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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter V. Socialism and the nationality question

The people

Hristo Botev
Traduction de Zornitsa Dimova-Hristova

Texte intégral

1Title: Hapo∂ъm (Bчepa, ∂нec u ympe) (The people [yesterday, today and tomorrow])

2Originally published in the newspaper Дyma, нa бълƨapcкume emuƨpaнmu, I, No. 1–2, 10/25 June 1871

3Language: Bulgarian
The excerpts used are from Cъчuнeнuя. Vol. II, ed. by Stefana Tarinska (Sofia: бългapcки пиcareл, 1979), pp. 13–18.

About the author

4Hristo Botev [1848, Kalofer (Balkan valley, present-day central Bulgaria) – 1876, in the Balkan mountain, near Vratsa]: poet, journalist and revolutionary leader. He was born into the family of the teacher Botyo Petkov, one of the figures of the ‘National Revival.’ His birthplace, Kalofer, was in the Balkan valley, which was itself the heartland of the political and cultural revival movement (see Ivan Vazov, Under the yoke). After completing primary school in his hometown, Botev continued his education in Odessa. In 1865 he left school, and upon his return to Kalofer in 1867, he succeeded his father as teacher in the local school. However, because of his revolutionary activities, he had to leave Bulgaria and settle in Romania (first in Bucharest, then in Brăila), where he took an active part in the affairs of the Bulgarian revolutionary emigre community. These émigré revolutionaries gathered around the ‘Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee’ (BRCC), led by the influential writer, poet and journalist Lyuben Karavelov (1834–1879), a close ally of Botev whose newspaper 3нaмe (The flag) became the main organ of the revolutionary party. After the uprising of May 1876, Botev organized a detachment of armed volunteers and crossed the Danube on 16 May. He was killed on 20 May in the evening after the battle while on sentry duty in the camp. His literary work was influenced by poets such as Byron, Pushkin and especially Lermontov. In his poems (he composed only 20), he integrated motifs from Bulgarian folklore, and thus, according to his apologists, created the quintessential expression of ‘Bulgarian cosmogony.’ Politically, he was on the left, his ideas bordering on communism and anarchism. His political journalism was extremely sharp and highly literary, equaling in style his canonized poems ‘Hadji Dim iter’ and ‘The hanging of Vasil Lev ski.’ In 1885, a committee was founded for the commemoration of the anniversary of the poet’s death. This committee was in fact the first Bulgarian non-governmental organization. With the attendance of Prince Ferdinand a monument to Botev was unveiled in 1890 in the main square of Vratsa, where the first regular commemorations took place. Some of the most influential political leaders of the newly founded Bulgarian state, such as Za-hariy Stoyanov and Stefan Stambolov, significantly contributed to his mythification, and within a decade, Botev became a central figure in the national pantheon of the independent Bulgarian state.

5Main works: Пecнu u cmuxomбopeнuя om Бomŭoбa u Cmaмбoлoбa. Кнuжкa nъpбa [Songs and poems by Botev and Stambolov. Book I] (1875).


6Botev’s ideas were strongly influenced by radical leftist ideologies, communism and anarchism and as a result, he expressed sympathy with the oppressed peoples all over Europe. He also called for universal revolution, thus enthusiastically celebrating the Paris Commune of 1871 in his ‘Ridiculous Lament, Creed of the Bulgarian Commune.’ His commitment to internationalist solidarity was related to the radical negation of the politics of the European Great Powers. To Botev, these powers were not only the imperialistic oppressors of their own people and of their colonial slaves, but also the main reason for the survival of the politically and economically corrupt Ottoman Empire. The reason for their support of the Ottoman Empire was, according to Botev, their common fear of Russian power and of the development of other powerful Slavic states. It is not difficult to discover in this statement, the author’s Pan-Slavic overtones.

7The main targets of Botev’s polemic in the text are the ideas of the evolutionists and the dualists (see Memorandum of the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee). In all his writings in the revolutionary press—from Karavelov’s newspapers Heзαбucuocm (Independence) and Cбoбoõa (Freedom), through Botev’s Дyмa (Word) to знaмe—Botev takes issue with those ideas that privilege the evolutionary development of the nation (in terms of education, civic and church institutions, economics and so on) within the Ottoman Empire, since these could presumably lead, in the long run, to liberation or to a dualist regime similar to the Austro-Hungarian model. Contrary to these views, Botev suggests a revolutionary solution and becomes one of its main ideologists. Revolution is not thought in national terms but also as a social movement. In his eyes, the enemy comprised Ottoman political power, the economic power of the Bulgarian чopбaõжuu (‘chorbadzhii’—from the Ottoman Turkish ‘çorbaci,’ notables, who enjoyed high social standing and whose main function was to mediate in social, administrative and fiscal terms between the Ottoman authorities and local Christian population) and the clergy, all supporting evolutionary models.

