А nation – eternally one,
The Treaty of Berlin (1878) divided the Bulgarian lands and put on the agenda the national unification of the free tributary Principality of Bulgaria with the autonomous Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia, and the liberation and accession of Macedonia and of the Edirne area, which remained under full Ottoman jurisdiction.
Over the next seven years, in the Principality and the Province evolved different by intensity and expressions social drives for national unification. Struggles for unification, stated in plentiful exposes, petitions, and memoirs to the Great Powers, as well as through armed actions, had also materialised in the formation of the institutions and the army of the Principality; in the assertion of the Bulgarian essence of Eastern Rumelia and its institutions; and in the military training for the general population. Political parties on both sides of the Balkan Mountains, though not agreeing over the timing, methods, or scale of the unification, were undivided on its inevitability. In addition to the common ground which was the idea of unification, relations between the Principality and the autonomous province prospered also in the spheres of economy and culture.
In 1884, the strong public unionist drives put the issue of unification on the agenda. On 10 February 1885, in Plovdiv was established a secret committee, later named Bulgarian Secret Central Revolutionary Committee (BSCRC), with chairman Zahari Stoyanov, and members National Liberation Movement activists and disgruntled with the East Rumelia government figures. At first, it raised the slogan of national liberation and unification of the Bulgarian nation, but later the focus narrowed to the unification of the two Bulgarian jurisdictions. The organization embarked on setting up committees in the towns of Eastern Rumelia. In late July was elected new leadership, including representatives from the Macedonian societies in the Principality, and a decision was made to proclaim the unification on September 15, preventing standoffs between the public and the army. Most of the Bulgarian officers were enlisted for the cause, including the commander of 2nd Plovdiv Infantry Company, Major Danail Nikolaev – the most senior Bulgarian officer in Eastern Rumelia. By a fortunate coincidence, he was appointed chief of the Plovdiv regional assembly point for the troops summoned to manoeuvres in early September. The support from other commanders was also ensured: Capt. V. Velchev (Haskovo), Capt. Hr. Drandarevski (Yambol), Capt. Hr. Marinov (Stara Zagora), Lt. Galunski (Sliven), and more.
On 30 August 1885, messengers of the committee met with Prince Alexander I, who attended the manoeuvres of the army of the Principality near Shumen and informed him of the preparations and of the determination to see the unification effected even without his consent. In conflict with the Russian emperor, attacked by the opposition within the Principality, and without specific support from any of the Great Powers, the Prince consented.
Following the September 2 premature action of the Panagyurishte Committee, declared by them an uprising, the BSCRC decided to carry out the Unification on the eve of September 6, 1885. Already on the 5th, it was proclaimed in several settlements of Eastern Rumelia, and the rebels from Golyamo Konare arrested the Plovdiv prefect, Petar Dimitrov, who had happened to visit the village. In the province’s capital – Plovdiv, at dawn of September 6, Major D. Nikolaev took the residence of the Governor General. Soldiers were joined by rebel detachments. Gavril Krastevic was arrested. Upon declaring the Union under Prince Alexander I, the BSCRC formed a Provisional Government headed by Dr. Georgi Stranski and dissolved. Major D. Nikolaev, the appointed commander-in-chief of the Rumelian army, declared martial law and mobilization of the reservists aged 18 to 40 for the defence against potential Turkish strike.
After the Prince was informed by telegraph that the Unification had been proclaimed in his name, he issued two edicts – for the general mobilization of the Northern Bulgarian army and for convening an extraordinary session of the 4 Ordinary National Assembly, after which, by a manifesto to the Bulgarian nation, he officially recognized the Unification and called all to defend the sacred cause. On 9 September, accompanied by Petko Karavelov, the prince entered Plovdiv. The Provisional Government was dissolved, its functions were taken over by a Commissariat comprised of: Dr. G. Stranski, Petko Slaveykov, and Joakim Gruev. All institutions in the Province were retained; only the customs on the border with the Principality were removed. The country was in the grip of fervour and of thousand-strong rallies, which grew into spontaneous recruit camps for volunteers for the defence of the cause against foreign contraventions.
