspends Public Access To Communist-Era Files

The Bulgarian parliament has taken the controversial step of restricting access to the files of the former communist secret police. The law has the support of the ruling coalition of the former king, whose members say it's time to move beyond the divisions of the past. But critics say the change will only allow former collaborators to continue to occupy positions of power.

Prague, 24 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgaria's parliament today passed a law on classified information which will limit public access to the records and files of the communist-era secret police for years.

Under the new law, information deemed sensitive for the country's defense, security, as well as strategic foreign policy and economic interests, would be classified for up to 30 years. Only the president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament would have ready access to it.

All major political parties agreed on the need for a law on "state secrets." The law was also widely seen as a necessary step in Bulgaria's bid to join NATO.

However, a decision by the ruling majority of Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotsky to include files of the former State Security police as classified information has drawn the ire of the opposition center-right Union of Democratic Forces (SDS).

Under a previous law, victims of communist repression were granted access to their personal records. Candidates for public office were also checked to see whether they worked for or collaborated with the secret police. Collaborators were barred from public office.

The SDS, which the former king's movement swept from power last year, has already asked the president to veto the text in the law concerning the files.

Officials have argued over the question of whether to open the files since 1990 when the then-Socialist government of renamed communists argued the records should be destroyed so that the country could turn over that page of its past.

The fledgling anticommunist opposition countered that in order to turn the page over, Bulgarians had to read it first.

A succession of Socialist and center-right governments each pledged to resolve the issue and failed to deliver. Lists of names of alleged collaborators have been made public but only a few files were disclosed amid accusations and counter accusations of political bias.

The former king's party, the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), says restricting access to communist-era secret police files is needed to "let heal the wounds of the past."

Vladimir Donchev, one of the co-authors of the legislation, told RFE/RL: "Since 1994 when the decision was taken in Bulgaria to open the files to the present day, only certain names [of alleged collaborators] were made public. Only on the eve of elections there were speculations about the names of [certain] candidates. The public absolutely did not get a clear picture of who did what for the State Security -- or against it, who did what against the interests of society. This never became publicly known."

The opposition SDS, however, accuses the former king's party of using the law to protect collaborators.

Evgeni Dimitrov is the deputy-head of a SDS-dominated parliamentary commission set up last year to screen candidates for public office for possible links with the State Security police. The commission has come under harsh criticism for political bias, but Dimitrov told RFE/RL that now such checks will not be possible at all.

"This law makes it impossible, first, to know who was part [of the former State Security]. It eliminates the possibility to know who plundered Bulgaria, who brought Bulgaria during all those years to its current plight, who created a million unemployed. And finally it eliminates the pledge, the responsibility to disclose those persons to society and hold them to account for their actions."

Critics of the new law argue it will allow former collaborators to continue to infiltrate political and economic structures. Osman Oktai, one of the founders of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms and now an independent deputy, says that by failing to disclose their names, Bulgaria has allowed such people to wield political and economic power for the past 12 years.

"After 12 years, this once again comes to prove the argument that the Bulgarian State Security was one of the most powerful secret police structures in the former socialist bloc. Also, this once again proves that after 1989, the freshly disbanded Bulgarian Communist Party set up its own political opposition and planted its cronies everywhere. During all those years, these people were in key positions determining the fate of the country."

Oktai himself has been accused of collaborating with the communist secret police -- something he denies.

Critics have also said that the law could allow former collaborators access to highly sensitive domestic -- and in future possibly NATO -- information. The National Movement Simeon II says the law is fully in line with NATO standards.

Donchev's response: "I insist that this is a very modern law, fully in line with NATO's standards, which was necessary for the country, and which had to be approved two or three years ago, when, for example, the Czech Republic passed a similar law. "

So, who were the communist-era secret police collaborators? The question has not lost its poignancy, but Bulgarians seem to be losing faith they will ever learn the whole truth. After years of allegations and counter allegations, one might even argue they would not believe it even if it was disclosed.

In any case, most share the conviction that State Security agents themselves destroyed or manipulated the bulk of the files immediately after the overthrow of the communist regime. Just this month, a top Bulgarian court convicted two former communist officials of ordering the destruction of 144,000 secret police files in 1990.