Todor Zhivkov at the Parliamentary session on November 10 1989 where he was dismissed.
Photo: Zhivko Angelov
Todor Zhivkov, in front, in the 1990s. Behind him, his then-bodyguard, Boiko Borissov.
Following the rest of Eastern Europe and the crumbling Soviet union, Bulgaria's political and environmental dissident groups gained louder and stronger voices towards the end of the 1980s, eliciting more moral support from the West. Massive anti-government demonstrations in 1989 forced the dismissal of Zhivkov from the BCP on November 10, the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Zhivkov was the first ex-Communist leader to be officially tried and convicted on charges of corruption and inciting ethnic unrest, and although sentenced to seven years in prison, he managed to arrange an early release and lived in luxury until his death in the late 1990s.
Under the new leadership of Petar Mladenov, the Bulgarian Communist Party changed its name to the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Mladenov's close ally Andrei Lukanov became Prime Minister. Mladenov promised the first free, multi-party elections since World War 2, and in the months leading up to the June 1990 vote, several opposition groups quickly put together political parties. These included a loose coalition of dissident groups under the name United Democratic Forces (UDF), and also the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which is led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent.
Mostly due to the traditionally conservative votes of rural and older people uncertain about change, the BSP won the election after the formal abandonment of the communist state with 45 per cent of the vote. The UDF won a large portion of the remaining votes, and the MRF also got solid support. Later that same year, however, President Mladenov was forced to resign amid evidence that he had consented to the use of violence against protesters. The BSP-dominated Parliament went against tradition and elected Zhelyu Zhelev, from the UDF, as the new President in August 1990. Tough BSP reform measures during the very difficult economic times, as well as UDF supporter discontent over election results, caused more mass demonstrations and strikes, forcing the BSP Prime Minister Lukanov to resign.
An interim coalition government was formed with independent lawyer Dimitar Popov as leader. The next year saw the beginning of many reforms which were needed to help speed up the transition, such as restitution - or the redistribution of land and holdings taken from private owners by the Communists and the slow process of privatising state holdings and releasing many price and salary controls.
In July 1991, the National Assembly approved the new Constitution, which is still in effect, and in October of the same year, Filip Dimitrov formed Bulgaria's first completely non-communist government. Although Zhelev was re-elected in January 1992, the UDF was narrowly defeated in parliamentary elections later that year. The ethnic Turks enjoyed a newfound power in the National Assembly, as they held the handful of votes which could swing decisions towards either the UDF or the BSP, who had roughly equal representation.
More economic woes and increased social dissatisfaction spurred those displeased with changes to vote the BSP into power again in 1994, with Zhan Videnov as leader. His government was also plagued by scandal and allegations of corruption. With a growing economic crisis in 1996-97, the Socialists were forced to resign after massive public demonstrations that winter.
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