No matter if you are planning to travel to Bulgaria or already have been there, you must know about their national hero Vasil Levski, you will see the icon of him everywhere. Vasil Levski is one of the most famous people of Bulgaria, and Bulgarians look upon him as the national hero that started the revolution that led to the country’s independence from the Ottomans. Vasil Levski is an important icon for freedom (the Bulgarian version of Che Guevara). If you as a foreigner want to impress a Bulgarian then you should tell them about Levski. Bulgarians will proudly tell you everything about this man. Hopefully after you read this article you will understand why this man is so beloved, respected and admired of all Bulgarians.
Who was Vasil Levski?
Vasil Levski was born 18th of July, 1837 in the town of Karlovo. At this time Karlovo, as the rest of Bulgaria, belonged to the Ottoman Empire. His parents, Ivan Kunchev and Gina Kuncheva, were a family of middle class of clergy and craftsmen. Levski began his education at the school in Karlovo to become a craftsman. His uncle, Basil, took him to the Hilander monastery in Stara Zagora where he attended a school and worked as Basil´s servant. Later Levski started a clerical training course, and on the 7th of December 1857 he became an Orthodox monk at the Sopot monastary under the religious name Ignatius.
Levski goes Military
Georgi Sava Raskovski had started revolutionary ideas in Serbia and in the spring of 1862 did Vasil Levski leave the monastery life for Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, to join the First Bulgarian Legion, a military detachment formed by Bulgarian volunteers and revolutionary workers that was looking to overthrow the Ottoman Empire. The First Bulgarian Legion was disbanded under the pressure of the Ottomans in September 1862. During the training and fighting he earned his nickname Levski which mean Lionlike.
The year of 1863 took a different turn when Levski returned to Bulgaria and his uncle reported him to the Ottoman authorities as a rebel. For this they imprisoned him for 3 months but Levski was released after that thanks to Dr. R. Petrov and the Russian vice-consul Nayden Gerov. After this Levski returned to Karlovo where he worked as a teacher, he continued to support and gave shelter to persecuted Bulgarians. Beside his work he organized patriotic companies for the Bulgarians. The Ottoman authorities started to suspect his organization and Levski was forced to move not to end up in prison again.
The Second Bulgarian Legion
In 1866 Levski visited Rakovski in Iasi, Romania, were they decided to go to Bulgaria in an organized anti-Ottoman resistance. And in April 1867 Levski and his band crossed Danube and reached the Balkan Mountains. The government of Serbia was very positive to towards the Bulgarian revolutionaries and the Second Bulgarian Legion was created and they´re goals remained the same as the first one. Levski was a great member of the legion but he suffered from a gastric disease that costed him a surgery and he could not participate in the Legion´s training. The Second Bulgarian Legion did not survive a long time for the same reasons of political pressures as the first one. Levski tried to reunite the legion again but got arrested and put in prison for a short while.
Levski and the Revolutionary Road
After Levski was released he went to Romania were he mobilized revolutionary ideas with Hadzhi Dimitar and Stefan Karadzha. Levski´s stomach problems and strategic differences became reasons enough for him not to participate in making their ideas into reality. In Bucharest Vasil Levski met the Bulgarian Hristo Botev, who was a revolutionary and a poet. They became close friends and lived together in an abandoned windmill in Bucharest where they exchanged ideas about liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.
In 1869 Levski returned to Bulgaria with mission to unite all layers of the Bulgarian society in order to create a successful revolution. He visited Bucharest a couple of months before he made the second ride to Bulgaria. This time he carried proclamations printed by the political figure Ivan Kasabov. Vasil Levski was legitimized as the representative of a Bulgarian provisional government. There are some researcher that claims that during this tour Levski created a secret committees. The same year Vasil Levski together with the journalist Lyuben Karavelov founded the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee (BRCC). And the next year, 1870, Levski begun his revolutionary network.
The BRCC started to prepare for a coordinated uprising. The networking mainly took place around Sofia, Plovdiv and Stara Zagora, but it spread to many other places around Bulgaria. The revolution was a fact and nothing could stop it. Most of the members were traders and intellectuals.
