Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



They threw Doncho into a dark dungeon,

They tortured Doncho in a narrow cell.


Le, le, le, le, le, le, Doncho - poor soul!

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, Doncho - worthy of pity!


Bravo, Doncho! No one did he betray!

Bravo, Doncho! No one did he betray!


Le, le, le, le, le, le, Doncho - worthy of pity!

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, Doncho - poor soul!




Inevitably, the sacrifices made by those who worked in the interior were greater than those made by the emigres. It is one thing to donate money and arms when one enjoys security from arrest, and quite another to risk appalling penalties as a member of an underground organization.


The first of the martyrs was Doné Stoyanov. He was a carrier from Shtip, a man with a couple of horses, who had undertaken the dangerous task of transporting some of the material supplied by Tyufekchiev. On April 7 1876, Doné was just entering Bitolya with a number of bombs hidden in sacks of rice, when he was stopped by Turkish watchmen looking for contraband tobacco. They probed his sacks with long skewers and struck the metal casing of the bombs. At this point, Done attempted to run away but was caught. He then offered them bribes, but to no avail. Believing that they had stumbled upon an important criminal, the watchmen were determined to hold onto him, and they took him to the vali. The latter placed the bombs on his table, sent for the foreign consuls in order to show them what the Bulgarians were up to, and then had the bombs carried in a basket to a safe distance outside the town. [1] The unfortunate Done was locked in a dolap so small that he could not lie down in it, and he was tortured with red-hot irons to make him reveal the names of those who had given him the bombs.


Panic seized the members of the Bitolya committee. Up till then they had worked in peace, unnoticed and untroubled by the Turks. Now they were faced with their first open confrontation with the authorities. Encouraging messages were sent to Done, urging him to keep silent, and, simultaneously, plans were made to kill him inside the prison if he should blab. Their fears, however, proved to be without foundation: Doné remained as firm as a rock, insisting, no matter what was done to him, that the bombs had been planted in his sacks and that he knew absolutely nothing. The relief and admiration of the committee knew no bounds, and delicacies, such as roast chicken and newly-baked bread, found their way into Doné's dark, damp cell.





He was tried and sentenced to a hundred and one years' imprisonment, but eventually he was amnestied and went to live in Kyustendil. While he was in prison, the only request that he made was for the Organization to provide a sack of flour for each of his children. This it did. Doné's misadventure was the first of the so-called 'affairs' which from time to time rocked the Organization. As the first, it made a great impression upon the population, and, indeed, had an encouraging rather than an intimidating effect. Doné's heroism was an inspiration to all, [*] and the Organization gained in stature because of it. At about the same time, a peasant from Vinitsa was caught gun-running. He, too, was horribly tortured - burning coals were put into his mouth and heated irons inserted into his anus - but he gave nothing away. As a result of the tortures, he lost his power of speech for over a year. He, too, asked nothing from the Organization but a little money for his children. [2]


These two men set the pattern for the future when, with the growth of the Organization, 'affairs' became more frequent, and captured members of the Organization vied with each other in a grim competition to see who could endure the most without giving way.


It was not only the committee in Bitolya who were alarmed by Doné's arrest. Thinking that Gotsé was in Kyustendil, the Central Committee in Salonika sent an urgent message to the Supreme Committee in Sofia, asking them to keep Gotsé in the Principality and not allow him to return to Macedonia until the hue and cry had died down. In fact, Gotsé was not in Kyustendil but in Shtip, where, on his insistence, everyone was carrying on as usual to allay suspicion. On the day after Doné's arrest, Gotsé received a summons from the kaimakam. It was a tense moment. Everyone connected with the Organization realized who had sent the bombs and trembled, for, as yet, no one knew how Done had conducted himself.


With perfect sang-froid, Gotsé stuck to the agreed policy of acting normally and presented himself at the konak. It was not long before he came out, a free man, and - what was even more surprising - much amused. Apparently the kaimakam had received from the vali of Bitolya a telegram which he could not fully understand, and had summoned Gotsé, as an educated man who knew Turkish well, to see what he could make of it. The telegram informed the kaimakam that Done, a carrier from Shtip, had been arrested with two loads of rice in which bombs had been found, and it requested the authorities in Shtip to search his home. Gotsé read the telegram, and, while he was trying to decide whether the kaimakam was being very clever or very stupid, the Turk explained that he could understand about the rice





and the search, but it was not clear to him what the other things were. In the Arabic script, the word looked to him like tulumbi (a water pump, for fire-fighting or other purposes), but he could not understand what tulumbi were doing in a sack of rice, and why they were so significant. Gotsé immediately agreed that the word could not be anything else but tulumbi, and after he had discoursed at some length about the possible reasons for their presence, the kaimakam was much reassured.


'Do you know this Doné, daskal efendi?'


'I know a poor man called Doné, who has two horses and carries what he can get. He's a good man, an honest man...' [3]


But later, when the kaimakam had grasped the seriousness of the matter, he had Gotsé brought in again for questioning. He had long felt that there was something subversive about the all-too-plausible young teacher, but he had never been able to catch him out. Now, in an attempt to disconcert him, he began:


'Now, tell me straight - where do you go, with your constant running about here and there?'


Gotsé was more than a match for the Turk: smiling coyly and acting the part of a Casanova with a one-track mind, he replied:


'I'm young, kaimakam efendi... You know how it is... I can't help it...'


'But what about this dyna-mite?'


'Dinah? Dinah, efendi? What Dinah? I've never had anything to do with a girl called Dinah...'


