Chapter Thirteen

The Life of Georgi Dimitrov – Part Two

Dimitrov and Kolarov were not faced with an easy task when they returned to Bulgaria at the end of 1945. The Communist Party had been through difficult times, its leaders scattered throughout Europe in exile; the Party at home constantly operating in illegality with no stable headquarters, and no opportunity for full discussions of decisions.

'The party was badly riddled with factions, "rightists" who opposed the September uprising, the "leftists" who opposed the decision to call off armed insurrection in 1923. At the time of the Leipzig trial the situation was such that members of the "leftist" Central Committee inside Bulgaria, were the only Communist leaders throughout the world, who did not support the campaign for Dimitrov.

In the broader field too, in 1945, the Fatherland Front was having difficulties. British and American efforts were directed to splitting up the organisation and gaining control of any opposition party which they could persuade   to leave the Front. Both Dimitrov and Kolarov were sick men and they knew they had a limited time to weld together a party and a government capable of consolidating the great gains that had been made, and leading the country on to socialism. They were determined that this time there should be no Tsankoff coup d'etat and that there should be no weak links in the party leadership which would enable a new Tsankoff to gain a footing. The moment had come for which they had fought for fifty years; the moment for which peasants and workers had stained the Bulgarian soil with their blood in 1923, in 1925, and during the years from 1941 till the 9th September, 1944. This time there must be no mistakes, no weaknesses, the victory must be permanent and built on sure foundations.

It is against the background of half a century of thwarted hopes and betrayals. that one must consider the trial of the Agrarian leader, Nikola Petkoff, who flirted with the idea of an officers' coup backed by the British and Americans; and the trial of the former Communist leader Traicho Kostov, who saw himself as the leader of a "new type" of Communist Bulgaria, a semi-autonomous Communist Bulgaria attached as the seventh Republic to the "New Type" Communist Federation of Yugoslavia. These were old ideas in new dress and had cost Bulgaria dear in the past.

The Foreign Office and State Department denounced the sentencing of Nikola Petkoff as judicial murder; denied as fantastic the evidence that he had plotted a coup with American support, that he had planned to turn the country into a battlefield and to open the gates to American armies. In this connection an interesting item appeared in the New York Herald Tribune of March 5, 1950, more than three years after the Petkoff trial.

The story is datelined Jesi in Italy and reads as follows. "A group of Bulgarian political refugees here called yesterday for war with Russia as the only means of releasing the Communist grip on the Balkan countries of Eastern Europe. The refugees, mostly members of the Bulgarian Peasant Party of the late Nikola Petkoff, toasted President Truman and insisted that Western intervention is their only hope of liberation from the yoke of Moscow Communism... the 163 Bulgarian exiles declared that their sole aim is to return to their homeland as frontline fighters to liberate their country from Communist rule.

"The Bulgars heard speeches by former Peasant party leaders before receiving their first C.A.R.E. food parcels, distributed by the International Rescue Committee on behalf of the Iron Curtain Refugee Committee..."

Dimitrov and the Bulgarian government knew quite well what Petkoff was planning. Once the partisan armies in Greece were liquidated, frontier incidents could be timed to support local disorders arranged by Petkoff and his followers. Bulgarian fascist bands could easily be infiltrated over the border to bolster up the disorder and the Americans would consider they had the right to intervene as they had in Greece. Fortunately for peace in the Balkans, and unfortunately for the British and Americans, the Greek partisans kept fighting long enough for the Bulgarians to clean up -their local traitors. By the time the partisans had stopped fighting, there were no groups left in Bulgaria to foment disorders.

In a revolution you win or lose and take the consequences. In 1923, the Communists lost and took the extremely bloody consequences. In 1944, with Soviet help they won. They consolidated their victory with remarkably little distress and bloodshed. The Western world raised more outcry over the hanging of Nikola Petkoff who conspired against the government that it never did about the massacre of 20,000 leftists in 1925, but in fact the transformation of Monarchist and Fascist Bulgaria to a State in which the Communists wield chief power was accomplished with extraordinarily little hardship to their political opponents. Before they died, the rugged Dimitrov, with the craggy face of a born fighter, and Kolarov, the intellectual and humanist wise old man, who loved the arts and sciences, saw both party and government survive difficult crises. They could die content, that the Bulgarian people had set their feet firmly along a path which daily led them to a better future, a future which was changing perceptibly and yielding results which for half a century they had heard of vaguely in pamphlets if they could read, or from some passing propagandists. The finest testimony to the success of the Dimitrov-Kolarov life-long fight for the well-being of the Bulgarian people, was written on the faces of hundreds of thousands of humble people who came from every corner of the country to gaze for the last – and for many of them for the first-time on the faces of these two devoted leaders, as they lay in state in the National Assembly. In Sofia, as I was at the time of the death of both of these remarkable men, I have seen no more moving tribute to any leader than that expressed by the masses of the Bulgarian people to Dimitrov and Kolarov.

