By Nassya Kralevska-Owens
“Twenty Five Years Free Bulgaria” is an inspiring title for the multiple initiatives organized under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, Rossen Plevneliev, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary since the collapse of the communist regime in our country.
I like it because I often ask myself why the fact that Bulgaria is now a free country is seldom discussed in public discourse, and is pushed to the background. Once our forefathers uttered the words “Freedom or Death” as a sacred oath and had given their lives for it. Today this human blessing – freedom – is taken for granted, and its importance is under-valued. Have we forgotten so quickly that for forty-five years, under communism, freedom was banished from the Bulgarian soul?
It was impossible during that time to express the slightest criticism of the inhumane system or to show your disapproval of it. Neither in words nor in writing. Neither publicly nor in a narrow private circle, because as we understand now in free Bulgaria, our society was riddled with informers and agents of the repressive secret services.
There was no way during communist times to freely cross the state boundary, neither to live in the city that you wanted, because for this you needed “a residence permit” – things that the majority of young Bulgarians never heard. Few of them know that the communists ran concentration camps until the early 1960s, in which you could find yourself if you listened or danced to Western music, wore capitalist style clothing, or talked to foreigners from enemy countries.
During the red regime, freedom of choice was a forgotten concept. Civil rights – an anachronism. The privileges of the communist elite – unchallenged rules. The inferior study and work opportunities of the non-party members – unwritten law.
All of this happened during the years of “developed Socialism”, following decades of bloody mass terror upon both the urban and rural populations of Bulgaria…
Today it is different. We enjoy the freedom to say what we think, to write what we believe, to criticize whoever we want, to vote for our choice of candidates in free elections, to study whatever and wherever we choose, to travel and even live abroad.
But is our freedom complete?
Do we have at our disposal a free media, an independent judicial system, and uncorrupted institutions? Did the citizens of Bulgaria have equal opportunities to participate in the free-market economy as some henchmen of the communist regime who started their businesses with assets stolen from the state? Did a single national traitor or concentration camp sadist from the communist era answer in court for his/hers crimes?
There are many questions waiting for answers. That is why I am grateful to be part of the high level international conference “Dealing with the Past while looking to the Future”. Without hesitation, I will say: the only way to look at the future with hope is to know the truth.
The truth – cleansed of partiality or prejudice, family history, financial interests, and all kinds of subjective considerations, which cast shadows on it. We have to learn the truth about pre-communist Bulgaria, the truth about the essence of the communist regime and the damage that it did to our state and our nation, the truth about the years after the fall of our “Berlin Wall” – the removal of the dictator Todor Zhivkov.
The facts about the history of Bulgaria during the 20th century should no longer be manipulated and hidden. It should not be known just by a handful of people. Everybody in the country needs to be knowledgeable about the truth, especially the young people. That is why it should be taught, repeated, circulated, spread by parents, teachers, university professors, journalists, and public figures. Only then – with the truth about our recent history – pure and whole – will we start living in a really free Bulgaria, sharing common national values, having shaken off the lies imposed on us since the time of the communist dictatorship.
I like to believe that this conference and its accompanying events will create the basis for an honest, open and objective dialogue about our near past. And help us to move ahead as an united nation to a better future.
Nassya Kralevska-Owens is the author of numerous editorials, articles, columns, and interviews published in Bulgarian newspapers and magazines; editor of several books; and translator of novels, plays, short stories, and poetry from German and English to Bulgarian. She holds masters’ degrees in German Philology and Journalism from the Sofia University (Bulgaria). She studied journalism on a UNESCO scholarship in Germany and England, and she worked in Sofia as an editor. Since 1985, she has lived in the USA.