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Lyudmila Todorova Zhivkova ( ) (26 July 1942 - 21 July 1981) was the daughter of Bulgarianmarker Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who reached the rank of senior Bulgarian Communist Party functionary and Politburo member. Her life remains uniquely controversial and colourful in the history of Communist Bulgaria and that of the Soviet Bloc.


Zhivkova was born in Sofiamarker. She studied history at Sofia Universitymarker (1965) and history of art at Moscow State Universitymarker (1970), before researching a book on British-Turkish relations at St Antony's College, Oxfordmarker. She then became assistant president of the Committee for Art and Culture (1972-1973), its first vice president (1973-1975) and its president (with the rank of a minister) between 1975 and her death in 1981. Zhivkova was a deputy in the 7th (1976-1981) and 8th (1981) National Assemblies of Bulgaria. In her lifetime, Zhivkova published a volume of "collected works" (mostly edited speeches) which was translated into major world languages; her trademark ideas about the need to bring up and educate “rounded personalities” and "imbue public life with beauty" sat awkwardly alongside militant Marxism-Leninism.

Public office

Lyudmila Zhivkova's office as the de facto head of Bulgarian culture brought the nation's artistic community reasonably great freedom at a time when, after the crushing of the Prague Spring, Soviet-bloc Communist orthodoxy was otherwise stricter than ever. Moreover, as daughter of the head of Party and state, Zhivkova was often seen as "heir apparent" and enjoyed powers beyond her official purview. Thus, Zhivkova and her second husband Ivan Slavkov held renowned Friday soirées at their central Sofia apartment, offering opportunities for those with a cause to lobby her father indirectly.

Zhivkova is credited with cutting across red tape and ensuring the rapid construction of Sofia's enormous and very complex NDK National Palace of Culture which opened around the time of her death. Another of her achievements was the opening of Sofia's National Gallery of World Art, for whose collection a large number of foreign paintings and statues were acquired on world markets. In line with her pet idea of "rounded personalities," shortly before her death Zhivkova produced the Banner of Peace world children's assembly in Sofia under the aegis of Unesco. She also helped establish the 1300 Years of Bulgaria Foundation, a quasi-independent entity to endow the arts.

Alongside bringing foreign culture to Bulgaria, Zhivkova did much to permit and encourage Bulgarian artists to travel abroad for study and practice. She also organised the Thracian Gold Treasures from Bulgaria travelling exhibition which visited over 25 world cities, bringing much acclaim.

Though personally an extreme ascetic, Zhivkova was also indirectly credited with the opening of a number of cafés, restaurants and other establishments which returned a measure of pre-Communist bourgeois grace to Bulgaria's cities.

Restrained nationalism was another feature of Zhivkova's term as leader of Bulgarian arts, with greater than customary emphasis on indigenous culture and great fanfare to mark the 1300th anniversary of Bulgarian presence on the Balkans.

Private persona

During the last decade of her life, Zhivkova developed overwhelming interests in Eastern culture, New Age matters, religious mysticism, and the occult. As part of this, she developed a very close relationship with "the Petrichmarker Oracle" (Vanga, a famous village clairvoyant), and with thriller writer Bogomil Raynov, son of a renowned Bulgarian theosophist and writer Nikolay Raynov. Later, Zhivkova was said to have developed additional interests in Native American and particularly native Mexican beliefs and mysticism. It was rumoured that she had renounced Marxism and Communist atheism: no mean transgression for even regular Bulgarians at the time and an unthinkable apostasy for a Politburo member and high priestess of the arts, which Communist governments had consistently regarded as being at the very forefront of the "Ideological War."

Roerich year

In connection with her esoteric interests, she designated 1978 "Roerich Year", having encountered like-minded scion of Russian émigrés Svetoslav Roerich in India in 1975. Besides their artistic work as painters, the Roerichs were founders and proponents of Agni Yoga, an idiosyncratic spiritual teaching based on Indian mysticism, so celebrating them so intensively appeared a somewhat eccentric gesture for a Marxist government (admittedly, at the time the Roerichs were respected as artists, patriots and explorers in the USSR as well). A post stamp with a portrait of Nicholas Roerich by his son Svetoslav was issued in that year.


