The Controversial Life and Death of Agricultural Leader Alexander Stamboliyski: Savior or Fearsome Dictator?

The agricultural leader considered himself a man of the people, but he drove armored cars. The villagers betrayed him

100 years after the June 9 coup, Stamboliyski remains a controversial figure, who for some is a national savior and for others – a fearsome dictator. There are still many dark spots around his life and death. In 1915, after a scandal during a meeting with Tsar Ferdinand, in which he categorically condemned the monarch’s plan to include Bulgaria in the First World War on the side of the Central Powers, Stamboliyski was removed and sentenced to life imprisonment. 5 years later, the BZNS came to power as the savior of Bulgaria after the collapse of the First World War and announced that it would rule for 40 years. The country’s administration, led by Stamboliyski, remains in history as the first and only government that won an absolute parliamentary one-party majority in elections, but was overthrown in a coup, followed by the assassination of the agricultural chief Alexander Stamboliyski. His execution is brutal but still shrouded in myth. It marks the beginning of a severe political confrontation that will not be overcome for decades to come.

  • 1. Defender or enemy of the villagers

As a self-made politician, Alexander Stamboliyski declares himself the creator of the utopian class theory of socio-economic progress. According to her, society is not divided into classes, but into classes. And since Bulgaria 100 years ago had 80% rural population – this should have protected the authorities. Some of the reforms of the BZNS are useful – a three-year mandatory and free training course is introduced in schools, a state land fund is created to stabilize small farmers, favorable loans are given to cooperators. But only honest people are appointed, the requirement for an educational qualification in the institutions is abolished and they are filled with semi-literate officials. The Anti-Speculation Act becomes a powerful lever of corruption as those named as speculators are bought off by paying corrupt officials handsomely.

  • 2. The Nightmare of the Orange Riders

Using the army-restrictive clauses of the Neue Treaty, Stamboliyski created the “Orange Guard”, which was supposed to gradually replace the cadre army. Thus, he surrounds himself with loyal officers, and the attitude towards the others is not only hostile, but also provocative. The Orange Horsemen are peasants dressed in folk costumes who stormed the military parades of the St George’s Day army to demean their holiday. While the opposition was traveling to Veliko Tarnovo, the leaders were taken off the train by the orange horsemen, their beards were plucked, their bombs were trampled underfoot, and finally they were beaten and taken to the Shumen prison. There was no police to stop the rampage, no prosecutor – they were members of the BZNS.

  • 3. The broken pen
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Stamboliyski takes over the government of the country after two national catastrophes. Legend has it that after the signing of the peace treaty of Nyois, he broke his pen. He decided to support the idea of ​​creating a Federation of South Slavs. Historians argue whether this rapprochement was aimed at the regime, if necessary, to secure external support from our western neighbor. This rapprochement, in which Serbia insists on “a clear attitude of Bulgaria towards the “Macedonian separatists-terrorists”, greatly strained the relations of the regime with the VMRO. And earned the hatred of the huge masses of refugees sheltered in Bulgaria after the wars in which the Macedonian militia gave visible The war with VMRO was declared after the authorities demolished two illegal lodgings of the leader Todor Aleksandrov, and the organization issued death sentences to Stamboliyski and Rayko Daskalov.

  • 4. The spilled royal champagne

Two months before the coup, Stamboliyski won an extraordinary election with a crushing majority, unknown until then during the Third Bulgarian State: According to legends, he went to the royal palace to celebrate the glittering victory with champagne. He stopped in front of a group of soldiers, where the head of the Military Union, Colonel Ivan Valkov, was also and said to him: “Are you, colonels, going to overthrow my government, I hear?” The colonel barely muttered, “Please, Mr. Prime Minister.” The king shifted uncomfortably, spilled his champagne, but remained silent. In the silence that followed, Stamboliyski declared: “Is there a force that can remove us from power? There is no such force that can remove the power given to us by the people. Remember, we will rule not these four, but the next 20 years!”

  • 5. People’s man with an armored car

The agricultural leader, transformed by the authorities, was popular only in words. He loved Bulgarian cuisine, but ordered a chef from abroad. He waved at the villagers, but through the armored glass of his car. He commissioned a marble bust and went all the way to Rome to pose. The leader of the villagers changed the name of his mistress because it sounded rustic. That’s how Penka became Tatyana. The self-proclaimed people’s leader at the end of the administration raised the highest party forum of the BZNS above all official institutions in the country – above the National Assembly, above the state administrative bodies. He even gave his members the right to travel for free on the Bulgarian railways.

  • 6. Coup or bourgeois struggle?