'Eh, school-master, what rubbish you do talk! I'm asking you whether you're a komita - do you understand? Whether you're a komita! [*]


'Is that all? And there was I, thinking someone had been making accusations against me!'


'Allah! Allah! School-master, the Sultan has given rights [**] to the raya, but you couldn't care less. Get out!' [4]


Again Gotsé walked out of the konak a free man. The vali, however, was not such a fool as his subordinate. About a month after the fruitless discussions about 'Dinah', he gave orders for Gotsé to be arrested and sent to Skopje. Here he was imprisoned in the Kurshumlu Han, a sixteenth century caravansarai, which had been converted into a prison after 1878. Nothing, however, could be proved against him, or anybody else, for that matter, thanks to Done"s silence, and he was released on condition that he left Shtip and guaranteed to report immediately if sought by the authorities. [5]


Soon after his release, Gotsé went home to Kukush to attend the



*. Komita - a revolutionary. The word is derived from 'committee'.


**. A reference to the recently announced reforms, which had very little practical effect.





wedding of his sister, Tina, which, according to Stamatov, [6] he almost missed owing to a misunderstanding over dates. His eldest sister, Rusha, had learnt of his release at the Boshnyak Inn in Salonika, where she had gone to buy the necessary silk dresses for the bride, and had left a message with some travellers from Shtip telling Gotsé that on Sunday they would be having the zatrebvanie - the ritual cleaning of the rice for the wedding feast, accompanied by merrymaking. The confusion over the date of the actual wedding arose from the fact that in Shtip the wedding was two weeks after the zatrebvanie, whereas in Kukush it took place on the following Sunday, and Gotsé, who had spent most of his adult life out of Kukush, had either forgotten or was unaware of this. Fortunately, some people from Kukush met Gotsé in Salonika and told him that his family was anxiously expecting him, and he dashed off to Kukush to dance at his sister's wedding.


But even in the midst of so joyous and elaborate a feast as a Bulgarian wedding, Gotsé"s thoughts were never far from his own chosen 'bride'. He came to Kukush with a quantity of Marxist literature, which he distributed among the young men of the town at secret meetings and discussions. He also visited the surrounding villages, and everywhere he went, he preached the same gospel: 'Don't expect others to liberate you; don't expect help from outside.' [7]


By far the most important event in the life of the Organization during 1896 was the Congress held in Salonika, probably during the Easter holidays. [8] It was attended by fifteen or sixteen people, representing various regions in Macedonia and the Adrianople district, and including Dr Tatarchev, Damé Gruev, A. Dimitrov, Ivan Hadzhinikolov, Gyorché Petrov, Peré Toshev (Bitolya), Hristo Matov (Skopje), Petŭr Poparsov (Prilep), Gotsé Delchev (Shtip), Kiril Piirlichev (Voden), and Hristo Kotsev (Adrianople). They met in a friendly, informal manner, without a chairman, to exchange views and experiences. There was none of the back-biting or clash of opinions that characterized the meetings of the Sofia committees, for the leaders of the Internal Organization were agreed on all major issues and were men with no axes to grind.


Ignoring the meetings that had already taken place in Salonika and Resen in 1894, Gyorché Petrov regarded the meeting held in Salonika in 1896 as the foundation congress of the Organization, [9] and there is much justification for this point of view. Hitherto, the Central Committee had not exercised any real overall leadership, and the leaders of the Organization had worked more or less independently in the areas where they happened to be, consulting together in a comradely way whenever they happened to meet. Directives were seldom issued; correspondence was mainly of an informatory character, and the fin-





ances of the Organization were conducted in a somewhat haphazard manner, based on mutual trust rather than strict book-keeping. The fact that everything had gone so smoothly was due to identity of outlook rather than to proper co-ordination. This system had worked well enough in the early stages, but the rapid growth of the committee network had made it necessary for the Organization to have a more definite structure and a new set of rules, since the original hectographed Statute was very brief and had not, moreover, been disturbed in all the areas where committees now existed.


As a result of the Congress, the committee in Salonika was formally recognized as the Central Committee; the territory on which the Organization operated was divided into seven regions, [*] and a new Statute and Rules, providing for a very centralized form of organization were drawn up by Gyorché Petrov and Gotsé Delchev.


The Statute and Rules were probably largely Gyorché's work, based on guidelines agreed by the Congress. He attempted to draw members of the Supreme Committee into the task of drafting the Statute by approaching Lyapchev and Rizov. When, however, Lyapchev produced a first article which would have made the Organization a branch of the Supreme Committee, Gyorché gave up in despair and wrote the Statute himself, with Gotsé's assistance.


According to the new Statute, the official name of the Organization was 'The Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committees', [10] and the full text is as follows: 


Chapter I




Article 1. The aim of the BMARC is to gain full political autonomy for Macedonia and the Adrianople district.


Article 2. For the achievement of this aim they must arouse a feeling for self-defence among the Bulgarian population of the areas mentioned in Article 1, to disseminate revolutionary ideas among it through the press or by word of mouth, and to prepare for and raise a general uprising.



*. The regions were Salonika, Bitolya, Skopje, Shtip, Strumitsa and Dzhumaya, Veles and Tikvesh, and Adrianople. The latter was not part of Macedonia, but of unliberated Bulgarian Thrace, and, as such, was included in the Organization's territory. All correspondence between local committees and the Central Committee was to be conducted through the regional committees, except in the case of certain towns, such as Prilep and Constantinople (and, later, Veles), which were allowed to correspond directly with Salonika. The regions were later re-organized. Veles was given the right to correspond directly with the Central Committee, and the Shtip area was abolished and a Serres area was set up, so that eventually the regional committees were six: Salonika, Bitolya, Skopje, Strumitsa, Serres and Adrianople.





