Expectations of American aid and support from U.S. diplomats appear to have encouraged Bulgaria’s opposition in its six-month effort to bring down the only former Communist government in Eastern Europe to emerge victorious in multi-party elections.
U.S. government officials openly shared the disappointment of anti-Communist activists within the 16-party Union of Democratic Forces when the Bulgarian Socialist Party won nearly 53% of the vote in June.
Since then, continued financial assistance to opposition forces and whispered advice on how to apply pressure to the elected leaders have given rise to hopes of a U.S. reward, now that the former Communists have been forced out of power.
Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov and his Socialist government resigned last week after a paralyzing general strike and street demonstrations that Western diplomats say reflected a change in sentiment among Bulgarian voters.
While the actions aimed at driving out the Socialists were reportedly supported by more than a million people in this nation of 9 million, the determination of opposition leaders and their allies in the independent trade union Podkrepa was bolstered by American solidarity and implied promises of better times to come.
“The question of Western aid is tied to development of democracy in Bulgaria,” said Podkrepa’s president, Konstantin Trenchev. “If the West has confidence in the new government, we may get more help.”
Trenchev confirmed that opposition activists have been assured of more U.S. assistance if they manage to wrest power from the former Communists.
Lukanov’s government was pressured into resigning, but it remains unclear who will be named to the caretaker Cabinet, and no agreement on its makeup is expected soon.
“No one wanted to help the Communists,” said Oleg Tchulev, vice president of Podkrepa. Referring to American diplomats, he said, “They wanted to help us and have helped with advice and strategy.”
Financial assistance to the opposition was sent through private channels, such as the AFL-CIO, which has sent computers, fax machines and advisers to help the trade union get organized and gain strength, Tchulev said.
Much of the U.S. support for the opposition is believed to have been supplied by the CIA to counter hostile intelligence activity by Bulgaria, which operated one of the most sinister secret police forces in the world during the 35-year rule of hard-line Communist Todor Zhivkov.
Zhivkov was ousted in November, 1989, but Western diplomats note that there have been few other changes in the top ranks of the former Communist Party. Lyuben Gotsev, a former secret police director, was retained by Lukanov as foreign minister, and questions remain unanswered about alleged Bulgarian involvement in such international intrigues as the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in May, 1981.
Concern about how fully Bulgaria has embraced democratic ideals appears to provide the justification for American support of the anti-Communist forces.
But one American government employee recently observed: “Those people at the U.S. Embassy don’t realize what trouble they’ve caused. Bulgarians now are expecting money to pour in.”
An incident that seems to have ruffled many feathers was former U.S. Ambassador Sol Polansky’s appearance at a Union of Democratic Forces election rally in June.
Asked if the U.S. government’s involvement in Bulgarian politics had been inappropriate, a senior attache from a West European embassy replied: “You don’t have to look very hard at this issue when the American ambassador stands on the UDF platform the day before the election.”
Another European ambassador observed that Bulgarians seem to be expecting U.S. aid in return for ousting the former Communists. But he attributed those hopes as much to naivete as to American support for the UDF.
American Ambassador H. Kenneth Hill, who arrived in Sofia only three months ago, said he was unaware of expectations of U.S. aid. He also dismissed suggestions that his embassy has openly favored the UDF during the past year of unrelenting political strife.
“There is no doubt that we are anti-Communist. We are implacable against totalitarianism,” Hill said in an interview. “No doubt there was and is unfinished business here. But I would not describe the Socialist Party, as I have seen it, as totalitarian.”
American government officials have simply made clear to Bulgaria’s politicians that future aid depends on democratic reform and development of an economic recovery plan acceptable to Western lenders, Hill said.
“We have been asked if aid is going to flow if a UDF government gets into power. What we’ve said is that we have assistance already on the table and other assistance will appear as it can be effectively used,” the ambassador said.
Noting that he was not in Sofia for the June elections, Hill said that reports of Polansky’s involvement with the UDF were based on “incomplete information.”
Socialists complain that the U.S. help at times violated democratic principles in working against the leadership chosen by the Bulgarian people.
While their complaints could be reflective of sour grapes after their loss of power, they seem to carry an element of truth.
A reform-minded Socialist government official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being fired contended that Americans reacted to the Socialist victory as if it represented a failure of U.S. policy.
“The U.S. government people have not been the most clean, moral defenders of democracy here,” he said. “What cannot be done at home can be gotten away with in this dark, backward Balkan state.”