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







By the end of the war, Yané was physically and emotionally exhausted. Like the storms which weather and wear away the granite of Pirin, the years of unremitting strain and struggle had left their mark upon him, and he had long felt the need for a complete rest. [1] During the Second Balkan War, he was even toying with the idea of taking a holiday in America, since he feared that in Bulgaria he would not be left in peace. [2] Yané’s ‘American dream’ represents, perhaps, the only occasion on which he was guilty of truly ‘Utopian’ thinking, and it is an indication of how desperately weary he must have felt. Yet he did not go, for he had neither passport, nor money of his own, and, above all, his roots were so deep in Pirin that, like the great pines, he could not tear himself away from his native land. And it was there that he withdrew to lick his wounds and recover his health, after the avalanche of events which had left him bruised and gasping. The wounds were psychological, rather than physical. The world had fallen to pieces around him; his cherished dreams had dissolved into a hideous, mocking nightmare from which there was no awakening, and no escape. Not since the days of his first disillusion with the Supremists, not since Gotsé had opened his eyes to the truth, had he felt so hurt and so bewildered. The Russian journalist Viktorov-Toparov described the change wrought in him by the war in these words: ‘This was no longer the Yané Sandansky who commanded the respect of his enemies not so much by his courage as by the firmness of his convictions. Something had darkened within him, faith in something very big and important had been lost, and his clear, shining hope was veiled in a heavy, misty shroud.’ [3]


In this grey, twilight period of his life, the place in which he chose to live was the Rozhen Monastery on the sunlit uplands above Melnik, ringed with a golden labyrinth of crumbling sandstone canyons. The reasons for his choice are not known. Perhaps he felt that since his ‘kingdom’ was now under official Bulgarian administration, and he was still an outlaw, it would be unwise to reside in Melnik itself. Perhaps he wanted the complete quiet and independence, combined with reasonable comfort, which only the



1. Early in 1911, Dr Tenchev told Mustakov that Yané was thinking of going away somewhere to rest. Military Archives f. 23, op.II, a.e. 163, pp. 1-5.


2. Memoirs of Lt. Zografov, OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1511.


3. Sŭvremenna misŭl, 15.V.1915.





monastery could give him. Whatever the reason, it was here that he went with his sister, after he had disbanded his cheti at the end of July 1913. The monastery was empty, deserted by the Greek monks who had so tormented the peasants of the surrounding villages, and as yet no Bulgarian monks had come to take their place. [4] If it was a fortress that Yané was seeking, there were few places in the Melnik area more suitable for the purpose. The monastery is an irregular, six-sided building, with massive stone walls surrounding a court-yard containing a low church, invisible from outside. A little white tower, dainty and pavilion-like, rises above the rosy-tiled roof to provide an observation point with visibility second only to an eagle’s-eye view. The main entrance to the monastery is barred by heavy iron gates, studded with nails and scarred with ancient bullet holes. Above the gateway are holes through which defenders can pour boiling oil and brimstone upon the heads of attackers. Inside, all is peace and beauty. Trees and green grass grow among the flag-stones of the courtyard, vines trail from beam to beam, and pure mountain water flows unceasingly from the spout of a stone fountain. The interior façade of the monastery is open and welcoming, with wooden verandahs, linked by stairways, running the whole length of the walls, three storeys high to the north and two to the south.


Yané chose for himself two rooms on the upper floor of the southern wing of the monastery, with windows offering superb views over meadows and canyons. One window opened into a little balcony which hung like a swallow’s nest on the outer wall of the building. Here, without leaving the monastery, without even leaving his room, Yané could slip out into the sunshine or the moonlight, with a touch of the old freedom which he had known amid the forests and crags of Pirin. In the larger room he would receive guests and visitors, while the smaller one, which led off it, served as his bedroom and private sanctum. Here he slept on a wooden bed covered with a bear skin, with pillows made of deer and fox skins. A fox-skin rug decorated the wall beside his bed, and nearby he had hung his rebel gear—including cloak, leather bag, gun, ammunition belt and dagger-ready to hand, should need arise.


Despite his depressed state of mind, Yané adapted himself, without obvious difficulty, to his new way of life. He read a great deal, went for walks, received guests and gave advice to the numerous peasants who sought it. He bought grapes, and later rented a vineyard in which he worked himself, and he made wine and rakiya in order to have something to offer to his visitors. He and his sister kept some fifty hens in the courtyard, and occasionally Yané would go hunting for hares. He was not, however, a keen hunter, for the boy who had kept doves in Dupnitsa had



4. I am indebted to Pimen, Bishop of Nevrokop, for the information that, while Yawe lived in the monastery, no monks were in residence, apart from a very short period when a monk named Meleti, travelling from the Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos to Dobrodol, near Lorn, broke his journey in Rozhen.





grown into a man who took little pleasure in killing solely for sport. It is said that in his cheta days, he killed a huge bear with a knife, when the animal threatened his men at a moment when guns could not be used for fear of alerting the Turks. The bear-skin which he slept on may well have belonged to this animal.


In November 1913, Yané and Sofia were joined by a young man named Haralambi Udev, from Krushevo (Demir Hisar district), whom Yané had known since 1902, when Udev had been a sixteen-year-old schoolboy. Haralambi had run away from Krushevo—now under Greek rule—when he had received call-up papers to join the Greek Army, and he remained in the monastery as a general assistant to the modest household. He looked after the animals, including Mitsa’s latest foal, Pirincho, collected the post from Melnik every day, took more important letters by hand to comrades in nearby villages, and, armed with a revolver supplied by Yané, he would go round the monastery on a tour of inspection every evening before going to bed, to make sure that all was well. Haralambi Udev also did the cooking, which could involve the preparation of quite large quantities of food, since Yané frequently had visitors and liked to be hospitable. Apart from Yané’s closest comrades, such as Buynov, Panitsa, Chudomir, Skrizhovsky, Chernopeev and Dimo Hadzhidimov, people from Melnik and former chetnitsi would visit him with their families. Those who came from further away would usually send telegrams in advance, announcing their proposed arrival. After the guests had eaten, they would dance and sing, usually beginning with a song called ‘A horo winds beside the monastery’, or they would go out onto the meadows, sit down and reminisce about former battles. If Hadzhidimov was present, he would tell the other guests about the death of Gotsé Delchev in Serska Banitsa, which he personally witnessed. [5]


On Saturdays, Yané would ride down into Melnik to see his friends and to talk to the peasants who came for the market. He would go into the shops and urge the merchants not to cheat the people, or try to make big profits, but to sell cheaply. Then he would go into a tavern, shake hands with everyone and order drinks all round. His faithful mare, Mitsa, would patiently wait for him by the door of the shop or tavern, and, when he came out, he would always reward her with a titbit—a sweet, some sultanas, a fig, or some sugar. [6] Between the two of them—man and mount—there existed a very real bond of mutual affection and understanding. Yané had named her after Mitso Vransky, and, in her own way, she was as close and faithful a friend as Mitso had been. Indeed, Yané once told Mitso’s son, whom he encouraged to visit him frequently, that,



5. Much of the material about life in the Rozhen Monastery is taken from the memoirs of Haralambi Dimitrov Udev, Pirinsko Delo, 19.V.1955.


6. From the unpublished diary of Stoyan Kitanov, according to information given to him by Stoyan Ivanov, of Gradevo, in 1966. Ivanov was born in Demir Hisar, and was 84 when he related his memories.





of all the people whom he had known, Mitso had been his closest and dearest comrade, while of all the animals which he had known, it was Mitsa whom he loved best. [7] By all accounts, Mitsa was an exceedingly beautiful creature, sleek, well-fed and always carefully tended.


Since there were no monks in the monastery, Yané would arrange for local priests to come and take services on high days and holidays, so that the old traditions which had played so great a role in preserving Bulgarian national feeling would be maintained. On September 8/21, the Feast of the Holy Mother of God, peasants from all the surrounding villages would gather at the monastery for a gala in honour of its patroness. After attending church, they would visit Yané in his guest room, where he would receive them, sitting cross-legged on a thick woollen rug by the hearth, and the younger people would kiss his hand, as was the custom, to show respect for an older man. At Easter, they came again, and all the women and children went up to his room—this time, before entering the church— and each gave him a red egg, so that the long seat beside the wall became covered with a red ‘cobble-stone pavement’ of Easter eggs. Yané, for his part, would give them all sweets. On such festive occasions, the peasants would dance the horo along the wooden verandahs, and Yané would join them and lead the dance.


