Bloomberg News

Rousseff Bulgarian Kin Sits Out Brazil President Homecoming

October 06, 2011

(Updates with visit to her father’s hometown in ninth paragraph.)

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit to Bulgaria this week is being feted as a homecoming by the nation that her father emigrated from eight decades ago. At least one of her ancestral compatriots isn’t celebrating.

The president’s father, Petar Rousseff, fled Bulgaria in 1929, leaving behind unpaid debts from a bankrupt textile company and a pregnant wife he never saw again after settling in South America. That’s the account given by Ana Petrova, who shares a mother with Rousseff’s deceased half-brother: Lyuben Rousev.

“I’m not sure I want to even meet her,” Petrova said in an interview Oct. 4 in Sofia while displaying a family photo of Brazil’s first female president as a young girl. “I can’t help feeling bitter about everything that happened to my brother and my mother and the feeling they were completely abandoned.”

Rousseff’s election last year fueled hopes in the European Union’s poorest nation by per capita output that as leader of the world’s seventh-biggest economy she could steer Brazilian investment to her ancestral homeland. Prime Minister Boiko Borissov attended Rousseff’s inauguration in January, presenting her with a family tree, and the president is now repaying the gesture by becoming the first Brazilian head of state to visit the nation of 7.3 million.

Rousseff’s Checkbook

Rousseff, who has never traveled to Bulgaria, arrived in the capital Sofia Oct. 4 accompanied by representatives from Brazil’s biggest companies, including state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA and mining company Vale SA, both based in Rio de Janeiro.

“What Kind of Check Will Dilma Bring?” was the headline on the front page of Sofia’s 24 Hours daily newspaper Oct. 4.

To boost bilateral trade that was just $147 million last year, Rousseff wants to sell Brazilian-made buses to Bulgaria, and Sao Jose dos Campos-based plane maker Embraer SA is looking to expand its presence in the country as well, her spokesman Rodrigo Baena said Sept. 30. Yesterday, Rousseff told a group of business leaders that Bulgaria can increase exports of chemical fertilizers to Brazil to meet rising demand for the crop additive.

Any extra business with Latin America’s biggest economy could help Bulgaria cope with an 80 percent plunge in foreign investment in the second quarter, to 185 million euros ($245 million), as growth in Europe stalled.

Economic Focus

While economic issues dominated the agenda, Rousseff today took time to visit her father’s birthplace of Gabrovo, a town of 70,000 located 175 miles east of Sofia in central Bulgaria. She was applauded by thousands on the city’s central square, where she spoke for 40 minutes and shook hands with dozens of admirers. She also visited her half-brother’s tomb in Sofia.

“I am so excited,” Rousseff said in an emotional speech in Gabrovo today. “I want to thank the Gabrovo citizen who taught me to love life. I am fulfilling his dream to visit Bulgaria, which gave me a lot more than I expected.” She also met with some members of the 30 families that claim a common heritage with her father at a museum exhibit of her family history.

On the way to Gabrovo today, Rousseff stopped for a few hours in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s old capital, where she was met by hundreds of sympathizers chanting “Dilma” and “Viva Brazil!”

Textile Shop

Petar Rousseff was born in Gabrovo and later went to Sofia to study law, according to Petrova. When his textile shop in Sofia collapsed he moved to Paris, then Argentina and finally settled in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Petrova said. There he became known as Pedro, took a Brazilian wife and raised the future president and her two siblings.

In Brazil, Rousseff prospered as a businessman and instilled in his daughter a love of literature and the French language, according to a 2009 profile of the president’s upbringing in Sao Paulo-based magazine Piaui. He died in 1962, two years before his daughter joined the Marxist underground that took up arms against Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

Rousseff, 63, said little about her father during her campaign last year and her Bulgarian roots were barely noticed by voters in a nation comprised primarily of descendants from African slaves and Portuguese settlers.

‘Multicultural Brazil’

“In your pride for the ‘Bulgarian president’ of Brazil, I see a celebration of multicultural Brazil, of the country that, all through its history, opened its doors to immigrants of the most varied origins, who live there in peace and harmony,” Rousseff said yesterday in Sofia.

Petrova, in the interview at Bloomberg’s office in Sofia, showed dozens of photos of Petar Rousseff sent back to his son from Brazil. She said she hasn’t been contacted by the Brazilian government to arrange a meeting with the president.

Petrova, 65, said reports in Brazilian media during last year’s campaign, and reprinted in Bulgaria, that Rousseff’s father fled Sofia to escape persecution for being a member of the then-illegal Communist Party are untrue.

When communists did take power in 1944, they made it impossible for Rousseff’s abandoned wife, Evdokia Yaneva, or their son to find work and travel abroad because Petar Rousseff lived in the capitalist West, Petrova said. For years in the 1950s they survived on the equivalent of a dollar a day, she said.

‘Charming Man’

“He was known as a handsome, charming man, a gambler and lover of fine wining and dining and everything that goes with it,” said Petrova, who is a retired historian and Yaneva’s daughter from a second marriage. “Authorities considered him a swindler, a fugitive and a capitalist.”

Rousseff declined Bloomberg’s request for comment on Petrova’s statements, according to an official at her press office who cannot be named because he is not authorized to speak publicly.

From Brazil, Petar Rousseff used to occasionally send his son $50 bills placed between two glued postcards, to escape the Bulgarian authorities’ notice, Petrova said. When he died, Lyuben accepted $1,500 from his father’s Brazilian family in exchange for abandoning any inheritance claims, she added.

Starting in 2004, Dilma Rousseff began exchanging letters with her half-brother, Petrova said. In one, she said she’d try to visit Bulgaria as part of a trip to Europe while serving as a member of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s cabinet, Petrova said.

The correspondence halted when Lyuben in one missive to his half-sister blasted the communist system, she said.

“Dilma didn’t seem to accept that well and left several of his letters unanswered, probably to express her disapproval,” said Petrova.

Living Relative

Rousseff’s half-brother died in 2007 of heart failure after he stopped taking his medicine in what Petrova described as a “passive suicide” following a difficult life. He was 78. “They never met, and now it’s too late,” said Petrova.

Rousseff’s most prominent living Bulgarian cousin is Ralitsa Negentsova, a lawyer and the spokeswoman of the Central Electoral Commission in Sofia, who found out about their kinship from the media a few months ago.

“I’ll meet her for the first time in Gabrovo today, we’ve never spoken before and I’m very excited,” Negentsova said in an interview with Bulgarian National Television today. “Our grandmothers were sisters. The fact that she is taking time to meet relatives in her father’s hometown during a high-level visit shows an emotional side of her.”

--With assistance from {Carla Simoes} in Brasilia Newsroom and {Andre Soliani} in Brasilia. Editors: {Joshua Goodman}, {Andre Soliani}

To contact the reporter on this story: {Elizabeth Konstantinova} in Sofia at ekonstantino@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net; James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net


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