THE GREAT EXPECTATIONS. 30 YEARS LATER
The Grey of Communism
November 1989… A month of unrest that was the onset of democratic change and plenty of argument and political opposition.
The 30 images in the Great Expectations. 30 Years Later exhibition show the first spontaneous demonstrations and the faces we associate with them. People who disappeared from politics. Crowds that are no longer to be seen.
Communist-era Sofia looks strange on the black-and-white photos. The pictures from the first informal demonstration from 3 November 1989, a week before the deposition of Todor Zhivkov, show enthusiastc people in modest, grey clothing. The same applies to the first rally of the emerging opposition, held in front of the Alexander Nevsky cathedral on 18 November 1989.
The American writer Bill Bryson who became famous for his books on travel, visited Sofia on two occasions – in 1973 and in 1990. In An American in Europe he described what he saw months after the fall of communism – a gloomy city with dark streets, dark and empty shop windows, and no advertising.
The faces of that first major demonstration from 18 November 1989 seem strange today. Some Western media commented wryly that it took the Bulgarian opposition a whole week after the overthrow of Zhivkov to organize it. 10 000 people gathered on the square in front of the Alexander Nevsky cathedral. Looking at the pictures today, one cannot help but wonder what percentage of the people there have left the country, and how many of the speakers that personified the newborn opposition became political opponents.
The first faces of change were mainly intellectuals – writers, philosophers, academics. The emerging political class would quickly expel them as foreign objects. The pictures show how the speakers are reading from their pre-written speeches. There was almost no orator back then who would talk directly to the multitude.
Just a couple of months later the speakers at the rally started parting ways. United as they had been against the regime, they formed different parties and movements. This would be the first shock from the democratic changes. Weeks later, at the second rally, there would be slogans like BCP in Siberia”, people would be tearing their communist party membership cards, and orators would be demanding a trial.
The people’s attitude after the fall of Zhivkov was conservative. There was a sharp opposition between “the blue” and “the red”. The more liberally-inclined ones in the Union of Democratic Forces, the ones trying to create a liberal party, dropped out. The former communist party was matched by a more radical brand of anti-communism.
The confrontation and the establishment of the two-party model made the transition to democracy slow and difficult, with many thoughtless moves at a time when the state has been brought to a massive bancrupcy.
Today everyone is disappointed. There’s noone to fill the squares, and there’s no cause to draw people there…