Freedom or Death. The Life of Gotsé Delchev

Mercia MacDermott



An egg is tiny, but a large bird

comes out of it.

    (Bulgarian saying)


Gotsé left Military School with slightly mixed feelings: on the one hand, he was glad to be free so that he could fulfil his vow and return to Macedonia, without the complicated comedy of having to resign his commission almost as soon as he had received it; on the other hand, he deeply resented the undeserved stain on his character and the injustice of the whole affair. He was too proud to complain to anyone, but Stamatov, who had known him intimately for so many years, sensed his bitterness and injured pride, and correctly guessed that, for a time, Gotsé would not be able to face his father and would therefore stay away from Kukush. [1]


His fellow-townsman, Tushé Deliivanov, however, saw only Gotsé's joy at escaping from an institution so at variance with his character and aspirations. [2] Tushé had arrived in Sofia at the end of August 1894, having given up his teaching post in Kukush after a quarrel with the school governors. Sultana had begged him to visit Gotsé and give him the family's best wishes, together with a number of gifts. It so happened that when Tushé had gone to the Military School, Gotsé had been under arrest, and it was not until about ten days later, when Gotsé was released, that the two were able to meet.


Gotsé had not yet been finally discharged from the School (the order for his expulsion was dated September 24 1894), and, being still in uniform, he was fearful lest he might be re-arrested for neglecting to salute an officer, or some such misdemeanour, so he suggested that they meet in the Boris Gardens, where less vigilance was required. Naturally, the chief topic of conversation was the future. Gotsé already had definite plans: in his opinion, it was necessary to start organizing a liberation movement in Macedonia along the lines laid down by Levsky, and he intended to do precisely this. He had already written to three or four places in Macedonia, asking whether there were any vacancies for teachers. When Tushé heard his plans, he decided to join him in his endeavour, and, on the following day, he applied to the Exarchate [*] for a new teaching post in Macedonia.


There followed some ten days of waiting and discussions, during which time Gotsé had frequent meetings with Stoyan Rusev, a Social-



*. At that time, teachers in Macedonia were generally appointed by the Bulgarian Exarchate. The appointments were made afresh each school year, and teachers tended to move about a lot.





ist, who was publishing broadsheets for distribution in Macedonia. Then, almost simultaneously, both Gotsé and Tushé received answers from Shtip and the Exarchate respectively. By a lucky coincidence, both were offered appointments in the town of Shtip. Tushé was even offered the prospect of becoming the town's head teacher, if the Bishop had not already made an appointment.


At that time, Shtip was a town of some 20,900 inhabitants, of which just over half - 10,900 - were Bulgarian, and there were also 8,700 Turks, 800 Jews and 500 gypsies. [3] It was situated in a narrow valley, between steep hills and along the course of the Otinya, which was dry for the best part of the year, and which joined the Bregalnitsa. a tributary of the Vardar, close by the town. The ancient stone bridge over the Bregalnitsa had a curious feature deriving from legend and superstition: over the first of its fourteen spans - seven large and seven small - there was a stone slab on which were moulded two female nipples. This was a reference to the ancient belief, reflected in stones and folksongs, that a human life was required to give strength to a structure. [*] Two brothers, so the legend goes, began to build a bridge, but though they built all day, at night their work collapsed. They decided that a sacrifice was necessary, and agreed that it should be the wife of one of them. The first wife to appear was to be walled up alive in the bridge. The unfortunate victim submitted to her fate, but begged that holes be left so that she could suckle her baby until she


On the fertile upland plains beyond the hills, the peasants grew an abundance of grapes, opium, cotton, melons, sesame, almonds, chickpeas, grain and other crops, which were brought by merchants from Salonika, who had their permanent representatives in Shtip. The craftsmen of Shtip engaged in a wide variety of trades: tanning, crushing the oil from sesame and poppy seed, weaving woollen cloth, preparing gold-thread, carving wood, making saddles, ropes, cauldrons, slippers and sweetmeats, and burning charcoal. Shtip was an ancient settlement, founded by an Illyrian tribe called the Peoni; to the Romans it was Astibus, a strategic town on the highway from the Danube to the Adriatic, and it continued to be a centre of trade and communications until the opening of the Salonika-Skopje railway isolated it and deprived it of much of its economic importance. [4]


Bulgarian written culture had never been extinguished in Shtip, even in the darkest days of the dual Turkish and Phanariot yoke, and Greek propaganda had been able to make little headway there. The town had sound traditions of Bulgarian education, and before the onset of the economic decline, it had been well provided with schools, including two pro-gymnasii, or semi-secondary schools, one in Shtip



*. This belief is reflected in a number of legends and folk songs.





itself, and the other in Novo Selo, an outlying district of Shtip situated on a terrace above the Bregalnitsa. The schools were housed in modern buildings and were maintained by the relatively wealthy commune. In 1894, there were eighteen teachers, both men and women, in Shtip and Novo Selo alone, without the surrounding villages. [5]


Gotsé and Tushé arrived in Shtip towards the end of October 1894, and had hardly dismounted from their horses, when they were greeted by Damyan Gruev, who was the town's acting head teacher.


Damé - as he was more usually called - was a native of Smilevo, the son of one of the skilled builders for which the village was famous. Born in 1871, he had studied first in the village school, then in Bitolya, and had finally gone to the Salonika High School. While he was there, he had been persuaded by Serbian agents to accept a scholarship to study in Belgrade. Prior to the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870, all but the most nationalistic Serbs were content to regard the Macedonian Slavs as Bulgarians. [6] Serbia had no cause to fear or be jealous of a Slav people that had neither Church nor State of their own. The creation of the Exarchate, and, later, of the Bulgarian Principality, brought into existence a potential rival for power in the Balkans, and provoked more serious Serbian claims to Macedonia. The event which really opened the flood-gates of Serbian propaganda in Macedonia was the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria, a right given to her under the Treaty of Berlin for thirty years and recognized by Serbia in a treaty signed between the two countries in 1881 and prolonged in 1889, with an extra clause in which Austria sanctioned Serbian expansion in the valley of the Vardar. Until the 1880's Serbia had looked westward, and her ambitions had been centred on expansion to the Adriatic. Now that this way was closed, she began to look south to Macedonia and the Aegean. [7] After the reunification of Eastern Rumelia with the Bulgarian Principality, in 1885, the Turkish Government had begun to encourage Serbian propaganda in the hopes of frustrating any further moves towards the unity of all the Bulgarian lands. The Society of St Sava, founded in Belgrade in 1886, offered scholarships to Bulgarian Macedonians whom they then tried to 'brainwash' into becoming 'Serbian' teachers. Up to the turn of the century, Serbian propaganda was very active in Macedonia, working mainly through the medium of Serbian schools, offering such benefits as stipends and free books and clothes to those who would enrol and call themselves Serbs. Certain limited successes were achieved, since, in a land where poverty and a thirst for knowledge went hand in hand, it was not impossible to find people who were prepared to call themselves anything in order to obtain a schooling.





