Dragoicheva, Tsola (1893–1993)

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Dragoicheva, Tsola (1893–1993)

Bulgarian revolutionary, the most prominent woman in the history of Bulgarian Communism, whose political career lasted over 60 years and included several death sentences that were never carried out. Name variations: known as the Grand Old Lady of the Bulgarian Communist movement, often called the "Bulgarian La Pasionaria." Born on August 18, 1893 (some sources cite August 22, 1898, as well as 1900), in Biala Slatina, Bulgaria; died on May 26, 1993; children: one son, Chavdar Dragoichev.

Born into a working-class family in the northwestern Bulgarian city of Biala Slatina on August 18, 1893, Tsola Dragoicheva trained to become a teacher, graduating from the state institute of pedagogy in 1921. By this time, however, she was already deeply involved in the revolutionary movement, having joined the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) in 1919. The political and social turmoil of Bulgaria worsened in the early 1920s, encouraging the leadership of its Communist Party to attempt an armed uprising in September 1923. Dragoicheva's role during this time was to act as liaison officer between the revolutionary committee in her home town of Biala Slatina and the surrounding villages, which contained many impoverished and radicalized peasants. After the bloody uprising was suppressed, she and many other revolutionaries were arrested and imprisoned. As punishment, she was banned for life from the teaching profession and given a 15-year prison sentence.

Freed from prison as a result of an amnesty in 1924, Dragoicheva immediately returned to her political work. In April 1925, a massive bomb blast in the Sveta Nedelia Cathedral in the capital city Sofia resulted in 123 deaths and injuries to over 300. The Communists were blamed for the atrocity, and once again Dragoicheva found herself among those subjected to the government's harsh repressive measures. Imprisoned in the city of Plovidv, she was tortured, tried, and sentenced to death. Because she was pregnant, Dragoicheva's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at hard labor. Her child, a healthy son named Chavdar, was sent to the Soviet Union at the age of four. As a young man, Chavdar Dragoichev returned to his native country to become an eminent heart surgeon, virtually founding that medical specialization in Bulgaria.

In 1932, Tsola Dragoicheva again benefited from the changing political currents of Bulgaria and was freed by a general political amnesty. Convinced more than ever before that her country needed a sweeping social and political revolution, on the recommendation of party leader Georgi Dimitrov she left Bulgaria to continue her revolutionary training. For the next four years, she studied at Moscow's Lenin School of the Communist International and enjoyed being reunited with her son Chavdar. Having mastered both the theory and practice of Marxist revolution at the Lenin School, in 1936 she returned to Bulgaria. In 1937, she was elected to the central committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, which during these years was carrying on a precarious illegal and underground existence. As an experienced revolutionary, Dragoicheva was well versed in conspiratorial methods (her party name was "Comrade Sonya"), and she was successful in eluding arrest by the secret police of Bulgaria's semi-Fascist regime. Her dedication to the cause and her coolheadedness under pressure earned her the respect of her fellow revolutionaries, and in 1937 she was elected to the BCP central committee. In 1940, she was elected to the BCP politburo, becoming one of the unchallenged leaders of the Bulgarian Communist movement as well as one of the few women politburo members in the world Marxist movement. Her major responsibility at this point was to regularly report to the central committee on party organizational affairs.

By 1941, Bulgaria had become an ally of Nazi Germany and thus took part in the anti-Communist crusade that served as the ideological justification for Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union in June of that year. Internally, the Bulgarian state cracked down hard on its domestic opposition, particularly the Communists. In 1941, Tsola Dragoicheva's luck finally ran out, and she was arrested and thrown into a concentration camp. Legal proceedings against her and other Communist leaders were being prepared when she was able to effect an escape. A furious regime sentenced her to death in absentia, and had she been captured, there is little doubt that this sentence would have been swiftly carried out. But this time she eluded arrest successfully. Advocating the creation of a national coalition of anti-Fascist forces, starting in 1942 Dragoicheva became the Communist representative on the umbrella organization embodying this point of view, the Bulgarian Patriotic Front. When the Patriotic Front took over the reins of government in September 1944 with the flight of German occupation forces, Dragoicheva became the Front's national secretary. As the most powerful woman in Bulgaria, in June 1945 she was elected president of the Bulgarian National Women's Union.

In December 1947, Dragoicheva joined Georgi Dimitrov's government as minister of communications, a post she would hold until 1957. The next several years would be difficult for both Dragoicheva and her country. The imposition of a hardline Communist regime brought turmoil to Bulgaria. Industrialization and modernization was a difficult process, and within the Communist movement Stalinist repression destroyed careers and lives. Tsola remained in the government Cabinet, but within the party her power was significantly eroded. In January 1948, she was demoted from full to alternate membership in the politburo and in December of that year, reflecting the harsh purge then taking place within the BCP, she lost her position in the organizational bureau of the central committee, only retaining her general membership in that body.

Joseph Stalin's death in 1953 brought little in the way of liberalization in Bulgaria but it did end the most extreme forms of terror both in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies. In Bulgaria, only hesitant steps toward de-Stalinization took place, but Dragoicheva was unafraid to voice her critiques within party circles. In 1956, she attacked Vulko Chervenko, secretary-general of the BCP, for his serious ideological failings. Rather than destroying her political career, her candid behavior encouraged others to call for the initiation of major reforms within the ruling party. Although she resigned her ministry of communications post in February 1957, Dragoicheva's prestige within the regime was restored in 1963 when she became vice-chair of the national committee of the Fatherland Front. Within the BCP, in 1966 she was restored to full membership within the party's politburo.

Seen in the last decades of her long life as the Grand Old Lady of Bulgarian Communism and as the La Pasionaria of the Balkans, Tsola Dragoicheva became well-known throughout the Soviet Bloc, often visiting Moscow as part of her duties as president of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship Association. Determined to document her long career as a revolutionary, in the 1970s she published a memoir trilogy entitled The Call of Duty, which appeared in translation in German- and English-language editions. In September 1973, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev presented her with the Order of Friendship Among Peoples. Her other awards included the Order of Lenin from the Soviet Union, as well as two Bulgarian Orders of Georgi Dimitrov. Tsola Dragoicheva lived long enough to witness not only the birth and power but also the decline and fall of Communism in Bulgaria, dramatic events on which she made no public comments. She died on May 26, 1993.


Bell, John D. The Bulgarian Communist Party from Blagoev to Zhivkov. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1986.

Dragoicheva, Tsola. Defeat to Victory: Notes of a Bulgarian Revolutionary. Sofia: Sofia Press, 1983.

Lazitch, Branko, and Milorad M. Drachkovitch. Biographical Dictionary of the Comintern. Rev. ed. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1986.

Lukanov, Karlo. "A Jubilee of a Great Friend of the USSR," in Culture and Life [Moscow], 1973, no. 11, p. 17.

Oren, Nissan. Bulgarian Communism: The Road to Power, 1934–1944. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Rothschild, Joseph. The Communist Party of Bulgaria: Origins and Development 1883–1936. NY: Columbia University Press, 1959.

Tourlakova, Eleonora, and Pavlina Popova. Bulgarian Women. Sofia: Sofia Press, 1976.

"Tsola Dragoicheva," in The Times [London]. June 8, 1993, p. 19.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia