A short biography of Bulgarian anarchist doctor Konstantin Kantarev
Konstantin Nikolov Kantarev was born on August 5th, 1903 in Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. His father volunteered in the Balkan war without a trace at the front. As a result, the surviving family lived in poverty, and soon Konstantin’s mother, sister and brother succumbed to TB.
Konstantin completed his secondary education in Pazardzhik. The deaths of his close relatives inspired him to study medicine and he enrolled at Sofia, thanks to a loan from his uncle, which he later repaid.
Graduating in 1928, he worked as a village, municipal, and district doctor and then as a ward doctor in the Plovdiv polyclinics. In 1940, he specialised in paediatrics and became head of the children’s department of a Plovdiv polyclinic. In addition, he was involved in medical science observations, and actively contributed to the introduction of the BCG vaccine, which acts against TB, into Bulgaria. He promoted medical knowledge, writing 180 articles in over 80 periodicals and delivering talks. In addition, he studied the history of Bulgarian medicine, and wrote a series of articles on its founders.
Apart from that, he devoted himself to literary criticism, writing studies of Bulgarian revolutionaries and of Russian writers.
Konstantin Kantarev was introduced to anarchist ideas by his classmate Iliya Yurukov (1). He became active in anarchist school and youth circles in the town. He came to the attention of the authorities, and he was repeatedly arrested and interrogated. He spent a month in prison at Tarnovo for distributing books from the Bread and Freedom library based in Kilifarevo.
Kantarev contributed regularly to the anarchist press. He knew many notable anarchists and was later able to provide detailed knowledge of them to archivists of the Bulgarian anarchist movement like Kostadin Zyapkov.
He was arrested on December 16th, 1948 along with a thousand other anarchists across Bulgaria, by the Communist security services. After a month in the basement of the Plovdiv State Security, he was interned in the Bogdanov Dol concentration camp. There he met other anarchists like Georgi Zyapkov. He was set free after a period of “re-education,” and warned to stay away from public and political life.
He was put under constant police surveillance. Before each Communist official holiday (May 1st, September 9th, and November 7th) his home was destructively searched at midnight, and he was taken to the dungeons of the police for several days.
The horrendous treatment he had received in the camps and the constant police surveillance caused him to close in on himself. Despite this, he began writing about his experiences in prisons and camps. Ill health due to his treatment did not allow him to correct and revise these memoirs and submit them to publishers and they were published posthumously as “A Libertarian in the Clutches of Power” in 2012.
He organised the funeral of the old anarchist fighter Petar Mandzhukov, one of the founders of the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation (FAKB), and he spoke at the graveside.
Months before his death, Kostadin Zyapkov visited Kantarev. He asked a few questions, the answers to which he wrote down. The last question was: “Are you happy that you were an anarchist and end your life as one?” Kantarev answered with an emphatic “Yes!” and Zyapkov wrote that “He could see satisfaction in his eyes.”
Konstantin Kantarev died surrounded by his family, on August 21st, 1992, eleven days after the death of his life companion, Elena.
(1) Iliya Yurukov was born in Pazardzhik into a working class family in 1902. Expelled from high school, because of his anarchist ideas, he participated in setting up a youth anarchist organisation. Possessed of a great knowledge of anarchism and of philosophical and economic issues, and with a phenomenal memory. He was a good propagandist and attracted many young people to the group. He refused military service, and communicated this to the inhabitants of Pazardzhik by issuing a public appeal. Forced underground by the authorities, he moved to Haskovo, Burgas and other places to find work. Returning to Pazardzhik, he threw a bomb into the home of a policeman, a ferocious persecutor of the anarchist movement. When the bombing failed to explode, he shot the cop, but only wounded him. He was subsequently arrested in Sofia, and imprisoned at Pazardzhik, from where he managed to escape. In September 1923, he was arrested in Pazardzhik , and together with his comrade Ivan Bakardjiev and a large group of fighters, he was shot near the village of Lozen. Bakardjiev, was a 30 year old shoemaker, who helped organise workers in an anarchist union, and formed a shoemaking group of ten people.