Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



What is the softest and warmest

thing in the world?

The heart.

    (Bulgarian saying)


One of the important conclusions which had emerged from the discussions in Salonika was that the Organization had reached a stage of growth at which it was essential to have permanent representatives in the Principality who would arrange the dispatch of supplies and maintain proper liaison with the emigrés and other interested parties. This was the work which Gotsé had in mind when he left Bansko for Sofia in the late autumn of 1896.


He found the Supreme Committee at rather a low ebb. The failure of its diplomatic initiatives had led to a gradual decline in activity, and many of the provincial Macedonian societies had become so apathetic that they did not even send delegates [*] to the Third Congress, held in Sofia in November 1896. The Committee's main efforts after the Congress were aimed at trying to revive the provincial committees and to raise a loan. In fact, very little was done; not all members of the Committee attended meetings, and in March General Nikolaev gave up the chairmanship on his appointment as adjutant to Prince Ferdinand. His place was taken by his Vice-chairman, Yosif Kovachev, but the Committee continued to be weakened by resignations, and, in May 1897, the writer Aleko Konstantinov, who had been a member from the beginning, was killed by an assassin's bullet.


In June 1897, an Extraordinary Congress was called, partly because of the need to elect new members to the Committee, and partly because of the new political situation created by the outbreak of war between Greece and Turkey (February 1897), following direct Greek intervention in the uprising in Crete. The Extraordinary Congress was not particularly well attended, either, and there was some difficulty even in finding people to lead the Supreme Committee. Gotsé was among those elected, but, in a letter to Kovachev, he declined to serve on the Committee, saying that his 'position in the Cause' did not permit him to accept. [1] At first, neither Hristo Stanishev [2] nor Andrei Lyapchev would accept election, either, but later both were persuaded to remain on the Committee, and eventually Stanishev agreed to become Chairman.


A contributing factor to the decline of the Supreme Committee was the negative attitude of Stoïlov's Government. After the recognition



*. There were 37 societies, and the Congress should have been attended by at least 40 delegates. Only 20 attended the first session, and another 6 arrived later.





of Ferdinand, the Government wanted to maintain good relations with Turkey, and believed that it could achieve improvements in Macedonia through agreement. In this situation, the Supreme Committee was not merely superfluous but a positive nuisance, since, in matters connected with Macedonian policy, it tended to act as though it were a government. For this reason, from 1896 onwards, Stoïlov did everything possible to weaken the Supreme Committee and to minimize its importance. At the same time, he maintained contact with the Internal Organization, partly because he wanted to isolate it from the Supreme Committee, partly because he wanted to show that he was still interested in the liberation of Macedonia, and partly because he hoped that, by helping, he might gain some influence in the Organization.


The policy of the Internal Organization was still to accept aid from all sources without surrendering its sovereignty, and to have normal relations with the Supreme Committee as far as this was possible in view of the differences between them. Matters improved somewhat after the less pretentious Stanishev took over the leadership, but no really close links could be forged, and most of the time relations between the members of the two organizations were polite but cool. As time went by, the Internal Organization tended to ignore the Supreme Committee altogether, since the latter had little influence and few funds, but the Organization always acted honourably towards the Supremists and refused to become a party to Stoïlov's campaign against it. [3]


Gotsé was the first of the Organization's leaders to turn 'professional', but, even so, he found that the work of a 'representative abroad' was too much for one man, especially since he was often out of Sofia in the frontier towns. He wrote several letters to the Central Committee, asking them to mandate a second representative to share the work. At a meeting held in Grigor Popev's house in Salonika, the matter was discussed by Dame, Ivan Hadzhinikolov, Dr Tatarchev, Gyorché and Grigor Popev. Dr Tatarchev and Ivan Hadzhinikolov suggested that Damé should go, but he reacted like a scalded cat and said that he would rather renounce the struggle and everything else, including himself, than leave Macedonia. [4] The meeting then agreed that Gyorché should go, and, in March 1897, he joined Gotsé in Sofia.


This was the beginning of an ideal partnership which, through the years, brought immense benefit to the Organization. Gotsé and Gyorché loved each other like brothers and worked together in perfect harmony, often to the discomfiture of those who hoped to derive some advantage by driving a wedge between them and playing off the one against the other. Indeed, an additional reason for Gotsé's refusal





to accept election to the Supreme Committee was his suspicion that the invitation was a manoeuvre to isolate him from Gyorché. [5]


They divided the work between them by mutual consent, according to their inclinations. Gyorché, who enjoyed controversy and diplomatic intrigue, dealt with the more official side - negotiations with Government ministers, officers and members of the Supreme Committee - while Gotsé gratefully switched his attention to practical things, such as gun-running and bomb-making.


