As far as we are aware, this new edition of Bulgaria: The New Spain is the first since the original was published by the Alexander Berkman Aid Fund thirty-five years ago. The title is most apt, for just as Stalinism drowned in blood the Spanish Revolution of 1936 so it drowned in blood, the blood of many thousands of workers and peasants, the Bulgarian Revolution of 1944 when the people of Bulgaria liberated themselves from years of fascist tyranny. Like Spain, Bulgaria had a powerful libertarian movement, a movement which constituted the major obstacle to Stalinism’s efforts at establishing a bureaucratic dictatorship on the Soviet model. Yet despite the hard evidence of Kronstadt, of Ukraine, of Spain, of Bulgaria, of Hungary, of Czechoslovakia, and most recently of Poland there are people, Arthur Scargill amongst them, who still imagine that the workers crushed beneath the iron heel of Stalinism are socialist, that the workers of these countries have achieved their liberation. Is it any wonder then that having heard the rantings of Scargill, Ron Brown MP et al, millions of ordinary people regard socialists of any stripe as pathological enemies of freedom!? Today, Bulgaria under Zhivkov remains the most loyal of Stalinist states, it’s troops were amongst those who brought to an abrupt end the experiment at socialism with a human face in Czechoslovakia in 1968. But as in Poland, the libertarian resistance, although bloodied, has not been destroyed.
And it is fighting back. As early as 1950 peasants were resisting enforced collectivisation of the land — the replacement of the landlords by the state. In 1956, Bulgarian Anarchists expressed their solidarity with the Hungarian workers’councils, several being imprisoned including Manol Vassev, Deltcho Vassilev, Stefan Kotakov and Christo Kolev. Vassev died in 1958, poisoned by his captors two days before the date of his release. In 1969 a group of young people were put on trial in Sofia for alleged ‘participation in an illegal group and spreading slanderous assertions concerning the state and social order in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria’. What they had done was to duplicate a pamphlet attacking, from a libertarian viewpoint, the Communist dictatorship, the Party and the education system and distributed it to students, workers, Party members and university officials. During their trial they protested against mistreatment and torture by the authorities. They received sentences of one to five years behind bars. These imprisonments sparked off a revolt at Sofia University, angry students marching on a police station, Christo Kolev was arrested in connection with this case and tortured over a 28 day period.
He was sentenced to a year in prison. In the wake of the Polish mass strikes of 1970, strikes broke out in Bulgaria against poor working conditions and the payment of large bonuses to senior officials. The poet Valeri Petrov and the author Kristo Ganev were expelled from the Writers’ Union for refusing to vote for a motion attacking the award of the 1970 Nobel Prize to Solzhenitsyn. Kolev was again arrested for making a speech attacking the bureaucracy at the funeral of fellow libertarian Penko Tiofilov and was banished to a remote village. In 1974, Kolev for having taken part in the erection of a monument to the Anarchist guerrilla Vasil Ikonomov was banished again to his equally remote home village, only rarely being allowed to visit his aged mother whose home was in Sofia. That year the libertarians Alexandre Nakov, Atanas Kucuev and Lobomir Djermanov were sentenced to five years and Gantcho Damianov and Atanas Artukouv were interned. In 1978 dissidents were arrested for distributing a French translation of the Czechoslovak human rights document Charter 77.
That year Ljuben Sobadsciev was imprisoned for four and a half years for distributing a leaflet critical of the regime. Earlier three members of the Pomak Muslim minority had been sentenced to a total of twenty years imprisonment for having protested the policy of forced assimilation whereby Pomaks are forced to change their Muslim names to Bulgarian ones. In 1980, Sotir Iliev, an architect from Plovdiv, sought political asylum in Austria. The authorities replied by kidnapping him from Vienna and taking him back to Bulgaria where he was imprisoned for 18 months. People arrested on political charges and interrogated at the State Security Centre in Sofia have complained of being threatened, beaten up and deprived of sleep. In two cases people were taken to a psychiatric hospital and forcibly drugged. Many prisoners end up in the maximum security prison at Stara Zagora where conditions are extremely harsh. This jail houses at least 250 political detainees, some of them serving very long terms. For example Agrarian Party member Petar Paskov has spent more than 28 years in prison while his colleague Georgi Zarkin has been behind bars for more than 12 years.
Two Anarchists in Stara Zagora are Vasil Uzunov and Georgi Casabov, the former has spent more than 26 years in prison while the latter is serving 20 years. The regime has also cracked down on youth culture. The punk bank Tip Top has been denied radio time and official public concerts. The Crickets, while no longer banned as they have been in the past for playing Beatles’songs, have suffered the indignity of having the police intervene at their concert at Sofia’s Universiadia Hall. Another band, Signal, suffered an 18 month ban for having caused ‘excessive excitement’at their concert in Burgas. As can be seen from the above examples the methods used by Bulgarian Stalinism to suppress any and every actual or potential form of dissent differ not at all from those employed by its Soviet overlord. Ths is not socialism, but the antithesis of socialism; the dictatorship of a new class every bit as oppressive and tyrannical as that of the Bulgarian Tsars and fascists.
Sadly, there have been very few expressions of solidarity in Britain with the freedom struggle in Bulgaria. We know of only two — a picket in the ‘70s of the Bulgarian Embassy and Tourist Office on the anniversary of the 1944 Revolution and more recently the distribution of a leaflet drawing attention to the cases of Kolev, Uzunov and Casabov at the Wales versus Bulgaria football match in Wrexham. We hope that this pamphlet will be read not just out of historical interest — the events that it describes are happening still — but also out of a desire to learn more about workers’struggles in the East and having learnt to act. The words of Bakunin: ‘Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality’ring as true today as when first uttered. The events in Bulgaria since Stalinism seized power underline this truth. It is a truth which cannot be repeated too often!
Terry Liddle, London, Bulgaria Freedom Day, 1983