Ivan Vedar and Freemasonry in Bulgaria

Unfortunately for us all, in Bulgaria the word Freemasonry has a negative connotation because of the national features of the so-called Transition Period – the period after the façade fall of the Communist regime in Bulgaria in 1989 which, according to many, continues to this day. The main reason for this negative word association is the inclusion in the national freemasonry lodges of people who became rich in an assumingly criminal way during the last years of the Communist regime or who have been piling up their money due to their political connections since then.

Our article, however, is a brief summary on how freemasonry came into existence in the world, what were its purpose and role in the development of human societies and, finally, will meet you with the founder of the first Balkan Star freemasonry lodge in Bulgaria which was established in Rousse, Ivan Vedar.

A Very Brief History of Freemasonry around the World

The word masonry comes the English word mason and the French one maçon both of which meaning someone whose work is related to building with bricks. Though we don’t know for sure when exactly the freemasonry originated, researchers concede that it must have started in Ancient Egypt when the masons who took part in building the Great Pyramids and other Egyptian monuments started to unite in associations.

Over the centuries, the idea of craftsmen associations reached Europe. The official theory for the Freemasonry origin on the Old Continent indicates Scotland as its homeland when in 1599 a group of local builders established the first lodge with rituals and secret initiations.

At the heart of Freemasonry lies the idea of initiated members helping each other out regardless of what their location might be and of whether the masons personally know each other. It is believed that through secret signs, shared and known among all masons around the globe, they could identify when meeting each other and are obliged to help a fellow in trouble. The idea is not surprising – imagine a mason worker in the 16th century who, for months or often years, worked on a construction site in another city or country, left completely to the mercy of masters who could at all times break the negotiated terms. In other words, Freemasonry emerged as, let‘s say, a predecessor what we would nowadays call a “trade union” except that the identification of members was not made officially known but was done through secret signs and based on secret rites.

Gradually, more and more people became interested in the idea of solidarity which Freemasonry embodied and the Masonic lodges embraced not only bricklayers but also people of all trades as their members. So, it was from back then when the name Freemasonry was adopted as an indication of the various professional backgrounds of its members. It is important to note that most masons were greatly motivated and broadly knowledgeable people with strong social responsibility. Among the famous masons were Johan Sebastian Bach, George Washington, Sir Winston Churchill, Joseph Haydn, Henry Ford, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain ), Alexander Pushkin, and many more.

Freemasonry has evolved a great deal throughout the centuries and its global history is marked with interesting facts. If you are interested in how Freemasonry originated in Russia, what exactly happened in England in 1753 and 1877, or what the ritual Freemasonry symbols, you can start from article on Wikipedia.

Freemasonry in Bulgaria

In 1880, after the Liberation, Ivan Vedar founded the first Masonic lodge in our country, Etoile des Balkans, in Rousse. Its first founding members are the Bulgarian revolutionaries Zahari Stoyanov, Nikola Obretenov, Ilarion Dragostinov and Toma Kardzhiev, and His Highness Alexander Battenberg. Other notable Bulgarian revolutionaries such as Angel Kanchev, Georgi Sava Rakovski, Hristo Botev, and Dimitar Obshti are also believed to have been masons.

The contemporary Freemason lodges in Bulgaria have established an order with the name of their founder.

Ivan Vedar

And midway through our article we got to the exceptional personality and motley life of the founder of the Freemasonry and the first masonry lodge in our country which was established in Rousse.

Ivan Vedar was born under the birth name of Danail Nikolov in 1827 in the town of Razgrad. Already during his young years, his life was marked by an interesting and dramatic story. His father was the master builder Karastoyan who was hired by a notable Turk to build a house for him. The assignor of the job on the Turkish side, however, refused to pay for the work done and as a result he two sides fought and Danail had to kill the Turk to protect his father’s life. After this incident, Daniel changed his name and went undercover.

His life kept that same dynamic path of development. He attended a college in Malta where he learned several foreign languages; worked as a sailor on an English ship traveling between London and Melbourne; became a translator for Turkish institutions in Constantinople; taught foreign languages to the sons of Turkish rulers in Izmir, including the children of Midhat Pasha, the ruler of the Danube vilayet (an administrative unit) whose centre before the Liberation was Rousse. During the Crimean War, Danail regularly visited Black Sea ports assumingly spying for Russia. He also graduated the medical school in Bucharest and received his Vedar nickname from his professors because of his open mind.

In 1863 Danail was initiated in the secret Freemasonry teachings at the Oriental Lodge Constantinople Branch and reached a 33rd degree which was the highest degree as considered by the Old and Adopted Scottish ritual.

His interesting fate continued and he started working at the construction of the first railway line between Rousse and Varna. Ten he became a sales representative in Manchester where he married the daughter of a respected Rousse-native architect, and also taught at Robert College in Constantinople, and became a correspondent of European newspapers.

Midhat Pasha who was the ruler of the Danube vilayet appointed him a secretary of foreign correspondence which exposed Danail to frequent contacts with foreign diplomats and helped him to establish connections with the revolutionaries from the city who fought against the Ottoman rule in the country and later drove the nation to its Liberation. Danail financially supported both the local revolutionary committee and several uprisings in the region. He also helped Zahari Stoyanov, one of Baba Tonka’s sons-in-law, to become a librarian in the Zora Community Center in Rousse.

Before his death in 1898, Ivan Vedar donated all his property to the state, stating that he had given enough to his children – proper upbringing and good education.

Ivan Vedar’s bones are kept in the Pantheon of National Revival (located in one of the city parks) and a monument was erected in his honor nearby.

An Urban Legend

An urban legend tells us an even more interesting story which, if true, was how Danail saved Rousse from complete destruction as well as 4,000 of its residents from sure death shortly before the Liberation.

Here it is. In August 1877, the Russian troops almost fully demolished the Turkish quarter in Rousse which in turn enraged the Turkish forces making them take steps to kill the entire Bulgarian population in the city. They gathered 4,000 people in one place located on the outskirts of the city where they were kept for several days. Ivan Veder managed to get out of his house that was guarded by the Turkish militaries by bribing them with a bag of gold. He then went to the Italian city consul, together they turned to a then influential local Turkish guy, the three of them climbed the Leventa hill to meet the Turkish pasha who commanded the Egyptian troops that were surrounding the city to negotiate with him to release the people and to spare Rousse from complete extinction.

And here follows the most interesting part – on meeting Delaver Pasha, the three of them make a Masonic hand sign. Delaver Pasha, realizing he was talking to a higher-ranking Mason brother, offered Ivan Vedar his brotherly co-operation. When returning from the Leventa hill, the delegation found out that those 4,000 people were surrounded by Egyptian soldiers who actually guarded them from the Circassian and Bashibosuk troops who wanted to kill them. So, this is how 4,000 people from the city evaded their death and Rousse was not reduced to rubble.


Disclaimer: The photos used in this article are not owned by insiderguide.me.

Midhat Pasha

Mishat pasha is one of the most controversial personalities from the new history of Bulgaria and, in particular, Rousse. An economic and administrative reformer, an influential representative of the Ottoman Empire before the world at a time when Bulgaria had been under Ottoman rule for more than 450 years, uncompromising in his political views, cruel in suppressing the discontent of his subordinate “raya” (slaves, as referred to Bulgarians at the time), he played an actual and very important role in the development of the then Ruschuk (Rousse) from a typical small town, subordinate to the Ottoman Turks, to an economic, judicial, and administrative center and in the city transformation into the largest Bulgarian town in the Principality of Bulgaria after the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1878.

Decades before our Liberation from Ottoman rule, Midhat Pasha led Ruschuk on the road of innovation and renaissance. However, he is also one of three representatives of the Ottoman Empire who were commissioned to suppress the Bulgarian April Uprising of 1976 – which out of fear and surprise they did with such ferocity that the response went across Europe and the Great Powers convoked the Constantinople Conference. Midhat Pasha was also one of the people who disregarded the decisions of the Conference because of the recently launched by him and accepted by the Sultan First Ottoman Constitution. In this way, he indirectly provided Russia with grounds to declare war on Turkey.

And now, let me share with you the facts I have found about Midhat Pasha. As for history, let it talk for itself about its protagonists…

Early Years and Career

Midhat Pasha was born as Ahmed Sheffik Midhat Pasha in Constantinople in October 1822. His father was a kadia (judge) born in Rousse and a strong supporter of the reforms in the Ottoman Empire. Midhat Pasha spent his childhood in Constantinople, and the Bulgarian towns of Vidin and Lovech where he received good education and mastered several foreign languages.

In 1844 he became secretary of Faik Efendi and accompanied him to Syria for three years. He returned to Constantinople to serve in the central administration, traveled back to Syria, and then was appointed Second Secretary of the Sublime Porte (something like a parliament, was responsible for the state policy).

In 1854 his opponents managed to remove him from the post and as a result he was burdened with the then perceived as an impossible task to deal with the bandits and dissatisfaction in the Rumelian provinces (in general, by Rumelia the Ottomans refererred to the Balkan Peninsula territories). After six months in the region, however, Midhat pasha managed to capture 284 robbers and to pacify the districts of the towns of Shumen and Sliven.

In 1857 he was sent to the Bulgarian town of Veliko Tarnovo as a government representative to investigate the conflict between the Greek bishop Neophyte Byzantios and the local Bulgarian population (in short, Neophyte Byzantine was elected Veliko Tarnovo region bishop due to corruption and was at the time acting against the Bulgarian revival which was the cause of the conflict). As a result, Midhad Pasha ordered the release of the accused and arrested people and the Greek bishop was dismissed.

Because of these successfully accomplished tasks, his career prospects became even brighter and in 1860 Midhat pasha was appointed Vizier (similar to a minister having both military and administrative power) and Pasha (a governor, a high official). He was entrusted with the management of the Nisyan eyalet (an administrative district) and the reforms he applied there impressed Sultan Abdulazis who demanded him to implement the same reforms throughout the entire Ottoman Empire.

Danube Vilayet and Reforms in Ruschuk and the Region

In 1864 the Dobrudzha lands, which include the whole Danube plain, the Sofia and Samokov fields, were united in the so-called Danube vilayet (an administrative unit) with its center located in Rousse – or Ruschuk as it was called back then. Midhat Pasha reformed the administration and the judiciary systems by creating new and reorganizing existing institutions. For the first time an Ottoman province acquired a representative institution, the General Council of the Vilayet, in which representatives from the various religious and ethnic groups in the area, including Bulgarians from Rousse, Sofia, Tarnovo, Shumen and others, were appointed or elected. Midhat Pasha allowed Bulgarians to occupy senior judicial positions and initiated the creation of the Danube Weekly – the first official Ottoman media issued in the period 1865-1877 both in Turkish and in Bulgarian languages and where Bulgarians were also working.

He initiated the construction of a water supply system in Ruschuk as well as the Obraztsov chiflik farm. As a result, in 1879, on this farm the first Bulgarian agricultural school was founded which is preserved to this day as the Obraztsov Chiflik Agricultural Institute at the Bulgarian Agricultural Academy.

In 1865 Midhat pasha ordered the making of the Arabakonak Pass which connected Sofia with Northern Bulgaria passing on the way to Pleven and Rousse. On October 26, 1866 the first Bulgarian railway line from Rousse to Varna was officially opened. Altogether, Midhat pasha’s rule led to the building of 553 kilometers of new and the repairment of 255 kilometers existing roads, 237 new bridges while, as expected, these activities seriously burdened the local population with taxes and many of the people worked on these new infrastructure without being paid.

At Midhat pasha’s initiative, the famous Bridge by Kolyu Ficheto over the Yantra near the town of Byala was also built.
In July 1868 Midhat pasha took over the management of the Danube vilayet again because of the entrance of Hadji Dimitar and Stefan Karadja’s detachments in Bulgaria. He organized the persecution of the rebels, conducted a quick trial for the captured and imposed public executions. He also endorsed the mobilization of the bashbizouk (Ottoman military troops) of Circassians and Turks in spite of the fact that he admitted they could commit “extreme actions”.

Suppression of the April Uprising and Convocation of the Constantinople Conference

The April Uprising is a milestone in the history of Bulgaria. It is an entirely Bulgarian initiative and its preparation and outburst were not supported by any external country. It had to be organized in a very short period of about 60 days and broke out months earlier than planned due to unfavorable circumstances. The Turkish authorities were on their guard because of other related events at the time – they prepared themselves for a possible rebellion after Stara Zagora’s rebellion attempt and after the Bosnian-Herzegovina uprising. These added up to the causes which led to the practical failure of the April Uprising of 1876. However, the Uprising played a decisive role in the Liberation of Bulgaria for the strong international response it received because of the cruelty and ferocity with which it was severely suppressed.

The start of the April Uprising surprised and provoked panic among the Ottoman rulers. In order to suppress it, the High Porte created a council of three commanders, including Midhat Pasha who proved to be a major factor in decision-making. The council mobilized a large part of the available Ottoman troops attracting soldiers from Asia Minor and Africa. They also mobilized the stock, transfered thousands of troops by train and water so that tens of thousands of armed Ottoman soldiers often faced a few hundred April Uprising rebels. The Council issued a warrant for killing the civil population, forfeiting their property and setting fire to their homes. The Batak slaughter in which more than 3,000 people are slaughtered or burned alive is one of the most cruel appearances on the Ottoman side. At the bottom line, against the full momentous power of the Ottomans, the Bulgarian armed forces that were able to rebel without any real preparation amounted to 10,000 men and 95 Bulgarian villages and towns.

The result of the Uprising was the convening of the Constantinople Ambassadorial Conference which took place between December 23, 1876 and January 20, 1877 and in which the ambassadors of the Great Powers who were accredited by the High Porte took part.
The reasons for holding the Conference were several: the uprising of 1875 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the April Uprising of 1876 in Bulgaria, the subsequent war between Serbia and Montenegro, on the one hand, and the Ottoman Empire on the other, and the preparation of Russia for war with the Ottoman Empire on the Balkans.