Lured by the enticing prospects of a highly subsidized education, a number of young Bulgarians from the Salonika High School and other schools in Macedonia, went to Belgrade between 1888 and 1889. They were very soon disillusioned, however, when they found that efforts were being made to turn them into 'Serbs', and when the Society of St Sava tried to forbid them to receive or read Bulgarian books. Most of them decided to leave Belgrade, and, while some returned immediately to Macedonia, the majority, including Damé, went to Sofia and continued their education there. Damé enrolled at the Higher School - the forerunner of Sofia University - as a student in the Faculty of History. In Sofia, he, too, encountered Socialist ideas, joined a Socialist group and helped to run a workers' evening school. At the same time, he belonged to the Macedonian students' organization, which had as its immediate aim agitation for the speedy implementation of the reforms promised in Article 23 of the Berlin Treaty, but was also thinking in terms of creating a revolutionary organization, similar in structure to that of Levsky, to free the country before Serbian propaganda could lead to divisions among the people. During the 1890's, indeed, the Serbs managed to establish small school and church communes in Bitolya, Kichevo, Debur, Kumanovo, Kochani, Kratovo and other towns. Although these communes involved only a few families, who had succumbed to Serbian blandishments and bribery, their existence was a threat to national unity. [8]


Although Gotsé and Damé had moved in more or less the same circles in Sofia, they had not met, because Damé had left the Principality shortly before Gotsé arrived. After the murder of the Minister of Finance in March 1891, Damé had been arrested on suspicion, due to mistaken identity. The man whom the police had really wanted was Dimitŭr Gruev, a Socialist student from Prilep, but when Damés room mate, Mirchev, discovered the mistake and proposed taking steps to secure Damés release, Damé told him to leave things as they were, because Dimitŭr was the sole support of his old father, sick brother and the rest of the family, who would be left destitute if he were arrested. [9] Fortunately, Damé did not have to suffer long, and, after two weeks, he and Nikola Naumov, another student arrested with him, were released. They found, however, that in the meantime, they had been expelled from the University, so that on their release, they returned to Macedonia immediately in order to avoid being called up for military service in the Principality.


Tushé and Damé had known each other in Salonika, and Damé immediately suggested that the newcomers should take lodgings in the house where he lived. It was an old and far from comfortable house, but it was near the school, and the landlady - the wife of an elderly village teacher named Mite' Terantseliev - would cook, clean





and launder for them. They agreed, and were soon installed; Tushé and Gotsé shared the larger of the two rooms, while Damé moved into the smaller.


Damé was a calm, cautious character, unwilling to commit himself before people whom he did not know. His first concern was to see what kind of people his new colleagues were, and, in particular, he was interested in Gotsé, who was a total stranger to him. At supper, he began to question them, asking them why they had not stayed in the Principality, why they had chosen Shtip and so on. It was Gotsé who answered. He spoke quite openly and at length: how could they stay in the Principality, living an easy life and giving themselves up to love and drinking, when their brothers were still enslaved? As educated people, they had a special responsibility, and to stand by and expect others to liberate them would be unforgivable. It was necessary to start organizing the Macedonian population in the manner pioneered by Levsky, and, indeed, their tasks should be easier than his, because a word from the Great Powers could radically change the situation. As for coming to Shtip, that was simply a matter of chance, and the kind of work that he had in mind could be started anywhere.


Damé listened to the young man in silence, scrutinizing his earnest, open face and gazing into his velvety dark-brown eyes. 'Delchev immediately impressed me with his frankness and integrity,' he later recalled. [10] With characteristic self-control, Damé heard him out, and only then exclaimed with delight: 'You are indeed welcome!' and handed him some sheets of paper headed 'The Statute of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization.' [11]


Gotsé was almost beside himself with joy. Thoughts whirled around in his mind. So, something had already been started! The first seed had been sown! There was a revolutionary organization in Macedonia! How fortunate that he had left the Principality when he did! What luck that he should have come to Shtip!


Eagerly he plied Damé with questions, and Damé, by now convinced that Gotsé was a kindred spirit, told him about the Organization, its foundation, its aims and its progress hitherto.


Like Gotsé, Damé had returned to Macedonia with an idea: the idea of emulating Levsky and of organizing his people for revolt. First he took a teaching post in Bitolya, where he tried to set up a revolutionary group, but without much success. A local priest persuaded several of his recruits to leave, and although the remainder decided to work for the 'idea' through the medium of a lending library, nothing came of their plans. In the following year, Damé taught in his native Smilevo, where he organized the village's first adult evening school. His next appointment was in Prilep, but owing to the conservative nature of most of his colleagues, he could do nothing about the 'idea'





there, and simply confined himself to teaching. His colleagues even tended to ostracize him because he had been expelled from the Higher School and was 'tainted' with Socialism. The only person with whom he could see eye to eye was Peré Toshev, [12] a gentle, selfless being of unimpeachable integrity, whose quiet manner and lack of pretention concealed a character that was both tough and constant.


