Leitmotif

Dear Reader,

Do you have a leitmotif? Meaning words, or a motto, that somehow sum up your attitude to life?

I don’t. I have always searched for one, but it seems I have not become wise enough to have been able to find it.

As a teenager dressed in black and obsessed with the Weltschmerz, I have developed a strong liking for line “To No Man I Kneel,” from song “The Crown and the Ring” by Manowar. The idea was that you open up only to God and scowl at the common mortals, just in case :). With the passing of time, though, I decided that was kind of dumb and negative, and I dropped it.

At another time, I even ended up with a short-list of 12 motto options, but my computer decided to have a break-down and that list was gone for ever 🙂 .

The oath of the Koprivshtitsa Revolutionary Committee:
The oath of the Koprivshtitsa Revolutionary Committee, 1876: I swear by Almighty God that for the glory of the nation and for the honour of the Orthodox faith, I shall stab the 500-year-old rusty Bulgarian knife into the chest of the mangy Turkish Sultan. Should I break my oath, I shall be cursed by the whole Bulgarian nation and shall suffer the worst of God’s punishment. Amen.

As of today, I believe it is better to wait for the muses to whisper a motto into my ear, rather than strain myself to search for one deliberately. I have found out that my best ideas just suddenly pop into my head, with no conscious effort. There is mental preparation for that to happen, of course, but still. Better not sweat it.

Instead, I have thought of summing up three mottos that I find beautiful and inspirational:

    • GOD WITH US – (С нами Бог, or, if we stick to the pre-1945 orthography, Съ нами Богъ)

This is the inscription on Bulgaria’s current war flag and has been traditionally associated with the Bulgarian Army since its establishment in the last 20 years of the 19th century.

The Bulgarian war flag with the God with Us inscription.
The Bulgarian war flag with the God with Us inscription.

Even before that, a reference to God, most often with this inscription, could be found on the flags of nearly all groups, or detachments, of rebels against the Ottoman rule, which lasted half a millennium on our land.

In fact, God with Us is an Orthodox Christian chant, comprising lines gathered from around the book of Prophet Isaiah. Its applications go beyond strengthening the spirit of soldiers, as it is part of the Penitentiary Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and, as such, is sung during the evening service on the Wednesday after the start of the Great (Easter) Lent.

A 1905 Bulgarian officer sword with God with Us engraved on the blade. Source: Образци дълго хладно оръжие в българската войска, 1878-2009, Пламен Петров
A 1905 Bulgarian officer sabre with God with Us engraved on the blade. Source: Образци дълго хладно оръжие в българската войска, 1878-2009, Пламен Петров, Media – A. Nikolova publishing house.

The use of Orthodox chants in an army context has its origins in the idea behind the establishment of the Byzantine Empire – to be a model of God’s Kingdom on Earth. So, Byzantine armies believed their actions to be guided and sanctioned by God. Later, with the rise of Russia as the leading centre of Orthodox Christianity and heir to Byzantium, this idea was adopted there as well.

God with Us engraved on an 1884 officer sabre.
God with Us engraved on an 1884 officer sabre.  Source: Образци дълго хладно оръжие в българската войска, 1878-2009, Пламен Петров, Media – A. Nikolova publishing house.

For Bulgarians, the close affinity between Church and State was strengthened by the fact that under the Ottomans, ethnic and religious identities were one and the same and that, alongside the language, is what has preserved the Bulgarians from dissolving into the Ottoman melting pot.

In the same time, I’d like to point out that the Christian church is single and apostolic (meaning it originated at the time of the apostles), so it must not be used to justify the geopolitical or internal political doctrines of any country. This is demagogy and heresy.

For the Tsar and the Fatherland, engraved on the blade of a 1944 officer sabre. This engraving started appearing on swords in the late 1920s.
For the Tsar and the Fatherland, engraved on the blade of a 1944 officer sabre. This engraving started appearing on sabres in the late 1920s. Source: Образци дълго хладно оръжие в българската войска, 1878-2009, Пламен Петров, Media – A. Nikolova publishing house.

Be that as it may, Съ нами Богъ is a powerful motto that I myself often use as a morale booster.

  • READ INCESSANTLY, or Tirelessly (Прочитай неуморно)

This statement is the spiritual legacy to the young of Nencho Palaveev (1859-1936) (Ненчо Палавеев), a prominent tradesman and the largest benefactor of the Bulgarian town of Koprivshtitsa, which was a centre of political and cultural upheaval in the years that preceded Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottomans.

