Press releases

Home

 

 

Bulgaria's painful past still hidden, but for how long?

By Matthew Brunwasser
International Herald Tribune

FRIDAY, JUNE 2, 2006
SOFIA

http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/06/01/news/bulgaria.php

More than 16 years after communism officially ended in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria's reckoning with its totalitarian past finally began in earnest on a live national television broadcast one morning last week.

Georgi Koritarov, one of Bulgaria's most respected journalists, talked for 30 minutes about his work for the foreign counterintelligence division of the Communist-era state security services: spying on foreign citizens in Bulgaria, mainly Yugoslav and Chinese, and spying in Yugoslavia under cover of being a translator.

In the May 26 broadcast, Koritarov described how he had faked epilepsy in 1977 to escape "outrages" during military service and said he had later been blackmailed into working for the security services, the Durjavna Sigurnost. Declaring that he was not proud of that period, he apologized to those whose "fates I have changed in some way and to those I have caused suffering."

The extraordinary confession came in response to swelling public pressure after Interior Minister Rumen Petkov, on a journalist's request, officially released Koritarov's name as a former agent.

The disclosure sparked an outcry against what critics called selective release of the security police files, but that has now been drowned out by a louder uproar, with some demanding that the government open the files entirely.

Alone among the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe, Bulgaria has still reached no consensus on what to do with records of its painful past contained in the Communist-era security police archives.

Romania, Bulgaria's northern neighbor, struggled with the same question until December, when it announced the formation of an Institute for the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism. Both countries are hoping to join the European Union next January.

In Bulgaria, the debate has now shifted from whether to open the state security archive to when to open it.

All former totalitarian countries have enormous problems dealing with the past, according to Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European Studies at Oxford, who has read his own file compiled by the Stasi, the East German secret police, when he studied in East Berlin in the 1980s.

What is new now, he said in a telephone interview, is that "if you want to be a respectable new democracy, especially in Europe, you do something about your bad past. You have a truth commission and you do something about the files. It's part of your task of wanting to belong to Europe."

The Koritarov case marked the first time a government official had officially disclosed an agent's name from the files, although names have been leaked in the past. The move was widely seen as retribution by Petkov for the journalist's hard-hitting reporting on corruption in the Interior Ministry.

"Without a clear moral assessment of the past, we can't have a clear moral assessment of the present," said Gergana Jouleva, executive director of the Access to Information Program in Sofia. Her organization is lobbying for complete public access to all the archives.

"People need to see that there is a clear difference between right and wrong for society to develop normally."

Dimitar Ivanov, former head of the Durjavna Sigurnost department that investigated corruption among the Bulgarian Communist Party's upper echelons, says that some of the archives should be opened, but judiciously.

"There were dishonest people, people who were careerists, and people who violated the rights of many citizens," said Ivanov. "But that doesn't mean the whole Durjavna Sigurnost was just a collection of bad people, degenerates, informers and everything else bad you can think of."

The laws regulating the archives are unclear.

In 1994, the Bulgarian Parliament passed a law saying that the documents of the Durjavna Sigurnost were not "state secrets," but made no practical provisions for providing access. The communist-era archives remained scattered in their respective successor institutions.

Then in 1997, the first stable anti- Communist government created a commission to screen candidates for high state positions. If documents were found to show participation in the Durjavna Sigurnost, a panel then met the candidate and gave the person the chance to step down before publicizing his or her collaboration.

The commission was closed in 2002 by the government of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha. Parliament at the time also canceled a law that allowed public access to part of the archive. Today, all documents related to the former Durjavna Sigurnost are made available only by personal approval of the interior minister.

The former head of the commission, Metodi Andreev, said the records were still closed because many former agents remained in powerful state positions. Other former agents, he said, founded the first organized criminal groups and are blocking the reforms needed for Bulgaria's accession to the EU, such as an independent and functioning judiciary.

Hristo Hristov, a journalist who spent six years combing the archive about the case of Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident killed by a poison dart fired from an umbrella in London in 1978, said he was convinced that the unread files contained lessons for Bulgarian society.

"Who's afraid of opening it?" he said. "People who want to control others using what's inside and those who want to hide 45 years of the daily violation of human rights."


