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0 The Kresna-Razlog Uprising and the National Unity of the Bulgarians

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by: akademik Hristo Hristov, BHR, 1979, 1, 43-51.

 The Kresna-Razlog Uprising is one of the major events in Bulgaria's thirteen centuries-long history. It is an expression of the striving of the Bulgarian people to win their political freedom and unity and to abolish the ruling Ottoman feudal


system. By its character, motive forces and goals the uprising was a continuation of the Bulgarian national revolution of the 1860s and the middle of the 1870s. It broke out and developed in a limited area of the Bulgarian lands, but the whole bulgarian people took part in the preparations for it, in its breaking out and development, either directly or by providing moral and material assistance. For this reason the uprising may be defined as an expression of the all-Bulgarian struggle national liberation and for safeguarding the unity of the Bulgarian nation.

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The immediate causes for the outbreak of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising are connected with the Russo-Turkish War of Liberation of 1877-1878 and, more precisely, with the changing of the results of the war by the reactionary Berlin congress. The Russian army, helped by the Bulgarian national-liberation and anti-feudal movement and by the armies of Russia's allies in the Balkans, delivered devastating blows on the Ottoman Empire and its armed forces. The Sultan and the lime Porte were compelled to surrender and to sign the San Stefano Peace Treaty. However, Russia's adversaries — the European great powers — refused to recognize Treaty and thereby tied the knot of sharp national contradictions and struggles he Balkans and the Near East; the Kresna-Razlog Uprising was an expression of these contradictions and struggles.

In various historical works about the War of Liberation of 1877-1878, published des ago and in more recent years, certain authors advance the view that after signing of the San Stefano Treaty the Russian Government and the High Command of the Russian Army did not seek to put it into effect. One must definitely state that this view is untenable. It is at variance with the historical facts and its aim is to slander Russian policy as regards the restoration of the Bulgarian state within the natural boundaries of the Bulgarian nationality. A large number of documents are available, proving that immediately after the signing of the Peace Treaty, on the initiative of Count Ignatiev and of the High Command of Russian Army, preparations began for the sending of Russian Army units into the areas which had not yet been liberated but were envisaged to be incorporated the frontiers of the Bulgarian Principality, especially into Macedonia. Measures also taken to organize the administrative structure and government of these i by appointing respective civilian governors. However, the danger of a resumption of the war with Turkey which was backed by the governments of Britain Austria-Hungary compelled the Russian Government to postpone and, later,  to abandon the creation of a united Bulgarian state by virtue of the provisions e San Stefano Treaty.

It was then that came into play the other decisive factor for the realization of the political and social (anti-feudal) liberation and unity of the Bulgarian e — the people themselves who rose on a mass and nation-wide struggle for reservation, political freedom and national unity. On the initiative of the Russian authorities in Southern Bulgaria and with their support paramilitary gymnastic societies ere formed, preparations began in the Lozengrad area to resist the restoration of Turkish rule, a large armed detachment, led by Captain Petko Voivoda, began to operate in the Rhodope Mountains in defence of the Bulgarians, Bulgarian 1 bands from Southern, Western and Eastern Macedonia moved towards the demarcation line which divided the Russian and Turkish troops, and committees, bearing the significant name "Edinstvo" (Unity) began to spring up in the liberated with the aim of continuing the liberation struggle. It was thus that the idea of


waging an armed struggle for liberation in the valleys of the Struma, Mesta and Bregalnica rivers — the idea of preparing and declaring the Kresna-Razlog Uprising — was born.

The following question arises: why did the armed uprising against Ottoman rule break out and why was the longest, most persistent and heroic struggle for liberation fought precisely in the Struma, Mesta and Bregalnica valleys? The answer to this question must be linked with the presence of certain favourable objective factors, premises and forces and, in the first place, with the fact that this region lay in the immediate proximity of the liberated Bulgarian lands from which assistance in men, arms and materials was expected. On the other hand, one should bear in mind the fact that the region in which the Kresna-Razlog Uprising broke out was inhabited by a compact Bulgarian population with a sprinkling of Turks, Bulgarians of Moslem faith and Hellenized Bulgarians, more particularly in the town of Melnik. This Bulgarian population was predominantly a peasant one, belonging to two basic groups — raeti and chifligari. The raeti lived in the mountainous and hilly regions of the Kresna Gorge, the Ograzden, Belasica, Slavjanka (Ali Botus), Pirin and other mountains and the high fields of Malesevo, Razlog and others. They did not possess enough fertile lands and were chiefly occupied with ore-mining and primitive metal-processing, with viticulture and fruit-growing, with the production and export of timber, with stock-raising, etc. Many of them worked as farm-hands on the Moslem and Greek chifliks (farms) in the fertile fields of Petric-Melnik, Strumica, Nevrokop and others, or went southwards to the regions of Seres, Drama, Stip, Ovce Pole and Salonica to work as seasonal workers. Quite a few of them also went abroad to earn their living in Northern and Southern Bulgaria, Wallachia, Moldavia and other lands.

The other main section of the Bulgarian peasant population lived and worked on the chifliks and in the chiflik villages. The latter were quite a few in number and in the Petric-Melnik field they accounted for 70 to 75 per cent of the total number of settle merits. The chiflik peasants were brutally suffering from the violence and robbery of the chiflik owners and, like the raeti peasants, they viewed with sympathy and support every call for national and social (anti-feudal) freedom, every manifestation of the national-liberation movement which, apart from political freedom, was also expected to bring them the liquidation of feudal and semifeudal exploitation and oppression.

It ought to-be pointed out that the population of the Struma, Mesta and Bregalnica valleys had actively participated in the enlightenment, church and national movement in the 1860s and 1870s. Bulgarian schools and communes were founded in scores of villages and towns and carried out extensive and fruitful activity for the enhancement of the national awareness of the population and for the development of public education and culture. Many Bulgarians, especially from the raeti villages, participated in the armed struggles during the cheta (armed band) movement and in the April Uprising of 1876 and the Russo-Turkish War of Liberation. Throughout the war and after its end haidut (rebel) bands, consisting of discontented and militant Bulgarians, roamed about the Pirin Mountain and the mountains between the Nevrokop, Petric-Melnik, Demir-Hisar, Seres and Drama fields. Such were the armed bands of Todor Palaskarja of the village of Belotinci near Nevrokop, Stojan Karastoilov of the village of Starcista near Nevrokop, Kosta Kukoto of the village of Lakos near Seres,


Kocho Ljutata of the village of Levunovo near Melnik, Stojko Capareveca of the village Caparevo near Melnik and others.

A large number of Bulgarians from Northern and Southern Bulgaria also took t in the Kresna-Razlog Uprising. In the very first days after its outbreak volunteers began to arrive to the area of the armed struggle, including 100 from Sofia, 27 from Tarnovo, 37 from Tatar-Pazardzik, 19 from Trojan, 31 from Pleven, 74 from Orhanije (now Botevgrad), 30 from Plovdiv, 7 from Provadija, 30 from Adrianople the Adrianople region, etc. Bulgarians from Southern and Western Macedonia — from the Kostur, Lerin, Ohrid, Bitolja, Resen and other regions — also took part lie uprising. The Bulgarians in the liberated lands rendered great material assistance to the insurgents. The "Edinstvo" committees collected arms, ammunition, clothing, money, foodstuffs and others materials and sent them to the insurgents. Aid also received from Bulgarians living abroad.

Representatives of other Balkan peoples and of peoples outside the peninsula took part in the uprising: Russians, Greeks, Serbians, Wallachians, Croats, Montenegrians, Polish, Albanians, etc. Some of the leaders of the armed bands which were formed were also foreigners, such as Georgi Karaiskaki, Nikolica Makedonski, Dragutin Novelich and others. But although there were also foreigners in the ranks le insurgents — which was an expressions of the solidarity of the peoples in the struggles for national and social liberation — by its character, aims and motive for the Kresna-Razlog Uprising was an expression of the Bulgarian national-liberation movement, it was as expression of the national revolution which continued after Liberation.