The peasants’ love for the man who had done so much for their welfare and advancement was expressed not only in such visits, but in constant vigilance and concern for his safety. Once, a group of officers, including two colonels, accompanied by four soldiers, came on a friendly visit to Yané. While they were all sitting on one of the verandahs, Dimitŭr Arnaudov noticed that there were armed men on the cliffs. A little later, Yané’s sister appeared and made signs for Arnaudov to come to her room. There he found Ivan Rozhensky, one of Yané’s most trusty supporters from Rozhen village, who informed him that the monastery was surrounded on all sides by the militia from five villages, because the peasants thought that the officers had come to arrest Yané, who was still waiting for an amnesty. Arnaudov explained to him that the precautions were unnecessary, since the officers were all Yané’s friends, and would stay the night and depart in the morning. [8]


For all his tough exterior, Yané felt things deeply and keenly, especially those connected with the Cause. Years before, the Central Committee’s decision to proceed with the Ilinden Rising had left him so prostrate with horror and grief that for a time he had been unable to work. Eventually, however, the shock had worn off, and, in the same way, the trauma caused by the new national catastrophe was only temporary in its effect. Yané soon became himself again, and the will to struggle rose in his soul as irrepressible as a spring which neither frost nor rockfalls can entomb



7. Memoirs of Stoyan Mitsev Samarzhiev, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 14.


8. Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 27. The officers included General Azmanov (then Colonel) and Col. Tomov, who was then stationed on the frontier near Petrich.





for ever. Everywhere in Pirin one is reminded that life and death, destruction and renewal, are part of the same eternal natural process. Withered trees with hollow trunks bear witness to the persistence of life by putting forth new shoots, and beside the blackened skeletons of forest giants, blasted by lightning, slender green saplings extend their tender limbs and reach for the sky.


To live means to struggle. . . To the end Yané remained true to his credo. As soon as he was rested and had taken stock of the situation, he recovered much of his natural optimism. According to Dimitŭr Arnaudov, Yané felt that the Bulgarian people had learned something from its bitter experiences and would not allow the Court to lead it astray again. Moreover, he regarded the existing state of affairs as temporary, since the division of Macedonia and the appetites of those whom he called ‘crowned wolves’ would almost certainly result in another war. [9] In order to become better informed about the political situation, he risked a visit to Sofia, from where, at the end of 1913, he wrote the following letter to ‘Gotsé’ and another person referred to as kumets (i.e. a person whose kum Yané was): ‘Forgive me for not writing to you till now. It’s not that I didn’t have the time, but, if you really want to know, my damned laziness won’t leave me. I set out allegedly for a short time, but it was extended considerably. This is due to my wanting to get a better feel of the political state of the country, on which, in turn, will depend how we define for ourselves our future public activity.’ [10]


Another reason for his prolonged sojourn in Sofia, hinted at in the letter, was his concern to see whether the National Assembly would finally pass the necessary legislation to grant the Serres leaders their long-promised pardon. Without such a pardon, they could not freely participate in the political life of the country. But once again they were disappointed, and, when a general election took place in February 1914, Yané was unable to offer himself as a candidate.


As an exercise in Democracy, the election was hardly an edifying spectacle. The National-Liberal Party of Radoslavov was determined to remain in office by fair means or foul, and, all over the country, from the Danube to Belasitsa, the proceedings were marred by violence and intimidation on the part of Government supporters, assisted by the police. [11] In the newly-liberated southern territories the situation was, if



9. Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 28.


10. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 242. Letter dated 21.XII.1913. The letter also mentions that he has had a telegram from Ali Nazim wishing him a Happy Christmas, and reveals an interest in automobiles. Yané writes of the possibility of setting up a company which would buy a car or two and carry the post. He recommends the local peasants to sow more tobacco for the spring, since the price is likely to rise. He also expresses concern for his sister, and wants to know whether new clothes have been sewn for her.


11. Throughout February, Rabotnichesky Vestnik carried almost daily reports under the headline Pre-election Terror. Similar reports appeared in other opposition papers,





anything, worse than in the rest of the country, because the departure of the Turks had been followed by an influx of carpet-baggers and fortune-seekers, who enriched themselves at the expense of refugees and everybody else, and who practised nepotism, and Tammany-Hall-style politics. Newly appointed regional and district governors would bring with them a whole entourage of hangers-on, who would, in their turn, be appointed as mayors, policemen, tax-collectors, office messengers, etc., in preference to local men. In these territories there were as yet no established political traditions other than those of the Organization, and, in most places, the only effective contenders were Radoslavov’s National-Liberals and the opposition Democrats. Thus, the Serchani gave their support to the Democrats, while their adversaries and those who favoured the revived Organization of Todor Alexandrov supported the Government. Characteristically, Radoslavov’s list of candidates included that incorrigible rogue Doncho Voivoda and the basically honest, but politically immature Chernopeev, who were duly returned in Petrich and Strumitsa respectively. Radoslavov attempted to buy the political support of the monolithic Serchani by offering them tempting inducements in return for the mass votes of their followers. In a personal letter to Yané, he promised to introduce legislation for an amnesty as soon as the new National Assembly was convened, and he also indicated his readiness to give the Serchani all the parliamentary seats in the region, and to allow them to nominate all the administrative, excise, forestry and other civil servants. Much water, however, had flowed under the bridge since Yané had accepted the governorship of the Dupnitsa prison. This time he rejected Radoslavov’s blandishments and threw the whole of his weight behind the Democrat opposition.


The importance which Radoslavov attached to the election campaign in the newly-liberated territories was demonstrated by his tour of the area at the beginning of February 1914 (some three weeks before polling day, on February 23), when he visited Gorna Dzhumaya, Petrich and Strumitsa, and was given a civic welcome. A couple of weeks later, Krum Chaprashikov, who was standing as a Democrat in the Strumitsa Region, followed in his tracks, and, deeply shocked by what he saw, sent Radoslavov a lengthy telegram, informing him that more than a hundred mounted police had recently passed through Dupnitsa on their way to the Strumitsa Region, the present administration of which he described as ‘impossible’ and ‘piratical’. Chaprashikov went on to complain of widespread bribery, corruption, intimidation, thuggery and suspension of citizens’ electoral rights—all condoned, and often inspired, by the authorities: ‘Even the district police chiefs do not hesitate to admit that they are powerless against their own constables. As for your subordinate



such as Mir (organ of the conservative, Russophil Narodna Party) 25.II.1914, and Bŭlgaria (organ of the Progressive Liberal Party), 28.II. and 1.III.1914.





organs, I will not even mention them, because it is there that the anarchy attains its peak. All this corruption is sown from above. . . Believe me, you will never set the Strumitsa Region to rights, because a fish starts to stink from its head.’ [12]


A picture of widespread corruption and incompetence on the part of mayors, tax-collectors, etc.—this time from a government source—also emerges from a report sent by Ivan Stefanov, Chief of Police in the Melnik District, to the Minister of the Interior, on March 5, 1914. The report also contains an urgent request for the recall of a senior mounted policeman recently seconded to the district from Sofia. Although he describes the man as a ‘zealous’ supporter of Radoslavov’s party, ‘with whom we have done a good deal of work’, Stefanov wishes to dispense with his services because ‘he gets drunk, runs up bills and does not pay, and takes other liberties’, with the net result that the party is being ‘discredited’ rather than strengthened by his presence. [13]


This embarrassing officer may well have been one of the ‘ten ‘experienced mounted policemen from Old Bulgaria’ whom Stefanov had asked for on February 13, together with ‘half a regiment’ of soldiers, for the purpose of dealing with alleged intimidation of voters on the part of Yané and his supporters, who were canvassing on behalf of the Democratic candidates. [14] Yané’s fearless, well-organized campaign in support of the Opposition was once again making him the target for much official accusation and abuse, and, by February 21, Stefanov was asking for a whole regiment, whose extended presence in the area he deemed necessary ‘for the achievement of our aim’, i.e. winning the elections and silencing Yané. Stefanov alleges that, a few days previously, Yané, accompanied by ‘fifteen armed chetnitsi’, had ‘blockaded’ the Radoslavist candidate and Stefanov’s secretary in the village of Hŭrsovo, and had then released them, after threatening to abduct them and take them into the mountains, if they persisted in their election campaign. Yané was also alleged to have told them that the heads of Radoslavov, the Tsar and the Ministers would roll, like those of Sarafov and Garvanov. [15] On polling day, February 23, 1914, in the presence of various policemen and local officials, Stefanov proceeded to draw up an indictment against Yané and Chudomir Kantardzhiev, accusing them of contravening the election law by intimidating voters, and complaining that they canvassed at night, which, he said, illustrated ‘their intentions and their inclination to crime’. [16]


The real reasons behind the ‘sinister’ night canvassing and Yané’s unceremonious treatment of the Radoslavists become clear when one reads other reports from government officials to their chiefs in Sofia. The police



12. TDIA, f. 313, op. 1, a.e. 1898, pp. 2-4. Telegram dated 19.II.1914.


13. Ibid., p. 12.     14. Ibid, p. 10.     15. Ibid, pp. 5-6.     16. Ibid., p. 14.





chief in the Mehomiya District (Razlog), for example, openly boasts in a report to Radoslavov of how he and his colleagues have refused to allow the Democrats to hold public meetings in Mehomiya, Bansko and the surrounding villages, and how they interned one Democrat candidate in his native village after he had dared to show his face in Mehomiya. The police chief then has the affrontry to complain that canvassing by Democrats was ‘carried out on komitadzbi (Sandanist) lines’, ‘in a clandestine manner as though it were an uprising against the kingdom of Sultan Hamid’. [17]


The prize for hypocrisy and perversion of democracy must, however, surely go to Stefanov, who, in a report to the Minister of the Interior, explicitly describes how, at the poll in the village of Pirin, he ‘extracted’ Democrat ballot papers, leaving those of the Radoslavists, and how he arrested and replaced the chairman of the election bureau for ‘philosophizing’, i.e. protesting. At the same time, Stefanov forwarded to the Minister a note which he had received from Yané, after he had sent the latter a ‘visiting card’, informing him of alleged ‘complaints from the population’ and adjuring him to canvas ‘legally’! [18] Yané had replied:

‘Friend, we have received your letter. You have come with your whole staff to Pirin to conduct the elections. Bear in mind that we are closely observing everything done by you and your organs. You have already gone too far. Know that we shall hold you responsible for every one of your arbitrary acts, and we shall respond in kind. Do your worst, but rest assured that we are always able to give the guilty his deserts.


See you soon,

Sandansky.’ [19]


In the country as a whole, by dint of force and fraud, Radoslavov managed to obtain sufficient votes in order to stay in power. In the newly liberated areas, however, despite a measure of success in Strumitsa and Petrich, he received a severe rebuff. On the territory of the former Serres Region, his candidates collected so few votes that no amount of tampering with ballot papers could tip the balance in their favour. In the Razlog district, for example, where the police had prevented the Democrats from holding meetings, virtually the only votes cast for the Radoslavists were those of the Mohammedan population in such villages as Yakoruda and Babek. [20]



17. Ibid., pp. 16-17.     18. Ibid., p. 13.


19. Ibid., pp. 16-17. Letter dated 1.III.1914. According to Stefanov, the letter was written by Kantardzhiev and signed by Yané. In the village of Pirin, the original elections were declared nul and void, and new ones were held early in March.


20. See Vecherna Poshta, 26.II/8.III.1914, and Report of Mehomiya District Police Chief to Radoslavov (TDIA, f. 313, op. 1, a.e. 1898, p. 16). The writer of this report ruefully comments: ‘I have yet to see a more obstinate, wily, treacherous and un-





Throughout the Pirin area, Democrat candidates, including veteran Serchani, such as Georgi Potskov and Dimitŭr Arnaudov, were elected with landslide majorities. No wonder Police Chief Stefanov, in a post-election report to the Ministry of the Interior, felt moved to make the following recommendation: ‘As for Sandansky, the area must, at all costs, be rid of him, because he is dangerous and will be a nuisance during the forthcoming elections for regional councillors. [21]


Yané’s friends among the newly elected deputies set about pushing a Bill to pardon the Serchani through the National Assembly, and when Potskov came home on leave early in May 1914, he was able to report that a Bill had already been prepared on the initiative of Alexander Dimitrov (Agrarian deputy for Pleven) and that seventy deputies, including Alexander Stamboliisky, had signed it. According to Paraskeva Potskova, none of Yané’s comrades were over-enthusiastic about the amnesty, because they feared that it would not change Ferdinand’s attitude, but merely lull Yané into a sense of false security, thereby facilitating the task of an assassin. It was Yané himself who now insisted on obtaining a formal pardon. As a voivoda he had no peer, but, at bottom, he was a citizen and a statesman rather than a komita. For thirteen years he had led the people of the Pirin area, teaching them not only how to fight, but also how to live, and he found it irksome being confined to a werewolf existence on the fringe of society with less real freedom than he had enjoyed under the Turks. He wanted to be able to visit Sofia openly, to lead a normal life, and to take part in politics and public affairs. On July 26, 1914, Alexander Dimitrov’s Bill was finally presented to the National Assembly, which accepted it without amendment, thus granting a full pardon to Yané, Buynov, Chudomir, Skrizhovsky and Panitsa for all offences committed prior to September 17, 1912, i.e. prior to the mobilization for the Balkan War.


The new situation in which Yané had to work was as tense and complicated as any which he had experienced. In the parts of Macedonia occupied by the Greeks and Serbs, the Bulgarian population was being subjected to a reign of terror far worse than anything that had occurred during the five centuries of Turkish rule. Even when the Turks had taken



grateful people, beating their breasts and saying "We are with Grandfather Russia".’ (Radoslavov was pro-German—M.M.) The total rejection of the governing National Liberals, even when they tried to bribe rather than terrorize the electorate, is illustrated by the following paragraph in the report: ‘In the village of Dobrinishté (near Bansko—M.M.), which was completely destroyed by fire two days before the election, we distributed 3000 okka of grain, I told them that the Government would make another 2000 leva available for food, but on the day of the election they gave us only 10 votes and 203 to the Democrats. This is a fact which should rouse everyone’s indignation. I am of the opinion that they should not be given any help whatsoever. This is black ingratitude to our people from Old Bulgaria who ruined themselves to give them freedom.’


21. TDIA, f. 313, op. 1, a.e. 1898, pp. 12-13.





Bulgarian children to train as fanatical Muslim janissaires, they had taken only some and left the majority; even when they had forced whole communities to change their religion, they had never forbidden them to speak Bulgarian, or compelled them to speak Turkish. The special decree on ‘public security’ introduced into the territories recently acquired by Serbia made the Young Turk legislation against cheti appear positively liberal in comparison. [22] The very provisions and wording of the decree indicated that the authorities were not dealing with isolated ‘criminals’, but an entire population that was so recalcitrant and rebellious that—for all the official Serbian propaganda which claimed that Macedonia was inhabited by Serbs—it could not be given the same rights and freedoms under the Constitution as the rest of the population of the Serbian Kingdom. The rebelliousness of the Bulgarian population manifested itself in activity by cheti; in attempts to seek a Uniat with Rome rather than let Bulgarian churches be taken over by the Serbs; in an unsuccessful uprising in the areas of Debŭr, Struga and Ohrid during September 1913, and in the boycott of all official Serbian undertakings, such as the call-up of young men for military service. At the end of 1913 and the beginning of 1914, the Organization in Vardar and Aegean Macedonia rebuilt its network of the committees and cheti on a highly centralized basis, [23] and began to undertake more terrorist actions, and to clash with the occupying forces, as once they had clashed with the Turks.


