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





When things had quietened down, Yané resumed his organizational tours. First, he went south to the Demir-Hisar district, visiting the villages of Goleshevo, Lehovo, Krushovo and Kŭrchovo. In Krushovo, he found some ten Graecomanes, whom, after much arguing, coaxing and cajoling, he managed to ‘christen’, i.e. swear into the Organization. [1] He then went further south into the Serres district and spent twenty-six days in the village of Gorno Brodi. The latter was a sizable settlement with well over a thousand houses and plenty of problems, which, according to Yané, included ‘depravity, drunks, gamblers and chorbadzh;’, plus quarrels over village finances. Yané sorted out the accounts, set up bodies to represent the Organization, and gave the village a number of ‘instructions’. What these instructions were, Yané does not say, but Dimitŭr Arnaudov, one of Yané’s comrades, describes how the Organization banned card-playing in the village, after a woman had come to Yané, complaining that her husband had recently lost all his money, his barn, his mule, and even his coat, at cards. Apparently the ban was effective, the gamblers of Gorno Brodi came to their senses, and no one had to be punished for disobeying the order. [2]


Yané even visited the town of Serres, disguised as a priest—a role well suited to his imposing appearance and fine dark beard. In those days, few Bulgarians were bearded, with the exception of priests and a handful of Socialists and Russian-educated intellectuals, and a bearded man in the distinctive robes and cap of an Orthodox priest would arouse little or no suspicion, especially in a town with over forty churches.


Serres then had some twenty-seven thousand inhabitants, of whom 13,000 were Muslims (mainly Turks, with some gypsies and Circassians) and 12,000 were Christians (Greeks, Bulgarians and Vlahs) and 2,000 were Jews. [3] Most of the Christians had been hellenized as a result of energetic work on the part of Greek priests and teachers, and called themselves Greeks, although few of them were ethnic Greeks. In the charshiya, however, where peasants from the surrounding villages bought and sold, business was conducted in Bulgarian, for, in the Serres kaza (district), as opposed to the town, the Bulgarians, though not representing an absolute



1. Miletich, VII, p. 34.


2. TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 1, p. 1.


3. Vasil Kŭnchov, pp. 45-46.





majority of the population, were the largest single national community [4] and preserved their national consciousness. Both the villages on the fertile plain beside the Struma and those in the Sharliya and Zmiynitsa mountains behind Serres were compactly populated by Bulgarians. In the mountain villages especially, there was no admixture of other nationalities. In recent years, there had been some revival of Bulgarian feeling in Serres, and there was in the town a Bulgarian teacher-training school with a boarding house to accommodate pupils from the villages.


Almost everywhere poverty was rife. Serres itself was a shabby town, where dilapidated buildings, closed shops and deserted streets bore witness to the ruin brought upon local industry by cheap imported goods, such as British iron and Indian cotton. There were a few rich beys, who still owned vast chifliks and lived in palatial mansions, surrounded by beautiful gardens, but most of the Turks were far from wealthy, and lived off modest farms, or made a living as civil servants, barbers, blacksmiths, etc. Some were even on the verge of destitution, and received charity from the municipality.


In spite of the fertility of the beautiful Serres plain, the peasants lived in bare hovels, since the fourfold exploitation of landlords, the State, Greek clergy and usurers left them with barely enough to avoid starvation. The peasants in the mountain villages lived mainly from stockbreeding and charcoal burning, but Circassian bandits were constantly stealing their animals, the forests were fast disappearing under the axe, and goats devoured any newly planted trees, so that many men had to seek work far from home.


In Serres, Yané met the local leaders of the Organization and discussed various practical matters. After four days, he went to Dutli, one of the few mountain villages where the people were slightly less poverty-stricken, because the sheltered nature of the valley in which it was situated permitted olives to ripen, thus providing the inhabitants with a special source of income. In Dutli, Yané gathered the peasants together in the church and spoke to them about the Organization, and then went back to the Nevrokop district and the villages that lie at the foot of Ali-Botush, the spectacular six-thousand-foot mountain that rears its summit like the tail of a great fish at the southern extremity of Pirin. Here the cheta was asked to arbitrate in a spate of law-suits. In Karakyoy, for example, two peasants had already spent 26 and 22 liri respectively in litigation over a field worth only 4 liri, before the cheta finally settled the matter and reconciled the two men. In Tarlis, where the population was part Turkish and part Bulgarian, and where no cheta had yet been seen, Yané settled a dispute between the community and a cborbadzhiya over a forest and the use of



4. According to Kŭnchov, (Opus cit., p. 72) the total population of the Serres kaza, in round figures, was 92,000, including 30,000 (32.6%) Bulgarians, 28,000 Turks and 23,000 Greeks, of whom 19,000 were concentrated in two centres—Serres itself and Nigrita.





water for a mill, by appointing a commission composed of neutral persons from nearby Karakyoy to draw up a plan for the exploitation of the local water resources, etc., that was acceptable to all concerned.


