Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



See, Stoyané, dusk has fallen,

I will go and light the oil-lamps,

I will shut the gates and lock them...


O Maria, white Maria,

Do not shut the gates and lock them,

Do not go to light the oil-lamps.

Visitors to us are coming,

All of them are brave young heroes.

They will stay with us till morning;

When the cocks begin their crowing,

They will straightway rise and leave us.


Come, Stoyané, come now, husband,

Who can you be entertaining

Through the night and in the darkness?


O Maria, white Maria,

O Maria, wife most worthy,

I will tell thee straight and truly

In the night and in the darkness:


Guests will come, a whole druzhina, [*]

A druzhina, true, united,

Gotsé Delchev with his cheta,

With Manlichers on their shoulders,

And a red embroidered banner.



The Vinitsa Affair had given the Organization serious food for thought. Clearly it was not equipped to deal with this kind of emergency: there were no armed groups which could curb the violence of the Turks by offering effective resistance, and those threatened with arrest could save themselves only by fleeing to the Principality, in which case they were lost to the Cause as far as the local committees were concerned. Matov had attempted to resolve the dilemma by urging committee members to brazen it out, hoping for short sentences, so that on their release they could once more resume legal residence in Macedonia, with all the opportunities that this offered for illegal work. Such a course of action was far from ideal, for it carried a heavy risk for the individual, and the Organization could be deprived of its local leaders, albeit temporarily, at a time when they were badly needed.


Gradually the Organization began to think in terms of creating permanent cheti, based in the localities and linked with the committee network. Such cheti would provide the Organization with 'teeth', and would make it possible for threatened members to 'disappear' without having to leave Macedonia or relinquish their role as leaders.



*. A band or entourage.





Hitherto, cheti had been temporary affairs, recruited for specific purposes and then disbanded. The Supreme Committee had used them as a substitute for revolutionary organization, and Gotsé - as a means of collecting money. Cheti were also formed during the summer by haramii living in the Principality for the dual purpose of killing a few Turks and engaging in a little profitable robbery on the side. The new post-Vinitsa cheti were qualitatively different; they were formed internally and were wholly revolutionary in character; they supplemented, rather than replaced, the committee network, and were, at one and the same time, the standing army of the Organization and a powerful factor for raising morale and for carrying out agitational work among the people.


Of course, the change did not come overnight; it was the result of practice and discussion during the two years which followed the Vin-itsa Affair, and it was the end of 1899 before the Central Committee sent out a circular letter advising the formation of cheti in every region. Exactly who was responsible for the idea is not clear, but once the work of organizing the cheti was underway, it was Gotsé who became the undisputed leader in this field - the chief inspector of cheti, the voivoda of the voivodi.


Early in 1898, Gotsé sent small cheti into the interior with the aim of restoring the committee network in the areas affected by the 'affair'. In April, the first three - each consisting of three men armed with old-fashioned rifles, revolvers and daggers - set out for Maleshevia, Strumitsa and Radovish. The cheti were never very big even at the height of their development, because their task was to organize the people, not to engage the enemy in battle, and all the problems of food, shelter, movement, etc., were more easily solved when the number of men in each cheta did not exceed a dozen or so. If necessary, two or more cheti could amalgamate for a specific purpose, or extra men could be raised from the villages.


The Radovish cheta, consisting of a voivoda and two illiterate peasants who had taken part in the events of 1895, found that the people whom they had been sent to contact received them well, and were clearly ready to continue the struggle in spite of the Vinitsa Affair. An armed action was planned, necessitating the participation of an additional thirty men. There were plenty of volunteers, but nothing came of the plan because one of the peasants was, in fact, a baptized Turk, who turned traitor and betrayed his comrades in the cheta and the local committee.


Throughout 1898, Gotsé continued to organize small cheti, which went into the interior to reconnoitre and encourage. These, however, were temporary units, and the first permanent cheta was set up in the Kichevo area, in the mountains of western Macedonia. Again, it was





small - just four people in all - and it was commanded by a veteran revolutionary from the village of Yudovo, who had taken part in the Kresna Uprising of 1878. A very important role in the life of the cheta was played by the Prechista Monastery (the Monastery of the Immaculate Virgin), where the monks were particularly sympathetic to the revolutionary cause. The abbot permitted his monastery to be used for storing arms, swearing in conspirators and other secret activities, while he himself helped with 'advice and prayers'. [1] The most enthusiastic supporter of the Organization was Deacon Yosif, whom the local peasants regarded as a saint and who propagated revolution from the pulpit, backing his appeals with quotations from the Gospels.