Bulgarians has been a Christian country since the 900 century and even when the Ottoman Empire conquered Bulgaria in 1400 century they still kept their Bulgarian Orthodox religion (some converted to Islam). And during the revolution Christian symbols became important for the liberation of Bulgaria. Internal Revolutionary Organisation (IRO) was a network were some got secret membership got to through initiation rituals involved a formal oath of allegiance over Gospel or a Christian cross, a knife, or a gun. Treason was punishable by death and a secret police monitored each member´s activities.
In 1871-1872 Levski meant that the revolution had matured.
The Capture of Vasil Levski
On 22 of Septmeber 1872, Dimitar Obshti, an assistant to Levski, robbed an Ottoman postal convoy in Arabakonak. Levski never gave his permission for him to do that. Obshti was successful and got 125, 000 groschen which he provided IRO for their revolution. Obshti and the rest of the perpetrators soon got arrested and on a trial they revealed information about the revolutionary organisation and they also revealed Levski´s leading role in the revolution.
Levski realized the danger he was in and decided to flee to Romania where he would meet Karavelov and discuss these events. But before he needed to collect important documentation from the committee archive in Lovech which would constitute important evidence if seized by the Ottomans. Levski stayed at the inn, Kakrina, in a nearby village, where he the next morning was arrested (27/12 1872). The history tells us that Levski was betrayed by the priest Krastyo Nikiforov. These theory have later came to be discusses since there are no clear evidence.
On the 4th of January 1873 Levski was sent to Sofia for a trial. He gave his identity but he never revealed any details related to his organisation. The Ottoman authorities decided to send Levski to his death by hanging. The sentence took place on the 18th of February 1873 in Sofia. No one knows where Levski is buried but the author Nikolay Haytov claims that the place for his grave is in the Church of St Petka of the Saddlers. The Bulgarian Academy of Scienses says its quite possible but neither can they verify it.
What Happened Later?
Levski´s death put the revolution on a crisis and the IRO committees distinguished. Nevertheless was the idea of an independent Bulgaria planted in the peoples mind and lead to the April Uprising in 1876. This was the time of the Empires and colonization, many people were fighting for their lands and to make their own nation. Russia decided to help the Bulgarians to liberate them from the Ottoman Empire and ended up in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 that finally resulted in the liberation of Bulgaria. The 3th of March 1878 was the date for the Treaty of San Stefano were Bulgarian was announced as a the Principality of Bulgaria. 5 years after Vasil Levski´s death the revolutionaries won their fight for an independent Bulgaria.
The Legend of Vasil Levski
Vasil Levski, as all revolutionists, lived a remarkable life and there no wonders that there are a lot of story’s, myths and legends about the revolutionary Vasil Levski. The man that was most wanted of the Ottoman authorities in Bulgaria, 500 Turkish liras for his death and 1000 liras for catching him. Rumors said that he got his hair painted and worn a great variety of national costumes.
The memory of Vasil Levski will forever live on in the Bulgarians heart and they honor him constantly with monuments (not just in Bulgaria but also in Bucharest, Belgrade and even in Paris) and street names. There are 3 museums dedicated to him; one in his home town of Karlovo, one in Lovech and finally one in Kakrina. In Sofia there is a monument on the site of his execution.
Levski is even incorporated in sports. Sofia´s football club- PFC Levski Sofia, the Vasil Levski National Sports Academy and Bulgaria´s national stadium Vasil Levski National Stadium.
For not mentioning the Bulgarian popular culture. There are much literature and poetry dedicated to their national hero. And even the poet Hristo Botev, was writing a poem about his friend in 1875, The Hanging of Vasil Levski. There are of course many songs in his honor. Tons of documentaries about his life. And now there is a movie about Levski´s life.
Every Bulgarian learn from early age about the man that fought for their country. And all dates connected to Levski and his revolution are being celebrated (well, not the date of his death but they do memorize it and talk about his actions).
As a tourist or foreigner you will see his face everywhere and notice that he is always a popular topic to talk about, so if you want to impress a Bulgarian, tell a story about their national hero.
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