Elina Zlatanova -
the last woman executed in
With special thanks to Andrey for contributing this fascinating insight into Bulgarian justice during the Communist era.
In the early hours of March 8th, 1988 in the
not know the actual
(birth) name of the woman executed on this day. Elina Zlatanova
was the name given to her in the mid-1980's by the
Communist authorities as a part of the so called "Revival Process" - the forceful
January 19th 1986, "Midwives Day" in
Elina claimed that an unknown man in blue work
coveralls had broken in and set the place on fire, but soon afterwards the stab
wounds on the older boy's body were found and she made a full confession
(Bulgarian police at the time were rather too good at extracting
confessions, but there is next to no doubt about the circumstances of this
case). At the trial she pleaded guilty to all counts and reportedly fainted any
time the boys were mentioned. Her lawyer, the late Reni Tzanova,
attempted a defence of insanity and, given Elina's
behaviour in and out of court during the trial, it
came as a shock when she was found to have been fully aware of her actions and
fit to stand trial. Elina seemed resigned to her fate, her last words in court were
"I could not have ever been a mother. I do not deserve to live, but, if
you let me, I will try to atone for my guilt" The guilty verdict, even given the extenuating
circumstance of her marriage, was preordained,
but it was still unusual for a woman to get the death penalty.
At this time, commutations and pardons were handled by the State Council, or rather by the State Council's judicial secretaries. They routinely commuted female death sentences, especially after 1978 when life in prison was also made part of the Bulgarian penal code (until then the penalty for aggravated murder was 10 to 15 years imprisonment or death). For whatever reason, they declined to intervene in this case.
elaborate shooting mechanism had been installed in the execution chamber of
Sofia Central Prison in 1982, but, then as now, the only prison for females in
Communist Bulgaria, murders and executions did not happen, at least,
according to the official press. The information, therefore, is usually at
least, somewhat based on rumours and speculations. In this case, Andrey’s speculation is that what ultimately cost Elina her life was the fact that she was Turkish and her
crime took place in a predominantly Turkish city. By the late 1980s even the
true believers could see that you cannot make Turks into Bulgarians at
gunpoint, and so those who resisted assimilation (the vast majority of
Bulgarian Turks) had to be driven out of
Elina's case was not in any way political, but its notoriety among Kardzhali's 50 000 Turks made the authorities think she should be made an example of "the awful majesty" of the state. The murder of the two boys was a horrific act which met four of the eight criteria for aggravated murder in the Bulgarian penal code, any one of which could result in a death sentence - and yet other similar murders did not result in execution. Once Elina's fate was known, many among those who knew about the case (who were predominantly Turkish) would have been aware of this double standard. Essentially, Andrey speculates that her execution was a part of a campaign of terror, waged by the Communist Bulgarian state against its Turkish population, designed to either to cow into submission or drive out in terror those who resisted the "Revival process". Around 200 000 thousand didn't return after the "Grand Excursion", and many of those who are still in Bulgaria have deep mistrust of the authorities, so unfortunately this campaign may have been successful.
Executions of male prisoners in Sofia Central Prison.
The shooting mechanism referred to above consisted
of two Makarov pistols with their handles and triggers removed, placed on two
separate adjustable stands. Instead of a traditional trigger, they were wired
so that the firing pins were activated electrically. They were operated by
flipping a switch and pressing a button. The second gun was on a separate
circuit and was not supposed to fire unless a sensor did not detect the report
of the other gun in a set amount of seconds.
Usually guards burst into the cell of the condemned prisoner around 22:30 in the evening, and apparently they almost always informed him (between showers of expletives) that his pardon has been granted, helping him gather his personal belongings for transfer to another cell or prison - even though most prisoners were aware of their impending doom, the charade was kept until he was pinioned. After certain preparations, the condemned was lead down a corridor to a small room, which on two sides had crimson floor length curtains instead of walls. The prisoner was secured in a fixed chair with his back around 60 cm from one of the "curtain" sides, his verdict was read to him and the guards and officials left the room, leaving the prisoner looking at the mirrored wall directly in front of him (which was, in fact, a one way mirror). The curtains were designed to conceal the gun nozzle from the condemned and the most credible account has two guns (main and spare) on two separate stands in the corners behind the prisoner, aiming for the temples. There are differing accounts about the procedure, as well as over-elaboration, which is one of the reasons that this mechanism was seldom, if ever, used. Interviews with at least a dozen people who worked in the prison at the time, revealed that none had first hand accounts of executions performed with the machine, while some had vivid recollections how Capt. or Lt. so-and-so "blew X's brains out" with his pistol
The last execution in the prison took place on November 4th, 1989, six days before the fall of the Communist regime. In 1991 the mechanism was still there, but by 1994 it had vanished (it is presumed that some of the guards decided to supplement their salaries by selling it for scrap). Since the death penalty was not formally abolished until 1998, had the moratorium been lifted, any executions would have taken place in the "traditional" manner. The death chamber is used as a storage room today, with very little left to remind of its former use.