Quite early on, the Kichevo cheta killed a number of undesirable persons in the area. One was an Albanian who was considered to be a nuisance and a potential danger because he was on the scent of the Organization. He was, moreover, believed to be in the pay of the Serbians because he went about advising people to buy Serbian books. A potentially dangerous situation arose after the cheta killed a leading Turkish bey from Debŭr, and the authorities in the town declared - quite rightly - that those responsible were komiti from Kichevo. The kaimakam of Kichevo, however, was unwilling to bestir himself or accept responsibility, and flatly denied that there were any komiti in his region, so no action was taken and no one was arrested.


Gradually, over the next two or three years, the number of cheti multiplied and their rights and duties were defined in the course of practice until the whole of Macedonia was, to all intents and purposes, policed and governed by cheti acting in conjunction with the local


With the establishment and consolidation of the Cheta Institution, as it was called in the Organization, the character of the movement underwent certain qualitative changes. In particular, much of the initial secrecy was abandoned. No longer was it necessary to recruit in secret and to keep members' contacts with each other to an absolute minimum. Everywhere men, women and even children were becoming aware of the Organization's existence and were giving it their unreserved support, so that the cheti began to hold mass meetings in the schools and churches, to swear in new members before the whole congregation and to dance the horo in full rebel regalia upon the village greens.


The ending of excessive secrecy made it possible for the Organization to become more democratic and less centralized. Local leaders at village level could now be publicly elected instead of being appointed by the higher body. Local committees could be larger and were given greater powers of discretion and initiative. In short, it was after the establishment of the cheti that the Organization ceased to be





simply a conspiracy and became a state within the state.


As always in the Organization, practice and experiment preceded the drawing up of rules, and the regulations which were eventually made standard and binding upon all cheti were the result of two or three years of trial and error in the field. The Rules governing the activities of the cheti were published in their final form in 1902, together with the revised Rules of the Organization. [2]


The primary task of the cheti was 'to explain and disseminate among the population the idea, aim and tasks of the Organization' (Article 1 of the Rules of the Cheti), and they were not supposed to provoke the enemy prematurely, or to undertake large-scale actions which might bring disaster upon the local population or the Organization, and such actions were branded as 'criminal and treasonable' (Article 16). Where there was no committee, the cheti formed one; where there were committees, the cheti helped the local people to put everything in proper order according to the Rules of the Organization (Articles 2 and 4 of the Rules of the Cheti), and gave military instruction (Article 5). They assisted committees to obtain and distribute arms, and taught the peasants how to clean and care for their guns and how to use them. In winter, the almond-eyed saints on the ikons witnessed strange sights as the chetnitsi gathered the peasants in the churches and showed them how to handle and point a gun. Of course, in these illicit 'drill halls', the recruits could not actually fire their guns, but, in the spring, they would go out into the forests and practise properly with bullets and targets. [3]


Although, at this stage of development, the main tasks of the cheti were educational, it was envisaged that when the moment was ripe for an armed uprising, they would serve as the nuclei and shock troops of the revolution. For this reason, they were urged to win the people's love through their exemplary behaviour towards them, and to be, in word and deed, model fighters for freedom - brave, unselfish and sincerely devoted to the cause - so that the people, inspired by their example, would follow them in the time of struggle (Article 11). For this reason, the members of a cheta had to be not merely men able to bear the rigours and dangers of life in the forests and mountains, but men of proven good character and without ulterior motives. Those seeking private vengeance or personal advantage were not accepted into the cheti (Article 28), and drunkenness, immorality, and any kind of behaviour which might compromise the cheta in the eyes of the people were severely punished (Article 31).


The men who left hearth and home to join the cheti were one in their desire to promote the 'Idea', but diverse in their characters and backgrounds. One of the most exemplary among them was Marko, voivoda of the Lerin cheta. He himself was not from Macedonia, but





came from Kotel (Eastern Bulgaria), and, to the end, he addressed the peasants in the characteristic dialect of his native district. He was slight in stature, boney in build, with a sallow complexion and pale, cold eyes. His real name was Georgi Ivanov, but in Macedonia he was known to everyone as Marko, Tsar of Lerin, and the Turks - who admired bravery even in an enemy - called him Marko Pasha, as though he were a great general. In fact, he was a former shepherd-boy, with little formal education, who had served as a non-commissioned officer in the Bulgarian Army and had fought at Slivnitsa. In 1895, he had been the standard bearer in one of the Supreme Committee's cheti which had burnt Dospat, and he had returned to Macedonia in 1900 to join the Internal Organization, leaving a wife and children of whom he never spoke. He was a stern, reserved man, who demanded much of others, and had earned that right, for he himself had given everything for the cause, and asked nothing in return. Fair and honest in all his dealings, Marko served his ideals with the relentless devotion of a professional soldier, suffering inwardly when he had to be cruel, but never wavering in his resolution. His cheta - happy, efficient and well-disciplined - was the Sandhurst of the Organization, to which promising young men were sent to train as voivodi for other districts.