8The present text is also peculiar for its visions concerning Bulgarian national character, implying a sketch of national characterology. Generally in his works, Botev’s extremely idiosyncratic and expressive metaphorical style is very often directed against the Bulgarian people for their patience and subservient passivity. In ‘The People,’ however, Botev creates an image of the Bulgarian people not very different from that of his own ideological rivals, the ‘Enlighteners.’ This image includes some perennial attributes in reproducing the myth of the ‘noble savage’—innocent, naturally moral and uncor-rupted by civilization. The Enlightenment figure of the noble savage was in fact very popular in the period of Bulgarian revival. It was used as a compensatory tool for self-identification of the Bulgarians, neutralizing the stigmati-zation of being ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘uncivilized.’ In opposition to the civilized but supposedly ‘corrupted’ Greeks, who were the main rivals of the project for Bulgarian cultural revival, the Bulgarian people were close to nature and uncorrupted. The celebrated features of the Bulgarian people in Botev’s text were a patriarchal, virtuous spirit, egalitarianism and collectivism. Botev is also one of the first proponents of the idea of the anti-institutional spirit of the Bulgarian people: this spirit remained intact and unassimilated during the Ottoman ‘yoke’ thanks to its inherent resistance to state institutions, presumably already developed during the period of Bulgarian medieval statehood. According to Botev, Bulgarians remained persistently separate from this ‘Byzantanized’ elite. It is worth mentioning that sixty years later, this idea was transformed into a systematic theory of the “philosophy of Bulgarian history” in the works of the historian Petar Mutafchiev. In devising this theory, Botev was influenced by the doctrines of Russian populism blended with communist and anarchist ideas.

9Finally, we should stress one important feature of Botev’s position: his extremely negative attitude towards the Turks. If Greek cultural and clerical expansionism was the main rival for the Bulgarian Enlightenment, the Turks, together with their ‘servants,’ the Bulgarian chorbadzhii and clergymen, were, for him, the embodiment of political and economic oppression. Botev identifies Ottoman political power with the Turkish people (the term Turk is used as a common name). Other leaders of the revolution, however, such as Vasil Levski, claimed that ‘the enemy’ was not the oppressed Turkish people but the Ottoman state and that, as a result, in the free Bulgarian Republic, all citizens would be equal, irrespective of their ethnicity and religion. Botev’s romantic rhetoric did not escape the trap of orientalizing and barbarizing the cultural other. Thus for him, “The Bulgarians and the Turks [were] two tribes with opposite characters, manners and habits, with opposite worldviews.”


The people

11Hark ye, masters dualists and educators! Hark ye, you wretched Bulgarian people! Hark ye, brother immigrants! If you hear, then think what should be done. Turkey is no longer capable of giving us any rights and relief, because it no longer has the right to exist, and therefore dualism is a dream, utopia, madness; Europe and political circumstance only grant freedom to those who can rise to it. Herzegovina proves this. So what should we do? Keep quiet? Wait? Leave the Bulgarian people at the will and mercy of diplomacy? This is sheer madness, ignominious and inhuman. We need protests, rebellion, insurrection and revolution.

12O tempora, o mores! Learn ye Medea’s art and pour in this barbaric tribe’s veins new, human blood, and only then will we doubt our faith that Turkey has no life, no future; but while the Turk bears this character, this fanaticism, this barbarian blood, no eloquent Turkophile, no profound dualist or renegade can convince us that the Turk will ever be able to walk the way to that political and moral purpose sought by the human spirit, free from all guardianship by clerical hierarchies and political Mandarins. Until that day there will be nothing more eloquent than the bleeding wounds on the nation’s body and the chest of its emigration, sores, the mere sight of which brings to mind everything that must be revenged.

13To repeat—Turkey has no life, no future, it lies moribund on its deathbed and no dervish incantations of its Mandarins, no diplomatic prayers of Western doctrinaires will save her from the anatomist’s knife. Treated by an old method, with political phlebotomies and operations, with diplomatic chloroform, she lost her arms and legs, province after province, weakening until finally surrendering to that dreadful disease that pervaded its heart and had entered its lungs and bloodstream; no operation is possible anymore. The doctors realized this, too, and after the Cretan sherbet fed Turkey by the Paris consultation in 1868, they prescribed for a peaceful death one last medicine: dualism.

