Act II in Bulgaria

December 03, 1990

Bulgarians are finally shaking off rule by Communists. Last spring, after 45 years of communism, they did not realize they could. But the resignation of Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov in favor of a national coalition caretaker regime guarantees it. The people freely voted-in the Communists, renamed as Socialists, in June. But they voted anti-Communist with their feet in the general strike that has brought down the regime. A new election next spring is promised.

What just happened was a relatively benign revolution. It was also a Communist abdication. Mr. Lukanov could have slugged it out. He had all the apparatus of the state on his side, despite a new tradition of allowing dissent and demonstration. But it wasn't working.

Trade unionists struck for the reasons they generally do. The workers were getting poorer and life harder. The economy was breaking down. Bulgaria had quit servicing more than $10 billion in foreign debt, and in return could not obtain credits with which to buy food. The stores went bare. Electricity is rationed. A cold and hungry winter is setting in and, in fairness to Mr. Lukanov, his departure will not automatically change that.

His group of Communists might have been reformers in party terms but were the wrong people to bring in the free market economy and civil liberties. They were too busy protecting apparatchiks from investigations of abuses committed during the dictatorship of Todor HD. The opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) had refused to legitimize the Communist government by joining it. Now this opposition and the Socialists (Communists) have made a deal. The interim regime will not be Socialist (Communist) led.

Let the lesson be heeded next door in Romania, where President Ion Iliescu's elected regime is crypto-Communist, and people still fear the secret police. The former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was worse than Mr. HD, and his former henchmen have more crimes to conceal than their Bulgarian counterparts. Romania is the country of Eastern Europe least liberated from, and most intimidated by, its Communist past.

The apparent fulfillment of the anti-Communist revolution in Bulgaria brings that happy day nearer in Romania.

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