|Bulgaria Table of Contents
The Union of Democratic Forces (UDF--Bulgarian Sayuz na Demokratichnite Sili--SDS), which emerged as the chief opposition faction to the BCP after 1989, was a motley coalition of several major and many minor parties and groups. Some of the parties, such as BANU, predated the communist era by several decades. Others, such as the Green Party, were organized after the overthrow of Zhivkov. When the UDF was founded in December 1989, it included ten organizations; by the following spring, six more parties and movements had joined.
The basis of the UDF was the dissident groups that formed under the faltering Zhivkov regime in the late 1980s. The all-European Ecoforum of October 1989 allowed many such groups to meet and exchange ideas for the first time; once Zhivkov fell, the initial contacts spawned an organizational declaration that envisioned a loose confederation. Within the confederation, constituent groups would continue to work for their own specific interests. The coordinating council was to include three members from each organization. Longtime dissident philosopher Zheliu Zhelev was elected chairman and Petur Beron, a well-known environmental scientist, was chosen secretary.
The diversity of membership required substantial compromise in the UDF program. At least one issue central to each member group was included in the program, however. The general goals of the program were: a civil society, market economy, multiparty system, and constitutional government. Sixteen specific steps were outlined to achieve those goals. The main criterion for acceptance of new member organizations was compatibility of their goals with those in the UDF program.
Shortly after the UDF was founded, a vital policy decision confronted its leaders: the BCP-dominated government revoked the Zhivkov program of Bulgarizing the names of all Turkish citizens. Alienating the extreme nationalist factions that opposed compromise with the ethnic minority, the UDF supported the government decision in its first major policy statement.
In the first half of 1990, the stature of the UDF was enhanced by its participation as an equal in round table discussions with the BCP (BSP) on a range of policy issues that would set future economic and political policy. By March 1990, the coalition's main goal was clearly stated: to push the interim National Assembly to draft a democratic constitution and urgent reform legislation as quickly as possible, over the opposition of remaining BSP hardliners and noncommunist splinter groups. All factions recognized that once this was completely accomplished, the coalition would dissolve and members would act as independent political parties with varying agendas.
In the parliamentary elections of June 1990, the UDF platform advocated a wide range of drastic reforms in government structure, the media, foreign policy, and the economy. Detailed proposals were offered for education, the environment, and a two-phase "shock therapy" reform leading to a free market economy. Finally, the UDF blamed the previous communist regime for Bulgaria's current crises. The UDF failed to gain a majority in the National Assembly because many rural areas remained in control of Zhivkovite BSP politicians. Many peasants had felt relatively secure under the old collective system, and the timing of the election had forced opposition parties to concentrate campaigns in the cities, their strongest regions. The BSP won 211 of the 400 seats.
In the year following parliamentary elections, BSP obstructionism stymied legalization of the UDF's reform goals. On the other hand, the UDF's refusal to participate in the Lukanov cabinet proved its popular strength by stalemating Lukanov's economic reform program. In the crisis-driven formation of the Popov government in December 1990, the UDF gained strategic cabinet posts. In January 1991, the UDF and the BSP agreed on a timetable for passage of the new constitution and other urgent legislation, but early in 1991 parliamentary disagreements set back the schedule. In March 1991, the UDF sponsored a protest rally attended by more than 50,000 people in Sofia. In May legislators from several smaller parties walked out of the National Assembly to protest its inaction; the BANU contingent promised to do the same if the parliament had not passed a new constitution by the end of June. Meanwhile, however, official UDF policy continued seeking to break the long stalemate by convincing the socialists in the National Assembly to abandon their go-slow approach to reform.
By mid-1991 a split developed between the largest member groups (the reconstituted BSDP, BANU, Ekoglasnost, and the Green Party) and the smaller ones over using quotas and preferential lists in the next election--a practice that would contradict the UDF's role as a single national movement and give larger parties substantially more influence in policy making. Easily the largest member organizations with about 100,000 members each, the BANU and BSDP would benefit most from such a shift. In July 1991, voting in the National Assembly on the new constitution clarified the split between factions viewing the UDF as a single national movement and those seeking individual identity within a loose confederation. The main issue was the constitutional prescription for legislative representation by party. By summer 1991, disagreements on ratification of the constitution had led splinter groups to form a new Political Consultative Council to rival the UDF's existing National Coordinating Council as a controlling agency of the UDF. This threatened to split the UDF into two or three slates of candidates for the 1991 national elections. Thus, by mid-1991 the relative harmony of the UDF's first year had evolved into persistent divisiveness affecting tactics, organizational structure, and the pace of reform. In spite of conciliatory efforts by the coordinating council, the effective united front that had forced major concessions from the BSP in 1990 seemed less potent in 1991.
More about the Government and Politics of Bulgaria.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress