391. Telegram From the Embassy in Bulgaria to the Department of State1

534/Depto 10035.

For the Secretary from Whitehead.


  • Zhivkov, Zhivkov and More Zhivkov.
Secret—Entire text.
I started the day in Bulgaria by meeting the Deputy Prime Ministert, Andrei Lukanov.2 Everyone had told me to expect one of the most impressive Eastern Europeans I had met; he lived up to that reputation. He wants to change the way the economy runs here and seems on the way to doing so. They can’t say so, of course, but they realize that their economic system has failed and want to take on as much of ours as possible. Lukanov is planning to head the Bulgarian delegation to a seminar in Washington this year which is designed to ty to convince us that they should become members of GATT. Membership in an organization committed to free trade in free markets is a long way off but we ought to try to get Lukanov to see some high-level people when he is in town. He is worth cultivating.
The main event today was Zhivkov.3 I’ll have to describe the whole scene to you in person. I spent four hours with him, 2-½ hours in a meeting and the rest over lunch. He is a Balkan potentate, energetic and clearly in charge at 75. He gave a complex performance. The winds of change have blown from Moscow in this direction, but typically for the Bulgarian culture, he assured me that Gorbachev’s reforms have been in effect here for years. He was self-confident enough to criticize his country. He said he was ready to start afresh on U.S./Bulgarian relations and said that both sides should look at our relationship “with new eyes.” We talked through a large number of ideas and proposals for future steps, but when I stressed our human rights concerns—and especially our worry about the treatment of the Turkish minority—he became hard and unrepentant. He tried at one point to reject human rights as a legitimate agenda item between us. I told him that this was unacceptable. Human rights are important to us and under no circumstances would we be told that they could not be on our agenda. Zhivkov backed down immediately.
The lunch was a scene. There were 14 of us in a dining room 100 yards long and 50 yards wide, lit by 10 dripping crystal chandeliers to the accompaniment of heavy music. Zhivkov held court, the almost manic laughter which punctuates the end of every third paragraph echoing in the empty hall. We had a typical meal in the worker’s state: caviar, fish, veal and ice cream. By the end, we were all sitting behind a forest of used crystal glasses. His toast was optimistic. He made a point of toasting the President’s birthday;4 I don’t know if you want to pass on that the Bulgarian leader, given the time difference between you and us, had technically been the first to toast our President’s good health! I responded in kind, on the assumption that if we have a chance to get a little influence here, and they are willing to do some things on our agenda, we ought to take it.
I spent the afternoon showing my interest in culture again by visiting the main cathedral and my interest in daily life by seeing the main department store and walking the shopping street. There are crowds in the stores. Goods are shabby but available. Service is surly. It beats Bucharest, but isn’t Prague or Budapest.
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Paula J. Dobriansky Files, Whitehead Visit to E. Europe-Bulgaria 1/28/87–2/7/87. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 540 from Sofia, February 6, summarized Whitehead’s February 5 meeting with Lukanov. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870093–0562)
  3. See Document 392.
  4. February 6.