In 1893, both men left Prilep. Peré went to teach in Skopje, while Damé temporarily abandoned the teaching profession and went to Salonika, where he found work as a proof-reader in the printing shop of Kone' Samardzhiev. [13]


One day, Damé visited the High School to consult the school doctor, Hristo Tatarchev, and, in casual conversation, he discovered that their opinions on many questions coincided. Unlike Gotsé, who would immediately bare his soul to anyone who might respond, Damé held back, and, indeed, made a rather unfavourable impression upon Tatarchev with his sly enigmatic smile, his indirect approach and his reluctance to lay his cards on the table. [14] A week later, he again came to consult Tatarchev, and again began to talk obliquely about social and political problems. This time, somewhat nettled, Tatarchev told him straight that he ought to be able to assess what manner of man he was by the fact that, after qualifying abroad, he had returned to Macedonia where up till then there had been no Bulgarian doctors. [15] Damé smiled and appeared satisfied by this statement, and asked when they could meet again. Finally, at their third meeting Damé dropped his reserve and began to speak more plainly about what they as Bulgarians should do in order to improve the political condition of their people.


If Damé's caution was justified by the conditions under which they lived, he was not mistaken in his man: Dr Tatarchev was a ripe fruit ready for plucking. Born in Resen of fairly wealthy parents (his father was a banker and merchant and owned several farms), he, too, had grown up with personal experience of the horrors of Ottoman anarchy. When he was eight, Albanian bandits had robbed a number of houses in Resen, including his own home, and his mother had been so stricken with shock that she had taken to her bed and died. As a schoolboy he had gone to Bratsigovo (Eastern Rumelia) where his brother was teaching, and had then transferred to the Plovdiv High School. Under the influence of Socialist ideas, Tatarchev had wanted to go abroad to study philosophy, but his father had insisted that he studied medicine. He had entered the medical faculty in Zurich, where he studied for three years, and he had then moved to Berlin, where he finally qualified as a doctor. He had returned to Macedonia in 1892, and in the autumn he had taken up his appointment at the Salonika High School. Having understood each other, Damé and Tatarchev decided that





it was necessary to gather some other like-minded people, and Damé undertook to do this. On October 23, 1893, the first step towards organization was taken when six people - Damé Gruev, Hristo Tatarchev, Petŭr Poparsov, [16] Andon Dimitrov, [17], Ivan Hadzhinikolov [18] and Hristo Batandzhiev [19] - met in Hadzhinikolov's room on Chelebi-Bakal street to discuss the whole question of future political activity. All of them were agreed that it was necessary to set up a revolutionary organization, and they formed themselves into a society for the purpose, without, however, drawing up any formal documents or minutes, and without electing am officers. In conclusion they pledged themselves to seek out suitable candidates to initiate into the 'idea'.


In January 1894, shortly before Epiphany, the six met again - this time in Andon Dimitrov's room - for the foundation meeting of the Organization. According to Damé Gruev, they were motivated by a desire to combat Serbian propaganda and to secure the implementation of Article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin. [20] They discussed the aims of the proposed Organization at some length, and at last agreed on 'Macedonian autonomy with the predominance of the Bulgarian element.' [21] Tatarchev summed up the gist of their deliberations in the following way: 'We could not accept the position of "direct unification of Macedonia with Bulgaria", because we could see that this would involve us in great difficulties owing to the opposition of the Great Powers and the aspirations of the small neighbouring states and Turkey. It occurred to us that an autonomous Macedonia could eventually be united with Bulgaria more easily, and, if the worst came to the worst, and this could not be done, it (Macedonia - M.M.) could serve as a unifying link within a federation of Balkan peoples.' [22]


Having agreed on the aim of their Organization, they decided to work out a Statute for it, and Petŭr Poparsov was asked to prepare a draft, based on the Statute of Levsky's organization, which was available to them in Zahari Stoyanov's Notes. At a subsequent meeting, the six discussed the draft and finally adopted the Statute. No copy of this Statute has yet been found, but according to Tatarchev, the Organization was to be called The Macedonian Revolutionary Organization' and was headed by a 'Central Macedonian Revolutionary Committee'. [23] The Statute provided for the administration of an oath to prospective members, [24] for the creation of local branches, and for the collection of membership dues. The need to combat Serbian propaganda was not actually mentioned in the Statute, although, according to Dame, it was very much at the forefront of all their minds. [25]


Tatarchev was elected Chairman of the first Central Committee, while Damé Gruev became its Secretary and Treasurer combined.





After the meeting, Damé recruited several more members, whom he swore in. Among them were pupils from the High School, including Alekso Panov, who later became a teacher in Prilep, Vasil Monchev, a publican, whose establishment - the Boshnyak Inn - soon became a rebel den, and Pop Stamatov, a priest serving in the church of St Dimitrios. Damé then left the work in Salonika to his comrades there, gave up his job in the printing-shop and set out to spread the word. He visited Shtip, where he made the acquaintance of the local people and was offered a teaching post. He did not, however, broach the subject of the 'idea', because his cautious soul told him that it was too early. He left Shtip and went on to Negotino and Kavadartsi, where he managed to set up local committees in July 1894. Next, he re-visited Prilep, where conditions were more favourable than they had been when he had taught there. Alekso Panov was already there, and, between them, they set up a small committee. In Bitolya, he was reunited both with Nikola Naumov, who had been in jail with him in Sofia, and with Peré Toshev, who was temporarily not teaching, but living with his banker brothers. A revolutionary committee of about ten people was formed, but Naumov refused to join it because he was sceptical of its chances of success. From Bitolya, Damé travelled to Resen, Ohrid and Struga, and he was able to found committees in almost every place that he visited.


On August 15, some twelve to fifteen delegates from local committees, including Damé, Peré Toshev and Dr Tatarchev, met in the latter's house in Resen. There they listened to reports of the state of the Organization, and discussed its future relations with the Exarchate and local communes. [26] For some time, in all the more lively Bulgarian centres, the younger generation had been becoming increasingly impatient both of the conservative policy of the Exarchate and of its centralized administration of schools and churches. The revolutionary youth wanted a greater measure of local autonomy, and, above all, they themselves wanted to play a larger role in the communes, which were dominated by elderly men, subservient to the Exarchate and autocratic in their conduct of public affairs. The delegates decided to do everything possible to get members of the Organization appointed as teachers, and to win control of the local communes, school boards, etc. The supply of arms was also discussed, but it was decided that the funds for this and other purposes should be obtained solely from membership dues.


After a summer of feverish activity, Damé returned to Shtip for the beginning of the school year, and, by the time that Gotsé and Tushé arrived, he had already managed to win a few guildsmen [*] for the



*. Handicraft production was still organized according to the medieval guild system.





