Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



I am your brother, but I am

also your enemy.

    (Bulgarian saying)


Stoïlov and the Sofia arms-dealers were not the only people to create problems for the Internal Organization. In Macedonia itself, and especially in Salonika, its rapid growth was viewed with mounting dismay by the moderate Exarchists, and all attempts on the part of the Organization to reach agreement with them had ended in failure. At first, the Exarchists had not taken the Organization seriously, and had regarded its leading members - Damé and Ivan Hadzhinikolov, in particular - as 'vagabonds'. When it became clear that all over the country the young people were falling under the influence of the 'vagabonds', the Exarchists changed their policy and attempted to capture control of the Organization. This they hoped to do with the aid of Gyorché Petrov and Peré Toshev, whom, in the period 1895-1896, they mistakenly considered to be 'serious people', as opposed to 'vagabonds'.


Disagreement between the two parties was very sharp. It manifested itself in such things as revolts' in the Salonika School against the more conservative teachers, and in a boycott, by the pupils, of the bookshop owned by the Exarchist Samardzhiev in favour of that owned by the revolutionary Ivan Hadzhinikolov, and Ivan Garvanov, a mathematics master, records that things reached such a pass that he once went into a lesson carrying a revolver! [2] On another occasion, the conservative teachers were on the point of sending for the Turkish police to quell the pupils, when Gyorché Petrov managed to talk them out of it. In general, during the time that they enjoyed the confidence of the Exarchists, Gyorché and Peré did their best to effect a reconciliation between them and the Central Committee, since disunity within the Bulgarian community helped no one but its enemies. Unfortunately, these efforts only resulted in worse quarrels, in spite of the fact that, at times, the Central Committee actually rendered valuable service to the Exarchate. One such occasion was when the ending of the schism between the Exarchate and the Patriarchate was being discussed by the Russian and Bulgarian Governments. An end to the schism would have meant the removal of the Exarchate from Constantinople to Sofia, and a consequent curtailment of the Exarchate's ability to act on behalf of the Bulgarian Christians in territories under Turkish rule. The Exarchate was utterly opposed to the idea of leaving Constantinople and required public





support from the people in the form of petitions signed and sealed by the various Bulgarian communes. The Salonika Exarchists approached the Central Committee, and the Organization at once requested its members all over Macedonia to participate in the collection of signatures, with the result that the Exarchate was inundated with petitions. Gyorché commented: 'We undertook this work wholeheartedly because we were convinced that the Exarchate, as an institution, had to exist in Constantinople, and, if we fought with it, it was over Exarchate affairs in relation to our idea.' [3]


The principal point of divergence was over methods of struggle. The Exarchists sincerely believed that, for the present, the Bulgarian cause could best be served through the peaceful extension of education and that any idea of revolution was premature. They pinned their hopes on eventual liberation through the intervention of the Principality, and considered that any local action against the Turkish authorities could lead to unnecessary destruction and loss of life.


When the Salonika Exarchists realized that they were steadily losing ground to the Central Committee and that they were getting nowhere with Gyorché and Peré, they decided to set up their own rival organization, known somewhat deceptively as the Revolutionary Brotherhood. The foundation meeting took place in March 1897, [*] with fourteen people present, including Hristo Tenchov - Gotsé's former classmate, who was now a teacher of mathematics at the Salonika School - and Ivan Garvanov, [4] who taught mathematics and physics. The Brotherhood's avowed aims, according to its Statute, [5] were to prepare the Bulgarian people for a struggle to win a free political life; to alleviate the individual torments of the people, and to defend the Bulgarian nation from the effects of foreign propaganda. The means to be used were described as the spoken and written word, terror, death and revolution. In fact, as Garvanov's own memoirs make clear, the real aim of the Brotherhood was to take over the Organization, and thus prevent the early outbreak of a revolution which they believed would bring disaster upon the population.


