Crimes during Communist Regime in Bulgaria 1944-1989


Categories of crimes

  • Crimes against the individual: murders without court and sentence, “wet jobs”, illegal detention and forced extortion of confessions.
  • Court and administrative repressions: retributions through judiciary authorities, deportations, withdrawal, of the right of free movement of people in the country and abroad, violation of the right to religious denomination and crimes against the national and racial equality.
  • Financial and environmental crimes, notably establishing of black funds of the communist party, export of national capital through foreign trade companies, benefits under the system of the privileges for the nomenklatura, as well as, special bonuses and remuneration for the so-called “rightful claimants”, as well as covering up of facts connected with environmental pollution resulting in damaged health status of the population. This group should also include smuggling of the so-called “special production” (weapons, ammunition, explosives), narcotics and dual-use commodities, hidden behind the party euphemism of “transit trade” – elevated in 1978 to the position of the official state policy.
  • Crimes connected with national treason, of the type of the attempt to turn Bulgaria into the sixteenth republic of the USSR, participation in military interventions and state terrorism, notably the gratuitous assistance offered to leftist terrorist regimes as well as to individuals proclaimed as international terrorists.

Murders without court and sentence

  • The crimes started immediately after the Coup in 1944. Special groups were formed at the Ministry if Interior to seek, arrest, and execute representatives of the former rule, who had been identified as “enemies of the people.” Several tens of thousand people were killed without trial or sentence after 9 September 1944. According to some sources, the figure is between 30 and 40 thousand. In other publications close to the communist regime the number has been reduced to 20,000. During that period nearly 2,000 people were pronounced missing and were never found.

The so-called “People’s Tribunal”

  • The murders during the first months of the “people’s rule” were given a legitimate form with the Ordinance-Law issued in October 1944 on the establishing of a People’s Tribunal to try fascist crimes. Criminal charges were brought against leading figures of the monarchy and against the persons responsible for the crimes perpetrated against the Bulgarian nation between 1 January 1941 and 9 September 1944. The so-called People’s Tribunal started functioning on 19 November 1944 and completed its activities at the end of April 1945. The subjective character of its decisions was predetermined already with the mechanism used for recruiting the judges. They were appointed by the regional committees of the Fatherland Front and by the Minister of Justice. The sixty regional and district panels of the Tribunal and the two supreme panels in Sofia ruled on different charges against total of 21,024 people. A total of 10,897 sentences were pronounced in 131 trials. The death sentence was pronounced against 2,730 persons, among them the Regents, Prince Kiril – the brother of King Boris III, most of the cabinet ministers and Members if Parliament in the period after 1941; 1,305 people were given life sentences; 4,348 people received prison sentences of one to twenty years; 808 – suspended sentences. More than 200 factories were confiscated, as well as a lot of other property – real estate and valuable objects.

1/ Repressions

Judiciary and administrative repressions

  • The State Security was the principal weapon of the Bulgarian Communist Part for defeating the forces of the opposition. The fight against the adversaries of the “people’s rule” after 9 September 1944 was assigned to Section A of the State Security in the Directorate of the People’s Militia. Its main task was to identify, trace, arrest and investigate “enemy elements”. In 1947, Section A became Department I of the State Security Directorate. It fought against the counterrevolutionary elements in the political parties forming the Fatherland Front (without the BCP) an in the opposition parties, above all the Nikola Petkov Bulgarian Agrarian People’s Union, as well as against dissolved organizations like the youth organization Brannik, former policemen and army officers. The third direction of their vigilance focused on the anti-party activities among the youth, intellectuals, the clergy and the state apparatus. In 1952, Department I was transformed into Directorate III of the State Security, which was preserved until 1963. It continued to persecute the same pool of adversaries who had already been given the name of “former people.”

The concentration camps and the labour-correctional communities

  • The second principal task that the Bulgarian Communist Party assigned to the State Security was to organize the deportation of the persons posing a threat to the communist regime in concentration camps and labour-correctional communities. The State Security was given the right to detain every person believed to be a fascist or with reactionary ideology, irrespective of his party affiliation. Communist concentration and labour camps were created after 9 September 1944 without special permissions. 
  • The first camp was created near the town of Sandanski – at the Sveti Vrach railway station in January 1945 and existed until March the same year. Documents have been preserved in the archives of the Ministry of the Interior about the existence of a secret place for detention of people from the State Security system near Pazardjik, designated as Camp “S”, i.e., secret. It operated in the 1947-1949 period and was used initially for recruiting different individuals from the ethnic minorities for the needs of counterintelligence, but soon after the camp was created, all kinds of people began to be sent there. Several thousand people passed through Camp “S”. When it was closed, most of its inmates were transferred to the Belene labour-correctional community on the island bearing the same name in the Danube, and life imprisonment without trial or sentence was imposed on six members of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, who survived initially, the motivation for the sanction being that they had witnessed murders in the camp.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office discovered that the regime in the camp was extremely hard. From evidence given by surviving camp inmates it was known that the daily norm for the men was 8-20 cubic meters of stones. Everything was done in a run. The food was usually without meat and consisted predominantly of vegetables. The daily bread ration was about 700 grams and was given once, in the evening. Bathing was possible only in the nearby Ossam River. The inmates wore old military uniforms, they were infested by lice and in the barracks the various parasites made sleep impossible. For more than a year there was no medical care whatsoever. The former inmate Neno Hristov from the village of Izvorovo, Stara Zagora district, testifies: “I have never seen suppurating wounds on the bodies of people in which there were worms. The only thing that could be done was to ask people near you to urinate over the wounds so that they may heal, there were no other remedies…”

