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Synthesis/Regeneration 14   (Fall 1997)

Bulgaria: The Heavy Mission of the Greens

by Aleksander Karakachanov, Chair, Bulgarian Greens

Bulgaria is situated in the center of the Balkan peninsula (an area of 111,000 square kilometers) with Rumania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south and the Black Sea to the east. Its territory is richly varied: two-thirds of it are plains and hilly terrain; the rest mountains from 600 to 3,000 meters high. These properties create excellent conditions for the development of tourism.

The population is about 9 million. The ethnic composition is predominantly Bulgarian (85%), with Turkish (8-9%), and Rumanian (3-4%) minorities. According to the opinion polls about 60% are Christian, 10% Muslim, and the rest (30%) declare themselves atheist. There is practically no illiteracy: 50% of the people have secondary and college education, 10% with higher education.

The country has an open economy, as up to 80% of the gross national product takes part in the foreign trade.

For 45 five years (1944-1989) Bulgaria was ruled by the Communist Party, and the country was part of the world socialist system. This was a totalitarian regime and the political parties, the basis of democratic civil society, were already banned at the beginning of the period, their leaders heavily repressed.

Large-scale nationalization was carried out at several stages, and the market economy was replaced by a centralized system of management. Actually, in the first decades, up to the beginning of the 70s, the centralized management had a certain positive effect on the development of the economy. Agriculture was consolidated and made more efficient; some important sectors were intensified. While absolutely ignoring the economic realities, being a slave to ideological dogmas in the economy, the Communist leaders implemented a thoroughly absurd economic structure. Enormous investments were buried in branches of heavy industry, which could not be efficient in a small country like Bulgaria. For example, in 1988 the production of means of production made up 68% of the gross national product, and the production of consumer goods 32%. In the US in 1987 these indicators were 62% and 38%, respectively! Similarly, in agriculture the positive effect of amalgamation was accompanied by the total alienation of the farmers from land. This resulted in lack of interest and decline in productivity.

In the long run, socialism failed for ineffectiveness of production, and this, in today's world of integration and intense competition, could hardly be concealed, particularly in countries dependent on the import of raw materials and energy resources. According to 1991 statistics, the production of Bulgaria is several times more resource-consuming than in highly developed countries. For instance, in the production of energy per capita Bulgaria is at the same level as France. However, this is combined with 2.5 times higher energy consumption per unit of production.

All of these problems in the economy, including a foreign debt of over 10 billion dollars in 1988, started seriously affecting the living standards of the population. The first political reactions, however, appeared only some years after Mikhail Gorbachev announced the beginning of "perestroika" in the USSR. The reason for this, apart from the heavy dependence of the Bulgarian economy on the Russian markets, was the lack of dissident movements, like there were in Poland and Hungary. The first so-called "non-formal" movements emerged only in 1988. Two of the most active and popular were the "Committee for the Environmental Protection of the City of Rousse" and "Ecoglasnost."

The Green Party, established on December 28, 1989, was one of the three biggest parties in the Union of the Democratic Forces (UDF), the major opposition coalition.

We should point out that the reason for their popularity, particularly before the overthrow of the Communist regime, as well as for quite some time afterwards, was the possibility to criticize the authorities in the form of "ecological protests." This was one of the reasons why the Green Party, established on December 28, 1989, was one of the three biggest parties in the Union of the Democratic Forces (UDF), the major opposition coalition. In the first free elections in the summer of 1990, the Green Party (within the UDF) won 17 seats in Parliament and was well represented in the local governments. The mayor of the capital city of Sofia from October 1990 to October 1991 was the leader of the Green Party.

It is important to point out that the Green Party was the first opposition party with a program of its own. It was based on the principles of sustainable development. New priorities for the economic development of the country were proposed-light industry, agriculture and tourism. In Parliament, the most important initiative was the passing of a new Law on Environment.

Processes of growing extremism in the UDF started at the beginning of 1991. These processes were consciously stimulated by the leaders of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (the former Communist Party). In social confrontation they saw their own political survival. This process was intensified to such a degree that about one third of the UDF deputies left Parliament, putting forward extreme demands. This led to the split in the UDF. As a result the big organizations were forced to leave the coalition, suffering severe losses of members. Using the wave of confrontation and extremism raging in society, the UDF was headed by people who put their personal and party interests (often concealed behind the mask of extreme anti-communism) above the national ones.

Using the wave of confrontation and extremism raging in society, the UDF was headed by people who put their personal and party interests (often concealed behind the mask of extreme anti-communism) above the national ones.

This style of "politics" soon gave its bitter fruits. After winning the elections in the autumn of 1991 the UDF formed its government, which fell after nine months. The reason for the failure was that the UDF had declared war on everybody, including its former allies. New splits followed; having won the elections, the UDF turned into an opposition force. In the early elections in December 1994 the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) won an absolute majority.

It turned out, however, that the Socialists had not learned the moral of the short-lived government of their political opponents! Apart from the policy of intolerance, the former Communists seemed to be still burdened by anti-market views of the economy.

As a result, the period from the end of 1991 until now has completely wasted opportunities for vital economic reforms. Reforms begun in 1990 and 1991 have not been continued by any of the governments. There is real privatization only in trade, but not in the big production enterprises. The restitution of land ownership has been lagging for five years and the old structures in agriculture were destroyed with a revolutionary blow at the beginning of the process. This brought about an abrupt decline in agricultural output. With unreasonable foreign policy and the absolute lack of control over customs offices, the country has lost markets of crucial importance. To round out the process, due to uncontrolled credit and financial policy, banks started going bankrupt en masse. One of the reasons for this was the incredible corruption in the state, especially the financial organs. The amount of credit received in recent years, without real guarantees, has gone up to 200 billion Bulgarian leva, which is comparable to the annual state budget!

At present Bulgaria has entered hyperinflation. The devaluation of the national currency as compared to the dollar is more than 10% daily, and the expected inflation is over 50%. Mass protests have started in the country, which threaten to get out of the control of the leading political forces. Prime Minister Jean Videnov resigned and the BSP has been making attempts to form a second government.

During this whole period the Green Party has taken an active part in political life. In the elections in 1991 and 1994 the Party worked in coalitions. In the last elections (1994) only 0.2% were missing to get over the 4% threshold to enter Parliament.

Not being represented in Parliament, the Green Party has been developing a number of initiatives in the local governments, where it is represented. For example, it has been our initiative to establish municipal eco-inspectorates by activists of the party and the local authorities in a number of towns. Next to this, we do our best to organize joint initiatives with a number of environmental organizations. To this end we established the "Green Parliament," a union of organizations working for the protection of environment. The Green Party has let it use the Party office, which is very important in today's material difficulties for each of these organizations.

Our next initiative in this respect is the establishment of a "green telephone," and information bank. Naturally all this is accompanied with overcoming a number of difficulties - not only financial. The major task of the Green Party, however, is bringing together people and organizations committed to seeking a political alternative for the solution of the heavy economic problems of the country. Sustainable economic development demands a reasonable and sustainable political government. This is our top political objective.

Bulgarian Greens Back in Parliament

In the early parliamentary elections on April 19, 1997 the Bulgarian Greens won one seat (Aleksander Karakachanov) through their cooperation with the coalition Alliance for National Salvation. The Alliance is a coalition of six parties, the biggest of which is the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (the so-called Turkish Party). The others are the Liberal Union, the Party of the Democratic Centre, the Federation "Kingdom of Bulgaria," the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union "Nikola Petkov" and the Bulgarian Greens.

The United Democratic Forces got just over 52% of the votes and 137 seats. The Coalition of the Democratic Left (Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Political Club Ecoglasnost) got 22% and 57 seats. The National Salvation got 7.5% and 19 seats, of which the Bulgarian Greens thus secured one.

From European Federation of Green Parties' UPDATE NEWSLETTER, April-May, 1997

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