One of his star cadets was Slaveiko Arsov, who represented a very different type of chelnik. Slaveiko was an intellectual, a former teacher and inspector of schools, who had been a committee leader before becoming a chetnik. Born in Shtip in 1878, Slaveiko had grown up in an atmosphere charged with conspiracy and secret activities. His eldest brother, Mihail, had been a member of the Shtip committee in the early days when it was headed by Gotsé and Damé Gruev, but in 1895 Mihail had died tragically, after being accidentally wounded during revolver practice. The manner in which the family had hushed the whole thing up had increased Slaveiko's curiosity about the Organization, and in 1896 he joined it, with the blessing of his father, who commented: 'One perished, and now the younger one will take his place.' At the time of the Vinitsa Affair, Slaveiko had been a student in Sofia, and afterwards he had returned to Macedonia to educate the children and to organize their parents for revolt.


As a teacher in Prilep, Slaveiko had been five times arrested and five times released through bribery. Even under the primitive conditions of cheta life, Slaveiko struggled to maintain civilized standards: he always carried scented soap, a little mirror, a large towel and even a tooth-brush in his pack, and every day he would find ways and means of washing properly. His comrades sometimes laughed at him, but he would always reply, seriously and without anger: 'If I can, why shouldn't I wash?' After serving his apprenticeship with Marko, Slav-





eiko was given an independent command as voivoda of the Resen cheta, and was one of those who convincingly gave the lie to the gibes of the Sofia officers who considered that schoolmasters could not organize uprisings.


The majority of the chetnitsi, however, were neither intellectuals nor soldiers, but simple peasants who, for one reason or another, had taken to the mountains, and who had found in the cheti an opportunity to fulfil themselves in a way not possible in the villages. One such man was Kitsé - a rank and file member of Marko's cheta. Kitsé had attended school for a mere two or three years in his native village of Ekshi-su, and then, like so many other young Macedonians, had worked as a vegetable seller in Constantinople. He became a chetnik in his early twenties, after an incident in which he killed a Turkish polyak. Kitsé was an uncomplicated character, as joyous as a child and as carefree as a bird. Nothing bothered him, nothing scared him, and he welcomed every new task, every alarm and excursion, as a diverting challenge and as an outlet for his youthful energy. He took great pride in his appearance, and was something of a dandy, always picturesquely attired in a feathery, white fustanella [*] and a wide sleeved shirt, with a silver chain across his breast. His gun was always spotlessly clean, his knife as keen as a razor, and he would polish every individual bullet until it shone like glass. Invariably good-humoured and ready to help his comrades, or to amuse them with jokes and mimicry, he was sufficiently humane to bind the hands of a captive gently and more loosely than usual because the victim was elderly, and yet, when required, he could cut a man's throat without experiencing a trace of the compunction which often assailed teachers faced with a similar task, and he would even boast of the number of men whom he had killed.


It was men of this type that the American writer, A.D.H. Smith, met when he joined a cheta, albeit some eight years after the inception of the cheti, and in a different period of the Organization's history:


'They are a race by themselves - these Macedonian chetniks. All young, hardy, and intelligent, they are the pick of the Bulgar stock. Since the days of the crusades, of Coeur-de-Lion and Scanderbeg, no more romantic type has evolved itelf in the tangled meshes of the world's history. Their lives are dedicated to their country. They do not know the meaning of the word fear; in a sense this is literal, for I have spent several hours trying to impress upon one of them a definition of the word. They hate the Turks with a hatred so intense that it is splendid; it becomes a part of their creed.


'In Western Europe, it is common to hear the chetniks spoken of as so many gangs of brigands. So far as the Servian and Greek



*. Greek-style kilt.





bands are concerned, this may be true. I should not wonder if it is. But throughout my intercourse with the Bulgarian chetniks, I never noted a single case of brigandage, or intimidation, or treachery or deceit. They were kinder to me than any set of men I have ever known. There was not a member of the band I was with who would not have given his life for me - ay, and given it cheerfully, too. It was not the fault of several they did not lose their lives in saving mine.


