Тhe last cartoon-interview by Iliya Beshkov was published in the penultimate issue of Hornet, no. 21. Instead of animals, he converses with a bomb: “Wretched bomb, what seek you here/ in our homeland, small and dear! / “Answer us! We’re from Starshel / “I don’t know. Go ask Churchill…”
The bombardments of Sofia began as early as spring of 1941, but after Bulgaria declared war on England and the USA at the end of the same year, they became a sinister daily companion to the lives of its citizens. By September 1944, thousands were injured or killed, and the heart of the city was eliminated A bomb even fell on Beshkov’s house.
Sava Popov preserved this photo of Iliya Beshkov in his archive. It’s from the mid-1920s, when Beshkov was a student at the Academy of Art and still had his youthful illusions. His views and his scathing satire put him in constant opposition to all authority. In 1925, the police almost killed him on suspicion of collusion with the Communists; after 1934, he had to flee to Belgrade because of his political cartoons; in 1941 Hornet was shut down; in 1942 they carried out a death sentence for espionage on his friend Georgi Valkov, the editor of the newspaper Pladne (Noon). And after September 9, 1944, the new government did not succeed in taming him.
On 9 September 1944, the People’s Government was established. The Soviet army occupied Bulgaria. New prohibitions and new censorship were introduced, along with labour camps and communist propaganda. The so-called “people’s courts” were constituted, in which more than 2,500 people were sentenced to death and tens of thousands were prosecuted, many of them disappearing without a trace. Those inconvenient for the regime were forcibly relocated, and most were left without a livelihood. The nationalization of private property began. In a few years, the property of bankers and industrialists – but also of small private individuals – was confiscated. The land was collectivized. Years of famine followed. Iliya Beshkov’s brother, the farmer Ivan Beshkov, was sentenced to death and executed. His “crime” was that he was a minister in the final government of Bulgaria before the coup. The artist was devastated and gradually stopped drawing political cartoons for the press. He devoted himself to his students at the Art Academy and kept a secret diary.
От статията „Народният съд си каза думата“, 1945
“From 20 December 1944 until 1 February 1945, over the course of 40 days, the two chambers of the People’s Court considered the numerous accusations against the former regents (…), the cabinet ministers (…), the royal advisors (…), the police officer representatives of the 25th National Assembly. (…) The People’s Court pronounced its sentences: death – 102 people; life imprisonment – 20; 15 years in prison – 18, 8 [years in prison] – 1, 5 – 6, 1 – 7; suspended sentences – 4; posthumously sentenced – 12; acquitted – 3 (…) The people are attentively following the whole process. On February 1, the citizens of Sofia came out in a spectacular rally to demand the immediate execution of those sentenced.”
(Compatriot newspaper – “weekly paper for the army and the people,” no. 1, 7 February 1945)