Although a member of NATO and EU, Bulgaria is may be the only ex-communist country in the “Euro-Atlantic” club which is still lagging behind on reviewing and properly assessing its communist past. Therefore, this announcement should be given proper attention (Read full article: Bulgaria Military Intelligence to Open Up its Communist-Era Archives, Novinite.com). The Files Commission was founded in 2006 and since then is the main body which works on uncovering names of persons who worked for or collaborated with the Bulgarian communist secret and military services.
Its findings, however, never really receive enough attention and there are rarely any actual consequences for any of the impacted officials. The work of the Files Commission remains on the sidelines of public attention as the political establishment and the often servile media have little incentive to start a major debate on this topic. The explanation for this is fairly simple – many of today’s political elites and public figures in Bulgaria have some uncomfortable past connected directly or indirectly with the communist secret services and their institutions.
Uncovering the shady past requires a lot of political will and this is something which was lacking for many but a few governments in Bulgaria after 1989. Now 25 years after the democratic changes, the country’s public life is still marked by the inability and reluctance of the political and intellectual elite to come with a clear and conclusive assessment of the Communist era. There is, of course, much debate on the topic in the public and more informal sphere even on daily basis. The real problem is that the Bulgarian State has not on the most formal level clearly pronounced its verdict over this episode of the past. This limbo situation for all these years allowed the possibility for many varying and not always objective views of the communist period. These views and narratives ultimately cemented into a kind of nostalgic communist mythology which is still present in Bulgarian society even in the minds of many youngsters born after the collapse of the regime.
The move by the Defense Minister as reported by Novinite.com signifies that the Bulgarian Military, one of the institutions with very “communist past”, may be attempting to move forward. The military establishment was never an object of personnel reforms along past affiliations. The type of “purges” of communist cadres seen in countries from Central Europe or the Baltic did not happen in Bulgaria. The country moved to become a NATO member but the actual ideological affiliations of many older officers and generals remained unaltered. This has caused problems over the last decade with Bulgaria’s actual standing in the Alliance and the actual benefits the military extracted from the membership. It is fair to say that the levels of trust at the top military level were not exemplary.
The recent crisis in the Black Sea region and the stand-off between Russia and NATO caught Bulgaria off-guard. Although the country is in no way involved in the Ukrainian conflict or is in any way directly threatened by Russia, a wide debate started on whether the Bulgarian Armed Forces are ready for modern age military conventional or unconventional challenged. The quick reply is – no. For decades the Armed Forces remained ill funded and victims of misguided ad hoc policies. Since Bulgaria joined NATO, politicians and policy makers decided that all security challenges will be provided for by the Alliance and membership meant to only passively pay the membership contribution and fulfill the minimum of whatever requirements Brussels HQ may have.
What is the aim?
Under the current regional situation, the military is back on the agenda. Funding and budget increases have been given a road map at top governmental level a month ago. With the decision to open the Military Intelligence files, Minister Nenchev may be looking to bring some reform within this stagnated institution and bolster ties with peer services from NATO allied states. Alternatively, it is also possible that the move has purely PR dimensions aiming to give some needed uphand to the rating of the Reformist Bloc, the party coalition which he represents. The Reformist Bloc is a junior ruling partner to the center right GERB party of prime minster Boyko Borisov in a four-party coalition government. Traditionally, Refomist Bloc voters have anti-communist positions and would welcome any move towards clearer decommunization.