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On Camps and Memory
by Edvin Sugarev


About Anticommunism

by Edvin Sugarev

Is anticommunism still relevant today? This is a question which can, at least in Bulgaria, divide any group of people with right wing orientations. Nevertheless, there is still only a small number of people who would declare that - No! We no longer need anticommunism, because it is an issue of the past.

Every member of, and/or sympathizer with, the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) is by definition an anticommunist. (There are those who left UDF and founded new political parties: whether they have remained anticommunists is unclear, as they have made sure to stay away from this issue.) Furthermore, every normal person is an anticommunist, because no normal person would accept political practices which have always been exercised through terror and hypocrisy, and which have caused the largest-scale genocide in the history of mankind. Today nearly 50% of Bulgarians lament the "good old times" of the Todor Zhivkov years. As it seems, these people have never evolved into independent and self-sufficient citizens, but have remained compliant "subjects" timidly waiting for someone else (in the most common case - the state) to take care of all their problems. In this sense, anticommunism is an essential aspect of the free man's dignity and, therefore, worthy of admiration.

Dignity, however, is one thing and relevance quite another. In all public debates, the opponents of anticommunism present the seemingly irrefutable argument that communism is a phenomenon of the past which will never re-emerge. The transition to democracy in Bulgaria is now complete, therefore we should rather look forward to the future (and, if possible, construct this future together - without any confrontation with each other). Such a proposition is a complete misrepresentation of the facts; we should consider it carefully in order to understand its deceptive nature. First of all, the Bulgarian transition to democracy is not yet complete, because a complete transition would involve, alongside the changes in the political system, also changes in people's mentality. Such changes have so far failed to take place, which more than anything else has impeded the country's development to democracy. Evidence: the above-mentioned 50% of Bulgarians who yearn for Todor Zhivkov's years. Also: the still fragile structures of civil society and its lack of self-confidence. Also: the absence of a middle class which may already exist in terms of material assets, but which still has no self-awareness as a class and which continues to have a catastrophic vision of its future. The transition to democracy will only be complete when most Bulgarians come to realize that the direction the country has taken is sensible and promising, and when they realize that the welfare of the community directly depends on the individual's initiative and responsibility. At present, this is still not the case and it seems that a good many years will pass before Bulgaria evolves into a normal country.

In the second place, it may be true that communism is indeed gone and can never re-emerge as a political system, but the communist mentality is still alive and around, and continuously manifests itself in various residues right inside the very substance of the political infrastructure. While to a degree this is true of all the countries in transition, it is especially valid for Bulgaria where the most prominent characteristic feature of communism was the coarseness of its proponents. This same coarseness can still be seen, which is hardly surprising given that the Bulgarian communist party is the only communist party that has managed to continue its existence essentially unreformed, and regardless of this, it is now the top political power in the country. The residues of communist mentality are numerous: the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP - the former communists) regards September 9* as a normal date; BSP's former leader and now Bulgarian President has broken all records in the number of times he has visited Russia to pay homage to President Putin; the numerous monuments of former top communist functionary Georgi Dimitrov are being renovated, and new monuments of Todor Zhivkov are being erected; within the BSP, there is open talk of stopping privatization, of imposing restrictions on the private sector, of state control over the economy, and so on, and so forth. Communism is still around, and its presence can be detected right there, in the physiognomy of BSP, behind a hastily erected and far from convincing facade.
In the third place: communism may indeed be a thing of the past, but we still have not read the pages of this past. We must have sufficient knowledge of the past, so that its secrets will not afflict the present. We still don't know why and how Bulgaria's huge foreign debt was amassed, how the new business entities were established in the early days of the transition and where they received their initial capital from, what happened with the already existing foreign trade companies, and a range of other things. We don't even know something that is already public knowledge elsewhere in the former communist countries: the names of the people who were involved in the repressive agencies of the communist state. This past has not become an institutionalized truth, it has not passed through admission of guilt and contrition, which, incidentally, is the only way to turn the accumulated evil into history. This is the reason why this evil continues to exist today, it has quite legitimately re-emerged through its numerous multi-layered residues. And this is why anticommunism is not only necessary - it is indispensable: by way of keeping memory and passing moral judgment, by way of delineating a boundary beyond which we must not venture, by way of rejecting the residues of an unacknowledged past and provoking public intolerance towards them. Without anticommunism we would simply be incapable of recognizing these residues, we would be unable to identify them behind their diverse disguises.

