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Anniversary of the Unification of Bulgaria

Anniversary of the Unification of Bulgaria

9/6/2023 8:00:00 AM
The Unification of Bulgaria was the act of unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and the then-Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia in the autumn of 1885. It was co-ordinated by the Bulgarian Secret Central Revolutionary Committee (BSCRC). The Unification was accomplished after revolts in Eastern Rumelian towns, followed by a coup on 6 September 1885 supported by the Bulgarian Knyaz Alexander I.

The 10th Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) ended with the signing of the preliminary Treaty of San Stefano, which cut large territories off the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria was resurrected after 482 years of foreign rule. The country's borders were equal to the ethnic borders of the Bulgarians — the lands of present day Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, the Adrianopole region, the Aegean coastline with the important cities of Xanthi, Dedeagach, Kavala and Serbia (what subsequently would become known as the Western Outlands).

The Russian diplomats knew that Bulgaria would not remain within these borders for very long — the San Stefano peace was called "preliminary" by the Russians themselves. The Berlin Congress began on June 1 1878 and ended on July 1 1878 with the Berlin Treaty that created a vassal Bulgarian state in the lands between the Balkans and the Danube. The area between the Balkan Mountains and the Rila and Rhodope Mountains was called Eastern Rumelia. This artificially created state was autonomous in the borders of Turkey. The separation of southern Bulgaria into a different administrative region was a guarantee against the fears expressed by Great Britain and Austria-Hungary that Bulgaria would gain access to the Aegean Sea, which logically meant that Russia was getting closer to the Mediterranean.

In these conditions it was natural that Bulgarians in Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia and Macedonia all strived for unity. The first attempt was made in 1880. The new British prime minister, William Gladstone (who had strongly supported the Bulgarian cause in the past) made Bulgarian politicians hope that the British policy on the Eastern Question was about to change, and that it will support and look favourably upon an eventual Union. Unfortunately, the change of government did not bring a change in Great Britain's interests. Secondly, there was a possible conflict growing between the Ottoman Empire on one side and Greece and Montenegro on the other.

The Union activists from Eastern Rumelia sent Stefan Panaretov, a lecturer in Robert College, to consult the British opinion on the planned Unification. Gladstone's government though, did not accept these plans. Disagreement came from Imperial Russia as well, which was strictly following the decisions taken during the Berlin Congress. Meanwhile the tensions between Greece and the Ottoman Empire had settled, which finally brought the first Unification attempt to a failure.

By mid-1885 most of the active unionists in Eastern Rumelia shared the vision that the preparation of a revolution in Macedonia should be postponed and all efforts should be concentrated on the unification of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia. The Bulgarian Knyaz Alexander I was also drawn to this cause. His relations with Russia had worsened to such extent that the Russian Emperor and the pro-Russian circles in Bulgaria openly called for Alexander's abdication. The young knyaz saw that his support for the Unification is his only chance for political survival.

The Unification was initially scheduled for the middle of September, while the Rumelian militia was mobilized for performing manoeuvres. The plan called for the Unification to be announced on September 15 1885, but on September 2 a riot began in Panagyurishte (then in Eastern Rumelia) that was brought under control the same day by the police. The demonstration demanded Unification with Bulgaria. A little later this example was followed in the village of Goliamo Konare. An armed squad was formed there, under the leadership of Prodan Tishkov (mostly known as Chardafon) — the local leader of the BSCRC. BSCRC representatives were sent to different towns in the province, where they had to gather groups of rebels and send them to Plovdiv, the capital of Eastern Rumelia, where they were under the command of Major Danail Nikolaev.

Meanwhile, military manoeuvres were being carried out in the outskirts of Plovdiv. Mj. Danail Nikolaev, who was in charge of the manoeuvres, was aware of and supported the unionists. On 6 September, Rumelian militia (Eastern Rumelia's armed forces) and armed unionist groups entered Plovdiv and took over the Governor's residence. The Governor was Gavrail Krastevich, a Bulgarian patriot who, naturally, did not resist the unionists.

A temporary government was formed immediately, with Georgi Stranski at its head. Major Danail Nikolaev was appointed commander of armed forces. With help from Russian officers, he created the strategical plan for defence against the expected Ottoman intervention. Mobilization was declared in Eastern Rumelia.

As soon as it took power on September 2, the temporary government sent a telegram, asking the knyaz to accept the Unification. On September 8 Alexander I answered with a special manifest. On the next day, accompanied by the prime minister Petko Karavelov and the head of Parliament Stefan Stambolov, Knyaz Alexander I entered the capital of the former Eastern Rumelia. This gesture confirmed the unionists' actions as a fait accompli. But the difficulties of the diplomatic and military defence of the Union lay ahead.
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