Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



Lo, a black cloud came, appearing

From the peak of Pirin Mountain,

From the plain, the plain of rebels,

And an eagle flew before it,

And a blood-red banner fluttered.

This was no black cloud appearing

No black cloud - it was the cheta

Of voivoda Gotsé Delchev.

Short Manlichers on their shoulder.

Bandoliers with many bullets,

And around their waists sharp sabres,

And they boee a blood-red banner,

On the banner there was written:

'Rise, O brothers, do not slumber,

Seize your rifles and revolvers;

With the enemy well struggle,

So that our own Macedonia

Shall autonomous become.'



At the end of August 1901, literally shaking the dust of Sofia's arid streets from his feet, Gotsé went back to Macedonia on a tour of inspection.


The last few months had been particularly irksome; with Gyorché in prison, Gotsé had been forced to play the leading role in negotiations with Tsonchev and the Supreme Committee, and in the tortuous off-stage proceedings of two congresses - tasks which Gyorché would have enjoyed, but which, for Gotsé, had been a penance.


Now he was leaving all this behind him for the forests and ravines of Macedonia, for the company of men who shared his ideals and responded to his love, for villages where his coming was impatiently awaited by loyal people eager to tell him their news and listen to his advice. There would be dangers, of course, but they were dangers which he could understand and therefore did not fear. A Turkish bullet was an honest foe - it did not whistle in one direction and strike in another; neither did it pierce the heart so painfully as the folly of headstrong fellow-countrymen. Even the risk of capture, and all that that could mean, seemed preferable to the discomfort of being constantly turned on a spit - albeit figuratively - over the slow fires stoked by General Tsonchev.


As he prepared to leave, Gotsé was like a soul released from Purgatory. He glowed and radiated joy and energy. Kliment Shapkarev, who met him in the street, was so struck by his transfigured appearance that, on the spur of the moment, he suggested that they





should have their photographs taken. Until then, although Shapkarev did not know it, Gotsé had always refused to be photographed for security reasons, and the Turkish police had been searching for him with a totally out-of-date photograph taken when he had been at the Military School. This time, however, floating on clouds of blissful expectation, he was ready to flood the earth with happiness, and immediately agreed to gratify Shapkarev's whim, much to the astonishment of the photographer - a native of Kukush and a friend of Gotsé's, who had often vainly tried to persuade him to pose.


Inevitably the static photographic plate failed to capture the magic of Gotsé's mood. Not only were its technical possibilities limited, but a barely perceptible shadow had fallen upon the company. Shapkarev, gazing at his friend with love and adoration, was thinking: 'One of these days we shall lose him, this dear, sweet Gotsé of ours.' Gotsé, too, seems to have become momentarily conscious of his own transience, for, after he had been photographed with Shapkarev and Efrem Chuchkov, he unexpectedly had himself photographed alone - the only time that he ever did such a thing - and later asked Nikola Naumov to send a copy to his mother in Kukush. Gotsé also gave copies to Shapkarev and to a girl named Yanka. [1]


Yanka was one of Kliment Shapkarev's cousins, and her real name was Yustiniana Kanevcheva. She was born in Ohrid, but her parents had moved to Sofia, where she had attended high school and gone on to study philosophy. While still a schoolgirl, she had met Gotsé through Kliment, and had been initiated into the revolutionary movement, so that, when in 1900 she received her first appointment as a teacher in Skopje, she formed a secret women's committee together with her new colleagues Olga Kyupeva and Slavka Chakurova - the so-called 'Holy Trinity' - and fearlessly undertook all kinds of work on behalf of the Internal Organization. Wherever she happened to be and she was many times transferred from one school to another in towns as far apart as Samokov, Pleven and Adrianople - she continued her dual role: by day she was a dedicated and enlightened teacher, and by night - an intrepid revolutionary, sheltering rebels, acting as a courier, and even making bombs under Gotsé's supervision.


Her holidays were spent in Sofia at her parents' house, where Gotsé was a not infrequent visitor, for between him and the petite emancipated girl, with long black plaits and the heart of a lion, there had developed a love that was more than the love between comrades, a love that was intensified rather than diminished by its total subordination to the Cause. Gotsé neither hid nor advertised his feelings, so that, although few were aware of the romance, it was no secret to his immediate circle of friends. [2]


All was sunshine when Gotsé and his little band set forth from





Kyustendil in the gold and blue of late summer. They spent the last two days at Baba Dona's, in the company of friends and comrades, and when the moment of parting came, they all went out onto the meadow in front of the house and danced the horo. There are few things so expressive of joyous community as a Bulgarian horo, and fewer so expressive of heroic manhood as the Macedonian variants of the dance. With hands clasped, or arms outstretched across each other's shoulders, the dancers took delight in keeping perfect rhythm and in exercising perfect muscular control, as they dipped and rose, balancing now on one leg, now on the other, and moving across the grass with the easy grace of panthers. In the dance, as in everything else, Gotsé led them, smiling and twirling his moustaches, as light-hearted as though he were at a wedding.


When they had danced their fill, Gotsé said goodbye, and slipped across the frontier to begin a journey that was to be a cross between the triumphant progress of a head of state and a fugitive's game of hide-and-seek with the police.


The news of his coming flashed across Macedonia, through the secret 'telegraph' of the Organization to the committees at every level and to the cheti. Little more than seven years had passed since the original six pioneers had met in Salonika, and less than seven since Gotsé and Damé had begun to build the network of committees. Now there was not a village in Macedonia untouched by the Organization's activity, not a village that remained unmoved by the thought that Gotsé would be its guest.


At first sight, it may seem paradoxical that a person as gentle and tender-hearted as Gotsé could enjoy such undisputed authority among men as tough and ruthless as the sworn members of the Internal Organization and its cheti, but, in fact, it was precisely these qualities which gave Gotsé his power and authority over others as brave and resolute as himself, just as in the ancient fable, it was the sun - warm and benign - which proved itself superior to the wind in their trial of strength to see which could make a man remove his cloak.


'The saint with a dagger' was, indeed, a most apt description of this deeply compassionate man, who had embraced so violent a profession. According to Gyorché, Gotsé regarded his dagger with something approaching religious reverence: 'An officiating priest does not kiss the ikon of Christ with such warmth as he would kiss his dagger before replacing it in its sheath.' [3] Sometimes, Gotsé would hold his naked dagger in his hand and sing its praises in such ecstatic terms that the hearts of all who heard him were set on fire. To him the shining symmetry of the cruciform steel was the symbol of their struggle, and he even went so far as to ask Kiril Hristov, a leading





Bulgarian poet, to write 'An Ode to the Dagger.' [4]


Yet, if Gyorché is correct, [5] Gotsé never actually used his dagger to wound or kill. The incident in the Kukush schoolroom was the first and the last time that he himself shed human blood.


Gotsé's humanity and the fruits that it bore is well illustrated in the following incident, which, in all probability, took place early in his tour, when he was in the Radovish area. One night, Gotsé's cheta, together with the Maleshevo cheta and the Strumitsa district cheta, which was commanded by Nikola Zhekov, decided to sleep in a forest clearing. Sentries were posted on a path which led down to a fountain, and, in the morning, they captured a Turkish hodzha and a child of eight or nine, whom they found drinking from the fountain.


