Sunday, 12 April 2015

April Uprising 1876

As we are now in April, there seems no better time than now to write about the April uprising (Априлското въстание) of 1876. At a meeting of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, held in November of 1875, it was decided that the time was right to start preparing for a general uprising. To that effect Bulgaria was divided up into five revolutionary districts. These were centred in Vratsa, Veliko Tarnovo, Sliven, Plovdiv and Sofia. However the revolutionary committees of Sofia proved ineffective. To combat this the centre for region IV was moved from Plovdiv to Panagyurishte, so that both regions could be overseen from there.

Somehow the Ottoman rulers got wind of a meeting of the sub-committees within the 4th district, and the Ottoman police arrested the leader of the Koprivshtitsa local revolutionary committee, Todor Kableshkov. Armed rebels attacked and surrounded the police headquarters, where Kableshkov was being held effecting his release. This led to the rebellion being proclaimed two weeks ahead of schedule, and soon the rebellion spread throughout the Sredna Gora region, and various other towns and villages within the north-western Rhodopes. Kableshkov is claimed to have sent a letter to the headquarters of the 4th Revolutionary council, proclaiming the revolt. He signed the letter in the blood of the slain Ottoman governor, hence it is often referred to as the 'Bloody Letter'.

Since the plans were made for the uprising, villagers throughout the regions were building up stockpiles of arms and ammunition. These included wooden cannon, which were made from cherry and elm wood bound by iron. As it would be impractical for the 4th district to foment rebellion throughout the whole area, it was passed on down to sub-committees to charge trusted citizens to undertake this task. So rather than using a broad brush to paint the picture I shall focus on one area. That area is Bratsigovo, as that played quite a significant part in these uprisings. In this town a local man, Vasil Angelov Petleshkov, was given the task of coordinating the rebellion in that area, by Georgi Benkovski the head of region IV. But who was this man, in whom such trust had been placed?

He was born in Bratsigovo on January 14th 1845, and was the son of Catherine and Nayden Velchev. Unfortunately his father died while he was still very young, and so his mother Catherine remarried. She married another local man, called Angel Petleshkov, who adopted the young boy. Young Vasil travelled to Constantinople, or what is now known as Istanbul, to study as a Pharmacist. On qualifying he returned to Bratsigovo, where he worked tirelessly for the cultural advancement of the local population. In 1874 he founded the local library and community centre, 'Trandafil', and he became its chairman. It was during this time that he devoted himself to help free the struggling population from oppression.

Once news of the revolt reached Panagyurishte, he made straight for Bratsigovo, and announced that the long awaited rebellion had begun. The villagers armed themselves and set about guarding the approach roads to the town. They successfully repelled several skirmishes by Ottoman troops and irregulars. Bravely they fought against insurmountable odds, aware that they couldn't hope for any help from outside. They could only rely on themselves and their families. Elsewhere the rebellion was being put down with unwarranted savagery, most notably in Batak, but still they fought. For almost a week they lasted, inflicting casualties on their oppressors, but such victories were short lived.

Enemy numbers were increasing, and on the 16th day they overwhelmed the town's defences. Vasil spent several days in hiding as enemy forces tried to capture the rebellion leaders. Many claim that it was Vasil's step-father who gave up his step-son's hiding place to the Ottomans. Whether that is true or not has faded into history, perhaps it was simply to prevent any more bloodshed. Being a pharmacist Vasil managed to take poison before he was captured. Unfortunately it wasn't fast acting, and he had to endure a cruel torture at the hands of the Ottomans.

He was taken to the edge of the town where his body was tied to a stake, which was placed between two fires. These fires were then lit. Still the poison hadn't fully acted on him. As the fires were fanned, and burning hotter and hotter, he spoke his final words, "I am alone, there are no others. I led, I commanded. Look for no others." He died on may 8th 1876. His body was later found in meadows outside of the town, he had also been bayoneted several times.

