The Belated Bulgarian Dissidence: The Emergence and Development of Dissident Movements in Bulgaria

Such dissidents, however, never opposed the ideology itself, saving the attacks for the regime – Ralin himself had been a party activist in the era of “monarcho-fascism” pre-1944. This raises another question – can communists be dissidents? The original dissident in Eastern Europe – Milovan Djilas in Yugoslavia – was a partisan leader in Tito’s inner circle. In Bulgaria too, many of the members of the Klub za podkrepa na glasnosta i preustroistvoto (Club for the Support of Glasnost and Perestroika) were Active Fighters against Fascism and Capitalism (AFAFC) and high-ranking party members. Figures such as the writer Blaga Dimitrova stand out as an example of the “communist dissident”. Their actions and thoughts constituted dissent as the struggle for democratic socialism required a pluralism at odds with the authoritarian regime’s orthodoxy. Djilas lambasted the bureaucratisation of the socialism, much like many Western leftist intellectuals – from George Orwell to Arthur Köstler - as well as the emergence of a privileged ‘new class’ of apparatchiks. After 1990 some of these dissidents joined the reformed communist party, possibly ruling them out as “real” dissidents. However, this does not stand up to scrutiny as their defection happened only after the road to pluralist democracy has been taken. They were thus part of a wider current in Central and Eastern Europe where many of the chief dissidents were critical Marxist intellectuals such as Leszek Kolakowski in Poland, and Zhelyu Zhelev too started off from a Marxist perspective. The events of 1968 are the culmination of the ideal of “socialism with a human face” but the crushing of the Prague Spring does not constitute the destruction of the idea itself. Many socialists in Bulgaria continued to see the alternative to the domestic regime as resting in precisely those Marxian ideas and their dissent was encapsulated in their preference for civil society and pluralism, in contrast to an outright rejection of the overarching ideological foundations of the regime while seeking another discursive anchor such as Catholicism in Poland.