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Bulgaria Table of Contents


The Removal of Zhivkov

Despite the appeareance of numerous opposition groupsa in the preceding year, the Zhivkov regime was unprepared for the successive fall of communist regimes across Eastern Europe in late 1989. In October an all-European environmental conference, Ecoforum, was held in Sofia under the auspices of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE--see Glossary). This event focused world attention on Bulgaria's history of repressing environmental activism and stimulated open demonstrations by human rights advocates and the Bulgarian Ekoglasnost environmental group (see Other Political Organizations , this ch.). Although some demonstrators were beaten and detained, direct communication with the West inspired them to greater self-expression. This activity culminated in a mass demonstration in Sofia on November 3. Meanwhile, in a speech to a plenum of the BCP in late October, Zhivkov admitted that his latest restructuring program, begun in 1987 to achieve "fundamental renewal" of society, politics, and the economy, had been a failure. He unveiled a new, detailed program to counteract "alienation of the people from the government and the production process." Other party spokesmen increasingly noted recent drastic reforms in other socialist states and pointed to Bulgaria's failure to keep pace. Then, at the regular plenary meeting of the BCP Central Committee in November, Prime Minister Georgi Atanasov announced Zhivkov's resignation.

Although the resignation appeared voluntary, Western observers agreed that top party figures, increasingly dissatisfied with Zhivkov's refusal to recognize problems and deal with public protests, had exerted substantial pressure on him. The leaders of the movement to remove Zhivkov--Atanasov, Foreign Minister Petur Mladenov (who became head of state), and Defense Minister Dobri Dzhurov--had received the advance blessing of Moscow and the majority of the Bulgarian Politburo. Soviet leader Gorbachev apparently approved the change because Zhivkov had not heeded warnings that cosmetic reform was insufficient given the drastic restructuring sought by Gorbachev. Within a month of his resignation, Zhivkov was expelled from the BCP, accused of abuse of power, and arrested. Mladenov became chairman of the State Council and chief of the BCP.

Data as of June 1992