By Dimitar Botchev
In the eve of the 25th anniversary of democracy in Bulgaria, the arguments surrounding what we have gained and what we have lost by the overthrow of communism are increasing. This is, of course, natural. If you want to be not only resident, but a citizen, then a personal view of the current political situation is an absolute necessity. What seems unnatural to me is that there are still people who believe that a communist society is preferable to a democratic one. But the fact that these people do not just exist, but that they are in the majority in Bulgaria is absolutely dreadful. Statistics have consistently show that only a minority believe that they live better now under a democratic system, than they did in the depths of communism. Even assuming that this is the minority of the intellectual elite, it is a discouraging picture. This fact demonstrates that slavery is no less characteristic of human nature than freedom, and that the masses often feel a need to put civilization to one side and masochistically choose a tyrant.
It is self-evident that the past is always idealized by the present, but this statement is not enough to explain the mass nostalgia for the most demonic dictatorship of our history. The communist past would not appear so attractive to Bulgarians if their lives today were better. Instead people intuitively blame democracy for their current social deprivation. This shifting of blame is natural because if you cannot blame external conditions, you have to blame yourself. Nations avoid this kind of self-blame, especially those nations that are still politically immature. In all cases it is more convenient and less painful to blame an external factor, than to blame yourself. These people forget George Bernard Shaw’s warning that no democracy is able to rise above the level of its own voters. Democracy reflects the qualities and defects of its voters. If the defects dominate the qualities it is not enough to blame democracy or the political class – we must all accept the blame.
The most compelling argument made by those who are nostalgic for communism is the social security it provided. These veterans remember not only the free healthcare and cheap holidays on the Black Sea, but also the security on the streets. Technically they are right, but if we look more closely at the facts we see that the surface masked a deeper insecurity. It is true that in the sterile communist society our housing blocks and Trabants remained unlocked for weeks, but this security was deceptive. If petty crime was almost non-existent, it was only because political criminals ruled the country. With its unlimited, absolute power, unrestricted by either law or morality, the Communist Party was a bigger, more powerful and much better organized criminal than any amateur street thug. A single whispered political joke or a critical word about the Party leader could easily result in arrest, beatings, or incarceration in camps in Belene and Lovech. Every socialist citizen was very careful about what he said. He had to be alert at all times. This self-censorship is not a symptom of security, but of non-security, fear, and a ‘spy-mania’ that infected the whole country. It follows therefore, that totalitarian societies are the least secure and the most crime-ridden. Furthermore, when we talk of the free healthcare, education and other public goods, we must remember that they did not come as gifts from the Party chiefs, but were all paid for by the people.
We must not forget that a state that can give you everything can just as easily take everything away. Absolutely everything, including what is most important: freedom. As Oscar Wilde said, if you want to attain freedom, you must first accept the element of insecurity that comes with it. And a legendary American president taught us that those who sacrifice their freedom for security end up with neither. And so we had neither freedom nor security under the communists. For nearly half a century we sacrificed freedom for this ‘security’, which in reality was a form of slavery.
Dimitar Botchev is a dissident and writer. He studied Philosophy in the Sofia University. He has been repeatedly arrested by the State Security. In 1972 he receives political asylum in the German Federal Republic. He is a programme editor of the Bulgarian section of the “Free Europe/Liberti” radio in Munich since 1975. In 1976 he is sentenced to 10 years in prison in Bulgaria as this sentenced is ruled out by the Supreme Court in 1992.