THE KRESNA-RAZLOG UPRISING 1878-1879
The Kresna-Razlog Uprising is at the transition between two eras in the historical development ol the Bulgarian people. It marks the end of the national-liberation and revolutionary struggles preceding the liberation and, at the same time, it ushers in the stage of the valiant and tragic in their consequences efforts of the Macedonian Bulgarians, as well as parts of the Thracian Bulgarians, for abolishing the remnants of Ottoman feudalism and for attaining freedom and social progress.
That may be reason why this Uprising has remained in the shadow of such big historical events as the April Uprising, the Russo-Turkish War of Liberation (1877/78), and the Ilinden-Transfiguration Day Uprising, and has not obtained the place it deserves in Bulgarian and foreign historiography. One exception in this respect is the study made by Patriarch Kiril of Bulgaria, entitled: “The Resistance against the Berlin Treaty. The Kresna Uprising”, Sofia, 1955. However, this is not a comprehensive study, and it has been followed by the discovery and publication of new documents, memoirs and other material which cast new light on the Uprising by supplementing and enriching the information existing on its history.
The aim of the present monograph was to summarize that which has been established until now, to utilize the newly discovered historical evidence, and to reappraise the events on the basis of the information available in the existing and newly published literature, including those literary sources which may not be directly dedicated to the Uprising but nevertheless reveal some of its essential characteristics.
In particular, the author has set himself the task to examine a number of less frequently treated problems such as the political impact of the Uprising (which broke out and devoloped only in North-Eastern Macedonia) and in the remainig parts of the province, to analyse all existing authentic documents connected with the insurrection, and thereby to present the organization, aim and programme of the Uprising, as well as to present the policies of the Great Powers and the role of the national-liberation movements in the Balkans as factors affecting its ultimate results. The reservation has been made at the same time that the socio-economic and political prerequisites of the Uprising are not treated in the book since they have been thoroughly surveyed by the author in a precedent publication, entitled: “The National-Liberation Struggles in South-Western Bulgaria during the ’Sixties and ’Seventies of the 19th Century”, Sofia, 1976.
The book consists of Introduction, three chapters, namely: I - Preparation, Declaration and Course of the Uprising; II - Guidance and Organization of the Uprising; III - Foreign-Political Situation and the Uprising; and a Conclusion.
Following are the essential problems and events examined in the book.
The reasons for the Kresna-Razlog Uprising are the same as those for the April Uprising preceding it, namely, the foreign opperesicn and the semi-feudal methods of exploitation to which the Bulgarian population had been subjected under the conditions of the Ottoman Empire. In addition to that, one concrete reason was the unjust decision of the Berlin Congress, according to which the Bulgarians in Thrace and Macedonia were detached from their brothers in Northern Bulgaria and remained outside the frontiers of the liberated Principality of Bulgaria. Consequently, the aim of the Uprising was to achieve national independence, to cast off the monstrous forms of the Ottoman feudal system, and to create a unified Bulgarian state.
The Uprising was, in this context, the logical continuation and expansion of the Bulgarian national bourgeois-democratic revolution.
The Bulgarian population of Macedonia (which had always considered itself and professed to be Bulgarian) had fought - prior to the Kresna-Razlog Uprising as well - in a united front with the Bulgarians from the remaining Bulgarian lands for national liberation.
The clauses of the Berlin Treaty of 1878, which tore the Bulgarian lands apart, ran counter to the spirit, character and programme demands of the Bulgarian nation. They were in conflict with the struggles and aspirations of the Bulgarian people, including the Bulgarian population in Macedonia, which was predominant in that region, notwithstanding the existence of other national groupings, such as Turks, Greeks, Wallachians ans Albanians.
The facts of history show that the Bulgarians in Macedonia awaited with impatience and joy their liberation during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78. Scores of delegations and petitions were sent to the Russian authorities asking them to send Russian detachments for the liberation of that part of Bulgaria as well.
Due to the opposition by the Great Powers and faced by the threat of war by Austria-Hungary and Britain, the Russian Government did not proceed with the implementation of the Peace Treaty of San Stefano. The lands to the south and to the west of Gorna Dzhoumaya (Blahoevgrad of today) and of Kyustendil remained behind the demarcation line.