Dimitrov was in Berlin in 1933, when the flames of the burning Reichstag served Hitler as the bomb plot in Sofia had served Tsar Boris. Not content with banning the German Communist Party and arresting all its leaders, including the Communist deputies in the Reichstag, Hitler wanted to prove to the world he was forced to these measures by the provocations of international Communism. The scapegoat was none other than the Bulgarian Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov. The trial held at Leipzig six months after the firing of the Reichstag was intended to be Hitler's supreme stage piece against Communism. But he had reckoned without the magnificent audacity, courage and wit of Dimitrov – and of the efforts of Vasil Kolarov abroad in rallying international support for the Bulgarian Communist leader.

The Reichstag was fired on February 27, 1933, Dimitrov and two other Bulgarian Communists. Popov and Tanev, were arrested on March 9, and brought to trial with Ernst Torgler, former president of the German Communist parliamentary group, and van der Lubbe, a half-witted Dutchman.

Kolarov was charged by the Comintern with directing the international defence of Dimitrov. He left Moscow .and travelled from country to country, visiting Paris and London in September, 1933, and stirred up public opinion to rally to the defence of Dimitrov. Kolarov took part in the "mock trial" held in London which branded Goering as the originator of the fires. The arrest of Dimitrov was made the first great international rallying point against German Fascism, and the lesson of the success of Kolarov's campaign in mobilising all sections of leftist and liberal opinion was not lost upon the Comintern.

Dimitrov's behaviour in Court won him the admiration of the whole world and raised the prestige of Communists enormously. His audacious replies to an empurpled Goering, despite the latter's authority as Minister-President, were commented on in the world press. Dimitrov had been kept in chains and half-starved for six months before he was brought into court. He was warned that his only chance for mercy would be to admit his guilt. The trial provided the sensational publicity Goebbels had promised, but the very opposite type of publicity he had expected. Trained police witnesses forgot their lines when Dimitrov began to cross-question them. Dimitrov not only denied his own guilt but nailed the Nazi leaders themselves as the real culprits and more precisely named Herman Goering as chief incendiary. When his questions got too acute, the court president closed the session or had Dimitrov removed from the Court, or refused to allow him to continue his questioning.

On one occasion, Goering, purple with rage at Dimitrov turning the tables on him and asking him searching and embarrassing questions, hurled a tirade of oaths at his prisoner. The Court president, slightly embarrassed himself at Goering's bullying outburst, turned to Dimitrov and said, "You see how your Communist propaganda has made the witness lose his self-control and how you have provoked him to such rough behaviour."

Dimitrov answered with an ironic smile, “On the contrary, I am very pleased with the replies of the Minister, President.”

This was too much for the spluttering Goering. He, in court as an ordinary witness, ordered the presiding judge to remove Dimitrov from the court. This was something which had never happened in any court, not even in a Nazi court before.

"You fear my questions?" shouted Dimitrov.

"I'm not afraid of you," replied Goering, "but take care not to fall into my hands outside this court."

One after another, Hitler's top henchmen came into court and, one by one were demolished by Dimitrov. Goebbels fared no better than Goering. Dimitrov changed the course of the trial and made of the court room a platform for the greatest attack on Fascism and Nazism that had ever been launched up to that time. He carried the attack into the enemies' camp with such brilliance and audacity – and thanks to Hitler's and Goebbels’s miscalculations – with such world-wide publicity that the Nazis were forced to acquit him and the other Bulgarians. Dimitrov conducted his own defence and interrupted the speech of Torgler's lawyer, Dr. Zack, to say, "I would rather be sent innocently to the gallows by this German Court than be acquitted by such a defence as Dr. Zack has made on behalf of my comrade Torgler." Most of Zack's speech was taken up with a savage attack on Communism and of his client's "misguided ideas."

In his final speech, Dimitrov was interrupted thirty times by the Court president, and finally he was dragged from the court before he finished, but it was a masterly effort. There was little of it that dealt with the defence of Georgi Dimitrov. Most of it was an open attack on German and world fascism and an appeal to the workers of the world in general and the German workers in particular to close their ranks and fight Fascism immediately.

He quoted from Goethe:

"You must climb
To fall or conquer
Or to serve without rest,
To triumph or suffer
You – anvil or hammer."

The international working class should decide quickly, Dimitrov told them from the Leipzig Court House, whether they wanted to be anvils to be beaten or hammers which would batter fascism out of existence.

Dimitrov, Torgler and the other Bulgarians were .acquitted, Hitler had to be content with the half-witted Dutchman as a scapegoat. Van der Lubbe was duly executed for the firing of the Reichstag, and Dimitrov, after intervention by the Soviet Union, was released and sent to Moscow. Nominated by Stalin, Dimitrov took over Kolarov's old job and became secretary of the Communist International, a post he kept until the Comintern was dissolved in 1943. The great support Kolarov found in his "'Save Dimitrov" appeal, support from Communists, socialists, Liberals, intellectuals and even religious bodies, prompted Dimitrov to launch the Popular Front movement in 1934 as a means of combatting Fascism. The Comintern endorsed this policy and the united front of all progressive parties grew into a recognised political movement. Popular Fronts of the Communists and Socialist parties in France and Spain, swept to power in elections held in 1936. The United Front was the basis for resistance groups in Eastern Europe during the Nazi and Fascist occupation and has become the basis of government in the countries of the People's Democracies.

