Former Bulgarian prime minister Dimitar Popov passed away on December 5 at the age of 88. A political independent, Popov was responsible for Bulgaria’s “Big Bang” of deregulated prices in February 1991 and is best remembered for urging citizens “do not buy!” at the new high prices.
A former Sofia City Court judge, Popov was chosen to head the so-called government of national consensus that held office from December 20, 1990 to November 8, 1991, under president Zhelyu Zhelev. He was the first prime minister since 1944 not to be a Communist Party member or communist sympathiser, and had helped to organise the country’s first open elections in June 1990.
Popov’s technocratic government was supported by most political parties with the participation of experts from the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BZNS), Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Union of Democratic Forces (SDS).
It succeeded the second government of Andrey Lukanov, which was brought down by public protests and a general strike, amid widespread anger over corruption and shortages of consumer goods.
During its brief time in office, Popov’s government ended price regulation on February 1, 1991 – a step dubbed the country’s “Big Bang”.
A WTO report clams that “Bulgaria's transition process began in February 1991”, though notes that the major step taken by Popov’s government did not spur a steady stream of hoped-for reforms, saying that “in general the pace of economic reform was very slow until 1997”.
His government also took steps towards the privatisation of small businesses and de-collectivising the agricultural sector, demonstrating Sofia’s commitment to market reforms to the international community. This helped to secure support from both the European Community and the World Bank. However, the shock deregulation of prices was not popular at home, as it led to an immediate hike in prices of around 500%.
After prices were increased, Popov made his famous appeal, telling Bulgarians, “For God's sake brothers, do not buy.”
He later clarified the statement, explaining that he actually said: "For God's sake, brothers, do not buy what you like, it is very expensive... After 30-40 days, prices will fall and you will have spent your money and will be unable to buy necessities.”
Later that year, further reforms were made, including making the Bulgarian National Bank accountable to parliament, rather than the government, along with further price deregulation.
In January 1992, Popov ran for president as the candidate for the Bulgarian National Democratic Party (BNDP), but took only 0.64% of the vote.
Popov was born in the town of Kula on June 26, 1927. He earned a law degree from Sofia University in 1950, but worked as a miner for three years before becoming a legal adviser in Sofia. He served as a Sofia City Court judge between 1972 and 1990.