And finally, it isn't true that the cancerous growths of communism have lost their vitality or that we have been immunized against that pest. It is the same with nationalism and with the longing for a strong ruler. And when someone suggests that we give up some of our civil rights so that the government can tackle crime more efficiently; when someone claims that his political party's program is essentially the proclamations of its leader; when there is too much emphasis on the notion of "a strong Bulgaria" and on the words "order" and "security", then we must be alert. This same refrain we've already heard twice in the past: during the 20th century we heard it performed in "a duet" by fascists and by communists.

The most contentious issue regarding anticommunism, however, is in relation to its potential as a unifying idea which can still be relevant and productive in world of politics today. It must always be borne in mind that, from the beginning of the transition until as late as 1997, anticommunism was the bond that united the democratically-minded Bulgarians and gave existence to the UDF. The big anticommunist coalition derived its energy from the common will to have the former communist party permanently removed from power and to turn democratization into an irreversible process. Until then this may have been sufficient, but today it no longer is. There is a very simple reason for that: privatization and Bulgaria's integration in NATO have eliminated all the remaining chances of a genuine restoration of communism. That is why people no longer choose between communism and anticommunism, but rather between the left and the right, between the political models offered by them - depending on their own interests and their philosophy of life. It is a common misconception that these alternative pairs overlap. As a matter of fact, such an overlap may exist due to the idiosyncrasies of the historical conditions in our country, but globally it isn't so. The political left does not necessarily identify with communism, nor does the political right have a mandatory preoccupation with anticommunism. What makes anticommunism indispensable is the ugliness of the Bulgarian transition, our inability to finally and sincerely acknowledge the past - as well as the fact that the unreformed left uses the residues of communism to cement its unity and its electoral support. There is no way, therefore, to turn anticommunism into a museum piece - and this must be recognized by any right-wing party. At the same time, anticommunism is no longer sufficient in and of itself: the time when it could be used as a measure of political self-identification has gone, and the anticommunist slogans of the early days of the transition, such as "Down with BCP!" are not effective any more. This is also the reason why raising this issue has provoked such anguished and incongruous reactions.

In conclusion: what do we do with anticommunism? The most sensible thing would be to keep it as a memory and as a moral measure, but at the same time also to re-align it with present-day realties, to re-think it as an effective political concept. Let's stop associating it only with the past, but acknowledge its relevance to the present day. Let's expand it further in search of its ideological and ethno-psychological projections. Let's define it anew - as an equivalent of freedom, as a character feature of one who does not let himself be pushed and pulled around, who will not wait for someone else to come and solve his problems, one who would rather be an independent citizen than a compliant "subject". Let's come to realize that anticommunism is the antithesis of all those who look upon society as architects and engineers, who are prepared to re-design it and thrust it into a pre-determined framework. Anticommunists know that society is not a machine - it is a living organism developing according to its own internal laws, whose unit of measurement is the individual, not the multitude - and that all external meddling with it is unacceptable. And what is more, society is the sovereign of political power, not its object. Without its personal initiative and responsibility it is impossible to have normal statesmanship; without them, the only option is a communist regime. That is why we need anticommunism - as a vision, as a philosophy, as a real factor in the thinking of the politically active Bulgarian.

* 9 September 1994 is the date of the so called socialist revolution in Bulgaria.

Translation from Bulgarian by Christo Moskovsky

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