That moment marked the beginning of the spontaneous struggle of the Bulgarian population in Macedonia to cast off the yoke and, quite naturally and without any inspiration from the outside, to join the newly-created free Bulgarian principality. One typical example in this respect was furnished by the inhabitants of 40 villages in the district of Tsarevo Selo. Helped by the detachments of the well-known insurgent leaders and revolutionaries Ilyo Markov and Dimiter Popgeorgiev, the population in this region drove away the Ottoman authorities, declared its independence, and joined the Kyustendil District, i. e. the Principality of Bulgaria. Insurgent detachments operated all over Eastern Macedonia, some of them ever since the period of the war, and routed the population to engage on armed struggle. At the same time, in hundreds of statements and petitions, the Bulgarians in Macedonia and the emigrants from that region in the Principality and in Eastern Roumelia tried to
engage the diplomacy of the Great powers to take action for the implementation of the Treaty of San Stefano.
Essentially, the slogan for the implementation of the San Stefano Peace Treaty expressed aspirations for the liquidation of the Ottoman feudal oppression, for the solution of the agrarian problem, and for national liberation. That is why it provoked a mass movement for the implementation of that treaty and for the creation of a unified Bulgarian state.
The announcement of the provisions of the Berlin Treaty was met with profound affliction and justified anxiety by the Bulgarians in Macedonia. Nevertheless, since that very moment, on the basis of the existing national-revolutionary traditions and of the spontaneous struggle that had flared up, preparations were started for armed resistance, i. e. for armed rebellion.
The frontier towns of Kuystendil and Gorna Dzhoumaya (Blagoevgrad of today) became the centres of the resistance by Bulgarians from Macedonia. Large masses of refugees from Macedonia, insurgent detachments, and former revolutionary functionaries were concentrated in the area. Clashes with the Turkish frontier guards were daily occurrences in these parts, as well as secret crossings from the interior of Macedonia into the Principality and in the opposite direction, in addition to the crossing over of detachments and of individual armed Bulgarians for operation in the enemy's rear.
At the same time, a considerable number of refugees from Macedonia settled in Sofia, mainly, intellectuals who, under the guise of a charity committee set up by them, embarked on active political preparations for uprising. Their activities were rendered easier by the arrival of Natanail of Ochrida, a former Bishop of Ochrida, who approved of the activities of the emigrant circles in Sofia and took a leading position in the movement.
The conference which began in the Rila Monastery on September 8, 1878 (old style) played an importand part in the preparations for the Uprising. It was attended by Natanail of Ochrida, Dimiter Popgeorgiev, Ilyo Markov, and other voivodes and leaders of insurgent detachments.
The decision taken to organize peasant sentries for guarding the frontier and for rendering protection to the Bulgarian population against attacks by bashibazouks, and also to begin intense preparations for uprising.
Exactly at this moment the men engaged in preparations for the uprising received resolute encouragement and support from the patriots in Northern Bulgaria: an envoy of the Unity Committee in Turnovo arrived in the Rila Monastery and declared the readiness of the Bulgarians from the newly-created Principality of Bulgaria to assist the Macedonian insurgents in all their undertakings.
The Unity Committees appeared in the Principality at the end of August and the beginning of September 1878. The initiative to set up such committees belonged to the former revolutionaries Lyuben Karavelov, Stefan Stambolov, Hristo Ivanov-Golemiya, and others, although they also included representatives of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie and of the higher clergy. The principal aim of the Unity Committees was to render moral and material support to the resistance struggle of the Bulgarians in Eastern Roumelia and in Macedonia against the decisions of the Berlin Congress. This assistance was necessary, and it was organized largely as a result of the urgent demands and petitions sent by leaders and participants in the resistance movement to the patriots in Northern Bulgaria. In this manner the struggle assumed an all-Bulgarian character both in its aims and tasks and in the efforts and participation involved.
* * *
Early at dawn on October 5, 1878 (old style), 400 insurgents attacked the Turkish army unit stationed at the Kresna Inns and after a battle lasting 18 hours they succeeded in crushing its resistance. This attack and this first success marked the beginning of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising.
Several detachment leaders, led by Stoyan Karastoilov, took part with their men in the battle at Kresna. Bulgarian volunteers from the war of liberation, which had just ended, also took part, in addition to peasants from the surrounding villages. The overall guidance of the operations was taken over by Dimiter Popgeorgiev and by the former Cossack sotnik (lieutenant) Adam Kalmikov.
