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The Political Change In Bulgaria Pre-Electorial Attitudes, June 7, 1990

It would seem that today the basic problem is one of the content of the transition. This is frequently being reduced to the opposition "communist totalitarianism - Western democracy". And this is easy to explain from the point of view of psychology. But this superficially self-evident opposition must not lead us to the over-simplification of the problem of democracy.

There are at least two reasons that should make us enter more deeply into the complexities of the problem. The first is the fact that communism in Bulgaria did not appear out of the blue. It did manage to find suitable and stable terrain in our national reality because it answered - or seemed to answer - the social expectations and needs of large enough sections of the population. Communist ideas were not simply something "imported" from the outside, but found an active and a relatively mass social carrier who, although in reduced form, still exists today. Moreover, social expectations connected with social justice and equality continue to define the political behavior of large socia1 communities despite their disi11usion with the non-attainment of the original ideals. Second, there are the difficulties that have plagued Bulgarian society every time that it has attempted to internalize foreign democratic experience as an element of its own modernization. Such attempts have been present throughout our history from the Liberation from Turkish rule (1878) onwards. But they have frequently led to results opposite to the original "good intentions" due to the resistance of the local national reality masked under a certain" traditional authoritarianism".

For these reasons, the definition of the transition to democracy as "a transition from Eastern communism to Western democracy" is an overly problematic one. The democratization of society can be defined as a complex, multi-leveled process of simultaneous deconstruction of authoritarian and totalitarian "traditional" mechanisms, and the construction (massovization and implantation) of democratic structures and mechanisms into the social self-regulation process. In the particular circumstances of today's Bulgaria this would mean not only the deconstruction of totalitarian communism which, after all, was up to a point based organically on a set of traditional values (the primacy of the community over the individual, the uncritical acceptance of the authority of the established powers, ethnocentricity). The transition to democracy also means an intensification of the process of modernization, of the opening up to the world, of the establishment of the autonomy of the individual, of personal initiative, civic responsibility, pluralism and tolerance.

The process of democratization is also a process of the creation and enlargement of guarantees for human rights. The scope of effective guarantees for the rights of man (political, civic, social, economic) is to a great extent the main indication of the democratic nature of a society. In this sense, the transition to democracy leads to the society aimed at by the majority of the people, a society of liberty, justice, human rights, only if democratization does not transgress human rights, if it is carried out within bounds that do not threaten with destruction social links, that do not lead to the falling apart and atomization of the community. Democratic change means also the break down of the old kind of stability, in a way it is the destabilization of the "old" society. This all makes sense as long as it takes place in a civilized manner, avoiding societal violence. In this is the stabilization function of the transition itself.

The stability of the transition to democracy depends on a multitude of factors: the effectiveness of democratic institutions, the degree of entry into the social tissue of democratic mechanisms and procedures, the scope of support for the democratic changes. The transition to democracy will inevitably have its social price. It would seem that sacrifices will be needed in the economic sphere; many people will be personally adversely affected by the changes, others will have to change drastically the set patterns of their lives, based on the expectation of the poor that things should be done for them. Above all, the stability of democratic change depends on the social consensus around the underlying principles of the transition. The degree of this necessary consensus can be measured by the "present societal tolerance" (to other opinions, to differences, to the sacrifices necessary).

This socio-psychological basis of the stabilization of the transition to democracy were to a great extent the subject of the studies undertaken by the Center for the Study of Democracy in May and July of 1990. The part of the analyses of the sociological data, originally published in the weekly "Kultura", is presented in this pamphlet. It may form an effective basis for the discussion of the problems of the stabilization of Bu1garia's democratic transition.


During the fall of 1989 the democratic process in Eastern Europe reached a new qualitative stage. State socialism was rejected, a drive for reintegration into Europe became characteristic. These trends continue to feed radical transformations of public consciousness.

