Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



We are not seeking riches,

We are not seeking gold.

For what we want is freedom

And human rights for all.

    (From a song by Stefan Stambolov)


The end-of-the-year examinations were not the only problem which occupied the minds of the pupils. Even when the examinations were safely over, there remained the question 'What next?' Because of the abysmal backwardness of the Turkish Empire, virtually the only career open to educated people was the teaching profession, i.e. they would spend their lives raising other people to a level of education which would lead them to the same deadend. Gotsé often expressed his deep conviction that there had to be a purpose to life and that one had to justify one's existence. Freedom, he said, had to be bought with blood and that sacrifices would have to be made. But such reflections only gave rise to new questions: 'How? Where?' [1]


Nobody now believed that the Russians would come to liberate them, especially since the Tsar had displayed marked disapproval of the re-unification of Eastern Rumelia with the Principality of Bulgaria in 1885, [2] but considerable hope was vested in the young Bulgarian state. After all, even though the Tsar had withdrawn the Russian officers seconded to the Bulgarian Army, the latter had thrashed the Serbs when they had attempted to march on Sofia in the hope of profiting from Bulgaria's shaky position immediately following the re-unification. [3] Thus the attention of many pupils at the Salonika High School were turning to Sofia and, in particular, to the Military School there.


Shortly before the end of the school year in 1891, letters were received from former pupils who were now cadets at the Sofia Military School. They sent photographs of themselves in military uniform and gave details of the regulations for enrolment. All the information was eagerly digested by the circle, and, in a matter of two or three days, five of them, including Gotsé Delchev, Gotsé Imov and Stamatov had decided that they too wished to become cadets. All of them, except Gotsé Delchev, wrote home informing their parents of their decision. Gotsé was still too afraid of his father to approach him directly, and the question was raised for him by Gotsé Imov's grandfather, whose shop Nikola leased for his tavern, and whose word, therefore, carried some weight.


When the School broke up and Gotsé returned to Kukush, the ground had already been prepared, and Nikola commented crossly: 'I hear you want to go to the Military School. Why didn't you say so?'


'I was afraid to, Father, in case you wouldn't let me,' Gotsé admitted.





'Very well, then, go.' The old man had given up all hope of Gotsé's following him in the business, and the idea of an officer in the family secretly appealed to his pride.


Early in July, 1891, after two evenings of feasting and jollifications, the five young men set out together from Kukush with a hired man and three horses. They took it in turns to ride and walk, and, making all the haste they could - for they did not wish to find themselves benighted among the Turkish villages of the Krusha Planina - they arrived late in the evening in Barakli-Dzhumaya (Iraklia), where they spent the night. On the next day, they passed through the gorge cut by the Struma between Belasitsa and Ali-Botush, and entered the beautiful vale of Petrich, where they slept in the village of Levunovo at the foot of Pirin. On the third day they travelled through the interminable bends of the Kresna Gorge, past the inns with all their memories of the uprising, and arrived in Gorna Dzhumaya (Blagoevgrad) where they put up at an inn kept by an aged Protestant from Bansko. The frontier between free Bulgaria and the Turkish Empire was only a few miles to the north near the village of Barakovo, so the travellers paid off their guide and the horses, and engaged a hackney carriage with a Turkish coachman to drive them on to Sofia in the morning.


They started early, eager to reach what for them seemed like a Promised Land, and in the dawn they came to the river set by the Great Powers as the dividing line between freedom and bondage. To the East, the splendid peaks of Rila soared into the golden firmament, sharply delineated against the rising sun, higher than the home of the Olympian gods, higher than any mountains that Gotsé had ever seen. And the river that sparkled between them and freedom had its source in the heart of the mountain, and had flowed past the great monastery, which in the course of a thousand years had been consumed again and again in the flames of countless conflagrations to rise again from the ashes - an indestructible temple of the Bulgarian spirit.


But entry into a Promised Land is seldom easy, and those who seek admission must be prepared to undergo all kinds of preliminary ordeals. In the case of the would-be officers, the ordeal took the form of a blank refusal on the part of the Bulgarian frontier guards to admit them because of quarantine regulations imposed following an epidemic on the Turkish side. The coachman was not prepared to wait while the boys pleaded and negotiated with the guards, and he returned to Gorna Dzhumaya, leaving them stranded by the river.


Unwilling to go back and unable to continue, the boys spent a frustrating morning, hanging about the frontier post and wondering for how long they would be judged unclean and whether they would reach the School in time. At noon, a Bulgarian telegraphist from the





frontier village of Barakovo came to have lunch at the tavern on the Turkish side. He was soon apprised of the boys' plight and advised them to send a telegram to the district governor in Kyustendil, since the frontier post came under his jurisdiction. Together they composed the following text: 'We, pupils from the Salonika High School, are going to the Military School. We beg to be admitted or else we shall be late.'


All through the long, hot afternoon, they waited on tenter-hooks for an answer. It was nearly nine in the evening before they were released from their torment by the glad news that they could proceed. [4]


Their joy was somewhat dampened by the realization that they had no transport and would lose more valuable time finding their coachman again. Gotsé, however, was not prepared even to wait until it was light.


'You three stay here,' he said, 'and you, Stamat, come with me!'


