Attempt to change identity - proletarian instead of European

Bulgarian ethnic Turks have a huge credit for the process of the people’s desire to be what they are

The story of failed communist dictatorship in Eastern Europe has not yet been told in full. There has been talk about separate events, certain facts, but this process has not yet been tracked back, the facts have not been yet analysed in depth, such as mental motivation and moral views that led to the formation of a United Europe as a cognitive paradigm in the minds of people.

Only the key apparent causes for the occurrence of individual events have been discussed, but not the psychological aspects of those resisting forces that predetermined future unification. Originally and purely historically, the reasons for the fiasco of communist dictatorship and Eastern regimes in Europe are external - the capitalist Europe superiority over communist Europe - in economic, social and cultural terms. But in addition to these externalities, there are also internal psychological factors that predetermined the revolt in people who lived in so-called "socialist society" where individual freedom and rights were an illicit luxury.

The problem, in social and psychological aspect, is that the Soviet bloc relied on "overplaying" "the other" Europe in creating its own "proletarian" identity based on the Marxism-Leninism principles, the philosophy of class struggle and the proletariat unity. Most 50-year-olds remember the basic slogan, "Workers of the world, unite," i.e. be aware of your proletarian identity as dominant and overriding others. These principles are per se incompatible with traditional European values ​​- freedom, the right to self-determination, options for choice, tolerance. While in Western Europe the process of unity through the European Coal and Steel Community was under way, going through the phases of the European Economic Union, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and ultimately the European Union. This was and still is (and will be) the creation of a single European identity.

In the socialist society, the social experiment of uniting the working-rural class as dominant and excluding other social groups was started. It was the "new identity". As a result, traditional national conflicts in the West between Germany and France, between France and the United Kingdom, between Spain and the United Kingdom, between Germany and the Scandinavian countries, and many others, have been neglected in the name of this common unification and workers’ identity. In the East, however, the opposite was true - attempts to create a proletarian identity created internal conflicts based on the philosophical doctrine of the system itself – dictatorship of workers. It resulted in the collapse of the Communist experiment, hence the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CEEC) system and the Warsaw Pact (as attempts to replace the EEC, PACE, NATO and the EU). Which were formally the reasons for this social experiment failure?

There have been several landmark events contributing to the communist dictatorship being overthrown in Eastern Europe and eliminating the idea of ​​proletarian identity (as long as it is able to exist). Which led to the transition, i.e. - to return to the Europe-typical normality? The Hungarian uprising of 1956 was first chronologically. It began as a student protest but grew into a nationwide revolt with involvement of workers (the proletariat) and the intelligentsia. The pro-Soviet government was overthrown and the government was István Nagy took the power. They demanded one thing - Hungary must leave the communist bloc and accede to normal European countries. The United Kingdom (the largest country in Europe at the time) and the United States were addressed with a request to recognise Hungary’s independence. The result - more than 200,000 people leave Hungary, Istvan Nagy is hanged on Khrushchev's orders, and the casualty toll is likely to be 2000 people. Mainly so-called "proletarians". The uprising was severely suppressed by the Soviet army. The hero was not Nagy. He was forced by the circumstances, by the pressure of the people (i.e. the workers) to declare Hungary's desire to leave the Warsaw Pact and take the path like the rest of Europe. The invasion of Soviet troops erased this attempt to unify Hungary with European principles of life and brought it back under communist rule. Hungary was back under a communist dictatorship, but people's thinking is different. Hungary has become a "precarious" member of the CEC and the Warsaw Pact. The USSR could not count on it, as it did on other communist brothers. The mindset of the Hungarians has already changed.

The next event took place 12 years later in Czechoslovakia, known in history as the Prague Spring. This is a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia. It started on January 5, 1968, and continued until August 20, when the USSR, People’s Republic of Bulgaria, Poland and People’s Republic of Hungary occupied the country; however, Romania, as a Warsaw Pact member, refused to participate. Bulgaria was involved in the Prague Spring suppression, by sending two motorized rifle divisions and one tank battalion. The occupation forced 70,000 to 300,000 people to emigrate to the West, mostly high skilled workforce – i.e. workers. The Western countries heartfully welcomed these emigrants. The result - an unknown number of killed, many disappeared, and over hundreds of thousands emigrated from the country. Alexander Dubček was removed as a state leader and retired as a forest ranger. But the Prague Spring was to be remembered. It formed the basis for the creation of Charter 77 on January 7, 1977 by intellectuals such as Vaclav Havel, calling for the liquidation of communist regimes and the proletarian identity experiment. It referred to the Helsinki Final Document which calls for respect for human rights in communist Czechoslovakia. Many intellectuals from all over Europe supported the Charter. Czechoslovakia was no longer the same. Its citizens had clearly declared their European values ​​and moral affiliation and their unification as part of a unified proletarian identity, as the USSR leaders thought of it, was impossible.

