As a USSR satellite, Bulgaria spent 45 years in a state of nationalized economy, industrialization and state-controlled markets. The first decade of the transition marked the abolishment of the monarchy and the cleansing of all rival political structures and personalities, which resulted in the deaths of many eminent Bulgarian artists, intellectuals and politicians. What followed was a period of suppressed freedom of speech and expression, and repressions that mirrored on a smaller scale those seen in the USSR.
The first head of Communist Bulgaria, Georgi Dimitrov, was a tremendously important Communist leader. He was an erudite theorist and was at one point chairman of the ComIntern – the international Communist organization that (at least in theory) superseded each Communist government, including Stalin’s. He had established a name for himself at the Leipzig trial in 1933 when, accused of setting fire to the Reichstag, he defended himself with vigour and eloquence. Seeing in him a potential rival, Stalin was by no means crushed when Dimitrov fell mysteriously ill and died while on vacation in a sanatorium outside Moscow in 1949. As Dimitrov’s body was being transported to Sofia by train, a mausoleum was erected for him in the centre of the city, with costruction taking less than 72 hours.
Despite the oppressive political situation and the violent purges that marked its beginning, the rule of the Bulgarian Communist Party was a period of order and relative prosperity for Bulgaria. State-controlled infrastructure was blooming, new cities and factories were built, GDP and yields were high, and the Bulgarian people were given access to universally free, if indoctrinating, education. The country saw its lowest crime rates and highest literacy rates to date.
It was also thanks to the Soviet Union that Bulgaria became the sixth nation in the world to go into space – Georgi Ivanov, the first Bulgarian cosmonaut, launched on a joint mission with USSR cosmonauts on April 10, 1979.
There are by necessity conflicting opinions about the Communist era in Bulgaria. Its atrocities and restrictions of freedom were naturally condemnable, including a forced resettlement and renaming of the Turkish minority in the 1980s, but there are those who believe that the time spent under Communist rule was preferable to the years that followed its fall in 1989.