FOR FREEDOM AND PERFECTION. The Life of Yané Sandansky
Mercia MacDermott





One of Yané’s strongest points as a leader was his ability to attract and bind unto himself men who were both cultured and competent. Thus he succeeded in securing for the Serres Region a whole group of well-educated people who shared his ideals and worked with might and main to put them into practice.


The writer Anton Strashimirov, who participated in Macedonian affairs in Sofia and was a personal friend of Yané’s over a number of years, noticed and commented on this quality of his: ‘People with higher education, some of whom were heirs to millions, were bewitched by this man; they subordinated themselves to his will and became his chetnitsi. And these were not, as one might think, ambitious youths who wanted to play a role behind the back of a simple voivoda. Never in his life did Sandansky have time for self-education, but he was indeed gifted with a stupendously powerful intellect. Always surrounded by educated men of ideas from various camps, he grasped the loftiness of their thoughts, penetrated their cherished fallacies, and contrived to correct their very thoughts, instead of catching at their lack of will in order to subjugate them.’ [1]


Dr K.D. Spisarevsky, who worked in the Ministry of Agriculture, was also impressed by Yané’s intelligence: ‘Seldom,’ he wrote in his memoirs, ‘has the Bulgarian land given birth to so shrewd a mind.’ [2]


Yané’s old comrades, Hristo Chernopeev and Krŭstyu  Asenov, were no longer with him. Chernopeev was organizing in the neighbouring Strumitsa Region, while Krŭstyu Asenov had been killed under particularly tragic circumstances. Early in 1903, Krŭstyu had become voivoda of the Kukush cheta, with his headquarters in the thick reeds which covered a considerable area of Lake Ardzhan. At that time, Nikola Maleshevsky’s daughter, Ana, who had recently graduated from the Girls’ High School in Salonika, was teaching in Kukush, and the two young people fell in love. When the Ilinden Rising started, Ana left Kukush with the cheta and, after their banner had been consecrated in the village church in Kornishor, Krŭstyu asked the priest to marry them. This evoked criticism among some members of the cheta, and Krŭstyu’s secret rivals, who included Supremist sympathizers, so exploited the situation that Krŭstyu was shot dead as he



1. Anton Strashimirov, Kniga za Bŭlgarite, p. 94-95.


2. Memoirs of K.D. Spisarevsky, BIA NBKM, f. 626, a.e. 106, pp. 50-52.





slept. [3] The unfortunate Ana was then sent back to Dupnitsa.


Yané’s closest associates in the post-Ilinden period were Stoyu Hadzhiev, Georgi Kazepov, Georgi Skrizhovsky, Taskata Sersky, Chudomir Kantardzhiev, Alexander Buynov and Todor Panitsa.


Stoyu Hadzhiev was born in the south Pirin village of Goleshovo in 1879. His father was an ardent patriot, who campaigned for Bulgarian schools in Goleshovo and the surrounding villages in place of the existing Greek ones. Stoyu studied in the Bitolya High School and, almost as soon as he had graduated, both he and his father fell foul of the Turkish authorities and were forced to go underground. When his father was killed, Stoyu joined Yané’s cheta. After the 1904 amnesty, Stoyu became a teacher first in Chereshnitsa and then in Dolna Sushitsa, on Yané’s instructions, so that he could carry out organizational work, but he was soon once again threatened with arrest and he rejoined Yané as a chetnik, and participated in the action against Captain Stoyanov. [4]


Georgi Radev Skrizhovsky was another local man, born in the village of Skrizhovo (Drama District). In spite of his family’s poverty, he managed to graduate from the Teacher-Training School in Serres, where one of his teachers, Dimitŭr Gushtanov, brought him into the Organization. For a time he taught in Poroi and in his native village, where he headed the local revolutionary committee. In 1902, however, he was obliged to go underground after a Turkish official had discovered both him and the cheta of Iliya Kŭrchovaliyata in the mayor’s house. Georgi managed to flee with the cheta, but the mayor was arrested and sent into exile. Skrizhovsky then helped Gushtanov to form the first Drama cheta, which co-operated with Gotsé Delchev’s cheta in blowing up the bridge over the Angista. The contretemps with Yané over the rifle, described by Yavorov, had, in fact, no effect on their relations, and after the Uprising, Skrizhovsky joined Yané’s cheta and acted as his secretary. Skrizhovsky possessed all the qualities that Yané admired and sought when choosing his lieutenants, and he was soon appointed District voivoda of Razlog. He was just, honest, hardworking and energetic, a total abstainer, a great reader and a born educator. He loved people and was able to win their confidence and respect, but he was also very strict and would not tolerate any deviation from the standards that he demanded of himself and of others. So principled was he, that once, when his two little daughters [5] picked two quinces from a tree in the next-door garden, he regarded it as theft



3. The actual murderer was later tried and executed by the cheti of Sava Mihailov and Argir Manasiev. See Tushé Vlahov, Kukush, p. 211.


4. From biographical notes about Stoyu Hadzhiev compiled by his brother, Iliya Nikolov Hadzhiev, in 1961. ODA Blagoevgrad, f. 742, op. 1, a.e. 195.


5. Skrizhovsky married relatively late in life, since the Organization preferred its clandestine workers to have no family ties.





and insisted that the children return the fruit and apologise to the neighbour. His courage was legendary. One day, although he knew that the Turkish police were on his trail, he nevertheless decided to visit the local public baths. By chance, whom should he see at his side but the chief of police himself. Skrizhovsky immediately said: ‘Shall I scrub your back, Bey efendi?" The Bey gave some indifferent answer, which indicated that he had no idea of the identity of his polite fellow bather. [6]


Georgi Angov Stoyanov, better known as Georgi Kazepov, was another of Gushtanov’s recruits who became one of Yané’s most trusted assistants. Born of fairly rich parents in the village of Kalimantsi in 1880, he was orphaned early, and his uncle, then a lawyer in Bosilegrad, received him into his house and ensured that he received a proper education. On graduating from the Teacher-Training School in Serres, Kazepov taught in several villages—Marikostinovo, Belyovo and Chereshnitsa—where, at the same time, he worked secretly for the Organization. He soon attracted the attention of Yané, who moved him to the school in Melnik, and it was not long before he was elected District Secretary. Kazepov’s teaching career came to an end when all the ‘legal’ members of the Melnik committee were surprised at a meeting by the Turks and were arrested. A few days later, Kazepov managed to escape from prison, [7] and went to join Yané’s cheta. Here, too, he proved his worth so effectively that Yané appointed him deputy voivoda and would leave him in charge when he himself was away on other business.


Taskata Sersky, born in 1880, whose real name was Atanas Spasov, came from the village of Vranya, to the south of Melnik. The son of a teacher, he, too, studied in the Training School in Serres, joined a revolutionary circle while still a pupil, and started to work for the Organization as soon as he left school. He taught for a time in Shugovo (Doiran district), and there he received much attention from the local Supremist voivodi, Aleksa Poroiliyata and Doncho, who attempted to win him, so that he could act as their secretary. They even kept him prisoner for two months in their efforts to persuade him, but he did not share their views, and he ran away to join Yané. He later helped Gotsé to blow up the Angista bridge, and was with him when he was killed in Banitsa. He then served with various cheti until, in 1904, he returned to Yané and became voivoda of the Serres District. He knew French, Greek, Turkish, Romany and Vlah, and was a great persuader. Alexander Buynov, another of the Serres group, jokingly said of him that when he had no one to persuade, he would stand in front of a telegraph pole and talk to it! [8]



6. Both incidents are described in Memoirs of Venera Skrizhovska-Trichkova, daughter of Georgi Skrizhovsky. The typescript memoirs were made available to me by their author.


7. It was this feat that earned him his name ‘Kazepov’, derived from an Arabic-Turkish word meaning ‘anger’.


8. Taskata Sersky. Article by Yurdan Anastasov, Pirinsko Delo, 31.X.1968.





Buynov was one of those who came to Macedonia from the Principality— a restless man with high standards of conduct, who could not tolerate  deceit and dishonesty in others. He was born in Shumen in 1879, the eldest son of a wealthy craftsman who made braid and gold thread for the decoration of national costumes, and his real name was Alexander Ivanov Nenov. Buynov—from buen, meaning ‘unruly’, ‘passionate’, ‘fiery’— was a school nickname given to him by his fellow pupils on account of the ardour and energy with which he would recite poetry and participate in plays, operettas, etc., produced by the school and the local Reading Room Club. This characteristic fire and enthusiasm also manifested itself in the alacrity with which he rushed to the aid of Armenian refugees, who, fleeing from the massacres in Turkey, began to arrive in Shumen Curing 1895. Though still only a schoolboy, Buynov was one of the first people in Shumen to welcome the Armenians and to do what he could to help them in their need. By then, his own family’s fortunes were on the decline, like those of many Bulgarian artisans whose traditional crafts were being destroyed by competition from cheap imported manufactured goods. His father died young, leaving his widow and four children in very straitened circumstances. Fortunately, Buynov’s maternal uncle, who was then living in Sofia, came to their rescue and, with an admirable sense of family responsibility, took them all into his home. When, however, Uuynov begged to be allowed to study drama abroad, his uncle put his loot down, not only because of the expense involved, but also because the acting profession was still regarded as unworthy of serious persons. He was prepared to assit his nephew to study law at Sofia University, but acting—never. Since beggars cannot be choosers, Buynov temporarily accepted the situation, but at the first opportunity he secretly applied for an audition with the ‘Tears and Laughter’ Theatre Company, using his school nickname. His performance was such that he was immediately invited to join the Company; thus in 1897 he exchanged the lecture hall for the stage, beginning right at the top, with the country’s premier troupe. The family soon got over the shock: his use of a stage name protected the family prestige, and the salary which he earned made it possible for the other children to continue their education and enter ‘respectable’ professions. His sister became a teacher in Burgas, where she married, and his brothers returned to Shumen—one as a veterinary surgeon, and the other—to work in the local law courts.


Buynov came into contact with the Macedonian movement early on in his career as an actor, when the Company was on tour in Salonika during 1898. There, during a performance of The Two Orphans, by Ennery and Cormon, he boldly ignored the cuts imposed by the Turkish censor, and brought the house down by declaiming the following forbidden monologue: ‘Have you eyes to see and ears to hear? Listen awhile to the hollow howl, which is making itself heard; look at the awakening people, behold those brows, for centuries bent low, but now already being raised, fearless





and proud. That awful sound, these stirring crowds are constantly swelling and advancing, fatally irresistible. A terrible wave will one day rise and sweep away dominions and estates.’ The ecstatic reaction of the Bulgarian audience, who reacted to every phrase and applauded him to the echo at the end, made a deep impression upon him, and eventually the time came when he left the theatre to join the Organization. His last venture in the theatre was his unsuccessful attempt to found a professional company in Shumen during 1903, after he had left ‘Tears and Laughter" because of his inability to tolerate the behaviour of certain ambitious and none too principled colleagues. [9]


Buynov’s first steps in the Organization took him to the Skopje Region, but, after a time, he tired of the internal conflicts within the Region, and in 1905, drawn by Yané’s already legendary fame, he left Skopje to place his gifts as an orator and an organizer at the service of the Serres Left.


