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Project November 8, 2014

Bulgaria 25 Years After Communism


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Sixty-three years ago, Yana Paskova's grandfather fell prisoner to a gulag-like camp in communist Bulgaria, Yana's homeland until age of 12. This event eased the passage of her family to the United States shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 25th anniversary of which is Nov. 9, 2014. This is a tale that has shaped her life, and lives of many others.

The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting a one-size-fits-all model of Western values. Bulgaria is still the poorest, most corrupt nation in the EU, and there's a division in the way people remember their communist past. Most shudder at the memory of closed borders and brutality of the communist regime—yet many, turned sour from political corruption and inaction, high crime rates and inflation absent pre-1989, equate democracy to disaster.

That is because communism didn't die in 1989: it lives on in people's minds, political factions and visual remnants across the nation, like Soviet monuments, decaying factories, five-pointed red stars and sentimental food brands. Communism's dark past reanimates when visiting forced labor camps, now in ruins, where political prisoners once languished. A positive has been the birth of LGBT and Romany rights groups, yet ennui etches a permanent path across passersby' faces, against a backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and vast population decline. This is a look at the intended—and unintended—effects of democracy on a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval.