Draft resolution

Resolution 1096


Communist Terror
National Agencies
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History > Communist Terror > Bulgaria
  Persecutions of Catholics

The Crimes during the Communist Regime and the Attempts at Their Investigation after 10 November 1989
by Hristo Hristov
Journalist, Dnevnik daily

What befell Bulgaria in September 1944
by Professor Plamen S. Tzvetkov, Ph.D

The Communist St. Bartholomew’s Massacres.
The Killings without Prosecution, Court or Sentence in the Autumn of 1944 in Bulgaria
by Hristo Troanski
Writer, journalist

Bulgarian doctors and students of medicine - victims of the communist terror of 1944-1989

The Pogrom over the Writers after 9 September 1944 – Moral and Culturological Aspects
by Tzveta Trifonova
Literary historian and critic

Persecutions of ethnic minorities from 1944 until 1989

The Repressions against the Catholic Church and against Catholics in Bulgaria (1944-1989)

by Svetlozar Eldarov
Professor, Dr. of History

Catholics in Bulgaria are a minority religious community that does not exceed one per cent of the country’s population. In the mid-20th century they numbered about 50,000, with Church-administrative division between three dioceses and two rites: the Nikopol Diocese for Roman Catholics in Northern Bulgaria, the Sofia-Plovdiv Diocese for Roman Catholics in Southern Bulgaria, and the Catholic Exarchate for Catholics of the Eastern Rite (popularly known as Uniates) for the entire country. Until the communist regime was established, they enjoyed all constitutional rights and freely professed their religion.

After the coup d’état on 9 September 1944, the Catholics in Bulgaria were confronted with the all-subordinating power and militant atheism of the totalitarian state. Unlike the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which took upon itself most of the anticlerical moods of the new regime and gave many victims, on account of its status of predominant religious denomination, the Catholic Church initially enjoyed relative peace. This atypical reserve on the part of the communists was due mainly to the Paris Peace Conference, which had to resolve the post-War situation in the country. For this reason the Catholics missed the first wave of the political repressions. On 12 September 1944, a Decree of the Council of Ministers for the arrest of the persons connected in one form or another with the former regime triggered the mass terror, which was subsequently legitimised by means of the Ordinance-Law on the so-called People’s Tribunal, adopted on 30 September and promulgated on 6 October 1944.

During those days and nights of St. Bartholomew’s massacres, the Catholic Church gave only one victim: 29-year-old Flavian Mankin, priest in the village of Sekirovo near Plovdiv (at present a district of the town of Rakovski). At the end of October, his body was found caught in the branches of the willow-trees along the Stryama River, where his assassins had thrown him directly from the bridge. The motives for this crime are unknown to this day, the murderers have not been identified. There were no other atrocities against Catholics, with the exception of the fact that several priests and monks with German citizenship were initially sent to the newly-established labour camps and were later extradited.

In spite of the relative tolerance to the Catholic Church in Bulgaria, especially compared to what was happening in the other Eastern Bloc countries, the repressive institutions of the communist regime did not lose sight of it. The Catholics in the country were under the close scrutiny of Department “B” of the State Security, which had preserved its old profile – fight against foreign intelligence and propaganda – from the time prior to 9 September 1944. Since 1946, especially after Sir Winston Churchill delivered his famous speech in Fulton, in which the actual division of Europe between democracy and totalitarianism was qualified with the sinister metaphor of the “Iron Curtain”, the Catholic clergy attracted more and more the operational interest of the State Security system. Targets of prime importance were the Vatican Office in Sofia, which at that time was headed by the Apostolic delegate Mons. Francesco Galloni, the editorial office of the Catholic weekly Istina [Truth], the administration and the teaching staff of the Catholic colleges.

The years 1946-1948 were a brief transitional period from ostensible tolerance to creeping discrimination. During that period a number of legislative measures were adopted and enforced, which narrowed more and more the perimeter of the Catholic Church, similar to the other religious denominations in the country, especially in the educational and social spheres. The expropriation of Catholic property grew in scale, the interference in the internal structure and activities of the colleges, orphanages and charity organisations intensified, censorship and control over the printing and publishing activities tightened.

