An experiment in living socialism: Bulgaria then and now

bulgaria

"The Communist Manifesto now reads as if it was written just a few weeks ago. ... the experience of Eastern Europe and of the Third World shows the vital need for a universalist left as the only real alternative to diverse forms of barbarism."[1]


Building blocks for a 'people's history' of socialism 1.0

At this critical juncture, given the fierce urgency of now, it is time for the left to give renewed attention to the socialist experience in Eastern Europe. We need to re-explore in depth across the radical left in North America, Europe and elsewhere what was progressive and successful, in the former 'real-socialist' economies in Eastern Europe-especially the smaller socialist states like Bulgaria-along with their weaknesses, mistakes, contradictions and myriad problems engendered by the enduring impact of the Cold War. The socialist countries have been turned with a vengeance into a "testing ground of an extremely aggressive form of neo-liberal social engineering, an attempt to violently impose a change in social paradigm".[2] We are seeing a metamorphosis in political and economic paradigms at the hands of the IMF, EU-and a nouveau riche comprador bourgeoisie and coterie of oligarchs-that has transmuted much of the post-socialist world into a vast societal poorhouse.

Researchers have argued that the neo-colonial tsunami in the wake of the Cold War has brought extreme neo-capitalist versions of neo-liberalism into Eastern Europe, with devastating results for education and social welfare.[3] Bourgeois history's irony--or perhaps its Cunning of Reason in Hegel's classic sense--is that major achievements under 'real existing' socialisms in the 20th century were what people everywhere under austerity capitalism are fighting for here and now.

My core thesis is this: The narratives of ordinary people who grew up in socialism and now work and live in post-socialist societies in the throes of anomie [a widespread breakdown in social order] and severe poverty, their basic dignity trampled, need to be collected, discussed and disseminated widely. This will provide a record of authentic experience and memory as radical as reality itself. Such narratives can only sharpen our visions of 21st-century 'democratic socialism.' Such a project should be oriented toward oral history and biographical inquiry, exploring what life in these socialist states actually was like, as seen by ordinary citizens now living in the chaos of restored capitalism.

It has been argued that the restoration of market economies and bourgeois democracy across Eastern Europe, along with a massive de-collectivization of agriculture and privatization of industry have trashed human dignity and slashed the gains of 'real-socialist' welfare over many decades. Economic and ideological colonization from the West intensified for the vast majority of working families on a massive scale. One author recently observed that

"The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm .... Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them - and from humanity as a whole: 'We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.'"[4]

Speaking about 'socialism 2.0' for the 21st century, Peter Mertens, chair of the Workers Party of Belgium, noted in a 2012 interview: "It's also not the case that we don't know anything at all or that we have to start from a blank sheet of paper. There exist experiences, there was a socialism 1.0, with its strong points and its weak points, with its fantastic achievements, but also with its grievous mistakes. And we're living in different times."

The Cold War is over, yet it continues in some socialist ranks in a kind of ideological time warp. In forging left unity, debates about how to build a broad Marxist party need an empirical 'counter-grounding' in what the socialist workers' experiments in Eastern Europe actually meant for ordinary families, as perceived by real people today, now caught up in the chaos of contradictions under restored capitalism in these same societies. Their authentic stories-the subject-anchored nexus of history and memory-are relevant to the present struggle and reflect the once functioning realities, which have now been gutted, about which many North American socialists seem to be remarkably oblivious. But it is precisely this contrast between then and now in post-socialist societies in Eastern Europe that is highly instructive. We can learn much from past achievements as they were experienced and lived. This can serve to counteract the "danger of a single story" in our lingering conceptions of what socialism was (and was not) in Eastern Europe.

