>Bulgaria (and East European aristos) on my mind


Bulgaria seems to attract an especially interesting vein of reflection sheets from my MA students. Writing on left and right in Bulgaria a student recently noted how the the Bulgarian opposition Union of Democratic Forces emerged much more as an anti-communist formation than a force positively committed to shared positions – beyond vague notions of normality, democracy and European politics. During the early transition period, she notes, the opposition Union of Democratic Forces consisted of two big leftist and moderate parties (a Social Democratic Party and the Agrarian Party (BANU) whose members had been repressed and/or imprisoned under the communist regime. The electorates of the UDF were predominantly people with a low economic status (respected but underpaid intellectuals and artists or underprivileged non-communists). One can thus understand why their political claims – somewhat like those of Democratic Russia in 1988-91 (see Fish’s book) – were quite social-democratic. Opposition leaders in Bulgaria like their DR counterparts spoke about retributive justice, equal chances (the abolition of the (enduring) privileges of the nomenkltura) and the opening up of special lesiure and other facilities to the public In this early period UDF did not adopt a right-wing economic policy partly because would affect its electorates most. An interesting phenomenon was that the opposition was a mirror of the ‘transformed’ Communist party (the Socialist): although the latter used populist and patriotic rhetoric, it acted as a right party in a certain economic sense (participating in (insider) privatization and opening nomenklatura linked firms as in Poland, Hungary and Russia), while the UDF used the labels of the ‘free market economy’, ‘privatization’, or ’’radical reforms’, etc., but recruited its politicians from the public sector and the intelligentsia. The biggest entrepreneurs of the early transition were to be found among communist leaders and their relatives who amassed resources due abuse of office and de facto privatization of state resources. One of the emblematic names of BSP during the 1990s, she notes, Nora Ananieva happened to be the leading entrepreneurs in meat industry while her UDF counterparts lived relative poverty and worked in the state sector. The problem with this became obvious when the opposition finally came to power in 1996 and started itself abusing the state resources as a form of party building and counterweight to communist era networks – a point made by another student writing about Bulgarian decommunization policies a couple of years ago – and to compensate for the years of deprivation. This reinforced the nationalist Socialists who, naturally, felt economically threatened. This was, she argues, one of the reasons that led to the party collapse in 2001 when the expelled by the early Communist regime ex Bulgarian monarch- Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was recognized as a competent ‘European’ aristocrat – shades of the rather sychonphantic treatment of the new Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwazenberg and, more distantly Paneuropa – who was, supposedly, different from the corrupted domestic politicians. This is one of the most interesting – and understudied – episodes in post-1989 CEE politics.

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