Alexander Stamboliyski (1919-1923)
A peasant leader and Prime Minister of Bulgaria in the strenuous post-war years, from October 1919 to June 1923, Alexander Stamboliyski was one of the very few politicians who steadfastly pursued one definite purpose throughout his life. He was also another Bulgarian statesman with the unfortunate Fate of meeting death at the hands of compatriots.
During his visit to London in the autumn of 1920, Stambohyski impressed British journalists as a man of immense spiritual strength and energy. Few of them delved into his past, though it was his past that had set the pattern for his future as a politician who never shunned conflict, but used it to strengthen his will and to learn.
Stambohyski was born in 1879 in the village of Slavovitsa, near Pazardjik. He attended an agricultural college in Halle, Germany, his education bringing him close to the land and the peasants. He ascended in the hierarchy of the Bulgarian Agrarian Union until, at the turn of the century, he became the union's leader and chief ideologist.
Tsar Ferdinand's memory of Stambohiyski was one of an MP who boldly opposed Bulgaria's entry into World War I in the face of the monarch. A republican and opponent of the Coburg dynasty, Stambohiyski spent several years in prison, with a life sentence. The 1918 turmoil brought about his release from prison and he immediately led a soldiers' mutiny and the proclaimed Republic of Radomir.
Stambohusky's brilliant abilities as a statesman were revealed after the war. As prime minister of the independent government of the Bulgarian Agrarian Union from May 1920 to June 9, 1923 he introduced to Bulgaria an unprecedented approach to state affairs. He has been celebrated as a reformer with broad views. An ideologist and leader of the peasantry, he attempted to satisfy its eternal demand - more hand - in one bold throw. Stambohiyski's land act of June 1921 was a unique reform step, despite its inconclusive results. In Bulgaria's post-war development the peasant leader was unmatched in the resolution and thoroughness with which he sought solutions to the major unsolved problems of his people and his time. New laws concerning association tax and income tax revealed a policy aimed at the improvement of the miserable condition of the lowest social strata, the elimination of black marketeering and the prevention of illegal acquisition of wealth.
Stambohiyski strictly followed the rule that any nationwide undertaking should address the needs of the poor as a starting point. To that end, his government took control of the grain trade and took steps to alleviate housing problems. His law on labour service attempted to utilize what Stamboliyski saw as the potential of a state-organized labour force.
"We are used to submitting ourselves to a single lord: the people," he declared from the rostrum of the National Assembly. No other politician before him had dared say openly that the tsar was not superior to the will of the people, or that he could reign but not rule. Stamboliyski displayed a similar attitude in his foreign policy: an independent one, characterized by a sober assessment of Bulgaria's limited foreign political opportunities after the war. In 1919 he signed the Treaty of Neuille which led the country to a second national catastrophe. Stamboliyski took the disastrous outcome of the war as a personal tragedy and geared his diplomatic activity toward alleviating these results. His strategy of avoiding hostility with the victorious states by peaceful, diplomatic means, won him recognition as a far-sighted statesman.
Yet, Stambohyski failed to transcend the limitations of the Agrarian Union's ideology. His concept of an independent peasant government was historically unfounded and its future was questionable. It set village against town, creating social tension and threatening to split the nation. A number of his government's measures against large property were unscrupulously extreme and turned the wealthy bourgeoisie against him.
In 1923, having won the latest elections, the agrarian leader indulged in complacence. His ambition to be a powerful ruler became more and more evident, at the expense of democracy. The power of the people, advocated by the Bulgarian Agrarian Union, was turning into a peasant dictatorship. Cases of violent retribution on political opponents became more frequent. Discontent was growing in the political circles that had been affected, in one way or another, by Stambohiyski's reforms. The prewar bourgeois parties temporarily withdrew into opposition, to regroup and to plot against the leader.
On June 9, 1923, the government of the Bulgarian Agrarian Union was overthrown by a military coup. Stamboliyski attempted to organize armed resistance in his native village but was caught and brutally murdered.
- Translated from the book "Rulers of Bulgaria"
- Bulgarian text by Profesor Milcho Lalkov, Ph.D.
- Published by Kibea Publishing Company, Sofia, Bulgaria
text used here with permission from translator, save modifications for noding