From Tarlis, they went to Lovcha, where three of Yané’s men left the cheta, two to go to Bulgaria, and one, Stoyu Hadzhiev, to become a village teacher. Yané remained in Lovcha with only four companions for a week or so, settling law-suits and auditing the village accounts in the presence of the elders, before going on to Gaitaninovo to do the same. Everywhere the cheta was well received and the people were eager to bring their problems and squabbles to men who, unlike the Turkish judges, took no bribes and produced rapid solutions that were seen to be just.


In the midst of this activity, Yané’s thoughts strayed homewards, for while he was in Lovcha or Gaitaninovo, he scribbled a hasty note to his parents on an unseemly scrap of paper:


‘Daddy, Mummy,

So far, I am alive and well. I am doing very well with the people, so don’t worry about me. Look after yourselves well, feed yourselves well so as to be alive and well for us to see each other sometime when I come. But as things are, the people’s affairs won’t let me go, but anyway, I’ll come one day to see you. Goodbye for now, parents, till we meet again,

Your son Yanéto Sandansky.


Nevrokop district,

14.XII.1902 [5]


In the evenings, Yané and his companions amused themselves by organizing social gatherings attended by as many as twenty or thirty villagers, who joined in a variety of games involving ‘forfeits’, which took the form of having to recite a poem or sing a song. [6] Engrossed in such activities they spent a merry and carefree Christmas in Gaitaninovo, but on the last day of the festivities, the arrival of fifty Turkish soldiers put an end to the jollifications and sent the women scuttling home to change their holiday costumes for their oldest and least attractive clothes.


The cheta hastily left for the neighbouring hill village of Teshovo. Even there, however, they were pursued by the Turks, who encircled the village. An over-inquisitive gypsy, who had noticed an unusual number of comings and goings at the house where Yané was hiding, was told that a young woman there was in labour, and the owner of the house hastily instructed the cheta to hide, and the woman to lie down and pretend to be in labour,



5. Blagoevgrad OIM No. 1107.


6. In one such game, one player would begin: ‘In our garden there are not twenty-one pumpkins, but only one.’ Another person would say: ‘Why one? There are five’, and so on. No number could be mentioned more than once, and the player who tripped up paid a forfeit.





in case the Turks should come to search the house. By some extraordinary coincidence, not long after the woman had lain down to play her part, she did, in fact, go into labour and gave birth to a daughter. Yané was asked to act as godfather, and he named her Avtonomia (Autonomy), on December 27 (old style), 1902.


After this somewhat bizarre interlude which must have reawakened in him nightmare memories of the Miss Stone Affair, Yané and his four companions managed to slip through the Turkish cordon around Teshovo, and reach the village of Yuchduruk. Their courier, however, was less fortunate—or less agile—and he fell into Turkish hands.


Their stay in Yuchduruk followed the usual pattern—a public meeting in the church and the settlement of law-suits. Relaxation was provided by the celebration of the New Year and the arrival of well-wishing teachers from the town of Nevrokop, bearing a ritual banitsa containing good-luck symbols. [7]


Thus began the fateful year of 1903, with all the traditional rites and blessings. Everyone strove to divine what the New Year would bring. Young people slept with a piece of the year’s first loaf under their pillows in order to dream of their future marriage partners. One and all threw cornel buds into the fire, and those whose buds burst and jumped about were sure to be healthy and agile throughout the year. In some places, people would place salt in twelve flakes of onion representing the months, and foretold the weather according to which flakes remained dry and which became moist. Sometimes a red cockerel would be slaughtered on the threshold of the house, and, according to which way it jumped— inwards or outwards—good or evil would enter the house. An inward jump signified good, an outward—evil. The fire was kept burning throughout the night, for, should it go out, misfortune would surely come upon the house. Boys went about the streets and houses, tapping their relatives and neighbours with survachki—wands made from sprays of cornel cherry, decorated with coins, popcorn, prunes, dried beans, tiny bread rings, ribbons, paper, etc.—and repeating the traditional incantation:

‘Surva, surva year!