Two international events played a decisive role for the consolidation of that tendency. The Paris Peace Treaty was signed on 10 February 1947, which freed the communist authorities in Bulgaria from the obligation to have a policy towards the Catholic Church. An even stronger impulse for intensifying the anti-Catholic moods came from Moscow, where a Pan-Orthodox meeting of representatives of the Orthodox Churches from the communist bloc was held from 8 to 18 July 1948. The keynote speech of the Russian Patriarch Alexiy and the reports of the other participants “exposed” Pope Pius XII and the Vatican as tools of Anglo-American imperialism. A special Decree was also adopted on the fight against the aggression of the Catholic propaganda. Already at the time of the Pan-Orthodox Meeting, on 14 July, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) adopted a Draft-Decree on the closing down of all foreign schools in the country, among which the Catholic colleges featured very prominently with their prestige, authority and popularity.

The final transition from creeping discrimination to open repression was made with the adoption of the Religious Denominations Act on 24 February 1949, which banned all activities of the Church outside the church building. Relations with the Vatican were severed, Mons. Francesco Galloni was not allowed to return to Bulgaria after a trip abroad, and the Apostolic Delegation in Sofia was closed down. Under the Religious Denominations Act, all foreign nationals who were members of religious orders and congregations, were forced to leave the country. The State confiscated all Catholic hospitals, orphanages and other similar institutions in exchange for a minimal compensation, far below their real value. The buildings of the already closed schools, boarding schools and colleges were also expropriated. The publishing of the Istina newspaper and of the other printed editions of the Catholic Church was stopped. Atheist propaganda became particularly brutal, and the bishops in the three dioceses were forced to send out messages to the believers on various domestic and international events in the spirit of the official political rhetoric.

Parallel with the legislative and administrative restrictions, the pressure of the secret services also intensified. The Catholic Church, together with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Protestant denominations, were the target of the operational work of the agents from the Clergy and Sects Group of the First Department of the State Security, to which the “fight against counterrevolution” had been entrusted. In 1949, the Department and its territorial structures were in charge of a total of 20 active investigations, 24 preliminary investigations and 204 surveillance and reporting cases, on which 339 agents worked. The Catholic Church was also actively investigated in the context of counterintelligence by the Second Department of the State Security as accomplice in the “spying activities” of the Vatican, the Western European countries and the USA. Due to the constantly increasing scope of the operational work of the State Security agents, the full-time staff and the agents rapidly increased in numbers.

The Korean War and the exacerbated international situation in the early 1950s proved fatal for the Bulgarian Catholics. Insofar as all potential opponents of the regime within the country had already been either liquidated or marginalised, the Catholic Church became the scapegoat for the anti-Western moods in the country. In December 1951, a national meeting was held in Sofia between the high-ranking State Security officials and the highest state and communist party leadership. In his keynote speech, the Minister of the Interior Georgi Tsankov expressed the view that the international situation had already become critically exacerbated and that the imperialist forces headed by the USA were deliberately and consistently preparing for a new world war. The rise of international reaction exacerbated the class struggle in the country and activated the enemy elements. In order to oppose successfully the internal and the external enemies, recommendations were made to the State Security structures to identify the entire enemy contingent and to subject it to rapid “realisation”, to improve the work of the agents and operational staff by recruiting higher quality agents, and to speed up the investigation. That was generally the spirit also of the statement made by Vulko Chervenkov, Prime Minister and First Secretary of the BCP: “No complacency, no slacking, it is necessary to work hard and intensively. The suppurating nests of spies and bandits should be neutralised and cleared. They must be neutralised and cleared totally precisely now!”

In the early 1952, the organisational structure of the State Security was brought in conformity with the requirements for a more active and relentless fight against the foreign espionage and against the enemies at home. The First Department was transformed into Third Division for Combating Internal Reaction, and the Second Department became Second Division for Combating Enemy Espionage. The Catholic Church and the Catholics continued to be torn between the counterrevolution and the counterintelligence.

The new course of the State Security, outlined by its National Meeting and materialised in the structural reorganisation, was directed predominantly against the Catholic Church. The Catholic clergy and the more intelligent and more active Catholics ideally matched the notion of the Bulgarian secret services of an enemy contingent of foreign intelligence structures. Precisely that was the orientation of most of the active investigations in the Catholic sphere conducted until then. The same is also suggested by many documents in the information massif of the State Security structures, accumulated during the previous years. And as most of the other lines of operation were already largely exhausted in terms of detentions, investigation and trials, the Catholic Church proved most suitable at the moment for satisfying the insatiable needs of the domestic political propaganda.