The third landmark event was the wave of strikes in Poland in 1976. The particular context for the Radom workers protest was that on June 24, 1976, Prime Minister Piotr Jaroszewicz presented to the Sejm a project that would dramatically increase food prices by an average of 69%, to take effect in only 4 days. Due to the price hike, in the spring of 1976 the Ministry of Interior and the People's Police were ready to quell any strikes. Risings were suspected in Warsaw, Gdansk, Szczecin, Krakow and Śląsk. Radom was not among them. But it was precisely at the Radom Metallurgical Plant that a large strike wave began to flood the country. Workers seemed to be self-organized and overruled the state's policy. They were lined up by students. The Catholic Church also supported the protests. Lech Walesa (sheer proletarian), an electrician at Gdansk Shipyard, was fired. He started the organization of the national union titled: Independent Self-governing Trade Union Solidarity. Its official existence was announced in Poland in 1980. It gradually grew into a nationwide movement. Poland was on a national strike. Workers went on strike against the dictatorship of the proletariat and against its imputed new identity. The solution was to introduce a military regime. Pro-Soviet general Wojciech Jaruzelski was then head of state of Poland. However, Poland was no longer the same. The Solidarity syndicate, with the support of the Catholic Church, already dominated the minds and hearts of the Poles. The mindset was not the same. Despite the famine and misery, the Poles looked at a free Europe.

The fourth significant event took place in Bulgaria in 1985. At the time, the so-called "revival process", enjoying a particularly strong start in the end of 1979, was activated. In its essence, it reveals the state was depriving humans of fundamental personal human rights, such as the right to self-determination and the freedom of religion, confession, language, culture to a part of the Bulgarian citizens - mostly workers, i.e. it was implying a new identity to them. The protests were partly spontaneous until 1985, but later expanded. There was an organized movement in the country, led by Ahmed Dogan, which helped it to unfold. Both militia and regular troops were involved in suppressing the protests. Thousands of ethnic Turks (mostly agricultural workers, i.e. the core of the proletariat) were protesting against changing their name and identity. The state sent militia to deal with the problems. It could no longer rely on the Soviet bloc, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia. Even Soviet leader Gorbachev was worried, unlike the communist government in Bulgaria, although the world strongly condemned the country's policies. The Bulgarian Foreign Minister was a persona non grata throughout Europe and the USA. Meanwhile, more than 20 people were killed in different parts of the country and thousands were kept arrested. Some of them have never left the custody; in the Ministry of Interior’s dungeons they died and had the same diagnosis - heart failure, heart attack. There were hundreds of them. Ahmed Dogan has already created the Movement for Non-Violence Resistance. He was imprisoned with a tough sentence and was deprived of his scientific titles. Since his imprisonment, he has managed to send a letter to politicians in Europe to finally discredit the communist power in the country. Local organizers were expelled from Bulgaria and welcomed as political emigrants in Scandinavian countries. The result - more than 300,000 people left Communist Bulgaria and secured Turkey's economic prosperity. The country’s economy went bankrupt and the state was collapsing. Banks went bankrupt and agricultural produce remained unharvested. The proletariat was gone. A large group of Bulgarian intellectuals were advocating for the rights of the Turkish minority. The Bulgarian people were no longer the most obedient servant to Moscow.

In general, this is the story of internal resistance in the Eastern Bloc, which strongly helped win the Cold War for the West and created the conditions for the Berlin Wall fall and the future formation of United Europe, accordingly, the collapse of proletarian identity based on communist dictatorship. It was in this chronological sequence that Bulgaria became the last drop that made the cup run over, or that excess of "proletarian identity", which gave a new outlook to United Europe.

Seen from the rostrum of the past, we can see the ideological kinship of these four events - namely the pursuit of freedom, human rights and self-determination, which are the basic elements of the European identity’s values and moral mindset. They are too distant from the principles of "proletarian" identity (insofar it is conceivable). Another proof that European identity continues to exist and dominate in the minds of Europeans, wherever they may be, regardless of forceful attempts is their replacement. So-called ‘proletarian identity project’ has failed completely, while European identity has emerged amid critical situations, as forbidden as it was. The affiliation to this primary identity and an important factor in the change of Europe resulted in the resistance to so-called "revival process".

In its essence, the Hungarian uprising, the Prague Spring, Polish strikes, and Bulgaria’s "revival process" were largely the result of the preservation of this deeply-rooted European identity, apart from their specific goals. It also implies a new interpretation of European identity as a primary rather than a secondary fundamental enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, the EEC or the EU. It is a fact that, immediately after the formation of their statehood, the Bulgarians have shown their affiliation to the European model - culturally, economically and politically. The first Bulgarian constitution, voted also by the Turkish minority in the National Assembly, is a copy of the Belgian constitution, Bulgarian citizens were educated in Europe. The fact is that Bulgarian Turks forcibly displaced in Turkey are concentrated in cities as close as possible to Bulgaria and, accordingly, to Europe. They are either in Bursa, or in Istanbul or Izmir. And obviously this is an internal awareness of belonging that communist doctrine could not replace with the idea of ​​a new proletarian identity. It is a fact for Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria.

Now, when we talk about these events from a distance of 30 years or more, we can track them as a process of intolerance to any form of ugly ideology, of the people’s desire to be what they are, rather than what they are perceived by any dictatorship. Bulgarian ethnic Turks also have a huge credit for it. Anew story must be written about the creation of a European identity. The revolt the Bulgarian Turks in 1989 come to prove it.


Samuel Levi is one of the founders of  the democratic press in Bulgaria. Creator of 21th Century Newspaper, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Democracy, Liberal Politician, Editor-in-Chief of Rights and freedoms. One of the founders of modern liberalism in Bulgaria. Political analyst.

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