Introductory Essay


Throughout the late 1980s, Bulgaria’s longtime Communist leader, Todor Zhivkov, had resisted the reformist message coming from Moscow. As with other East European states, Bulgaria faced a combination of growing economic problems, international criticism for its discriminatory policies targeting Bulgarians of Turkish descent, and rising dissent among the general population. In an attempt to retain a monopoly on power, leading figures in the Bulgarian Communist Party forced Zhivkov to resign on November 10, 1989, the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nevertheless, a group of political parties opposed to the Communist government began to pressure the regime for change. Early in December 1989, these opposition parties merged together as the Union of Democratic Forces. In response, the “new” leadership of the Communist party experimented with political liberalization.

Ecoglasnost, one of the first opposition parties promoting environmental activism, was given full legal status by the Communist Party on December 11, 1989. In early 1990, other member groups of the Union of Democratic Forces were also granted full legal status. Because the Communists gradually recognized these alternative political parties, they managed to retain power for another 18 months, at which point free elections and a new constitution marked real change. Change moved more slowly in Bulgaria than in some of the northern countries, but the path was similar.

[see Human Rights Watch reports]