Then, crossing himself, he ran out into the darkness. Stamat followed him, without question or protest, and the two ran, walked and stumbled the eight dark kilometers which lay between the frontier and Gorna Dzhumaya. When they arrived, they went to the only place that was familiar to them: the inn kept by the aged Protestant from Bansko. He had long since gone to bed, but, on understanding who was knocking, he rose and opened the door. In answer to their excited inquiries, he told them that he knew roughly where the coachman lived, but was not sure of the exact house. For Bulgarians to go round the Turkish quarter by night, knocking on doors, was asking for trouble, but the good old man took a lantern, as the law required, and set out with the boys. They had spent a considerable time wandering about the dark and silent streets, between high walls with barred and bolted gates, when they had the good fortune to meet a well-disposed Turk who was able to direct them. They knocked up the coachman and persuaded him to prepare his vehicle and set forth. At dawn, the boys were back at Barakovo to collect their companions, and by nine o'clock in the morning, they were all in Dupnitsa (Stanké Dimitrov), where they visited a former classmate. On the following day, they travelled via Radomir to Pernik, and on the next they set out for Sofia, thus taking three days for a journey which today can be accomplished by car in less than two hours.


Following the rough dusty road, which twisted and turned in obedience to the dictates of river bends and uneven ground, they came at last to the western foothills of Vitosha, and entered the cool, wooded pass of Vladaya, which is the gateway to Sofia. From there they caught their first glimpse of the Bulgarian capital, standing in splendid isolation in the middle of a fine plain ringed with mountains. There was little in its size or outward appearance to excite attention, espec-





ially to those newly come from Salonika, but to the young Macedonians, who had grown up in the shadow of Ottoman oppression, it was m a symbol of hope, and behind it, right across the northern horizon, stretched the mighty rampart of the Stara Planina, which they had so I often roamed in their imagination after Velichkov's lessons on Botev. They were again reminded of their days in Salonika when they descended from Vladaya into the village of Knyazhevo. Once the Turkish teacher, Ethem Efendi, had called Gotsé to the blackboard to write out a Turkish sentence, which ran 'Bali-efendi is one hour from Sofia', and then had asked: 'Do you know what Bali-efendi is now called?' 'No, sir.' Gotsé had answered. 'I-Knyazhevo.' [*]


'I-Knyazhevo' was now before their eyes, and they were surprised to discover that the cadets of the Military School were under canvas in a summer camp nearby. They left the carriage by the roadside and walked over to the camp, where their appearance - in their Turkish-style school uniforms and red fezes - caused quite a sensation. They were at once surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers, all eager to hear who they were, and to try on their fezes. They were not wholly in the midst of strangers, however, for among the cadets they recognized three former pupils from Salonika: Boris Saratov, Georgi Apostolov and Dimitŭr Atanasov. [5]


From then on, the rest was plain sailing. The five boys were enrolled at the School with the minimum of bureaucracy, and only one incident marred their passage into the School. After they had handed in their documents, they were sent to the store to receive their uniforms. At the door, a senior cadet began to tease Gotsé, asking him what his name was, and scornfully suggesting that he must be very much attached to his Turkish fez if he entered the Bulgarian Military School wearing it. What kind of Bulgarian officer did he think he would make? Gotsé, who, beneath his outward reserve, was an intensely proud and sensitive being, flushed scarlet with shame and anger; a sudden fire flared up in his soft brown eyes and was instantly extinguished by tears. He could only manage to say that his name was Gotsé Delchev and that he came from Kukush, and another recruit - Todor Ivanov - seeing his pain and confusion, hastily retorted that if Gotsé were not a good Bulgarian, he would hardly have come all the way from Macedonia to enter the Military School. [6]


After the formalities were complete, the boys were given permission to spend that day and the next resting and sightseeing in Sofia. There was really not much to see in the Bulgarian capital. Thirteen years earlier, when the victorious Russian Army entered Sofia through a triumphal arch erected on the spot where Levsky had been hanged,



*. Turks avoid words beginning with two consonants, and often add an initial "i" to such foreign words for the sake of euphony.





the city had been just a thoroughly run-down, ramshackle provincial town, with little to remind one of its illustrious past, when the Emperor Constantine had called it 'my Rome', and when, more recently, in 1717, Lady Mary Wortly Montague had described it as 'one of the most beautiful towns in the Turkish Empire'. The population of under 50,000 lived mainly in single or, at the most, two-storeyed houses built of sun-dried bricks reinforced with wooden planks, and surrounded by little courtyards containing animals and fruit-trees. Here and there, a few larger and more presentable buildings in European style, such as the Palace reconstructed from the Turkish konak where Levsky had been tried, the State Printing House, the private residences of merchants and financiers, the Russian Embassy, the Hotel Bulgaria and the Ministry of War, had appeared as a result of the modernization which, under the direction of a French architect, had begun five years earlier with the destruction of many Turkish buildings, and was still very much in its infancy. Not even the main streets were paved; the July sun roasted the earth to a fine dust, and the wind lifted it up in choking clouds, until the rain laid it to rest again in a sea of mud. To make matters worse, rubbish was thrown into the streets, to the delight of roving dogs, which dug for pickings among the rags and melon-rinds, and were periodically removed by dog-catchers armed with nets on poles. The streets were not swept, but in summer the central thoroughfares were sprinkled from time to time by a horse-drawn cistern, which attracted crowds of children eager to take showers, but it was like trying to bale out the ocean with a teaspoon - the triumphant dust settled in layers upon the clothes and faces of the people, and, from the high ground in Lozenets, [*] it could be seen floating like a shroud above the city.


