Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria's Communist dictator for 35 years and eastern Europe's last surviving Stalinist leader, has died

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria's Communist dictator for 35 years and eastern Europe's last surviving Stalinist leader, has died, officials announced today. He was 86.

He died Wednesday night, 5 August 1998, the office of Bulgaria's reformist president, Petar Stoyanov, announced. Zhivkov had fallen into a coma after being hospitalized July 8 with a respiratory infection, hospital officials were quoted by the official BTA news agency as saying. He also had suffered from diabetes and other ailments in recent months.

Zhivkov held the record among his eastern European peers for time in office -- from 1954 until his fall in the anti-communist revolutions of 1989.

Stoyanov expressed his condolences today to Zhivkov's family but said in a public statement that Zhivkov oversaw "one of the darkest periods of recent Bulgarian history."

"Eight million Bulgarians lived during that long period with their work, dreams and illusions, but also in fear and political repression," Stoyanov said. "With the death of Todor Zhivkov the era of Bulgarian communism is finally ending."

Zhivkov outlived his former Kremlin bosses and other Balkan dictators: Yugoslavia's Josip Broz Tito died in 1980, and Albania's Enver Hoxha in 1985. Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu was executed in 1989.

His longevity at Bulgaria's helm was largely based on such absolute servility to Moscow that Zhivkov once proposed that Bulgaria should merge with the Soviet Union.

In this, he was exceptional. Even the leaders of other Soviet satellites in eastern Europe occasionally demonstrated varying degrees of independence, or were slow in switching to the latest orientation of their Soviet masters.

Zhivkov dealt mercilessly with dissent, imprisoning thousands of people in the Lovech and Skravena prison camps in the 1950s and 1960s.

"He served the Soviet Union more ardently than the Soviet leaders themselves did," wrote Georgi Markov, a defector working for the BBC in London. In 1978, Markov was slain -- most likely by Bulgarian agents -- with a special umbrella that injected him with a tiny poison vial.

Zhivkov was born into a poor family in Pravets, near Sofia, on Sept. 7, 1911. Like others who rose to Communist heights after World War II, Zhivkov came from a rural background.

He was part of a generation that got its first education after World War I dissolved the Ottoman and Habsburg empires that had ruled the Balkans for centuries. His learning led him to embrace revolution, and Zhivkov joined Bulgaria's illegal Communist party in 1932.

I visited Bulgaria several times during the Zhivkov era, the last time being in 1986, when I played in the Albena International Chess Tournament.

I felt that in comparison with other Soviet-Bloc countries, the people seemed in general to be pro-Zhivkov.

I suspect that there will be a lot of people attending his funeral, more than for any other Soviet bloc leader.

It will be interesting to see how the people of Bulgaria view Zhivkov and his role in history.

Here are two chess games I won against Bulgarian chess masters. (These are good games, by the way):

Sam Sloan

[Event "Albena International"]
[Site "Albena (Bulgaria)"]
[Date "1986.??.??"]
[White "Sloan, Sam"]
[Black "Anev, Asen (BUL)"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"] 

1. g4 e5 2. Bg2 Nc6 3. d3 d5 4. h3 Bc5 5. Nc3 Nge7 6. e4 Be6 7. f4 Bxg1 
8. Rxg1 d4 9. Ne2 f6 10. f5 Bf7 11. Ng3 Qd6 12. Nh5 Rg8 13. g5 fxg5 
14. Bxg5 h6 15. Bh4 O-O-O 16. Bf3 g5 17. Bg3 Rh8 18. Bg4 Ng8 19. b3 Nf6 
20. Rg2 Ne7 21. Kf2 Neg8 22. Qe2 Rf8 23. Rh1 Nxh5 24. Bxh5 Bxh5 25. 
Qxh5 Nf6 26. Qd1 h5 27. Qd2 Qc5 28. Kg1 Rfg8 29. Be1 Qe7 30. Kh2 g4 
31. Bh4 gxh3 32. Kxh3 Rg4 33. Rxg4 hxg4+ 34. Kg3 Nh5+ 35. Kf2 g3+ 36. 
Kf3 Qg7 37. Qg5 g2 38. Rg1 Qf8 39. Rxg2 Nf4 40. Rg4 Qc5 41. f6 Qxc2 
42. Qxe5 Qxd3+ 43. Kxf4 Qe3+ 44. Kf5 Qf3+ 45. Qf4 Qe2 46. f7 Qb5+ 47. 
Qe5 Qf1+ 48. Kg6 Qa6+ 49. Qf6 1-0 

[Event "Albena International"]
[Site "Albena (Bulgaria)"]
[Date "1986.??.??"]
[White "Sloan, Sam"]
[Black "Paniotov (BUL)"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]

1. g4 d5 2. Bg2 c6 3. h3 e5 4. e4 Bc5 5. Nc3 Ne7 6. d3 Be6 7. f4 exf4 
8. Bxf4 Ng6 9. Bg3 O-O 10. Nf3 Be3 11. Qe2 Nf4 12. Bxf4 Bxf4 13. O-O 
Qb6+ 14. d4 Qxb2 15. Qd3 Qa3 16. exd5 cxd5 17. Nxd5 Qxd3 18. Ne7+ Kh8 
19. cxd3 Re8 20. Nf5 g6 21. Ne5 Bxe5 22. dxe5 gxf5 23. Bxb7 Nd7 24. 
Bxa8 Rxa8 25. gxf5 Bd5 26. d4 Rg8+ 27. Kf2 Rg2+ 28. Ke3 Nb6 29. Kf4 Rd2 
30. Rad1 Rxa2 31. Ra1 a5 32. Rxa2 Bxa2 33. Ra1 Nd5+ 34. Kg5 f6+ 35. Kh6 
Nb4 36. e6 Kg8 37. Rc1 Kf8 38. Rc8+ Ke7 39. Ra8 Nc6 40. Kxh7 Bd5 41. 
Kg6 Be4 42. h4 Nxd4 43. Ra7+ Kd6 44. Kxf6 Nxf5 45. Rxa5 Ne7 46. Ra6+ 
Bc6 47. h5 Nd5+ 1-0 

Here are links:
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