Nikola Voyvodov - The man From Vratsa Who Inspired Botev
Little is known about Nikola Voyvodov, the man from Vratsa. He was the first in our history to kidnap a ship, cross the Danube and start insurgent actions in 1867. His feat inspired Hristo Botev to capture the ship "Radetski" nine years later.
Nikola Hadjikrastev Varbanov, as his real name is, was born in 1842 in Vratsa, in the wealthy family of Hadji Krastyo Varbanov, a successful cattle and wine merchant. He received a brilliant education for his time at the prestigious "Robert College" in Istanbul. He was fluent in English, French, Italian, Turkish, and Greek. In 1865 he went to Milan to study the silk industry - at that time sericulture was one of the prosperous industries in Vratsa.
This journey changed his destiny forever - there he became acquainted with the revolutionary ideas of Mazzini and Garibaldi. Dedicating himself to the liberation of Bulgaria, he went to Braila, Romania, where he became actively involved in the work of the Bulgarian community. He then went to Galati, where he sought supporters. At that time he changed his surname to Voyvodov. His faithful comrade at the time was the Serb Tsvetko Pavlovic, whom he met in Italy and who introduced him to the ideas of the Carbonari ("coal miners"), a secret political organization operating since the early 19th century in France and Italy. Voyvodov and Pavlovich believed that the time was right for an uprising in Bulgaria. They contacted Stefan Karadja, but he did not think the time was right. Still, he began hectic preparations. They decided to rent a special room for the headquarters of the future guerrillas and for storing weapons.
In 1867, Voyvodov and Pavlovic managed to organize a small but united insurgent detachment in a short time. It included Bulgarians, Serbs, Montenegrins, and the former Russian officer Nikolai Dalmatov. Nikola, elected voivode (leader), demanded: "his detachment to look like a regular army that goes to open battle with its adversary, not like Bashibozuk bandits that makes a bad impression to civilized European nations." Assisted by local Bulgarians in Galati, all rebels were dressed in beautiful uniforms. Their kalpaks (woolen hats) were black, with copper and silver lions. It is said that a Romanian girl Florina, Voyvodov's beloved, sewed a green silk flag with a furious lion and the inscription "Freedom or Death".
The detachment was to pass to Bulgaria through Radujevac (Serbia). In order to arrive before the guerrillas, Nikola Voyvodov and Tsvetko Pavlovich boarded an Austrian steamer called "Germany". On August 20, 1867, the ship anchored at the port of Ruschuk (Ruse). Due to treason, the Turkish police were waiting for them. The governor Midhat Pasha knew from a Bulgarian spy about the arrival of the two revolutionaries, and the Austro-Hungarian consul in Ruse, Georg von Martyrt, ceded the sovereignty of the steamer. In the following shootout, Pavlovich was killed on the spot, and Voyvodov was seriously wounded and later died. He was originally buried in Ruse, probably by Baba (Grandma) Tonka Obretenova.
On August 23, 1867, Bishop Michael of Belgrade held a memorial service for the two Orthodox Bulgarians in the Belgrade Cathedral, delivering a moving speech:
"And again we must mourn the new victims of barbaric murder, mourn the innocence of our people killed by atrocities ... by the savage force of fanaticism and atrocity ... our citizen of Belgrade and Nikola Voyvodov, the son of our brotherly people died a martyr death in Ruschuk, on the steamer "Germany" ... isn't this an ugly violation of everything that is sacred, and isn't this an act of wild beasts ... and Europe looks at all this with indifference... ".
What happened on the steamer flying the Austro-Hungarian flag prompted European diplomats to discuss with their governments the unprecedented assassination of Voyvodov and Pavlovich on Austrian territory. If we exclude the atrocities after the April Uprising and the "Radetski" takeover by Hristo Botev, there are few cases when the European diplomacy at that time was so carefully dealing with the "Bulgarian question".
In 1938 a committee arranged the transfer of the bones of the voivode to the church "Holy Ascension ” in Vratsa. In 1967, at the 100th year mark of his death, the remains were transferred to his home, where they remain to this very day.
Автор: Антония Чиликова
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