The world of hard-headed businessmen and two-faced politicians was utterly alien to Gotsé. Their hypocrisy, greed and opportunism filled him with sorrow and revulsion, and caused him almost physical pain, because they assaulted his faith in Man. Gotsé did not subscribe to the doctrine of Original Sin. He believed that Man was born good, or, at worst, that every human being had within him a hidden pearl of worth that could be discovered, a divine spark of goodness that could be breathed upon and fanned into flame. He believed that people responded to love and sincerity as flowers respond to rain and sunshine; love and mercy were his primary weapons in the struggle against all human failings and weaknesses, from selfish indifference to down-right treachery; love and pity were his response to those who wronged him.


Gotsé loathed quarrels and arguments of all kinds. He enjoyed heart-to-heart talks which brought people closer together, unlocked the secret places of the soul and established direct communication. He could place himself in the shoes of his interlocutors, and often he seemed to feel their woes more than they did themselves. But, because he could help them with love and understanding, this did not hurt him in the way that evil in men and discord in the Organization hurt him beyond endurance.


Once Gotsé was present at a quarrel between Damé Gruev and Peré Toshev which had reached a point at which the two men were sitting in icy silence, each avoiding the other's gaze, and fuming with nervous rage. Gotsé watched them in agony, with tears running down his face into his thick moustaches, and then, in all seriousness, he handed his revolver to each in turn, begging them to shoot him if they were going to devour each other, because he could not bear it. When neither would take the weapon or break the dreadful silence, Gotsé threatened to shoot himself, and, putting the revolver to his head, he might well have done so had not Mihail Chakov leapt at him and caught his hand, so that the bullet flew into the ceiling. Everyone screamed, and Gotsé collapsed onto the floor, unhurt but obviously overcome by emotional stress. A moment later there was a tearful reconciliation as Damé and Peré joined Gotsé on the dirty floor of the hotel bedroom, hugging both him and each other. Nothing more





was said about the original difference of opinion, and Chakov, who had entered the room during the silent stage of the quarrel, never did learn what it had all been about. [6]


Both Gyorché and Gotsé were highly successful recruiters to the 'Cause', but each had his own characteristic approach. Gyorché was a great debater, an indefatigable master of the spoken word. On his own admission, he was quite capable of talking for four or even ten hours at a stretch - until he collapsed from exhaustion - in order to convince someone of his point of view. [7] He enjoyed analyzing not merely what other people actually expressed, but also what they were trying to hide, and all who entered into conversation with him were immediately aware that they were dealing with a mind that was both brilliant and down-to-earth.


Gotsé's approach was entirely different. He did not even try to convince with arguments, unless the situation positively demanded it - in which case, he would intervene with such good sense and authority that usually all opposition would melt away. Normally, however, he preferred to allow other people to talk about themselves and their problems, and then he would share his own feelings and experiences with them, imperceptibly leading towards commitment to the 'Cause'.


Kliment Shapkarev has described Gotsé's technique in the following way: 'Gotsé would sit crosslegged on the minder, [*] or on a chair in the corner, by a table, and around him there would be a circle of young school-leavers on the threshold of an ordinary working life. Gotsé would ask them: "How are you? How do you feel? Are you satisfied with things? Are you eager to enter life tomorrow? Are you attracted by the life around you and the position of your older comrades?" And they would answer him: No!... No!... No! Gotsé would see malcontents, with souls that rebelled against the system, against the order of things, against their position and against the accumulated moral traditions. They would speak out, some of them very sharply and boldly. Gotsé would hear them out and say: "It was the same with me. I, too, was dissatisfied and met people who were young like you, yearning for goodness and beauty, yearning to speak out, to protest." Those around him would sigh, flush, grow radiant, and some would even have tears in their eyes, and Gotsé would begin his confession: "I, too, could have remained in my job, at work, bending my neck, enduring and being a slave. But I read a lot and learned that this was senseless and that this kind of life was not for me. Even when 1 was still at school, I yearned for freedom, for liberty above all else, but I could not see it anywhere among us, and I could not find it anywhere. Neither could I see any point in living just to eat, exist and die. One might just as well not have been born. I searched in the



*. Built-in seats arranged along the walls.





books, I searched in the past, in the lives of others. I read a lot, I searched a lot, and at last I saw the place where a man could find freedom for himself, where he could be infinitely free, and that was... on high with the eagles. There a man can feel like them, breathe pure air and stand independent of all that his gaze and his thought can bring to his imagination."


'In their souls, the young people would fly into infinite space, and Gotsé would continue his confession: "I also sought to give some meaning to my life. To live? Why? Isn't it better to commit suicide? I sought and read. I read and sought the meaning of life, and of my life in particular.