'Among each other, they are wonderfully gentle - with the usual exceptions. But it is in time of battle they show up to best advantage. There seems to be an unwritten code among them, that no man is to consider his own life, when the life of a comrade is in peril. And what magnificent fighters they are! It is a sight such as makes life worth living, to see one of them hold off three askares [*] from a wounded comrade. The Turks fear them with a fear that is often comic. They never attack a cheta except with vastly overpowering force. As for the chetniks - they think nothing of attacking twice their number...


'In their outward appearance, it is true, the chetniks are more like the brigands of the stage than modern soldiers. They wear their hair long in flowing locks, of which they are very proud and take great care. They keep their weapons in perfect order, and like to carry as many revolvers and knives as they can find room for in their belts - not for effect, let it be understood, but because the more revolvers a man has, the more shots he has at his disposal in a melée. Many of them have little trinkets, jewelry, and so forth, of which they are exceedingly vain.


'In many ways, too, they are nothing but schoolboys, reckless, volatile, quick-tempered and whimsical. They have a peculiarly harmless vanity, which manifests itself in a liking for having their pictures taken, and flattery. Most of them are handsome beggars, and they know it; their muscles are hardened and their frames trained down to the last ounce of flesh. But they care nothing for women. Such as are married seldom see their families after they have dedicated their lives to Macedonia. Their wives and children are looked after by relatives, willing to help along the holy purpose of fighting the Turk. The pleasures of the flesh have small hold on a chetnik. I have never seen one drunk and they do not even use tobacco inordinately.


'Perhaps it is not too much to say that they are the nearest to a survival of the ancient monastic orders of knighthood that we have in the world today. Their lives are devoted to a single purpose, from which they never swerve. With the exception of some of the leaders, they are enthusiastic Christians. And they are an anomaly





that must surely pass swiftly, when it has served its turn.' [4]


Each cheta operated in a clearly defined area, and, if for some reason, it had to enter the territory of another cheta, it would automatically come under the command of the local one. In theory, the cheti were subordinated to the local committees and had to give them monthly reports of their activities, but, in practice, the cheti often carried as much weight as the committees, especially when the voivoda was a person of authority, or when Gotsé himself travelled with them on one of his tours of inspection.


The voivodi were appointed by the Central Committee (Article 27), but, in practice, the task was usually delegated to the District Committees. The chetnitsi were obliged to obey their voivoda, but he was equally obliged to behave as 'their true comrade', and had no privileges. Although the main responsiblity for discipline, etc., lay with the voivoda, the whole cheta was also considered responsible for what went on. Actions were discussed and agreed by all the members, but, where there was disagreement, the voivoda had the final say (Article 41). Chronic disagreements between a voivoda and his men were dealt with by the Organization's District Committee (Article 41). In certain respects, the Organization departed from traditional haidut practice. Among haiduts, it was customary when the group was encircled for the voivoda to lead a breakout, thus exposing himself to the greatest danger, and, in recognition of the risks that he took, he received a larger share of the booty. In the Macedonian cheti, however, members were urged to guard their voivoda 'as a state guards its capital city', since experienced leaders were rare and valuable, and, in cases of encirclement, another man was to make the first break-through. [5] No booty was ever kept by the Organization's cheti. Ordinary robbery was forbidden, and political robbery required the prior permission of the Central Committee, as well as the local District Committee, and any money so obtained belonged to the Organization as a whole and was handed over to the local committee, against a receipt, for transmission to the Central Committee (Article 10).


Another departure from traditional haidut practice was that the Organization's cheti did not disband when the forests lost their concealing foliage and the snow recorded every tell-tale footstep, but continued their activities all round the year. The cheta generally travelled from place to place at night, resting during the day in some suitably remote place in the forests or mountains, or in some friendly village. On the march, strict rules were observed: a scout went ahead of the main party and a second man brought up the rear; the voivoda usually marched behind the front scout, and the men followed him in single file, four paces apart; smoking and conversations were forbid-





den, and coughing had to be kept to a suppressed minimum, lest the clear mountain air should carry some spark or sound to the eyes or ears of the enemy; unless the country were open, or the way especially long, the men were expected to carry their guns in their hands and not slung over their shoulders; rests were given every hour or two, at the discretion of the voivoda, but, even then, the chetnitsi were not allowed to bunch together. In their travels from place to place, the cheta were often guided by couriers from the local committees, who knew all roads and paths and possible dangers. Similarly, when a cheta wished to enter a village, a courier would meet them by prior arrangement and pilot them in, avoiding Turkish patrols and barking dogs. In the village, the chetnitsi would be billetted in groups of about five in suitable houses, and the villagers, led by the committee, would be responsible for feeding them. The chetnitsi, for their part, were instructed to be satisfied with whatever hospitality was provided, not to ask for additional or special food, and, in general, to treat the peasants with courtesy and respect. The villagers were expected to provide only food and shelter, while the voivoda saw to the provision of clothes and weapons, which were paid for by the district committees of the Organization.