The chetnitsi took them up to Gotsé, who immediately offered the hodzha a cigarette, found some chocolate for the child, and began chatting with them in Turkish. The hodzha told him that he came from one of the Radovish villages and was going to Smilyantsi to conduct prayers because the villagers there had no hodzha of their own. Gotsé, for his part, told the hodzha quite openly who he was, and explained that they were fighting not against the ordinary Turks, who were poor like the Bulgarian peasants, but against the Sultan and the rich landlords, and that their aim was a free, autonomous Macedonia in which Turks and Bulgarians, and all other nationalities could live as brothers and build a republic. So eloquently did Gotsé speak, that the hodzha, inspired by his words and touched by his kindness, cried: 'I swear that I will work with you from now on!' Gotsé took him at his word, produced a dagger and revolver, and the hodzha kissed them and swore allegiance to the Organization. The two Turks were then allowed to go after Gotsé had given the hodzha a note certifying that he was a member of the Organization, in case he was caught by other cheti. A month later, two leading members of the Organization visited the hodzha's house to see whether or not he had been serious in his desire to work with Gotsé. Happily, they found him unchanged in his resolve; he remained a loyal member of the Organization, and always passed on to the cheti any information that came his way about the movement of police and troops. [6]


Early in September, Gotsé left Radovish, and, crossing the Vardar at dead of night, went to Tikvesh, the principal vine-growing area of Macedonia. After a short stay in Negotino, he travelled to Kavadartsi to begin a strenuous round of conferences with local leaders, in the course of which he moved from house to house under the noses of the Turkish police by the simple stratagem of dressing as a local peasant and carrying a basket on his back as though he were hurrying to and from the vineyards.


The area had suffered badly during the arrests that had followed





the Salonika 'affair', and Gotsé's visit did much to hearten those who were now trying to repair the damage.


Elaborate precautions were taken to ensure his safety; every night he slept in a different place, and sentries patrolled the streets around the houses where meetings were being held. Even the women watched over him in their own particular way. On the day after his arrival, he was having discussions with a teacher named Hristo Popantov, in the house of Lazo Banyansky, when Lazo's wife, who was Hristo's first cousin, called him aside and said: 'Risto, [*] is it not a disgrace and a sin that the sun of Macedonia should go about in dirty clothes? Do you think that he would get angry if I gave him some of Lazo's underwear to change into?'


Hristo approved her plan, and then went back to Gotsé to tell him of his cousin's concern for 'the sun of Macedonia'. Far from being offended, Gotsé was highly amused. 'She's a woman, isn't she?' he said. 'And it made an impression upon her. We wander about Macedonia in the dark, preparing for the sun to rise over our country, the sun of freedom which will bring light and warmth to our tormented brothers. It's a human need, but who pays any attention to it?' Then he added that, in fact, he had not changed his clothes since they had left Maleshevia on the first stage of their journey, and, while they were on the subject of human needs, he also mentioned, rather shyly, that he often suffered from stomach pains because he neglected to take proper care of himself. [7]


Gotsé, indeed, still suffered terribly from his stomach. Often, in spite of his hecticly active life, he could eat very little, and because of this, he was a heavy smoker. On his own admission, [8] he lived on water and cigarettes. Cold weather affected him badly, and Tushé Madzharov, from the village of Hursovo, near Kukush, describes how one winter Gotsé came with a cheta to his house, and had hardly sat down by the fire to rest, when he was attacked by pains so violent that he writhed on the floor like 'a slaughtered chicken'. His face became fiery red, his eyes started, and, in spite of the cold, he sweated profusely. Tushé took him into another room and massaged him until the pains subsided sufficiently for him to return to his companions and begin discussing the affairs of the village. [9]


Now that the Organization embraced the vast majority of the Bulgarian population in Macedonia, it was becoming more necessary to win the support of the other national elements as well, and Gotsé spoke about this at group meetings in Kavadartsi, urging members to accept progressively-minded Turks and even Gypsies into the Organization, if it appeared that they genuinely desired to fight for freedom. [10] Gotsé was well aware that by no means all Turks lived



*. There is a tendency in Macedonian dialects to drop 'h'.





well, and had commented on this fact years before, when he was travelling from Shtip across Ovché Pole. As Gabrovsky had stated at the Congress in Sofia, the revolutionary situation in Macedonia was the result of oppression and economic decline, and it affected the Turks as well as the Bulgarians. Gotsé, therefore, appealed to the Turkish population on a class basis, and it was the prospect of a Macedonia without beys and landlords which had so attracted the Radovish hodzha. In meetings with the Bulgarian peasants, too, he explained this side of the Organization's policy: 'We shall work for a free Macedonia, to chase out the beys, and we shall give land to the lower class of Turks as well.' [11]


In practice, little progress was made in recruiting other nationalities, apart from Vlahs, and to the end the Organization remained predominantly Bulgarian in character, but the clear internationalist teaching of its leaders was an important factor in shaping the outlook and behaviour of its members.


While Gotsé was in Kavadartsi, a cheta belonging to the Organization had captured Miss Ellen Stone, an American Protestant missionary, on the road between Mehomiya and Gorna Dzhumaya, and was hoping to obtain a large ransom in exchange for her release. The father of Spiro Daskalov, in whose house Gotsé lodged for part of his stay in Kavadartsi, was himself a missionary and had connections with Dr House, of the American Mission in Salonika, and with Miss Stone herself, [12] and the news probably came through him.


After completing his work in Kavadartsi, Gotsé went to Vatasha, a large village not far away, for discussions with the local leaders and those of other neighbouring villages. In Vatasha, Gotsé spoke at some length about the need to set up a militia in every village to assist and supplement the cheti. The members of the militia would work normally in the fields during the day and, at night, they would harry the enemy. Thus the creation of such a militia would boost morale and increase the militancy of the population, without burdening the peasants with expenses of the kind involved in maintaining a full-time cheta.


Gotsé also reminded the village leaders of the need to be humane and not vindictive, to use the resources of the Organization economically, and not to behave arrogantly as though they had been born to lead. Not content with talking only to the local leaders, Gotsé asked for a broader meeting to be arranged, and, in response to this request, a large number of members assembled in the village school, where Gotsé addressed them for more than an hour. Given a sympathetic audience, Gotsé was an orator inspired. When a man attempted to light a cigarette for him and broke three or four matches in the process, Gotsé commented: 'That is like ramshackle Turkey,' and





went on to describe in graphic terms the people's miserable existence, and their constant tribulations and sufferings, not withstanding their own industriousness and the fertility of their land, and all their woes he attributed to the chiflik system, to decaying Turkish feudalism and to the wholesale corruption that pervaded the State apparatus. Then, praising the sterling qualities of the Macedonians, he called on them to rise above all difficulties and to win their freedom for themselves. Later, he turned to the village teacher and said: 'You have told me when, how and with what difficulties you built this huge school, which does credit to the people of Vatasha. Guard it like the apple of your eye and never hold revolutionary meetings in it. We are struggling to open new schools, not to close them. You know that the school is a thorn in the flesh of the tyrant. It is better for houses to be burnt and for the school to be protected, so that no shadow of suspicion fall upon it. Houses are more easily built than schools.' [13]


During his stay in Vatasha, Gotsé sent a young committee member named Pané Kotsev [*] to make contact with the Prilep cheta of Vŭrban voivoda, which was somewhere in the Tikvesh area and had clashed with the Turks. Pané fulfilled his mission successfully and returned with full information about the cheta s position and activities, plus the unexpected news that among its members was Gotsé's younger brother Milan. As with the hapless Mitso, Gotsé immediately inquired about his brother's conduct, and became very happy when Pané told him that Vŭrban voivoda had commented on Milan's courage.


Milan was then about seventeen or eighteen. At school he had been an excellent pupil, and had dreamed of becoming a teacher. His progress had, however, been hampered by the Turks who kept searching the house and confiscating his textbooks, on the grounds that any book owned by a Delchev must be dangerous to the State. His father replaced the lost books as far as he could, but frequently poor Milan was unable to do his homework because the Turks had taken his textbooks. One day, as he left home for school, several zaptiehs stopped him at the gate and wanted to take his books again. Milan shouted: 'Kill me, if you like, but I won't give you my books! Father has had to pay for new books several times. You keep taking my books!' But the zaptiehs would not listen to the boy's appeal; several of them threw themselves upon him, seized his books and flung him into the street.