Yané was opposed to the renewal of cheta warfare in the occupied areas. He considered that it only aggravated the situation and assisted the Serbs and Greeks to carry out their policy of denationalization by giving them an excuse to kill or drive out the most active leaders of the Bulgarian community. The Serchani advocated a more subtle and long-term approach, and recommended that ousted Bulgarian teachers return to their native villages in occupied territory to work as farmers or traders, so that they could secretly foster a revolutionary spirit among the population. [24]


Even in what little of Macedonia remained under Bulgarian administration, the situation was still far from satisfactory. Agrarian reform was delayed: the chifliks remained intact, and those beys who had fled either returned or sent representatives to act on their behalf. [25] The administration was still in the hands of Radoslavist go-getters from northern Bulgaria and their hangers-on. In Melnik, the new-comers were mostly from Troyan, while in Strumitsa, the Regional Governor, Grigor Nikolov, together with



22. See the Carnegie Report, pp. 160-162, for the details of the decree.


23. At this time the Central Committee consisted of Todor Alexandrov, Petŭr Chaulev and Hristo Chernopeev. There were no regional committees, only district, town and village ones. See Gotsev, Opus cit., p. 144.


24. See Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 28. Yané’s opposition to cheti is also mentioned in Mir, 14.IV. 1915, and Kambana, 19.IV.1915.


25. As a deputy, Chernopeev was much engaged with this problem, and he was appointed to a Government commission which investigated the situation and produced a set of recommendations. See TPA, f. 228, op. 1, a.e. 23, pp. 8-11.





most of the police force, came from the village of Lyutidol, near Vratsa. A number of letters written during the period 1914-1915 by Gerasim, Metropolitan Bishop of Strumitsa, to Chernopeev, and from the latter to Prime Minister Radoslavov, contain complaints about malpractices and downright tyranny on the part of Nikolov, his appointees and his handful of local cronies, who, according to the Bishop and Chernopeev, included Kotse Tsipushev from Radovish, who was both chairman of the Permanent Commission in Strumitsa and frontier representative of the resuscitated Organization of Todor Alexandrov, whose brother-in-law he was. [26]


The central problem which engaged the attention of Yané and the Serchani was, however, the question of the growing danger of Bulgaria’s involvement in yet another war, following the assassination in Sarajevo, by Bosnian nationalists, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne—an incident which the Great Powers were not slow to seize upon as an excuse for advancing their rival ambitions for colonies and economic influence through armed conflict.


Soon after the outbreak of what was to become the First World War, the Serchani held a conference, on Yané’s initiative, in the monastery of the Holy Mother of God, in the foothills of Pirin, just outside Nevrokop. It was attended by some fifty people, both from the liberated districts of Nevrokop, Razlog, Gorna Dzhumaya, Melnik, Strumitsa and Petrich, and from the districts of Drama, Serres and Demir Hisar, which were now under Greek rule. The two main questions to be decided were, first, which party should have the support of the Serchani in a future election, and, second, Bulgaria’s role in the war between the Entente and the Central Powers.


After the conference had been formally opened, Radoslavov’s letter to Yané was read out for the delegates’ consideration. A few of those present were initially tempted by the glittering prospects, but the solid core of the Serres leadership were not prepared to sell their souls for cosy office jobs: they never had been and they never would. One by one they spoke against accepting Radoslavov’s poisoned apple. Several of Yané’s closest comrades declared that the proper place for the Serchani was beside the Narrow Socialists. Yané did not disagree with them in principle, but he linked the question of voting with that of Bulgaria’s position vis-à-vis the European War. Bulgaria was currently pursuing a policy of armed neutrality and was being wooed with loans and promises by both the Entente and the Central Powers. Yané took the view that it was impossible for Bulgaria to remain neutral indefinitely, as the Narrow Socialists advocated, since she was right in the path of the rival imperialist ambitions which lay behind the conflict. In his opinion, she would be forced, willy-nilly, to join one side or the other, and, indeed, all her political parties, with the exception of the Narrow Socialists, were in favour of her doing so. Yané felt that the



26. TPA, f. 228, op. 1, a.e. 23, pp. 12-22.





Narrow Socialists had no hope of carrying the country with them in the time available, and that, if Bulgaria could not avoid entering the war, she should enter it on the side of Russia. Therefore, the immediate task was to bring down Radoslavov’s pro-German Government—which could best be done if the Serchani supported the Russophil opposition.


Having listened to Yané’s arguments, the conference voted to campaign against the Radoslavov Government, and to vote Democrat, without committing themselves to becoming party members. [27] The Conference ended, Bulgarian-style, with jollifications—songs, a horo on the meadow beside the monastery, and the consumption of considerable quantities of wine and rakiya specially brought from the village of Hŭrsovo, which was noted for its vineyards. [28]


Other people were also becoming alarmed by the prospect of Bulgaria entering the war on the side of Germany, among them Alexander Stamboliisky, leader of the Agrarian Union. Stamboliisky was thinking in terms of preparing a revolution which would take place as soon as mobilization had turned the Tsar’s army into the armed people. He hoped that such a step on Bulgaria’s part would be sufficient to earn her the goodwill of the Entente, without further participation in the war. The Union, however, had not got the forces necessary for the attack on Sofia which was essential if the plan was to succeed, and therefore Stamboliisky conceived the idea that Yané should be asked to organize a detachment of men and bring them secretly from Pirin and Rila to Vitosha (the mountain to the south of Sofia). The Agrarian leader confided his plans to Pavel Deliradev and requested that he approach Yané. ‘At the first opportunity, I informed Yané of Stamboliisky’s idea and asked him to say where and when a meeting could be arranged between them. Yané, as always, heard me out with great attention, but gave neither undertaking, nor assent to a meeting in the near future. He had never been a light romantic in the struggles, but was a harsh realist, who, before undertaking anything of any



27. Memoirs of Kostadin Tityanov. Reading Room Club, Gotsé Delchev, archive No. D2.a9. Tityanov speaks of two personal letters from Radoslavov to Yané being read to the conference. One letter clearly must have been sent before the elections in February 1914, since it promises action on the amnesty, which was granted in July. The second letter may have been sent later in a further attempt to wean the Serchani away from the Democrats. Yané’s policy of trying to avert national catastrophe by forming a united front with the lesser of two evils earned him harsh words from the Narrow Socialists, who, uncompromising to the point of sectarianism, accused him—most unjustly—of being a tool of ‘Bulgarian national chauvinistic propaganda’! See Rabotnicheski Vestnik, 16.IV.1915. This was, however, a temporary judgement, later to be corrected.


28. Memoirs of Atanas Penkov Ivanov, recorded by Ana Raikova in the presence of the author, 6.VII.1976, in Gotsé Delchev (Nevrokop). Ivanov was born in 1891. While still a boy, he sought Yané’s help in buying a pistol, which, much later, he gave to Aneshti Uzunov, one of the outstanding Communists in the district, who was killed in 1943. After the Hürriyet, Yané sent Ivanov to study forestry at a Turkish high school in Salonika.





kind, first had to consider it thoroughly and from all sides, and not just he personally, but together with his comrades. Only then would he give an answer.’ [29]


Yané’s reluctance to meet Stamboliisky immediately may have also been due to the fact that he already had plans of his own to save Bulgaria from disaster, plans that were no less drastic than those of the Agrarian leader. After lengthy discussions with a number of revolutionaries from the Adrianople Region, including Mihail Gerdzhikov, discussions in which the left-wing journalist Krŭstyu Stanchev, and Dr Vladov, a Socialist and former member of the Supreme Committee, [30] also sometimes took part, Yané had finally come to the conclusion that the time had come to kill Ferdinand before he could commit any further criminal follies. The monarchy must be abolished and replaced by a new republican regime which would radically alter Bulgaria’s political course. There was no point in killing Ferdinand unless some party, or group of parties, was prepared to take the helm with reasonable hope of carrying the nation with them. A delegation of three—Yané, Gerdzhikov and Stanchev—was elected to visit the country’s leading politicians and sound them out. Yané refused point-blank to have anything to do with Radoslavov, and it was agreed to postpone approaching the two Socialist parties for the time being, since they were not very strong, and, in any case, the Narrow Socialists were still in the purist stage of avoiding all alliances and coalitions, while the Broad Socialists were much divided among themselves.


