Hristo Botev ( 06.01.1848 – 02.06.1876)
On the Christmas night of 1847 (January 6, 1848 New Style) in the picturesque sub-Balkan town of Kalofer was born the genius poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev. The first-born son of Botyo Petkov and his wife Ivanka Boteva grew up from a young age, nourished by his mother’s songs and her stories of Haidush exploits, and under the influence of his father he acquired the thirst for knowledge that would later shape his worldview and lead him on his path to immortality.
In 1854, the family of Bot’o Petkov went to Karlovo, where the famous teacher was invited to teach, and little Hristo studied for four years in the local primary school.
Returning to his native Kalofer, Botev continued his education under the guidance of his father, and the rich school library where he read Bulgarian and Russian books broadened his horizons in a time of slavery and injustice.
Five years later, in 1863, Botev graduated from the three-class school in Kalofer and went as a scholarship student to Odessa, where he continued his education at the Second Men’s Odessa High School.
Over the next two years, Christo read and was influenced by Pushkin, Lermantov, Nekrasov and Shevchenko, adopting the ideas of Chernyshevsky, Dobrolyubov and Pisarev. He was also attracted by practical revolutionary activity.
The autumn of 1865 led to Botev’s expulsion from the Odessa gymnasium, as he lost interest and stopped attending classes.
The following year he enrolled as a student at the Faculty of History and Philology of Odessa University, during which time he lived with Polish revolutionaries. At the end of 1866 Botev began to teach in the Bessarabian village of Zadunaevka.
The year 1867 turned young Hristo’s life around forever. Returning in January to his native Kalofer due to his father’s serious illness, Botev took his place in the local school, where he began to preach for rebellion against the Turks and the landlords.
On 15 April, the Tsarigrad newspaper “Gaida”, edited by Petko Slaveykov, published “Maice si” – the first poem by Hristo Botev, and less than a month later, on 11 May (the feast of Cyril and Methodius), a barely 20-year-old Botev delivered an impassioned speech in which he openly called for rebellion against the enslavers. For this reason his stay in his birthplace became impossible and in the beginning of autumn he left Kalofer for good.
In October, Botev left for Romania, where within a few months he first passed through Bucharest, where he wrote his letter to the “Virtuous Company”, in which he asked for material help to continue his education in Russia, and in November he settled in Braila, where he began working as a columnist for the newspaper “Danube Dawn” published by Dimitar Panitchkov. In February of the following year, it was there that Botev published his poem “To My Brother”.
During the next few months, Hristo Botev found himself in an environment of revolutionaries and made friends with the troops of Hadji Dimitar and Stefan Karadja, which in June transferred to Bulgaria. Immediately afterwards Botev enlisted in Zhelyu Voyvoda’s troop, but the troop for various reasons failed to cross the Danube and disbanded. At the same time the poet wrote his poem “Farewell”.
At the beginning of autumn Botev arrived in Bucharest as part of Dobri Voynikov’s theatre troupe, and later he entered the Bucharest Medical School, which he soon left. From his letter to Nayden Gerov we learn that the reason for this was the lack of funds, with which he could not even ensure his physical survival.
“The hope I had to finish my education at a university was shattered like a stone, underwater” (letter to N. Gerov). “I have fallen into such poverty that, besides being left naked and barefoot, I am in need even of my daily rations” (letter to I. Gerov).
Ironically, it was the lack of money that was the basis for Botev and Levski to meet and spend the next few months together in a deserted mill near Bucharest. How these two brightest personalities of Bulgarian history influenced each other in their dreams to see Bulgaria free is something forever blown away by the winds, but from the letter that Hristo Botev sent to his friend Kiro Tuleshkov, we learn both about the poverty in which they both lived and about how strong an impression Levski made on him.
… I write to you, my friend, that I stayed here (in Bucharest) with the intention of becoming a teacher of the Bulgarian school, but I was very much deceived. I have come to such a pitiful situation that you could not describe. I live in utter poverty; the rags I have have been torn off and I am ashamed to go out into the streets. I live at the very edge of Bucharest in a windmill – together with my compatriot Vasil Deacon.
Do not ask about our livelihood, because we hardly find bread every two and three days to satisfy our hunger… These days I am thinking of holding a skit in the “Brotherly Love” community center, but how I will appear – I do not know! With all this critical situation I still do not lose my courage and do not change my honest word…
My friend Levski, with whom we live, is an unheard of character! When we are at our most critical, it is as cheerful then as when we are at our best. Cold, wood and stone crack, hungry for two or three days, and he sings and sè merry! In the evening – until we go to bed – he sings; in the morning, when he opens his eyes, he sings again. No matter how much you are in despair, he will cheer you up and make you forget all your sorrows and sufferings. It’s nice to live with such personalities …
In the spring of 1869 Botev went to Alexandria, where he became a teacher, and a few months later he moved to Izmail, where he also taught until the spring of 1871. During this period Botev led a very intense lifestyle. He began to collaborate in the revolutionary satirical newspaper “Tupan”, engaged in illegal revolutionary activities, helping to bring revolutionary literature to Russia. In August 1870 he published in the newspaper “Svoboda” his two poems “Elegy” and “Delba” (the latter is dedicated to Lyuben Karavelov).