Merry year!

Full ears in the fields,

Yellow corn-cobs on the fence,

Red grapes on the vine

And yellow quinces in the garden. . .

A house full of silk. . .

A purse full of money. . .

Surva, surva year,

Till next year with health,

Till next year, till Amen.’


7. At New Year, loaves or banitsi contain tiny cornel-cherry twigs, each with a different number of buds. Each twig signifies a different aspect of life: marriage, health, business, etc., and the person who finds a twig in his portion will prosper in the corresponding sphere during the coming year.





These and many other rites and divinations were duly performed throughout the Bulgarian lands with the dual aim of learning the future and of ensuring that it was good.


Surva, surva year. . .


Seldom—though few realized it—had the Organization stood in such need of blessing; seldom were good wishes to prove so ineffective. . .


Yané needed neither cornel buds nor cockerels to tell him that the new year would not be an easy one. Some two weeks earlier, while they were still in Lovcha, he had received a disturbing letter from the Regional Committee in Serres, asking whether he was in favour of a rising, since the Central Committee wished to decide between limited acts of terrorism and a full-scale rising. Stunned and horrified by this development, Yané replied that he failed to understand by what reasoning the Central Committee had reached the point of even asking about a rising, and he demanded an explanation. He was told that the time was propitious, that European diplomacy was favourably disposed, and that, in any case, the Supremists were likely to cause further trouble. Yané then called the leaders of the Melnik District together to discuss the question, and they unanimously rejected all idea of a rising. The meeting took place in Teshovo (hence the comings and goings which the observant gypsy had noticed) and when the cheta reached Yuchduruk, shortly before New Year, Yané wrote a lengthy letter to the Central Committee, setting out his opinions in answer to the Committee’s inquiry. He also wrote to the district leadership in Razlog, and they, too, came out against a rising.


Despite his strength of character, Yané was badly shaken by this unexpected volte face on the part of the Central Committee: ‘The news killed us morally: we had thought otherwise about the Organization, we had campaigned for something else, and things were turning out quite different. I no longer had either the face or the heart to carry out propaganda as before. I left that to the lads. We simply wept.’ [8]


Nevertheless, the cheta continued its work. They passed through the villages of Burzhoza, Davchiflik and Banichan, and then stopped for five or six days in Skrebatno on the left bank of the Mesta. Here, in the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains, many Bulgarians had long ago adopted the Muslim religion, and Skrebatno had some fifty Muslim households, while the other 130 were Christian. The Christian population made a living as masons, stockbreeders and vine-growers, while the Muslims were mainly carters. Skrebatno was not only the administrative centre for the surrounding villages, with a myudyur (Turkish local governor); it was also a wide-awake village with a good Bulgarian school, providing five years’ education for both boys and girls. The villagers welcomed the cheta, listened to its exhortations, brought their disputes for arbitration, and even wept when it was time for the cheta to depart. On January 8, 1903



8. Miletich, VII, pp. 36-37.





(old style), there was a farewell supper, attended by about thirty people, who all brought their own spoons, bread and wine, while one person cooked the main dish. Afterwards, Yané and his four men were given a great send-off: the whole company, together with a bagpiper, walked calmly past the Muslim Watch, who took no notice.


After leaving Skrebatno, the cheta went south again, since Yané had received an urgent summons to go to Serres. When they arrived in Dutli, to the north of Serres, they were met by Lazar Dimitrov [9] and two colleagues, with the appalling news that, at a Congress in Salonika, the leadership of the Organization had decided on a rising that very year! Yané reeled under the blow: ‘This was an absolute bombshell for me. I collapsed completely, slain; I couldn’t walk. Before that first letter came, the one in which they asked my opinion about the rising, I was a different man, I never felt tired, or anything. . .’ [10]


