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Bulgaria

Capital Sofia
Time Zone EET (GMT+2)
Country Code 359
Mobile Codes 91,92,95,98,99
ccTLD .bg
Currency Lev (1EUR = 1.95BGN)
Land Area 110,993 sq km
Population 7.5 million
Language Bulgarian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

The Development of International Terrorism, as Assessed by the Former Communist Bulgarian Secret Services: Interview with Professor Jordan Baev

In this exclusive new interview with Balkanalysis.com Bulgaria correspondent Christian Filipov, Professor Jordan Baev, a noted expert on Balkan security affairs, reveals several key findings gleaned from his in-depth examination of recently declassified files from the former Communist Bulgarian intelligence services. His assessments shed valuable new light on not only the forerunners of today’s global terrorism during the Cold War, but also on how the threat was perceived by Bulgarian intelligence- and ultimately, by political decision-makers. As such, the interview is required reading for anyone interested in clandestine affairs and activities in the Balkans before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Dr. Jordan Baev, an Associate Professor in Contemporary History and Senior Fellow in Security Studies at Rakovski Defense College and a visiting professor at Sofia University and New Bulgarian University, has published frequently on intelligence and security issues in the Balkans for over a quarter-century. His most recent book, Sistemata za Evropeiska sigurnost I Balkanite v godinite na studenata voina (The System for European Security and the Balkans in the Cold War Years, Damyan Yakov Publishing, Sofia, 2010), provides a historical overview of the security systems of East and West during the Cold War.

The present interview, however, concerns an important new project in which Dr. Baev participated- the massive, 548-page publication on newly declassified Bulgarian Intelligence and Counterintelligence archival documents from the period 1969-1991, entitled Mezhdunarodniyat Terorizam v Dosietata na DC (International Terrorism in the Bulgarian State Security Files). This new book was published by the State Committee for disclosing of Bulgarian State Security records and launched at Sofia University on November 29, 2010. Portions of the publication can be seen online (.PDF). This and other related works can be found here, as well as at the Sofia University Digital Library. From March 2011, the text will also be available in a broader digital version of about 500 documents- amounting to 3,000 pages of text.

Christian Filipov: What is the most unique aspect of your research?

Jordan Baev: With the exception of several publications that reference mostly the files of the former GDR (German Democratic Republic/Communist East Germany) state security agency Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit/Ministry for State Security), to this day there has not been such a comprehensive research of the files of the former Soviet bloc intelligence agencies on the issue of international terrorism.

The idea for this collaborative research project was born after discussions with representatives of institutions from various countries, including the United States, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania. These countries are currently doing archival research on the declassified documents of the state security and services of the former the Warsaw Pact countries.

CF: What period does your research cover?

JB: Our study of archival documents stretches from the 1960s through the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. Over the past year, my colleagues and I have managed to review over 25,000 pages of formerly classified files, containing information on international terrorism. For the publication (.PDF) of Mezhdunarodniyat Terorizam v Dosietata na DC (International Terrorism in the Bulgarian State Security Files), we selected about 500 classified files totaling about 3,000 pages. These files contain information on more than 100 terrorist organizations and groups. Part of the examined files – about 98 of them – we selected for the print version of our publication, while the entire collection of classified files is published only electronically.

Apart from illustrative analytical reports, the publication also contains operational files of the Bulgarian intelligence agencies- essentially, reports written by Bulgarian spies resident in Western Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas, reports and memoranda of the counterintelligence units engaged in combating terrorism, correspondence and exchanged information with the KGB and other East European intelligence agencies.

CF: Did your research reveal anything exciting or unique in the archives?

Our main research goal was to examine formally classified documentation and to extract information associated with international terrorist organizations. We discovered that the theory of “Moscow’s long arm” i.e., [the perception that Moscow was] orchestrating leftist terrorist groups in Western Europe, is merely a myth or rather a memory of the Cold War propaganda.

For more than 30 years, the media has been circulating allegations regarding links between the KGB and the Eastern European intelligence agencies with leftist terrorist organizations in Western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and so on. We did not discover any documentary proof of such links between Bulgaria and ultra-left terrorist groups in Western Europe.

Another important finding is the very special interest, back then, in the origins and expansion of ethno-religious terrorism, specifically Islamic terrorism.

CF: What type of archival sources and document collections did you use?

JB: As the first researchers to have delved into the quite voluminous archives of the former communist intelligence services, we were able to review and publish intelligence data that maps out the transition from politically-motivated terrorist acts to the very serious social problem that international terrorism poses today.

There is no other way to gather reliable information on what has actually transpired, on what were the actions of the intelligence agencies of the former communist-bloc countries with respect to aiding or counteracting political and ethno-religious terrorism, but to examine the archival documentation of these agencies. Any hypothesis detailing actions of the intelligence agencies that is not backed by documentary evidence can only perpetuate existing myths, or give life to new ones.

CF: Is there evidence about existing links to terrorist groups? If so, have they been receiving aid and assistance by the Bulgarian intelligence agencies?

In our publication we make a very clear distinction between terrorist organizations and other political groups that resort to violence or are engaged in an armed conflict. In three prior studies, published a couple of years ago, I revealed classified information associated with the financial support and military assistance provided by Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries to some national liberation and leftist armed movements in the Third World: Algeria, Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Laos, South Vietnam, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua etc.

In the relevant expert discussions, there is a very clear distinction between “international terrorism” and “freedom fighters’ armed resistance.”  There are over one-hundred definitions; however, most scholars define when acts of [terrorism] target civil institutions and innocent bystanders, and when it is a matter of insurgency or a civil war.

By the way, in mid-2011 in Routledge will publish a new handbook on international terrorism, where one of the famous UN experts on the issue, Alex Schmid, gives about 250 various definitions of that social phenomenon.

CF: Did Bulgaria help recognize international terrorist organizations?

JB: We did not find any documents supporting popular claims that Bulgaria supported or orchestrated directly the actions of known terrorist groups.

That being said, we examined classified data that reveals that in the second half of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, known terrorists were granted a “safe haven” in Bulgaria – the terrorist group led by Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal, the Abu Nidal group, and members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

During the same period, Bulgaria was visited by activists of known terrorist organizations, including the German Red Army Faction – also known as the “Baader Meinhoff Gang” – Turkey’s right- and left-wing extremists from the Grey Wolves and Dev Sol, as well as the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation, or Armenia ASALA. These visits can be associated with the first acts of international terrorism on Bulgarian soil, such as hijacking of airplanes and assassinations of foreign diplomats.

CF: Can you point out any specific examples?

JB: In September 1982, an activist of the Armenian terrorist group ASALA assassinated the Turkish Vice Consul to Bulgaria in the city of Burgas. Classified information reveals that this assassination was part of a global terror campaign targeting Turkish diplomats in Europe and North America.

CF: If Bulgaria was not supporting terrorist groups, then why didn’t the Bulgarian authorities simply arrest the terrorists, or expel them from the country?

JB: Like most other Eastern European countries, Bulgaria would use its intelligence and security agencies only to monitor the actions of known terrorists in Bulgaria, and did not take any actions against them; [this was done] primarily not to irritate the terrorists and entice them to direct terrorist acts against Bulgarian citizens and institutions as a form of retribution.

The classified information we analyzed reveals that undercover agents of the Bulgarian state security services, Darzhavna Sigurnost, did establish contact with terrorists, however, mainly for the purpose of information-gathering- not to recruit terrorists as informants or agents of the agency.

Moreover, the classified files that we examined clearly establish that leftist terrorist groups, despite sharing the same ideology and using leftist slogans, were viewed as hostile, anarchistic, Trotskyite or Maoist organizations. This is not surprising- Che Guevara’s views about the “permanent revolution” and guerilla warfare practices were met with similar reactions of suspicion in the mid-1960s by the Eastern European authorities.

CF: What actions did the Bulgarian intelligence and security agencies take to counteract terrorist organizations?

JB: The archives provide clear signs that the Eastern-bloc countries did not want to be viewed as supporters of terrorist organizations. We found a very large file, codenamed “Operation Bobcats,” which compiled classified data on the movements and visits to Bulgaria of the known terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos the Jackal). The Bobcats file reveals that during his first visit in September 1979/January 1980, Carlos organized a secret meeting with members of other terrorist organizations in Sofia, and also met with the head of the Iraqi intelligence agency, who visited Sofia incognito- specifically to contact Carlos in person.

During his other nine visits to Bulgaria during the period 1983-1985, his movements were closely monitored by operatives of the Darzhavna Sigurnost surveillance units. In 1986, Bulgaria took action to prevent any visits of Carlos the Jackal, or members of his terrorist groups, throughout Bulgaria. These actions were prompted by coordinated antiterrorist efforts between the Bulgarian, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian intelligence agencies, together with the KGB.

Another organization that was closely monitored was the Turkish Grey Wolves. Efforts were steeped up after Mehmet Ali Ağca, a member of that terrorist group and “trigger man” of the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, made public claims that the Bulgarian intelligence agency orchestrated the attempted assassination.

After receiving information from the East German STASI regarding 334 designated Grey Wolves functionaries, the Bulgarian State Security services found out that 129 of those persons had crossed Bulgarian territory on their way from Turkey to Western Europe.

CF: Does your investigation of the Bulgarian intelligence agency’s classified files shed new light on Bulgarian intelligence activities related to the Middle East, Islamists, etc.?

Islamic terrorism and extremist organizations in the Middle East developed gradually and have several historical layers.

The first layer was the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest and largest Islamic political organization. This organization, founded in Egypt in the 1920s to promote Islamic values, quickly branched out in many other Arab countries, and has served as the ideological foundation for most Islamic-fundamentalist movements.

Over the years, the “Muslim Brotherhood” was banned in Egypt on the grounds that it promotes an Islamic fundamentalist agenda. At the same time, however, the organization’s branches in other Arab countries thrived. In the classified analytical reports, memoranda and cables of the Bulgarian intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies, we found information and references to the roots of today’s Islamist terrorist organizations. Extremist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah were created or influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood ideologues.

The next landmark layer in the history of Islamic terrorism came with the collaborative actions in the 1970s of Islamic fundamentalists, Western European, Armenian, and Japanese terrorist organizations, prompted by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the early 1980s, immediately after the Iranian Islamic revolution, many armed Islamic fundamentalist groups were born in the Muslim world, the most notable ones being in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also in Iraq and Lebanon. As we know now, it was not long before these Islamic extremist groups redirected their attention from the “Invading Infidels” from the East, e.g., the Soviet troops in Afghanistan, to wage Jihad against the “New Crusaders” from the West.

CF: What means did the Bulgarian security agencies use to get information?

JB: While examining the State Security files we discovered, for instance, extensive reports on the meetings of the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. Part of the intelligence information came to Bulgaria via the Bulgarian intelligence officers stationed in the Middle East; another part of the information was gathered by Bulgarian counterintelligence officers monitoring suspected members of these terrorist organizations residing in Bulgaria.

Also, in a Bulgarian State Security report of 1984, it was indicated that more than 70 suspected members of the “Muslim Brotherhood” were living in Bulgaria, some of them studying in different Bulgarian universities and high schools. There were also a number of militants from radical rival Palestinian groups, whose activity worried the Bulgarian authorities in regard of possible terrorist incidents on Bulgarian territory.

Bulgaria’s security services also had another problem to deal with in those years- they acquired evidence regarding secret competitions and mutual struggles between some Middle East intelligence servicemen under diplomatic cover at the embassies of Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and South Yemen.

CF: Does this historic information on Islamic extremist groups aid today’s intelligence agencies in the ongoing war on terror?

JB: The tasks assigned to Bulgaria within the framework of intelligence cooperation among Warsaw Pact countries corresponds to its geographical location- active intelligence-gathering in the Balkan region and the Middle East. A significant portion of the classified information that we reviewed is associated with the activities of terrorist organizations in these regions.

However, our documentary collection is only the beginning [of what will be] a more comprehensive study of the topic. Further study requires comparative archival research.

The history of international terrorism is not an academic pastime, but rather a vantage point to understand Islamic terrorism- a phenomenon that has been causing the greatest level of public concern and has been stirring up international relations today.

Presently, we are continuing our research by working on our next book where, for the first time, KGB and other Soviet bloc antiterrorist analyses will be compared with some available CIA intelligence estimates on international terrorism.

CF: Did you discover any information that fundamentally changes or challenges any perceived historical truths about Bulgaria during the Cold War?

JB: In our research we reviewed a large number of intelligence reports and classified correspondence devoted to the “assassination of the century”- the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Ağca of the Turkish Grey Wolves terrorist group.

While it has been already established that no documents give credibility to the theory that there had been a “Bulgarian connection” in the attempted assassination of the Pope, our research revealed that the Bulgarian political and state authorities were taken completely by surprise by the claims linking Bulgaria’s intelligence agencies to the assassination attempt; “Darzhavna Sigurnost” was also shocked initially by media claims about the association attempt made between the Bulgarian airline representative, Sergei Antonov, and the Turkish terrorist Ağca.

In our study of the classified files, we also discovered that most of Bulgaria’s intelligence data on the “Grey Wolves” was compiled after the assassination attempt, not prior to it. Apparently, Western media reports on the alleged “Bulgarian connection” in the assassination attempt prompted the Bulgarian intelligence agencies to start gathering extensive intelligence data on the “Grey Wolves,” and to devote its intelligence resources in Western Europe to monitor the movements and contacts of their known members.

CF: As we know, the Grey Wolves were used as a “stay-behind” paramilitary force even in the 1960’s. Did you found any information about their activity before 1982 in the Darzhavna Sigurnost files?

JB: Actually, there exist three operational files on the “Bozkurtlar” organization (Grey Wolves), codenamed “Spiders,” “Kurt,” and “Wolves.” One of these files discusses even the broader biographic data of the Wolves inspirer and boss Col. Alparslan Turkeş – his background as a Turkish liaison officer to German Wehrmacht in 1944, his active participation in the military coup in 1960 and  the assassination of the Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, etc.

The Bulgarian intelligence documents commented as well on the Grey Wolves role in the internal right-wing terror against the liberal and leftist intellectuals in Turkey in the mid-1970s. However, the significance of the Grey Wolfs as an international terrorist organization was defined after Ali Ağca attempt on the Pope’s life. The organization was viewed also as dangerous from the point of view of its hostile activity against Bulgarian citizens and facilities in Western Europe in the mid-1980’s, when the relations between the two neighboring Balkan states drastically eroded due to the bad treatment of the Bulgarian Turks.

CF: Have you discovered classified intelligence reports on ‘famous’ world security events, i.e., assassinations, terrorist plots, high profile crimes?

JB: With respect to other “famous” security events,” such as the assassinations of the Italian Prime minister Aldo Moro, Bulgarian classified analytical reports reveal that there is no merit to media claims that the assassination was orchestrated by Eastern European intelligence services.

Documentary proof for “a Bulgarian connections” is also lacking in respect to the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986, and the attempt on the life of Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal in 1988, as claimed during the Cold War years. On the contrary, nowadays there has appeared new documentary evidence linking Palme’s assassination with the South African intelligence agency, at the time of the apartheid regime. With respect to Ozal’s attempted assassination, it was announced in Istanbul in September 2010 that this terrorist act has to be attributed to the Turkish paramilitary nationalist group, Ergenekon.

While the files on Western European leftist terrorist groups, such as the Italian Brigate Rosse, the Red Army Faction/Baader-Meinhoff Gang in Germany and the French Action Directe are thickly coated in Cold War-inspired ideological language, our research confirmed what was already known about the composition of these terrorist groups and their motivation.

Actually, the files reveal that the communist leadership in Eastern Europe did not relate to the causes embraced by the Western leftist groups; moreover, the communist leadership mistrusted them and repeatedly expresses the view that left-wing terrorism was a problem of capitalist societies that Eastern Bloc countries should be involved in [countering]. This is evidenced by the level of cooperation and sharing of intelligence data on ultra-left terrorist groups between the intelligence services of the West and those of Eastern Bloc countries. One example was the collaboration between Bulgaria’s Darzhavna Sigurnost and the West German authorities in the case of the “Red Army Faction.”

CF: So, there is information on collaborative efforts of East European and Western intelligence agencies in the countering of international terrorism organizations?

JB: There are occurrences of secret contacts made by the intelligence agencies on both sides of the Iron Curtain, most notably the cooperation between the Bulgarian and West German authorities in the surveillance of “Red Army Faction” members’ eventual presence on Bulgarian territory. Members of the “Red Army Faction” were arrested in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Sunny Beach [near Nesebar] in the summer of 1978, in a collaborative action of the Bulgarian and West German counter-intelligence agencies.