' "I renounced all squabbles and bickering, all struggles in everyday life; I took no pleasure in any competition to raise oneself on other people's backs and to stand above the rest. I thought of the many who have given their lives in various ways for the sake of goodness, for the sake of beauty, for the benefit of the people, for our country. With my weak powers, I cannot reach the giants. I found that I could give meaning to my life most easily, most quickly and to best effect if I came down from the eagles' heights into the countryside where there are wretched, literally wretched, good brothers of ours, who are perishing and rotting under more than one form of bondage, more than one kind of slavery. I would go to them, to take them into my soul, to warm their frozen hearts with love, to tell them not to quarrel, not to get angry with each other, not to do each other wrong. To tell them to love one another, and not to resort to the Turkish courts, but to resolve their disagreements in a brotherly fashion; not to be slaves to the beys; to receive with open arms the young men who have abandoned all to come among them, to give them support, to go round all the villages and towns everywhere to teach them this, to propagate this. And also to link one village with another, so that everything can be agreed upon between them. Of course, this can't happen and one can't get moving unless one has a gun on one's shoulder. If we can get the Turks to understand this as well - fine. But naturally, we can't expect the sultans and pashas to accept this, and so - so, with the help of other noble people in the world, we shall ask for separation from the sultans, in order to rule ourselves by our-


'And Gotsé would day-dream about how this new world of love and brotherhood could be created. He would continue: "If you do this in one village, in a second one, you will retire to the eagles' heights, feeling blessed and contented - you have done a good, beautiful deed, to the best of your ability. You will go to sleep happy and peaceful. This is what our other predecessors did, the giants - Botev, and Levsky, Karadzhata and Co. And to embrace this life, there's no





need of any effort, or worry, or long preparation. It's enough to want to, to have the desire, to pledge your word to yourself, and then to set forth - today even."


'Their faces would shine, they would be ready to take off, and, if Chuchkov or some other old voivoda was there, he would form a crucifix with his dagger and revolver, and those who were willing would kiss it and repeat the traditional oath, feeling as though they had wings, feeling happy and contented for the first time in their


'And Gotsé would add: "We swear not only to die - that is easy - but to live and to give our whole life to this holy cause." ' [8]


Thus he recruited people from every walk of life - simple and educated, rich and poor - adapting his words to suit the person in question, and, if there was any good in that person at all, Gotsé would find it out and so awake his conscience that there would be no going back. Conversion based on emotion or group hysteria were useless. The leaven had to be planted in their very souls, so that those who kissed the Organization's 'crucifix' in the warmth and comfort of a fire-lit room full of like-minded people, would keep their word to the letter on freezing mountain passes, or stinking cells where the utterance of a name or two could banish the threat of incandescent


In his relations with his friends and the already converted, Gotsé was equally warm and spontaneous. On meeting someone in the street, he would invite him to drink coffee in some cafe frequented by emigrés from Macedonia. He himself liked his coffee sweet and strong, and would often order double the usual quantity - two little copper jugs and one tiny cup. He would take out his cigarettes, offer them to his friends and light one himself. He used a cigarette-holder and was a heavy smoker, a fact which he made no attempt to hide.


'He would be the first to start talking, while you gazed at him, delighting in him, and he would go straight to your very soul and touch its most sensitive chords. He would ask you how you were, with such intimacy and sympathy that you came to believe that he could see everything in your soul and reacted with you and in exactly the same way. And you would open your mouth - you couldn't help trusting him, you couldn't help telling him things that you hid from yourself. And he would ask you about your relatives and acquaintances as though he, too, were sharing it all. Meekly, imperceptibly, you would uncover your soul (and afterwards you would wonder how it had happened), and you would see that he participated in your experiences and was moved by them more often and more visibly than you were yourself. He seemed to take you into his arms and into his soul, and after a few minutes he would direct your feelings, your





emotions and your personal experiences.' [9]


All who came into contact with Gotsé felt something of his magic and authority. Even his avowed enemies knew that he was a man of his word, a man who could be utterly relied upon, a man who was straightforward in his speech and actions, and who never lied or practised deceit - unless it were to confound the Turkish police. Yet Gotsé, who could enter men's souls as easily as ordinary mortals enter a public building, was himself totally oblivious of his own worth and importance. What was obvious to the most ignorant, illiterate peasant and to the most sophisticated courtier alike, never crossed Gotsé's own mind. He was genuinely modest and unassuming, genuinely convinced that he could never 'reach the giants', and content to work as one of a collective. He never thought of himself as a leader with an image to create and maintain, and, for this reason, he was always natural, spontaneous and utterly sincere in his reactions and relationships.


Once, after an evening spent with a number of friends in the garden of a Sofia restaurant, drinking beer and listening to a group of Italian musicians and singers, indulging in reminiscences about Salonika and telling jokes - in between arranging a Sunday picnic in Knyazhevo and receiving reports and messages from couriers of the Organization - Gotsé returned to the Hotel Battenberg, where he was sharing a room with Kliment Shapkarev. The latter was evidently both impressed and not a little surprised by the evening's events, and Gotsé, sensing this, remarked:


'Let them see, let them know that I'm like everybody else. I eat, drink, smoke, chat, laugh, make jokes, make mistakes, do what I please, enjoy listening to music, and do everything like other people. Let thein not think I and my comrades are supermen. Let them see that anybody can be like me, like us, providing that he wants to. All that is needed is the desire, sincere and firm. A man has eaten, drunk, done what he pleased, enjoyed his youth, and even made mistakes. If today, this very hour, if he has a sincere and firm desire to serve with devotion and selflessness, everything else is past and outlived, and we, too, have outlived it and are still outliving it. Everyone can be what I am, what my comrades are - just providing that he wants to.' [10]


Gotsé's first concern on arriving in Sofia was to organize the supply of arms to the interior. He was in no hurry to re-establish contact with the Supreme Committee, for the wounds inflicted by Nikolaev's taunts and sarcasm were still sore, and Gotsé jibbed at the idea of having them re-opened. Men like Nikolaev and Kovachev conflicted with Gotsé's view of the world and humanity, and, rather than poison his heart with hatred and anger, he preferred to ignore them and try to





forget. In any case, the Supreme Committee had little money at its disposal and could not be of any great assistance.