How successful was the April Uprising? For one thing it did highlight, to the Western world, the atrocities that the Ottomans had used to suppress the rebellion. In short maybe this helped to focus public opinion from outside, which in turn maybe they saw the forced removal of the Ottoman yoke as a justifiable act. Would this understanding have happened were it not for the sacrifices that such men made throughout Bulgarian history? One good thing that I have found is that Bulgarians do not lightly forget their national heroes. Their lives live on through history lessons taught in schools, roads, stadia and schools are proudly named after them, and their statues can be found all over the country. Their houses are preserved as museums, and some even make it on to stamps.


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Going Underground

A quick look at the calendar shows that we are now in April, it is so easy to lose track of the days here in Bulgaria. Which means that Baba Marta has packed her bags for another year. The Storks are back, there is blossom on the fruit trees and daffodils are nodding their heads in the gardens. I think that we can say that Spring is definitely here, and as we all know following Spring we have the long awaited Summer. Summer is also the time when families come out to stay in Bulgaria. Not only that, those of us living here also start to get itchy feet, and start to plan our own Summer getaways. Some will choose to explore different parts of Bulgaria, whereas others will have their sights set further afield. Whether it be family coming into Sofia, or yourselves leaving from there, the common link is the airport.

So let us take those flying out, as for anyone flying in this hopefully handy guide will operate back to front. Many choose not to drive and leave their cars in the long stay car parks at the airport. This tends to give them one of two options to get to Sofia, either by train, or by bus. Fortunately the Central Bus and Railway stations stand almost side by side on Knyaginya Marie Louise Blvd, not that far from the Lions Bridge. Previously, to get from either place out to the airport, involved dealing with taxi drivers and their somewhat erratic tariff schemes, which in some cases cost the unwitting 100 Leva. As of today, April 2nd, there is another option, as the Metro line out to the airport has opened, and the price of a ticket in 1 Lev, for anywhere on the Metro.

As is always the case with something new, there are going to be people worried about how to use the thing, but hopefully this blog will help as I haven't found anything in English yet. So first of all, if you have arrived in Sofia's Central Bus Station you need to wander over to the Central Railway Station, but please remember to watch out for buses and taxis. Especially the taxis, as they know where you are going, and you are one fare less for them. Once you have safely reached the Railway Station you will need to find the Metro, so look for the big blue M above a blue chevron. Tickets can be bought at the ticketing desks or from machines. The Metro is underground, so you will need to go down steps, at the moment I don't know about disabled access, but if in doubt ask.

You won't be surprised to learn that this station is called Central Railway Station (Централна Гара) and is on Line 2 (that's the blue line for you and me). The airport is on Line 1 (the red one), so you will need to change platforms. The station where you do this is the main interconnecting point for the Metro lines, and is called Serdika (Сердика), and is only about 4 minutes journey. With it being the main Metro interchange there will be a bit of a traipse through tunnels to get you to the Line 1 (the red one remember), so try not to get yourself lost. Once on the Line 1 platform look around and see if you see others there with suitcases, if they are on the other platform to you then chances are you are on the wrong one. Keep an eye on the notice board for train arrivals, you want to go to the airport (Летище Софиа) and not out to the Business Park (Бизнес Парк Софиа).

It used to take about 20 minutes to get as far as the old line ended at IEC - Tsarigradsko Shose (ИЕЦ - Цариградско Шосе), but now you have another 4 stops to go. It might be cheaper than a taxi, but if time is important for checking in then maybe its not such a good option. So almost an hour after starting at the main Railway Station you arrive outside Terminal 2 of the airport. I daresay that in time the service might quicken up, but at the moment that is definitely something to take into account when planning journey times. The Metro station isn't even connected to the terminal, so you still have a bit more walking to do, although it is only a couple of hundred metres. Maybe not so bad in the summer, but possibly not so pleasant in the winter, or when it is persisting down.

That is OK for those who want to be at Terminal 2, but what about those who want Terminal 1, the old terminal. Look outside the front of the Terminal building and you will see a marked area for a FREE transfer between terminals. If you see a vehicle there all well and good, if not then you might have to wait half an hour for the next one. So all told it could take you about an hour and a half to get from the main Railway Station to your check-in at Terminal 1. The return journey, or for family coming out the time constraints might not be quite so important, unlike your flight out or their return journey. The Metro runs from 5 in the morning until midnight, and the FREE inter terminal link runs from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening. The return journey is the reverse of the outward trip, but if you do decide to use the Metro keep in mind that it does get busy during the rush hours. Hopefully this blog might help, or at least it may give a bit more of an insight until more information becomes available.


Saturday, 28 March 2015

It Has Arrived

Do you remember in previous blogs I mentioned about the red and white thread bracelets that are worn from the 1st of March, the Martenitsa? About how they are worn until you see a Stork, or you see the first fruit blossom? Well, as a change this year, despite scanning the skies, we took ours off when I happened to notice that our Apricot tree had suddenly started to show blossom. I am sure that they weren't there in the morning when I was out working in the garden, but there they were proudly unfurling themselves in the afternoon sunshine. So now our slightly grubby Martenitsi are hanging from various fruit trees around the garden. Despite today's weather I have been out in the garden again, and besides the Apricot tree, we also have Pear, Apple, Plum, Peach and Cherry trees all starting to display their wonderful Spring colours. Even on a dreary day, such as today, the insects are slowly waking up and lazily flitting from one open blossom to another. Hopefully the blossom will get pollinated without sudden frosts, or bad weather, damaging them. There is something very satisfying about sitting in the garden on a Summer's day eating fruit which has been freshly picked from your own trees.

Not only are the fruit trees coming into a show of Spring colour, but so are the Forsythia bushes. Their bright yellow flowers are a welcome sight on a grey day. Not only that, they also help to attract the early insects into the garden. Looking at the photo, it looks as though they could do with pruning once their flowers have dropped. Even though we are now nearing the end of March, Baba Marta is still having her say. We have had temperatures above 20C already this year, by comparison today at 11C feels a bit chilly. That might have something to do with last night's rain, and today's sporadic drizzle. So on fair days we are out in the garden mainly tidying up after the winter, but on days such as this it is Spring cleaning indoors. Various spiders have been evicted, windows have been opened to freshen the house up, and I have been tasked with cleaning the oven, fridge and microwave. Once the freezer gets lower that will be defrosted and cleaned too.

After having been cooped up indoors throughout the winter months, it is nice to be able to get outside and start pottering in the garden. Apparently clearing snow from the paths, and doing the daily log runs doesn't really count as getting outside. The cats are enjoying watching the birds who come to visit, but I am assuming they are thinking more along the lines of lunch, or toys, rather than them being a welcome indication that Spring has returned. The dogs are much more laid back about things, and their main interest, besides food, is where the sun will be at any given point during the day, and how can they ensure it is comfortable for them to bask. Fenric is also happy to have rediscovered his tennis balls, which had been buried under snow. I wish that they would all learn to wipe their feet before coming back in though, as we seem to have a constant battle against muddy paw prints on floors, walls, window sills and windows, alongside nose prints on the windows.

Yesterday, we went into town to do our shopping, and pick up a couple of bits from the ECont office. The Storks might not have made it to the village yet, or even Strelets, but they were there on one of the nests in Draganovo. One flew in front of the car as we went through Pravda. It is surprising that such a large bird, which looks so graceful in the air, can look like a broken hang glider when coming in to land. The one in Pravda was then quite happily strutting around the football pitch as though it didn't have a care in the world. My knees are hoping that the warmer weather will soon be following them, but that's what you get from kneeling on too many cold and wet steel flight decks working on aircraft.

One thing I have noticed is that our hallway must be the end point of a ladybirds migratory route. Everyday it is swept and dusted, and totally devoid of any sign of the little buggers. Five minutes later they are back again, some are quite happily marching about on the rugs, whereas others  haven't fared quite so well. I have looked and looked, but I can not find where they are coming from. Perhaps they are from a Ladybird equivalent of Star Trek, and that they have been beamed down. Oh all right I'll say it, "Beam me down, Spotty". Even the cats and dogs tend to avoid them, maybe they have also read my blog where I revealed that they can, and do, bite.