The delegation, accompanied by Vladov, first visited the Democratic leader, Malinov, whom they found in the company of Andrei Lyapchev. Gerdzhikov has described their somewhat heated conversation thus: ‘Both Lyapchev and Malinov took offence at being accused of lack of courage and resolution in their struggle against Ferdinand’s escapades. They were evidently feeling twinges of conscience, but, when Yané told them tartly and straight out that there were people who could deal with Ferdinand and his entourage providing that they—the leaders of democracy in Bulgaria—would then put themselves at the head of their party supporters and lead the next stage of the action, Lyapchev leapt from his chair, and, pointing at me, shouted: "Yané, surely you aren’t fool enough to be led by this anarchist! You’ve taken leave of your senses!"


‘ "We have not taken leave of our senses," Yané replied, "but you are pusillanimous, bankrupt politicians."


‘Then, turning to us, he added: "Let’s go! You can’t do anything with these melon-heads." He was very much worked up and rightly so. Krŭstyu Stanchev urged him not to leave, and Malinov invited him to stay, but Yané and I departed, and Yané forgot his walking stick, which Krŭstyu Stanchev later went back to fetch.’



29. Pavel Deliradev, Yané Sandansky, pp. 42-44.


30. Vladov had resigned from the Supreme Committee when Tsonchev’s plans for an uprising became clear.





Their visit to Ivan Geshov [31] at his home, began with many pleasantries on the part of their host, who expressed delight at making their acquaintance. When, however, Stanchev had explained the purpose of the visit, and Yané had added a few plain words, ‘our host gazed at us through his spectacles in confusion, stood up, looked to right and left, held out his hand to us and said: "Gentlemen, I have understood. I do not share your thoughts, still less your intentions. Consider that we have not met. Excuse me. I have business elsewhere at this time. Goodbye".’ Geshov even left the room before his guests, who were shown out by an employee. When they reached the street, Yané said: ‘It seems that if we’re going to do anything at all, we will have to start with this melon-head.’


Next they visited the veteran diplomat, Grigor Nachevich. Stanchev went with them as far as the gate of his house, but, for personal reasons, did not want to go in, so it was Yané who did all the talking. Nachevich listened to him carefully, without interrupting, and, at the end, after a long and awkward silence, he said: ‘I do not doubt that you are capable of dealing with Ferdinand and his entourage; only I am afraid, very afraid, that I shall spend the last years of my life in alien bondage.’ By this he meant that the killing of Ferdinand would provoke foreign occupation of Bulgaria. They left his house disconsolate. It was abundantly clear that there were in Bulgaria neither social forces nor political leaders capable of stepping into the breach. It was also clear why Ferdinand had managed to impose his will upon the country.


Then, at Yané’s suggestion, they made one final visit—to Exarch Yosif. Gerdzhikov had, at first, demurred, pointing out that the Exarch was not a political leader and would not want to discuss a matter which was not religious. Yané, however, insisted that the Exarch was a very wise man, that the Organization had, in the past, been mistaken in its attitude towards him. The visit proved a long one, for the conversation ranged over many topics, including the Serchani’s conflicts with the Exarchate’s senior representatives, before the delegates finally came to the point. To Gerdzhikov’s astonishment, the Exarch replied with a frank and forthright condemnation not only of Ferdinand, but also of the leading citizens, politicians, and military men whose servility and sycophancy were leading Bulgaria to ruin. With bowed heads, the delegation listened to the Exarch’s final words: ‘Blessed be the hand that strikes down Ferdinand. He who accomplishes this deed will be Bulgaria’s greatest benefactor.’ [32]


They had the blessing of the Church, but they could not proceed with their plan for lack of the political support necessary for the second stage of the operation.


The Russian journalist Viktorov-Toparov met Yané in Sofia about this time: ‘This great man, with the eyes of a young child, this Highlander



31. Geshov was leader of the Russophil Narodna (Narodnyashka) Party.


32. Memoirs of Mihail Gerdzhikov, Vŭzpomenatelen List Yané Sandansky, 23.IV.1946.





dressed in an awkward city suit, looked at me and seemed to be apologizing about something: "As you see, I’m still here in Sofia! I know this isn’t the place for me, but what can I do? Things have got so complicated that first of all we have to think everything out properly." In order to do this, he returned to Pirin, to gaze at the white peaks of Pirin, and to think black thoughts about the new people in Bulgaria, about the ancient griefs and sorrows of the Macedonian Bulgarians, fleeing like sheep from Serbian and Greek lands. And these black thoughts of the veteran "Tsar of Pirin" appeared to someone to be suspicious and dangerous. And someone was alarmed by these gloomy thoughts which reflected the black thoughts and griefs of the whole Bulgarian people.’ [33]


It is not known to what extent Viktorov-Toparov was informed about the details of Yané’s ‘black thoughts’. Yané may well have confided his proposals to people outside the group of politicians mentioned by Gerdzhikov. He was, for example, friendly with Radko Dimitriev, Bulgaria’s Minister Plenipotentiary in Petrograd after the Balkan Wars, who had given up his post to join the Russian Army as a volunteer, and who had invited him to come to Russia for talks about Bulgaria’s attitude to the European war. [34] What is certain is that, in laying his plans so frankly before so many people, Yané was taking an appalling risk. That he took this risk is the measure of his love for Bulgaria. He must have known that at least one of the ‘pusillanimous melon-heads’, mesmerized by the glitter of the Crown, would be tempted to advance his own political career by informing ‘someone’. He must have known that, in trying to save his country and his people, he was signing his own death warrant.


An attempt on his life was made almost as soon as he returned to his district. He was going to spend Christmas with the Potskovs in Vranya, after meeting Chudomir and Petŭr  Govedarov in Levunovo at the house of Paraskeva’s mother, but he departed for Strumitsa on urgent business, accompanied by Potskov and Govedarov, in an open carriage drawn by three horses. [35] The purpose of the journey appears to have been to dissuade the people there from undertaking further uprisings and terrorist actions designed—like the ‘donkey-outrages’ in Shtip and Kochani—to bring Bulgaria into yet another war to liberate Macedonia. [36] About this time, the leaders of the Organization had sent Radoslavov a plan for liberating Vardar Macedonia by force of arms, with the assistance of cheti sent from Bulgaria, even before Bulgaria entered the war. The Valandovo action, which consisted of a carefully planned attack on the Serbian troops stationed in the vicinity of Valandovo (south-east of Strumitsa) and took place on March 20, 1915, was in the nature of a ‘rehearsal’ for a future



33. Sŭvremena misŭl, 15.V.1915.


34. Yurdan Anastasov, Spomen za Yané Sandansky, p. 508.


35. Memoirs of Paraskeva Potskova.


36. Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 28.





mass uprising. [37] The Serchani felt that no useful purpose could be served by such actions under the prevailing circumstances, and did their best to discourage them.


Yané had intended to go to Strumitsa just for one day and to return on the next, but as they were leaving the town, one of the horses dropped dead, and they had to postpone their departure. They obtained another vehicle—a closed carriage—with the help of Stoyu Hadzhiev, and arrived back on the third day. Later, they learned that three ambushes had been stationed on the road, but that, since the assassins had been expecting an open carriage with three horses, they had allowed the closed vehicle to pass. [38] Yané, Govedarov and Chudomir stayed with the Potskovs until New Year, and then Yané returned to the Rozhen Monastery. Here he was visited one Saturday evening on February 1915 by Georgi Potskov, who had been to the market in Melnik. That evening, assailants came to the monastery, but were repelled by Yané and his friends, who fired at them from behind the stout walls. Then Potskov begged Yané to take more care of himself and to stop riding around the district buying tobacco on behalf of Krum Chaprashikov—a job which Yané had started after he had received his pardon. Potskov offered to support Yané to the end of his days, so that he would not have to risk his life earning a living in a manner which constantly exposed him to potential assassins. Yané, however, would not accept the offer, saying: ‘How long am I going to be dependent on others? Isn’t there ever going to be any freedom for me? As you see, there isn’t. We have told you that Ferdinand isn’t going to give up his plans, despite the granting of the amnesty.’ [39]


Other comrades of Yané’s also tried to persuade him to take fewer risks. In the spring of 1915, he went to Nevrokop for a few days in connection with the tobacco business, and he spent an evening at the house of Krŭstyu Delipapazov, where the hostess served Yané’s favourite beans, prepared according to his instructions. During the visit, Yané told Delipapazov and another guest, Yané Bogatinov, that they ought to get married, and offered to be their kum. They, in turn, offered him some good advice, and told him that he was not taking sufficient care of himself. Yané replied: ‘I am a marked man. Sometime or other they will kill me. There’s no point in taking care. Even if I did take care, one day, when I’m drinking coffee, some guttersnipe will come, primed with the idea that I am to blame—let us say—for Macedonia not being free, or for something else, and, without my even suspecting him, he’ll shoot me from behind.’ [40]



37. See Gotsev, Opus cit., pp. 147-149. More than 480 Serbian soldiers were killed in the attack, and the Serbian authorities wreaked terrible vengeance upon the civilian Bulgarian population.


