Archive | Balkans

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Zhivkov With Us

Posted on 11 November 2009 by admin

By Boyko Vassilev

More than anyone else in modern times, he ruled Bulgaria. For three and a half decades from the mid-1950s until glorious 1989, comrade Todor Zhivkov, secretary general of the Bulgarian Communist Party, decided the fortunes of the country, and he has left his mark on it ever since.

zhivkov statue

Statue of Todor Zhivkov in Pravets, Bulgaria. Photo by Bruce McDon.

His aides say he collected jokes about himself; even if this is not true, the jokes were countless. They parodied his peasant background and folksy style, but at the end he somehow outsmarted people much better educated than him. Among themselves Bulgarians referred to him by the personal and quasi-respectful “Bai Tosho” or “Tato,” a fond diminutive for father. On 10 November 1989 he was sacked by his party comrades. The political jokes disappeared – and the transition began. Continue reading …

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Monica Lovinescu

Posted on 10 November 2009 by admin

Romanian emigre writer and broadcaster, 1923–2008

Lovinescu-coverFrom 1967 to 1992 Monica Lovinescu was the inimitable voice that kept millions of Romanians updated on the latest cultural and political trends in the West and the dissident movements in other Soviet bloc countries, at the same time offering critical analysis of the myths surrounding the totalitarian regime at home.

After completing her literary studies at the University of Bucharest, Lovinescu received a scholarship to study in Paris in September 1947. Three months later the communists took power in Romania and blacklisted the works of her late father, literary critic Eugen Lovinescu. This led her to request political asylum, which France granted in 1948.

Numerous articles in European and Romanian-language cultural journals established Lovinescu as a prominent voice among Romanian emigres. (It also made her mother, still in Bucharest, a prime blackmail target. In 1958 the 71-year-old Mrs. Lovinescu was jailed for “undermining state order”; she died in prison after refusing to press her daughter to inform on dissidents in France.) Lovinescu’s standing rose further in 1967, when she became the mind and the voice behind the Radio Free Europe programs Theses and Anti-Theses in Paris and Romanian Cultural Events. Following in the footsteps of her father, well-known as a promoter of modernist literature, she would read from new work and review both underground and mainstream Romanian authors.

Disturbed by her influence and the authority she wielded in Romanian cultural life, Nicolae Ceausescu in 1977 sent two assassins to Paris to have her silenced (according to onetime Securitate chief Ion Pacepa, who defected to the United States in 1978). Lovinescu recalled that two masked men savagely beat her in the courtyard of her house, leaving her unconscious. She returned to her listeners after five days in the hospital.

After the overthrow of Ceausescu, Lovinescu visited her home country several times and in 1999 was awarded Romania’s highest civil honor, the Order of the Star, but she continued to live in Paris, where she died on 20 April 2008 at the age of 84. Her post-1990 published works include radio scripts, a novel, two volumes of autobiography, and six volumes of a diary, which raised a stir in Romania over her intransigent judgments of important cultural figures and her disenchantment with post-revolutionary times.

Lovinescu courted controversy again in a 2002 magazine interview in which she offered barbed criticism of former dissident intellectuals who she said should have gotten more involved in Romanian politics after 1989. She took aim what she considered a thriving “Homo Sovieticus” mentality in Romania and the pervasive nostalgia for a communist-era “golden age,” and decried the country’s failure to hold a Nuremberg-style trial of communist leaders. “The only solid base for change is one of mentalities,” she said. “Without that, even the few good things that have been done are built on quicksand.”

- Ioana Caloianu

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , ,

State of Ambivalence

Posted on 08 November 2009 by admin

By Boyko Vassilev

People in downtown Sofia were just going out for lunch, when an unusual happening made them turn their heads in surprise. At 1 p.m. on 27 October a strange crowd invaded the small square in front of the National Theater. High level politicians, leaders of Bulgaria over the last 20 years, flocked there in numbers – prime ministers, speakers of parliament, vice premiers, even one president.

In the transition period after communism’s demise, they were furious opponents. Former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov of the right had clashed with former Speakers Georgi Pirinski and Blagovest Sendov of the left, as well as fellow party members Stefan Sofianski, a former prime minister himself, and former Vice Premier Evgeny Bakardjiev (who in turn used to quarrel between themselves). Paradoxically, former king and Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg met more friends among the leftist politicians than among the rightists. His former chief security boss was there as well – and he was none other than Boyko Borisov, the current prime minister. Next to him stood Zhelyu Zhelev, the founder of the Union of Democratic Forces and the first democratically elected president. He had had his own difficulties with all of the leaders mentioned above.

Yet they gathered to open the exhibition 20 Years in 60 Photos, organized by the EU Commission representation and BTA, Bulgaria’s state news agency. The ceremony was short and to the point. Then the leaders paused for a family photo. Continue reading …

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , ,

Timisoara protests – ‘Viva Tokes!’

Posted on 26 October 2009 by admin

Photo and video documentary of the mounting demonstrations in Timisoara, Romania, in December over the communist regime’s attempt to silence dissident minister Laszlo Tokes by transferring him to a remote village parish. The movement spread to Bucharest, spelling the end for dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Laszlo Tokes

Posted on 26 October 2009 by admin

Dissident minister and catalyst for the Romanian revolution, 1952-

tokesarticleLaszlo Tokes became a target for Romania’s communist regime for his dedication to his flock and played a crucial role in catalyzing the unrest that led to the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime. Years later, free to practice both his spiritual and political vocation, he remains a bete noire to Bucharest over his loud calls for greater autonomy for the country’s Hungarian minority.

