A short biography of Bulgarian anarchist doctor Ivan Balev
Ivan Balev was born into a family of peasants at Pavel Banya on February 26th 1900. When shepherding, he always carried a book along with his bread and cheese. He went to secondary school at Kazanlak, the major town in the area, where anarchist influence was strong., and he soon joined the anarchist movement. After high school, he enrolled at a teacher training college in Stara Zagora but was expelled for his anarchist beliefs.
He taught for one year in the village of Malevo, and then practised medicine in Sofia.
In 1925 he married the teacher Evangelina Paskeva, and they had two daughters, Radka and Stefanka.
After two years, he then moved to Vienna to study medicine where he completed his education in 1928.
A plate by the dear read “Free consultations for the poor”.
He was responsible for setting up a cooperative of rose growers in Pavel Banya and had the first rose house built. He was elected chair of the cooperative for five years. He then worked in Pavel Banya as a GP, where he built a 3-storey house which he turned into a hospital. As a representative of the Alliance of Cooperatives he went to Paris in 1930, and specialised at the Sorbonne in Paris from 1926 to 1931.He used his own passport to help three persecuted Bulgarian anarchists get refuge in France.
He became close friends with Nestor Makhno whilst in Paris. He proposed that Makhno move to Bulgaria for his health. Unfortunately, Makhno realised that many Russian White Guards had settled in Bulgaria and that he would not be safe there.
He then specialised in X-ray and urology in Sofia, where he increased his anarchist activity. As a result, there was a strong anarchist influence within the Doctors Abstinence Unit. On their initiative an appeal was launched to sign up doctors and medical professors for a declaration against war in 1936. He wanted to go to Spain in 1936, but decided against for family reasons.
He gave many lectures on anarchism and had an important influence on students and workers in Sofia, and peasants and young people in Kazanlak.
In 1939 he was arrested and mobilised to work as a doctor in various military units. In 1941 he and his entire family were interned at the village of Bisertsi. In 1944 he was again drafted to serve in the Aegean.
Strong and fit, with a great capacity for work, he developed a broad culture and learnt several languages, English, French, German, Spanish and Turkish.
A surgeon-doctor, orthopaedist and general practitioner, he was much admired by his patients for his kindness and care. Sick people came from long distances to Pavel Banya, a thermal spa town, to be treated by Balev.
Named as assistant to the first surgeon of Bulgaria, Paraskev Stoyanov,(1) he himself became a noted surgeon. Author of many medical works, and assistant at the university hospital of Sofia, he was the most qualified to take the place of Stoyanov when he vacated his post but his anarchist activities led to persecution.
Arrested 2 days before the 5th Congress of the Communist Party, in December 1948, along with 600 other anarchists, he was interrogated and tortured by the secret police for four months. His house in Pavel Banya was nationalised. Along with eight other anarchist militants he was tried in a closed court. Professors of the Faculty of Medicine attended voluntarily to vouch for him, but in vain. He was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment at Bogdanov Dol.
He refused to renounce his principles. Asked by the prison authorities to give a teach-in on the subject of “The New Man” to prisoners, his take was entirely different to that expected by the Stalinist officials. As a result, he was not allowed to receive letters from his family, or to receive aid parcels.
Arrested again for telling an anti-regime joke to an intellectual who promptly denounced him, he was interned in the concentration camp of Belene for many years. He carried out operations with kitchen knives on benches as a necessity. Charged with caring for the prisoners, he saw that the camp authorities failed to deliver his prescriptions. He protested and refused to exercise his medical duties and took part in hard labour like the other inmates. Released in 1953, he was deported to Pavel Banya where he was not allowed to practice his profession. Instead he cultivated the land of his family. Later he worked in Shumen in the urological ward for 24 years. He was allowed to return to Sofia in 1976.
Despite his robust constitution, Balev’s suffering in prison and concentration camp shortened his life and he died in Sofia on 1st June, 1981, caring for patients to the end. He was buried in Pavel Banya.
(1) Paraskev Stoyanov was himself a noted anarchist, involved in the movements in Romania and Bulgaria. See:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraskev_Stoyanov
Balkanski, G. Histoire du Mouvement Libertaire En Bulgarie (Esquiisse).