Q&A: Communist Secret Files Threaten Politicians
Interview with Alexander Kashumov from the Access to Information Programme in Bulgaria
Sofia, Oct. 02, 2007 (IPS)
Countries in Central and Eastern Europe are still struggling to find ways to deal with their past under communist regimes. Bulgaria is one of the last states in the region to decide in favour of opening files kept by the former secret services to the public.
The NGO coalition Citizens Against State Security organised a series of rallies in capital Sofia Sep. 27 to protest against the appointment of alleged communist secret services collaborators as Bulgaria's representatives abroad.
They came at a time when the Bulgarian public is starting to receive information about the content of files that former communist secret services kept on their collaborators, informers, and targets.
In December 2006, the Bulgarian parliament passed a law to enable opening of secret police files. Countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania have already taken this step.
The Bulgarian parliamentary commission given responsibility for opening the files is scheduled to publicly announce its findings in November. But some of the information has already been released.
At the beginning of September, the commission announced the names of 138 agents and collaborators. The list included President Georgi Parvanov, several members of parliament since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, and several candidates that parties intended to propose for elections to the European Parliament.
IPS correspondent Claudia Ciobanu spoke with Alexander Kashumov, head of the legal team at the Access to Information programme in Sofia. Kashumov has been involved with the working group on the latest draft law on access to the archives of the secret services. He has also been representing investigative journalists in court for access to these files.
IPS: Why is it important to open the files of the former secret services?
Kashumov: The importance, for me and for Access to Information, is in knowing better our history and understanding what were the leading mechanisms in communist Bulgaria. By opening the files, it also becomes clear to what extent there are linkages between the current politicians and the former secret services.
There is no lustration law in Bulgaria yet and there is no political will to have such a law, so the role of the opening of these files should be seen more in light of the upcoming elections, as enabling people to make informed choices, which is probably the most democratic way of doing things, even if not necessarily the most effective.
IPS: Why were Bulgarian officials so late to decide in favour of the opening of the files?
Kashumov: In 1997, parliament passed a law which gave access to these documents to people who had files on themselves. In 2001, the law also provided for disclosure of data to the general public about political figures. But, in 2002, the government actually repealed the 2001 law.
The government (formed by the party of former King Simeon) acted without publicly explaining the reasons for doing so. In this context, it is worth mentioning press reports about suspicions of Simeon's collaborating with the communist secret services.
The unique thing about Bulgaria is the general unwillingness of politicians to open these files. It was only due to the pressure exercised by NGOs and journalists that we have reached this stage of opening the archives.
IPS: Does timing matter for the opening of such archives? Would the opening of the files have been more valuable had it taken place in the early 1990s?
Kashumov: It's always difficult to judge on that matter. It's good to open archives earlier but another very important thing is to have the skills to read the archives, collect the information and report it. So, skilful work with archival documents could be more important than timing, and good reading of the archives can be done even now.
The problem we face at the moment is that there is actually a clear resistance from the government to help the parliamentary commission in charge of the files. The commission does not yet have its own headquarters, they function in a small room in the parliament building. In these conditions, although they are entitled to receive all the documents, factually this remains an impossibility. One reason for the attitude of the government is that the parties in the coalition (the Socialists, Simeon's party and a minority party) all have members on the lists of collaborators.
The commission in charge has so far showed willingness to be open and serve the public interest. But since the documents are still in the hands of the state security services, there is a potential of tension arising from there.
IPS: How great is the risk that opening such files will turn into a witch-hunt or get used mainly for political reasons?
Kashumov: I have always believed that the permanent disclosure of such files will ensure that they are used for non-political purposes mainly. The files can be used for political reasons if access to them is not given under the proper conditions, if access is not permanent.
IPS: Should we judge people for their past under communism?
Kashumov: This is a personal question. But, especially for the new generation, I think that we should be more open to understand the situation in the past, the personal destinies in each case which made people act the way they did. Still, it is also important to understand that holding a public job is not a right but a privilege, which means that the people who are suspected of collaboration do not get to be so well accepted in the public sphere. The leaders should be better than us. (END/2007)