SOFIA, BULGARIA -- Like the rest of Eastern Europe, Bulgaria shuddered through an anti-Communist revolution last fall. What is strikingly different here is that the revolution neither succeeded nor failed.
Instead, it roars on, generating a great deal of heat but little change.
It has been five months since Bulgaria's Communists, reconstituted as the Socialist Party, became the only ruling party of the old Eastern Bloc to defeat a well-organized anti-Communist opposition. The election was generally regarded as free and fair.
But tens of thousands of angry people still march regularly in the streets, denouncing communism. This fall, many of the protesters pound empty cooking pots and complain about lack of food. Due to power cuts, they often march in the dark.
Bulgaria's major labor union, taking up a tactic used last fall in Czechoslovakia, is planning a nationwide general strike on Monday unless the government resigns.
Amid the street turmoil, economic reforms remain on the drawing board and communist bureaucrats still are in charge of almost everything. It took the government an entire year to prepare charges against Todor Zhivkov, the dictator ousted last November.
Lacking change of the sort that is transforming the lives of tens of millions of people elsewhere in the region, Bulgarians fall back on cynical jokes. One favorite is about how the ruling Communists used to cut sex scenes from Western movies, whereas now the ruling Socialists snip out the scenes in which people eat.
The fundamental political and economic problem in Bulgaria, as most Bulgarians here now seem to see it, is that they voted for the wrong people in the June elections. As soon as the results were in, it became clear that the Socialists could not govern without the help of the opposition, an amalgam of artists, intellectuals and technocrats called the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF).
In a region crowded with genuine post-communist countries begging for aid, the Socialists here realized that they had to build a coalition and commit themselves to economic and political changes if they were to get debt relief or investment credits from the capitalist West.
But the UDF refused, choosing instead to whip up anger in the streets and let the new government twist slowly in the winds of change. The strategy has helped discredit the socialist government of Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov. Polls show that the UDF could win overwhelmingly if a vote were held now.
But the UDF opposes new elections, saying there is no time for them and insisting that the Socialists acknowledge their impotence, resign and hand over power. Petar Beron, the UDF leader who plans to become prime minister, said in an interview that Bulgarians have made their feelings clear in street demonstrations and in polls. "Months of doing nothing and waiting for elections will only hurt the country," Beron said.
Beron said Lukanov has no alternative but to quit. "We will do everything we can to make him resign even if it's necessary to organize rally after rally, day in and day out, from morning to night," Beron told a rally last weekend.
Lukanov has said he will resign if his tough economic reform program does not receive broad support in the parliament. But the program appears hopelessly mired in the divided assembly.
In the meantime, Bulgarian society, which has no democratic tradition, is becoming increasingly polarized. The Socialist Party headquarters was gutted by fire in August and arsonists were stopped last week as they tried to burn the front door of Lukanov's apartment in Sofia. Fistfights between opposition members and Socialists have become commonplace at political rallies.
"We cannot tolerate each other as political opponents. We tend to call each other enemies," said Rumen Danov, an opposition member of parliament and an insider in the UDF's scramble for power.
He said that Bulgaria's lack of political tolerance means that when the opposition finally does come to power -- as seems inevitable -- it will face bitter and perhaps violent opposition from ousted Socialists. "We rely now on extra-parliamentary means to further our struggle," Danov said. "But we know full well in the coming time these will be used against us."
Reuter reported from Sofia:
Scuffles broke out among Bulgarian legislators Thursday as the opposition proposed a no-confidence vote over the government's draft budget. Socialist and UDF deputies wrestled over microphones in the assembly's chamber, as more than 25,000 young Bulgarians jeered and whistled their demand that the government resign.