Friday, March 09, 2007
Grigor Purlichev (1830-1893) - Extracts from the Autobiography
Grigor Purlichev was born in Ohrid and educated in Greece. In 1860 he won first prize in a Greek national poetry competition at Athens University for his poemO Armatolos (The Sirdar). He also wrote a second and longer poem in Greek entitled Skanderbeg. It is about Georghi Kastioti, an Albanian national hero who led his people against the Turks. Purlichev refused Greek offers of scholarships to Oxford and Berlin and instead chose to return to Ohrid, dedicating his life to oppose the assimilatory policies of the Greek Phanariots towards his Bulgarian people. Undoubtedly, it was Purlichev's own Autobiography which had the greatest impact on the Bulgarian people. Written in an easily readable style, it recounted many tales, as it described the spiritual and political oppression of the Bulgarian people.
"I worked in Ochrida for six years. Now I have more than 5000 piaster."
"Mother I'll go to Athens."
"Go, son, go where it is best for you."
I set forth and in August 1859 1 arrived there and enrolled as a second year medical student but, of course, I wrote poems too. I had just begun my poem O Armatolos (The Sirdar). I knew that the poem had to be handed over to the examining committee on February the 13th at the latest, but I didn't know that the signature of the author had to be enclosed with the best verse of his poem written on the envelope; and so I gave the poem signed simply "Gamma.Sigma.Pi".
On March 25th, 1860 the chairman of the committee Mr. Rangavis, in the presence of a big audience started to appraise the presented poems beginning with the poorest. Among the audience there figured Mr. Orphinidis, an acknowledged and outstanding poet, and Vernadakis, professor of philology, both bright and happy, confident that they will receive the laurels or at least the monetary prize. For me, as for many other spectators, there was no chair, of course. When Rangavis said,
"Finally here we have a poem much shorter than the others called O Armatolos"
I felt such indescribable excitement that I had never felt before; no one could have recognized me then; it was clear that the laurels were mine. I described all these circumstances in detail, so that young people should know that excessive joy is deadlier than sorrow. Let them also know that I am writing this not out of pride but to help elevate the pride of the people.
We, Bulgarians, have been abused and despised by other nationalities, and it is high time we regained our dignity. When one reads our folk-songs, in which every beauty is a Greek woman, then one will instinctively conclude that wretched self-contempt is a national characteristics of the Bulgarians. It is high time we proved ourselves men among men. Bulgarian industriousness is rarely to be found among other nationalities; it has enabled us, it has been and will be our salvation. If it is true that idleness is the mother of all ills, it is also true that work is the father of all goods. What advantages could the other nationalities possibly have over us ? Having listened to the abuses heaped upon all the Bulgarians I spent all my life with the thought that I was a nonentity. The same thought has kept me away from the highest circles of society, without which no one has ever become a famous citizen or a saviour. It is true that a proud man comes to no good, but it is also true that he who despises himself is a suicide. The first sin is, of course, more dangerous but, we, Bulgarians, should be aware of the second, we must trust our strength and rely on our good works.
Then I went to Rangavis' place and told him that I was the author of the poem O Armatolos. He received me very kindly and in a solemn voice called his wife to introduce me to her.
"You have dedicated half of the prize-money to some noble cause."
"Yes, that is what I wrote, and I don't deny it."
"Your generosity recommends you very much. What about the other half?"
This strange question puzzled me.
"You have not written anything about the other half," he added.
"I'll keep it for myself, I am not rich."
It was obvious that the answer did not please him and he became silent.
"Did you hear what praises I sang to you?"
"Yes, you cannot speak against your conscience."
He immediately grasped the severity of my answer.
"How old are you?"
"What nationality are you?"
"Is it possible for a Bulgarian to have black hair and black eyes?"
I did not answer anything to this.
As early as 1861 Yakim Sapoundjiev and I embarked upon a great project for the good of the people, but we did it quietly. The time was not ripe yet. Hellenism in Ochrida had taken deep roots and had been growing ever since. A Bulgarian called another Bulgarian derogatory names; the Bulgarian alphabet was known only to three people and was called Serbian. Learned men made us believe that the Bulgarians had no written language. The accusers of the Miladinov brothers who were recently awarded with medals, were at the peak of their fame and influence.