Bulgaria-An Icon of the Post-Socialist Freefall

Today, in 2013, the Bulgarian economy is in massive contraction under capitalism's neo-liberal 'shock therapy'. Bulgaria is now the lowest-income post-socialist state, with the highest levels of economic emigration in Europe, reflective of capitalism's 'race to the bottom' in the EU. As one author noted in 2009: "Capitalism's failure to lift living standards, impose the rule of law and tame flourishing corruption and nepotism has given way to fond memories of the times when the jobless rate was zero, food was cheap and social safety was high".[5] Many Bulgarians who were born in the 1970's and before view the socialist period as "a golden era" compared to today. There is a popular current Bulgarian joke about a woman who wakes up and runs about her house at night in panic, looking into the medicine cabinet, the refrigerator and then out the window into the street. Relieved, she returns to the bedroom. Her husband asks her, "What's wrong with you?" "I had a terrible nightmare," she says. "I dreamt that we could still afford to buy medicine, that the refrigerator was absolutely full, and that the streets were safe and clean." "How is that a nightmare?" the husband asks. The woman shakes her head, "I thought the communists were back in power."[6]

A substantial segment of the Bulgarian population over the age of 40 remains convinced that, 25-35 years ago, the socialist welfare system in Bulgaria delivered the necessary goods and services for most families-production for basic human and societal needs-within a largely egalitarian system that was firmly grounded on the development, availability and access to universal social programs. More empirical research is imperative, including qualitative inquiry probing 'working people's post-socialist subjectivity and memory,' explorations in the 'oral history of real Socialism,' biography as a 'flare' to illuminate past societal and communal realities. Nothing is black and white, and every point touched on here can be explored further. A tiny minority of privileged or much younger Bulgarians will of course disagree.[7] Bulgarian narratives can be supplemented by stories from Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and elsewhere.

'Democracy' is a knee-jerk expletive many Bulgarians born 1970 and before use with open contempt, identifying it with the restoration of capitalism, return to a class society, poverty, despair, insecurity, and gross inequality--the wholesale trashing of the human dignity of ordinary people. Bulgaria, which has basically been colonized by neo-liberalism, now has the lowest wages in Europe and is faced with the NATOization of the country, massive joblessness, and the near collapse of Bulgarian agriculture. The country is now confronted with corrosive social chaos, widespread social breakdown, a new ruling class in power, and "predatory globalization", all at the expense of ordinary workers. Bulgarians are now bombarded with endless rhetoric exalting the cult of the commodity and "becoming Europeans." Wracked by the havoc of 23 years of unending social and economic crisis, substantial numbers of Bulgarians-including Roma, many now working as economic migrants in Western Europe-feel that they and their families were significantly better off materially under the old 'universal welfare' regime, whatever its defects, with its southern and southeastern border in front-line confrontation with Greece and Turkey, key capitalist client states in the eastern Mediterranean.

A vast, ever-expanding economic gap has emerged between Bulgaria's haves and its have-nots. The latest Eurostat statistics show that Bulgaria had the highest share of persons at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU in 2011, at just under 50 percent. The Bulgarian 'rule of law' ranking is among the world's lowest. Today the Pentagon operates four military bases in Bulgaria, its compliant new ally. Some 20 percent of the country's population has emigrated since 1990. We have seen a gigantic exodus, the direct result of an unplanned, corporate-run 'free market' economy and a society in constant crisis since the 'obscure disaster' of 1989. A recent opinion survey concludes that a majority of people in Bulgaria think the "situation is unbearable". In 2013, there have been a number of public suicides by the desperate. A "demographic collapse" is looming due to massive emigration, and the birthrate has dropped to its lowest level since 1945.

As Gowans (2011) underscores: "A 2009 poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that a mere one-in-nine Bulgarians believe ordinary people are better off as a result of the transition to capitalism. And few regard the state as representing their interests. Only 16 percent say it is run for the benefit of all people." A new oligarchy and its supporters, largely based in Sofia and closely linked with the colonizing EU, enjoy remarkable privilege, at the majority's expense. Part of this wealth is centered in the Bulgarian and foreign-owned Black Sea tourist industry. As Alexander Andreev recently observed

"Since the breakdown of the communist system in 1989 and 1990, Bulgaria has been ruled by networks of oligarchies and clientilism. Practically all parties and coalitions in power serve the interests of large economic actors - or worse, those of shadow organizations which began as organized crime running protection rackets, who later established themselves as powerful market agents."[8]

