THE LONG SHADOW OF FEAR OVER BULGARIA

THE LONG SHADOW OF FEAR OVER BULGARIA

Пред Софийския университет, където заседава Първи състав на Народния съд. Отляво са камионетките, които чакат подсъдимите
Пред Софийския университет, където заседава Първи състав на Народния съд. Отляво са камионетките, които чакат подсъдимите

 

During the communist era Bulgaria was ruled exclusively by the means of terror and fear. The terror was initiated and established immediately after Red Army tanks invaded the country in early September 1944 and effectively the country became Soviet-occupied territory. The newly formed government, propelled under the disguise of the anti-fascist struggle, joined by the local communists and often acting together with regular criminals freshly released from prison, executed thousands of people on the spot. Many more were executed later under the auspices of the so-called People Court, which was the Bulgarian version of the Stalinist Trial Courts. The main instrument of this massive and pervasive terror from early on was its unpredictability and arbitrariness. The goal was to crash any form of resistance against the Communist State which was taking shape quickly following the predetermined patterns of Soviet Totalitarianism. Overall this attempt of intimidating and paralyzing the national spirit was successful, possibly facilitated by the absence of the Army and the Officer Corps consisting of highly patriotic and disciplined officers who were sent almost immediately after the invasion of the Soviets to fight against the retreating German Army in neighboring Yugoslavia and Hungary. This happened due to switching over to the side of the Allied Forces following the Communist takeover of the government. Indeed, for a number of years there were still pockets of desperate and heroic resistance against the confiscations of land and property by the Communist State in many rural regions of the country by freedom fighters, the so-called “goryani”. Yet the spirit and the hopes for help from the West were largely defeated and the rule of terror, as the most essential element of totalitarian Communist Bulgaria, was firmly established. This rule would have been impossible to maintain without organizing a force behind it, which had to be effective, cruel and merciless. It was created very quickly and organized with the help of specially appointed “advisers” from NKVD introducing the well known Stalinist methods of work from their special offices in the headquarters of the Interior Ministry. The organ of political oppression was named State Security or Darzhavna Sigurnost (DS) and assumed rapidly the powers and the means to dominate and control all aspects of the public life; ideology and exchange of ideas, education, arts, right to travel abroad and professional development in all professions. Even the content of private conversation displaying any sign of discontent whispered in the people’s own kitchen, at the long lines for scarce food or on the street corner was subject to persecution and abolishment to the Gulag. The punishment swiftly imposed by the obedient kangaroo courts, which functioned entirely under the orders of DS, for any digressing from the Party line was so severe and so disproportionate in regard to the alleged “crimes” that the net effect was the emergence of the total or the totalitarian fear, which best describes the mental state of the population after the Communist takeover in Bulgaria. All kinds of abuse, confiscation of property, violation of rights, physical and moral humiliations, deprivations and utter contempt for individual dignity became possible and were practiced ruthlessly. The national spirit suffered a severe blow and for decades it was subdued and was replaced by survivalist tactics and silent but rarely openly expressed discontent. Like in any totalitarian situation a number of people with weak moral foundations became Party members, collaborators or informers and possibly some of them joined the oppressive regime out of fear for their own security and to protect their families from the omnipresent suspicious eye of the Organs of the State. DS created its own vast network of trusted civilian informants in addition to its large security force which was to play a crucial role later on during the onset of the so called democratic transfer of power at the end of 1989.

 

As is well known, the fall of Berlin Wall and the fall from power of the Communist Parties in the Soviet Block, led to some kind of seemingly spontaneous explosions of public euphoria and joyful demonstrations on the streets wrongly assumed to be the end not only of the Communist Party but also an end to the State Security apparatus. However, with the possible partial exception of Germany and a few other countries, the State Security in most ex-communist states and specifically in Bulgaria were formally disbanded but not held responsible for their crimes during the 45 totalitarian years, and the process of expunging the cadres from their positions of power and control was incomplete and not even properly initiated. Although not formally in charge, many of the DS officers quickly moved to different and crucially important positions in the legal system, the banking industry, the judiciary or government, and many of them, or their agents, informers and secret collaborators, created a sort of hidden network united by virtue of their past and owned by high ranking former DS generals. Good number of them successfully moved to the realm of political life, infiltrating the newly formed parties and movements. In addition, the formally disbanded DS remained firmly implanted in the different divisions of the new security apparatus and in the police. Interestingly enough, the former DS actors and especially their favorite “sons” in sports, like wrestlers and state-sponsored trained martial arts specialists, suddenly became a very instrumental force in the situation after the fall of communism. Simply put, this force consisted of an unusual group of muscular, poorly educated people who possessed only the simple skills of beating and breaking the bones of randomly or intentionally chosen “enemies”. The enemies were in most cases either competitors in their chosen field of action or simply innocent gifted early entrepreneurs. This violence was made possible under the rule of the new post-communist “Democratic” Penal Codes and was defended by the provisions of the so-called Constitution with its nonsensical chapters, which allowed criminal activity to go unpunished under the pretext of twisted notions of human rights and at times emulating the PC language borrowed from the West. The perversion of what democracy actually means permitted this to happen, and as a result it led to mass exodus from Bulgaria of creative and entrepreneurial talent, simultaneously turning the notion of democracy into a dirty word in many people’s mind. Many were practically terrorized by gangs of criminal repressive forces, replacing the old DS/KGB as effectively as them and in some cases even less restricted by the Law. The era of complete lawlessness had begun. And with it the Era of Old Fear was back in town. This time the enforcers of the fear were the simpleminded rude characters who suddenly got promoted to the top of the food chain and the intimidated and fear stricken society was helpless because nobody was able to confront them physically or legally. The general public was rendered powerless by the post-communist system which proved to be totally incapable of protecting the aged, decrepit and helpless population left after the exodus of young people. And not only them but all the layers of society which had the capacity to resurface and become the new middle class exterminated by the Communists in 1944 . The sense of inescapable Darwinian dominance of the strongest in the environment engulfed and darkened the daily life of many. People were unable to fight back against the newly formed aggressive force which came to replace the previous state organized repressive machinery. The new “ghouls” substituted, revived and kept alive the old totalitarian fear by being aggressive, savage and violent practitioners of criminal terror. They were joined also by impoverished, unemployed members of ethnic minorities engaged in petty crimes who also sensed the lawlessness as an opportunity to steal or burglarize with impunity. The upper echelon of the criminal “Brigades” was supported by the old guard DS generals who provided them with money, expertise and logistics only to terminate them by assassinations when their usefulness had expired. This model closely followed what happened in Russia after the end of SSSR which might be described best with the term gangster capitalism. The net effect following these turbulent times was a state of fear established under the facade of democratic transition. The enthusiasm and the expectation of freedom, providing prosperity and security for all was replaced by gloom, despair and mass exodus of younger and more entrepreneurial segments of Bulgarian society. The successful management of fear became the main method of control over all economic and political activity and the owners of the instruments of fear became the effective owners of the country as well, enriching themselves enormously in the process. This new ruling class was an amalgam of criminals, former and still active State Security officers, ex-communist functionaries, their cronies and their families and friends.