As Chairman of the Serres Regional Committee, Lazar Dimitrov had attended the Congress, and was able to give Yané a first-hand account of what had happened. The Congress, attended by seventeen persons and held in the chemistry and physics laboratory of the Salonika High School, had all the hallmarks of a coup designed to present objectors with a fait accompli. To begin with, the composition of the Congress was far from representative: many of the leading members of the Organization, including Gotsé himself and all the district voivodi, were absent; Kukush— a small town—had one delegate, and so had both the Bitolya and the Serres Regions with their many districts and immeasurably larger membership; many places were totally unrepresented, while the delegates of others had not consulted their colleagues on local committees before coming to Salonika. Only two Regions—Skopje and Serres—had discussed the Central Committee’s original letter asking for their views, and had sent properly mandated delegates. Both delegates had come mandated to oppose an early rising: the Skopje Regional Committee had instructed their delegate to press for a postponement of at least one year, while Lazar Dimitrov, for Serres, had represented the only real opposition. Had he not been so stubborn in his opposition, the Congress would have lasted an even shorter time. As it was, the discussions lasted only two days (January 2 and 3), and the final protocol setting out the reasons for the decision, was signed on January 4 in a session lasting an hour and a half. The Skopje delegate signed because ‘the others signed’, and Lazar Dimitrov, the only delegate to vote against the rising, was also forced to sign.


Yané must have asked Lazar over and over again: ‘Why did they do it? Why did they vote for a rising?’ And there was no real answer. The only



9. Lazar Dimitrov was from the Debur district in Western Macedonia. He was educated in the Salonika High School and at Sofia University, and had worked as a teacher in Salonika, Gumendzhe, Constantinople, Adrianople, and, from 1902-1903, in Series, where he was chairman of the Organization’s Regional Committee.


10. Miletich, VII, p. 37.





Region which had given a positive report on its preparedness was the Bitolya Region. [11] All the others had reported that their supplies of arms were inadequate. In addition, the Congress had before it letters from both Gotsé and Yané opposing a rising. Yané’s letter was about three times as long as Gotsé’s and, according to Ingilizov, the delegate from Strumitsa, [12] Yané said that, while he could field up to 12,000 men, he could not count on success because of the lack of arms, etc., and he was therefore against a general uprising, and favoured nothing more than partisan warfare. According to Yané’s memoirs, the total number of guns in the districts of Nevrokop, Serres, Drama and Demir-Hisar did not exceed 700. [13]


The arguments advanced by Garvanov, Lozanchev and others in favour of a rising were as follows: the French Ambassador had given someone to understand that a rising would result in greater rights being granted to the people; the Bulgarian Army would intervene if the rebels could keep the rising going for two weeks; the Supremists were preparing new provocations; the Organization might find itself being overtaken by events; frequent blockades, searches and arrests by the Turkish authorities would, in time, bleed the Organization white, if the rising were delayed; the people were ready and would lose hope and emigrate if nothing happened.


The thinking behind most of these arguments was closer to Supremist policy than it was to that of the Organization. It was the Supremists, who, all along, had placed their hopes in European diplomacy and in intervention by the Bulgarian Army, and who had therefore seen the rising in terms of a demonstration rather than of a fully-fledged revolution. The Organization, on the other hand, had always opposed the idea of direct military help from Bulgaria, because it believed that this would lead to military intervention by Serbia and Greece, as well, and to the subsequent partition of Macedonia, to the detriment of the Bulgarian majority. For this reason, it had always advocated delaying the actual rising until the whole people was so prepared, both psychologically and materially, that victory would be assured, and thus Macedonia would preserve its unity— and Bulgarian character—in autonomy.


It was exactly as Yané had said: ‘We had thought otherwise about the Organization; we had campaigned for something else, and things were turning out quite differently.’ The Organization was being asked by its own leadership to recant and to accept Supremist policy. Why?


By its persistent interference, through its cheti, its agitation, its pseudo-risings, and general trouble-making, the Supreme Committee had, indeed, created a dangerously explosive situation: it had stirred up both the Turks and the Bulgarian population to a degree which would never have



11. The Bitolya delegate, Lozanchev, had not consulted any of his colleagues in the Region before attending the Congress and voting for a rising. He was later much criticized for his conduct, but it was then too late.


12. TDIA, f. 1508, op. 2, a.e. 22, pp. 25-27. Memoirs of Ivan Ingilizov.


13. Miletich, VII, p. 35.





been reached had the Organization been allowed to work in its own way. No one seriously believed that the rising—partial, hastily prepared and ill-equipped—could end in victory. At best, it would end, like the April Rising of 1876, in a blood-bath that would induce some Great Power to intervene. The abortive events in Gorna Dzhumaya during the autumn had, indeed, caused a stir in the foreign press and in diplomatic circles, and in Britain and France, especially, there had been talk of reforms. The Sultan, however, acting on German advice, [14] had cut the ground from under the feet of the reformers, by announcing his own programme of reforms, which, in practice, began and ended with the appointment of Hilmi Pasha to supervise their implementation. The Russian Foreign Minister, who visited Sofia in December 1902, at a time when Russia was occupied with troubles in the Far East, had explicitly spoken against a rising in discussions both at Government level and with various prominent representatives of the Macedonian movement. [15] The Russian standpoint was known to Lazar Dimitrov at the time of the Congress in Salonika, and, presumably, to the other delegates. In such a situation, it was plainly the duty of the Organization’s leaders to do everything possible to curb the rash enthusiasm of impatient members, and generally to counsel common sense and caution. Yet, they had voted to do the opposite, and to play the role of Gadarene swine to the devils of Supremist policy.


