Politics and Society in the Post-Communist Era
The Bulgarian transition to democracy after 1989 has been slow to get off the ground, has been dominated by narrow and often unaccountable elites and has been subject to sudden reverses. The emergence of a rigid two-party system has produced extreme polarisation in society, an unhealthy obsession with ideology and excessive politicisation of policymaking. The inability of either of the two major parties to gain a decisive majority until 1994 resulted in an almost permanent executive deadlock and frequent resort to politically-weak expert governments. At the same time, however, the two-party system was able to absorb dramatic shifts in political fortune and thus stabilise the new democracy even in the most adverse conditions. One surprisingly positive development has been the integration of ethnic minorities in the national political system. The shaping of democratic institutions has been subject to intense political debate, and once in place, the institutions have often found themselves at loggerheads with each other, and have been circumvented and ignored by the political actors. The institutions did, however, manage to survive the 1990s without a major breakdown, and are showing signs of increasing consolidation. The continuity of the democratic political process is all the more remarkable in view of the severe shocks that Bulgarian society has experienced. Contrary to the prevailing assumption in political science, the Bulgarian experience has shown that democracy can survive and indeed can prove to be the better system in conditions of fundamental social dislocation.