Chudomir Kantardzhiev was another law student who came to Macedonia without taking his degree. Born in 1883, he was, like Krŭstyu Asenov, a native of Sliven. His elder brother Mihail was one of the first Socialists in the town, and had taken part in the foundation congress of the Bulgarian Workers’ Social-Democratic Party on Mount Buzludzha in 1891. In fact, all the eight brothers and sisters were progressive in outlook, if not outright Socialists. Leading members of the B.W.S.D. Party, including Dimitŭr Blagoev, Georgi Kirkov, Nikola Gabrovsky, Georgi Dimitrov and Lyubitsa Ivoshević, [10] were frequent visitors to the Kantardzhiev house. In a family photograph taken in 1901, a bust of Karl Marx is clearly visible on the table around which several of the children are seated with their mother. Books are also very much in evidence, both on the table and in Chudomir’s hand, for they played an important role in the life of the whole family. All the children received a good education: the eldest boy, Iliya, studied at the Military School and became an officer; Mihail became a teacher; two other brothers became land-surveyors, and another—a medical auxiliary. Their father [11] died young, of anthrax, while Chudomir



9. Emil Kyostebekov—Aleksander Buynov—artist i revolyutsioner. See Sbumen i sbumensko, Book III, 1971, pp. 115-126.


10. Lyubitsa Ivoshević lived for some years with Mihail as his wife, but fell in love with Georgi Dimitrov when he came to Sliven on Party work. Far from standing in her way, Mihail respected Lyubitsa’s feelings in a manner worthy of the new-style heroes of Chernyshevsky’s novel What Is To Be Done? In a splendid gesture, he took her to the station in a carriage full of flowers and sent her off to Georgi Dimitrov in Sofia. The three of them remained on friendly terms and often saw each other in the course of their political activity.


11. The father, Petŭr Dobrev, acquired the name of Kantardzhiyata—the Scalesman— because, before the liberation, he hired a state balance and weighed goods for merchants and purveyors of supplies to the Turkish Army. He was well known as a just and scrupulously honest man, and, as such, he was much in demand, and was even summoned to other towns to weigh consignments of goods. Petŭr Kantardzhiyata was also extremely democratic in outlook, as the following incident shows. When his eldest son, Iliya, came home as a newly promoted officer accompanied by





was still at school, and it was Iliya who supported his younger brother as student.


Before he entered the University in 1902, Chudomir had worked briefly as a teacher in a village near Burgas, and had become acquainted with Mihail Daev, a teacher from Balchik, who early in 1903 became a chetnik in the Adrianople Region under Mihail Gerdzhikov. The friendship continued after Chudomir went to Sofia, and it was Daev who, on one of his visits to the capital, introduced him to Yané. Thus, in the spring of 1905, when Chudomir was expelled from the University, together with hundreds of other students for their part in protests against limitations placed on academic freedom and the political rights of students, he decided to abandon his legal studies and went with Daev to join Yané. Chudomir Kantardzhiev—or Chudoto (the Miracle), as everybody called him—was a tall, distinguished-looking man, with a fair complexion and a neat black beard. His wide culture and knowledge of books was put to good use in the Region, and people soon began to call him the ‘Minister of Education’! His legal training helped him to restrain his comrades from over-hasty action in a situation where traitors and rumours of traitors abounded, and they usually heeded his advice that ‘Everything has to be properly investigated so that nobody is lost through false accusations.’


The third northerner was Todor Panitsa from Oryahovo near the Danube. Born in 1879, the son of a teacher, he was orphaned while still a child, and he went to live with his rich uncle in Varna, where he completed his secondary education. Even as a boy, he was phenomenally brave and quick-witted. He was also compassionate by nature and an ardent patriot, and thus he was soon drawn into the struggle to help the enslaved population of Macedonia. Like Yané, he began his life in the movement with a Supremist cheta. Later, during the Ilinden Rising, he was in the Skopje Region, where he astonished everyone with his daring. During 1904, he organized his own cheta in Varna, and crossed into Macedonia, where he met Yané. He, too, fell under his spell, and stayed in the Serres Region as the deputy-voivoda of the Drama District.


All of these men were better educated than Yané; each of them was a leader in his own right, and yet, not one of them ever challenged Yané’s unique position within the Region. Yané was not even the ideologist of the Serres Left—that title belongs by right to Dimo Hadzhidimov. Neither did he himself necessarily draft the letters that he signed—that was generally a task for his intellectual lieutenants, such as Buynov or Kantardzhiev.



an orderly, the latter remained standing in the background when the family sat down to lunch. Petŭr asked: ‘Why is that boy waiting? Why doesn’t he sit down?’ Iliya replied that the Military Rules did not allow a private soldier to eat at the same table as an officer. ‘Is that so?’ said Petŭr. ‘Listen, my son, those rules are military and are valid in the barracks, maybe in your house, too, but in my house everyone is equal, and if this boy does not sit down to eat with the rest of us, then I shall leave the table.’ Iliya was only too willing to give way, and the orderly sat down with the family.





And yet, somehow, he stood head and shoulders above them all, both in the imagination of the people and in truth. He was not an original thinker, but he was possessed of a rare natural intelligence which enabled him to evaluate and absorb the ideas of others, and to implement them so creatively and with such consistency that the Serres brand of revolutionary theory and practice came to be known as ‘Sandanism’, and its exponents continued to call themselves Sandanisti long after Yané himself was dead.


In the summer of 1905, the Serres Revolutionary Region held its first Congress since the uprising. Most of the other Regions had already held congresses to discuss future policy and to prepare for a General Congress of the whole Organization. Representatives of the Bitolya Region had met in May 1904, at the so-called Prilep Congress, which had, in fact, migrated from village to village—nine in all—in the course of some fifteen days. The Skopje Region Congress had met in January 1905 in specially built huts in the mountains near Knezhevo (Kratovo District), while Salonika and Strumitsa met shortly before Serres in June 1905.


The Serres Congress, held high in Pirin, was extremely well organized, both from the point of view of security and pleasure. The site chosen was a meadow beside the Mozgovitsa River in the Belemeto Circus, where, two years before, the Serres comrades had met to discuss their part in the forthcoming Rising. Chosen by Yané himself, it was indeed a wonderful setting for a rebel congress: no man-built hall could rival the vastness and majesty of the Belemeto Circus, whose roof is the pure blue Pirin sky, and whose walls and pillars are natural cliffs and eight-thousand-foot peaks, sculptured by the violence of ice and storm into a wild, inimitable beauty. Here a man feels utterly free, with the world at his feet and the sky at his finger-tips. By day, the distant heights seem deceptively close, while at night the very stars of heaven—enormous and intensely bright— seem almost within his reach. Here dreams and aspirations fly with the wings of eagles, and nothing is deemed beyond the power of man. Here, on a mountain top—in the tradition of Moses and the ancient gods—the delegates of the Serres Revolutionary Region met to consider the present and the future of the people whom they were called to lead.