Yané must have wondered whether the decision was really so surprising, after all. The Central Committee that had called the Congress was not the tried and experienced team that had built the Organization from a handful of teachers into a secret state with tens of thousands of members. It was the group of comparative newcomers who had taken over after the arrest of the real Central Committee in January 1901—a disaster sparked off by the copious information given to the Turks by a former servant of the Supreme Committee, transferred to the Central Committee on Sarafov’s recommendation. It may even have crossed Yané’s alert, suspicious mind that there was more in all this than met the eye. Ivan Garvanov, who had stepped into the breach as Chairman of the Central Committee was not a veteran member of the Organization, nor even a particularly convinced one. An adherent of the Supremist-oriented Revolutionary Brotherhood until negotiations initiated by Sarafov had resulted in its dissolution in 1899, Garvanov had joined the Organization because, as he himself put it, the ‘crooked course’ [16] of the Organization was preferable to disunity. Even after he had joined it, he continued to indulge in connections and



14. Germany, in her drive towards Asia, had now taken over Britain’s traditional role of bolstering up Turkey.


15. They included members of the Stanishev Committee (see p. 111), Hristo Matov and Dr Tatarchev, former Chairman of the Central Committee, who had been arrested in January 1901 and amnestied in the autumn of 1902. The Minister did not meet anyone from the Tsonchev Committee.


16. Garvanov’s memoirs, Miletich, V, p. 125.





activities at variance with its policy. [17] Once he was made Chairman—an act which Gyorché Petrov regarded as tantamount to ‘bringing the wolf into the sheepfold’ [18]—Garvanov appeared, under Gotsé’s influence, to rise to the occasion and to shed his former Supremist ideas to the extent of opposing Tsonchev’s inroads into Organization territory. In the hour of crisis, however, when it was more necessary than ever to stand firm on the principles of the Organization, Garvanov had proved insufficiently convinced of these principles and had reverted to type.


With a heavy heart, Yané went back to the Nevrokop area. There, towards the end of January, in the village of Karakyoy he met Gotsé Delchev, who had come from Sofia, accompanied by Peyo Yavorov, to discuss the situation with the underground leaders of the Serres Region. Yané immediately took issue with Gotsé: ‘You’re being a bit previous with your rising, aren’t you?’ he said with bitter irony. Gotsé, no less unhappy than he, replied that they had had no choice. Gotsé had been in Sofia when the Organization’s External Representatives had received a letter from the Central Committee informing them that a Congress would be held at the beginning of January to discuss the advisability of a Spring uprising. In Sofia, too, the news had come like a thunderbolt. Meeting after meeting had been held, and the question had been debated at great length and with considerable heat by those leading members of the Organization who happened to be in Sofia, and by a number of others, including Boris Sarafov. To Gotsé’s horror, most of them seemed to accept the inevitability of an early rising. Not only those who had succumbed to a greater or lesser degree to Surpemist influence, but even people whose loyalty to the Organization could not be questioned, were arguing that the situation in Macedonia was already so tense that a rising could not be avoided. In the Kastoria district of the Bitolya Region, for example, as a result of Colonel Yankov’s adventure, activity on the part of Turkish troops and police had been intensified to a point which could no longer be endured.


The main support for a rising had come from Hristo Matov and Dr Tatarchev, who had come to Sofia after their release from prison. Having been arrested at the time when Sarafov headed the Supreme Committee and relations between the two bodies had been at their most cordial, they had been shocked by the situation which they had found on their return, and they had spent the autumn trying unsuccessfully to heal the rift between the Organization and the Supreme Committee. This was, of course, an impossible task, since the tactics of the two bodies were irreconcilable, and agreement must involve capitulation on the part of one side or the other. Matov and Tatarchev had evidently been prepared to accept Supremist tactics in order to achieve unity.



