A month ago, just 3 days before Christmas, the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor accused of intentionally infecting Libyan children with HIV were sentenced to death, again. For details see e.g. http://www.post-trib.com/lifestyles/181771,Condemned.article.
Too busy to check the news, I heard about it from my father when he visited us at Christmas Eve. With more sadness than anger, he added, “And these crowds shouting “Death”! It was quite like our People’s Court.”
He was referring to the tribunal hastily established at the end of 1944, after the Soviet occupators installed Communist rule at Sept. 9 of the same year. Communists like to call everything “people’s”, their government was “People’s Rule”, even the country itself was soon renamed to “People’s Republic of Bulgaria”. (Here, the adjective “people’s” not only doesn’t match its literal meaning, but also corrupts the noun which follows.)
The official function of the People’s Court was to punish the people responsible for Bulgaria’s participation in World War II as ally of Nazi Germany, for the persecution of the Communist insurgents and for unspecified “crimes of the monarcho-fascist regime”. Today’s Communist historians link our People’s Court to the Nuremberg tribunal, although mere comparison of numbers reveals the disparity (in Bulgaria, only the death sentences were about 2000, exceeding with orders of magnitude the Nuremberg death sentences, as if Bulgaria and not Germany was the leader of the Axis.) The real function of the Court was to behead the Bulgarian nation, to destroy its elite. Bulgarian communists and their Soviet masters knew that Communist rule could be stable only if the ruled nation is degraded to scum. Hence, any important position of the person in the society was enough to get him tried and convicted. So, besides politicians who had worked for the German cause and policemen who had acted against Communist insurgents (as if any government could be required or expected to tolerate armed “opposition”), the victims included many opponents of “fascism”. Vladimir Kurtev, one of the four men who initiated the campaign to save Bulgarian Jews, was sentenced to death and executed. Dimitar Peshev, who did for the salvation more than anybody else, “the man who stopped Hitler”, received a prison term.
My father, then 22, remembers the People’s Court very well. It concerned him personally: among the victims was his own father, Georgi Markov. He was actually murdered in the blood bath orchestrated in the second half of September 1944, estimated to have taken at least 20000 lives (the exact number isn’t known to this day). Some of the killed were sentenced posthumously by the People’s Court. This served both to justify the murder and to allow convenient “legal” confiscation of their property. My grandfather had never done anything akin to a crime, but as an important member of a local community (he was a well-known lawyer in his town of Pleven) and as a political opponent of the communists (he was an activist of the Social-Democratic party) he represented a typical target of the September 1944 massacre. It was aimed to do at local level what the People’s Court had to do at national level, i.e. to destroy the brain and backbone of the Bulgarian society.
The communists never renounced the People’s Court. Until the very fall of the regime in 1989, applicants for “sensitive” jobs, visas etc. had to answer the question, “Have you relations who have been affected by the actions of the People’s Rule?” After 1989, communists (now calling themselves socialists) continued to claim that the People’s Court did justice and the sentenced people were guilty. Some of the victims, including my grandfather, were vindicated after they or their relations appealed the sentences, using the cumbersome procedure of the ordinary criminal cases. During one of the rare periods when socialists were not in power, a law was proposed to declare the People’s Court illegal and so to vindicate en masse the people sentenced by it. However, three leftist members of the European Parliament, alerted by Bulgarian socialists, passed a resolution appealing to Bulgaria not to support fascism. Bulgarian Parliament didn’t dare to oppose “Europe”. (After that, some members of the European Parliament privately admitted that they often nap or read unrelated texts when draft resolutions are proposed, and so later vote without really knowing what it’s all about.) So “world opinion” wasn’t very useful in the case of our People’s Court. Another example: a memorial plate in Israel devoted to Dimitar Peshev was removed because four Bulgarian communists asked Israeli authorities to do so.
Once I watched on TV a discussion on Tengiz Abuladze’s movie “Repentance”. One participant said, “The screenplay includes elements from very different historical periods; I don’t think this was a good idea.” Another one replied, “I, on the contrary, like this; it shows the ability of evil to erode tunnels through time.” I think that man was right – evil erodes tunnels, connecting points located at different times and places. At one stage, the HIV case in Libya was handled by an institution called People’s Court (if the translation is correct). This court is defined by Wikipedia as “a special status court for crimes against the state”. Any comment needed?
The similarity isn’t just in the court itself. As my father mentioned, it is also in the crowd. During the sessions of the Bulgarian People’s Court, the courthouse was filled and surrounded by a crowd shouting “Death!”. Now, we see the same crowd around the Libyan courthouses when the HIV trial is on the agenda. And it is shouting “Death” again. Every time in history when the tissue of the society becomes thin, this crowd emerges. It is always the same and always wants the same things – arson, destruction and death.
I checked several Libyan blogs and was happy to see that their authors didn’t mention the confirmed death sentences. I hope those Libyan bloggers didn’t quite believe that the sentences were just. When you read that the journal Nature and scores of Nobel Prize winners stand for the defendants, and at the same time under your windows a crowd able to make the bravest shiver wants their death, perhaps the best is to keep meaningful silence.