This time, something inside the boy's soul snapped. He gave up all thought of further study, took a gun and became a chetnik. [14]


From the memoirs, it is not clear whether the brothers were able to meet during Gotsé's tour. In all probability, Gotsé denied himself this pleasure, for, while Milan was in the vicinity of Negotino, Gotsé



*. Pané was the schoolboy whom Gotsé advised to continue his education and not leave school to become a full-time revolutionery.





set out in the opposite direction for Prilep, accompanied only by a courier and one chetnik, Ivan Manolev, who was with him throughout the tour. On the way, he spent some days with a cheta commanded by Nikola Rusinsky, and together they toured the villages around Troyatsi. Rusinsky recalls that he had a difference of opinion with Gotsé over the tactics to be employed when a cheta was billetted upon a village. Gotsé was all for relying completely on the local peasants in matters of security, etc., since he felt that this helped to win their confidence and develop their ability to work independently. According to Rusinsky, Gotsé also insisted that 'since we have condemned ourselves to die young, we should do only good, like Jesus, so that our beloved people will repay us with good.' Rusinsky felt that Gotsé was altogether too trusting and too idealistic in his attitude to others: 'Delchev would not, as it were, admit that among the many beloved, there were others worthy only of hatred.' For his part, Rusinsky made his chetnitsi share watches and patrols with the peasants; he liked to keep his men on the qui-vive, with plenty to occupy them, so that they did not become lazy or unvigilant, and he always chose tall houses or ones on rising ground for meetings and as billets, so that he could see for himself what was going on and get advance warning of any danger. [15] Gotsé, however, continued to put himself entirely in the hands of his hosts, confident in his belief that people rise to the level of the trust placed in them.


Of Gotsé as a propagandist, Rusinsky commented: 'Gotsé Delchev was not a lover of much talk; he never assumed the pose of an orator or a commander, but what he said was spoken convincingly with a feeling of deep pity for the poor and naked, for orphans, widows and old people. He evoked pictures before his hearers and moved them to the depths of their souls.' [16]


By now it was mid-November. Gotsé stayed in Prilep itself only a couple of days, and then travelled to Bitolya quite openly in a carriage, accompanied by Rusinsky. Naturally, Gotsé's first desire was to talk things over with Dame, and the fact that Damé was in prison in no way dismayed him or lessened his desire. Since Damé could not come to him, he decided that he would have to go to Damé. He dressed up as a rich merchant, and walked through the town carrying a baby belonging to a committee member, Anastas Lozan-chev, whose mother went with him to divert suspicion. When they reached the prison, Gotsé entered the courtyard with such assurance that the warders never dreamed that he was anything other than what he seemed, and, when the prisoners were allowed out into the yard for exercise, he was able to talk to Damé for two hours through a grill, while the other prisoners who had recognized him rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Not content with this, Gotsé risked a second





visit some days later, this time disguised as a down-at-heel village teacher.


It was only after Gotsé had left Bitolya on the next stage of his tour that the Turks caught up with the news that the 'Winged Devil' as they called him, had actually walked into Bitolya jail and out again, under their very noses, not once but twice. Their chagrin was all the greater because the Government had offered a huge reward for his capture. All the Turks could do was to close the cage after the 'Devil' had flown, and, for some time, Damé and his comrades were not allowed to receive visitors in the courtyard, but could only speak to them from a second floor window, which necessitated shouting, thus precluding secret conversations. The whole jail, including the twelve condemned Turkish murderers who shared a cell with Damé and another Bulgarian, named Dimitŭr Ivanov, was talking of Gotsé's visits, and of the great change that had lately come over the giaours: they were selling their oxen to buy guns, cheti were criss-crossing the country, army units sent to deal with them suffered great losses and came back empty-handed, the komiti had the latest weapons, bombs, infernal machines and so forth, and even their buttons were said to be made of dynamite!


So greatly did the ordinary Turks fear the strange new, invisible force that was growing in their midst, that Redzho Aga, chief warder of Bitolya jail, went in terror of his Bulgarian charges, and did everything possible to make their lives more bearable in the hope of being 'spared'. When the authorities ordered greater stringency following Gotsé's exploit, Damé flung the chief warder into a panic by growling at him: 'Look here, you ill-mannered fellow, you old bag, you know very well that I can have you chopped into little pieces, and so I will.' Redzho Aga was so much alarmed that he begged Dimitŭr Ivanov to put things right between him and Damé, and this Dimitŭr promised to do, provided that Redzho Aga took steps to have their privileges restored. When Damé learned of this conversation, he laughed until he cried. Redzho Aga then disappeared for a few days, and it was put about that he was indisposed, but, in fact, he was knocking at doors trying to persuade the authorities to allow the Bulgarians to have visitors again. In the end, he was successful, and once again Organization couriers began bringing Damé news from the outside world and carrying his instructions throughout the Bitolya Region. [17]


Gotsé stayed about three weeks in Bitolya, talking to the local leaders about their problems, including the dangers posed by the desire of the Supreme Committee to take over the Organization and accelerate the rising. Most of the workers in the interior knew nothing of the differences of opinion between the Organization and the Supreme Committee, and were eager to accept officers as military





instructors and voivodi. Gotsé explained to them that he was not against the entry of individual officers on the Organization's terms, but was utterly opposed to a wholesale influx of groups which could not be controlled or absorbed by the Organization. The Bitolya comrades accepted his point of view, although, not having had direct experience of the Supremists and their cheti, they found the whole business rather remote and could not get very worked up about it. [18]


'Delchev's arrival in Bitolya contributed much to the Cause,' wrote Georgi Pophristov, one of the Bitolya Region leaders. 'A number of questions were explained to us, especially those connected with the rising. It became clear to me that the rising was a means and not an end. On Delchev's arrival, one immediately felt a strengthening of the revolutionary spirit in the Region. Our mood became more militant and the process of arming greatly intensified. Revolutionary activity became more animated, more aggressive.' [19]


In meetings with the Bitolya comrades, Gotsé dealt not only with theoretical and strategic problems, but also with practical matters connected with the use of weapons. One evening, for example, he collected a number of local leaders in the house of Mihailo Rakidzhiev to teach them how to use various kinds of firearms, bayonets, explosives, incendiary devices, etc., in different situations. Shortly after Gotsé's arrival in the house, Mihailo's wife, Atina, had been sent post haste in a carriage to Prilep with committee letters, so that his niece, Victoria, a girl of sixteen or seventeen, had been obliged to act as hostess. She had immediately served the customary rakiya and coffee, but she was so overcome with confusion and curiosity towards the eminent guest that she burnt the eggs that she was frying for supper. Gotsé at once comforted her by saying: 'They're not very burnt, and I like them like that. The burnt part soothes my stomach, which very often hurts me.'


He then asked her how her studies were going, and urged her to continue. [20] He also urged her to be a good housewife and to know where everything was so that she could lay her hands on it in the dark. After supper, the men retired to an upstairs room facing away from the courtyard for military instruction, while Victoria kept watch for four or five hours at a window on the other side to ensure that they were not suprised by unwelcome visitors.


