|“||The 30 years of Bulgarian Socialism is proof that there need not be any contradiction between building Socialism in one's own country while fulfilling the needs of the world revolutionary movement.||„|
|~ Todor Zhivkov|
Todor Khristov Zhivkov (7 September 1911 – 5 August 1998) was a Bulgarian politician who served as the de facto leader of the People's Republic of Bulgaria (PRB) from 1954 until 1989 as General Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The youngest and longest-serving leader in the Eastern bloc, his 35-year dictatorship was marked by both stability and oppression.
He became First Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) in 1954—General Secretary from April 1981-and from 1978 concurrently as President of the Republic remained on this position for 35 years, until 1989, thus becoming the second longest-serving leader of any Eastern Bloc nation after World War II, and one of the longest ruling non-royal leaders in modern history. His rule marked a period of unprecedented political and economic stability for Bulgaria, marked both by complete submission of Bulgaria to Soviet directives and a desire for expanding ties with the West. His rule remained unchallenged until the deterioration of East-West relations in the 1980s, when a stagnating economic situation, a worsening international image and growing careerism and corruption in the BCP weakened his positions.
He resigned on 10 November 1989, under pressure by senior BCP members due to his refusal to recognize problems and deal with public protests. Within a month of Zhivkov's ouster, Communist rule in Bulgaria had effectively ended, and within nearly a year the People's Republic of Bulgaria had formally ceased to exist.
In September 1944, Zhivkov became head of the Sofia police force, restyled as the Narodna Militsiya (People's Militia). He was elected to the BCP Central Committee as a candidate member in 1945 and a full member in 1948. In the run-up to the 1949 treason trial against Traicho Kostov, Zhivkov criticised the Party and judicial authorities for what he claimed was their leniency with regard to Kostov. This placed him in the Stalinist hardline wing of the Party. In 1950, Zhivkov became a candidate member of the BCP Politburo, then led by Vulko Chervenkov, leading to a full membership in 1951. In the years which followed, he was involved in countering countryside resistance to forced farm collectivisation in northwestern Bulgaria.
After Joseph Stalin's death, an emphasis on shared leadership emerged. The hardline Stalinist Chervenkov gave up his post as General Secretary of the BCP in 1954. Zhivkov took his place, but Chervenkov retained most of his powers as prime minister. Bulgarian opinion at the time interpreted this as a self-preservation move by Chervenkov, since Zhivkov was a less well known figure in the party. After Nikita Khrushchev delivered his famous secret speech against Stalin at the Communist Party of the Soviet Union 20th Congress, a BCP Central Committee plenary meeting was convened in April 1956 to agree to adopt a new Krushchevite line. At that plenum, Zhivkov criticized Chervenkov as a disciple of Stalin, had him demoted from prime minister to a cabinet post, and promoted former Committee for State Security (CSS) head Anton Yugov to the post of prime minister. It was at this point that he became the de facto leader of Bulgaria. Subsequently, Zhivkov was associated with the "April Line," which had anti-Stalinist credentials. At the BCP 8th Congress in late 1962, Zhivkov accused Yugov of anti-Party activity, expelled him from the BCP and had him placed under house arrest.
With the increasingly strengthening positions of Zhivkov as the country's and Communist party's leader, former partisan leaders and active military took a critical stance on the revisionist policies of the communist leadership. In the events described as the "April Conspiracy" of 1965 or the "Plot of Gorunia," general Ivan Todorov-Gorunia, general Tzviatko Anev (Цвятко Анев) and Tzolo Кrastev (Цоло Кръстев) organized a group of high-ranking military officers planning to overthrow the regime. Their plan was to establish a pro-Chinese leadership in the country. The coup was exposed and between 28 March and 12 April 1965 and most of the plotters were arrested.
As prime minister, Zhivkov then held both of Bulgaria's leading political and government posts; for nearly all of Bulgaria's existence as an independent nation, the prime minister has been reckoned as the country's leading political figure. Though the post of head of state was traditionally reserved for the leader of the surviving pro-Communist faction of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, the "Zhivkov Constitution" adopted by referendum in July 1971 promoted him to chairman of the new State Council. The post, equivalent to that of president, confirmed his position as the country's top leader. Zhivkov remained faithful to Moscow during his 35 years in power, but adopted a more liberal stance than his predecessor by allowing some market reforms (such as allowing surplus agricultural goods to be sold for profit) and ending persecution of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
In his memoirs, which he dubbed "the longest confession of his life", he defined himself as an "ordinary village boy from Pravets" and told the story of his life, along with his analysis of his own government and legacy. He spoke of the socialist society in Bulgaria as being divided into two parts - the [societal] order, which he described as the basic societal organisation and ethos in country and the system, the practical structure of government, led by a Vanguard party. He spoke positively of the first, describing it as proper, justified and prosperous. He blamed the collapse of socialism, instead, on the latter.
He stated that he had not changed his political views and remained a committed Marxist, but had come to realise that the system was overly bureaucratic, inflexible and ultimately failed, bringing the order down with it. He concluded that the ultimate collapse of his system was due to his own failures to reform and modernise said system in the 1970s and 80s.
He opined that socialism would ultimately triumph regardless, but that this would be a new form of socialism and would be led by a new, younger generation, which he hoped would be "better in every way from ours" and would lead to a "more prosperous, more just and more democratic Bulgaria". He criticised the ruling right-wing UDF government at the time, but reserved his harshest criticism for the former members of his party that had taken part in embezzlement of state assets following his departure.
In his final interview, conducted before the Bulgarian National Television in 1997, he surprisingly seemed to take more issue with some his former party members, than the ruling right-wing UDF party at the time. He strongly criticised Andrey Lukanov and Petar Mladenov, the former communists turned social democrats that ruled Bulgaria in the immediate aftermath of his resignation. He blamed them for betraying their values and for leading the country into economic ruin and expressed his unwillingness to both re-join his former party and to join the communist splinter party. He maintained that he still believed in socialism, but added that he had made friends with many people across many parties, including the UDF. He defended most of his actions while in power and explained his reasoning behind several of his policies, but reiterated his belief that "the order was good, but the system which ruled it was bad".
Zhivkov died as a free man on the evening of 5 August 1998 of complications from bronchial pneumonia, aged 86. With his death, all attempts of the prosecution to reintroduce the dismissed cases were dropped.