How the Pravetz 82 introduced a generation of Bulgarians to the computer

Consumer electronics have been hardly ever a high precedence for many of the international locations of Eastern Europe earlier than 1989. Bulgaria’s Pravetz 82, a pioneering dwelling computer, was an exception.
Bulgaria’s economic system at the finish of the Seventies was in a sorry state, going through many of the identical challenges that plagued all of the deliberate economies of Eastern Europe at the time.
Not the least of these was making an attempt to cope with the fallout from huge and but poorly managed funding in heavy business throughout the early Nineteen Fifties. This funding had left the nation with equipment that was already out of date however far too costly to improve or exchange, making a lot of its heavy business uncompetitive.

And but there was one small sector of the Bulgarian economic system that was (not less than comparatively) in fine condition: its expertise sector. Bulgarian factories have been already producing numerous computer elements and peripherals corresponding to arduous drives by the finish of the decade.
Rosen Plevneliev, a former Bulgarian president and honorary chairman of the Tech Emerging Europe Advocates (TEEA) advisory board, witnessed the improvement of the nation’s tech sector.
“Bulgaria specialised in computer science and software program, and at the starting of the Nineteen Eighties, the nation was amongst the world’s high 5 exporters of computer elements,” he tells Emerging Europe.
The IMKO-1
Bulgaria’s communist authorities more and more regarded to computer systems to revitalise the wider economic system, believing that they might usher in a new period for communism, one the place mundane duties might be automated and staff actually liberated.
To its credit score, communist Bulgaria obtained a lot proper. It began educating a new generation of younger individuals to work with computer systems, and as the Nineteen Eighties started and the international computer business pivoted in the direction of private computer systems, Bulgaria adopted go well with.
“More than 60 science and expertise institutes, universities, and factories have been created as a half of the nationwide IT ecosystem,” says Plevneliev. “As a outcome, the first 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit computer systems, graphic stations, reminiscence storage services have been all designed and created simply months after the equal western merchandise.”
The improvement of the first Bulgarian private computer, dubbed IMKO-1 (from particular person microcomputer), started in 1979 at the Institute for Technical Cybernetics and Robotics.
Around 50 models have been produced for testing functions. Technically, the IMKO-1 was a reverse engineered clone of the Apple II Plus private computer, with some modifications corresponding to the capacity to show Cyrillic fonts.
IMKO-1 boasted a one megahertz CPU, a complete 48 kilobytes of reminiscence and a cassette participant port supposed for storage.
The computer beat out its western counterparts in a single key space — it might management of a robotic arm, ROBKO-1.
At the time, robotic components have been normally managed with bigger and costlier minicomputers moderately than a microcomputer corresponding to the IMKO-1.
The Pravetz 82
Essentially, the IMKO-1 was a prototype of what would turn into the Pravetz 82.
Starting life as the IMKO-2, the identify was modified to replicate its origins — a new computer manufacturing facility in the western Bulgarian city of Pravetz, additionally the hometown of longtime Bulgarian Communist celebration chief Todor Zhivkov.
Zhivkov was himself was a sturdy supporter of Bulgaria’s plans to turn into a computer manufacturing powerhouse: he as soon as stated that the nation ought to turn into “the Japan of the Balkans”.
Introduced in 1982, the Pravetz 82 featured a number of enhancements over is predecessor, together with the addition of an optionally available 5.25 inch floppy disk drive for storage.
But even by means of the Pravetz 82 was nominally a private computer, few in Bulgaria might truly afford one for their very own private use.
Instead, most made their first forays into computing in faculties, which the authorities provided with hundreds of Pravetz 82 models.
Soon, computer golf equipment began sprouting up throughout the nation, the place younger individuals tinkered with numerous programmes and robotics components.
At the identical time as the UK hobbyist online game scene was heating up (on dwelling computer systems corresponding to the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64), in Bulgaria younger individuals have been more and more helping establishments with homegrown computer programmes doing the whole lot from graphic design to managing the reserving of lodge rooms.
The Pravetz 82 additionally made its mark overseas. At the peak of the Bulgarian computer {hardware} business in the direction of the finish of the Nineteen Eighties, it was supplying round 40 per cent of all computer systems present in COMECON international locations.
Ultimately, the techno-utopia that Zhivkov and the relaxation of the Communist celebration envisaged didn’t come to move.
Once Bulgaria deserted communism and central planning, and opened its markets, it might not manufacture and promote its computer systems that have been typically primarily based on the outright pilfering of western designs.
But it could be mistaken to say that it was all for naught. Once the economic system was liberalised, some of the first personal corporations in the nation have been computer companies, owned and operated by these exact same children who tinkered with Pravets models at college.
A quantity of them left for Silicon Valley, bringing with them STEM experience and the spirit of techno-utopianism, albeit in a new fiercely particular person and liberal kind.
And as Bulgaria discovered its footing in the new globalised economic system, it once more emerged as a regional chief in the ICT sector with a start-up ecosystem that’s frequently advancing and growing.
“It is logical that lately Bulgaria has managed to additional develop its sturdy potential from the previous by creating a thriving and broad IT ecosystem spreading from the gaming business, by means of massive information, AI, and all elements of software program engineering,” provides Plevneliev.
Is all of it thanks to the Pravetz 82?
No. But the availability of the computer and the introduction to programming it supplied created a generation of Bulgarians accustomed to computer systems, eager to construct their very own model of Japan in the Balkans.

Photo: Chess on a Pravetz 82. Pereslavl Week/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Unlike many information and data platforms, Emerging Europe is free to learn, and all the time might be. There is not any paywall right here. We are impartial, not affiliated with nor representing any political celebration or enterprise organisation. We need the absolute best for rising Europe, nothing extra, nothing much less. Your assist will assist us proceed to unfold the phrase about this wonderful area.
You can contribute right here. Thank you.

Recommended For You