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D. II.2.d. Bulgaria 1996-1997

Bulgaria did not experience a full scale internal revolution in 1989 – although there was a degree of public internal dissent on economic, minority rights and ecological issues during the year. The ruling Communist Party moved to forestall major public unrest by forcing the resignation of its long term leader, Todor Zhivkov and adopting a number of resolutions on political and economic reform. The Party also agreed, after public protests mobilized by an opposition coalition demanding democratization, to hold negotiations on a new constitution. Initially, however, the Party (renamed the Bulgarian Socialist Party, but a still unreconstructed old-style party machine) was able to maintain political dominance, although it legalised private property. Bulgaria experienced a number of unstable coalition governments in the early 1990s, but in 1994 the Socialist Party returned to power and tried to promote a ‘Bulgarian third way’. between state socialism and western neoliberal capitalism.

The main opposition to the Bulgarian Socialist Party was the Union of Democratic Forces (soon effectively a right wing party with strong backing from conservative parties and groups in Europe), and the final triumph of the UDF in the 1996 presidential election, and especially in the April 1997 parliamentary elections, was more clearly a victory of the ideological right than in most of the countries covered in this Section. Bulgaria was also under strong pressure from the IMF. But two factors make it relevant to include Bulgaria here: 1. the significant role of public protests, by workers, pensioners and students (organizing brief strikes, occupying buildings, threatening to block roads and using street theatre) in forcing the Bulgarian Socialist Party to hold early parliamentary elections; and 2. the role of Bulgaria in the transmission of protest tactics – learning from the Serbian protests of 1996-97, and providing advice to the Slovak campaigners of 1998 (see below). The Bulgarian demonstrations were primarily centred on economic discontent, rather than on civil rights and democratization, but by January 1997 daily peaceful rallies in the capital (now led by the UDF) drew also on high school students and ordinary citizens, and were portrayed by parts of the Bulgarian media as ‘the conscience of the people’ opposed to the government.

Daimov, E., The Awakening: A Chronicle of the Bulgarian Uprising of January-Feburary 1997, Sofia, Democracy Network Program: Centre of Social Practices NBU, 1998, pp. 127

Notes that Bulgaria maintained a stable Soviet-style system until the collapse of the Soviet Union, but has made a surprisingly effective transition to parliamentary government and a market economy.

Dimitrov, Vesselin, Bulgaria: The Uneven Transition, London, Routledge, 2001, pp. 132

Charts transition to multiparty democracy and a market economy from 1989, with a focus on party coalitions and alignments.

Ganev, Venelin I., Bulgaria’s Symphony of Hope, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 8, issue 4 (October), 1997, pp. 125-139

Petrova, Tsveta, A Postcommunist Transition in Two Acts: The 1996-7 Antigovernment Struggle in Bulgaria as a Bridge between the 1989-92 and 1996-2007 Democratization Waves in Eastern Europe, In Bunce; McFaul; Stoner-Weiss, Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Postcommunist World (D. II.1. Comparative Assessments), New York, Cambridge University Press, pp. 107-133

A clear summary of developments from 1989-1997, that also lays emphasis on the role of popular mobilization and protests.