The only thing left for me to do on this blog is to remind everyone that the clocks change in the wee small hours of tomorrow. The clocks go forward an hour, so that means an hour less in bed. Hopefully the dogs will not be in too much of a hurry to go outside tomorrow morning. Wishing you all a wonderful Spring and Summer from us here in the back of beyond.  

Monday, 16 March 2015

Has Spring Sprung Yet?

Well here we are midway through March, and I keep asking myself whether Spring has finally arrived. Baba Marta is holding true to form, and is being very indecisive, but I wake up each morning in the hope of sunshine. At the moment the wind is still mainly coming from the North, and it still has a bit of bite to it. Some areas of the country are facing major problems, with big snowfalls which are now melting, being cut off due to the weather, and power cuts as the power companies can't get to the downed power lines. So maybe up here in the hills, in Paisii we aren't doing so bad. Sometimes we do get some sunshine during the day, but the evenings can still be a bit chilly. If it is damp outside we light the fire, if not the gas fire goes on.

When the sun is out, the cats and dogs have their favourite sunny spots already. Fenric has really got things worked out, as he goes up under the barn and drags his blanket where he wants it. If the sun moves, he just gets up and drags his blanket to his next spot. Whoever said that Boxers were clowns and not intelligent, hasn't met Fen. I just wish that before he comes in he would put his blanket back from where he got it, but that seems to be my job. Sometimes, if he's feeling generous, he will drag all the blankets out and build a dog nest which he will share with Sirius and Polly. On a rare occasion they will even share with a couple of the cats, but that seems fair as they will share in front of the fire with the dogs.

I am still waiting for the magic switch to be thrown, when everything in the village seems to burst into life at the same time. At the moment the trees are still looking all branches and twigs, but they are covered in leaf buds. Due to the height of the village we do tend to be a couple of weeks behind everywhere else. Down towards the bottom of the ridge road I did notice a few of the roadside shrubs slowly showing signs of green leaves, so it won't be much longer to wait. I have already noticed that the birds are more inclined to sing up in the trees around us, rather than huddle together coughing and sneezing. The cats have already started bringing us presents, yesterday it was a Salamander and a Tree Frog, not to mention various piles of feathers and bits of mouse.

Down in the South of the country, the Storks have already been spotted, but they have yet to make an appearance here. So for the time being we are still wearing our Martenitsi. We have started straightening the garden up after the winter, and rather than looking red and white, my Martenitsi are looking more red and grey and a bit grubby. Even though the sky is looking a bit overcast we now have washing out on the line. I have even managed to have a bonfire the other day, burning off dead leaves and twigs which have magically appeared over the winter. I'm sure that I did  it all in the Autumn. The remnants of the bonfire is now a bit soggy after this weekend's rain, but at least it means I'm not tempted to light it while the washing is out, probably saving me from a fate worse than death. The ground is fairly sticky underfoot, and that means mud. Although Bulgarian mud seems more like superglue, as it sticks to everything. So this morning we were more concerned with doing more spring cleaning indoors. Windows have been opened, and the bodies of the zombie ladybirds have been swept up. The windows have been washed, walls wiped down, and ceilings de-cobwebbed along with various spiders being evicted.

When we bought our house, the rule was that as a foreigner we had to create a company to do so. So like many we now have a company which doesn't actually do anything, but we still have to submit yearly accounts, which also have to be submitted for entry onto the national trade register. So all of the paperwork for that has been sorted out. Those buying property now don't have to do this as far as I am aware. We have also been and paid our municipal property and vehicle taxes. Our property tax bill was just under 25 Leva, but by paying it before the end of April we got a 5% discount. With the way that Sterling is at the moment it means that our equivalent to council tax works out at something like £11.43. As I was in town doing all of that I also renewed our house insurance, so that's us covered for another year. I did notice that the weather must be slowly warming up as most people are no longer wearing hats, some even had coats and jackets undone. It isn't quite t-shirt and shorts weather just yet, but soon the ice cream stalls will be out and about and I can sit in the square and indulge in just watching the world go by.