Chapter II


Composition and Structure


Article 3. Membership is open to any Bulgarian, irrespective of sex, who has not compromised himself in the eyes of the community by dishonest and immoral actions, and who promises to be of service in some way to the revolutionary cause of liberation.


Article 4. The members of each committee are divided into groups, each with a chief appointed by the leader. Each member of a group, including the chief, has a number given by the appropriate committee. Each member knows only the members of his group and its chief, while the latter knows only the leader of the committee or his intermediary.


Article 5. The BMARC are divided into regional, district and village committees, and above them all stands a Central BMARC, which directs the general activity of the Cause and represents it. The territory and number of the regional committees are determined by the Central Committee, of the district committees by the regional, and of the village committees - by the district committee.


Article 6. Each committee is headed by a governing body. The governing bodies of the regional committees are appointed by the Central BMARC, those of the districts are chosen by the regional ones and appointed by the Central Committee, while the village bodies are appointed by the district ones. In certain cases, the Central BMARC has the right to entrust the leadership of activity in the regions and districts to a person chosen by it from among the members or to a mandated person from outside.


Article 7. Every member of the governing body has a pseudonym given by the Central BMARC.


Article 8. The Central BMARC has a seal with an emblem consisting of a banner, swords, rifles and a bomb, with the inscription Macedonian-Adrianople Central Revolutionary Committee and with a radius of 2 cm 6 mm, and a circumference of 16 cm 8 mm. With it, the C.C. stamps important documents.


Article 9. Each regional, district and village committee has its own secret post for communication with the adjacent committees.


Article 10. Each committee has its own secret police for following the activities of internal and external enemies.


Article 11. Every committee keeps the committee above it informed of the activities in its territory, and at the end of each month it presents a detailed report of all its activities in every respect.






Chapter III


Material means of the Revolutionary Committees


Article 12. The revolutionary committees obtain money 1) from voluntary donations, 2) from regular membership dues, and 3) from money collected by means considered expedient by the Central Committee.



Chapter IV


Article 13. Anyone who is found guilty of harming the Cause, be he a worker or no, Bulgarian or non-Bulgarian, is to be punished. His punishment is determined by the local committee and is carried out after the Central Committee has given its consent.


Article 14. Detailed internal rules have been drawn up on the basis of this Statute.



The 'Rules' further emphasize the centralized character of the BMARC and the strict discipline dictated by the conditions under which the Organization operated. The first few articles define the duties of the various committees - Central, regional, district and village - and their officers - chairman, secretary and treasurer - and expand on the guidelines laid down in the Statute. Great power was, of necessity, vested in the Central Committee and in the chairmen of the local committees. For security reasons, the contacts and knowledge of each individual member were limited to the minimum compatible with effective work, and no direct contact was allowed between local committees without the permission of the Central Committee, except between adjacent committees in an emergency, and even then the Central Committee had to be informed immediately (Article 7). Instructions were handed down from above through the local chairman and were communicated to the members through the group leaders, who were expected to make weekly reports to the chairmen, to be responsible for the state of their group's weapons, to organize weekly meetings for training, to distribute revolutionary books to members, 'in general to strengthen their revolutionary spirit in various ways', and to collect dues and donations (Article 13). New members were accepted only on the recommendation of some old member and with agreement of the chairman (Article 14). Before anyone was recommended, however, it was necessary 'directly or indirectly to establish his opinion about the rising, his feelings, the degree of his resolution, and, where possible, his past.' This was done through lending possible





members books, newspapers and other literature with a revolutionary character, through general conversations on the state of things, on life, duty, etc. (Article 16). On joining a committee, each new member took the following oath: 'I swear by God, my faith and my honour, that I will fight to the death for the freedom of the Bulgarians in Macedonia and the Adrianople district, and that I will submit unconditionally to the leadership and will unprotestingly carry out its orders; that I will betray to no one, neither by word nor deed, the secret to which I wed myself today, and all that I shall see, hear and understand concerning the Cause from today on. If I break my oath, let me be killed by one of the comrades with the revolver or the dagger which here I kiss' (Article 15). This oath was taken on a Bible, a revolver and a dagger, or any weapon available, after the new member had bowed three times to the ritual objects and had kissed them. He kissed them a second time after he had taken the oath. Any member of the committee could administer the oath, but it was considered preferable to have a priest, if one was available. The oath was administered only after the prospective member had been made fully aware of the dangers involved and had exhibited no signs of dismay. Until he had been formally sworn to secrecy, however, he was given no real information about the 'Cause'.


Every member [*] was expected to make a financial contribution according to his means and to arm himself at his own expense (Article 17). This involved paying for a gun, and, if possible, also a revolver and a dagger (Article 45). Members also had to have ready suitable clothing and footwear, rusks, bandages, etc. (Article 46). Local committees were to provide weapons for members too poor to buy them for themselves (Article 17). For their own good, as well as that of the 'Cause', the contacts of members were limited to the other members of their group; any undue curiosity on the part of members as to the identity of the leadership, the members of other groups, etc., was to be reported immediately to the group leaders. Members were to be 'sober, honest, able to keep secrets, and firm of character.' They were not to be drunkards, neither were they to say anything about the 'Cause' to anybody, including their closest friends and relatives. They must not threaten people and should avoid doing anything that might arouse suspicion; and, lest members' patriotic feelings should run away with them, the singing of revolutionary songs was forbidden, not only in the presence of people alien to the 'Cause', but even in the exclusive presence of comrades (Article 18).