The officers' committee presented more hopeful prospects, since three of the members - Naum Tyufekchiev and the Ivanov Brothers - were arms merchants. They supplied the Bulgarian Army with weapons from Western Europe, and when these became obsolete - as they did very quickly, since they were usually sold to Bulgaria in the first place precisely because they were obsolete - the merchants bought them up again and sold them where they could. At the time when Gotsé arrived in Sofia, the Army was in the process of being re-equipped, and therefore plenty of weapons were coming onto the market. Tyufekchiev was advertising revolvers in the newspapers, and the Ivanov Brothers were buying up whole store-houses of guns under circumstances more than a little suggestive of graft, for the Brothers were hand in glove with the Minister for War and had even built him a house!


Both firms were prepared to 'oblige' the Organization, but the more Gotsé saw of their business methods, the more revolted and despairing he became. Tyufekchiev was charging inflated prices for even the most ordinary revolvers, without the 'mother o' pearl handles' and 'exquisite engraving' mentioned in the advertisements, while the Ivanov Brothers were charging Albanian customers 40 or 50 leva each for rifles which they themselves had purchased for an average of 2.70 leva. When, with the consent of the Government, the firm actually offered to make the Organization a present of several thousand surplus rifles, a hidden snag eventually came to light: the Government prevaricated over the supply of cartridges, and indeed, none were ever supplied. This was a clear attempt on the part of the Government to obtain a measure of control over the activities of the Internal Organization, and Colonel Ivanov, Minister for War, actually told Gyorché to his face: 'We're not idiots to give you cartridges as well; thus we shall keep power in our own hands, otherwise you'll turn away from us.' [11] Later the Government tried to forbid the Organization to send the guns to the Adrianople district as well, saying that they did not want the Bulgarian element there to suffer, but Gotsé and Gyorché insisted that 'wherever our people are slaves, there we must equally prepare revolution.'


The whole affair stank of shady deals and party politics, but - beggars cannot be choosers - and the Organization had no alternative but to do business with them. It accepted the guns, because even a cartridgeless gun acted as a morale-raiser in Macedonian villages, and because it hoped to buy suitable cartridges privately long before the guns were actually needed for a rising. Nevertheless, the cynical deception rankled: from a land in thrall where honest men were prepared





to risk everything for freedom, Gotsé had come to a land of freedom where lust for wealth and power was acting like a cancer of the conscience, and the transition was very painful.


He sought consolation among the Macedonian Socialists, who in 1896, under Vasil Glavinov's leadership, had formed a Macedonian Revolutionary Social-Democratic Union, as part of the Bulgarian Workers' Social-Democrat Party led by Dimitŭr Blagoev. Glavinov, who edited a Socialist paper, was also feeling the lack of funds, and the two men decided to obtain a forced 'donation' from the Government, with the help of Naum Zlatarev, a young post-office clerk in Kyustendil, who came from Ohrid and was also a Socialist. At Christmas 1896, Zlatarev took 28,000 leva [12] from the post-office safe and fled over the border into Macedonia, having passed on 25,000 leva 12 by prior arrangement to Glavinov and Kiprov - a student at the teacher-training college in Kyustendil - to give to Gotsé.


The Organization, however, never received a single stotinka of the money. Glavinov maintained that they had buried the money near a river which had subsequently flooded and washed it away. Nikola Zografov considered that Glavinov had simply appropriated the money for his newspaper and other Socialist enterprises, instead of giving it to the Organization [13] - an accusation which Glavinov categorically denied. In spite of prolonged investigations and much unpleasantness, the missing money was never found, neither was the truth about its disappearance ever established.


The unsatisfactory conclusion of the robbery left the Organization's financial problems unsolved, and Gotsé was in permanent difficulties over money. His letters speak alternately of consignments of weapons and of the urgent need to find money to pay for their purchase and transport. On January 30, 1897, he wrote to Nikola Zografov: 'I received the money sent through Kŭrblarev. Now things are a little easier for me, but the wretched pocket has a hole in it - you delight it momentarily with a couple of gold pieces, and, whether you like it or not, the gold immediately disappears, and the silver too, and the copper, if you like. What is to be done, I don't know. If only I could turn myself entirely into gold, perhaps I wouldn't be seen, but nobody asks you about bones and muscles, or even looks at you, either.'


