Bulgarians born during the country’s transition from communism to democracy know almost nothing about the socialist era in Bulgaria, or political figures such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl, Mihail Gorbachev, Lech Walensa or even Todor Zhivkov, a poll by Sofia-based Alpha Research has found.
The results were released on November 9 2014, a day of celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Forty per cent of those polled could not say whether the end of communism was marked by the collapse of the Wall in Berlin, or in Moscow, Sofia or the Great Wall of China.
Communist domination in Bulgaria lasted from after the September 9 1944 coup until 1989. Long-time dictator Todor Zhivkov was deposed in an internal Bulgaria Communist Party coup on November 10 1989 and replaced by foreign minister Petar Mladenov, who in December announced that the BCP was abandoning its monopoly on power. The National Assembly voted in January 1990 to abolish the BCP’s “leading role” and multi-party elections followed in June that year.
The Alpha Research poll, done among 1200 people over the age of 16, found that the memory of the parents of those born during the transition to democracy was fading, while their grandparents remained highly polarised in their attitudes about what was good or bad about the communist era.
Among these reasons for these attitudes were the difficulties of the transition and the lack of media debate on the ideological and political nature of the communist regime, its scope and its collapse.
The “socialist” era was being gradually forgotten, while the failures of the transition mythologised and ideologised it, according to the Alpha Research poll.
Ninety-four per cent of the younger generation, those aged 16 to 30, said that they did not know much about this period. Ninety-two per cent did not know, in the geographical or metaphorical sense, the boundaries of the communist bloc.
Their knowledge of the communist era was based primarily on personal encounters and conversations. Insignificant proportions of people knew about the period from books (10 per cent), films or television talks shows (16 per cent) or from school or university (10 per cent).
Alpha Research found that people’s views of the era was highly influenced by their own ideological outlooks.
People with leftist political views saw the period as one of calm and security. A lack of unemployment, free health care, good education and industrialization of the country are the strongest arguments for positive assessments of this period. Those positive assessments are found largely among the older generation.
People with right-wing political views have more critical views, albeit heterogeneous, naming injustice, lack of freedom, dictatorship and censorship as the main burdens. These
see the era as one in which their fundamental rights and freedoms were restricted.
While a survey done two years after the fall of the communist regime found 76 per cent negative views of Zhivkov, the Alpha Research poll found him to have a 55 per cent positive rating.
From today’s perspective, a review of the question “where to go after 1989?” clearly outlines the five circles of ideas of a free and prosperous Bulgaria – open borders and unrestricted travel (30 per cent), increasing income and wealth (27 per cent), development of a market economy and job opportunities (20 per cent), more human rights and freedoms (19 per cent), the return of private property (18 per cent) and a choice in free elections of those who will govern the country (15 per cent).
In spite of the fact that from an objective point of view, most of these expectations have become reality: Bulgaria is member of the EU and Nato, Bulgarians can travel freely, property ownership has been returned, there are free elections; subjective responses only cover three areas – EU accession, free travel and the return of private ownership.
Only two per cent of those polled held that their expectations of the supremacy of the rule of law had been fulfilled, five per cent that their expectations of democratic institutions had been fulfilled, and just 10 per cent that their expectations of the election of authorities through genuinely free and democratic elections had been fulfilled.
Half of the population older than 16 in Bulgaria sees the development of the country after 1989 as a failure, versus 10 per cent positive reviews.
However, evaluations at a personal level are much less pessimistic. Only 29 per cent believe that they lost during the transition.
People see a visible divided between politicians and ordinary people, the former flying along in the fast land without rules and laws applying to them. This expresses an opinion of a fundamental problem of the transition, the failure of the rule of law, inefficient and corrupt institutions providing patronage and abuse of power.
However, Alpha Research said, the massive negative assessment of the transition was not a negation of its purposes.According to the pollsters, people would not want to have given up on the achievements of the past 25 years.
They do not blame a particular politician or government, left or right politics, but a dysfunctional state, which has improved in vacuuming the resources of the community, instead of mechanisms to ensure compliance with the law, professionalism and integrity.