unimpressed by Deltchev’s efficiency, were content to let things stay as they were for the present. Some of its members had even wondered if the word ‘provisional’ might not be dropped from the title of a government with so rich an expectation of life. They could not know that their leader, Deltchev, had already numbered its days.

Many attempts were made later to offer more reasonable explanations of Deltchev’s actions at that time than the one accepted by the simpler members of the public — namely, that he was a self-sacrificing patriot who had been directly inspired by God. Since, however, most of their other explanations relied on the assumption that he was monumentally corrupt, none of them was much more convincing.

The material facts were simple.

After the meeting at which the election promise was discussed Deltchev seemed preoccupied and unwilling to pursue the matter in private conversation. To one persistent man, however, he said, ‘If we have clean hands they cannot accuse us.’ The man took this to be a comment on the strength of the government’s position and the absurdity of the People’s Party manoeuvre.

That was on a Thursday. For the next few days Deltchev was at home in bed with a severe chill. On the following Tuesday he was due to make a radio speech about a national campaign then in progress for conserving winter foodstuffs for livestock.

He came to the radio station straight from his bed, looking, according to the director of the station, ‘Like a man who has been fighting with devils’. In his speech he talked briefly about the conservation campaign and then, after a momentary hesitation, produced a handwritten script from his pocket and began to read a statement from it.

Five minutes later the people knew that, in the considered opinion of ‘Papa’ Deltchev, the time had now come for the government to redeem the Committee’s solemn pledge to hold free elections at the earliest possible moment.

At the beginning of the statement he had declared that he was speaking only for himself and not for the Provisional Government of National Unity. This declaration was both seized upon as evidence of his cynical contempt for his audience and pointed to as marking his absolute integrity. For the former view it was said that no one but a fool would suppose that, whether he wanted to do so or not, Deltchev could in fact dissociate his private opinions on such a question from those of the government he led; for the latter it was argued that if you accepted the fact of his honesty (and who could deny it?) you would see that his disclaimer was a simple statement of the truth, which he had been bound to make if he were not to deceive the public. As equally divergent constructions could be placed on every other sentence in the statement, neither side could score points. Deltchev himself had returned from the radio station to his bed and, having issued, through his secretary, the statement that the broadcast speech was ‘self-explanatory’, remained there, silent and inaccessible. But by the time two days had passed, it was clear that the storm over the speech, which raged with mounting fury among the politicians, was no longer of interest to the people. In their eyes the Provisional Government was now committed quite irrevocably to holding elections in the near future and anyone who attacked Deltchev was attempting to deny the fact. Yet it was the People’s Party which profited most from the situation.

Those of the unfortunate Agrarian Socialists who had the wit to see that, whatever they might now say in private about Deltchev, they could not hope to win without him as a figurehead were in the majority; but they were terribly hampered by a considerable and vindictive minority whose only concern now seemed to be to oppose and revile him in public. The People’s Party, while taking full advantage of this mistake, took care not to make it themselves. By referring to Deltchev patronizingly but respectfully as a kind of elder statesman (he was in fact only sixty then) they managed to convey the impression that he was in a state of derelict senility, which could excuse his continued association with the Agrarian Socialists. Also, by securing the postponement of the elections until the early summer, they gave themselves time to prepare a coup d’etat that anticipated publication of the election results by a few hours. In the event, it was almost unnecessary. Thanks to Deltchev, they very nearly came into power by constitutional means.

His response to these events was at first curiously passive. True, he protested against the coup d’etat, but rather formally, as if expressing an appropriate but not heartfelt sentiment; and in the chamber his attacks upon the new government had about them the studied moderation of a fencing master with a new pupil. For a long time he seemed unaware or unwilling to be aware of the government’s quick, wary moves to make themselves secure. Soon the anti-Deltchev faction within his own party began to find people ready at last to listen to their tale of a great fortune deposited abroad in Deltchev’s name the day after his election statement. Even among the general public he seemed to be losing popularity. It was understandable that the government’s supporters should have come to think of Deltchev almost as one of themselves.

Then came the incident of ‘Deltchev’s football match’.

The occasion was the official opening of a sports stadium. It had been completed in 1940 and immediately requisitioned for use by the German Army as a transit camp. Later the Red Army had used it as a garrison headquarters. Its return was a gesture of Soviet goodwill, which the new government had dutifully decided to celebrate with as much publicity as possible. It was probably the presence of Western diplomatic representatives at the ceremony that determined that Deltchev as leader of the ‘opposition’ should be asked to speak.

He began, deceptively, with a tribute to the Red Army and expressions of his party’s recognition of the generous motives that had prompted the early return of the stadium. He hoped that in the near future it would be the scene of a memorable football match with the local Red Army team.

Then, during the mild applause that greeted this suggestion, he moved nearer to the microphones. But this time he took no manuscript from his pocket. He knew exactly what he wanted to say.

‘But meanwhile, my countrymen, there is another, more deadly battle for us to fight — the battle for freedom within the state.’

He paused. There was a silence, in which the long banners could be heard flapping in the wind. He went on.

‘Two days ago I was invited by the leader of the People’s Party, Petra Vukashin, to take the office of Minister of Justice in the government that now has power. My answer was promised for tonight. I take this opportunity of giving him the answer now. I answer that if he thinks that by so betraying my brothers in the Agrarian Socialist Party I should change in any way their determination to fight until this new tyranny is utterly destroyed — if he thinks that, then he is stupid. If our opposition to his party’s criminal plans is such that he must try to buy us off with a share of the loot, then he is also frightened. My countrymen, there is no time to lose. These stupid, frightened men are dangerous, not for what they are now, but for what they mean to become — your masters. They are not…’

At this point the booming public-address system in the stadium was cut off. In the deathly pause that followed, Deltchev’s voice, high and thin in the wind, could only be heard by those near him as he completed the sentence.

Then the cheering began. It came across the packed stadium as a rolling, sighing wave of sound that surged up and broke with a roar that shook the air like an explosion. It lasted nearly a minute and subsided only when another sound came to replace it: the steady, massive chanting of Deltchev’s name. Suddenly on the far side of the stadium there was a wide swirling movement in the crowd as a fight developed, and from closer at hand there was angry shouting. Deltchev, who during the cheering had stood motionless in front of the dead microphones, now waved his hand and turned away. There was another tremendous cheer and more shouting. At that moment the officer in command of a Russian military band, which had been waiting to lead into the arena the squads who were giving the gymnastics display, decided not to wait for an order to do so. It was a sensible decision and probably averted serious trouble. As the band began to play and march in, the cheering became ragged and in places gave way to laughter and clapping. In less than a minute the incident of ‘Deltchev’s football match’ was over; over, that is, except for the breathless excitement of discussing it and of reporting it to those who had merely heard it on the radio. But nothing about it was forgotten and much that had not happened was remembered. ‘Papa’ Deltchev had come back to them. He had spoken his mind and they had shown that they were with him in his fight against the ‘masters’.

Four nights later an attempt was made to assassinate him.

His house was of the old kind with a walled courtyard. As he got out of his car to enter the house, a grenade was thrown. It hit the wall by the entrance and bounced back into the road before exploding, so that Deltchev, who had gained the doorway, was partly shielded from the blast. There were few people about at the time and the man who had thrown the grenade escaped.

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