A death in Sofia revives memories of a shady past

A death in Sofia revives memories of a shady past

The New York Times

SOFIA — In a Cold War-style drama in one of the last places in Europe to tackle its Communist-era legacy, the sudden death of the man in charge of a key Bulgarian secret police archive that was about to be declassified has created a political uproar.

The man, Bozhidar Doychev, 61, had served since 1991 as director of the National Intelligence Service archive, which is believed to contain information about the 1981 shooting of Pope John Paul II and the assassination of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, as well as records on current officials who may have worked for the secret police.

Doychev was found dead at his desk on Wednesday, shot in the head with his own pistol. But news of the death did not filter out until Thursday, when a London-based Internet news service broke the story. Only on Friday did Bulgarian officials confirm the report, calling his death a probable suicide.

Opposition legislators and commentators immediately contested the official explanation of Doychev’s death and alleged that the failure to report it suggested a cover-up. They based their accusations on the fact that the Parliament is preparing to vote on declassifying all of the Communist-era state security files, including the archive of the foreign intelligence directorate overseen by Doychev.

Atanas Atanasov, the former director of the National Security Service and now an opposition legislator, said Monday that Doychev’s death so close to the vote had raised “immediate deep suspicion” of foul play.

He said that he connected the death to the forthcoming opening of the files, adding, “Clearly someone is worried that it will become clear that some of them are missing.”

Many people believe that Doychev’s death was somehow related to destruction of files on behalf of people who want their participation in the former security services to remain hidden.

Bulgaria is the last country of the former Soviet bloc to have reached no consensus on how to deal with its Communist past, specifically the historical record contained in the archive.

Metodi Andreev, former head of the commission on the state security files, said Monday on the national BTV news that Doychev had worked at the archive for years “and followed the letter of the law.” If such a man was going to commit suicide, Andreev said, “he would not have done it while on duty in order to not burden the service.”

Alexander Kashamov, a lawyer specializing in freedom of information, called the failure of officials to announce Doychev’s death “very suspicious” at a time when public debate on the archive is hot.

With passions over the affair mounting, the Bulgarian prime minister, Sergei Stanishev, denied over the weekend that there had been a cover-up.

“The information about the death of Bozhidar Doychev was not deliberately hidden by the military prosecutor’s office,” Stanishev said.

According to Spas Iliev, the regional military prosecutor leading the investigation into Doychev’s death, the delay in informing the public was “nothing abnormal.”

“We don’t have a practice to announce that an investigation has begun,” he said. “We have to gather verified facts, and then we can announce them.”

Iliev said there had been no apparent signs of force or struggle at the site where Doychev died. “The leading version is suicide for personal reasons,” he said. He declined to comment further on grounds that the investigation was ongoing.

If Doychev did commit suicide, some people who knew him said, he must have come under pressure.

“I think there was some kind of pressure to destroy some compromising documents, but since he didn’t think he could resist such pressure, he decided to put an end to his life,” said Serafim Stoikov, a former director of the Interior Ministry archive, who had known Doychev since 1997.

Doychev’s death was first reported by kafene.net, a London-based Internet news service started by journalists formerly with the BBC’s Bulgaria section. The service cited as its source an anonymous representative of the European Commission.

“Seventeen years after 1989, we still learn about such events from the Western media,” complained Atanasov, a member of Parliament for the anti-communist Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria.

The vote on the bill to declassify and transfer all Communist-era state security files to an independent commission appointed by the legislature is expected in the next week or two.

Kashamov, who works for the Access to Information foundation, a nongovernment organization, said the bill in its current form would go a long away toward shedding light on Bulgaria’s past and expressed hope that it would not be watered down with amendments.

He said all parties represented in the Parliament supported the bill’s provisions for total declassification, except the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the former Communists, who were seeking to limit the scope of files that would become publicly accessible.

Proponents say that the total opening of the files will clear up suspicions about current figures in public life in Bulgaria and their roles in the Communist-era Durjavna Sigurnost, or State Security, services.

The archive Doychev oversaw contains Bulgaria’s post-1989 intelligence record and the entire documentation of the Durjavna Sigurnost foreign intelligence directorate.

The archive is of special interest because of information it is believed to contain about the 1981 assassination attempt on the pope in Rome by Mehmet Ali Agca of Turkey. Bulgarian intelligence services were widely blamed, but no Bulgarian participation was proved in three trials in Italian courts.

The files are also believed to contain information about the assassination of Markov, who was killed by a ricin pellet injected from an umbrella on Waterloo Bridge in London in 1978.

The Bulgarian Internet news service mediapool.bg said Friday that there had been two other high-profile apparent suicides recently. On Oct. 13, a former interior minister, Lyubomir Nachev, shot himself at his mother’s home in Karnobat, it said, and two days earlier, the director of the “intellectual property” division of the General Directorate of the Fight Against Organized Crime, killed himself.



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