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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Sofia, Bulgaria, 1989 - The Less-Reported 'Revolution'

(KT22 - Lenin & The Comrade Ladies' Snow-Clearing Brigade - Background & Answer)

Photo: A shop in central Sofia. I seem to have attracted a lot of attention from the crowd, which were probably queuing. Any south-Slavic linguist can probably correct me, that first word might be the word for 'kitchen'? Anyway, they are obviously selling coffee - if it's in stock that is.

Only two correct answers for KesterTester 22. Well, that pic is a bit off the beaten track for most in Budapest, I suppose. It was taken in the very last days of November, or maybe December 1, in a country that was having a quiet 'change of system' (supposedly) while the western media hordes were gathered in Prague, so my impression is events in Bulgaria hardly got any media coverage - remember in pre-internet days, newspaper space was strictly limited.

I was there primarily as a photograher, and was meant to meet an Austrian journalist - but we never connected. So I roamed the streets for a week, talked to a good few folk and learned what I could. From memory, it was a 'Palace Coup', led by Communist Party elite who realised time was up and they should use their position to get what economic assets they could in time for the new system.

As far as I know, there was no street violence, so again, no 'gripping' reporting or photos to be had - and, unlike Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia - there were no opposition heroes that foreigners could identify with. It was almost as if in 1989 Bulgaria had replaced "that far off country" which nobody knew about in 1938.

There was a demonstration in the sun on the morning of Saturday, Dec 2 in Juzen (? It means South) Park, but it was all non-violent stuff.

Photo: I'm not sure if this veteran was at the demo or not. He told me he was wearing his Dmitrov Medal. This, I assume meant he'd fought on the communist side when driving out the wartime Bulgarian regime, which was a half-hearted ally with Nazi Germany in order to occupy today's North Macedonia. (Someone will surely correct me if I'm wrong here. Unfortunately the chappie himself has surely passed away by now.)

I did meet a British couple working for the Guardian, and we went to what was declared at the time to be "The First Free Press Conference in Bulgaria" - whether it was or not I have no real idea. I think it was on the evening Saturday, December 2.

Photo: This is at the "First Free Press Conference" in the new Bulgaria. On the back of this print I have written: Ivailo Kutov, leading Bulgarian dissident. Sofia, 2/12/89. He was one of may be 10 speakers that evening.

Obviously Prague was much more glamorous and understandable to most in western Europe - but being just one of a handful of foreign media in Sofia did feel rather special, even intimate, although I admit I understood little of the supposed news in any real context. Life was tough in communist Bulgaria, and it showed in the people's faces. I met one poor fellow who'd had his teeth knocked out while in prison on Belenye Island, in the Danube. Mabye I'll do a follow up to this story in the future.

Ah - before I forget - who won the KesterTester, you may well ask? Two people correctly identified Lenin and his Lady Comrade Snow Clearance Battalion as being Sofia - so I tossed a coin and it came up Ft 200 side which meant the international glory this week goes to Benedicte Williams - who I can tell is a popular winner by the loud cheering I hear all across Budapest upon announcing this.

The photo, by the way, is just down the road from the one illustrating Chapter 22 Sofia - Beautiful Name - Grim Reality in the Tales of a Teenage Spy. The building on the left was a bank, I think Bulgar Bank.

I'm sorry to say that the runner up, a certain Figgis Mirfield, misses out on this prestigious prize - so all I can say is Don't give up! Better luck next time, Figgis!

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Jan 23, 2021

A lady work colleague went to a conference in Sofia a couple of years after the "revolution". Everyone at the conference was regimented into arranged visits and various officially organised events, just like the old days when she'd been to something similar in East Germany. When one event ended up in the bar, as she wasn't a heavy drinker and she was one of the few ladies present, she went out for a walk around the university area where the conference was being held. She said she was followed by two plaind clothes gentlemen, presumably detectives. Being a lady she decided to have a chat with them and asked why she was was being followed. I think she h…

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