Youth Organizations

Bulgaria Table of Contents

Following the model of the Soviet Union, the BCP put massive resources into its party youth organization when it came to power. Officially called the Communist Youth League of Bulgaria (later the Dimitrov Communist Youth League of Bulgaria) and abbreviated to Komsomol, the league sought to ensure that proper socialist values would pass to the next generation and to supply new members for the party. With a peak membership of 1.5 million in 1987, the Komsomol had the same organizational structure as the BCP, with a secretariat and executive bureau analogous to the Politburo at the top and a pyramid of local and regional sub-organizations. Besides instilling party dogma in Bulgarian youth, the organization was a vehicle for enforcing party directives, a source of reserve personnel, an organizer of social and recreational activities, and, in the 1980s, an instrument for encouraging computer training in the schools. Beginning in the mid-1970s, the Komsomol's lack of self-confidence was revealed in a series of party meetings, speeches, and programs aimed at explaining and combatting apathy and materialism in Bulgarian youth. By the late 1980s, the Komsomol was widely seen as a hollow facade; between 1987 and 1989, membership dropped by 30 percent after compulsory registration ended in secondary schools.

Immediately after the overthrow of Zhivkov, alternative youth groups began to form. One such group, the Federation of Independent Students' Unions (FISU), gained support by advocating complete separation of student groups from the BCP/BSP and its ideological constraints and by proclaiming itself a student voice on questions of national policy. FISU gained stature by being a charter member of the UDF.

Meanwhile, the Komsomol acknowledged past failures, changed its name to the Bulgarian Democratic Youth (BDY), and began issuing policy statements on student rights and broader social issues. The organization was decentralized by giving local affiliates substantial autonomy, and democratized by limiting the terms of officials. Election of a political unknown, Rosen Karadimov, as first secretary was another signal that the youth organization had broken with conventional communist party practices.

The BDY was overwhelmed by a wave of student activism in alternative groups. Student strikes in support of the anti-Lukanov labor strikes in late 1990 shut down major universities. And, like the BSP, the BDY faced reminders and accusations of its misdeeds in the prereform era. In late 1990, the BDY returned to the state much of the property the Komsomol had accumulated during decades of BCP funding. It also renounced socialism and recast itself as an apolitical social organization.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress