Georgi Milev Kassabov (1895-1925)
The sublime criteria of spirit

He was an intellectual with many talents and worked as: a poet, a journalist, a translator, a critic and a theoretician of literature, are and drama, a director, an artist, a populariser of modern western literature and art, of newer Russian culture and of Bulgarian poetry, a compiler of anthologies, a publisher and an editor of two literary magazines, Vezni ("Scales" 1919-1921) and Plamak ("Flame" 1924-1925). Born in Stara Zagora, he attended university in Sofia and Leipzig and was wounded severely in World War I. He was brought to trial and found guilty of violating the Law for the Protection of the State, with the publication of his poem September, which reflected the violent events of the autumn of 1923. In the terror following the explosion in the St. Nedelia cathedral, an attempt by the communist party to assassinate the tsar and the government, he was arrested, murdered and buried is a mass grave which was discovered almost three decades later.

The tenth issue of the Vezni ("Scales") magazine of 1921 announced that an "Expressionist exhibition" had been opened at the editorial office. The first exhibition of its kind, it featured "expressionistic, cubistic, futuristic and primitivistic pictures, mainly original drawings from France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Poland, Norway and Denmark, a total of 60 works of art". The articles mentioned the names of Kandinsky, Marc Campendonc and Munch, as well as the address: 23 Maria Louisa Street, 3rd floor. This was the studio home of the magazine's editor and publisher Geo Milev, a single huge multi-functional room where his daughters' beds were placed behind a red curtain with a sickle and hammer emblazoned on it by Nikolai Hrelkov. That room bore witness to the anxieties and innovations in literature, art and theatre of an entire age, as well as the social, political and ideological movements of one of the most turbulent times in Bulgarian history, the 1920s. It was the fortress where the greatest agitator of spirit, thinking and morals in Bulgaria spent his life of struggle. A poet, a critic, a journalist and an intellectual, he was under "the noble curse of being the son of his people".

Having experienced neither childhood nor adolescence, at the age of fourteen he was producing hand-written newspapers and literary collections in his home town of Stara Zagora. By the age of seventeen he was sending home from Leipzig articles that were turning cultural traditions and concepts in Bulgaria upside down. To him, the commitment to the people was measured by continuous ardent efforts for the cultivation of the "vigin soil" that could produce both magnificent flowers and weeds. He had an enormous willpower which fuelled his unmatched working capacity and resulted in his amazingly broad erudition that overwhelmed his opponents. He went even further that his master Pencho Slaveykov in calling into question the most essential aspects of the life and spirituality of his people and of its intelligentsia.

Having lost an eye in World War I, he wrote: "The poet Dimcho Debelianov fell. For what? For a Chimera. For a meaningless illusion called Fatherland." For that Fatherland was "a country born under the sign of the Upstart constellation". It was far below Geo Milev's spiritual standards. His entire life spent in hectic writing was a fight for a new understanding and meaning of fundemental concepts like nation, state and culture. Everything he did reflected the ambition not only to be the first of his kind but to have a place in the future as well. "The newest is the greatest" was his creed, and he embraced a variety of intellectual and social ideas and movements of his time, from Kandinsky to the sickle and hammer.

The most extraordinary thing about him was that he never for a second was an idealist in the usual sense of that word. He was not a dreamer living in a beautiful fantasy world. Every day he produced not only reviews and articles about poetry and fiction, theatre and art, poems, essays and translations, but he was also responsible for a new culture involving names, categories and criteria that were unfamiliar and alien to the Bulgarian mentality of that time. Geo Milev was the champion of spiritual renovation, of a change in man along with the change in society, and of liberation from the dogmata of inveterate traditions. At the age of twenty-five he was a "law-maker" in Bulgarian intellectual life, producing and inspiring not just a literary school or a movement of a different Bulgaria, different in terms of morality, spirituality and mentality.

His criteria were universal. He insisted that the ultimate goal should be the achievement of the supreme ethic. To him, however, "ethic was not quite the same as morals". It was not "a lawbook of the transient virtues of one society or another but a supreme duty of man to humanity". He was talking about the artist but he meant every individual, the society, the state, the nation as a whole. That was the highest standard ever to be set in Bulgaria. Geo Milev was strong enough to carry out his "supreme duty" and saw no reason why others should not do the same.

In his lifetime Geo Milev annoyed many of his contemporaries with his relentless and ruthless opinions. Later many of the most prominent intellectuals of his generation would admit that "with his death something in our souls broke forever". Geo Milev had obviously embodied their hope that the strong in spirit could prevail over the strong of the day. After the events in the autumn of 1923 when "the ideologists and leaders deserted their calling and the entire Bulgarian intelligentsia submissively retreated" he declared a personal war on the state and fought in the way he had fought against baseness and conservatism in art: with intellect, erudition, inspiration, talent, willpower and the criteria of free human spirit. His call to the "cultured community" to contribute to his new magazine Plamak ("Flame") sounded like an appeal for a combined effort against the terror. His goal, however, far exceeded the national mindset: "to illuminate the way to the new future when the human spirit will throw off the tyranny of darkness and the abusive violations of life". Until the tragic date May 15, 1925 when he became missing, Geo Milev called for rule of law, compassion, and reason to overcome the raging police injustice which had caused the more prudent to lie low. He screamed in the face of tyranny, never sparing his opponents, continuously challenging the,. "To be human means first and foremost to be whole", he wrote shortly before his death.

{Spiritual Leaders of Bulgaria}

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