The changes in Poland, GDR, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia are already legitimized in e1ection results. The pendulum of political awareness there moved abruptly to the "right": the se1f-identification against the state socialism was expressed in a vote against the communist parties, commonly understood as its carriers. A significant role in this process is played by the reincarnation of the "mid-European idea" as a political priority in Czecho-Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia,

We observe no such clarity and definition in the changes on the Balkans. The Union of Yugoslav Communists is still on the political stage of Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Ion Iliescu, accused of crypto-communism by the opposition, and the Front for National Salvation under his leadership overwhelmingly won the elections. Changes in Bulgaria also have their own logic. There are sound historical, geopolitical, and psychological reasons for this. First, in the 112-year long history of the Third Bulgarian state Bulgarians have repeatedly shown themselves as bound by conservatism and loyalty to ruling institutions. As a result, ruling parties in Bulgaria have very rarely lost free parliamentary elections. Second, the Eastern Orthodox church, as in the whole Orthodox region, i,e. Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria, does not form an independent social power, capab1e of affecting the course of political events. Third, Bulgaria in the after-War period has no tradition of social and political conflicts like those rocking the GDR, Poland and Hungary; there is no experience like the "Prague spring", or the ten years of Solidarnosc. The alienation between ru1ers and ruled is therefore less acute. Fourth, the traditional egalitarism of Bulgarian people and the traditional lack of radical social differentiation in Bulgaria give rise to values which have become associated with, and still feed the "socialist" wing in political life. Fifth, tense relations with Turkey during the last years naturally generate an inclination to maintain stable relations with the Soviet Union, seen as a necessary foreign political guarantee and a habitual economical partner, which on the other hand determines a moderate nature of all political forces in Bulgaria. Last, but not least the ruling party made serious attempts for a reform "from above".

Consequently, Bulgarians do not evince the extent of rejection of the state socialism characteristic for most East Europeans. However multifaceted, the current political situation in Bulgaria (33 single parties and 5 political blocs registered for the coming elections) is dominated by two main political forces: the Union of Democratic Forces, and the Bulgarian Socialist Party. The specific question put to the country today is which of these two political forces will manage to gain the confidence of the voters.


This opinions poll was carried out more than 20 days before the actual vote. The majority of voters, however, had already made their choice - 82% of respondents declare a vote preference (at the beginning of the year, more than 30% declared indecision). 12% of the electorate are still in indecision and this part will have to be watched carefu11y at the last stage of the campaign. Some 4% have definitely decided not to vote.

This, certain!y, does not mean that attitudes within the separate groups of followers of one or another political force are frozen and are no longer subject of serious variations. The unstable ba1ance of forces contains the possibility of reorientation under the impact of even a single major political event. This kind of change, however, could scarcely affect electoral campaigning, or change the number of abstentions from political life. We expect the majority of Bulgarian voters, more than 80%, to take part in the elections. Parliamentary elections in Western Europe are attended normally by 70 - 80% of the voters, and those in the U.S.A. by 50 - 60%.

The results of the opinion polls show a relatively high degree of political polarization. More than 70% of the voters are definite1y oriented to one of the two major political forces - the Socialists and the UDF. Polarization is additionally indicated by the fact that supporters of the one almost without exceptions reject decidedly the possibility of voting for the opponents. This kind of separation in the political attitudes of the society will have its effect not only in the results of the elections, but also in the stratification and stabilization of the political spectrum in the country.

Opinion polls over the last three months show that the polarization increases, the number of hesitating voters diminishes, and the blocs "congeal". We are certainly aware of risks invo1ved in comparing data from various polls at various moments. We therefore give the data not for direct comparison, but for a general orientation.


Total Percentage of Supporters of BSP and UDF
Jan '90 Institute of Sociology Poll 50.8
Mar '90 Nationa1 Opinion Research Center Poll 61.2
Apr '90 National Opinion Research Center Poll 70.4
May '90 Center for the Study of Democracy Poll 70.7

The polarization is now at its culmination, for the campaign started very early. There are however indications of some decrease of tension between the two extremes, BSP and the UDF. The rallies are now a familiar feature and no 1onger provoke sharp reaction; aggressive behavior is marginalized. An important point is the relative consolidation of the electorate of the Agrarian Popular Union - an alternative to the harsh opposition between BSP and the UDF.


Percentage of APU Supporters
Jan '90 Institute of Sociology Poll 8.8
Apr '90 National Opinion Research Center Poll 9.5
May '90 Center for the Study of Democracy Poll 12.6


We consider political blocs as consisting of nucleus and periphery. The nucleus consists of "ideologists", supposed to produce the positive ideas, and the peripheral consists rather of "practitioners", supposed to implement the differentiation from the others, from the opponents. Thus the congealment, of the blocks may be grasped as the transition of activity from the nuclei to the peripheries. What is the reason? The nucleus - the strongly ideologically minded members of the two blocs - is a compact, but minor formation, incapable of attracting large masses at least for two reasons:

- for the BSP - crisis of the whole complex of traditional ideas;

- for the UDF - nonconvergent positive ideas for the Union as a whole.

