Bulgaria: Soviet Silicon Valley Revived

Views on BG | November 5, 2009, Thursday // 18:11
Bulgaria: Bulgaria: Soviet Silicon Valley Revived

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Bulgaria's transition to democracy was relatively smooth. It had always been one of the most open of the Soviet states and by the time the impact of Mikhail Gorbachev's reform programme was being felt in the late 1980s, the Bulgarian Communist Party was too feeble to resist the demand for change.

Bulgaria's leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted the day after the Berlin Wall fell, and even though his place was taken by a Communist movement veteran, his departure gave impetus to the country's pro-democracy movement. The Communist Party voluntarily gave up its absolute hold on power in February 1990, and the country's first free elections since 1946 were held four months later.

Soviet Silicon Valley

During the last years of the Communist regime, Bulgaria produced 40 percent of the computers used across the Soviet Union and was known as the Soviet Silicon Valley. Nik Martin went to Bulgaria to track down the legendary Pravetz PC.

Stolen technology

The Pravetz was named after the town in which it was produced, also the home town of the country's Communist leader Todor Zhivkov. The Pravetz company was set up in the 1960s and started producing computers in the 1980s. The fact that the computers were based on technology stolen from the West was a state secret at the time. Engineers from the factory recount how they would go on "business trips" abroad to get their hands on new software, which was then reverse engineered and even improved back at the Pravetz factory.

Computers to buckets and back

When Communism fell, the factory could no longer sell its computers because its machines violated copyright laws. The factory ended up turning to making plastic buckets and Bulgaria's position as the East European leader of technology temporarily crumbled.

Yet today, Bulgaria's computer industry is on the up again and it is seeing success in its attempts to position itself as an IT outsourcing competitor to India.

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Tags: Todor Zhivkov, Pravetz, communism
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