Shock Waves: Eastern Europe after the Revolutions

By John Feffer | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
Bulgaria. . .
The wrath of nations

It can mean emancipation, and it can mean oppression: nationalism, it seems, is a repository of dangers and opportunites. 1

—Peter Alter

When the newly elected Bulgarian Parliament arrived for its first meeting of 1990 in the historic town of Veliko Tamovo, the demonstrators were waiting. The several hundred chanting, aggressive protesters who filled the streets outside the Parliament building that hosted Bulgaria's first constitutional convention in 1879 did not identify themselves as communist or anti-communist. They were simply Bulgarian patriots who had traveled to this ancient city by the Yantra River to prevent the 23 representatives of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms from taking their rightful seats. Composed primarily of ethnic Turks, the Movement was the worst nightmare of Bulgarian nationalists—a threat to ethnic purity, national autonomy, even historical pride. And there they were, only steps away from entering Parliament. In the end, democracy fortunately prevailed over nationalism. Military police kept the protesters at bay, and the Movement politicians took their seats next to their ethnic Bulgarian compatriots. 2

The Veliko Tarnovo protesters were no mere fringe activists whose extreme racism propelled them to the furthest reaches of the country to demonstrate for majority rights. They unfortunately represented more widespread prejudice. During the roundtables negotiations in the spring of 1990, for instance, both the former communists and the united anti-communist opposition agreed that Bulgaria should not allow political parties based on ethnic or religious affiliation. When these two forces came in first and second respectively in the national elections that June, they argued that the third-place Movement violated this pre-election agreement and should not be allowed into Parliament. Yet, no attempts were made to apply the new rule to the various Christian parties in the

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