Sapundzhiev, Alexander (1893-1975)

Alexander Sapundzhiev

A short biograhy of Alexander Sapundzhiev, a leading Bulgarian anarchist communist.

Submitted by Battlescarred on April 30, 2024

Alexander Sapundzhiev was born on February 18th, 1893 in the village of Boboshevo in Bulgaria. Whilst at high school in 1911at Kyustendil, a town noted for being an anarchist stronghold, he came in contact with libertarian ideas and joined a student anarchist group. Soon after he had his first article published, The Anarchist Ideal.

From 1913 to 1916 he studied philosophy at the Faculty of Philology in Sofia and was later appointed teacher in a country town, but managed to still maintain contact with his comrades in Sofia and Kyustendil. He was called up in 1915 and served as a reserve second lieutenant. Immediately after his military service he returned to his studies at the Faculty of Law in Sofia. However, he preferred not to practice as a lawyer, as he found it incompatible with his anarchist ideas. He lived with his father, a retired teacher, in Kyustendil and engaged in fruit growing.

He participated in a mass rally of anarchists on May 1st 1919 in Kyustendil. In June 1919 he took part in the founding congress of the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation (FAKB) and subsequently was present at all FAKB congresses. Later in the year he was detained and convicted after taking part in a demonstration.

Although he was a close friend of Vasil Ikonomov, the doyen of armed anarchist action, Sapundzhiev was opposed to the practice of expropriation and terrorism, instead insisting on mass agitation.

In 1921, he worked as a teacher. The same year, he attended the second FAKB congress held at Maltete in the mountains in the Kazanlak region and was amongst the eighteen participants who were arrested as they returned home from the congress. As a result, he was fired from his job and permanently banned from teaching. From that moment on, he devoted himself to the anarchist movement and to the publication of underground newspapers such as Anarkhist, Rabotnicheska Missal (Workers' Thought) and Svobodno Obshtestvo (Free Society).

He was one of those present at the demonstration outside the meeting of the Agrarian Party government led by Stamboliski and was arrested with 50 other militants. After his release, he was a delegate to the 5th Congress of the FAKB, held in Yambol in early 1923, where he presented an important report, and continued to play a very active role in the coordination of various movements

Following the June 9, 1923 coup d'état, when Rabotnicheska Missal was forced to close down, Sapundzhiev was arrested and interned in Iskrets and during the ensuing September insurrection, he suffered the same fate. Released from prison with tuberculosis, he spent several months at the Aleksandrovskaya hospital in Sofia (its director at the time was the anarchist doctor Paraskev Stoyanov) and then in the sanatorium in Iskrets. Once recovered, he resumed his propaganda activities, publishing Svobodno Obshtestvo. Following the Sveta Nedelya church bombing in Sofia on April 16th, 1925, carried out by a military group of the Communist Party, endorsed by the Soviet authorities, which targeted the Bulgarian military and political elite, including Tsar Boris III, he was arrested. Ironic, as he was totally opposed to such tactics. He was exiled to his homeland, where the authorities hoped that he would be murdered by Macedonian reactionaries.

He then took refuge in Yugoslavia, where he worked as a porter at the train station in Veliki Bekerek (now Zrenjanin). In 1927, the majority of Bulgarian anarchists that had remained in self-imposed exile in Yugoslavia, decided to leave en masse and moved clandestinely to France. One of the last to leave, Sapundzhiev arrived in Toulouse in 1928, where he worked at the ONIA chemical fertilizer factory under the name Nikola Tenev, and made links with numerous Spanish and French anarchists. The Bulgarian anarchists were one of the largest of the émigré groups in France at the time, with over 150 members, and this group would go on to form the basis of a newly reconstituted FAKB.

In 1931, following the amnesty of 1930, he returned to Bulgaria where after the publication of his pamphlet Organisation of the Insurgents he travelled around the country working to rebuild and unite the movement .At the Lovech Congress of August 1932 he lectured those gathered on the same theme. In this period, he managed to maintain his activities as editor of a relaunched weekly Rabotnicheska Missal, director of Svobodno Obshtestvo and the translation of various pamphlets, but he struggled to find any form of paid work and was engaged in a constant battle to try and make ends meet. One of his translation jobs – a pamphlet from French into Bulgarian – led to him being convicted and sentenced to three months in prison, which he served in the central prison in Sofia.

After the pro-fascist coup d'etat of May 19, 1934, life in the capital for Sapundzhiev became impossible and he retired to the village of Byala near Varna to devote himself to growing grapes and working in a cooperative there. However, the move failed to interrupt his ties with the movement and he managed to attend all illegal gatherings of the FAKB. Despite his absence from Sofia, the authorities had not forgotten about his existence and, in 1942, he was exiled to the village of Golyamo Peshtene for a six month term. After the installation of the Communist regime in 1944, he was again targeted by the authorities. In December 1948 he was arrested and sent to Belene concentration camp, but was soon released from there.

Alexander Sapundzhiev remained faithful to the ideas of the movement until his death on July 6, 1975.