It has been more than quarter of a century now since the fall of the Berlin Wall indicated the end of the communist rule and the demise of the influence of the Soviet Union. The 9th of November, 1989, has been a remarkable day in the history of both Europe and the world. It has certainly raised hopes among the citizens of those countries who have experienced the implications of the hopefully long gone totalitarianism.
My emphasis today is on one particular country whose population has evidently suffered and is probably still suffering a great deal from the disadvantages which communism has brought and subsequently bequeathed. This country is Bulgaria and its population are the Bulgarians who have had controversial dealings with the overwhelming Russian influence for many years, even before the Soviet Union’s formation.
I am deeply intrigued with the vision Bulgarians now hold for their country’s future – ranging from the open-minded expectations for a free society, to the quite bold and daring vision of a Bulgaria on its way to successful democratization.
The Ottoman slavery, which had seized almost all aspects of Bulgarian political and social development for almost five centuries (1396 – 1878), ended in the second half of the nineteenth century when the armies of the Russian Empire defeated the Ottomans in 1878 on a Bulgarian territory. Ever since then, most of the Bulgarian population has been unquestionably praising the Imperial Russian Army by building various monuments in its honour and believing that Bulgaria under Russian influence is Bulgaria of the promising future.
The implications of this foreign help though have been far more controversial than initially supposed. Despite the subsequent historical period following the Ottoman’s defeat being characterized by a lack of obvious Russian presence, Russia has in fact never resigned from its genuine intentions towards the future of Bulgaria. This has been best demonstrated during the middle of the twentieth century.
The formation of the Soviet Union has implied from its very beginning the grand idea of Russian political dominance. The most prominent tool of this dominance – the implementation of communist values – has captivated Bulgaria thoroughly and irreversibly. The Bulgarian supporters of the Soviet power, who had conducted the Bulgarian coup d’etat on the eve of the 9th of September, 1944, have allowed their misguided evaluation of Soviet values to foster the forcible imposition of this commitment of theirs on the whole Bulgarian population. Sadly, this one moment of decisiveness has resulted in the consecutive slavery of the Bulgarian people – this time owing to a pernicious ideology.
For over forty years the Bulgarian population has had its rights violated and has subsequently fallen economically dependent on the communist state. The end of the Cold War has put the country at the threshold of a new era of development. That is the period when I was born and therefore, I can present my unique point of view.
The idea of democracy quickly settled amongst the Bulgarian people, who managed to liberate themselves from the false virtue of the old totalitarian regime. It stood as an encouraging option for a bright future, characterized by freedom of popular will instead of dependence on foreign decisions. The Bulgarian transition towards democracy however, is still a burning question.
Are Bulgarian politics and civil society open-minded and responsive to the values of democracy? Has their past experience fully released them and opened a way towards the implementation of new and fruitful ideas?
Recent events indicated a not so positive answer. Anonymous attempts to express popular views regarding the political and social situation in the country, found their way onto the streets of the capital, Sofia. The figures of the Monument to the Soviet Army were painted several times in response to the changes brought by globalization. First as heroes from the American comics, accompanied by the writing: ‘Moving with the times’. Then, during the period when the conflict between Ukraine and Russia started, the Monument was again painted in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, indicating Bulgarian support for the Ukrainians. All these artistic interventions occurred when popular riots against the inauguration of the supposedly corrupt government, spread across the whole country demanding free and fair elections. The interventions demonstrated the irreconcilability and reluctance of citizens to adhere to the old values of totalitarianism, and the willingness to apply the lessons learned towards the future governance of their country.
The Russian Government was indignant and annoyed by these anonymous messages which threatened to destroy the superiority of its power. Bulgarian agents submissively cleaned the Monument almost immediately to continue benefiting from Russian cooperation, in accordance with Russia’s preferences. However, facing the consequences of globalization, we cannot agree any longer that Russia is the sole dominant and superior actor on the international political arena. In fact, it has never been that. In the worst case there have been at least two great powers influencing the global politics.
Nowadays, considering the undeniable and rapidly evolving power of the USA and the surprisingly immense pace with which the emerging economies of Brazil and India are moving towards a possible global dominance, the Russian superpower is slowly but positively declining.
As for Bulgaria, it may well be on the correct path towards genuine democratization. The question that remains though, is to what extent the Bulgarian people are ready to impose their will on the governing bodies and to what extent their democratic culture has developed since the process of transition.
Conversely, the question for Bulgarian politicians is to what extent Russia will continue playing an important role in the implementation of decisions and policies which should be in response to democratic values instead of past ideologies. The answer to both questions still remains unclear, but at least there is the hope that the accession of Bulgaria into the European Union in 2007 gave the basis for eventual change with a view to the complete and successful implementation of democracy.