Like many of the social democratic parties across Europe, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the transformed Bulgarian CP of old, is largely pro-NATO, espousing a 'milder' makeover of neo-liberal market capitalism. It is headed by Sergei Stanishev. A somewhat puzzling political paradox here is the absence of any anti-capitalist movement in the streets or in the electoral arena. Disillusioned with politicians, mass alienation from the political elite is rife, as reflected in popular protest in February 2013 and again against the newly installed, BSP-led government from June 2013. Andreev (2013) bemoans the "lack of coherency" in the protests, given that the demonstrators have "formed no political party ... Aside from a couple of generally formulated goals, they also have no understandable list of implementation measures - which would be required for the crisis-bound fields of education, healthcare, energy or the stagnating economy." "People before profits" is not a key demand, while the popular slogan "Red Trash!" points up the center-right political sentiment driving many of the demonstrators. Dawson (2013), a British political scientist, critiques the openly anti-Turkish and racist innuendo among the disgruntled on the streets of Sofia and some other towns in the June-August mass protests. Living in this post-socialist labyrinth of contradictions, alienation between the Bulgarian masses and the State is perhaps at its highest level since liberation in 1878 from nearly five centuries of Turkish rule.

Looking back with more than nostalgia

The southernmost of the former socialist countries, Bulgaria was arguably the most successful East European socialist economy and polity. The percentage of ordinary Bulgarian working people aged 40 and over who think they were far better off under socialism in the 1970s and 1980s is markedly higher than their counterparts who have been polled in the former Soviet Union, Romania, and Poland. They traveled freely throughout the socialist bloc, at very low cost, and could see life elsewhere, and talk with citizens there. Bulgaria was also packed with summer and wintertime vacationers from the socialist bloc, on the Black Sea and at its skiing facilities. There were rich opportunities to interact and exchange perceptions. So why do we continue to engage in stereotypical generalizations about a monolithic 'Soviet' system? Why should we assume that the USSR was necessarily representative of the distinctive local realities in far smaller states such as Bulgaria? The memories of many older Bulgarians belie the notion that socialism was 'dictatorial,' a totalitarian society of unending hardship, oppression and lack of freedom, with its drab economy producing only shoddy goods.

On the other hand, it may well be the case that a significant segment of older Bulgarians would echo what Irina Malenko (b. 1967), author of the memoir/novel Sovietica, has written about growing up in the Soviet Union. Recently interviewed, Malenko (2013) noted

"Our life was very secure, safe, in a quiet, non-stressful environment, absolutely free of drugs, with virtually no crime. There was quite a lot of social control: if somebody was doing something wrong, his colleagues or neighbors would set him right. Every adult was in employment, except for disabled people, family care providers - if they wished to stay at home - and retired people. Retirement age was fifty-five for women and sixty for men. Soviet people were also the most literate people in the world. All art was very easy to access. Libraries were free of charge. Books, theater plays, concerts, museums, and exhibitions were extremely cheap.

We had a guaranteed right to housing, the right to have a job, and the right to have a paid holiday. Housing costs were extremely low. People paid only for water and electricity, just three or four percent of their wages in total. The state would give people apartments free of charge, for life, and their children could stay to live there, but you were not allowed to sell it. Public transport was extremely cheap too, as well as food. Children' clothes and shoes were subsidized by the state. Schoolbooks were supplied free of charge. ... We had whole publishing houses working specially on children's books; there was an enormous amount of cartoons and feature films produced especially for children ... All sports clubs were fully free of charge. Kids were encouraged to attend them."[9]

Bulgarian collectivized agriculture thrived, and industry expanded significantly. A major computer industry was built, centered in the town of Pravetz. Many agro-collectives, enterprises, factories, schools, and universities had vacation spots on the Black Sea providing nearly cost-free vacations for their workers. Now all that has vanished and Black Sea vacations are too costly for most. Importantly, there was a minutely planned economy that oversaw production to meet basic human needs, not the free-market chaos rife in the country today. Ostensible regime aims, basically implemented for most citizens, were a distinctive form of radical material equality, full guaranteed employment. There was a concerted effort to develop a strong sense of social solidarity, despite existing racism toward large ethnic minorities, Turkish and Roma. They were integrated as 'citizens' but not as collective ethnic minorities, with rights of their own. Socialist laws reduced structural discrimination. Yet endemic racism against Roma remained, a clear failing of socialist states across Eastern Europe (see below).

