June 2 - Day of Hristo Botev and those who died for the freedom and independence of Bulgaria

Humbly but worthily we honour the memory of Hristo Botev

Photo: BGNES

144 years have passed since the self-sacrificing campaign of emblematic Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev and his detachment of revolutionaries who went on a march from the town of Kozloduy on the bank of the Danube River to the Balkan Mountain close to Vratsa. The commemoration of the historical events, which grew into organized celebrations, has long been an integral part of public life in the Vratsa region /Northwestern Bulgaria/  through which Botev and his associates passed. This year, however, due to the spread of Covid-19, the traditional events in memory of the heroes have been postponed. It has only been announced that there will be a sports relay race on June 2, reports the correspondent of the Bulgarian National Radio in Vratsa, Iva Antonova.

The annual commemorative celebrations in honour of Hristo Botev took place even during the two world wars, and their beginning, although informal, was laid even before Bulgaria’s Liberation from the Ottoman Rule in 1878.

Very little is known about the first celebrations marking Botev’s memory after the Liberation of Bulgaria. A witness to the events of that time, the priest Nikola Petrov, claims that he was the one to place the wooden cross on Milin kamak (Milin stone locality) during the Russo-Turkish war. This first memorial sign marked the place where on 18 (30) May 1876, at the end of the April Uprising, Botev's detachment entered into a fierce battle with the Turkish bashibozuk and about a hundred soldiers of the regular troops. More than twenty of Botev's rebels left their bones on the Milin Kamak mountain hill, but the losses of the Turks were greater due to the more favourable position of the Bulgarian detachment. Immediately after the Liberation, in 1879, the teacher Toma Mladenov called for celebrations on the Kozloduy shore, from where the rebels started their march to the Balkan Mountain, and in 1882 a votive sign was placed there.

"In the following years 1884-85 the most sincere and selfless celebrations were held, in which the population of the Vratsa region participated," Miroslava Topalova, curator in the New History department at the Regional History Museum in Vratsa, told the BNR.

Monument on Okolchitsa peak

"In 1937, to commemorate the feat of Hristo Botev and his detachment, a 30-metre reinforced concrete monument with a cross on it was erected on Okolchitsa peak. The place was chosen for the monument because it is visible from everywhere. In 1949 the upper part of the monument was rebuilt into a five-pointed star, and in 1992 it was restored to its original shape. Since 1946, a national tourist march is organized in the footsteps of the Botev detachment – starting from the town of Kozloduy to Okolchitsa peak”, says Miroslava Topalova, adding:

“In 1961, the rock on which Hristo Botev died on June 2, 1876, was turned into a memorial with a text engraved in it: "Your prophecy has come true - you are alive!" In addition to Kozloduy, at Milin Kamak and the towns and villages through which Botev's detachment passed, solemn celebrations are held in Vratsa as well. With the help of donations, on May 27, 1890, the first sculptural and architectural monument after the Liberation erected to perpetuate the memory of the hero in the Principality of Bulgaria was placed in the town centre.

Old monument to Hristo Botev at the Regional History Museum, VratsaThe opening ceremony was attended by Prince Ferdinand 1, Prime Minister Stefan Stambolov, as well as Hristo Botev’s mother, wife and daughter. Even then, in front of the monument to the voivode, survivors from the Botev's rebels and pilgrims gathered on the square. Funeral services and prayers are held every year, scenes from the detachment's battle path are re-enacted, there are fireworks, a torchlight procession, sports demonstrations and competitions are held”.

This year, however, all events have been cancelled due to restrictive measures. So far, the municipality of Vratsa has announced that despite Covid-19 the traditional march on the path of Botev's detachment - from Kozloduy to Okolchitsa - will take place. On June 2, cyclists, football players and other members of sports clubs from Vratsa will walk on the path within the space of 6 hoursin a relay race. The athletes will hand over the flag of the revolutionaries, so that it will be flown over the glorious peak shortly before the sirens sound, which, as always, will take place throughout Bulgaria at exactly 12 o'clock at noon.

Compiled by Gergana Mancheva

English Rossitsa Petcova

Photos: BGNES archive, Iva Antonova, BNR archive

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