Understanding of these facts clarifies also the increased significance of the peripheries, the "opponents of the rival", to the extent of rep1acement of the nucleus by the periphery. For example, the UDF identifies itse1f more and more as "non-BSP", while BSP attracts "non-UDF" attitudes. The two blocs retain the distant nuclei and develop a homogeneous, though mutually antagonistic peripheral, that is, they become strongly polarized and conflicting. In the situation the "nucleus" is attempting to encompass the "peripheral", and not to consolidate it around itself but to superimpose some definite political frame. The main role in the case belongs to negative, rather than to positive ideas, to the syndrome of fear of the "enemy".

In this sense, the two blocs BSP and UDF are to a considerable extent fictitious. They do not represent deep social separation or patterns of rivalry. Nevertheless the opposition of BSP and UDF is an expression, though deformed or "displaced", of a significant social schism. The data indicate that the periphery of the BSP is more conservative than the nucleus, whereas the periphery of the UDF is more extreme than the nucleus. Therefore the bloc of BSP seems more stable while that of UDF - more dynamic. The bloc of BSP is endangered by breakdown of the connections between the nucleus and the centrist conservative peripheral. Most probably, this periphery will keep its entirety while shifting to the right in the search of its genuine nucleus.

The UDF bloc is endangered by an explosion of the consolidating nucleus. After this kind of explosion the corresponding pieces of the periphery, each following its own path, will possibly distribute over the left - right scale.

The extent of politica1 polarization is most clearly manifested by the "negative" voters' attitudes given by the answers to the question "Which party you would not vote for?" This sets limits to the blocks BSP and UDF. 33% out of all responses reject a vote for the BSP, 35% for the UDF. The negative responses for each of the remaining political forces do not reach 5%.


The above considerations in the abstract set the probable upper bounds of influence (for the BSP, 37 - 44%, for the UDF 35 - 41%). They surprisingly coincide with the limits allowed by the poll for the percentage of voters of the two political forces, 37 - 43% for the BSP, and 28 - 33% for the UDF, where the potential to win additional supporters is larger for the UDF. BSP has already reached the upper limits of its potential electorate. The two forces could safely compete for at least 8% of the people in indecision, of which ca. 1% for the Socialists and 7% for the UDF, building up their electorate on the basis of fear of the political opponent.

The poll shows a relatively high prevalence of authoritarian trends among the voters. 29% of the responses include outlawing of a party, and 64% do not. The intention to prohibit a party shows attitudes to solve political problems by "administrative" means. Moreover, the amount of "outlawers" is about the same in the electorate of the Socialists as well as in the electorate of the UDF.

The polarization of election attitudes forms the ground for distrust and fear of the political opponents. A primary expression of this fear is the anticipated "settling of accounts". 43% of the potential UDF voters expect that, in the event of victory the Socialists will seek retaliation over the opponents. The same for the UDF is expected by 49% of the potential BSP voters. As about the voters of the APU on the other hand, only 28% out of these expect setting of accounts by any side. It is indicative, that there are people from the two blocs, BSP and UDF, expecting their own parties to conduct witch hunts in case of taking power. This indicates aggressive attitudes. The number of potentially aggressive supporters of the Socialists and the UDF is approximately equal. Although being a minority, these people support their parties in the confidence that, after the victory, the party will take revenge over the political opponents and, possibly, they support it exactly for this reason. It seems that each bloc faces the necessity to control its own extremists, not least because their activity has as the ultimate effect the consolidation of the opposing bloc.