This collaboration continued and, in December 1985, the Bulgarian authorities took immediate action against known RAF terrorists residing in Bulgaria, upon the request of the West German security services.

We discovered archival data on similar secret contacts of the Bulgarian Darzhavna Sigurnost and Austrian and French intelligence agencies; we also discovered files describing secret anti-terrorism collaboration between the Bulgarian intelligence agencies and the security services of Japan and the United States: for example, there was intelligence exchange and joint discussions between the Bulgarian, Japanese and U.S. agencies in December 1990 and January 1991, in order to prevent terrorist acts against the U.S. Embassy in Sofia that were being planned by Japanese and Philippine terrorists.

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Bulgarian Military Achieves Professional Goals, Regional Influence: Interview with General Zlatan Stoykov

By Christopher Deliso

The successful conclusion of a long reform process that has brought a greater sense of stability and security for military personnel, as well as a more prominent role in Balkan partnerships on the national level, are two of Bulgaria’ss key achievements, according to General Zlatan Stoykov, Chief of General Staff of the Bulgarian Armed Forces.

At the same time, an historic accord signed earlier this month between Greek, Serbia and Bulgarian military officials on reaching common understandings regarding military history is being highlighted as an example of Bulgaria’ss role as a bridge between NATO members new, old and prospective.

In an exclusive interview with Balkanalysis.com conducted on May 12 in Sofia, General Stoykov outlined the positive results already being witnessed from the conclusion of reforms, as well as his view of the Bulgarian military’ss strategic role as a stabilizing force in the region.

After speaking at the opening of a conference on lessons learned from international peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo, hosted by the Rakovski National Defense Academy, General Stoykov kindly took a few moments to share his thoughts on Bulgaria’ss efforts in creating a professional army, peacekeeping missions, and its enhanced role as a regional military leader.

balkanalysis-general-zlatan-stoykov

General Zlatan Stoykov addresses the audience at the Rakovski National Defense Academy

After the end of Communism, Bulgaria like other former Eastern Bloc countries underwent a lengthy and difficult transition period. Reforming and refocusing the military towards NATO standards was one of the major national issues to be confronted. Official diplomatic liaisons between NATO and the eastern Balkan country had begun in 1990, but the latter was only invited to begin accession talks at the alliance’ss November 2002 Prague Summit.

On March 29, 2004, Bulgaria along with seven other nations joined the military alliance. Speaking on the occasion, Emil Valev, then Bulgarian Ambassador to NATO, stated that Bulgaria’s NATO membership “would help keep the instability in the Western Balkans at bay and entail lower costs for the NATO-led missions in the region.”

Five years later, Bulgarian leaders feel that their country’ss contribution is essential, not only for helping keep the peace but also for enhancing military partnerships with neighboring countries. “Bearing in mind the achievements of previous chiefs of general staff, Bulgaria’ss achievements in Bosnia and Kosovo and our bilateral cooperation with Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and Greece, I see the Bulgarian armed forces in the next years as a productive and reliable partner,” stated General Stoykov. “We look to share our experience and lessons learned, so that Macedonia and Serbia continue building professional armies and fulfilling the PfP criteria.”

The general also mentioned as examples of positive cooperation joint exercises already held with Romanian and Turkey, plus an upcoming one with Romania and Serbia. The Bulgaria military is preparing a memorandum, he stated, which will pave the way for an air defense exercise to be held at military grounds near the eastern Bulgaria town of Shabla. The week-long exercise, involving training with the Strela anti-aircraft missile system, “will probably happen in September,” he said.

In the coming years, the Bulgarian military will contribute even more regionally, the general stated, pointing out the fact that Bulgarian military offices have been in charge of NATO offices in both Albania (now a full-fledged NATO member) and Macedonia, where an expected NATO invitation was vetoed at last April’ss Bucharest summit by Greece over the unresolved “name issue.”

General Stoykov highlighted ongoing Bulgarian leadership at NATO regional posts, including in Albania and Macedonia. At the moment in Skopje, the mission is being led by a Bulgarian officer, Rear Admiral Valentin Gagashov, who has replaced the previous mission leader, Brigadier General Stoyan Genkov, another Bulgarian. Genkov was recalled on April 29, stated General Stoykov, for “health problems.” Although the NATO presence in Macedonia is set to wind down in September, if the Greeks do not relent on blocking Macedonia’ss NATO entry it may continue and Bulgarian officials remain keen to be involved.

Since joining NATO, Bulgaria has also been moving to highlight its role not only in orientation to the Western Balkans, but to the wider Black Sea area as well, a region to which considerable strategic planning is currently being devoted. Bulgaria is involves, or aspires to be involved, in major regional energy projects at a time when NATO is re-orienting its primary focus towards becoming a bulwark for ensuring European energy security vis-à-vis a more assertive Russia.

Bulgaria’ss friendship with Russia goes back long before Communism, however, at least to the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, in which Russian forces liberated large parts of the country from Ottoman control. Due to its history and geographic placement, Bulgaria is strategically important to both east and west. Referring as well to the unresolved tensions in the Western Balkans, General Stoykov affirmed that “Bulgaria has a balancing policy in the region.”

One important though under-reported issue involving the Bulgarian military involves the stabilizing benefits of reforms fulfillment and the creation of a fully professional army. Although the army fully professionalized since January 2008, the process was symbolically completed with a new act officially published on May 12 in the state gazette.

According to General Stoykov, “there was a need for such an act, as the existing law [dated to the time of] NATO and EU integration goals. Since these have been put into action now, I hope the new act will put an end to the reorganizing process in our military. From now on, the only work should be involving continuing modernization and technical issues.”

