"Over the last few years, the computer has become widespread in the social sphere as an unbiased adviser to adults, an entertaining interlocutor to the young, a worthy partner for children playing games," an article titled "The Computerized Classroom" says in an 1986 issue of the magazine Computer for You, issued by the Central Committee of the Dimitrovski Communist Youth Union (DKMS).
The colorful and futuristically designed pages of this magazine often refer to new technologies as if they were a kind of alien organism that will definitely lead to greater progress and social cohesion. In another issue, the editorial board writes: "The digitalization and, above all, computerization of the national economy is a leading factor in implementing widespread intensification, especially in industries that play a role in the growth of our economy."
In our collective memory, computer education and development are exclusively associated with the computers produced in Pravets in the 1980s. To what extent are these phenomena confined to Sofia and the small town of Pravets, 60 km away from the capital?
Computers were quickly adopted by the administration. The first ones are systems based on Japanese licenses from Fujitsu (FACOM 230, produced in Bulgaria as ZIT-151); as well as from the ES series – these kinds of computers were produced by all the countries in the Comecon (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, a network of countries in the Eastern bloc and other socialist states) based on the IBM 360/370; the Bulgarian systems were called ES-1020/22 and ES-1035. "These machines were designed for work in territorial and departmental computing centers, serving the needs of the economy, factories, the administration, and the military. IZOT ("Computing, Recording and Organizational Technology") produced a series of personal computers in the 80s, so not everything was based in Pravets," Petrov explains.
The first computer labs appeared in Sofia schools in the early 1980s, and by 1987 there were 530 clubs around the country, including Bulgarian computer clubs in Hanoi, Pyongyang, Havana, Addis Ababa, as well as Moscow, Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Kyiv and Kharkiv – usually as part of the local Bulgarian consulate.
The end of the totalitarian system and the beginning of the so-called transition period were marked by a curious event: the rise of Bulgarian hacker Dark Avenger, who drew international attention to Bulgaria as the source of a large number of computer viruses. In April 1988, Computer for You devoted an entire issue to him, and two years later, the New York Times also wrote about him. Another interesting fact – one of the many viruses attributed to him is called Nomenklatura (nomenclature), his messages contain references to heavy metal songs, and at one point spread the message “I want to travel.” He stopped hacking in the early 1990s, and his identity remains a mystery. We still don’t know whether Dark Avenger was a single person or a group of hackers.
According to Victor, many questions about the period between the 1980s and 1990s are yet to be answered, particularly how technological developments affected espionage in countries in the Soviet sphere of influence, the devices being developed and how all this relates to various embargoes, financial crises, quotas. The question also remains whether the ES systems used in the Eastern Bloc were doomed from the start to lag behind world trends.“The period after 1989 also poses interesting questions – what happened to the assets of these enterprises, as well as affiliated companies abroad, controlled in part by State Security?"
This also leads us to the question of our neverending transition and whether it’s possible to build capitalism without capitalists. Or more precisely, who became a ‘capitalist’ and how during late socialism as part of this avant-garde industry, which had contact not just with the technology of the West but also with business and the general trends in the global economy from the late 70's onwards. Here, the history of Bulgarian electronics smoothly leads to ever-relevant topics in Bulgarian politics and economy,” Petrov concludes.