Bulgaria and Romania were both members of
the Axis in Second World War, allied to the German war effort. Both countries however,
switched their allegiances as the war turned against the Axis and by wars end, each found
themselves under Soviet occupation. Both The United Kingdom and the United States recognized
that these two nations were within the Soviet sphere of influence, giving Stalin the freedom
to begin shaping the future of the two countries, in similar fashion to what he was doing with
other nations under occupation by Soviet troops. I am your host David and this is the Cold
War. So let’s start by talking about Bulgaria.
Despite being under the control of a military dictatorship during the war, Bulgaria was
for the most part not a major military participant in the war. Keeping in mind that Bulgarians
are an ethnically Slavic people who share a common ancestry, including language, with
the Russians, waves of protests broke out across the country when Germany launched Operation
Barbarossa in the Summer of 1941. At the forefront of this opposition was the Fatherland Front,
a loose coalition of anti-fascists with a strong Communist membership. The Fatherland
Front waged a guerilla war against the government in Sofia, eventually successfully overthrowing
the military dictatorship by September 2, 1944.
Initially, the Communists had only a minor role in government, but had started creating
people’s militias which began persecuting supporters of the former regime as well as
non-communists.By June of 1945, Regent Prince Kiril, the members of the Regency Council,
twenty-two former ministers and many others had all been executed.
Parliamentary elections were held in November of 1945, where the Fatherland Front, dominated
by the communists won in a landslide, claiming 88% of the vote. Allegations of electoral
fraud quickly followed but were ignored. On the 8th of September 1946, a plebiscite was
held regarding the abolishment of the Bulgarian monarchy; 95.6% of voters voted in favour
of a Republic and the monarchy was abolished. In October of that same year, parliamentary
elections were again held, run on the need to create a Constitution for the new Republic.
The Communists further consolidated their power amid widely recognized electoral fraud.
Similar to what was happening in other Soviet occupied countries, repression and elimination
of opposition groups and non-Communists followed. Georgi Dimitrov, who was the head of the Communist
Party and had only returned from exile in the Soviet Union after the the war had ended,
became the Prime Minister and he declared Bulgaria to be a People’s Republic.
The Agrarian Party, led by Nikola Petkov, remained in opposition to the communists and
aimed to preserve parliamentary democracy in the country. Their refusal to submit to
the communists led to acts of repression against them and by June of 1947, Petkov had been
arrested in Parliament and was subsequently sentenced to death on false charges of espionage.
Although western nations protested these charges, Petkov was executed on September 23, 1947.
With his death, any remaining opposition in Bulgaria ceased to operate.
A new constitution was was subsequently adopted, based on the Soviet Constitution of 1936,
proclaiming a planned economy. Interestingly, the Constitution did not ban private property,
provided that private ownership of something was not considered against the public good.
It also accepted fundamental civil and political right for people, with the caveat that these
rights could be suspended in situations that could threaten the achievements of the revolution.
As I’m sure you can imagine, this left a great deal of room for interpretation for
both what rights people had as well as what private property could be held!
Of course, the political sphere was not the only one where the process of Sovietization
was taking place. The economic life of Bulgaria was also shifting. Under the Dimitrov government,
agrarian reforms began to be enacted. 130,000 families received land as a result of new
government policies which transferred land away from big landowners. This was a landmark
event in a nation where 80% of the population were engaged in agriculture and helped to
increase the support of the communist party. The death of Dimitrov in 1949 brought the
Stalinist Vulk Chervenkov to power, who almost immediately began to introduce policies leading
toward mandatory collectivization. As part of the policies, anyone who opposed collectivization
was imprisoned and sent to labour camps. At the height of collectivization in Bulgaria,
upwards of 100,000 people were serving sentences in labour camps. However, as a result of collectivization,
productivity increased rapidly, especially as large-scale mechanization was introduced.
