Bulgarian historians protest state archives reshuffle

Written by on September 2, 2013 in Bulgaria - No comments
Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Historians and researchers have protested the decision by the Bulgarian Cabinet to fire state archives agency director Martin Ivanov and the appointment of Ivan Komitski as replacement.

In a letter sent to Parliament Speaker Mihail Mikov and Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, 56 academics said that the appointment of Komitski, a retired long-term Interior Ministry and State Agency for National Security (SANS) official, “raises a number of questions about the future policies” of an institution that was “the key figure in defining state policy towards preserving, managing and popularising the country’s archival heritage.”

Ivanov, appointed to head the state archives agency in 2011, started the digitalisation of records, uploaded Politburo files on to the internet, as well as the police files of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, 1950s Bulgarian communist strongman Vulko Chervenkov, and others. His work facilitated the work of historians and researchers who were able to access materials on key themes in Bulgaria’s 20th century history online.

“We believe that the main task of the state archives agency director is precisely ensuring maximum public access for citizens, journalists and researchers to the archival heritage kept by the agency, not their cover-up or destruction,” the academics said in their letter.

“Mr Komitski’s entire professional career has been with the service archives of institutions that have become known for their efforts to limit public access to their archive records, not for efforts to preserve and popularise them,” the letter said.

Furthermore, as an employee of the Interior Ministry archives service in 1990, Komitski was one of those who carried out the orders of the interior minister at the time to destroy the files that the communist-era State Security had on its victims and collaborators. “Today, all that’s left of these archive files are the eradication protocols, some of which feature Mr Komitski’s signature,” the letter said.

Much later in his career, as a senior official at the Interior Ministry and SANS, Komitski was active in the “selective publication of the files of some Bulgarian journalists and public figures”, but showed no readiness to release declassified documents that “contain key information about the beginning of the transition period in Bulgaria.” Given his previous track record, there were big doubts that Komitski would continue the reforms started by Ivanov, the letter said.

“Mr Komitski’s career diverges sharply from the established practice to appoint at the helm [of the state archives agency] well-established researchers, who have a professional relationship to history – as scientists, not police officers.”

The academics said that the non-transparent procedure to sack Ivanov and appoint Komitski ran counter to the “desire and readiness, stipulated by your government, to co-operate and consult with experts and civil society representatives in deciding state policy in different areas.” The academics asked for an open and transparent appointment procedure, open to any candidates that meet the job requirements and including public hearings at which they would present their strategies and could answer any questions from civil society.

(Bulgaria’s Government building. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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