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Sussex PhD researcher discusses his experiences of anti-communist protests
By: Charlotte Shamoon
Last updated: Thursday, 3 December 2020
Last Friday, (27 November 2020) Sussex Politics students had the opportunity to listen and ask questions to a Sussex PhD researcher who took part in the protests that culminated in the collapse of the communist regime in Bulgaria in 1989. Dragomir Stoyanov, who is currently researching anti-liberal Euroscepticism, was a guest speaker at the lecture class for students taking the final year Political Change: Eastern Europe in Transition module which covers the rise and fall of East European communism.
Dragomir first came to Sussex 15 years ago on an Erasmus exchange and started his PhD in Politics in 2018 when he was awarded a prestigious Sussex School of Law, Politics and Sociology (LPS) fully-funded doctoral scholarship. Dragomir is also a doctoral tutor who taught on the European Politics module last year and will be convening an elective module on the politics of the radical right next term.
Dragomir is supervised by Prof Aleks Szczerbiak and Prof Paul Taggart, who have been conducted world-leading research at Sussex on Eurosceptic party politics for the last 20 years. Prof Szczerbiak, whose family is from Poland and spent many of his family holidays in the country during the communist period when he was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, also convenes the Political Change: Eastern Europe in Transition module.
Dragomir discussed his family’s experiences of life in communist Bulgaria, notably how his father was unable to secure promotion at work above a certain grade because of his grandfather’s anti-communist views, and how the ultimate status symbol for children growing up in the country at that time was a Western toy car! He described his recollections as a school student of the 1989 anti-regime demonstrations and how it felt to take part in them, contrasting his own excitement and hopes with his parents’ fears for his personal safety. Dragomir talked about how many people in Bulgaria were still afraid that the Soviet Union would intervene to prop up the regime even as communism was collapsing in other parts of Eastern Europe. And he described his shock and disappointment when the ex-communists (re-branded as the Bulgarian Socialist Party) defeated the democratic opposition the country’s first fully free elections in July 1990.
In a wide ranging discussion and question-and-answer session that followed, students taking the module asked Dragomir both about the events of 1989 and subsequent political developments in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe. They also probed him on his views on contemporary Cuba, China, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn - and what his reactions were when he met communists in the UK today!
Prof Szczerbiak commented:
‘It was great to have Dragomir talk to the students, as it really brought the topic to life. None of them have lived in a communist country or are old enough to remember the events of 1989. So it was wonderful to have someone who brings the perspective of being an academic political scientist and expert commentator - but also witnessed these amazing, history-making events as an active participant - to speak to them from first hand experience. The students also asked some great, thoughtful questions which shows that they really engaged critically and thoughtfully with both Dragomir’s talk and the East European communism module more generally.’
‘Participating in Prof Szczerbiak’s classes is always a combination of excitement and curiosity. I have warm memories of my childhood under communism, but I am also aware of the difficulties my parents faced in the 1980s. I love meeting young people and discussing the communist past with them. It gives me an opportunity to present a part of our recent history that I witnessed in my life and to learn about their understanding of communism in Eastern Europe and vision of the world today.’