restricted access Bulgarian Stalinism Revisited
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Ekaterina Nikova Bulgarian Stalinism Revisited Any attempt to set the chronological boundaries of Bulgarian Stalinism puts us in the middle of two continuing debates. The first one is the great controversy about who unraveled the wartime alliance and when, subsequently starting the Cold War and provoking the division of Europe . An implicit subplot to this story is whether Stalin had a master plan to Bolshevize Eastern Europe and if so what place Bulgaria held in it.1 The second one is the domestic Bulgarian debate about the nature of the autochthonous developments in 1944–47 and their correlation to endogenous and exogenous factors driving these developments. The pre-1989 Bulgarian historiography tended to present the period as a struggle between the progressive forces and the reactionary counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. A voluminous literature studied meticulously “the historical prerequisites for the socialist revolution” and the “correlation between the external and the internal factor,” stressing the importance of the latter. The role of the communist party (then called Bulgarian Workers’ Party) and the scope of the communist-led anti-fascist resistance were grossly exaggerated. The role of the Soviet Union was acknowledged with gratitude, but it was gradually reduced to that of “an active support.”2 The period was characterized as the defeat of the bourgeois opposition, the establishment and consolidation of 1  For an analysis of recent scholarship, see Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Cold War: What ‘Do We Now Know?’” The American Historical Review, Vol. 104, No. 2 (April 1999); Eduard Mark, Revolution by Degrees: Stalin’s NationalFront Strategy for Europe, 1941–1947, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Cold War International History Project, Working Paper No. 31, Washington, D.C., February 2001. 2  Kratka istoriia na Bulgaria, “Nauka i izkustvo,” Sofia, 1983, p. 416. i3 Stalin book.indb 283 10/15/09 9:47:35 AM 284 Stalinism Revisited the peoples’ democracy and the defense of national sovereignty.3 The period was treated rather parenthetically in official Bulgarian historiography as an unpleasant and embarrassing incident. In general, it was believed that the communist takeover in Bulgaria was accomplished without significant resistance and that Bulgarian Stalinism was milder than elsewhere in the region. Explanations were sought and found in the traditional leftism of one of Europe’s most egalitarian countries, in the relative strength of the Bulgarian communist party, but first and foremost, in the historical friendship with Russia—“Grand Father Ivan” who fought the Russian–Turkish war in 1877–78 and liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. Like elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the term “Stalinism” is new for Bulgarian scholarship. In Bulgaria, too, Stalin’s name inspired such awe and reverence that long after his death it was avoided. Besides, being directly associated with crimes, camps, brutality, and paranoia was ideologically dangerous. In 1967 philosopher Assen Ignatov was castigated for using using the anti-Marxist notion “Stalinism” in an article published in an Austrian journal on the intellectuals’ role in socialism. If “Stalinism” is used to characterize the period instead of the habitual euphemisms, then its lower chronological boundary should be moved to include the years 1944–47. As it will be argued further, Stalinism in the Bulgarian case started from day one. If “high/pure” Stalinism has been usually dated from 1947–48 to 1953, the upper boundary is also rather debatable. De-Stalinization was slow and hesitant in 1953–56. In April 1956 the Bulgarian Communist Party held a special plenum—the legendary April Plenum, a landmark event in the Party’s history which exposed the “deformities and deviations” of the “cult of personality” of Bulgaria’s “little Stalin” Vulko Chervenkov. A special commission investigated the most notorious cases of abuse of power, of which the most prominent was the spectacular legal murder of Traicho Kostov, the third man in the Party’s nomenklatura. A number of detainees were liberated from camps and prisons, the important party functionaries among them were rehabilitated, and the party solemnly took a new line, which for the next thirty-three years was called “the April Line.” Todor Zhivkov—a rather grey, second echelon figure, 3 Voin Bozhinov, Zashtitata na natzionalnata nezavisimost na Bulgaria, 1944– 1947 (Sofia: Izdatelstvo na Bulgarskata akademiia na naukite, 1962). i3 Stalin book.indb 284 10/15/09 9:47:35 AM 285 Bulgarian Stalinism Revisited who had been by no means an innocent bystander in the event—was chosen personally by Khrushchev to be the main figure of the Plenum. By distancing himself decisively from his predecessor, Zhivkov became...