Bulgaria's first Communist dictator was a bad boy who played truant from church
Issue 6, March 2007
by Vesela Ilieva; photography by BTA
It is the autumn of 1898. A pastor climbs with heavy footsteps down from the pulpit. A minute earlier his sermon had been interrupted. Girls are sobbing and crying, distressed by the sardonic laughter and loud voice of a young man. The pastor throws out the drunken troublemaker who continues ranting and raving in the street.
Two days later someone smashes the church windows. The Christian community has its suspicions about the culprit - a lad who had decided never to set foot in a church again after he'd been evicted from Sunday school for indecent and aggressive behaviour when he was only 10. At the age of 12 he was expelled from regular school for the same reasons. He'd developed a dislike of and a complex about Christians and intellectuals, and would seek revenge on them for the rest of his life.
His father will fall ill and die brokenhearted. His mother and two sisters will make attempts to bring him back to the Christian faith all their lives, but to no avail.
These events are not from some blackand-white film about the battle between good and evil in some backwater village. The action actually did take place in Samokov, western Bulgaria.
The pastor was a real person, Stoyan Vatralski, the first Bulgarian graduate of Harvard Univesrity, and the young man was Georgi Dimitrov, the would be Communist dictator.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, as a favour to his mother Parashkeva Dimitrova, and despite opposition from the church board, the aggressive atheist began work as a typesetter at the Evangelical mission's printers in Samokov. There, he stole money, paper and ink to print pro-Communist flyers and anti-religious brochures.
He even took the liberty of editing the Liberal Party's literature, newspaper and publicity materials that were printed in Samokov. Party leader Dr Vasil Radoslavov was impressed rather than angered by the corrections. In his view, this was an intelligent young man, capable of sorting out a huge amount of information, but he had one problem: he was obsessed with Marxist ideas.
Dimitrov became part of Dimitar Blagoev's Social Democratic circle, but felt uncomfortable amongst its educated members. After the dissolution of Bulgaria's Socialist movement and the Soviet Revolution, he joined the Narrow Socialists.
They were numerous, uneducated, belligerent and prepared to do anything in the name of Communist ideology. Having acquired self-taught knowledge and experience, Dimitrov quickly advanced to become their youth leader.
Despite his role in the organisation of the strikes and soldiers' mutinies after the First World War, the leaders of the democratic parties regarded Dimitrov as harmless. He remained in the National Assembly for 10 years and was the youngest MP there until he fled the country to live in exile after taking part in the 1923 uprising staged by the USSR, which Communist propaganda would later dub a "revolt".
Georgi Dimitrov had a penchant for beautiful and intelligent women. They were considerably younger than himself, because they were easier to control. He did not realise that what he sought in a woman were the bourgeois virtues that a true Communist should abhor. But his idol, Karl Marx, had similarly lived off Jenny, the virtuous daughter of a factory owner.
After meeting a succession of young women, Georgi Dimitrov married Ljubica Ivosevic, a delicate, beautiful, intelligent girl. The fact that she was not rich was counterbalanced by her Serbian origins: in those days it was trendy for Marx's followers to have relationships with Serbian or Croatian intellectuals.
Their correspondence shows that Ljubica loved Dimitrov wholeheartedly. Blindly devoted to this relationship, she became its victim and died alone, poor and suffering from tuberculosis in the USSR, where she was kept hostage by Stalin. Dimitrov's brother, Nikola, had a similar fate.
At that time, Georgi Dimitrov was living in Switzerland and Germany on Comintern funds, establishing a network of conspirators in Western Europe. This continued until 1933, when he was arrested with a forged passport in the name of a Dr Rudolf Hediger and was accused, with two other Bulgarians, Vasil Tanev and Blagoy Popov, of setting fire to the Reichstag.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers