At the beginning of 1879, the assembly of notables known as the Constituent Assembly of the principality of Bulgaria was called, as provided by the Berlin congress, to elaborate and adopt the constitution of the country. The Russian lawyer Lukianov got down to drafting it. Greatly influenced by the content of the Belgian constitution, believed to be one of the most liberal statutes in the world at that time, he cared to insert principles of broad democratic freedoms. Two political trends came up as soon as debate opened - a liberal and a conservative. These were to remain in position, underlying the Bulgarian political system fight through to the end of the 19th century. The conservatives insisted on a stronger monarchic sovereignty supported by an oligarchic constitution,limiting the freedom of press, meetings and association. These demands were turned down and the draft of the basic law that became known as the Turnovo Constitution, was voted by. overwhelming majority.

In April 1879, the First Grand National Assembly (the Bulgarian Parliament) elected the German Prince Alexander of Battenberg as prince of Bulgaria. As a Russian army officer he had participated in the Liberation War, which earned him fairly good reputation in Bulgaria.

Upon stepping up the throne, Battenberg expressed his intent to get the Turnovo Constitution amended in an anti-democratic fashion. This instantly caused the first political crisis in the country, entailing a split in the political parties, frequent cabinet changes, a pro-monarchy coup on 27 April 1881 and subsequent election intimidation, violence and counterfeit. Political life degrading was all too obvious. After dramatic vicissitudes, the democratic forces succeeded in overcoming the prince's dogged opposition and, in the middle of 1884, made him appoint a government of the moderate liberals - staunch advocates of the Turnovo Constitution.

In its foreign policy the newly liberated Bulgarian state was up against a mountain of problems. All Great Powers, Russia and Austria-Hungary in particular, strained every muscle to bring the poorly developed economy and war machinery of the principality under their sway. They grossly interfered in its internal affairs and tried hard to draw it into their own sphere of influence. The complete unification of the Bulgarian lands which had remained, in one form or another, under Turkish rule had been the main task of the Bulgarian foreign policy during the first decades after the restoration of Bulgaria's political independence. That task arising, from the wrongful provisions of the Berlin treaty, held in a powerful grasp all potentialities of the Bulgarian society and determined the foreign policy and the military priorities of Bulgaria for a long time. The latter was compelled by circumstances to expend on its implementation resources far beyond what it could afford. There was no other alternative yet as half of the Bulgarians and two thirds of their territory had remained under the barbaric feudal oppression of Turkey.

Bulgaria achieved its first major success in 1885. Between 1878-1885 masses of people in the autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia, comprising the lands of Upper Thrace which were inhabited entirely by Bulgarians (the April Uprising of 1876 took place in that area), were engaged in powerful movement for their unification with the principality. They did not allow any Ottoman troops to come into the province, had its administration and army Bulgarianized, and the powers of the government confined to the walls of its own chateau. The political leaders of that movement came into direct contact with the prince and the political parties in the principality. With the frame of mind pervading, no one dared pronounce himself against the idea of actions towards the unification of the two Bulgarian states, notwithstanding anticipated complications. The secret diplomatic demarches of the Bulgarian government before the Great Powers did not bring back any clear promise for support.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of September 1885, the nationwide patriotic enthusiasm reached its climax when people's volunteer forces and regular troops overthrew the government of Eastern Rumelia and declared its unification with the principality of Bulgaria. The prince and the Bulgarian government instantly accepted that act and assumed the reins of the provincial government straight away.

The unification of Bulgaria led to political crisis almost unparalleled in the European history. Bulgaria and the Bulgarians, as it was, had taken a stand against an all-European treaty and thus, face-saving reasons alone could easily cause the Great Powers to barge in to return the status quo. There was Turkey which could hardly be expected to just grin and stomach the loss of one of its most fertile provinces. The Balkan states were also there looking on the dark side of Bulgaria becoming twice as big as before, therefore, de jure and de facto, the biggest state in the Balkans.

Turkey was expected to attack Bulgaria. The whole Bulgarian army was built up at the southern Bulgarian border to take the Turkish assault. Europe was in anticipation of diplomats to have their final say.

At this juncture tsarist Russia inconceivably blundered. It simply declared itself against the unification of Bulgaria. A plausible explanation would be that for a few years the northern empire, in its view, had consistently and single-mindedly been displeased with prince Alexander of Battenberg for his diverging the principality from the Russian sphere of influence, and that it had been trying to replace him on the throne by its protege. To top it all, Russia withdrew its officers from the Bulgarian army, i.e., divested it of superior commanders, and thus placed at a great disadvantage the fighting efficiency of the newly united state. In those days the highest rank of Bulgarian-born officers was that of a captain. This politically ill-suited decision planted a hardy element of mistrust in Russian-Bulgarian relations, a fact that had long been taken advantage of by the western powers and by representatives of the Russophobic leanings in the Bulgarian state policy.