Joined by blood and lead
The Unification of Eastern Rumelia with the Principality of Bulgaria changed fundamentally the balance of powers on the Balkan Peninsula and prompted instantaneous reactions. Serbia and Greece ordered mobilization, and the Ottoman Empire amassed troops along the border. In this difficult international environment, the position of the Great Powers fluctuated from neutrality and appeals for a concerted solution for the situation at hand, to individualized positions, while the Bulgarian government sought how to secure recognition for the Unification avoiding military conflict.
Expecting a strike from the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria concentrated on the shared border the Eastern Corps, commanded by Lt. Colonel D. Nikolaev, comprised of about 52,000 men and 50 guns, and to counteract operations in the Rhodopes Mountains – the Haskovo and the Peshtera Detachments. The Western Corps under Major A. Gudzhev, about 30,000 men and 50 cannons strong, was sent to cover the Struma River axis. Later, for operations north of the Balkan Mountains, but primarily in defence of Vidin, was assigned the Northern Detachment under Captain A. Uzunov, about 15,000 men strong with 37 cannons.
Soon it became evident the threat would come from the west. Already in September of 1885, Serbia carried out repeat provocations in the Trun – Breznik area, by exerting pressure on the civilian population and by violating the state border, which was followed by amassment of troops, which on the eve of the war reached about 32,000 men and 70 cannons.
On November 2, Serbia declared war on Bulgaria. Serbian High Command had elaborated a plan, fulfilling the political objective – occupation of the western Bulgarian territories. The objective of the Nisava Army (42,800 men) led by the Commander-in-Chief, King Milan, was to advance in the direction of Pirot – Tsaribrod, capture Sofia, and thus to render Bulgaria pliant. The Timok army (21,000 men) led by General M. Leshanin was to capture North-western Bulgaria and the fortress of Vidin. By the end of the war, the strength of the Serbian army grew to about 103,000 soldiers. It was armed with the then state-of-the-art Mauser-Milovanovic rifles and Mauser multi-barrelled carbines; it was better stocks of apparel and gear; had established rear units, a well-organized sanitary unit and combat experience; the artillery started with 400 guns, and an operational cartridge factory in Kragujevac.
After the mobilization, the strength of the united Bulgarian army reached approximately 108,000 men, with 1:4 ratio of regular staff to reserve ranks, while the opalchenie [reserve territorial forces] and the volunteers accounted for about 14,000 of the total strength. There was severe shortage of officers, those available had no experience commanding large military units. The rear units were in their nascent stages; doctors and sanitary materials were scarce. Only morale was high. The Bulgarian army was equipped with Berdana 2 carbines, and Krnka, Chassepot, Martini, and Snider rifles – all latter four outdated and with limited munition. The artillery had about 200 cannons, half of Krupp system, the rest – bronze.
Bulgarian command developed its plan for the war as it went, deciding after some initial hesitation to establish a fortified position at Slivnitsa for the decisive rebuff, while covering detachments were to stall the Serbian units until the arrival of the main forces, which had been staged along the southern border. From the Turkish border, the units were transported by train to Saranbey (now – the town of Septemvri), and from there at quick march by foot – to this day likened by military experts to the world military history’s most momentous marches – to the border with Serbia.
While the concentration was underway, the covering detachments, aided by volunteers, determinedly rebuffed the many times superior enemy, managed to slow it down and prevented it from crossing the Dragoman – Slivnitsa Line. The Slivnitsa position, about 20 km long straight line from Leshta to Bratushkovo, was divided into three sections, commanded by Captain Anastas Benderev, Captain Andrey Blaskov, and Captain Mihail Savov. From September 5 to 7, in uneven and gory three-day battles, the Bulgarian divisions won the battle for the defence of Slivnitsa and went on a decisive offensive, as a result of which the Serbs were defeated at Dragoman, Tsaribrod, and Neshkov Vrah. They were also repulsed at Vidin, defended by the Northern Detachment of Captain Atanas Uzunov and volunteers. To the defence of the Vidin fortress contributed also the Danube Fleet and the Black See Unit, which supplied weapons, ammunition, food and personnel under the relentless barrage of the Serbian batteries stationed along the Danube’s right bank.
On November 12, the Great Powers sent a note, supported by the Ottoman Empire, demanding the start of peace negotiations, and the next day Serbia requested a truce. Bulgaria posed the recognition of the Unification as prerequisite and continued the offensive. On November 14, after fierce battles, the Bulgarian troops entered Pirot. The road to Nis and Belgrade was open. Serbia faced total defeat. The Austria-Hungaria’s Minister Plenipotentiary in Belgrade, Count Khevenhüller-Metsch, arrived at the Bulgarian Army’s Headquarters in Pirot and threatened that if the offensive was not halted, the Bulgarian army would meet the Austro-Hungarian troops. Weighing the situation, Prince Alexander I ceased the hostilities.
