Today is the 23rd birthday of Democracy in Bulgaria. So what has this date brought us? Well, at least in theory that's when the democratic change began. But the democracy that was brought to us wasn't exactly the democracy you might be imagining. It wasn't just a lie, it was something else. The greatest plunder in our history, if I might be so bold to say. After 1989 people believed that our country would truly change to the better. Now you have to understand that looking forward to the bright future has been a cultural thing here for many years, ever since the Ottomans cast a veil of darkness over the region.
But instead of building a true democratic society, what we got in the 90s was a restoration of jungle capitalism, the one you guys may've seen in the 20s, where the likes of Al Capone held more power than presidents. So you may easily imagine that this sort of capitalism turned out as bad as we were taught it would be, prior to the explosion of Democracy. Indeed, everything we had been told in school about communism turned out a lie, but meanwhile, all we had been told about capitalism turned out complete truth, and more. And those weren't good stories, I can tell you.
But let's see what happened post-1989. There had been 1.2 million members of the Communist Party (BKP) at the time of the Democratic Explosion, which, out of 8 million Bulgarians is a pretty big number. My dad was member, too. You can't make anything resembling a career if you're not a party member. So he wanted to be a chief engineer at their construction company because he really had the skills - so he got himself a party membership card. His dad having been an active Partizan during WW2 did help a lot. Nothing would be done without having good links, back then. But what happened to most of those 1.2 BKP members post-1989? Well, many of them instantly turned their coats to the 180", re-painted themselves from red to blue and suddenly became "democrats". Thus, "Democracy" was born. The old commie dictator was deposed through a bloodless, quiet, calculated internal coup, where his successors re-named the party from Communist to Socialist Party (BSP), then washed their hands as if nothing had ever happened.
A whole new center-right field suddenly popped on the political scene, virtually out of nowhere. Dozens of "dissidents" who had spent their youth pretending to be fighters for freedom by writing lampoons in youth magazines (and who were now claiming to have been violently repressed, although most of them were looking rather overfed for someone who'd been allegedly tortured almost to death in the labor camps), were now eager to form a rightist coalition of "democrats", and give a shot at playing the opposition, and eventually ruling the country instead of the Comm... er, I mean Socialists. New names like former dissident poet now turned president Zhelyu Zhelev appeared on the scene, and with them some opportunists like the cunning Ivan Kostov, and some naive idealists like Philip Dimitrov. And other "democrats" who soon rode on the tide of public discontent that raged across streets and squares, and eventually brought them to power.
People genuinely believed that Democracy would cause rivers of honey and mead to flow on the streets, and everything would now be pink and fragrant. But what was actually going on behind closed doors of the new center-right Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), was the preparation of a plunder never seen before. It was speciously dubbed "Privatization".
The first government of the Democrats (SDS) commenced the Privatization process, and in a short time it liquidated everything that had been built by the hated socialist-communist regimes for the previous half a century (a period lovingly called "Sotz" here). The second president was also a "Democrat", a former divorce lawyer from my town Plovdiv. His name was Petar Stoyanov, and he had a tongue of honey that could convince you to sell your mother to the Devil (although his teeth rather made him look like a horse). Stoyanov was so kind to send the special task forces to the collective agricultural community (TKZS) in Tzalapitza, a big village near my town - because the locals had violently refused to have their collective farm dismantled for the purpose of being sold out in pieces to the highest bidders. You have to understand that the TKZS system had been in place for almost half a century, created by the commies in an attempt to collectivize and nationalize all arable land throughout the country - often forcefully seized from its previous private owners. Not a nice story, by any means. Now the Democrats were using the same means to dismantle that system, and bring Freedom and Democracy back to the villages, even where people refused to have any of it.
The result? The complete dismantling of our agricultural industry; thousands of hectares turning into desolate land with no one to look after them; Bulgaria turning from a traditional exporter of foods and textiles into an importer, completely dependent on goods from Turkey, Greece, the Arab countries and even China. The politicians of the "new epoch" had successfully destroyed the most important foundation of the Bulgarian society: its attachment to land.
