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Vasil Levski

Vasil Levski
Васил Левски
Born Vasil Ivanov Kunchev
(1837-07-18)18 July 1837
Karlovo (Karlıova), Bulgaria (then Ottoman Empire)
Died 18 February 1873(1873-02-18) (aged 35)
Sofia, Bulgaria (then Ottoman Empire)
Cause of death Execution by hanging
Resting place Sofia, Bulgaria
Occupation Revolutionary
Known for Internal Revolutionary Organisation
Religion Eastern Orthodox Christian

Vasil Levski[1] (Internal Revolutionary Organisation, Levski sought to foment a nationwide uprising through a network of secret regional committees.

Born in the Romania, Levski helped institute the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, composed of Bulgarian expatriates. During his tours of Bulgaria, Levski established a wide network of insurrectionary committees. Ottoman authorities, however, captured him at an inn near Lovech and executed him by hanging in Sofia.

Levski looked beyond the act of liberation: he envisioned a "pure and sacred"[4][5] Bulgarian republic of ethnic and religious equality. His concepts have been described as a struggle for human rights, inspired by the progressive liberalism of the French Revolution and 19th century Western European society. Levski is commemorated with monuments in Bulgaria and Serbia, and numerous national institutions bear his name. In 2007, he topped a nationwide television poll as the all-time greatest Bulgarian.


  • Historical background 1
  • Biography 2
    • Early life, education and monkhood 2.1
    • First Bulgarian Legion and educational work 2.2
    • Hitov's detachment and Second Bulgarian Legion 2.3
    • Bulgarian tours and work in Romania 2.4
    • Creation of the Internal Revolutionary Organisation 2.5
    • Capture and execution 2.6
  • Revolutionary theory and ideas 3
  • Commemoration 4
  • References 5
    • Footnotes 5.1
    • Bibliography 5.2
  • External links 6

Historical background

In 1396[6] the medieval Bulgarian Empire had ceased to exist, falling under full Ottoman domination. The inegalitarian Ottoman millet system (Sharia Laws) have turned Bulgarians and other Christian subjects into second-class citizens, and the religious differences had created insurmountable cultural antagonism. The empire's 19th-century economic hardships, which prompted its personification as the "sick man of Europe",[7] meant that the Ottoman state's Christian residents suffered more than its Muslim subjects and reforms planned by the sultans faced insuperable difficulties.[8]

Bulgarian nationalism gradually materialised during the mid-19th century with the economic upsurge of Bulgarian merchants and craftsmen, the development of Bulgarian-funded popular education, the struggle for an autonomous

  •  — Levski's letters and documentsPure and Sacred Republic (Bulgarian)
  • Online edition of Vasil Levski's personal notebook (Bulgarian)
  • Vasil Levski in Haskovo (English)
  • Vasil Levski Museum in Karlovo (English) (Bulgarian)
  • Vasil Levski Foundation (Bulgarian)

External links

  • .


  1. ^ First name also transliterated as Vassil, nickname archaically written as Levsky in English (cf. MacDermott).
  2. ^ Унджиев 1980, p. 53
  3. ^ Family name also transliterated as Kunčev, Kountchev, Kuntchev, etc.
  4. ^ Daskalov 2004, p. 183
  5. ^ a b c d e "Идеи за свободна България" at the Wayback Machine (archived April 11, 2009), 170 години.
  6. ^ Castellan 1999, pp. 69–70. Here and further on, paging of this book is according to the paging of the Bulgarian translation.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Castellan 1999, pp. 221–222
  9. ^ Castellan 1999, pp. 315–317
  10. ^ Castellan 1999, p. 258
  11. ^ Castellan 1999, p. 272
  12. ^ Roudometof 2001, p. 136
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ Кондарев 1946, p. 24
  15. ^ Стоянов 1943, p. 37
  16. ^ Кондарев 1946, p. 13
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Външен вид", 170 години.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i Crampton 2007, pp. 89–90
  21. ^ a b c d Crampton 1997, p. 79
  22. ^ Кондарев 1946, pp. 27–28
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i Manova, Zhelev & Mitev 2007
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Бакалов & Куманов 2003
  25. ^
  26. ^ Seasons in this article are to be understood as seasons in the Northern Hemisphere, i.e. spring is in the beginning of the year.
  27. ^ Стоянов 1943, pp. 45–48
  28. ^ Trotsky, Pearce, Weissman & Williams 1980, p.487.
  29. ^ "Автобиография" at the Wayback Machine (archived April 15, 2009), 170 години.
  30. ^ Дойнов & Джевезов 1996, p. 11
  31. ^ Кондарев 1946, pp. 36–39
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Живот и дело" at the Wayback Machine (archived February 13, 2010), 170 години.
  33. ^ Унджиев 1980, p. 60
  34. ^ Стоянов 1943, pp. 67–68
  35. ^ Унджиев 1980, pp. 63–64
  36. ^ a b Дойнов & Джевезов 1996, p. 12
  37. ^
  38. ^ Стоянов 1943, pp. 70–72
  39. ^ Кондарев 1946, p. 59
  40. ^ Кондарев 1946, pp. 59–61
  41. ^ a b Crampton 2007, p. 89
  42. ^ Кондарев 1946, pp. 78–79
  43. ^
  44. ^ Васил Левски и Христо Ботев at the Wayback Machine (archived December 27, 2008), 170 години.
  45. ^ a b c Дойнов & Джевезов 1996, p. 17
  46. ^ Кондарев 1946, pp. 86–87
  47. ^ Perry 1993, p. 9
  48. ^ a b Дойнов & Джевезов 1996, p. 19
  49. ^ Stavrianos 2000, p 378.
  50. ^ a b c
  51. ^ Стоянов 1943, pp. 83, 86
  52. ^ Стоянов 1943, pp. 85–86
  53. ^ Дойнов & Джевезов 1996, p. 20
  54. ^ Стоянов 1943, p. 87
  55. ^ Кондарев 1946, pp. 160–161
  56. ^ a b Jelavich & Jelavich 1986, p. 138
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^ Стоянов 1943, p. 128
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^ Miller 1966, p. 346
  63. ^
  64. ^ Todorova 2007, p. 165
  65. ^ Daskalov 2004, p. 188
  66. ^ a b Dimitrov 2001
  67. ^ Castellan 1999, pp. 322–324
  68. ^ Jelavich & Jelavich 1986, p. 136
  69. ^ a b c Дойнов & Джевезов 1996, p. 21
  70. ^ Cornis-Pope & Neubauer 2004, p. 317
  71. ^
  72. ^
  73. ^ Crampton 2007, p. 422
  74. ^ Daskalov 2004, p. 61
  75. ^
  76. ^
  77. ^
  78. ^
  79. ^
  80. ^
  81. ^
  82. ^
  83. ^
  84. ^
  85. ^
  86. ^
  87. ^
  88. ^ a b
  89. ^
  90. ^
  91. ^
  92. ^
  93. ^
  94. ^
  95. ^
  96. ^
  97. ^
  98. ^
  99. ^
  100. ^
  101. ^
  102. ^
  103. ^
  104. ^
  105. ^
  106. ^
  107. ^
  108. ^
  109. ^



Vasil Levski's hanging is observed annually across Bulgaria on 19 February[107] instead of 18 February, due to the erroneous calculation of 19th-century Julian calendar dates after Bulgaria adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1916.[108] Although the location of Levski's grave has not been determined, some of his hair is on exhibit at the National Museum of Military History. After Levski gave up monkhood in 1863, he shaved his hair, which his mother and later his sister Yana preserved. Levski's personal items—such as his silver Christian cross, his copper water vessel, his Gasser revolver, made in Austria–Hungary in 1869, and the shackles from his imprisonment in Sofia—are also exhibited in the military history museum,[109] while Levski's sabre can be seen in the Lovech regional museum.[88]

There have been motions to glorify Vasil Levski as a saint of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. However, historian Stefan Chureshki has emphasised that while Levski's post-monastical life was one of a martyr, it was incompatible with the Orthodox concept of sainthood. Chureshki makes reference to Levski's correspondences, which show that Levski threatened wealthy Bulgarians (чорбаджии, chorbadzhii) and traitors with death, endorsed theft from the rich for pragmatic revolutionary purposes and voluntarily gave up his religious office to devote himself to the secular struggle for liberation.[106]