Great precautions were taken to ensure that no one tracked the delegates from their homes to the secret congress site. Those elected were initially summoned to villages in the Melnik area, and then were taken upwards from place to place by constantly changing couriers, only the last of whom knew where the Congress was actually to be. The area around the site was covered with slab, an almost impenetrable, low-growing species of conifer, which screened the participants from prying eyes. New arrivals had to wait for members of the reception committee to show them the ‘door’ and to lead them through the tangled slab onto the meadow beyond. Here huts had been built of pine branches, and pine-wood fires were kept burning day and night, both for cooking and for warmth, since, even in high summer, the temperature could drop below





zero at this altitude. Yané had arranged for plenty of good food to be available; in addition to bread, there were rams to be roasted, rice, onions and peppers for garnishing, rakiya and wine in suitable quantities, and even coffee. Fresh trout were also available from the swift stream a hundred yards away from the ‘council chamber’.


During the course of the Congress, couriers reported that Turkish iroops had been sighted, moving in the direction of Belemeto. The Congress, therefore, adjourned, and continued its sittings by Tevnoto Kzero—the Dark Lake—which was about two hours’ journey away. Here, at a height of seven thousand feet, there were no trees, so shelters a yard high were built from stones to keep out the night winds, and fires were kept going with a kind of creeping conifer vegetation, which looked like grass, but revealed thickish branches when pulled up. During the day it was very hot indeed, and the still waters of the Dark Lake would reflect the deep blue southern sky and the splendid contours of Mount Kamenitsa, scarred by millennia of storm and strewn with cascades of sliding boulders and scree. But, at night, the wind would rise and ice would form at the edges of the lake and around the spring at its upper end. Some of the chetnitsi, lured by the sunshine and the bright water, were bold enough to swim across the lake, and one of them was seized by cramp and would have drowned, had not a watchful comrade gone to his aid and hauled him out amid general rejoicing, after a tense battle with death.


On the heights of Pirin, the Serchani were not troubled by many of the problems which assailed those who met in villages. With look-outs posted on the ‘battlements’ around Belemeto and the lake, they could not be surprised or encircled by Turkish troops, and, even if such troops persisted in toiling up the mountain, the Bulgarians held all the commanding positions and could pick them off as they came. Furthermore, being far from human habitation, the Serchani could make as much noise as they liked, and, after the day’s discussions were over, they would dance and sing the whole night long. The company included both people with a solid literary education, who could recite poetry, and also a couple of natural comedians, who kept everybody in fits of laughter with their clowning and their jokes. In general, the whole atmosphere of the Congress was one of informality, merriment and bonhomie, with an underlying sense of unity on all important questions.


About twenty-five [12] delegates had been mandated by the six districts



12. The number of delegates present is given as 23 in the Resolution of the Extraordinary Regional Congress of the Serres Revolutionary Region, July 1st 1905. (OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1047) Taskata Sersky was mandated, but could not attend. Lazar Tomov (TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 23, pp. 44-52) says that there were 25-30 delegates, and gives a partial list, including, for the Serres District: himself, Vladimir Blagoev and Yané Bogatinov; for the Demir Hisar District: Stoyu Hadzhiev, G. Ivanov and two others unnamed; for the Nevrokop District: V. Petrov, Dimitŭr Arnaudov, Iliya Baltov and Petŭr Milev; for the Melnik District: Yané Sandansky, Todor Popantov, Georgi Potskov, Georgi Kazepov and others; for the Razlog District:





which comprised the Serres District, and there were also a handful of guests, as well as numerous chetnitsi who were responsible for security, catering, etc. The Congress was opened on June 29, [13] 1905, at exactly nine in the morning, by Lazar Tomov (Serres District), and the first item on the agenda was the election of a Buro, consisting of Todor Popantov (Melnik), Iliya Baltov (Nevrokop) and Georgi Skrizhovsky (Razlog). The delegates’ credentials were then checked, and the Congress proceeded to hear reports on the situation in the various districts of the Region, with all delegates reporting favourably on the morale of the population and the state of the Organization. When, however, the question of education came up for discussion, all the delegates spoke of ‘weak intellectual development and illiteracy’ [14] within their districts, and the Congress passed the following resolution: ‘primary education to be compulsory, as far as possible, since there are centres where schools cannot be opened; travelling libraries to be formed, chiefly with a revolutionary content, without neglecting the various branches of science; appeals, proclamations, circulars and other written documents of the Organization to be explained in ‘simple’, understandable language; evening and Sunday [15] schools to be opened, as far as possible, everywhere.’ Because of the key role played by the teachers in any town or village, the Congress decided that the Regional and District Committees should draw up lists of candidates to be appointed for the next school year, [16] with a view to the Organization’s needs and interests, without, however, ignoring purely professional considerations, and that they should use whatever methods were necessary to ensure that the teachers indicated were, in fact, appointed by the local School Boards. Considerable attention was also given to public health, which was non-



Georgi Skrizhovsky, Lazar Kolchagov, M. Kolchagov; for the Gorna Dzhumaya District: Ichko Boichev, Pavlov (a teacher) and Yosif (no surname given). Among others present, Tomov mentions Mihail Daev, Chudomir Kantardzhiev, Alexander Buynov, Andon Kyoseto, and Vaskata Ognyanov. Memoirs by Tomov are also included in Silyanov, Opus cit., Vol. II, p. 371. More memoirs by Lazar Tomov can be found in TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 25, pp. 32-34. Other memoirists who describe the Congress are Dimitŭr Arnaudov (Opus cit., pp. 9-12), who was present and gives the number of delegates as 34, and Ivan Harizanov (TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 8) who wrote on the basis of material which he collected from eye-witnesses.


13. In some works confusion has arisen over dates, leading to an erroneous belief that two congresses were held, one on July 1, 1905, and another on July 29, 1905. Arnaudov, however, mentions that the opening coincided with Petrovden (St. Peter’s Day), which in Bulgaria is June 29, not July 29. Only one congress was held that summer. The mistake was probably due to June being taken for July in handwritten memoirs.


14. This and all other quotations from the Congress resolutions are taken from the official Resolution (OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1047).


15. In Bulgarian, the expression ‘Sunday school’ does not have the religious connotation that it does in English, but merely means educational courses organized on a Sunday when people are free.


16. In Macedonia and the Adrianople Region all teachers were re-appointed every school year.





existent in Macedonia, because, as the Directive had sarcastically pointed out, ‘the people there are not cattle to be taken care of by their owner— they are something lower than cattle’. [17] The Congress passed the following resolution: ‘In view of the assertained general carelessness of the people in respect of hygiene, it was decided that the leadership in the districts shall publish circulars with the following contents, to be read out in the churches: houses are always to be built in a planned manner and are to be kept clean; inside the houses there is to be exemplary cleanliness and order; middens, stables, pigstyes, henhouses and other such things, are to be at a distance from living accommodation, and people are to keep their bodies and clothes in a state of exemplary cleanliness.’ The cheti were charged with the task of implementing these regulations, and persons who failed to observe them were to be prosecuted by the Organization’s judiciary. The Congress also passed a series of resolutions adopting at Regional level the Melnik District’s ban enforced marriages, ‘bride-money’, extravagant weddings, etc. The administration of justice was also discussed, and, ‘so that the activities of the judicial bodies can be followed, and possible abuses and partialities eliminated, it was decided to keep registers in which the cases examined by the judicial bodies are recorded. The registers are to be checked by the cheti. Judges found guilty of abusing their position are to be punished with death, announced by special circular throughout the District. A dissatisfied party may appeal to a higher court only with a testimonial from the local judicial body, with a detailed statement of the case and the verdict. Village judicial bodies are obliged to present excerpts from the registers to the district judicial bodies at the end of every month. The dispensation of justice is free of charge.’


Economic affairs occupied an extremely important place in the Congress’s deliberations. As a ‘state within the State’, the Organization did not confine itself to political matters, but paid equal attention to the economic woes of the people. Numerous as these were, they boiled down to land hunger and crippling taxation. The peasants in Macedonia fell into two main categories: raet and chiflik. The raet peasants owned their own land, which was usually in the less fertile mountain districts, and they paid taxes to the State, while the chiflik peasants had no land of their own and cultivated land belonging to the Turkish beys, whose farms (chifliks) were generally on the more fertile plains and nearer to the towns where the produce was sold on the market. The majority of chiflik peasants were share-croppers, who gave half their harvest to their lord, paid their taxes from the remainder, and, in addition, performed angaria (unpaid labour) for the rent of their houses. In theory, their contracts were voluntarily renewable annually or biennially, but in reality they were little better than serfs. Their houses were built on chiflik land with chiflik materials, and their animals and implements were bought with loans received from the



17. From the Directive, Revolyutsionen List, No. 8, 27.I.1905.





bey, and, since it was well-high impossible for peasants to repay these loans, they were bound to their lords for ever. A small number of chiflik peasants, known as ratai, or momtsi, worked as hired labourers, receiving their pay in kind—grain, oil, salt, moccasins, clothes, etc. Some of these were the sons of ‘free’ raet peasants, who had insufficient land of their own to support the whole family, but, in fact, although a proportion of them had a little land for personal use, and maybe some animals of their own, their status was little better than that of a slave fed and clothed by his master. It was possibly even worse, since the slave-owner had a vested interest in keeping his property alive and fit to work, while the bey suffered no financial loss if his ratai were ill or dead. There were always others to be hired, and he could always fall back on angaria to finish an urgent job. A third, even smaller groupthe otsechnitsi, or kesimdzhиitilled land which their ancestors had lost to the beys, and for which they now paid a definite rent in money or in kind, as well as paying tithes, etc.


The chiflik was not a true estate in the English or Russian sense of the word, with defined boundaries and an integrated economy. It was a conglomeration of common land arbitrarily appropriated, and smallholdings whose original owners had long ago been forced by debt or intimidation to surrender their title-deeds to the bey. The latter usually lived in the nearest town, and employed a steward to collect the produce due to him. Even if the numerous dues and taxes had been collected according to the letter of the law, it would have been hard enough for a peasant to scrape a decent living, but, in practice, the whole process was accompanied by such bureaucracy, corruption and malpractice that the peasants ended up by paying far more than was lawful. State taxes were collected not by civil servants, but by tax-farmers out to get the maximum possible profit by whatever means they could. Moreover, the system was so badly organized that the crops often rotted in the fields before the tax-farmers actually arrived to assess them.


In this situation, the Organization set itself the dual task of protecting the peasants from the worst excesses of Turkish exploitation and of so disrupting the whole system that it would eventually become entirely unworkable. The Skopje Regional Congress, for example, had laid down minimum rates of pay for seasonal hired labourers and decreed that no one was to work for less. At the Serres Congress, resolutions were passed forbidding Christians to enter Turkish service in a public or private capacity, and to work angaria on Turkish farms. Christians might work on Turkish land as sharecroppers for half of the harvest, and were to rent land only in certain circumstances, under the surveillance of the District Committee. The Turkish tax-farmers were to be deliberately hindered in their work, and an economic war was to be waged against supporters of ‘foreign tendencies’.


The Serres Congress also proposed to deal firmly with their own fellow countrymen who, in their capacity as mayors, etc., passed the main burden





of collective taxation onto those least able to pay: ‘It has been observed that, in the allocation of the commune tax among the peasants, the cborhadzhii and members of the village council commit grave injustices to the detriment of the poor population. In view of this, it was decided that the district leadership bodies and the cheti shall keep a close watch on the proportionate allocation of these taxes. Those who allow malpractices will be severely punished.’


