Bulgaria National History


From 1396 Bulgaria was under Ottoman Turkish rule, but in 1878 the autonomous principality of Bulgaria was created, following pressure on the Ottoman Empire by the western powers. Eastern Rumelia (South Bulgaria) was added in 1885, but substantial populations of ethnic Bulgarians in Macedonia, Thrace and Dobrudja remained under foreign domination. Taking advantage of a leadership crisis in Constantinople, full independence was declared as the Kingdom of Bulgaria on 5 October 1908.

In 1912 Bulgaria joined the Balkan League, an uneasy military alliance with Serbia, Greece and Montenegro to finally push the Ottoman Empire out of Europe and expand it’s own territory in the process. The First Balkan War, which began in October 1912, coincided with the Italy’s campaign to liberate Tripoli from the Ottomans. Bulgarian forces rapidly adanced towards Constantinople and also besieged the key fortress of Adrianople (Edirne). Bulgarian troops also drove the Ottomans out of Aegean Thrace and Eastern Macedonia. By the middle of December 1912 the Ottomans had asked for an armistice. Hostilities resumed in early 1913 and when Adrianople fell to Bulgarian and Serb forces in March 1913 the Ottomans finally capitulated. Under the Treaty of London in May 1913 Bulgaria formally regained Thrace but the disposition of Macedonia remained in dispute. Bulgaria asserted that Serbia had occupied more of Macedonia and Thessaloniki than it was allowed under the pre-war agreement.

In June 1913 Bulgaria attacked Serbian forces in Macedonia, starting the Second Balkan War, while another Bulgarian army advanced into Thessaloniki. Serbian and Greek forces halted this offensive and then in July pushed the invaders back into Bulgaria. Because most of the Bulgarian troops were on the Serbian frontier, Romanian troops were easily able to cross into Bulgaria and advance towards Sofia. At the same time the Ottomans took the opportunity to recapture Adrianople. Bulgaria quickly sued for peace. The Treaty of Bucharest in August 1913 allowed Bulgaria to retain only very small parts of Macedonia and Thrace while Greece and Serbia divided the rest. This humiliating defeat for Bulgaria cancelled any gains from the First Balkan War.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Bulgaria remained neutral. Both the Entente (Russia, France, Britain) and Central Powers (Austro-Hungary and Germany) courted Bulgaria because of its relatively strong army and strategic position, offering territorial gains and military support. By mid-1915 the Central Powers appeared to be winning the war and were offering the restoration of Greater Bulgaria when victory was secured. In the summer of 1915 Bulgaria made a secret treaty with Central Powers and on 14 October 1915 launched a surprise invasion of Serbia. Within weeks Bulgarian forces had pushed the Serbs out of Macedonia and into Albania, and had occupied part of Greek Macedonia. Further advances into Greece were stopped by the Germans to maintain Greek neutrality. In mid-1916 British, French and Serbian troops landed at Salonika in Greece to counter the presence of the Bulgarian Army. An attempted offensive by Entente forces along the Vardar River was effectively halted and then forced back over the Struma River. From late August 1916 the war then settled into a long and costly stalemate along the Vardar. This suited the Germans as it kept 500,000 Allied troops away from the fighting on the Western Front.

Romania entered the war on the Entente side on 27 August 1916, but it’s poorly prepared army was soon defeated and Bucharest was captured in December 1916. Bulgaria occupied the Southern Dobrudja region along the Black Sea coast, opening a new front with Russia in Moldavia but little fighting took place there.

Once the Bulgarian advance into Romania and Greece had been halted, conditions at the front deteriorated rapidly and political support for the war began to wane. Bulgaria had now achieved all it’s war aims, but was compelled to continue fighting in order to assist it’s Central Powers allies. With little man-power available for farming, serious food shortages affected both civilian and soldiers while rampant inflation damaged the economy. In 1917 food riots broke out and Bolshevik anti-war propaganda became widely circulated.

On 27 June 1917 Greece joined the war on the side of the Entente (having issued a declaration of war on 23 November 1916). In September 1918 Entente forces launched a two-pronged offensive into Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia at Doiran and Dobro Pole. Although the Bulgarian Army defeated British and Greek troops at Doiran, the battle with British and French troops at Dobro Pole brought defeat and in 10 days Entente forces entered Bulgaria. The defeat at Dobro Pole triggered a widespread soldiers revolt, with units en-masse withdrawing from the frontline and heading for Sofia to confront the government. By 25 September 1918 the rebels had reached Radomir, and on 29 September they reached Sofia. The disorganised revolt was then crushed by German troops and Bulgarian government loyalists, with fighting ending on 2 October. Meanwhile, on 29 September 1918 Bulgaria signed an armistice and officially left the war. Immediately after the war, a new peasant led ‘Agrarian’ government took control. In November 1919 the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine awarded Thrace to Greece, depriving Bulgaria of access to the Aegean Sea. The newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes took Macedonia and Southern Dobrudja went back to Romania. Severe limitations were placed on the size of the Bulgarian Army and enormous war reparations in goods and money were to paid to the Allies.

In June 1923 a very bloody military coup deposed the Agrarian government, and similarly dealt with an abortive communist insurrection. Amid economic depression, another military coup in 1934 established a government of ‘national regeneration’. In 1935 Czar Boris established a quasi-fascist royal dictatorship and subsequently drew steadily closer to Nazi Germany. On 1 March 1941 he signed the Axis Tripartite Pact. On 2 March 1941 German forces were allowed to use Bulgarian bases for the planned invasion of Greece. The territories of Macedonia, Thrace and South Dobrudja were annexed following the successful German attack. On 13 December 1941 Bulgaria declared war on Britain and the USA. Despite its alliance wih Germany, Bulgaria was not officially at war with the Soviet Union.

As the tide of war turned, the Soviet Army began to advance into the Balkans. On 26 August 1944, Bulgaria declared itself to be neutral in the Russo-German war. This position was not recognised by the Soviet Union, who threaten to invade Bulgaria. With the Soviet army about to invade, an armistice was quickly offered by Bulgaria and hostilities ceased on 9 September 1944. Captured territory was handed back in 1945.

Amid widespread intimidation, the communists ‘won’ the October 1946 elections and proceded to arrest members of the previous government. The Czarist monarchy was abolished in 1947 and a one party People’s Republic established.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the previous leadership was gradually replaced by a less doctrinaire faction. However, economic failure and mounting discontent during the 1980’s led to widespread demonstrations which eventually provoked a coup within the communist party on 10 November 1989. The new leadership repudiated the old communist policies and legalised opposition parties. An ambitious programme of economic reform was launched by a non-communist government in February 1991, but this was short-lived due to the disintegration of the USSR and the 1990-91 Gulf War. Iraq had owed Bulgaria $2 billion. Economic and political reform has continued and Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004.

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