Until the decisions of the Berlin Congress were made public the population of Macedonia lived with the hope that the provisions of the San Stefano Peace Treaty; going to be implemented. This found its expression, among others, in the elaboration of an address of gratitude to the Russian Emperor Alexander II: some 240,000 signatures and seals of Bulgarians and Bulgarian communes from all parts of the Bulgarian lands were attached to this address. A considerable part of the signatures seals were those of Bulgarians from Macedonia who lived in the liberated lands ere especially sent to sing the address from the lands which were still under Otto-bondage. The address covers 4,000 pages and is one of the most powerful testimonies to the unity of the Bulgarian nation and an expression of the awareness of nail unity in spite of the different conditions, under which lived the Bulgarians in the liberated and non-liberated lands, and in spite of the dangers to which the Bulgarians, traveling from Macedonia, were exposed when coming to put their signatures and seals under the nation-wide address.

In the expectation of an implementation of the San Stefano Treaty stipulations, Bulgarians from Macedonia addressed requests to the Russian military and administrative authorities with the insistent demand that they speed up the realization e national ideal. Such are, for example, the requests of the Bulgarians from the Dg region to the Commander-in-Chief Nikolaj Nikolaevic of March 2(14) 187810, e Bulgarians from the Pijanechki district with Berovo, Pehcevo and Carevo Selo s main settlements to Marin Drinov, Vice-Governor of Sofia, of March 18 (31),


1878,11 of the inhabitants of the village of Krusevo near Demir-Hisar to Marin Drinov of March 28 (April 9), 1878, etc.

However, side by side with the hopes and demands for a more rapid realization of the national ideal, there ever more tangibly arose the vague fear that it will not be attained. Grounds for this were provided by the decision to convene the Berlin Congress and by the unleashing of a new wave of violence and plunder on the part of the Ottoman authorities and the Moslems against the enslaved Bulgarian and other Christian populations. During the War of Liberation a large number of refugees, the-so-called muhacirlar from Northern and Southern Bulgaria, Bosnia and Southern Serbia found refuge in Macedonia. At first they were peaceful and quiet but with the spread of rumours about an impending revision of the San Stefano Treaty, together with other, local Moslems, they began to commit outrages against the Christian population to take revenge for their military and political setbacks. A considerable number of Albanian Moslems also took part in the plunder and reprisals, especially in Western Macedonia, after the creation of the Prizren League.

In order to save themselves from the acts of violence, the atrocities and plunder the Macedonian Bulgarians sent requests to the Russian authorities, asking them to have Macedonia occupied by Russian troops and annexed to the liberated lands. Such was the character, for example, of the address of the inhabitants of the Ohrid, Prespa, Voden and Maglen dioceses of the Bitolja district of April 7 (19) to the Commander-in-Chief Nikolaj Nikolaevich, such was also the appeal of the Bulgarian church and school communities in Macedonia to Prince Gorchakov of May 20 (June 1), 1878. The second appeal was signed by inhabitants of Strumica, Salonica, Gevgeli, Demir-Hisar, Seres, Skopje, Stip, Kumanovo, Veles, Negotin, Petric, Bitolja, Kukus, Vatasa, Tetovo, Drama, Melnik, Nevrokop and Prilep. 

". . .We, all the Bulgarians in Macedonia, by virtue of the San Stefano Treaty", the appeal reads in part, "were impatiently awaiting our liberation from the Turkish barbarism which still rages over us. . ."