  • 1 Mehmet Em in Ali Pasha (1815–1871): great statesman of the period marked by the reforms known as T (...)
  • 2 The oldest person whose age is mentioned in the Bible; his name is used as a synonym for a long li (...)

14Does the folk pharmacology of the Balkan Peninsula have the ingredients for this prescription, can it revive Turkey and, most important of all, is she capable of drinking it, numb as her mouth and throat can be—this even Ali Pasha1 will never know, even if he lived longer than Methuselah2 and studied the Bulgarian people, its social life, its resolute disposition and staunch persistence. Otherwise, he would be now reading between the lines of our church statutes, lines and words, which would tell him: “Ali, this people is what ails Turkey, and dualism is Turkey’s ticket to death!” But Ali Pasha is a Turk—a fanatic and fatalist, he lays all his hopes in the canine animal force of his tribe and taking the Bulgarian people to be those who kneel and whimper before him, he sings and chants: “Allah lives on, Turkey lives on! Many a slave she has …” Thus think our nabobs and clerics, those amphibians who bring us the rust of Western prejudice and the garbage of an already rotten European civilization—without seeing the new signs of life either where they studied or here where they teach.

15Not so the healthy part of our people and its emigration, not so every decent and honest Slav, every modern man whose head does not catch cobwebs but holds brains, whose chest keeps a beating heart, not frog-spit. For us, the reforms in Turkey, the promises and the dualism are no more than hollow words, ghosts and utopias that may come true somewhere in China or Japan, but not in the Balkans, a peninsula caught between the Turks and the Bulgarians, two tribes of opposite dispositions, customs and characters, of opposite outlooks. The way out of this hard and loathsome situation is not the new shackles, the new division of tyranny, but a national revolution, a radical coup—the Triumphal arch of every people, especially ours that has no past, no present, only a future and its brightness, a future in which it can speak with other Slavs and lay his contributions at the feet of all humanity.

16Cast a glance at the history of the Bulgarian kingdom from Boris to its falling into the hands of the Turks and you will see that all the bygone historical and political times of our people have been almost entirely Byzantine and that they were crammed with tsars, boyars and clerics, while the people were always separated by a deep social morality from the depravity of its rulers, a depravity that permeated the richer strata through Christianity.

17Our people manifested their strong and resolute will by rising against their tsars and clerics, as in the times of Bogomil and Samuil; but this only happened when violence reached their homes, where the Bulgarian was always morally free, when it reached their families, and their notion of honor—in a peculiar to all Slavic peoples and the Bulgarian people in particular.

18Morally separated from his rulers, as we have said, the people often left them to fight Byzantium on their own, or to dispute the succession to the throne; those were the greatest reasons the Greeks conquered Bulgaria once, and the barbarian Turkish hordes brought her to ruin and bent its people to their will.

19Yet for all that suffering, for all that dreadful violence that would thaw a stone, the Bulgarian shut himself with his offspring from the Turks, and once again sang not the Byzantine mass but his elegiac heroic song, left the arrow and the sword for the sickle and plough, went to fairs and churchyards—and whenever the barbarian trampled on his hearth (always surrounded by daughters, sons and grandchildren)—he dropped the plough and sickle, the shepherd’s stick and pipe, reached for his father’s sword or his brother’s rifle, gathered his ‘true sworn fellows’ and took to the woods to revenge the wrongs of the Turks and moneyed men, to take their stolen treasure and protect the poor man and his village.

20Such has the Bulgarian always been, and here he stands today unalloyed by foreign influence, true to his patriarchal life, to his pristine state—even after so much suffering, shouting at dawn from his doorstep: singing the re-quiescat of Turkey, of slavery; cursing his past, so grim and hateful, cursing his present, so hard, bitter and forgettable, and crying, “my future, my future!” Turkey and its unbidden leaders bring him on a silver platter reforms, dualisms and hierarchies, and yet he’s always speaking of his future!

21What, then, is this future of his?

22Our people have their singular life, their singular character, their singular physiognomy, setting them apart as a nation—let it go its natural ways and you’ll see what public life it will develop, help it or at least let it break free from this barbaric tribe it has nothing in common with and you’ll see how it settles. Don’t ye see the seed, the germ in its communes with no centralization, in its guilds and fellowships, men’s, women’s and children’s alike? Don’t ye see what we have said above?


1 Mehmet Em in Ali Pasha (1815–1871): great statesman of the period marked by the reforms known as Tanzimat. He became grand vizier five times during the reign of the Sultans Abdülmecid and Abdülaziz.

2 The oldest person whose age is mentioned in the Bible; his name is used as a synonym for a long living man.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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