Britain immediately availed itself of the Russian politicians' folly seeing in it an opportunity to displace Russia from one of its traditional regions of influence. Britain - chief architect of the Berlin treaty which had Bulgaria ruthlessly dismembered and a perennial warrantor of the Ottoman territorial integrity, negotiated a curve in its policies and supported the act of the unification. At the international conference, convened to counter the block of Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany all wanting to restore the status quo, Britain resolutely opposed and thus helped turn down a motion inauspicious for Bulgaria.

On 2 November 1885 events took a dramatic turn. Serbia, encouraged financially and militarily by Austria-Hungary, attacked Bulgaria by surprise. It was no longer the unification but the whole future of Bulgaria that was at stake. At that time, Bulgaria had no troops at its border with Serbia. With all its available forces located at the Turkish border, its capital was stark unprotected only 70 km away from Serbian raiding troops. Moreover, the efficiency of the Bulgarian army was questioned for good reasons - it was organized only 5-6 years before and was just deprived of all its senior instructing and commanding officers. In an atmosphere of national uptilt unseen before, border-sentry detachments and local volunteer forces were able to check Serbian crack divisions at the fortified locality of Slivnitsa - the avenue of approach to the Bulgarian capital. It took the Bulgarian army only a few days to make wearisome marches to the west and once there, to go into action. Then, as it had already happened in glorious times gone, just a few days of hard fought fields at Slivnitsa, Dragoman, Pirot, Nis and Vidin led up to Serbia's utter defeat. The road to Belgrade was open. At this point Austria put its oar in by sending an ultimatum which demanded cease-fire without delay.

Bulgaria's victory in this captains-versus-generals war had Europe wonder-struck and its public opinion filled with sympathy and admiration. The question of the pros and cons in reference to the unification of Bulgaria was no longer posed with its previous acuteness. At the beginning of 1886 Bulgaria signed a peace treaty with Serbia and later, an agreement with Turkey which regularized its position as a single unified state.

Thus, Bulgaria was able to prove to the outside world that the determined and vigorous political efforts, adroit diplomacy and selfless combat zeal of a small nation fighting for a just cause, would certainly bring great national success without its servile submission in return to possible reliance on any of the Great Powers.

Events about the unification had led Bulgaria out of the Russian sphere of influence but, as it could be expected, the ruling circles in the northern empire had no intention of leaving in peace the country considered a zone of special state interest. In the spring of 1886, emperor Alexander III's diplomacy opened a single-minded campaign aimed at ousting from power the Bulgarian prince and the politicians supporting him. The Russian press set on Battenberg while Russian diplomacy was tightening the noose around Bulgaria's neck by encouraging Serbia to begin fresh hostilities and instigating Turkey to reconsider the question of Eastern Rumelia. For a number of reasons the Russian policy with respect to Bulgaria was supported by Germany and France. The new British government was in two minds about its support for Bulgaria. Towards the middle of 1886 the country fell into alarming international isolation.

The situation gave rise to a distinct polarization in the Bulgarian political circles. The prince was the one in focus from all sides. Some circles, mainly in the army which had always shown stronger pro-Russian leanings, believed that Battenberg ought to be made step down the Bulgarian throne to give way to an agreement with Russia. A predominating part of the political circles in Sofia, backed up by the vast majority of the Bulgarian people saw the prince as the person and the authority symbolizing the Independence of Bulgaria and they all stood in his support.

The touchstone of the with-or-without-Russia dilemma was, as a matter of fact, a projection of the maturing state conception about the country's future. According to it Bulgaria, small as it was, (at that time its population was only three million) would not be able to pursue its course in history without it being under the wing of a long-standing, confirmed, reliable and economically and militantly strong ally. Russia's attitude at the time of the unification, the total lack of civil rights in the Russian empire, the impertinent behavior of Russian diplomats in Bulgaria and their intolerably gross interference in the internal political affairs of the country, had a considerable part of the traditionally democratic Bulgarian society alienate from Russia. In the meantime, the Bulgarian bourgeoisie had also been gravitating towards the industrially developed western countries since its economic relations with them had been and still were much more beneficial than those with Russia.

In this atmosphere of an extremely conflicting internal political life, at the end of August 1886, a group of army officers engineered a military coup. The prince was arrested and sent to Russia. That first blunder on the perpetrators' part allowed their opponents to represent the coup as an act of Russian intelligence resident in Bulgaria, and not as an internal Bulgarian event. Their second, this time fatal blunder, was the government they chose. Most of its ministers, even the prime-minister himself, publicly announced that their inclusion in the Cabinet was without their consent, and appalled as they were, refused to take part in it. In those circumstances Stefan Stambolov, then chairman of the National Assembly, with no effort out of the way and aided by provincial garrison troops loyal to the prince, succeeded in engineering a counter-coup which brought the prince back to Sofia. However, the Russian emperor's adamantine will soon forced Battenberg to abdicate.

