Extracts from the memoirs of Hristo Shaldev

3. Recollections of Todor Alexandroff and Ivan Mihailoff

During that same fatal month of December 1907 I became acquainted with Todor Alexandroff, who until recently had been a teacher somewhere in the Burgas region. I was introduced by Hristo Matov on the footpath in front of the Shouman bar and gave them my address and invited them to come to my home as my guests.

After a short time Todor came by himself and we discussed at some length the situation within Macedonia and the faction struggle in Bulgaria. At the end he asked whether I would agree to visit the official regional committees in Salonika, Skopje and Bitolia and explain to them the necessity for a general congress. Without thinking I agreed, even though I was one of the expelled teachers from Macedonia and most likely would be followed throughout my journey by the Turkish police.

Subsequently an authorization was published in the Government Gazette that as a Bulgarian citizen I had right of travel beyond its borders. Later on Todor informed me that there was no further need for my trip because the problems had been resolved in another way.

* * *

After lunch I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet N Milev. In his office I found G Bazhdaroff, T Alexandroff, K Parlitcheff and two other men. I began discussing with the first that we should be working towards the autonomy of Macedonia as a geographic whole when he interrupted me with the words "Do you know what autonomy means?". To which I replied "I know, but let us substitute that meaning with another that of an independent Macedonia". Afterwards we all assembled in the room adjoining Milev's office, and I proceeded to describe the plight of the population in the Macedonian border areas and what I had instituted so far to eradicate the smuggling and looting there. Todor told me we would soon meet in Kiustendil, words which brought some satisfaction since it meant he would be assuming general leadership of the interior.

Later in the evening I met Panche Mihailov, and during the conversation he announced that he wanted to enter Macedonia clandestinely. I promised my full cooperation and now regarded him as an follower of our cause. He was a journalist-reporter at that time.

* * *

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In Kiustendil I met and described my journey from Gorna Dzhumiia to Todor Alexandroff who had just arrived from the interior. He said he would be returning to Sofia for urgent work, possibly staying for some time and that I might also be called to go there. He then left.

In the early spring of 1920 Ivan Brlio arrived, and informed me he was heading for the Shtip district. Before he left I ask him to keep a ledger of all expenses and income so that he could provide a report when he came back. On his return he gave a complete accounting and what remained he distributed amongst his men. I told him that such a distribution of surplus funds should not be repeated as all the fighters on leave have access to restaurants that provide free food. He was upset by my advice but still remained the same Brlio.

For the interior departed another three new detachments, those of Mitre Opilski, Pancho Mihailov and Lazar Divlenski. The latter was the father of a large family of young children and I advised him against going. He refused and headed for the Skopje district. To Kumanovo went Krsto Lazarov where he fought several battles with police and army detachments.

When Todor Alexandroff had returned to Sofia I received a message from a former Exarchist teacher in Kochani that three Croatian deputies expressed a willingness to meet him. They wished to discuss procedures to unite the activities of the Croatians and Macedonians against the hegemonistic position of the Serbs in ruling the Kingdom of Serbo-Croat-Slovenian. The names of the three parliamentary deputies were not revealed to me. I was happy to receive this information in expectation that any future union between Croatians, Macedonians and Slovenians would severely counteract Serbian chauvinism and ultimately eliminate it. I immediately wrote to Todor and sent the letter by special courier. However he was not in any hurry, not even replying what answer I should give the teacher intermediary. It seems he was particularly pre-occupied with questions concerning the emigrant organizations and the relationship of the government towards them.

* * *

Before my conversation with Giorche, Todor Alexandroff had gone into the interior for a second time and now contacted me from Sofia and asked I meet him. At this meeting he informed me that an agreement on the Macedonian Question and a general understanding had been reached between IMRO and the government of Stamboliskii. However the exact nature of the agreement was not revealed to me. Todor Alexandroff simply instructed me to meet with the chief of the General Staff, Topaljikov if I remember correctly. The latter told me that the military contact in

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Kiustendil would be the chief of the garrison Colonel Zahov with whom the IMRO representative should liaise.

When I returned to Kiustendil I proceeded to immediately introduce Simeon Georgiev to Colonel Zahov. This took place in the city park during the evening on a festive day. Subsequently Zahov met me one day in the square fronting the Library and told me it would be to my advantage if I made personal contact with Alexander Dimitrov, who often could be found in his ranch near the city. I replied that I saw no reason for such a meeting, however if as a minister he wished a meeting he only had to invite me. No meeting subsequently occurred as a consequence of this indirect invitation. Generally I maintained a tactic to appear as a legal activist in the Macedonian Liberation Struggle - as a member of the Brotherhood Organization and as a teacher.

