Nongovernmental Political Institutions

Nongovernmental Political Institutions

Until 1989 the BCP exerted firm control over such nongovernmental political institutions as trade unions, youth groups, women's groups, and the nominally oppositionist BANU. The ouster of Zhivkov, however, brought a torrent of new and revived groups into the political arena. In the new open political climate, the groups' fragmented constituencies often spoke loudly for their own special interests, greatly complicating the process of coalition-building and compromise needed to accomplish national reform.

The Bulgarian Communist (Socialist) Party

The Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP), which renamed itself the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) several months after the fall of Zhivkov, boasted one of the highest membership-to-population ratios (one in nine Bulgarians) in any communist country in the late 1980s. Between 1958 and 1987, membership grew by 442,000, mainly by adding bureaucrats and blue-collar workers in younger age groups. In 1986 women made up 32.7 percent of party membership but few women held high positions. The proportion of worker members had grown to 44.4 percent by 1986, and the proportion of farm members had dropped to 16.3 percent, reflecting an even sharper drop in the overall farming population of Bulgaria. Party recruitment in the 1980s targeted individuals already successful in public or economic life, and the proportion of whitecollar members increased in that decade.

In 1987 the BCP was organized into 2,900 local units. Until 1990 primary party organizations were based primarily in workplaces. The next level in the hierarchy was municipal organizations, which were overseen by city or province and ultimately national bodies. At every level, party and government personnel were closely interwoven, and the principle of democratic centralism kept the lower levels strictly subordinate to the national party. The primary organizations were charged with recruitment and mobilization. A major concession by the postZhivkov party was removal of party cells from all state offices, the judiciary, educational and health agencies, as well as all nongovernmental workplaces--a concession forced by the UDF's threat to boycott the round table negotiations that would set a national agenda for political reform early in 1990. That change significantly altered the primary level of party organization.

Until 1990 the top level of party leadership was the Politburo, of which Zhivkov was general secretary. That position had been abolished in the 1950s in the BCP as part of de-Stalinization. It was restored in 1981, however, to recognize Zhivkov's long service and conform to Soviet restoration under Leonid Brezhnev. Politburo members usually were selected from the central committee and nominally elected by party congresses, which normally met every five years. In 1986 the Thirteenth Party Congress elected an eleven-member Politburo dominated by party loyalists of Zhivkov's generation but supplemented by a few younger specialists in politics and economics. Following tradition, the 1986 congress made few changes in the previous Politburo. The party congresses were nominally the top policy-making body of the party, but, like the National Assembly, they rubber-stamped decisions handed them by the party elite.

The BCP hierarchy also included the Central Committee, whose members the congress unanimously approved from candidates supplied by the party leadership. Through a number of specialized departments, the Central Committee performed administrative party work between sessions of congress. After considerable size variation, the last Central Committee included 190 members and 131 candidate members in early 1990. The third elite group was the BCP Secretariat, a group somewhat smaller than the Politburo (its number also varied during the Zhivkov years), entrusted with implementing party policy.

Membership in the BCP required recommendation by three established members; if accepted at the primary and next-highest level, a candidate received full membership with no probationary period. Criminal or unethical behavior caused withdrawal of membership. Without benefit of explanation, a varying number of members also failed to receive the new party cards issued before each party congress. Abrupt purging of cadre and membership elements deemed potentially hostile to current programs was a procedure that Zhivkov used with great skill to balance and weaken opposition forces throughout his tenure in office.

The fall of Zhivkov brought immediate and dramatic changes in the BCP, including removal of the word "communist" from its name. The Extraordinary Fourteenth Party Congress of the BCP was held in the winter of 1990, over a year sooner than scheduled. That congress abolished the Central Committee and the Politburo in favor of a Supreme Party Council headed by a presidency. To streamline party activity, the new council had only 131 members, 59 fewer than the last Central Committee. The Secretariat was abolished. The party emerged from the congress with significant splits between reform and conservative factions and a new temporary program. Only about 10 percent of previous Central Committee members became members of the new Supreme Party Council; several party stalwarts who had survived the Zhivkov overthrow, including Prime Minister Atanasov, were not elected. The BCP's constitutional guarantee of the leading role in Bulgarian society already had been abolished. In a compromise with the UDF shortly after the congress, party organizations were banned from workplaces and the armed forces. The BSP had full control of the government (the UDF refused to form a coalition both before and after the 1990 elections), but BSP popularity and power ebbed rapidly during 1990 and 1991. By the first anniversary of Zhivkov's resignation, party membership had decreased to an estimated 250,000. (Membership had been reported as 984,000 at the time of the Fourteenth Party Congress.)

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