In the months remaining of 1886 and throughout 1887, the political crisis on the problem of elections for the new Bulgarian prince grew deeper. Fresh contradictions arose with greater intensity both on the Bulgarian domestic political scene and between the Great Powers in Europe. Having lost their clear vision of the situation in Bulgaria, the Russian politicians placed their adherents in the country in a rather difficult situation by nominating for the post the Caucasian prince Mingreli, a man known for his notorious reputation. The Great Powers were obviously against that candidature. Hurt Bulgarian nationalism decided to take a chance step and in July 1887, without the approval of Russia or Turkey, the National Assembly elected prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a German aristocrat who had served in the Austrian army, as the prince of Bulgaria. France, Germany, Russia and Turkey declared the election illegal. Britain and Austria-Hungary supported the new Bulgarian prince, with some reservations though. In the mealtime a new government was set up. Its prime minister Stefan Stambolov used his iron hand to smother the Russophile army and political opposition in the country.

The election of a prince and the emergence of a 'strong man' at the head of the government (Stefan Stambolov was known for his revolutionary past and for his determination at the time of the counter-coup) had the acute crisis attenuate. In spite of the still disturbing foreign political situation of Bulgaria the government managed to pay greater attention to its many internal problems in general and to the economy and the structural reform, in particular.

The Bulgaria liberated in 1878 and united in 1885 was a predominantly agricultural country. The war of 1876-1877 played the role of a bourgeois-democratic revolution as it brought about a redistribution of the land among the Bulgarian peasants. Lack of capital did not allow the mass of small private farm owners to replace these immediately by modern farming, i.e. to take after the West European pattern using modern machines and technology, fertilizing etc. The process of land-concentration in large farms was rather slow and extended mainly to unbroken, though fertile lands, or to land purchased from departing Turks. The pattern of Bulgarian agriculture during that period, as well as throughout the next century up to the communist revolution in 1944, had been marked by the existence of small private landownership. This does not automatically mean that social equality had been pervading the Bulgarian villages all along. The situation of the petty landowners whose farming produce contributed the basic revenues to the state budget had been deteriorating due to various factors such as heavy state tax, usury practices, free trade and narrowing the home market within the principality borders.

Nevertheless, thanks to the millennial land-cultivating experience of the Bulgarian peasants, later farmers and to their enterprising skills, the country had been able to fully satisfy its needs for agricultural products and to accumulate considerable overstock, trained for export.

The internal political instability and the lack of any protectionist measures against the import of cheap industrial goods alienated the Bulgarian bourgeoisie from its intentions for investments in the country's industry. In those first years only a few dozens of factories had been built.

During its seven years in office, Stambolov's government (1887-1894) succeeded in laying the solid foundations of economic independence from the rest of the world. A package of laws sanctioned the construction of roads and railways, Bulgaria's independent legal, commercial and other contacts with foreign countries, the establishment of national institutions in education, culture and health services, etc. Having opened the door to foreign capital investments in Bulgaria, Stefan Stambolov did not hesitate to parallelly impose strict protection measures in favor of national production. Most of the governments which came after him took similar measures. The stimulation of industry gave perfect results. In less than quarter of a century industry, considerable for that time and for the scope of the country, had been developed. Bulgaria's gross national product significantly exceeded in volume the GNPs of all Balkan neighboring countries which had been liberated some decades before it.

The main foreign political problem confronting Bulgaria throughout the period until World War I, was the fate of the Bulgarian population in Macedonia and Eastern (Edirne) Thrace that had remained under the rule of Turkey, despite its overwhelming majority. Successive Bulgarian governments had been fighting very hard to get the network of schools and churches improved, as well as the legal and economic status and living conditions of those Bulgarians more tolerable.

At the end of 19th century a group of Bulgarian intellectuals set up a secret Edirne-Macedonian Revolutionary Organization known as IMRO which began the preparation of an armed uprising in the regions still occupied by the Turks. Relying on nation-wide support on the part of the already liberated Bulgarian lands (the Principality of Bulgaria), IMRO got down to organizing a network of committees in Macedonia and Thrace after the pattern of Vassil Levski's revolutionary theory, as well as armed volunteer detachments which waged struggle against the Turkish feudal state machinery. Its culmination came when a mass armed uprising known in history as the Ilinden-Preobrajenie (its name coming from Transfiguration Day on which it broke) was raised in Macedonia and Thrace in August 1900. Its aim was to incorporate those regions into Bulgaria, or at least to draw the attention of the Great Powers and make them advocate for the improvement of the living conditions for the population through legal and economic reforms. After three months of fierce battles the Turkish army crushed the uprising committing all customary cruelties and outrages over the peaceful population.

The Liberation of Bulgaria << | The Principality of Bulgaria | >> Bulgaria in the Wars of National Unification

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