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In 1989, one day after the fall of the Berlin Wall, massive anti-government demonstrations in Sofia and the larger cities forced the dismissal of dictator Zhivkov from the Bulgarian Communist Party. It was, however, a bloodless and somewhat slow revolution, with the former Communist party remaining in power even after the first free, multi-party elections since World War 2 were held in June 1990, mostly due to the traditionally conservative votes of the rural electorate.
The major opposition throughout the 1990s was the Union of Democratic Forces, a new coalition of small democratic parties, which alternated with the BSP at trying to hold onto power.
The early and mid 1990s saw a tough period of transition. There were power, heating and food shortages, causing more mass demonstrations and strikes. Neither the BSP nor the UDF were capable of holding on to power or dealing with the economic hardships. Things reached rock bottom in 1996/1997 as banks went under, people lost their savings, and hyper inflation reached nearly 600%. The biggest and most violent demonstrations ever seen began on 10th January 1997 and ended when the socialist government resigned on February 4th, making way for the democratic UDF to win the April election.
This was the beginning of Bulgaria’s real progress, with the new government immediately declaring its intention to join both NATO and the EU. From this point on Bulgaria’s economy gradually improved, attracting increasing foreign investment. Foreign hypermarket chains entered and revolutionised the shopping scene, taking people away from the ‘garage’ food stores and a general improvement in the standard of living became tangible for those running their own businesses or working for foreign companies. However a large sector of society remained below the poverty line and the salaries of qualified professionals in the state sector, such as doctors and teachers, remain poor to this day.
Paromita first arrived in Bulgaria in December 1992 but her family has had friends and contact with Bulgaria since 1980: “We were delighted when the wall finally came down and I remember my mother trying to phone our friends. Phone calls to or within Bulgaria were a total nightmare till well into the late 90s. Lines were constantly being cut or crossed and no doubt listened to, not to mention being stolen. Anything that contained metal was being stolen – even electric cables. A friend of mine who had a small baby at that time, didn’t have enough breast milk for her child and had to buy breast milk from a neighbour as there was no formula milk available in the country – much less anything else. When I came December 1992, I was working in the slightly artificial environment of Borovets and still I learned to drink my tea and coffee black as there was no milk or if you got some it was usually rancid just like the butter. Choice of chocolates or snacks was extremely limited. I remember the company I worked for sending me a box of chocolates in the company mail for Christmas. The baggage handlers at Plovdiv airport had ripped it open and helped themselves to half of them! I could go on forever but at the end of the day I have now been living happily(moreorless) in Bulgaria since1993 and still remain optimistic.”