Thu, Jun 20 2013
When, two weeks ago, Interior Minister Roumen Petkov said that the files of his ministry would be opened for the public, the revelation was on the front page of all major Bulgarian-language newspapers. The news was significant because Petkov said that the files contained information on the ministry's work from 1944 to 1990, the years of communist rule in Bulgaria.
If there is something sure to stir spirits in Bulgaria solely by a mention, it is the files of the former communist regime. Legends, folk tales and reality intersect every time when some state official starts talking about opening the "archives". Who was an undercover agent for the former communist party? Who was an informer and had informed the communist authorities about friends, colleagues and even family? Who had been secretly investigated by the communist party machine? Who of these people still hold positions in Bulgaria's public life? These questions are inseparable from the theme of the files.
The obsession about archives in Bulgaria might seem funny to people living abroad, were it not for the fact that the files had been used several times over the past 15 years in Bulgaria to try to ruin or discredit someone's political career and reputation. The only certainty is that this happens every time elections are on the horizon.
According to the law, a candidate for any kind of public post in Bulgaria should be checked for files showing that he or she was an informer for the ex-communist regime. The information, of course, is confidential and the checks are done by a special body, but every time, for some strange reason, something leaks into the media and the person loses everything.
Such was the case with Ventsislav Dimitrov, one of Bulgaria's popular politicians in the early 90s. In 2001 Dimitrov was a candidate to win a position as MP. However, a few weeks before the elections, information leaked into the media that Dimitrov had a file in the archives of the former State Security service. Dimitrov was left out of the elections, although no one ever knew whether he had been an informer or whether he had just been investigated.
Back then, these files were defined as a state secret. That is why, when Petkov announced making the Interior Ministry files public, the news had such an impact.
Enough is enough and all speculation should stop with the opening of the archives, one might say. But what actually happened?
On May 15, Ivan Komitski, head of the Interior Ministry archives department, announced the opening of the Interior Ministry archives. The files include records of the communist-era security and bodyguard department UBO - reports, applications, work papers and documents concerning the handover of former royal estates to public organisations.
There are also reports and studies by the investigative department of the defunct State Security that contain information about the dynamics of political crimes in Bulgaria at the time. Another sub-set of records concerns radio intelligence and the special support system of 1946-1948. They pertain to exposed conspiracies and anti-communist groups, and people arrested, exiled or released by the State Security.
Other records, dating from 1950-1961, contain information about investigations against former police officers, Bulgarian Communist Party members and anti-fascists about events before the communist takeover of 1944. Altogether, the 3500 files made available as of May 15 contain information on six old departments of the Interior Ministry existing during the communist regime from 1944 to 1978.
Here comes the first discrepancy regarding what Petkov initially said. The 3500 files now said to be available are less than one per cent of what he previously announced. And let's not forget that Petkov promised to reveal all the documents between 1944 and 1990: the files opened on May 15 contain information only until 1978.
It is the period between 1978-1990 that is particularly interesting because this was when some of Bulgaria's top politicians today were prosecuted and sent to jail. Ahmed Dogan, leader of the now-ruling Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), was among these politicians and the interest in his file never ends.
Speaking at the news conference on May 15, Komitski said that Dogan's file would most probably remain a state secret and, furthermore, it was not part of Interior Ministry archives. One might ask what had actually changed with the so-well-proclaimed opening of the Interior Ministry's files.
The Sofia Echo spoke to Alexenia Dimitrova, a leading investigative journalist from Bulgarian-language daily 24 Chassa. Dimitrova has published two books on the secrets of Bulgaria's communist-era secret services.
"There is no big news about this opening of the Interior Ministry's files. These files were opened for access before and in both of my books I used information from some of these files and I was almost always granted access to them. The only difference today is the procedure. Today I can look at the inventory and decide which file I want to see. Previously, the inventories were classified and someone from the ministry had to decide whether I should receive access to the files or not.
"However, people should know that these files are actually a boring read because they are from the so-called office archives of the ministry. Most of them just show the trivial daily routine work of the different departments, which is nothing interesting - just letters, general reports, orders for general matters, analysis of the situation. Almost all are from earlier than the 80s. More interesting could be the operational archive, the one where the secret agents' dossiers are, but you cannot access it freely. There you must send a request and if the ministry decides, it can give you access to the file. That is why there is nothing that interesting in the files opened on May 15, because they consist mainly of routine information," Dimitrova said.
So was the opening of the Interior Ministry files just a PR move or a real step in revealing the secrets of the communist era?
Despite the fact that the relevant administrative decision was made in 2002, it has taken more than four years to be implemented.
This is the first time since 1989 that a state institution opens its files.
A positive message came from Komitski, who said that he expected many more records to be declassified within two or three months. Who knows? At that speed, Bulgaria soon might remain without secrets at all.
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