All this and more Gotsé learnt within a few hours of his arrival in Shtip. His head must have been in a whirl of joyous thoughts and impressions as he lay down to sleep - if, indeed, he slept at all. Damés revelations had banished the fatigue of the journey, and they talked far into the night. Gotsé could not remember when he had felt so excited and happy: tomorrow he would begin a new life - not merely as a teacher, earning his own living for the first time, but as a member of a revolutionary organization, as an apostle of Macedonia's freedom.


On the following day, Gotsé started work at the school in Novo Selo, while Tushé and Damé went to see the Bishop, since Tushé's appointment was from the Exarchate, and it was necessary to sort out who was to be head teacher. It was decided, by mutual agreement, that Tushé should take the post. In the evening, the three teachers again gathered together to discuss the Statute of the Organization. Gotsé immediately took an oath of allegiance to the Organization, but Tushé was unwilling to commit himself so soon, 'because of certain peculiarities in my character, and because I did not approve of certain imperative orders in the Statute about the punishment of members who transgressed, and the oath was binding.' He offered, however, to help in any way he could, providing the others trusted him. Tushé's reluctance to bind himself with an oath was respected, and his offer was accepted unconditionally.


The three decided to start immediately on the task of winning new supporters: Damé and Tushé would work in the town itself and the villages around it, while Gotsé was to be responsible for Novo Selo and the villages at that end. Thus there began a period of feverish activity leading to extremely encouraging results. Thrown together by a beneficent fate, Damé and Gotsé made an ideal partnership, in spite of, or, perhaps, because of the differences in their characters. Damé - the brilliant, cool-headed intellectual - was the 'brains' of the Organization, while Gotsé - all love and warmth - was its 'soul'. Of their partnership Hristo Silyanov wrote: 'It would be hard to imagine a more happy combination of two souls so similar in the nobility of their motives and ideas, and yet so different in temperament and individual qualities. The one (Gotsé - M.M.) solved even the hardest problems by intuition and reflex; the other (Damé - M.M.), by sound judgment, and always with an eye for the practical. The one was ready to burn in the bright flames of his own boundless love; the other had completely mastered his feelings and revealed himself only as much as the circumstances demanded. The one believed that all people were.fashioned after his own spiritual image and had infinite faith in the goodness of their nature; the other regarded every person as a subject of observation and conscious cultivation. The one person-





ified faith and exultation, which enabled him to recover quickly even after the sorest trials; the other, thanks to his imperturbable equilibrium and cautious yet constant optimism, was prepared in advance for every kind of blow. The one conquered men's souls with the magic of his sincerity, which was reflected in his shining eyes; the other - with his iron logic and his matchless ability to take into account the character of the individual in question.' [27]


So different was the approach of the two men, that Damé initially reacted somewhat critically to Gotsé's exultant sincerity: 'During his first attempts at recruiting, he was even too frank, and we had to curb him so that he wouldn't reveal our weakness, the weakness of the Organization. He was always striving to speak the truth, because he thought that everybody would embrace the idea as he had done.' [28]


In fact, Damé had little cause for anxiety. People did respond in kind to Gotsé's all-consuming love and enthusiasm. He had the knack of bringing out the best in everyone and the patience to persist even with the most discouraging cases. There was, for example, the case of a shoemaker, called Spiro Kilimanov, who got wind of the underground activity in the town and begged with tears in his eyes to be allowed to join the Organization. Damé categorically refused to accept him, because the man was a notorious drunkard, but Gotsé, while agreeing that drunkards were an inadmissible security risk, decided to take him in hand and reform him. Every evening when Spiro was about to close his shop, Gotsé would pass by and either talk to him or take him for a stroll, so that he would not be tempted to drop into a tavern. Afterwards, Gotsé would see him home and urge his family not to let him go out or drink at home. After about ten days, Spiro began to visit Gotsé of his own accord and would then go straight home. After a month, the change in him appeared so permanent that even Damé relented, and he was accepted into the Organization. Spiro never reverted to his old habits, and became a valuable and thoroughly reliable revolutionary.


At last Gotsé was in his element, and he bloomed like a desert after rain. It was not long before he imperceptibly took over the leadership even in the areas assigned to Damé and Tushé. Their activity was many-sided and by Christmas the whole town was infected with revolutionary fever. Even those who were not members of the Organization knew that something was afoot. The practice adopted by Gotsé and Damé in Shtip became the pattern for future activity elsewhere: members were organized into groups of ten, under leaders who, for reasons of security, did not know who the leaders of the other groups were. The members had numbers, and their names were never written down. The numbers began at eighty - no doubt at Damés suggestion - so that new members had the impression that they had been tardy in





joining. [29] The groups held meetings at which there were discussions and pep-talks, and books and newspapers were distributed for reading. The teachers also organized an adult 'Sunday School', at which they gave lectures on revolutionary themes, such as The Unification of Italy', the lives of Mazzini and Garibaldi, the American War of Independence and the reunification of Bulgaria. [30] All the teachers took part in the 'Sunday School,' but Damé - a gifted orator - was the favourite lecturer, and when he was speaking, the citizens of Shtip deserted the other teachers to crowd into his lectures. The 'Sunday School' attracted mass attendances, and even when the lessons and lectures were over, the people were always reluctant to go home. They would gather in the school hall to sing songs, mainly the popular poems of Botev, which, like folksongs, had somehow acquired melodies from anonymous sources. During 1895, Dame, Gotsé and Tushé began to produce plays, in which they themselves acted. Among their productions were Ivanko, by Vasil Drumev, and other dramas with a revolutionary content.


At weekends, Gotsé regularly disappeared into the countryside. There, sometimes disguised, sometimes not, he travelled round the villages, making contacts, persuading and organizing. Early in January, he returned from just such an expedition, all smiles and radiance, and announced that he had managed to organize a 'channel' through which letters, literature and arms could be smuggled in from the Principality via Kyustendil and Vinitsa.


Market day in Shtip became a field day for revolutionary activity, when meetings could be arranged with peasants from the surrounding villages. The meetings took place, with the minimum of risk, in the office of the town commune, which was situated in the schoolyard, and was legitimately visited by a constant stream of people seeking permission for weddings or divorces, lodging complaints against the teachers, or engaging in a hundred other forms of innocent official business.