Botev spent the next few months in Galatz and Braila, settling in the latter until the spring of 1872. On June 10, 1871, the first issue of Botev’s newspaper “Duma of the Bulgarian Emigrants” was published, but soon after, due to the poet’s serious illness, it ceased to exist. In the autumn of 1871, Botev published the article “The Reason for the Failure of the Bulgarian Literary Society”, and a little later participated in its annual general meeting.
At the beginning of April 1872 the newspaper Svoboda published the poem “Strannik”, and a little later that month Botev was arrested for illegal conspiratorial activity and sent to prison in Fokshan. He spent three months there, and thanks to the intercession of Vasil Levski and Lyuben Karavelov he was released.
In June, Botev went to Bucharest, where he began working for Karavelov as a printer and later as a collaborator of the revolutionary organ.
At the beginning of 1873 Botev edited the editorials and wrote in the satirical section of the newspaper “Svoboda”. At the same time, he published his translation of “Lessons on the First Four Rules of Arithmetic and on Accountants”.
On May 1, 1873 Botev published his first satirical newspaper “Budilnik”. Due to lack of funds the same only managed to come out in 3 issues. In mid-August, in the renamed “Nezavisimost” newspaper “Svoboda”, Botev published the poem “Hadji Dimitar”, and in the period September-November also his works “In the Tavern”, “My Prayer” and “The Dark Cloud Set”.
In 1874 Botev joined the ranks of the organized revolutionary movement, continuing to help Karavelov in the writing of the printed organ. On 20-21 August of the same year a general meeting of the BRCC was held, in which the poet took part.
At the same time, the newspaper “Nezavisimost” printed his failetons “Messages from Heaven” and “The Duties of Writers and Journalists”.
The next few months became a turning point in Botev’s life. In September he started working as a teacher in the Bulgarian school in Bucharest, and a month later the newspaper “Nezavisimost” ceased its activity. In November, Botev decided to stop working at the school, focusing his efforts entirely on revolutionary activities.
On 8 December 1874, under the editorship of Hristo Botev, the new organ of the revolutionary party – the newspaper “Zname” – began to be published. At the end of the month the meeting of the Central Revolutionary Committee charged Botev with organizational tasks.
At the beginning of March 1875, a rift occurred between Botev and Karavelov and they stopped working together. At the same time in the newspaper “Zname” the poet published his feuilleton “Political Winter” and published the translations of “On the Slavic Origin of the Danubian Bulgarians” and “Kremucky Cord”.
In July Hristo Botev connected his life path with his beloved Veneta Vezireva.
On August 12, 1875, the general assembly in Bucharest elected a new Revolutionary Committee, which included Botev, and outlined the new goal – the course towards a general uprising in Bulgaria. According to the decision of the committee Botev went to Odessa to invite Philip Totyu to be the leader of a detachment.
A month later the first collection of Botev’s poetry, Songs and Poems by Botyova and Stambolova, was published.
On 30 September, due to disagreement with the other members of the BRCC, Botev resigned from the committee. At the same time, he published “Wall Calendar for 1876”, which includes his last poem “The Hanging of Vasil Levski”.
In November, the Gyurgi Central Committee is established.
At the beginning of February 1876, a letter from Botev to Todor Peev made it clear that the poet had already decided what his path would be.
I’ll make my hands into hammers, my skin into a drum, and my head into a bomb. I will go out to fight the elements” (from a letter to Todor Peev).
On April 10, 1876 Hristo Botev, Georgi Apostolov and Nikola Obretenov decided to organize a detachment, and only three days later the daughter of the commander – Ivanka Boteva was born.
On April 20, Botev left for Russia to raise the necessary funds, and the April Uprising broke out in Bulgaria.
On 1 May the Voivode returned to Romania, and four days later he published the first issue of the newspaper “New Bulgaria”, in which he published reports about the April Uprising.
During the next few days Botev developed a feverish activity in organizing the Chetta, and on May 13 he said goodbye to his family without saying where he was going, then left for Giurgiu.
Three days later, from there, together with his associates, he boarded the Radetzky, from where he sent his last letters to his wife and his associates.
“My dear Veneto, Dimitra and Ivanka!
Forgive me for not telling you where I was going. The love I have for you makes me do this. I knew you would cry, and your tears are very dear to me!
Veneto, you are my wife and you must listen to me and believe in everything. I pray your friends don’t leave you, and they should support you. God will preserve me, and if I live, we shall be the most honoured of this world. If I die, know that after my country I loved you most, so watch Ivanka and remember the one who loves you.
17 May 1876
“My joy knows no bounds when I learn that “My Prayer” is coming true” (from a letter to BRCC)
On May 17, 1876, Botev forced the captain of the Radetzky to change course and stop on the Bulgarian coast at Kozloduy. The soldier and over 200 brave Bulgarians kissed the native land and set off for the Balkan to give their lives for the freedom of Bulgaria.
On 18 May was the first clash with the Turks near the area of Milin Kamak.
On 19 May the Chet was at Veslets, where it prepared for a decisive battle. Botev makes an unsuccessful attempt to contact the Vratsa Committee.
May 20 (June 1, new style) is the last heavy fight. The evening after the battle a bullet pierced Hristo Botev in the chest. He leaves his bones by the top of the Chamber in the Old Mountain to make his way to Immortality.