Bulgarian Journalist Threatened for Uncovering Communist Crimes

By Ekaterina Zhelyazkova
Ekaterina Zhelyazkova
Ekaterina Zhelyazkova
May 7, 2013 Updated: May 9, 2013

Bulgarian investigative journalist Hristo Hristov uncovered crimes perpetrated by the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP), and has been receiving threats ever since. The nation’s government has not openly condemned communism as some other post-communist East European countries have.

“This page of history should have long ago been in school textbooks,” Hristov said in an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times on April 25. Bulgaria was under communist rule from 1945–1989, during which time it “established an authoritarian regime in Bulgaria with the help of the Soviet Army and Joseph Stalin, via killings without due prosecution, fabricated trials against opposition, exiles in labor camps, and forced relocations of thousands of families away from their homes,” reported Hristov on his news website desebg.com.

He told The Epoch Times he has received threats because, “those connected to the repressive apparatus of the BCP continue to act—openly or behind the scenes—upon specific socio-political processes.”

Last month, Hristov and his family received a couple of threats of violence, which later escalated to death threats. The journalist filed an appeal with Bulgarian authorities. A week later, prominent Bulgarian politicians, including six members of the European Parliament (MEPs)—Andrey Kovatchev, Vladimir Urutchev, Mariya Gabriel, Preslav Borisov, Nadezhda Neynsky, and Svetoslav Malinov—took a stance on the case at a press conference.

“In connection with the threats for violence and death against the journalist Hristo Hristov, which are directly related to his revelations of the activities of the former secret service, we express our support for his job and condemn the attempts of trampling on the freedom of speech. We urge the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Public Prosecutor to defend the journalist and his family from any violation of their integrity, and to identify the source of the threats,” said the MEPs in a joint statement.

Hristov is an investigative reporter and researcher with 23 years’ experience. From 2001–2009, he published analyses of problems accessing the former secret service archives and Ministry of Internal Affairs documents. In 2002, Hristov worked for British publication the Guardian, and in 2004 for the International Center for Journalists in Washington, D.C. He then established his own media website.

Hristov specializes in working with court archives, and particularly those archives concerning crimes perpetrated by the BCP that other researchers and historians have not had access to.

He explains his mission on his website: “My wish is, when young people open the pages of history, to have a source to fill in the blanks from the epoch of communism in Bulgaria. One of these blanks is the truth about the institution of the secret service (aka State Security), its activities, and its role as a repressive instrument of the Bulgarian Communist Party.”

Hristov’s Exclusive Interview With The Epoch Times

The Epoch Times: You and your family have recently been threatened with violence and death. Has there been any progress since you filed an appeal?

Mr. Hristo Hristov: I would not like to give details. As every Bulgarian citizen, I did what I should have—I filed an appeal to respective legal institutions. They should be able to work calmly, hence at this stage I’d better not make comments in the media.

Epoch Times: During a press conference on April 23, Bulgarian politicians, including MEPs, insisted on exposing the authors of the anonymous threats, and supported you. What do you expect to happen next?

Mr. Hristov: This support is extremely important to me. I thank everyone who declared it publicly. I thank the six Bulgarian MEPs from the European People’s Party (EPP), and hope that the author [or authors] of these systematic threats that started at the beginning of 2013 will be identified.

Epoch Times: This is not the first time you are being threatened. Is your exposing of the truth about the dark communist past of Bulgaria the reason for the threats?

Mr. Hristov: During the last months, threats against me have escalated. I think they are a result of the postings on my website, namely, exposing people from the former secret service, as well as publishing information related to the communist past of Bulgaria.

Epoch Times: Do you expect support from Bulgarian political forces?

Mr. Hristov: Individual political representatives have already expressed their support. But I would not like to focus public attention on what happened and to let media distort it. That is why I allowed myself to speak only with you, the representatives of The Epoch Times. The threats against me deal a blow on the freedom of speech in Bulgaria.

I can imagine that to foreign observers, the most absurd [aspect of] this case is that a journalist in Bulgaria is threatened for exposing the files of the former communist secret service and giving voice to the names and actions of its agents. As a country, which is a member of NATO [National Atlantic Treaty Organization] since 2003 and a member of the European Union (EU) since 2007, a topic like this should not create such problems.

This page of history should have long ago been in school textbooks. But in fact, those connected to the repressive apparatus of the BCP continue to act—openly or behind the scenes—upon specific socio-political processes.

I am confident there are people who hardly approve of systematic and daily exposing of facts about the communist totalitarian service and its agents. And this is what my website is doing.

Epoch Times: Then this means that in Bulgaria there is no freedom of speech? Is this your opinion?

Mr. Hristov: I would not make such a general statement.

It is obvious, however, that since 2008, when Bulgaria was impacted by the economic crisis, the media environment was also severely affected. It is no secret that some media owners use their media to propagate specific political interests, serving their own business.

But when it comes to me, the worsened media environment does not affect me or limit the statements I publish. I go by what is useful for society and is necessary for exposing the truth about the work of the repressive apparatus of the BCP.

Epoch Times: Why is Bulgaria still in the shadow of the former communist secret service 23 years later?

Mr. Hristov: This is because in Bulgaria three things did not happen—decommunization, opening of the archives of the secret service, and lustration of the old elite and its repressive machine.

The best example of transition is the Czech Republic, and the best practices we see today in Germany. Among all remnants of the communist past, communist secret service archives have the greatest impact on society.

The archives of the secret service hide information about the economic power of some of today’s oligarchs. If the archives are fully open, people will be able to see the mechanisms the Communist Party used during the transition, in order to manipulate people who were former agents and hold power over them.

The Secret Service Archives Law adopted in 2006, although with a delay of 16–17 years, allowed Bulgarian society at least to find out who is who in contemporary Bulgaria, if not to receive justice for the communist crimes.

During recent years, as a result of the effective work of the Commission for Secret Service Archives, namely, by announcing the names of the agents of the BCP, Bulgarians could see clearly that such agents now have taken leading positions at all levels.

There are very few places without former agents in leading positions. I will not speak about the unexposed agents, because if absolutely all former agents are being announced, the picture will be shocking.

Epoch Times: When will Bulgaria be a real democracy?

Mr. Hristov: Unfortunately, we witness a façade of democracy; a democracy which has been used in a harmful way for the society in different periods of recent history—this is what the archives of the secret service show, and this is one of the reasons why I investigate them.

But the point of democracy is the everyday fight for it, and that even if we might feel deceived sometimes, we should continue forward to defend and fight for the real principles of democracy with real actions.