Communism in Bulgaria

Last updated Jan 2015

Bulgaria was a part of the Eastern block and a faithful USSR satellite between 1948 and 1989. Its economy and social life were tightly intertwined with the USSR and to this day Bulgaria bears the marks of the 45 year long regime.


The victorious Soviet army invaded Bulgaria in 1944, a year before the capitulation of Nazi Germany and assisted the local Communist Party in installing a Communist government.

By the late 1950s, the Bulgarian Communist Party had crushed all opposition and become synonymous with the state.

Prominent Bulgarian industrialists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals were deported to the countryside and their property was confiscated. All agricultural land was forcefully nationalized and organized into collective farms. Private enterprise was outlawed.

Over the course of several years, the former peasant country underwent rapid, Soviet-style industrialization, creating an industrial sector completely dependent on cheap, natural resources arriving from the USSR.

In return, Bulgaria offered a degree of political obedience unprecedented even by the standards of the Eastern Bloc. For many years, it was the most faithful Soviet satellite and, as many joked, the 16th Republic of the USSR, a possibility that, according to some historians, had been discussed.

Many Soviet social practices were also imported. Religion was frowned upon and the personality cult partially replaced it.

After the death of the first Bulgarian Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov in 1945 a white mausoleum building was constructed in the center of Sofia to house his embalmed mummy. His picture was soon hung in every classroom.

Marxism and Leninism, as well as Russian language became a standart part of school and university cirriculum.



Initially, Communist ideology must have been very foreign to Bulgarians. The majority of the people in the country lived a traditional, peasant lifestyle that for centuries had been strongly connected to the land.

The communist land reforms and land nationalisation were painful to most peasants. Echoes of that pain could be felt 50 years later when their descendants, in their late 60s at the time, cried and cheered when the Bulgarian parliament voted to return the nationalized land to its owners after the fall of Communism.

Nationalization of the land prompted the first and only organized resistance to the Communist regime. Peasants in the 1950s, unhappy with the nationalization and the red terror, left their homes and took refuge in the mountains and the forests.

They were quickly captured, killed, or sent to labor camps, and no future resistance followed. Bulgaria failed to have the anti-Communist revolution that Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland had.

Instead, the leaders of the Bulgarian Communist party readily sent troops to suppress the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968.



Todor Zhivkov was Bulgaria’s last Communist leader and, in fact, the only Communist leader that people can remember; he was in office for over 30 years.

His rule is usually associated with close ties to the USSR, and he is often called a puppet leader.

In his last years in office he was semi-openly ridiculed by the Bulgarians for his supposed village-like accent, among other things. Rumors that he was senile circulated.

He was ousted after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lengthy trials followed but did not manage to lead to a conviction by the time of his death in 1998 at the age of 86.



The regime ran a repressive apparatus; in the early years of the regime people disappeared in the middle of the night for as little as telling a political joke.

Critics of the regime often ended in forced labor camps under horrendous conditions.

The camps were later closed down and replaced by a more subtle form of oppression; people who expressed an opinion against the regime were not able to find a job, study at universities, and had no access to public life. Malignantly, such rights were denied to their relatives as well.



The apparent prosperity that Bulgaria enjoyed was sponsored by international credits; productivity and morale in the country were low and the popular joke "we pretend that we work, they pretend that they pay us" was very much true. 

The scheme collapsed in the 1980s with electricity shortages, food shortages, and economic and political chaos.



Regardless of the regime’s horrid track record, many Bulgarians have fond memories of Communism. People cite the sense of security, supposed lack of crime, and low unemployment to support this. 


Last updated Jan 2015
resized/communist monument sofia bulgaria 600x200
resized/communist monument sofia bulgaria 600x200
communist monument sofia bulgaria
communist monument sofia bulgaria