Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott

 

CHAPTER V

March, O regenerated people,

Towards a brighter dawn, march on!

With learning, this new power for progress,

Create thy destiny anew!...

 

Advance! For science is the sunlight

That shines and glows within our souls.

Advance! Our nation cannot perish

As long as knowledge lives and grows.

 

Thus Salonika's saintly brothers

Inspired our forebears long ago.

O Past that shall not be forgotten,

Most holy heritage of yore!

    (From Hymn to Cyril and Methodius by Stoyan Mihailovsky)

 

During those years of uneasy peace, when the guns were muted and opposition smouldered in the songs that passed from mouth to mouth across the bloodstained peaks and valleys, telling of the iniquities of Europe and the heroic exploits of the avenging voivodi, Gotsé was still a schoolboy, soaking up knowledge and dreaming of the famous Salonika High School, which was the finest Bulgarian school in all Macedonia. Appropriately enough, it was named after the brothers Cyril and Methodius, who were natives of Salonika, and who, in the Ninth Century, had created the Slavonic alphabet.

 

The School had been founded in 1880 as the culmination of the campaign to set up Bulgarian schools throughout Macedonia. Even before the Sublime Porte gave official recognition to the existence of the Bulgarians as a separate people by authorizing the establishment of the Exarchate, all the towns and larger villages in Macedonia had Bulgarian schools of some kind, either private or belonging to the Bulgarian communes. In Salonika, where there was a Bulgarian colony amounting to several thousand, [*] considerable difficulties were encountered owing to the opposition of the Greek Metropolitan, who in 1864 forbade the Bulgarians to have their own school or church in Salonika, and ordered all Bulgarian books to be confiscated as subversive. [1] The more patriotic Bulgarians replied by withdrawing their children from the Greek schools and sending them to the French Lazarite school, where Bulgarian was taught. [2] In 1866, in spite of the Greek opposition, Slavka Dinkova, from the village of Drazhilovo, near Voden, set up a private Bulgarian school in

 

 

*. Colonel Lamouche (Quinze ans d'historie balkanique) gives the number as about 10,000.

 

 

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Salonika at her own expense in her father's house. Helped by a number of benefactors and three governors, the school expanded, enrolling twenty-seven pupils for the second year, as compared with only thirteen for the first year, and became a rallying point for the Bulgarian community in Salonika. In 1869, a Bulgarian commune was established, and in 1870 the school re-opened under its auspices, with two grades and a hundred pupils, and with Nedelya Petkova, from the far-away Rose Valley town of Sopot, as their teacher. Her daughter, Stanislava, was also a teacher and was appointed to a second Bulgarian school which opened in the Vardar-kapi quarter of Salonika in 1872.

 

Throughout Bulgaria's history, education has been an expression of the national spirit, and the best and most devoted teachers have always been politically committed. Nedelya and Stanislava were no exceptions. Sopot and Levsky's native Karlovo are neighbouring towns, and the Apostle of Bulgaria's freedom had been in touch with Nedelya through a mutual acquaintance. At his request, mother and daughter had embroidered a revolutionary banner with a lion rampant and the words 'Freedom or Death' above it, and 'Arise that I may free you' below. At the time, they had been teaching in Veles, and the police, hearing rumours of banners, had come to search the house. The women had laid the as yet unfinished banner on the bed in full view, as if it were a bed spread, and, when the onbashi espied it, Nedelya successfully passed the lion off as a dog, shrieking: 'Since when has the almighty Padishah been afraid of a dog? That's a dog, just a picture, a plaything.' [3] It was a banner embroidered by Nedelya and Stanislava that Dimitŭr Berovsky unfurled when he proclaimed the uprising in Razlovtsi in May 1876.