Some weeks later, when Gotsé was already far away, the house was searched by the Turkish police, who found nothing, since Atina had managed to burn all the documents that were there, so, out of spite, they began breaking the furniture and other household effects, and stealing what they fancied. [21] It was natural for them to feel frustrated and vindictive: time and time again, the Turkish police had striven to lay hands on the elusive giaour leader, as he calmly travelled the





country, flaunting the price on his head, and always one jump ahead of them. Even Dervish Efendi, the Skopje police chief, paid tribute to the 'Winged Devil': 'Tell that yunak [*] Delchev that I want to see him and bow down to him - from the Sultan to the cowherd, we are worn out, but he never tires.' [22]


By the time that the police had caught up with Gotsé's visit to the Rakidzhiev house, he was already far to the south in the Kastoria District with the cheta of Marko voivoda.


Marko adored Gotsé and regarded him with so much respect that, in spite of the informal, comradely relations that prevailed within the Organization, he could never be persuaded to speak to him in the familiar second person singular, and always addressed him as 'Mr Delchev'. Gotsé tried to break him of this habit - the result of years in the barracks as a non-commissioned officer - but in vain. Marko had definite ideas about the proper way to treat one's superior officer, and, in his eyes, Gotsé was first and foremost his Commander-in-Chief, and a most worthy one at that.


Gotsé's visit to the Kastoria district was of great importance to the Organization, because the area had suffered badly during the summer of 1901 as a result of the shameful 'Ivancho Affair'. Ivancho had been a member of the very first cheta in the area, a somewhat motley collection of men, whose primary desire was to kill Turks. The local leader of the Organization, Pavel Hristov, who was a teacher in Kastoria, had proposed that a monthly allowance be paid to their families so that all the money obtained by the cheta could go straight into committee funds. Some of the chetnitsi said that they did not want to be paid and would support themselves from booty, but Pavel Hristov managed to convince them, temporarily at least, that they were not robbers, and he insisted on paying them. The cheta went through a lot of teething troubles, mainly because of the lack of a good voivoda, and because many of the chetnitsi were haramii rather than revolutionaries. For want of a better man, Koté from Rulya was temporarily put in command, until Marko took over in 1900 and moved the cheta into the Lerin district for security reasons. Marko's good influence was soon felt in the cheta, and one of the men, Mitre Vlasheto, was completely transformed, but Koté, who also stayed with him, could no more give up his old haramiya habits than a cat can stop stalking birds. Moreover, because he felt slighted at being deprived of his command, he soon began to stir up trouble within the cheta and eventually departed with Ivancho and two other like-minded cronies, and returned to the Kastoria area. There they proved such a nuisance with their robberies and murders that Pavel Hristov thought it best to pay them to get out, and Koté actually started for the



*. Yunak means 'a brave young man'.





Principality, but, in the end, he remained in Macedonia.


Ivancho subsequently took part in various cheti, some of which had been set up by the Organization, and some of which existed purely for the purpose of banditry, and finally, finding himself down on his luck, he decided to sell committee secrets to the Turks. In July 1901, accompanied by Muhtar Aga, chief of the Korcha Gendarmerie, he appeared in the village of Dŭmbeni and began denouncing members of the Organization. Muhtar Aga indicated that the peasants could buy their freedom at a lira per head - which all of them did - and then he departed with Ivancho for other villages, including Smŭrdesh, Konomladi, and Zagorichané, where the process was repeated. After a time, Ivancho became envious of Muhtar's rich harvest and began collecting 'hush-money' on his own account, an example which was emulated by a number of other opportunists. Eventually, Ivancho's misdeeds caught up with him: fear of being assassinated by the Organization forced him to retire to the comparative safety of Kastoria itself, instead of touring the villages; his sources of income gradually dried up, and so many complaints were made about him that in the end he was arrested and imprisoned in Korcha, but not before his greed and faithlessness had inflicted a great deal of damage on the Organization in some thirty villages. About a hundred people, all leading cadres, had been imprisoned, and another hundred and fifty had been forced to go underground. Moreover, the fact that the person responsible for the betrayals was a member of the Organization and a chetnik had had a very depressing effect on morale, especially since the Greek Bishop of Kastoria supported Muhtar Aga and protected Patriarchist Christians, thus driving a wedge between them and the Exarchists, who had previously worked together within the Organization. [23]


Fortunately, the Organization was, by now, sufficiently well rooted to weather storms of this kind, and, by the autumn, energetic measures were being taken to repair the damage. Pavel Hristov had been arrested, but his place as district leader was taken by Lazar Moskov [24] and he, together with Vasil Chekalarov, [25] Pando Klyashev [26] and Kuzo Stefov, [27] set about punishing traitors and systematically driving out the Turkish pŭdari (guards) whom Muhtar Aga had appointed, two or three to a village, to be maintained at the peasants' expense. [28] When Gotsé arrived in the Kastoria area, late in November 1901, the crisis was over, and his visit acted like a tonic.


His first major stop was in the village of Konomladi, whose inhabitants, according to Pando Klyashev, could be commended only for their bravery and willingness to oblige. Otherwise, they were much given to squabbling, thieving and immorality.


The people of Konomladi were much impressed by the arrival of





the leader of the Organization, and told each other: 'There's no one greater than he.' They were even more impressed when Gotsé invited .them to come to him with all their complaints and troubles, and they came with problems ranging from petitions for divorce to cases of theft. For four whole days, hour after hour, in the presence of Marko, Pando Klyashev, Lazar Moskov and Kuzo Stefov, Gotsé patiently listened to the people, called witnesses, and, in the last resort, gave judgement between the disputants, for, wherever possible, he effected reconciliations. Nothing - not even his troublesome stomach - caused him greater pain than quarrels and dissentions, and few things gave him greater pleasure than to see former enemies kiss and forget old scores in the name of the Cause. For the first time, he introduced the peasants and local leaders of the Kastoria district to the idea that they should no longer patronize the Turkish courts, but let the Organization deal with all their feuds and problems, and the people were deeply satisfied with the speed and justice of Gotsé's judgements.


When all the law-suits had been settled, Gotsé called the whole male population of the village to a general meeting in the church, at which all the 'non-baptized', about thirty in number, took the oath. A proper ruling body was established, group leaders were appointed and the rules and obligations were thoroughly explained.


Gotsé also attempted to stamp out the immorality which was rampant in Konomladi and presented a security risk for the Organization, since some of the loose women went with Turks. He fined one elderly man ten liri, after his wife had complained of his infidelity, and warned him that he could expect a heavier punishment if he did not reform. Some of the local whores were beaten black and blue, and warned to mend their ways, or else...


At one point, Marko's chetnik Kitsé was suspected of having molested the beautiful wife of a young man who had fled abroad, and, even when it transpired that the boot was on the other foot - it was the woman who had seduced Kitsé by coming uninvited into his quarters - Gotsé gave him a scolding:


'Consider, Kitsé, what harm and what shame is being brought upon the Organization. This people will utterly despair if we who say that we are working to save them from Turkish violence and rape, ourselves assault the honour of their women. You are disgracing not only yourself. You are Marko's chetnik, and the shame falls on him, too, and on the whole Organization. Let him who wants to live like other people and deprive himself of nothing go away where he likes... Now be off with you.' [29]


Another case which Gotsé had to judge concerned Koté, who had continued to be an inveterate haramiya, wedded to banditry and





incapable of submitting to the discipline of the Organization. He had his own contacts with the local people, and his irresponsible activities were proving an embarrassment and a danger to the Organization. The local comrades, who knew him well and considered him to be beyond reform, were all for having him killed. Gotsé's head accepted their arguments, but his heart ever yearned for reconciliation and regeneration, and he decided to make one last attempt to reason with Koté, who was also in Konomladi with his men. The haramiya - an impressive figure of a man, flamboyantly dressed in a Greek fustanella and other finery - agreed to talk things over with Gotsé, but before anything could be settled, news came that Turkish troops led by Muhtar Aga were approaching Konomladi in search of Gotsé and Marko's cheta, thus necessitating a hasty withdrawal.