Though Gotsé managed to evade detection by the Turkish police while engaged in all these clandestine meetings and excursions, he did not escape wholly unscathed. One night, he forded the Bregalnitsa, as he often did, to avoid meeting the Watch on the bridge, for it was not healthy to be seen abroad at night. Unfortunately, the winter had already set in, and the water was both deep and icy cold. Gotsé was soaked to the waist, and, when he emerged, the bitter wind froze his clothes and bored into his stomach. At the time, he seemed to recover quickly from the ordeal, but in fact, his constitution had been permanently affected, and to the end of his life he suffered from violent abdominal pains, which would appear without warning, often at the most awkward moments, and cause him to collapse in agony.





In the midst of all this intensive revolutionary activity, the teachers never neglected the schools themselves, for they knew that the education of the young was as vital to the people as were the revolutionary committees. Indeed, the three rapidly gained the reputation of being the best teachers in the town, and were respected as such by Bulgarians and Turks alike. [31] The number of pupils both in the Shtip and the Novo Selo school increased, and the schools were always open to parents and others seeking the advice of the teachers. Having no families, or personal responsibities, the three were at the service of the people twenty-four hours a day, either in their capacity as teachers or as revolutionary leaders.


Gotsé taught a number of subjects, including geography, natural history, geometry and French. He was much loved by his pupils, who were always genuinely sorry when he was absent because of illness, real or diplomatic, and who rejoiced at his return. [32] Without allowing any slackening of discipline, Gotsé managed to make the school a gayer, more joyous place, to which the pupils came willingly and without dread. At Christmas, he took them carol-singing round their parents' houses, carrying bells to awaken the people. He himself carried the great school bell and knocked at every gate, ringing the bell and crying: 'Get up, get up, brothers, parents, sisters, and villagers! Awake from your heavy sleep, today is Christmas!' The people were both pleased and astonished by this new activity on the part of the teacher and they got up to offer the customary gifts of chestnuts, walnuts and ritual loaves. [33]


Among Gotsé's pupils, for a time, was his fifteen-year-old brother, Mitso, who had been sent to study under his supervision. Mitso, however, proved to be one of Gotsé's rare failures from the academic point of view. After studying diligently for a fortnight or so, the boy realized that something secret was going on in the town, and, after that, there was no holding him at his books. In vain Gotsé argued with him, telling him that he was too young to take part in such activity, that right now it was more important for him to study, to complete his education, and that the time would come when he could take part in revolutionary activity. The boy would not listen. Damé and Tushé also attempted to talk him round, but to no avail. In the end, grieved and embarrassed, Gotsé had to admit defeat, and he sent Mitso back to the quieter, less revolutionary atmosphere of Kukush, but not before the boy had organized a successful strike against having lessons on the first Monday in Lent. Instead of attending school, Mitso's class ran wild round the town, visiting each other's houses, eating whatever they could find and even drinking rakiya. They ended up in the cemetery, where they lit fires, the stinking smoke of which was carried into people's houses and gardens. On the





following day, the pupils were summoned one by one before a full staff-meeting in an attempt to discover the ringleader. No one 'squealed', and, as each firmly denied knowledge of any ringleader, Gotsé twirled his moustaches and smiled with satisfaction at this youthful demonstration of firmness and solidarity. Nevertheless, the incident could not be ignored, and a collective punishment was ordered: the boys must beat each other publicly in the school porch. Nobody, of course, suffered any real physical pain at the hands of his comrades, but there was considerable injured pride, for the whole town turned out to see this novel spectacle and it evoked much derisive merriment. Throughout the performance Damé and Gotsé were seen to be smiling and whispering to each other about something. [34]


The somewhat unusual activities of the teachers did not pass unnoticed by the Turkish authorities. For them, all teachers were by definition suspect, and with good reason. Everywhere - in Bulgaria before the Liberation, and now in Macedonia - they were always in the forefront of every national movement, in the leadership of every revolutionary organization. Sensing that somehow the wool was being pulled over their eyes, the Turkish police in Shtip attempted to get to the bottom of the peculiar enthusiasm of the Bulgarian teachers. Was it solely due to professional diligence? Or was there something sinister behind it?


One day, the kaimakam of Shtip decided to pay Gotsé an unexpected call. Police surrounded the house, while the kaimakani went up the wooden stairs to the big room on the upper floor. Gotsé was sitting at his desk, with a pile of exercise-books beside him, looking through some sheets of paper. The kaimakam paused at the door, and hearing the noise, Gotsé turned and froze with horror, for the sheets of paper were Committee documents. Quickly pulling himself together, Gotsé said with feigned delight: 'Come in, come in, Kaimakam efendi... Come in and sit down... I never imagined that you would do me such an honour... Granny, Granny!' he called to his landlady. 'Where on earth has the woman got to?... Excuse me, Kaimakam efendi, you will take a cup of coffee, won't you?...' Gotsé swept up the documents and went out of the room in the direction of the kitchen.


He found the old lady and thrust the documents into her hands: 'Take these... and get rid of all the stuff in that chest, too... and make some coffee.' Then he snatched up a few more exercise books, so as not to return empty-handed to his guest. He found the kaimakam seated at his desk, examining a register. 'Don't bother with that, Kaimakam efendi, that's just teachers' stuff. I've had enough of those little monkeys... they don't study, either... Look, they've all got





"two",' [*] he pointed to the figures in the book, 'and they're disobedient and naughty...'


'And what's that?' the Kaimakam broke in, indicating the pile of exercise-books that Gotsé was still holding.


Gotsé explained: these were exercises in arithmetic, while those on the table were exercises in Bulgarian. The kaimakam looked at the books, but his eyes kept wandering questioningly round the room. Gotsé diverted him by digging out some diagrams of circles, cones, etc.


'Look, Kaimakam efendi, this is what we are already doing with our children.'


The kaimakam examined all he was shown, and kept murmuring 'Fine, fine, bravo...' Then he suddenly said: 'This is all very well, Daskal efendi, [**] only don't you go teaching them something else, igainst the State...'


Gotsé gazed at him in mock dismay and pain: 'Kaimakam efendi!' he exclaimed reproachfully, as if to say 'How could you think such a thing!'


