Zhelyu Zhelev

Last updated
Zhelyu Zhelev
Желю Желев
1st President of Bulgaria
In office
22 January 1992 22 January 1997
Prime Minister Philip Dimitrov
Lyuben Berov
Reneta Indzhova (Acting)
Zhan Videnov
Vice President Atanas Semerdzhiev
Blaga Dimitrova
Preceded byHimself (as Chairman)
Succeeded by Petar Stoyanov
2nd Chairman (President) of Bulgaria
In office
10 November 1989 22 January 1992
Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov
Dimitar Popov
Philip Dimitrov
Deputy Atanas Semerdzhiev
Preceded by Petar Mladenov
Succeeded byHimself (as President)
Chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces
In office
Preceded byOffice Established
Succeeded by Petar Beron
Personal details
Zhelyu Mitev Zhelev

(1935-03-03)3 March 1935
Veselinovo, Bulgaria
Died30 January 2015(2015-01-30) (aged 79)
Sofia, Bulgaria
Political party BCP (1960–1965)

Union of Democratic Forces (1989–1990)

Independent (1990–2015)
Spouse(s)Maria Zheleva (1961–2013, her death)[ citation needed ]
ChildrenMitko (died 80 days after birth)[ citation needed ]
Yordanka (died in 1993) [1]
Stanka[ citation needed ]
Profession Philosopher
Signature Signature of Zhelyu Zhelev.png

Zhelyu Mitev Zhelev (Bulgarian : Желю Митев Желев; 3 March 1935 – 30 January 2015) was a Bulgarian politician and former dissident who served as the first non-Communist President of Bulgaria from 1989 to 1997, Zhelev was the most prominent figure of the 1989 Bulgarian Revolution, which ended the 35 year rule of President Todor Zhivkov. A member of the Union of Democratic Forces, he was elected as President by the 7th Grand National Assembly, and was then elected directly by the people in 1992 Bulgarian presidential election as the first democratically elected President of Bulgaria. He lost his party's nomination for his 1996 reelection campaign after losing a tough primary race to Petar Stoyanov.

Bulgarian language South Slavic language

Bulgarian, is an Indo-European language and a member of the Southern branch of the Slavic language family.

Dissident person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution

A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution. In a religious context, the word has been used since 18th century, and in the political sense since 1940, coinciding with the rise of totalitarian systems, especially the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Saudi Arabia.

Todor Zhivkov communist head of state of the Peoples Republic of Bulgaria

Todor Khristov Zhivkov was the communist leader of the People's Republic of Bulgaria (PRB) from 4 March 1954 until 10 November 1989.



Early life

Zhelyu Zhelev was born on 3 March 1935 in Veselinovo village, Shumen. He graduated with a degree in philosophy from the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" in 1958, and later earned a Ph.D. in 1974. [2]

Shumen Province Province in Bulgaria

Shumen Province is a province in northeastern Bulgaria named after its main city Shumen. It is divided into 10 municipalities with a total population, as of December 2009, of 194,090 inhabitants.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Sofia University, "St. Kliment Ohridski" at the University of Sofia, is the oldest higher education institution in Bulgaria.


Zhelev was a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party, but was expelled from it for political reasons in 1965. He was unemployed for six years since all employment in Bulgaria was state-regulated. [2]

Bulgarian Communist Party political party in Bulgaria between 1903-1990

The Bulgarian Communist Party was the Communist and Marxist-Leninist ruling party of the People's Republic of Bulgaria from 1946 until 1989 when the country ceased to be a socialist state. The Bulgarian Communist Party had dominated the Fatherland Front coalition that took power in 1944, late in World War II, after it led a coup against Bulgaria's tsarist regime in conjunction with the Red Army's crossing the border. It controlled its armed forces, the Bulgarian People's Army.

In 1982, he published his controversial work, "The Fascism" (Фашизмът). Three weeks after the volume's publication in 1982, it was banned and removed from the bookstores and libraries throughout the nation, as it likened the Soviet style socialist state to the fascist states of Italy, Germany and Spain before, during, and after World War II. [3]


In 1988, just before the Fall of Communism, Zhelev founded the Ruse Committee, and in 1989 he became a founding member and chairman of the Club for Support of Openness and the Reform (a time when many such democratic clubs were formed), which helped him to achieve the position of Chairman of the Coordinating Council of the Union of Democratic Forces (Bulgarian: СДС, SDS) party. [4] [5]

Revolutions of 1989 series of 1989-protests overthrowing communist governments in Eastern Europe

The Revolutions of 1989 formed part of a revolutionary wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s that resulted in the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond. The period is sometimes called the Fall of Nations or the Autumn of Nations, a play on the term Spring of Nations that is sometimes used to describe the Revolutions of 1848.

Union of Democratic Forces (Bulgaria) political party

The Union of Democratic Forces is a political party in Bulgaria, founded in 1989 as a union of several political organizations in opposition to the communist government. The Union was transformed into a single unified party with the same name. The SDS is a member of the European People's Party (EPP). In the 1990s the party had the largest membership in the country, with one million members, but has since splintered into a number of small parties totaling no more than 40,000 members. The SDS proper had 12,000 members in 2016.

