Bulgaria Table of Contents

During World War II, the BCP actively opposed Bulgaria's Axis alliance by forming partisan terrorist and sabotage groups. In 1942 the broad Fatherland Front coalition was formed as the communists attempted to involve legal opposition groups in exerting antiwar pressure on the government. The coalition's activities brought severe government reprisals. By 1944 partisan units also were being formed in the Bulgarian army.

The Red Army invasion of September 1944 found a temporary Bulgarian government desperately trying to avoid accommodation with the communist left or the pro-German right, but under intense diplomatic and military pressure from both Germany and the Soviet Union. Boris had died in 1943 and by 1944 severe wartime shortages (partly caused by peasants hoarding food supplies) eroded support for the government.

When Soviet troops entered Bulgaria, the Fatherland Front engineered a bloodless coup displacing the government of Prime Minister Konstantin Muraviev. In 1946 the first Fatherland Front government divided ministries among the BCP, Zveno, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BANU), and the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party (BSDP). Within a year, the BCP had used that power base to purge the government of all key opposition figures and dominate the Fatherland Front. In 1946 a national referendum rejected the monarchy in favor of a people's republic, leading to the immediate exile of Simeon II, nine-year-old son of Boris III. The following month, the communists easily won a national election for representatives to a subranie to write a new constitution over the objections of BANU, which sought a return to the Turnovo Constitution. In early 1947, the conclusion of peace between Bulgaria and the Allies eliminated the Allied Control Commission, through which Britain had maintained some influence on domestic Bulgarian politics. By that time, the only remaining obstacle to total BCP domination was Nikola Petkov's BANU, in a coalition with other noncommunist parties. The power struggle ended abruptly in mid-1947, when the Fatherland Front arrested and executed Petkov as a Western agent. This event paved the way for unanimous adoption of a new constitution in December 1947. The new document was closely modeled on the 1936 Soviet constitution.

The parliamentary election of fall 1946 gave the BCP 275 of 465 seats and made Georgi Dimitrov prime minister. The communists gained control of all significant ministries, beginning the last stage of consolidating communist dictatorship. The ensuing regimes of Dimitrov and Chervenkov defined Bulgaria as a highly conventional communist state and isolated it from nearly all noncommunist commercial and cultural influences.

The State under Dimitrov

In the 1946 elections, noncommunist parties in the Fatherland Front lost influence far out of proportion to the numerical election results. The most salient new feature of the Dimitrov Constitution was that it rejected the separation of powers among government branches in favor of a "unity of state power," lodged in a presidium wielding legislative, judicial, and executive powers and chosen by the National Assembly with party approval. As before, the National Assembly was a unicameral legislature; elections were to be held every four years, and members could be recalled at any time. The assembly would meet in regular sessions twice a year, or by special order of the Presidium--making the full assembly little more than a rubber-stamp body. The Presidium met continuously and exercised all constitutional powers of the National Assembly when the assembly was not in session. The Presidium's powers included controlling the selection of the Council of Ministers, amending the constitution, approving the national economic plan, declaring war, and making peace. The president of the nineteen-member Presidium thus became one of the two most powerful men in Bulgaria.

The Council of Ministers retained a nominal executive authority as a cabinet, but it was overshadowed by the designation of the National Assembly as "supreme organ of state power." In practice, the council chairman, who by office was prime minister of the country, was always the first secretary of the BCP. This gave the prime minister power equal to that of the Presidium president. The judiciary, now also chosen by the legislative branch at all levels of government, lost all independence. Independent local political power was eliminated when province and district jurisdictions were restructured into people's councils. The councils elected executive committees analogous to the national Presidium and overseen by that body. As at the national level, local government bodies were filled primarily with party officials. Thus, the Dimitrov Constitution achieved unprecedented centralization of political power in Bulgaria.

Like its Soviet model, the 1947 constitution guaranteed broad freedoms to all citizens (religion, conscience, assembly, speech, the press, emancipation of women, and inviolability of person, domicile, and correspondence). The Bulgarian document differed from the Soviet by allowing private property, but only if the privilege were not used "to the detriment of the public good." All means of production shifted to state ownership. Universal suffrage was guaranteed, as were welfare and employment. Guaranteed employment was restricted to socially useful occupations, however.

Government practice soon eroded the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. Between 1948 and 1952, several official acts repressed the Bulgarian religious community. In 1948 the exarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was forced into retirement for his refusal to defend the communist state and the Soviet Union. In 1949 the Law on Religious Organizations put all churches under state control; over the next four years, Catholic and Protestant clergy were harrassed and imprisoned as part of an overall policy of preventing contact with the West. During this period, the Dimitrov government continued purging party and nonparty officials, imitating the contemporaneous Stalinist practice of eliminating all possible political rivals. The most notable victim was the hardline Stalinist and long-time party leader Traicho Kostov, convicted and executed in 1949 as a collaborator with the fascists and Josip Broz Tito, the heretical Yugoslav communist leader.

The Chervenkov Era

The fifth party congress, held in December 1948, rightfully celebrated the complete political dominance of socialism in Bulgaria. When Dimitrov died in 1949, his successor, Stalin protégé Vulko Chervenkov, began four years of intense party purges (disqualifying nearly 100,000 of 460,000 Bulgarian communists). Chervenkov's cultivation of a cult of personality earned him the nickname "Little Stalin." The breakaway of Tito's Yugoslavia from the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) in 1948 caused Stalin and Chervenkov to put additional pressure on the BCP to conform with the Soviet line. Stalin's death in 1953 introduced new Soviet leaders who disapproved Chervenkov's methodology, but the Bulgarian leader remained prime minister and dominated politics until 1956. Chervenkov announced a "new course" in 1953, police terror abated, and some political prisoners were released. Meanwhile, Bulgarian government under the communists followed a postwar East European pattern by creating large numbers of bureaucratic posts, filled by party-approved functionaries, the nomenklatura. A swollen bureaucracy had been traditional in Bulgaria since the modern state was founded in 1878; but previously appointments had depended on membership in the civil service elite, not on membership in a particular party.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress