Monument in Gorna Kremena village recalls neglected part of Bulgarian Communist history
by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
There is hardly a village in Bulgaria without a monument. Those to local victims of the two Balkan and the two World wars are the most common, followed by memorials to Communist partisans and monuments of workers and other "builders of Socialism." There are also the monuments to Revival Period figures, who were usually born or met their end in a particular village.
Gorna Kremena, near Mezdra in the north-west, is no exception. In the centre stand three monuments. One is to the fallen of the Balkans Wars of 1912-1913. The second sports the five-pointed star, one of the definitive symbols of Communism.
The third monument in Gorna Kremena, however, is one of a kind. The man with wavy hair was Ivan "Gorunya" Todorov. In 1965 he plotted to overthrow Bulgaria's Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, and died trying. His was the only documented attempt ever by a Bulgarian to forcibly overthrow the Communist regime. But don't be misled into thinking Gorunya and his associates had been inspired by events in 1956 in Hungary or other anti-Communist movements elsewhere in the East bloc. What they disagreed with was Todor Zhivkov's politics mimicking Khrushchev's liberalisation. They wanted Bulgaria to keep running along Stalinist lines, just as did China, Albania and North Korea.
Born in 1916 in Gorna Kremena, Ivan Todorov was an early adherent of the leftist movement. In 1939 he was sent to prison for anti-government activity. He escaped in 1941 and became the first member of the Communist partisan movement from the Vratsa region. Later the same year, a group of partisans was already operational in the area, with Todorov responsible for its political activity. In 1943, known also by the nom de guerre Gorunya, he was sentenced to death.
Todorov, however, remained at large until the Communist takeover in 1944. At the beginning of the 1960s he was already a member of the Central Committee of the BKP, or the Bulgarian Communist Party, and a deputy minister of agriculture. In spite of his exemplary career, Todorov became increasingly unhappy with the rule of Todor Zhivkov, who had just managed to become head of both the BKP and the government.
To understand what was really happening, one needs to go further back several years.
The death of Stalin in 1953 led to a slow and partial liberalisation in the USSR, spearheaded by the new leader, Nikita Khrushchev. The Bulgarian Communists swiftly followed this shift in politics. In 1954 the Stalinist Valko Chervenkov was replaced as the head of the BKP by Todor Zhivkov, a minor personality for whom many predicted a short political life. Zhivkov, however, was to surprise everyone, unleashing cunning political skills which would help him to stay in power for the next 35 years.
In 1956, Zhivkov initiated the so-called April Plenum, reiterating the Soviet denunciation of the personality cult. During the plenum, Valko Chervenkov lost his other source of power – he was replaced as prime minister by the "reformist" Anton Yugov.
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