Leaflet of the Vratsa revolutionary district intended for the soldiers sent to crush the uprising
|Bulgarian Communist Party
Bulgarian Agrarian National Union
| Bulgarian government
Paramilitary troops (shpitskomandi)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|Over 2,000 civilians|
The September Uprising (Bulgarian: Септемврийско въстание, Septemvriysko vastanie) was an armed insurgency staged in September 1923 by the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) under Comintern pressure, as an attempt to overthrow the Alexander Tsankov's new government of Bulgaria that had come to power with the coup d'état of 9 June. Besides its communist base, the uprising was also supported by agrarians and anarchists. The uprising's goal was the "establishment of a government of workers and peasants" in Bulgaria, not the conversion of the country's socioeconomic system to communism.
Background and organization
The Bulgarian Communist Party leaders took up a neutral position on the 9 June coup d'état and the subsequent June Uprising because it regarded what was happening in the country as "struggle for power between the urban and rural bourgeoisie". This position was provoked by the belief of the party's older leaders, headed by Dimitar Blagoev and Todor Lukanov, that there were no ripe conditions for a revolution in Bulgaria yet.
At the same time, a number of party organizations in the country proclaimed their support for counteraction to the coup d'état, with some even joining the June Uprising. Bulgarian Comintern General Secretary Vasil Kolarov sent a telegram to the BCP (Narrow Socialists) leadership, advising them to "act in determination, even together with Stamboliyski". However, no common BCP measures in support of the June Uprising were taken in the long run.
In early August 1923, a plenary session of the BCP (Narrow Socialists) Central Committee was called. During the session, the young and radical party activists, headed by Georgi Dimitrov and Vasil Kolarov, backed by the Comintern, prevailed in support of the organization of a new uprising.
The government took precautions to prevent the uprising, arresting more than 2,000 noted BCP activists on 12 September 1923. As a reaction to the arrests, the uprising broke out without plan in isolated areas, initially around Kazanlak. On 20 September, a BCP Central Committee meeting was held, during which a decision was reached to proclaim the uprising on the eve of 23 September, despite opposition by the supporters of legal activity. The plan involved a mass uprising around Vratsa followed by the formation of an organized militia which would capture the capital Sofia.
Insurrectionary activity was first started by the communists in the village of Maglizh near Kazanlak on the eve of 14 September. Their actions were backed by the BCP branch in Golyamo Dryanovo. The rebels seized the two villages, but received no support from the neighbouring branches, which decided to wait until the official proclamation of the uprising. Several hours after the outbreak in Maglizh, they withdrew into the mountains.
On 12 September, a campaign committee was set up in Stara Zagora, which reached a decision that the region should be stirred up to revolt on the eve of 20 September. The uprising broke out in Stara Zagora at the arranged time, but was quickly suppressed by government forces.
Nova Zagora revolted at the same time, with the city and the whole region being quickly seized by the rebels. The villages around Chirpan also revolted on the eve of 20 September and an unsuccessful attempt to capture the city was undertaken. The lack of an organized uprising around Burgas allowed the government to mobilize strong forces and crush the uprising around Stara Zagora. Particularly hard battles were fought at Maglizh, Enina and Shipka.
Uprising in northwestern Bulgaria
Aleksandar Tsankov's government, not enjoying wide popular support but relying on the army, declared a martial law on 22 September and mobilized sizable forces to suppress the uprising. Groups of volunteers organized in shpitskomandi (paramilitary formations) also fought against the rebels.
In support of the cavalry platoon in Lom, which was encircled by the rebels, the government sent relief from Vidin. The rebel forces were aided by one cannon operated by Father Andrey, but it failed to tip the balance in their advantage. After three days of small-scale urban warfare, the government restored control over Lom.
At the morning of 25 September, rebels under Gavril Genov attacked the government troops heading to Ferdinand at Boychinovtsi and defeated them following a bitter fight. The victory raised their morale and they advanced to Vratsa, but were driven back. Rebel forces were also routed at Brusartsi by troops garrisoned at Vidin. The resistance of the rebels in the Petrohan Pass was also broken around the same time, and numerous heavily armed military units advanced to Ferdinand and Berkovitsa. In order to save the rebels from total extermination, the leaders issued an order to retreat to Yugoslavia. On 27 September, the government forces entered Ferdinand. On 28 September and 29 September, there were only occasional fights between the retreating rebels and the army.
In Plovdiv and the vicinity, an uprising practically did not break out. Only a handful of villages revolted around Pazardzhik, among which Muhovo and Lesichevo. On 24 September, the rebels attempted an unsuccessful attack of Saranbey.
Following the departure of Dimitrov and Kolarov for the northwest, there were no preparations for the uprising in Sofia. The reason was that the Sofia branch of the BCP was dominated by supporters of legal action against Tsankov's government. Ultimately, a revolutionary committee was set up, consisting of Anton Ivanov, Dimitar Ginchev and Todor Atanasov, but it was uncovered and its members were arrested as early as 21 September. The lack of an uprising in Sofia allowed the government to use its best military units from Sofia to crush the uprising in other parts of the country.
There was small-scale insurrection around Ihtiman and Samokov, as well as in individual villages in the vicinity of Sofia and Pirdop. Ihtiman and Kostenets were captured, but the rebels were quickly crushed by government detachments from Sofia.
Before the beginning of the uprising, BCP and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) concluded an agreement, according to which BCP would not stir up the population in Pirin whereas IMRO would not obstruct the uprising's organization in other parts of the country. In practice, however, neither side respected the agreement, as the area around Razlog revolted and IMRO joined the conflict on the side of the government. Following short fights, the rebels withdrew in the mountains.
Following the suppression, the government, shpitskomandi and IMRO detachments committed atrocities against the civil population in the regions that revolted, with particularly large atrocities around the town of Ferdinand. Active communists and agrarians were killed, including some which did not take part in the September Uprising. Casualties among the civil population amount to more than 2,000. According to the Bulgarian historiography during the communist rule of Bulgaria, they were around 30,000, but these are considerably overestimated figures.
After the crushing of the uprising, its leaders Georgi Dimitrov and Vasil Kolarov fled to Yugoslavia and then to the Soviet Union. Some of the rebels remained in the country and acted as isolated militia in the mountains, other emigrated to Yugoslavia.
The September Uprising and the atrocities during its suppression provoked a powerful reaction among the Bulgarian intellectuals of the time. Among the more famous works dedicated to the uprising are the poem Septemvri by Geo Milev, the novel Horo by Anton Strashimirov and the painting Septemvri 1923 by Ivan Milev. Others include the books of poetry Proleten vyatar (Spring Wind) by Nikola Furnadzhiev and Zhertveni kladi (Sacrificial Stakes) by Asen Raztsvetnikov. The latter, together with Angel Karaliychev, author of the book Razh (Rye), were later classed as the "September generation of writers".
Between 1944 and 1979, memorials of the uprising were erected in a number of places, the locals of which participated in it.
- Barbusse, Henri (1928). The Executioners (in Bulgarian). Sofia.
- Kratka balgarska entsiklopediya (in Bulgarian). Sofia. 1969.
- Istoriya na Balgariya (in Bulgarian). Sofia: Hristo Botev. 1993.
- Dimitrov, Georgi; Vasil Kolarov, Valko Chervenkov (1953). The September Uprising, 1923-1953. Sofia: Nauka i Izkustvo. OCLC 6217606. (point of view of Bulgarian Communist Party leaders)