Posts Tagged ‘Bulgaria’

pb-110617-soviet-monument-jm.photoblog900

source

Is it possible that—a quarter century since the Fall of the Wall and in the midst of the severe crisis of Western European democracy, we can finally begin (here as well as there) to reassess the legacy of the “revolutions” (first to socialism and then to capitalism) in Eastern Europe?

That’s what Joan Roelofs [ht: ja] begins to do in her review of Kristen Ghodsee’s recent book, The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe, which Roelofs describes as “an elegant book on a forbidden topic.”

These are Roelofs’s own reflections, “informed by but not attributable to Ghodsee”:

Bulgaria, like many others, had been a fascist country since the 1920s, with little freedom or equality. After its communist revolution, a decent standard of living gradually emerged; women, workers, farmers, and the elderly were protected by a social safety net. The Roma minority were assimilated, if willing; others could follow nomadic occupations such as street carnivals; and housing and education were provided for all. Violent crime, death by fire, and other breaches of homeland security, so common in the United States, were extremely rare. Men were required to serve in the military for a short period, but they did not go abroad to get killed and maimed, and murder thousands of foreigners. People did not live on the streets, and prostitution was not an industry. University education was free. Students upon graduation served for three years in their specialties, but in a location selected by government.

As in all countries, there were many imperfections, some serious. There were shortages, sometimes of essential items, not just luxuries. An impressive cultural life existed, despite censorship and repression. Fear of subversion (not irrational) resulted in surveillance and political prisoners. Most people lived a life untroubled by the authorities, yet, as Ghodsee’s informant Anelia pointed out, they accepted the political oppression of others passively, rather than protesting and taking action. This, I discovered, was true even of rank and file Communist Party members, who would have had some influence if they had tried to exert it. CP members, about 10% of the population, had both extra duties and personal advantages.

Roelof continues, offering a variety of explanations of why Bulgarians, especially young people, eventually rejected socialism and celebrated capitalism (including the consumerist values communist leaders themselves had fostered).

Finally, Roelof returns to Ghodsee’s narrative:

She found that in 2013, despite many years of transition and healing, even those who had not been Communist Party members or even supportive of communism were appalled by the current situation in Bulgaria, including the huge inequalities and their own loss of jobs, social safety net, homes, and even heating fuel. Attempts to survive for both rulers and the ordinary citizens included crime, drugs, prostitution, and migration.

There’s a lot to consider here—both for Bulgarians, who may now be expressing buyers’ remorse, and for those of us in the West, who may finally be emerging from the shadow of the Cold War and realizing how appalled we are at the huge inequalities and our own loss of “jobs, social safety net, homes, and even heating fuel” in the wake of the Second Great Depression.

image23

Across the United States, austerity kills higher education—by cutting public funding and raising tuition.

In Chicago, austerity kills schools—more than 50 of them, overwhelmingly in black neighborhoods.

And in Bulgaria, austerity kills people—at least six men have set themselves alight in apparent protests against the country’s economic plight, and there are also daily reports of people hanging themselves, jumping from bridges and high buildings, and throwing themselves under trains.

Austerity is much more than a morality play. Austerity kills.

reportint20130224042912923

Tens of thousands of protesters amassed in Madrid and other Spanish cities on Saturday to voice their anger over harsh austerity and the way the country’s being run in the wake of its financial crisis.

Last Wednesday, Bulgaria’s government was forced to resign after mass protests against high power prices and falling living standards, joining a long list of European administrations felled by austerity during four years of debt crisis.

And anti-austerity protests are expected to grow across Eastern Europe.

Ruling parties which stick with strict austerity programs to win investor trust risk being bounced from power by voters fed up with cost cutting and tax hikes.

Governments which loosen the fiscal screws or try unconventional ways to rebuild support before elections may alienate investors and invite more pain down the road.

Whichever path they take, ordinary Bulgarians, Slovenes, Czechs and Hungarians, all of whom get the chance to vote this year or next, face rising unemployment and stagnating wages.