17. Gyorché Petrov’s memoirs, Miletich, VIII, pp. 128-130.


18. Ibid., p. 130.





Initially, only Gotsé and Gyorché had argued categorically that an early rising was neither inevitable nor desirable, and, in the end, thanks mainly to Gyorché’s eloquence—the majority had voted against a rising, and a letter was duly sent to Salonika. The Central Committee, however, had not even waited to hear the result of the discussions in Sofia, and had already taken its hasty decision. Garvanov had then gone to Sofia with the Protocol in his pocket to deal with the opposition. In the course of a new round of discussions, general agreement had been reached on a compromise solution: there should be no general rising, but, instead of concentrating mainly on agitational work, the cheti should also undertake partisan actions to harass the Turks, and the Organization should carry out a series of terrorist actions against the Turkish administration and installations, such as railways, which were owned by European capital.


Gotsé had not waited for the end of the discussions, but had left Sofia, promising to organize the blowing up of suitable targets. He had not really believed that things would actually reach the point of a rising, and was anxious to return to Macedonia in order to exercise more influence on opinion there. It would have been more logical to have gone first to Bitolya, to calm and dissuade the region most impatient to revolt, but instead he went to join Yané in the one region that was solidly opposed to premature adventures. Gotsé had never been able to endure conflict with his own comrades. His genius as a leader consisted in his ability to inspire, convince and bind together people of very different backgrounds, given the slightest willingness on their part to hear his message. He was a born prophet and apostle, but no politician, and he could no more work in an atmosphere of discord and dissention than a bird can sing under water. The quarrels with the Supremists had always revolted and dismayed him, and, although he recognized the necessity of taking issue with them, he had generally left this side of the work to Gyorché Petrov. For Gotsé, the recent discussions in Sofia had been sheer torture, and the revelation of cancerous disunity within the once monolithic Organization had upset him so badly that Gyorché had been obliged to shoulder the main burden of opposition, and Gotsé had returned to Macedonia as soon as he could. Gyorché, his friend and comrade for so many years, understood Gotsé’s feelings, and commented: ‘This time, something drew him to Pirin, to meet Sandansky, there to find consolation and understanding with him at least, since hitherto they had always agreed on matters of an ideological character.’ [19]


Thus Gotsé had set out via Samokov, across Rila, for the Serres Region. On his arrival in Macedonia, Gotsé had spent some time in Razlog, arguing against a rising and in favour of harassing the Turks along the lines agreed in Sofia, and he had then travelled south to the Nevrokop district, where he had intended to do the same. There, however, he had learnt that, in



19. Gotsé Delchev, Vol. III, Skopje, 1972, ed. Hristo Andonov-Poljanski, p. 320.





spite of the views expressed in Sofia, Garvanov had sent letters to the revolutionary committees throughout Macedonia, telling them to be prepared for a full-scale uprising in May. It was in view of this new development that Gotsé now wished to meet the cheti and local leaders of the Serres Region.


Some seventy or eighty of the most active revolutionaries in the Region, voivodi, chetnitsi, teachers and others, had come secretly to Karakyoy to meet Gotsé, to report on the situation in their areas and to exchange opinions. [20] The latest communication of the Central Committee was not yet common knowledge, and therefore the question of the rising was discussed by only an inner circle, consisting of Gotsé, Yavorov, Yané and Dimitŭr Gushtanov, the Serres Regional Voivoda. Even they found it hard to reach agreement on what ought to be done in the terrible situation which confronted them. Neither Yané nor Gushtanov was enthusiastic about the ideas of terrorist actions as an alternative to a rising. Unlike Gotsé, who took an interest in anarchist theories and was an expert both in the making of bombs [21] and in their employment, Yané had neither leanings towards anarchism nor any great faith in dynamite as a panacea. If the idea was to avoid the mass bloodshed and suffering that would inevitably follow an ill-prepared uprising, then, in Yané’s opinion, they were mistaken: terrorist actions would also provoke Turkish reprisals against the civilian population and, from that point of view, they were tantamount to a rising. [22] If they were now going to go in for terror, Yané wanted to know why they had campaigned against the Supremists, and why they had spoken in a different vein before the people.


Initially, Gotsé may not have found Yané’s company as consoling as he had hoped, for, after he had chided Gotsé over the Central Committee’s decision and poured cold water on his alternative proposals, Yané



20. The cheti present at the meeting were from the Nevrokop, Melnik, Demir-Hisar, Poroi, Drama and Serres districts of the Serres Region. Gotsé had already conferred with the Razlog cheti on his way south.