While Dimitrov directed the affairs of the Comintern, Kolarov retired to do scientific work in Moscow as head of the International Agricultural Institute. He was given an honorary degree in Economic Science and later became a specialist for agrarian questions not only for the Balkans and Europe as a whole but also for China, India and Latin America. Both he and Dimitrov of course remained members of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party to direct its policy as far as possible from abroad. When World War II broke out, the two veteran leaders, collaborated together on the "Christo Botev" radio station which operated from Soviet territory in the Bulgarian language. More important was their work in directing the difficult underground resistance movement against the Germans and Bulgarian Fascists, a movement which they fed with recruits and supplies from bases inside the Soviet Union. Parachutists and supplies brought in by Soviet submarines played no small part in the very effective Bulgarian partisan movement.

After the death of these two giants, one might well ask, "Who next?" The man who was being groomed for the task of succeeding Dimitrov as leader of the Party, Traicho Kostov, proved to be a traitor. An account of his activities forms a separate chapter in this book. Vulko Chervenkov became the successor both in the Party and in the Government. He is an imposing personality, physically and in character. Over six feet, with broad shoulders, Chervenkov is very big for a Bulgarian, a stormy-looking man, with a shock of unruly hair, a forceful manner and a stormy past. Compared to Dimitrov and Kolarov, Chervenkov belongs to a younger generation of Bulgarian Communists. He was 49 when Kolarov died, but already a veteran Communist with an impressive background.

Chervenkov's political career started at the age of 14, when he helped lead a great student strike in Sofia. He joined the Communist Party as soon as it was formed at the age of 19, and three years later was seriously wounded in a clash with Tsankoff Fascists in the outskirts of Sofia.

At the time of the Tsankoff coup d'etat in June, 1923, Chervenkov was secretary of the Young Communist League in Sofia, and as leader of the Komsomols he took part in the September insurrection. After the revolt was suppressed he remained illegally in Bulgaria and was sentenced to death in absentia. Due to his bulk and striking physical characteristics, it was not an easy thing for Chervenkov to go underground. Time and again he escaped capture by a hair's-breadth. In the two years between the 1923 revolt and the 1925 attentat in the Sofia Cathedral, he was constantly on the run. He played an important role in rebuilding the Communist Party machine, but following the wholesale massacre of Communists in 1925, he was ordered by the Central Committee to leave the country. He left illegally for Moscow and studied at Moscow University. A striking tribute to his abilities was his appointment as a director of the Marx-Lenin Institute in Moscow, where many of Europe's leading Communists passed through his hands.

He was naturally in closest contact with Dimitrov and Kolarov during his exile and he was in charge of educating all Bulgarian political exiles in the Soviet Union. When war broke out, he was put in charge of the Bulgarian language, Christo Botev radio station. He returned to Sofia with the Medal of Lenin, one of the highest Soviet decorations, and was immediately made a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party. In the first Dimitrov Cabinet, he was president of the Committee for Science, Arts and Culture, as well as Secretary-General of the Fatherland Front, and a secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. After Dimitrov's death, Chervenkov became first vice-premier and secretary-general of the Communist Party and after Kolarov died, he became Prime Minister.

At Kolarov's funeral, which is the last time I saw Vulko Chervenkov, he looked much younger than his 49 years, a man of great physical and intellectual vigour whose broad shoulders seem well able to bear the mantle handed down by his two great predecessors, his colleagues in exile.

What has been accomplished in those first five years after Bulgaria's liberation requires a complete volume to relate. I have touched on a few points only so far. The new friendship forged between city and country worker, the practical cementing of the alliance between worker and peasant, the prototype of the new co-operative village of the future with autonomous communities equipped with all the advantages of city dwellers with the possibilities for vastly improved economic conditions as well as for a full cultural life. This new deal for the villages goes ahead slowly however. The peasants must not be rushed. On paper it will be the end of 1952 before even 60 per cent. of agriculture is in the hands of the co-operatives, but if the peasants are not enthusiastic it may take longer.

One could quote figures of what has been achieved in the two-year plan and what will be achieved under the five-year plan, but figures are poor props with which to present a picture of the new life which is being created. One interesting point, however, with the five-year plan is that it is intended to reverse the old picture of Bulgaria as an overwhelming agricultural country by establishing a 76-24 ratio between industry and agriculture by the end of 1953. One will no longer be able to think of Bulgaria as a land exclusively given to the production of yoghurt, rose oil and tobacco. In every field that one looks there has been or there is in the process of being, a complete revolution, and nowhere is this more striking than in the changed status of women, since September, 1944.

Bulgaria was behind most Eastern European countries, which is saying a good deal, as far as the position of women was concerned. Five hundred years of Turkish occupation with all that entailed, followed by an authoritarian Monarchy, and topped off by 25 years of Fascism, was a bad legacy to take over in 1944. In many parts of the country women were chattels with no rights, they occupied special quarters in the rear of the houses, did not show themselves when male visitors called. They were just about one step advanced from living in purdah as far as rights were concerned. 'Their first political rights were granted during the 1930's, when married women who were mothers were given the right to vote, but not to be elected as deputies.