That unfortunate leading position of the Catholics was clearly evident from the figures in the report of the Third Division on its activities in 1952. If in the beginning of the year, the potential enemies of the regime among the circles of the Catholic Church, classified in the group of the so-called “enemy contingent”, numbered 70, most of whom clergymen, by the end of the year they became 400. This almost six-fold increase illustrates best the “privileged” position that the Catholic Church had after the National Meeting of the State Security. No other line of operations in the Division marked such an explosive growth, as that happened with the Catholics.

Most investigations of Catholic targets, conducted by the State Security structures in Sofia and in the countryside, were transferred from the area of counterrevolutionary elements to the enemy intelligence structures. They were conducted personally by the Heads of the Second and Third Divisions, and were supervised by the Deputy-Minister of the Interior. In addition to working with information supplied by agents, during that period the State Security started organising various technical campaigns, which they designated with names of Bulgarian rivers: “Mesta” – installing and use of bugging devices; “Panega” – opening and photographing of correspondence sent by mail; “Topolnitsa” – telephone tapping. Another frequent practice was the illegal entry into homes and search, the so-called “secret search.” Another technique used was “combining the object with a woman” or “throwing a woman” with the aim of discrediting and potential subsequent recruitment as informer. The same was also done sometimes with men.

The targets of the group and individual operational work of the State Security in the Catholic sphere were “addressed” several times throughout 1952. The Prime Minister Vulko Chervenkov personally insisted on dealing in an uncompromising manner with the Catholic clergy. On 26 June 1952, he placed the following resolution on the report of the Minister of the Interior: “It is necessary to act with determination with respect to the Catholic bandits, including by arresting the Catholic Exarch, if there is evidence to support it. You must stop before nothing. Keep me informed on the issue. It is necessary to prepare well a trial on the basis of the disclosures made and to raze to the ground the nests of the Catholic bandits in Bulgaria. In addition, we shall consult our Soviet friends. When the investigation is basically completed, make a concise presentation on what has been discovered, which we shall send to our friends with a request for advice, and we shall destroy the Catholic bandits. We are destroying the bandit’s contacts of the Catholic Church with the Vatican, the Vatican is organising nests of criminals here. A trial against the bandits in Bulgaria will have an anti-Vatican and anti-Papal spearhead.”

The “big hunt” for Catholic clergymen was followed by retributions in the courtroom against them. Assen Chonkov, parish priest in the village of Burdarski Geran, Nikopol Diocese, had the sad fame of being the first defendant in a series of trials. He was arrested already in July 1950, allegedly as the chief organiser of the spontaneous rebellion in the region against the coercive collecting of the so-called “state deliveries” of cereal food. The indictment issued by the District Prosecutor in Vratsa qualified Assen Chonkov as “supporter of the monarcho-fascist rule” and as “saboteur of initiatives of the Fatherland Front.” For these offences he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

The second trial took place in Sofia on 14 January 1952. The defendant was the Capuchin Damyan Gyulov from the Sofia-Plovdiv Diocese, former Editor of the Istina newspaper. He was accused of spying and of anti-government activities. He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, 15 years depriving of civil rights and total confiscation of the property.

The third trial was on 3 June 1952, again in Sofia. The defendants were the Capuchin priest from Sofia Robert Proustov and his assistant-janitor Stefan Tsokov. Both men were accused of spying and anti-government activities. Robert Proustov was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, 22 years depriving of civil rights and total confiscation of the property. Stefan Tsokov was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, 12 years depriving of civil rights and total confiscation of the property.

A trial “behind closed doors” was organised in Plovdiv on 6 June 1952, at which the case against Father Yossiv Tonchev, a Capichin, was heard. The charges against him were also of espionage, but his sentence was most severe. Yossif Tonchev was sentenced to death and executed on 23 January 1953.

The first four trials were opened and closed in one day, they were not made public and did not have a strong echo in the Bulgarian community, except in the circles of the Catholic Church. The arrests on a mass scale in 1952, conducted with deliberate ostentatiousness, made it clear that the authorities had changed their tactics and were preparing a public trial.