38. Memoirs of Paraskeva Potskova.     39. Ibid.


40. Memoirs of Krŭstyu Delipapazov, told to Yurdan Anastasov, Spomen za Yané Sandansky, p. 509.





The man who equated life with struggle refused to live simply for the sake of living. He refused to entomb himself in the nightmare world of Abdul Hamid, where fear of death suffocated the joy and purpose of life. He wanted to walk and ride over Pirin under the open sky and the stars, to earn his bread with his own labour, to measure his strength against problems and adversaries in the name of an ideal. Nothing less could satisfy him. He was not wantonly careless with his life, and never had been. He knew his own worth and that of his comrades, and he had always refrained from rashness, so that they could live to fight another day. [41] But to refrain from working and fighting simply in order to live was something to which he could never consent. Like the Pirin eagles, he needed freedom to fly, and he would never seek safety in a cage.


While in Nevrokop, he wrote the following letter to Georgi Potskov, who was then in Sofia attending the National Assembly: ‘I received your letter of February 17 this year on the 22nd of this month. Thank you for the information which you give; only, it’s rare and little. I would ask you to do this more often, and to show more interest in this respect, by having more frequent meetings with Lyapchev, Malinov, and the members of the Liberal Party, if you know any, and others whom you do know and to ask their opinion as to whether the Dardanelles will be captured, and, if so, do they not think that the value of Bulgaria will fall considerably, if not totally, in the eyes of the Entente, and that we may find ourselves stranded? What will be our position—the position of Bulgaria—if Constantinople surrenders? In reply to this action, won’t Germany and Austria cross Serbia and come to our borders, and won’t we then become a second Belgium? How are we to interpret the recent measures taken by the Government to ban all meetings? Is mobilization likely in the near future, and against whom?’ [42]


The letter reveals Yané’s continuing anxiety for Bulgaria’s future and his thirst for news, so that he could better orientate his activity. About the same time, Yané sent a telegram to Ferdinand in which, according to a rough draft, he said: ‘Your Majesty, by all appearances, you want to push Bulgaria onto the side of the Central Powers against the Entente (which includes Russia), but bear in mind that this will bring such disaster upon Bulgaria that even the Danube won’t be able to contain you.’ [43]


Apart from politics, a few references to domestic affairs, connected



41. When, for example, he visited cafés or restaurants, he would take the precaution of sitting where he could see who came in or went out and he always preferred to have his back against a firm wall, and not a window or empty space. See Dimo Kazasov, Ulitsi, Hora, Sŭbitiya, pp. 116-117.


42. Letter dated 24.II.1915. In the possession of Georgi Potskov’s children.


43. OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1562. The warning was prophetic, for Bulgaria’s entry into the war on the side of Germany in October 1915 indeed resulted in national disaster. Ferdinand was forced to abdicate, Radoslavov fled abroad, and Stamboliisky’s Agrarians won the next elections with an overwhelming majority, with the Narrow Socialists emerging as the second largest party in Bulgaria.





with the supply of wine, rakiya, olives, etc., and a request for information as to how pork fat can be made into lard, Yané’s letter to Potskov also contains a reference to the family’s new-born third son: ‘I telegraphed to my sister to go and christen the child. He is to be called Strahil. And how do you like the name? A sound Bulgarian one, isn’t it?’


Yané had feared that he would be unable to find time to visit the Potskovs at Easter in order to christen the child himself, but in fact he was able to spend the holidays with them. He arrived in Vranya on March 22/April 4 1915, with five friends. Some of the time was spent in political discussion, for Yané was eager to hear Potskov’s news from Sofia and to make plans for the future. But when politics were laid aside for the celebration of the Resurrection, he became so high-spirited and cheerful that it made an impression upon the rest of the company. It was not that there was anything intrinsically unusual in Yané’s exuberance. He was always whole-hearted in everything that he did, be it work or play. What impressed the company on that occasion was the intensity of his delight in living and being. Georgi Potskov’s stepmother was even disturbed by it, and, remarking that she had never seen Yané so gay, she added a fervent wish that it presaged no evil.


It was as though he had been possessed by the forces of spring that melted the snows and caused the birds to sing and the trees to awake; spring flowed in his limbs and flooded his soul with sunlight. Never had he danced so much; mere singing did not seem to satisfy him, and he called a neighbour to come and play the bagpipes for them as they danced. Even this was not enough: he seized Paraskeva’s hand and pulled her into the dance beside him, and then went to the cradle, picked up little Strahil, now thirty-nine days old, and held the baby in his right arm as he led the horo several times round before giving him back to his mother.


On March 27/April 9, Yané and his companions left Vranya. The Potskovs went as far as the vineyards outside the village to see them off, but, shortly after they had turned back, they saw Yané reappearing on his mare. He had left his raincoat on the woodstack in the yard and was returning to fetch it. Once again the Potskovs accompanied him to the vineyards and once again they bade him farewell. The next time they saw him, he was lying cold, still and silent, in an open coffin piled with wilting flowers.


*  *  *


From Vranya, Yané returned to the Rozhen Monastery to occupy himself with his many interests, political, private, domestic and business. About a fortnight later, he received two telegrams, one from Petrich and one from Nevrokop, each asking him to come in connection with some matter or other. He decided to go to Nevrokop. In fact, both telegrams had been sent by his enemies and his choice was immaterial. Death awaited him in





both directions.


One of his former chetnitsi—Tomata, from the village of Chuchuligovo —was in the monastery at the time, and he and another man, named Lazar, prepared some roast pork for Yané to take for the journey and packed it into his bag. When, however, the time came for him to say goodbye and start his journey, Mitsa began to whine; she backed through the gates into the monastery again and refused to budge. This unusual behaviour on the part of an animal so obedient and devoted to Yané had a disturbing effect on all present. Yané, who himself believed in omens but ignored them, said: ‘Something is going to happen.’ Tomata and Lazar at once offered to accompany him, but Yané refused: ‘Once I made two mothers weep (a reference to the mothers of Mitso Vransky and Tancho, who were killed in Salonika) and I don’t want to make any more weep. Let whatever happens happen.’ [44] Seeing the mare’s peculiar behaviour, Sofia begged Yané not to go, but he told her that Mitsa was probably anxious about her foals. [45] He stroked Mitsa’s mane to calm her, got Haralambi to lead her fowards, and rode off alone to the village of Pirin, where he arrived in the early afternoon.


He left Mitsa with a friend named Andrei Malamov, and sent for Apostol Popstamatov, the orphan whom he had befriended and who was now the village secretary and excise-man. To him Yané expressed a desire to eat fish and to have supper at the house of Apostol Stoimenov in the company of six close friends, including Apostol Popstamatov and Dyado Smilyan Hadzhiyata, who went to catch the fish. The evening passed pleasantly enough in laughter and conversation; Apostol had provided meat as well, since he feared that the fish would not be sufficient, and there was wine. Yané, as usual, drank little and diluted his wine with a larger quantity of water. One of the guests asked Yané why he did not marry. It was a question which Yané never liked being asked. He had not forgotten Elena, who had grieved for him and then married the brother of Doncho Voivoda. Dimitŭr Arnaudov’s little daughter, born after the Hürriyet, was also called Elena, and once, when he was playing with the child, Yané confessed to her mother that long ago he had loved a girl called Elena. To the supper party in Pirin, he replied as follows: ‘Many women have proposed marriage to me, and now an American millionairess has made me a proposal. I suppose she has heard of me as a voivoda and proposed for the fun of it, without acquaintance and without love, but I have decided that I shall not marry until we see what way Macedonia is going to go.’ [46]


Next the guests scolded him for travelling alone. ‘Don’t you know,’ they told him, ‘that you have enemies who are stalking you in order to



44. Tomata’s memoirs were recorded by Ivan Harizanov, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 23, pp. 27-29.