Because of the presence on Organization territory of ‘nationalistic currents’, with tendencies which were ‘inimicable to the cause of the slave’ and which ‘in no small degree hinder the progress of the cause of liberation’, the Congress decided to prosecute the struggle against all such currents in the most systematic manner, both inside and outside the Organization’s territory, and to issue a public declaration, signed by all delegates, protesting against nationalistic tendencies and explaining the Region’s policy on such matters. The Congress also voted to send a special declaration to the Greek committees informing them of the Congress decisions.


In accordance with the Left’s belief that the elective principle should prevail at all levels, the Congress elected a new Regional Committee, voivodi for all the districts, and delegates to attend the forthcoming General Congress of the whole Organization. Yané was elected to the Regional Committee, and as a delegate to the General Congress, as well as retaining his position as Melnik voivoda. The other voivodi elected were Taskata SerskySerres; SkrizhovskyRazlog; Petŭr MilevNevrokop; Mihail Daev—Drama; Mihail Gerdzhikov—Demir Hisar.


Since Hristo Matov and Dr Tatarchev had, from January 1st, ceased to act as the Organization’s External Representatives in Sofia, the Congress appointed Dimitŭr Mirazchiev to act on the Region’s behalf in such matters as buying supplies, etc., until the General Congress. Representatives were also elected to man the frontier posts of the Region’s secret channels to and from the Principality.


On July 5th, the Congress completed its business, and closed after a short concluding speech by the Chairman, Todor Popantov. And then everybody joined hands and danced a final horo around the lake. It must have been an extraordinary sight: a long line of men, most of them armed to the teeth, linked by arms outstretched across each other’s shoulders, dancing upon a mountain top, with a slow, majestic grace. They had talked of revolutions and uprisings, of congresses and committees, of taxation and land reform, of primary schools and libraries, of love-matches and wedding ceremonies, of sanitary housing and personal hygiene, and now, when it was all over, when the elections had been democratically conducted and the minutes written up and signed, they obeyed a call as ancient as the blood which flowed in their veins and they rose as one man to dance.


All forms of the Bulgarian horo express a sense of communal high





spirits and rejoicing, and most are danced with rapid steps. In Macedonia, however, at times of great solemnity and exultation, the faster measures give way to the ‘heavy’ horo, in which the dancers balance and bend in proud slow motion, flaunting the strength of their muscles and the beauty of their limbs. It is essentially a man’s dance, a warrior’s dance, which could have been performed by Homer’s heroes or by Spartacus’s kin.


Seven thousand feet below them, the fear-ridden Sultan Abdul Hamid skulked in his labyrinthine palace beside the Bosphorus, with loaded revolvers to hand in every room, alone amid thousands of body-guards, chamberlains, aides, eunuchs and servants of all kinds, and so afraid for his life that he made it his first task every day to read the latest ‘journals’— reports from spies more numerous than mosquitoes—and filled the halls and corridors of the Yildiz with mirrors so that he might have eyes in the back of his head. [18] But neither the ‘journals’ nor the mirrors revealed to him the men on the mountain top, circling the lake in a living chain, as though confirming their unity of purpose, as though invoking the aid of the bright sun and the stable earth. . .


By the evening of July 5, all the ‘legal’ delegates, i.e. those who were not chetnitsi, had departed for their homes, while Yané and the rest remained in Pirin. Next day, at noon, a courier brought word that some 270 Turkish soldiers were two hours’ march away and were making inquiries of shepherds about the place where the Congress had opened. Yané was not unduly alarmed, but when, at three in the afternoon, a second courier from Bansko, on the opposite side of Pirin, arrived with the news that three hundred more soldiers were coming up from Mehomiya, he realized that this was no coincidence but a case of treachery. (Indeed, some two weeks later, Yané managed to discover the identity of the traitor, who was caught and sentenced to death, after he had made a full confession before a group of peasants. [19])


Yané led his men to a more suitable place, and made arrangements with his friends the Vlah shepherds to keep him informed of the movements of the Turks. This they did in their own traditional way, by posting look-outs on peaks in such a way that they could watch the Turks and shout their observations from one to another. One Vlah stayed with Yané to interpret the shouts, which were easily audible across distances that would have taken hours to traverse on foot. Thus, forewarned of all danger, Yané was able to avoid encountering the Turkish troops, who toiled upward toward Spano Pole for about three days and then returned to their barracks by the same route.


After this, Yané distributed the remaining food among the various cheti, who took their farewells and set out for their own districts. Some-



18. See Francis McCullugh: The Fall of Abd-Ul-Hamid, 1910, pp. 16-24, 259 and 268, and Sir Edwin Pears: Life of Abdul Hamid, 1917, p. 109.


19. Arnaudov, Opus at., p. 12.





time later, near the high pass of Demir Kapiya, Yané met a group of men, including Mihail Gerdzhikov, Alexander Buynov and Petko Penchev, who were coming up from Bansko with Georgi Skrizhovsky. The group should have attended the Congress, but had been delayed by the Turkish troop movements. Gerdzhikov, who had studied law in Lausanne and Geneva, was one of the Organization’s most talented and respected leaders. He had been a chetnik with Chernopeev before becoming a voivoda in his own right, and, although he had shared Yané’s opposition to the timing of the Rising, he had played a noble role during the fighting in the Adrianople Region. Gerdzhikov was a man of integrity and independent mind, who was considered to be an anarchist, although he worked for the Organization in a perfectly disciplined way, and had much in common with the Serres Left. Yané had invited him to attend the Congress, [20] hoping that he would join the Region as voivoda of the Demir Hisar District. Indeed, in his absence, the Congress had elected him voivoda in place of Dyado Iliya Kŭrchovaliyata, who was to assist the agent in charge of the Region’s communication channel through the Rila Monastery. Yané had another reason for wanting to attract Gerdzhikov to the Region. He was still suffering a lot of pain from the wound which he had received as a chetnik with the Supremists in 1897. The bullet had struck the bone in his forearm, creating splinters which had remained in the wound, and which periodically festered, causing the arm to swell. Yané had, in fact, never regained full freedom of movement in his left arm; the pain and inconvenience were now driving him to seek medical advice, and he had conceived the idea of going to Geneva to have an operation, leaving Gerdzhikov in charge of the Region. He therefore warmly welcomed Gerdzhikov and his companions, and they spent two or three days talking things over. Unfortunately, in the course of their discussions, they found that they could not see eye to eye on a number of important issues. Gerdzhikov, for example, was in favour of abolishing the cheti and replacing them with individual ‘apostles’, who would do purely organizational work. [21] He also felt that in an area like the Serres Region, which he regarded as purely Bulgarian, there was no need for special agitation, and that more emphasis should be put on the economic struggle against the chorbadzbii, the chiflik owners and the tobacco firms. Yané disagreed on both points. He felt that the cheti were still necessary, and that, important as the economic struggle was, the political struggle was more important still. They also disagreed wholly or partially about a number of other issues. Gerdzhikov was ready to consider individual terrorism as a substitute for a mass uprising—a policy which Yané rejected. Then Gerdzhikov expressed the opinion that ‘the failure of the rising was due not only to internal weaknesses, but also to the demoralization which the Supremists



