Vassil Levski : The greatest Bulgarian National Hero 1837 – 1873
“ If I win — the entire nation wins; if I lose — I lose only myself .” “ What more can I want when I see my homeland free? My predestination is for my homeland, is it not? Not to see myself in a high rank, but to die…”
Vassil Ivanov Kunchev, Levski, whom the present-day Bulgarians consider their greatest national hero of all times and epochs, was born in Karlovo, a prosperous center of craft-industry in 1837. At the age of twenty four he took the vows of a deacon. The lot in store for the young Bulgarian was obviously not the one of a monk living in resignation to the world. In 1862 he fled to Serbia and enlisted as a volunteer in the Bulgarian legion raised by Rakovski. The legion took part in the Serbo-Turkish hostilities. Between 1862-1868 Levski participated in almost all Bulgarian armed assaults against the Ottoman empire.
The revolutionary theory which took form in Vassil Levski’s mind towards the end of the 60s, turned out to be a leap forward for the Bulgarian liberation movement. Levski viewed the national liberation revolution as a concomitant armed upheaval of the whole Bulgarian population in the Ottoman empire. It followed that this uprising had to be well-prepared in advance, with all adequate military training and proper coordination on the part of an internal revolutionary organization branching out into committees in each living area. That organization was supposed to operate independent from the plans or the political combinations of any foreign powers which, as known by previous experience, had brought only trouble and failure to the national revolutionary cause. Levski also determined the future form of government in liberated Bulgaria – a democratic republic, standing on the principles of the Human and Citizen Rights Charter of the Great French Revolution. That was the only document hitherto known to guarantee the individual freedom of expression, speech, and association. In their essence Levski’s ideas tallied with the most radical ideas of the European bourgeois-democratic revolution. In more practical terms, in 1869 Levski addressed himself to the task of setting up local committees. By the middle of 1872 he had scoured the Bulgarian lands with the dedication of an apostle, and succeeded in establishing a strong network of committees in hundreds of Bulgarian towns and villages which were in constant contact with and subordination to the clandestine government in the town of Lovech. They provided weapons, organized combat detachments, and got traitors and Turkish officials punished. In May 1872, the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee and the Internal Revolutionary Organization, convinced that a coordination of the efforts would be for the general good, merged into one organization. Revolutionary uplift overwhelmed the whole country. This enthusiasm was short-lived as only a few months on, in the autumn of that year, during a robbery of a Turkish post-office meant to procure money for weapons, the Turkish police picked up the trail of some committees in northeast Bulgaria including the organization headquarters in Lovech. Numerous arrests of revolutionaries followed, threatening the organization to fall through. Karavelov demanded that Levski should immediately rise the Bulgarians in revolt. Levski, who was in Bulgaria at that time and was well-aware that the population was yet unprepared, refused to fulfill the order and tried to take into his charge all documentation belonging to the organization – a safety precaution against its getting into Turkish hand, which could destroy the movement completely. Unfortunately, he himself fell in the hands of the Turkish authorities who put him on trial and sentenced him to death by hanging. Levski was sent to the gallows in Sofia in February 1873. The death of Vassil Levski – a generally recognized leader of the national revolutionary movement, caused temporary crisis. The Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee was groping for new ways and means. A number of revolutionaries undertook actions without coordinating them with the underground headquarters, while others sank into apathy. Excerpt from THE BULGARIAN REVIVAL