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1873: Vasil Levski, for Bulgarian independence

February 18th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1873, Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski was hanged by the Ottoman Empire in Sofia — just a few years before that city became the capital of the independent Bulgarian state the hanged man fought for.

“If I win — the entire nation wins; if I lose — I lose only myself.” Vasil Levski, honored on a plaque in Sofia. Image courtesy of dickcherry.

The “Apostle of Freedom” was born with the surname Ivanov near a Sofia nearing 500 years of Ottoman rule. Thanks in great part to his efforts, it would never celebrate that anniversary.

The Ottomans were in their youthful vigor when they first absorbed Bulgaria; within a century of that conquest, they would besiege Vienna. But by the 19th century that empire once capable of terrifying Christendom was well into its decline, an advanced state of decrepitude that made it “the sick man of Europe.”

In the age of nationalism, provinces began breaking away.

The steward of an independent Bulgaria initially took clerical vows — he would always carry the nickname “the Deacon” — but was soon swept up in Bulgaria’s patriotic stirrings and took up with revolutionary Georgi Rakovski. A stupendous leaping feat during his training as a soldier earned him the name “Levski” — “lion-like”.

He proved worthy of that name.

Over the 1860’s, he developed into a principal theorist and organizer of the revolution, latticing Bulgaria with local insurrectionary networks under central control and dedicated to civil equality in an eventual Bulgarian state. When Levski was arrested, that network was his legacy: his self-conscious refusal to betray it set the stage for a national uprising a few years later — and for Bulgaria’s eventual return to the community of nations following the Russo-Turkish war.

The logo of Sofia-based football club Levski.

He remains a national hero and his name adorns streets, landmarks, even football clubs throughout the country.

The poet Hristo Botev, one of Levski’s heirs in revolutionary leadership, marked this day’s hanging in verse:

O my Mother, dear Motherland
Why weep you so mournfully, so plaintively?
And you, raven, cursed bird –
On whose grave croak you with such a dread?

Ah, I know – I know you’re weeping, Mother
Because you are a dismal slave,
Because your holy voice, Mother
Is a helpless voice – a voice in the wilderness.

Weep! There, near the edge of Sofia town
Stretches – I saw it – a dismal gallows
And one of your sons, Bulgaria
Hangs from it with a terrible power.

The raven croaks dreadfully, ominously
Dogs and wolves howl in the fields,
Old people pray to God with fervor
Women weep, children cry.

Winter croons its evil song,
Gales sweep thistle across the field
And cold and frost and hopeless weeping
Heep sorrow on your heart.

Others throughout Bulgaria on this date still lay flowers at his monuments and pay every manner of tribute. And for the Bulgarian diaspora, his name remains a source of pride … and an occasional flashpoint.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Bulgaria,Famous,Famous Last Words,Hanged,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Popular Culture,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason

One thought on “1873: Vasil Levski, for Bulgarian independence”

  1. Greetings!
    My name is Valentin and I am from Bulgaria. It’s true that Vasil Levski is our greatest hero! He is the brightest symbol in our history, of course excluding our rulers… I don’t know where you got the translation from (the translation of Hristo Botev’s poem) :
    “And one of your sons, Bulgaria” , I think that it should be :
    “And your one son, Bulgaria” , because this is how Botev wrote it … He wrote it like Bulgaria has one only son and he was Vasil Levski…
    Thank you about this great article! Thank you!

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