Bulgaria’s Parliament approved on November 24 the first reading of amendments providing for the removal of signs, slogans, photos and other objects created during the country’s 1944/89 communist regime and that glorify or praise the Bulgarian Communist Party and its leading figures.
Approving the first reading of amendments to the law declaring the communist regime in Bulgaria criminal, MPs provided for fines of 200 leva (about 102 euro) for individuals breaking the law, and 2000 leva for legal entities.
The amendments were proposed by Metodi Andreev, an MP for Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, and Petar Slavov, Martin Dimitrov and Villas Lilkov of the Reformist Bloc coalition.
After three hours of heated debate, with 153 out of 240 of Bulgaria’s MPs in the House, the vote was 104 in favour, 46 against and with three abstentions.
Those voting in favour included MPs for GERB, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the Reformist Bloc, the Patriotic Front, and Bulgarian Democratic Centre.
Those voting against included the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), socialist breakaway ABC, other MPs for the Patriotic Front and for Volen Siderov’s Ataka party.
Following the vote, MPs for the opposition BSP – lineal successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party – walked out of the National Assembly.
The amendments say that slogans, photos, signs and other objects created during Bulgaria’s communist regime must be removed and are prohibited from being put up in public places. If objects or structures cannot be removed, a sign must be added saying that the communist regime in Bulgaria had been declared criminal by law.
The amendments also require that in school and university curricula, objective lessons must be given about Bulgaria’s communist regime.
At one point in the debate, an Ataka MP took a bottle of Dutch beer to the speaker’s podium, showing that it had a red star in its label, and shouting that this would mean a fine and prison. Slavov rose to ask the Speaker to order the bottle removed, saying that alcohol had no place in the National Assembly.
Opposing the amendments, ABC MP Ivan Stankov said that while the communist era had clear negatives – “the totalitarian regime, dictatorship of the proletariat and other things” – the period also saw huge building, development of agriculture and employment for people. “These things should not be played down,” Stankov said.
BSP MP Tasko Ermenkov said that the bill was proof that the current Parliament was useless and the faster it was dissolved, the better.
“You have started a fight with symbols, with monuments and the dead. What about films – ‘Tobacco’, ‘At Every Kilometre’, ‘The Peach Thief’, and books. Will we there tell people that is criminal? And the poems of Geo Milev and Vesselin Hanchev. You want to kill these people a second time,” said Ermenkov, who went on to recite an extracts from Hanchev’s poetry to the National Assembly.
Slavov, on the first day of the debate – on a bill that has been pending in Parliament for about a year – said that it was essential for the period to be taught in educational programmes, to prevent the mistakes of the past being repeated.
GERB’s Andreev said: “Communism is a nostrum and demagoguery. When did the divisiveness in Bulgaria begin? It was begun by the communists. The communists killed Bulgarian patriotism. Their attitude toward fascism and Nazism was ad hoc”.
The actions of the communists had been subordinate to the interests of Russia, Andreev said.
(Photo, of the red star that used to be on top of the Party House in Sofia and that is now kept in the Museum of Socialist Art: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)