On December 9, 1885, an armistice agreement was signed, penned by the Great Powers. It provided for the unconditional release of the captives and of the occupied territories; the withdrawal of the Serbian troops from the Vidin region by December 13, and of the Bulgarian troops from the Pirot region two days later. The demarcation line was set on the pre-war border, with a 6 km neutral zone, and stipulated a deadline for the signing of the peace treaty.
Defence of the unification
in the field of diplomacy
Following the Unification, Bulgarian policy endeavoured, through diplomatic moves, to avert the extraction of the Bulgarian troops from Eastern Rumelia, which would jeopardise the act. The cabinet was reassuring Europe the undertaking was an internal to Bulgaria affair and that the Province was kept in order and in peace. Dispatching out personal letters to the Russian emperor, the Sultan and the Serbian king, Prince Alexander I attempted to rally support, assuring the Unification was not directed against other countries and that it did not invalidate Ottoman suzerainty.
Serbia’s and Greece’s response to the Unification were extremely hostile. Serbian claims to Bulgarian territories, from Vidin in the north to Kyustendil in the South, found the support of Austria-Hungary, who desired to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina and sought a recompense for Serbia. Turkey occupied the Kardzhali region and amassed troops on the southern Bulgarian border. Greece declared mobilization boasting threats against Turkey and Bulgaria. Russia ordered Prince Mikhail Kantakuzin to resign his position as Bulgarian Minister of War, and Russian officers in Bulgarian service – to abstain from interference in the Eastern Rumelian affairs, and later – to leave the country. Romania, despite early on demands for compensations, later moved to neutrality, a position maintained from the very beginning by Montenegro.
At first, the Great Powers condemned the Unification and called for common measures against this breach of the Berlin Treaty, and warned Serbia, Greece, and Romania to abstain from demonstrations of force or attempts for a coordinated action. A warning against military intervention was also issued to Turkey, for fear of major riots in the Macedonian vilayeti [districts]. Bulgaria held the trump cart – control over the peace in Macedonia, which helped her avoid stronger pressure from the Great Powers or the Porte.
Bulgarian government made huge efforts to soften the Great Powers’ positions in favour of restoration of the status quo. To Copenhagen was sent a joint mission of Principality and Eastern Rumelia envoys, led by the Tarnovo Metropolitan Kliment (Vasil Drumev). It was received by the Russian Foreign Minister Girs and by Alexander III, who condemned the implemented without their sanction Unification and voiced a vague, yet backed by no particular move opinion, that there could be no talk of division of Bulgaria from there on. From Copenhagen, one of the envoys – Iv. Ev. Geshov, at the time Director of the Bulgarian National Bank, left for London, to probe the opinion of the British government and to attempt to win them for the Bulgarian cause. From London, Iv. Ev. Geshov travelled to Paris, where he met the Foreign Minister Freycinet. The Bulgarian diplomatic representative at Bucharest, Grigor Nachovich travelled on special mission to Wien. At Constantinople acted envoys from Southern Bulgaria – Dr. Stoyan Chomakov and Ivan Hadzhipetrov. Bulgarian diplomacy sought to strike balance between the controversial interests of the Great Powers. England, following her line towards undermining Russian influence in Bulgaria, endorsed the Unification, though at times quite lethargically. Germany, suspecting an Anglo-Russian pact, worked to frustrate it.
On 24 October 1885, initiated by Russia, and with the consent of the Porte, an Ambassadors’ conference convened in Constantinople, to resolve the situation produced by the Unification. Because of the unyielding English resistance, often backed by France, and of the wariness of the other Powers to grant Turkey any rights in the Eastern Rumelian Question, the conference produced no resolutions. Serbia considered this to indicate looming recognition for the Unification, and on 2 November declared war on Bulgaria. On 15 November, Bulgarian troops entered Pirot, which opened the road to Nis, and brought Serbia on her knees. Austria-Hungary’s diplomatic representative to Belgrade, Count Rudolf von Khevenhuller-Metsch, on behalf of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia, threatened with Austrian forces and insisted Bulgaria must cease the hostility. The Prince yielded. The armistice, written by the Great Powers and signed on 9 December 1885, did not reflect Bulgarian interests.
