by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Long-dead Bulgarian clairvoyant gets turned into weapon of Kremlin propaganda

vanga monument

The future does not look bright according to Vanga, the notorious blind clairvoyant who died in 1996 but is still being a darling of tabloids internationally, especially in Russia. In 2022, virtual reality will take over, famine will ravage India and earthquakes, tsunamis and floods will hit Asia and Australia. Water shortages in megapolises will incur political upheaval while a virus released by the melting Siberian permafrost will start a new pandemic. Aliens will arrive on an asteroid.

What about the war in Ukraine?

Ukraine is in for a very tough ordeal, Vanga reportedly said, as quoted in a 2022 Russian documentary, produced by state-controlled Channel One Russia, and called Vanga: Prophecies. Ukraine will be changing its kings like gloves. A funny green man (Zelenskyy means "green" in both Ukrainian and Russian, and he was a comedian before he became president) will turn Ukraine into ruin. The state will disappear. Economic sanctions will not work. Nobody can stop Russia. Russia will get rid of everything that stands in its way. Russia will become the overlord of the world.

In actual fact, Ukraine was nowhere to be detected in Vanga's prophecies quoted in the first paragraph of this text and released prior to the start of Russia's invasion, on 24 February 2022. But Vanga reportedly did speak about Russia while she was still alive. Allegedly, she foresaw that after some hard times the people of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (!) will live peacefully in one state. As early as 1979 Vanga said to a Russian writer: "All will thaw, as if it were ice, only one will remain untouched – Vladimir's glory, the glory of Russia." Whether she referred to Vladimir Putin or someone else is open to interpretation.

vanga photo

After the collapse of Communism Vanga turned into a national celebrity

Vanga's reported prophecies for 2022 follow a pattern that was established in the 1990s. They are generally gloomy: apocalypses, global wars and cataclysms, environmental disasters, plus some contacts with aliens in-between. Her optimism goes as far as predicting cures for AIDS or cancer (the latter was supposed to happen in the 2000s). Many of her vaticinations tend to appear retrospectively, only after the supposedly predicted event in fact happens. Generally, they are anti-Western and nationalistic. Russia is the good guy: a great country, a spiritual leader whose global dominance is imminent. Supposedly, it will materialise by 2040.

Discussing, in 2022, the veracity of "predictions" attributed to a long-dead woman may be incongruous. But for millions of people in Bulgaria and abroad – in Russia especially – Vanga is the ultimate authority on anything from healthcare advice to global politics.

Who was Vanga? The woman, who supposedly conferred with the souls of the dead, healed the sick with herbs and predicted the future, was born in 1911 in Strumitsa, now in North Macedonia, as Vangeliya Pandеva. When she was 12, she was caught up in and carried away by a whirlwind. When she was discovered she had gone completely blind owing to the sand blown into her eyes.

Vanga learned to live in darkness, but the ordeal was far from over. One day she saw with her "inner vision" a strange horseman. "Listen to what I'm telling you," he said. "The war is starting tomorrow, and you will keep a candle lit and will tell who is alive and who is dead." The next day, 6 April 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece. As a Nazi ally, Bulgaria was given to administer Aegean Thrace and Vardar Macedonia. After that, according to the official biography of Vanga, many villagers went to her to enquire about their relatives' whereabouts. As the fame of Vanga's powers grew, Bulgarian King Boris III himself consulted her. She told him: "You should be ready to get into a nutshell. Remember the date 28 August." The king did die on that date, in 1943.

By that time Vanga was already living in Petrich, southwestern Bulgaria. She spent the greater part of her life there proffering advice, healing and predicting the future for both ordinary Bulgarians and dignitaries. She lived and received her patrons in a humble two-storey house, now a museum.

Portrait of Vanga at her house in Petrich

Portrait of Vanga at her house in Petrich

Vanga hit hard times after the Communists took over Bulgaria in 1944. They forcibly imposed atheism, restricted religion and banned clairvoyants and seers whom they labelled charlatans. She was ostracised and was even accused of being a Yugoslav spy. However, people continued to seek her help. Deprived of official religion, Bulgarians found in Vanga an outlet for their spiritual longings and hopes of a better life. Gradually, the words Baba Vanga kaza, or "Granny Vanga said," whispered between friends, became the sign of truth, even for those who had never visited her in faraway Petrich.

