site.btaThe Man who Blew Up the Sofia Stalin Statue in 1953 and Survived
On March 3, 1953 a 19-year-old anarchist did the unthinkable and blew up the large monument of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that stood in the central Sofia Freedom Park – now Boris' Garden – and survived. He lives to this day, aged 90.
The perpetrator, Georgi Konstantinov, was the leader of an anarchist group, known by his nickname Anarhiata ("The Anarchy"). The bombing was carefully planned by a group of semi-legal anarchist activists, who were strongly opposed to the Communist repressions of the time.
"At that time Stalin was more than God and one word against him was enough to destroy a man", Konstantinov recalled decades later. He views the action of his anarchist group as a protest against the Stalinist dictatorship and of defying leaders, who they viewed as big-time criminals.
It transpires in his recollections of the organization of the bombing that the explosives and other supplies for the bomb were provided by one of the group members who was serving in the Armed Forces at the time.
The Stalin monument itself was located at the entrance of the Freedom Park, approximately where the bas-relief of Tzar Boris III stands nowadays. It was a pedestal of about 2 metres and a bronze monument between 4 and 5 metres high.
"Stalin stood on the pedestal looking to the future. Our bomb was placed between his two feet. When it exploded, it knocked out the legs and toppled the statue", Konstantinov added.
The explosion happened at exactly 19:30 on March 3, 1953 during a demonstration in Tzar Osvoboditel Square. Georgi Konstantinov decided to stay and see the monument fall, while his collaborators fled in lieu of being arrested.
Two days later – on March 5, 1953, Stalin died.
The anarchists found out that the conspiracy had been betrayed and decided to flee the country. Konstantinov travelled to his hometown Blagoevgrad planning to go from there to the Bulgarian - Yugoslav border and cross over. However, he was arrested on March 28 and was taken to the Interior Ministry in Sofia. There, he was kept without food and sleep for seven days and was interrogated daily by the Communist State Security.
A trial against the anarchists followed, lasting for three months. At the end of the second month, Konstantinov tried to commit suicide but failed. After that, he was handcuffed for the rest of the trial to prevent him from further attempts to take his own life.
"When they keep you handcuffed for a month, your shoulders hurt a lot. The pain was terrible, burning, everything was dislocated, and when they took the handcuffs off, which was only when I had to use the toilet or to eat, I couldn't lift my arms," he said.
Georgi Konstantinov was sentenced to death but his family managed to pull some strings among the doctors, who attended to him while in remand and obtained a certificate saying that Konstantinov was mentally ill. This, alongside the still unofficial policy of de-Stalinization, saved his life.
Konstantinov's death sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison, many of which he served in total isolation. State Security officers told him that he would regret he was alive.
He served 5 years of his sentence in the Pazardzhik prison, where most of the Bulgarian political prisoners were held. There the left-wing Konstaninov made friends with former right-wing activist Ilia Minev, who would eventually become the political prisoner, who served the longest sentence in the world.
A few cells away from that of the anarchist was the cell of famous Bulgarian banker and politician Atanas Burov, and that of former Minister of War Ivan Volkov.
When he was taken to prison, Konstantinov weighed 93 kg. When he was released, he was 49 kg.
In 1958, he was transferred from Pazardzhik to the infamous Belene labour camp, after which he was in the Pleven prison. Interrogations and torture were common practices against those branded as "enemies of the State". Having seen his own file in the State Security archives year later, Konstantinov wrote that the prisons used medieval methods for extracting confessions from the prisoners but those were classified and never described in the records.
Konstantinov was eventually released in the end of 1962 as a result of a large-scale amnesty.
In 1973 he fled to France earning himself a new death sentence in Bulgaria. For the next 20 years, Konstantinov lived in France but the State Security continued to keep an eye on him. Much later it turned out that his own brother had been forced to report on him - which would eventually ruin their relationship.
In 1990 the anarchist was once again amnestied and returned to Bulgaria. He managed to obtain his full file from the de-classified State Security archives. On their basis and his own memories, he wrote five volumes of memoirs, telling of the evolution of his anarchist ideas, of his friends and associates in the illegal anarchist movement, his experiences in prison and afterwards, when he was released.
As a matter of fact, Konstantinov was among the advocates of the idea for declassifying the secret police files and nearly became a member of the secret files commission - but did not because of his "terrorist" past.
The Last Freedom of Georgy Konstantinov (With Eng. subs) - a Documentary about the life of Konstantinov