* * *

During the spring of 1924 I met Todor Alexandroff and his wife Vangelia in the home of Toma Bayaltsaliev, which was situated on the corner of Salonika St and 'Hristo Botev' Boulevard. When Vangelia saw me enter the passage she called to Todor who meeting me at the door said

Are you satisfied with my declaration for which you had written me from Pazarjik? But I tell you that the Serbian public dignitaries will not consider these declarations - the worse it will be for them. The important issue is that these declarations are directed to the Yugoslav and Western European politicians and public figures and they establish how IMRO agrees to lay down its arms and lead the Macedonian community in a legal struggle for party-political freedom and national emancipation.

The second topic we discussed concerned the fighters in the Petrich district and I confronted him directly

Don't you feel the time has come to dispense with those helmets and uniforms which our fighters wear so provocatively in the Petrich district? The time is overdue for them to be seen as civilians and real revolutionaries and not some legion which only appeals to Alexo Pasha and G Atanasov. These actions irritate the Bulgarian government and only impress the foreign observers.

He acknowledged my argument and added that it would happen but not straightaway.

I continued to converse only on this subject, when without explanation he remarked that quite soon he would be making a trip throughout western and central Europe. I stated that because of the current prevailing interest within the European community and its governments concerning the Macedonian Question his initiative would be beneficial for our liberation struggle. Moreover I mentioned he should show some reservation with the Italian and German officials and employ a more

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open and direct approach with the English and French. This was to be my last meeting with Todor Alexandroff who always extended me an audience whenever I requested one. Of the fact that he would be stopping in Vienna for a conference with people from the Third International and D Vlahov, now a member of the clique established in this capital termed the "Federalists", to whom had also been drawn another IMRO Committee member, P Chaulev, Todor Alexandroff made no mention. Then again perhaps this event happened by chance or unintentionally.

During the latter half of May 1924 the newspaper "Ilinden" published information from the "Times" (19 May 1924) which stated that members of IMRO's Central Committee and representatives of the Third International had met in Vienna to discuss the Macedonian Question. Furthermore the "Times" notes that even though IMRO is a nationalistic association it is doubtful whether it can prevent most Macedonists who are influenced and swayed by the promise of Russian assistance, from voting for the communists in the pending Serbian parliamentary elections.

As is obvious the confidentiality of both the meeting and discussions which occurred on 6 May 1924 were not kept.

A abbreviated manifesto based on the drafted protocol appeared on 15 July 1924 and subsequently in "Ilinden" (No. 1, 2 August 1924). The latter edition was confiscated by the police by order of the Sofia government. Because of the immense displeasure of the government and a majority of the Bulgarian community, Todor Alexandroff and Alexander Protogerov, whether for invented or tactical reasons, in a declaration issued 9 August 1924 repudiated the manifesto saying their signatures were forged. This matter and several others are the main factors contributing to the tragic death of Todor Alexandroff near the village of Lopov by assassins sanctioned by the jealous Aleko Vasilev and the vain G Atanasov. Todor Alexandroff and Protogerov were travelling to a regional Congress to report on the manifesto and other IMRO business.

I am fully convinced that the death of Todor Alexandroff was engineered by foreign agents and carried out against all the rules, practice and morals of IMRO so that it may not only be "beheaded" and its unity broken, but also that it may be subordinated to outside factors.

* *

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The assassination of Todor Alexandroff profoundly affected the organization both within and outside Macedonia, but the Gorna Dzhumiia affair convinced them that IM RO could withstand such major assaults and immediately respond to punish those who sought to undermine its role. Accordingly the loyalty of the rank and file members to IMRO was maintained for a decade.

This unity was illustrated at the IMRO General Congress held in the first half of February 1925 at the village Serbinovo, Gorna Dzhumiia region. I attended this congress in my capacity as editor of the newspaper "Ilinden", but with the full rights of a delegate. After normal procedural matters and discussions on altering the IMRO constitution a new Central Committee was elected - Alex Protogerov, Georgi Pop-Hristov and Ivan Mihailoff; and as members of the Foreign Committee - Georgi Bazhdaroff and Kyril Parlitcheff. The Congress defined the responsibility of the Central Committee was to represent the collective ideology of IMRO as exemplified by Todor Alexandroff before his death.