Like Kukush, Sofia suffered from a shortage of water, and in many quarters the houses lacked even outside taps or yard fountains, and water had to be fetched in pails from street fountains serving an entire neighbourhood. Ironically enough, the city was also menaced by frequent floods, which, unlike the Kukush Duflo, were not mythical, but all too real. Neither the Perlovets nor the Vladaya River was controlled, and, puny as they usually were, after heavy rain they would go beserk, undermining foundations, carrying away flimsy houses and forming filthy swamps. For years the main work of the Sofia Fire Brigade was to fight water rather than fire.


The young Bulgarian capital had not yet had time to develop as an industrial or commercial centre, and its population consisted mainly of clerks and civil servants. Its shops were one-storeyed wooden structures with shutters instead of windows, and the goods could not com-



*. The area around the present-day Hotel Haemus. It was then outside the city and people went hunting for hares there.





pete with those in old established centres like Salonika, or even Bitolya. The grocers' shops were unhygienic and infested with mice and cockroaches, while meat and fish were sold in a particularly stinking part of the town, where the proprietors displayed their wares in the open - the meat hung on hooks over the pavements, [*] and the fish in baskets - and kept the swarms of bluebottles at bay with feather fly-whisks. There were no market gardens on the Sofia plain, where the fields were sown exclusively with wheat and maize, and fruit had to be brought from the orchards of Kyustendil and vegetables from the valley of the Maritsa around Plovdiv and Pazardzhik. The open-air markets were not remarkable for the variety of their goods, and they were busiest in the autumn, when households laid in vast quantities of basic goods, such as cheese, firewood, beans and lentils, against the winter. In Sofia, as in Kukush, it was not considered seemly for a woman to go shopping, and apart from a few emancipated foreign women, the customers in the shops and markets were exclusively men. The one exception was the so-called 'women's market', [**] which was held on Fridays in front of the Banya-bashi Mosque, and was attended by peasants from as far afield as Kyustendil and Dupnitsa to the south and the far side of the Stara Planina to the north.


Horse-cabs and heavy carts drawn by oxen were the sole form of traffic in the dusty streets, and the main source of noise was the street vendors shouting their wares - milk, halva, boza, simiti, gevretsi, hot sausages, kebabcheta, and preserves. [***] The latter were displayed in trays with six compartments, each containing a different variety of syrupy jam, which was served by the spoonful. The vendor provided the spoons and carefully wiped them before offering them to other clients, fondly imagining that the requirements of hygiene had been met.


Those with a taste for chance could patronize open-air tombola stalls, by taking a number out of a bag, or by whirling a 'wheel of fortune', while more hardened gamblers would try their luck at tables where a version of the 'Three Card Trick' was conducted, sadly enough, by men who were usually veterans of the War of Liberation and the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885.


The people in the streets were the same mixture of town and village,



*. Although the actual streets were not paved, there were usually cobbled side-walks in front of the shops.


**. The market still keeps its name today, although it has moved to a new site.


***. Halva: a sweetmeat, usually made from ground sesame. Boza: a drink made from millet. Simiti: Sweetish white bread rolls. Gevretsi: crisp bread in the form of a ring; Kebabcheta: grilled rissoles made of minced meat.





modern and traditional, as the buildings. Those who were striving to be fashionable citizens of a metropolis dressed in European style: the men with stiffly starched collars and shirt fronts, straw boaters or bowler hats, fancy walking sticks and twirled moustaches, and the women - tightly corsetted, with frilly, trailing gowns that had to be held up out of the dust and mud, and frivolous hats set off by parasols, which in winter would be exchanged for muffs. A complete contrast was provided by the numerous peasants in their various regional costumes, mainly from the Shop or Sofia area. They were all very different from the creamy-white costumes of Macedonia, with their tassels, fringes and densely patterned embroidery executed almost exclusively in wonderful blended shades of red. The Shopi [*] also loved red, and used it to embroider the sleeves of their shirts and chemises, but the chief beauty and originality of their costumes lay in their outer-garments - the men's jackets and the women's tunics - which were of dark blue, richly ornamented with lines and coils of white braid.


The city boasted a number of relatively modern hotels, the best of which were owned by foreigners, a few big coffee-houses, beer-gardens and restaurants, and a plethora of tiny, oriental type cafe's. All the personnel were men, since it was unthinkable for a decent woman to cook or serve outside her own home. Women could be found only in the so-called cafés-chantants, which were, in fact, legal brothels, whose owners paid special taxes and would advertise their newly acquired 'staff' by driving them through the streets in carriages.


Most of the music in the city was provided by military bands which performed in the park on Sunday, and also played for 'high society' balls, where a master-of-ceremonies conducted the elite through a programme of waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, minuets, mazurkas, polonaises, two-steps, etc., learnt at special courses. The petty-traders and clerks had modest soirées at which waltzes and polkas alternated with the traditional horo, which was still danced in the open on high-days and holidays in almost every quarter of the city, especially the outlying ones. Coming from a land where the horo is danced to a stately measure, with deliberate, expansive movements of the arms and legs, evoking visions of Homeric warriors, the young Macedonians must have gazed with interest at the swift, intricate steps of the Shopi, who seem to hover in the air as they vibrate and stamp. More familiar to them would have been the Turkish kyuchek, which still enjoyed great popularity with the citizens of Sofia, and was danced with equal pleasure by Turks and Bulgarians alike. [7]


Another relic of Turkish times was an ancient cannon on rising





ground [*] to the east of the National Assembly, which was then on the outskirts of the city. The cannon was fired at midday - give or take five minutes - to enable citizens to adjust their watches.


