Tsar Boris III (1918-1943)

"Politics is not a science, but art": these words of Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of Germany, were often cited by Tsar Ferdinand in the presence of his sons, the crown prince Boris and Kiril of Preslav. Boris III realized what his father had meant as soon as he took the helm in the autumn of 1918. He was crowned with all due honors, but only after his father had been forced to abdicate and take the blame for the two national disasters the Second Balkan War and World War I. Prince Boris of Turnovo took over the crown and a burdensome heritage with it.

Born in 1894, Boris came to power at a time of political, economic and spiritual crisis. Bulgaria's deplorable state largely affected the young ruler's initial agenda, as well as his style of government. Immediately after the war he had to defend the monarchy against two firmly republican political parties: Stamboliyski's Agrarian Union and the Communist Party.

Boris III regarded power as a burden, and to the very end of his reign, he never experienced his father's love for it. Boris was cautious and never entered into open conflicts. A reticent leader, he acted by means of political machinations and diplomacy, and never developing the ostentation that had been so typical of his father. The downfall of the Agrarian Union's government as a result of the June 9 coup and the defeat of the communists in the uprising in September 1923, strengthened Boris's power. Boris III preferred to stay in the background but did his best to gradually become what he imagined as a "peoples' tsar."

With a strict upbringing, Boris had been groomed for the throne. He took the name of Boris III and converted from Catholicism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The sad lot of his father who had been forced to give up the throne, as well as his desire to consolidate the dynasty prompted him to head a modest way of life, in line with the people's expectations. He would often shake hands with people from the crowd, travel unguarded, take his hat off to elderly people or drive a locomotive. He was doing all that not out of a monarch's natural concern about his place in history. Rather, he remembered well the advice of one of his closest associates: "Don't forget that when a storm comes it is always the peak that gets hit by the lightning". And a stormy reign it was!

In the wild maelstrom of Bulgarian political life Boris followed the example of his father, binding the generals with the throne and striving to achieve a unity of dynasty and army. It was the army that helped him through the hardships of 1923 and after the coup of May 19, 1934 when he gradually started to develop a personal regime. He was often accused of political intractability, lack of imperativeness, too great a readiness to take clairvoyants seriously and excessive slyness. But even his most violent opponents could not deny his intelligence, political skill and ruler's intuition, all of which helped him overcome the vicissitudes of his time.

In the early 30s Boris slowly imposed an authoritarian rule, during which his abilities as a leader became more obvious. It has been much disputed whether his rule was marked by a dangerous predominance of fascist ideas or by the tsar's efforts to put an end to interparty struggles, disorder and political instability. Was he a dictator or a patriot?

Boris was surely a talented ruler who, unlike his father, won the sympathy of both rich and poor. However, this is no excuse for the political persecution in which many people were killed during the anti-fascist movement from the summer of 1941 to the early autumn of 1944.

The foreign policy of Tsar Boris III was characterized by cautiousness and a patient wait-and-see attitude. He stuck to the course adopted by Bulgarian diplomacy: for reasonable and peaceful reconsideration of the Treaty of Neuille. He succeeded in regaining Southern Dobroudja from Romania in the autumn of 1940, and that step towards "national unification" gained him the reputation among Bulgarians of "the liberator tsar". His diplomatic talent was also displayed during the negotiations between the Great Powers on the eve of World War.

However, on the eve of World War II Boris and the Bulgarian politicians made an ill-advised decision - military and political alliance with Nazi Germany in the spring of 1941. Truly, he was at an Impasse: the German divisions were on the Danube and Britain could not offer any assistance. The humiliation of the alliance was perhaps cushioned by the fact that Bulgaria refused to fight against the Soviet Union and regained some of its lands from Yugoslavia and Greece. Few Bulgarians realized, however, that the fate of those lands would be decided after the war, and that Boris III would not live through the war. Having inherited leadership of a turbulent state, he died a mysterious death on August 28, 1943.

Primary Source:
- 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