 

The Last Chapter of using the fear revealed a certain degree of evolution of the dark Darwinian tale because it unfolded in the environment of formal membership in the EU and NATO after 2007 and under the disguise of westernizing principles and institutions. This time the instrument of fear on one side became economic control due to the proprietorship of many important industrial and financial assets by a predominantly criminal or semi-criminal new class of rich ex-Communist and their retinues. The dependence, obedience and fear was spread over a large population of working people scared by the possibility of losing their livelihood on the whim of their new capitalist masters who came in place of the former bosses. But on the other side, the ultimate and particularly devastating form of fear became possible by the emergence of an inconceivable by any democratic standards state organ, implanted in the Constitution in such a way that this organ acquired unrestricted power without any checks or balances, or any means to be held responsible for its actions. This grotesque institution was called “Procuratura” (Prosecutorial Office) with a Chief Prosecutor on its top, and it was shaped entirely along the lines of the prosecutorial system constructed by Andrey Yanuarevich Vyshinsky on the orders of Joseph Stalin in the early days of the Soviet Union. The position of such a chief prosecutor cemented by the immutable and poorly constructed Bulgarian Constitution is capable of turning any mediocre jurist into a monster endowed with absolute power to arrest, persecute, investigate, drag and harass any and every person in Bulgaria with total impunity and without any obligation to explain his reasons. And because the entire prosecutorial system is pyramidal and completely centralized, on the very top of the real state power in Bulgaria is the chief prosecutor. As once aptly noted by a former chief prosecutor: “Above me is only God!”

 

Everyone below this godlike figure, including politicians, members of parliament, media, business, government, police, security services and even the Army, via the special Military Prosecutorial department also under his control, is a potential subject of arbitrary investigations. It is not so much the power of sentencing, which nominally is still in the hands of the court, but the power of arresting, harassing, damaging reputations, intimidating, blackmailing, humiliating and embarrassing, accompanied by the creeping pervasive sense of fear, lawlessness and despair setting amongst the population, that is doing the most damage. The arrogance of this institution, since there is no constitutional or societal way of restraining it, makes it practically boundless. Most Bulgarians have lost hope that they are going to be defended or protected by the state, and the confidence in the Procuratura hovers around 7%, according to some public opinion polls. It is a situation of a practically failed judicial system which is ruining the chances of Bulgaria creating a functioning society with some decent prosperity and dignity for all of its citizens. And especially appalling is the visible triumphant smirk in front of the entire nation when the Procuratura does something outrageous like the raiding of Corporative Trading Bank in tandem with the shady billionaire Peevsky and a few other similar characters, costing more than 4 billion to the entire Bulgarian society.

 

Precisely because of this arrogance, it is of utmost importance that the investigation initiated by US lawyers aiming at the Chief Prosecutor Tzatzarov and his associate Peevsky on behalf of the banker Tzvetan Vassilev, invoking the Magnitsky statute, be pursued with all severity by the US Department of Finance with their respective agencies and investigators, with strict adherence to US and the international law. With all the doubt surrounding the image of the “plaintiff” Tzvetan Vassilev and his past deals, the procedure has the potential to show that although in Bulgaria only God is above the Chief Prosecutor, the outside world is not under his jurisdiction and the above mentioned duo will not escape with impunity, as is customary under sloppy Bulgarian law practiced under their dominance.
 In turn, this will be a very encouraging sign that the long shadow of fear poisoning the soul, the moral landscape and the future of younger generations in Bulgaria is finally lifting and brighter days are coming for all.

 

By Dr Lubomir Kanov 

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