After the foundation meeting, the members recruited from among the older pupils of the school, and some took teaching posts in the provinces, spreading themselves out, so that they could form branches in other towns. They also got into touch with the Supreme Committee, then headed by Kovachev, and began to publish a hectographed newspaper entitled Borba (Struggle), which appeared in seven or eight issues. [6]


A few months later, in November 1897, a second moderate organization was founded in Salonika. This was the Charitable Brotherhood



*. And not, as Gyorché Petrov and Ivan Garvanov say in their memoirs, 1898. Memoirists sometimes mistake dates, which can be verified from other sources.





(Blagodetelnoto bratstvo), whose main aim was to oppose Serbian propaganda and, in particular, to remove Bulgarian children from newly opened Serbian schools, where they had enrolled largely because they were poor, and the Serbs offered all kinds of material inducements, such as free clothes, etc. Most of the leaders of the Charitable Brotherhood were teachers, and the Head of the Salonika School was an ex-officio member of their committee. The Charitable Brotherhood directed its activity solely against foreign propaganda, and in no way attacked the Turkish system, which was, in fact, encouraging such propaganda in order to weaken the Bulgarian cause. The Brotherhood had links with the Bulgarian Government through Atanas Shopov, the commercial consul in Salonika, and Stoïlov himself contributed to its funds and was made an honourary member. The members of the Revolutionary Brotherhood also participated in the work of the Charitable Brotherhood, since they shared its aims, although their own primary objective was opposition to the Internal Organization. Considerable sums of money were collected to support needy pupils, and in a short time there was a mass exodus of Bulgarian pupils from Serbian schools.


The activites of the Charitable Brotherhood presented no problem to the Organization and were more or less ignored. The Revolutionary Brotherhood, on the other hand, was a threat to unity, and efforts were made to reach agreement with the new body. The Brotherhood was prepared to amalgamate with the Organization in return for one or two seats on the Central Committee and recognition of the overall leadership of the Supreme Committee. This was, of course, unacceptable to the Organization, and relations between the two went from bad to worse, apart from a brief interlude of chivalrous rapprochment following the murder of Hristo Ganev, a chemistry teacher, in June 1898. Ganev was killed in the Café Kolombo by a renegade Bulgarian in the service of Serbia, and Garvanov was wounded while trying to save his colleague. The leaders of the Central Committee immediately came to his assistance: Ivan Hadzhinikolov took Garvanov to hospital; Dr Tatarchev offered to treat him free of charge, Hristo Matov sent him a congratulatory letter from Skopje, and Damé Gruev arranged for one of the Organization's terrorists to liquidate the assassin. The truce, however, was short-lived, and soon hostilities broke out again with redoubled bitterness. The Organization twice attempted to assassinate Andon Naumov, Principal of the Teacher-Training School in Serres, and a member of the Brotherhood, who had been making exploratory tours in the Serres and Melnik areas, and had been speaking in the name of the revolutionary cause in general, not specifically on behalf of the Brotherhood, and had thus caused considerable confusion among the Organization's members in the areas concerned.





The attempts at assassination failed, but the Brotherhood discussed retaliatory measures, such as assassinating Dame, Peré, Ivan Hadzhinikolov and Hristo Matov. According to Garvanov, the Organization was planning to kill him as well. [7]


This lamentable state of affairs continued until September 1899, when, following changes in the leadership of the Supreme Committee, hostilities were brought to an end. [8]


During 1897-1898, the Bulgarian Government made various approaches to the Internal Organization through Dimitŭr Rizov, its commercial consul in Skopje. Stoïlov was worried both by the possibility of of an early rising without the knowledge and consent of the Government, and also by the Organization's forcible collection of money. In a conversation between Rizov and the Central Committee, a certain measure of agreement was reached. Although the Organization was adamant on the matter of its ultimate aim - a mass uprising for the achievement of autonomy - it was prepared to give an undertaking not to embark on any hasty revolutionary action, to dovetail its activity with Bulgarian foreign policy and to keep the Government informed through the commercial consuls. In return, it asked for Government help in persuading the Exarchate to appoint Organization members as teachers and school inspectors in specific areas, and in providing arms and money, [*] so that terrorism would be unnecessary. Stoïlov appeared to react favourably to these conditions, but, in fact, very little was done. The Government saw the Organization as a convenient adjunct in a future war against Turkey, but it was not prepared to arm the population in advance, for fear of losing all control over the Organization.