The Turks were acting on information received through a woman from Konomladi, who had betrayed the cheta to her grandson, Trayan, a spy from the village of Rulya, who was now living in Kastoria. As soon as this was known, a group of chetnitsi, including Chekalarov and Koté, who was a native of Rulya, set out to kill her son, Trayan's father, who was also a spy, with the double intention of diverting the attention of the Turks and of striking fear into the hearts of other would-be traitors. Chekalarov chopped the man into pieces, and, when Muhtar Aga's soldiers had left Konomladi, after finding nothing, to investigate the murder of their agent in Rulya, Chekalarov returned with his men to Konomladi and chopped the woman into pieces as well. [30]


By the time the case against Koté was resumed in the village of Dumbene, Gotsé was even more inclined to pardon him because of his part in the timely punishment of the traitors. He told Koté that, because of his banditry, he deserved to die, but that if he pulled himself together and became a good member of the Organization, his former misdeeds would be forgiven. Koté was nothing, if not cunning. He admitted everything, but pleaded that there had been nobody to explain to him the irresponsibility of his actions. He promised that, in future, he would obey the Organization in everything, and Gotsé, being Gotsé, believed him and even decided to keep him by his side for the next couple of months in order to re-educate him properly.


Early in December, Gotsé was in Smurdesh, where, in the course of two weeks, he sorted out and audited the committee's rather muddled accounts, dealt with law-suits and quarrels between the members and the leaders, and addressed a general meeting of the peasants. At the meeting, he warned his audience against the dangers of an early rising, a precaution all the more necessary because Atanas Petrov, one of Koté's cronies, whom the Organization had at one time appointed a voivoda, faute de mieux, although he was illiterate,





had been agitating among the people and leading them astray. [31] With Gotsé's blessing, a women's group was set up to assist the committee by providing couriers, making clothing, etc. In the meantime, Marko's cheta was touring other villages, holding meetings and giving judgement in law-suits, and was not in Smiirdesh, when Turkish troops unexpectedly arrived. Fortunately, they did not begin to search the houses immediately, so that Gotsé and those who were still with him were able to slip out of the village under cover of darkness, and escape to Drenoveni, where they stopped for a day before going on to Visheni.


In Drenoveni the 'conversion' of Koté came to an abrupt end. It is irksome for a sinner to travel with a saint, and he soon tired of Gotsé's tutelage. Skilfully exploiting his leader's kindness and incurable gullability, Koté begged to be allowed to visit his relations in Rulya. Gotsé not only granted his request, but gave him a lira, so that he would have money for the journey, and he set out for Rulya with Mitré Vlasheto and a group of chetnitsi, while Gotsé went on to Visheni. Sometime later, Gotsé received a letter from Mitré informing him that Koté had gone off on his own, cursing both those who had accused him and those who had shown him mercy, and refusing to return. [32] The local leaders, who had known all along that something of this kind would happen, blamed Gotsé for what they regarded as excessive softness and leniency on his part. Their dissatisfaction was, however, in vain: they stood as much chance of weaning Gotsé from his faith in the power of love and kindness as he had stood of reforming the reprobate Koté. Both men - each in his own way - were hopeless cases.


After spending four days in Visheni, the company arrived in the village of Chereshnitsa on December 21, 1901. There had been some alarm when it was known that the Greek Bishop of Kastoria, with an entourage of ten or so zaptiehs, was staying at the Sveti Vrach Monastery on the road between Chereshnitsa and Olishta, a neighbouring village, but the church cantors reassured the committee by saying that the Bishop always spent some days at the monastery over Christmas. Nevertheless, they decided to take no chances, and, when couriers had to be sent to Olishta on the following day, women were sent instead of men, so as to arouse less suspicion.


Gotsé and his comrades entered Chereshnitsa at midnight, moving like shadows in their dark cloaks over the crunching snow. There were no Turks abroad to see them, for although there were Turks in the vicinity, they were chilly beings who seldom ventured out in the winter, especially at night. The visitors and the villagers shook hands, embraced and kissed, as was the custom, and the district voivoda, Kuzo Stefov, made the necessary introductions, after which the guests





were conducted to the lodgings prepared for them.


On the next day, a mass meeting was held at which Gotsé himself spoke to the villagers, and then asked Pando Klyashev and the village leader to speak about the revolutionary banner and oath respectively. When Gotsé invited all those who had not yet taken the oath of allegiance to do so, it turned out that there were no such people in the village. Everybody had already joined the Organization. Gotsé laughed, and said: 'You're sitting pretty, you Kastorians. That's why you walk about the villages like wedding guests.' [33]


Afterwards, in the absence of the local voivodi and leader, Gotsé asked the peasants if they had any complaints to make of them. This was a regular practice in the Organization to ensure that those in authority were not abusing their power. On this occasion, in Chere-shnitsa, no complaints were forthcoming. [34]


Gotsé stayed in Chereshnitsa only two days, after which the whole company of some fifty men set out in single file for Zagorichané, where they arrived on Christmas Eve. Again they were haunted by the Bishop of Kastoria, who had also just arrived in the village, unaware of the presence of komiti, but with considerable malice aforethought. The population of Zagorichané was partly Exarchist and partly Patriarchist, and the two groups took it in turns to use the church. It was, in fact, the Exarchists' turn to be first on Christmas Day, but the Bishop planned to occupy the church in advance, so that his congregation could have priority. Kuzo Stefov, the district voivoda, was all for attacking the Bishop in the church, but Gotsé dissuaded him from so doing by saying that it would lead to a rising in the Kastoria area, and that it was still too early to contemplate such a thing.


On Christmas Day, Gotsé began to audit the accounts, a task which took him three days, and, when it was finished, he called a general meeting of all the men in the village, including both Patriarchist and Exarchist priests, and addressed them for two hours, with a sentry at the door to ensure that nobody left and that there were no interruptions. Speaking quietly at first, and then with ever-increasing animation, Gotsé told them that the most important thing for a people was to be free, and because of this, they must break their chains and destroy Turkish tyranny: that was why he and others like him travelled from town to town, from village to village, through the forests and the mountains, in order to help the people to prepare to fight their age-old enemies, and, because the time to fight was at hand, he called on all who were present to equip themselves with guns, as the first essential.


When the new members had been sworn in, the meeting elected a revolutionary court, consisting of seven members, including the two





village teachers and one of the Patriarchist priests, to deal with all crime and law-suits, so that the peasants need no longer frequent the Turkish courts. Gotsé was taking a risk in inviting the Patriarchists - supporters of the Greek Bishop - to be present at the meeting, and in allowing one of them to be elected to the court, but he did it consciously, faithful to his principle that, if people are treated as human beings, they will behave as human beings. The Organization was not trying to force people to change their faith or nationality; it was trying to unite everyone of good will in the common struggle against tyranny, and by including the Patriarchists on equal terms in all patriotic undertakings, Gotsé was making this clear not only to the Patriarchists themselves, but also to his own voivodi, who were sometimes inclined to look at them askance.