The Military School was housed in the former Turkish barracks, which were cramped and inconvenient, and situated on the edge of a compound used as the city refuse-dump. Fortunately for the cadets, as soon as the weather became warm, they were transferred to the camp at Knyazhevo, where they spent the summer in more spacious and pleasant surroundings. For Gotsé, however, it was not a very easy time. The summer was spent purely in drilling and gymnastics, and Gotsé, who had never had much inclination towards physical exercise, was hard put to it even to pass muster. Those who were weak at drill were deprived of leave, and it was six months before Gotsé managed to obtain a pass to go out into the town.


At the beginning of September, they returned to Sofia to begin classes in theoretical subjects as well. Gotsé had little difficulty in mastering the required material, the greater part of which he had already studied during the last year in Salonika, and he was much sought-after as a consultant in mathematics, a subject upon which the Military School laid particular stress and which was a real bugbear for most of his fellow cadets. He passed the stiff half-yearly examination with ease, but without special distinction. He could have been among the first, had he so wished, but, in spite of his fierce pride, there was something in his character which made him reject all forms of ostentation and shun the limelight. Possessing the ability to shine, he preferred to merge with the average and remain unnoticed.


During that first year, Gotsé made many new friends. His unfailing good-nature, his loyalty and his readiness to help made him popular with his comrades, and they sought his company because, although he was inclined to be silent, when he did express an opinion, his ideas were always well-thought out and sustained. Some twenty boys from other high schools in Macedonia had entered the school at the same time as Gotsé's group, so that, together with those in the two classes above them, they brought the total number of cadets from Macedonia up to between fifty and sixty. It was natural that they should meet together in their free time to sing songs and to share reminiscences about the Salonika High School, through which many of them had passed.


Among his new friendships, there was one so strange and - in the end - so fraught with coincidence and fate, that if it had been invented by a novelist it would be rejected as too improbable. This friendship involved a Mohammedan cadet called Hussein Tefikov, who was in the same platoon as Gotsé. Hussein was the descendent of one of the



*. Where the present university is.





many Bulgarian families which, centuries before, had been forced to embrace Islam and who by reason of their religion had come to regard themselves as Turks. He spoke Turkish and could write it well, and, thus, to all intents and purposes, both in his own eyes and in those of others, he was a true Turk. There was also another Muslim cadet - Ismail Yurukov - but he was attached to a different company. One may well ask what people who regarded themselves as Turks were doing in the Bulgarian Military School. The Bulgarian cadets were told that the two Turks had been accepted so that later, as officers, they would carry out propaganda among their co-religionists but nobody was able to understand exactly what this would mean in practice. A more probable explanation was that their presence was dictated by the current official policy of wooing Turkey.


Although both had been born in Bulgaria and spoke Bulgarian, they naturally felt somewhat isolated among their former Christian enemies, especially since they were in different companies, and their Bulgarian comrades were none too kind to them. Some, indeed, took positive delight in tormenting them: frogs would be put into their beds, or pork would be introduced into their food, so that they could not eat it. [8] To Gotsé, the idea that a person should be penalized simply for being a Turk was as repugnant as the idea that a Turk had the right to ride roughshod over a Bulgarian. Even the fact that Hussein's father - Tefik Bey - had had a part in Levsky's trial and execution did not prevent Gotsé from judging the Turk on his own merits and pitying his loneliness, and it was in the quiet Macedonian, whose whole being was dominated by a desire to liberate his country from Turkish rule, that Hussein found a staunch friend and defender. Gotsé not only took issue with his comrades over their practical jokes and petty cruelties, but also spent a considerable amount of time in the young Turk's company. Nobody else in the platoon spoke Turkish, and for Hussein the hours spent with Gotsé must have seemed a welcome oasis in the alien and sometimes hostile environment of the Bulgarian Army. Hussein was one of the weaker students and had been obliged to stay two years in the first course. Gotsé coached him in mathematics, and, according to some, even fired at Hussein's target during a shooting test in order to save his friend from humiliation, for the Turk was a poor shot as well as a poor mathematician.


This unusual and touching friendship was to have an appalling ending, for the Treaty of Berlin had created in Macedonia a perverse and evil alchemy capable of turning even the finest gold into base metal. A decade or so later, Hussein was to command the unit which encircled Gotsé's cheta in the village of Banitsa, near Serres, and shot him dead.


Mercifully it was not given to Gotsé to see the future, but, even





without this knowledge, the day-to-day realities of the Military School held sufficient sorrows to darken his life. These realities were very different from what he had expected when he had set out for Sofia with such high hopes and brave determination. He had come to learn how to fight for freedom and it soon became obvious to him that the chief purpose of the Military School was to process individuals into automata programmed to react to a rule-book and to have no thoughts or will of their own. Gotsé was used to discipline, for there had been no lack of it either at home or in Salonika. He did not suffer in the way that some cadets - the cossetted children of over-fond mothers - suffered in the harsh atmosphere of the School, where the sound of the trumpet guided them through a day of conditioned reflexes and where punishment was swift and sure. He suffered because of the situation which he found in the Principality and because of the attitude of the people around him.


