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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 112: Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Petar Mladenov, December 5, 1989

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1This record of conversation covers the first meeting between Gorbachev and the new party secretary in Bulgaria, Petar Mladenov, who replaced the longest-serving East European communist leader, Todor Zhivkov, the day after the Berlin Wall fell (termed “the November 10 changes”). Gorbachev applauds Mladenov’s “brave protest” in a “resignation letter” that provided a “Mladenov spark”—a reference to the latter’s conflict with Zhivkov in October, when the Bulgarian boss refused the resignation and insisted that the then-foreign minister continue his travel to China, transiting Moscow twice on the way. Outside observers assumed Moscow’s hand in the changes, but Gorbachev here repeats his non-interference line, although he does say the Kremlin refused Zhivkov’s appeal for a visit in the middle of the crisis. Mladenov provides an insider’s description of how decrepit the Bulgarian party process had become under Zhivkov, and Gorbachev (without a trace of irony) decries Politburo sessions that turn into monologues.


2Gorbachev: Welcome. I am, of course, interested in your opinion on the prospects for developments in Bulgaria.

3Mladenov: Overall, we are in control of events in the country. The people received the November 10 changes in the country’s leadership with enthusiastic support. Once again we are convinced that even though we have been in politics practically our entire lives, we still do not always know the people’s true attitudes.

4Except for a small segment of the population, everyone is keenly in favor of perestroika in Bulgaria. Right now in our country there is an extremely high level of interest in Soviet perestroika.

5It has now become absolutely clear to everyone that Bulgaria is ripe for real changes. After all, for a number of years the socio-political climate in the country has been deteriorating. The party was losing its authority; it became more and more noticeable that the words and actions of the leadership did not agree. The Central Committee was turned into a talk shop: the leader was praised during sessions, people said how wise he was, they supported his every speech and voted in unison. But the real, truly topical problems were never discussed at the CC Plenums, and the Politburo was not a collective organ. I was a part of it for 15 years and we never discussed or resolved the most important questions.

6The moral climate of the country was seriously deteriorating. Everybody saw that the leader was unfairly promoting his relatives. Some other unbecoming acts—to put it nicely—were also committed. That is why the people saw the November changes as an aspiration to put an end to all the negative experiences that we have accumulated over the years.

7Gorbachev: I heard that your Politburo met irregularly, and the rare sessions that you did hold all turned into a monologue.

8Mladenov: Usually at the Politburo new theses and concepts would be presented, but there was almost no discussion of practical matters. Now we will have to say goodbye to a number of people who contributed to maintaining that style of work.

9Gorbachev: We appreciate your courage and understand what it took for you to write a resignation letter, which many perceived to be a brave protest. Somebody had to start, and you took that responsibility upon yourself. It is very important that you developed a positive line. It’s a sign of the fact that in the party and in society there is a potential for political wisdom and civil well-being. We rejected Zhivkov’s request to come to Moscow with the excuse of seeking advice.

10Our principal position was that the Bulgarians have to take care of their issues themselves. And that in no way means that we do not care about Bulgarian affairs. Nothing of the sort! Bulgaria is, of course, very close to us. We know our friends well, but we cannot interfere in their internal affairs and tamper with the ripening of the situation. And the “Mladenov spark,” so to speak, which started the movement toward change, only showed that the situation had objectively become ripe, and even over-ripened. […]

11[Source: Mikhail Gorbachev: Zhizn’ i reformy [Mikhail Gorbachev: Life and Reforms], Novosti: 1995, pp. 371-373. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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