[105], named Vasil Levski the greatest Bulgarian of all time.100 Greatest Britons ("The Great Bulgarians") television show, a local spin-off of Velikite Balgari In February 2007, a nationwide poll conducted as part of the [104] among others. Songs devoted to Levski can be found in the folklore tradition of Macedonia as well.[103] and Nikolay Haytov,[102]Hristo Smirnenski Levski has also inspired works by writers [101] The life of Vasil Levski has been widely featured in

Several institutions in Bulgaria have been named in Vasil Levski's honour; these include the football club PFC Levski Sofia,[90] the Vasil Levski National Sports Academy[91] and the Vasil Levski National Military University.[92] Bulgaria's national stadium bears the name Vasil Levski National Stadium.[93] The 1000 Bulgarian leva banknote, in circulation between 1994 and 1999, featured Levski's portrait on its obverse side and his monument in Sofia on the reverse.[94][95] The town of Levski and six villages around the country have also been named in his honour.[96] The Antarctic Place-names Commission of Bulgaria named an Antarctic ridge and peak on Livingston Island of the South Shetland Islands Levski Ridge and Levski Peak respectively.[97][98]

Monument to Vasil Levski in Dimitrovgrad, Serbia

was erected on the site of his execution. Sofia in Monument to Vasil Levski The [89] and one in Kakrina.[88] one in Lovech[87] [80] Monuments to Levski also exist outside Bulgaria—in Belgrade, Serbia,[79] and many streets bear his name.[78] In cities and villages across Bulgaria, Levski's contributions to the liberation movement are commemorated with numerous monuments,

Monument to Levski in his native Karlovo

Cry! For near the town of Sofia,
Sticks up, I saw, black gallows,
And your only son, Bulgaria,
Hangs on it with fearsome strength.

Hristo Botev's "The Hanging of Vasil Levski" (1875)[50]


[77] In the spirit of [69][5] In a liberated Bulgaria, he did not envision himself as a national leader or a high-ranking official: "We yearn to see a free fatherland, and [then] one could even order me to graze the ducks, isn't that right?"[75][45][21] Levski was prepared to sacrifice his life for the revolution and place Bulgaria and the Bulgarian people above personal interests: "If I shall win, I shall win for the entire people. If I shall lose, I shall lose only myself."

Levski envisioned Bulgaria as a democratic republic,[23][69] occasionally finding common ground with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,[70] and largely reflecting the liberal ideas of the French Revolution and contemporary Western society.[71][72] He said, "We will be free in complete liberty where the Bulgarian lives: in Bulgaria, Thrace, Macedonia; people of whatever ethnicity live in this heaven of ours, they will be equal in rights to the Bulgarian in everything. We will have a flag that says, 'Pure and sacred republic'... It is time, by a single deed, to achieve what our French brothers have been seeking..."[5] Levski held that all religious and ethnic groups in a free Bulgaria—whether Bulgarians, Turks, Jews or others—should enjoy equal rights.[5][23][73] He reiterated that the Bulgarian revolutionaries fought against the sultan's government, not against the Turkish people[74] and their religion: "We're not driving away the Turkish people nor their faith, but the emperor and his laws (in a word, the Turkish government), which has been ruling not only us, but the Turk himself in a barbarian way."[5][69]

A relief of Vasil Levski at the Bulgarian embassy in Paris

At the end of the 1860s, Levski developed a revolutionary theory that saw the Bulgarian liberation movement as an armed uprising of all Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire. The insurrection was to be prepared, controlled and coordinated internally by a central revolutionary organisation, which was to include local revolutionary committees in all parts of Bulgaria and operate independently from any foreign factors.[24][50] Levski's theory resulted from the repeated failures to implement Rakovski's ideas effectively, such as the use of foreign-based armed detachments (чети, cheti) to provoke a general revolt.[13][32][68] Levski's idea of an entirely independent revolution did not enjoy the approval of the entire population either—in fact, he was the only prominent Bulgarian revolutionary to advocate it. Instead, many regarded an intervention by the great powers as a more feasible solution.[66]

Revolutionary theory and ideas

Levski's death intensified the crisis in the Bulgarian revolutionary movement[65] and most IRO committees soon disintegrated.[66] Nevertheless, five years after his hanging, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 secured the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in the wake of the April Uprising of 1876. The Treaty of San Stefano of 3 March 1878 established the Bulgarian state as an autonomous Principality of Bulgaria under de jure Ottoman suzerainty.[67]