This was not the free Bulgaria of which he had dreamed - the free Bulgaria of Levsky and Botev, rejoicing in her liberty, yet mindful of her unredeemed children in Macedonia and Aegean Thrace. This was an alien society of go-getting merchants and industrialists greedy for power and profits, not over-particular about their methods, and in no wise troubled about the plight of others. The Government was headed by Stefan Stambolov, who, as a schoolboy had been sworn into the national liberation movement by Levsky himself, and who, after the Congress of Berlin, had worked with Metropolitan Natanail to free their brothers in Macedonia. Little, however, remained of the erstwhile idealist and revolutionary, and Stambolov ruled as an utterly unscrupulous dictator, maintaining his own power and that of the nouveau-riche minority by means of demagogy and, where that failed, by cooked elections and sheer terror. His foreign policy, like the economic interests of the rising bourgeoisie, was orientated towards the West, and was markedly anti-Russian. When Alexander of Battenberg abdicated in 1886, it was Stambolov, who, in spite of Russian protests, set an Austrian prince - Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg Gotha - upon the Bulgarian throne. Ferdinand was an autocrat by nature and was, moreover, possessed by dreams of imperial splendour, the pursuit of which were to bring untold disasters upon his adopted people.


The imprint of this new society lay heavily upon the School, the full title of which was 'His Highness's Military School'. His Highness needed well-drilled, unquestioning Prussian-style officers ready to leap to attention and realize his ambitions with the precision of well-tuned machines. The greater part of those who entered the School were in search of brilliant careers, or cushy jobs in the more desirable garrison towns. They spent their leave in gay and noisy amusements, visiting cabarets and walking out with pretty girls, and seemed neither





willing nor able to understand the boy from Kukush, who had no taste for such frivolities and was grieved by their lack of concern for their brothers in Macedonia.


By the end of the first year, Gotsés disillusion was complete: 'Why didn't I stay in Salonika, why didn't I finish school there, why didn't I become a teacher?' was his anguished cry. When Petŭr Dŭrvingov, who had just completed the sixth class of the Salonika High School, arrived at the summer camp in Knyazhevo, eager to enter the Military School, Gotsé advised him against doing so. Yet he himselt staved on, perhaps because he still beleived that within the prison-like system of the School, he could acquire knowledge that would stand him in good stead, perhaps because he was simply too proud to give up.


When the cadets left the camp at the end of August, they did not return to the old cramped premises by the rubbish dumps, but to a new building on the edge of the city. It stood in a large park, where there was plenty of room for drilling and target practice, so that it was no longer necessary to go out to Knyazhevo for the summer. Living conditions in the new school were much better; the quality of the food improved, and servants were even employed to clean the cadets' boots. All this had a favourable effect on morale, and the cadets settled down cheerfully to another session of hard study.


In September 1892, Gotsé and his friends moved up into the intermediary class, where most of the subjects were military rather than general, and were thus entirely new to them. Gotsé took them in his stride, maintaining his good average performance at the half-yearly examinations, and receiving full marks for his general conduct.


The second year passed uneventfully, and Gotsé seemed to have attained a state of passionless resignation. Taciturn, retiring and even-tempered, he worked well, behaved well and excited little attention. Few, if any, of his superiors as yet suspected that their carefully conceived system for the automatization of men was having no effect whatsoever on this outwardly soft, but inwardly rock-like being with a will of steel and a proudly independent soul.


Gotsé regularly took town-leave, but not, like so many of his comrades, in order to escape into a pleasant world of parties, female company and superficial entertainments. Gotsé spent his leaves in the company of emigrants from Macedonia, mainly students, who shared his ideals and his anxieties. Most of them belonged to an organization called 'The Young Macedonian Literary Association', which had been formed in 1891, with Kosta Shahov as its chairman and the declared aims of publishing a journal, setting up a reading-room club and supporting needy pupils. [9] The journal - entitled Loza (Grapevine) - commenced publication in January 1892, but little progress was made with the club. [10]





Kosta Shahov was already something of a veteran in the Macedonian movement. In 1885, he had joined a Macedonian committee in Ruse, one of the many quasi-charitable organizations which sprang up in the Principality during the period 1878-1885, with the double aim of helping refugees and of settling the Macedonian question by means of an armed uprising. In 1888, he began to edit a paper called Makedonia, which appeared rather erratically until 1893. The paper is of historical importance, because it discussed a vital tactical problem connected with the struggle for liberation, namely the question of autonomy for Macedonia. Since 1945, official opinion in Yugoslavia has attempted to identify the idea of autonomy with the idea of a separate Macedonian nation. There is, in fact, no historical connection between the two. For those who advocated autonomy for Macedonia during the period of the Turkish occupation, the predominantly Bulgarian character of the population in Macedonia was never in doubt. They raised the slogan of autonomy for purely tactical reasons: because they knew that the Great Powers would not countenance a return to San Stefano; because they were still pressing for the immediate implementation of Article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin, which promised reforms amounting to a measure of autonomy, and because they were afraid that an open call for unity with the Principality would only arouse national antagonisms which might result in the country being torn apart.


This point of view is clearly and unequivocally stated in Kosta Shahov's editorials: 'The majority in the country (i.e. Macedonia - M.M.) is Bulgarian; the Bulgarian schools are the most numerous, and all fears for the loss of this country in the event of an independent struggle for a free life on the part of the Macedonians, all such fears are groundless... And today it is desirable - at any rate for our free Bulgarian brothers - to encourage the slave in an independent struggle, since it is plain that otherwise it will be difficult and somewhat dangerous to work for this unhappy region. We have already stated on a previous occasion that it is not timely for us Macedonians to declare our wish to be united with a certain country. This would be dangerous, first and foremost for us Macedonians, and also for the whole Bulgarian people; our neighbours would take advantage of the situation, Macedonia would be torn apart and our Bulgarian ideal thwarted.' [11]