As the rumours about an impending revision of the San Stefano Treaty spread wider, the anxiety and apprehensions of the enslaved population that foreign rule may be preserved began to grow. On May 30 (June 11), 1878 Nathanail, the Bishop of Ohrid, who had been compelled to leave his diocese and later became one of the organizers and the main leader of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising, sent a letter to Count Levasov, asking him to intercede with Gorcakov for the liberation of Macedonia and its union with Northern and Southern Bulgaria. A large number of representatives of the Bulgarian church and school communities in Macedonia sent a similar request on May 20 (June 1), 1878 to Lobanov, Russian Ambassador in Constantinople.

Certain contemporary authors, contrary to the historical facts take the liberty to assert that the San Stefano Treaty was an unjust, imperialist treaty, a fruit of the Russian policy of conquest in the Balkans, and that it threatened to subject the "Macedonian people" to Bulgarian yoke. This allegation is also the basis of the attempts Jo whitewash the reactionary and anti-popular policy, elaborated by the Berlin Congress, which had allegedly saved the Macedonians from this "threat". The allegations of these authors are in contradiction not only with the facts, but also with the requirement to assess historical events from the positions of the category of historical


progress. Because there is no doubt that, by providing for the incorporation of the lands within the region of Macedonia into the frontiers of the restored Bulgarian state, the San Stefano Treaty opened up prospects for the carrying out of a profound economic and social revolution in the life of the local population by abolishing Ottoman political domination and the ruling feudal system. And, vice versa, the restoration of the Sultan's rule over Macedonia by the Berlin Congress inevitably led to the preservation of foreign domination and of the decayed feudal system.

It would be interesting to see the attitude of the population of the Struma, Mesta and Bregalnica valleys to the idea of the liberation of their native land from foreign bondage. For this purpose we ought to refer to some authentic documents, drawn up by the population itself and by the leaders of the uprising. In the first place we have a Call by the "Bulgarian Provisional Government in Macedonia", published at the beginning of November, 1878, i. e. soon after the armed struggle started.

The Call expresses the popular indignation and protest at the preservation of Ottoman rule in Macedonia and declares that due to this and in reply to the intensified violence, plunder and atrocities on the part of the authorities and the Moslems "we (the insurgents) have left our families and have retired to the mountains to take revenge on our enemies. . .", reads the Call. "You yourselves know perfectly well", it goes on (the Call is addressed to the "Bulgarian and Slav brothers"), "what it is like to live under the Turkish yataghan, what it means for a man to watch his wife and daughters raped, his children slaughtered; what it means in general to see all human rights suppressed without being able to take any revenge".

Stressing that it was not possible that the Macedonian Bulgarians be left under Ottoman bondage by their compatriots and that, if this happened, the "Bulgarian element" in Macedonia was going to be destroyed, the authors of the Call conclude: "And so, brothers, the time has come when we must show that we are a people worthy of freedom, that the blood of Krum and Simeon has not ceased to run in our veins; the time has come to demonstrate to Europe that to divide a whole people with one stroke of the pen is no laughing matter! Let every one sacrifice what he can and as much as he can, because we need quick and considerable help, for otherwise our cause is doomed. And you, Bulgarian patriots, champions of liberty, who have shown your courage on more than one occasion, take up arms and hurry to join our ranks against the common enemy. Let your blood, shed in the Macedonian forests, serve as a symbol of liberty and let your motto be: Freedom or death."

At the very first news of the decisions of the Berlin Congress "Edinstvo" (Unity) committees began to spring up in Northern and Southern Bulgaria, becoming the exponents of the popular indignation at the dismemberment of San Stefano Bulgaria which left a considerable part of its population under Ottoman bondage, as well as the organizers of the popular resistance to the decisions of the Congress. The "Edinstvo" committee of Tarnovo was one of the first to be founded. A number of representatives of the revolutionary intellegentsia, who had survived the April Uprising and the War of Liberation, such as Ljuben Karavelov, Stefan Stamboloy, Georgi Zhivkov and others, as well as large number of participants in the enlightehment movement and the church and national struggles took part in its formation. "We, "the undersigned", we read in the Constituent protocol on the establishment of the committee of August 29, 1878, "have assembled with the aim of discussing how to help our brothers in Thrace and Macedonia, who will henceforth be separated from Danubian Bulgaria by virtue of the decisions of the Berlin Congress. Bearing in mind the plight of our people, and especially of our brothers left under Turkish rule, we have resolved that it is our sacred duty as Bulgarians and children of one and the same


motherland to avail ourselves of all means at our disposal to improve this condition by coming to the aid of our compatriots who might need our brotherly help. . ."