There exists a "hidden" bloc of voters with centrist attitudes, which is not represented politically, and is not situated between the BSP and the UDF but rather opposes the confrontation between these. The authoritarian and egalitarian attitude in the mass of Bulgarian voters prevented the formation of a third force in the short time after Nov. 10, 1989, capable of serving as a political center. At the moment, the APU is scarcely able to play this role, and the existing social democratic and centrist trends in society are only expected to consolidate. Nevertheless, there are supporters of a coalition government, whatever its formula, which increases over time:

Percentage Supporters of Coalition Government

Apr '90 State Department of Statistics Poll 42%
May '90 University of Sofia Po11 45%
May '90 Center for the Study of Democracy Poll 48%

The poll of the Center for the Study of Democracy shows in particular enviable tolerance and realism among the voters with regard to the future government. Only 10% of the respondents support unipartite government of the Socialists, and 6% for a UDF one. It is significant that 26% of the responses consider the solution of Bulgarian problems only possible by a government of professionals, independent of party attitudes. A coalition dominated by the BSP is preferred by 18% of respondents. A coalition dominated by the UDF is preferred by 13% of the voters, whi1e a coalition, dominated by the APU is preferred by 7%. In total, 73% of voters are against unipartite government; 11% give no preference, and only 16% favour it.

The opinions of the different groups about the best government team are significantly different. 21% of BSP voters believe that a unipartite government of BSP would be able to solve the problems, and 41% favour a coalition dominated by the Socialists. 21% of BSP voters favour a government of experts. Of UDF voters, 18% prefer their "own" government, 36% favour a coalition dominated by the UDF, and 30% an expert government. Indicative is the relatively small number of BSP voters preferring a politically non-aligned expert government - about the same as preferring unipartite government and almost two times less than those preferring a coalition dominated by the Socialists. Among UDF sympathizers coalition government is approximately equally popular as an expert government.

The attitudes of potential voters of the Socialists and of the UDF are in some aspects astonishingly close. The sympathizers of both forces estimate the possibilities for a coalition between the BSP and the UDF as relatively small, 9% of the sympathizers of the Socialists, and 9.4% of the electorate of the UDF. On the other hand, attitudes in the two opposing political forces in favour of a coalition are twice stronger than those for unipartite governments. These attitudes give reason to believe that, in the longer term, the potential centrist bloc will gain stronger influence in the transitions to a democratic social structure.


The collected data make possible a preliminary and approximate determination of the trends and local features of the political consciousness and value priorities among the voters of the major political forces. Obvious is the absence of homogeneity within these groups. In spite of this, there is a polarization of opinion in the treatment of the major problems of the country and the society.


The evaluation of the Bulgarian society in which we 1ived before Nov. 10, '89 is of interest. 45% of the sympathizers of the BSP give a global evaluation as "better than the Western societies", 25% evaluate it as worse, and 30% see in it good and bad features. Among the positive characteristics most approved are "there was no unemployment and the people felt secure", and "there was order in the country". Older people frequently agree with "society was a socia1ist one". As for the negative evaluations of "real socialism", most frequently mentioned by supporters of the BSP is the opinion "equality was only verbal".

The supporters of the APU are considerably more critical, 49% of them preferring the negative evaluations, 29% see good and bad features of the society, and only 22% of them consider it better than the Western societies.

Negative evaluation from supporters of the UDF dominate in 82% of given responses, and only 19% see some features giving advantages compared to the West. Among the opinions given most frequently are those confirming the absence of freedom and justice, as well as "the verbal equality" and the indisputable acknowledgment that "the life in the West is better". This kind of data lead to the opinion that political separation in Bulgaria is considerably less ideological than observed in the everyday life - people are oriented to specific, earthly issues.


UDF sympathizers find the blame mostly in the "communist party (now BSP)", 64%. About a third of APU voters a1so adopt this statement as closest to the truth, while only 7% of the sympathizers of the BSP see the blame in the party preferred by themselves. Considerable variations exist also with respect to the statement "the blame lies in our connections with the USSR". This is supported by 35% of the voters of the UDF and only by 8% of those of the BSP. Relatively high agreement meets only the statement "guilty are Todor Zhivkov and his mafia". This answer is approved by 60% of potential voters of the BSP, and by 64% of the UDF. 69% of the sympathizers of the APU also prefer this answer.

The least accused of the current crisis is the opposition, by 5% of the voters of the BSP and 2% of those of the APU. The nostalgia for "real socialism" is rarely represented. "The reforms of Gorbachev, weakening socialism", and "the actions of wor1d imperialism" are mentioned respectively by only 7% and 6% of the responses as the preferred answer by sympathizers of the BSP.

Most valued in this context should be the.reaction to the statement "we all share the blame, though some to a smaller extent, and others to a larger". Willing to share the responsibility for the crisis are 60% of the voters of the BSP, 34% of those of the UDF, and 44% of those of the APU.


Loyalty to established authority is a crucial problem from the viewpoint of manageability of a society. In the conditions of shattered authorities and polarized political prejudices, power is frequently associated with violence. Various attitudes arise thereof on the condition which party is in power, one's "own" or the opponent. The major political forces show margina1 intolerance to the possible rule of opponent parties. The parts of sympathizers of BSP, APU, and UDF declaring that they will hamper the government of the political opponent as far as possible, in order to cause extraordinary elections, are very small. The part of obeying opponents rule, but opposing everything in their politics they don't accept will be 70% of BSP members, 52% of APU members, and 75% of the UDF members. This somehow indicates larger inclination to opposition activity among the supporters of the UDF. On the contrary, only 6% of the UDF members would obey the opponents on1y because these are at power. The latter percentage for the members of the BSP is 25, and for the members of the APU, 45.


To the question, would you take part in a mass action of your party you don't approve of, 31% of those decided to vote for the BSP answer in the positive because "unity is important", 13% because "leaders certainly know better", and 49% wouldn't take part for they stick to their own opinion, but would continue to support their party. Among the potential voters of the APU, the answers are similar: 27% for the first one, 18% for the second, and 42% for the third. The picture is significantly different among the sympathizers of the UDF. For the sake of the unity, willing to take part in an action they don't approve of are 22%, only 9% would obey 1eaders' authority, and 57% wouldn't participate, but wou1d continue to support their organizations. Unpopular action of the respective party would be a reason to abandon it to avoid further compromise for 3% of BSP supporters, 7% of APU sympathizers, and 9% of UDF supporters.


The representatives of various political forces show various extents of confidence in the victory of their own party. The information for this is provided by the comparison of the answers about the attitudes of the questioned, and their prognoses for the probable winner in the forthcoming elections. Most se1f-confident in this respect are the sympathizers of the BSP, 96% of these are of the opinion that BSP would win. A victory of the UDF expect only 3% of future BSP voters.

Somewhat more withdrawn in this respect are the supporters of the UDF. Among the people intending to vote for the UDF, a victory is expected by 82%, and 16% expect a victory of the BSP. Apart from realism, this speaks also for an ideological motivation of their pre-election attitudes. They have made their decision in favour of the UDF completely consciously, accepting the possibility of a defeat of the supported political force.


Although in rough contours, the poll does present some major features of the sociological structure of the main groups of voters. The first conclusion in this direction is that workers in the production sphere (industry, transportation, agriculture, construction, etc.) are the basic and almost equal constituent of the leading political forces. In the BSP these are 42%, in the UDF, 44%, and in the APU, 42%.

Similar proportions are found also for the group of state administration. Its representatives constitute 11% of the voters of the BSP, 11% of the voters of the UDF, and 10% of the voters of the APU. The two main political forces are almost equa1ly represented among the technical and engineering intelligentsia, teachers, architects, etc.

The collected data give no basis to a conclusion concerning correlations of social or professional status and attitudes to support one or another political force.

The educational structure of the voters of the two major political is of definite interest, since a clear correlation is observed between the educational level and political attitudes. In general, preferences for the BSP decrease with higher educational level. Increased educationa1 level, vice versa, correlates with increased preferences for the UDF. High school licentiates, supporting the BSP, are by 13% less than those with only basic education and the same political orientation. High school licentiates, supporting the UDF, are respectively by the same percentage more than the supporters with basic education. 50% of the questioned high school licentiates prefer the UDF against 39% preferring the BSP. Relatively similar are the political attitudes among the gymnasium and technical gymnasium absolvents, while 52% of those with basic education declare support for the BSP.

There is relatively clear interdependency of political membership and age. Increased age correlates with increased number of supporters of the BSP. This is reflected also in the educational level: those with only basic or lower educational level are in their majority elder peop1e. Among the supporters of the UDF is valid the opposite correlation. The voters under 45 constitute 72% of the total amount of its supporters among the questioned. Below the same level of age are 48% of the supporters of the BSP.

Intelligentsia Facing the Choice

Agrarian Popular Union 5.4%
Alternative Socialist Party 3.0%
Bulgarian Socialist Party 39.1%
Union of Democratic Forces 50.2%

Published in "Kultura", June 7 1990, Sofia, Bulgaria

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