Identifying the military’ss three areas of key interest as safeguarding national security, peacekeeping missions abroad, and national security activities during peacetime (i.e., responding to natural disasters), General Stoykov affirmed that the act “will provide a professional model and clarify steps for career advancement.”

Indeed, during the long transition and reform period in Bulgaria and similar countries, downsizing and other personnel issues have led to uncertainties that have affected morale. According to the general, the act has a “social capacity,” meaning that the state will accept more responsibility for military staff and their families, “so that they can feel secure about their jobs and their futures- to ensure military officers that their jobs will be safe and no more staff reorganizing is being planned.” With reforms finished, the rest is “details,” noted General Stoykov. And, the improvement in morale “is already being felt,” he said.

At the same time, Bulgaria’ss ambitions for becoming a regional leader were attested by an historic event held just after the conclusion of the Defense College’ss May 12-16 conference. In a trilateral signing, representatives of the Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek military pledged to work together towards a common understanding of military history between these countries- in the past, having a mixed legacy as both allies and enemies.

balkanalysis-bulgaria-serbia-greece-trilateral-signing

Signatories of the memorandum of understanding on behalf of Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia, respectively (L to R): Colonel Stancho Stanchev; Major-General Giorgos Evangelatos; Colonel Katarina Strbac (photo courtesy Lt. Col. Rossitsa Rousseva)

According to Bulgarian Lt. Colonel Rossitsa Rousseva, who was responsible for much of the organizational work for the conference, “the idea for starting this project came from the Bulgarian side€¦ it’ss a unique idea because it’s the first such initiative in Balkan history, and improves cooperation between one old NATO member, Greece, another pretty new one, Bulgaria and one future member, Serbia, which needs some certain help before joining NATO and the EU.”

Added Lt. Colonel Rousseva, “we intend to invite other Balkan countries next year, and we hope that it will become a good opportunity for mutual cooperation in the region. It’s time to show that Balkans can work together for fulfilling different projects and ideas for our future, and not producing only conflicts.”

The memorandum of understanding was signed by visiting officials from the three states. From the Greek side came Major-General Giorgos Evangelatos, Deputy Chief of the Army History Directorate in the Greek Ministry of Defense. The Serbian delegation was led by Colonel Katarina Strbac, Chief of Department of Strategic Research at the Strategic Research Institute in the Serbian Ministry of Defense. The Bulgarian signatory was Colonel Stancho Stanchev, Chief of the Center of Military History and Lessons Learned in the Rakovski National Defense Academy in the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense. Also attending was retired Serbian Colonel Mihajlo Basara, who is credited along with Colonel Stanchev as originally having developed the idea.

American Friends of Bulgaria: Interview with Roy and Anne Freed

By Christopher Deliso

In this detailed interview, Balkanalysis.com director Christopher Deliso gets a contemporary view on Bulgaria from a unique perspective- Americans Roy and Anne Freed, at 91 years young undoubtedly among the most senior of American lovers of this Balkan country.

Roy and Anne had long and distinguished careers in the legal and psychology/social work fields, respectively. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1940, working thereafter for the Department of Justice and private law firms; then, from 1960 onwards, Roy pioneered the nascent subject of computer law. For her part, Anne graduated from Smith College in 1941 with an M.S.W. in clinical social work. She thereafter worked as a practitioner, supervisor, administrator, teacher, and researcher in this field, and set up a mental health clinic at Family Service of Greater Boston. During the Second World War, Anne worked as a community analyst at the War Relocation Authority in Washington, DC; in addition, she was the specialist on Jewish culture for a refugee camp in Oswego, NY, which took in approximately 1,000 European Jewish refugees from a displaced-persons camp at Bari, Italy.

Despite completing a full and long lifetime of professional service and help to others, the Freeds were not finished: at the age of 71, they ventured to the Balkans to interact with the locals at a time of historic change. At an age when most Americans relax to enjoy their golden years in tranquility, this dynamic couple embarked on even greater challenges. After visiting Bulgaria for the first time in 1987, the Freeds returned two years later as Fulbright scholars. They have kept up their relationship with the country and its people ever since.

Most recently, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the US Department of State, which administers the Fulbright Program, named Roy and Anne Freed as the March 2008 Fulbright Alumni of the Month for their engagement with Bulgaria. Their memoir, Fulbrighters in Retirement: Networking With Bulgarians Keeps Us Engaged, is now available. They are probably among the few nonagenarians to maintain their own official website.

Christopher Deliso: I understand you are descendents of eastern European Jews. When did your ancestors move to America, and which ones?

Roy & Anne Freed: Our mothers came from Lithuania shortly before WWI, when Anne’s father came from Belarus. Roy’s father’s father came from Belarus in 1888, because of the notorious Kishniev pogroms.

CD: Previous to your initial Bulgarian trip, was there anything in your lives to suggest such a future encounter as a possibility? Had you wished to make trips to Bulgaria or other former Soviet states earlier in the Cold War, if so, why didn’t that happen at the time?

R&AF: Before our 1987 Bulgarian trip, we had no idea to visit any of the former Soviet states or their affiliates. Even though we knew our first Bulgarian friend Nevena Geliazkova through Anne’s meeting her at the international school in Geneva in 1937, we never had the desire to visit her until we happened to reestablish contact with her in 1986 and were about to go to Zurich.

CD: How did you happen to choose Bulgaria specifically during Communism for your Fulbright Teaching Fellowships?

R&AF: We chose Bulgaria for our Fulbrights because the person on the Bulgaria desk at the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars mentioned that possibility, out of the blue. By our futile contact with him on behalf of a Bulgarian student taking place during the Cold War, we suspect that it had a dearth of applicants for that country.

