Zhelyu Zhelev

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Zhelyu Zhelev
Желю Желев
2nd President of Bulgaria
In office
1 August 1990 – 22 January 1997
Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov
Dimitar Popov
Philip Dimitrov
Lyuben Berov
Reneta Indzhova (Acting)
Zhan Videnov
Vice President Atanas Semerdzhiev (1 August 1990 - 22 January 1992)

Blaga Dimitrova (22 January 1992 – 6 July 1993)

Preceded by Nikolai Todorov (Acting)
Succeeded by Petar Stoyanov
Chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces
In office
1989 - 1990
Preceded by Office Established
Succeeded by Petar Beron
Personal details
Born (1935-03-03) 3 March 1935 (age 79)
Veselinovo, Bulgaria
Political party Union of Democratic Forces
Spouse(s) Maria Zheleva
Children Yordanka
Profession Philosopher

Zhelyu Mitev Zhelev (Bulgarian: Желю Митев Желев) (born March 3, 1935) is a Bulgarian politician and former dissident who served as the first non-Communist President of Bulgaria from 1990 to 1997. He was elected as President by the 7th Grand National Assembly, and was then elected directly by the people in 1992. He lost his party's nomination for his 1996 reelection campaign after losing a tough primary race to Petar Stoyanov. He then largely stepped out of the spotlight of public life.


Zhelyu Zhelev was born March 3, 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.


Zhelev was a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party, but was expelled from it for political reasons in 1965. He was also expelled from Sofia the following year and was unemployed for six years since all employment in Bulgaria was state-regulated.

In 1982 he published his controversial work, "The Fascism" (Фашизмът). Three weeks after publication in 1982, the book was banned and removed from bookstores and libraries as it likened Bulgaria's socialist state to the country's fascist administration of World War II.


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 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.[1]

MP and a President[edit]

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 August 1, 1990. He thus became the first head of state in 44 years who was not either a Communist or fellow traveler.

Presidential election 1992[edit]

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. Zhelev became the first Bulgarian Head of State to be democratically elected directly by the electorate, serving his full five-year term until January 1997.

Presidential election 1996[edit]

Zhelev lost his party's nomination for the 1996 presidential race to Petar Stoyanov who went on to win the next presidential elections.

Later political career[edit]

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 has voiced his support for Turkey's accession to the European Union.[2]

Back in 2009 Zhelev also voiced his opinion that Bulgaria should transform into a presidential republic on the French model saying: "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".[3]


Zhelev has written a number of books and publications, the most notable one being his controversial 1981 work The Fascism. The book was removed from the bookshelves and destroyed a few weeks after it was published. This caught the attention of Bulgarian readers and as a result this became the best-read book between 1981 and 1989. A few people were arrested by the secret police for possessing it. The author was confined to his hometown, Shumen, and banned from public life.

The book analyzes the three classic fascist societies—Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Francoist Spain—and establishes five elements of a Fascist political system:

  1. Single party system with strong personality cult.
  2. Merger of the party apparatus with the state apparatus.
  3. Total espionage.
  4. Censorship.
  5. System of repression (secret police with extraordinary authority and death camps).

The book does not pose any criticism of the Communist system in the former Soviet bloc and deals exclusively with well-known facts. However, the analysis of the abovementioned five elements of fascist countries clearly shows that the system of Communist countries is a mirror image of the fascist systems in sharp contrast with democratic countries, such as the United States and those in Western Europe.

World Justice Project[edit]

Zhelyu Zhelev serves as an Honorary Co-Chair for the World Justice Project (ABA). The World Justice Project works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the Rule of Law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.

Awards and Accolades[edit]

On January 15, 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.[4]


  1. ^ "Профил на Желю Желев в "omda". omda.bg. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "Bulgaria Ex-President Zhelev: Turkey Should Be in EU Already". Novinite.com. Sofia News Agency. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Calls for Electing Prime Minister Borisov for Bulgaria's President Gain Momentum". Novinite.com. Sofia News Agency. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  4. ^ "Macedonia President: Bulgaria Leader in Recognizing Our Independence". Novinite.com. Sofia News Agency. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 

External Links[edit]

Zhelyu Zhelev - The dissident president at the Sofia Echo, by Ivan Vatahov, Apr 17 2003 (retrieved January 27, 2010)