While repeatedly stressing the Bulgarian character of the majority of the population in Macedonia, [12] Shahov also points out that other peoples - Turks, Vlahs, Jews and Albanians - also inhabit the territory and wish to live in peace and freedom, and must be taken into consideration. [13] In order to remove all possible internal antagonisms, disarm all foreign propagandists and encourage all the free Balkan





countries to help in the struggle, Shahov suggests that the idea of placing the Macedonian question on a 'geographical basis' is 'both timely and beneficial'. [14]


The Young Macedonian Literary Association's Journal, Loza, [15] was also categorical about the Bulgarian character of Macedonia: 'A mere comparison of those ethnographic features which characterize the Macedonians (we understand: Macedonian Bulgarians), with those which characterize the free Bulgarians, their juxtaposition with those principles for nationality which we have formulated above, is enough to prove and to convince everybody that the nationality of the Macedonians cannot be anything except Bulgarian. And the identity of these features has also long ago been established and confirmed by . impartial science: only the blind and the enemies of Bulgaria's future can fail to see the multiplex unity which prevails among the population from the Drim [*] to the Black Sea and from the Danube to the Aegean.' [16]


Indeed, the editors took the Bulgarian character of Macedonia so much for granted that they did not bother to explain their policy of introducing into the journal certain orthographical reforms and words from Macedonian dialects until, to their great surprise, they were accused of 'separatism' by some Bulgarians, who adhered rigidly to the Eastern dialect accepted as the standard literary language. [17] They hastened to answer these accusations in a special article entitled A Short Explanation': 'It had not occurred to any of us that the language of our journal was "Macedonian" by reason of the few Macedonian words which we have introduced, because, if we accepted this, then it would be a hundred times more necessary to call the Bulgarian literary language itself "Russian".' The editors stress that they have introduced Macedonian dialect words not because they are trying to establish a separate Macedonian language, [18] but because they wish to preserve the literary as well as the political unity of the Bulgarian people, by helping to create a language which would be as easily understood on the banks of the Vardar as on those of the Maritsa, i.e. a language which combined the most attractive elements of both the Eastern and Western dialects, instead of merely the former.


Thus, the company in which Gotsé spent his precious hours of freedom were circles which did not question the Bulgarian character of the majority of the population in Macedonia, circles whose ultimate aim was the reunification of all the Bulgarian lands, with frontiers approximately those of San Stefano, but who, for tactical reasons were already discussing the desirability of making autonomy their first objective.



*. The Drim flows out of Lake Ohrid close to the border with Albania.





Gotsé and his group from the Military School wcftild often meet their student friends in the latters' lodgings in order to discuss social, economic and political problems of all kinds. Gotsé himself had particularly close relations with Kosta Shahov, and the two would often meet in the park for long and animated conversations.


Another of Gotsé's friends was the Socialist joiner, Vasil Glavinov. Glavinov had worked as a joiner in his native Veles before moving to Sofia in 1887. There he found employment in a brickworks, and later returned to his original trade, setting up on his own as a joiner. Eventually, however, he went bankrupt, owing to the over-enthusiastic financial support which he gave to the first Bulgarian theatre troupe - 'Tears and Laughter'. Glavinov had come to Sofia fired with a desire to fight for the freedom of his people, and his contact with workers gave his ideals a new dimension, so that he began to think in terms not merely of national liberation, but of the abolition of all forms of exploitation. As a member of Bratstvo (Brotherhood), a workers' organization founded by workers and students in 1892, he became acquainted with Marxist ideas and embraced them wholeheartedly.


Through Glavinov and his comrades, Gotsé came into contact with a different Bulgaria; not the brash, careerist Bulgaria of Stambolov, but a Bulgaria which, under new conditions and in new forms of struggle, had remained true to the traditions of Levsky and Botev. The link was emphasized by the fact that in 1891, the constituent congress of the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party [*] had taken place on Mount Buzludzha in the days following the anniversary of Hadzhi Dimitŭr's death. [**] A month or two later, Dimitŭr Blagoev, the founder and leader of the Party, had published his historic pamphlet What is Socialism and is there any basis for it in our country? - a most pertinent title, for the relevance of a theory based on the vital role of the proletariat was not immediately apparent in Bulgaria - an agrarian country with little industry and few workers.


Glavinov was one of those who was immediately convinced by Blagoev's exposition of the Marxist view of history, and by the arguments that he advanced to prove that, backward as Bulgaria was, capitalist relations were developing both in town and countryside, and that it was therefore necessary to start propagating the ideas of scientific socialism in preparation for the future struggle between Labour and Capital. He read and re-read the pamphlet so many times that he knew it almost by heart, [19] and eagerly shared his new faith



*. In 1919 the Party was renamed the Bulgarian Communist Party.


**. The anniversary of Hadzhi Dimitŭr's death was chosen because the already traditional pilgrimage to the place of his last fight offered a cover for an otherwise illegal assembly.





with all his friends and acquaintances, including Gotsé and his group - the future leaders of the Macedonian revolutionary movement. The former pupils of the Salonika High School were well read in revolutionary theory from George Washington to Bakunin, and they had little difficult) in assimilating the ideas of Marx skilfully related to local conditions by Blagoev. Most of them became convinced Socialists, and if, in later life, few of them played an active role in the working class movement, it was mainly because they returned to Macedonia where the struggle was still at an earlier stage and involved not the organization of the working class against capital, but of the peasants against a foreign feudalism. Nevertheless, they continued to be influenced by Socialist ideas, which confirmed and set on a scientifc basis such principles as the need to draw the mass of the people into the struggle and to combat all national and racial antagonisms - principles which Levsky had intuitively understood and applied in the Bulgarian revolutionary movement.