No member could on any pretext refuse to carry out the duties laid upon him by the leadership, irrespective of whether the particular



*. In the Organization's documents, members are often referred to as 'workers' - a term used in Levsky's time as well.





duty was light or heavy, or whether it involved work locally or elsewhere. Those who did refuse were punished (Article 19). If any member fell into the hands of the police in the course of duty, or simply on suspicion of being a committee member, the committee was obliged to do everything possible to secure his release, and to succour both him and his family. If, however, the member was arrested as a result of undertaking something off his own bat, without the consent of the committee, or on account of personal matters, unconnected with the 'Cause', he automatically forfeited the right of succour (Article 22). Every member was expected to go to the assistance of a comrade in trouble (Article 23). In order to ensure that the work proceeded in an organized manner, and that there was no premature provocation, members were forbidden to undertake any revolutionary activity whatsoever without the permission of their leader, even when it was apparent that the 'Cause' would benefit from the activity. Those who actually harmed the 'Cause' by acting on their own initiative were to be punished as well as being deprived of the Organization's protection (Article 24). To criticize the leadership or the 'Cause' in general was also considered a serious offence (Article 26).


An important factor for the maintenance of security was the Organization's secret police, which was divided into two branches: the investigatory and the punitive. Each committee leader chose two members to head the two local police commissions, and they, in their turn, chose three helpers. Each police chief swore an oath before the leader of the committee, and then he would swear in his assistants (Articles 34 and 36). The duty of the investigatory police was to observe the conduct and work of members, the attitude of the Turkish and Christian population towards the 'Cause', and the activities of the Turkish police. It was also to keep an eye on all strangers arriving in a town, irrespective of their nationality, and to report on everything that could affect the 'Cause' (Article 35).


The duty of the punitive police was to carry out sentences on those found guilty of offences against the 'Cause', and the actual agent was chosen by lot (Article 37 and 38). Each member of the punitive police was to carry a revolver and a dagger at all times, and was to have two revolvers when carrying out a mission (Article 39). Death was the most common penalty for all but the most petty offences, and it could not be otherwise when so much was at stake and any laxity could lead to mass disaster. For a minor offence, such as lack of punctuality in performing duties, or irregularity in paying dues, the member would, in the first instance, be reprimanded by his group leader; if he repeated the offence, he would be fined according to his means, but if he still showed no signs of reforming, then he would be killed. A person who placed himself and the 'Cause' in jeopardy - even involuntarily - was





to be punished by death. A member who refused to obey the order of his leader was to be reprimanded on the first occasion, but if he refused a second time, he too was to be executed. Death was also the penalty for deliberately betraying a secret, or for unconscientious work which endangered the 'Cause' (Article 41).


The Organization also reserved the right to punish non-members. Anyone who broadcast the existence of the committees, or mocked the Organization, was to have it impressed upon him that such activity was both risky and unpatriotic, and, if he did not reform, he was killed. Others liable to be executed were all those who hindered the 'Cause', whether they were Bulgarian or not; spies and government officials who were particularly active in persecuting revolutionaries; all those Bulgarians, internal or external, who attempted to sow discord and disunity in the committees; traitor couriers, members of the secret police who refused to carry out the orders of their leader, and members who refused to take arms when the rising as proclaimed (Articles 42 and 43). Death sentences had to be confirmed by the Central Committee, and were carried out either by the local punitive police, or by a special emissary of the Central Committee (Article 44).


The work of the Organization was to be financed through membership dues, voluntary donations from members and sympathizers, and forced donations extorted from those 'who can but do not want to help' (Article 47). Receipts were to be given for all sums collected, including those obtained by means of terror (Article 48). [11]


The Congress and the subsequent drafting of the Statute and the Rules brought Gotsé and Gyorché together for the first time, and, although they were very different in temperament and inclination, they became deeply attached to each other. In the years to come, they were destined to work in close co-operation, through storm and sunshine, to be parted only by death. As Gyorché himself put it: 'Between Gotsé and me there was implicit trust; no one could divide us, and such we remained, one to the other, until the end.' [12]


Revolution was always in the minds of the Salonika alumni, but there had been a time in Gyorché's life when an interest in ethnography, stimulated by the threat of Serbian expansion into territory that was traditionally Bulgarian, temporarily engaged his attention to the virtual exclusion of all other forms of patriotic activity.


After the Serbo-Bulgarian War, the Serbs had established consulates in Skopje, Bitolya and Salonika, and were using these as a base from which to extend their influence in Macedonia. The Bulgarian teachers were very concerned about the spread of Serbian propaganda and did their best to combat it. Gyorché, for his part, began collecting material on the geography and folklore of the Skopje district where





he was then teaching. He not only collected songs, riddles, etc., from his colleagues, pupils and acquaintances, but also toured the entire district, and his researches unequivocally confirmed the predominantly Bulgarian character of the population. [13] So engrossed was he in his task, that when Peré Toshev wrote to him from Salonika suggesting that they met to discuss working for the liberation of the country, Gyorché refused, saying that he did not think that anything would come of such work! [14]