 

After the Treaty of Berlin came into force, many of the flourishing Bulgarian schools in Macedonia were closed by the Turks. 'We were attacked on all sides,' wrote Kuzman Shapkarev, 'to be finished off and destroyed in revenge for the defeat and shame inflicted upon the State at San Stefano. The Turkish yataghan hung over the heads of the Bulgarians like the sword of Damocles, with even greater force than before.' [4] In Salonika, however, the cosmopolitan character of the population and the presence of foreign consuls provided some defence against Turkish wrath, and for this reason the city was chosen as a suitable site for the founding of a first-class Bulgarian secondary school, with boarding facilities, to serve all Macedonia. The prime initiator of this move was Kuzman Shapkarev, aided by the Archimandrite Metodi Kusev, who was born in Prilep and was one of the Exarch's deputies. Shapkarev arrived in Salonika in June 1880 to find the Bulgarian schools in a sorry state, with a mere seventeen pupils between them. He reactivized the Salonika Bulgarian

 

 

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commune, and it was decided to open two secondary schools - one for boys and one for girls. Shapkarev was appointed head-teacher and secretary of the commune, while Tsarevna Miladinova, daughter of Dimitŭr Miladinov and Shapkarev's sister-in-law, gave up her teaching post in Svishtov on the Danube to take charge of the girls' school.

 

Shapkarev did not stay long in Salonika, but he was succeeded by other capable and devoted directors, and the schools grew rapidly and flourished. In 1882, the boys' school moved into a new building, on two floors, with a spacious basement, two halls and a large courtyard. The quality of the education, too, rapidly reached a high level. The boys' school was equipped with such things as a chemistry laboratory and visual aids for the natural sciences, and courses in commerce, classical studies and teaching were added to the curiculum, which already included Bulgarian, history, scripture, mathematics, zoology, art, geography, French and calligraphy. The school soon won a high reputation for itself among the townsfolk, and when the first eleven pupils finished school in 1886, the vali of Salonika himself - Galib Pasha - handed out the diplomas. Bulgarians from all over Macedonia - teachers, merchants, craftsmen and even peasants - visited the school to marvel and admire. Many were moved to tears, and gave thanks to God that they had lived to hear 'Bulgarian teaching' and to see 'Bulgarian letters'; some even kissed the print in the textbooks as though it were something holy. [5]

 

It was small wonder that, encouraged by his adult intellectual friends, the diligent and ambitious Gotsé dreamed of this Mecca by the Gulf of Thermai. His father, however, had other plans for him, and when Gotsé completed the last class of the Kukush elementary school in 1887, he took him to work in the family tavern. There was nothing surprising in Nikola's decision: Gotsé was already well-educated by the standards of the day, and tradition demanded that the eldest boy should enter the family business and prepare himself to take his father's place. But Gotsé, so obedient and so gifted in other respects, proved quite incapable of making good Turkish coffee with a crown of froth, and his father, sensing that the boy's heart was not in the tavern, apprenticed him to an elderly grocer named Hristo Basmadzhiev, in the hope that he would display some talent for trade. Here, too, still grieving over his lost dream, Gotsé failed to shine. Indeed, he had little opportunity to do so, for, like most young apprentices, he was little more than a household servant, fetching water, lighting fires and running errands for his master's wife. The humiliation of his position appears to have been Gotsé's salvation. One day, his father saw him, not learning the grocery trade, but struggling to his master's house with two heavy pitchers of

 

 

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water. Nikola's fierce pride was wounded. 'Have I raised a son to be a servant in other people's houses?' he asked himself. Then he ordered Gotsé to go home, and not to return to the grocer's shop. In this situation, Gotsé's friends, Hristo Buchkov and Poné Ikilyulev, were able to persuade Nikola that he ought to send his son to the High School in Salonika. Gotsé greeted his father's decision with tears of joy; instinctively he raised his arms to fling them round his father in a passion of gratitude, and then froze: even in such a moment he did not dare embrace his tyrannical parent.

 

It was then too late for Gotsé to enrol for the 1887-8 school year, and it was in the early autumn of 1888 that Gotsé arrived in Salonika, with three other boys from Kukush: his namesakes, Gotsé Imov and Gotsé Petkov, and Hristo Tenchov, known familiarly as Itso.

 

For the sixteen-year-old Gotsé, raised in a purely Bulgarian provincial town, Salonika was a wonderful new experience: an international port, teeming with life of a most diverse and motley character, and offering him knowledge of the world at every step, both inside and outside the classroom. Nominally Salonika was a Turkish city, the administrative centre of a vilayet, but the majority of its population were Jews, whose ancestors had fled from various European countries where they had been persecuted. 'After Jerusalem,' wrote the Daily News correspondent, James MacDonald, 'Salonika is the most Jewish city in the world. It is the most Jewish city in Europe.' [6] The largest group of Jews were the descendants of those expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, and they continued to speak the ancient form of Castillian which they had brought with them.