The insurgent succeeded in taking prisoner the entire Turkish unit, consisting of 119 men and 2 officers.
The success at Kresna encouraged the insurgents and inspired awe among the Turkish units and bashibazouk detachments. The insurgents immediately pushed to the south and captured the villages in the valley of the Strouma, while other insurgent forces moved to the right of the river and expanded the area of the Uprising to cover the Kurshnaka area.
In the battles that followed, the insurgents succeeded in liberating 43 towns and villages and in reaching Belitsa and Gradeshnitsa to the south. To the south-west they established their sway over almost the entire Kurshiak region, while to the south-east the positions of the insurgents were along the Predel, over the town of Razlog. In addition to the direct military operations of the insurgents, there were separate detachments operating in the south and to the west in Macedonia. There were also disturbances, and delegations were sent to the headquarters of the Uprising with requests for arms and for aid. The entire Bulgarian population in Macedonia was in excitement and was looking for a favourable opportunity to rise in arms and to obtain its freedom.
The headquarters of the Uprising, which was organized in the course of the military operations, was headed by Dimiter Popgeorgiev. Elders’ Councils were also set up, as well as local police organs of the revolutionary government who were assigned certain administrative functions in the liberated territories, the preservation of order and calm in the region, the recruitment of new fighters, etc. In the beginning, the police authorities were also assigned the task of distributing among the poor population the land and property of the Turkish beys and rich landowners who had fled from the region.
The Unity Committee in the town of Gorna Dzhoumaya played an important part in organizing, supplying and assisting the Uprising. The Committee was headed by Kostantin Bosilkov, who was born in the town of Koprivshtitsa and who had worked for many years as teacher in the Macedonia region.
During the military operations in the Kresna region, an uprising broke out on November 8, 1878, in the Bansko-Razlog valley. The detachment of volunteers from Northern Bulgaria, led by Banyo Marinov, a revolutionary and volunteer from the Russo-Turkish war of Liberation, played an important part in that uprising. It was promptly joined by scores of local insurgents and, after a fierce skirmish, it succeeded in liberating the town of Bansko. The village of Gorno Draglishte became the second centre of the uprising in the Bansko-Razlog valley, with the concentration in it of insurgents from the remaining villages in the valley.
The insurgents of this rsgionput up stubborn resistance for several days, but were finally crushed by the numerical superiority of the enemy. Hundreds of women, children and old people became victims of bashibazouk outrages, and a large mass of refugees fled to the Principality of Bulgaria. Among these refugees were the parents of Georgi Dimitrov.
The battles along the Strouma River and in the Kresna Gorge also took a turn for the worse during that period. More than 8, 000 Turkish regulars and a large force of bashibazouks set off against the insurgents and succeeded in driving them to Kresna Village. Dissent set in among the leaders of the Uprising, and the volunteers who had come from other parts of the country, most of them adventurers, led by Adam Kalmikov, succeeded in ousting by intrigues the local leaders headed by Dimiter Popgeorgiev, while the hero of Kresna, Stoyan the Voivode, was treacherously murdered. These events marked the end of one stage of the Uprising.
The setbacks in the autumn of 1878 led to a new organization of the leading body of the Uprising and to the adoption of new tactics. Efforts were now directed toward the setting up of a Central Committee which was to take over the leadership of the Uprising, as well as to organize an uprising in the interior of Macedonia in the spring of 1879. This Committee included Natanail of Ochrida as well as Stefan Stambolov and Nikola Obretenov who had been members of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee between 1874 and 1876.
A force of over 400 insurgents was organized. They were expected to cross the frontier and to serve as the basic unit in raising the uprising.
On their part, Stefan Stambolov and Nikola Obretenov insisted on sending emissaries to Macedonia who, operating on the model of the April Uprising of 1876, were to engage in political, organizational, military and technical preparations of the population for the uprising.
The detachment which crossed into Macedonia in May 1879 coud not fulfil its task due to the lack of preliminary organization, despite the warm reception on the part of the local population. Having crossed the Vardar River, it destroyed the railway line and fought several battles, but was finally scattered and wiped out.
These events marked the end of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising.