45. Yurdan Anastasov, Spomen za Yané Sandansky, pp. 510-511.


46. Memoirs of Apostol Popstamatov.





kill you?’ Yané pulled at his beard and spat sideways, as he often did when something got on his nerves, and answered: ‘I know that I am not going to die in my bed. I have killed and I shall be killed. But now, while Macedonia is dismembered, I don’t think there is any Bulgarian who will raise his hand against me, and when all is said and done, I’m not an old woman to be afraid.’ [47]


Next morning, April 10/23, 1915, when he left the village of Pirin, almost the whole population went to see him off. Again Mitsa refused to start and backed away from the path. This happened three times, and only when someone took her by the bridle and led her forwards did she consent to go. Several of the villagers then begged him to postpone his journey, but he would not agree. His companions of the previous evening had persuaded him to allow a man named Milcho Stoev to accompany him to Nevrokop, and the two rode off together. When, however, after an hour’s uneventful ride, they reached a place known as Valoga, Yané told Milcho that he was wasting his time and should go home. At first Milcho refused, but Yané insisted, and Milcho was forced to obey. This was not an act of foolhardy over-self-confidence on Yané’s part. He had considered the situation, and decided that if there were indeed danger on the path ahead, it would be of such an order that Milcho would not be able to save him, and that there was no point in his dying as well. . .


Yané went on his way alone through forests and meadows bright with the hues of spring. Above him the snow still glittered in the sunlight on the heights of Pirin, but in the valleys the cuckoo was announcing the approach of summer. All around him life burgeoned, rustled and sang. The brilliant light green of the new beech leaves glowed amid the winter darkness of the pines, and, here and there, wild plums and cherries billowed with blossom as white as the foam on the streams intoxicated with melting snow.


As he rode through the April morning, he caught up with a group of carriers taking wine to Nevrokop, but he spurred Mitsa on, overtook them and went ahead. At length, he reached a part of the mountain known as Blatata—the marshes. He passed the Lower Marsh and, riding above a narrow valley wooded with beeches, he approached the Upper Marsh—a wide meadow, with a brook flowing through it, and countless golden cowslips growing among the lush grass. Here the path turns sharply left to make a horse-shoe detour around the marsh, and, on the bend, rising-ground obscures the view, so that the approaching traveller cannot see what lies beyond. It was here that the first shot rang out.


Yané immediately dismounted, or possibly fell, from his mare, and in so doing, he broke his leg. He was now at a terrible disadvantage. He dragged himself to the bole of a huge beech tree, and began shooting back with his revolver. Thirty spent cartridges were later found in the



47. Ibid.





area. [48] But the murderers were many—seven or eight cowards, armed with Manlicher rifles—and one of them manoeuvred himself into a position from which he was able to fire the fatal shot. [49] The body rolled a little way down the steep side of the valley and came to rest on its back, with open eyes fixed on the sunlit sky. Some bravo then boldly advanced and discharged several bullets into the abdomen of the corpse. . .


When the wine-carriers arrived in Nevrokop, they reported that a man had been killed in Pirin. As soon as it became known that the dead man was Yané Sandansky, people set out from far and wide for the fatal spot. From Melnik alone, more than a hundred went to join the investigating authorities at the scene of the crime.


In life and in death, Yané was one with the mountain. The autopsy was performed there, in the beech wood, on a couple of rough boards laid over last year’s leaves. Somehow a flower found its way onto the plank beside the white, naked body, so cruelly disfigured with fresh, dark wounds.


When officialdom was satisfied, those who loved Yané carried him home to the Rozhen Monastery on the back of a mule, and they buried him in a place that was both beautiful and fitting—the upland meadow to the east of his little church, where Pirin gazes down on the sunkissed south and eagles keep vigil in the skies. Three thousand people—from Melnik, Gorna Dzhumaya, Petrich, Nevrokop and the villages around them—crowded the meadow on that day (April 14/27, 1915) to hear Gerasim, Metropolitan Bishop of Strumitsa, perform the burial service, and to bid farewell to their beloved Starika. [50]


On the ninth day after his death, a priest, together with women from the village of Rozhen, performed the traditional rites at his grave, and, on May 17/30, the Democrat leader Andrei Lyapchev spoke to crowds which had gathered there for the customary requiem to mark the fortieth day after his death.


The Russian journalist, Viktorov-Toparov, concluded his reflections on Yané’s ‘black thoughts’ and their fatal consequences with the following words: ‘And some mad cheta of seven madmen decided that it is possible to kill thoughts. And they killed Sandansky. Only God and



48. Yurdan Anastasov, Spomen za Yané Sandansky, pp. 511-512.


49. Most memoirs assert that there was not one, but three ambushes stationed on the path. According to some, the men in the first two hesitated and let Yané pass, so that it was the third which actually opened fire. According to Todor Avrionov, who was present at both the autopsy and the funeral, the first ambush wounded Yané in the leg, causing him to fall from his mare, thus breaking his leg. Avrionov told the author that the fatal bullet struck Yané in the throat and came out through his head. Unfortunately, the coroner’s report does not appear to have survived.


50. See Mir, 18.IV.1915. Telegram to Prime Minister, signed by leading Serchani. The invitation to the Bishop to take the service is contained in a telegram dated 12.IV.1915, and signed by Georgi Potskov and Petŭr Govedarov. See ODA, Blagoevgrad, f. 482, op.7, p. 40.





Pirin know who the seven were. But, whoever they were, they were the ill-wishers and enemies of Bulgaria, because they violated Bulgaria’s bitter thoughts about her past and her future.’ [51]


But who were they, these ‘enemies of Bulgaria’? Yané’s friends and supporters were swift to lay the moral blame on Ferdinand, on Todor Alexandrov, [52] on Grigor Nikolov, and the Right Wing of the Organization—in short, on all who were Yané’s political enemies and who, in the past, had tried so many times to kill him and had failed. In a telegram to the Prime Minister, sent shortly after the funeral, a number of leading Serchani complained that, since the Balkan Wars, the Strumitsa region had been the arena of mass murders, the authors of which had either remained undetected, or had been discovered and then pardoned, with the result that they were able to commit further crimes. They demanded that, for the honour of Bulgarian justice, for the honour of Bulgaria, the Government take sincere measures for the discovery and prosecution of Yané’s murderers and those who had instructed them. [53] For obvious reasons, the authorities were not over zealous in their pursuit of justice, but, nevertheless, as the newspaper Mir prophesied, those responsible were not able to hide, because ‘the population, which adored Sandansky, is helping the authorities to discover the murderers’. [54]


In due course, seven men were arrested, including Stoyan Filipov, who was indicted as the instigator of the murder. [55] The trial opened on August 20, 1915, in Gorna Dzhumaya before a military court. [56] According to a report in Mir, [57] three men accused of being the actual murderers denied killing Yané, but said that they had been in the area on a ‘patriotic mission’ entrusted to them by Stoyan Filipov, who had given them guns and bullets for the purpose. Filipov, for his part, said that he had been charged with the ‘patriotic mission’ by Todor Alexandrov, whose representative he was in the Nevrokop area. He further declared that ‘he was the enemy of Sandansky and that he hated him, and so did the people, because he was a "Turkish spy". ‘ According to a report in Nova Balkanska Tribuna, [58]



51. Sŭvremena misŭl, 15.V.1915.


52. One obituary actually promised vengeance on the ‘hero of Valandovo’. See Mir, 16.IV.1915. One contemporary, Chukurov, expressed the opinion that Yané’s refusal to take part in the Valandovo affair, which was intended to serve as a pretext for war, was the main reason for his murder. See Chukurov’s memoirs, TDIA, f. 1508, op. 1, a.e. 506, p. 8.


53. Mir, 18.IV.1915.


54. Mir, 14.IV.1915.


55. The name of Stoyan Filipov figures in most memoirs naming those responsible for the murder. The man most commonly named as the actual killer is Andon Kacharkov, of the village of Oryahovets, Serres district.