But that was only the beginning. It all continued with dismantling heavy industry, machine industry, energetics and all the rest. In politics, we got representative democracy, which was actually no different from the one-party state, only now we had several parties pretending to oppose each other, but in the end all of them pursuing the same purpose: to line up their pockets. Democracy was no more than a hoax, and people fell for it time and time again, from one election to the next, voting for the next Messiah promising a brighter future, and then the next. The political elite of the country hadn't changed, it had only transformed, changed names and colors, looking more colorful now. The politicians of this so-called "Transition Period" appeared permanent, for-life, and increasingly wealthy and arrogant.
The consequences? After the "Democrats" rampaged and pillaged through all sectors of economic and social life in a way unprecedented in history, all achievements from the times before and during communism were liquidated: industry, agriculture, education, health care, social policy... The country turned into what we here call "an unfenced yard" where anyone could enter and take whatever they wanted, as much as they could take - as long as they had the bigger muscles and larger firepower than the next guy who wanted to do the same. The jungle law became the law of the land. Anyone insolent and crazy and muscled enough would take whatever they thought they needed without fear of reprisal and prosecution. Thus, the first Thug Syndicates were born. We call them "Wrestlers' Syndicates" because most guys in there were former boxing, wrestling and weightlifting athletes. And also "Mutri" (mugs), for obvious reasons. I.e., thugs. For a long period, they reigned supreme, smashing heads and cars and shops, demanding their pay, in exchange for their "protection" of the little folk. Protection from whom? From other thugs, of course.
At that time, the privatization of everything of any value raged wildly - the largest and most successful former state enterprises were pillaged, vast expanses of excellent land went into the hands of "businessmen" with dubious reputation for yellow coins - you'd hear their names in the Forbes list of the wealthiest businessmen, top politicians and biggest taxpayers in the land nowadays - except their business is now out of the grey economy, it's completely legalized and everything looks fine. "Just don't ask me about my first million", the proverb says.
Those were the times of the "credit millionaires", the creators of elaborate Ponzi schemes (called "financial pyramids" here), of banks coming in and out of existence at the speed of quantum fluctuations, and dragging millions of families down into the abyss of misery - gullible, naive people who had invested everything they had in those fraudulent schemes, only to see their last savings snatched out of their hands by those greedy "entrepreneurs", who were now driving their SUVs and living in 3-storey houses behind 3-meter electric fences, having the local mayor or police chief on speed-dial on their cellphones. Those were the "capitalists" of the "New time". And it created a grotesque fetish for the false idols of neo-capitalism, which is plaguing our national mentality even today.
Then the SDS "democrats" figured this wasn't enough, and there was still a lot of money among the folk, because Bulgarians have this cultural trait of putting stacks of money aside in mattresses and in jars that they've vacated from the pickled vegetables they've eaten during the last winter (with good amounts of rakia, which makes them forget their misery). So how to take their money? Well, let's make the national currency cost less than the paper it's printed on, make it swell with many zeros, make it impossible for the common folk to exchange it for foreign currencies, then scratch it off the board in a heartbeat. And thus, we had Hyperinflation. A time that eerily reminded us of the Commie times when people had been lining for hours for bread and cooking oil, and using coupons to bring food and matches home.
Then we got the Currency Board, tightening the belts, and discipline imposed from the International Monetary Fund. "They'll fix us! They'll teach us to be decent!", was the common saying at the time. Really, "fixing the country" has become the most emblematic refrain ever since. But in the local language "fix you" sounds the same as "fucking you". So one might wonder which of the two we were being promised. And yet, the Messiahs kept coming, with promises to "fix us". One even promised to fix us in a strictly defined period: 800 days, no more no less. That was the former King Simeon II, who had been deposed as a 6-y.o. boy by the Commies in 1944. Now returning home to "fix" the country. Except it turned out his primary purpose had been to ensure the restitution of the vast lands and estates of his deposed dynasty. Another long story, really.
But back to the financial system. If any such system ever existed here really. All those Ponzi schemes, the devaluation of the national currency, all of this was no coincidence. It was just another way to suck the money of the population, the savings that it was gripping so fiercely and hiding in their mattresses. A series of well staged frauds, bankruptcies and defaults, plus the finishing touches to the large-scale privatization by "friendly businessmen" and even friendlier bankers, the Socialist/Democrat (BSP/SDS) elite took full control of the situation. The second SDS government successfully completed the pillage, privatizing the last big metallurgic enterprises, the mines, the ore processing and whatnot. We even caved to the pressure from the powerful energy interests in the EU and shut down part of our nuclear power facilities like the good puppies that we are.
