Todor Khristov Zhivkov (September 7, 1911 – August 5, 1998) was the Communist leader of Bulgaria from March 4, 1954 until November 10, 1989.
Zhivkov was born in the small village of Pravets. The son of poor peasants, he moved to Sofia as a youth, seeking work and a better future for himself. As a young man, Zhivkov took the ideals of Marxism to heart, and in 1932 he joined the Komsomol, the youth wing of the illegal Bulgarian Communist Party.
During World War II, Zhivkov rose up in the Party, and he helped organise a resistance movement against the German occupiers, the People's Liberation Insurgent Army. After the war, Zhivkov began to take increasingly important posts in the new Soviet backed government, one of these being commander of the People's Militia. During as time as a militia leader, he had thousands arrested for political reasons.
In 1951, he became a full member of the Politburo, and in 1954 was made first secretary of the Central Committee, the youngest of any of the Eastern bloc leaders. Zhivkov was also head of state (Chairman of the State Council) of Bulgaria from July 7, 1971 to November 17, 1989. Despite a coup attempt by dissident military officers and Party members in 1965, he became the longest serving leader of any of the Eastern bloc nations.
Under Zhikov's rule, all voices of dissent in Bulgaria were harshly subdued, with thousands being locked up in prisons across the country. Zhikov also collectivized farming and emphasized industrial technology in the Bulgarian agricultural sector.
A protégé of Khrushchev's, and a close friend of Leonid Brezhnev, he was known for his firm, almost servile, allegiance to the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. He twice proposed that Bulgaria merge with the Soviet Union, citing their common alphabet and common Slavic heritage as justifications. He also sent Bulgarian troops to participate in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Georgi Markov, who Zhivkov would later have killed, said:
"Zhivkov served the Soviet Union more ardently than the Soviet leaders themselves did."
Zhivkov tried to promote his children, daughter Lyudmila Zhivkova and son Vladimir Zhivkov, up the Communist Party hierarchy. Lyudmila made it to Politburo member and Minister of Culture. She introduced strange ideas related to Far Eastern philosophy which were not welcomed by the Old Guard. Some sources maintain her early death in 1980 was due to Soviet meddling. Her husband, Ivan Slavkov, was made a boss of the state-controlled Bulgarian Television, and later President of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee. Meanwhile, Vladimir led a playboy style of life. His drinking bouts made it impossible to promote him further than the top ranks of the Komsomol.
Near the end of his reign, Zhivkov made several limited attempts to modernise Bulgaria, such as introducing scaled down versions of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, while keeping the country under his control. However, these attempts failed to prevent the collapse of communism and his own ouster. The ill-advised campaign to Bulgarise the names of the ethnic Turks in the country contributed to his downfall.
At the end of 1989, Zhivkov was ousted from the presidency and expelled from the Bulgarian Communist Party. He was arrested in January 1990. Two years later, he was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to seven years in prison.
However, due to his frail health, he was allowed to serve his term under house arrest. Todor Zhivkov died of pneumonia in 1998.
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