 

Most of the Jews lived crowded together in the narrow little alleyways of the south-western quarter near the harbour. The splendid new waterfront, with its sweeping promenade, handsome houses, hotels and commercial offices was, however, unmistakably European in character, as were the ships in the bay. The area between the sea and the town's principal thoroughfare - the Rue Vardari - was inhabited by Greeks and foreigners, while the area above was mainly Turkish. The Rue Vardari was cosmopolitan in the extreme, with shop signs in Hebrew, Greek, French and Turkish. Here unpretentious Bulgarian cook-shops competed with big, European-style restaurants, where idlers played cards, backgammon and dice all day long. Here there were shops of every size and variety; the exotic rubbed shoulders incongruously with the prosaic - a cobbler in a shop the size of a rabbit-hutch plied his humble trade beside a goldsmith making costly wares, or a merchant selling Persian carpets and Damascus silks; tailors, carpenters, silversmiths, blacksmiths, fruiterers, tinsmiths, all carried on their businesses side by side in open-fronted

 

 

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shops, and the makers of takhan ground walnuts and sesame with the aid of blindfold horses. [7] On the rising ground behind the main street was the Old Town, populated mainly by Turks - a maze of twisting narrow streets and blind alleys, green with vines and cypress trees, with flights of steps leading up to the hill-tops crowned with the beautiful gardens of the Vlatades Monastery and the sinister Yedi-Kulé fortress, and all encircled by the magnificent mediaeval walls from which one could see the sparkling panorama of the Aegean and the snow-capped summits of Olympus.

 

Inside those mighty walls, some twenty-five centuries of history and many civilizations lived side by side. The Arch of Galerius, with its memories of Roman victories over the Persians, spanned the Via Egnatia, with its Turkish-style houses, roofed with curved red tiles. Minarets soared triumphantly above great Byzantine churches whose priceless frescoes and mosaics had been either destroyed or blotted out with plaster and white-wash, and the handful of churches left in Christian hands co-existed with numerous synagogues, Turkish-style public baths, Islamic theological schools, dervish monasteries, lordly saraylar (mansions of wealthy Turks), with their exquisite gardens and murmuring fountains, inns and caravansarays for merchants and travellers, warehouses, coffee-houses and taverns selling boza, and the great Bedesten (covered market) with its massive iron doors and leaden roof, under which the air was heavy with the scent of spices from the East.

 

Considerably less aromatic and enticing was the Beyaz Kulé, or White Tower, which rose on the waterfront at the eastern end of the promenade. Built by Suleiman the Magnificent upon the ruins of a Byzantine tower, this imposing fortress had for centuries served as a prison, a torture chamber and a place of execution for the enemies of the Sultan. It had formerly been known as the Kanli Kulé, or Bloody Tower, but after the Congress of Berlin, the Sultan had given instructions for it to be literally white-washed and converted into a simple prison, as an earnest of his zeal for reform. It still, however, remained a place of horror: the walls ran with damp and there was no sanitation; the prisoners slept on the floor, sickened from tuberculosis and skin diseases, and fought each other for potato peel and bones, since the authorities provided only drinking water and an allowance of bread. Those with money purchased food from outside and were fleeced by the vendors, who divided their spoils with the Governor of the prison. Those without money starved or were driven to steal from those who had. Affrays and even murders took place under the eyes of the guards, who did not intervene. [8]

 

And, in complete contrast to all these traditional buildings, the new minarets of Mammon - the tall factory chimneys that bore witness

 

 

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to the penetration of Western capital - were beginning to outflank the minarets of Allah clustered together in the centre of the city.

 

The people who thronged the streets and market places also presented as colourful a mixture of East and West as might be found anywhere else in Europe. Each separate community still adhered to its own selected garb, and among the crowds one could pick out the distinctive robes of the Jews, the snowy turbans of the Turks, the dark red fezes of the Christians, the black feredzhés which covered the brilliant clothing of the Muslim women, the white kilts of the Albanian kavasses (armed servants), the sombre jackets and frock coats of the Western European representatives, and the infinite variety of Bulgarian peasant costumes from the interior. Homespun mingled with sable and gold thread, Lancashire cotton with Eastern silks and satins, and tophats with turbans of various shapes and hues.