In 1967, the Communist establishment realised that any attempt to prevent people from visiting Vanga was bound to fail. Instead, they thought they could at least control the clairvoyant and the visiting commoners. Vanga was appointed to the Institute for Suggestology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences as a "fortune teller." She was given a monthly remittance. The government took over the organisation of her visits, including the collection of "consultation fees." Vanga became the first and possibly the only "official" clairvoyant to be employed by a Warsaw Pact state.

The presence of the Communist-era State Security around Vanga was heavy and there are strong suspicions that her house was bugged. Some speculate that the "phenomenal" knowledge Vanga had about the personal lives of her visitors was due to intelligence collected by State Security agents. Was Vanga one herself? The partially destroyed former State Security files have no trace of her.

The connections between Vanga and the regime went on. Lyudmila Zhivkova, Minister of Culture and daughter of Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, was fascinated by occultism and mysticism. She became a frequent visitor to Vanga. It was through Zhivkova that a number of well-connected members of the Communist-era intelligentsia were introduced to Vanga. Their relationship continued after Zhivkova's death in 1981.

vanga as a saint

In 1994, Vanga was painted as a saint-like figure inside the St Petka Church at Rupite

Rumour has it that in the 1970s-1980s Soviet dignitaries visited Vanga as well. Yet, it is understood that Todor Zhivkov never believed her "prophecies."

It was probably at that period that Vanga was asked for the first time to predict not the future of individual visitors and their families, but of the world.

Under Communism, people knew about the supernatural abilities of Vanga through word-of-mouth, but after the fall of the regime in 1989 the clairvoyant, who never travelled abroad and had only basic schooling, was turned into a superstar.

Once not to be seen anywhere in the government-controlled media, Vanga was now all over TV. She openly met with politicians, businessmen and intellectuals. A film was made about her. A biography written by her niece, Krasimira Stoyanova, became a bestseller. Vanga was consulted on important matters ranging from election outcomes to the 1994 World Football Cup. A miss here or there did not tarnish her reputation. While she failed to predict the 1994 football champion she went on "seeing" global events yet to happen.

By this time, Vanga was already in her sunset days. She had moved to a small, dacha-style house at Rupite, near Petrich. Anyone looking for an authentic abode of a clairvoyant should go no further. Rupite is inside the caldera of a long-extinct volcano. The area abounds in sulphur springs spewing out hot water and steam. The place, according to Vanga, is an "energy vortex." In 1994, the seer, who was an ardent Christian, commissioned a church to St Petka to be built near her house in Rupite. She was buried in the churchyard when she died two years later. A crowd of politicians, including the then president, attended the funeral.

vanga post stamp

In 2011 Bulgarian Post Office celebrated the centenary of her birth with a special issue, possibly the only postal stamp to feature a clairvoyant in the world. On it, she is called "The Bulgarian prophetess"

Some media regularly compare Vanga to Nostradamus. Unlike the French astrologist, who put his quatrains on paper, she did not write down her forecasts and prophecies. She did not need to – most of her visitors were interested in how she could improve their health and personal life. Vanga's take on global events became officially public only after 1989. Arguably the first ones published by a "reliable" source, Vanga's niece, were included in her 1990s biography. Since then, the number of prophecies attributed to her has grown exponentially.

As a result, Vanga's oeuvre is hard to keep track of, hard to believe and even harder to check against reality. With each passing year, new predictions "emerge." More often than not they tend to serve current political agendas left, right and centre. Many refer to Bulgaria's superiority, the divine mission of the Bulgarians in the universal scheme of things, and the bright future which awaits everyone who does not "sell himself to American money" and stays close to Russia.

Vanga became extremely popular in the former Soviet Union, especially in Orthodox Russia. Former Soviet journalists and authors continue to churn fresh Vanga prophecies which, they claim, were made decades ago. These are pro-Russian and appear just in time to justify Russia's bullish policies. For example, in 2014, after Crimea's annexation, a Vanga prophecy "appeared" to ensure Ukrainians would suffer until they united with the Russians. Vanga was also turned into a star in one of Russia's most popular ever TV soaps, Vangeliya.

More than 25 years after her death, the "true" Vanga seems to be lost, turned into a clickbait and a tool for political propaganda. People would believe whatever is attributed to her as it "comes" from the woman who supposedly predicted the disintegration of the USSR, the return of the exiled Bulgarian King Simeon II, the sinking of the Kursk submarine, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11 and the war in Syria.

According to Vanga, after the eradication of global hunger by 2028, China will overtake the United States as a global power, the polar ice caps will melt completely by 2045, an environment-friendly Communist society will get established around 2072, and the colony on Mars will become politically independent in the 2100s-2200s. The universe will ultimately come to an end. This will happen in 5079. 


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