BULGARIA IN THE INTERIM BETWEEN BOURGEOIS DEMOCRACY AND FASCISM 1925-1944

A period of stability, even of certain uplift of the Bulgarian economy, set in after 1925. This was a reflex conditioned by the revival of the world economy. The existing industry had its technology modernized while the power-generating one had its output increased. Agricultural production marked a significant progress. Along with the traditional horticultural and grain crops, some industrial crops - oleaginous seeds, sugar-beet root, etc., were broadly introduced and cultivated. These provided raw materials for the well-developed Bulgarian processing industry, as well as goods for competitive exports. Step by step, the development of industry and of cultivated (arable) lands were doing away with the refugee problem that had been a heavy burden on the Bulgarian society. By the end of the war about 300,000 Bulgarians from Macedonia, Thrace, Dobrudja and the Western outlying territories had emigrated to Bulgaria.

The consolidation of the economy took the edge off the nagging social contradictions. According to the Comintern stipulations, there was no longer a revolutionary situation in Bulgaria and the Communist party, once outlawed by the Popular entente government, had to revoke its armed struggle course of 1925. The tense atmosphere of terrorism gradually calmed down.

In the period until the beginning of World War II, the traditional bourgeois-democratic system was seen to plunge into a deep crisis. There were two main reasons for that state of the internal political life in the country. The traditional bourgeois parties were deprived of mass social support and this was the result of their incompetent government at the time of the national unification wars, their utter corruption especially in the higher party ranks and their policy of atrocities during the 'white-collar' terrorism period (1923-1925). The two parties, which used to enjoy the greatest popular support among the Bulgarian electorate in the recent past, (the BCP and the BPACI) had also sunk in a serious crisis. The Agrarian party disintegrated into several factions, now at enmity with each other, now in temporary unions formed to ad hoc or short-term ends. The status of the BCP was far more complicated. Banned by virtue of the so-called State Security Protection Act, specially adopted by the National Assembly, it finally managed to resume its activity in 1927. Then it registered itself under a new name - Bulgarian Workers' party. Fulfilling the instructions of the Communist International with unquestioning obedience (the latter was then the captive of ultra-leftist sectarianism), the BWP tried to foist forms of struggle, inadequate to the situation in the country. That, too, caused additional confusion and further withdrawal of the electorate. Even so, in the general elections held at that time, tens of thousands of people cast their ballot for the BWP and, subsequently, helped it win the municipal elections in Sofia in 1932.

The difficulty for any of the bourgeois parties in attaining the leading position lay in their finding it impossible to make any serious progress on foreign political issues such as the settlement of the burning problem for the Bulgarian people - the Neuille treaty. Its annulment or, at least, its revision including remission of the colossal reparations, recognition and regulation of the rights and freedoms due to the Bulgarian minorities in the neighboring Balkan countries and problems alike, would have been equivalent to healing the Bulgarian running wound. Bulgaria's Balkan neighbors, however, had already formed a strong bloc with the victorious Great Powers and were rejecting every attempt for detente, as well as any Bulgarian justified requests, even those for palliative measures with regard to the vital issues of their relations.

The political parties, rent and split by internal strife, had gradually become simple associations of groups of people, lacking in principle and having just one aim - to climb to power in order to participate in the criminal sharing out of the country's budget resources.

In the beginning of the thirties, the crisis led to a disheartening lack of faith in all democratic state institutions. The attempts to find an outcome of the crisis by parliamentary means gave no results at all. The alignment of parties, the so-called Popular bloc which, in 1931, succeeded in overthrowing the utterly discredited group of parties in the Popular entente, embarked on both internal and foreign policies, conducted with the same methods. This inevitably led to identical results. Therefore, it was only natural that certain social forces tried to break the dead-lock by resorting to ways and means unaccustomed to the traditional ones, known to be used under democracy.

At that period of history, one of those ways was obviously the totalitarian fascist dictatorship. Its operation in Italy and Germany had been followed closely by the Bulgarian public. It did credit to the Bulgarian people, whose deep-rooted democratic spirit could hardly be denied, that the fascist ideology never became entrenched in the country. As a matter of fact, Bulgaria had witnessed the establishment of not only one, but of several fascist 'parties'. Their membership though, ranged from just a few to few dozens and their fuhrers' contentions and public appearances in the 30s had charged with great inspiration only the cartoonists, working for the comic and satirical columns of the press.

