Fingering an open wound

October, 2013

  1. Fingering an open wound

    October 2, 2013 by Christopher Buxton

    A recent survey reported in the Standart newspaper showed a significant proportion (20%) of Bulgarian young people wishing they had been born in the communist era. Commentators offer two explanations for this result – the rosy picture painted by grandparents of a time of full employment, accessible health care and crime free streets;  the complete absence of  information about this era in the school curriculum. This year, in the village of Odurne, the DSP elected mayor fulfilled a pledge to his electorate by commissioning and unveiling  a bust of Todor Zhivkov, the former Communist Dictator.

    One need look no further than the streets of Sofia with its daily anti government protests and pro-government counter-protests to realise how divided Bulgarians are by both the present and the recent past. There is a great lack of standard accessable objective information about the whole Communist experience.  The media remain partisan and are distrusted.How could be otherwise where one newspaper talks of the thousands of victims of the Communist terror and another newspaper declares the same terror to be a complete myth.  The excellent History of Bulgaria in 3 volumes (Anubis) stops at 1944. I did come across A Short History of Socialist Bulgaria by Dimitur Ivanov (Ciela) in a book fair beside Sveta Nedelya Church. It seemed very dry. Packed with statistics it failed to convey the feelings and personalities of the time.

    The palpable shame felt by many Bulgarians regarding their present position and recent past makes certain subjects almost taboo. Thus a friend’s comment on Alec Popov’s excellent tragicomic novel about Bulgarian Communist partizans was that its humour was too close to fingering an open wound, a mockery of a painful time in Bulgarian history.

    However documentary historians are beginning to address the period directly before the Russian invasion of Bulgaria and the “spontaneous” Communist led revolution that led to 46 years of one party rule.  There is a wealth of Police archives from before 1944 that allow for a scrupulous revision of the previously one sided accounts of Communist heroism. I really enjoyed reading Nikola Geshev against the Black Angels by Andrea Iliev (Ciela).  Nikola Geshev was the legendary Secret Police Chief and the Black Angels were young Communist idealists recruited to assassinate   “enemies of the people” in the war years.  This is popular history at its best, juxtaposing the memories of the surviving assassins with contemporary police reports.

    But we will probably have to wait another fifty years for a consensus on the fascinating Communist period.