Bulgaria Opposition Struggles For Unity
`GO, son, we have to fight communism,'' says the mother to her son as he announces his decision to go fight in Vietnam. On the screen, a split second later, the Bulgarian subtitles appear and the crowd gives a loud, laughing cheer. Bulgarians love the American movie ``Born on the Fourth of July,'' now playing in the enormous neo-Stalinist Palace of Culture in the heart of Sofia. And last weekend especially, they were cheering their own victory against communism.
After a week of protests and strikes, opposition-minded Bulgarians got what they were fighting for: the resignation of Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov and the replacement of the government he had formed barely three months ago.
Mr. Lukanov and his men represent to many Bulgarians what they are trying to destroy: the link with the past. Lukanov's Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the renamed communist party, includes many important figures from the old regime.
``A government will only be successful if it has the support of all political parties and of the people. Only a united nation can implement the change ahead,'' said Lukanov as he announced his resignation Nov. 29.
Since the ouster of Stalinist dictator Todor Zhivkov in November 1989, the Bulgarians have been deeply divided between supporters of the BSP and those who sided with the opposition group called the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF). Support is divided equally it seems: in last June's elections, the BSP won 53 percent of the parliamentary seats.
The result has been a political impasse. With its weak parliamentary majority, the BSP knows that the support of the opposition is needed to implement unpalatable reforms.
But Lukanov's past attempts to form a coalition government failed as UDF members refuse to cooperate with a party they consider doomed to fail.
Lukanov's resignation followed President Zhelyu Zhelev's call to form a new ``government of peaceful transition'' led by a neutral prime minister. Political parties have started negotiations toward an agreement that will decide which ministries remain BSP or become UDF.
``Mr. Lukanov made a serious mistake,'' explains Georg Korasimeonov, member of the Movement for Radical Reforms, the most reformist wing of the BSP. ``He let economic reforms trail behind as he tried in vain to mend the political crisis and lost people's faith that he would implement real change.''
The BSP's credibility, already damaged by deteriorating economic conditions, is further threatened by the loss of the premiership. Opposition supporters hope that Lukanov's resignation is the first step to the total dismissal of the BSP.
Around the corner from Lenin Square in Sofia, cheering students sang and danced in the night Nov. 29 to the famous lyric ``We can't get no satisfaction'' coined by the Rolling Stones rock group.
Students, who blocked the streets of the capital for four days, increased pressure on Lukanov to resign. But the real blow came from the powerful pro-UDF trade union Podkrepa (``Support'' in Bulgarian). On Dec. 3, it called for a general strike which the traditional pro-BSP trade unions also joined.
``The Socialists cannot bring fundamental change to this society,'' said Konstantin Trenchev, head of Podkrepa. ``By winning the elections, they have [dug] their own grave.''
Podkrepa's power should worry the UDF now that the latter will become part of the new government.
``We have seen a pro-opposition trade union use street pressure to have its way,'' remarked Roman Vodenicharov, an independent member of parliament who heads a human rights group. ``This represents a real danger to our young democracy and to our elected parliament. The leaders of this trade union may continue to use this dangerous form of direct democracy to reach their ultimate goal: get new elections in which the BSP would lose the majority.''
In the meantime, political battles will continue to inhibit Bulgaria's urgently needed economic reforms. ``Things were just getting worse and worse,'' said Velizar Zachariev, a student cheering the resignation of Mr. Lukanov. ``Today I am optimistic but if the new prime minister is not up to the task, we will bring him down again.''