Then the above-mentioned king (Tzar, as we call it here) arrived, promising to "fix" us in 800 days. But how? Well, why not do an elaborate public debt swap and turn our debt from dollars to euros, losing billions as interest in the process, and ensuring millions as commission for the mediator of the deal? And who was the mediator? Milen Velchev, the Tzar's finance minister, alumni of the Institute of Economics "Karl Marx" in Sofia, studied in Cambridge, and a tool of the British financial establishment. The agency that made the debt swap? Merrill Lynch, where he had been an employee just before coming to "fix" our finances on behalf of the Tzar. Now this former minister has millions, sails on yachts and runs hotels on the posh sea resorts. The Tzar's party was a new political (centrist) formation, called NDSV (nominally a National Movement for Stability and Progress, but the abbreviation also translates to National Movement Simeon II). NDSV, the alleged "centrist technocrats", were no more than the next generation of plunderers, who finished what had been started by BSP (the commmies/socialists) and SDS (the wannabe democrats).
And so we arrive at the present day, when the next Messiah, a folksy earthly muscled former Mutra (neo-thug) who had been the personal bodyguard of the former communist dictator, then turned chief secretary of the Ministry of the Interior under the old/new Tzar/Prime-Minister, now turned the folk's darling for his folksy tongue and his masculine looks, is ruling the country, promising to "fix" it (fuck it?) for the umpteenth time. And naturally, he does care more about his ratings than actually doing any real reform that would matter. But the people did want "a strong hand to finally fix us", and we got it. A true Batman, and his loyal Robin.
OK, all that said, now as we look back through the last 23 years, what has Democracy really brought us? Did it lead us to a brighter future under the caring wing of capitalism? What's that light at the end of the tunnel? Is it the sun? Or is it the train coming against us?
There were TWO trains actually. The first one was when the "Democrats" brought us to the brink of financial collapse, devalued the currency, and brought the IMF and World Bank at our doorstep. The Socialists who had been Communists, didn't say a word. After all, their hands weren't clean at all, either. Word is, they had actually created all those splinter parties as artificial projects, to create an illusion of pluralism, whereas it's them ruling all over again. Because we never really had a real anti-communist revolution like in Poland or Czechoslovakia or Hungary. So we didn't really kick the old commie habits out, at all. Only re-named them and moved on as before.
The second train was the following Socialist government, which promised still more brighter days ahead. It eventually brought things to a point where it lost a series of elections it couldn't have possibly lost, had it not been so incompetent and corrupt. They virtually performed a harakiri on themselves, and they have no one to blame but themselves. They won't see the Government cabinet from inside for many years to come.
So the tunnel of the never-ending Transition Period turned out a dark and stinky place. Instead of honey and mead, our taps spurted feces and urine. The bright future turned out a gloomy, desolate place, a septic pit full of political zombies: BSP, SDS, NDSV, and now GERB. And of course DPS, the Turkish ethnic party that's been a constant political factor ever since 1989, skillfully lead by its master of puppets, Ahmed Dogan, Turkey's darling. We owed the Turkish minority a big deal, having tried to Bulgarize them forcefully, or outright expell them from the country in the 80s. So they snatched the opportunity to turn several regions of the country into their feudal fiefdoms, where Turkish chieftains rule supreme as they did in the Middle Ages. And a series of governments have played coy with them, for the sake of preserving the "ethnic peace" in the country, and possibly ensuring a stable coalition partner in any future government. Such is the cynical bargain that was struck between the elites.
When we draw the line, what's the end result of all that? A hollow economy, the weakest among all EU members (we were only let into the EU for political and geostrategic reasons, not economic, social or even cultural). Rampant poverty among the populace, lack of access to health care (wherever it exists, and it's as corrupt and dysfuncitonal as Somalia's), wide-spread illiteracy and disregard for knowledge (where we used to be among the top in the world in terms of education and professional qualification), and a demographic almost-collapse. The country has lost its sovereignty to a bunch of powdered poodles sitting in their bureaucratic offices somewhere in Brussels and Strasbourg; other countries are ordering us where to place our troops and for how long; we have no real army, just a bunch of brigades being deployed here and there by the orders of some general in the Pentagon; the police is incompetent, corrupt, or conversely, over-zealous and brutal whenever it wants to show some willingness for activity; the judicial system is corrupt and serves the thug-o-establishment. The "achievements" of "Democracy" really have no end...
