Georgi Rakovski

Portrait of Georgi Sava Rakovski

Georgi Sava Rakovski (Георги Сава Раковски) (1821 – October 9, 1867), born Sabi Stoykov Popovich (Съби Стойков Попович), was a nineteenth-century Bulgarian revolutionary and writer and an important figure of the Bulgarian National Revival and the resistance against Ottoman rule. From his base in Serbia, he formed the Bulgarian Legion and worked to encourage all of the Slavic peoples to claim their independence. He inspired the April uprising of 1867, which itself encouraged Russia to prosecute its own ambitions against the Ottomans in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, which resulted in Bulgaria's freedom after 500 years of Ottoman rule. Although the principality that followed from this intervention, ratified by the Berlin Conference (1878) did not include the whole of pre-Ottoman Bulgaria, additional territory was added later. Rakovski was a pivotal figure in the revival of Bulgarian identity, and can rightly be considered a founder of the modern state, although he died before he could see his dream fulfilled.

Contents

Biography

Early life

The child of a wealthy and patriotic family, Rakovski attended monastery schools in Kotel and in Karlovo, and in 1837, went to study in the Greek Orthodox College in Istanbul. However, from an early age he dreamt of a Bulgaria free from what, at the time, was referred to as the "Turkish yoke" and in 1841 he was convicted to death for his involvement in revolutionary plans against the Turks. [1]. A Greek friend helped him escape to France. A year-and-a-half later, he returned to Kotel, only to be arrested again in 1845. Sent to Istanbul for seven years of solitary confinement, he was released in May 1848.

He decided to remain in Istanbul, where he worked as a lawyer and tradesman, and took part in campaigns for a Bulgarian national church. Nationalist thinking was on the rise throughout Europe, inspired by the French Revolution. In Germany and Italy, people wanted to re-unify their states, to create modern nation-states defined by language, ethnicity culture and contained within borders determined by ethnicity, or language. Bulgaria's culture, language, religion and the ethnicity of the majority of its people were not the same as those of the Turks.

Rakovski believed that for the Bulgarians to further develop their "sense of identity" a "national church, schools and a press" were prerequisite. [2]

Rakovski was soon arrested again, this time due to his creation of a secret society of Bulgarians to assist the Russians in the Crimean War. While being deported to Istanbul, he escaped, and gathered together a group of rebels.

Literary work

Between 1854 and 1860, Rakovski spent his time writing, publishing reviews, and avoiding arrest.

His best-known work, Gorski Patnik (translated as A Traveller in the Woods or Forest Wanderer), he penned during the Crimean War (1853-1856) while hiding from Turkish authorities near Kotel. Considered one of the first Bulgarian literary poems, it was not actually published until 1857. The published version differed from the first version, in that it had a clearer plot and improved style.

The plot concerns a Bulgarian man who recruits a rebel group to mutiny against the Turks. Rakovski aim in writing this was to awaken the people's spirit to the fight for freedom and to take revenge on the Turks for their cruelty. The novel opens with the main character admiring the beauty of nature on the Bosporus. A preoccupation with national problems and lack of freedom clouds his mind, and he encourages others to join him in a revolt. As the insurgents travel toward Bulgaria, the reader takes in their courage and trials of the journey. The work is said to “unite all the ideology, hopes and beliefs” of the Bulgarian people in their brave fight against the yoke.

Rakovski left Gorski Patnik incomplete. Written in archaic language it was difficult to read but still had a great influence in society.

Revolutionary work

In 1861, Rakovski relocated to Serbia, deciding that it was easier to organize resistance in Bulgaria from outside. There, he organized a Bulgarian legion, and traveled throughout Europe recruiting support for his country’s cause. The time for freedom seemed to be close, since the Ottoman Empire was itself in serious financial difficulty and the European powers were already considering how they could either bring it down, or increase their influence within the crumbling empire. While Rakovski's radical views often met opposition from more moderate minds, his writings incited youth to go rebel the Turks. It was in this year that he wrote his Plan for the Liberation of Bulgaria.

According to the initial plan, in case of war between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire, the Legion would cross the border and enter the Bulgarian lands, where it would instigate an uprising among the population.

In order to sustain direct contact with the Serbian government, the so-called Provisional Bulgarian Command was established on the initiative of Rakovski. Six hundred young people responded to his appeal to create the Legion, many of them emigrants and refugees in Romania. Among them were Vasil Levski, Stefan Karadzha, Vasil Drumev and other figures that later came into national prominence.