The Bulgarian socialist system was grounded on free education, free high-quality medical care, and excellent nearly cost-free public transport. In essence, most services for basic needs were 'de-commodified,' with the cost to consumers very low, and indeed almost 'demonetized' for water, electricity, transport, and central urban steam heating. Those costs are now skyrocketing, most especially for electricity and gas. The Bulgarian railroad system, once a model, is now in deep trouble as passenger numbers have plummeted by over 50 percent since 2001. Municipal bus fares are now 18 times the cost of a ticket under state socialism, where the old fare of 6 stotinki (= $0.04) was largely 'symbolic.' Cafes and restaurants used to be packed with working people, because they were low-cost and non-profit; now far fewer people can afford to go out. Maternity leave under socialism (three years partially paid) is now severely restricted, with many mothers distraught at the meager assistance they receive. Under socialism Bulgaria was reputed to have one of the best medical systems in Eastern Europe; today there is a huge emigration of medical personnel, given that salaries for health-care workers in Bulgaria are the lowest in Europe and the severe lack of medical equipment (once good, now antiquated). There was a good local pharmaceutical industry in Bulgaria in the 1970s and 1980s, which was run on a not-for-profit basis, producing low-cost, high-quality medications. Today nearly all medications are imported from the West and are costly, and many Bulgarians will tell you that their quality is questionable. Lots of older people are dismayed because they cannot afford essential drugs. Big bribes for doctors are now common and many patients are penniless. All this is destructive of basic human dignity.

As Mimi Vitkova, a Minister of Health in the 1990s, noted a decade ago

"We were never a rich country, but when we had socialism our children were healthy and well-fed. They all got immunized. Retired people and the disabled were provided for and got free medicine. Our hospitals were free. Today, if a person has no money, they have no right to be cured. And most people have no money. Our economy was ruined."[10]


Family incomes under socialism were often better in terms of actual buying power than after 23 years of 'democracy' and the free market. Many ordinary older working and retired Bulgarians will corroborate this fact. Then all had a job at a living wage. Now the gap between the few rich and the many poor in Bulgaria is huge and widening by the month. A large proportion of average working Bulgarians, and all pensioners, live on the edge, and 30-40 percent of the population is pauperized. The minimum salary is set at €160 per month, but many are struggling in precarious, part-time hourly jobs. Mean salaries are 25-30 percent lower than in neighboring Romania. Some eight percent of the Bulgarian population, a slim stratum of nouveau riche situated mainly in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Burgas, is now better off. Some social workers make the equivalent of €140 a month and are struggling to survive. In interviews, many Bulgarians report that the work atmosphere was formerly more pleasant, collegial, and productive - and far less stressful than today. Strong bonds of neighborliness and simple human solidarity were common, but daily interactions are now encumbered by economic stress, and social breakdown.