In March 1898, Damé went to Sofia in response to a request from Stoïlov, who wanted to discuss the question of arms with a leader of the Organization. At the meeting, Stoïlov made no definite promises and said that he would give his answer through Rizov. In practice, although he promised Rizov during July that he would send some money, he continued to procrastinate, hoping that the Organization would give up the idea of arming, and, at the same time, he encouraged the Revolutionary Brotherhood as a potential rival to the Organization.


When the Organization saw that no money was forthcoming from the Government, it renewed its attempts to collect money by terroristic means. Shopov, the commercial consul in Salonika, remonstrated with Damé, but he replied that if the Government had kept its word



*. The Organization wanted the Government to assemble supplies of arms for the Skopje vilayet and part of the Salonika vilayet on the frontier in special stores, and to give money which would be used by the Organization to buy arms in Greece for the Bitolya vilayet and the remaining districts of the Salonika vilayet.





and had been honest with the Organization, it would not need to rob, but that, as things were, there was no other way. Eventually, in October 1898, the Government sent 10,000 leva through Rizov, in the hope that the Organization would pay its debts and stop collecting money by force.


Damé had been unemployed since the beginning of the 1897/8 school year, because of accusations of atheism made against him by the conservative chairman of the Bulgarian Commune in Salonika. On the way to Sofia, Damé had seen the Exarch in Constantinople and had told him that, in his opinion, the chairman's attitude towards him was due to his revolutionary activity rather than his atheism. According to Damé, the Exarch reacted sympathetically; he did not ask him to give up his work in the Organization, but merely expressed fears lest hasty revolutionary action might lead to Austrian occupation of Macedonia. Damé had the impression that His Beatitude even seemed to consider that there was some good in the Organization because of its opposition to Serbian propaganda. [9]


Damés constant movement around the Salonika area, as inspector of schools, had not escaped the notice of the Turkish authorities, and in the summer of 1898, they interned him in Bitolya. Their action in no way damaged the Organization, for Damé took over the leadership of the Bitolya regional committee and greatly expanded the work throughout the area. In spite of the restrictions imposed by his internment, he managed to visit not only the neighbouring villages, but also the more important towns in the vilayet, such as Lerin, Ohrid and Prilep. He organized a Sunday school, edited a hectographed newspaper, saw to the supply of arms, and, when, in the autumn of 1899, the Exarchate appointed him as a teacher in the Bitolya school, he recruited the older pupils for the Organization and made them into staunch, devoted revolutionaries.


The atmosphere in the Bitolya school has been described by Hristo Silyanov, who was then a pupil in the Bulgarian equivalent of the Sixth Form:


'There were twenty-four of us lads, spending our final year at school in Bitolya. More than half of us were "baptized". [*] Naturally, I was among them. I was even among the older ones, among those who circulated Botev's works, Under the Yoke, Zahari Stoyanov's Notes, etc., among the catecumens, and baptized new people. We despised all wisdom and science, together with those teachers who were not baptized. How far above them we stood! They feared for their skins - the cowards! - and did not want to know about what was being prepared underground against the 'bloody and sinful' kingdom of the Sultan. But we were enlightened - baptized. We



*. i.e. Members of the Organization.





knew everything. We read forbidden Sofia newspapers, we were even given the local hectographed broadsheet To Arms! - we read it and used it for propaganda purposes. And, in a few months' time, I would be writing passionate articles and poems for this terrible, mysterious publication.


'We were constantly in contact with our teachers. We were their comrades. We visited them every Sunday, talked to them in the second person singular, smoked with them, and even stuffed our tobacco boxes with their tobacco. And we were proud, proud that they treated us like grown-up men, like revolutionaries, like comrades in arms. The school year would quickly roll by, and then we would become exactly like them: we would preach the dangerous word to young and old and we would baptize them and, through our contempt for danger, we would regenerate the souls of the slaves.