The 40 people arrested in July 1952, among whom there was one Bishop, 25 priests and one nun, were accused of spying and subversive activities against the People’s democratic rule. “Confessions” were wrung from them by subjecting them to physical and psychological torture. The most frequently used method was the so-called “merry-go-round” – 24-hour interrogation for days, whereby the investigators rotated, while the detainees were kept on the verge of total physical and mental exhaustion, when they were no longer capable of making a difference between reality and fantasy. The “merry-go-round” was usually diversified with beatings. Precisely such tortures during the interrogation were the cause of the death of Fortunat Balkanski, former Editor of the Istina newspaper.

In less than three months, the material of the investigation on case No. 859/1952 concerning the “spying and conspiratorial Catholic organisation in Bulgaria” was ready. That was the charge in the courtroom farce enacted in Sofia from 29 September to 3 October 1952, which was extensively covered by the media. The case was heard by a panel of the Supreme Court, and a display was organised in the courtroom of a part of the “evidence” that had been planted by the secret services during the arrests and searches: machine guns, guns, bombs, pistols, radio stations and gold coins. From the indictment and from the minutes of the court sessions, extensively covered in the newspapers, it became clear that the defendants participated in a big espionage organisation that had been created and headed by the Vatican.

On 3 October, the court pronounced the sentences which had a petrifying effect on account of their severity. Four people were sentenced to death by firing squad: Bishop Evgeniy Bossilkov from the Nikopol Diocese, a Passionist, and the Assumptionists Kamen Vichev, Pavel Djidjov and Yossafat Shishkov. The other sentences varied from 3 to 20 years imprisonment: two of the defendants were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, six received 15 years, two – 14 years, eleven – 12 years, nine – 10 years, four – 8, 6, 5 and 3 years accordingly, and two – 18 months. Thus 40 people received four death sentences and a total of 405 years in prison!

The death sentences were executed at 11:30 p.m. on 11 November 1952 at the Central Prison in Sofia. The executions of Evgeniy Bossilkov, Kamen Vichev, Pavel Djidjov and Yossafat Shishkov were not publicly declared by the end of the communist regime in Bulgaria.

On 29 October 1952, the Sofia Regional Court tried the case of Bishop Ivan Romanov, Vicar of the Sofia-Plovdiv Diocese. The charges had already become traditional: espionage. The sentence was relatively light – 12 years in prison – but for the 74-year-old bishop is was tantamount to execution. Bishop Ivan Romanov died in prison just two months later, on 8 January 1953.

From 2 to 4 December 1952, the Sofia Regional Court tried another case of Catholic priests and civilians accused of espionage. In that trial ten people were brought before the court, one of whom was sentenced to death, one received a sentence of 20 years in prison, two – 15 years, two – 10 years and two – 6 years.

With this the series of trials against Catholic bishops, priests and laymen ended. At the same time, however, two dozens of Catholic priests, monks and nuns were sent without trial or sentence to labour-correctional communities – a euphemism used in the past for the communist concentration camps.

On 12 March 1953, the Presidium of the National Assembly issued a confidential Decree No. 88 under which all remaining property of the Catholic Church was confiscated, with the exception of the churches, the churchyards and the buildings on their territory. In this way, 188 different types of property were seized: buildings, courtyards, fields, meadows, orchards and vegetable gardens, vineyards, etc., without paying compensation for any of them.

The Catholic Church in Bulgaria had never before suffered such a severe blow as the communist regime inflicted upon it in 1952-1953. Maybe it would have been followed by even more devastating and merciless blows, if Stalin had not died on 5 March 1953. His death brought a certain calming down of the repressive machine of the communist regime both in the Soviet Union and in Bulgaria. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church continued to be perceived as a dangerous adversary capable of shaking the foundations of the socio-political system. Instead of organising trials and executions, the State Security changed its tactics and started recruiting agents from among the circles of the Catholic clergy and believers. In the 1950s, there were about 1,000 people included in the “enemy contingent” from among the Bulgarian Catholics and they were kept on record at the Clergy and Sects Department, with more than 100 individual and group investigations and recruitment operations organised. The apparatus of agents increased steadily: from 68 informers and agents in 1953 it reached 339 in 1958. The activities of the State Security operational staff and agents against the Catholics in Bulgaria were accompanied by severe administrative restrictions against the priests who had remained free, coupled with fierce atheist propaganda among all strata in society.