* * *
The concrete aims of the leaders and organizers of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising were to cast off the decisions of the Berlin Congress, to liberate the regions inhabited by Bulgarian population, and to unite with the free Principality of Bulgaria. This was also expressed in the appeal launched by the insurgents on November 10, 1878, which read: “And so, brothers, the time has come to demonstrate what we are, that we are a people worthy of liberty, and that the blood of Kroum and Simeon is still flowing in our veins; the time has come to demonstrate to Europe that it is no easy task when a people wants to cast away dakrness. . .”  For the realization of these ends the leaders of the Uprising envisaged the organization of a mass revolt which, on the basis of real
1. The Kresna-Razlog Uprising of 1878. Sofia, 1970, p. 135.
military successes, was to compel the Great Powers to reconsider those clauses of the Berlin Treaty which were related to the future and fate of the Bulgarians in Macedonia. In this sense they relied on the socio-historical experience of the Bulgarian national revolution and, in the first place, of the April Uprising of 1876. Both leaders and insurgents were hopeful mainly of the intervention by Russia, which had sacrificed so much for the liberation of the Bulgarian peolpe and which could be expected to become again engaged in promoting the just struggle for liberation of the Bulgarians.
However, the foreign-political situation in 1878 was very much different from what it had been in the preceding years. Two of the Great Powers In Europe, Austria-Hungary and Britain, were resolutely opposed to Russia on the size and on the unification of the Bulgarian state. The enlargement of the Bulgarian state to the west posed a threat to the political and economic interests of the dualistic Danubian monarchy which had already laid hand on Bosnia and Herzegovina and already had its eyes on the Novi Pazar District in an attempt to establish its unilateral control over the Mitrovitsa-Salonika road and over the valley of the Vardar River. The new state, Bulgaria, and the eventual Russian influence on it, constituted unacceptable factors in view of the future aspirations of Austria-Hungary for Salonika. On the other hand, Britain's politicians believed that the new Bulgarian state strengthened the Russian influence in the Balkans, and they favoured a curtailment of its boundaries and the maximum possible preservation of the integrity of the European possessions of the Ottoman Empire.
Despite the existence of marked nuances in the positions adopted by the remaining Great Powers, they were not favourable to the Bulgarian national cause. On her part, Ottoman Turkey took all possible measures to preserve her domination in the Balkan Peninsula.
Tsarist Russia found herself isolated in her foreign policy and even threatened by war by Austria-Hungary and Britain, should she decide to render military support (which would have been the most radical course) to the aspirations of the insurgents for liberation from Ottoman yoke and for Macedonia’s joining the Principality of Bulgaria. Russia was exhausted both financially and militarity, and she adopted a firm course of adhering to the decisions of the Berlin Congress in relation to Macedonia. Her strategic aim lay in the preservation of the Bulgarian character of Eastern Roumelia. That is why Russia rendered her full support to the resistance of the patriots in Eastern Roumelia, while at the same time she officially banned the support and encouragement of the uprising in Macedonia. The representatives of the Provisional Russian Administration in Bulgaria, notably A. I. Dondukov-Korsakov and P. Alabin, who sincerely sympathised with the struggle that had begun in Macedonia, were reprimanded by the Russian Government and by the Emperor in person.
In this manner the Kresna-Razlog Uprising was left without its expected and most reliable reserve – Russia’s military, diplomatic and political support, in addition to its being against the interests of Austria-Hungary and Britain. It encountered yet another strong adversary - the military and political machine of the Ottoman state. These were the decisive reasons for Its failure, parallel with reasons of internal and organizational character,
The author points in conclusion that, despite its failure, the Kresna-Razlog Uprising had its indisputable historical assets. It clearly expressed the national
consciousness and appurtenance of the population of this region and its profound and genuine aspirations to cast off the national and social oppression and to live in one homeland with all other Bulgarians. In addition to that, the Kresna-Razlog Uprising engaged the attention of the Great Powers to the problem of the application of reforms in Macedonia, as envisaged in the Treaty of Berlin. This was a prolonged and arduous process which kept Europe engaged with its solution for decades without bringing any improvement or peace to the oppressed population. It is in this genetic linkage, which began with the failure of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising and with the subsequent era of half-way reforms and other measures in Macedonia, that we must look for the reasons behind the creation of the internal Macedonian-Edirne Revolutionary Organization during the 1893-1896 period and the outbreak of the Ilinden-Transfiguration Day Uprising of 1903.
[Back to Index]