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Independence movement
     The Russian connection
     The Macedonian question
     The first Balkan War
     The second Balkan War

To be completed

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The Russian connection: 1879-1896

The early years of the new principality are dominated by the question of Russian influence in Bulgarian affairs. Russia has encouraged and subsidized the Bulgarian independence movement, and the German prince elected by the Bulgarians in 1879 (Alexander of Battenberg) is a nephew of tsar Alexander II. It is widely assumed that prince Alexander will be little more than a poodle of the Russians.

However there is also a strong Bulgarian movement for real independence, both in the principality and in the Turkish province of Eastern Rumelia. These incompatible policies lead to inevitable clashes, in which prince Alexander's role proves far from predictable.


Of the two political parties which evolve in Bulgaria, the Liberals are nationalist and the Conservatives pro-Russian. By 1881 a Liberal majority in the grand Sobranie (the Bulgarian parliament) becomes so violently anti-Russian that Prince Alexander dismisses them. He puts in their place a compliant Conservative ministry, which suspends the new constitution and grants the prince dictatorial powers for seven years.

In this same year, 1881, Prince Alexander's uncle tsar Alexander II dies (to be succeeded by his son, as Alexander III). The Bulgarian Alexander begins to feel both more independent and more sympathetic to the nationalist aspirations of his people.


In 1885 the prince gives his secret approval to a plot by the Bulgarians in Eastern Rumelia. The rebels seize the Turkish governor general and proclaim the union of their province with the principality of Bulgaria. The prince moves into Rumelia and puts himself at the head of the government of a united Bulgaria.

After some local warfare and much international argument a new state of affairs is recognized, against Russia's wishes, at the treaty of Bucharest in March 1886. Alexander is to be governor general of Eastern Rumelia. The army and the administration of the province will be merged with those of his Bulgarian principality.


The saga does not end there. The settlement is unacceptable to the pro-Russian faction in Bulgaria. In August 1886 conspirators seize Prince Alexander, force him to sign a deed of abdication and transport him into Russia. The Sobranie immediately passes a resolution recalling him to his throne, but tsar Alexander III prevents his return. In his enforced absence, the prince confirms his abdication.

The Bulgarians, rejecting the Russian candidate for their new prince, choose Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Relations with Russia remain strained until the death of Alexander III in 1894. The rift is healed in 1896 when Ferdinand has his eldest son baptized in the Orthodox faith with tsar Nicholas II as godfather. But by now the more important new issue is Macedonia.


The Macedonian question: 1893-1912

By the 1890s nationalist demands have removed Turkish control from more than half the Ottoman empire in the Balkans. Greece and Serbia are independent, Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia are autonomous, Bosnia and Hercegovina are administered by Austria-Hungary.

This leaves the Turks with just a long strip of European territory stretching west from Istanbul to the Adriatic. It consists essentially of two areas, Macedonia and Albania. Here, as elsewhere, there are strong nationalist pressures. In Macedonia, in particular, they have the almost insoluble complexity which characterizes Balkan affairs.


In 1893 a secret revolutionary organization is founded in Salonika. Calling itself VMRO (Vatreshna Makedonska Revolutsionna Organizatsia, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization), it states its policy in the slogan 'Macedonia for the Macedonians'.

Would that it were so simple. The proposed revolution against Turkey is to be a Christian one, so the Muslim Macedonians (Turkish settlers and converts) can be discounted, as can the thriving Jewish communities (settled here with Turkish encouragement after the expulsion from Spain in 1492). But even the Christians themselves in Macedonia are variously Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian in origin.


These three states are concerned not so much that Macedonia shall belong to the Macedonians as that parts of it shall belong to them. By 1900 each is sending secret guerrilla contingents into Macedonia to ensure that the VMRO inclines to their particular brand of national insurrection. The rival terrorists (the andartai from Greece, the chetnitsi from Serbia and the komitaji from Bulgaria) become a familiar part of the developing chaos in the Balkans.