Towards the end of the letter he wrote: 'Get horses, but see that they are good strong ones which, loaded, can cross bogs and snowdrifts. We've no money for bread, yet we're going to feed horses. We are ruined, but carry on and to Hell with it!' [14]


On February 11 1897, he wrote again to Nikola Zografov, informing him that the supply channel through Dupnitsa was ready, but that they had not yet begun to transport guns through it: 'The sole snag is poverty, which badly interferes with the possibility of arranging trans-





port to Dupnitsa; therefore, I am expecting the whole sum which you've got left; either bring it yourself, or, if you can't come soon, send it with someone.' Then he added: 'If you can, send the money as soon as possible - it runs away like water, but there's no spring providing income.' [15]


When money for guns was short, Gotsé himself suffered hardship and privation, for he no longer had his teacher's salary and was dependent on the Organization. Initially, the latter was supposed to pay its representatives abroad a small salary, but their ideas of morality drove them to try to live on private resources, mainly through the generosity of friends, [16] and to use the Organization's money solely for guns, etc. When, as sometimes happened, guns could not be moved because there were insufficient funds to pay the carriers, it meant that Gotsé himself was utterly penniless. There is, however, no hint of complaint or self-pity in his letters. Gotsé took his own suffering for granted, as a natural consequence of having been born in Macedonia, and accepted it without a thought. He neither consciously practised stoicism, nor regarded himself as a martyr; he simply did not think about himself, except, as Yavorov put it, possibly when he was asleep. Yet he was constantly aware of the needs of others, not merely of the needs of the people and the movement as a whole, but those of individuals as well, and he had time and a welcoming smile for all who sought his company. When writing to Nikola Zografov on December 24 1896, he remembered that Nikola would receive the letter on Christmas Day, and deliberately did not write in code, so as not to burden his comrade with the trouble of having to decode it on a holiday. [17] In another letter to Nikola, his remarks about there being no money for transport through Dupnitsa are followed by an urgent request for under-clothes for Georgi Tsvetkov, a member of the Organization, who, 'poor chap', had 'nothing to wear'. [18] Gotsé did not even grudge Nikola his moments of private happiness: 'How are you getting on with Raina? [*] It's nice for a man to have a fiancee, isn't it? Give her my regards...' The letter ends, as do many of Gotsé's letters, 'with a brotherly kiss.' [19]


But if Gotsé was able to ignore the pangs of hunger and the other ills of poverty - not to speak of the fiery agony of his stomach ulcer activated by irregular meals and unsuitable food - there were times when he screamed aloud under the mental torture inflicted upon him by knaves and party-politicians, who shook his faith in the human race.


The painfully inconclusive affair of the Kyustendil robbery was followed by attempts on the part of the arms merchants to profit from the Organization's need, by the problems of getting cartridges for the



*. Raina was Nikola Zografov's fiancée.





'gift' of guns, by the sickening political intrigues which characterized public life in the Principality, by the equivocal behaviour of certain Government officials in the frontier zones, and by the disruptive activity of spies and undisciplined haramii - all of which created endless complications and headaches for the Organization and its already overburdened workers.


Gotsé's letters to Nikola Maleshevsky, [20] in particular, are full of sorrow and indignation against the activities of such people: i received your letters of the 9th and 8th instant last night. I'm much amazed by your news. What kind of a place is Dupnitsa at the moment? A den of bandit voivodi, and, because of this, a nest of spies as well. I'm not going to talk about the latter, except to commend their skill in choosing the place in which they can best fulfill their duties to the letter. They can buy [*] a lot of things from the voivodi, because they (the voivodi) are not miserly in boasting about their great deeds, not merely when they are drunk, but even when they are sober. Woe betide those who have helped them! Could we help these unfortunate people in this case? What other remedies could we use, when the pharmacy won't give us the remedies which we want? Never mind, except we must destroy the nest of spies. And that can be done if we have our people who can become a scourge, who can employ cruelty - in a word, to root them out by murders, and of a kind, moreover, that will shake everybody. You be careful, too, not to fall into their jaws unawares. Don't trust anybody.' [21]


Gotsé's misery and disgust at the attitude of the Bulgarian Government and the delays over the supply of arms found expression in the following cri-de-coeur, written to Nikola Maleshevsky on May 4th 1897:


'It's hard for a man to do business with charlatans like those in the Government here; alas for us that need forces us to seek their aid, but what can we do? "A drowning man clutches at a straw." I know that power is the symbol of deceit, violence and plunder, but, I tell you, our need dictates that we turn to these political chameleons. I can easily put myself in the shoes of the couriers who have left their own work and will still return empty-handed; but there isn't anybody to put himself in my position, deprived of the power at one fell swoop to take revenge on such inhuman acrobats and proudly to advance the idea, which has become a defenceless, helpless woman to these scoundrels.


'You tell me to send a telegram for you to go to Sofia, to speed up the dispatch. You must know that you are helpless in the face of their smiles (hidden mockery) and their empty promises; you'll return more bare-foot than you were before. Graft, graft, and graft



*. Here 'buy' means 'to find out'.





again - that's the size of it. Let us keep silence, let us weep in secret, let us curse everything living, buried in crude self-interest and carried away by materialism. I expected little and found a lot. I won't have to go into the fiery furnaces of torment after death: here torments much direr, more frightful, more cruel have overwhelmed my soul. Reveille will sound for us, too, and then woe betide them...


