Dimitrov, Georgi (1882–1949)

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DIMITROV, GEORGI (1882–1949)


Bulgarian statesman.

Georgi Dimitrov, born 18 June 1882 in Kovachevtsi, Bulgaria, was a major figure of the Bulgarian and international communist movements. At age twelve he started work as a printer in Sofia and enrolled actively in the trade-union movement, organizing the first mass strike in Bulgaria, the coal-miners' strike in Pernik (1906). By 1909 he became secretary of the Revolutionary Trade Union Federation. In 1902 he joined the Bulgarian Workers' Social Democratic Party and was a member of its Central Committee from 1909. After the party split in 1903 over issues of strategy and tactics, Dimitrov sided with the revolutionary wing ("narrow socialists"), which was renamed the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) in 1919. As member of parliament from 1913 to 1923, Dimitrov was highly critical of Bulgaria's policies during the Balkan Wars and World War I. He voted against the war credits in 1915 and denounced Bulgarian nationalism, activities for which he served brief prison sentences. Eager to internationalize the Bulgarian movement, Dimitrov took part in the First (1909) and Second (1915) Balkan Social Democratic Conferences. In 1921 he participated in the Third Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) and was elected as a member of the executive bureau of the Profintern.

In September 1923, together with Vasil Kolarov (1877–1950), Dimitrov led a communist uprising against the military junta, which had ousted Alexander Stamboliyski's (1879–1923) agrarian government (1919–1923) in June 1923. This uprising, long hailed in the mainstream communist literature as the first antifascist revolt, produced bitter discussions within communist circles at the time. The Communist Party had announced its "neutrality" in the face of the coup d'état, a formula that was just a cover for the weakness of the left-wing forces. However, the Moscow-based Comintern, still hoping to foment a "permanent revolution," criticized the Bulgarian communists for their passivity and ordered them to rise. After acrimonious debates, which divided the leadership of the BCP, the faction represented by Dimitrov and Kolarov prevailed. Accusation of quiescence to the dictates of the Comintern and conscious adventurism were raised by other communists, based on the fact that the uprising was organized hastily and in the most remote western province of Bulgaria, from where Dimitrov and Kolarov quickly escaped into emigration, whereas the subsequent "White Terror" threw the country into bloody reprisals.

With a death sentence from the military regime, Dimitrov was forced into emigration. He was a member of the foreign bureau of the BCP, a member of the executive committees of the Comintern and the Profintern, and secretary of the Balkan Communist Federation. In 1929 he settled in Berlin as head of the West European bureau of the Comintern. The Reichstag Fire of 27 February 1933 provided Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) with a pretext for outlawing his Communist opponents, and Dimitrov was accused, alongside other Communist leaders, of plotting the fire. Arrested in March 1933, Dimitrov stood trial between 21 September and 23 December 1933 in Leipzig, leading his own defense. This was a defining moment in his life and career. His brilliant rhetoric and remarkable political courage, as well as the worldwide protests, won him acquittal from the Nazi court, but he was kept in prison. Granted Soviet citizenship, Dimitrov was allowed to leave for Moscow in February 1934.

At the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935, he was elected general secretary of the organization until its dissolution in 1943. Dimitrov formulated his theory of fascism and was the decisive force behind overcoming a number of dogmatic and sectarian communist attitudes, especially against social democracy. He was the chief promoter of popular-front movements against Nazism. While in Moscow, Dimitrov fostered the foundation of Bulgaria's Fatherland Front (1942), the popular antifascist coalition. He returned to Sofia on 6 November 1945, a year after the Communist-led takeover of 9 September 1944, and a year before the promulgation of the people's republic. Elected prime minister by the Grand National Assembly (November 1946), he became general secretary of the BCP (December 1948). Negotiations with Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980) to form a Balkan federation were stalled by Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) in 1948. Dimitrov formulated the general lines of development following a Stalinist model and presided over the destruction of the noncommunist and intra-party oppositions. Still, the open Stalinist grip on the country occurred after his death on 2 July 1949 and after the show trial against the popular former executive secretary of the BCP, Traicho Kostov in December 1949, although it had been already prepared with Dimitrov's participation. The very circumstance that Dimitrov was not alive at the time of the trial against and the subsequent assassination of the very popular Kostov, coupled with the rumors that he himself might have fallen victim to Stalin, explains why, in the aftermath of the destalinization process and the rehabilitation of Kostov, his reputation did not suffer. His embalmed body was preserved in a mausoleum in Sofia until its removal by his family in 1990. The mausoleum was demolished by the Bulgarian government in 1999, although the building's destruction was controversial.

See alsoBulgaria.


Primary Sources

Dimitrov, Georgi. The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov, 1933–1949. Introduced and edited by Ivo Banac. New Haven, Conn., 2003.

Dimitrov, Georgi, and Joseph Stalin. Dimitrov and Stalin: 1934–1943: Letters from the Soviet Archives. Edited by Alexander Dallin and F. I. Firsov. New Haven, Conn., 2000.

Secondary Sources

Bell, John D. The Bulgarian Communist Party from Blagoev to Zhivkov. Stanford, Calif., 1986.

Oren, Nissan . Bulgarian Communism; The Road to Power, 1934–1944. New York, 1971.

Rothschild, Joseph . The Communist Party of Bulgaria: Origins and Development, 1883–1936. New York, 1959.

Maria Todorova