One of the first decrees introduced in 1944 was to give women full social economic and political equality with men. Later a whole host of subsidiary laws was introduced which ensured that these were real rights of equality and not just dry laws in the statute books. All women over the age of 19 can vote and those over 23 can be elected as members of parliament. The present government has one woman minister, and three assistant ministers, Dr. Tsola Dragoicheva, woman minister for Posts and Telegraphs, incidentally spent eight years in Tsar Boris' prisons for political offences, and was three times sentenced to death. The Vice-Minister for Social Welfare, Rada Todorova, spent 13 years in prison. The Ambassador to Moscow, the prize diplomatic post, is another woman, Stella Blagoev, daughter of the founder of Bulgarian. Socialism, .Dimiter Blagoev. There are 34 women in the present parliament of 250 deputies. Women get equal pay for equal work and they get three months' maternity leave on full pay in the event of child-birth. Leave may be taken when the mothers wish, before or after birth. All professions without exception are open to women. In the old days they could study and take' degrees in various professions but were not allowed to practice.

Creches and nursery schools attached to the factories, have made it possible for women really to take advantage of the right to equal pay for equal work. Instead of spending half of their wages to pay some old drone to look after the children while they work, they can leave their babes in the factory creche with the sure knowledge that they will get expert attention, plus regular medical inspection.

All the old restrictions on girls studying for careers have been swept away. Before 1944, there was a limit to the number of girls who could study in any university faculty. Not more than thirty per cent. of students studying literature could be girls for instance. Now the only criterion of studying is the entrance examination. Forty per cent. of those studying architecture at the Technical High School in 1950 were women.

In the old days the greatest calamity that could befall a woman was to have an illegitimate child. She was not allowed to name the father, there was no way of getting maintenance from him; the unmarried mother was a social outcast with no chance of marriage, little chance of a job. The child grew up with no legal rights. To-day there is no such thing as an illegitimate child. All pregnant women, regardless of their marital status, have the right to free pre-natal care, the right to three months paid holiday, at childbirth, followed by up to six months unpaid holiday without losing their jobs. For the first six months after childbirth they may work only six hours daily. The unwed mother has the right by law to name the father, and he must pay maintenance. The child has full legal rights and equal inheritance rights with other children from the same father. A mother is a mother, whether she has a husband in the eyes of law or not, and a child is a child – not to be discriminated against because .of some technical formality.

The most revolutionary change in the life of Bulgarian women, however, has come about in the villages. Dimitrov had occasion once to chide Bulgarian men, even Communists, for their attitude towards women. "Most Bulgarian men, even party members," he said, "still occasionally wear the fez on their heads." This was particularly true in the villages where women were usually regarded-as pieces of property alongside the ox, and goats. Woe betide the village maid that did not have a few strips of land to bring into marriage and a few animals as well. She would not find a husband. If she did not please her lord, he could send her home after a few years, minus her land and her cattle. If she did please him, she would soon become a beast of burden, even occasionally yoked up alongside the ox to pull a plough. She worked at least as hard in the fields as the man during spring, summer and autumn, and in winter it was she who tended the animals, while lord and master often enough spent the harvest earnings with his cronies in the village saloon. She never had money of her own, her back was never straightened, her bands never idle. She took part in no cultural or social life, apart perhaps from an evening chat with her neighbours, as they sat in front of their miserable stone cottages, spinning the coarse tufts of sheep wool into balls of yarn, waiting for their lords and masters to come home, as like as not drunk and quarrelsome if supper were not ready.

There were valiant village women who fought for a better life for women, and a sprinkling of progressive peasant husbands who set examples, but by and large the life of women in Bulgarian villages before September, 1944, was one of unrelieved gloom and misery. To-day even the peasant wife has complete economic equality with her husband. And this is not an idle phrase. If she is 60 years of age, she gets a pension on which she can live comfortably without working more in the fields. She is now legally entitled to the income from the land she has brought into the marriage. If the marriage is dissolved, she takes away half of the entire family fortune regardless of what she has brought in as dowry. And in case of any disputes, she will go to the local branch of the 600,000 strong National Women's League and raise such a fuss, that a delegation will visit lord and master and find out just what has been going on.

The co-operative farm opens the road to the final emancipation of Bulgarian peasant women. In the co-operative with its canteens, creches, communal laundries, they are relieved from much of the drudgery of cooking, washing and looking after the children which used to form the back-breaking burden in the old days after work in the field was finished. In the co-operative too, the money she has earned according to the number of days she has worked, is pressed into her hand by an impersonal treasurer. She does not have to wring it from a grudging husband. In most cases this new independence of the village woman, this new self-respect they have found, has made for happier and sounder married life. In some cases, naturally, it has caused great upsets.