In 1891 Gyorché was transferred to a school in Bitolya which was one of the largest and most important towns in Macedonia, being both the administrative centre of a vilayet and the headquarters of the Turkish Commander-in-Chief in Macedonia and Albania. From Bitolya roads fanned out to all parts of Macedonia, across the mountains to Resen and Ohrid, and across the plain, eastwards to Prilep and Skopje, and southwards to Lerin, Voden and Salonika. The town was pleasantly situated in the northern foothills of the snow-capped mountain which the Slavs call Pelister and the Greeks - Peristeri, the Dove. Like all large Macedonian towns, it had a motley mixture of population - Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek, Vlah, Armenian, Albanian, Jewish and Gypsy - who used Bulgarian as a lingua franca, even in the council of the vilayet. [15] It had many ancient mosques and churches, baths and caravansarais, and a splendid covered market, with scores of shops, where one could find exotic goods, like Bursa silks, Damascus taffetas, Kashmiri shawls and Persian carpets. Bitolya was the main trading centre for Western Macedonia, and every Monday the open-air markets were crowded with people buying and selling cheese, butter and fat-stock from Prilep, Mariovo and Debŭr, wood from Prespa, charcoal from Krushovo and Tsapari, fish from Ohrid, Prespa and the villages along the Tsŭrna River, apples from Tetovo and Voden, vegetables from the gardens round the town and an abundance of everything else that anyone could possibly need. [16]


Gyorché taught in Bitolya for five years, until the spring of 1896, and in his spare time, he continued to collect ethnographic material. The headmaster of the school, Anton Naslednikov, was very active in local public affairs, and, through him, Gyorché began to take an ever-increasing interest in the work of the Bulgarian Commune in Bitolya. It was the time when the younger generation was becoming impatient of the somewhat autocratic control exercised by the Exarchate and its officials over commune, church and school, and was demanding greater democracy. In Bitolya, too, there was an active Serbian consulate, and both Naslednikov and Gyorché were very energetic in their opposition to its propaganda. Gyorché was successful in persuading two villages that had long been Graecomane and had then succumbed to Serbian propaganda to transfer their allegiance





to the Bulgarian Exarchate. They even burned their Serbian books - two sacks full. Gyorché also wrote a long report on the best way to convert Graecomane villages and sent it to the Exarchate. Thus, while on the one hand, Gyorché was busy fighting the authoritarianism of the Exarchate, he was equally busy trying to unite all Bulgarian Christians under its spiritual banner, despite its obvious shortcomings.


In the summer of 1894, Gyorché was joined in Bitolya by Peré Toshev, who had spent the previous year teaching in Skopje. Peré soon formed a revolutionary circle of which Gyorché naturally became a member, and the two of them began cautiously to recruit childhood friends and other chosen acquaintances, both in Bitolya itself and in the surrounding towns and villages. Early on, Peré made contact with Damé, and they agreed that the Bitolya group should become part of the Salonika Organization, but since, until 1896, the links were comradely rather than structural, the Bitolya revolutionaries worked independently, as they thought best. Their plans were vague and naive, and they were fascinated by bombs, a weapon of which they knew little and of which they had great hopes. The task of recruiting in the surrounding villages devolved mainly on Gyorché, who, as inspector of schools, could travel about without rousing undue suspicion. He also made full use of the possibilities offered by the weekly market; he would go down early, buttonhole a likely candidate, take him home and 'baptize him', as he put it. [17] There was, apparently, no reluctance to join the Organization on the part of the persons approached, and, indeed, Gyorché even stumbled upon several well-established secret groups which had been going about the villages at night, bumping off evil Turks and returning at dawn to their normal professions. The Bitolya group also began to collect rifles, not so much because such weapons were as yet actually needed, but because the ordinary people needed a visible sign of the seriousness of the Organization, and gained confidence from the possession of a gun.


By the spring of 1896 Gyorché had made himself distinctly unpopular with the Exarchate through clashes with Archimandrite Neofit, the Bishop's representative, over the runnng of the village schools, which were in a parlous state, and through his insistent demands for reforms, demands which were fully supported by the local guilds. The Exarchate was forced to dismiss the Archimandrite, but it also put a stop to Gyorché's agitation in Bitolya by transfering him to Salonika before the school year had even finished.


Simeon Radev, who was one of Gyorché's pupils in Bitolya, writes: 'Gyorché Petrov taught us geography, Bulgarian and French. Undoubtedly, he had the strongest personality among all his colleagues... He was not a good teacher. He did not know much French himself, and in Bulgarian he had not managed to rid himself of his Prilep





dialect. [*] He was pale, even yellowish, with a cold face and eyes which seemed to penetrate our souls, and he emanated something enigmatical; we did not like him. But we were attracted by his geography lessons. From them, we gained an idea of the bounds of our Bulgarian fatherland. He would stress to us - and in those moments, he seemed to become very animated - the indivisibility of Macedonia from the Bulgarian whole.' [18]


Professor Miletich, who recorded Gyorché's memoirs in 1908, describes him as an able, even cunning, diplomat, orator and propagandist, energetic and stubborn to the point of fanaticism in the pursuit of his aim, and always convinced that he was right - a weakness that sometimes isolated him from his comrades. He asked little for himself, accepting without complaint all manner of privations and inconveniences. His outward appearance was modest, and his mode of dress careless, as if to assert his democratic views, but he was, in fact, an extremely proud man, conscious of his own undoubted abilities and bursting with self-confidence. [19]


Before Gotsé and Gyorché began to work together as a permanent team, however, Gotsé had to pass through one more stage of his career as a teacher and revolutionary.