The three Balkan states also have designs on Albania, now at the western extremity of European Turkey. Serbia, in particular, hopes for a slice of Albanian territory to give access to the Adriatic.


The sense of incipient crisis is heightened in 1908 with the revolution of the Young Turks in Istanbul. Austria-Hungary chooses this moment to annexe Bosnia-Hercegovina. At the same time Ferdinand declares the independence of his Bulgarian principality and of Eastern Rumelia, proclaiming himself Ferdinand I as ruler of a united Bulgarian kingdom.

An extra chance seems to be offered to the Balkan states when Italy goes to war against Turkey in north Africa in September 1911. The conflict lasts until October 1912. During that time, with Turkey distracted, plots are hatched in the Balkans for the division of Turkish land in Europe. Early in 1912 secret agreements are made between Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece as to future boundaries.


The first Balkan War:1912-1913

The Balkan upheavals of 1912 begin in Albania. A national uprising against the Turks is so successful that an Albanian army presses far enough east to occupy the Macedonian city of Skopje. This success stirs the Balkan states to action, for an independent Albania is not part of their plans. In October 1912 Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria go to war against Turkey.

The allies rapidly make inroads into Macedonia and Albania. In the east the Bulgarians push the Turks back to their defensive lines at Catalca, only sixty miles from Istanbul. In the west the Greeks move into southern Albania and the Serbians reach the Adriatic, capturing the port of Durrës on November 28.


On the same day at Vlorë, another port fifty miles to the south, the Albanians declare their independence and set up their first national government. But the issue is now taken into international hands.

Austria-Hungary, in particular, is determined not to have a strengthened Serbia on her southern border. A conference of ambassadors of the relevant powers (Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, the Ottoman empire) convenes in London in December to discuss the issue. It is agreed that the independence of Albania should be recognized, but there is much dispute as to the exact boundaries. Russian pressure on behalf of the Serbs results eventually in one glaring anomaly. The province of Kosovo, containing some 800,000 Albanian inhabitants, is severed from Albania and allotted to Serbia.


It is agreed also in London (in a second conference in May 1913) that the western border of European Turkey will run from Enos on the Aegean to Midye on the Black Sea. It is left to the three Balkan states to divide between themselves the whole of the rest of Turkish Europe up to the Albanian border - an area consisting of western Thrace and Macedonia.

Since Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece have made mutual agreements on this issue before the outbreak of war, this might be assumed to be easy. But this is the Balkans. Negotiations are immediately undertaken to alter the agreed terms until, in June 1913, the king of Bulgaria decides upon military intervention.


The second Balkan War: 1913

As in any war, troops are not exactly where expected when hostilities in the Balkans come to an end in April 1913. In particular many areas of Macedonia earmarked for Bulgaria are occupied by Greek and Serbian troops who show little inclination to relinquish them. This situation, and the hope of a quick victory to redress matters, prompts the Bulgarian king Ferdinand I to order his army to march into these disputed areas on 28 June 1913.

The result is disaster for Bulgaria. The invading army fails to achieve an immediate advantage against Serbs or Greeks in Macedonia. On July 11 the Rumanians invade Bulgaria from the north. On the next day the Turks march into the new Bulgarian territory in Thrace.


By July 18 the Bulgarians have agreed to a conference in Bucharest to settle the issue, though it is another two weeks before the Greeks, Serbs and Rumanians accept an armistice. The terms agreed at Bucharest are inevitably to Bulgaria's disadvantage. Romania is ceded valuable territory in the Dobruja, bordering the Black Sea. Turkey recovers part of Thrace. Greece and Serbia acquire the largest and richest parts of Macedonia. The only worthwhile Bulgarian accession is a short strip of the Aegean coast.

These events leave deep-seated enmities in the Balkans. But they are about to be submerged in a wider conflict - the First World War.


This History is as yet incomplete.


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