Discipline was, of necessity, strict. Those who disobeyed the voivoda were reprimanded either privately or in front of the whole cheta, while, for worse offences, they could be disarmed in front of their comrades. The arms were later returned to them, but since a chetnik cherished his gun as a lover his sweetheart, even such a temporary deprivation was a terrible blow to the pride. In extreme cases, a chetnik might be transferred to another cheta, expelled from the cheta and Organization, or even sentenced to death - such was the penalty for activity 'contrary to the spirit of the Organization', and for cowardice in the face of the enemy (Article 46). [6]


The Organization had no prisons where dangerous or irresponsible persons could be kept out of mischief, and therefore when reprimands proved ineffective, the safety of the whole required that such persons be killed, regardless of whether they were Turks or Bulgarians, chetnitsi or villagers, men or women.


Very early on, the cheti assumed some of the functions of the Organization's punitive police, taking upon themselves the task of liquidating evil Turks and punishing traitors. Death sentences passed on the latter, however, required the confirmation of the District Committee.


The killing of a Turk who had oppressed and terrorized a village could act as a great morale raiser, and, by dispelling the myth of Ottoman supremacy, could help to turn despairing, apathetic slaves into active revolutionaries. In the Kastoria area, for example, several





villages, including Smŭrdesh and Konomladi, were completely at the mercy of local Turkish tyrants, who were not Government officials, but men who had taken advantage of the prevailing anarchy to enrich themselves through robbery and extortion. One such miscreant - Kasim Aga by name - had been an ordinary polyak who had used his position to acquire illicit wealth and power. Not only did he rob the people right and left, but he was also a mighty seducer of women and demoralized whole villages, since the unfortunate husbands dared not complain for fear of being killed. In 1900, a group of peasants, led by a man named Kote, killed Kasim Aga, and his body was carried through the villages which he had tormented, to the great delight of the local people. Koté and his men slipped back home unnoticed and unsuspected, and Kasim's sons immediately jumped to the conclusion that his enemy and rival, Hussein Bey, was responsible. Thus the latter was arrested with twelve of his henchmen. Soon after the murder, a permanent cheta was established in the Kastoria area, with Koté as its voivoda and its first major action was to kill Abedin Bey, a similar womanizing leech. [7]


In certain areas, as well as the Organization's cheti, there were still robber bands which the Turkish authorities actually encouraged, because they deterred peasants from fleeing into the mountains. As far as possible, the cheti cleared their districts of such bandits, thus alleviating the sufferings of the peasants and strengthening their respect for the Organization. One cheta discovered a Turkish robber band above the village of Kriveni (to the north of Resen), but were unable to deal with it because of the presence of soldiers in the vicinity, and it was therefore decided to poison the bandits when they next came down into the village to demand food. A quantity of arsenic was obtained, and a woman put it into a pail of yoghurt, which the Turks took away into the mountains, together with two children whom they had seized for ransom. By a lucky chance, neither child ate very much of the poisoned milk, and both survived. Almost all the bandits died. [8]


An unpleasant, but highly necessary part of a cheta's work was the execution of Bulgarians who hindered or opposed the Organization. One such occasion has been described by Hristo Silyanov, [9] who, during 1902, was a member of Marko's cheta. Contrary to what one might expect, it was no knife-in-the-back-in-the-dark affair, but was preceded by a proper trial, at which witnesses were called and the accused were given full opportunity to state their case. Marko himself was so affected by the horror and gravity of the task that he spent a whole day sitting motionless and silent, before he told his men what had to be done. There were three accused: one of them, an elderly man known as Grandfather Yanaki, was not a member of the Organization, and kept company with a Turk, and was thus believed to be





an informer. The other two were a village teacher and a miller, who had embezzled committee funds and killed a third committee member, who had begun to suspect them of dishonesty. Yanaki and the teacher were from Boreshnitsa, while the miller was from the neighbouring village of Neokazi, both in the Lerin district.


