(en) News from Bulgaria

Freedom Press (freedom@tao.ca)
Mon, 5 May 1997 19:54:41 +0000


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NEWS FROM BULGARIA

Translation from _Le Monde Libertaire_

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INSIDE BULGARIA

Bulgaria. 27th April 1997. The anti-Communist United Democratic Forces - a pro-western coalition - takes 52% of the vote in the Bulgarian elections. The Socialists get 22%. UDF leader Ivan Kostov looks set to be next premier and calls for support for a 'national coalition' around a programme for financial stabilisation and membership of the EU and NATO. What is the background to all this? Here we reproduce an article which recently appeared in Le Monde Libertaire. ----------------------------------- Same as at the end of every month, Bulgaria's capital Sofia wakes up to her post offices besieged by crowds of older people. With their heads bowed and their shopping bags empty pensioners wait patiently for their 4,000 to 6,000 leva (two US dollars) which is to see to their survival over the next 30 days. On that day many leave it to others to pick through the cities rubbish bins knowing that there is not much to be found there. 'It's shameful to be given this pittance at our age', says Maria who has worked as a nurse all her life, 'We never believed we would finish our days in such misery'. And she is right because her pension barely allows her to cover the heating costs of her one bedroom flat in the suburbs of Mladost. Still there remains the problem of feeding oneself. She has forgotten the taste of meat but, worse still, she still can't procure the most elementary staples of a Bulgarian traditional diet such as cheese and milk. Not having the ability to pay many elderly people have chosen to cut the heating (at administrative invitation) and to suffer cold rather than hunger. The 600,000 unemployed (7% of the total population and some 14% of the active one) are faced with a similar dilemma. Poverty and misery have pushed many to seek food from the rubbish bins on the street. A Bulgarian saying has it that one should count chickens in autumn. Faithful to their reputation for black humour the Bulgars come up with today's paraphrase: 'Count your Bulgars in the spring' and another joke would have it that those who are still alive in the spring will be called to court to explain how they managed to survive. All because it is well known that many older folk won't survive the winter. They are among those who have been most severely affected since the collapse of totalitarian communism. There is no other country from the former Warsaw Pact where the nomenclature bleeds its people so much by destroying enterprise and taking away social funding.

HYPERFLATION

Over the last two months prices of the most basic foodstuffs have gone up 40%, fuel 60% and the only national currency has fallen fivefold against the US dollar. In addition Bulgarian incomes, even since the beginning of 1997, have not stopped falling for Mr and Mrs Average. Latest statistics show that 61,000 (20 US dollars) leva was the basic income necessary for someone to exist last November (20,656 for September 1996). However, average salaries were at 25,000 leva. Over these last few months bread consumption has fallen 12.9%, meat 40%, cheese 32% whilst inflation went past the 300% mark for 1996. For two years the population has lived in fear of losing their savings. The bitter experience of playing with phantom financial institutions of a pyramid nature have left the population wary. Billions of leva have been sucked up by white collar bandits offering interest rates of 70%. There was a hell of a rumpus but so far only one financial wizz kid has hit the carpet. The government, squarely implicated in the whole business, refuses to take adequate measures: it even blames the people for investing in questionable opportunities instead of saving in the legal banking system (a little too legal in Bulgaria). Today history is repetitious with a series of bankruptcies, particularly in the legal banking sphere, run in their entirety by the chums of the current elite.