'We knew that a revolutionary was something like an ascetic who rejected all comforts and all personal happiness. Therefore, none of us was going to marry and run a house and home. No one was going to leave Macedonia, no one was going to continue his education. Whoever got married, or left Macedonia, or entered a university, was a scoundrel and a traitor. Macedonia could not wait; she had no need of help from those who valued a university diploma above the struggle for her freedom; she repudiated and cursed those who exchanged her for another sweetheart. Our teacher, Damé Gruev, was for us a model self-denying high-priest of Macedonia, the very incarnation of revolutionary asceticism. But why did his colleague Mart get himself engaged and married? A revolutionary who got married! Pooh!... We were annoyed with Gruev for advising us to get our school-leaving certificate just in case. He argued that in this way we could more easily get teaching posts and serve the cause. We argued that with or without a certificate, the Organization would be able to force the Exarchate and the communes to find us all some kind of teaching post, and we convinced ourselves.


'The disciples of Ignatius Loyola were not greater fanatics than we were. We were ready to kill every unbaptized pupil who learnt about our circle and let something out. We knew that the end justifies the means, and therefore we broke into the trunks of the rich pupils at night and took the money which their fathers had sent them to pay the boarding fees. And, proud of our successful noble crime, we paid the few liri into the funds of the District Committee. Gruev was in a dilemma: he did not dare approve our action, neither did he dare upbraid us. And the whole hostel was in an uproar. The headmaster whined, interrogated and threatened expulsion. And his anger gave us only satisfaction...' [10]





That year, instead of the usual entertaining but harmless play, the school presented for the edification of the citizens of Bitolya and the representatives of Turkish power, who were always officially invited to such events, a triumphant production of Goethe's Egmont, with its stirrring theme of Dutch resistance to Spanish domination, and there was no Bulgarian in the audience, however simple and uneducated, who did not get the message. [11]


All in all, under Damés leadership, the Bitolya region soon became the best organized and best armed area in Macedonia.


The Central Committee was well aware of the role that could be played by a good leader in a given region. Everywhere the people were ready to take part in the work, and it was essential to provide the necessary organizers. For this reason, the Committee wanted the Government to use its good offices to ensure that the Exarchate appointed the Organization's chosen representatives as teachers in areas lacking leadership. This was especially important since, in many places, the local Bulgarian communes, which could appoint teachers, were still under conservative influence, and were not particularly responsive to approaches from the Organization. In all, the Central Committee wanted some seventy teachers appointed or transferred to various key places, and it also wanted three of its leading members to be made school inspectors in the Salonika, Bitolya and Skopje vilayets.


As with the question of arms, so also with the question of appointments, the Government prevaricated and dragged its feet, and in August 1898, Gyorché Petrov went to Constantinople to pursue the matter personally. He was considered to be the most suitable person, since not only was he an outstandingly able negotiator, but, as one of the few leaders of the Organization not actually employed by the Exarchate, he was also in a stronger bargaining position. And, indeed, in spite of being recognized on arrival by a police spy, who warned him to leave Constantinople at once, Gyorché relentlessly carried out his mission, even though he had to go into hiding for a time.


Gyorché first went to see Lazarov, the appropriate head of department at the Exarchate, and gave him three days in which to appoint the seventy teachers on the list. The appearance of the formidable Gyorché - the bete-noire and bogy-man of Exarchists, ministers and Supremists alike - flung Lazarov into a panic. He tried to convince Gyorché that the choice did not depend on him, but on the whole department and the Exarch, but Gyorché insisted on holding him personally responsible. Two days later, he returned for an answer, and the affrighted Lazarov said: 'Don't ask me for anything any more; I'm handing in my resignation and going back to Sofia.' The inexorable Gyorché then asked for the name of his deputy. Panic





seized the entire staff of the Exarchate; there was talk of mass resignations. Komsiev, a Foreign Ministry clerk, who worked in the Exarch's office, actually did flee back to Sofia the moment he set eyes on Gyorché. The Exarch sent someone after him, and together they approached the Government, begging it to exercise some control over the Organization and to deliver the Exarchate from its pressure. They were told that nothing could be done, and that the Exarchate should take a conciliatory line in its relations with the Organization.