The advantage of life on the co-operative farms are more immediately apparent to the women than to the men and often it is the wives who insist on joining. If a husband insists on staying out, the wife can take the case to the Women's League or to the Village Council. A delegation will be sent to talk things over and if the husband still refuses, the wife is allowed to detach her piece of land from the farm and bring it to the co-operative. She will, of course, continue to live with her husband, but will work at the co-operative. After one season of working the farm on his own, the husband usually sees reason to join the co-operative too. If the husband is too quick with his fists or boots to-day, the wife has quick redress through a complaint to the village council or local committee of' the Women's Federation. Village cinema and frequent visits by mobile theatrical teams, the radio and electric light, the chance to take part in discussions open an entirely new life to the peasant wife. Thousands of them attend evening courses to learn to read and to write, often together with their husbands. Those that distinguish themselves in work or social activity have a chance of being sent to represent their district in parliament.

Article 72, of the new Bulgarian Constitution, states: "Women have equal rights with men in all spheres of the state, private, co-operative, public, cultural and political life." When they first read those words in the newspaper there were few peasant women who believed that they applied equally to them. But now that paragraph has been put very strictly into operation, and the law punishes any who try and evade it.

A couple who wish to divorce to-day in Bulgaria may do so with the minimum of formality and without payment. If both sides agree, it is simply a matter of registering the fact at the local village or regional council office. They are asked whether they have thought over the matter carefully and if they still insist, they are given a legal separation and divorce follows within three months. Divorce proceedings can be started three months after marriage. Some grounds for divorce such as sterility of one of the partners, or the fact that one has been sentenced to prison, have now been abolished, but political incompatibility to-day is an important factor in divorce. When divorce is granted, children are usually left in the custody of the mother, and as mentioned earlier, contrary to previous custom, the family fortune is equally divided, with the man responsible for the maintenance of the children. It is legally impossible for a husband these days to send his wife back to her parents because he thinks he has bought a bad bargain. He must legally sue for divorce with its – for him – unpleasant economic consequences.

Marriage procedure has also been simplified these days. Both partners present their identification cards to a civil official, each signs a declaration to the effect that there is no legal impediment to the marriage, that neither is a cretin, nor chronic alcoholic, nor suffering from any incurable disease. No previous formalities are necessary, only two witnesses to sign the register. There was a great rush on the divorce courts when the new laws were announced, mainly by people who would have been divorced years or decades previously, if there had been simple laws. There were also a number of cases of people getting married at five minutes' notice and divorcing again as soon as the legal minimum of three months had passed. The "silly season" in matrimonial relations had now passed and family life in Bulgaria is on a more stable basis than in most countries in Western Europe, and is certainly more stable than in America.

On every hand there is evidence that Dimitrov and Kolarov laid the basis for a social system which is rapidly raising Bulgaria from one of the most primitive of the backward Balkan countries to one of the most progressive countries in the world in the sphere of social relations. The example of the real emancipation of Bulgarian women is only one facet of the revolutionary changes that have taken place in every sphere of life. Another interesting example is the way they have tackled the question of prisons, a pressing problem in all western countries.

There are two shops in the centre of Sofia, which would be indistinguishable from other shops, except for a small plaque on the outside walls, that says they belong to the Sofia Central Prison Co-operative. One can buy cane chairs, baskets of every imaginable shape and colour, and children's toys, from convicts. They manage the shop, sell the goods over the counter, take the customers' money, and hand back the change. There are no guards in the shop or outside it. In the morning a prison van delivers the prisoners to the shop, in the evening it collects them. Those serving behind the counter, and the prisoner craftsmen who make the baskets and toys, are paid trade-union rates for their work. Half of what they earn goes to pay for their "board and lodging" in prison, the other half they send to their families. Every prisoner has the right to work and receive trade union rates for his work. The system in the West whereby wife and children suffer because of the breadwinner's crimes, is considered monstrously unjust in Bulgaria.

For every three days that a prisoner works, five days are credited against his sentence. In other words, a prisoner sentenced to five years is released after three years if he has worked, with a substantial sum of money to his credit if he is a single man and had not been sending his earnings home. More astounding still, prisoners who prove themselves to be trustworthy are often given week-ends off, when they may visit their families, and they get 15 days vacation a year. Many who were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, including the Mayor of Sofia under the Germans, have been released from prison altogether on condition they do not move out of the village to which they have been "exiled," or in some cases on condition they do not visit Sofia or certain other proscribed cities.

Naturally, assassins, murderers, people convicted for crimes of violence, are kept under close observation for a long period before such privileges are granted. Normally a prisoner spends several weeks or months in a solitary cell, while the guards get to know him and form an opinion of his character. Those serving sentences of less than twelve months, suffer greater restrictions than those with longer sentences.

Most of those who occupy the highest positions in the Bulgarian government to-day have spent years inside the pre-war prisons, known throughout the world for their inhuman conditions. They discussed for many years what prisons should be like, and they have taken the earliest possible opportunity to put their theories into practice. Prisoners have to be made into socially useful persons and prison in Bulgaria to-day gives many people their first chance in life. They are taught carpentry, electrical engineering, and a dozen other trades; they have prison libraries, orchestras and theatrical groups.

When the accused in the Pastor's trial and later in the Kostov trial asked to be spared to perform useful work for the State, they knew they were not uttering idle words.