Then seeing something approaching confusion in the Turk's face, Gotsé continued:


'You've been here so long, Kaimakam efendi, but you have not yet visited our shool. You would be doing us a great honour. And the pupils would be so happy to be visited by a worthy servant of the Padishah... And, what's more, Kaimakam efendi, it would frighten the naughty ones a little... Come whenever you like..'


Gotsé kept the conversation going until his landlady appeared with coffee, cherry preserve [***] and rakiya, after frenzied activity in the kitchen: while the coffee was boiling, she had managed to throw all the incriminating papers out of the kitchen window into the next-door garden. The neighbours, apprised of the situation, had hastily collected them, put them in a basket, covered them with eggs and a cloth, and then passed them from hand to hand until they reached safety at the other end of the town. There were guns, too, hidden in a false ceiling above the outside lavatory in the courtyard, but it was away from the house, near the gate, and thus had somehow escaped the notice of the police.


The kaimakam sipped his coffee with pleasure, but still kept glancing around and asking uneasy questions. In the end, he departed with his men, having found nothing; at the door he paused and, evidently referring to some denunciation that had caused his visit, murmured:



*. Two is the lowest mark in Bulgarian schools.


**. Mr Teacher.


***. It is a Bulgarian tradition to offer guests little dishes of jam made from whole fruit to be eaten with a spoon.





'You have many enemies, schoolmaster. But just attend to your school work and don't be afraid.'


'God has made all kinds of people, Kaimakam efendi. He will judge them all. A just man has nothing to fear...'


Only after the danger had passed did Gotsé's nerves momentarily get the better of him. He paced up and down the room in a cold sweat, mopping his brow, and then collapsed onto his bed: 'But what if they had found the lists?' For a time he lay staring at the ceiling; then he jumped up, went out into the courtyard to wash his face, and set out for the school as if nothing had happened. [35]


Alarms and excursions of this kind were hard on the nerves, but, handled in the right way, they passed without unpleasant repercussions, and the work continued unabated, undisturbed. As the Organization grew, so also did the courage and self-confidence of the people. On one occasion, Gotsé openly led the citizens of Shtip in a mass protest, after a Bulgarian boy had been killed defending his friend against the homosexual advances of a Turk. Immediately a crowd of two or three hundred citizens assembled, mobilized by the Organzation's group leaders, and the corpse was carried demonstratively to the kaimakam's office, where Gotsé demanded death for the murderer and better protection in future for the lives and honour of citizens. On the following day, all the shops in the town shut for the funeral, and, at the grave-side, Gotsé delivered an impassioned oration, crying: 'How long shall we endure this shameful slavery?' The authorities were severely shaken by this unexpected demonstration of unity and strength on the part of the raya; they accused Gotsé of incitement, but they could not avoid arresting the guilty Turk, who was actually sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment.


Soon the rapidly growing Organization began to find itself in need of funds. In the early days no money was collected from members because little was needed, but as time went by, it became necessary to think seriously about funds for the purchase of arms and for administrative purposes. Damé and Tushé decided to visit some of the richer citizens of Shtip and appeal for donations, but Gotsé refused to join them because he thought it would be a waste of time and because he considered the whole idea humiliating. And, indeed, his two colleagues came back discouraged and practically empty handed. Of the four or five wealthier men whom they had visited, only one - the owner of a chiflik - had agreed to give anything, and he had given only one lira, a trifling sum for a person of substance. Gotsé was furious and told them that they ought to have thrown the money back in his face.


They made no more 'begging' calls in Shtip, and cast about for other fund-raising ideas. Eventually, Tushé suggested that he and





Gotsé should visit their native Kukush where he was sure that they would have better luck. Gotsé agreed, and during the Easter holidays, 1895, they set out on the road that led out of the eastern end of the town, across the Bregalnitsa and over the rising ground to Ovche' Pole, an upland plain, surrounded by hills and aptly named 'the Field of Sheep', by reason of the many flocks that found grazing there. The plain was fertile and was the granary of North-Eastern Macedonia, but everywhere they saw signs of poverty. Where the road began to descend from the hills onto Ovché Pole, they encountered an old Turk, sitting in a hut made of sticks and straw, and eking out a living by providing water for thirsty travellers and making coffee for a few para. Then they passed through a Turkish village, which impressed them with its squalor, its filthy yards, tumble-down houses and ragged population.


'And those are the masters!' Gotsé remarked, and began to declaim one of Botev's poems: Tell me, tell me, wretched people, who rocks you in your slave's cradle? Then he went on: 'Do we think that these paupers are better off than us, for all that they are Turks? On the contrary. Each of them is being bled by some bloodsucker, and all the time they think that these torments are sent by God to punish them.'


They crossed Ovché Pole' without incident, and began the descent towards Veles, having dismounted from their horses because of the steepness of the path. At the bottom, they were stopped by a police patrol, who made a thorough search of their saddle-bags. The only things of note were two pairs of new, hand-knitted socks, carefully wrapped in paper with pale-blue lines. The travellers explained that the socks were a present from a bride to her husband's parents, and the police magnanimously did not appropriate them. In fact, it was the wrappings, rather than the socks, which were valuable, for they were letters written by Damé in secret ink and intended for contacts in Prilep and Bitolya. When the inspection was complete, the travellers expected to be released, but, instead, they were taken to the konak in Veles for further questioning. After some time had passed, they decided to ask why they were being detained, and were told that an interpreter had been summoned to pass an opinion on the books and papers which they were carrying. The written word - like the teachers who propagated it - was always suspect in the eyes of illiterate policemen, and the Bulgarian alphabet was considered to be particularly subversive, unlike the Greek alphabet, whose priestly adherents were loyal supporters of the Sultan.


There was nothing for it but to wait. When, at long last, the interpreter arrived, there was an unexpected and joyous reunion, for, by some stroke of fate, he turned out to be none other than Ismail, son of Ethem efendi, who had taught Turkish at the Salonika High School.





Ismail promptly pronounced their papers 'clean', without even looking at them and they were immediately released.