With a minimum of disturbance, the cheta arrested all three and took them away to some shepherds' huts in the mountains, where they could be tried without fear of interruption. The arrest of Grandfather Yanaki had been particularly harrowing: all unsuspecting, his wife and young daughter had welcomed the voivoda and his men as honoured guests, with smiles and rakiya, which they hastily declined, saying that they had some business with the man of the house. As they hurried Yanaki out into the night, the innocent, trusting girl had kissed their hands, repeating the traditional invitation to come again. Silyanov had been moved to tears by the poignancy of the situation, and, at the door, he had caught Marko's eye and had seen that the stern, tough voivoda was suffering almost as much as he was.


On the following morning, seated on a pile of hay in the winter sunshine, Marko interrogated the prisoners, one by one, in an effort to arrive at the truth. No force was used, and there was no shouting or hectoring - just simple, straightforward questions, requiring similar answers. Yanaki was the first to appear before Marko. He said that he knew about the Organization, that all his relatives belonged to it, that he had wanted to join it, but had not been accepted because the local leader had regarded him with suspicion, that his meetings with the Turk were dictated solely by certain problems of landownership, that he had told the Turk nothing about the Organization, but, on the contrary, as a result of information gained from the Turk, he had been able to warn the Organization, through his brother, that the village was to be searched by troops. He said that he had also secretly supplied the cheta with provisions, again through his brother, and had paid the levy demanded by the Organization, but had received no receipt from the teacher, who had collected it.


Snivelling and begging for mercy, the teacher changed his evidence several times and then confessed that he had indeed collected money from various people, including Grandfather Yanaki, without giving receipts. The miller, outwardly calm and resigned, admitted that he and the teacher had shared the embezzled money, and that he had killed the member who had found them out, adding that he might not have done so, had not the teacher egged him on.


Marko heard them all separately, and then made each repeat parts of his story in front of the other accused, until everything was plain and beyond dispute. Witnesses had been called from the two villages, but their evidence was already superfluous in view of the voluntary





confessions. It was only necessary to check whether Yanaki had, in fact, warned his brother of the impending search. When the witnesses arrived at dusk, accompanied by a crowd of peasants, Marko was able to announce Yanaki's acquittal on all charges, and proposed that he should be sworn into the Organization there and then. It was a very emotional scene: Grandfather Yanaki wept like a child as he took the oath, and all the peasants wept for joy as they kissed the newly 'baptised'. Particularly moving was the exchange of kisses between Yanaki and the village leader, who now begged his forgiveness for having wrongly suspected him. Marko himself was so overcome that he had to go out of the hut. For Yanaki, the ordeal had ended happily; he returned to his wife and daughter, and the chetnitsi were able to forget the agony of his arrest.


For the teacher and the miller, however, it was the end of the road. When the joyous emotion over Yanaki had subsided a little, Marko took the floor again and described their misdeeds to the assembled peasants, turning from time to time to the accused and asking them to confirm or deny his words. When they repeatedly replied that it was so, the peasants were appalled beyond all measure: two of their neighbours, sworn workers for the people's cause, had not only defrauded the Organization of money, but had also killed one of the finest members in the district in order to cover up their crime. Without hesitation, the peasants consented to their death: justice had been done, and seen to have been done. Yet, when Marko told them to bid their erstwhile comrades farewell, their revulsion gave way to a kind of helpless pity. Kissing the condemned men, they cried: 'But what did you do it for, brothers? Had you no sense of sin, brothers?' [10]


Sometimes the cheti were even obliged to kill women as well, in order to protect the Organization. In certain villages, there were women who took Turkish lovers, and, although the Organization was in no way racist, it could not countenance such liaisons, because, in the course of their affairs, these women kept their dangerous paramours informed of matters which should have remained secret.


In a village near Lake Prespa, called Leskovets, there were four such pestilential women, who were a constant embarrassment to the Organization and who made it impossible for any cheta to shelter there. These women had been warned several times and earnestly advised to mend their conduct, but without effect. One evening, Slaveiko Arsov took his cheta into the village, and collected all four - an elderly woman, two young brides and an unmarried girl - in the house of one of them. There in the presence of the brides' husbands and a large number of villagers, he held a 'people's court', and then handed the women over to his chetnitsi for immediate execution. [11]


Slaveiko's cheta also defended the grass-widows of the Resen dis-





trict against the greed of money-lenders. Because of chronic unemployment, most of the men in the district went to work in Constantinople, often staying there for years at a time. They would send money home through agents, but often, in order to tide themselves over, their families were obliged to borrow money from usurers who charged as much as 60 or 100% interest. The cheti told the people not to pay more than 20%, and dealt firmly with the recalcitrant moneylenders.