On 20 January 1886, between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire was signed an Agreement, in which the Eastern Rumelian Question was settled through a personal union with the Prince. Russia objected.
On 19 February, at Bucharest was signed a Serbian-Bulgarian treaty, which adhered to Serbian proposition and restored the pre-war status quo, discounting every single Bulgarian proposition.
On 24 March 1886, was signed the Tophanen Act between the Ottoman Empire and the Ambassadors of the Great Powers–sponsors of the Berlin Treaty. By it, the Kardzhaly District, with a territory of about 2 000 sq. km and 35 000 inhabitants remained under Turkish jurisdiction; the border in the Rhodope Mountains was drawn in favour of the Porte, it provided for a review of the Organic Statute of Eastern Rumelia by a commission sanctioned by the Great Powers. A 5-year mandate of government of Southern Bulgaria was awarded to the Bulgarian Prince. Thanks to Russia, and with the tacit consent of England, the name of Alexander I was omitted from the act, thus setting the Prince on course for abdication, and the Principality – in the sphere of political uncertainty.
of the two Bulgarias
After the Unification began the multidimensional and received with mixed feelings work on the actual union of the two largest Bulgarian regions into one state. At first, to avoid further frictions, the preliminary government in Southern Bulgaria was preserved, but transformed into a Commissariat. The Prince assumed command of the Southern Bulgarian forces, 12 military districts were created, and commanders of the military detachments were appointed. At an extraordinary session of the National Assembly (11 September), all adopted measures received parliamentary sanction; offbudget credits were approved for the mobilization and for a reserve fund in the event of war; the budget for 1886, as well as a Law on Requisitions for the Needs of the Army were also adopted.
The crucial changes towards the union of the Principality with the Southern Bulgarian Province started at the end of September, when through diplomatic channels became clear that at the approaching opening of the Ambassadors’ Conference in Constantinople, the Great Powers would call for restoration of the status quo. The political and social circles increasingly often adopted the opinion that the Great Powers must be presented with the fait acompli of state unification. Thus, over a short period, several Eastern Rumelian directorates were dissolved, their functions integrated into the respective administrations of the Principality of Bulgaria. As a supplement to the Sofia State Gazette, at Plovidv was started a special “Supplement to the State Gazette”, for the edicts and the orders of the Prince and the Commissariat.
The true unification of the two regions was accomplished only when the Minister of Justice, Vasil Radoslavov arrived in Plovdiv to assume the administrative reigns of the Province, assisted by the Unification activists and the Royal Commissioner, Dr. Georgi Stranski and regardless of the the reservations of the Prime Minister and those of some cabinet memebrs. With the support of the Prince, V. Radoslavov dissolved the preliminary central administration in Plovdiv; Dr. G. Stranski departed for Sofia; his deputees resigned. The administration of Southern Bulgaria merged into that of the Principality and became directly subordinated to the respective ministeries in Sofia. Government of Eastern Rumelia was put on equal par with the rest of the districts in the Principality.
With the introduction of the judicial laws and of a series of measures, justice was also homogenized. From 1 January 1886, the organization, and the structure of the Southern Bulgarian forces and those of the army of the Principality were standardized. In some other spheres of the government, unification processes were slower, but equally irreversible. New administrative division of the country was introduced; police was reorganized; fiscal administration was harmonized, and the Principality’s financial laws introduced.
Immediately after the Unification, there was general consent for the convention of a Grand National Assembly, to produce a new constitution, but due to the fast-tracked merger of the two regions, and the state of matial law, the government decided to hold partial elections for Southern Bulgaria only, allowing delegates from the Province to join the mandate of the Principality’s 4 Ordinary National Assembly. This was met with resistance by some political figures of the former Eastern Rumelian regime, who felt that the merger had not been on equal terms and that Rumelia had been ingested by the Principality. On 2 June 1886, opened the next session of the 4 Ordinary National Assembly, with delegates from both regions, and that was gave start to the unified parliamentary institution.
Integration measures met the disapproval of the Great Powers, but due to the opening of the larger problem of the Prince’s dethronation, the objections lost their priority on the agenda. Although suspended just provisionally, the work of the Bulgarian-Turkish commission on the revision of the Organic Statute – a requirement under the Topanen Act, was never renewed.