It was already dark when they got to the inn, but as they were preparing to sleep after their eventful journey, the inn-keeper - an elderly Turk with a greying beard - came over to them to see if everything was to their liking, and settling down on a mat beside them, launched into a muhabbet - one of those long, pleasantly philosophical conversations which Turks consider to be the height of enjoyment. The theme that he chose was insanlik, meaning 'kindness' or 'humanity', and he illustrated his arguments with examples and well-chosen proverbs and sayings. He proved to be an interesting companion and the muhabbet continued until after midnight, thus bringing to an end a day of strange contrasts, in which the two revolutionaries had experienced a variety of emotions and relationships involving Turks, ranging from the pity they had felt for the poverty and ignorance of the vast majority to the dangerous encounter with the oppressive bureaucracy of Abdul Hamid, a day illumined by the beauty of the land through which they had travelled, by the renewal of a friendship which knew no narrow bounds of race or religion, and by an old man's faith in humanity.


No, the fault was not in the people, but in the system... There was nothing wrong with the people that a different system could not cure... Here, in this beautiful, blue-skied, fertile land, were all the ingredients for Paradise on earth... Purged of the blight of ignorance and the venon of mutual hatred, Macedonia could become a second Garden of Eden... If only people would treat each other like people... if only they would combine and take action...


Next day, towards noon, they met Petŭr Poparsov, one-time editor of Loza and a founder member of the Organization, who was then teaching in Veles. He expressed great hopes for the development of the Organization there, but added, rather sorrowfully, that the intelligentsia was much divided ideologically: some professed socialism, others anarchism and so forth. But they were all good lads, so he said.


From Veles, Gotsé and Tushé travelled down to Salonika by rail, and as the train passed through Gradsko, they handed over to the appropriate person the secret letters for delivery to Prilep and Bitolya. In Salonika they sought out Dr Tatarchev to find out what was happening there. The situation appeared to be far from satisfactory. Since Damé had left, the work had not progressed and things were at a pretty low ebb. There was little, however, that Gotsé and Tushé could do, since their time was limited and they had to go to Kukush, where they arrived on Easter Sunday.


Gotsé had not been home since he had left for Sofia in 1891. Almost





four years had passed since then. He had left as a boy in school uniform, and he had returned as a man, with thick twirled moustaches, and so much strength and confidence heliim! his familiar steady gaze and winning smile, that even old Nikola decided against asking too much about the sudden end of his son's military career. Now, perhaps for the first time, he realized what kind of a son he had and was secretly even more proud of him than if he had returned as an officer. The boy who had shouted 'Așaği' had become a man of action. And that was how Nikola wanted him to be.


Even after so long an absence, Gotsé's restless soul would not allow him to spend the holiday relaxing and chatting at home. He was immediately out and about, building the Organization and appealing for funds. Fifteen of his friends took the oath of allegiance on a crossed dagger and pistol and consented to be killed with these weapons, should they transgress the Statute. As Tushé had foreseen, money was also forthcoming in Kukush, poor though most of its citizens were. Within a few days, some three hundred and thirty lira had been collected and were dispatched to Dr Tatarchev in Salonika.


Gotsé stayed barely two or three days in Kukush, and then set off for Shtip via Doiran, Gevgeli, Strumitsa and Radovish. Everywhere he was able to form local committees, for the mood of the people was ripe. All over Macedonia the cup of the people's wrath was overflowing; all over Macedonia, there were men familiar with the ideas of Levsky. Some had already made attempts at forming committees among their friends and colleagues, and it only required a catalyst, like a visit from the persuasive, disarmingly sincere Gotsé, with his news of the existence of a Central Revolutionary Committee in Salonika, to set the wheels in motion, to set the land on fire.


By the end of the school year, the revolutionary organization in Shtip and Novo Selo alone had approximately four hundred members, and in all the villages round about there were groups of between four and twenty members, who had all taken the oath.


The building of the Organization, unlike that of the edifices in the folksongs, continued round the clock, without significant 'unbuilding' and, indeed, more was accomplished by night than by day. But the Organization was to prove even more insatiable for human sacrifice than the bridges and towers of legend, and the lives that it demanded were to be those of the builders themselves.


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1. See Stamatov, p. 30.


2. See T. Deliivanov. Spomeni za Gotsé. Makedonska misul - Sofia (1/9-10 (1946) p. 379-385 and Gotsev List (1/1 (1933) 3-3). Unless otherwise stated, the account of Gotsé's





joint activities with Tushe and of his stay in Shtip are taken from the memoirs of Tushé Deliivanov.


3. See Vasil Kŭnchov, Izbrani proizvedeniya. Vol II, p. 530. Sofia, 1970. This is a reprint of Makedoniya, etnografiya i statistika. 1900.


4. The account of Shtip is taken mainly from Petŭr Zavoev, Shtip, Sofia 1928.


5. See Memoirs of Damé Gruev. L. Miletich - Materiati za Istoriyata na Makedonskoto osvoboditelno dvizheniye. Vol. V, p. 13.


6. During the Nineteeth Century, the Bulgarian character of Macedonia was accepted by Serbian and Croatian scholars and by the Press, both daily and periodical (with a few exceptions in the conservative Belgrade press). The great Serbian folklorist and philologist, Vuk Karadzhic (1787-1864) who used material from Macedonia in his book Dodatak k Sanktpeterburgskim sravitlenim rjecnikicmima sviju jezika u narjecja s osobitim ogledima bugarskog jezik (Vienna 1822) is categoric in calling the material and the people who supplied it Bulgarian. He was followed by Stanko Vraz (1810-1851), a Slovene poet, who published 33 'Bulgarian Folksongs' (Kolo No. 4 & 5, 1847), of which 24 were from Macedonia (Galichnik, Struga, Bitolya, Melnik etc.). One can also recall the fact that the Misses Mackenzie and Irby's account of their travels through Macedonia (which affirms the Bulgarian character of the region both historically and then) was published in a Serbian translation in 1868 in the State Printing House in Belgrade, together with the ethnographic map showing the population as mainly Bulgarian. The book was published in full, and the Serbian translator added an enthusiastic introduction praising its excellece and value. Stefan Verkovich (1821-1893) was sent to Macedonia in 1850 as an agent of the Serbian Government and stayed there until 1877, with his headquarters in Serres. He collected folksongs, as a cover and out of personal interest, and these were published in Belgrade in 1860 under the title Folksongs of the Macedonian Bulgarians (Narodne Pseme makedonski bugara), with a dedication to Princess Julia Obrenovic. In his introduction, he explains that he calls the songs 'Bulgarian' and not 'Slavonic' because whenever he asked a Macedonian Slav 'What are you?', he immediately replied 'I am a Bulgarian and I call my language Bulgarian'. In a second book written seven years later, he repeated his conviction that Macedonia was inhabited by people speaking pure Bulgarian. (See: Opisanie byta Bolgar naselyayushchih Makedoniyu, Moscow 1867). The same point of view is expressed in his confidential reports to the Serbian Government.


A number of Serbian and Croatian views on the population of Macedonia, ranging from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, can be found in Srbski i khŭrvatski svidetelstva za bŭlgarskata narodnost v Makedonia by Kosta Tsŭrnushanov, published by the Museum in Blagoevgrad.


7. The first major expression of this new idea was the map published in 1889 by Gopcević (Macedonien und Alt Serbien. Vienna 1889), who claimed that Macedonia was Serbian territory, a claim which was not taken seriously by the scientific world and was described by the German scholar, G. Weigand (Prof. of Balkan Languages at Leipzig) as an 'impudent imposture', (ein fresches Schwindel). See: The Balkan Ques tion, ed. Luigi Villari. 1905, p. 83.


8. The over-all failure of Serbian propaganda has been noted by a number of neutral sources. Col. Lamouche, a French officer who went to Macedonia in 1904 as an instructor to the Turkish Gendarmerie under the terms of the Mürzsteg proposals, and spent many years there, considered the Slav population to be Bulgarian, and noted that whenever Turkish terror caused the Macedonians to emigrate, the majority chose to go to Bulgaria rather than Serbia, although it was easier to cross into Serbia. (See Quinze ans d'histoire balkanique. Paris 1928). The same direction of exodus was noted by Noel and Charles Roden Buxton: The War and the Balkans, 1915 pp. 86, 88. The failure of Serbian propaganda in Macedonia is also discussed in an official confidential report by





Shipley, acting British Vice-consul in Skopje written on Sept. 20 1902 (Public Records Office. F.O. 195 2133, p. 665).


9. Ilyustratsia Ilinden. 1927, book I, p. 7.


10. See: Memoirs of Damé Gruev. Miletich, Materiali... Vol: V. p. 18.


11. Tushé gives the name of the Organization as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, but this name was in use only after 1903, and, in all probability, the actual heading was 'The Statute of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization.' See: Memoirs of H. Tatarchev, Miletich, Vol IX, p. 103.


12. Peré (Petŭr) Toshev was born in Prilep in 1865, the son of a prosperous dyer. Like most Bulgarians in Macedonia, he grew up with bitter personal experience of Turkish oppression. His elder sister's husband, who was a priest, had been arrested, tortured and imprisoned for administering the oath to Spiro Tsŭrné's men, and Peré's boyhood was haunted by her tears and her children's constant questions about their father. He had also watched the last fight of the Chakrev brothers, besieged in a burning house near his home. He studied at the Salonika High School, and then in Plovdiv, where he witnessed the reunification of Eastern Rumelia with the Principality. When the Serbs attacked the Principality in 1885, he joined the Bulgarian Army as a volunteer and was decorated for gallantry. After the War, he took the already traditional path of combining teaching with revolutionary activity, first in the Plovdiv area and then in Macedonia.


13. Koné Samardzhiev was born in Prilep in 1854. He worked first in his father's saddlery workshop and then as a grocer. In 1883 he opened the first Bulgarian bookshop in Salonika in order to provide the Bulgarian schools with textbooks, and later added the printing-shop.


14. Tatarchev's memoirs. Miletich. Materiali... Vol: IX, p. 100-101.


15. Ibid., p. 101.


16. Like Damé, Poparsov had received a Serbian scholarship to study in Belgrade and had subsequently moved to Sofia. He had taken part in forming the Young Macedonian Literary Association and had been one of the editors of Loza. He later worked as a teacher in various Macedonian towns, and after the Balkan War, he went to Bulgaria and taught in Kostenets, where he died.


17. Andon Dimitrov was teaching Turkish in the High School.


18. Ivan Hadzhinikolov was born in Kukush in 1861, where he formed a revolutionary youth group in 1876 (see p. 42). He studied in Plovdiv and, after teaching in Macedonia for a while, he enrolled at the Svishtov Commerical School, and eventually studied for a degree in Commerce in Vienna and Linz. He returned to Macedonia in 1888 and taught arithmetic and book-keeping in the Salonika High School until 1892, when he went to Sofia, where he met Kosta Shahov and Gotsé Delchev and discussed with them the question of setting up a revolutionary organization in Macedonia. On his return to Salonika in 1893, he began work in the book trade.


19. Batandzhiev was a teacher in the Salonika Primary School.


20. Miletich, Materiali... Vol. V, p. 11.


21. Ibid., Vol. IX, p. 102.


22. Ibid.


23. Ibid, p. 103.


24. According to Hristo Silyanov — Osvoboditelnite borbi na Makedonia, vol. 1 1933, p. 40 – 'All Bulgarians' could be members. Some other sources suggest that membership was initially limited to 'Bulgarian Exarchists'.


25. Materiali... Vol. V, p. 11.


26. Materiali... Vol: IX, p. 104.


27. Silyanov. Opus cit. 1933, vol. I, p. 44.





28. Miletich. Materiali... Vol V, p. 18.


29. Ibid.


30. Ibid., p. 19.


31. Memoirs of Todor Stankov. Ilinden. Year III No: 18 May 5 1923 p. 2-3.


32. Memoirs of G.H. Gyorgievsky (a former pupil of Gotsé's) Gotse Delchev Vol: III, p. 61.


33. Memoirs of Y.V. Aref. Ibid. p. 60.


34. Memoirs of Petŭr Zavoev, one of the pupils involved. Sbornik Ilinden. 1903 - 1929 pp 47-50.


35. From memoirs collected by Ivan Kepov. Ilyustratsia Ilinden. Sofia 4/9 (39) (1931) 7-9. Kepov was not an eye-witness of the events described but heard the story when he was in Shtip during the Balkan wars.