Our colleague and collaborator of Free Europe since the 1990s, Petio Petkov – a signatory of reports from Bulgaria and the Balkans and, for over 15 years, of his weekly column every Tuesday, “Correspondent’s Diary” – has been stricken with the disease.

We are with his family and we mourn his departure from us.

Tonic, with a developed sense of humor, with a penetrating critical look at political realities, Petio will miss us, his colleagues, and probably those who listened to his stories.

Rest in peace!

In 2019, on the occasion of the reopening of Bulgaria for the Free Europe radio station, Petio Petkov discussed with RFE / RL correspondent Anna West about the impact of Free Europe in 1989, the year of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. In 1989, Petio was in Bucharest, for five years already the correspondent of the Bulgarian news agency BTA (if anyone, listening to him all these years, wondered how he spoke perfect Romanian, this is the answer).

“I remember listening to Free Europe, the editorial programs for Bulgaria, in the late 1960s with my colleagues, as a student at the M. Lomonosov Technical College in Gorna Oreahovița, a city in northern Bulgaria. I had a Soviet-made VEF transistor radio with very good short waves and I could even avoid local jamming. In the summer of 1968, I listened and heard about the Prague Spring and the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops.

In the same year, I became a student at the Bucharest Academy of Economics, and my parents feared that Soviet troops would enter Romania in response to Romania’s refusal to send troops to Czechoslovakia.

At that time, Romania, from a Bulgarian point of view, was a pro-Western socialist country with many American films and programs on TV, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on radio and Soviet propaganda practically non-existent.

Returning to Romania in 1984, a correspondent for the BTA news agency, I found myself in a completely different country – a kind of North Korea, compared to the relatively tolerant regime of the Bulgarian dictator. [Todor] Jivkov. It was a total lack of information, fierce propaganda and security [poliția secretă] everywhere. In those conditions, Radio Free Europe was for me a valuable source of information about Romania, which not only me, but all my colleagues – correspondents from Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and even the USSR – used in their work. . I remember the interviews of Romanian dissidents such as Doina Cornea and Ana Blandiana and the daily comments of Neculai Constantin Munteanu, Mircea Carp and many others. Radio Free Europe played a very important role in the Romanian anti-communist revolt, providing real information about the events in Timisoara and many other cities ”.

Petio Petkov in 1989

In 2019, Petio Petkov sent this special correspondence, from Sofia, about the 30th anniversary of the fall of communism in Bulgaria:

Unlike other Eastern European countries, in Bulgaria, paradoxically, the Communists themselves under Gorbachev’s pressure initiated the transition to democracy, which – as analyst George Lozanov notes, explains some of the problems they face and now the country.

The Bulgarians understood on their own that the end of a totalitarian regime did not automatically bring democracy. The so-called round table with the participation of communists and the first opposition activists, among whom there were also security collaborators, blocked the formation of an anti-communist consensus. Without a real lustration process, activists and security guards took advantage of the positions they had in the state administration to become the new capitalists.

Professor Lozanov found that even now communism has not completely disappeared from Bulgaria, because part of the national wealth continues to be distributed behind the scenes or by violent methods, and part of the new leaders are not legitimized by skills and knowledge.

In other Central European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary or Poland, intellectuals defeated the tanks, and communist parties were eliminated from the start from the decision-making process.

In Romania, the transition started as an anti-communist revolution.

In Bulgaria, the denial of communism, with some exceptions, was not based on intellectual resistance. As a result, the fall of dictator Todor Zhivkov was a result of Gorbachev’s perestroika.
The non-communist prime minister and leader of the UFD, Filip Dimitrov, found that, despite the difficulties, the fall of the communist dictator gave a strong impetus to democratic change. The conspiracy at the top of the communist party became the beginning of the disappearance of communism. Bulgaria has evolved very quickly, having become a member of the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union.

Incumbent Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said the 30th anniversary of the transition was the best in the country’s history, and President Rumen Radev warned in his message that the road to democracy and a market economy required daily efforts.

This was Petio Petkov, from Sofia, for Radio Free Europe! A voice we will all miss.

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