“FREEDOM” for Vratsa, embroidered by sisters Mitsa and Kalitsa

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Photo: kartanavremeto-vratsa.org

he word “Freedom” is the only one embroidered on the flag of the Vratsa rebels from the time of the April Uprising. And if the rebels’ motto was usually “Freedom or Death,” the two sisters Mitsa and Kalitsa chose to place only one of them. This means that there was no other alternative for the people of Vratsa and they were sure that the freedom of Bulgaria would be won.

The valuable exhibit can be seen in the halls of the Regional Historical Museum in Vratsa. Here is the curious story about sewing and saving the flag, told on the website: https://kartanavremeto-vratsa.org/ and published by Nikolay Doinov in the collection “From the Danube to the Balkan”.

The gates of the konak (a large administrative building) opened slowly, silently, just enough to see the treacherous, slavish soul, feeling that something was happening in Vratsa. It was early – the shutters on the shops were still down. The cobbled streets were empty.

The second time that day, the konak gates opened wide. The daughters of Hadji Krastyo H. Vasilov were brought in. They were led across the bazaar around noon. The guilds stared in astonishment.

“You bought satin from the merchant. A lot of satin, in different colors. Why?”

“We’re sewing vests for the girls and women from the villages. They want them in many colors – white, green, blue!”

* * *

A city was preparing for a rebellion. Property and cattle were exchanged for a single rifle. The first conspirators carried the fiery speech of Vasil Levski, the Apostle of Freedom, in their souls as burning coal. On that dark August night of 1872, a whole revolutionary organization has grown under the shadow of the Balkan. Bullets were cast in a secret room in Yota Savova’s house. Everyone seemed to be drunk with revolution. Determination became audacity and the faith in the success of the national work – the most important job tomorrow.

But they needed a standard. So, the committee decided – the sisters Mitsa and Kalitsa will sew it from white, green, and blue satin fabric. They will embroider a furious lion and the word “FREEDOM”. The two sisters sewed and embroidered in a secret room of their father’s house, from dusk till dawn. Only the most trusted knew about it and often stopped by. The lion has already “stood up” along with the only word “FREEDOM”. One spring day in 1876, when the last purl thread came out of the needle, they inscribed with a small stitch across the lower end of the flag: “Kalitsa and Mitsa K. H. Vasilovi. 1876. 12 Apr. Vratsa”.

On the late-night of May 19, 1876, the streets of the city echoed with a previously unknown sound – gunshots. A fire broke the night darkness and illuminated the waving flag. Insurgents flocked to the Church of the Ascension. The crowded temple became cramped. Bare-headed and bristling, they all kissed the cold steel of the dagger and the pistol, the gilded cross in father Kosta Bouyuklyiski’s trembling hand, and the treasured flag. They all uttered the word “Freedom”.

The last flames of the April insurgence slowly burning down in the Srednogorie. The bloody suppressors of the uprising marched north to the Danube to meet the belated help – Botev’s detachment. The insurgents in Vratsa retreated before the numerous Ottoman regular army. Thirty-three Bulgarians died that day from the scimitars of the Turks.

In these anxious days, Mitsa and Kalitsa hid the flag between the roof tiles in their father’s house.

The hope for freedom remained in the thirsty souls of the Bulgarians. The Ottomans, however, remained suspicious that the daughters of Hadji Krastyo were engaged in committee work and were quick to visit their home. Two zaptii (Turkish soldiers) went to their home. One stayed downstairs while the other one climbed up to the ceiling and started searching. The two sisters shuddered – the damned Turk was approaching the hidden flag. They stared at each other for a moment and agreed: one of them went downstairs, went around the fence in the yard, and talked to the guard, who called the other one down. At that time, the flag was moved to the part of the ceiling that had already been searched.

So, the sisters outwitted the Turks yet again. But Hadji Krastyo was scared. It was not a good thing that the Ottomans roamed around, checking the basements and the attics. His house would be set aflame some night and his family – decimated. He called his daughters and ordered them to burn the flag. And one cannot go against his father’s word!

Mitsa and Kalitsa “followed” their father’s order immediately. They took an old silk garment, threw it into the hearth, and called him when it caught fire.

The sisters told him “Done, we burned it”.

The real flag was sewn in and an old useless diaper hung on a long pole under the shed in the yard.

***

Late in the afternoon of October 28, 1877, the commander of the detachment, who had liberated Vratsa, Major General Nikolai Stepanovic Leonov I., entered the newly liberated town with his officers. They were greeted by the jubilant Bulgarian population. The intoxication was indescribable. Freedom after five hundred years of slavery! Russian officers were honored guests of Hadji Krastyo Vasilov and his family. The festive table was rich and noisy, but it was heavy on the patriarch’s soul: he cursed the fear of the slave and making his daughters burn the flag!

But the clever sisters had an idea: they called the servant boy and asked him to take the flag out of the diaper, nail it to a long pole, and to call them when he lifts it. When everything was ready, they invited their family and guests to go out.

The flag of the Vratsa rebels was waving high above everything in the middle of the yard! The Russian officers asked for the treasured relic to be taken down. Everyone embraced, cried with joy, and kissed the standard.