History · Literature · Politics · Traditions

The Revolutionary Poet Hristo Botev

Are you in Bulgaria the second of June, don´t be afraid when everything becomes silent except from the sound of sirens around noon (speaking from my own experience). Second of June is a special day in Bulgaria, the whole country stops and become silent for three minutes meanwhile the sound of sirens is taking over. The reason? They honor one of those who died for liberating Bulgaria and also for the revolutionary poet Hristo Botev and for those who died for the freedom of Bulgaria.

The Tradition of the Sirens 

Every year around noon the whole Bulgaria stops for three minutes. Every city, town and village turns silent meanwhile the sound of sirens filling the space to pay respect for those who died in the war against the Ottoman Empire to become a free country. The cars stops, student rises from their desks and everyone observes the moment. Bulgaria hasn’t been in war since the WWII, and to hear this sirens is a way to cherish the peace.

The Reason why 2 of June?

The reason why they picked up the date of second of June to pay tribute to the fallen ones is cause on this day, 140 years ago this year of 2016, the poet Hristo Botev was killed by the Ottomans when he fought for the freedom of Bulgaria. Marking this day as the day of the fallen ones was introduced already in 1901.

Hristo Botev- A Revolutionary Poet

Hristo Botev was born on the 6 of January 1848 in Kalofer, close to Plovdiv. His father, Botyo Petkov, fought against the Ottoman Empire and had strong influence on Hristo. After 1863 when he was done with his education he moved to Odessa where he got inspired by the Russian poets. He started to write his own poems and got connected with both Russian and Polish revolutionary movement.

In 1867 Botev returned to Kalofer where he worked as a teacher and made his first public speech against the Ottoman Empire, and as a result of this event he was forced to leave the town. He aimed to go back to Russia but the lack of money took him to Romania, where he lived together with Vasil Levski (Vasil Levski- A Bulgarian Hero) where they lived in exile. They became close friends and Botev wrote a poem about Levski and his deeds.

Statue of Botev in Kalofer. Photo: http://bnr.bg/plovdiv/post/100504993/balgaria-otbelazva-167-ta-godishnina-ot-rojdenieto-na-hristo-botev

In the year of 1871 Botev became editor of the revolutionary emigrant newspaper Word of the Bulgarian Emigrant. After the death of Vasil Levski in 1873, Hristo Botev together with Stefan Stabolov and Panayot Hitov continued the revolutionary movement that had started in Bulgaria and in 1875 Botev was elected president for BCRC (Bulgarian Central Revolutionary Committee) . And already in September the same year there was an uprising in Stara Zagora, but it was unsuccessful. Even tho Botev lacked military training he was leading troops into fights against the Ottomans.  On the 1st of June 1876, at the age of 28 years, Botev met his destiny  near Vratza in the mountains of Stara Planina, when he was hit by a bullet in the chest from a Ottoman sharpshooter. The next day on the 2 of June Botev was declared dead.

Botev is a symbol of freedom for the country Bulgaria (just like Vasil Levski), and his death has been marked as a heroic death as he and his rebels was outnumbered in the mountains but refusing to give up the fight even tho they knew it was an already lost battle. Recently some people has tried to remove the heroic-title by renaming him as a communist or terrorist, but he is still one of the most beloved poets of Bulgaria and you will find the iconic painting of him everywhere as well as statues and streets that are named after him.

A Cloud of Darkness has Appeared 

A cloud of darkness has appeared
from the mountains and the forest:
does it mean a gentle drizzle
or a terrifying tempest?
Ah, granddad, these are troubled times.
Hard the dragging of the plough’
and behind the seeds you soul:
hail from your eyes, sweat from your brow.
Tell me, granddad, why you weep
upon this long, black furrow-lines.
Do you fear the cloud of darkness
or do your little children die?
Tell me, granddad – I remember
how you once walked brave and proud.
Granny Stoyna was alive then –
she was singing while you ploughed.
And – remember? – when I passed
through the forest, but last year,
you were seated among heroes,
a father to them, with your beard.
What a real man you were then.
Now you’re weeping – granddad, why?
Is it that your heart grows old
or that your flag no longer flies.
‘Ah, my son, why you ask?
Listen to the raven croak…
But when you go down to the village
you’ll find out why the tears choke
an aged chieftain, following his plough.
For the village gathers all around,
in the square, to graze upon
my children, my young men.
Impaled on rows of poles
and stakes, you’ll there discover
the heads of both of my sons
who banded up to kill each other.
Two brothers were opposing leaders,
two sons on whom I could depend:
they quarreled over who would now
be leader of their father’s men.
As if the mountains were to small,
this band of rivalry to keep.
So today their heads stick up
and everyone who passes weeps.
God – strike me with thunderbolt.
Wind – like dust – then scatter me.
Not to look upon small children
and mothers in their misery
gathering round the stakes to wail –
raising hands to clasp their heads,
suffering in their deep despair,
barefoot, in rags, and filled with dread…’
Large raindrops have begun to fall,
ducks and geese fly up and call.
A terrifying tempest howls –
this is no gentle drizzle now.
Everyone through the village races,
but granddad won’t unhitch the traces,
– Granddad, come along. Be fast.
– Wait, am help me die at last.

-Hristo Botev



Sources for this article:

Sirens to sound in Bulgaria on June 2 2016 to honour memory of Botev







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