 

The pupils of the High School also made their contribution towards the kalaidescope of new and old, East and West, with their black military-style uniforms, bright buttons and dark red fezes. Not that they were allowed to wander about the town at will - on the contrary, they were very strictly supervised, and had to get special permission to leave the school premises. They were, however, a familiar sight, walking back and forth between the school itself and the boarding house, in a highly disciplined 'crocodile', headed by a kavass, in a white evzone-style costume, carrying a heavy staff and sporting a pistol in his cummerbund. On Sundays they marched to church in a similar manner, accompanied by their teachers, to the great wonder of the population which would turn out to watch them go by.

 

Like most of his forty comrades in the fourth class, Gotsé was accommodated in the school's boarding house, where the charges were according to the parents' means - full rate, half or even less. Poverty was no barrier to entering the Alma Mater of the Macedonian Bulgarians, and grants were available for the truly needy, for it was heavily subsidized by the Exarchate. Being a man of some means, Nikola Delchev paid seven and a half Turkish liri annually for his son's board and lodging.

 

The boarding house provided excellent conditions for work and recreation. The boys slept in class dormitories, not on mattresses laid on the floor as was the custom in Kukush, but, European fashion, on beds a yard or so apart. Silence was obligatory, but often it would be broken by jokes and laughter. When the footsteps of the supervisor were heard, the boy nearest the door would pull a string that ran under the beds and rang a bell at the far end of the dormitory. This was the signal for heads to be tucked under the blankets and for studied snoring to begin.

 

The pupils went to the High School proper only for their lessons.

 

 

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For everything else - meals, preparation of lessons and recreation - they returned to the boarding house. The food was good and nutritious, with tea, cheese or milk for breakfast, soup and a main course for lunch, and some cooked dish with macaroni, pilaf or yoghurt for supper. Those who became hungry between meals could buy bread, cheese and other things from a little shop in the spacious courtyard of the boarding house, the favourite snack being a piping hot roll, split open and dowsed with Elbasan oil. It was in the courtyard that the pupils spent their free time, either discussing their lessons in groups of two or three, or practising gymnastics on the various pieces of apparatus provided by the school. So popular was this apparatus that it was constantly having to be repaired.

 

Gotsé, however, was not one of those who wore it out. He was a poor gymnast, and his arms seemed to have difficulty in bearing the weight of his heavy body. Moreover, having been out of school for a whole year, longing to get back into a class room, he was older than many of his class mates and less attracted by fun and games. In his free time, he was usually to be found talking or reading in the company of his inseparable friend, Hristo Tenchov. Four times a month, the pupils could obtain passes to go out into the town, and the boys from Kukush would usually make for an inn kept by a fellow-townsman, named Mircho. Here visitors from Kukush would put up, or make contact with each other when in Salonika on business, and the boys could easily get news of what was going on at home. They did not all go together, but took it in turns, so that news was received more regularly, and when the 'liberty boy' came back to the boarding house, he would immediately pass on to his comrades all the information which he had gleaned.

 

Gotsé had tremendous powers of concentration and self-discipline, and he could sit in one spot for hours, preparing his lessons or reading a book. In a class without weak pupils, he was consistently among the best. Always willing to help others with their lessons, Gotsé himself seldom sought assistance even when he found something difficult. He preferred to cudgel his brains for hours until he unravelled the problem instead of appealing to others for a ready explanation. He excelled in mathematics, which was a popular subject owing to the qualities of the teacher - Blagoi Dimitrov - who succeeded in infecting his pupils with his own enthusiasm. Gotsé also did well in Turkish, having learnt to speak it as a child in Kukush, and, thanks to Hristo Buchkov, he could also write it reasonably well. Art was taught by an Italian - Ieronimo Buffetti from Genoa - but Gotsé had little talent for drawing. His handwriting, too, was inclined to be somewhat illegible, for he always wrote too fast out of excitement.

 

The school had many excellent teachers apart from Blagoi Dimitrov.

 

 

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There was Grigor Pŭrlichev, from Ohrid, who, in 1860, when education in Macedonia had still been completely dominated by the Greeks, had won first prize in a Greek national poetry competition in Athens, with his epic poem OArmatolos (The Sirdar). When, however, the jury guessed from his accent that he was not a Greek, and when he told them that he was a Bulgarian, their attitude became one of condescension and contempt. This traumatic experience, together with the death in prison of his former teacher, Dimitŭr Miladinov, awoke his national consciousness to such an extent that he refused Greek offers of scholarships to Oxford and Berlin, and returned to Ohrid to fight for the establishment of Bulgarian schools, using the Bulgarian language as a medium of instruction. [*]

 

There was also the poet Konstantin Velichkov, who was able to hold his pupils spell-bound with his lessons about distant and exotic countries, like India and Arabia, about the Spain of Cervantes and the Italy of his deity - Dante Aligheri. His most impressive lessons, however, were those devoted to his fellow poet, Hristo Botev, who wrote many of the revolutionary songs popular with the patriotic youth of Macedonia, and who hijacked an Austrian steamer during the April Rising in order to transport his cheta across the Danube to Bulgaria, where he perished on a mountain top in battle with the Turks. [9] What more exciting and absorbing theme could there be for these teen-age boys gathered together from a land groaning under tyranny? Here was a poet who not only sang the praises of the heroes, but died under circumstances almost identical with those that he described in his poem Hadzhi Dimitŭr:

 

'Now is the harvest - sing then, ye slave girls,

Those mournful folksongs - shine thou, too, O sun,

On this enslaved land - he, too, will perish,

This brave young hero - but, O heart, be still:

 

He who falls in the fight for freedom

Does not die...'

 

Every boy was transported to Mount Buzludzha in the Stara Planina, where, in the heat of July, as the women reaped the golden grain in the valley below, Hadzhi Dimitŭr fought his last battle against the same enemy that harassed their parents and censored the books in the school library. And the scorching sun of Salonika, beating down in the courtyard outside, became the same sun that tortured the dying Hadzhi Dimitŭr. Every boy followed the steps of Botev from the riverside at Kozloduy, where he kissed the soil of Bulgaria and unfurled his rebel banner, to Mount Vola, where he perished, with all

 

 

*. Pŭrlichev has written an Autobiography, in which these events are described in a racy readable style.

 

 

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Bulgaria spread out around him at his feet... And the mountains where Hadzhi Dimitŭr and Hristo Botev died were now free, while Macedonia and Thrace were still in chains...

 

Even in their schools the boys felt the weight of Turkish despotism, especially in the restrictions placed on their library and textbooks by the censorship of Sultan Abdul Hamid. From his newly-built palace of Yildiz Kyoshk - the Star Pavilion - in which his own fear and suspicion kept him a virtual prisoner, this personification of cruelty and obscurantism directed a network of spies and assassins, and set barriers in the way of all innovations and improvements. In order to consolidate his own rule, he deliberately appointed ministers who were hostile to each other, and officials who were hostile to their chiefs. [10] No telephones were allowed in Constantinople until after 1908 when the Young Turk Revolution overthrew the 'Red' Sultan, and electricity was also virtually forbidden. Electricity was suspect because it required a dynamo, and the authorities feared that dynamos might have some connection with dynamite and other subversive substances! One Western commercial agent, trying to sell goods to the Turks, found that the word 'antiseptic' was also unacceptable: it was too suggestive of 'anti-government' and andartes, i.e. Greek guerrillas. When the agent explained that it merely meant 'against rottenness', the Turkish reply was 'Exactly, and that will at once be understood as a seditious allusion to the Sublime Ottoman Government.' [11] Protestant missionaries, too, encountered difficulties: the censor took strong exception to the hymns Onward Christian Soldiers and Shall We Gather at the River? because they suggested wars and uprisings, and it was feared that the river in question might be the Maritsa! Even the Lord's Prayer was suspect because of the words Thy Kingdom come, and plays, such as Hamlet and Macbeth, in which a king was murdered, could not be performed. [12] Sir Edwin Pears concludes his biography of this fear-haunted tyrant by saying that it is difficult to find anything to say in favour of him, and that his most agreeable feature was his liking for his cat!