Eventually, the Exarch himself indicated his willingness to receive Gyorché; the meeting took place and they talked at great length about the situation in Macedonia. During the conversation, the Exarch gave Gyorché the impression that he regarded the Exarchate as the sole leader in the spiritual and social affairs of the Bulgarians in Macedonia, and was not prepared to make any concession, although he admitted that some forty-five per cent of his employees had already been won over by the Organization. Every time that Gyorché suggested that such and such a teacher should be appointed to such and such a place, the Exarch raised some objection, and, finally, Gyorché told him straight that if he did not carry out the wishes of the Organization, the latter would frighten all his clerks into leaving the Exarchate, intimidate and drive out all teachers who sided with the Exarchate against the Organization, and incite the pupils to leave the schools - something that it could easily do, since the young people had already been won for the cause of revolution. In principle, he assured the Exarch, the Organization supported the Exarchate in its ecclesiastical and educational work, but the time had come for the Organization to lead. When the Exarch attempted to defend the idea of evolution, saying that Bulgaria had been saved by her Church and schools, whereas revolution had brought only destruction, Gyorché proceeded to demonstrate that the cause of revolution was a step forward as compared with the struggle for schools and churches. He was utterly in his element; the Exarch found it hard to argue with him, and shifted his ground, complaining that, as a good patriot, he had not been brought into the Organization. Gyorché replied that, in his position, it was better for him to remain outside the Organization, and, when the Exarch still appeared unconvinced, and even complained of certain actions on the part of the Bulgarian Government, including the cheti of 1895, Gyorché came to the conclusion that the Exarch's principal desire was to hold in his own hands the strings governing all that went on in Macedonia. Gyorché even saw in him the initiator of the Revolutionary Brotherhood and its vain attempt to capture the positions of the Organization. He told the Exarch in no uncertain terms that the Organization was now the chief power in the





land, that its cause was just, and that he would be well advised not to work against it. [12]


The Exarchate did, in fact, agree to most of the Central Committee's demands in relation to the appointment of teachers, and it even became customary for the Organization to present its lists at the beginning of every school year. Surprisingly enough, while Gyorché was still in Constantinople, the Exarch offered him a post as inspector of schools in the Skopje area. He did not accept the offer, however, but returned to his duties in Sofia as the Organization's representative abroad.


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1. The Organization itself had nothing to do with the revolts, except insofar as they were the result of the revolutionary mood of the pupils, the more senior of whom were accepted into the Organization. The headmaster, Mihail Sarafov, was a prominent Exarchist. See Gyorché's Memoirs. Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 32.


2. See Garvanov's Memoirs. Materiali... Vol V, p. 115.


3. Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 33.


4. Garvanov was born in Stara Zagora in the Principality. His father was a rich merchant who had been killed during the Russo-Turkish War, and his uncle and grandfather had also been killed by the Turks. Like Peré Toshev, he had been in Plovdiv at the time of the reunification of the Principality and Rumelia. Subsequently he had studied in Sofia and Vienna, where the Austrian Academy of Sciences published a work of his. From 1894 onwards, he was in Salonika. Both Damé and Gotsé had tried unsuccessfully to recruit Garvanov to the Organization.


5. ODA. Smolyan, ch-p 14, op 1 a.e. 7, dok 5. See also Pandev Org. Nats. Osv. Dv. pp 192-3 and Sbornik Ilinden 1903-1929 pp. 9-12.


6. An account of the founding of the Revolutionary Brotherhood can be found in the memoirs of Ivan Garvanov Materiali... Vol V, pp 116-7.


7. Materiali... Vol V, p. 123.


8. See pp 217-218.


9. Materiali... Vol V, p. 20-21.


10. Hristo Silyanov. Pisma i izpovedi na edin chetnik. Sofia 1967, p. 41-43.


11. Ibid., p. 43.


12. See Gyorché's memoirs. Materiali... Vol VIII, p. 84-88.