Without these contacts in town - the heated discussions and the brave plans for the future - Gotsé would have found life in the Military School utterly unbearable. Indeed, he and his group had taken a solemn vow that when they were commissioned, they would not remain in the Army, but would return to Macedonia to work as teachers or in their fathers' businesses, and would devote their lives to the service of their unhappy people. In September 1893, Gotsé moved up into the third and final class, still working diligently, still totally unaffected by life in the School. Nevertheless, even automata are expected to show some enthusiasm in their reflexes, and Gotsé's indifference was eventually noticed by his superiors. It was hard for them to pin down exactly what they disliked in his behaviour, for he did not indulge in acts of obvious insubordination. They simply sensed that they had failed to make any impression upon him, and that, beneath his regulation obedience, his spirit was immune to regimentation. Even when he answered 'Sir!', upon being sentenced to detention for minor misdemeanours, there was in his tone a quiet contempt more galling than open truculence. 'You are not a person lacking in ability,' his commanding officer told him, 'but you're incorrigibly headstrong. I'd like you to turn over a new leaf, otherwise God himself won't be able to help you!' And before Gotsé could make any reply, the officer continued: 'I'm not going to listen to you: you know better than I. Dismiss!' [20]


In spite of everything, Gotsé stayed the course and passed his final exams in June 1894, not brilliantly, but with a reasonable 9.45 out of a possible 12. It was now a question of waiting to be commissioned and of being posted to a regiment. The careerists mostly expressed a preference for the popular artillery and cavalry regiments, but, as





usual, Gotsé was not attracted by ease or fashion. «He put his name down for the more prosaic and despised infantry, and was offered a posting to the 22nd Thracian Regiment, which was stationed in Pazardzhik.


Everything seemed to be proceeding normally, and tailors had already taken the measurements of the graduate cadets in order to prepare the appropriate uniforms, when alarming rumours began to disturb the summer peace of the Military School. It was said that for reasons of economy, the Government was postponing the commissioning of new officers for about six months, i.e. until January 1895, and the rumours soon turned out to be true.


In May 1894 the dictator Stambolov had at last fallen from power. He had always had many enemies and little popular support. He and his policies were heartily disliked by the vast majority of the peasants and petty-bourgeoisie, most churchmen, a large part of the intelligentsia, and even some of the upper bourgeoisie, who were pro-Russian. In 1890, there had been an unsuccessful plot against him, and the ring-leader, Major Panitsa, had been shot. In 1891, Russophil conspirators had attempted to assassinate him, but they had only succeeded in killing Hristo Belchev, the Minister of Finance. Three leading Russophils had been hanged, and many others had been tortured and flung into prison. Troops were stationed at local expense in villages where peasants were protesting against the Government's anti-Russian policies and the exhorbitant taxation necessary to maintain, among other things, a vast regular and secret police. For years Stambolov had remained in power by means of force and terror, riding roughshod over all opposition. Then, finally, Prince Ferdinand himself began to tire of his Prime Minister's tirades and tyrannies, and, desirous of normalizing Bulgaria's relations with Russia, resolved to get rid of the dictator. The next time that Stambolov threatened to resign - something which he periodically did in order to get his own way - the Prince accepted his resignation with alacrity, and asked the Russophil Konstantin Stoïlov to form a new government (May 1894). In July 1895, Stambolov was attacked in a Sofia street and died from his wounds. His widow was convinced that Ferdinand was behind the murder and refused to accept the Prince's message of sympathy.


The new Government of Stoïlov promised cuts in public expenditure, and one of the economies involved postponing for five months the commissioning of the newly graduated cadets, who numbered about one hundred. The decision meant that the cadets had to stay on at the School for a further period of special training, and there was considerable discontent among those who were anxious to begin their careers as officers and to receive their pay. This discontent was publicly expressed when, as they returned from a parade to mark the anni-





versary of Ferdinand's accession to the throne (August 2) - the date when cadets were normally commissioned - a number of them began to sing Dark are the mountains, dark is the world. The commanders immediately interpreted the song as a protest demonstration, and the whole company was confined to barracks. Shortly afterwards, anonymous letters of an insulting character were received by the Minister of War, Racho Petrov, and the Commander of the School. The authorities reacted by announcing that, if the culprit was not found, they would cashier either the entire third year, or every fifth cadet taken alphabetically. Both measures were manifestly unfair, but the second was especially so, since the culprit could well escape punishment. In the atmosphere of tension and suspicion which followed this announcement, four cadets - all close friends of Gotsé's - were arrested and interrogated. At this stage, nobody paid any attention to Gotsé himself. His obvious lack of military ambition absolved him from all suspicion in the eyes of his superiors, since they could not imagine his feeling sufficiently strongly about the postponement to be the author of the letters.


Gotsé's troubles began when certain books were found in the cells of the arrested cadets. This in itself was enough to confirm the worst suspicions of the commanders, who already disliked the four because they frequently absented themselves on leave, on medical grounds and other pretexts. An investigation established that Gotsé had supplied the books, and that they had been conveyed to the prisoners by Gospodin Zhelyazkov, who had been detailed to escort the prisoners to and from the latrines.