Especially instructive are comparisons in the area of education. Socialist education in Bulgaria was in important ways similar to the educational system in today's Cuba. This was particularly true in the sense of building a 'moral economy of solidarity and community' and overcoming the divide between the curriculum and life beyond the classroom in the natural, social and 'communal' worlds, a process known as 'schooling the revolution.'[11] Education was demonstrably better under socialism in terms of funds allocated, teacher quality and, significantly, in student attitudes to learning. Schools were demanding and geared to high performance levels, energizing student engagement and anti-capitalist Marxist thinking. However, 'critical thinking' in the current bourgeois sense, was lacking. Little open dissent was tolerated, which in retrospect was a systemic error. Public universities (none private!) were hard to enter and high grades were needed. But tuition was free and there was a job guaranteed by the state after graduation. There were no student debts or unemployed graduates. Social class distinction was kept very marginal in schools and discipline was strict. Today a severe lack of student discipline is ravaging the entire educational system. Attendance even in university classes is desultory and overall standards are in decline in today's 'mis-education nation'. Every teacher I have interviewed agrees on this. One senior educator said: "Bulgarian education has been destroyed. The result is total chaos in a system once among Eastern Europe's best." Expensive private schools have proliferated, serving the small elite class. Many students just want to get a degree and emigrate. Polls indicate that two-thirds of Bulgarians would like their children to study abroad. A youth survey in May 2012 noted that 40 percent of young people want to leave Bulgaria the first chance they get. A 2013 Ministry of Education poll determined that 52 percent of the 2013 high school graduating class applied for university abroad. In 2012, one-in-six high school graduates went on to study at foreign universities. Another 2012 study suggests a genuine national crisis, indicating 41 percent of Bulgarians aged 16 are "alarmingly illiterate". Bulgaria once was the Silicon Valley of the socialist bloc. Today the National Astronomical Observatory in Rozhen, the largest in southeastern Europe, is facing severe cutbacks, as are many areas of scientific research, with a huge storm of protest erupting over the devious distribution of research funds in late 2012.

Prior to the restoration of capitalism in Bulgaria, there existed a huge array of well-organized, state-run extra-curricular activities, with free summer camps and excursions for schoolkids. The Pioneers, for ages 9-13, and Komsomol (the Young Communist League), for ages 14-18, organized young people both in and after school. All of that is now dismantled, often wistfully recalled. Youth normally were mobilized to participate in compulsory agricultural harvest brigades under state socialism. This was mandated from above, yet many say there was enjoyable camaraderie, with campfires and singing and dancing in the evenings. There was heavy physical labor, small pay, and summers of required social service. Kids now live in a world of social atomization, with too little stress on physical fitness and love of nature, once central components of Bulgarian education.

The experience of this entire complex of organized youth movements and their key role in shaping the young, recollected from today's perspective, needs in-depth inquiry. Some teachers' colleges were built in part by their own first students, organized in construction teams. Lending a working hand was needed and expected.

Once upon a socialist time in Bulgaria, there were decent libraries, cultural activities, and sports of all kinds. Many school children attended monthly concerts of classical music, which were obligatory in the socialist curriculum. Now few go to such performances, which have become quite rare. Recent studies report that the average Bulgarian family spent the equivalent of €6 on books in the past year and €2 on the cinema/theatre/concerts. Under socialism, extremely low-cost books were far more common, but a whole 'reading culture' has now been trashed. Under socialism, all publishing was socialized, nothing was for profit, and cheap books were a priority. The arts were supported by the state, and there was a notable Bulgarian film industry (some of the best can be found on YouTube) that imploded in 1990 and has not recovered. The system of state-run theaters, where excellent dramatic productions could once be seen in many cities and towns, is today in shambles. Today, even going to see a movie is unaffordable for many, with tickets many times more costly than under socialism. Experienced librarians are now earning as little as €180 a month, and the extensive urban and rural library system-with traditional chitalishte reading rooms-is badly under-funded. In sports, the system of national teams is in a state of severe contraction. Bulgaria had its worst performance in 60 years at the 2012 London Olympics, in what was widely deemed an authentic national disgrace.

Socialist Bulgaria: a non-consumerist society?

In significant measure, socialist Bulgaria was an economy on the road to a virtually non-consumerist society, with an abundance of basic goods, which were not produced for profit and largely affordable. There were identical controlled prices for all items, nation-wide. There was no advertising industry and for 25 years there were no ads on TV. Much production was in a sense 'de-commodified.' There was one kind of yoghurt, of high quality and sold in returnable jars, not 25 brands as there are today. In fact, Bulgarians are now ranked as among "the most pessimistic consumers in the world" according to a recent report. People say 90 percent of the yoghurt now is a fake admixture, as is also the case with basics like yellow cheese (kashkaval), the traditional Bulgarian salami (lukanka), and all lower-cost table wine (once world-class). Under socialism, quality control of food was very strict, but this has now largely vanished. The capitalist market today is heavily colonized by foreign-owned grocery chains. Many items are imported and the quality is often questionable. Under socialism, municipal steam heating (covered by heavy state subsidies) was provided at very low cost, and the cold Bulgarian winters were cozy inside. Now most people in urban apartments cannot afford the privatized steam heat, and have resorted instead to dirty and dangerous wood-burning stoves or costly electric heating. Years ago, such stoves were mainly in villages, where the demand for fuel destroyed much needed woodlands. Today, messy and increasingly costly wood-burning stoves have become the reluctant norm in many urban apartments.