SOFIA More than 16 years after communism officially ended in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria's reckoning with its totalitarian past finally began in earnest on a live national television broadcast one morning last week.

Georgi Koritarov, one of Bulgaria's most respected journalists, talked for 30 minutes about his work for the foreign counterintelligence division of the Communist-era state security services: spying on foreign citizens in Bulgaria, mainly Yugoslav and Chinese, and spying in Yugoslavia under cover of being a translator.

In the May 26 broadcast, Koritarov described how he had faked epilepsy in 1977 to escape "outrages" during military service and said he had later been blackmailed into working for the security services, the Durjavna Sigurnost. Declaring that he was not proud of that period, he apologized to those whose "fates I have changed in some way and to those I have caused suffering."

The extraordinary confession came in response to swelling public pressure after Interior Minister Rumen Petkov, on a journalist's request, officially released Koritarov's name as a former agent.

The disclosure sparked an outcry against what critics called selective release of the security police files, but that has now been drowned out by a louder uproar, with some demanding that the government open the files entirely.

Alone among the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe, Bulgaria has still reached no consensus on what to do with records of its painful past contained in the Communist-era security police archives.

Romania, Bulgaria's northern neighbor, struggled with the same question until December, when it announced the formation of an Institute for the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism. Both countries are hoping to join the European Union next January.

In Bulgaria, the debate has now shifted from whether to open the state security archive to when to open it.

All former totalitarian countries have enormous problems dealing with the past, according to Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European Studies at Oxford, who has read his own file compiled by the Stasi, the East German secret police, when he studied in East Berlin in the 1980s.

What is new now, he said in a telephone interview, is that "if you want to be a respectable new democracy, especially in Europe, you do something about your bad past. You have a truth commission and you do something about the files. It's part of your task of wanting to belong to Europe."

The Koritarov case marked the first time a government official had officially disclosed an agent's name from the files, although names have been leaked in the past. The move was widely seen as retribution by Petkov for the journalist's hard-hitting reporting on corruption in the Interior Ministry.

"Without a clear moral assessment of the past, we can't have a clear moral assessment of the present," said Gergana Jouleva, executive director of the Access to Information Program in Sofia. Her organization is lobbying for complete public access to all the archives.

"People need to see that there is a clear difference between right and wrong for society to develop normally."

Dimitar Ivanov, former head of the Durjavna Sigurnost department that investigated corruption among the Bulgarian Communist Party's upper echelons, says that some of the archives should be opened, but judiciously.

"There were dishonest people, people who were careerists, and people who violated the rights of many citizens," said Ivanov. "But that doesn't mean the whole Durjavna Sigurnost was just a collection of bad people, degenerates, informers and everything else bad you can think of."

The laws regulating the archives are unclear.

In 1994, the Bulgarian Parliament passed a law saying that the documents of the Durjavna Sigurnost were not "state secrets," but made no practical provisions for providing access. The communist-era archives remained scattered in their respective successor institutions.

Then in 1997, the first stable anti- Communist government created a commission to screen candidates for high state positions. If documents were found to show participation in the Durjavna Sigurnost, a panel then met the candidate and gave the person the chance to step down before publicizing his or her collaboration.

The commission was closed in 2002 by the government of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha. Parliament at the time also canceled a law that allowed public access to part of the archive. Today, all documents related to the former Durjavna Sigurnost are made available only by personal approval of the interior minister.

The former head of the commission, Metodi Andreev, said the records were still closed because many former agents remained in powerful state positions. Other former agents, he said, founded the first organized criminal groups and are blocking the reforms needed for Bulgaria's accession to the EU, such as an independent and functioning judiciary.

Hristo Hristov, a journalist who spent six years combing the archive about the case of Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident killed by a poison dart fired from an umbrella in London in 1978, said he was convinced that the unread files contained lessons for Bulgarian society.

"Who's afraid of opening it?" he said. "People who want to control others using what's inside and those who want to hide 45 years of the daily violation of human rights.


HOME | ABOUT US | APIA | LEGISLATIVE BASE | LEGAL HELP | TRAININGS | PUBLICATIONS | FAQ | LINKS | SEARCH | MAP
English Version • Last Update: 02.06.2006 • © 1999 Copyright by Interia & AIP