Nostalgic Bulgarians mark communist ruler's birthday

Wed Sep 7, 2011 1:27pm EDT
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By Stoyan Nenov

PRAVETS, Bulgaria (Reuters) - Hundreds of Bulgarians celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Balkan country's long-serving dictator Todor Zhivkov Wednesday, a sign that nostalgia for the communist era remains strong more than 20 years after it ended.

A new bust of Zhivkov, who ruled Bulgaria for 33 years until 1989 -- the longest tenure of any of Eastern Europe's communist leaders -- was unveiled in his home town of Pravets, some 50 km from Sofia, to mark the occasion.

Singers and folk dancers performed and deputies from the Socialist Party, heirs to Zhivkov's Communists, gave speeches at a ceremony broadcast live on television.

Bulgaria has aligned itself with the West, joining the European Union in 2007, but is the EU's poorest country with a per capita GDP just 43 percent of the EU average last year.

Disenchantment with the market economy's failure to raise living standards has fueled nostalgia for the communist past, as have corruption and nepotism. Support for the former communist Socialist party is about 18 percent.

"No doubt he did a lot for Bulgarian society," said historian Iskra Baeva. "Many people were not very rich but they had a much more secure and peaceful life during Zhivkov's leadership."

"He'll remain in Bulgarian history."

Pop-singer Todor Traivhev said: "I would like to bow to the man who gave so much to the Bulgarian culture."   Continued...

<p>People place flowers in front of the monument of Bulgaria's late communist dictator Todor Zhivkov in the town of Pravets, some 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Sofia September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov</p>