Communism and the Remorse of an Innocent Victimizer
Cold War
6.125 x 9.25, 224 pp.
19 b&w photos., 1 map.
Eugenia & Hugh M. Stewart '26 Series
  cloth
Price:        $29.95 s

978-1-58544-195-2
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Communism and the Remorse of an Innocent Victimizer

By Zlatko Anguelov

For decades Americans imagined life under Communist regimes to be grim, frightening, and oppressive. Not so, Bulgarian-born Zlatko Anguelov reveals in this eye-opening memoir. For the most part, life was just normal. People adjust; bread must be earned; families enjoy each other's company. If Communist governments were oppressive, that oppression became the norm for most people's lives; totalitarianism was mundane and even banal.

Yet in the morally ambivalent world of the communism in which Anguelov grew up, everyone was both victim and victimizer. Few dissented; few intended evil. More typical were tales of compliance, complicity, and informing on friends and neighbors just as part of getting by. Whether discussing his schooldays, his marriages, or his career, Anguelov inexhorably returns to his theme of compliance. In moving but understated prose, he describes his own coming to terms with the harm done by compliance and his gradual shift into a more politically active stance.

Through the stories of Anguelov's own family and acquaintances, he illustrates the kinds of moral choices available to ordinary folk. The motives for collaboration range from those of his grandfather, who cooperated with the government because he believed fervently in communism, to those of his cousin, who cynically embraced the regime in order to prosper. Decades of learning to get by in such a system, Anguelov hints, may have shaped opportunists who now pose as democrats and who sought in post-communist reforms not so much political freedom as economic prosperity.

In this penetrating and provocative account, Anguelov challenges easy assumptions about communism, democracy, and Eastern Europe. His chilling insights into complicity under Bulgarian communism raise uncomfortable questions about the moral dimensions of “going along” in any system.

Zlatko Anguelov was born in Bulgaria in 1946. After earning his M.D., he taught anatomy in Varna and worked as a general practitioner in Sofia. He later contributed to western newspapers, worked with Bulgaria's Turkish minority, and wrote extensively on AIDS. In 1992, Anguelov moved to Canada, where he earned a degree in medical sociology. He currently edits a medical journal in Iowa.

What Readers Are Saying:

“This is a remarkable narrative. I read it in a single sitting. It has bite, pace, and an excellent narrative flow. First person accounts of this quality are rare from behind the former Iron Curtain, rarer still from Bulgaria. The author has a Kundera-like Eastern European quality of introspection, and a searingly honest appraisal of his communist origins and upbringing, which makes the fall of communism and his personal disillusionment all the more poignant. The broader themes of history and politics are skillfully introduced, the turmoil they induced in Bulgaria is vividly represented. Contact with the Secret Police is presented with skill, the travail of Turkish peoples in Bulgaria is masterfully reported in the second section. . . .by far one of the most interesting works I’ve read from contemporary Eastern Europe.”--Frederick Quinn, author of Democracy at Dawn

“This is a remarkable narrative. I read it in a single sitting. It has bite, pace, and an excellent narrative flow. First person accounts of this quality are rare from behind the former Iron Curtain, rarer still from Bulgaria. The author has a Kundera-like Eastern European quality of introspection, and a searingly honest appraisal of his communist origins and upbringing, which makes the fall of communism and his personal disillusionment all the more poignant. The broader themes of history and politics are skillfully introduced, the turmoil they induced in Bulgaria is vividly represented. Contact with the Secret Police is presented with skill, the travail of Turkish peoples in Bulgaria is masterfully reported in the second section. . . .by far one of the most interesting works I’ve read from contemporary Eastern Europe.” --Frederick Quinn, author of Democracy at Dawn

“It is a sad fact that the collapse of communism has led to forgetting rather than to the analytic understanding that is so badly needed. This remarkable book stands against that trend by giving us a vivid sense of the character of daily life within communism. The author was and is courageous–as a dissident in the last years of the regime, as a writer now determined to explain how the system damaged his very self.” --John A. Hall

“Since the end of the Cold War, few books have appeared about the communist experience in Bulgaria. Fewer still have attempted to describe life in the “people’s democracies” as–for the vast majority–it really was: an everyday existence based on co-option and compliance rather than confrontation or coercion. This compelling memoir makes up both deficits. One by one, relatives and friends of the author are portrayed yielding to the system, revealing themselves not as tyrants but simple human archetypes: the rebel, the conformist, the highbrow, the philanderer. At the centre of the narrative stands the author, who displays all these characteristics and whose complex personality drives him at one point to identify with Bulgaria’s Turkish minority (whose oppression under the communists is another story in need of telling), before finally turning his back–though not his heart–on the land of his birth and emigrating to North America. Part Chekhov, part Czeslaw Milosz, Communism and the Remorse of an Innocent Victimizer is a unique and valuable addition to our understanding of Bulgaria’s recent past–and shows how it might still shape the country’s present.” --Johnathan Sunley, Commentator on Central and East European affairs

“This book is a by times heartwarming and by times sobering chronicle of how the intelligent and sensitive person could live under, and even contribute to, a Communist regime. In showing how thoroughly ordinary such a life trajectory could be, Mr. Anguelov shows how the human condition thrives and adapts itself to surrounding conditions of all kinds, and even forces us to look inward at ourselves.” --John McWhorter, Associate Professor of Linguistics, U.C. Berkeley

“. . . a personal account, thoughtfully written and nicely complemented by an often insightful explanation of Bulgarian communism’s staid durability and the obstacles to a democratic transformation.” --Library Journal

“Life under the Communist Party, in a political coming-of-age memoir by a Bulgaria native. Born of loyal party members smack in the middle of the Cold War era, journalist Anguelov had the pedigree and education of a model communist. And for much of his life, he was, indeed, a compliant citizen, remaining untainted by capitalist or democratic ideas despite attending an elite lycee staffed by a number of Western European instructors. He attended medical school, fathered six children by three wives, and gradually awakened to the insidious effect of the political regime. By the time he emigrated to Canada with his third wife and youngest children, he had come to see how every aspect of his life—his career, his marital relations, his lack of connections with his farther, even his luxuriant facial hair—was stained by Bulgaria’s political system. Even the fact that Anguelov never joined the party was tainted; he was able to lead a decent life outside of its confines (eventually becoming a political protestor) only because he was protected by the model communist status of his parents. “While by current standards, I ought to be regarded as a dissident, a close inspection of my own and my peers’ behavior reveals that we complied with the system, no matter what.” Anguelov went along to get along; he regularly delivered handwritten reports on the state of journalism to a local government agent, joining the rest of the citizenry in busily keeping tabs on itself. His argument for the insidious, ubiquitous effect of communism is convincing; jargon and politics is mostly eschewed in favor of demonstrating how the system affected the author and his family personally. That most valuable of commodities: an eyewitness report from behind the Iron Curtain.” --Kirkus Reviews

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