Hristo Botev: Bulgarian revolutionary, poet and teacher

Hristo Botev remembered

At noon today (2nd. June), sirens sounded throughout the city for one minute, to mark the official ‘Day of Botev’.

Hristo Botev died while fighting the Ottoman occupiers of Bulgaria 135 years ago. The April Uprising of 1876 was intended to liberate Bulgaria from the so-called ‘Turkish Yoke’. Initially somewhat of a failure, poorly timed and lacking local support in many cases, and provoking bloody retribution against the population, the event still paved the way to the eventual establishment of the modern, independent state of Bulgaria.

Botev, the son of a teacher and influential supporter of the Bulgarian Revival movement, became famous for his revolutionary sentiments and writings. A teacher, journalist and poet (‘Songs and Poems’, pub. 1875), he eventually found himself in exile in Romania, along with many like-minded compatriots, including Vasil Levski.

Believing the time was ripe to mount an armed insurrection in their native land, Botev and a large group of patriots crossed the Danube on the ‘Radetski’, effectively commandeering the ship, and landing near Kozloduy. The April Uprising had just broken out; so Botev’s band made their way inland to the mountains, only to quickly discover that the Ottoman military forces were highly active and had deployed throughout the countryside.

The death of Botev

There were several skirmishes between the revolutionaries and their enemy, resisted successfully despite being outnumbered. On 20th. May (old calendar) or 2nd. June (new), the group occupied high ground near Mount Okoltchitsa to ward off an assault by 5 companies of Ottoman soldiers. At dusk on that day, near Vola Peak on Vratsa Mountain, Botev was hit in the chest by a sniper’s bullet, dying almost instantly.

With the death of their inspirational leader, the company lost morale and rapidly dispersed. Hardly any of them escaped – some 130 were killed by the enemy, and many more captured and executed.

Hristo Botev was 28 years old.

Botev’s popular legacy

His heroism became the subject of immediate image-building by post-liberation authors and intellectuals, including Ivan Vazov. In the 20th. century, his early ties with Russian anarchists and their ideology were seized on by the Communists, to portray Botev as a pioneer of Bulgarian socialism.

A monument to Botev was erected in the main square of Vratsa, the 1890 inauguration being attended by King Ferdinand. Botev has a city named after him; mountain peaks in Bulgaria and abroad; street names, schools and football clubs incorporate his name. Bulgarian National Radio has a Botev Channel. Most recently, an asteroid was named in his honour.

Hristo Botev has become an almost mythical icon in the history of modern Bulgaria. ‘The Day of Botev’ has been officially marked in Bulgaria since 1993.

Opening lines of ‘Father and Son’

Come, Grandfather, blow on your pipe now,
And I will take up the tune
With songs of our heroes, of haidouks,
Songs of voivodes, of chieftains,
Of Chavdar the terrible haidouk,
Of Chavdar the captain of old,
The son of Petko the Fearsome!
Let the lads hear and the lasses
At spinning-parties and wassails;
The champions up in the mountains,
The men as they sit in the taverns:
Let them hear what kind of children
Heroic Bulgarian mothers
Have born us and bear even now,
What kind of young men our country,
Our beautiful country has nurtured,
And still nurture even today.

(Translator unknown, source: http://www.slovo.bg/old/f/en/botev )

Image source: http://www.kalofera.com/en/history.html

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