CD: Did you wonder if you would be eligible for Fulbrights at age 72?

R&AF: Anne certainly did. But when she inquired about our eligibility, we were told not to worry because there was a 75-year old male Fulbrighter in Taiwan.

CD: How were you received in Bulgaria as Americans during the Cold War?

R&AF: The Bulgarians completely ignored the ostensible Cold War antipathy between our two countries. They received us very warmly, with their traditional gracious hospitality. They welcomed us into their homes. They shared their experiences with us both during and after Communism. They eagerly sought the professional knowledge they thought that we could impart from our respective fields. Even Communist bureaucrats were hospitable.

CD: Was there any controversy with Anne’s discussion of psychology from an American perspective, compared to the Communist-inspired study then still practiced?

R&AF: Anne actually played an important in bringing psychodynamic psychology to Bulgaria. Although psychiatrists in the Soviet Union, during its early period, enthusiastically embraced Freud’s innovative, if not radical, teaching about the major role the unconscious plays through the mind and the usefulness of talking therapy, and actually almost pre-empted Vienna as the center of that learning, Stalin later squelched that and it became anathema there and in the affiliated countries, including Bulgaria.

Nevertheless, through the initiative of the late Dr. George Kamen, a Bulgarian psychiatrist, a very small group of psychiatrists, including Dr. Toma Tomov, and others started to become interested in it through psychodrama, which entails play-acting psychological situations and discussing them in that context. Nevertheless, the general population did not yet have that interest until Anne introduced it.

CD: That’s interesting! What was the reaction when she did?

R&AF: Many students at Sofia University and outside professionals enthusiastically grasped the opportunity to attend her lectures, which were opened to the public. Anne’s lectures unexpectedly planted a basic seed that matured three years later when Dr. Toma Tomov, one of the pioneers at the time and whom she met by chance when he was on a study tour in the USA right after Bulgaria abandoned Communism for a democratic market economy, enlisted her help to found the School of Clinical Social Work at the New Bulgarian University in 1992, with its curriculum based substantially on that of the Smith College School for Social Work, from which Anne graduated and at which she taught.

CD: As for Roy, how was his teaching about American law received then?

R&AF: Roy’s teaching about American law, which, as common law, was conceptually very different from the Bulgarian civil law, was enthusiastically received by both undergraduate students in the law faculty of Sofia University and professionals working in the computer industry. The latter especially were eager to learn about the American legal protection of computer programs. The students took the opportunity to express their cynicism about ostensibly positive Bulgarian laws. For example, one stated that, in Bulgaria, they adopted “dead” laws, meaning apparently socially positive ones that were not enforced.

CD: In Anne’s opinion, how is the issue of gender equality in Bulgaria progressing? Has she witnessed or experienced specific changes in the fortunes of Bulgarian women in society, and to what does she attribute them?

R&AF: Even though Bulgaria is a traditional patriarchal society, at least during Communism women achieved considerable equality, at least to do hard work. Children were raised by their grandparents, a practice which continues to date, to free up their mothers to work outside the home. Many women became professionals in what in the West had been considered men’s fields, especially in engineering. While more progress can be made, Bulgaria has achieved an impressive level.

CD: Have you ever had any dangerous experiences in Bulgaria? If so, what happened?

R&AF: We did feel as if we had a dangerous experience in Bulgaria. During our Fulbrights, we were fortunate to befriend a group of social scientists in a think tank supporting the Central Committee of the Communist Party. On a few occasions, they arranged for us to be driven by Party chauffeurs in the traditional official black Volga automobiles. We felt as if those drivers operated their cars like kamakazi pilots of the Japanese air force, as they sped heedlessly on the streets of Sofia.

CD: You witnessed a period of incredible and very rapid change in Bulgaria. What surprised you most about it? Was there ever a time when you felt that perhaps the country would not have a solid future, or that it was in danger of collapse?
R&AF: We were surprised by the lack of advance notice that the Communist Party would cease to control Bulgaria and the speed with which it occurred. We did not get a clue from our friends in the official think-tank.

While we didn’t anticipate that the country would collapse, it was obvious that it was not functioning efficiently during Communism because the people lacked the necessary incentives. As we look back, it collapsed out of inefficiency. Goods were of poor quality and services were bad. Waiters were probably the worst in the world. However, the performing arts were thriving, especially the theatre and music. As the economic reforms occurred, we often feared for the people because the efforts were weak and the people were rightfully impatient for rapid real progress. It was amazing how, promptly after the changes, the waiters reformed and performed at truly fine standards.

CD: In your memoir you state that you were able to serve as €šÃ„òcitizen diplomats€šÃ„ô during the Cold War, to bring together Bulgarians working with the Politburo and the American ambassador. How were you able to accomplish that, and what came of it?

R&AF: We were fortunate to become citizen diplomats entirely by chance. Avram Agov, a young student whom we had met as the roommate of Zlatko Enev, another young student who introduced himself to us during our social first visit to Bulgaria, happened to cause members of the think-tank of the Central Committee to want to meet us on the possibility that we might be able to help them start to make contact with American scholars. During the late stage of Communism, they got the desire for that interaction. He told them that he knew us when he applied to work with them with respect to North Korea. We had no idea how we might help them but we agreed to try.

All we could think of was our knowing the American ambassador. But, because we were able to introduce them to the receptive American ambassador only very shortly before the political and economic changes, nothing materialized directly. There was no need to. Nevertheless, right after the changes, the Ambassador enabled one of them, a friend of ours, to lead a tour to the US. When in Boston, he visited us unexpectedly and introduced us to Dr. Toma Tomov.