An important document, revealing the national feelings and strivings of the population in the Struma, Mesta and Bregalnica valleys after the outbreak of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising, is the letter of the insurgent villages in the Melnik area in reply to the Petric kaimakam (district governor) of December 11,1878. At the end of November the insurgents had received a letter from the kaimakam in which they had been accused of having been "incited" to rise in arms. ". .. You must know", the insurgents declare, "that we have not been incited by anyone; however, when we realized that at the Berlin Congress, the European Powers had again left us under your administration, we took up arms and we shall not lay them down until we are united with the Bulgarian Principality as was promised in the Treaty of San Stefano by Sultan Hamid himself."

The letter-reply of the insurgent villages stresses that the people of the kaimakam, i. e. the Turks and the Moslems in general, had brought down evils on the enslaved Bulgarian population for hundreds of years and that there were no guarantees that these evils were not going to continue. In spite of the threat of reprisals the insurgents declared that they were not going to submit but were going to continue the struggle they had started. All the Bulgarians in the whole of Macedonia had risen and had shown that they were going to fight bravely for their liberation.

In conclusion there follows a very considered and even, I should say, a prophetic statement: 

"Since we have answered in detail all the above questions (why they had risen and why they were going to continue the struggle), we beg you to come to your senses and stop being misled by English policies which might lead to the splitting of your own kingdom among the European Powers, as a result of which we shall be left without a principality and you — without a kingdom! Therefore, instead of trying hard to persuade us, you better take to heart the implementation of the San Stefano Treaty which is the only way of making our two peoples come to terms (for which the kaimakam had called in his letter), take each other by the hand and protect their countries before they have been ruined, as we just explained."

Finaly, I should like to refer to yet another document which reveals the national feelings and strivings of the Macedonian Bulgarians whom the Berlin Congress left under Ottoman rule. This document is the credentials, delivered by the representatives of the Bulgarian population in Macedonia, to their envoys, asked to express to the Constituent Assembly in Tarnovo their aspiration that national unity be preserved. The credentials were issued in Kjustendil on February 13, 1879, i. e. soon after the opening of the Constituent Assembly. The document reads as follows: "The undersigned Macedonians hereby authorize the esteemed gentlemen: Dimitri Protic of Veles, Nikola Diamandiev of Ohrid, Koce H. Trajcev of Kratovo, Naum Simov of Bitolja, Dimitri Hadzi Andonov of Stip, Atanas Radev of Kocani, Dimitri Pop Georgiev of the Strumica area and Stojan Rostov of Skopje — to send a telegram to the National Assembly in Tarnovo and to express the ardent desire of all Bulgarians living in Macedonia to have our people united, as we have expressed this many times to the European Powers; as regards our separation from our brothers, we have protested on many occasions and shall never cease to protest and to strive for our unity as long as we have Bulgarian blood running in our veins. For this reason we authorize the above-mentioned gentlemen to draw the attention of Messrs the Representatives of Free Bulgaria to this and to ask them earnestly to take into considera-


tion our inalienable desire and to use all their power to release us from the unbearable yoke.

"In confirmation of the above we give this present mandate signed with our own hands. . ,"

It is hardly necessary to adduce more evidence of the national feelings and strivings of the Bulgarians in the liberated and nonliberated lands, especially in the lands in which the armed struggle for national liberation and unity broke out and developed during the days of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising. The aforementioned documents, including testimonies of people from the opposite camp — Turkish governors and commanders of army units which took part in the suppression of the uprising, British, Austro-Hungarian, French, German and other embassy and consular reports, memoirs of contemporaries, etc. leave no place for doubt as to the fact that the Kresna-Razlog Uprising was an uprising of Bulgarians, that it was the cause of the whole people which was directly participating in the armed struggle with its sons or war helping it morally and materially.

