Photo: Club Z
“The Transition” since 1989…
To some, it brings hope fora better, more democratic future. To others, it gives reason to mourn socialism. To some “the Transition” is a real chance to make it. To others, it is a lie and a deception. Reason to rectify past mistakes… Or to further solidify the power structures of the socialist regime. An opportunity for retribution and justice… Or a period of threat, humiliation, and facing the harsh truth. To some “the Transition” presents an opportunity to judge those who have wronged in the past, perhaps through means of lustration. To others, it gives reason to cover up or destroy their secret police records. “The Transition” has let some go unpunished despite having committed crimes during the time of socialism. Others have been prosecuted even though they are innocent. In short, “the Transition” means a multitude of conflicting things and triggers a multitude of conflicting emotions in the Bulgarian psyche.
Where do these conflicting feelings lead?
Ultimately, Bulgaria loses out, realizing less than its full potential as a nation. Our differences regarding “the Transition” become problematic because they distract us from our common purpose around improving the standard of living in Bulgaria. They distract us from becoming wealthier, happier, and healthier at home and from promoting Bulgaria’s interests abroad.
There are a number of examples showcasing how our conflicting attitudes with respect to the socialist past haveharmed Bulgarian society during “the Transition” period. Take a very recent case, the 2016 UN Secretary General election. Regardless of whether you supported Irina Bokova or Kristalina Georgieva, we can agree on the following: first, the conflict around the Bulgarian candidacy was largely rooted in ties to the Socialist past. Second, the end result was unambiguously a failure, as a Bulgarian candidate was not elected Secretary General.
What are we truly trying to accomplish?
What does it mean for the Bulgarian people to “flourish” at home and abroad? And how are we faring as of now? For some, “flourishing” might mean a few controlling a large share of the economic and political power. It might mean living with affluence while the majority of Bulgarians is struggling to make ends meet. For others, “flourishing” might mean a free society which gives every citizen an equal opportunity to develop as well as a chance to live a decent live doing what they love. But this is a value-laden question, and there can be no single answer to it. To get to an answer which somehow works for all Bulgarians, each member of our society would need to give something up, something they might consider precious.
First, to reach a common understanding of what it means for Bulgaria to flourish, regardless of class, social status, and political preferences, we need to grapple with some really tough questions… questions that we might have had in the back of our minds but which we might have avoided all along. For example, for those rightfully seeking retribution for political crimes: if a formal process of lustration never takes place, could we still live together as a society, and can we extend a hand even to those we label “communists” and to their children in the name of ourcommon future? Ultimately, do we have to judge people for their ancestors’ deeds, ignoring their own personal and moral qualities? For those whose families have participated in a failed regime and might have harmed other citizens or communities, would they be able to seemingly turn their backs to their ancestors and accept a trial against them in the name of justice?
Second, all of us – whether we are benefactors or victims of socialism’s legacy, left-leaning or right-leaning, wealthy or not, young or old – would have to own and grapple with these questions collectively.
Of course, this won’t be easy! To those whose relatives are victims of the totalitarian state, it would be really difficult to come to terms with a potential lack of retribution, which they have desired so genuinely their whole lives and which they have subconsciously promised to their ancestors. To those whose families have been part of the socialist system, it would be really difficult to sacrifice their loved ones and let society judge them, sometimes unjustly, and not protect them, even if they might have wronged others.
Despite these difficulties, let us engage in the collective effort of moving Bulgaria forward and begin listening to ourconflicting perspectives, recognizing that to show empathy does not mean to forget accountability. For example, over the last two years Colombia has engaged in a peace process with the FARC, the paramilitary guerrilla group. For over 50 years conflictbetween them has dragged on, leaving a bloody trail behind. Yetin 2016 the two sides finally signed a peace treaty. Many Colombian citizens were outraged by the conditions of the treaty, as it granted the FARC the right to run in national elections as a party despite killing thousands of innocent Colombians and causing countless human tragedies. But through the conversations with the FARC, President Santos and his team found that the terrorists’ actions are also motivated by some form of injustice. The President and his advisors realized that if they did not genuinely listen to the FARC and did not make some concessions, the conflict would never end and the tragedies would continue for all. Still, the treaty has also ensured that many of the former FARC fighters would be tried by a special tribunal for the crimes they have committed against the Colombian people.
To get there, though, Colombians have first engaged in a society-wide conversation, which has been painful and has lasted decades. As Bulgarians, let us also commence our work and our conversation on the legacy of socialism during “the Transition” period. Let this mark the beginning of the end of “the Transition”!
Author: Georgi Klissurski
2018 Millennium Club Bulgaria