Read Incessantly, written on a small wooden library box, shaped as a bird house and perched on a tree in front of Koprivshtitsa's school.
Read Incessantly, written on a small wooden box containing books, shaped as a bird house and perched on a tree in front of Koprivshtitsa’s school.
There were two boxes like that, on two trees. This is what was inside one of them,
There were two boxes like that, on two trees. This is what was inside one of them.

Quite exceptionally for a Bulgarian of that time, Palaveev had travelled literally across the globe, traded with countries on all continents and spoke several languages.

Nencho Palaveev's family grave.
Nencho Palaveev’s family grave.

During his lifetime, the tradesman provided financial support to towns neighbouring Koprivshtitsa as well. In his home town, he funded the construction and maintenance of the local community centre, the cemetery church, a wax candle manufacturing unit, the elementary school, the St. Nicholas church as well as an ossuary located in the town centre and intended to collect and keep for posterity the remains of the locals who died during the 1876 April Uprising.

There used to be a chapel at the top of the ossuary, This is what has remained of the frescoes inside.
There used to be a chapel at the top of the ossuary. This is what has remained of the frescoes inside.
Ossuary entrance.
Ossuary entrance.

The money he had bequeathed to the town finished only in the 1980s, according to local tourism website koprivshtitsa.com. Palaveev had lived for decades outside Bulgaria but has never stopped supporting and caring for his hometown and country.

The community centre. Read Incessantly is engraved in wood above the entrance. The black plaque contains the text of a postcard Palaveev had sent to his townsmen from Cairo, Egypt.
The community centre. Read Incessantly is engraved in wood above the entrance. The black plaque contains the text of a postcard Palaveev had sent to his townsmen from Cairo, Egypt.
The place, where wax candles used to be made.
The place, where wax candles used to be made. This is located in the church yard, close to Palaveev’s grave.
    • LOVE, WORK, PERSEVERANCE (Любов, труд, постоянство) 

This is the motto of Bulgarian tycoon Pencho Semov (1873–1945), born in a village near the central-northern Bulgarian town of Gabrovo. At the end of his life, Semov was shareholder in 28 companies which included three banks and two insurers.

Pencho Semov
Pencho Semov (1873–1945). Source: Glasove.com

Labelled “the Bulgarian Rockefeller”, Semov supported schools, libraries, hospitals and sport facilities. At the time of his death, his funds are estimated to have been equivalent to some USD 9mn according to exchange rates of the mid-1940s.

According to researchers on his life quoted by Bulgarian media, Semov’s impressive philanthropic work amounted in total to no less than BGN 50mn of personal funds and additionally more than BGN 200mn through the NGO he had set up in 1928.  

Semov's beautiful villa, now falling apart after decades of neglect. Source:
Semov’s beautiful villa, now falling apart after decades of neglect. Source: Glasove.com . The text of the link is in Bulgarian, but scroll down to see all the photos.

Under Semov’s will, his family’s sumptuous four-storey villa located in the mountains outside Gabrovo, was to become a senior living establishment to accommodate retired workers from his factories as well as journalists and writers. The villa, designed by Gabrovo architect Nikola Grablev (Никола Гръблев), was built between 1928 and 1933 and boasts its own chapel, a park and a lake.

The communist regime that came to power in Bulgaria in 1944, nationalised Semov’s factories, other property and resources. The new ruling class of the country chose not to fulfill Semov’s will, but rather use his villa to house an infectious disease hospital ward. Gabrovo’s present-day lung disease hospital is also housed by a building that was constructed and owned by Semov. Town mayors elected after communism collapsed in 1989 have so far failed to adopt measures to at least conserve if not restore this villa to its former glory.

The angel statue at Semov's villa.
The angel statue at Semov’s villa.  Source: Glasove.com .

Bulgaria is full of breathtakingly beautiful buildings like this one, abandoned and neglected in a state probably exposing the ugliest side of our present-day society – lack of respect, lack of remembrance, lack of care, lack of community feeling, lack of love and lack of understanding of the need for all of the above.

As our national anthem says, the beauties and charms of Bulgaria are boundless, but, unfortunately, so are human stupidity and greed.

Still, I believe that good will triumph over evil in the end.

Съ нами Богъ!