CD: You have said that €šÃ„òrepeated coincidences€šÃ„ô were frequently involved in your Bulgaria experiences. How do you explain them?

R&AF: Practically all of our countless Bulgarian experiences arose as coincidences, starting with the finding of Nevena Geliazkova, Anne’s friend from the Geneva school, in 1985 by two fellow students at the Geneva school in 1937, after losing her through Communism and our McCarthyism. In 1985, those two fellow students happened to find an old issue of Life Magazine containing a letter from her to the editor and got her address that way.

They arranged for her to meet them at the Sofia railroad station on their way back to the US from Saudi Arabia, where she gave them an unaddressed letter to Anne, which they sent to us the next year. That led to our first visit to Bulgaria.

During that visit, we met Zlatko Enev when we were arbitrarily barred from the national library. That led to our unexpectedly getting Fulbrights, which led to the start of our networking with Bulgarians. Anne’s teaching prison social workers in 1991 through the invitation of Dr. Tomov, whom we met by chance in Boston during his study visit after the changes in Bulgaria, led to the establishment of School of Clinical Social Work and our meeting Dr. Galina Markova, who attended it and became its outstanding director, and ad infinitum. We account for the coincidences only by our being active and exposing ourselves to their chance happening and then disposed to take advantage of them. We do that because we are open to meeting new people and looking for opportunities to help them.

CD: How would you rate the value of your Fulbright activities in comparison with other international activities sponsored by the American government? Can you give us some examples of your actions?

R&AF: If our Fulbright activities were more socially beneficial than many other international activities, as we think that they were, that probably was because we were mature; had professional skills, especially social work; and enjoyed meeting people to help them and establish close continuing relationships with them.

CD: Of the many Americans who have studied, done research or taught in Bulgaria, have you met any who you would single out as having done a particularly good job of being ‘cultural ambassadors,’ if so in what respect?

R&AF: We do know a number of Americans who have been very effective “cultural ambassadors.” They include the late Nancy Cook, a clinical social worker from San Francisco, who secured a Fulbright and set up a trauma center in Sofia as a placement site for students at the new School of Clinical Social Work; Prof. Joan Berzoff of Smith College School for Social Work, who taught at the School for Clinical Social Work on a number of occasions; Dr. William Deveney of Boston, who secured a number of Fulbrights to consult in Bulgaria on social work practice and taught at the School there; Prof. Jean Anastas of the N.Y.U. School of Social Work, who taught at the School there; former Ambassador Sol Polansky, who has served on the boards of trustees of both the American University in Bulgaria in Blagoevgrad and the American College in Simeonovo in Sofia; and Kay Lamer of Boston, a clinical social worker whom we inspired to go there to teach a number of times at the School.

CD: Your activities reflect constant effort to help people. What moves you
to do that?

R&AF: For all our lives, we have been motivated to foster a decent and concerned society. Specifically, both us feel that helping people is the most rewarding experience one can have. We enjoy the success of socially positive activities in which we participate.

CD: How have your Bulgarian activities affected your own lives? Did they change any of your basic beliefs or assumptions about the world, or merely provide enhanced details?

R&AF: Our Bulgarian activities have enriched our lives immeasurably during our long retirement, at a time when many of our contemporaries merely coast. In general, they have enhanced our knowledge of history, culture, psychology, and the like in many respects, confirming our basic beliefs and assumptions, but adding the important dimension in Bulgaria that people as a group can be basically civil. We observed that in the traditional Bulgarian acceptance of ethnic and religious differences in their genuinely multi-ethnic society, as exemplifed by their freedom from significant anti-Semitism, specifically manifested by their saving their entire 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Treblinka against the goal of their Nazi ally during WWII.

CD: How do you think your activities have affected the lives of Bulgarians?

R&AF: While we know from experience countless miscellaneous ways our activities have affected positively the lives of Bulgarians, we especially are proud of them for fostering modern social work there that helps families and children in a variety of ways. Specifically, we helped our friends make their incipient travel business relatively successful economically for both themselves and the people they hired. We helped a number of Bulgarians change their careers by acquainting them with their scopes. We assembled and transported a large library of English-language social work books for the School.

CD: Bulgarians sometimes seem to be a withdrawn, even depressed people. Do you agree? If so, is this a matter of nature, or specific economic/political/whatever local factors?

R&AF: We have observed that many Bulgarians in Bulgaria have an apparent inferiority complex and some of them overcompensate by acting superior, especially those in the Sobranie [Parliament] and the government! Many also are afflicted by envy or jealousy in that they don’t want what others have but don’t others to have more than they do. That could be part of their deep egalitarian streak that moved them to favor the humanitarian aspects of Marxism. We have no idea about the source of those emotions.

CD: Since your time in Bulgaria, how have you been able to continue your cooperation from America?

R&AF: We conducted our activities with Bulgarians in Bulgaria by making fourteen trips between 1987 and 2002. Now, we continue our Bulgarian activities through the Internet, with the help of many Bulgarians who have immigrated here, and by encouraging other Americans to go there to teach and consult.

CD: I understand that you helped organize a Jewish-themed tour for your Bulgarian travel agent friends. Was there sufficient demand among American Jews to go? And do you think this is a concept that could be successful for tourism providers in other Southeast European countries?

R&AF: From the very beginning of our visits to Bulgaria, we identified it as ideal for tourism for its scenery, history, and culture. When we learned of the unique Bulgarian civility, with their freedom from anti-Semitism and saving of their Jews, we particularly thought that it should attract American Jews. We suggested this to our friends who operate a tour company there and helped them design an itinerary, drawing on our American perspective. While our repeated effort to find an American marketer for such tours was not successful, our friends finally have been able to find one to start to offer those tours. We do not know yet about the interest in those tours. Jewish tours are offered by others to Eastern Europe and Spain.