In the early 1960s, the communist regime in Bulgaria deemed that it had consolidated its power and that it had placed under total control the main sectors and mechanisms of public life. That resulted in substantial cuts in the operational work and the agent apparatus. Faced with the danger of becoming redundant, the Third Division of the State Security played the Catholic card again and tried to prove its public and operational significance with something like a repetition of the trials in the early 1950s.

Several Catholic priests earmarked to become the victims of that plan were hastily sentenced for “enemy propaganda” and jailed for 2-3 years. In spite of that, on 6 October 1961, the Third Division that left a not very long but blood-drenched history, was dismantled. A part of its staff was transferred to the Second Division (Counterintelligence), where the Clergy and Sects Department was also transferred.

In the 1960s, the State Security intensified the penetration of its agents into Catholic circles with a view to recruiting agents to work abroad. Parallel with that, individuals with homosexual aberrations were directed to the Catholic Church in the form of candidates for priests, with the aim of achieving moral degradation, discrediting and more reliable control by the services. In 1963, all Catholic priests serving sentences in the prisons and in the concentration camps were freed, some of whom were recruited as agents before that.

At the end of 1967, a new structure was created in the State Security, and was charged with conducting the fight against the “ideological subversion of imperialism.” In addition to the other lines of operation, the Catholic Church was also attached to the newly established Sixth Division. At the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s, the operational interest of the State Security was directed predominantly at the Ostpolitik of the Vatican, which resulted in a certain slackening of the pressure against the Catholic clergy in the country and a relative activation of the Church and religious life of the Bulgarian Catholics.

The election of Pope John-Paul II and the shaking of the communist regime in Poland led to a sharp activation of the repressive apparatus in Bulgaria in all possible directions, including with respect to the Catholics. That last period in the fight of the communist regime against the Catholic Church had two main aspects. On the one hand, owing to the Ostpolitik of the Vatican, the potential of the Catholic Church to exercise its functions was partially broadened. The authorities even permitted the training and the ordaining of several young Catholic priests, which would have been unthinkable during the preceding period. At the same time, however, the State Security mobilised totally its resources and means, which was officially aimed at opposing the “ideological subversion” of the West, while in actual fact it was intended for preventing the occurrence of the Polish model in Bulgaria. This resulted in a sharp swelling of the operational apparatus and agents. In 1981, the Sixth division and its structures in the countryside had more than 5,000 agents, 278 of whom had been recruited in connection with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Catholics and the Protestant denominations. Their number doubled by the end of the communist regime in Bulgaria in 1989. The intertwining of these two tendencies had and will continue to have a long-term impact on the development of the Catholic Church in the country.

On 15 May 1998, Pope John-Paul II proclaimed in an official ceremony at the St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome the beatitude of the Bishop of Nikopol, the Passionist Evgeniy Bossilkov, as the first step towards his canonisation as a saint. On 26 May 2002, during the Pope’s visit to Bulgaria, he also proclaimed the beatitude of the Assumptionists Kamen Vichev, Yossafat Shishkov and Pavel Djidjov. The remaining Bulgarian Catholic priests who became victims of communism are still awaiting their retribution.


Belovezhdov, G. Documents from the Trials against Catholic Priests in Bulgaria in the 1950s. Sofia, 2001 (in Bulgarian).

Eldarov, S. Uniatism in the Fate of Bulgaria. Stories from the History of the Bulgarian Catholic Church of the Eastern Rite. Sofia, 1994 (in Bulgarian).

Eldarov, S. The Catholics in Bulgaria 1878-1989. Historical Study. Sofia, 2002 (in Bulgarian).

Eldarov, S. Bulgaria and the Vatican 1944-1989. Diplomatic, Church and Other Relations. Sofia, 2002 (in Bulgarian).

Tsvetkov, Zh. The Crucifix. The judiciary arbitrariness against prominent figures of the Catholic Church in Bulgaria in 1952. Sofia, 1994 (in Bulgarian).

Translation into English: Nedyalka Chakalova

The International Condemnation of Totalitarian Communism: the Initiative of the European People's Party. The Bulgarian Perspective.
Excerpts from the reports presented at the Colloquium in Koprivshtitsa (Bulgaria) 24-26 September 2004
Compiled by Vassil Stanilov, Edited by Nadejda Iskrova
Vassil Stanilov Literature Workshop, Sofia 2004

ISBN 954-8248-30-1

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