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Tódor Khrístov Zhívkov (in Cyrillic: Todor Xpictov Живков) (Pravets, September 7, 1911 – Sofia, August 5, 1998) was the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Bulgaria from 1954 to 1989, presiding over the country from 1962 to 1989, first as head of government (until 1971) and then as President of the Council of State. His 35-year term is the longest in a socialist state in Europe, second only to the Albanian Enver Hoxha.
Zhívkov was born in Pravets in a peasant family. As a young man he emigrated to Sofia to work as a typographer and it was there that he assumed Marxism-Leninism. In 1932 he joined the Komsomol of the Bulgarian Communist Party (PCB), during the Second World War he fought in the resistance against the Nazi troops (Insurgent People’s Liberation Army) and at the end of the conflict he was chief of police in the capital. From there, he was climbing positions in the formation and got rid of his adversaries by power. In 1945 he became a member of the Central Committee and in 1951 he entered the Politburo.
On March 4, 1954 he was elected Secretary General of the PCB, becoming the youngest leader in the countries of Eastern Europe. In 1962 he was appointed President of the Government and in 1971 he became Head of State. In addition, in 1965 he overcame a coup attempt by members of the army related to Chinese communism, during which he undertook the transformation of the Bulgarian economy towards industrialization. As a political leader he concentrated all the power, did not hesitate to expel any opposition (internal and external) to stay ahead and consolidated his role thanks to the support of the Soviets Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. His regime was identified as the ideological most akin to Moscow, which is why he received the decoration of “Hero of the Soviet Union” in 1977.
At the end of the 1980s, it was weakened by the lack of continuity and effectiveness in the political and economic reforms, as well as by the crisis of the socialist states prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. On November 10, 1989, he was forced to resign by the Bulgarian Communist leadership and shortly afterwards he was expelled from the PCB, and in January 1990 he was arrested for embezzlement, and although years later he was released from that accusation, he remained in detention. domiciliary for crimes against human rights. He died in 1998, victim of pneumonia.
After its fall, Bulgaria began a transition towards a democratic and multi-party state, consolidated with the June 1990 elections.
He was born in a poor peasant family of Pravets and when he was young he emigrated to Sofia to look for work, being accepted in a secondary school of graphic arts and typography, he assumed the Marxist theses when he joined the Bulgarian Communist Youth League in 1930 and Two years later he joined the Komsomol, the youth organization of the Bulgarian Communist Party (PCB). When Bulgaria allied with the Axis forces during the Second World War, Zhívkov was in the resistance and participated in the attacks against the German troops in the revolution of September 9, 1944. The monarchy was replaced in 1946 by a regime of Socialist court, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, and the PCB of Georgi Dimitrov became the sole dominant force.
It is considered that he played a relevant role in the elimination of political opposition from Sofia’s police headquarters, called “Popular Militia” under his command Six months later, in 1945, he joined the Central Committee of the PCB. At that time he supported a pro-Soviet government for the country and was a convinced defender of Stalinism, which allowed him to ascend positions in the organization chart. In fact, he participated in the interrogation against Traicho Kostov, a historical member of the party and belonging to the nationalist wing, in his trial for treason held in 1949.
In 1951 he joined the Politburo, led by the also Stalinist Vulko Chervénkov.
Ascent to power
The death of Joseph Stalin motivated changes in Bulgarian communism. In 1954 Tódor Zhívkov assumed the General Secretariat of the PCB, while Chervénkov was relegated but remained prime minister. At that time it was interpreted as a movement of Chervénkov to stay in power, as Zhívkov was a little-known figure within the party. Seven weeks after Nikita Khrushchev made his “secret speech” in 1956 to denounce Stalin’s crimes, the Bulgarian Central Committee approved a new line of Khrushchev government, deposed his predecessor and appointed Anton Yugov as the new prime minister. Member of the Bulgarian security service (Darzhavna Sigurnost).
