Aleko Konstantinov

File:Aleko konstantinov.jpg

Aleko Konstantinov (1 January 1863 – 23 May 1897) was a Bulgarian writer, best known for his character Bay Ganyo, one of the most popular characters in Bulgarian fiction.

Born to an affluent trader in the Danube River town of Svishtov, he attended the Faculty of Law of the University of Odessa, graduating in 1885. He worked as a jurist in Sofia before embarking on a writing career. His first novel (in fact, a collection of relatively independent short stories), Bay Ganyo (“Uncle Ganyo”), describes the travels through Western Europe of an itinerant peddler of rose oil and rugs. Though impertinent and clumsy, the nevertheless ingenious Bay Ganyo has been seen as a mirror for a modernizing Bulgaria. At the beginning of the novel Bay Ganyo is seen mainly as trading rose oil while at the end he is portrayed as a political man. His prototype is the Karlovo tradesman Ganyo Somov.

Konstantinov, a cosmopolitan traveler, was the first Bulgarian to write about his visits to Western Europe and America. His visits to the World Exhibitions in Paris in 1889, Prague in 1891 and Chicago in 1893 provided Bulgarian readers, who had recently gained independence from nearly 500 years of Turkish Ottoman oppression, with a portrait of the developed world. To Chicago and Back (where Bay Ganyo appears once again, but only as a third plan person), his travel notes from his American trip, spurred a lasting interest in Chicago, which today boasts the largest concentration of Bulgarian immigrants in the United States. Nowadays there’s a bust of the writer in the University of Chicago‘s Regenstein Library[1]

Hе was assassinated in 1897 near Radilovo while traveling to Peshtera, most likely by mistake with the intended target being his friend (a local politician), with whom he had changed places in their coach shortly before the fatal shot. However, there exists also a version that his essays, exposing the hidden insidious intentions of the rulers of his day, led to his assassination.

Aleko Konstantinov initiated the tourist movement in Bulgaria. This is why two of Vitosha‘s hotels are named after him – “Aleko” and “Shtastlivetsa” (“The Lucky Man”, the nickname he gave to himself in one of his short stories).

Konstantinov is portrayed on the obverse of the Bulgarian 100 levs banknote, issued in 2003.


Read Aleko Konstantinov’s novel “BAI GANYO” HERE

Bai Ganyo


Aleko Konstantinov (1863-1897)
Universal moral values

He was a jurist who worked in succession as a judge, a prosecuter and a lawyer. In his 30s he published his travel notes entitled To Chicago And Back Again as well as Bay Ganyo: The Incredible Story of a Contemporary Bulgarian, two of the most popular Bulgarian books to the present day. At the same time he wrote articles satirising events in the social and political life in Bulgaria. He became famous under the pen-name, the Fortunate. Aleko Konstantinov was a popular person in the cultural circles of his time, and the initiator of the hiking movement in Bulgaria. He was the victim of a political murder.

The murder of Aleko Konstantinov was one of the most tragic incidents in Bulgarian history. Whether an accident or a political retribution, it was one of a series on meaningless deaths in the ranks of the Bulgarian intelligentsia: Dimcho DebelianovGeo MilevNikola Vaptsarov… With each of them Bulgarian spirituality and culture suffered a severe blow, and lost a unique talent.

Aleko Konstantinov’s start in literature was belated and seemingly accidental, but it made a permanent impact. He was one of the unique characters in the constellation of eminent intellectuals. In all his endeavours he was full of light and vigour, from the time he went to high school in Nikolaev and to the Southern Slavic boarding school in Todor Minkov where he played the violin and composed operettas for parties, to the years of starvation after he failed as a lawyer. Later he brought the same energy to his participation in political life and party struggles. That was when he composed his poignant satires. His lectures aroused frenzied enthusiasm and approval among students, and were provoking to the authorities and the “traitors“.

No one could have so willingly taken on the formidable task of creating Bay Ganyo, the collective image of moral degradation. No matter whether he is perceived as the image of a certain class of the whole nation, this character is equally dangerous. It would certainly be naive to think that Aleko Konstantinov’s works like Bay GanyoElections in Svishtov and Different People, Different Ideals cost him his life. It is also unlikely that he was murdered because of his devotion to the Democratic Party and Petko Karavelov. For he was devoted “not to a mortal man but to an immortal idea“. His devotion made a substantial difference, and made the satirist, politician and candidate for a seat in the National Assembly different from his contemporaries, turning him into a black sheep, i.e. into a target. He was one of the few people who, without being a theoretical idealist or a shallow dreamer, continued the National Revival tradition of considering political goals as identical with the popular wishes, of regarding politics as an integral part of the people’s life, and of regarding the politican as a representative of the popular will. He cherished the “sweet dream of establishing a most requisite and timely democratic party, very much in harmony with the mentality of our people“. He intentionally wrote “democratic party” with small letters because to him it was a spiritual movement rather than a political formation, headed by “the most honest and outspoken champions of democratic values“, among whom “there are no courtiers, sycophants, crawlers, hard-hearted, arrogant andavaricious“. Aleko Konstantinov’s moral values, which reveal much of a person’s character, were broad and varied. A lawyer turned a brilliant satirist in the vortex of political struggles and the creator of an immortal bible of Bulgarian social psychology, he was the bearer not so much of a universal talent but of a universal morality.

After his return from the university in Odessa, at the age of twenty-two, he befriended Pencho Slaveykov, younger by three years. There could hardly have existed two individuals with more opposing characters, more conflicting emotional, mental and psychological attitudes, as is evident from their spiritual development and literary career. Yet Pencho Slaveykov remained faithful to their friendship, and became the first editor and publisher of Aleko Konstantinov’s collected works after his death. It was hardly the manifestation of an emotional obligation alone. Aleko Konstantinov added a unique aspect to the collective image of the Bulgarian intelligentsia without which it would have been incomplete. While Pencho Slaveykovshouldered the mission to act as the prophet of a new moral ideal in the larger framework of his age, Aleko Konstantinov was interested in morality in everyday life.

He was unmatched in describing ordinary life and in filling it with moral values and standards of a lofty spiritual content. The serenity and charm of the bright-eyed Aleko emanated not only from his cheerful character but also from the purity of his moral concepts and from his attitude to life and to people. By adopting the pseudonym “Fortunate“, he was neither flirting with nor challenging fate. All that was left behind him, and particularly his letters, were full of sincere happiness about being different, living by his own standards and holding on to them despite life’s vicious resistance. Indeed, he was happy, for “bargaining” was to him “as alien as the Chinese language“, and he “virtually despised wealth“. He had other values in life.

Aleko Konstantinov’s ideals were far from the heights of philosophy and aesthetics. They were the ideals of an ordinary, though extremely talented person, and they helped him through everyday life. He had almost no followers, and he died a violent death. The Bulgarian intelligentsia was lucky to produce at least one talent like him.


About jasminatacheva

Jasmina Tacheva has graduated from the National High School in Finance and Business in Sofia, Bulgaria, with a specialty in Economics and Management and is currently majoring in Economics at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, but is not afraid to admit that her true passion has always been literature. She published her first poetry collection, "Unrequited", at the age of fifteen. Since then she has completed one novel (unpublished) and is currently working on a joint novel together with Yordan.
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