A revolutionary court was convened in one of the houses to deal with various offenders, under the chairmanship of Gotsé. All the local voivodi, together with Marko, were there, gathered round the hearth, with their rifles leaning against the wall, and their moccassins neatly arranged in a row, according to the Bulgarian custom by which visitors take off their dirty footwear when entering a house. Gotsé himself was standing up, leaning against the chimney piece, picturesquely attired in black breeches, a red cummerbund and a blue chepken (jacket) richly decorated with black braid. Kuzo Stefov, as district voivoda, acted as prosecutor, and demanded that the accused be severely punished. Gotsé, on the other hand, although he was almost certainly an atheist, argued that since they had just celebrated the birthday of the Saviour, they should show mercy. And such was his authority that he had his way. One of those forgiven was considered by many to be a spy. The person sent to tell him the glad news found him trembling in a barn, and he swore with tears in his eyes to be a good Bulgarian in future. His fellow villagers were genuinely delighted, and congratulated him upon his repentance. [35]


But for Trayan, who had betrayed them in Konomladi, there could be no forgiveness. Even Gotsé accepted this. He called all the chetnitsi together, and said: 'Comrades, our task is not to shed the blood of Bulgarians, of those who belong to the same people that we serve. But you all know who was responsible for the betrayal in Konomladi, which resulted in so many of our brothers being beaten and tortured, and which could have had other, more terrible consequences if it had been wholly successful. If those responsible are left unpunished, they will continue their dirty work and will multiply like toadstools after rain. And we, too, will bear a terrible responsibility for not having taken timely measures to cut off the mischievous and criminal hands which are reaching out towards what is sacred to our people. All faint hearts and weak spirits, whether they are Bulgarians or not, who are





in the service of the Turkish authorities, must be made to feel that the avenging arm of the people's Organization is long and can reach monsters everywhere, and that there is no power on earth that can protect them from its merciless but just judgment. Some mischief makers have already fallen under its blows. Now it is the turn of the chief traitor to attone with blood for his crime against the people.' [36]


It is unlikely that there was anybody present, except Gotsé himself, who needed to be convinced that a traitor cannot be suffered to live, and, when he had fully satisfied his conscience that in this case there could be no forgiveness, no reform, it was decided that, in order to achieve the greatest possible effect, Trayan should be killed in Kas-toria where he was then living. Kastoria stands on a peninsula jutting out into a lake and joined to the mainland by a very narrow neck of land, across which the assassin would have to escape. There were, moreover, few Bulgarian families in the town to hide him and help him to evade the police. The mission was thus fraught with danger, and Gotsé called for volunteers. Several men immediately begged to be allowed to go. Hristo, a shy young man of twenty, wept so bitterly when he thought that he was not to be chosen, that Gotsé entrusted him with the task, although he and Marko had orginally intended to send Kitsé. Knowing that he was leaving on a suicide mission, Hristo told the leaders that he had a house in Lerin, which, if he did not return, was to be sold for the benefit of the committee. The young man carried out his mission brilliantly. Although he had an opportunity to kill Trayan outside the town, he waited until he was able to shoot him dead publicly, as he sat in a tavern, and then, taking advantage of the uproar, he escaped and managed to get out of the town. Unfortunately, a Turkish binbashi, who went after him, met a charcoal burner and took his horse - something which had not occurred to Hristo when he had met the same man a little earlier - and was thus able to catch up with Hristo. In the exchange of fire that followed, Hristo was killed.


When the news reached Zagorichané, Gotsé called the chetnitsi together again and told them what had happened. 'Hristo struck the fatal blow and perished himself. He reminds us of what awaits us, too, and I hope that all of us will meet death as bravely as he did,' he concluded amid general weeping. [37]


It was the custom in Zagorichané to hold a carnival on New Year's Day: the young men would dress up in haidut and Albanian costumes to parade through the streets and dance on the square. Gotsé was very intrigued by the custom, and asked his hosts to move him to a more centrally placed house so that he could watch the proceedings, and the whole party was transferred to new lodgings. By the afternoon, the dancing had come to an end, and people began to





make the traditional name-day visits to those who were called Vasil. There was in the village a former teacher, who went about dressed in a monk's cassock, although he was not, in fact, either a monk or a priest, and who was the only person not to have been at the general meeting, because he was the Bishop's eyes and ears. It so happened that this man stumbled upon a group of chetnitsi quartered in one of the centrally placed houses, and was detained by them, during which time several people, including the school mistress, mocked and threatened him. Later, he managed to escape and fled to the nearby village of Kumanichevo, where half the population was Turkish. There he began to shout that from now on he was no longer a Christian and that Zagorichané was full of komiti. The Turks immediately set about gathering forces from neighbouring villages and informed the kaimakam of Kastoria.


Immediately after the traitor's escape, Gotsé began to make preparations to leave Zagorichané, since it was obvious that Turkish troops would reach the village by the following day, at the latest. They withdrew into the mountains, lit fires and spent the bitter winter night singing and dancing. Early next morning, the agitated tolling of the church bell announced the arrival of the kaimakam, accompanied by a large company of soldiers and the fugitive, who was now dressed as a Turk. They found nothing, but arrested seven people, including the school mistress. [38]


In the evening the Turks departed with their captives, and the chetnitsi returned to the village, where Gotsé conferred with the district leaders for a further two days. The conference discussed all aspects of the work in the areas of Kastoria and Lerin. Special attention was paid to the question of arming the population, and it was decided that Chekalarov should return to Greece where he had previously been very successful in buying arms and in hoodwinking both the Greek merchants and the Greek police as to the true nature of his business deals.


Among those present at the conference was Georgi Pophristov, one of the leaders of the Bitolya Region, who had arrived on New Year's Eve with the cheering news that a large ransom had been paid for the American missionary, Miss Stone, and a request that Gotsé should return to the Principality as soon as possible to receive the money, because nobody could decide what to do with it. He found Gotsé asleep, but decided to wake him up. When Gotsé heard the news, he began to jump for joy and flung his hat on the ground, exclaiming: 'Now we shall be able to do something big. We must leave as soon as possible.' [39]


When the conference broke up, the voivodi and leaders went back to their areas, and Gotsé continued his journey with Marko's cheta,





Among the chetnitsi was Hristo Silyanov, who had newly joined the cheta, and who described his impressions of Gotsé in a series of letters written on the spot:


'I saw Gotsé at work for the first time here (in the village of Zeleniché - M.M.). He divides his time evenly between work, relaxation and sleep. He is impressive when he works, and a merry joker when he relaxes. Before lunch he sent various instructions to the neighbouring villages and after lunch he listened to the local leaders and fixed a big village meeting for the evening.


'After a fine lunch - the people of Zeleniché are virtuosi in the culinary arts - we spent some delightful, unforgettable minutes. In spite of the stomach pains which tortured him, Gotsé was gay and talkative. He passed from gay to serious matters, from innocent jokes to biting sarcasm, as naturally and smoothly as the white glimmer of dawn melts into the light of a clear summer's day. With an incident, with a description of a scene, comic or tragic, he evokes the most varied characters and experiences - familiar to Marko, but new to me - from his recently completed tour of the Kastoria district. Betrayal, murders of dangerous spies and whores, games with the teeming army units, the ruses of misers brought before him to determine 'voluntarily' the size of their contribution - thousands of stories, in which the horrific and the comic intertwine and combine in a magic picture.


'Without yet being able to explain it, I am already beginning to feel at first hand the bewitching power with which this man conquers people's hearts.' [40]


They had been in Zeleniché only a matter of hours when a courier arrived with the news that Turkish troops were marching on the village. Gotsé made light of the emergency: 'These damned manafi, [*] they just won't leave us in peace to get on with our work quietly - that's what!' he said smiling, and began a hasty discussion with Marko. The warning had come only just in time, for, as they left Zeleniché in the moonlight, they could hear the village dogs barking at the approaching Turks. The cheta went south into the Kailar district, and paid an unexpected visit to the village of Rakita. Here Epiphany and Ivanovden - the name-day of all those called Ivan - were being celebrated in great style, and the whole population visited the guests with gifts of rakiya and preserves. When the cheta left, there was not a man who had not taken the oath and arrangements had even been made to buy guns from local Turks. They spent a whole week in the next village, Ekshi-su, the biggest, richest and most beautiful village in the Lerin district, a favourite haunt of Marko's men, because Kitsé and another chetnik were natives of the place, and this ensured an



*. A Turkish word meaning 'fruiterer', used to denote Turks from Asia Minor.





even warmer welcome for the cheta.