20. See letter from Yané to Gerdzhikov, dated 6.VI.1905, OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 193.


21. Gerdzhikov’s detailed views on this subject are expressed in an article in Revolyutsionen List, No. 15, 12.VI.1905.





and Boris Sarafov had brought into the Organization through the influence of the Bulgarian political parties and the Court’, [22] and he advocated having nothing to do with political parties in the Principality. Yané fully agreed that the Organization should have nothing to do with the Court, but he considered that contact with political parties could be beneficial.


In spite of these disagreements, Yané still thought sufficiently highly of Gerdzhikov to offer him the post of voivoda in the Demir Hisar District, but Gerdzhikov refused and announced his intention of returning to the Principality. There then followed an exchange reminiscent of the incident of Skrizhovsky’s gun: Yané insisted that both Buynov and Gerdzhikov leave their guns in the Region, but Gerdzhikov reacted so violently to what he regarded as an insult, that eventually Yané gave way and allowed him to keep his weapons, but Buynov, who left with him, was forced to leave his behind. Thus the meeting ended in a thoroughly unsatisfactory and unpleasant way. Intransigent where matters of principle were concerned, Yané was not always the most tactful of men. He did not take kindly to being crossed, and, indeed, there were few who ventured to say him ‘nay’. On this occasion, his harsh treatment of the guests whom he had so warmly welcomed may have sprung less from his perennial reluctance to allow any weapon to leave Macedonia than from feelings of disappointment over the failure of his plans. No doubt the nagging pain in his arm also served to increase his general irritability. Yané’s rigidity over weapons did not, however, permanently sour his relationship with the two men. Buynov, though temporarily offended, later returned to the Series Region, and, like Skrizhovsky, became one of Yané’s closest supporters; Gerdzhikov, too, bore him no ill-will and remained his friend. Gerdzhikov’s departure, however, forced Yané to abandon all idea of going to Geneva. Indeed, he eventually slipped over the border to Dupnitsa, where a local doctor, named Bashtavelov, successfully extracted several pieces of broken bone from his arm. [23]


The Regional Congress was followed by district congresses at which the implementation of the decisions was discussed in greater detail. Yané himself attended the Congress of the Melnik District, which took place during August 1905, on a meadow high in Pirin at a place known as Arabskiya Grob. There were delegates from almost every village in the district; Yané chaired the Congress and Chudomir Kantardzhiev acted as secretary of the Buro. They discussed the problem of Supremist incursions, and agreed that Supremist cheti must be hunted down, disarmed and sent back to the Principality. They also considered their relations with the Greek population. Since the Greeks were unable to maintain armed bands in the area, the majority of them co-operated with the Turks against the Bulgarians, with the exception of a few who had responded to the



22. See memoirs of Mihail Gerdzhikov, recorded by Ivan Harizanov, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 23, pp. 58-59.


23. TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 8.





Organization’s appeal for financial help. The Congress decided to organize a boycott of all shops, etc., owned by hostile Greeks; to demand higher wages and an eight-hour day for labourers who worked in Greek vineyards; to damage the property of Greeks who acted as Turkish spies, and to punish the chief offenders according to the Organization’s statute.


The Congress approved Yané’s letter relating to weddings, hygiene, etc., and directed local leaders and teachers to go round the houses in their villages, instructing the people on how to keep themselves, their homes and their yards clean and free from parasites. Underwear was to be changed weekly, and was to be well washed and scalded, even if it was old and patched.


On the question of education, it was decided to leave no village without a teacher, grouping together villages too small to have a school of their own; to make primary education compulsory for both sexes; to provide the teachers with free board and lodging, to be paid for by rich families only; to organize evening classes for adult illiterates; to set up libraries in schools; to organize group reading of revolutionary books and newspapers, and then to pass such literature on to other villages; to provide a hostel for pupils studying at the Bulgarian school in Melnik; to select talented children to study in Melnik, and subsequently in Serres or Salonika; to ensure the election of District Committee members to the diocesan council, which was officially responsible to the Exarchate for education in the District.


Much attention was given to economic policy. The Congress ratified previous directives forbidding Christians to become tax-farmers, or to take employment with Turks, while allowing villages collectively to become their own tax-farmers. When Turks sold parts of their estates, only poor peasants were to be allowed to bid for the land, without competition and at prices fixed by the committees. Share-croppers were to do everything possible to prevent the beys from receiving more than a quarter of the harvest; sheep and wine were to be hidden when tax-assessors came; cattle belonging to Turks who had harmed the Organization were to be stolen; richer members of the Organization were to be taxed to buy guns, while money was to be collected from others wishing to buy.