MP and President

Zhelev was elected MP in June 1990 for the 7th Grand National Assembly; the Assembly's main goal was to create a new democratic Constitution of Bulgaria. After the resignation of President Petar Mladenov, the assembly elected Zhelev his successor on 1 August 1990. [3] He thus became the first head of state in 44 years who was not either a Communist or fellow traveler.

Constitutional Assembly elections were held in Bulgaria on 10 June 1990, with a second round for eighteen seats on 17 June. They were the first elections held since the fall of Communism the previous winter, and the first free national elections since 1931. The elections were held to elect the 7th Grand National Assembly, tasked with adopting a new (democratic) constitution. The new electoral system was changed from 400 single-member constituencies used during the Communist era to a split system whereby half were elected in single member constituencies and half by proportional representation. The result was a victory for the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the freshly renamed Communist Party, which won 211 of the 400 seats. Voter turnout was 90.3%.

Constitution of Bulgaria constitution

The Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria is the supreme and basic law of the Republic of Bulgaria. The current constitution was adopted on 12 July 1991 by the 7th Grand National Assembly of Bulgaria, and defines the country as a unitary parliamentary republic. It has been amended five times.

Petar Mladenov Bulgarian politician and diplomat

Petar Toshev Mladenov was a Bulgarian communist diplomat and politician. He was the last leader of the Bulgarian People's Republic from 1989 to 1990, and briefly the first President of the Bulgarian Republic in 1990.

1992 presidential election

Under the new constitution adopted in July 1991, the president was to be elected directly by voters, for a maximum of two terms. The first such election was held in January 1992. Zhelev won in the runoff against Velko Valkanov (who was endorsed by the Socialists) with 52.8% of the votes. He immediately suspended his membership in the UDF; the new constitution did not allow the president to be a formal member of a political party during his term.

Zhelev served his full five-year term, which ran until January 1997.

1996 presidential election

Zhelev lost the UDF nomination for the 1996 presidential race to Petar Stoyanov who went on to win the next presidential elections.

Later political career

After his defeat in the 1996 UDF primaries and after the end of his presidency in 1997, Zhelev remained in politics, but on a much smaller scale. He became Honorary Chair of the Liberal Democratic Union and Honorary Chair of the Liberal International and in 1997 went on to establish and preside over a foundation named after him. Zhelev was the initiator and president of the Balkan Political Club, a union of former political leaders from Southeast Europe. As part of the club he voiced his support for Turkey's accession to the European Union. [6]

In 2009, Zhelev also voiced his opinion that Bulgaria should adopt a presidential system based upon the French model: "The country should have both prime minister and president, but the latter should be vested in far-reaching powers so that he may control the executive power". [7]

Zhelev died in Sofia at the age of 79 on 30 January 2015. [8] [9]

World Justice Project

Zhelyu Zhelev served as an Honorary Co-Chair for the World Justice Project (ABA). [10]

Awards and accolades

On 15 January 2010, Zhelev received the Macedonian state Order 8-September for his contribution to the recognition of the independence of the Republic of Macedonia from the former Yugoslavia. [11]

Zhelev Peak on Loubet Coast, Antarctica is named after Zhelyu Zhelev "for his support for the Bulgarian Antarctic programme." [12]


He was married to Maria Zheleva and has two daughters Yordanka (1963–1993) and Stanka (born 1966). Zhelev has two grandchildren from his daughter Stanka.[ citation needed ]

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  1. "Yordanka Zheleva". Orlando Sentinel. 28 April 1993. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  2. 1 2 Harris M. Lentz (4 February 2014). Heads of States and Governments Since 1945. Routledge. p. 117. ISBN   978-1-134-26490-2.
  3. 1 2 Lynda Lee Kaid; Christina Holtz-Bacha (21 December 2007). Encyclopedia of Political Communication. SAGE Publications. p. 1015. ISBN   978-1-4522-6562-9.
  4. "Профил на Желю Желев в "omda". omda.bg. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  5. Coordinating Council of the Union of Democratic Forces. Demokratsiya Newspaper, 27 April 1990.
  6. "Bulgaria Ex-President Zhelev: Turkey Should Be in EU Already". Novinite.com. Sofia News Agency. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  7. "Calls for Electing Prime Minister Borisov for Bulgaria's President Gain Momentum". Novinite.com. Sofia News Agency. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  8. http://www.novinite.com/articles/166247/Bulgaria%27s+Former+President+Zhelyu+Zhelev+Dies
  9. Okov, Slav (30 January 2015). "Zhelyu Zhelev, Bulgarian Post-Communist Leader, Dies at 79". Bloomberg.
  10. "Honorary Chairs". World Justice Project . Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  11. "Macedonia President: Bulgaria Leader in Recognizing Our Independence". Novinite.com. Sofia News Agency. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  12. Zhelev Peak. SCAR Composite Antarctic Gazetteer