Socialist Cyborgs

logicmag.io
6 min read
fairly difficult
When Bulgaria tried to save communism with the kids.
In the spring of 1989, a virus began attacking computers in Europe, the United States, and Asia. During every sixteenth run of an infected executable file, the virus overwrote a random sector of a machine's hard disk and manifested the phrase "Eddie lives… somewhere in time" on the monitor. A signature declared the virus' origin: "This program was written in the city of Sofia (C) 1988–89 Dark Avenger."

Dark Avenger was the most prolific of a number of hackers that emerged in Bulgaria in the late 1980s and 1990s. In December 1990, The New York Times reported that the Eastern Bloc nation had become a major infection vector in the new information economy. The late John McAfee told the newspaper, "I would say that 10 percent of the sixty calls we receive each week are for Bulgarian viruses." By another estimate, around ninety out of the 300 then extant viruses for IBM machines originated from the country. In 1997, Wired called Bulgaria "the heart of darkness."

How could a small socialist country become ground zero for so many digital epidemics? The conventional narrative of Eastern European communism is one of technologically backward states that failed to enter the information age, locked behind an impenetrable Iron Curtain that prevented both people and ideas from circulating. In Bulgaria, however, the electronic industry's success was considered a key component of achieving the state's ideological and economic dreams. The Bulgarian Communist Party hoped that the computer would usher in a communist utopia. Automation would streamline planning through a nationwide information network, and man would be free from menial tasks. More pressingly, the party was betting that computers could revive an economy that had once been the second fastest-growing in the world, but was floundering by the 1980s.

This vision was partially fulfilled: by the mid-1980s, socialist Bulgaria was producing up to 47 percent of all computer hardware within the Eastern Bloc, from Berlin to…
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