(b. Pravets, near Botevgrad, Bulgaria, 7 Sept. 1911; d. Sofia, 5 Aug. 1998)
Bulgarian; leader 1954–89 Zhivkov was the son of poor peasants. He moved to Sofia as a boy where he became a worker. He joined the illegal Bulgarian Communist Party in 1932 and had risen to senior rank within it by 1937. After 1941 he served in the pro-Soviet People's Liberation Insurgent Army, assisting the Red Army when it entered Bulgaria in September 1944. In 1945 he took charge of the Communist militia which was responsible for the arrest and murder of thousands of political opponents. Zhivkov entered the Bulgarian Politburo in 1951 and in 1954 received Khrushchev's backing to replace the Stalinist Chervenkov as party leader. From 1962 to 1971 he was also Prime Minister. He became Chairman of the Council of State in 1971, which made him effectively the President.
Zhivkov was devoted to his daughter Ludmila, a patron of the arts. Towards the end of her life she preached the virtues of mysticism and vegetarianism and other values at odds with Marxism-Leninism. She died in mysterious circumstances in 1981, aged 39. Thereafter Zhivkov became increasingly suspicious of his entourage.
In foreign policy Zhivkov unquestioningly followed the Soviet lead. At home, his regime greatly reduced the oppression of the Chervenkov years, but was set against any major political or economic reform. By 1989 Bulgaria was heavily indebted. In order to shift public opinion from the crisis, Zhivkov implemented nationalist policies against Bulgaria's Turkish minority. This led to economic collapse when 300,000 Turks fled Bulgaria. In November 1989 Zhivkov was overthrown by other members of his Politburo, led by the Foreign Minister, Petur Mladenov, who replaced him as leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party. In 1990 Zhivkov was indicted on charges of ‘especially gross embezzlement’. In September 1992 he was sentenced to seven years in prison. Because of his age, he was allowed to live at home under house arrest. In 1998 he was readmitted to the Socialist Party (the successor to the Communist Party).
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Politics.