Bulgaria’s Parliament presented with rival proposals on dealing with the communist past
MPs from Bulgaria’s centre-right Reformist Bloc coalition and largest party GERB have tabled in Parliament proposals to outlaw communist-era symbols, while in a move taking a different tack on the country’s past, the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party wants the Dossier Commission – which exposes former secret service State Security agents in public life – shut down.
Further, GERB and Reformist Bloc want all holders of unsecured loans from the failed Corporate Commercial Bank to be checked by the Dossier Commission, the only body empowered by law to do so, for affiliation to State Security.
The proposals come just a few days before Bulgaria marks February 1 as the day of commemoration of the victims of the communist regime. Through murders and a “People’s Court” process, the communist regime killed at least 30 000 Bulgarians in its early years, and went on to gross abuses of human rights throughout its reign.
Bulgaria approved legislation in September 2015 removing the statute of limitations on serious crimes committed under communist rule, but in December, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said that he was referring the legislation to the Constitutional Court.
On January 28 2016, it was announced that Reformist Bloc MPs and GERB’s Metodi Andreev, a former head of a statutory body disclosing the identities of those who worked for State Security, had tabled amendments to criminal law to ban all symbols, slogans, photos, signage and similar objects glorifying the communist regime, covering the period September 9 1944 to November 10 1989.
This is the timespan of the Soviet-backed overthrow of Bulgaria’s former monarchist regime up to the point that the Zhivkov era ended as the Berlin Wall fell.
The proposed amendments, if approved, would also prohibit the placement of objects in public places, including inscriptions, sculptures and symbols falsely depicting the communist period in Bulgaria, as well as those praising the activities of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Where such objects cannot be removed immediately, a notice should be placed saying that the communist regime from 1944 to 1989 and the activities of the Bulgarian Communist Party had been declared as illegal by the 38th National Assembly – meaning, the Parliament of 1997 to 2001.
The amendments propose that those breaking the law would, in the case of individuals, face a fine of 200 leva (about 102 euro) and in the case of juristic persons, a fine of 2000 leva. The fines would be issued by regional governments. Should these regional governments not carry out these duties conscientiously, the Prime Minister would be empowered to sanction them under criminal law.
Reformist Bloc MPs Petar Slavov and Martin Dimitrov and GERB’s Andreev also tabled proposals to check holders of unsecured loans from CCB for affiliation to State Security.
The Dossier Commission has since its establishment in 2006 carried out checks on a number of people in various walks of public life, including office-bearers in state and government posts, Bulgaria’s foreign diplomats, the media, opinion polling agencies, trade unions, business associations, religious groupings and among the credit millionaires of the 1990s.
It has announced a number of politicians as State Security people, including political party leaders, MPs and candidates in national parliamentary and municipal elections. Bulgaria’s constitution does not permit lustration, so there are no direct consequences, barring public knowledge, of a figure being exposed as having worked for State Security.
Over the years, the BSP, now the second-largest party (by some distance) in the National Assembly, has made various proposals to dilute the work of the Dossier Commission. Now it has gone further, to formally propose shutting the commission down altogether.
Again putting forward an idea floated by the BSP in the past, the party wants the archives transferred to a new structure, an “Institute of National Memory” answering to Parliament and with a head proposed by the government and elected by the National Assembly.
This structure also would be able to check for affiliation to State Security and the intelligence outfit of the communist-era “Bulgarian People’s Army”, but under different conditions, only with the consent of the person to be checked and with no legal obligation to make the finding public.
BSP spokesperson Atanas Merdzhanov, repeating a line heard before from the party that is the effective lineal successor to the BCP, said that in nine years of existence, the Dossier Commission had achieved nothing other than to “bring discord in Bulgarian society”.
The BSP’s Tasko Ermenkov said that the expansion of the circle of people subject to checking by the commission had “already reached absurd proportions”. He said that “I guess soon that we will get to the point where before getting married, such a check will be requested”.
The party also wants to eliminate the use of record cards referring to individuals as proof that the person worked for State Security.
Similar moves in the past by the BSP, sometimes in alliance with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (both MRF leaders of the past were State Security agents) and pro-Russian party Ataka (whose leader has not been identified as working for State Security, but has had MPs who did), to trim back the work of the Dossier Commission or to move towards closing it, have failed.
Meanwhile, on January 28, Bulgarian National Radio reported that in the run-up to February 1, investigative journalist Hristo Hristov, a specialist reporter on the communist past and the former secret services, was to present to the media an electronic platform entitled “Memory 1944 – 1989” ( ‘Памет 1944 -1989’), a joint project with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, dedicated to the victims of communism in Bulgaria, that regime’s crimes and attempts at prosecuting them. Hristov was the founder of the website dese.bg, which focuses on the former State Security.
In November 2014, a website agenti.bg was launched, offering searchable details of people who had worked for State Security.