A Protestant minister and a prominent voice of Transylvania’s Hungarian community, Tokes became a target of the Securitate, the Romanian secret police, in 1982, after he detailed human-rights abuses in a Hungarian-language samizdat magazine. He fell afoul of the authorities again with his sermons against the government policy of relocating villagers to cities, which threatened to disperse the Hungarian population. As a consequence, in March 1989 religious authorities ordered his transfer from the city of Timisoara to the isolated parish of Mineu.

Tokes refused to leave. On 15 December, the date he was to be evicted from his Timisoara flat, members of his congregation gathered to protest the eviction in front of his flat. They were soon joined by passersby; within days several thousand were gathered, protesting the Ceausescu regime. The demonstrations spread to Bucharest, leading to the bloodiest regime change in Central and Eastern Europe’s revolutionary year.

After the overthrow of the dictatorship, Tokes became one of Romania’s two Reformed bishops. He won a seat in the European Parliament as an independent candidate in 2007 and was re-elected this past June, when he ran on the list of the newly formed Hungarian Solidarity party. Central to Tokes’ political agenda is increased cultural and territorial autonomy for Romanian Hungarians. President Trajan Basescu has rejected Tokes’ demands, saying that Romania is a unitary state which guarantees the rights of minorities.

Since the revolution Tokes has been dogged by claims that he was a spy for Hungary, as the communist-era apparatchiks believed, and a Securitate informant. He has acknowledged that he was approached by the secret police and forced to sign some documents but maintains he never actively collaborated. (He sued the Associated Press for reporting the allegation in 1998 but lost.) In 2001 the National Commission for the Study of the Security Archives granted Tokes a certificate attesting that he never collaborated with the secret police.

In June 2009, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation awarded Tokes the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom for his role in the Romanian revolution. In his acceptance speech [http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/news_Victims_of_Communism_LaszloTokes.htm], he railed against privileged members of the old regime he said had maintained control by transferring their political power into the economic arena, and he blasted the Romanian government for a “Euro-conformist politics of window-dressing” that kept it from going beyond rhetoric in condemning communist crimes. “It is painful to observe,” he said, “that the final victory of the freedom fighters over communism has not yet arrived.”

Ioana Caloianu

Comments (3)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Zhelyu Zhelev

Posted on 13 October 2009 by admin

Bulgarian dissident, philosopher, and president, 1935-

“Sofia, Prague, Berlin. Sofia, Prague, Berlin.”

So went the revolutionary refrain of Bulgarian students as they formed a human ring around the country’s parliament building on 14 December 1989, rallying to quicken the pace of reform. The man who launched the chant was Zhelyu Zhelev, the dissident philosopher who would become the country’s first democratically elected president.

Zhelevweb2Twenty years on, the “lord of the ring” (as Zhelev was dubbed in a U.S. diplomatic communique about the December 1989 demonstrations) is spearheading another effort to change Bulgarian politics, aiming to restore the powers stripped from the presidency when he held it.

Zhelev was the central figure around whom Bulgaria’s nascent democratic opposition revolved. In 1982, despite having been expelled from both the Communist Party and the University of Sofia, he had managed to publish Fascism, a scholarly work written 20 years earlier that compared the socialist regime to the Nazi state. It was confiscated from Bulgarian bookstores and libraries, but samizdat copies traversed the Soviet Union and reached China.

In the foreword to a Gorbachev-era edition of his book, Zhelev speculated that multi-party democracy would come to the communist world only after a period of military dictatorship, but time and his own actions belied the prediction. After a period of environmental activism in the Danube town of Ruse, he joined the dissident Club in Support of Glasnost and Perestroika, which led to his revolutionary role chairing the coordination council of the Union of Democratic Forces, the chief opposition movement.

In August 1990, Zhelev, by then a member of parliament, was elected president by his fellow legislators. Bulgaria’s first direct presidential election in 1992 confirmed his mandate. He served until 1997, although his authority was considerably weakened by the ex-communists of the Socialist government in the early 1990s, and his influence further lessened when the Socialists returned to power in 1994.

After leaving office Zhelev resumed the role of public and political intellectual, most notably as founder and president of the Balkan Political Club, a VIP-heavy body of academics, diplomats, and current and former leaders pursuing “Europeanization of the Balkans” as the road to peace and development. At home he is an elder statesman, in which role he has recently taken on the cause of constitutional reform to strengthen the Bulgarian executive.

“A presidential republic is much more appropriate for countries in transition from communism to democracy and the market economy,” Zhelev told the Sofia News Agency in a September 2009 interview. “It is a lot more suitable for solving the tasks they face.”

Daniela Ivanova

Comments Off

Tags: , , , ,

Bulgaria’s revolutionary rock heroes

Posted on 05 October 2009 by admin

Shturcite (The Crickets) has been Bulgaria’s most popular rock band since the late 1960s. Their 1990 song “Az sym prosto Chovek” (“I’m Only Human”) became an anthem of the country’s democratic movement, and songwriter/frontman Kiril Marichkov served in the Bulgarian parliament.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , ,

End of the Ceausescus

Posted on 04 October 2009 by admin

Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu meet their demise.

Comments Off

Tags: , , ,

Muslim demonstration, Sofia, 1989

Posted on 04 October 2009 by admin

Muslims  demonstrate in Sofia for recognition of their Turkish names, which were forcibly Bulgarianized by the Communist regime. The new government acceded to the demand on 29 December 1989

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , ,

Scenes from the Romanian revolution

Posted on 03 October 2009 by admin

A slide show of scenes from the Romanian revolution.

Comments Off