 

The Spirit of Community

Substantial social energy used to be directed into communal initiatives of all kinds such as neighborhood clean-up committees and snow-removal teams. The Communist Party was actively engaged in spurring communal consciousness at the neighborhood level. Importantly, in socialist Bulgaria there was virtually no violent crime in everyday life, with few break-ins and muggings. Today petty crime is rampant and 'security' is a major issue. The country was recently described by a government minister as an "oasis of organized crime". Older workers often say that years ago many never even locked their front door, and the key was left under the mat as there was no need to steal. There was no grinding poverty then as many Bulgarians and most Roma face today, with a burgeoning community of impoverished retirees, many with pensions the equivalent of €70-130 monthly. Unemployment benefits are set at around €65 a month, scarcely enough for minimal survival.

Widespread xenophobia is rampant today against the Roma throughout Bulgaria, even among university academics, and against the large minority of ethnic Muslim Turks. Racism and discrimination is worsening and rightwing nationalism is on the rise. Anti-Roma racism and historical dislike of ethnic Turks run very deep in Bulgaria. This animosity against Roma was dampened in part under state socialism and its 'assimilationist' policy, but it is now becoming increasingly virulent. Richie Parrish provides an insightful overview of the plight currently
facing Roma in Bulgaria. Many are trapped in extreme poverty. Almost a quarter of Roma children aged 5-15 do not regularly attend school. He cites a 2011 UN report indicating that "only 46.2 percent of the Roma population in Bulgaria completed primary education and only
7.8 percent of Roma completed secondary education."[12]

Toward a people-grounded, empirical approach

Raleigh's oral history work (2006; 2011) strongly challenges the one-dimensional view of Soviet 'totalitarianism' and standard narratives of Soviet history widespread in the West, especially in Great Britain and the United States. Based on several decades of fieldwork in the country and bolstered by numerous narratives of ordinary working people, Kideckel (2008) describes the fear and alienation besetting industrial workers in their everyday lives in post-socialist Romania. Looking back at socialist Hungary and its educational system, Millei (2013) analyzes the memories of five Hungarian kindergarten teachers about what teaching was like under socialism, and "the ways in which explicit socialist ideology is understood by the interviewed teachers." Anthropologist Gerald Creed (1999: 224) stresses: "people have multiple images of the past ... and the synthesis that results is very much a contemporary product." His own long-term fieldwork in the small northwestern Bulgarian village of Zamfirovo illuminates how farmers adapted to socialist practices, and the myriad problems that have been engendered since 1990 (Creed, 1998; 2010).[13]

In Summary

We should avoid "the danger of a single story" in describing what life was like under socialism. We need to take an unblinkered look at 'socialist model' achievements, authoritarian elements notwithstanding. In building a participatory economy and society beyond capitalism, especially a world of guaranteed full employment and largely de-commodified social production, 'socialism 1.0' is our own history and legacy. The stories of average working people who grew up under socialism and now live in a widening vortex of post-socialist alienation, anomie and inequality-along with the narratives of their children about life today-need to be collected more systematically and distributed widely. The need is urgent.

The author is a North American with substantial experience over many years in provincial post-socialist Bulgaria. He speaks Bulgarian fluently and has many ties with ordinary Bulgarian working families and a number of educational institutions.

Notes

[1] Kagarlitsky, Boris, New Realism, New Barbarism (London 1999) vii, viii.

[2] Panagiotis Soltiris, "Austerity Capitalism and Education in Greece" in Dave Hill, ed. Immiseration Capitalism and Education, Austerity, Resistance and Revolt (Brighton 2013).

