Obituary: Liliana Brisby
Saturday 28 November 1998
She was born Liliana Daneva in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1923, into an eminent family closely involved with the history of Bulgaria following its emergence from Ottoman rule towards the end of the 19th century.
She was the great-granddaughter of the first Prime Minister of Bulgaria following the Congress of Berlin in 1878 and her maternal grandfather, a noted benefactor in Bulgaria, was part of the three-man delegation which toured Europe in 1886 to find a king acceptable to the great powers, successfully choosing Ferdinand of Saxe Coburg-Gotha who ruled for 31 years.
Her paternal grandfather held the posts of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister before the First World War, her father was a diplomat and her mother a renowned concert pianist and beauty. Liliana inherited a strong sense of purpose and duty from her family, charmingly tempered by good looks and an earthy sense of humour.
She completed her studies at Lausanne University during the Second World War, publishing a work of history on Russo-Bulgarian relations in 1945. In Lausanne she met her English husband, Michael Brisby, a civil engineer, marrying and moving to England in 1946. After a short period as a concert pianist, she began her career as an Eastern Europe specialist when she joined the BBC World Service broadcasting to the Communist bloc during the 1950s.
From the World Service, she joined the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD) where she worked until joining the Royal Institute of International Affairs in 1971. Here she edited its monthly journal, The World Today, from 1975 until her retirement in 1983.
As a specialist on Bulgaria, she contributed sections on the country to the Annual Register of World Events in the 1970s and in 1983 published The Truth That Killed, which was her translation of the edited broadcasts of the Bulgarian dissident author Georgi Markov, murdered in London with a poisoned umbrella in 1978. Markov's broadcasts on Radio Free Europe exposing the comic absurdity and corruption of the dictatorship of Todor Zhivkov are widely assumed to have led to his assassination.
In her books, articles and occasional book reviews for The Spectator, Brisby always displayed accuracy, moral principal and a fine command of language. Despite her good looks and very feminine character she was not easily flattered and shocked the late Robert Maxwell by manfully resisting the campaign of phone calls and roses with which he sought, unsuccessfully, to persuade her to write the hagiography of Todor Zhivkov for a book he was publishing profiling Eastern European leaders.
After the collapse of Communism, Liliana Brisby was thrilled to return to her native Bulgaria for the first time since leaving before the Second World War, entertaining both old friends and new contacts with her energy and humour. She never wallowed in the sentimentality of the returning emigre and she delighted local journalists in the Balkan mountain town of Troyan when they asked her what single thing had made the most vivid impression on her in Bulgaria after an absence of 50 years. She replied that it was undoubtedly the medieval state of the lavatories.
Rada Liliana Daneva, writer and broadcaster: born Sofia 2 February 1923; married 1946 Michael Brisby (died 1965; two sons, one daughter); died London 30 October 1998.
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