The support of the Legion was entirely taken care of by the Serbian government. The members had to go through some military training so as to be able to participate in the future uprising.

The First Bulgarian Legion (Първа българска легия) was established in 1862 by Georgi Sava Rakovski in agreement with the Serbian government. According to the initial plan, in case of war between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire, the Legion would cross the border and enter the Bulgarian lands, where it would instigate an uprising among the population.

In order to sustain direct contact with the Serbian government, the so-called Provisional Bulgarian Command was established on the initiative of Rakovski. Six hundred young people responded to his appeal to create the Legion, many of them emigrants and refugees in Romania. Among them were Vasil Levski, Stefan Karadzha, Vasil Drumev and other figures that later came into national prominence.

The support of the Legion was entirely taken care of by the Serbian government. The members had to go through some military training so as to be able to participate in the future uprising. However, at the request of the Serbian authorities due to pressure from the Ottoman Empire, the Legion was disbanded on September 21, 1862 and the participants were expelled from Belgrade.

Second Bulgarian Legion

The Second Bulgarian Legion (Втора българска легия) was founded in 1867, as relations between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire once again worsened and the Serbian authorities began preparing for war. This was used by the Band of Virtues (Добродетелна дружина), who concluded an agreement with Serbia to establish a Bulgarian military school in Belgrade to instruct military leaders for a future uprising in Bulgaria.

This time the expenses were paid by Russia, who was increasingly interested in extending its role in the Balkans. Beginning in 1774, Russia protected Orthodox Christian within the Balkans had been recognized by the Ottomans. The volunteers were trained by Serbian officers. The surviving rebels from the bands of Panayot Hitov and Filip Totyu joined the Legion, as well as young people from Bulgarian and the Bulgarian diaspora in Romania.

However, since the expected war between the two countries never broke out due to the Ottoman authorities' engagement with the suppression of the Uprising on Crete, and reluctance to further complicate its relations with Serbia. Meanwhile the government of Jovan Ristić, which opted for reconciliation with the Ottomans, came into office in Serbia. The Second Bulgarian Legion became redundant to the Serbians as a result of this. It was disbanded in April, 1868 despite the opposition of the Russian diplomats. Its members were expelled from Serbia.

The April uprising

However, an infrastructure was now in place. Most towns had chitalishta (reading rooms), and many had established libraries where "secret, conspiratorial meetings" were held. [3] In November 1875, activists of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee met in the Romanian town of Giurgiu and decided that the political situation was suitable for a general uprising. The uprising was scheduled for April or May 1876. The territory of the country was divided into five revolutionary districts with centres in Vratsa, Veliko Tarnovo, Sliven, Plovdiv and Sofia.

The flag of the insurgents from Gorna Oryahovitsa in the April Uprising. The text reads 'Freedom or Death'.

In the progress of the preparation of the uprising, the organizers gave up the idea of a fifth revolutionary district in Sofia due to the deplorable situation of the local revolutionary committees and moved the center of the fourth revolutionary district from Plovdiv to Panagyurishte. On April 14, 1876, a general meeting of the committees from the fourth revolutionary district was held in the Oborishte locality near Panagyurishte to discuss the proclamation of the insurrection. One of the delegates, however, disclosed the plot to the Ottoman authorities. On 2 May [O.S. 20 April] 1876, Ottoman police made an attempt to arrest the leader of the local revolutionary committee in Koprivshtitsa, Todor Kableshkov. Most villages had their own revolutionary cells, and on the local committee attacked the headquarters of the Ottoman police in the town and proclaimed the insurrection two weeks in advance. Within several days, the rebellion spread to the whole Sredna Gora and to a number of towns and villages in the northwestern Rhodopes. The insurrection broke out in the other revolutionary districts, as well, though on a much smaller scale. The areas of Gabrovo, Tryavna, and Pavlikeni also revolted in force, as well as several villages north and south of Sliven and near Berovo (in the present-day Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

The reaction of the Ottoman authorities was quick and ruthless. Detachments of regular and irregular Ottoman troops (bashi-bazouks) were mobilized and attacked the first insurgent towns as early as April 25. By the middle of May, the insurrection was completely suppressed; one of the last sparks of resistance was poet Hristo Botev's attempt to come to the rebels' rescue with a detachment of Bulgarian political emigrees residing in Romania, ending with the unit's rout (and Botev's death). As no records were kept at the time, it is impossible to know exactly how many people were killed during and after the suppression of the uprising. The figure ranges from around 3,000 to at least 15,000, with the latter being the generally accepted figure. Some 80 villages and towns were burned and destroyed and 200 others were plundered. The atrocities which accompanied the suppression of the insurrection reached its peak in the northern Rhodopes. Nearly the whole population (9,000) of the town of Batak including women and children was slaughtered, beheaded or burned alive by Ottoman irregulars who left piles of dead bodies around the town square and church.

The organizers of the uprising did not realistically expect to overthrow the Ottoman oppression but had the goal of drawing attention to the plight of the Bulgarians and placing Bulgaria on the political agenda of the "Great Powers" of Europe - England, Russia, Spain, France, Austria and Germany.

The revolution failed. However, its swift and brutal suppression ordered by the Sultan—already engaged by a serious insurgency of Orthodox Christians in Bosnia—caused news of atrocities (the "Bulgarian Horrors" in the words of Gladstone) committed by Ottoman irregulars to spread and resulted in an enormous public outcry in Europe. The pictures of burned or slaughtered human bodies and news articles on the Ottoman atrocities went round all European newspapers and the atrocities were condemned by a number of leading European political and cultural figures, including William Gladstone, Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi. An interim goal was achieved in 1870, when the Ottoman authorities recognized the autonomy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and thus the Bulgarian people as an Exarchate, which means a province governed by an exarch from the Orthodox Church.

Bulgaria according to the Treaty of San Stefano

The tumult caused by the uprising led to the Conference of Constantinople in 1876 and the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878, which was concluded by the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878, followed in July that year by the Treaty of Berlin. These established a free Bulgarian principality covering much of the pre-Ottoman territory. A relative of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Prince Alexander Battenberg, became ruler.

Death and Legacy

Creator of the Bulgarian revolutionary movement, poet, writer, journalist, Georgi Rakovski died of tuberculosis in Bucharest in October 1867. His uprising failed and he did not live to see the creation of an independent Bulgaria in 1878. However, his memory is revered in Bulgaria, where he is remembered as one of the most important figures in the revolutionary movement as well as in the national revival movement. Writings from close to this period tend to depict the Turks as monsters, and their 500-year rule of Bulgaria as one of repression and terror. Commenting on Ivan Vazov's novel of the April uprising, in which Rakovski appears as a character, Atanosav writes, "the present and future generations of students must not grow up with a bias against the Turkish people after reading this novel" but adds that, "we cannot pretend that certain historical events, no matter how repugnant to the modern mind, have never happened" and points out that there is "a tendency toward more inter-ethnic communications, of ethnic tolerance and more justice in Bulgaria today." [4]. Rakovski himself worked in Istanbul as a lawyer and traveled freely around the Ottoman provinces in the Balkans, suggested that a degree of freedom did exist. The nationalism he taught was very much part of the broader European phenomena. However, another revival of Bulgarian identity, following the collapse of the post World War II communist regime, led to the expulsion of Belgium Turks, resurrecting racist attitudes. [5]

Notes

  1. "The Turkish Yoke" is the title of Ivan Vazov's 1894 historical novel
  2. R. J. Crampton. Bulgaria. Oxford History of Modern Europe. (NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 41
  3. Ibid., 57
  4. Bogdan Atanosov. "Introduction," Under the Yoke: A Bulgarian classic. by Ivan Vazov, translated by Marguerite Alexieva and Theodora Atanassova, (Sofia: Pax Publishing, 2005), 13
  5. John Bell. "A reader's guide to Bulgaria: Ethnicity," A reader's guide to Bulgaria: Ethnicity Retrieved October 19, 2007

References

  • Atanasov, Bogdan. "Introduction," Under the Yoke: A Bulgarian classic, by Ivan Vazov, translated by Marguerite Alexieva and Theodora Atanassova, Sofia: Pax Publishing, 2005 ISBN 9459403017, 9-14.
  • Crampton, R. J. Bulgaria. Oxford History of Modern Europe, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007 ISBN 9780198205142
  • Daskalov, Rumen. The Making of a Nation in the Balkans Historiography of the Bulgarian Revival. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004. ISBN 9781417502264
  • Vazov, Ivan. Under the Yoke: A Bulgarian classic, translated by Marguerite Alexieva and Theodora Atanassova. Sofia: Pax Publishing, 2005. ISBN 9459403017

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