Vasil Levski, also called the Apostle of Freedom of the Bulgarians, was one of the most important revolutionaries and heroes in national history. His objective in life was the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.
Famous for his role in the national struggle for human rights and his readiness to sacrifice his life for the revolution and the liberty of the nation, he is revered as a martyr for the cause of Bulgarian freedom.
Levski’s real name was Vasil Ivanov Kunchev; he received the moniker Levski, which means lion-like in Old Bulgarian, as a result of his prowess in battle with the Turks for Belgrade Fortress. According to a legend, he pounced like a lion during a military exercise in Serbia.
Vasil was born on 18 July 1837 in the town of Karlovo, central Bulgaria. Under the influence of his uncle Hadji Vasili, he became a neophyte in the Monastery Sveti Spas in Sopot, where he took the name Ignatiy; two years later he became a deacon. When he was 25 years old, he went to Belgrade and joined the First Bulgarian Legion, organised by Georgi Sava Rakovski, another revolutionary, and participated for the first time in a battle with the Turkish garrison. Unfortunately it was a failure.
However, Levski did not give up his dedication to revolutionary ideas, realising that many of the failures of the Bulgarian attacks against the Ottoman overlords were largely due to general political apathy inside the country. His theory was that Bulgaria could be liberated only if all Bulgarians were united and involved in a revolutionary movement. For this reason, he made two tours around Bulgaria to stir up people for active rebellion, and within a year and a half, he had successfully established a large committee network as well as the Internal Revolutionary Organisation.
Later, with the famous revolutionary writer and journalist Lyuben Karavelov, he founded the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, a large organisation of Bulgarian expatriates. Levski held that all religious and ethnic groups in a free Bulgaria, whether Bulgarians, Turks or Jews, should enjoy equal rights. His rebellion was against the Turkish government, not against the Turkish people: “We are not driving away the Turkish people nor their faith, but the emperor and his laws, which has been ruling not only us, but the Turk himself in a barbarian way.”
Treachery by Dimitar Obshti, a man in the internal organisation, led to Levski being captured on 27 December 1872 at an inn near the town of Lovech, and executed by hanging in Sofia on 19 February 1873. In his last moments, he confessed his sins and asked forgiveness from God in the presence of Vicar Todor Mitov.
In his confession he said: “Whatever I have done, it has been for the (Bulgarian) nation.”
Today, there is a monument in the centre of Sofia built in honour of Levski; every year people leave flowers there in memory of the Apostle of Freedom.
In 2007, he was selected as “The Greatest Bulgarian” of all times in the first edition of a Bulgarian National Television programme of the same name. Almost 59 000 spectators voted for him.