'This is my answer, and instead of passing along the telegraph wire, let these words pass along your most sensitive chords and imprint themselves on your soul under the heading: "Drive out the rulers, hate and rise up against all in power."


'Even if you went to Sofia, there's nothing you could do. Gyorché Petrov is there; they've apparently given him promises, but when - when the need arises for them to cover up some business deals of theirs. Don't grieve, don't despair, neither give cause to the couriers to despair. Let them not be hasty either. Even if there were something, we would have had to have stopped sending things, because these same Government people, apart from their other dirty deeds, want, it seems, to repeat the shameful game they played with our cause in 1895. [*]


'These movements seem to me to be dictated all the time by the pygmies in the Government, so let us at least beware of some catastrophe - in case someone gets caught in the event of movements by the cheti. Pacify and calm all the couriers.


'With a brotherly kiss,

            Ahil' [22]



Gyorché's arrival in Sofia during March 1897 was a great relief to Gotsé. There were now two of them to share the work and the heartaches, and Gyorché, who was psychologically better equipped to deal with 'charlatans', 'political chameleons' and ministerial 'pygmies', readily relieved Gotsé of the torment of actually having to meet them. Gyorché, too, eventually became disillusioned with the Bulgarian Government and its partisan manoeuvres: 'It was only after a time that we understood the Government's machinations, its efforts to take over the Organization so as to paralyze it, and we became convinced that our original standpoint of complete sincerity vis-a-vis the Bulgarian Government regarding the cause of liberation had been sheer naivete. Initially, in this naivete of ours, we could not even imagine that any Bulgarian, least of all Bulgarian ministers, could not be enthusiastic about our aim and our activity. In the Central Committee's letter about Stoïlov's threat to arrest us, this naivete is still



*. A reference to the Melnik action. Gotsé is afraid that the Government is preparing a similar adventure with the co-operation of the haramii.





visible. [*] It said: "If you do such a thing, then it will no longer be the action of a Bulgarian minister, but the action of Stoïlov." Later we realized that many other Bulgarian ministers saw things like this, and that in many cases we and the Bulgarian Governments had opposing interests.' [23]


Since the supply of arms through the Government and their agents was fraught with intrigue and uncertainty, and since, moreover, Tyufekchiev and Co. were shamelessly overcharging, Gotsé determined that the Organization should at least learn to make its own bombs. In the spring of 1897, he went to Odessa to seek the help of Armenian revolutionaries who were experts in the manufacture of bombs and infernal machines, and he brought two Armenians back to the Principality with him. [24] Gyorché Petrov had also been in touch with Armenian revolutionaries in Constantinople and Varna, and, through them, on his way from Salonika to Sofia, he obtained the services of a master bomb-maker named Kirkor. With the help of an ironmaster in Sofia, who cast the bomb cases for them, they managed to manufacture a few bombs.


Then they decided to set up a more ambitious secret 'bomb-factory' where production could be carried out on a larger scale and in greater safety. The site chosen was a tiny hamlet called Sablyar, consisting of a few cottages high in the wooded mountains on the frontier near Kyustendil. The place was remote and the trees more or less hid the chimney from view, and, although the Bulgarian police were aware that materials suitable for bomb-making were being purchased, the 'industrialists' managed to make them believe that the stuff was being sent unprocessed into Macedonia.


Gotsé bore the brunt of the problems connected with setting up and running the factory, and he spent almost the entire summer of 1897 there, working with a handful of carefully chosen men under the direction of Kirkor, the Armenian specialist, who set a noble example of international solidarity by giving his services free of charge and by sharing all the difficulties and privations of life in Sablyar. Conditions were extremely primitive, and lack of money exacerbated all the problems.


They arrived in Sablyar early in May, soaked 'like ducks from the rain', as Gotsé put it, and began work at once, although the carts bringing the baggage had not arrived, simply because the carters were holding out for more money. [25] Gotsé's first letter to Nikola Zografov from Sablyar asked him to send ticking for mattresses, a kettle, some



*. At one point relations between the Government and the Organization became so strained that Stoïlov considered arresting Gotsé and Gyorché. The Central Committee threatened to hold him responsible, and Rizov was sent to pour oil on the troubled waters with offers of aid.





tea, sugar, salt, vinegar, red and black pepper, tobacco, wine, rakiya, garlic, onions, rice, olive-oil, crockery and 'anything you deem necessary for the running of a bachelor establishment.' He also added: 'And don't forget to send a few leva as well, because I have no money, and we need eggs, butter, etc. These I'll be getting on credit from our landlord, but all the same, I'll need to have something in my pocket.' [26]


According to Gyorché Petrov, who went down to Sablyar to learn the art of bomb-making, their diet usually consisted of beans, or cabbage-soup with rice, and sometimes they had only bread which they made themselves. Occasionally someone from the interior brought them a goat.