Prison is no longer the dehumanising institution it used to be in Bulgaria, and still is in the West. It is a place which deprives the enemies of society of the possibility of an early repetition of their crimes; gives them an opportunity of making honest retribution; fits them for a place in society again and does all this with the minimum of suffering for their guiltless dependants.

Another problem the government had to solve was that of the minorities. There were large minorities, of Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews and gypsies in the country. The Jews were mainly descendants of those expelled from Spain at the end of the fifteenth century, the gypsies remnants of those that settled in Bulgaria in the great westward migration of gypsies from their supposed original home in Central India. In the case of the Turks, Greeks and Armenians, the problem was relatively simple. They were mostly small farmers with roots in the country. The new constitution declared every citizen had equal rights and backed this up by allowing all minorities full language and cultural rights, to run schools in their own language, publish their own newspapers. In the case of the Turks, the government subsidised seminaries where Mohammedan priests could be trained.

The case of the 50,000 Jews was not so simple. After all that European Jewry had suffered under the Nazis, many of them did not believe in the good faith of any government. Most of them already had relatives in Palestine from pre-war migration days. Bulgarian people and local government officials protected the Jews very effectively during the German occupation, and despite repeated attempts to round up all Jews and send them to the gas chamber in Poland, Bulgaria's Jewry remained intact at the end of the war, except for some who fell fighting with the partisans. Most of them decided, however, that they wanted to go to Palestine, and the government put no obstacles in their way. Free transport was provided by train and ship for all those that wanted to leave. In all, almost thirty-five thousand went, leaving about 15,000 still in Bulgaria. Individual Jews who still want to leave, may do so, but in future they must pay their own fares. The Jews have their own newspapers, synagogues and rabbis. Most of those now left are progressive citizens who have demonstrated by their deeds that they want to identify themselves with Bulgarian life and socialism.

No doubt there are many romanticists and sentimentalists who will regret the disappearance of Bulgaria's gypsy nomads. The straggling caravans, the mangy, snapping hounds, the florid gypsy girls with voluminous coloured robes ready to tell the fortune of any hand crossed with silver, the little nomad camps with brown bodies splashing in a stream, the blue smoke and cooking pots and skinny tethered horses, they all are becoming a thing of the past in Bulgaria. The nomads are being given roots, and make no mistake about it they like it. Hitler's plans to exterminate them as socially unadjustable and racial degenerates probably frightened them rather badly and caused the tribal sages to reconsider their habits. Or perhaps it was true what one brown, wrinkled old gypsy woman with a clay pipe between her lips told me on one of the co-operative farms: "It isn't true that we like being nomads. Only a fool can say it's true. We would always have stayed on the land if we could have got hold of some, or settled down as artisans. But we came too late on the scene. We would never get land of our own. We were always a peaceful people, a disunited people. We never made any land-grabbing wars. We stayed where we could, as long as we could until we were pushed on our way. But see how our people work now they have a chance!" And it is true, that the gypsies who have been accepted into the co-operatives seem to work doubly hard to prove that it was only opportunity that was lacking in the past. The nomads have mostly been given land now or are accepted as artisans, brickmakers and blacksmiths into the cooperatives.

In Sofia the gypsies were mostly blacksmiths and bootblacks. Now they are formed into co-operatives. Gypsies run seven shoe-shining parlors in Sofia to-day and are very proud of them. 'The manager of the "Pashev" shoe-shining co-operative personally cleaned my shoes and kept up a running commentary.

"In the old days we used to run bare-foot in the streets, kneel down here, kneel down there, and beg somebody to let us shine his shoes. Sometimes we got a kick in the face for our pains. Customers paid us what they wanted and we could never complain. Now look at us!" He was a short, swarthy man, with a scrubby face and tons of energy as he whisked one cloth after another across the dazzling surface of my shoes.

"Look at us. A few years ago all of us in rags and patches, nobody with shoes."

Grinning all around the shop were half a dozen equally swarthy gypsies with gleaming teeth and jet black eyes, clad in neat blue overalls, neat white canvas shoes, neatly brushed mops of blue-black hair.

"We're out of the rain, snow and flies now. We have a radio to entertain our customers," and he rushed across to turn it on. "We own everything here. First we formed a co-operative, then the government loaned us 25,000 leva (about thirty pounds) to stock up with brushes, polish and rags, and pay a month's rent on the shop and chairs. In six months we paid off everything, bought ourselves overalls and the shop a radio. And we've all got more money than we ever had in our lives before." A big placard in the shop advertised standard rates for polishing different types of shoes, from white sandshoes to long riding boots.

"We got much more trade than we used to when we worked on our own and against each other. People trust us and send their shoes in to us to be cleaned. We get as much or more custom that way than from those that sit in the parlour."

It is perhaps not as romantic for the tourists to see gypsies dressed in blue overalls and shoes and set up in a shop instead of rushing around barefoot and clad in "picturesque" rags, but the gypsies seem to think they are better off that way. "And," as my mentor expressed it, "our kids that used to be running round in the streets are in school now learning to be real big shots."