'Gotsé is working here tirelessly, day and night,' wrote Silyanov, 'always with the same enthusiasm and passion, pouring his soul into everything and preserving his joie-de-vivre. He has again dealt with agitation and the setting up of channels; he has heard law-suits and settled local quarrels which had already frequently been raised and abandoned as insoluble. Wherever he goes, he feels equally at home and lord of all he surveys, equally loving and beloved. All the districts and all the villages are his, because his spirit embraces the whole country.


'Gotsé kept a straight face even during the most comic quarrels, but when we are alone, he recalls, like an actor, only what was amusing and curious. The others, however, usually linger with pride and satisfaction on deeds done and dangers successfully weathered.' [41]


The cheta's next port of call was Pŭtelé, the native village of another of Marko's men, named Dine Abduramana, but here the mood was less gay because it was suspected that Turkish troops were on their track, and, for this reason, they did not reveal their presence to the village as a whole. Dine Abduramana had joined Marko's cheta after the Ivancho Affair had made it impossible for him to remain in the village. The local policeman kept asking Diné's little son where his father was and the boy always replied: 'My father is a komita'. The policeman would then say: 'Well, do you realize that we'll bring you his head one day?' 'If you can!' was the reply. Sometimes the Turk tried guile: 'How late did your father stay last night?' 'He hasn't gone yet - he's upstairs drinking rakiya,' the boy would lie.


Gotsé spent much of the time in Pŭtele' talking to Dine"s son. 'He loves children,' wrote Silyanov, 'and believes in their fanatical loyalty. He recalls many such little faithful friends of his in various places. "Children don't have the weaknesses and vices of adults," he says, "in both love and hatred they are more direct, stronger and purer than we are. They instinctively grasp the meaning of our struggle and no one hates the enemies of the people as they do." ' [42]


The cheta s fears about Turkish troops proved well founded. Ekshi-su had been blockaded and searched, and a number of people had been arrested, and now some of the troops were heading for Pŭtelé. The cheta rose hurriedly from the supper table without finishing the meal and set out in the darkness for Ostrovo, having sent a courier to announce their coming. Ostrovo was in another kaza, that of Voden, and also in another vilayet, that of Salonika, and Gotsé knew from experience that the troops would delay before crossing into territory administered by different governors and commanders. To have climbed or circumnavigated the rocky peaks which lay between Pŭtelé and Ostrovo would have taken the cheta more than two nights' march,





thus negating the advantage of crossing into another kaza, so they followed the Skopje-Salonika railway line, sometimes on the path beside it and sometimes, when the path disappeared, along the permanent way, with their feet sinking into the stones under their heavy packs.


At last, by the feeble light of a sickle moon, they reached the shore of Lake Ostrovo (Vegorritis) and, on the outskirts of the village, they were met with hugs and kisses by six armed representatives of the Ostrovo committee, who, forewarned by the courier, had been waiting for them most of the night in the open, in great excitement. Soon the chetnitsi were safely installed in lodgings, and the committee members fluttered round them, trying to anticipate their every wish, eagerly awaiting orders, and being so hospitable that it was positively embarrassing. Next day, the young men of the village came to receive training from the chetnitsi, while the unsuspecting Turks walked to and fro under the window. Once, even the myudyur - local governor - went past!


A day or two later, in the village of Gugovo, a mass meeting was held in the church. Silyanov describes the scene: 'Two great candlesticks and the ikon lamp were burning before the crucifix. Gotsé stood by the bishop's throne. We were drawn up below him, facing the assembled people. With eyes rivetted on the mysterious man about whom they had heard legends, they waited in tense silence for him to speak. And after his first word "Brothers," which he uttered with animation and with his disarming, inimitable smile - after this word alone, they were already under his spell. The voice of the speaker struck the wall of the church and flowed straight into their hearts. And although his sermon was not directed at me, I, too, could feel it flowing into my own heart. It was reflected on the faces of the peasants, which were illumined as though by divine revelation.


'Then came the most solemn moment.


'The former haramiya, Dyado Yandré, took the ikon in his hands. Marko crossed his gun and a knife. Motionless and intent, he was at the moment a high priest - some new John the Baptist come to initiate people into the truest, most lofty faith. Having pronounced the oath, the baptized went forward one by one to kiss first the ikon and then the gun and knife.


'Their older comrades congratulated them, and they embraced and kissed each other.


' "May God be our aid!" they all said. And they felt with all their being that tomorrow they would no longer be what they had been yesterday." ' [43]


In Gugovo, Gotsé said goodbye to Marko and his men, and, accompanied by his devoted shadow, Ivan Manolev, he set out for the Principality. 'Wherever we are,' he told them on parting, 'we





shall live in spiritual communion with each other, united by our common duty to our enslaved people, to whose service we have voluntarily dedicated ourselves... Never forget that we do not belong to ourselves. Our lives have already been sacrificed on the altar of the cause, and he who loses sight of this, has ceased to be a revolutionary. Let us therefore not fear death. Wherever it comes to us, let us meet it with contempt - and overcome it!" ' [44]


It was a subdued parting. Gotsé had the gift of drawing people closer to each other as well as to himself, and his presence had created a magic atmosphere of enthusiasm, harmony and contentment within the cheta. After so many weeks together, they were all going to miss him more than they cared to admit, and beneath the ordinary sadness of parting, there was a nagging premonition that the unforgettable experience of his constant presence would never be repeated, and that they would never see him again.


When the time came to exchange the customary parting kisses, Marko, the iron voivoda, was in tears, and dared not raise his head, lest anybody should notice. He then failed to look where he was going, missed his footing, and fell from the landing, badly grazing his face. But the sorrow was still upon him, and he neither cried out nor cursed, but simply got up and walked on. Later, he unexpectedly turned to Silyanov and said: 'How I wish I could be a rank-and-file chetnik of his and never leave him as long as I live.' [45]


If Gotsé's tour of Macedonia had been a succession of red-letter days for the cheti and the village committees, it had also been a time of almost unadulterated happiness for him personally, in spite of the strenuous programme, the long night marches, and the constant problem of having to choose between hungenand pain. Every day had been worthwhile, every day had brought jits victories and achievements. He had gone to villages shaken by treachery and reeling under the enemy's blows, and he had left them as solid as rocks, with virtually every inhabitant loyal to the Organization. And, to crown everything, Miss Stone's ransom of £14,500 in gold was waiting for him in the Principality, offering him the dazzling prospect of being able to do 'something big.'


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1. See Ilyustratsia Ilinden. No 1/9 1928, p. 5-6. Article by Kliment Shapkarev. The writer does not give the date of the incident, but says it was May and that Gotsé soon departed, never to return. Gotsé left the Principality for the last time in January 1903. Therefore, if we assume that Shapkarev was not mistaken in the season, though





possibly in the month, it must have taken place in 1901. The photograph is the only proper portrait of Gotsé that exists.


2. I am indebted for this and other information about Yanka to her nephew, Dimitŭr Popov, and her daughter, Magda Gerdzhikova, whose memories I tape-recorded in Sofia in May 1977. Dimitŭr Popov remembers being sent by Yanka on more than one occasion to the Hotel Battenberg with presents of compote for Gotsé, and he also remembers Gotsé coming to their house from time to time to see her.