Now that he personally had been drawn into the whirlpool and had little to lose, Gotsé attempted to save his falsely accused comrades by confessing to having written the anonymous letters. The commander brushed the confession aside, saying that they knew who had written the letters, and that it was not him. Nevertheless, Gotsé and Zhelyazkov were put under arrest because of the books. Contemporary sources do not say what the books were, but in all probability they were Socialist in character, since it is unlikely that such a fuss would have been made over harmless novels. Gotsé borrowed Socialist literature from his friends in town and brought it into the School, and Zhelyazkov was also a Socialist. [21] Shortly after leaving the School, Gotsé told Tushé Deliivanov that, when the School authorities searched his locker, they had found a quantity of Socialist literature, and, after interrogating other cadets, they accused him not merely of being a Socialist, but of trying to propagate his ideas in the School. [22] Yavorov, who presumably also heard the tale from Gotsé himself, says that when the six cadets were eventually expelled from the School, the four originally arrested were expelled over the anonymous letters,





while Gotsé was expelled 'as a Socialist'. [23]


For expelled they were. Their guilt was never proved [24] - and indeed they were innocent - but the School Commander was eager to get rid of men whom he regarded as unsatisfactory cadets and potential troublemakers. Two were expelled without the right to be commissioned at some future date, while the remaining four, including Gotsé and Zhelyazkov, were told that, if they wished, they might enter the Army through the ranks and in this way re-apply for commissions. In fact, the original four all re-entered the Army, and, after various appeals, all were eventually commissioned. Only the two Socialists - Gotsé and Zhelyazkov - chose to become civilians again.


In Gotsé's case, the term 'civilian' was to prove somewhat misleading: while his former comrades relaxed in their sleepy garrison towns, he was to traverse the whole of Macedonia, with a dagger and a revolver in his belt, organizing the people into an army of which he was the uncommissioned yet undisputed commander-in-chief.


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1. Yavorov, Opus cit p. 160.


2. See MacDermott, A History of Bulgaria 1393-1885. London 1962. p. 34().


3. Ibid, p. 340-341.


4. This account of the delay on the frontier, like most of this chapter, is based on the memoirs of Stamat Stamatov. A slightly different account is given by Gotsé Imov in an article in Gotsév list 1(1933)2. According to Imov, they waited two days at the frontier; then Gotsé managed to ford the river with the help of a peasant and met the head of the Bulgarian customs. The latter took him to the frontier officer and arranged for a telegram to be sent to the Military School.


5. Dimitŭr Atanasov was one of those whose letters had given Gotsé and his friends the idea of enrolling at the Military School.


6. From the memoirs of Todor Ivanov. See S. Stamatov, p. 24.


7. The description of Sofia is mainly taken from Dimo Kazasov: Ulitsi, hora, sŭbitiya.


8. Oral memoirs of Lika Chopova, heard 1975.


9. See Loza, 1892 Book I p. 47.


10. An article published in the newspaper Pravo (No 11, Jan. 20 1895) complains that, although three separate Macedonian organizations exist in Sofia, little has been accomplished. It takes the Association to task of having no books in its reading-room.


11. Makedonia, No 36, Aug. 19 1889, p. 143.


12. See editorials, Makedonia, No 1, Oct 22 1888; No 4 1888, No 8, Jan 27 1889; No 2, Jan 19 1891; No 3, Jan 26 1891.


13. Makedonia, No 2, Jan 19 1891.


14. Ibid., No 3, Jan 26 1891.





15. Some historians in Skopje have attempted to present the Young Macedonian Literary Association and Loza as manifestations of Macedonian separatism, of the awakening of a 'Macedonia' national conciousness which rejects Bulgaria. That such a view can be advanced only by those who have not read the journal, or who bank on others not having done so, will be obvious to those who take the trouble to read it.


16. Loza, 1892, p. 58.


17. Bulgarian dialects fall into two main groups, east and west, differentiated by the pronunciation of the old Slavonic letter ѣ. In Eastern Bulgaria, the Rhodopes, and Eastern Macedonia it is pronounced 'ya' while in Western Bulgaria, it is pronounced 'e'. Although the capital, Sofia is in Western Bulgaria, the Eastern dialect of Tŭrnovo, the mediaeval capital, formed the basis of standard Bulgarian after 1878, because most of the literary men of the day were born in the eastern part of the country. The difference between the Macedonian dialects and the Eastern dialects is rather less than the difference between, say, Cockney, or Yorkshire, and Standard English.


18. See Loza, Book II, 1892, p. 93: 'The Macedonian dialect can never be the basis for the creation of an independent language separate from the now predominant Eastern Bulgarian.' Among the reasons which they give for this view is the fact that the various Macedonian dialects differ from each other as much as they differ from the Eastern dialects, and the fact that the spread of books in literary Bulgarian were already forming a bridge between the various Macedonian dialects.


19. See Ivan Klincharov. Rabotnikŭt-Stolar - Vasil Glavinov, Sofia 1931.


20. Yavorov, p. 163.


21. Stamatov, p. 27. Stamatov, who was in the same platoon as Zhelyazkov and had actually been responsible for putting him on guard duty on the occasion in question, describes him as 'not only a Socialist, but something more.'


22. Tushé Deliivanov. Spomeni za Gotsé Delchev. Makedonska misŭl, Sofia Year I, 9-10, 1946, p. 379-385.


23. Yavorov, Opus cit p. 164. The order expelling the cadets, however, gives the anonymous letters as the reason for the expulsion of all six, and does not mention Socialism. See: Stamatov, p. 28.


24. The identity of the real culprit remains a mystery, although Stamatov suggests that it was a cadet whom he calls 'S. N.' The initials do not correspond to those of any of the expelled cadets. See: Stamatov, p. 29.