Vain are the efforts of certain unscrupulous authors to "prove that the Kresna-Razlog Uprising was the work of a Macedonian nationality or nation (no such nationality or nation existed at the time, separate from the Bulgarians), or that during the uprising there was a struggle between the "internal" (Macedonian) and "external" (Bulgarian) leaders. Only Bulgarians from Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia took part in the uprising, helped — and in certain cases hindered — by representatives of neighbouring Balkan and non-Balkan countries. Apart from the great Bulgarian patriot Natanail of Ohrid, born in the village of Kuchevishta near Skopje, Stefan Stambolov and Nikola Obretenov also participated in the supreme leadership of the uprising. Thus, the uprising was an expression of the unity and continuity in the development of the Bulgarian national revolution until and after the Russo-Turkish War of Liberation not only from the ideological point of view and as regards the aims and means of the liberation struggle, but also from the point of view of the individuals who led it.

There did exist differences among the leaders of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising, but they were not on a national basis, they were not differences between Bulgarians and "Macedonians", but disagreements on the strategy of the uprising, on its leader-ship and on the concrete ways to conduct the liberation struggle. Moreover, one should not ignore the fact that the leadership of the uprising included foreigners such as Adam Kalmikov, a Russian, Luis Vojtkevic, a Polish, Peko Pavlovic, a Montenegrian, Stefan Sretkovic, a Serbian, Dragutin (Dragan) Karl Walter, a Croat, Miroslav Humbayer, a Herzegovian, etc. In many cases the misunderstandings, contradictions and clashes in the leadership of the uprising were misunderstandings, contradictions and clashes between the foreigners and the voivodes (leaders) of the local chetas (armed bands). Such was the case with the sentencing to death (the factual murder) on November 24, 1878 of Stojan Vojvoda (Stojan Karastoilov), Georgi Colak and Ivan Trendafilov by the Military Council which at that moment consisted of Adam Kalmikov, Sretkovic, Walter and three local men who supported them. It was precisely Stojan Karastoilov and his comrades who opposed them and this cost them their life.

The members of the Sofia, Plovdiv and other local committees, which were helping the armed struggle, as well as some of the latter's most prominent leaders such as Stefan Stambolov and Dimitar Pop Georgiev also expressed their dissatisfaction with the acts of the foreigners.26 Therefore, there is absolutely no ground to seek the causes for the misundertandings, contradictions and clashes among the leaders of


the uprising on a national basis (Bulgarians versus Macedonians). They were rooted in the presence of differences as regards the strategy of the armed struggle (those from the "interior" were in favour of a slow but systematic extension of the uprising by involving the local population into it, while those from the "exterior", including, and in the first place, the foreigners, insisted on the application of armed hand (cheta) tactics with the hope of drawing the attention and winning the support of the European Big Powers in the solution of the Bulgarian national question and of the national question in the Balkans in general).

*     *     *

The Kresna-Razlog Uprising broke out without adequate organisation and long preparations. It lacked a united and strong leadership. It was restricted to a comparatively small area and did not encompass the whole of Macedonia and the other neighbouring enslaved lands. This made it possible for the Sublime Porte, helped by the British Government, to concentrate considerable regular troops and bashibazouks in the Petrich-Melnik, Nevrokop and Razlog fields and to start systematic operations for the suppression of the uprising. But it was not able to do it easily, because the insurgents kept receiving aid in men, arms and materials from the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia. Thus the uprising continued nine months (it broke out on October 5,1878 and ended late in June 1879), thereby becoming the longest and one of the largest Bulgarian uprisings for national and social liberation in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the heroism and selflesness of the fighters for the realization of the national liberation and unity of the Bulgarian people the Kresna-Razlog Uprising holds a leading place of honor in Bulgarian history.


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