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The Independence
of Bulgaria

The declaration of the Independence of the Bulgarian state is result of the confluence of factors. In the first place, it is Austria-Hungary’s intention to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, which (by the Treaty of Berlin of 1878) it had occupied for a thirty-year term. The annexation presented a violation of the Berlin Treaty and an opening for Bulgaria to exploit the international situation and to declare its Independence. Prince Ferdinand himself consults with Austria-Hungary joint actions.

The other factor were the Bulgarian-Turkish relations in the aftermath of the government changes in the Ottoman Empire. On 11 July 1908, in Turkey was proclaimed the so-called Young Turk Revolution that achieved restoration of the Constitution of 1876. The measures they undertook were not sufficiently convincing and instead of initiating governance reforms, the Young Turks slipped into nationalism. The events in Istanbul offered fuel to Bulgarian diplomacy. Bulgaria’s diplomatic agent at the Turkish capital, Iv. St. Geshov, in a letter to the Bulgarian Foreign Minister raised the idea of proclaiming the independence. At first, the government was not susceptible to his proposition, believing the timing was not good and that such a step would have dangerous consequences for Bulgaria. According to the government circles in Bulgaria, it was preferable to hold on until the developments in Turkey unfold and to watch closely the reaction of the Great Powers.

Meanwhile, the famous “Geshov incident” took place in Constantinople. On 30 August 1908, at the capital of the Ottoman Empire was held a gala on the occasion of the Sultan’s birthday, with invitations issued to all diplomatic missions of the various countries, except to the Bulgarian representative, Ivan St. Geshov. With this act, the Young Turks desired to underscore Bulgaria’s vassal statute. Geshov was recalled from Constantinople, and the Sublime Porte reciprocated by recalling Her Commissioner from Sofia. The incident complicated further the situation on the Balkans. The Great Powers – England, France, and Russia made attempts to sort out the misunderstanding, while Germany and Austria-Hungary relished the aggravation, which undermined the Entente’s positions and aided Vienna’s aggressive plans.

In the first days after the “Geshov incident”, Bulgarian diplomacy decided, wisely, to wait out a suitable moment. Gen. St. Paprikov maintained the opinion that the independence of Bulgaria could be discussed with Turkey. Sofia understood that the administration at the Turkish capital was conscious of the incident’s unfortunate timing. Days later, however, the conflict worsened. On the night of 5/6 September 1908, the employees of the Oriental Railway, including those within the territory of the Principality of Bulgaria, went on strike. In Bulgarian territory, the Bulgarian State Railways Directorate took over the management, by replacing the demonstrators with Bulgarian professionals and military units. In this situation, Prime Minister Al. Malinov decides the time was ripe to act decisively, and on 8 September telegraphed the prince: “Humbly report, Your Royal Highness… the Geshov Incident presents an excellent excuse to raise forcefully the question of the independence…. Let us not be enticed by promises, let us act.” Malinov’s idea was to present Europe and Turkey with a fait accompli, while at the same time Ferdinand was seeking support within Austro-Hungarian government circles. On 10 September, on the occasion of Emperor Franz Joseph’s 60th anniversary, Ferdinand was received at the Budapest palace as an independent monarch.

On 16 September, the Council of Ministers decided to declare the independence of Bulgaria on 21 September 1908. The Prince was informed by telegram and he was forced to return immediately to the country. This haste was dictated by fear of pressure on the Bulgarian government by the Great Powers, to scuttle the plan. On 21 September, the prince arrived at Ruse, and on 22 September, already in Veliko Tarnovo, with a manifesto he declared the country’s independence. The news was greeted with enthusiasm all over the country. Festive meetings were organized in many towns. At first, the Great Powers did not recognize the independence. Turkey, as the most affected party, refused to recognize the Tarnovo act. It was prepared to recognize the independence only upon payment of 125 mln. Francs. Russia inserted itself in the negotiations, propositioning to settle Turkey’s obligations from the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. With this, the Porte Sublime relinquished its claims and recognized the independence of the Bulgarian state. The Great Powers followed suit.

The late 19 – early 20 century modernization of the Bulgarian army was another factor to the realization of the Tarnovo Act. The Army was the armed post of the proclamation of the country’s independence. On 22 September 1908, with a ceremonial parade led by the military band, the Eighteenth Etar and the Twentieth Dobrudzha Infantry Regiments, stationed as the city’s garrison, marched through the main street to the historic “Holy Forty Martyrs” church. There, upon the conclusion of the ceremonial service, Prince Ferdinand read the Manifesto declaring “the unified on 6 September 1885 Bulgaria an independent kingdom”. Hailed by the people and the army, the king and the ministers walked to the “Staints Petar and Paul” church, for a second ceremonial service. After that, Tsar Ferdinand I solemnly declared he would become patron of 18 Etar Infantry Regiment and appoint Prince Kiril of Preslav as patron of 20 Dobrudzha Infantry Regiment. Through a lane of students and troops, the official procession headed to the historic Tsarevets elevation, where before the assembled crowd the Prime Minister of Bulgaria Aleksandar Malinov read the Manifesto for the Declaration of the Independence and Tsar Ferdinand I gave a speech.

Later, the Bulgarian Army had an important role in the defence of the country’s independence. The called in January of 1909 mobilization of Eighth Tundzha Infantry Division demonstrated high combat readiness, which influenced positively the negotiations between Bulgaria and Turkey and the recognition of the Tarnovo act.