[64][63] concluded as possible yet unverifiable.Bulgarian Academy of Sciences as Levski's burial place, which the Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers campaigned for the Nikolay Haytov The location of Levski's grave is uncertain, but in the 1980s writer [62][61] now stands.Monument to Vasil Levski where the [60] 6 February] 1873 in Sofia,O.S. Ottoman authorities sentenced Levski to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on 18 February [[59] Initially taken to Tarnovo for interrogation, Levski was sent to

Realising that he was in danger, Levski decided to flee to Romania, where he would meet Karavelov and discuss these events. First, however, he had to collect important documentation from the committee archive in Lovech, which would constitute important evidence if seized by the Ottomans.[20][24] He stayed at the nearby village inn in Kakrina, where he was surprised and arrested on the morning of 27 December 1872. Starting with the writings of Lyuben Karavelov the most accepted version has been that a priest named Krastyo Nikiforov betrayed Levski to the police. This theory has been disputed by the researchers Ivan Panchovski and Vasil Boyanov for lack of evidence.[58]

The Kakrina inn where Levski was captured by the Ottoman authorities in late December 1872

[57][56][32][20] In that situation, Levski's assistant Dimitar Obshti robbed an Ottoman postal convoy in the

Capture and execution

As IRO expanded, it coordinated its activities more with the Bucharest-based BRCC. On Levski's initiative,[24] a general assembly was called between 29 April and 4 May 1872. At the assembly, the delegates approved a programme and a statute, elected Lyuben Karavelov as the organisation's leader and authorised Levski as the BRCC executive body's only legitimate representative in the Bulgarian lands.[55] After attending the assembly, Levski returned to Bulgaria and reorganised IRO's internal structure[24] in accordance with BRCC's recommendations. Thus, the Lovech Central Committee was reduced to a regular local committee, and the first region-wide revolutionary centres were founded. The lack of funds, however, precipitated the organisation into a crisis, and Levski's one-man judgements on important strategic and tactical matters were increasingly questioned.[32]

[32] Apocryphal and semi-legendary anecdotal stories surround the creation of Levski's Internal Revolutionary Organisation. Persecuted by the Ottoman authorities who offered 500

Vasil Levski at the time of the creation of his internal revolutionary network

Individuals obtained IRO membership in secrecy: the Matey Preobrazhenski, the adventurous Dimitar Obshti, and the young Angel Kanchev.[24][52]

[20] Despite insufficient documentation of Levski's activities in 1870, it is known that he spent a year and a half establishing a wide network of secret committees in Bulgarian cities and villages. The network, the

Creation of the Internal Revolutionary Organisation

[32] Levski departed from Bucharest in the spring of 1870 and began to actualise his concept of an internal revolutionary network.[20] In disagreement over planning,[47] and statute drafter.[23][20] From late August 1869 to May the following year, Levski was active in the Romanian capital Bucharest. He was in contact with revolutionary writer and journalist Lyuben Karavelov, whose participation in the foundation of the

Map of the revolutionary districts in Vasil Levski's Internal Revolutionary Organisation

After a two-month stay in Bucharest, Vasil Levski returned to Bulgaria for a second tour, lasting from 1 May to 26 August 1869. On this tour he carried proclamations printed in Romania by the political figure Ivan Kasabov. They legitimised Levski as the representative of a Bulgarian provisional government. Vasil Levski travelled to Nikopol, Pleven, Karlovo, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Perushtitsa, Stara Zagora, Chirpan, Sliven, Lovech, Tarnovo, Gabrovo, Sevlievo and Tryavna. According to some researchers, Levski established the earliest of his secret committees during this tour,[24][45] but those assumptions are based on uncertain data.[32]

Rejecting the emigrant detachment strategy for internal propaganda, Levski undertook his first tour of the Bulgarian lands to engage all layers of Bulgarian society for a successful revolution. On 11 December 1868, he travelled by steamship from Turnu Măgurele to Istanbul, the starting point of a trek that lasted until 24 February 1869, when Levski returned to Romania. During this canvassing and reconnaissance mission, Levski is thought to have visited Plovdiv, Perushtitsa, Karlovo, Sopot, Kazanlak, Sliven, Tarnovo, Lovech, Pleven and Nikopol, establishing links with local patriots.[32][46]

