Kapka Panayotova

The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL learned, with deep sorrow, that our former President and Board member Kapka Panayotova, passed away suddenly on Thursday, 14 October 2021, at the age of 65.

Kapka served as a Board member at ENIL for several terms and was the President until standing down during the General Assembly in 2019. She continued her active involvement in the organisation and served on the Board of the ENIL Foundation, as well as on the Board of the Independent Living Institute in Sweden. Kapka was the founder and the Director of the Centre for Independent Living Sofia, the only independent living organisation in Bulgaria, which she ran until the very end.

Kapka lived and worked in Sofia, Bulgaria, where she was born on 24 November 1956. As she explained in her interview for the ENIL Hall of Fame in 2013, she contracted polio as a baby and was almost institutionalised as a small child, like many disabled children in Bulgaria. However, thanks to her family, she remained at home and was educated in mainstream schools and universities. Like other Independent Living pioneers in Europe, Kapka was inspired by the work of Ed Roberts in the United States and decided to establish a Center for Independent Living in her home country.

Kapka was a leading figure in ENIL, and well known all over Europe and wider for her work on deinstitutionalisation, peer support and promoting independent living. She was uncompromising when it came to institutions and had no patience for governments, service providers, big disability umbrellas and other NGOs interested in maintaining the status quo. Kapka was adamant that her country was not “a good example” of deinstitutionalisation (more likely one of the worst) and helped ENIL take the first court case against the European Commission, for using EU funds to build institutions in Bulgaria. Some will remember her sitting in a cage during the Freedom Drive and confronting the Commission officials about their funding of institutions.

Apart from deinstitutionalisation, Kapka was key to ENIL’s work on independent living terminology, our “definitions”. She could not accept the misuse of terminology, the twisting of words and concepts, which resulted in disabled people supposedly having “personal assistance” and “independent living”, but in reality having no control or choice over their lives at all.

It is impossible to give credit to Kapka’s work in a couple of paragraphs, but it is important to acknowledge her importance to many disabled people and activists in Europe. Despite being overworked and busy with the constant mess of the Bulgarian politics, Kapka always found time for those looking for encouragement, support and advice. She was particularly involved in supporting fellow activists in Poland (working alongside Slawek Besowski, who passed away only two months ago) and in North Macedonia, but found time to support any other person, group or initiative where she was needed.

For those us working at ENIL, now and in the past, Kapka has always been a source of encouragement, making sure we were doing well, checking in on our families and offering her love and support. Thank you for everything, Kapka, we will miss you.

Kapka’s funeral will take place on Wednesday, 20th October, at 11:00, at the Central Sofia Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a contribution to the Center of Independent Living Sofia: https://cil.bg/en/. Thank you.

Our thoughts are with Kapka’s family and friends at this difficult time.

Photo copyrights: Enrica Laneri