RFE 1989 Bulgaria
Bulgaria’s proved to be the quickest of Eastern Europe’s revolutions, removing Communist Party leader Todor Zhivkov after 45 years in power on November 10, 1989, just one day after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Unlike the region’s other revolutions, however, it was a less a people-powered movement for democracy than a coup among the Bulgarian Communists over whether to implement perestroika’s reforms. Foreign Minister Petar Mladenov, who was an advocate for reform, replaced Zhivkov for a brief, transitional period, navigating the earliest steps of the country’s political transition.
In the days leading up to the revolution, the Bulgarian Service reported on growing public protests, interviewing political dissidents on the air and broadcasting speeches from prominent figures, including Bulgaria’s soon-to-be first democratic president, Zhelyu Zhelev. The Service had been a platform for dissidents beginning in the 1970s, provoking retaliation from the authorities after airing critical commentaries from regime insiders. By the late 1980s, the countermeasures intensified as RFE began to interview dissidents live on air. Indeed, jamming intended to block RFE broadcasts persisted longer in Bulgaria than in any other country in the Eastern bloc.
Recalled current Bulgarian Service Director Ivan Bedrov, "Rumiana Uzunova read letters on air from disobedient Bulgarians, talked to some of them on the phone, and piece by piece presented the missing news from Bulgaria." Later in November 1989, when the first mass demonstration started, “people already knew who the leaders of the protests were. At least they recognized their voices, because they were listening to them on RFE,” he said.