Sofia on the path
The Unification, successfully executed and defended by the nation’s own accord, boosted the national self-esteem of Bulgarians. Created are the necessary conditions not only for the growth of Bulgaria as an independent from the Ottoman Empire state, but also for the formal recognition by the Great Powers of her independence in 1908
The Unification forever settled the Eastern Rumelia dilemma provokingly introduced at Berlin, and terminated the artificial division into “Rumelians” and “Bulgarians”, which endangered Bulgarian national unity. Although the Unification betrays the typical of the 19th c. partial diplomatic answers to the national questions, focused on frustrating liberation and unification drives of the nations, it demonstrated that artificial divisions had short life. The Union of the two parts of Bulgaria in 1885, came to serve as a historical model for the 19th century’s national liberation and unification movements. During the longest period of peace in the history of new Bulgaria, after the Unification, national energies were directed at expanding the success to the other populated by a predominant Bulgarian population areas which remained under foreign rule.
Through her dazzling victory in the Serbian-Bulgarian War, regardless of the shadow of the decisions of the Great Powers, Bulgaria showed it was finding her footing and becoming a force to be reckoned with in the future, by both her neighbors and the Great Powers.
The Unification marked the beginning of the evolution into a unified state of the economic, political and cultural community of the Bulgarian nation. Due to the Unification, Bulgaria almost doubled its state territory – to 96,345 square kilometres, with population of 3,070,988.
After the Unification, Sofia became the capital of a united Bulgaria. Having enjoyed only a few years of freedom, and while it still preserved the traits of a provincial Ottoman town, it was animated by the ambition to grow and to measure up to Europe’s capitals.
With its affirmation as a political epicenter, the concentrated new political and social elite was eager to cast and publicise its leading role in society and state, seeking to categorically dispense with the Ottoman legacy in the town’s fabric, to populate Sofia with European spirit and aesthetics. Soon, the architectural style of the representative buildings and of the imposing private homes, credit to European and Bulgarian architects, with mostly Austrian and German diplomas, sprinkled the capital with a bit of Viennese splendour.
In the ten years following the Unification, the capital more than doubled its population. The edges of the town had swelled east to the Poduene bridge, up Perlovska River to Alexandrovska Hospital, west to the Lagera [the camp] locality, down Vladayska River, over the greens of “Banishora” all the way to the railway station, and back to the Poduene bridge. They were quickly outgrown and the city ingested the “Opalchenski”, “Yuchbunar”, and the “Konyovitsa” neighbourhoods, the former Jewish cemetery, “Banishora”, the Infantry Barracks area, the village of Poduene, the “Russian Monument” and “Bukata” quarters …
The determination of the municipal government and of the public to create new symbols of the capital’s identity cleared the scene for the set-up of the central plazas around the theatres, churches, train stations, or the palaces. In the outlying suburbs of the city, the role of focal points was assumed by the church buildings, around which life revolved and where neighborhood market places, pubs and parks – with which all suburbs and neighborhoods got outfitted – would cluster. The garden in front of the Prince’s Palace was transformed into a modern park, and Sofians ambled about the Pipiniere (later – Boris Garden) near the Eagles’ Bridge. The carts, carriages, and the horse omnibus gave way to the first motor vehicles, bicycles and trams.
The number of schools grew – fruit of the ambitious national policy. In 1888, Sofia University opened its doors, and in 1912, was founded the first higher education military institute in Bulgaria – the Military Academy. In 1892, the National Museum was reincarnated as an independent institution, which in 1906 split into two museums – of Ethnographical and of Archaeology. To the family of national museums in 1916 was added the Military History Museum. Sofia became an attractive place for the creatives working in various genres, and the sites where people could enjoy their art multiplied. Major role in the creation of the modern capital universe played also the publishing industry.
During its first decades as capital of the young Bulgarian state, Sofia occupied first place in the beer and flour mills production, had good performance in the textile, ceramic, leather, furniture, and even iron industry, and the growth rate for industrial enterprises outperformed the country. Gradually, thanks to foreign capital, Sofia became not only an industrial center, but also the country’s primary business hub, where the offices and headquarters of the major credit, commercial, industrial, and foreign insurance companies concentrated.
Notable locations associated
with the unification and
the Serbian-Bulgarian war