Of course, agricultural transformation was only one half of the economic coin; there
was also a campaign for the rapid industrialization of the nation, introduced by Chervenkov. Under
his rule, from 1950 to 1956 dozens of dams and hydroelectric power plants, chemical works,
copper mines and even the Elatsite gold mine were established. The aim of this development
was similar to other nations in Eastern Europe within the Soviet sphere of influence; all
nations should be part of the industrial machine of the socialist world, preparing for the
impending conflict with the capitalist West. So, now, on to Romania. Romania, like Bulgaria
and Hungary, was a member of the Axis powers. Romania was a monarchy, led by King Michael
I since 1940 but under the control of the military dictator, Ion Antonescu. By August
of 1944, realizing the war was going badly for the Axis, Michael I threw his support
behind the army and the communist-led underground opposition and removed Antonescu from power,
declaring Romania for the Allies at almost the same time. Soon after, the nation was
occupied by the advancing Red Army. The Soviet occupation forces pressured Michael
I by March of 1945 to accept a government led by Petru Groza, leader of the Ploughment
Front, a leftist party strongly linked to the communists. This government appeared to
be broad-based on paper but in reality, Groza had named communists to the key ministries;
interior, justice, propaganda and economic affairs. The government did not even include
any legitimate members of the National Peasant Party or the National Liberal Party. INstead,
the Communists had drafted dissidents from each of these parties, heralded them as the
parties legitimate representatives and then sidelined the genuine party leaders. For those
of you who have watched our episodes on the Sovietization of other nations in Soviet Occupied
Europe, this should all be starting to sound quite familiar.
Almost immediately after taking office, Groza launched an agrarian reform program, where
landless peasants would receive free land expropriated from former Nazi collaborators
or those owning over fifty hectares of land. In areas such as Transylvania, this resulted
in almost the entire German population living there being stripped of land. On the other
hand, almost 800,000 Romanians received a parcel of land as a direct result of this
reform. The Western Allies, in 1945, considered the
Soviet Union in violation of the agreements that had been made at Yalta, that Moscow would
not impose a communist government in any of thier occupied states. Domestically, King
Michael was also unhappy with the Groza government, and protested by refusing to either recognize
it or sign and legislation or government decrees. The Communists however, just didn’t care
and went ahead with their plans without the King’s signature. Anti-communist Demonstrations
in November of 1945 were met with force, resulting in dozens of casualties.
In order to secure international recognition for his government, Groza made promises to
not only improve the human rights record in Romania but to also hold free elections. Both
the United States and Great Britain, in a stunningly naive move with the advantage of
hindsight, announced their recognition of the Groza government in February of 1946,
before elections were held and without any written guarantees from Groza. The West, if
it intended to press for change, had just lost its most effective piece of leverage.
Elections were held in 1946, but they were far from the free ones that were promised.
The highlight of the election was that it was Romania’s first elections with universal
suffrage. The downside was that the results were highly disputed. By means of widespread
ballot falsification as well as persecution of opposition supporters, leftist parties,
led by the Communists, took 379 of the available 414 seats in the legislature. The National
Peasant Party, the PNT, took 32 while the National Liberals took a mere 3 seats.
Internal reports from the Communist Party showed that the Bloc of Democratic Parties,
dominated by the Communists, actually won less than fifty percent of the vote. INterestingly,
the communists did much better in urban areas rather than the rural regions, despite the
agrarian reforms that had already been passed. It is claimed that this was because the majority
of women in the rural areas voted for the PNT at the urging of local priests. Famine
and drought in rural areas also contributed to the weaker than anticipated communist support
in these areas. The fraudulent election results and the strengthening
communist grip on power created a need for anti-communists forces to rally together,
which they did, around the PNT. This of course, led to the PNT becoming the main target for
attacks by Communist propaganda and the government. One of the PNT leaders, Ion Mihalache, a former
officer in the military, formed the Professional Military Circle to help oppose the communist-led
domination. This led to the press accusing the PNT of being a fascist group with aims
to overthrow the government. Communist politicians began to approach members
of other parties with the goal of co-opting them and they found some success with members
of the PNT and the Socialist Peasant Party. Under continuous harassment, the PNT leadership,
including Mihalache decided to leave the country to continue their resistance from abroad.