21. In 1897, at a time when the Organization had found it very difficult to buy guns, Gotsé and Gyorché, with the help of Armenian revolutionaries, had set up a secret bomb-making workshop in the forest above Kyustendil. Production went on for about 18 months.


22. Among Yané’s personal books is a copy of Plehanov’s Anarchism and Socialism, translated into Bulgarian by Georgi Bakalov, and published in Varna in 1898. This edition includes an article by ‘K.P.’ against a recently published Bulgarian anarchist pamphlet. Both the writer of the article and Plehanov himself stress the point that, in practice, in spite of their talk about revolution, anarchists serve reaction by provoking repressive measures. Plehanov describes anarchists as Utopians, not of the ‘great kind’, who did much for the working class movement, but as ‘decadent Utopians, afflicted by an incurable mental anaemia’. Yané could have quoted the Miss Stone Affair, which, though tame in comparison with the blowing up of bridges, banks, etc., resulted in large numbers of people—many of them totally unconnected with the kidnapping—being arrested, tortured and sent to prison. Among them was Dimitŭr Lazarov (Mingyo), the originator of the idea of kidnapping Miss Stone. In spite of torture, he gave nothing away. Neither did anybody else.





proceeded to reproach him for allowing Sarafov back into the movement in view of the trouble he had caused in the past. He also complained that Gotsé had not done enough to provide the Serres Region with arms. There was some justification in Yané’s dissatisfaction over the arms, because, although he had handed the whole of Miss Stone’s ransom over to Gotsé, unconditionally, to allocate as he saw fit, it was not unreasonable to expect that Yané’s own region should receive a fair share of the proceeds in the form of arms. He also expressed the view that, if, as was being said, the comrades in Bitolya really could not wait, then, east of the Vardar, only the cheti should act, and on no account should the population there rise.


In the end, Yané and Gushtanov succumbed to Gotsé’s charm, enthusiasm and power of persuasion, and agreed to some trial bombings as a prelude to a final attempt to talk the Central Committee out of its plan for a rising. Yané, however, stipulated that the bombings be confined to non-urban targets, such as railway bridges and tunnels, which were to be far from villages in order to minimize the danger of reprisals. He also insisted that only chetnitsi should be involved in laying the charges, etc. The whole company then adjourned to a large cave in Ali-Botush—so large that it even contained a tiny church cut out of the rock. There they spent a week, learning to handle the dynamite and fuses which Gotsé had brought with him from Sofia, and spending their spare time dancing, singing, wrestling, chatting, and eating roast ox, washed down with moderate quantities of fine red wine.


At the end of the week, Gotsé departed with the Demir-Hisar and Drama cheti, as well as his own entourage, to perform an experimental bombing, and then to go to Salonika. The bombings went perfectly—a tunnel and a railway bridge over the Angista River were totally destroyed, without loss of life, but, just as Yané had predicted, the actions were followed by the arrest and torture of mainly innocent people from villages around the scene of the explosions.


In the meantime, Yané resumed his tours of the Melnik district villages, visiting Kalimantsi, Hŭrsovo, Vranya and others, and speaking against mass participation in any rising. On February 8 (new style), he arrived with his cheti in the village of Dolni Orman (now Laskarevo), and went to stay in the house of Kostadin Lalev. Here he was joined for discussions by leading members of the Organization from the surrounding villages, including several teachers. In the middle of the night, Lalev informed Yané that the house was surrounded by Turks—four hundred and sixty of them, against Yané’s eight!


In this extremely dangerous situation—the first battle in the Melnik district between Turks and chetnitsi—Yané displayed the sang-froid and military skill that was to carry him and his men unscathed through many a future battle. Following his orders, they drew the fire of the Turks by waving a garment on a pole, slipped out onto the street while the Turks





were re-loading their guns, shot several of them (Yané personally shot their captain), and then the whole group broke through the cordon in a concerted rush and succeeded in escaping from the village. Apart from the captain, eighteen Turks were killed, while on the Bulgarian side, the only casualties were the two Organization sentries, who had been surprised by the soldiers, and the teacher from Lyubovka, who had dropped behind and got lost as they left the village. With the cheta was Lalev’s twelve-year-old son, Lazar, who fell into a hole in the darkness, and then had to be carried by a chetnik for half an hour, until they were clear of the village, because he could not keep up with the adults. When they reached the village of Kashina, Lazar’s feet were found to be badly swollen, so they rubbed them with onion and made him put on two pairs of socks. At supper, Yané himself took the child on his knee and fed him with his own spoon. They then went through Kovachevo and Chereshnitsa to the village of Pirin, where the cheta rested for a week. The Lalev family could not, of course, return to their home, and arrangements were made for them to be sent to the Principality. On parting, Lazar kissed Yané’s hand, with the traditional respect due to an older man, and Yané gave the boy a whole lira. [23]