The crisis of confidence in the values of traditional democracy was the reason for the emergence of a new political force on the Bulgarian political stage of the 30s - the ideological circle Zveno. It also drew its adherents from the army. Their ideas rejected the existence of the traditional multi-party system. According to them, it had already run out of any potential for efficiently administering the affairs of the country. They also considered that in the new conditions and in the situation which had arisen on the domestic political scene, the government should be taken over by the economic and intellectual elite not connected in any way with the political parties in disrepute. The Zveno group united in the belief that social peace should be the alternative as opposed to the communist theory of inevitable class struggle.

Although the Zveno ideological and political group was an advocate of strong totalitarian institutions (even authoritarian at the beginning and then politically non-aligned) and rejected democracy as a system of statecraft, it was not a fascist organization. It had none of the views incorporated in the fascist doctrine, nor nationalistic and racial outlook. It did not strive at organizing a mass movement as an instrument in securing strong and lasting political support for its philosophy. The ideas of that group were more of a typical political amateurishness manifested by some officers who, on the whole, had genuinely been concerned about the future of their country.

On 19 May 1934, in association with the Reserve officers league, the Zveno group engineered a coup d'etat. Its government headed by Kimon Georgiev, suspended the constitution, dismissed the National assembly, prohibited and dissolved the political parties, and undertook a number of reforms which had been designed to optimize the state-bureaucratic machinery. The IMRO, one of the main obstacles to the improvement of relations with the neighboring countries, was suppressed. In attempting to lead Bulgaria out of its international isolation, the new government established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, improved its relations with western democracies (France and Britain) and made efforts for normalization of the relations with Yugoslavia. Confirmed republicans as they were, the Zveno government undertook a series of steps challenging the position of the monarch.

In the management of the economy, the Zveno group concepts which had been enforced by relevant legislation, laid emphasis on extensive state control at the expense of considerably limited private enterprise. Their policy of protectionism extended to the cooperatives, the state monopoly on key production and the state banks. These policies brought about some economic progress, but they also put the Zveno government down in the bad books of the upper middle-class.

Thus, the Zveno government took only a few months in office to antagonize the upper middle-class, the traditional parties, the communists and the monarch. Lacking in noticeable popular support, it fell an easy prey to the military, loyal to Tsar Boris III It was one of those military groups that forced the prime-minister Kimon Georgiev to resign in January 1935. A new government, loyal to the palace was formed.

In those years Tsar Boris III's ideas of the monarch assuming executive authority had taken shape. Worried about the fate of his dynasty and convinced of both the old parties' and the new 'high-handed' circles' incapacity to make provision for its future, the monarch resorted to an elaborate political plan and, similar to his first experience in unseating Kimon Georgiev's government, succeeded in gradually ousting Zveno from the political stage before the beginning of World War II. The sovereign did not naturally have the slightest intention of restoring the constitutional parliamentary system. It was not easy for him to repeal the Constitution of Turnovo either, as the Bulgarian society, having been deprived of its good old aristocracy and of its elite spiritual guides for nearly six hundred years in a row, had been organically sensitive and ill- disposed to any authoritarian power. Even at the time of the wars, the Bulgarian monarchy had its prerogatives over the government strictly limited. Because of that, tsar Boris III got his diligently elaborated political plan going, resorting to expedient elements of social demagogy such as holding out promises for elections, implanting fear of the future (the timing of this threat was well-calculated as the prelude to the Second World War was already apparent) and engineering campaigns against the incompetence of the conventional bourgeois state machinery. In this way he succeeded in pronouncing himself to be the only raIling figure for the Bulgarian people and their aspirations in those hard times of grave political crisis. It should be admitted that the royal propaganda was a success. Tired of butchery and inter plus intra-party rough-and-tumble, the Bulgarian society consented to the dictatorship and accepted the monarch as the monocratic political guide of the nation. Thus, from 1936 until his death, only formally, tsar Boris III shepherded the country almost single-handedly, aided by care-taker governments whose loyalty to him, personally, was beyond any doubt.


- Translated from the book "Bulgaria Illustrated History" by Maria Nikolotva
- Bulgarian text by Bojidar Dimitrov, PhD.
- Published by BORIANA Publishing House, Sofia, Bulgaria

text used here with permission from translator, save modifications for noding

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