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Bulgaria: The Military in the Political System
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Defense Organization > The Military in the Political System


In 1991 Bulgaria was in the midst of shifting from a highly politicized army to a depoliticized one. The military had always been involved in domestic political struggles. The Military League exerted strong political influence through its support for the Zveno coalition after World War I. In 1934 the Military League took a leading role in overthrowing the government, and as recently as 1965 military officers were involved in political intrigue. The reported 1965 coup attempt led by General Ivan Todorov-Gorunia was allegedly aimed at replacing Zhivkov and establishing a more nationalist, less pro-Soviet leadership in the country. By 1990 communist Bulgaria had apparently made more progress in separating the military from politics than the Soviet Union, but perhaps less than other communist countries of Eastern Europe.

After World War II, the BCP quickly established control over the army. It purged old officers and made political loyalty to the new regime a more important criterion than professional competence for the selection of new officers. Political officers in the ranks of the BPA ensured loyalty by extending the party apparatus throughout the military establishment. As in the Soviet Union and other Soviet-allied countries, party membership in the officer corps exceeded 80 percent.

Despite more than forty years of efforts to ensure communist control of the armed forces, the BPA took no action when BCP General Secretary Todor Zhivkov was ousted by party officials in November 1989. According to many reports, the conspicuous lack of military support for Zhivkov dissuaded his security forces from intervening to prevent the overthrow. In the immediate post-Zhivkov era, the BPA and its leadership declared an intention to be an apolitical, stabilizing factor in the peaceful transition to democracy.

The shift to multiparty politics brought opposition pressure to depoliticize the armed forces, in part because all parties feared the BPA could split into partisan armed factions or become the instrument of one party as it had been for the BCP. In the new climate of open political discourse, national security and defense became frequent topics of debate among political parties. The military leadership, however, complained that some parties failed to show a sufficiently responsible attitude toward these issues.

In January 1990, at the direction of the reform wing of the BCP, the State Council repealed the section of article 1 of the constitution that had institutionalized the exclusive political role of the party in the armed forces. The decree replaced BCP political organs in the army with educational work organs. The State Council followed that action with a more specific decree ordering complete depoliticization of the armed forces. The Military Administration Department of the BCP Central Committee and the Main Political Administration of the BPA were removed from the Ministry of National Defense and their functions curtailed. The decree effectively eliminated control by the BCP (which in early 1990 renamed itself the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP) over the army by removing cells of the party and the Komsomol from the army. In September 1990, the National Assembly approved a new law on political parties. The law depoliticized several government institutions, including the army, and required them to respond to the state rather than the ruling party. By the end of the year, 98 percent of all soldiers reportedly had relinquished their membership in political parties in accordance with the law. If they refused to do so, they were discharged from the service. In 1991 the Ministry of National Defense campaigned for exclusion of active-duty military personnel from voting in elections.

Besides changing the legal framework for the relationship between the military and the political system, the new political course in Bulgaria brought practical changes in everyday army life. The content of military education shifted dramatically from emphasizing the defense of the communist system to the defense of the homeland without regard to political considerations. Bulgarian sources indicated that the adjective People's in Bulgarian People's Army now was interpreted to mean "national" and not "proletarian." Defense of national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity replaced the defense of socialism as the primary mission of the military. Professional competence replaced political allegiance and reliability as the most important measure of officer qualifications. The military post of political officer was eliminated officially, although plans called for retraining some political officers for new educational duties within the armed forces. The remainder would have to qualify as regular line officers or leave the service. Nevertheless, the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) opposition coalition accused the BSP of continued party recruitment among cadets and newly enlisted personnel after the State Council decree on depoliticization.

Data as of June 1992

Last Updated: June 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bulgaria was first published in 1992. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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