THE US ROLE in Bulgarian affairs grew apace with the changes that occurred in Bulgarian politics and society after 1989. Long the pariah in America's relations with Eastern Europe, Bulgaria rapidly became a favored partner. American influence and presence there have steadily increased. The United States was cautious for a time over the real prospects for democratization in Bulgaria following the fall of Zhivkov and distrustful of a regime established by the renamed Bulgarian Communist Party (the Bulgarian Socialist Party or BSP).
With the BSP's abrogation on December 29, 1989, of the measures of forced assimilation of the Turkish minority that had troubled relations since 1984 and BSP's claim to monopolize political power, however, the United States was prepared to take another look. On February 10-11 James Baker paid the first ever visit by an American secretary of state to Sofia, signalling to the BSP government its expectations of democratic reform, including free elections. The development of relations ensuing from that visit was quickened by the elections of June 1990 that, while resulting in the BSP's remaining in power, greatly enhanced the role of the democratic opposition--the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF)--and paved the way for power sharing. That evolution was confirmed by the ability subsequently demonstrated by the UDF to push Bulgaria away from its traditional security ties to the Soviet Union.
Consequently, as Bulgaria entered into its first experience with a non-Communist government in nearly fifty years, following the UDF's electoral victory in October 1991, US-Bulgarian relations achieved a degree of closeness that would have been unimaginable only two years earlier. The post-Zhivkov government had won long-sought recognition and cooperation from the United States, but always denied to its Communist predecessor. This included US blessing and support for Bulgarian entry into international financial and assistance organizations and statements of support for Bulgarian security that stopped just short of guarantees. With continued success in consolidating democratic political and free market economic reforms in Bulgaria, the new non-socialist government was poised to achieve a diplomatic overturn in the Balkans. Leaving behind a Rumania still ruled by erstwhile Communists, as well as a strife-torn Yugoslavia, Bulgaria made good its effort to join the "northern" tier countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary as favored contender for US good will and assistance. Bulgaria also obtained a valuable counterweight, in increased US involvement, to perceived threats from the NATO southern flank countries of Greece, and especially Turkey. Bulgaria also found increased US interest reassuring in its relations with its Balkan rivals Serbia and Rumania.
For the United States these trends, dependent on continued internal developments in Bulgaria, held promise of establishing a new center of stability in the volatile Balkan-Aegean region. They also provided a lever against the dangers of regional war stemming alike from Bulgarian-Turkish-Greek conflict or from the spread of ethnic conflict spawned by the Yugoslav crisis.
With the dissolution of the military structure of the Warsaw Pact on March 31, 1991, followed by the abolition of its political arrangements on July 1, Eastern Europe and the Balkans in particular were left in a security vacuum. The intrusive but stabilizing force of Soviet domination was gone. Local states were left to their own slender resources to face the unaccustomed dangers of renewed independence. Experience of the interwar period suggested that such dangers--national and ethnic hatreds, irredentism, religious divisions and political extremism--were all too real. The record, even under the Pax Sovietica, portended a much higher likelihood of civil strife and regional conflict than of peaceful development and cooperation. The final collapse of Soviet power with the August coup--and the demise of the Soviet Union itself at year's end--confronted the states of the region with another period of troubled independence. …