After the business part of the meeting was over, there were the usual celebrations; barren sheep were roasted over three fires, and when the meat was ready—so well cooked that ‘it slipped of itself into their mouths’—it was served on beech leaves. One of the delegates commented that Yané had forgotten to provide wine, to which he retorted: ‘For the time being, we shall drink cold water, Pirin water. We shall drink wine when Macedonia is free.’ There was singing and dancing before the delegates lay down to sleep, wrapped in their cloaks under the open sky. It was a still, clear night, with a moon and bright stars, and some of those present continued singing after the rest had retired for the night. At one point, some one began to sing a rather bawdy song about old women





dancing in the moonlight. Yané disliked such songs, and bellowed his disapproval: ‘Who’s that singing there, hey?’ There was instant silence; the singers dived under their cloaks and were heard no more. [24]


On the next morning, the Congress was flung into confusion by the unexpected appearance of a man who had seen his neighbour killed, and, believing that he himself had been betrayed, came rushing to find the cheta. The man, however, was in such a state of panic that he now took it into his head that the cheta would kill him, and he ran away towards Melnik. Fearing that the Turks would learn something from the man, Yané led the delegates on a forced march across the mountain to the lakes above Spano Pole, where they slept. In the morning, Georgi Kotsev saw some wild goats and asked Yané’s permission to shoot, but Yané smiled and said: ‘It would be very nice, Gosho; I, too, would like to eat game-meat, but, see here, if you can travel as far as we did yesterday, go ahead and shoot.’ By this he meant that the Turks would surely hear the shots and the Congress would be obliged to move again.


The delegates continued their deliberations beside the lakes, but the emergency had upset their catering arrangements. They obtained six rams from Vlah shepherds, but, as there was no salt, the meat proved rather tasteless. The Vlahs did not bring them any bread, either—a further disaster, since Bulgarians consider that nothing tastes good without bread— and Yané collected together all the scraps of bread that were left in people’s knapsacks and divided them equally among the company. At this rather doleful stage in the Congress, a caravan of Bansko folk appeared, carrying wine by the traditional short route across Pirin. Yané invited them to join the delegates, and three men came over, each bearing a quantity of wine. Even in the face of this windfall, Yané would not allow anyone to drink more than 200 grammes of wine, and thus a third of the wine was returned to the caravan unopened—to the great chagrin of many. Yet Yané was well advised to keep them in a state of perpetual preparedness. The Turks had indeed been alerted by the fleeing man, and had visited the original camp at Arabskiya Grob, although they failed to find the second site. When the Congress broke up, the delegates departed in small groups, for greater safety, and those who were known to the traitor went into hiding.


After the Congresses, the local committees set to work to implement the decisions. Especial attention was paid to the economic struggle, not only because it most closely affected the everyday life of the peasants who formed the bulk of the Organization’s membership, but also because it could act as a unifying force for all nationalities. In the Serres District, for example, Taskata Sersky succeeded in organizing the chiflik gypsies, whom he genuinely loved. He learned their language, showed them how



24. This account of the Melnik District Congress is taken from the memoirs of Georgi Kotsev, OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1680, pp. 131-135. No official minutes have survived.





to fight against the beys and helped them in natural disasters, so that they came to regard him as a prophet sent by Allah, and they placed themselves at his service, provisioning his cheta when it was in hiding and supporting the Organization against the Greek andartes. In quarrels between the Christian supporters of the Exarchate and the Patriarchate, Taskata refused to take sides, and told people that religion was their personal problem and one which did not concern the Organization, since it regarded the economic problem as paramount and fought on behalf of all oppressed people regardless of race or religion.


Despite the fertility of the beautiful Serres plain, the peasants who inhabited it lived under indescribably difficult conditions. The only Christians who owned any land were the Greeks, while the Bulgarians, who formed two-thirds of the population, worked on chiflik land belonging to the Turks. Some of them were share-croppers, who lived in their own houses, gave the bey half the harvest and worked a statutory day’s angaria, plus extra days by ‘invitation’, which, naturally, they could not refuse. Others, like Taskata’s gypsies, were little better than slaves. The houses in which they lived belonged to the bey, the crops which they grew belonged to the bey, and the animals which they reared belonged to the bey, so that, although they had raised the chickens, they had to beg the steward to give them eggs for a sick child. The steward’s permission had to be obtained even before a couple could become engaged.


In this situation, the Organization began to terrorize the stewards, so that the beys had difficulty in finding any Turks who wanted the job, and they were forced to look for new stewards among the peasants themselves. The new stewards were more like shop-stewards than tax-collectors. They forced the beys to recognize the right of the peasants to have their own animals and chickens and to keep the produce; they demanded that the beys provide more modern equipment and more land; they never gave the beys more than a quarter of the harvest, and they put a stop to all angaria, so that, for extra work, the beys had to pay hired labourers at rates fixed by the Organization. Some villages developed a highly organized system of ‘polite boycott": showing willing, but giving nothing. When the steward arrived to collect the bey’s share, the inhabitants would hide, and only their leaders would receive the steward with courteous regrets. The peasants, so they would tell him, were ready to bring the bey’s share at any time. . . it was indeed unfortunate that the steward had come when nobody was at home. . . perhaps, if he would come another time. . . and so forth.


On the whole, the beys settled for a quiet life and accepted the situation, contenting themselves with what they could get. One bey, however, went to a certain village with an armed thug, in the hope of collecting more tribute. The wily peasants managed to take the thug’s gun, while he was asleep, and they gave it to a smith, who hammered it into little pieces, which were then tied up in a cloth and replaced under the man’s pillow.





The bey, much amazed, took the hint and left the village. Three Serres beys, with an eye to the main chance, even offered to contribute to the Organization’s funds, but Yané considered that it would be immoral and compromising to accept money from such a source, and, at his suggestion, the offer was politely rejected, with thanks, by the Second Regional Congress (July 1906), and the beys were told that, if they were sincere in their desire to help the Organization, they should treat their peasants more humanely. [25]


In time, some beys gave up the struggle altogether and sold all or part of their estates. When this happened, the Organization would assist the most needy peasants to buy the land, but the assistance which it could give was, of course, limited by its perennial shortage of funds.


Thus,  throughout the Serres Region, under the leadership of Yané and his team, the secret committees at all levels assumed the functions of a state within the State. Today their gains were measured in eggs and sheaves of corn, but, tomorrow, they would rule the whole fair land of Macedonia in a way that would astound the world.



25. Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 18.



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