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SENSATION: Father Paisii’s history stolen from Zograph monastery by the State Security Service ПДФ Е-мейл
РАЗСЛЕДВАНЕ - Разследване
Написано от Христо Христов   
Петък, 12 Октомври 2012 07:49

On the 18th December, 1985, three pilgrims, who had arrived on Holy Mount Athos the previous day, visited the library of the Bulgarian monastery of St.Georgi Zograph.

After distracting the attention of Father Pahomii, the librarian, they replaced the original manuscript of the "Slav Bulgarian History" with a copy which had been prepared in advance. They seal the original in a plexiglass container.

Two of the pilgrims were operatives from the residencies of the First Main Directorate of State Security in Thessalonica and Athens, the third was a diplomat from the embassy of the People's Republic of Bulgaria in Athens. For State Security this was one of their biggest operations abroad.

The theft of the original manuscript of Paisii’s history was one of the most carefully prepared and planned special operations by the First Main Directorate (FMD) of the State Security Service (SSS) in more than 13 years. This is clearly suggested by the code name of the operation to steal the manuscript – "MARATHON".

The sensational discovery of documents referring to the theft of the "Slav Bulgarian History" from the Zograph Monastery on Holy Mount Athos were brought to public attention by Hristo Hristov, an investigative journalist and founder of the site "desebg.com". Hristo recently discovered in the archives of the State Security Service the plans and reports of the top secret "MARATHON" operation.


Section 14 “Cultural and Historical Espionage” - the brains behind the ""MARATHON" operation

The mission was assigned to Section 14 "Cultural and Historical Espionage", created in 1972, after a decision of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the same year to preserve Bulgarian cultural monuments abroad.

In the first top secret plan developed by Section 14 in 1972, the mission was described as follows: "To research the possibilities for replacing the original manuscript of Paisii's history with a copy made by us."

Over the following 10 years – from 1972 to 1982 – Section 14 of the FMD–SSS carried out a series of operations to prepare the ground for the theft. In 1982 operation "MARATHON" got under way.

In addition to acquiring the original manuscript of Paisii’s history, the intelligence service also planned to "acquire" the originals of two other exceptionally important written documents: the "Dragan Minei" from the 12th century and the Service Psalter of St. Patriarch Evtimii of the 14th Century, as well as the Zograph gold treasure, in excess of 100 kilograms of gold coins from various centuries. However, the efforts of the intelligence service were insufficient to accomplish their theft.


The operation itself and the failure of the first attempt

In December, 1984, the first attempt was made to conduct operation "MARATHON". The operation was cancelled since the operative, Colonel Hristo Marinchev, who was again entrusted with the mission to replace the original with a copy, did not receive a permit from the Greek authorities to visit Holy Mount Athos and only got as far as Thessalonica. Marinchev was the deputy director of Section 14, "Cultural Historical Espionage" and worked under cover as the deputy chairman of the Committee for Ecclesiastic Matters of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and Cults of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Section 14 he was responsible for cultural and historical espionage in Greece and Cyprus.

In December, 1985, changes to the plans for operation "MARATHON" were approved and the mission was entrusted to Ivan Genev and Ventislav Again, two operatives from the FMD residencies in Thessalonica and Athens. They were working under diplomatic cover as first secretaries. In the FMD they were assigned to Section 02, "Greece". They were then joined by Dinko Pehlivanov, a diplomat in the Embassy of the People's Republic of Bulgaria in Athens.

The priceless treasure was taken out of Holy Mount Athos under the clothes of Ventislav Again and delivered to the Consulate General in Thessalonica. From there the original was transferred to the Embassy in Athens. The FMD resident sent it to Bulgaria in the diplomatic post.

Confession of the spy who removed Paisii's history

"We were just operatives. We carried out orders given by the Centre to remove the book", Ventsislav Again admitted to journalist Hristo Hristov after 27 years of silence. When entrusted with the operation, he knew in advance that should he be discovered, he would have to bear all the consequences and under no circumstances allow the theft to be linked to the People's Republic of Bulgaria.

He described the operation as follows: "We were all tense and under pressure. Father Pahomii didn’t know and didn’t notice the substitution. I felt huge relief when I presented the original to the Consulate General in Thessalonica". He explained the presence of Dinko Pehlivanov, the diplomat, as a need for the personal support of a friend and colleague during the operation. According to him, before the operation his colleagues from the FMD had expressed their opinion that the removal of the original of Paisii's history from Zograph monastery was a mistake, since it would weaken the position of the monastery on Holy Mount Athos. However, the directors of the intelligence service decided to carry on with the mission.

The Minister of the Interior, Dimitar Stoyanov, issued a top secret order that operatives, Ivan Genev and Ventislav Again, be awarded promotion to the post of deputy director of the section, and Pehlivanov, the diplomat, be awarded the medal, "For Service to Security and Public Order". All three of them now are retired.

Famous generals approve the "MARATHON" operation

The newly discovered documents show that the plans for carrying out operation "MARATHON" were approved by the then director of the FMD, General Vasil Kotsev and his deputy, General Vladimir Todorov. The names of the two men are also connected with the State Security Service’s operation to assassinate the writer, Georgi Markov, in 1978 in London. This operation was admitted in 1991 by the former director of the counter-intelligence service of the Soviet FMD, General Oleg Kalugin.

Kotsev died in a road accident with his wife in the summer of 1986, only a few months after operation "MARATHON". General Vladimir Todorov (1925) was sentenced to 14 months in prison in 1992 for destroying part of the files relating to Georgi Markov. Desebg.com tried to contact him by telephone, but his wife said that he was ill in bed and not in a condition to talk.

The KGB was aware of the activities of Section 14 of the FMD-SSS

The archives of the intelligence service also reveal that the activities of Section 14 of FMD-SSS were reviewed frequently and carefully by the Minister of the Interior, General Dimitar Stoyanov, and that a variety of matters had been discussed in the presence of the official representative of the KGB in Bulgaria, General Ivan Savchenko.

In search of the "CITADEL" files

The revelations that the State Security Service carried out the theft of Paisii's history came to light after the announcement this year of the names of State Security agents in the Holy Synod the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The secret files of two of the bishops revealed that they had been State Security agents. They were Nevrokop Metropolitan Bishop Natanail, and Varna and Veliko Preslav Bishop Kiril. They had been recruited by Section 14 of the FMD for cultural historical espionage in order to be infiltrated under cover in "CITADEL" – the Zograph monastery.

This formed the basis for investigative journalist, Hristo Hristov, to file an application to the Commission on Security Files to undertake an operation search. With the assistance of the commission and its administration, 11 volumes of operational files were found and presented to him. This was the first major discovery from the archives of the State Security Service, to be read in the commission's reading room. "This is a great achievement for us, particularly for the administration of the commission, which found the specific archive documents. This is exactly the role of the commission, the reason for which it was formed - to find and present documents for the benefit of the public", said Evtim Kostadinov, the chairman of the commission, to desebg.com.

The "CITADEL" operation files which also contain plans for "MARATHON" operation were recorded in a separate inventory by the former director of the archive of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Bozhidar Doichev, who was found dead, with a gunshot wound to his head in his office in 2006. The "CITADEL" inventory was until recently undiscovered and had been camouflaged as documents from Turkey. In 2009 the Commission on Security Files received from the NIS only two volumes relating to the operation, and the remaining 9 volumes were received only after the application from the journalist this summer.

Reactions to the new revelations

“I have heard of operation "CITADEL", but I have not read the documents. In 1991, when I was director of the NIS, I discovered chaos in the archives which I inherited from the SSS. I issued the relevant orders regulating the use of documents from the archive. It was then that I received the original manuscript of Paisii's history in the official safe from my predecessor, General Rumen Toshkov. He had received it from General Vlado Todorov, but there was no communication or conversations about these matters”, retired general Brigo Asparuhov commented to desebg.com. He stressed that in the case of the "Slav Bulgarian History" he had accepted someone else's guilt.

From the newly discovered documents it is clear that the creation of the cultural and historical espionage section coincided with the celebrations for the 1300th anniversary of the Bulgarian state and that it functioned in accordance with a special programme approved by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Petar Mladenov, the Minister of the Interior, General Dimitar Stoyanov and the Chairperson of the Committee for Art and Culture, Liudmila Zhivkova.

In practice all the originals or copies stolen or "acquired" by the intelligence services passed through the hands of Liudmila Zhivkova, accompanied by the relevant reports from Minister Dimitar Stoyanov or his deputy, Stoyan Savov, who was responsible for the FDM in the Ministry of the Interior.

Liudmila Zhivkova died in 1981 and never saw the original manuscript of Paisii's history. However, the newly discovered documents reveal that upon the instructions of the directors of the Ministry of the Interior, a special report was sent to Todor Zhivkov and a number of other senior party figures to mark the successes of Section 14 of the FMD-SSS. The report sets out clearly in black and white that the historical and cultural espionage section had completed a successful operation to "remove" the original manuscript of Paisii's history and to bring it to Bulgaria.

“I never doubted that the theft of the "Slav Bulgarian History” was the work of State Security. I am not surprised by these new revelations”, ex-president Petar Stoyanov stated to desebg.com. It was Stoyanov who as president in 1997 took the decision to return the original (see the graphic) to Zograph monastery. He added:

“I know that today, after so many years, there is a section of the Bulgarian people who have been brainwashed for decades by communist propaganda, and will no doubt say that this was a patriotic deed. Why shouldn’t this most Bulgarian of books be in Bulgarian hands, why should it be left to Greece?

First of all, the “History" wasn’t stolen from Greece, but from the Bulgarian Zograph Monastery, which has protected it for two centuries and is just as much a Bulgarian treasure as the manuscript of Paisii itself. For Bulgarian Christians this monastery is a sacred place.

The communist atheists did not understand this. It makes me angry that the documents of the State Security Service when referring to the theft of Paisii's history, "our noble agents" talk about it as though they've stolen something from a supermarket".

The new revelations in the SSS archives remove any shadow of suspicion from those accused in the media over the past 20 years of carrying out the theft. These include the art restorer, Petar Mitanov, who in 1992 in his capacity as the chairman of the Ephoria Zograph, announced at a special press conference, that the original manuscript of Paisii's history had been stolen and was in the safe of the director of the intelligence service, General Brigo Asparuhov. Subsequently Mitanov was accused by librarian, Father Pahomii and abbot Evtimii of Zograph monastery, of the theft of the original.

After the return of the “Slav Bulgarian History” to Zograph in 1998, Greece terminated the court case for theft, to which Petar Mitanov and Father Pahomii had been called as witnesses.

“All suspicions against me were removed by the Greek court in 1998, but the new documents from the SSS archives show the entire truth, once and for all. This is important since they will bring an end to the ungrounded accusations which were made against me over the years”, Petar Mitanov said to desebg.com.


Hristo Hristov is an investigative journalist, know for his investigation into the murder of the writer, Georgi Markov, in London in 1978, his documentary books, "Kill the Wanderer" and the "Double Life of Agent Piccadilly" (http://hristo-hristov.com). His investigation into the theft of the “Slav Bulgarian History” is soon to be published in book form.

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