[3] Tom G. Griffiths and Millei Zsuzsa, Logics of Socialist Education: Engaging with Crisis, Insecurity and Uncertainty, (2013) 1-18.

[4] Stephen Gowans, "We Lived Better Then." What's Left, December 20, 2011.

[5] Anna Mudeva, "Special Report: In Eastern Europe, people pine for socialism," Reuters (2009).

[6] Maria Todorova, "From Utopia to Propaganda and Back," in Todorova and Zsuzsa Gille, eds., Post-Communist Nostalgia (Oxford 2010) 1-13.

[7] See, for example, Kapka Kassabova, Street Without a Name; Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria (London 2008).

[8] Alexander Andreev, "Violence in Bulgaria to be Expected," Novinite, July 26, 2013.

[9] Irina Malenko, An Interview with Irina Malenko, author of Sovietica, NCCUSA 2 February, 2013.

[10] Gowans, "We Lived Better Then."

[11] For a detailed description of some of these patterns in the 1960s see John P. Georgeoff, The Social Education of Bulgarian Youth (Minneapolis 1968), a classic study in English.

[12] Richie Parrish, "Roma Minority Faces Uphill Battle," The Prague Post, 6 March, 2013. On the education of the Roma in Eastern Europe generally see Maja Miskovic, Roma Education in Europe: Policies, Practices and Politics (London 2013).

[13] See Daniel J. Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation (Oxford 2011); David A. Kideckel, Getting by in postsocialist Romania: labor, the body, & working-class culture (Bloomington 2008); Zsuzsa Millei, "Memory and kindergarten teachers work: children's needs vefodre the needs of the socialist state" in Tom Griffiths and Zsuzsa Millei (eds), Education in/for socialism: historical, current and future perspectives, special issue, Globalisation, Societies and Education (2013) 170-193; Gerald W. Creed, Masquerade and Postsocialism; Ritual and Cultural Dispossession in Bulgaria (Bloomington 2011).


Photo: Central market, Sofia, Bulgaria.  Creative Commons 3.0

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  • It is disturbing that the author of this article stays anonymous. How credible then the article is???

    Posted by Kefir, 04/21/2014 11:03am (4 years ago)

  • Appreciate the data presented here. We need more such in-depth pieces that blend anecdotal and survey evidence. The whole piece begs the question - what happened?

    Environmental problems were used by anti-socialist elements in the Soviet Union, GDR and in imperialist circles to push their demise. Were there environmental problems in socialist Bulgaria? How were they handled by the socialist state and CP of Bulgaria? Was there an environmental movement then? Is there one now?

    Posted by Len Yannielli, 12/07/2013 10:29am (4 years ago)

  • F.S., this is a great article and many of the facts about socialist Bulgaria 1.0 are in line with my experiences in East Germany, where I grew up. There is no doubt that the current system of Western neo-liberalism is sick and near collapse. I hope that people are not blind and lazy but media lies and money corrupts so the next development stage of the world's social and political system may still be decades away. Maybe not but what can we do? Thank you for your analysis which summarises why I feel there were happier days in my life (despite I'm on a six figure annual income in this "free" world).

    Posted by C Herzog, 11/26/2013 6:29am (4 years ago)

  • Insightful and compelling analysis - perhaps it is the Bulgarian people who will lead a movement back toward a more redistributivist state. One hopes the EU will evolve and take more responsiblity for the average citizen.

    Posted by John J. Bell, 11/15/2013 1:56pm (4 years ago)

  • Thanks for this article. We need to learn the lessons of both good and bad features of the decades of building socialism in Eastern Europe. History provides some objective evaluations given the falling statistics of life expectancy and literacy, also cultural losses. Those speak to the positive achievements of socialism in Eastern Europe. These positives are rarely discussed in left publications. More is said about the fatal lack of democracy in socialist Eastern Europe. I think we have to look at the whole picture.

    Posted by Beatrice Lumpkin, 10/16/2013 7:25pm (4 years ago)

  • So what were the contradictions--especially internal--that led to Bulgaria's demise?

    Posted by Al Sargis, 10/10/2013 7:26pm (4 years ago)

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