“Being a rabid anti-Communist does not yet mean that one is a democrat; nor is frenzied anti-fascism a hallmark of democracy. To a democrat, both communism and fascism are abhorrent. Indeed, there has been no greater anti-communist than Hitler, and no greater anti-fascist than Stalin, but neither of them is known to have been a democrat. Moreover, the 20th century has seen no greater butchers of democracy than these two mustached comrades.” Zhelyu Zhelev - Sofia 1997.
The late President Zhelyu Zhelev was an enigma to me. I had watched him on TV in Bulgaria during the early nineties, performing official tasks, much as his predecessor Zhivkov had done. I remember him handing over prizes to the successful Bulgarian national football team in 1996, with jeeps and apartments being liberally distributed, much as before to underline the importance of this event, but nevertheless, it was reminiscent of the heady days of ‘socialist realism,’or to give it its correct definition, Communism!
To be honest, he seemed lost amongst the burly politicians of the day, the demagogic and often devious detritus which was then successfully ruining the country. Each with a cynical smile on their face; most of them were not democrats by any measure, in fact, they were only out for what they could get.
In his book written during communist times and called simply ‘Fascism,’ Zhelyu Zhelev expressed the reality of communism, by hiding it behind the story of Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Franco’s Spain. His tale of communism versus fascism, is couched in intellectual terms, is underlined by the true facts of modern history and the analogies jump from the pages with humour and alas, black irony. For after all repression and socio-political manipulation are the same evil, whatever brand name which may be attached to it.
He once said,‘If democracy seems not to be working, then you need more democracy,’ as if the ingredients of a cake have to be finally balanced with the right amount of baking soda - the instruments of power perched like delicate coloured jars on a shelf in some political bakers shop, ready to be weighed and mixed by the baker - but paid for with considerable angst and occasional pain. Written in 1967 the book didn’t emerge until 1982, and then with understandable difficulty and composed during his period of isolation, it is a good textbook by any academic standard, and unearths the tricks of political psychology, as well as the bare faced lies.
Rather like Peter Pan; Dr. Zhelev seemed ageless. He had the round face of a boy - eyes wide apart, showing generosity and nobility of spirit - whilst displaying a relaxed confidence that one might associate with a man who has come to terms with his own reality. But, nevertheless he was also a man determined to continue on a course towards increasing Bulgarian democracy. No longer the President of Bulgaria, he then created his own foundation, simply called ‘The Zhelyu Zhelev Foundation,‘ in order to pursue his goal. In my interview for the Sofia Western news, I asked him what his greatest success had been.
‘My greatest success was that I was able to create a new foreign policy. For me this was the greatest personal achievement, after Zhivkov, who had turned Bulgaria into a Soviet client state.’
It had been an easy interview, open and frank, his answers were not clouded by suspicion or with other agendas attached, as one often finds with work-a-day politicians and it had been a pleasure to be there. At the time he was
considering the past and carefully reviewing the plethora of historical files littering the archives of the Ministry of the Interior. Maybe now the truth is better known, there will finally be reconciliation.