Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

10 Nov: Bulgaria buckles

Bulgaria's former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov
Bulgaria's former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov


Bulgarian Communist Party leader Todor Zhivkov stepped down on 10 November after 34 years in power, longer than any other Eastern Bloc leader.

A week earlier, the first known public protest in post-war Bulgaria had taken place, showing that change was quickly spreading from Central Europe to other parts of the Eastern Bloc.

Opposition, let alone protest, had never been tolerated in Zhivkov's Bulgaria and the 77-year-old remained resistant to any reform.

Officially, Zhivkov resigned, but he was effectively ousted at a meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee and replaced by his reform-minded foreign minister, Petar Mladenov.

Pressure had been building for some time, though it had attracted little attention outside the country. A number of civil rights groups had formed, the most vocal of which was an ecology group, Eco-glasnost.

Its leaders used the staging of an international environment conference in Sofia to stage a protest.

Within a week, emboldened by Zhivkov's demise, tens of thousands of protesters were on the streets demanding further change.

At one rally, youthful protesters tore up a portrait of Zhivkov, to loud cheers. Others marched through Sofia demanding he be put on trial.

Bulgaria's first free elections since 1946 were held in June the following year. What was once considered - under Zhivkov - a hardline Soviet satellite state is now a member of the European Union.

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