By Evelina Kelbecheva
“When the communists came to power, they first had to enrich their own partisans, which is an old practice. And this is why, they were first taking our property away, this is how Hitler chased away the Jews, too, by taking their property away. It was normal for them to confiscate everything, but the bourgeoisie was not very rich. This is why they encroached on people’s bread, and the Bulgarian people’s bread was the earth – they took it away from them. And when they ate everything and when they saw that nothing was working out, they began taking loans. Who could lend them money? Naturally, the capitalists – they will not even ask what do they need this money for. But when they see that the communists cannot pay the interest, they will ask for the interest of the interest, and for the capital, too. And because they will not be able to pay, they will have to go. And you will see, they will enter a church to make the sign of the cross so that they remain in power.
And as far as the Bulgarian man’s land is concerned, when one finds out that nothing is working out there, too, they have to return it to him, but there will not be anyone to return it to. Then a seven-year-old famine will come.”
With these words, exactly a century ago, a Bulgarian man foresees the last years of the communist regime, day by day. His words contain the space and the time, in which he has lived and made sense of the turning points of our newest history.
But in what kind of space and in what time is our thinking about communism being settled?
The first space of the present day is the one of the well-organized ignorance, which could be quickly and effectively overcome. This is why, of course, one needs, above all, political and intellectual will, which lacks at the present moment.
The second space is the one of the perfidious academic “normalization of communism”, which actually produces a long-lasting and scientifically legitimized falsification of history.
The third space is the space of the lowbrow party propaganda, which is brilliantly represented by the agents from 6th Division of the State Security Services.
The fourth space is the one of the shame(less) in their deceitfulness memories of age, mainly by the ones of high-standing party leaders, who glorify in one voice their statesmanship “in the name of the people.”
The fifth space is the one of emotional testimonials of the terrors of communist crimes by the people, who have experienced the camps, the prisons, the expatriations and the banishment.
And at last, the last space, which almost did not exist until 10 years ago, is the creation of positivist-objectivist historiography after the so-called archive revolution.
If liberal democracy and civil and human rights and freedoms are taken as points of departure when assessing communism, then it stands out as the most atrocious regime and the most dangerous dictatorship ever imposed in Bulgaria. Every other axiological section is criminal relativism.
I accept the theory that a regime manifests itself in the best way after it falls. Much of this, which is today’s Bulgaria, is a direct consequence from communism: cynicism, arrogance and greed are explained by the social and economic failures, which are also part of our “wonderful heritage” from the previous period. Who understands the spiritual poverty of communism and the criminal incompetence of its leaders? Who will forgive the crimes, which no one punished? Who will return to Bulgaria the children, who did not want to live in a country governed by the children and the grand-children of the ones that devastated it? This is what we are asking ourselves – a little more than 10% of the Bulgarians today.
But almost half of our fellow-citizens approve of communism.
It is not important what has happened – it is important what you think has happened…
The lack of knowledge and historical reflection debases and contracts the memory for communism to the popular, anecdotal and everyday level. Don’t we remember the words of Todor Zhivkov: “Under sovereignty the Bulgarian man understands what does one have to eat” or the popular phrase of the representative of the new generation of communist functionaries, Filip Bokov, when the crimes of the Bulgarian Communist Party were concerned, that it takes the guilt only with the appetizer… The nostalgia over communism is dominated by the absurd myths that education and healthcare were “free of charge”, that there were jobs and ease for all. It was not for all, comrades! The story of communism was extremely well replaced by the same post-communist elite, which dominates the public space and interrupts the real knowledge and assessment channels from the newest Bulgarian history.
And the word “freedom” has just disappeared… But Dzhendema used to sing:
“The freedom, brother, is something relative”.
However, the big question is which is the main reason for this popular approval of communist dictatorship in Bulgaria? Is it the cleverly shaped media policies, which slowly, gradually and invariably abandoned the communism issue in Bulgaria, is it the “original sin” – not only the conservative, but the directly regressive educational politics and history books, is it the ageing, the tiredness and the disappointment of the generation, which went through that period, is it the misunderstood “Bulgarian tolerance,” which will bury again the opportunity for historical assessment of our newest history? The socialist-party historiography, fruit of the political situation, with a directly commissioned character, had and has enormous circulation. Besides, the most contemporary critical historiography remains closed in the academic discourse and cannot influence the popular knowledge.
The people cannot be blamed for not knowing or for being ignorant – both of them are a result of well-thought politics of manipulation on the side of ideologists and official historians of communism, who have to historically legitimize post factum a criminal regime, part of whose main functionaries still, publicly or behind the scenes, govern our country. We still remember how radical and timely the demands and the suggestions of some of the educational reformists of the party elite, such as Nikolay Vasilev, were. At the very first opposition manifestation, on November 18th, 1989, he asked for a “Nuremberg trial” for the communist elite, but we also remember how quickly he forgot about it!
Last, but not least, non-communist circles could not create serious and coherent strategy for learning about this past or for wide diffusion of knowledge about it. The result is that the Bulgarian man today sees clearly neither the economic nor the social or cultural-psychological consequences of communism.
When in 1919 collapsed Bulgaria was looking for the reason for the catastrophe, all scourges were taken by the elite – the political and the intellectual elite. And then Vazov just says – “Let’s work!” If we begin working in a wiser and faster way, there is a possibility we do not miss the last historical chance to change the dreadful distortion of public knowledge about communism and its mimicries in Bulgaria.
Evelina Kelbecheva is teaches at the American University in Bulgaria and is an initiator of Movement for Teaching Communism as Part of History at School. She has published works on Bulgarian history, including the Communist era. Her interests include Bulgaria since it has been an independent country, what happened with the Bulgarian intellectuals between the two World Wars, the Cold War at the Balkans and the period of regime transition. In 2013 she lectured at the Library of the Congress, the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, the University of Harvard and the University of Princeton
An interview with Spas Temelkov, 1962, Sofia. It is recorded by Spas Stoyanov. Spas Temelkov is a wealthy tradesman. After being expatriated from Macedonia after the Second Balkan War he becomes the main informer of the Carnegie Commission on the Balkan Wars. In Sofia, he develops construction and entrepreneurial business. He was repressed after September 9, 1944.
The Bulgarian words “guilt” and “wines” are homonyms.