He was always faithful to the postulates of Moscow, first with Khrushchev and later with Leonid Brezhnev, a fact for which he was decorated as Hero of the Soviet Union on May 31, 1977. With regard to dissent, it was repressed harshly and hundreds of opponents ended up in prison, while others (like the playwright Georgi Markov) escaped abroad, not without difficulty.
After taking control of all the organs of Bulgarian power, on November 19, 1962 the General Secretariat combined with the head of government, expelling Anton Yugov before him under accusations of treason. In this way, monopolized political and governmental control. This series of measures motivated high-ranking military and partisan leaders such as General Ivan Todorov-Gorunia, opposed to revisionist policies, to organize a coup d’etat to establish a pro-Chinese socialist regime. of the KGB and detected the conspirators. Shortly thereafter, on April 12, 1965, a trial was held in which most were condemned, if it had been the first coup d’état in history in a communist country.
The approval of a new Constitution in 1971 consolidated its power with the Presidency of the Council of State, a position of new creation above the headship of Government, ceded to Stanko Todorov. Although it always remained faithful to the postulates of Moscow, it developed more liberal economic positions and allowed timid market reforms.The country undertook in the 1960s its transformation from an agrarian to an industrial economy, which in turn motivated a massive urbanization plan, and in the 1980s new measures were approved to improve the economy, with mixed luck.
Like other leaders of socialist countries, Zyivkov turned his birthplace, Pravets, into a model city, and in addition to communicating with the capital through a four-lane highway, he converted the house where he was born into a museum. and established a Bulgarian computer factory, called Pravetz, which became the first personal computer in the country.
Nicolae Ceauşescu, president of Romania from 1967 to 1989, together with Tódor Zhívkov.
In his last years in office he began a campaign to assimilate the Turkish minority by force, demonstrations by the community against these measures were harshly repressed, even leaving the dead, and an estimated 300,000 Turks left the country. By force, condemned by the international community, another problem was the criticism of the lack of continuity in its economic and political reforms, which came both from the Western countries and from its traditional ally, the USSR. Zhyvkov called for perestroika to try to silence them, but he did not enjoy the sympathy of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and this fact, together with the weakening of socialist regimes in the late 1980s, marked the beginning of the end of his political career.
The straw that filled the glass were the disputes within the PCB. Zhívkov assured his re-election without fissures at the head of the presidency on two occasions, and did not hesitate to cease as a member of the committee to any position that was presented as a political alternative or even generational. The head of Foreign Affairs Petar Mladenov (close Gorbachev) organized a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and invited members of the environmental organization Ecoglasnost, considered dissidents by the regime. The harsh repression against its members in the following days caused Prime Minister Georgi Atanasov and Mladenov to convince the defense minister and a man close to the president, Dobri Dzhurov, to invite him to leave.
On November 9, 1989, one day before the Politburo meeting, Dzhurov privately asked him to leave the presidency and also informed that the majority of the executive committee would vote for him to leave. And although Zhívkov tried to prevent it, he did not have time to gather support and resigned at the age of 78, officially for reasons of health and age, and the PCB thanked him for “private services” for the 35 years he was at front of the formation. He was replaced by Petar Mladenov, who on December 11 announced that free elections would be called before June of the following year.
Although its fall did not mean the end of communism in Bulgaria, it was a turning point for the transition to a democratic state, in tune with the rest of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Two days after the announcement of elections, Zhívkov and his son were expelled from the Bulgarian Communist Party and any past recognition was withdrawn.
In January 1990 he was arrested on charges of corruption and nepotism, and two years later was sentenced to seven years in prison for diverting public funds, he was not imprisoned because of his state of health and his advanced age, but he served his sentence under house arrest, and in February 1996 the Bulgarian Supreme Court acquitted him of the charges of embezzlement, although he remained under indictment for human rights violations.
His figure was relegated to ostracism in the early democratic years, but the worsening of the economy served to be remembered by some nostalgic of the communist era and even by his former political background. In fact, in 1998 the Bulgarian Socialist Party (democratic successor of the PCB) readmitted him into its ranks as recognition.
Tódor Zhívkov died on August 5, 1998, aged 86, victim of pneumonia.
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