Bulgaria suffers winter of economic pain
Socialists agree to discuss early elections
January 13, 1997
Web posted at: 3:20 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Christiane Amanpour
SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNN) -- Bulgaria, once one of the most
successful of the old Soviet satellite nations, is on the
brink of bankruptcy, brought to its knees by disastrous
economic policies and corruption in the post-communist era.
Responding to eight days of street protests, the country's
ruling Socialist party said Monday it would consider calling
an early general election. And in response to increasing
complaints from the opposition, it said it had drafted a plan
to end the political and economic crises.
But in the winter snows of the capital, Sofia, residents have
lined up for food -- the first such lines since the fall of
communism six years ago. Even the middle class are queued up
at cut-price outlets.
Some residents can't afford to heat all the rooms in their
homes, and the city has sealed off some of the radiators.
Buying power is a tenth of what it was just a year ago, and
fixed salaries cannot keep up with soaring inflation. These
days a good pension amounts to $12 a month -- a high wage,
$40 a month.
"If my daughter and her husband didn't give me money I would
simply die of hunger," said one woman. "Everyone says they
get poorer with each day that passes."
Bulgaria's work force is one of the best-educated in all the
former Soviet satellites. The country has plenty of arable
land. But bad policies and corruption have taken a toll.
The bread lines are forming because businessmen with ties to the ruling Socialists sold
this year's grain surplus for their own profit -- and now the
state is importing grain.
Financial analysts say similar transactions are happening at many state-owned
factories and other enterprises.
"That means the government gets stuck with the losses and
all the cash and the profits get skimmed off by private
interests," said economic analyst Kenneth M. Lefkowitz.
The taxpayers bear the pain. The government is unable to
budget even enough money for antibiotics and other medicines
at the state hospital. This winter, orthopedic surgeons are
begging other city hospitals for plaster to make casts.
Protests began over a week ago to force the government into
action. On Monday, before the announcement that the
Socialists were ready perhaps to talk about early elections,
8,000 people rallied in Sofia, and tens of thousands more
marched in 20 towns across the country.
The problems, say economists, must be met with tough reforms
soon, before Bulgaria sinks too deeply into its economic
Reuters contributed to this report.
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