It had been a condition of Gotsé's release from Skopje gaol that he did not return to Shtip, and thus he was obliged to seek employment elsewhere when the new school year began in the autumn of 1896. If the Turks imagined that, by banishing the suspiciously energetic teacher from the town that had produced the recalcitrant Done, they could somehow reduce the danger of further sedition, they were very much mistaken. It mattered little to the leaders of the Organization where they lived and worked, and, indeed, it was their policy to move about in order to develop the work more evenly throughout the province.


In the autumn of 1896, the Exarchate appointed Gotsé head teacher in Bansko, a large village on the beautiful upland plain of Razlog, where three great mountain ranges - Pirin, Rila and Rhodope - all but meet, and gaze at each other across golden cornfields and emerald meadows. Bansko itself is situated below Pirin [**] on the southern edge



*. Of all dialects of Macedonia, that of Prilep is, perhaps, the furthes from literary Bulgarian, much further, for example, than that of the more geographically distant Ohrid, which differs very little from the literary language. Simeon Radev describes how the pupils, filled with national pride, made great efforts to speak pure, literary Bulgarian. No doubt this ambition of theirs led them to be critical of Gyorché's accent.


**. The highest peak in Pirin is Vihren (2915 m). In Bulgarian the name means 'whirlwind'. Until 1945 it was known by its Turkish name, Eltepé, or more properly - Yel-tepé, which means 'Wind Peak'. The peak is formed from marble and is white the whole year round, either with snow, or in its bare antural state.





of the plain, where the sparkling Glazné River comes bounding down from the chain of icy lakes which men call the Eyes of Pirin.


Pirin - the most beautiful and inexorable of all Bulgarian mountains... Pirin - clothed in the dazzling white of virgin snow, the eternal green of pines, and the ever-changing hues of rainbow pastures, lush with grass and sprinkled with scarlet geum, violet gentians, harebells, foxgloves, buttercups and alpine pinks... Pirin, where the song of the streams and waterfalls mingles with the music of sheepbells and the shepherds' pipes... Pirin, with a heart of marble and shoulders of granite... Pirin, whose name commemorates Perun, the Thunder-God of the ancient Slavs, and whose gleaming summit is the lair of clouds and whirlwinds... Pirin, terrible in her wrath and pitiless in her contempt for cowards and weaklings... Pirin, mother of eagles and rebels...


Though a village in name, Bansko was more like a little town. Its streets were wide and clean, with channels of fresh mountain water flowing down them towards to the north. The houses were solid stone buildings, with two storeys; they stood in big courtyards full of fruit-trees and surrounded by high walls, with little gates through which the inhabitants could pass from one garden to another without going onto the streets. Some of the houses had 'towers' - massive structures which outwardly merged with the house, but which were, in fact, impregnable fortresses, with walls several feet thick, iron doors, stone vaults under the ordinary roof beams to make them fireproof, and numerous loopholes so arranged that every entrance into the yard and into the tower itself could be covered by a gun. In time of danger, all the people in a given quarter would crowd into the nearest 'tower'. The houses of Bansko were not only well provided with 'towers' or secret hiding places: they were also warmly and comfortably furnished with thick tufted rugs and carpets woven in brilliant colours and had carved wooden suns upon their ceilings. On the upper storeys there were wide open verandahs from which one could enjoy a panorama of the peaks and forests of Pirin, as well as the flowers and blossom in the gardens.


The people of Bansko - the Banskalii - enjoyed eating and drinking, - especially the latter - and there were few places in Macedonia which could boast so many taverns. Grapes do not flourish on the high plain of Razlog, and the patrons usually drank the light-red wine of Kresna. The Banskalii were not enthusiastic observers of fast days, so much so that in Bansko one could openly eat meat during fasts without incurring public opprobium, something which would be impossible in any other Bulgarian town. This was largely due to the activity of former teacher, Nikola Filipov [20] and a priest, Pop Mitur Arabadzhiyata, both of whom had led a determined campaign against superstition,





fasting and monastic life, and who thus unintentionally prepared the ground for the spread of Protestantism [*] in Bansko. Every household in Bansko kept several pigs and was always well supplied with salted meat, sudzhutsi (sausages) and starets - a delicious local speciality made of chopped pork, mixed with fats, spices and seasoning, cured in a pig's stomach and served like salami. In spite of this love for good fare, the Banskalii were strangely reserved when it came to entertaining guests. Elsewhere it was deemed an honour to have a visitor in one's home, and the traveller who failed to call upon his friends and relatives in other towns caused real offence. In Bansko, however, it was 'not the done thing' to visit a house without an explicit invitation - except on namedays - and such invitations were rarely issued. Outsiders were expected to put up at inns, and it was the exception rather than the rule for close relations - if they had any - to invite them to stay in their homes.


Like everything else in Bansko, the school was strongly built and well-appointed. Built about 1857 or 1858, when Nikola Filipov was introducing the new system of teaching, it was made largely of stone, and had two floors, with a verandah in the centre of the upper storey. On the ground floor there were four rooms, and upstairs there were two more rooms for the pupils, a staff-room, and a large hall, which could be used for lectures, staff meetings, parties, etc. It stood in a wide courtyard, with a flower garden and orchard, a fountain with excellent cold drinking water, and a sports-ground, equipped with parallel bars, ropes, poles and other apparatus for gymnastics. The school also had leather balls stuffed with goat's hair, which the pupils used to throw at each other and try to dodge. The school was amply supplied with play space, because it had managed to acquire a house with a large garden which occupied the area between it and the church. The house had been bought by the local Protestants, who had intended turning it into a church, but as a result of protests from the Orthodox, the Protestants had been ousted and the property purchased for the school. [21]