The work was hard and heavy. The revolutionaries cast bomb-cases from iron, lead and zinc, in all shapes and sizes, from small hand bombs to large 35 kilogram affairs, and they filled them with various substances, including a mixture of potassium chlorate and sugar, a phosphorus-based incendiary mixture, and substances which produced a gas capable of suffocating a whole roomful of people. They also made knives and daggers and bomb-moulds which they sent into Macedonia. These moulds could be used anywhere, in a house even. Gyorché recalled that they threw themselves into the work of making bombs with 'an awful delight,' cherishing all kinds of naive illusions about wild anarchistic actions. [27] In fact, the Organ-zation was to make very little use of bombs, since its whole strategy was based upon the principle of a mass movement and not on terrorism. But, at the time, the Sablyar 'industrialists' derived great satisfaction from their newly-found ability to make their own weapons at minimum


At one point they received a fraternal visit from Leon, the chemist who was the technical 'brains' of the Armenian revolutionary movement. He inspected the factory and acquainted the 'industrialists' with his latest innovations, including the gas bombs. The 'factory' continued to turn out bombs for about eighteen months, but eventually the Turkish Government got wind of its activity and began delivering notes to the Bulgarian Government. Stoïlov sent an armed posse to surround the 'factory' and the 'industrialists' surrendered without a fight. Neither Gyorché nor Gotsé was there at the time.


Gotsé himself worked at Sablyar until the end of August 1897 with a few breaks during which he attempted to find money. The financial situation was quite desperate, and at times production came to a standstill simply for lack of a few hundred leva. In July 1897, Gotsé took a band of picked men and went into Macedonia with the intention of robbing a few rich Turks or kidnapping them for ransom. Gotsé regarded such actions with distaste as an exceptional contribution by





an individual, rather than as the routine practice of the Organization, for he was concerned for its reputation. He knew, however, that one cannot fight tyranny without using force, and that if one wills the end, one must be practical about the means. Years later, he told Yavorov that the individual must be ready to sacrifice everything for the cause, even his good name and his honour, and added, with a smile: 'Even if we do set store by what people think of us, we still need not worry - there are many yardsticks for what is and is not done!' [28]


An unofficial kidnapping did, in fact, take place in Veles during 1897. The victim was the child of a rich Bulgarian named Vesov, and he was kidnapped with the connivance of his teacher, Parnarov, who took him for a walk and allowed armed youths to seize him. The kidnapping had not been sanctioned by the Central Committee, but, once it had happened, the Organization defended the action against the criticisms of the Bulgarian Government, the Exarchate and their supporters. [29] The child was released unharmed after his parents had paid a ransom of 200 liri but Parnarov was arrested by the Turks and spent five years in prison. [30]


In July 1897 Gotsé and his men attempted to kidnap a rich Turk called Cherkez, who lived in the village of Bukuvets (near Kochani). On entering the village, they exchanged fire with the watch, and then boldly entered the Turk's house. To their great disappointment, Cherkez was not at home, and his mother refused to tell them either where her son was or where they hid their money. Gotsé left it at that, and withdrew his men. As they departed empty-handed, they exploded two bombs on the outskirts of the village in order to discourage pursuit. The Turks were much impressed; not a single one dared follow, and the Bulgarians made their get-away without further trouble. [31]


In September 1897, Gotsé made a new attempt to raise funds through kidnapping. This time, the chosen victim was Nazlim Bey, the son of a Strumitsa landowner, and Gotsé prepared the ground with care. While his men waited in safety near the village of Vasilevo, where Nazlim had a chiflik, he went down into Strumitsa in disguise to spy out the land and to set the trap. On market day, they ambushed Nazlim Bey as he was riding back to his farm with a companion. Gotsé was the first to leap from their hiding place in the fields onto the road and he boldly seized the bridle of the young Turk's horse. Nazlim Bey drew his revolver and would have shot Gotsé had not Mihail Popeto [32] caught the bey's hand, so that instead of burying itself in Gotsé's head, the bullet tore its way along Mihail's arm from wrist to shoulder. The other Turk fled back to Strumitsa and broke the news to Nazlim's family, while the revolutionaries carried their prisoner away to a hut in the mountains. A few days later, after some





haggling, a ransom was arranged, and a party of Turks set out bearing the money. [33]


At the last moment, however, this perfectly organized operation went wrong solely because of Gotsé's over-consideration for his captive's comfort and dignity. It made no difference to Gotsé that Naz-lim's people - if not Nazlim himself - bound, tortured and killed his people; he still regarded Nazlim as a human being and refused to keep him tied up, saying that if they were proper men, they would stay awake and guard him. Unfortunately, even Gotsé fell asleep, worn out by an attack of stomach pains, and he did not notice when the Turk crept over to him and took his revolver. Nazlim then fired at the guard, without hitting him, and escaped into the darkness of the forest. He managed to reach a village, where by chance he ran into the party bringing the ransom money, and turned them back.


