Bulgaria Marks 20 Years since Communist Party Coup of November 10, 1989
Bulgaria is marking Tuesday, November 10, 2009, the 20th year since the internal coup at the Bulgarian Communist Party which led to the ousting of long-time dictator Todor Zhivkov, and the crumbling of the communist regime, and eventually paved the way for reforms instituting democracy and market economy.
Todor Zhivkov became First Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1954, which was then the second top position at the Party; 2 years later, he became the head of the party as the higher-ranking post of Secretary-General was abolished. This made Zhivkov the de facto ruler of Bulgaria.
In 1962-1971, he was also the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, and in 1971-1989, he was the Chairman of the State Council – a de facto president in a modified presidential republic regime.
The process of change in the Soviet Bloc states in Eastern Europe began with the policies of perestroika initiated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after 1985. In 1988-1989, the first opposition and dissident protests are organized in the Bulgarian society by groups around Zhelyu Zhelev and the Club for Support for Glasnost and Perestroika.
On November 10, 1989, several hours after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party holds a meeting in which Zhivkov is forced to resign as party head and head of state.
The intra-party coup against Zhivkov is supported by his close associates – Central Committee of the BCP members Yordan Yotov, Dobri Dzhurov, Dimitar Stanishev (father of Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev (2005-2009)), Stanko Todorov, Grisha Filipov, and Georgi Atanasov.
The demand of Zhivkov’s resignation was initiated by Politburo member Petar Mladenov and candidate member Andrey Lukanov.
As a result of the intra-party coup, which is widely seen as a move on the more energetic party of the BCP leadership to come ahead of the emerging opposition and to retain the power within the Communist Party, Mladenov is confirmed as the new BCP Chair.
On November 17, he is also elected as Chair of the State Council of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria by the Parliament, which also removes from the Penal Code the texts incriminating criticism of the government.
On November 18, the first informal opposition organizations, Labor Confederation “Podkrepa” (“Support”) and “Ecoglasnost” organize the first free demonstration in Bulgaria since the 1930s on the Alexander Nevsky Square in Sofia.
On December 7, 1989, a coalition of newly-formed and restored parties and organizations form the major opposition democratic bloc known as the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF).
On December 11-13, 1989, the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party adopts a course in favor of parliamentary democracy, and proposes the abolition of Article 1 of the 1971 Constitution (known also as “Zhivkov’s Constitution”) which stipulates the “leading role” and monopoly of the BCP on political power in Bulgaria.
These changes are adopted by the Parliament only on January 15, 1990. The so called “Round Table” including representatives of the BCP and the opposition UDF, which paves the way for Bulgaria’s peaceful transition to democracy and market economy, holds meetings from January 16 until May 15, 1990.
On December 29, 1989, the Politburo of the Bulgarian Communist Party decides to restore the Arabic-Muslim names of the ethnic Bulgarian Muslims and Bulgarian Turks, effectively reversing the so called "Revival Process" (or "Regeneration Process") instituted by the Zhivkov regime in the previous years in order to speed up their assimilation.
On January 29, 1990, Zhivkov is arrested on charges related to the forcible renaming and exodus of Bulgarian Turks and Muslims.
On April 3, 1990, the Parliament (National Assembly) elects Petar Mladenov President of the Republic of Bulgaria.
The same day the Bulgarian Communist Party adopts the name “Bulgarian Socialist Party”.
One million people are believed to have participated in the largest demonstrations of the UDF for democracy in June 1990.
The first democratic elections in Bulgaria after the 1930s are held on June 10 and June 17, 1990 – the elections for a Grand National Assembly, which is supposed to discuss and adopt a new Constitution.
The Grand National Assembly are won by the BSP, the former Communist Party, which got 47,15% of the votes, and 211 deputies in the 400-seat Grand National Assembly. The opposition UDF got 36% of the votes, and 144 seats; the ethnic Turkish party DPS got 8% of the votes, and 23 seats.
The results of the elections were disputed by the UDF, which started street protests, leading to the resignation of Petar Mladenov as President, including over a quote that he is believed to have said at the time, “It would be better if the tanks came out”, i.e. in order to suppress the protesters.
Mladenov resigned on June 6, 1990, and the BSP and the UDF reached an agreement for the election of a new President from the UDF – its leader Zhelyu Zhelev was confirmed on August 1, 1990, as President for the duration of the Grand National Assembly term. The new Constitution was adopted on July 12, 1991, by the VII Grand National Assembly.
Under the new Constitution, which provided for a parliamentary republic and limited powers of the President, Zhelev was elected democratically as the President in the elections on January 12 and January 19, 1992.
Despite an investigation, Bulgaria’s former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov died on August 5, 1998, without any sentence against him. After 1990, he was kept under house arrest.
In the 20 years after 1989, Bulgaria had one Grand National Assembly, and six regular Parliaments, and was governed by 12 Prime Ministers.
This photo from the mid 1990s showing former dictator Todor Zhivkov in the last years of his life. Behind him is Boyko Borisov - who later became Prime Minister of Bulgaria as of July 2009 - here in his capacity of a head of a security firm. Together with Simeon Saxe-Coburg, Todor Zhivkov is the other top leader for whom Borisov's firm IPON Ltd provided security services in the 1990s.
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