Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The emergency meeting of top Party brass fueled the myth as well: nothing was published at the time, but rumors circulated and Angel Solakov was sacked. His removal was commented in political terms: according to rumor, he was anti-Soviet, and pro-Czechoslovakian, and wanting reforms, and other such nonsense, based largely on one fact – he was Levski fan. As if Levski fan equals reformer. People forgot in a day that Solakov did run the Secret Police and he was not at all mellow man, or reformer – he was running the most sinister Communist institution. So sinsister, that even the big Commie brass feared him (as in USSR KGB was feared) – and the record of the meeting shows a weird combination of ‘troubles’, resulting in something very close to vendetta. One big concern was the massive gathering at the funeral: the funeral was seen as anti-Soviet, partly because the Soviets were not to fail noticing it. So, people go the football players funeral, instead of mourning the Soviet cosmonauts. Soviet conclusion: Bulgarian Communists are drifting away from us – since nothing happens without approval from the Communist Party, the funeral was sponsored by the Bulgarian Communist Party. Heads will fall… whose heads? The Central Committee heads. The Soviet comrades already indicated ‘distress’, one member of the Central Committee disclosed, obviously briefed by the said ‘comrades’.
Out of fear, the funeral was inflated to something outwardly: the number of attendees was inflated to the dangerous sounding 200 000. ‘Provocations can be easily created in gathering of so many people’, said Grisha Filipov, one of the members of the Central Committee. Another quips that ‘the fans are his (Solakov’s) organs’. Something like a private army, which Solakov ‘organized in anti-Soviet meeting’. Did he knew that the funeral was not to coincide with the funeral of the Soviet cosmonauts? He did. Did he knew that funeral processions are reserved only for members of the Central Committee? He did. But he ignored warnings and rules, to stage this ‘anti-Soviet meeting’ of his ‘troops’, to show himself to them and build cheap glory. Conclusion? Solakov is an enemy, most likely aiming at usurping all power by a little coup, and using his ‘army’ for that. So, no mercy to him. The whole Central Committee ganged against Solakov, and he was sacked. The fears of the top brass were their own: Solakov was too powerful, and therefore, dangerous rival in the infightings for power at the top. Traditionally, a rival is ‘unmasked’ as a traitor, a hidden ‘anti-Communist’, and other similar crimes, bulked together. But there was also another fear: the fear of the masses. It was dangerous example – the precedent example of thousands ignoring warnings, orders, ‘common sense’, and going to a funeral. The masses never went to State funerals or parades, or whatever, on their own – they always had to be herded, ordered, and threatened to do so. If not for the lists of attendance kept by Party functionaries, very few would had marched on the grand parades on state holidays. Lists alone were not even enough – absentees faced sanctions. According to the record of the meeting, spontaneous gathering did not happen in Bulgaria since September 9, 1944. Since the day Communists took power. Two members of the Central Committee – Georgy Yordanov and Stoyan Karadzhov – found that very dangerous. Ironically, Karadzhov found the last spontaneous gathering of similar dimension in 1940 – according to him, the organized by the Communist Party massive welcome of the Soviet football club ‘Spartak’ Moscow, visiting Sofia to play some friendlies. Drawing strange parallels from experience, Karadzhov sees nothing but organized political action in the funeral: he cannot imagine people attending something voluntarily… and without political plan behind it. Must be anti-Communist demonstration. However, the Central Committee was right: the funeral of Asparukhov and Kotkov was the only spontaneous mass gathering in Bulgaria between 1944 and 1990. Just for that it became a myth with political overtones and phantasmagoria.