What attracted Gotsé to Bansko was neither the beauty of the landscape nor the excellence of the school, but its strategic position vis-a-vis the frontier with the Principality. Undismayed by the peculiarities of the Banskalii, Gotsé soon wormed his way into their homes and into their hearts, and founded a committee, with Dimitŭr Lazarov Todev as chairman. Todev, usually known as Mingyo, was a merchant with a knowledge of foreign languages, and it was in his house that Gotsé had his lodgings. The committee was founded in a tiny house



*. An American Protestant missionary first came to Bansko in 1867. Others followed and made converts both in Bansko itself and in the nearby villages.





with only two rooms, [*] surrounded by larger houses - including one with a 'tower' and another with a fireproof hiding place - and courtyards with communicating gates, through which the committee members could easily have escaped, had the Turks got wind of their assembly.


Once the seeds had been sown in Bansko, Gotsé went across the plain to Mehomiya (Razlog), through the pass of Predel between Rila and Pirin to Gorna Dzhumaya (Blagoevgrad), and down the valley of the Mesta to Nevrokop (Gotsé Delchev) and founded committees there, too. In a matter of two months, working with the speed and energy of the winds that whirled above Bansko around the summits of Pirin, Gotsé span a web of committees in all the neighbouring villages, including Belitsa, Godlevo, Banya, Bachevo, Dobrinishté, Eleshnitsa and Yakoruda, and arranged several supply channels, through Yakoruda to the Rhodope village of Lŭdzhené (now part of Velingrad) and through Belitsa to Samokov. Soon letters, newspapers and revolutionary literature, including biographies of Levsky and Botev, works by Lyuben Karavelov and Zahari Stoyanov, and books about the French Revolution, began to flow into Bansko and were passed from hand to hand for reading at night behind closed doors and shuttered windows. [22]


Here, in the building of the 'channels', the difference between the Internal Organization and the Supreme Committee is clearly visible. The latter wanted to make a revolution from outside, counting on external forces, both military and diplomatic, with little or no preparation of the people either psychologically or materially, while the Organization wanted, first and foremost, to make a 'revolution in people's minds, [23] knowing that once this had been achieved the rest was easy. In building his committees and 'channels', Gotsé was asking ordinary people to face torture, death or years in prison, and to place their families at risk, and he had to make sure that he had so won them for the 'Cause' that, if they fell into the clutches of the enemy, they would have the spiritual strength and conviction to endure alone and unsupported as Doné had endured. Moreover, many of the people whom Gotsé recruited were very ordinary indeed - shop-keepers, shepherds, drovers, bagpipers, carriers, charcoal-burners, ploughmen and other humble and often illiterate people, for, although teachers were the main driving force in spreading the 'Word' of the Organization, its revolutionary roads led through the forests and over the mountains where simple people lived and worked. Thus, while the Supreme Committee was scheming with officers, diplomats and ministers, the Organization was infusing a sense of their own power and worth into an entire population intimidated by five hundred



*. This house no longer exists, although the neighbouring ones do.





years of foreign oppression and dulled by the harshness of their existence, and it was giving them books as well as guns.


In the intervals between his revolutionary activity, with its constant travelling and irregular hours, Gotsé conducted the affairs of the school, wrote reports to the Exarchate and taught French. He spoke French with a very soft pronunication, saying 'lya' instead of 'la'; this fascinated his pupils, but try as they would, they could never achieve the same softness. They remember him as being 'very learned, very kind, and very smartly dressed and handsome', with 'beautiful black, thoughtful eyes', and his lessons were 'sheer pleasure'. He always spoke quietly, and was never stern or angry, yet his classes invariably listened to him in silence and with respect, and always knew their lessons. Under his leadership, life in the school was transformed: his gentleness and patience infected everybody - staff and pupils alike - and the former harshness and spirit of compulsion completely vanished. [24]


So far, Gotsé had successfully combined his official and secret professions, but the latter was already becoming predominant, not merely in order of importance - that it had always been - but as a time-consumer that would brook no rival. Gotsé began to suffer from diplomatic 'indispositions'; he would absent himself from the school for 'reasons of health', and would slip away out of the village on committee business.


In the late autumn, things came to a head, when the local elders, egged on by the more timorous chorbadzhii, [*] called him to a meeting of the commune and told him that they could not tolerate a headmaster who spent his time trying to set the world on fire instead of attending to his own business.


'Eh, brothers,' Gotsé answered, 'if God gives you life, you yourselves will bring brands for this fire.' [25]


The chorbadzhii of Bansko had not yet reached that stage, and they referred the matter to the Bishop of Nevrokop, who was Gotsé's immediate superior. Gotsé warned the Bishop in the name of the Organization not to interfere, and won his point, but, in spite of this, he did not stay in Bansko. He had accomplished what he had come to do, and he felt that the time was ripe for him to exchange the life of a school master for that of a full-time professional revolutionary. On November 1, 1896, he wrote to the Exarch in Constantinople requesting His Beatitude to accept his resignation, since his state of health prevented him from carrying out his duties.


Then, free as a Pirin eagle, he left Bansko by the secret roads which he had created and went to Sofia.



*. Rich and influential men.


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1. The bombs were emty. The Bitolya Committee has asked Gotsé to send them some to look at, so that they could see what they were like and draw encouragement from them. As Gyorche Petrov said: 'We were not yet relying on the strength of the people, and were seeking salvation in bombs.' (Mat... Vol. VIII, p. 22). Nether the Turks nor the Bulgarians in Bitolya knew anything about bombs.