The gypsies, of course, have the same voting rights as all other citizens, they have their own paper printed in some weird Romany dialect, have their own deputies in parliament, and, above all, they have the only gypsy theatre in Europe outside Moscow.

One of the gypsy members of parliament had to take up an amusing question because of an incident on one of the programmes at the gypsy theatre. It was decided that a certain lascivious and suggestive dance traditionally performed at gypsy weddings was unsuitable for the stage and must be banned. The gypsies protested strenuously, and the M.P. was delegated to take the matter up. He put up a good case based on the fact that the dance was traditional and had its roots as far back in gypsy culture as anyone could remember. He won the point and the dance is still performed with all the wild abandon the talented gypsy dancers can muster.

From the gypsy theatre to the arts in general in Bulgaria is a far cry, but it does bring us to the question so puzzling to the West, as to how the theatre, arts and artists function in a socialist state. People who can understand the logic of the state taking over factories, or farms being worked as huge co-operatives, find it difficult to imagine how art, music, the theatre, painting, can be socialised. I found the answer partly in the rooms of the Committee for Science, Art and Culture in a discussion with a group of young painters and writers, and partly from discussions with one of Bulgaria's finest sculptors, Andrei Nikolov, an old man, with a great shaggy head and beard that makes him look like a twentieth century Karl Marx. The young painters and writers gave me the theory of the matter, Nikolov confirmed the practice of it.

First of all it was made clear that artists and writers are honoured and privileged people in a socialist state. Their special talents are recognised, they receive all sorts of privileges, and in return they are expected to play a special role in raising the general cultural level of the people. That is the basic tenet, so to speak, of their role in society.

Almost, but not all, of the painters, writers and musicians are members of a union of some sort which is affiliated with the Committee (with the status of a Ministry) for Science, Art and Culture. Painters and Sculptors work basically on a state contract system. In 1949, for example, the Committee set a theme for painters, "The History of the Bulgarian People." Any recognised painters could apply for a contract to paint one or more pictures which fitted the theme. A time limit of six months was set, during which the artist would be paid by the State 20,000 leva per month (eighty dollars) which is equal to the pay of a government executive, about twice the pay of a telephone operator, and half the pay of an underground shock worker in the mines. It is an adequate living wage.

The theme is capable of infinite variation. I saw the results of the 1949 contracts. Some artists had painted group scenes from the epics-of the war of liberation from the Turks, others had painted scenes from the partisan war against the Germans, or portraits of individuals who had played some notable part in Bulgarian history. Unless one knew beforehand one would not have guessed that all the entries fitted into a general theme. They seemed just a normal exhibition of paintings from thirty or forty artists each of whom was presenting individually chosen themes.

Some of the paintings were not accepted for exhibition, in which case the unfortunate artist would be owing the Committee for six months advance money which in theory he must pay back, but in practice stands as a debit against him for some future work. Works are not often rejected, but in this case one of Bulgaria's best known painters had his canvas refused because it was regarded as too formalistic, not close enough to earth.

Almost all the canvases that I saw exhibited had already been sold but none to private buyers. State organisations, art galleries, trade union headquarters, even factories for their assembly halls, are chief buyers in Bulgaria to-day. Paintings are not bought to be hoarded away in private collections, but are bought by mass organisations where they will have the widest possible appreciation. Art for art's sake has no future in a society where purchasers are buying not for some individual's eccentric fancies but for the public at large. The lowest prices paid for any of the pictures I saw were well above the minimum 120,000 leva necessary to repay the six months' advance payment they had received. Most artists had submitted more than one canvas, several of them half a dozen. Altogether 50 painters had applied for contracts for this particular theme.

The "History of Bulgaria" was not by any means the only theme set for 1949. The death of Georgi Dimitrov prompted a demand for portraits and busts of Dimitrov, and further contracts were let. In addition to the purchase price of their exhibits – without any agents' fees deducted – artists also receive cash prizes awarded by the Artists' Committee.

Competitions are also organised among artists themselves for themes. Many a painter wearily searching for a theme for his brushes has been grateful for the communal inspiration provided by his colleagues. There is an unlimited demand for paintings of the contemporary scene, and works depicting Bulgarian picturesque and stormy history and artists of any merit at all have no worries about their livelihood. Those with ultra-modern futurist or surrealistic or existentialist ideas can paint away all they want, and if they can find private buyers they can make a living, but in general there is not much of a future for them in Bulgaria. The extreme limit of modernism in Bulgarian painting is probably set by the wonderful old man Vladimir Dimitrov, with a long wispy white beard, whose vivid colours and slightly geometrical style, almost bordering on cubism, startles some of the orthodox realists at every exhibition.

The government, apart from help with the state contract system, gives every possible assistance to painters.