However within the Congress proceedings several unsatisfactory decisions were either perpetuated or adopted. First, the practice of the Congress members appointing a "Foreign Committee", an idea originating from the 1905 Congress, was not altered. Even though the concept of two separate committees effectively undermined the supreme authority of IMRO's Central Committee. Second, a proposal of P Shandanov that all individuals who had complicity in Todor Alexandroff s murder be identified and punished was accepted. A further decision was that all the leading personnel of IMRO and the "voyvodas" be paid an appropriate wage for their expenses, as one of the voyvodas Ivan Brlio said "the wage could be like older times".

* * *

During the first months of 1927 I went to Petrich to visit my brother-in-law. Here I met Giorche Vandev, a regular voyvoda in the Salonika district. He invited me to his home to discuss in private some important matters which had arisen. I accepted and proceeded to his house. There I learnt about the subversive activities of Protogerov with respect to Ivan Mihailoff. It appears Protogerov had contacted Vandev and asked him to befriend Mihailoff so he could keep a record of his movements. I saw letters which indicated that there could no longer be a working relationship between the two members of the Central Committee. The courageous and unpretentious Vandev, although flattered by the prospect of becoming a future Central Committee member realized that not only was an improper course being followed but one that potentially might destroy the unity of IMRO. I advised him

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to maintain his objectivity on organizational matters and to accept the decisions of the forthcoming Congress when ratified by the majority of delegates present.

The dispute between Protogerov and Mihailoff became even more intense when the Foreign Committee representatives Georgi Bazhdaroff and Kyril Parlitcheff with the support of Naum Tomalevski proposed that in future both the Central and Foreign Committee members be pre-selected and their appointment merely sanctioned by the General Congress. Mihailoff opposed this amendment because it effectively rescinded the role of the General Congress as the supreme body of the movement. The matter was debated at a joint meeting of the Central and Foreign Committees and added as a supplement for consideration by all delegates at the next General Congress, which from then on began to be continuously postponed.

In my opinion the real reasons behind this dispute were several. First, Protogerov was fearful that evidence would be uncovered linking him to the assassination of Todor Alexandroff following the decision of the 1925 Congress on this matter in which Protogerov was discredited. Second, the Foreign Committee representatives had grown accustom to and therefore wanted to continue and maintain their affluent lifestyle. Although three or four special meetings were held to resolve this dilemma, no compromise could be achieved.

In one of these meetings, I am think it was the final one, Ivan Karajov a teacher from Gorna Dzhumiia took part. We were students at Istanbul then colleagues at St Petersburg where he studied at the Conservatorium. He was also a member of the local Macedonian Students Union and finally a fellow teacher at the Salonika Girls High School where we became friends. After the meetings he would visit my house and explain the attempts to resolve the issues but always expressing his doubts that a compromise could be achieved because of the stubborn position of the Foreign Committee members. He also used to attend private meetings with Bazhdaroff who lived close to me. At our final meeting he said "reconciliation cannot be achieved" and asked "how would you settle this dispute?". I answered that its only resolution lay in all members of both parties attending and stating their arguments before a General Congress of delegates. Anyone not present would be noted and asked to answer for their behaviour. He looked me straight in the face and without comment on my suggestion said "farewell" and departed for Gorna Dzhumiia.

During the initial stages of the "special meetings" when major efforts were made to resolve the stalemate between the leaders of IMRO, I learnt that Ivan Mihailoff was in Sofia. Through his associates I asked for a personal meeting which eventually took place at George Kulishev's house in the "journalists" suburb.

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When I entered the yard Kulishev and wife, who were going to the city, told me Mihailoff was waiting inside. I rang the door-bell whereon I was led to a room where Mihailoff was sitting at a writing table. As I entered he stood up and offered his hand. On the writing table I noticed a pistol, an indication of the instability of these times. I sat on the closest chair to him and immediately began to discuss the issues which brought me here and occupied my thoughts after the meeting with George Vandov. I explained:

I have documented evidence that Alex Protogerov pursues a secret plot against you. Perhaps you engage in a similar plan against him. This is no good and will reflect badly on the overall affairs of the Liberation struggle. Make every attempt to resolve your differences and if that is not possible then minimize the effect of those differences. I regard it as my duty to tell you these matters and plead with you to heed me, and not let the situation deteriorate to the extreme.

During our conversation Mihailoff assured me he would pursue all paths to resolve the issue. And indeed as the future showed, Protogerov agreed to resign as a member of the Central Committee and announced his retirement from active duty. But the dispute involving selection of the Foreign Committee representatives remained and re-emerged with added vehemence, until the fateful date of July 1928 when Alexander Protogerov was assassinated.

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