On July 14, 1947, they were arrested at Tamadau Airfield, outside of BUcharest and arrested
on charges of treason and of attempting to setup a government in exile. They were sentenced
to harsh prison terms in the labour camps. As a result of the so-called Tamadau Affair,
rounds of repressions began. The Parliamentary immunity held by PNT members of parliament
was stripped away and the PNT was banned. The leader of the non-communist faction of
the Social Democratic Party, Constantine Petrescu was arrested and sentenced to prison. The
leader of the opposition National Liberal Party was fired from his post as the Foreign
Minister. The majority of anti-communist politicians at this point were either arrested or forced
into exile and the Social Democrats were forced to merge with the Communists, creating the
Romanian Workers Party. On December 30, 1947, King Michael I was forced
at gunpoint to abdicate as King, after his palace was surrounded by troops loyal to the
communist government. Later that same day, the monarchy was officially abolished and
the Romanian People’s Republic was proclaimed. In the first week of January of 1948, Michael
I and his family were forced into exile and he would not return for 43 years, until after
the fall of communism. 1948 saw the adoption of a new Constitution
in Romania, based on, yes, you guessed it…the 1936 Soviet Constitution. The new constitution
did not prohibit private enterprise but it did emphasize the importance of state property
and the duty of citizens to increase it. The principle of a guided and planned national
economy were introduced while both domestic and foreign trade was regulated and controlled
by the state. The Constitution reserved ultimate authority with the Worker’s Party.
Now, like in Bulgaria, at the same time as the political scene was being transformed
in Romania, rapid economic transformation was also taking place. Like in other Eastern
European nations, preference was being given to heavy industry over lighter, consumer goods.
A number of join Romanian-Soviet ventures were established on a half-share basis, where
each nation would receive half of what was produced. These SovRoms were set up in such
fields as oil, gas transport, banking, wood processing, coal, and the chemical industry
as well as in the cultural field of cinematography. Romania was also a producer of uranium, which
was exported to the Soviet Union to be used in Stalin’s nuclear projects.
By 1952, a full 85 percent of Romanian exports were directed to the Soviet Union with the
total value of goods being sent by Romania being in excess of two billions dollars. This
far exceeded the amount of war reparations that had been demanded by the Soviet Union
from Romania. It is claimed that Romania suffered significantly from the unfavourable conditions
imposed on the SovRoms as well as how they were managed by the Soviet Union.
So what was the effect of all of this? Well, to be honest, it wasn’t good. The combination
of war reparations, poor economic management and the devaluation of the romanian currency
coincided with a severe drought and outbreaks of famine resulted.
In 1949, this led to a movement for the collectivization of agriculture. Despite a massive propaganda
campaign encouraging peasants to accept this movement, it was not enough, with up 50,000
people being imprisoned for their opposition to the collectivization movement. The Party
would only declare the complete collectivization of Romania in 1962.
SO as you we can see, the process of sovietization in Bulgaria and Romania was quite similar,
and followed the same trajectory as other Eastern European nations in the immediate
post-war period. The Communist parties were able to dominate the political scene by means
of fraudulent elections, the control of key ministries, effective propaganda machines
and the coercion of opposition parties, all with help from Soviet influence. Industrialization
and collectivization campaigns were carried out in both countries. Both also refused assistance
from the US-led Marshall Plan, thanks to pressure from the Soviet Union. The Western Allies,
wanting to avoid direct confrontation with the Soviet Union, largely turned a blind eye
to the Sovietization process, leaving Bulgaria and Romania under the control of the Soviet
Union until the the eventual collapse of Communism in 1989. We will discuss it all in our future
videos, so make sure you are subscribed to our channel and have pressed the bell button.
We rely on our patrons to create these videos, so consider supporting us via www.patreon.com/thecoldwar.
This the Cold War channel and we will catch you on the next one.