Members of Boiko Borissov’s GERB party and of the centre-right Reformist Bloc coalition held separate wreath-laying ceremonies in central Sofia on February 1, the day of remembrance of the victims of the country’s communist regime. The day also was marked by a special statement by former justice minister Hristo Ivanov’s Yes Bulgaria party.
In a brief statement marking the day, released in mid-afternoon, Bulgarian head of state President Roumen Radev said that in the country’s history, there were still many “open wounds and unclosed pages”.
“As head of state, I share the conviction that only together, telling the whole truth and without trading in the past, can we overcome the divisions in our society. Every innocent victim deserves our respect,” Radev said.
In 2011, the then-government headed by Boiko Borissov voted February 1 as the day of commemoration of the victims of communism, acting on a proposal put forward by former presidents Zhelyu Zhelev and Petar Stoyanov, at the suggestion of former political exile Dimi Panitza.
The February 1 date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the 1945 killing of 147 people, including Prince Kiril, three former prime ministers, military generals and MPs, following the death sentences handed to them by a communist “People’s Court”.
That “People’s Court” followed large-scale extra-judicial killings of people, from local mayors to priests to police chiefs, journalists and others, at the time of the communist takeover of Bulgaria.
In the course of the “People’s Court” process, from December 1944 to April 1945, a total of 12 special courts operated. More than 28 600 Bulgarians were arrested, 11 122 were put on trial, and a reported 9155 were sentenced, 2618 of them to death, while 1126 were given life sentences and others were imprisoned from one to 20 years.
The ensuing years did not see an end to repression, as large numbers of Bulgarians were forced into labour camps or otherwise internally displaced.
Radev’s predecessor as President, RossenPlevneliev, who after winning election on the ticket of Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party was in office from 2012 to January 2017, participated over the years in wreath-laying ceremonies at commemorative events for the victims and also issued a number of statements on the issue, not only on February 1 but on other occasions, such as the commemoration of victims at the political prison camp at Belene.
Speaking at the first commemoration that he attended as head of state, in February 2012, Plevneliev said that the “People’s Court” had become a symbol of the repression of the Bulgarian people.
At that ceremony, he said that the 20th century was marked by ideologically-motivated political violence, of which millions of European citizens became the victims. “The difference is that in Europe the victims of this violence are remembered and revered, while in this country you still hear the calls to forget the past,” Plevneliev said.
In the years since the November 1989 fall of Bulgaria’s communist regime, dealing with the past has been a keenly-contested issue between centre- and right-wing political forces that took on the mantle of anti-communism, and socialist politicians who have an entirely different view of the country’s communist past.
An act of Parliament approved by Bulgaria’s National Assembly in April 2000 deemed the communist regime and the Bulgarian Communist Party criminal. Sixteen years later, a group of centre-right MPs in the now-departed 43rd National Assembly tabled legislation providing for the outlawing and removal from public display of communist symbols, legislation that got first-reading stage approval by the time Parliament was dissolved to make way for early elections.
Attempts at lustration of former senior communist party office-bearers in the early decades of Bulgaria’s transition to democracy were struck down by the Constitutional Court.
In October 2016, the Constitutional Court nullified legislation approved a few months earlier by the National Assembly that removed the statute of limitations on serious crimes committed under the communist regime.
The Dossier Commission, established by statute at the end of 2006 to identify people in various walks of public life who worked for the communist-era secret services State Security and the People’s Army military intelligence, has publicly disclosed the identities of more than 12 000 agents and collaborators. This disclosure is, by the same constitutional principles that forbid lustration and enshrine the freedom to pursue a profession, no bar to continuing in public life.
(Main photo: Members of the GERB delegation at the Sofia monument to the victims of communism)