"It's an unbelievable achievement - to liquidate an entire country, to plunder everything, to destroy agriculture, to bring a people to the worst demographic situation in its entire history, to create bandit banks which you then liquidate with no compensation and no one to blame, to destroy a huge exporting trade, to privatize for coins the national assets worth billions of dollars, to create artificial inflation that's thousands of times bigger than the GDP, to bring millions of human beings at the edge of the abyss, to scratch off all prior achievements, to raise crime to levels that are seen only in the Hollywood gangster movies, to unleash drug trafficking upon the streets, to decapitate health care and education, to reduce human life to a constant struggle for survival...
"If there is any definition for what's happening here, it is the very social-economic confirmation of the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest, through banditism and parasistism...
"The results are visible for all - 97% of the nation's wealth are in the hands of a 3% minority. This model is a ticking time bomb. And in order to save themselves, that minority is selling Bulgaria off to the international financial institutions, facilitating its colonization, turning it into a classic colonial administration, a banana republic...
"Removing the very sense of a succession of power has led to an even bigger evil: every next ruling team now rejects the previous and only asserts its own interests...
"The November 10, 1989 coup was supposed to bring Change. Instead, it brought a Catastrophe."
-- Krassimir Ivandjiyski, from The November 10 Coup
23 years of Democracy, 23 years of Lies. That should be the slogan of our epoch. This day marks what many believed was the end of totalitarianism. But did totalitarianism really fall? Just on the contrary! Today we're a far more totalitarian state than we ever were - not under the Ottomans and not under the Commies. And we refuse to realize this. But deep down, we know the truth. And the truth is that now we're ruled by another type of one-party, the one of the greedy, insatiable plutocrats and oligarchs. So we've substituted the Communist Party with an oligarchic clique which doesn't even bother to pretend that it cares about the people any more. Instead, it only occasionally throws some bone to the dogs, and some golden dust into people's eyes, whenever the next election approaches. And they keep falling for it. "This is the guy who'll fix us..."
The number 1 proverb in my country goes like this:
"Not the one eating the pie is the crazy one; the one giving them the pie, is the crazy one".
We have only ourselves to blame. 23 years of never-ending Messiahs, promises, leading us to the brighter future, to the other end of the tunnel. And they all turned out to be the same. Fakes. They all want the same thing: to line up their pockets, the rest of us be damned.
People haven't learned that the politicians would do nothing for them. That's the main problem. Elections and promises won't change a thing, unless people want it changed. That's why "representative democracy" is thus formed that the same foxes will be lining the banks in Parliament, whatever you do, they'll keep digging themselves further down into their castles built of stolen money, and they'll do anything to preserve their sweet chairs at the tops. And they'll be lying to us in our faces, and defrauding the very idea of democracy right in front of everybody's eyes:
People's main problem is that they believe Democracy is some exotic animal that would suddenly arrive and save the day, "fixing" us overnight. And they wouldn't have to move a finger in the process. And so they fell for every single Ponzi scheme and every fraud that was thrown at them. Because people at these latitudes have always waited for someone else to "fix them" and do their job for them. And whenever they murmur under their breath or rant around the table, covered with salads and meat balls and pickled vegetables and half-empty bottles of rakia, complaining that they're unhappy with the status quo, and you tell them, "Well, go out and do something", they'd suddenly cringe and give you an odd look, and seek for all sorts of excuses how they're busy and they can't do it, and someone else should "fix things" on their behalf. Well, it won't work like that. It never has.
The problem is, today our nation is more divided than ever. And what's worse, it's more apathetic than ever. Parties, politicians, and all sorts of NGOs everywhere, each pulling the rug towards themselves. No one knows more than two of their neighbors, they don't care about what's happening beyond their most immediate circle, let alone building a civic society. There have been attempts to do that via the social networks, and the younger generations may or may not have a good shot at it. But frankly, I'm not seeing any profound changes in that direction either. Meanwhile, various opportunists will continue riding this public discontent and the other, for the sake of political gains, and political legitimization. The bottom line is again the same: "Let me line up my pocket, the rest be damned". And the folks will keep napping between one election and another, waiting for their Savior to come fix things for them.
I just hope they won't wake up to the realization that they've been silently raped and left to die in the mud. Again.