SOFIA, BULGARIA -- In the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior, there are 100 red-leather volumes that explain in 60,000 pages how the Bulgarian government had absolutely nothing to do with the 1981 plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II.

The keeper of the books is Jordon Ormankov, chief spokesman for the ministry that oversees the secret police and former chief of the Bulgarian investigation into the pope plot. For nearly a decade, Ormankov has been denying -- incredulously, angrily and at great length -- an Italian prosecutor's charge that Bulgarian agents paid a Turkish gunman to shoot the Polish-born pontiff.

Since Bulgaria's democratic revolution, however, Ormankov and his ministry have put on a far friendlier face. The spokesman explains how bugging has been banned, how government harassment of political enemies is no longer permitted. He even offers to let visitors peruse his red-leather pope-plot books.

Yet perestroika Sofia-style precludes a post-revolution investigation of the so-called "Bulgarian connection" in the assassination attempt. "There has never been a reexamination of the case. I was in charge of that investigation. There does not exist a reason for the reexamination of that case," Ormankov said last week.

While interior ministries across the old Eastern Bloc have been turned upside down and inside out by democratic change in the past year, Bulgaria's security apparatus has managed to keep its infamously murky past under lock and key. Ormankov himself personifies how his government manages to keep its secrets, while all those around it are losing theirs.

His job is to speak for the post-Communist present, but he retains strong professional, personal and emotional ties to his own role in the Communist past. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe -- with the possible exception of Romania -- most officials of Ormankov's ilk are either retired or looking for work.

In Poland, the man now in charge of the Interior Ministry is a former deputy editor of an anti-Communist newspaper. In East Germany, citizens burst into offices of the secret police, the once dreaded Stasi, and rifled through its records. In Hungary and Czechoslovakia, elections forced massive changes in policy and people at national security agencies.

Alone in the region, Bulgaria's reform Communists, who now call themselves Socialists, managed to win parliamentary elections against a well-organized opposition. That victory, which foreign observers said was relatively fair and open, has left the vast majority of government jobs unchanged. Although the Interior Ministry is now supervised by the National Assembly, opposition legislators have not been granted access to the ministry's files.

Ormankov, in a statement that the opposition here greeted with extreme skepticism, has said that the Interior Ministry has no records on political opponents -- only those of convicted criminals, spies, drug dealers and the ministry staff. "The time has not yet come in this country when light is shining into dark corners at the Ministry of the Interior," said one Western diplomat here.

As in the repressive years under Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who was overthrown in a palace coup last November, Western embassies continue to believe that phones in Bulgaria are tapped and that hotels frequented by foreigners are bugged. In Poland and Romania, a number of phone-tapped hotel rooms were shut down and shown to the press. This has not occurred in Bulgaria.

In the one case in which the Bulgarian government has announced it would reexamine the past -- the 1978 killing of Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov, who was shot with a poison pellet in London by someone carrying a black umbrella -- the investigation appears stagnant.

At the beginning of this year, Alexander Lilov, now head of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, promised Markov's widow a full investigation of her husband's death, and Bulgaria and Britain agreed to exchange information on the case. Last month, two Bulgarian detectives traveled to London to see what information Scotland Yard had; British detectives are expected here late in the year.

Last week, however, a spokesman for the National Investigation Service said in an interview that the Markov case was closed. "There is no development of the case," said Maj. Kosta Bogatsevski. "The visit of the two detectives to England was just a way to establish contact. We hope that this will be fruitful in the future."

British and U.S. officials say they remain convinced that there is a Bulgarian link to the death of Markov, who had spoken scornfully of Zhivkov in broadcasts heard in Bulgaria over Radio Free Europe in the months before the murder.

Interviews with Ormankov and Bogatsevski raise questions about what agency in the Bulgarian government controls the two detectives in the Markov case. At the Interior Ministry, Ormankov said the detectives reported directly to the Chief Prosecutor's Office, which is separate from his ministry. At the National Investigation Service, however, Bogatsevski said they work for the ministry.

Western diplomats say the Markov investigation is little more than an elaborate stall. "My feeling is that {Bulgarian authorities} are trying to stretch this whole thing out," said one diplomat close to the case. "They try to pretend that they are bending over backward when in fact they have done nothing."

In the shooting of the pope, Bulgarian authorities have drawn little criticism for refusing to reopen the case. A 10-month trial in Rome in 1985-86 of three Bulgarians and five Turks on charges of plotting to murder John Paul II failed to prove any "Bulgarian connection."

The bizarre testimony of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who shot and wounded the pontiff, turned the trial into a farce. Agca provided the bulk of the evidence against the Bulgarians, whom he described as his accomplices in the shooting, but his credibility was shredded when he claimed to be Jesus Christ and described himself as having psychological insight "greater than Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud put together."

That trial did leave serious unanswered questions, however, about Agca's movements in Bulgaria in the year before the assassination attempt. Authorities here have never explained how it was possible for Agca -- who in 1980 was on Turkey's most-wanted list as a murder suspect -- to stay for at least six weeks in the best hotels in Sofia and not attract attention.

An Italian magistrate accused Bulgarian officials of falsifying documents connected to Agca's stay here, and, while the Rome court did not find sufficient evidence to convict any of the three charged Bulgarians, it chose not to use a provision in Italian law that could have granted a full acquittal on the grounds of proven innocence.

But Bulgaria is not entirely immune to the pressures that have broken down the ministries of secrets elsewhere in Eastern Europe. On Friday, Col. Gen. Atanas Semerdjhiev resigned as interior minister after only seven months in the job. He had been criticized by opposition legislators for allowing police to use strong-arm tactics against protesters who pushed through police barricades around the National Assembly building.

Semerdjhiev accused the opposition of "taking advantage of my tolerance" and told reporters on his way out of the ministry building: "If the guards had given me a pistol, I would have shot myself."

The Socialist Party here has shown itself ineffectual in controlling strikes and demonstrations, and it appears incapable of filling a leadership vacuum that has grown more acute since last month's election.

The Socialist prime minister has repeatedly asked the opposition to join in a coalition government, but several opposition leaders have said that a quid pro quo for such an arrangement would be an Interior Ministry headed by an opposition legislator.

Career bureaucrats at the ministry say such a thing could happen, even in Bulgaria. "It is possible today or tomorrow. Who knows?" Ormankov said.