The Film Archives of Bulgarian State Security

An Interrogation with Bulgarian Dissident Peter Manolov

In 2016, together with film historian Klaus Loesser, I curated a retrospective exhibition for the Dresden Film Festival on the films of the communist secret services in Bulgaria and the GDR. The topic received a great international response and since then workshops, events and seminars on the topic have been organized in Germany.

In 2012, while researching the archives of the Bulgarian State Security (DS) – together with the film crew of my documentary LISTEN and the curator Vesela Nozarova – we discovered for the first time film materials of the secret services. Since then, over 4,000 films produced by the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior for its own purposes have been waiting to be fully researched and processed: feature films, documentaries, observations, interrogations. So far, some of these films have been screened together with the curator Vesela Nozarova in the framework of seminars and events in Bulgaria. For the first time the films were shown at the GOATMILK Festival of Memories in Bela Rechka 2014. There was a strong public response.

The film archives of the State Security are an extremely exciting but controversial and still largely unexplored area. This is mainly due to the peculiar situation of the files of the secret services in Bulgaria after 1989. In 1990 about 40% of the files of the State Security were destroyed. The preserved files were opened for the first time by law in 1997, but in 2002 the possibility of inspecting the files was closed again. It was only after the adoption of a new law in 2006 – shortly before Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union on 1 January 2007 – that a permanent reassessment of the past and permanent access to open State Security archives began.

But what were the secret service people actually filming? What specific significance did these records have for their work? What is the importance of the film archive for understanding the past today?

The fragments preserved in the State Security archive still evoke strong emotions today. Through their visual language, the films allow a new kind of access to a part of Bulgarian history that was previously very distant, especially for younger people.

I continue to speak and show excerpts from these materials and to organize workshops on the subject.