Later, it became known that the unexpected appearance of the Turks in strength had been due to treachery. The bey who owned the village lands had decided to rent his chiflik to some richer peasants, thus causing great dissatisfaction among the poorer and landless peasants. The latter had complained to the village teacher, who had tried to reason with the new tenants. One rich peasant, who had quarrelled with the others, threatened to call in the cheta, and thus when the cheta arrived, the others fled from the village and informed the Turks. The traitors were punished two years later after the truth had been established. [24]


At the beginning of March, the cheta set out across Pirin for Razlog to collect a consignment of guns. The weather was appalling—deep snow and temperatures well below zero. The skin of the men’s faces peeled three times in the course of the journey, and all of them were swollen with the cold. When they reached Bansko, Yané himself was so ill that he had to remain in bed for six days. About the same time, a group of sixty-five men from several villages, including Debrené, also attempted to cross Pirin to fetch their share of guns from Bansko. They reached the high ridge above the Preval Lakes, but were unable to get down the frozen snow on the north side. Half of them turned back. [25]


By now it was perfectly clear that, willy-nilly, the Organization was heading for an uprising, and Yané decided to go to Sofia to get more



23. Memoirs of Georgi Kotsev, pp. 101-102. Kotsev quotes an account of the incident given by Lazar Lalev.


24. Ibid.


25. Kotsev, p. 103.





supplies, so that ‘we, too, could do something for the rising’. [26]


He arrived in the Bulgarian capital about April 19 (April 6 old style), and remained there for a month, making the necessary arrangements. While he was there, black news came from Macedonia. First, a group of young terrorists, known to the Organization but not part of it, had carried out a series of terrorist bombings in Salonika itself. [27] Between April 28 and May 1 (new style), they had blown up the Ottoman Bank, a French passenger ship and various other targets, causing panic and chaos in the city. The positive results were nil, the negative—far-reaching. Mass arrests and reprisals took place throughout Macedonia, and Salonika was closed to the Organization as a channel for the import of badly needed arms.


Then a few days later, on May 4, 1903, Gotsé himself was killed in a battle with the Turks. He had gone to Salonika, according to plan, arriving just before Easter (April 26). There he had met Damé Damé Gruev, one of the founders of the Organization and a member of the Central Committee, recently returned from prison in Asia Minor. Gotsé, however, had failed to persuade him to use his influence to stop the rising, since Damé considered that it was already too late. They had then reached a compromise agreement, by which only the Bitolya Region should rise, while the others should merely give support through actions on the part of the cheti, and the date of the rising was put back from May until August. Gotsé had then left Salonika, just as the bombings began, with the intention of returning to the Serres Region, where the cheti were again to meet for discussion, this time in Lovcha, on May 6. He had completed the worst part of the journey, through territory teeming with Turkish soldiers, and had reached the village of Banitsa, to the north of Serres. There his cheta had been surrounded, and he himself, together with Gushtanov, the Serres voivoda, and three chetnitsi, had been killed in a daylight attempt to break through the encirclement. Dimo Hadzhidimov had also been in Banitsa, but had lived to tell the tale.


To this day, it is not clear how the Turks came to blockade the village. Several alleged traitors were later executed on Gotsé’s grave, but the underlying cause of the tragedy was undoubtedly the state of emergency and alarm created by his own bombings and those in Salonika. If ever proof were needed of the fact that terrorism only serves to strengthen the hand of reaction—here it was. Now the rising had to take place with the Organization orphaned and plunged into grief by the death of Gotsé— Gotsé, who, though he himself never seemed to realize it, occupied a unique position of authority within the Organization and held the hearts of its members in his hand. Now the preparations had to be made in conditions of intensified Turkish wrath and vigilance. And preparations for what? For even greater disasters. ‘We campaigned for something else



26. Miletich, VII, p. 39.


27. Both Sarafov and Gotsé had at various times given them money to buy dynamite.





and things are turning out quite different. . .’ Yané’s cri-de-coeur was drowned by the roar of the rising storm.


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