THE COLLAPSE OF THE BANKING SYSTEM

The whole business began when the first private bank was put under surveillance: a symbol of initiative after the fall of the old boss. This bank succeeded in amassing huge funds as a result of publicity campaigns which took over the media. At the same time the bank granted some unrecoverable loans to creditors who submitted false credentials or unbelievable business-plans. Today we now know that these loans were approved under political pressure from people with links to the powerful. The bank deficit was kept secret thanks to help from the central bank, again under governmental pressure. This scenario repeated itself until a point when the government and the central bank (this time under pressure from the IMF and economic realities) was forced to put 14 banks under surveillance along with other enterprises with agreed deficits. It is worth stressing that one of the institutions that was bailing out these companies was the government savings bank. That is to say that those small savers were being robbed by the State and its executive. When the scandal broke, rather than attempt to overthrow the government, people hurried to withdraw their savings and get them converted into dollars or German marks at the exchange bureaux (this time losing out on the exchange gambling mechanism). Realising the impossibility of finding security for their savings, threatened by bad credit, inflation and financial mismanagement people simply stuffed their cash under the mattress at the mercy of thieves who didn't hesitate to seize the opportunity. At a time when the State was unable to even pay off its internal and external debts a ridiculous publicity campaign was launched inviting people to invest in state bonds: 'The State never closes'. At the end of last year, deposits in Bulgarian banks amounted to 360 billion leva (just over 2 billion US dollars) of which 80% was held by ordinary people. The coffers were empty with the people's savings blocked by unrecoverable debts of 90%. Data taken from Interpol and the foreign press confirmed that former heads of Bulgarian banks were swanning it in Miami, California, Johannesburg, Cyprus and elsewhere. Cases were revealed where these bankers had given credit to private and public companies controlled by the old nomenclature, fully aware of their financial unworthiness. The banking system in the 'post-communist transitory period' turned out simply to be the most powerful tool in the armoury of the new Mafia to seize funds and pillage the people.

THE REVOLT OF THE HUNGRY

Since the beginning of this year, protest demonstrations have taken place every day on the streets of the capital Sofia. On the 10th January 1997, in the Bulgarian parliament, a bitter feud broke out between the right wing opposition and the 'left' wing majority. Ministers didn't want to sign an opposition declaration officially recognising that the country was in a catastrophic state and that the responsibility for this situation lay with the party in power - the Socialist government. The debates were broadcast on private and national radio. At about 10.00 am, citizens from all over the capital gathered around the parliament building, cut off by a police cordon, to protest against the government of Jean Videnov, with cries of 'down with the government', 'the Bulgarian Socialist Party is a Mafia', 'put the guilty in the dock', 'bandits out' etc. Around midday, the square surrounding the parliament was awash with people who wanted to attack the building and 'deal with' the left wing deputies who were beginning to fear the love of the people. The former Minister of the Interior, a left wing deputy, drunk and nervous, decided to do a runner without taking into account the situation in front of the parliament building. Protected by his guards, he left the building thus inciting the people who responded with snowballs and stones. The guards countered with truncheons which caused people to attack the barricades. Soon the people had penetrated the parliament building. There was a battle in front of the central door where tear gas was deployed. The right wing deputies left the building and mixed with the demonstrators in an attempt to control their activities whilst the left wing deputies, blockaded into the building, started to say their prayers. The parliament remained under siege until the evening when many of the protesters began to drift home. It was at that moment that the forces of oppression tried to get the left wing deputies out. Those protesters who remained counter attacked. The police responded cruelly with truncheons for some two hours. More than 300 were treated by the emergency services. After these events there were daily demonstrations throughout the country and barricades went up in the streets. Students, beyond the control of the political parties, protested in a decisive and original way performing satirical shows aimed at government policies. After 30 days of protest, the socialist party abdicated and called fresh elections.

WHERE ARE WE TODAY

People could have been forgiven for believing that a revolution was in the making. Unfortunately not. On the 10th January events were beyond the control of the opposition which also feared for the consequences. This was why the opposition leaders put themselves at the head of the protest and started to control it by acting as intermediaries with the party in power. It was clear that the IMF would not approve stabilisation funds to the 'reds' who were only bothered with their own interests. This is because the IMF needs to get 'its' money back and to make Bulgaria into a cheap factory and a stop off point for trade with Central Asia. To begin with it leant on the puppets in the Socialist Party, today it has thrown in its hand with the opposition. The problem is that the Bulgarian people can see no other social perspective than that drawn up for a western style market economy. Any 'leftist' ideas are fundamentally rejected by those who remember the years of authoritarian socialism or think of those mafiaesque Socialists of today. They will need to taste IMF medicine and right wing politics before a new illusion free consciousness truly takes root. The most important thing is that the people should not be frightened to protest and continue to proclaim their social rights. They will have their chance again.

Secretariat of the Bulgarian Anarchist Federation Fact File

BULGARIA

Pop. 8.5m Pop per Km sq. 80 Human Development index. 82 Av inflation. 1989-94 84.8% Main Export Destination. CIS 14.8 Budget Deficit. 124.9% (as % of GDP)

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