The Central Committee was so scared, they even considered the dead players an active – and guilty – enemies. They were never named in the record – instead, plural ‘those two football players’ is used accusingly and with disgust. As if they died on purpose – to organize anti-Communist meeting and to defy the Communist Party. Tricky traitors too – escaping justified punishment for their provocation, by death. Official punishment followed, however – Gundy and the Kitten were not to be mentioned in press for some time. The above was not known until recently, but because of rumors the myth grew. The myth that there was no accident, but murder. The accident was staged. The myth exists in two variations, but Kotkov is incidental in both: the target was Asparukhov. Kotkov died just because of his bad luck to travel with Gundy that day. According to the first variation, Asparukhov was killed because he became so big star and so popular, he outshined the Communist Party. Out of jealousy, the Party killed him – they couldn’t stand him been adored more than the Party. Jealousy with political overtones, of course. The other version goes a bit further – Gundy was an anti-Communist, playing for Levski, an annoyingly ‘anti-state’ club, at least for the fans. The symbolism of the combination was too much and too dangerous – it could have become a rally cry for anti-Communist movement (and repeat Czechoslovakia). In this version Angel Solakov appears as a hidden reformer, who, if coming to coming to power would have liberalized Bulgaria. Hence, to eliminate the danger, Gundy had to be murdered. Both versions of the myth depend on ‘evidence’ – the rumor, that there was a third man in the car, a hitchhiker, picked up on the road. This man died too, but the state suppressed all information and nobody even knows who he was. Some ‘evidence’… It is true the government suppressed information about the death, but they suppressed information about much bigger ‘unpleasant’ news – earthquakes, industrial accidents, etc. Even Chernobyl was not in the news – the disaster was announced late, and how Bulgaria was affected by its radioactive dust was omitted. As a rule, Communist media never reported disasters at home, only ‘good news’ were domestic news. Bad news were reserved for ‘foreign’ news – that is, reports on Capitalist countries. It was part of the ‘ideological struggle’ and never changed – white opposed to black. There is no evidence for murder plot. Instead, there are more easily supported counter-arguments: murders were the domain of the State Security, the KGB-form of Police. Angel Solakov was the boss of that, and murder plot had to go throw him – actually, he had to be active part in the plot, if such thing was ordered by the Communist Party. Sinister things are more than likely in the realm of secret police, but Solakov was to plot inside and against his own – Levski already was swallowed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Gundy was an officer. And Solakov was big fan…it was he transforming Levski into menacing and all-powerful club at par with CSKA, employing the same methods as the opposition to win games and titles (stealing players from other clubs, fixing games, scheming on Party level, etc.) Probably all that would not have stopped Solakov from killing his own idol, but if so, why was he sacked? And called anti-Communist by his comrades? And potential usurper of state leadership? Besides, Gundy was hardly political power – there was indication he was not particularly happy with Communism, but it was not actively opposed. Gundy refused to play abroad, for instance – if he was big anti-Communist, he had opportunity to defect and to play for big European club, and speak against Communism. The ‘Soviet Pele’ – Eduard Streltzov – was suspected of possible defection and was not included in team USSR when they played in the West. Gundy was not restricted in a similar way – just the opposite: he was often given privileges (his car is often cited as prime example – he owned Alfa-Romeo sports car in a country where East German card-board made ‘Trabant’ was more like an unobtainable dream for the ordinary population). There are signs that Gundy was not happy with the system and rather disliked it, but he was no dissident. And on top of everything, a plot is usually based on knowledge – to stage a murder, one needs to know where and when the victim will be. Gundy decided to go to play in Vratza the same day he died. Normally, he had to travel with the rest of the team by the club’s bus. It was not usual for him to travel separately from the team – it was spontaneous decision. Simply, there was no way anybody to know in advance that he will be on the road that day. No document so far hints of murder plot, and no one reveals secrets to this effect.
I never thought the accident was staged – Gundy was known as bad driver. He drove too fast on winding, dangerous mountain road – Vitinya pass was notoriously bad in 1971: a narrow road, very limited visibility, constant heavy traffic. It was the main road connecting Northern Bulgaria with Sofia, and large commercial tracks traveled on it all the time. Accidents were common, almost daily. Deadly accidents too. It was like that until modern highway was built by the end of the 1970s and the old pass was abandoned. Gundy was going 140 km on road where even without traffic 60 km was the very limit of safety. He was also more than upset by his expulsion and suspension – another reason for reckless driving. That is the most plausible reason for the accident: bad and angry driver, naturally dangerous road, unsafe speed allowed by fast car. Just an accident. But I blamed and still blame Plamen Yankov for the death of Gundy and Kotkov.
Gundy grew a beard in 1970, when injured and not playing. An act of rebellion – beards, long hairs, any hint of Western and hippie influence were forbidden and against the low in Bulgaria. The Police hunted long-haired and short-skirted youth in the streets – Gundy was a Police officer. Nominally, but still… He never played a game bearded, but photos like this one, from his private life irked state officials – as a result, still fueling the myth of ordered by the government murder.