Bulgarian tours and work in Romania

In Serbia, the government was again favourable towards the Bulgarian revolutionaries' aspirations and allowed them to establish in Belgrade the Second Bulgarian Legion, an organisation similar to its predecessor and its goals. Levski was a prominent member of the Legion, but between February and April 1868 he suffered from a gastric disease that required surgery. Bedridden, he could not participate in the Legion's training.[40] After the Legion was again disbanded under political pressure, Levski attempted to reunite with his compatriots, but was arrested in Zaječar and briefly imprisoned.[23][32][41] Upon his release he went to Romania, where Hadzhi Dimitar and Stefan Karadzha were mobilising revolutionary detachments. For various reasons, including his stomach problems and strategic differences, Levski did not participate.[42] In the winter of 1868, he became acquainted with poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev and lived with him in an abandoned windmill near Bucharest.[43][44][45]

Levski as the standard-bearer of Panayot Hitov's armed detachment

In November 1866, Levski visited Rakovski in standard-bearer of Hitov's detachment.[21][32][36] In April 1867, the band crossed the Danube at Tutrakan, moved through the Ludogorie region and reached the Balkan Mountains.[37] After skirmishing, the band fled to Serbia through Pirot in August.[36][38][39]

Hitov's detachment and Second Bulgarian Legion

[35][34].Tulcea villages near Northern Dobruja, two Enikyoy and Kongas and from the spring of 1866 to the spring of 1867 he taught in [24] In the spring of 1863, Levski returned to Bulgarian lands after a brief stay in

Levski in a First Bulgarian Legion uniform

Inspired by Serbian capital Belgrade during the spring[26] of 1862. In Belgrade, Rakovski had been assembling the First Bulgarian Legion, a military detachment formed by Bulgarian volunteers and revolutionary workers seeking the overthrow of Ottoman rule. Abandoning his service as a monk, Levski enlisted as a volunteer.[21][27] At the time, relations between the Serbs and their Ottoman suzerains were tense. Militant conflicts in Belgrade were eventually resolved diplomatically, and the First Bulgarian Legion was disbanded under Ottoman pressure on 12 September 1862.[28] His courage during training and fighting earned him his nickname Levski ("Lionlike").[20][29][30] After the legion's disbandment, Levski joined Ilyo Voyvoda's detachment at Kragujevac, but returned to Rakovski in Belgrade after discovering that Ilyo's plans to invade Bulgaria had failed.[31]

First Bulgarian Legion and educational work

Levski began his education at a school in Karlovo, studying homespun tailoring as a local craftsman's apprentice. In 1855, Levski's uncle Basil—archimandrite and envoy of the Hilandar monastery—took him to Stara Zagora, where he attended school[20] and worked as Basil's servant. Afterward, Levski joined a clerical training course.[21] On 7 December 1858, he became an Orthodox monk in the Sopot monastery[22] under the religious name Ignatius (Игнатий, Ignatiy) and was promoted in 1859 to hierodeacon,[23][24] which later inspired one of Levski's informal nicknames, The Deacon (Дякона, Dyakona).[25]

Fellow revolutionary Panayot Hitov later described the adult Levski as being of medium height and having an agile, wiry appearance—with light, greyish-blue eyes, blond hair, and a small moustache. He added that Levski abstained from smoking and drinking. Hitov's memories of Levski's appearance are supported by Levski's contemporaries, revolutionary and writer Lyuben Karavelov and teacher Ivan Furnadzhiev. The only differences are that Karavelov claimed Levski was tall rather than of medium height, while Furnadzhiev noted that his moustache was light brown and his eyes appeared hazel.[19]

Entrance to Levski's native house in Karlovo. Built in the 18th century and reconstructed in 1933, it has been a museum since 1937.[18]

Vasil Levski was born Vasil Ivanov Kunchev on 18 July [O.S. 6 July] 1837 in the town of Karlovo, within the Ottoman Empire's European province Rumelia.[13] He was the namesake of his maternal uncle, Archimandrite (superior abbot) Basil (Василий, Vasiliy).[14] Levski's parents, Ivan Kunchev and Gina Kuncheva (née Karaivanova), came from a family of clergy and craftsmen and represented the emerging Bulgarian middle class.[15] An eminent but struggling local craftsman, Kunchev died in 1844. Levski had two younger brothers, Hristo and Petar, and an older sister, Yana;[16] another sister, Maria, died during childhood.[17]

Early life, education and monkhood



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