Against this growing “party-state” of Stamboliyski, the secret organization “People’s Agreement” was created, which carried out a coup on the night of June 9, 1923. These are military units which, under the command of active and reserve officers initiated into the conspiracy, disarmed the police, the “Orange Guard” in places and arrested most of the agricultural ministers. Although the coup was carried out entirely by the military, the government of the country was not taken over by the “junta”, but was placed in the hands of Prof. Alexander Tsankov. The coup was supported by all parties, with only the Communist Party declaring neutrality. In the newspapers they write: “let the two bourgeoisies fight – rural and urban”. The facilities are taken without hindrance as the Orange Guards are unable to react. The officers report to the future ministers who are in the home of Gen. Rusev that “the operation went well” and congratulated each other with “Long live Bulgaria”.

  • 7. Did the king know
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It is known that early in the morning the new cabinet went to Vrana in anticipation of Tsar Boris III signing the two decrees immediately. However, in his characteristic style, he was late for almost 7 hours. At the end he initialed with the words “God help us”. This is where the myths begin. Some claim that he asked several times: “Where is Mr. Stamboliyski”. The answer was – in Slavovitsa. Others believe that the king was fully aware that squads from the VMRO were already going to Stamboliyski’s native village and that Stamboliyski’s execution was awaited. Stefan Tsanev’s book quotes the new prime minister, Prof. Alexander Tsankov, who claims that “the tsar is vile, insidious, hides himself so skillfully, and at the same time is cowardly and runs away from responsibilities. With one gesture, he could have prevented all the murders and arbitrariness. He had the army and the Military Union at his disposal, as well as the VMRO”. In other memories, however, it is written that this is an ideological myth. The king legalized the coup, but that was it.

  • 8. Bulgaria will seem narrow to you

No matter how much the blame is placed on VMRO, the truth is that the great personal tragedy of the agricultural leader is another – he was betrayed by the villagers. According to the memories of Academician Georgi Markov, during the Stamboliyski coup, he was in his villa in his native village of Slavovitsa, where he retired after the elections to write a draft for a new Constitution. He wanted to exclude the king from foreign policy. He was convinced that he was unstoppable. The news of the coup was brought to him by a captain with a small squadron sent by the Military Union. According to the legend, Stamboliyski burst out: “March from here, Bulgaria will seem narrow to you!”. However, when the truth came out, the former prime minister organized resistance, but no one responded. He ran to save himself with his brother Vasil in the royal farm in Krichim. However, on June 13, in the village of Golak, he entered the local pub to ask for a piece of bread, and the villagers handed him over to Captain Harlakov’s military unit, which searched for him in order to arrest him.

  • 9. The bloody message
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After the capture, he was taken to the villa in Slavovitsa, where a group from the Military Intelligence Service, led by the Skopje voivode Velichko Velyanov, arrived later. He is the physical executor of Stamboliyski, not Captain Harlakov, as claimed. The military knew very well that they were handing him over to his mortal enemy VMRO. There are legends about the brutal and prolonged torture they inflicted on him. Stamboliyski was stabbed more than 60 times. His right hand was severed at the wrist, as were the fingers of his left hand. According to legend, a moment before he lost consciousness, Stamboliyski wrote on the wall of the barn with his own blood the last message to future generations – “A. St. June 14, 1923”. His brother Vasil was also tortured to death and then cut. Before being buried, both had their heads cut off. Stamboliyski’s cruel death and torments are comparable only to those of Stefan Stambolov, who was cut with a scimitar in the center of Sofia.

  • 10. The Legend of Penkin Bridge

The legend of Penkin Bridge lives on to this day. It states that in 1918, during the Military Uprising, Alexander Stamboliyski was released for a few days and decided to take a trip near Sofia. That’s how he ended up at Rebrovo station. There, quite by chance, he met one of the most beautiful girls, who is about 20 years younger than him. According to the myths, because of Penka Stamboliyski was a frequent guest in Rebrovo. One morning in May, after his usual visit, he was hurrying for the train to attend a ceremony at the Palace, but caught his foot in the old rope bridge and nearly fell into the waters of the Iskra. Those waiting for the train helped him, and he promised them that he would not forget this kindness. Soon after, the center of the municipality was moved from Tseretzel to Rebrovo, and in July 1922, Stamboliyski personally laid the first sod on the new bridge. Near him was the beautiful Penka. It is not known when the bridge was opened because Stamboliyski was killed and Penka disappeared. Only the still-preserved bridge over the Iskar River remains of this sad love story.

2023-06-08 22:00:04

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