 

The High School suffered not merely from the general absence of electricity, but also because the Turks would not allow the use of electric batteries in the physics laboratory. [13] The situation as regards books was even more serious. Several subjects, such as Bulgarian language and literature, geography of the Bulgarian lands, and chemistry, had to be taught from notes, either because no textbooks existed, or because the censor would not give his approval.

 

The boys supplemented the school library by ordering books from abroad through the foreign postal services, which were not subject to censorship. Once Gotsé and Hristo Tenchov ordered books from Odessa through the Austrian post, enclosing some rouble-notes on

 

 

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which they had managed to lay their rands. Gotsé ordered Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches, while Hristo ordered Makarov's Russian-French dictionary, and in due course they received the books. The second time they tried this, they were unlucky and no books arrived. Gotsé, however, went on ordering books from abroad, mainly scientific in character, and one of them was a St Petersburg publication - The Latest Successes of Physical Knowledge, by P.G. Teta. Some books arrived not in parcels, but piece-meal in unbound sections sent in registered letters. It was by this method that the school acquired Zakhari Stoyanov's classic account of the April Rising, and the works of Botev. Such books were passed from hand to hand, and were read and re-read until the pupils knew them almost by heart.

 

In the class above Gotsé, there was a boy from Prilep named Yordan Nikolov - a brilliant student, but a rather forbidding character, not given to much talk and sometimes abrasive in his manner. He knew both Russian and French well, and had various books and other material, including duplicated lectures on physics and chemistry ordered from abroad. From somewhere or other he had also obtained a number of Socialist brochures, and, through him, the pupils became familiar with the name of Dimitŭr Blagoev, [14] the Bulgarian Socialist. These brochures he lent to Gotsé, together with books by Darwin, Pisarev and Flamarion, and the two became good friends.

 

Gotsé never read novels; he considered them a waste of time.In general, his mind was not given to fantasy, and he would repeat his lessons with a laconic, mathematical precision, which lacked the rhetoric and fine turns of phrase that might have earned him higher marks with certain teachers. Outside the class, too, he always spoke briefly and to the point. He disliked petty quarrels, teasings and frivolous conversations, and never took part in them. He was, however, an eager participant in discussions on serious themes that interested him, and he would do his best to convince others of his point of view by expressing himself clearly and simply. His was a passionate soul, and beneath his apparent reserve intense emotions seethed and fluttered, but he had learned how to control them - thanks, perhaps, to his father's iron rule - and though his agitation might be reflected in his rapid, somewhat untidy hand, he was always outwardly composed and able to concentrate upon the task in hand.

 

His growing maturity can be seen in the way in which he dealt with another incident of class-room 'treachery'. This time, however, there was no swift avenging knife, but, instead, an ability to place himself in another person's shoes and to understand. The physics teacher had set so much homework that the pupils considered that they could not learn it all, and when the teacher began to question them at the next lesson, each boy excused himself, saying that he was not prepared.

 

 

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Confronted by this collective resistance, the teacher walked out of the room and returned with the Head Master, who began to question the class himself, cunningly selecting the weakest link - a boy who received a grant and was therefore dependent on the goodwill of the school authorities. As the Head had expected, the boy stood up and recited the lesson, thus breaching the united front. During the next break, some of his class mates fell upon the unfortunate boy, but Gotsé immediately intervened, saying: 'You have to remember that until recently he was a servant boy, and studied externally, and now he's got a grant. If he didn't answer, he'd be kicked out. They're not going to feed drones here. Which of us could help him then?' [15]

 

He was still Sultana's son, always ready to help the victims of injustice and misfortune. Once, after a disturbance in the preparation room at the boarding house, four pupils - none of them, in fact, guilty - were punished by being made to go without supper. Gotsé took them the whole of his dessert - a plate of macaroni.

