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Bulgaria

THE DECADES OF NATIONAL CONSOLIDATION

Despite strong dissatisfaction with the frontiers imposed by the European powers, a new Bulgarian state was born in 1878. And despite early political uncertainty, the first thirty-four years of modern Bulgaria were in many ways its most prosperous and productive.

Forming the New State

In 1879 a constituent assembly was duly convened in Turnovo. Partly elected and partly appointed, the assembly of 230 split into conservative and liberal factions similar to those that had existed before independence. The liberals advocated continuing the alliance of peasants and intelligentsia that had formed the independence movement, to be symbolized in a single parliamentary chamber; the conservatives argued that the Bulgarian peasant class was not ready for political responsibility, and therefore it should be represented in a second chamber with limited powers. The framework for the Turnovo constitution was a draft submitted by the Russian occupation authorities, based on the constitutions of Serbia and Romania. As the assembly revised that document, the liberal view prevailed; a one-chamber parliament or subranie would be elected by universal male suffrage. Between the annual fall sessions of the subranie, the country would be run jointly by the monarch and a council of ministers responsible to parliament. The liberals who dominated the assembly incorporated many of their revolutionary ideals into what became one of the most liberal constitutions of its time. The final act of the Turnovo assembly was the election of Alexander of Battenburg, a young German nobleman who had joined the Russians in the war of 1877, to be the first prince of modern Bulgaria.

From the beginning of his reign, Alexander opposed the liberal wing in Bulgaria and the Turnovo constitution. After two years of conflict with the liberal council of ministers headed by Dragan Tsankov, Alexander received Russian backing to replace Tsankov. When the Russian Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, Russian policy changed to allow a grand national assembly to consider the constitutional changes desired by Prince Alexander. The assassination had spurred conservatism in Russia, and the Bulgarian liberals had alarmed the Russians by refusing foreign economic aid in the early 1880s. To the dismay of the liberals, Russia intervened in the election of the constitutional subranie, frightening voters into electing a group that passed the entire package of amendments. Liberal influence was sharply reduced by amendments limiting the power of the subranie. But, because the conservative approach to governing Bulgaria had little popular support, Alexander made a series of compromises with liberal positions between 1881 and 1885. The Turnovo constitution was essentially restored by agreement between Tsankov and the conservatives in 1883, and the constitutional issue was resolved. In only the first two years of Bulgaria's existence, two parliaments and seven cabinets had been dissolved, but more stable times lay ahead.

By 1884 the conservative faction had left the government, but the liberals split over the high price of purchasing the Ruse-Varna Railway from the British, as required by the Treaty of Berlin. As on earlier issues, the more radical faction sought to reduce the influence of the European powers who had imposed the Treaty of Berlin. This group was led by Petko Karavelov, brother of revolutionary leader Liuben Karavelov and prime minister in the mid-1880s.

The most important issue of that period was Bulgaria's changing relationship with Russia. Bulgarian hostility towards the Russian army, refusal to build a strategic railway for the Russians through Bulgaria, and poor relations between Prince Alexander and Tsar Alexander III of Russia all contributed to increasing alienation. Because conservative Russia now feared unrest in the Balkans, Karavelov tried to appease the tsar by quelling the uprisings that continued in Macedonia. Radical factions in Bulgaria were persuaded to lower their goals from annexation of Macedonia and Thrace to a union between Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia. When a bloodless coup achieved this union in 1885, however, Russia demanded the ouster of Prince Alexander and withdrew all Russian officers from the Bulgarian army. Greece and Serbia saw their interests threatened, and the latter declared war on Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian army won a brilliant victory over Serbia, with no Russian aid, at the Battle of Slivnitsa. Although the victory was a source of great national pride for Bulgaria, Russia continued to withhold recognition of the union with Eastern Rumelia until Prince Alexander abdicated. Finally, Russian-trained Bulgarian army officers deposed the prince in August 1886.

Data as of June 1992


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