As time went by, the cheta 'courts' began to judge not only capital cases connected with the Organization, but civil ones as well. When the people saw that they could have their disputes settled quickly, impartially and virtually free of charge, they deserted the offical Turkish courts where everything was protracted and nothing could be achieved without bribery, and came to the cheti. The Organization encouraged them to do so, and, indeed, eventually it forbade anyone to use the official courts.


Slaveiko's cheta was, for example, asked to deal with a case of breach of promise by a girl who came to him of her own accord, seeking justice, since, in those days, a betrothal was almost as binding as a marriage, and a jilted girl felt herself to be compromised in the eyes of society. She told Slaveiko that the local leader of the Organization would not permit her to go to the Turkish court, and that to go to an ecclesiastical court required money. She handed over to the cheta all the gifts which the boy had given her and asked it to clear her name. The cheta called the boy, who, by then, had become engaged to another girl, and the whole story was sorted out. The boy was ordered to pay four liri compensation to the plaintiff, and half a lira fine to the Organization in the two villages concerned (the girl was from Ezereni and the boy from Dupeni). [12]


Other typical lawsuits settled by cheti, in conjunction with local leaders, included complaints about a walnut-tree that had been felled by a neighbour, and about sheep that had repeatedly been allowed to graze in a vineyard. Called by the local committee to appear before the 'court', the defendant in the 'walnut case' admitted felling the plaintiff's tree, and was sentenced to ten strokes with a ramrod. He was also ordered to pay a quarter of a lira as compensation for the tree and another quarter to committee funds. The man was eventually let off the beating, but had to pay the fines. In the case of the stray sheep, the shepherd actually did get a beating from the chetnitsi, and was ordered to pay half a lira to the local committee. [13]


As time went by, no aspect of community life escaped the attention of the Organization and its cheti. As voivoda in the Resen district, Slaveiko Arsov (of the scented soap) taught the villagers around Lake Prespa elementary hygiene, waging a victorious war upon the





parasites that infested their homes - and the people blessed the Organization. [14] Assisted by its cheti, the Organization campaigned against drunkenness, as well as immorality, and the women wept for joy when they saw their menfolk sober and hardworking. Help and advice were also given in connection with the care of plants and animals, and with baking, where the bread struck the chetnitsi as sub-standard. Efforts were made to persuade people to give up customs and superstitious practices injurious to health and hard on the pocket.


In order to provide money for the purchase of guns, etc., sumptuary laws were introduced, forbidding unnecessary expenditure on silver jewellery, the use of coins to decorate national costumes, and the heavy woollen belts worn by women, which could weigh over forty pounds and were both inconvenient and extravagant. Expenditure on weddings had to be kept within reasonable bounds; the festivities were limited to one day instead of three, and the 'bride-money' - a sum of between fifteen and twenty liri paid by the groom to the bride's family - was reduced to between two and five liri. Excessive expenditure on funerals and other rituals was also forbidden. Previously, much needless food - such as whole roast ram and vast quantities of rakiya - was distributed in church at requiems, with the result that people often got drunk and the requiems sometimes ended in unseemly brawls. The Organization decreed that nothing except the traditional boiled wheat was to be distributed for the souls of the departed. A few old women protested, but most people realized the good sense of the edict and accepted it.


The cheti were also instructed by the Organization to collect church and other public village funds that were going to waste and to use them for building a school, if there was none, or to support the existing school. A school not only brought the benefits of education to backward villages, but also enabled the Organization to ensure the appointment of one of its members as teacher and thus as a potential committee leader.


For security reasons, the Organization aimed at reducing to a minimum all contact between Turk and Christian. Already the Turkish courts were deserted and the judges were feeling the pinch for want of bribes. The next step was to forbid the peasants to perform angaria - unpaid, forced labour - for the Turks, and then even to work for wages. Most of the agricultural work was done by women, and, by forbidding them to work for Turks, the Organization was able to reduce immorality and its attendant security risks. A ban was introduced on buying from Turkish shops, even if the goods were cheaper, and rumours were deliberately circulated that the halva and boza offered by Turkish and Albanian pedlars in return for eggs was poisoned. Such pedlars, who constantly travelled from village to village





were a danger to the cheti, and the rumour soon put them out of business. [15]