 

Sometimes the fire within burst through the outer shell of reserve, and Gotsé's habitual tolerance of others' words and actions was momentarily shattered, as on the occasion when some boy made irreverent remarks about St Cyril and St Methodius, creators of the Slavonic alphabet and joint patron saints of the school. Gotsé seized the offender by the scruff of the neck, banged his head against the wall on which the portraits of the saints hung, and roared in fury: wMutton-head, remember that before these, to whom you owe your ability to write your name of Man, you must stand bareheaded even when you profane them!' On another occasion, when he heard a boy repeating some hoary slanders about Levsky, Gotsé sprang up, pierced to the heart, and, with arms outstretched, screamed: 'I'd like to throttle a monkey like you.' [16]

 

Life in the school was by no means as scholastic and insular as the Head Master and the Exarchate would have liked. That was impossible under the political conditions of the day, impossible in a school whose pupils came from the four corners of a land still smouldering with revolt. Within the school, as within Bulgarian society as a whole, there was a divergence of opinion as to how Macedonia was to be liberated - by evolutionary or revolutionary means. This same dichotomy had characterized the struggles for the creation of the Exarchate and the liberation of Bulgaria before 1878. Now that the Exarchate was an officially established body, the outlook of its chief representatives had become less militant, and they were inclined to see the future in terms of the peaceful expansion of education and of the influence of the Exarchate. The more cautious Exarchists were opposed by those who rejected the idea that any great improvement could be achieved through education alone, and

 

 

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who pinned their faith in revolutionary methods. Among the teachers at the school, there were men of both persuasions, while the pupils - even the most bookish of them - were naturally more attracted by the idea of armed struggle, and agreed with Lyuben Karavelov that 'Freedom does not need an Exarch: it needs a Karadzha', i.e. liberation would be achieved not through the Church, but through revolution. Thus, from time to time, there would be friction and antagonisms, for the differences of opinion had a bearing on the purpose of education and consequently on the running of the school and on its relations with the Exarchate. [*] For the Head Master and the Exarchate the school was a temple of knowledge pure and simple, whose alumni would go forth to carry the torch of science into every corner of Macedonia, whereas, in practice, the Salonika High School played much the same role in the production of Macedonian revolutionary leaders as Eton and Harrow played in the production of English Conservative statesmen and administrators.

 

The pupils organized secret circles at which they read books of a revolutionary character and discussed problems connected with the liberation of their country. Gotsé belonged to one such circle, the original leader of which was Boris Sarafov [17] - a forceful, ebullient character, with a ready tongue, able to get his own way, but lacking Gotsé's ability to inspire lasting devotion. In 1890, when Boris Sarafov and several other members of the circle left Salonika to enter the Military School in Sofia, it was Gotsé who took over his place as leader. The boys in Sofia kept in touch with their comrades in the High School, and sent them books through the Austrian post. These and other illicit volumes were carefully concealed by Gotsé, who gave them out on Sundays like 'sacremental waters'. [18] Among the books read by the members of the circle were the works of the great Bulgarian writers of the Renaissance - Lyuben Karavelov, Hristo Botev, Stoyan Zaimov, Zahary Stoyanov and Ivan Vazov, as well as the biographies of many leading rebels, such as Mazzini, Garibaldi, George Washington, Lafayette, Kosciuszko, Dombrovsky, Kossuth, Kropotkin, Bakunin and Stepniak.

 

Nourished on this revolutionary diet, Gotsé and his comrades took a vow to fight against tyranny, and on one occasion Gotsé electrified everybody by a daring demonstration of his hatred of tyranny. It was in April 1889, when the whole school, together with the teachers, had gone to the konak to express their loyal sentiments to the vali on the occasion of the Sultan's birthday. A speech was made, a song was

 

 

*. Any suggestion that the friction was an expression of 'Macedonian separatism' is entirely without foundation. The policies of the Exarchate were criticized not because they were 'Bulgarian' as opposed to 'Macedonian', but because they were too cautious and moderate in the eyes of those who favoured a more militant approach.

 

 

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sung, and then the pupils shouted 'Çok yașa!' [*] Gotsé alone remained silent, staring at the ground. When one of the supervisors from the boarding house noticed him and asked why he was not shouting with the others, he immediately shouted 'Așaği!' [**] Fortunately the Turks did not hear, and when questioned later by the affrighted Head, Gotsé explained that he had been deep in thought, and that when the supervisor had poked him, he had meant to shout yașa like the others, but had made a slip of the tongue since the expressions were phonetically similar. Nobody wanted any trouble so the explanation was accepted, however improbable it may have seemed in view of Gotsé's excellent knowledge of the language.

