Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament, the National Assembly, voted on September 17 2015 to remove the statute of limitations for the prosecution of crimes committed by the communist regime.
The statute of limitations was removed for serious crimes committed between September 9 1944 and November 10 1989 by officials of the Bulgarian Communist Party.
In Parliament, which has a total of 240 members, the amendment to the Penal Code drew 111 votes in favour, 30 against and there were seven abstentions.
The amendments were put forward by GERB and the Reformist Bloc, centre-right partners in the current coalition government that has been in office since November 2014.
A particular focus of the amendments is to enable the prosecution of at least some of those responsible for killings in labour camps and torture of victims in the communist regime’s 1980s “revival process”, which was directed at forcing Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity to adopt Slavonic names.
The votes in favour of the changes to the Penal Code came mainly from MPs for GERB, the Reformist Bloc, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – a party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity – and some of the MPs for nationalist coalition the Patriotic Front, the last-mentioned a supporter in Parliament of the cabinet.
GERB MP Metodi Andreev described the amendments as overdue justice for the victims of the communist regime.
Predictably, the amendments were opposed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, currently the second-largest party in the National Assembly, and the lineal successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party that held the country in its thrall during the totalitarian regime of the late 1940s to the end of the 1980s.
BSP MP Yanaka Stoilov, responding to Andreev’s call to see the acceptance of the amendments as repentance, said that he had nothing to repent for because it was their parents and grandparents who had built the country.
Many of the decisions in that period were taken by collective bodies, which is still the practice today, Stoilov said. He said that in future, governments could adopt such laws concerning those currently in power.
Chetin Kazak of the MRF said that through the amendments, “the efforts and expectations of hundreds of thousands of people who are still alive and have been victims of crimes of the communist regime will be rewarded.”
“The goal is not yet to form new cases and is not a witch hunt, but to punish the direct instigators and perpetrators of crimes under the communist regime, to be given the opportunity of pre-trial proceedings to be completed,” Kazak said.
Stanislav Stanilov, an MP for Ataka – the far-right party that is one of the two smallest parties currently in Bulgaria’s Parliament – said that the amendments to the law would produce no result. “How many of the people that you are planning to sanction are alive?”
(Photo of the red star that used to be atop the Party House in Sofia and now is in the city’s Museum of Socialist Art: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)