Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bulgaria Struggles for Prosperity

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Somewhere on the road to joining prosperous Western Europe, Bulgaria has made a wrong turn. It's getting late to turn around.

People here hoped for a new, prosperous and democratic society when they joined their Soviet-bloc neighbors in 1989 in throwing out their aging Communist rulers.

Six years later, the goal is not in sight. Prosperity is skin-deep. The new rich slalom through Sofia's pot-holed streets in luxury sedans, past bright shop windows and American fast-food restaurants. Their poorer compatriots stand in line for bread, or wait to pull their money out of one of many shaky banks.

The currency is plummeting, crime is rampant, people are dispirited. The government is afraid of offending Russia. The official economy is 90 percent state-owned, and under the management -- many say mismanagement -- of former Communists.

The problem in Bulgaria, said political scientist Andrei Bundzhulov, is that former Communists gutted it. Former Communist officials moved out to form parallel structures where they have prospered. "The state, its structures, its form of ownership, were gutted like a fish, and its functions attained just a decorative significance,'' Bundzhulov said.

Markets for Bulgaria's state-run industry collapsed along with the Soviet bloc. The government has sought to keep unemployment at acceptable levels, and covered the debts of money-losing industries rather than shutting them.

Without restructuring of the state-run economy, international lenders won't provide loans to help make payments on the foreign debt. Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, Premier Zhan Videnov's Socialist government agreed to shut 64 state-owned businesses and eliminate 29,000 jobs.

Videnov's Socialists came to power in December 1994, promising to break a deadlock between former Communists and anti-Communists in parliament that prevented any government from following strong, consistent policies. But he finds himself struggling to keep unreconstructed Communists and reform-minded Socialists marching together.

"The country is facing a collapse, and I doubt that the Socialist Party will be able to rescue it,'' said President Zhelyu Zhelev, a former anti-Communist dissident.