Bulgaria’s outgoing government proposed on November 23 that the President confer posthumous state honours on 30 leaders of the Goryani, an anti-communist guerrilla movement that operated from 1944 and involved at least 3000 people.
The Goryani movement, of armed bands brought together by their rejection of the communist regime that took over Bulgaria in September 1944, was among the very first anti-communist resistance movements in Eastern Europe and, having peaked in the 1950s, lasted to a small degree into the 1960s – making it one of the longest-lived movements of it kind.
Historical records about the Goryani are scant because the communist regime that had Bulgaria in its thrall until the end of the 1980s largely suppressed information about their existence and destroyed documentation.
The conferring of the medals on the late leaders of the movement was proposed to the government by the Pamet (“Memory”) Union of the Repressed in Bulgaria.
A government statement said that the Goryani movement at its peak, in 1952/53, had numbered 3130 people in nearly 160 groups, many of whom were massacred by the communist authorities.
The Goryani fighters had made a great contribution to the development and strengthening of civil society, democratic institutions and human rights and freedoms, the government said.
“They opposed the existing repressive regime, upholding the values of democracy in defence of basic human rights and dedicated their lives to changing the situation in Bulgaria,” the statement said.
Honouring their memory was in line with public determination that the victims of the communist regime should be politically and morally rehabilitated.
It was in line with national and international instruments to which Bulgaria is a party, including Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolutions from 1996 and 2006 and the 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, among others, the government statement said.
The Goryani movement, derived from an expression meaning “people of the forest” operated in several parts of Bulgaria, though it was strongest in southern Bulgaria.
The communist regime, when it referred to it at all, sought to portray the movement as a foreign incursion, though all indications is that the movement arose spontaneously and was a domestic resistance force, though members crossed back and forth over the Greek and Yugoslavian borders.
Members of the movement were assisted by many thousands of ordinary Bulgarians who supplied them with food, shelter and weapons. The Goryani also operated their own radio station, based in Greece.
There were a number of operations by the state against the Goryani in the late 1940s and 1950s, including a large-scale operation in 1948 as a shutdown was imposed in the northern Pirin area for two weeks as Bulgarian state militia moved in to hunt the Goryani.
In another operation, in the 1950s, the communist regime deployed about 13 000 police and military in an operation against the Goryani near Sliven. Reportedly, the then-leader of Bulgaria, Vulko Chervenkov, monitored developments from the shelter of an armoured personnel carrier in the area.
Over the years, some of the most prominent Goryani leaders were killed in action or were captured and sentenced to death or sent to communist penal camps.
(Photo, of a monument to anti-communist resistance fighters in Tsalapitsa: Anton Lefterov)