The snowdrops might have been and gone, but there are masses of wild crocuses along the roadside and in our garden. The daffodils and tulips are pushing up through the cold damp earth. Everything is poised for that switch to be thrown, and for Spring to be ushered in, including me. We might still get a few flurries of snow, but rain is more likely now. Weatherwise, March here has always reminded me of April back in the UK, but I wouldn't swap locations. The scent of woodsmoke on the air is getting less each day, it's being replaced by the smell of damp earth as they slowly start working in the fields. It really is a great place to live.  

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Busy Start To March

Early March is always a busy time here in Bulgaria, and it began yesterday. Many people have asked what all the fuss is about with Baba Marta, so I have decided to put my previous March blog bits into this new post to save people trawling through older posts in the archive. So even though the 1st was yesterday, some people still aren't aware about what it all signifies. Then there is also Liberation Day, which is celebrated tomorrow the 3rd. That is then closely followed on the 8th by Ladies Day. We also have our wedding anniversary to look forward to, and yes I do remember the date and how many years. I also remember what day we met and where, so the long term memory hasn't gone just yet. We also have various birthdays within the family, so it's all go here. So firstly let's have a look at one of my favourite celebrations, Baba Marta.

It is the celebration to welcome the coming of Spring and the waning of Winter. It is depicted by a cranky old lady called Baba Marta, or Grandmother Marta. Marta is a play on words for March, the month being called Mart in Bulgarian. Weather wise we find that it is quite similar to April in the UK, one day it can be brilliant sunshine and the next you can be confronted by all sorts of weather. I seem to remember something being said about in like a Lion and out like a Lamb. So the weather can be as contrary as an old lady, one day she can be all sweetness and light, but the next it could be like she has been on a diet of vinegar and lemons. Definitely not an old lady to mess with, and one who will keep you on your toes. So far she has been smiling, so the sun has been out today. It is so much nicer to hear the birds singing in the trees, rather than coughing and sneezing. There have even been a few bees lazily droning by, hunting for the crocuses and snowdrops which are now out in the garden. The daffodils and tulips are also pushing their way up through the soil, hopefully they won't come up blind this year or that we have some late frosts.

On the 1st March Bulgarians exchange Martenitsi, and wish each other Chestita Baba Marta! The custom is to essentially wish each other good health, luck and happiness. When Baba Marta is smiling the sun shines and the weather is warm, but when cross, or her bunions are playing her up, the cold stays longer and it may even snow.

These Martenitsi are the red and white ornaments, made from twisted threads and are often worn around the wrist or neck, pinned to the left side of clothing, especially coats and jackets. You can even see them decorating house doors and hanging in vehicles, some people even buy them for their pets to wear. At this time of year there are many stalls selling these Martenitsi, but there are still those who prefer to do things the traditional way and will hand make them for their friends and family. The colours are quite significant, with white symbolising strength, purity and happiness, and the red with health, blood and fertility. As shown in this picture Snowdrops are quite often incorporated as they are often the first things flowering after winter.

Quite often you will notice that a couple of figures are represented, and these are known as Pizho and Penda. Pizho is the male figure, and can be identified by being mainly white. As you might have deduced the mainly red figure is the female of the two, and is called Penda. Maybe it is a Bulgarian version of Yin and Yang, with all things being balanced out.

There are different schools of thinking, firstly there are those who feel that a Martenitsa can be thought of as an amulet and is used for protection against Baba Marta, whose mercurial temperament can cause unexpected misfortune. Baba Marta is thought to be gentler and more forgiving towards the person who is wearing a Martenitsa. Some feel that a Martenitsa can also be used for fortune telling or to encourage the desirable outcome of a wish. Some also believe that wearing a Martenitsa will also hasten the coming of Spring. I have to admit to being guilty to smiling when I see the Martenitsa stalls set up, it gives me a little lift thinking that soon the warmer weather will be back with us. Even though the daytime temperatures look to be holding quite steady, the night time temperatures are set to remain above zero. Now that we are wearing our Martenitsi I have already started my annual version of Stork watch, the good news for us is that last year a pair of young Storks built a nest in the village.