The expert medical examination appointed in July 1990 by the Prosecution of the Armed Forces concluded: “The inmates did not have the possibility to talk among themselves, to maintain contacts with the world outside the quarry, to file claims and complaints, to preserve their personal dignity and self-esteem as human beings. Already upon admission to the camp, as well as throughout the entire time spent there, most of them were severely beaten up, in most cases without any reason, with bludgeons and rubber hoses… The living conditions bore a definite sign of unjustified sadism…”

3/ The “enemy” emigration and the violation of fundamental human rights

  • During all 45 years of communist regime, the rulers in Bulgaria perceived the emigration as a threat of the emergence of a real opposition abroad. This is why the documents of the Politburo and of the State Security use the term “enemy” emigration. The concept of “enemy” emigration emerged in the mid-1950s, uniting the “counterrevolutionary elements”, the “traitors” and the “defectors abroad.” But “enemy” emigration was not so impressive in terms of numbers, being much less numerous compared to some other Eastern bloc countries. In a report to the Politburo of 1966, the Chairman of the State Security Committee Angel Solakov indicated that 5,933 individuals had been registered as traitors of the fatherland, as well as 372 defectors. The repressions against the families of the political emigrants consisted in denying them fundamental human rights. Their relatives were not allowed to leave the country and the privacy and inviolability of the correspondence were violated, they subjected to permanent harassment and torture, and the children of defectors were labeled as “unreliable” and their chances of obtaining education and of finding jobs were severely restricted.

“Wet” jobs

  • The State Security archives from the late 1960s contain documents confirming that the State Security included in its arsenal the liquidation of adversaries through physical murder. Thus, for example, a file was opened in the Sixth Division for operational investigation and counterintelligence work under the code name of “Gestapo Man” against Ivan Dochev, the leader of the Bulgarian National Front and former leader of the Legions. In one of the ports of the Division it was pointed out that “there is a joint plan with the KGB of the USSR, aimed at neutralizing the target.” 
  • In 1982, on 7 September, Todor Zhivkov’s birthday, a shot was fired with a special pellet containing poison into the leg of the Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov, which resulted in his death 4 days later. The most outspoken critic of the communist system and of the totalitarian regime in communist Bulgaria died, and his assassination linked Bulgaria in the eyes of the Western world for many years as a country committing the terrorist acts against its dissidents and with the “Black Umbrella.” Charges were brought for this crime in 1992 against the last head of the intelligence under Zhivkov, General Vladimir Todorov, and the Deputy Minister of Interior, General Stoyan Savov, who was responsible for the intelligence since 1973. Savov committed suicide two days before the court trial. A suicide note was discovered in his pocket in which he stated that the State Security had nothing to do with the attempts on the Pope’s life, but did not say even one word on the Georgi Markov case. Vladimir Todorov was charged and convicted for having destroyed only a part of the 16-volume dossier of the writer and effectively served a 10-month sentence. That was one of the few sentences pronounced by a court of justice for crimes committed at the time of the communist regime.

The so-called “Regenerative Process”

  • The coercive renaming of the Bulgarian Turks, given the euphemistic name of “Regenerative Process”, marked one of the most sinister acts of Zhivkov’s regime. Their names were forcefully changed into Slavic/Bulgarian ones in 1984-1985 in an attempt to disintegrate their identity.  As a result mass emigrations of Bulgarian Turks occurred during 1989 – around 350000 people left the country for Turkey.

Destruction of secret files

  • That was one of the last crimes of the communist regime, the aim of the communist party leadership and of the higher officials of the Ministry of the Interior being to cover up the traces of crimes committed in earlier decades, as well as to obliterate the evidence of the apparatus of agents of the State Security. The secret operation aimed at destroying the secret files started before 29 January 1990 (on the eve of the 14th Congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party), when the Minister of the Interior General Atanas Semerdjiev endorsed a report filed by the Deputy Minister of the Interior General Stoyan Savov, giving green light to the campaign. It was stated that “… A number of command documents subject to special registration contain instructions which, taking into account the current situation, are illegal, unauthorized and discrediting. This requires their urgent revoking, withdrawal and destruction.” This included a list of nearly 30 documents that need to be destroyed. Later it was reported that the review for the past 40 years revealed the existence of 942 active normative and secondary regulations, 700 of which were judged to be suitable for immediate destruction.

Source: The International Condemnation of Communism: The Bulgarian Perspective. Exerpts from the Reports presented at the Colloquium in Koprivschtitsa (Bulgaria), 24-26 September 2004. Sofia: Vassil Stanilov Literature Workshop.