One of Bulgaria's top intellectuals, Georgi Lozanov, is a familiar face to Vagabond readers. A philosopher and a media expert with many years as a leading member of the National Electronic Media Council Lozanov now teaches communications at Sofia University.
Among his many interests Communism – and what supersedes it – has had a special place on his rostrum. In his telltale style of combing the mundane with the philosophical, even allegorical, Lozanov begins this conversation, in his office at the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency located at Sofia's main thoroughfare that used to be called Lenin, by pondering over when exactly Bulgarian Communism ended.
There are two answers to this question. One is historical: Communism ended when former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov was toppled on 10 November 1989.
The other answer is political. Communism has not ended. Communism morphed into capitalism. The former Communist establishment transformed itself into both visible and backstage spheres of influence, and created its brand of post-Communist capitalism. Furthermore it managed to annihilate almost completely the early pro-democracy right wing in Bulgaria. It is almost non-existent in 2019. To put it in another way, the ultimate victory of Communism is yet to come.
For 30 years Bulgaria has had governments that have claimed with various intensity that they are anti-Communist, that they are set on building democracy and, for the past 10 years, that they are bulwarks in the fight against Communism. Yet you are telling me Communism is about to win. Either they lie or you are wrong.
The ideologies of these governments the way they have voiced them are to a large extent anti-Communist. They have maintained an appearance of democracy. What I am saying is that the so-called Bulgarian capitalism was generated by the former Communist elites. Many post-1989 political parties manifested their rejection of hardline Communism. But their membership consisted of people who had a footing in the previous regime. In this sense Communism never ended, it just transformed itself.
What happened to the first generation of anti-Communist politicians popularly referred to in Bulgaria as the Blues – as opposed to the Reds?
They had their origins mainly in the intelligentsia. They failed.
One explanation is that they had no experience with dealing with evil. The truth is that in the period of so-called Mature Socialism, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no real repression. The group of people who spearheaded the fight against Communism – after 1989 – had little idea about its evil nature. Consequently, it managed to transform itself rather painlessly into what Bulgarian society looks like today.
It is difficult to believe that Bulgaria in 2019 has anything to do with Bulgaria in 1989.
The visible features of Bulgarian life have changed dramatically. The Bulgarian transition was not one from a totalitarian society to democracy but from a totalitarian society to a consumerist one. Now the Bulgarian society has a market of goods that are similar to and often identical to the goods in the free, democratic world. This includes politics. As a commodity, as a product, politics is being sold in a package similar to that in the West. Now we have radical nationalism, there are liberal parties and so on. Significantly, this is the consumerist face of the process. But the power setup remains the same. It has one foot in the Kremlin and the other in the power hubs at home.
In this sense is Bulgaria unique against the background of the other former Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe?
Bulgaria is perhaps the least radical in its anti-Communism. Look at Romania. Notwithstanding the executions of the Ceausescus, an act that was questionable from a legal, human rights and even aesthetic point of view, Romania showed a will to radically sever its links with the Communist past and to an extent punish those responsible for it.
Nothing like this happened in Poland or Czechoslovakia.
The Czechs had Vaclav Havel, a true dissident. Havel had stood up against Communism and had looked it in the eye. There were no excesses in Czechoslovakia, but the Czechoslovak departure from Communism was nevertheless radical. At the same time Bulgaria's counterpart to Havel, Dr Zhelyu Zhelev, had always been a Marxist – and he remained one when he was president. At that time everyone admitted that many bad things had happened under Communism but the true nature of Communism was not repealed.
Does the situation you describe continue to this day?
I hope there are no Marxists around. The power, however, transformed itself in order to survive. Of course you can draw no direct analogies with the times of Communism because there have been many generational and personal changes.
Bulgaria is the former Communist country in Eastern Europe with the highest percentage of people longing for the "good old days" of Communism, according to many domestic and international polls through the years. Do you have an explanation why so many Bulgarians want their Communism back?
The disappointment that nothing significant has changed has led to a sense of longing for the previous system. As time went by, many Bulgarians forgot the bad things but would remember the times when they were young everyone had a job and life was easy. There is an element of stupidity as well. Because people and democracy are related, there is an expectation that the people is the source of democracy. But the people never care about democracy. And democracy does not stem from the people. There are elites, and democracy is the political vision of the elites. They can lead their people and the people can subsequently live in a democracy.
The Bulgarian people, I suppose like all other people, seem to care more about putting bread on the table.
And about having a strongman to guide them, to scold them when necessary, and to ensure there is peace and quiet.
Notwithstanding the dire picture of post-Communism you have painted, I suggest taking a walk through the streets of Bulgaria. There is hardly anything that resembles life pre-1989 with the possible exception of some buildings. First of all, people can travel both inside and outside of Bulgaria. Then they can voice their opinion without anyone breathing down their neck. They can buy whatever they want, including cars – and they don't have to wait for 15 years to do so. Yet, many people want a return to Communism.
There is no question that we now live in a Western-style consumerist society. Yet, the elites that have the power in today's consumerist society are related to the former elites under Communism. Before Todor Zhivkov was toppled on 10 November 1989 there was an expectation that whenever Communism collapsed a group of clever, intelligent people, who had been repressed and marginalised, would show up centre-stage and would conduct a transition to democracy. Nothing of the sort happened.
Today's elites do not need democracy. They need other things, a semi-democracy, a simulated democracy.
How does the current state of a semblance of a democracy correspond to the fact that Bulgaria has been a member of important democratic organisations such as NATO and the EU for many years? Both the EU and NATO have been opposed to Communism in its pre-1989 forms.
Bulgaria is a frontline state. The Cold War ended but for a short time. The most optimistic decade ever, the 1990s, started when Communism collapsed and ended when the World Trade Center came down. The expectation then was that a victorious liberal democracy was coming. That expectation was a powerful driving force. But after the Twin Towers collapsed, the Cold War began its comeback albeit in a different form. Then we reasserted our position as a frontline state. With a footing in the West, at least document-wise, we faced the authoritarian regimes in Asia. The West expects us to be loyal to it and at the same time serve as a bridge, a buffer zone facing eastwards. Boyko Borisov is particularly appropriate with his duplicity. He has no trouble making a step to the left and then a step to the right. He knows that this is what is expected of him in order to keep him in a position of power.
Do you not think that 30 years after Communism is no more a tremendous amount of public energy goes into philosophising whether Communism was good or bad? Many people, including young, educated people, born in 1993, who speak foreign languages and have travelled abroad, devote a significant amount of their time and energy to stare into their own navels or, worse, into other people's navels in an attempt to find out whether what happened in 1945 was similar to what happened in 1976, or whether that individual in 1963 erred more gravely than someone else did in 1994. Do you not think that that energy would be better spent some place else?
It does seem that these are futile efforts. That is because the politicians continue to attract votes by promising change. It is like a game of musical chairs. One needs to assert he or she is in control.