Gone were the days when a man was supposed to keep his membership of the Organization secret even from his wife. Now the women were almost as active as the men, and, indeed, their participation was essential if the cheti were to enjoy security in a village. When Marko and his cheta were in Prekopana, for example, the school-mistress came to him with a group of twelve women, who begged him to tell them about the Organization and how they could help. He told them that they must not trouble or nag their husbands when they had work to do for the Organization, that they must keep everything secret, that they should take food to chetnitsi outside the village, and give them socks, shirts, etc. [16] Women's groups were formed in many villages, nearly always under the leadership of the school-mistresses, and the members not only helped to provide clothes and laundry facilities for the cheti, but also acted as couriers for the Organization and helped to patrol the villages when cheti were in residence in order to give early warning of the approach of Turkish troops. [17]


The Organization urged the people to take nothing lying down, but to protest as much as possible about cases of torture and unwarranted arrest, both to the Turkish authorities and to foreign consuls. In such protests women and even children could play an important part. In Dŭmbeni, for example, in December 1902, a number of men were arrested after Turkish troops had surprised the local cheta, which had been quartered in the village. While the prisoners were being escorted to Kastoria, the women came out and barred the way with staves and stones, telling the Turkish commander that if he did not release the men, he would have to kill the women one by one. The demonstration was extremely successful, and most of the men, apart from the mayor and a few others, were in fact released. The Organization then wanted to send a deputation of ten women to complain to the kaimakam in Kastoria, but a hundred volunteered and they all went to the town. There, guards tried to prevent them from entering the konak, but the women forced their way in, saying that, since they paid taxes, the konak was theirs. In the face of this unexpected onslaught, the Turks again retreated, and the remaining men were released after two days. The women also went to Bitolya to complain to the Russian and Austrian consuls. [18] Such protests produced results, and the Turks began to fear the cheti and to be more circumspect in their treatment of the raya.


Everywhere and in everything, the Organization worked to produce a 'revolution in people's minds', confident that once that had been done, the rest would be easy. Year in, year out, it strove to instil into the people a sense of dignity, power and self-sufficiency. It gave them





books, and it gave them guns; it wiped out enemies and it wiped out lice; it opened schools and it stamped out rackets. It absorbed the whole people into its ranks, and rendered superfluous the laws and institutions of Imperial Turkey. The rift between the governors and the governed was almost complete, and Bulgarian Macedonia lived its own separate, secret life, autonomous to all intents and purposes, and preparing for the last great battle that would give it recognition.


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1. See Materiali... Vol IV, p. 7. Memoirs of Luka Dzherov.


2. See Izvestiya na Instituta za Istoriya. Vol 21, 1970 pp. 245-275.


3. Materiali.. Vol III, p. 85. Memoirs of Deyan Dimitrov.


4. A.D.H. Smith. Fighting the Turk in the Balkans. 1908. pp 93-96.


5. Point of a circular letter issued by the Central Committee. The whole text can be found in Izvestiya na Instituta za Istoriya.VoX 21, 1970. p. 272-274.


6. For cheta rules, see also the memoirs of Slaveiko Arsov, Materiali... Vol. I, pp 20-21, 39 and 69.


7. Memoirs of Pando Klyashev. Materiali... Vol II, p. 23-26.


8. Memoirs of Slaveiko Arsov. Materiali... Vol I, p. 39-40.


9. Hristo Silyanov was, like Slaveiko Arsov, a former teacher. His father was a Bulgarian from Ohrid, who married a Greek girl in Constantinople and died young, leaving his children to be brought up as Greeks by their mother. Hristo first attended a Serbian school in Constantinople but later went to the Salonika School, and finally to Bitolya High School, where Damé Gruev was teaching, and thus, in spite of his rather complicated national background, Hristo's outlook was wholly Bulgarian. Apart from being an active and leading member of the Organization, he was also one of its major historians, and a poet, whose poem about Gotsé was written during the latter's lifetime.


10. Hristo Silyanov. Pisma i izpovedi na edin chetnik. Sofia 1967. pp 104-128.


11. Materiali... Vol I, p. 70.


12. Materiali... Vol I, p. 53.


13. Ibid., Vol VII, pp 121-122.


14. Ilyustratsia Ilinden. 1930 Book 6 (26), p. 14.


15. Materiali... Vol I, p. 55.


16. Materiali... Vol I, p. 23.


17. Ibid., Vol III, p. 15.


18. Materiali... Vol III, pp 16-17.