The Democratization of Bulgaria, 1989-1991
At the very moment when the Cold War’s most famed symbol – the Berlin Wall – was literally being torn down, Bulgaria’s iron-fisted leader for thirty-five years, Todor Zhivkov, resigned from power on November 10, 1989. This event marked the beginning of modern democratic reforms in the country. Opposition parties, independent trade unions, and an independent media were quickly established. Eventually, roundtable talks began between the government and the opposition, and this set the stage for free elections for a Grand National Assembly, which had as its task the drafting of a new democratic constitution.
Similar to the other countries of the former Soviet bloc, Bulgaria embarked on the road of political and economic liberalization in order to make the rule of law and regard for human rights possible. The Support to East European Democracies (SEED) Act passed by the Congress in 1989 authorized financial support to Central and East European countries. U.S. Government foreign assistance to Bulgaria has been channeled primarily through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). U.S. Government has contributed over $450 million to Bulgaria through 2003. Humanitarian assistance accounts for an additional $60 million. Other practical steps taken were the Trade Agreement signed in 1991 and the expansion of the activities of the Peace Corps in Bulgaria.
The U.S. Embassy in Sofia was instrumental in promoting democratic practices in the country by providing technical assistance to newly created democratic political parties and independent newspapers, and also by initiating direct people-to-people contacts between official U.S. institutions and non-governmental bodies and their Bulgarian counterparts. This assistance made the elections in June 1990 and October 1991 the first steps along the road to democracy.
On the official level, President Zhelyu Zhelev visited the United States and had talks with President George Bush in 1990, as well as the official visit to Sofia of Vice-President Dan Quayle – the first-ever such high-level visit to Bulgaria.