Gotsé took the fiasco very badly. 'Crushed and exhausted,' [34] he returned to the Principality, where Gyorché tried to comfort him and urged him not to despair. The memoirs of the period contain no suggestion that Gotsé's comrades blamed or berated him for what had happened. In all probability, they realized that it was useless. When Mihail Popeto returned to Kyustendil to nurse his wound in the hospitable house of Baba Dona, he praised Gotsé's daring and cool leadership, but ended with a gust of laughter: 'That profession's not for Gotsé. He has absolutely no luck at all with beys.' [35]


And it was true. Gotsé had all the imagination and courage necessary for such work; ignoring danger, he would be the first to climb over a wall under gun-fire, in order to open a gate and admit his comrades to a house which they hoped to rob, but he totally lacked and would never acquire the ability to harden his heart.


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1. Gotsé Delchev, Pisma... p. 279. Gotsé was frequently out of Sofia, and his mandate to act officially as the Central Committee's representative in Bulgaria did not allow him to interfere in the affairs of the various emigré organizations, or in Bulgarian politics, but merely to arrange supplies, etc., and keep the Central Committee informed about the activities of other bodies. See Memoirs of Gyorché Petrov, Materiali... Vol. VIII, p. 48.


2. Hristo Stanishev was from Kukush and was an engineer by profession.


3. For example, Stoïlov wanted the Organization to come out openly against the Supreme Committee, but Gotsé and Gyorché, who was by that time also in Sofia, refused (See Materiali... Vol VIII p. 60). On another occasion, Stoïlov had proposed diverting to the Organization, a large sum of money which the Supreme Committee was allegedly to receive from a well-wisher in England. Again Gyorché refused, saying that, no matter what kind of people the members of the Supreme Committee were, if they had managed to find funds for themselves, he would not consent to rob them since he had no doubt that they would use the money for the Macedonian cause, albeit in their own way (See Materiali... Vol VIII p. 47).





4. B. Mirchev. Spomeni. Iz. na Inst. za 1st. 6 1956, p. 502.


5. At the time, Gyorché deliberately left for Kyustendil, so as not to influence Gotsé in his decision as to whether to accept election or not. See Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 82.


6. Chakov's memories as told to H. Delev. Gotsév List, year 11/1 (1935) p. 6-7.


7. Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 61.


8. Kliment Shapkarev. Spomeni i misli za Gotsé Delchev. A lecture given on May 6 1934 in Plovdiv, and later published. Kliment Shapkarev was the son of Kuzman Shapkarev, and had been at school with Gotsé in both Kukush and Salonika.


9. Kliment Shapkarev, Opus cit. p. 5.


10. Kliment Shapkarev, Opus cit. p. 6.


11. Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 61.


12. The ftgures are those given by Nikola Zografov in his book Stroezha na zhivota, Sofia 1927. p. 66.


13. Ibid., p. 65-66.


14. Gotsé Delchev. Pisma... p. 69-70.


15. Gotsé Delchev. Pisma... p. 72.


16. See Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 70.


17. Gotsé Delchev. Pisma... p. 62.


18. Gotsé Delchev. Pisma... p. 72.


19. Gotsé Delchev. Pisma... p. 76. Letter dated March 11, 1897.


20. Nikola Maleshevsky was born in the village of Berovo, but spent most of his life in Dupnitsa. His first contact with the 'Cause' was made in 1895, when the cheti organized by the Supreme Committee passed through the town. Later, under Gotsé's influence, he was won for the Internal Organization, and became its chief agent in Dupnitsa.


21. Gotsé Delchev. Pisma... p. 48. Letter dated April 10, 1897.


22. Gotsé Delchev. Pisma... p. 157-158.


23. Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 62-63.


24. From the diary of Kosta Kondov, who accompanied Gotsé on the journey back. Published in Ilyustratsia Ilinden. Year II/6 1929, p. 14-15.


25. Gotsé Delchev, Pisma... P. 78. Letter dated May 6, 1897.


26. Ibid.


27. Materiali.. Vol VIII p. 69. Most of the information about the 'bomb-factory' is taken from Gyorché's memoirs in the volume, pp. 67-70.


28. Yavorov. p. 180.


29. Materiali... Vol VIII p. 57. Gyorché was against the action.


30. Memoirs of Garvanov. Materiali... Vol V, p. 115-116.


31. From the memoirs of Filip Grigorov. Il. Ilinden Year V/9-10 49-50 1933, p. 11-12.


32. Mihail Popeto was from the Sofia district - a former cavalry man, who could shoot with his left hand, as well as his right. On leaving the army, he had becon policeman in Sofia, and one of his duties had been to listen to the proceedings ir Socialist Club. His conclusions had been that the people on whom he had been sent to spy were talking good sense, and he became one of Gotsé's closest companions.


33. According to Yavorov, the family first offered 1,500 liri which Gotsé sent back. They then agreed upon a compromise of 3000. See Yavorov. Opus cit. p. 182.


34. Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 71. The description is Gyorché's.


35. Makedonsko delo, year 3 1928 (Gotsév broi) p. 11-12.