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62 BLAGOEVA, Vela (1858–1921) Bulgarian teacher, journalist, writer, translator . Founder and one of the leaders of the socialist women’s movement in Bulgaria. On 29 September 1858, Vela Blagoeva was born Victoria Atanasova Zhivkova in Turnovo, an old town at the foot of the Balkan mountains, the last capital of the Bulgarian medieval kingdom, a prosperous economic and cultural center during the nineteenth-century Bulgarian national revival, and home to Vela’s upper middleclass family. Her parents, the trader Atanas Zhivkov and housewife Neda Spiridonova , had two daughters and two sons. Her brothers, Georgi Zhivkov (1844– 1899) and Nikola Zhivkov (1847–1901), were well-known public figures in the new Bulgarian state: Georgi was a politician; Nikola was a teacher and man of letters. In later life, Vela Blagoeva would note in her (unpublished) memoirs that she, the youngest, was her father’s favorite, but that her mother did not like that she was a girl, her pride and joy being her two sons. After finishing the middle school for girls in Turnovo, and high school in Gabrovo, Vela Zhivkova taught in Berkovitsa, Varna, Constantinople and Turnovo. In 1877–1878, during the Russian–Turkish War of Liberation, she served as a nurse. Obtaining a fellowship from the Slavic Charity Committee in St Petersburg, she was able to graduate from the high school for girls there in 1881. Between 1881 and 1882, she returned to Bulgaria to teach: first in Edirne (today in Turkey), later in Bitolia (today in Macedonia ). From 1882–1884, she continued her studies, attending the Higher Women’s Courses (popularly known as ‘the Bestuzhev Courses’) in St Petersburg and training as a teacher. Student protests against the Russian autocracy, which continued unabated throughout these years, had a significant impact on Blagoeva’s political development . Vela Blagoeva was the life partner of Dimitur Blagoev (1856–1924), the founder, in 1883, of one of the first socialist groups in Russia and of the Bulgarian socialist party in 1891. He was the recognized leader of the ‘narrow socialist’ wing of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which Bolshevized after 1919. The couple had four children: two daughters, Stela (1887–1954) and Natalia (1889–1943); and two sons, Dimitur (1895– 1918) and Vladimir (1893–1925). Dimitur was killed in World War I and Vladimir 63 ‘disappeared’ in 1925, during the government reprisals and political terror that followed the communist bombing of Sveta Nedelia, a church in Sofia. Vela Blagoeva was imbibed with the free spirit of the Bulgarian National Revival; she had been brought up in Turnovo after all, a town with a tradition of women’s activism (especially regarding education), and she had been educated under the influence of the Russian narodnics and revolutionary democrats. It was therefore almost inevitable that she became orientated towards socialism. In Russia, she had already immersed herself in radical politics. The late nineteenth century saw socialist ideas spread to Bulgaria as well. Upon returning to Bulgaria (1884), Blagoeva immediately began disseminating socialist propaganda. Together with Dimitur Blagoev, she edited the socialist journal Suvremenen pokazatel (Contemporary trend), in which she discussed , among other issues, women’s education, equality and discrimination against women teachers. At the end of the nineteenth century, high schools for girls in Bulgaria (called gymnasiums as in Germany) offered six grades above the primary (fourgrade ) level, while high schools for boys offered seven grades. This difference would later serve as a pretext to deny women access to higher education at the University in Sofia, the first and for a long time the only university in Bulgaria (established in 1888). Blagoeva criticized this education system for not giving equal opportunities to girls and boys. “Currently, our high schools for girls can only prepare schoolgirls to become courtesans and cooks,” she wrote, “but not to become educated teachers and certainly not to become citizens” (cited in Bogdanova 1969, 47). A teacher herself by profession, Blagoeva was constantly on the move; she was dismissed on more than one occasion by the Bulgarian government on account of her socialist ideas. She taught in Sofia (1884–1885, 1905–1907), Shumen (1886–1887), Vidin (1897–1890), Turnovo (1890–1892), Stara Zagora (1892–1893), Plovdiv (1893–1896, 1902–1903), Tulcha (today in Romania) (1901–1902) and Marashki Trustenik (1907–1912). Vela Blagoeva was one of the first women socialists in Bulgaria. In 1901, she participated in the founding of the first national women’s organization, the Bulgarski Zhenski Sujuz (BZhS, Bulgarian Women’s Union). Within the BZhS, two basic political...


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