2. The account of the 'affairs' of Doné Stoyanov and the unnamed peasant from Vinitsa are taken from the memoirs of Gyorche Petrov, who was in Bitolya at the time. See Mat... Vol. VIII, p. 22-24.


3. See Krum Khristov. Gotsé Delchev, Sofia, 1955, pp 99-100.


4. See Yavorov. p. 172.


5. See: Yavorov, p. 173. There is some confusion about the chronology of this period of Gotsé's life. He was arrested twice, once about a month after Doné was caught and again

about June 20 1896.


6. See Stamatov, pp 30-31.


7. Gotsev list. 1935, p. 7.


8. The date of the Congress is uncertain. In the past, most authors have assumed that it took place during the summer vacation. We accept the view advanced by Dr Pandev in his Thesis (1970), p. 165, and supported by circumstantial evidence, that the Congress could not have taken place in the summer after Gotsé's release from gaol in Skopje, because several of those known to be present at the Congress were elsewhere during the summer months, while Sarafov, who was in Salonika at the time of the Congress, was there after his visit to Mount Athos, which coincided with the visit of the King of Serbia. This took place in the spring of 1896. The date of the Congress is of academic interest only, and whether it was in the spring or summer vacation does not have much bearing on its significance or on other events. Unfortunately, many of those who have written their memoirs of this and other events in Macedonia are faulty or vague in their memory of dates.


9. Gyorché Petrov's memoirs. Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 49.


Gyorché Petrov was the son of a shopkeeper who sold wine, spirits and other items in the village of Varosh near Prilep. He was educated at Bulgarian schools in Prilep and Bitolya before entering the Salonika High School. For much of his school career, Peré Toshev was his class-mate, and both were expelled from the High School for their part in various protests and revolts against the Headmaster, who was more conservative than many of the teachers and most of the boys would have wished. Like Peré, Gyorché then went to Plovdiv, but he was forced by illness to return home in the summer of 1885. Inevitably, he became a teacher, first in Shtip (1885-1887), then in Skopje (1887-1891) and finally in Bitolya, where he was teaching at the time of the Congress.


10. During Gotsé's lifetime, the Organization had three Statutes: the first was drawn up by Damé Gruev in 1894, the second by Gyorché Petrov, with some help from Gotsé, after the Salonika Congress in 1896, and the third by Gotsé in 1902 (this was an amended version of the second). Two of these Statutes have come down to us: one entitled 'The Statute of the Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Committees' (BMARC) and the other - 'The Statute of the Secret Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization' (SMARO). Neither, however, is dated, and it was long assumed that the Statute of the Secret Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization was the one adopted after the Salonika Congress of 1896. This view was refuted by Dr Konstantin Pandev in his article Ustavi i pravilnitsi na VMORO predi Ilindenskoto-Preobrazhenskoto vŭstainie (Istorichesky Pregled Book I, 1969, p. 68-80).





By comparing the two documents with memoir amterial, with what is known of the state and practice of the Organization at various stages of its development, and other circumstantial evidence, Dr Pandev has convincingly argued that the Statute of the BMARC is the one drawn up in 1896, and that the Statute of the SMARO is the revised version of 1902. We accept Dr Pandev's dating.


Exactly when the Statute and Rules were drawn up is also not clear. All that is certain is that it was sometime after the Congress when both Gotsé and Gyorché were in Sofia. Gyorché is known to have been in Sofia in July 1896, and again from March 1897 onwards. It is not impossible that Gotsé went to Sofia during the summer vacation of 1896, but there is no actual evidence that he did. If he did not, then the Statute and Rules cannot have been drawn up before March 1897.


11. The Rules, together with the Statute, were published by Konstantin Pandev in Izvestiya na Instituta za Istoriva. Vol. 21, 1970 pp. 245-275. The original Rules are preserved in Blagoevgrad OIM inv. No. 1042 and Smolyan ODA f 30 k ap 1 a.e. 6.


12. Materiali... Vol: VIII. p. 56.


13. Gyorché Petrov published the results of this research under the title Materiali po izuchavané na Makedonia (Sofia 1896).


14. See Materiali... Vol. VIII, p. 9.


15. See Simeon Radev, Ranni Spomeni, Sofia 1969, p. 185.


16. See V. Kŭnchov. Vol. I, p. 374-377. Sofia, 1970.


17. Materiali... Vol. VIII, p. 15.


18. Simeon Radev. Ranni Spomeni, p. 195-196.


19. See Materiali... Vol. VIII, Introduction.


20. Nikola Filipov was educated at the famous Greek school in Melnik, and in 1858 he introduced the new Bell-Lancaster teaching method into the Bansko school.


21. Much of the material about Bansko is taken from Vasil Kŭnchov, Izb. Pro. Vol I, pp 283-297, and pp 320-327.


22. See Il. Ilinden, Year I, book 10, 1928, p. 11.


23. See Nikola Zografov. Nyakolko dumi za borbité v Makedonsko-Odrinskata organizatsia. Kyustendil 1901, p. 6. The expression was a favourite of Gotsé's, see Gotsé Delchev, Pisma... p. 313.


24. This memoir by one of his pupils was published in Makedonsko Delo (Vienna), Year 3, 1928. Gotsév broi. p. 10.


Much of this material was confirmed by another former pupil, the late Nikolai Razlogov, to whom we spoke in Sofia in 1974.


25. Yavorov. Opus cit. p. 175.