Tomorrow sees a very important day in the Bulgarian calendar, so all shops are closed as it is a public holiday. This year marks 137 years of Bulgaria's Liberation from under the Ottoman yoke, where they had been held for five centuries. The actual Independence Day is celebrated later in the year in September. So tomorrow commemorates the signing of the San Stefano peace treaty in 1878 between the Empires of Russia and Turkey, which enabled the Bulgarian nation to re-emerge, although that wasn't the final version of the peace treaty.

This peace treaty came at the end of the war of Liberation which was fought between 1877 and 1878. The Russians became involved due to atrocities that the Ottomans had carried out against the Bulgarians in the April uprising of 1876. Fortunately it was reported by an American journalist who was working for the British press.

There are many famous names linked to the Independence movement of the 1870s, some are even known to us foreigners, some of who I have mentioned in previous blog posts. People such as Hristo Botev, Georgi Rakovski, Lyuben Karavelov and Vassil Levski were leading figures in the Independence movement but the deciding factor in ousting the Turks was the Russian involvement. This was when Tsar Alexander II of Russia declared war against the Ottoman Empire, over concerns about treatment of orthodox christians in Bulgaria. After the liberation Bulgaria came under Russian administration for a couple of years, but it also allowed Bulgaria a gradual transition to achieving nationhood once again.

Tomorrow there will be celebrations held throughout the country. There are normally large solemn celebrations held at the memorial atop the Shipka Pass, which was where fierce fighting took place during the war. This is of such significance that various politicians, and heads of the military, are often in attendance. Flowers and notes of thanks are often placed at the various liberation memorials on this day. The parades are quite sombre occasions, but once the wreaths have been laid it is time to celebrate, and the Bulgarians don't need much of an excuse to enjoy a party. Don't be at all surprised if fireworks light up the night sky tomorrow evening, hopefully Baba Marta will keep her happy head on, and the weather will be good.

Ladies day is hopefully quite self explanatory, and if you are in one of the villages it is quite possible that the village ladies will come calling. That is next weekend so no need to panic just yet.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Who Was Vasil Levski?

Any tourist visiting Bulgaria will notice that one name keeps on cropping up. It is seen on sports stadia, schools, roads, and public parks to give just a few examples. This one name is enshrined in Bulgarian history, and that is Vasil Levski. For many Bulgarians, this man epitomises all that is good and great about Bulgaria. Sadly his name is not widely known outside of the country, which is a shame. Consider what Martin Luther King did for the civil rights movement, and it is probably fair to say that Vasil Levski did just as much for Bulgaria and Bulgarians. Yet European history has managed to largely ignore his efforts and sacrifice. So who was this man Vasil Levski?

He was born on the 18th July 1837, to his parents Ivan Kunchev and Gina Kuncheva, in the town of Karlovo. In honour of his maternal Uncle he was named Vasil Ivanov Kunchev. His parents were part of the emerging middle classes, with his father being a craftsman and his mother's family being part of the clergy. At that point in Bulgarian history the country had been under Ottoman rule for more than 400 years. Bulgarians and other Christians were treated as second class citizens by the Ottoman establishment, and constant friction arose because of differing religious beliefs. Young Vasil's father died in 1844, leaving his wife Gina to raise Vasil and his siblings. He had 2 younger brothers Hristo and Petar, an elder sister Yana and a younger one, Maria.

His education began in Karlovo, and he was also a local craftsman's apprentice studying tailoring. At the age of 18 his maternal Uncle, who was a superior Abbot and envoy of the Hilandar monastery, took him to Stara Zagora where he gained further schooling, while working as the elder Vasil's servant. He also undertook clerical training, and in 1858 became a monk under the religious name of Ignatius. The following year he became a deacon monk.

In 1862 he left the religious world of a monk and travelled to Belgrade in Serbia. He had become inspired by Georgi Rakovski, who was attempting to put together the First Bulgarian Legion. This was a military unit comprised of Bulgarian volunteers and revolutionary workers whose aim was the overthrow of the Ottoman rule. After several armed conflicts around Belgrade a truce was diplomatically brokered between the Serbs and their Ottoman rulers. This resulted in the First Bulgarian Legion being disbanded. It was during training and the conflicts that Vasil gained the nickname Levski. A translation from the old Bulgarian reveals that this means Lionlike. After a short stay in Romania Vasil Levski returned home to Bulgaria in the spring of 1863. His own Uncle reported him as a rebel to the Ottoman regime, and so he was forced to endure 3 months of imprisonment in Plovdiv until he was released. He gave up his religious office, and began working as a teacher near his hometown of Karlovo. While a teacher he also gave shelter to those persecuted by the ruling Ottomans, and also began organising patriotic companies amongst the population.

His activities began to create suspicion from the authorities, and once again he was forced to move. Levski met up with Rakovski again, and learnt of two revolutionary bands determined to cross into Bulgaria and cause an armed rebellion. These bands were led by Panayot Hitov and Filip Totyu, and with Rakovski's recommendation Levski became the standard bearer for Hitov's group. They crossed the Danube at Tutrakan in April 1867, fighting skirmishes along the way they made it to the Balkan mountains before escaping to Serbia in August. This led to the Second Bulgarian Legion being formed in Belgrade. Levski had to undergo surgery for a stomach complaint, and by the time he was back on his feet the Legion had been disbanded. Attempting to reunite with his compatriots caused Levski to be briefly imprisoned once again.

Over the next couple of years Levski made journeys throughout Bulgaria, meeting up with various patriotic revolutionary cells and cadres. On his second tour he carried proclamations from the provisional Bulgarian government based in Romania, declaring that he was acting as their representative. In 1869 he was one of the founding members of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee based in Bucharest. Through a disagreement about implementation and planning, he left to begin his own plans for an insurrection based on an internal revolutionary network in 1870. Over the next 18 months he busied himself with creating a vast network of secret committees throughout Bulgaria, perhaps his previous trips had been beneficial for this purpose. These secret committees brought arms and trained volunteers to be part of a coordinated uprising. Each volunteer had to swear an oath of allegiance, and treason was punishable by death. To maintain the high level of secrecy they had their own secret police, who would monitor each individual's activity. With a price on his head, Levski was forced to use disguises during his travels.

Revolutions are not cheap, and funds were in short supply. An unsanctioned, though successful, raid on an Ottoman postal convoy yielded 125,000 Groschen. The Ottoman authorities soon rounded up the raiders, who included Levski's assistant Dimitar Obshti. Under torture they revealed much about the Internal Revolutionary Organisation, including its links to the BRCC in Bucharest and the leading role that Levski played. Realising that he would soon be hunted down, Levski decided that he would flee to Romania and take stock of the situation. Not knowing how much had been revealed by those captured, he needed to remove or destroy important papers held in the central committee's archives in Lovech. On the morning of 27th December 1872 he was surprised and detained at an Inn in the village of Kakrina. Various theories surround how he was captured, but the one most popularly cited is that he was betrayed by a priest.

Following his capture he was taken to Tarnovo for an initial interrogation, and then on 4th January 1873 he was transferred to Sofia for further questioning and trial. He revealed nothing apart from his own name. The death sentence was passed on the charge of a servant who had been killed when money was being extorted from a wealthy local in Lovech, rather than as the head of an impending armed rebellion. Today there is a monument which stands close to the spot where Levski was hanged. Realising that even in death Levski could still be an important catalyst for an insurrection, the authorities had the body buried secretly. To this day no-one knows for sure where the final resting place of Vasil Levski is, but there are various myths and legends. In 1937 the following story appeared in the newspaper Mir. It told how the body of the Apostle had been buried near to the gallows by the priest Todor. In the night following the execution the Sexton of the church of St Petka disinterred the body and then buried the remains in the church's altar. During urban developments in 1956, archeological excavations were required in the church of St Petka. A grave was discovered, and although not conclusively proven many conclude that it does belong to Vasil Levski.

Many of his thoughts and beliefs are just as pertinent today, as they were all of those years ago. Here are a couple for you to ponder upon

"To be equal to the other European nations depends on our own united strength"

"If I shall win, I shall win for the entire people. If I shall lose, I shall lose only myself"

"It's deeds we need, not words"



Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Corrupting Influence?

Welcome to the first blog of February, after a few years of writing these blogs it gets slightly difficult to avoid covering old ground. Especially at this time of year when the weather is not favourable towards getting out and about. Last month it was the children coming round on New Year's Day followed by Yordanov Den. This month it is birthdays, Valentine's Day and Trifon Den. So whilst I was pondering what to write this time I came to the conclusion that it was about time that I made a confession.

Now those of you who actually know me, will possibly be aware that I have three great loves in my life, that is besides my better half of course. Were it not for Net then I wouldn't be where I am today. Anyway these great loves of mine, they are football, music and reading. You might be wondering where the confession comes into play. Well I think that I might actually be a corrupting influence on unsuspecting Bulgarians. All done quite unintentionally I hasten to add, but perhaps my enthusiasm might have rubbed off somewhere along the way. It's innocent until proven guilty anyway, and enthusiasm is worthwhile for mitigation purposes.

The first charge involves football. I do have to hold my hands up and admit that I prefer club football to International matches. I am a firm believer in supporting your local club. This meant that when I was growing up that gave me a choice between Wimbledon and Crystal Palace, even though my Dad was an Arsenal supporter. Thankfully I decided on the Eagles, and have followed them through thick and thin since, my cousins and other family members might have had something to do with my choice as well. It is probably fair to say that we are not the most fashionable of clubs, but we never have really boring seasons. One thing that many pundits agree on is that the supporters generate a proper good old fashioned atmosphere, and this isn't only limited to home matches. Selhurst Park is an old fashioned stadium and not one of these new soulless bowl type ground, but whatever happens down on the pitch the supporters are there behind our team. I have shown people clips on YouTube, and now a few Bulgarians watch out for our results, some watch the matches on the TV and I know of at least one who has made the pilgrimage to SE25 to watch the Palace. In my own turn I have taken in a few matches at the local ground here, so I also follow Lokomotiv GO.

Next we have the charge with regards to music. As I have previously mentioned in these blogs, when the weather warms up people emerge into their gardens. They also bring their radios with them. Unfortunately the volume controls often seem to be broken, they are either off, or at maximum. No matter how hard I try I can't really seem to get my head round Bulgarian music (Chalga doesn't count as music). To my ears it just sounds like a lot of random notes thrown together. Well that's not quite true, as I do like the haunting quality of Malka Moma as sung by Neli Andreeva. As loud music seems to be the order of the day I also join in. Although anyone wandering about close by is likely to be entertained by something like Madness or The Damned. Maybe not to everyone's taste, but I have been known to play classical music too, but sometimes the dogs decide that they want to join in as backing vocals.

I have previously been asked if people can borrow books, so that they can practice their English. Rather than confuse them with American spellings and vague grammar I have tried passing on English writers. Not wanting to replicate English Literature classes from my schooldays I avoid the Dickens and Shakespeare. Instead I have passed on the likes of Colin Dexter, Peter Robinson and Stuart MacBride. Perhaps they might not paint a totally accurate picture of life in the UK, but at least they are written in English.

There are other areas where I might be guilty of being a corrupting influence. One such area is the patch of land just outside of our garden wall. I do try and keep the 'grass' cut short, and if the Kmet wanders past I often get the official nod of approval. I have noticed that more of our neighbours are starting to do the same, but instead of using a lawnmower quite often goats or sheep are used. I try to set an example of if I see litter I pick it up and put it in the closest bin. When we first got to the village it seemed like those getting social payments would be utilised picking up litter and keeping the village tidy, sadly that no longer seems to happen so it is up to everyone to do their bit and keep the village looking good. There is still the problem with people letting their dogs run loose round the village. Fair enough they don't seem to worry the flocks of geese or chickens, but they do cause a lot of unwanted puppies.

It is a two way street though, and I am sure that bits and pieces have rubbed off on me. I now seem to be more patient, I have more time for people and I have remembered that enjoyment can be gained from even the simplest of things. I will still be following the football, listening to music and reading though.