Most of the studios were destroyed during the war, dozens of painters had never possessed studies of their own. The government found 100 war-damaged shops which had been put to no useful work, and they requisitioned them, had them fitted out as ateliers and rented them to the artists at nominal cost. Blue prints have been prepared for an artist's colony to be built by the end of the five year plan at a site outside Sofia, high enough to be clear of fogs which beset the city in late autumn and winter. In the meantime, in addition to the hundred ateliers already set up, space is being made available on the top of schools and other public buildings where plenty of light is available. Most painters now earn about fifty to fifty-five thousand leva a month, about two hundred dollars according to the official rate, but in terms of Bulgarian money very much more. Special allotments of foreign currency have been made available so that they may have the best of imported materials, brushes, colours and canvases with which to work. And, important for many painters and sculptors of the old school, the fact that they made portraits or busts of Tsar Boris, or Tsar Ferdinand, is not held against them. They are estimated on the basis of their work to-day and whether or not it serves to raise the cultural level of the people.

For writers a different system is used. They are expected to show much more individual initiative in selecting themes. Supposing a writer has an idea for a play. He can submit an outline of the plot to the Theatre Committee, and if the outline is accepted, he is given an advance of money and starts work. If he is wise he will keep in touch with the Theatre Committee which will arrange conferences for him with producers before the play is finished. The producers, committee members, stage technicians, will all point out the faults in the play from every viewpoint from ideological faults to purely technical difficulties with scenery .or lighting. The standard required is very strict. The Bulgarian Theatre is based on that of the Soviet Union, on the Stanislavsky school. Russian producers from the Bolshoi and other famous Soviet theatres often come down to Sofia, to lend a hand with productions. It is not sufficient for an author to hit on a good ideological theme, the language, images and form, as well as content must be of the highest standard. From all these points the play will be thoroughly criticised before the writer puts it into final form. He has ample time to work; advances are generous and the rewards of writing a successful play are enormous, calculated in Bulgarian currency. If the play is turned down in the end, the author will have to refund his advances, but this very rarely happens, unless a writer has departed completely from his original outline.

Before the play is finally billed, a special showing will be made with a cross-section of the population invited as a test audience. After the showing there will be a public discussion. The producers make a report on how the play was produced, what technical and other difficulties had to be overcome, members of the public get up and say what they thought of the play, its content, the way it was produced, their opinions of the scenery and the acting. Criticism of the sharpest form and well-based appreciation comes not from the Olympian heights of professional theatre critics, who in the West look at any new production with a sneer, but from the general public, the final target of all writers. Plays submitted to this test audience criticism have often been radically revised and improved by the public criticism.

"The most successful play recently written by a Bulgarian author, "Royal Clemency," by Kamen Zidarov, was drastically revised after criticism by an audience in Plovdiv. It is now a first-class hit, and writer Zidarov does not have to worry from a financial point of view if he does not have another play accepted for a year or two. Authors receive a straight ten per cent. of box offices takings, which has meant several millions of leva for Zidarov during the first twelve months' showing of his play.

Censorship hampered the development of the Bulgarian theatre in the past. It has now been abolished in theory but still exists in practice in the sense that the all-powerful Theatre Committee would certainly not produce a play of existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. His work is regarded as negative and pessimistic, not in keeping with the "revolutionary, humanist and realist" conceptions of the modern Bulgarian theatre, as a spokesman for the Theatre Committee expressed it. Shakespeare, Moliere, Gogol, Tolstoi, Chekov and all Soviet dramatists were banned in the past and, of course, are all favourites of the present. "It is natural that Soviet influence is paramount in our theatre," the Committee man explained, "not only because the language lends itself to ready translation, but because Soviet writers deal with problems and themes that express Bulgarian problems and interests to-day."

Before September, 1944, there were five national theatres and one opera in Bulgaria, to-day there are seventeen theatres and four opera houses. The government spends just twenty time's as much on music, opera houses and theatre as any pre-liberation government. Old actors and artists, even those who left the theatre long before 1944, have been sought out and given decent pensions. Some of them have been brought in as advisers or teachers in the new High School for Dramatic Art. State encouragement for the Arts is not an empty expression, but has reached down and given very solid practical help to the individuals who earn their daily bread by serving the Muses.

Some of the finest buildings in the country, including a group of lovely villas formerly belonging to Queen Marie of Rumania, at Balchik, on the Black Sea, have been turned over as rest homes to artists, writers, painters and musicians. Anybody working on a play or book or a musical score who wants a few weeks or months in a quiet spot can apply to the Committee and he e will be comfortably installed wherever his fancy pleases at a purely nominal cost.

All these reforms and undreamed of privileges are what is meant by the "New Life" in Bulgaria. They are the solid substance of visions dreamed of by Bulgarian reformers, writers and revolutionaries in the days when the Turks still ruled the land. They are the practical form of the Constitution won for Bulgaria by Dimitrov, Kolarov and the men and women that believed in and followed them. They are gains which the Bulgarian people will defend with their last drop of blood. The Western world must realise this. Whether it’s the peasant in the co-operative farm, the gypsy in blue overalls and shoes, the peasant wife who for the first time is treated as an equal, the factory worker who feels himself part owner, the painter who has been given a studio and an assured future, the worker's son who for the first time in history can attend an university, they all owe their present life to the Bulgarian Communist Party, to its gifted and inspired selfless leaders, Georgi Dimitrov and Vasil Kolarov.

Click here to go to Chapter XIV

Click here to return to the index of archival material.