CD: You have mentioned the gratitude that Jews feel to the Bulgarians for protecting the country’s Jewish minority during World War II. However, at the same time the Bulgarian army deported the Jews under their control in occupied Macedonia and Thrace. Considering the depth of nationalistic feeling in Bulgaria especially with regards to Macedonia, have you had any encounters with any Bulgarians on this topic? If so, what is their perception of the tragic contradictory role? Is this something American Jews are aware of?

R&AF: We are aware of the unfortunate deportation of about 12,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia while under the administration of the Bulgarian Army during WWII. Many people who are aware of it, Jews and others, hold that against the Bulgarians, which we believe that they shouldn’t. That was solely the responsibility of wily young Tsar Boris III, who was walking a tightrope fending off Hitler from occupying Bulgaria. He, at least, was moved to call off the impending deportation of Bulgarian Jews within Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian people and Church leaders were not in a position to stymie the external action as they did in Bulgaria after word leaked out through the secretary of Alexander Belev, the person in charge of the effort. Moreover, the Nazi Army was present when that was carried out. We interviewed a Macedonian former newspaper reporter from Skopje, who witnessed the event and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the Bulgarian Army general from carrying it out.

CD: What is your assessment of the Bulgarians through the many you have known? And can you say that this is a people that the outsider can easily understand, or does it take much more time and effort to really know them?

R&AF: We continue to have a unique opportunity to know a wide variety of Bulgarians and have a very positive feeling toward practically all of them. They were all Bulgarian Slavs except for one unusually well educated Roma. They are no more difficult to understand than most people. We find those we meet to be predominantly warm and family oriented, which they manifest to outsiders they get to know. They are generous to a fault, highly intelligent, very literate, loyal, humanitarian, and socially responsible. We found it interesting that, despite their forebears being under the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, they reflect the social and intellectual values of the Western Enlightenment.

CD: What current problems do you see confronting the Bulgarians in Bulgaria?

R&AF: A major problem we are aware of is persisting corruption and gang criminality. We hear that education, formerly highly valued, is suffering. Also, the health care system apparently needs substantial improvement. We suspect that the government pension is inadequate and many retirement-aged people are dependent upon remittances from family abroad.

CD: One problem is the zero population growth amongst Bulgarians, and the decline of marriage as an institution, amidst strong competition from an opposing popular culture and a poor economy. Do you see this as a problem that will change in the future, if so, how and when?

R&AF: We see the zero population growth as a great problem, but it is not limited to Bulgaria. We cannot see that people will be eager to have children so long as the economy is weak and lacking in the types of career opportunities many find abroad. We have no idea if and when that will be corrected.

CD: Speaking from the point of view of elder visitors to Bulgaria, are there specific things the country could do to increase the ease of travel and comfort for older guests, in terms of infrastructure or organization?

R&AF: We haven’t been in Bulgaria since 2002 and, hence, are unaware of current conditions. When we were there, conditions were not favorable for frail or disabled people. There were too many stairs and too few elevators of adequate size. We are aware, from a friend in Boston, that serious efforts are underway to improve facilities and service in the tourism sector.

CD: If you were to say any words to American potential travelers young or old, about why they should visit Bulgaria, what would they be?

R&AF: We view Bulgaria still in political and economic transition as a living laboratory for the intellectually curious. It is refreshing to get to know the type of Bulgarians we have been privileged to meet, for their warmth, civility, and intellect. People like us who like to help others well could find countless opportunities. Bulgaria is unusually rich in history, going back to the Thracians as much as 7,000 B.C.E., with succeeding Greek and Roman vestiges. For outdoors people, the countryside is very attractive. There are wonderful opportunities to enjoy classical opera and music.

CD: How do you compare the experiences of Bulgarians in America with those in Bulgaria?

R&AF: We are impressed by how rapidly and well Bulgarian immigrants take advantage of the resources and opportunities in America. The vast majority of them we know do well for themselves and make a significant contribution to our society. This shows that they simply need the appropriate environment to use their innate skills to benefit themselves and the society in which they live.

While many Bulgarians do come into their own here in America, many in Bulgaria, often against great odds, do shine for their accomplishments. We are particularly aware of those in the field of social work. Our friends are contributing to the type of positive social environment they identify as desirable and they deserve.

CD: Now, almost 20 years after your Fulbrights in Bulgaria and sixteen years after the School of Clinical Social Work was started at the New Bulgarian University, how do you see the legacy of your activities there?

R&AF: We are delighted that you asked. We recently received a very positive report from Dr. Galina Markova, the first student at that School at Anne’s suggestion, its impressive director for many years, and the holder of a doctorate from the Smith College School for Social Work.

She just completed her major assignment- to de-institutionalize the notorious Moglino orphanage, which is the subject of a recent and very critical film. This effort has been spurred by the EU to reduce orphanages in Bulgaria and move to foster care for abused and neglected children, most of who were abandoned rather than true orphans. A major challenge was to trace the developmental history of the children, many of whom lost contact with their parents.

Now, she is initiating a bachelor’s degree program at the School to complement its master’s degree program since its establishment in 1992. Also, she inaugurated an entrepreneurial culture at the University to foster a closer relationship between it and the community. Similarly, she has developed a casework approach for an orphanage in Sofia for young children. Finally, she reported that a Roma female student supported by a fund we established there won support for a Roma community program for parents and children.

CD: Roy and Anne Freed, thanks so much for speaking with us today and good luck with your future Bulgarian endeavors.

R&AF: And thank you.