Former President

*Deceased on 30 January 2015

Zhelyu Zhelev was born on 3 March 1935 in Vesselinovo, small village in Northeast Bulgaria. He is married and has one daughter. Graduated at Sofia University, subject – Philosophy. Famous Bulgarian dissident and first democratically elected President of Bulgaria after the fall of Zhivkov’s communist regime. He experienced the first clash with the communist authorities just in 1972 when supposedly he should defend his PhD thesis entitled “Philosophical definition of the matter and the contemporary natural science”. Therein he dared to criticize the Lenin’s definition of the matter. The vigilant communist authorities did not omit this fact. In consequence his fellowship in Sofia University was withdrawn for dissent from communist dogma. He was banished from Sofia and forced to live in the countryside. In 1974 he succeeded in restoring his rights. Then, he wrote a new thesis entitled “The Modal Categories” devoted to the dialectics and received the PhD degree. During the period of exile he had worked on his chief masterpiece “ The Totalitarian state”. However, it was impossible with such a title to pass through the omnipresent party machine for censorship and persecutions. So in the course of the time it was changed to “The Fascism”. After many attempts to publish it, this came true just in 1982. Shortly after this first edition, the book was suppressed and stopped for distribution. In a fitting manner it was published after the Velvet revolution in 1989. Since then it has been edited in more than 10 languages. (Second Bulgarian edition—1990).

In 1988 he became main initiator and co-founder of a dissident and non-formal Club for Glasnost and Perestroika. For this initiative among other things shortly after he was fired from the Institute for Culture where he worked as Senior Research Fellow.

The numerous clashes between President Zhelev and the communist authorities for his dissident activities and interviews for the Western media (it was forbidden to listen to the Western media at the time) made him the most appropriate opposition leader and afterwards nominee for the first democratic elections in the country. It was quite natural when in 1989 he was elected first chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces. On 1 August 1990 he was elected President by the Great National Assembly. Two years later he was reelected for another five years term according to the newly adopted Bulgarian Constitution.

After his term in office President Zhelev founded two NGOs: “Dr. Zhelyu Zhelev” foundation and the Balkan Political Club.

President Zhelev is honorific member of the Liberal International. In 1995 he was elected fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science. The pending issue for the statute of the former head of state was resolved in 2003 by a special law endowing him an office. Now he continues his activities at his office where both foundations are located, too.

 In 2011 he was appointed Special envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to Tunisia.

Principal publications: Amateur art in the context of the scientific and technical revolution (1976); The Modal Categories (1978); Physical Culture and Sports in the Urbanized Society (1979); “Fascism” (1982); Man and His Personalities (1991); The Relational Theory of the Personality (1993); “Intelligentsia and Politics”; Articles essays, speeches and interviews (1995); Bulgaria’s new foreign Policy and NATO (1995); Presidential Addresses to the Nation and to Parliament (1996); Bulgaria’s new foreign Policy and NATO (1995); “In at the deep end”(1998); “Political Speeches” (2003); Interviews (2004); “Despite All”, (2006).

Awards and Distinctions: Honorary Doctor of: Graceland College, Iowa, USA (1993); University of Maine, USA (1993); University of Tel Aviv (1993); University of Ankara (1994); University of Seoul (1995); American University in Blagoevgrad (1996); Slavic University in Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan (2002); South-Western University “Neophyte Rilski” in Blagoevgrad (2004); Veliko Tarnovo University “Cyril and Metodius” (2006); Elected Honorary Chairman of International Academy for Art and Science and observer for the Caspian, South Caucasian and Black Sea Region ( September 2007); Catherine Medici Award (1991) of the International Academy Medici; Transition Award shared with Yitzhak Rabin /posthumously/, presented in Crans Montana (1996). The highest state distinctions of France, Spain, Portugal and Venezuela. Honorary Member of Rotary Club - New York. On 7 March 2005 President Zhelev was awarded the highest Bulgarian state order “Stara Planina”,1st degree and medal ribbon as recognition of his significant contribution to establishing and consolidating democracy in Bulgaria.