 

News of the 'scandal' travelled to Kukush, and when Goté arrived home for the summer holidays, Nikola made a brief reference to it; fcI heard about it. That's how I want you to be.' His stern soul would allow him to say no more, but for a brief moment, Gotsé felt the rare warmth of his father's approval. [19]

 

Two more years passed, and the time for the annual examinations were drawing near. Gotsé and his comrades in the Sixth Form were deep in revision, and the atmosphere in the boarding house began to become oppressive. One day, Gotsé suggested to his friend Stamatov that they should obtain leave of absence and go to the Besh Chinar gardens and read their books there under a tree. Next day they carried their plan into practice. With only a few days of the term to go, they already felt themselves to be no longer schoolboys but grown men, and the nineteen-year-old Gotsé even bought a bottle of mastika to enliven the olives which they ate for lunch.

 

The two friends spent a pleasant day, reclining in the shade, and evidently they managed to do some serious revision, for they passed their examinations with flying colours: Gotsé, Stamatov and Tenchov were all awarded special book prizes - the works of Pushkin - which were graciously handed to them by the vali at the public ceremony held to mark the end of the school year and attended by Turkish officials and foreign consuls. After the pupils had been called upon to solve problems, recite poems and demonstrate scientific experiments for the benefit of the important visitors, the proceedings were brought to a triumphant and somewhat incongruous conclusion with the whole school - that secret hotbed of revolution - solemnly singing a hymn in praise of Sultan Abdul Hamid, 'fount of light and lord of the world'.

 

 

*. Long may he live!

 

**. Down with him!

 

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NOTES

 

1. Turtsia, Year I, No 20, 5. XII. 1864.

 

2. Snegarov. Vŭzrazhdané na bŭlgarshtinata v Solun. Makedonski pregled Year X, 1936. Books I and II, pp. 11-15.

 

3. Hristo Brŭzintsov. Vo Prilepa-grada. Sofia 1969, pp. 69-70.

 

4. Kuzman Shapkarev. Predistoriyata na Solunskite bŭlgarski gimnazii. Sbornik Solun. Sofia 1934, p. 17

 

5. Georgi Kandilarov. Bŭlgarskite gimnazii i osnovni uchilishta v Solun. Sofia 1930, pp. 30-31. Kandilarov, a native of Kotel, was director of the school 1883-87.

 

6. Daily News, May 9, 1903, James MacDonald's description of Salonika.

 

7. Ibid.

 

8. Ibid.

 

9. June 2 1876 (new style).

 

10. Sir Edwin Pears. Life of Abdul Hamid. London 1917.

 

11. Odysseus (Sir Charles Norton Edgcumbe Eliot KCMG) Turkey in Europe.

 

12. Sir Edwin Pears. Life of Abdul Hamid. 1917 p. 195.

 

13. Victor Bérard. La Macédoine. Paris 1897. p. 178.

 

14. Dimitŭr Blagoev was born in 1856 in the village of Zagorichané, near Kastoria. As a student in St Petersburg, he had founded the first Marxist circle in Russia, and, later, in 1891, he was to found the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, which was the forerunner of the Communist Party.

 

15. See S. Stamatov. Spomeni za Georgi Delchev. Sofia. 1935, p. 13. Most of the material about Gotsé in this chapter and the next, unless otherwise stated, is taken from Stamatov's memoirs. Stamatov himself was the boy in question in this incident.

 

16. See Yavorov op. cit. p. 160. Yavorov does not specify the nature of the slander.

 

17. Boris Sarafov was born in the village of Libyahovo near Nevrokop (Gotsé Delchev), in an actively patriotic family. His uncle, Kosta Sarafov, and his grandfather, the Archimandrite Hariton, had been active in the Church struggle, while his father, Petŭr Sarafov, was active in the sphere of education. In 1885, his father and grandfather were arrested as a result of intrigues on the part of Greeks, and Boris saw them being taken in chains through the streets of Salonika. They were sent to prison in Asia Minor, but his father managed to escape and went to Sofia. The sight of his relatives in chains is said to have changed Boris from a quiet child into the tough fighter that he later became.

 

18. K. Kondov. Gotsé i drugarite mu. Gotsév List. Plovdiv 1926, p. 4-6.

 

19. Lika Chopova. Septemvri VI/5 1953.