The purpose of the Conference was to suggest territorial changes and provide for autonomy in the Western Balkans, and to achieve peace between the subordinate countries in the region, including Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. In particular, at the Conference it was suggested that Bulgaria split into two autonomous regions and the Ottoman and Bulgarian countries adopted mutual governance rules. By the time the suggestion was finally drawn up, Midhat Pasha had again been appointed a great Vizier. As a result, two days after the ambassadors’ suggestion at the Constantinople Conference, the Ottoman Empire adopted its first constitution, which the Ottoman Empire regarded as a sufficient reform in favour of the subordinate Balkan states. Because of this stance and decision on the part of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans rejected the recommendations from the Constantinople Conference to create autonomous regions on the Balkans.
Thus, indirectly, Midhat Pasha and his followers strongly contributed both to the failure of the Constantinople Conference and to the announcement of the subsequent Russo-Turkish war.

Murder of the Sultan and Death

After the withdrawal of Midhat Pasha as the leader of the Danube Vilayet, two radical points of view faced each other in the Ottoman Empire – the viewpoint of the status quo and the reforms supporters. Midhat pasha allied with the great Vizier and the Military Minister in 1876, and in May they brought down the Sultan who was killed the following month.

Even though Midhat pasha, as we mentioned, was once again a great Vizier and initiated the preparation and adoption of the first Ottoman Empire constitution, in the beginning of 1877 he was expelled and sent to exile, and in 1879 he faced a charge of involvement in the murder of Sultan Abdulaziz and was sentenced to death. However, after the British government intervened, the death sentence was renounced, his life spared, and the last three years of his life Midhat Pasha spent in prison in the city of Taif, near Mecca, where in 1883 he was allegedly murdered.


  1. Midhat Pasha on Wikipedia
  2. Midhat Pasha on Wikiwand
  3. Press TV
  4. Sega Newspaper
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica
  6. April Uprising of 1876
  7. Constantinople Conference
  8. Camera Ottomana
  9. Sublime Porte
  10. Great Powers
  11. Rumelia
  12. Sultan Abdulaziz
  13. Neofit Vizantios
  14. Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878)

The photos in the article are not owned by this website.

Kiril Startzev

One of the most prominent public figures in the new history of Rousse after the Liberation, Engineer Kiril Startzev, played an important role in the development of the city in the years after the Bulgarian coup d’état of 1934 until the beginning of the Communist regime in 1944 during which time he was as mayor of Rousse.

Early Years

Kiril Vasilev Startzev was born in the town of Belogradchik on January 2, 1895. At that time his father, Captain Vasil Startzev, served as a Bulgarian Army Officer in the town. In 1902 he was promoted to a Major and was summoned to serve in the Fifth Infantry Regiment of Dunav located in the city of Rousse.

Kiril Startzev graduated from the Tsar Boris High School for Boys of Rousse with flying colours and continued the family tradition going for a training in the Military School in 1916. At the end of the First World War, he was promoted to a Lieutenant and became a member of the Union of Army Reserve Officers in Rousse. In the autumn of 1918 he enrolled as a student in civil engineering at the Polytechnic University of Lausanne, Switzerland, from where he graduated in 1922 fluently speaking German and French. He returned to Rousse and began work as a constructor of railway lines and bridges, and later became regional water engineer at the Rousse District Permanent Commission. He was elected Vice-Chairman of the Union of Reserve and Non-Commissioned Officers in the city from 1931 to 1933 and was extremely active as a member of the army reserve. Because of his high professionalism at work, at the beginning of 1934 he was appointed Chief of Water Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and State Property.

Mayoral Term

On December 24, 1934 Kiril Startzev was appointed Mayor of Rousse and in from the first years of his mayoral term he managed to transform and modernize the whole city:

  • The building for the Court of Justice was erected, the area around it was renovated, and the appearance of the City Garden was changed.
  • The Covered Market Place with the area around it turned into a second city centre.
  • Asphalt was added to the river boulevard, the sidewalks and the railings were added too, the so-called Bridge of Sighs was built and the chestnuts trees were planted.
  • The construction of modern public baths began.
  • The power plant was expanded and, in general, a lot was invested in building the city infrastructure – water supply, sewerage, and electricity systems. Temporary pavements and the water system reached as far as the furthest city districts.
  • In 1935 the Bulgarian Danube Shipping (BRP) was established. The largest import of goods for 1936 in the country was made through the port of Rousse.
  • The construction of the Angel Kanchev and Stefan Karadzha schools was completed and major repair works were held for the rest.
  • A lot of funds were allocated to the development of the theatrical art in the city.
  • The Municipality provided funds for a jubilee book collection for celebrating the 50th anniversary of the High School for Boys in the city and a decision to publish the history of Rousse was taken.

As a result of his initiative personality, leadership skills, and rich European culture, he was elected President of the Union of Bulgarian Cities, and the central government assigned two important missions to him:

  • He was seconded as a “borrowed” mayor for the town of Dobrich to create a model of management of the new Bulgarian government in the region after the accession of the South Dobrudzha region.
  • After a great flood in 1942 he was seconded as a “borrowed” mayor in Vidin to help restore the town.

After the establishment of the first Rotary club in Sofia in 1933, a Preliminary Rotary Club was established in Rousse. Together with famous at that time public figures and entrepreneurs, Eng. Kiril Startzev is among its founders. The club was established on August 2, 1936 and was chartered on December 4 of that year. In 1941, under the National Protection Act which was in force at the time and together with many international organizations in Bulgaria, the Club was closed. It was again chartered decades later – on May 31, 1994 and ever since it’s been active.

In 1940, during the mayoral term of Eng. Kiril Startzev, the South Dobrudja region was returned to Bulgaria under the Treaty of Craiova. As a result, Rousse became a regional center and its population at that time grew to over 51,000.


In 1927 Eng. Kiril Startzev got married. His son Veselin was born in 1928 and his daughter Tatiana was born in 1938.

Last Years and Death

As of the end of 1943 and in 1944 Eng. Kiril Startzev was on leave because of a serious illness. On September 14, 1944 after the Bulgarian coup d’état of 1944, the newly-established Communist government made him leave hit office as a mayor. After he recovered, he was appointed Head of the Rusenski Lom Water Union and was later taking care of the water supply in the Ludogorie region. In 1956, the Communist regime ordered his arrest and he was sent to the Belene concentration camp. In 1959, he joined an engineering organization but retired because of illness. On December 12, 1962 Kiril Startzev died in Rousse.

1. Bulgarian coup d’état of 1934
2. Bulgarian coup d’état of 1944
3. Kiril Startzev on Wikipedia (in Bulgarian only)
4. Treaty of Craiova
5. Open Your Eyes (in Bulgarian only)
6. The Greatest Bulgarian Mayors (in Bulgarian only)
7. History of the Union of Officers and Sergeants of the Army Reserve (in Bulgarian only)
8. Rotary Club in Rousse Celebrates 80 Years (in Bulgarian only)
9. The Decay of Rousse after the Bulgarian coup d’état of 1944 (in Bulgarian only)

The photos in the article are not owned by this website.

Baba Tonka

tonka2One of the most prominent supporters of the the Bulgarian Renaissance, a patriotic, courageous, and devoted to the National Revolutionary Movement woman, an associate and confidant of Vasil Levski and associate of Georgi Sava Rakovski, Tonka Tihova Obretenova is a key figure in the Bulgarian National Struggle for Liberation in the end of 19th century. She provided fundamental organizational, moral, and financial support to the rebels after the defeat of Hadji Dimitar and Stefan Karadzha’s detachment and to the Rousse Revolutionary Committee by turning her home into a hiding place and a strategic site for the revolution in the northern and central parts of Bulgaria.

Tonka was born in 1812 in Rousse. Her father was an alert and inquisitive person. He supported the active struggle for enlightenment that initiated in the country at the beginning of 19 century and among many other newspapers and magazines, he received the first educational journal published by Konstantin Fotinov in 1842. Her mother wanted her daughter to study and sent her as a student to an educated priest. However, Tonka returned only three days later because she was mocked by her friends for wishing to become educated. Back then, women who wanted to educate themselves were hardly accepted by society.tonka1

In 1831, Tonka married the notable tailor and one of the first traders in Rousse, Tiho Obretenov. His fellow citizens considered him a representative of the intelligentsia in the city. He actively took to public life at that time and sponsored the Lyuboslovie and Dunavski Lebed magazines. Later he bought the house on the Danube which later became the center of revolutionary activity in the region. In 1864, together with his son Nikola Obretenov, he founded the first Bulgarian school in Romania. Tiho died in 1869 from poisoning carried out by his business partner.

The Obretenovi had 5 boys and 2 girls from their marriage – Peter, Angel, Atanas, Nikola, and Georgy, and Anastasia and Petrana. All of them are inextricably connected to the national struggle for Bulgarian Liberation from Ottoman rule.tonka5semeistvo

According to the written sources, Baba Tonka was a warm-hearted, communicative, resourceful, and courageous woman who considered it her duty to help people in trouble and to support the ones in need. Her fate that allotted her one of the most important and unique roles in the Bulgarian National Struggle for Liberation, first encountered her when she was already 50 years old when Georgi Sava Rakovski, a personal friend of her husband’s, visited their home to discuss with Tiho Obretenov matters related to the Bulgarian liberation. It was then when her revolutionary spirit was ignited and her desire to take part in the struggle for liberation was born.

When Rakovski began to form the First Bulgarian Legion, Baba Tonka’s house became the place where young people including her two sons Angel and Peter started learning how to shoot and handle weapons. In 1862, Peter joined the First Bulgarian Legion in Serbia. Angel and Stefan Mesho-the Priest did walking rounds to meet the people on the Bulgarian part of Danube region, to spread revolutionary ideas, ignite a desire for freedom, and attract compatriots to the struggle for liberation.

In 1864, Baba Tonka incited the revolt of women against the Greek bishop in the area. This was a part of the struggle against the Greek clergy in the country and for the establishment of an independent Bulgarian church. Ultimately, the revolt succeeded – the local Turkish pasha was persuaded to remove the Greek bishop and to allow the religious service to be held in Bulgarian.

In 1868, the detachment of Hadji Dimitar and Stefan Karadzha was gathered. Baba Tonka’s two sons, Peter and Angel, joined it. Her daughter, Petrana, created and embroidered the flag of the detachment, which Baba Tonka herself took to the revolutionaries by travelling to Giurgiu in Romania where their headquarters was located.

After the defeat of the detachment, the revolutionaries who were captured alive were taken to Rousse. Among them was one of their leaders, Stefan Karadzha, who later died from his wounds. Baba Tonka managed to bury him and managed to preserve his skull which now can be seen in the Baba Tonka Museum in Rousse. A captive who was also taken to the city was her son, Angel Obretenov, who was sentenced to hard labour for life and sent to Israel. He was released in 1878 by virtue of a general amnesty and returned to Rousse where he died in 1894. Another of her sons, Peter Obretenov, found his death in one of the battles of the detachment in 1868. He was only 26 years old.tonka3_big

In 1872, the Revolutionary Committee of Rousse was established in Baba Tonka’s house by her son Nikola Obretenov. The setup of this committee was long considered of utmost importance by Vasil Levski – the Deacon, the leader of the National Struggle for Bulgarian Liberation, who wanted such a revolutionary organization near the Danube to facilitate the transfer of weapons from Romania to Bulgaria and to act as a connection between the Bulgarian Revolutionary Committee in Bucharest, Romania, and the Internal Revolutionary Organization in the country.

Baba Tonka had two important tasks to carry out – to provide a hideout for the weapons of the revolutionaries and to recruit boatmen to transfer mail and weapons between the Bulgarian and Romanian shores. As a result, a hiding place was dug under the rooms of the house that was big enough to shelter both rifles and several revolutionaries in case of need. By using cunning and bribery, Baba Tonka managed to attract the boatmen that were necessary for the cause.

In 1874, the Revolutionary Committee in Rousse became of great importance and was functioning as the major revolutionary committee responsible for the central parts of the country. In Baba Tonka’s house were hidden weapons, correspondence, archives, the Svoboda (later renamed to Nezavisimost) newspaper published by Lyuben Karavelov. Many revolutionaries, such as Stefan Stambolov, Stoyan Zaimov, Toma Kardzhiev and Zahari Stoyanov, found shelter and protection there too.

In 1875, the preparation for the uprising in Stara Zagora began. To take part in it, the detachment from Chervena Voda and Novo Selo was formed. The flag that Baba Tonka’s daughter Petrana embroidered for the detachment was adopted one year later by the detachment led by Hristo Botev, one of the most prominent revolutionaries to lead the National Struggle for Liberation. Petrana also created and embroidered the flag for the detachment from Sliven and also took part in regular revolutionary activities by transferring mail and weapons.tonka4

After the defeat of the uprising, the sons Nikola and Georgi along with Stefan Stambolov, Panayot Volov, Stoyan Zaimov and others managed to escape from Stara Zagora to Giurgiu. Part of revolutionaries, however, were captured and taken to the prison in Rousse. Baba Tonka travelled to Romania to help the exiled revolutionaries there and also managed by trick again to make the Turkish prison guards let her freely visit the rebels in the prison and therefore bring them clothes, food, and help them keep their faith in the face of the enemy.

In 1876, Nikola Obretenov, who was a central figure in the Revolutionary Committee in Rousse, was appointed a leader (apostle) of the April Uprising in the district of Vratsa. Later, he participated in the detachment of Hristo Botev, witnessed the death of the leader, and is one of the survivors who provided details about the events that led to Hristo Botev’s death. Nikola was sentenced by the Turks and exiled. After the Liberation he became a Member of Parliament and a Mayor of Rousse. Together with his wife, Dimitra, he lived in his mother’s house until his death in 1939. Tonka, their daughter and Baba Tonka’s granddaughter, and her husband, Niko Prosenishkov, were killed in the coup d’état organized by the Communists in September 1944 who also confiscated the house.

In the same 1876, Georgi Obretenov was appointed an apostle for the district of Sliven. He joined the detachment of Stoil Voyvoda. In May 1876 he was severely wounded by the Turks during a battle and committed suicide in order not to fall into captivity.

Anastasia Obretenova supported the revolutionary activities of her brothers. She married revolutionary and writer Zahari Stoyanov, author of Notes on Bulgarian Uprisings, and after the Liberation she edited his works.

Atanas Obretenov was called The Old Housekeeper and was responsible for keeping the hideout and Baba Tonka’s house safe and in order, and for the transfer of weapons and mail.

Baba Tonka lived to see Bulgaria liberated and died in 1893. According to eyewitnesses, her funeral was attended by so many people that only the number of people attending Lyuben Karavelov’s funeral in the city had outnumbered it.

Below are maybe the most famous words Baba Tonka has uttered. They themselves speak of her relentless faith, patriotism, and dedication to Bulgaria during the National Struggle for Liberation:

It’s four sons that I lost in the struggle! Two of them are in their graves already and the other two are half-dead. But had I four more, I’d still make them carry the Bulgarian flag with the golden lion!

In 1934, a village in the Municipality of Popovo, Targovishte, was named after Baba Tonka. The High School in Mathematics in Rousse and a gulf at the Antarctic island of Livingston also bear her name. Her personality served as a prototype for the heroine of Baba Tonka in Ivan Vazov’s novel called Chased and Unwanted.

Her house is now a Museum that is taken care of the Regional Museum of History in Rousse.


1. Tonka Obretenova
2. Tiho Obretenov, available in Bulgarian only
3. Peter Obretenov, available in Bulgarian only
3. Angel Obretenov, available in Bulgarian only
4. Georgi Obretenov
5. Nikola Obretenov
6. Petrana and Anastasiya Obretenovi, available in Bulgarian only
7. Stefan Karadzha
8. Notes on Bulgarian Uprisings
9. Bulgarian Women, forum, available in Bulgarian only
10. Analyses, Dnevnik Newspaper, available in Bulgarian only

The photos in the article are not owned by this website.

City of First Things in Bulgaria

Rousse owes one of the informal names by which it is known to its role of an economic and cultural center it played for Bulgaria during the second half of the 19th century and after the Liberation from Ottoman rule.

1In 1836 Rouschouk, as they called Rousse at the time, became the center of the Danube Administrative Territory, which in 1864 included areas from several countries of today. The Ottoman governor of this area was Midhat Pasha. He turned out to be a capable statesman and initiate economic and tax reforms. At the time, the consulates of Austria-Hungary (1849), Russia, Britain, Italy and Prussia (1853), France, Belgium, the Netherlands (1864), Romania, Spain and Greece were founded in Rousse. The city became one of the most important administrative centers of the then Ottoman Empire.3

The story of Rousse, however, got even more interesting: along with a source of economic welfare it was for its citizens in the late 19th century, Rousse also became one of the most important centers of the National Revival Movement, which sought independence from the Ottoman Empire. Twice the Revolutionary Committee in Rousse was voted to be the national central coordination unit in the Resistance. After the Liberation, the city retained its strong position by becoming the largest city in the Principality of Bulgaria with a population of 22,000 people, and became an entry point for Western influences in terms of architecture and culture. It was at that time when Rousse acquired yet another of its names – the Small Vienna.4

In the 1930s the Mayor of the city, Kiril Startsev, continued the successful trend of city development. However, the annexation of Southern Dobrudzha by Romania marked a downfall in capital and was the reason for the withdrawal of BGN 40,000,000 from the city’s economy. Of all consulates in the city only two remained. After the occupation of the city by the Soviet army after the Second World War, the Communists claimed Rousse to be bourgeois and many of its most prominent citizens were killed, convicted, or forced to leave. The scars from this economic and cultural blow are still evident today, when Rousse is trying hard to revive its economy, attract new investments, develop as an attractive tourist destination and sustain international relations.

6All in all, due to its unique position in the second half of the 19th century and the decades after the Liberation from Ottoman rule, it was only normal that Rousse was the place where a number of significant and fundamental for the country’s development events happened just there. The full list is very long, but we managed to pick up some of the more intriguing ones. Believe me, it was not easy at all!

Year For the first time in Rousse and in Bulgaria
1864 An Ottoman territory acquires its own representative institution – the Common Danube Administrative Territory. The first modern printing press starts working.
1865 Streets are given names.
1866 The first telegraph line between Rousse and Varna is built.
1867 The first railway line from the centre of the Danube Territory to Varna is built.
1868 The first exhibition of local industry and agricultural production is held.
The first factory for alcoholic beverages starts working.
1876 The first brewery starts working.
The first steam paint factory begins to operate.
1878 Rousse becomes the first Bulgarian city to have its own plan for urban development, the first curbs, sidewalks and street kerosene lanterns appear.
1880 Ivan Vedder launches the first Masonic lodge in the Principality of Bulgaria.
1881 The first metal ship is built.
The first Bulgarian private bank starts to operate.
1883 The first steam brewery starts to operate.
The first weather station is built.
1884 The first German-language school in Bulgaria and on the Balkans is established.
The first pharmaceutical community is set up.
1890 The First Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce is established.
1891 The first insurance company starts to operate.
1896 The first manually operated elevator is built.
1897 The first film show is presented.
1906 The first import of cars is performed.
1933 The first private-funded refinery is built. First Bulgarian Oil Industry is established.
1953 The first bridge over the Danube is built to connect Bulgaria and Romania.
1981 The first civil protests during totalitarianism are held.
The first attempt to establish a civil ecological organization is made.

1. Peika
2. Wikipedia

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First Civil Protests

In collaboration with Jennifer Atanassova

In 1981 the Romanian chemical plant in Giugiu, Verachim, starts to operate. Poor installation and excessive load causes the systematic release of chlorine compounds in the atmosphere in amounts that are up to twelve times over the permissible norms. The management of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) takes no actions and leads no negotiations with Romania – for fear not to spoil the good neighborly relations. During this time, however, for the residents of Rousse everyday life becomes a struggle for survival. protest1

Analyses show 72 days of intense gassing per year. The number of respiratory diseases registered over seven years has doubled. The number of children born with disabilities has significantly increased. Infant mortality in the city has become 2 times higher than the average for Bulgaria. Nearly 20,000 people have left Rousse. All signals of the ecological threat to Rousse during 1984-1986 have been classified. The Communist government in Romania denies that there is a problem. protest4

On September 23, 1987 the BCP in Ruse makes hundreds of students at the age of ten come to the square in the city center for admission to the pioneering organization. The air is blue haze. Ambulances accompany the procession of the children to the front. Medical teams provide first aid to fainting children. However, nobody cancels the event.

This nightmare becomes the trigger for Tsonka Bukurova, Viara Georgieva, Dora Bobeva, Stefka Monova, Eugenia Jeleva and Albena Velikova – six women working as Technical Leaders and Assistants at the state-owned company for landscape architecture to plan and organize the first environmental protest in the country during the Communist regime. An interesting fact is that due to fear of reprisals, they swear before Bible that they will stick together in the endeavor and it helps them keep their courage. protest-organizatorki

On September 28, 1987 500 people gather outside the Party House to hold a peaceful protest while the District Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party is having a meeting in the building. A representative of the Party faces the protesters and assured them that they have already taken measures to stop gassing – which however happens only four years later.

The silence engulfing these protests is broken, though only in a local newspaper. An article related to the effects of chlorine attacks and the demonstrations is published. The issue becomes known on a national scale after the publication of materials in “Literaturen Front” and “Starshel” published materials for the air pollution in the city. From December 9, 1987 to January 22, 1988 Rousse artists organize an exhibition called “Ecology – Rousse 1987”, which is written about in all major newspapers in the capital. As a result, BCP persecutes the initiators of the exhibition and starts the propaganda for their exposure among the city residents. Due to the lack of any actions on behalf of the government, as much as the six ladies try to keep the protest civil, it takes on a political tone when an unknown perpetrator wrote on the building of the Dunavska Pravda newspaper “Down with the BCP”. protest2

On February 10, 1988 the weather is clear and no gassing has happened up to the moment. Nearly one hundred mothers with their babies in prams gather outside the Municipal Council of the Communist Party. More and more mothers join the demonstration and their number becomes over 2,000. This is also the day when the Member of the State Council and former Prime Minister – Grisha Filipov, is taking part in the Party meeting. He steps outside and talks to the mothers, assuring them that there is no more gassing. Right after the demonstration, however, a thick blue mist again descends over the city. The angry mothers refuse to disperse and to believe the propaganda any more. This civil and environmental protest becomes known ever since as the Protest of the Mothers with Prams. protest3

The filmmaker Yuri Zhirov of the Ekran studio team at the Bulgarian Television shoots the movie “Breathe,” which played a big role in the subsequent events. After the movie is broadcasted, there followed a mass enrollment in the newly established Public Committee for Environmental Protection of Rousse, which is the first dissident organization in the country. In reality, the Committee, however, fails to perform any activity. The Court refuses to incorporate it, the State Security interrogates many of the protesters, puts pressure on its members and forces its founders to give up any related activity.

In 1991 Verachim is closed down. protest5

1. Breathe Documentary
2. New Old Stories – The Gassing of Rousse in the Eighties
3. How Jivkov Let Chaushesku Poison Rousse
4. Anatomy of a Civil Protest in Bulgaria towards the End of the Socialism: the Rousse Case

The photos in the article are not owned by this website.

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