In Angel Groubchev's shop which served as a reading-room, I learned how to read and write in Bulgarian. We helped each other; he used to explain the unfamiliar Bulgarian words to us while we - the European words to him. We read Bulgarian history and related its most heroic pages in school and at home, wherever it was necessary we talked about the Miladinov brothers who died the death of martyrs. Very often we would tell the pupils and their parents (but not all of them) how difficult Greek was and how much easier and more pleasant it was to study in their mother tongue. Many psalms, translated into the Macedonian dialect, were read at church and inspired holy terror in the breasts of the Christians. When they did not like the reader, I myself read them. We prayed to God earnestly but we worked hard at the same time as well. We ploughed day and night so that we could prepare the soil for sowing. The national spirit had risen higher even in the provinces. We wrote hundreds of petitions against Meletii on account of his various abuses collecting signatures. It was easiest to collect signatures for the general petitions against him. He used to say, "I have piled up a heap of liras; they are yours and I'll use them against you."
In May 1868, if I remember well, the leaders of the town were invited to my place.
"Do you want to have the Bulgarian language introduced in church and in school?"
"Yes, we do."
"Would you allow me, by the way, to go to Constantinople to study Slavonic?"
"You have our permission."
In Constantinople I studied Slavonic with Mr. Ivan Naydenov (may he rest in peace) for nothing. I could have been shorter; I was angry at the pen because it couldn't write faster. But it is impossible to be brief now. I am going to tell you about suffering. At the beginning of November 1868 I returned from Constantinople and immediately introduced Bulgarian in church and in school. This was not in Meletii's interest at all. Facts will show you what slanders he concocted against me......
Soon we were ready and at parting we embraced all prisoners. After a while the door of the prison cell was opened and my brother, two of my nephews and I were taken to the Kaymakam, an Albanian from Epirus of the Toski tribe, one of the most fanatical adherents to Hellenism. The leaders of the town were with him; Tase (Atanas), Zarche, Hristodoul Vladikov, Naoum Strouzhanche and Antonaki, Meletii's nephew. The Kaymakam's son spat on me.
"What is my guilt? Who is my accuser?"
"I don't know," said the Kaymakam in Greek, "what your guilt is nor who your accuser is. There is simply an order from the Mutessarif to send you to Debur."
"Why did your son spit on me?"
"It was a misdemeanour and I'll punish him."
"Thank you. And you, Sirs, as you know, I have lived respectably, put in a good word for me."
"We aren't davidji [petitioners]," A. Zarchev said.
"I didn't say you were davidji, but I ask you to be ridjadji [defendant] to me."
"Why did you have to introduce Bulgarian in Ochrida?" Zarchev said, "Didn't you like Greek that made you literate?"
"Why did you have to meddle with politics?" Vladikov asked.
"Why did you have to protest against the bishop?" asked Struzhanche.
Antonaki didn't say a word in order not to reveal that the bishop's office was the source of all these accusations.
"But if I, as you say am guilty what have these three simple creatures done to you? It is obvious that you want to destroy completely two whole families on account of the imaginary guilt of having introduced Bulgarian in Ochrida when the Sultan himself has allowed me to do so."
All of a sudden my mother came into the hall, who up to that moment could not walk, two women supported her under the arms. She murmured feebly some beseeching words. My dear mother! She didn't know not to expect mercy from hungry fanatics. The Kaymakam ordered her to be taken away.
"Come, mother!" I told her. "They will neither kill nor hang me. The people you see in front of you are so brave and selfless that they will never do anything on their own, but they will do everything that others will tell them to. The Hukumat respects such people because it needs them."
"You spoke cleverly," Zarche said, "otherwise I would have fixed you."
"Did I make any mistake?"
"I protest against you, Mr. Zarche. You are driving me away because it is now impossible for you to recite at church the Greek faith which you have learned by heart but do not understand. You will love me as much as you loved me before if you could learn the Bulgarian "Prayer". I protest against you, Mr. H. Vladikov;I have made literate two of your children, but you are chasing me away because I told you openly that you and your associates were bribed by the bishop. My protest against you, Mr. Srouzhanche is milder; you are driving me away because you will get neither interest nor capital from the money you gave Meletii. What can you get from a despised monk? I protest against Meletii who, the way he killed my teachers, wants to kill me now too. I protest against the Myutesarif because he wants me to be taken to Debur without saying who my accuser is. I protest against you, Your Honour, because you spat at me without knowing what my guilt was."
"Give up the Bulgarian language," the Kaymakam said, "And I'll set you free."
"I would rather die."