3. Gyorché's Memoirs. Gotsé Delchev, Vol III, p. 314.


4. Article by Anton Strashimirov. Nezavisima Makedonia (1/11) (3.V. 1923 1).


5. Gotsé Delchev, Vol III, p. 314.


6. We tape-recorded this story in 1976 from Stoyan Lazarov, who had heard it from his father, Doné Lazarov - a member of the Organization in the Strumitsa district. He thought the incident took place in 1900 or 1901, probably the latter. The two men who visited the hodzha were Doné Lazarov and Stoyan Georgiev, who had been told of the incident by Nikola Zhekov, voivoda of the Strumitsa cheta.


7. See 50 godini ot Ilindenskoto vustanie Sofia 1953, pp 101-104. Memoirs of Hristo Popantov.


8. Gotsé Dechev, Vol III, p. 138.


9. Ibid.


10. Memoirs of Spiro Daskalov. Nova Makedonija. (31.VII. 1951, 2).


11. Gotsé Delchev, Vol III, p. 153. Memoirs of Atanas Georgiev from the village of Surchevo (near Strumitsa), collected by Dragitsa Mijatovic. Georgiev heard Gotsé say these words at a village meeting (probably in 1900).


12. Hristo Andonov-Poljanski. Gotsé Delchev i negovoto vreme. Gotsé Delchev. Vol I, p. 191-192.


13. Memoirs of Hristo Popantov. Gotsé Delchev, Vol VIII, pp 168-169.


14. Lika Chopova. Septemvri 1953, VI/5.


15. Memoirs of Nikola Petrov Rusinsky. Gotsé Delchev, Vol III, pp 176-177. Rusinsky was a Socialist.


16. Ibid. p. 172.


17. Memoirs of Dimitur Ivanov. Sbornik Ilinden 1903-1926. Sofia, 1926.


18. Memoirs of Georgi Pophristov. Materiali... Vol: IV pp 35-36.


19. Georgi Pophristov. Revolyutsionnata borba v Bitolskiya okrŭg. Sofia 1953. p. 38.


20. Victoria's father lived in Prilep and had sent her to his brother Mihailo in Bitolya so that she could continue her education there.


21. Gotsé Delchev, Vol III, pp 186-189. The memoirs of Victoria Andonova Rakidzhieva, as recorded by T. Georgiev.


22. Yavorov, p. 206.


23. See Materiali... Vol II, pp 57-58. The Organization had made considerable progress in Patriarchist communities by telling them that it was not important whom they regarded as their religious leader, and that the point was to get rid of the Sultan's rule.


24. Lazar Moskov had just finished school in Bitolya.


25. Vasil Chekalarov was from Smŭrdesh, a shoemaker by profession. He had attended both Greek and Bulgarian schools, and had lived for a time in the Principality. He had been sent by Sarafov, Gotsé and Gyorché to organize an arms channel from Greece, and successfully presented himself to the Athens arms merchants as an Albanian. The merchants had warned him that if the arms were given to the Bulgarians, they would not sell them at any price, and would. moreover, take revenge upon him!


26. Pando Klyashev, born in Smŭrdesh in 1882, was another graduate of the Bitolya High School. He was small in stature, with a very sweet, appealing nature, and at





school he had been the 'baby' of the class, indulged and protected by the elder boys, who nicknamed him 'the Amoeba'. Damé Gruev had taught him geography. Pando had also studied in Salonika and Kastoria. In 1900-1901, he had worked as a teacher is his native village, and then he had joined a cheta. His delicate appearance was deceptive, and he became a very tough revolutionary.


27. Kuzo Stefov, from Zagorichane, had been one of Damé's pupils in the Salonika High School, and became a teacher in the Kastoria district, initially in Hrupnitsa, where the population was a micture of Bulgarian and Vlah. In accordance with the Organization's multinational policy, he successfully recruited both nationalities.


28. For accounts of the 'Ivancho Affair', see the Memoirs of Pando Klyashev, Materiali... Vol II, pp 50, and Hristo Silyanov, Osvoboditelnite borbi na Makedonia, Vol I, pp 115-117.


29. Silyanov. Pisma... p. 68. Under the circumstances Kitsé was not punished and was allowed to stay with Marko.


The lasting effects of the Organization's strictness on matters of morality are reflected in Confessions of a Macedonian Bandit (New York, 1909) by Albert Sonnichsen, an American journalist, who joined a cheta some years after the disastrous rising of 1903:


'I observed with some satisfaction that the villagers always trusted our correct attitude towards their women folk. You might come among these people as a stranger with a leather bound passport signed and countersigned by a dozen consuls and pashas, and would see very little of their women. But the slips of paper, stamped with the seal of the Central Committee, which passed us along among them, seemed also a testimonial of our moral characters. Even the young girls were hardly shy, and would often come to us out in the forest, unattended, for a chat and a jolly exchange of banter.


'I was especially struck by the beauty of the children... They came to us quite fearlessly, shyly, at first, though later we had them climbing over us and their arms about our necks.


'This was one of the strong impressions that remained with me after my Macedonian experiences, especially after I returned to a conventional environment, where I could contemplate them in perspective. Many of these revolutionaries, who, I knew, had led loose lives in Bulgaria, would roam about Macedonia for years, as clean lived as the celibate monk, without his fanaticism to uphold them. This was one of the laws of the Committee I saw absolutely fulfilled.' (pp 151-152).


30. Silyanov. Pisma... p. 69. See also Memoirs of Pando Klyashev. Materiali... Vol II, p. 62.


31. Materiali... Vol II, p. 63.


32. Memoirs of Pando Klyashev. Materiali... Vol II, p. 65.


33. Ilyustratsia Ilinden. Article by A. Damyanov. 1930. Book 2 (22) p. 8-11.


34. Ibid.


35. Ilyustratsia Ilinden. 1930, Year 2, Book 2 (22) p. 10.


36. Silyanov. Pisma... pp 69-70. Silyanov was not present at the meeting, but heard about it a few days later from those who were.


37. See Materiali... Vol I, p. 24, Vol II, pp 66-67 and Silyanov, Pisma... pp 70-71.


38. See Materiali... Vol I, pp 24-25; Vol II, p. 66, and Silyanov, Pisma... pp 72-73.


39. Gotsé Delchev, Vol III, p. 179.


40. Silyanov. Pisma... p. 50.


41. Silyanov. Pisma... p. 65.





42. Silyanov, Pisma... pp. 75-76.


43. Silyanov. Pisma... p. 81. Sonnichsen's cheta also held meetings with the peasants:


'Then we talked. It was a duty demanded of us, for we were to them the priests of the revolution, and, as such, we must hold services... Had Greek mythology developed a god of Pathetic Endurance, his likeness must have been that of a Macedonian peasant. You see him hunching shoulders supporting them all: a degenerate ruling race, a corrupt clergy, a breed of vampire landlords and a revolutionary organization, which, though self imposed, still seemed at times to be holding back its rewards for future generations. Even to a Greek priest it should seem unsportsmanlike to strike down such a figure. Yet they took this business of revolution seriously, quite as seriously as they took their religion. Indeed, it  was a clear manifestation of a strong religious spirit in itself, diverted from the usual channel of church service, for they are a people reluctant to accept symbols as a substitute for fulfilment. I could feel the rough, untrained brain force of those audiences sweeping through me, repelling all that was  irrelevant to the one interest, the coming of liberation. It seemed to me it was the one power of abstract thought they had, something quite different from mere chauvinism, for freedom was to them more than a vindication of Bulgar superiority;  it was a perfect system of human affairs, applicable to Bulgars, Greeks and Turks alike, a sort of paradise to which all the world should aspire.'

(Sonnichsen. Opus cit. pp.  152-154).


44. Silyanov, Pisma... p.83.


45. Silyanov. Pisma... p. 85.