The circumstances of Zhivkova's mysterious death at the age of only 38 continue to arouse controversy. Her health had suffered after a serious car accident in 1973, fatigue occasioned by extensive international travel, two unhappy marriages, struggles against Bulgarian bureaucrats and Party hardliners, and debilitating and curious dietary and lifestyle practices. She had also developed very powerful, extremely dangerous and determined enemies in the face of pro-Soviet Bulgarian Communist hardliners and the USSR itself. The official story is that she died of natural causes while taking a bath at her home in the Boyana government compound. Rumours claim that she took an overdose of medicines or narcotic drugs, was murdered by Bulgarian (or even Soviet) secret service agents, or was intentionally left to die of an otherwise trivial and treatable condition (it is claimed that the ambulance crew taking her to hospital had spent over an hour changing a tyre at the roadside). According to another rumour borne out by her haggard appearance in her final months, she had contracted an incurable disease which she had insisted on treating by alternative means. While she is said to have dimly foreseen her demise and asked her friends to "think of me as fire," her confidante Vanga is on the record as having been surprised by it. Zhivkova was accorded a very large public funeral attended by huge crowds.


Public places and edifices were named after Lyudmila Zhivkova, yet her ideas on rounded personalities and beauty in public life were removed from public circulation. Todor Zhivkov soon removed most of her proteges from their influential positions. Some of those were accused of misappropriating public funds intended for the arts and the Gallery of World Art, with the 1300 Years of Bulgaria Foundation implicated in serious corruption.


Lyudmila Zhivkova's heritage remains disputed in Bulgaria. Some claim that she was the harbinger of alternative ideas, freedom and spirituality, not least through being a woman on Bulgaria’s heavily male-dominated public scene. Others see her as the archetypal dissolute, spoilt, confused, imperious, and eternally unfulfilled child of the "Red Bourgeoisie." While her zeal was disturbingly notable on the glacial and ultra-conservative Soviet Bloc scene of the 1970s, today it appears to have brought nothing but minor (and moreover transient) advances, and to have prompted many to "raise their heads above the parapet" only to expose themselves to later persecution.

A point of view which emerged in the 1990s cites Zhivkova's marriage to earthy, hard-nosed, hard-drinking, sleazy and venal bon-viveur Ivan Slavkov and her association with the widely compromised 1300 Years of Bulgaria Foundation, ascribing to her features of the post-Communist embezzlers, fraudsters and "kleptocrats" who shared-out the spoils of Communist rule in the privatisation campaigns after the 1989 fall of Todor Zhivkov. This minority view reflects the overwhelmingly negative assessments of Zhivkova's father.

Puritanical and Spartan, commanding and dogmatic, rebellious, eccentric, whimsical, and over-naive or insufficiently vigilant, Zhivkova appears to have attracted not only disaffected Bohemians and awkward mystics, but also all too many who were canny, corrupt and mercantile.

Zhivkova left a daughter, Evgeniya (Zheni), from her first marriage to Lybomir Stoychev, and a son, Todor, from her second marriage to Ivan Slavkov, one-time Bulgarian National Television chairman, Bulgarian Olympic Committee president and IOCmarker member. After being adopted by her grandfather, Zheni became a fashion designer and a Coalition for Bulgaria National Assembly deputy. In the 1990s, Todor was tried on rape charges.


  • A Boulevard in the capital was named after her (Boulevard Ludmila Zhivkova), but later renamed after 1990.



  • Ташев, Ташо [Tashev, Tasho], „Министрите на България 1879-1999“, ["Bulgarian Ministers of State, 1897 to 1999"] Sofia, Професор Марин Дринов/Издателство на Министерството на отбраната [Professor Marin Drinov and Izdatelstvo na ministerstvoto na otbranata], 1999
  • Данаилов, Георги [Danailov, Georgi], „Доколкото си спомням" ["Inasmuch as I can recall"] Абагар [Abagar], 2002
  • Георгиев, Никола [Georgiev, Nikola], „Нова книга за българския народ" ["A New Book about the Bulgarian Nation"], LiterNet, 2003
  • Райнов, Богомил [Raynov, Bogomil], „Людмила — мечти и дела" ["Lyudmila: Dreams and Deeds"], Продуцентска къща 2 1/2 [Produtsentska kushta 2 1/2], 2003.

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