56. The President of the Court was Col. Radionov. Yané’s sister was the plaintiff and was represented by Hristo Slaveikov. See Mir, 21.VIII.1915.


57. See Mir, 21.VIII.1915.


58. Nova Balkanska Tribuna, 22.VIII.1915.





Stoyan Filipov told the court that he had a mandate from Protogerov [59] and Todor Alexandrov ‘to send reconnaissance cheti into Greece and to undertake patriotic actions’. The other accused also spoke of reconnaissance work in Greece, and said that their presence near the scene of the crime was fortuitous. The first witness—a shepherd, who had previously given evidence that two of the accused had taken lambs [60] from him—now declared that he did not recognize them. He did, however, admit that friends of Filipov had given him money. [61]


After the first day, no further reports of the trial appeared in the Press until all the accused were acquitted on August 22, 1915, allegedly—for lack of evidence. [62] Unfortunately, none of the documents connected with the preliminary investigations, or the trial itself, appear to have survived. This fact, together with the apparent muzzling of the Press, and the brevity of the proceedings, in view of reports that some thirty witnesses were to have been called, [63] is in itself significant and goes to support contemporary allegations that the course of justice was perverted from above.


Dimitŭr Arnaudov had the following to say about the trial: ‘In spite of the great obstacles placed in the path of justice by the administrative authorities, the examining magistrate, Krŭstev, fulfilled his duty as a judge and discovered both the instigators and the actual murderers. However, with the help of the Gorna Dzhumaya District Chief of Police and the head of Public Safety, Stoilov, who came from Sofia, the military court which sat in Gorna Dzhumaya acquitted both the instigators and the actual murderers for lack of evidence. The witness who had told the truth to the Nevrokop examining magistrate was forced in Gorna Dzhumaya, by the Police Chief and the head of Public Safety, to retract everything before the military court. The military court acquitted Yané’s murderers, but the members of the same court, and the listening public remained convinced that the real murderers were standing before the court and that they were acquitted on the insistence of Tsar Ferdinand.’ [64]


Like the pardoned murderers mentioned in the telegram sent by the Serchani to the Prime Minister, Stoyan Filipov went on to commit further crimes. In 1925, he was one of the fascist thugs who tortured and murdered 125 Communists and Agrarians in the village of Dubnitsa. Among his



59. Protogerov sent a letter of condolence to Chudomir in connection with Yané’s death and contemporary sources suggest that the Serchani did not consider him to be implicated in the murder.


60. Remains of the lambs were found near the scene of the crime. See Kambana, 17.IV.1915.


61. See report of the trial in Mir, 21.VIII.1915.


62. Kambana, 25.VIII.1915.


63. Nova Balkanska Tribuna, 22.VII.1915.


64. Arnaudov, Opus cit., p. 28.





bloody exploits was the brutal killing of Angel Cholev, [65] whose feet he personally hacked off in a vain attempt to make him betray the whereabouts of Panitsa. Andon Kacharkov, widely believed to be the actual murderer of Yané, was also later involved with the fascists and took part in the coup which overthrew the Agrarian government of Stamboliisky in 1923. Almost all the leading Serchani, including Taskata Sersky, Georgi Kazepov, Chudomir Kantardzhiev, Stoyu Hadzhiev, Alexander Buynov, Georgi Skrizhovsky, Dimo Hadzhidimov and Todor Panitsa, were murdered in the period 1923-1925, when the Right Wing of the Organization degenerated into the hired assassins of the fascist bourgeoisie.


Yané left neither money nor possessions. The man through whose hands thousands of gold pieces had passed died a pauper. He had not even managed to return the six liri which his sister had given to him for safe keeping. Georgi Kotsev has described how, when Yané’s strong box was opened, it was found to contain no money whatsoever, merely a few pieces of old jewellery and other such trifles. There was a receipt for 80,000 leva, but this money belonged to the Organization, and not to Yané personally. Eventually it was used to build a hospital in the town of Sveti Vrach (now Sandansky). [66]


Yané’s sister, who had known so many hardships and so little happiness, spent her last years in great poverty and loneliness. She returned to Melnik to live in the Pashova house, and the Potskovs did what they could to help her. On Saturdays, when people from Vranya went to market in Melnik, Paraskeva would send her a loaf of bread, some cheese, some rice, and other things. When Sofia acted as godmother to the latest additions to the Potskov family—two daughters named Sofia and Yordanka, and a son named Yané—they would give her more solid gifts, such as a chemise, a pair of socks and a dress, and once Georgi Potskov bought her a winter coat. Many times they invited her to come and live with them, and she would come, but, after two or three months, she would ask them to take her back to Melnik, where everything reminded her of Yané. Paraskeva would visit her, and together they would remember him and weep.


*  *  *


Of those whom Yané loved, Pirin alone neither wept nor veiled herself jn mourning—Pirin, the immortal mother of mortal heroes, who, from the dawn of time has watched her countless children bloom and die, like the flowers upon her meadows, like the pines of her eternal forests. Pirin did not weep for Yané, for she had no cause for tears: in him she had borne a son in her own image, a man who had reached for the skies and



65. Angel Cholev was born in Libyahovo, and was among those who went with Yané to Constantinople to overthrow the Sultan in 1909. He was killed in April 1923. See article by Tsanko Serafimov, Pirinsko Delo, 24.XII.1981.


66. Memoirs of Georgi Kotsev, OIM Blagoevgrad, No. 1680, p. 79.





championed the oppressed and underprivileged; a man whom life had subjected to countless trials, ordeals and dangers, and who had endured to the end, as constant as the Pole Star in his devotion to an ideal.


Year in and year out, his many enemies had baited traps and hunted him with guns. Year in and year out, two tawdry monarchs and their jackals, armed with the power and resources of two states, had sought to bind or kill him. Year in and year out, he had defied them all, steadfast in creed and resolution. And when, at last, they seemingly succeeded, Pirin neither wept nor upbraided him, for he had proved worthy of her milk. Where others saw a grave, she saw only a victory, for, in death, her son had returned to her womb unvanquished. His deeds remained, and his thoughts still flew as free as eagles, like sparks from an unextinguishable fire, like seeds which, in the fullness of time, would bring forth a hundredfold.


And Pirin arrayed herself in all her spring-time glory, and raised her head unveiled towards the sun, in joyous pride that she had born a son like Yané, in expectation of the days that were to come. . .


From time immemorial, men have stood on the tops of mountains to see visions and to dream dreams. From time immemorial, such men have been leaders, teachers and martyrs—the first to greet the dawn, the last to be engulfed by darkness. Ever have they been derided and abused by those of lesser faith and stature; ever have their truths been branded as ‘illusions’.


Such were the Serchani, and such was Yané.


And yet they conquered, and their ‘illusions’ became reality. Already within their possible life-span, had they not been murdered, their heirs brought to the people of Pirin universal education, land-reform, scientific agriculture, modern housing, pharmacies, hospitals, and many more of the good and simple things which their enemies scoffingly called ‘the extreme ideals of Socialism’. Today their children take for granted wonders of which even Yané had never dreamed.


The greatest dream of the Serchani remains unrealized—the dream of international brotherhood, which their detractors deemed their greatest error and illusion. And yet, the brief ‘millennium’, when all the Balkan peoples embraced and kissed and called each other ‘brother’, was neither an error nor an illusion, but a fortaste of the future, of what shall be and must be, if mankind is to survive. It was not the dream that was the illusion—it was the untimely graves of the Serchani. . .


As long as there are men who cherish freedom and strive to make this Earth a paradise, those who gaze at Pirin will remember Yané. They will see his gigantic shadow on the crags and in the forests, and they will hear his voice in the wind and thunder, and in the silence of their hearts:





How beautiful life is! How happy people should be! Those who make them wretched are real vermin.


I must always help the weak.


Once one has started something, one must go through with it to the end.


My hand shall not rest until we have forced the sultans and the tsars to plough the soil.


Enlightenment is the surest guarantee for the well-being of a country: therefore, open schools!


The peoples are brothers, and should live like brothers.


I ask no mercies and I make no compromises.


To live means to struggle: the slave for freedom, and the free man for perfection.




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