The founders of modern Bulgarian literature, writing before the end of Turkish rule, were Georgi Rakovski (1821–67), Petko Slaveikov (1827–95), Lyuben Karavelov (1835–79), and Kristo Botev (1848–76), who was one of Bulgaria's greatest poets. The most significant writer after the liberation of 1878 was Ivan Vazov (1850–1921), whose Under the Yoke gives an impressive picture of the struggle against the Turks. Pentcho Slaveikov (1866–1912), the son of Petko, infused Bulgarian literature with philosophical content and subject matter of universal appeal; his epic poem A Song of Blood recalls an insurrection suppressed by the Turks in 1876. In the period between the two world wars, Nikolai Liliyev (1885–1960) and Todor Trayanov (1882–1945) were leaders of a symbolist school of poetry. Elin Pelin (1878–1949) and Iordan Iovkov (1884–1939) wrote popular short stories on regional themes. More recent writers and poets include Nikola Vaptzarov, Christo Shirvenski, Dimiter Dimov, Orlin Vassilev, and Georgi Karaslavov. Elias Canetti (1905–94), Bulgarian born but lived from 1938 until his death in the UK, received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981. Ivan Mrkvicka (1856–1938), a distinguished Czech painter who took up residence in Bulgaria, founded the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia.
A prominent Bulgarian statesman was Alexander Stamboliski (1879–1923), Peasant Party leader who was premier and virtual dictator of Bulgaria from 1920 until his assassination. The best known modern Bulgarian, Georgi Dimitrov (1882–1949), was falsely charged in 1933 with burning the Reichstag building in Berlin; he became general secretary of the Comintern until its dissolution and prime minister of Bulgaria in 1946. Traicho Kostov (1897–1949), an early revolutionary leader, was a principal architect of Bulgaria's postwar economic expansion. Caught up in the Tito-Stalin rift, he was expelled from the Politburo and executed in December 1949. Todor Zhivkov (1911–1998) was first secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party between 1954 and 1989, the longest tenure of any Warsaw Pact leader. His was marked by ardent and steadfast support of Soviet policies and ideological positions. Zhivkov's daughter Lyudmila Zhivkova (1942–81), a Politburo member since 1979, was regarded by Western observers as second only to her father in power and influence. Zhivkov was replaced by Dimitar Popov as premier of a coalition government headed by the Socialist Party (formerly the Communist Party).