Bulgaria Celebrates 131th Anniversary since National Unification of Principality of Bulgaria and ‘Eastern Rumelia’

This rare postcard showcased by the National Museum of History in Sofia depicts the celebrations for the Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia on September 6, 1885. Photo: National Museum of History

This rare postcard showcased by the National Museum of History in Sofia depicts the arrival of triumphant volunteer units in Plovdiv to support and celebrate the Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia on September 6, 1885. Photo: National Museum of History

Bulgaria has celebrated the 131th anniversary since the Unification of what is today North and South Bulgaria, back then the Principality of Bulgaria, a vassal of Ottoman Turkey, and Eastern Roumelia, an autonomous region of Ottoman Turkey, which was declared on September 6, 1885.

The Team of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com wishes happy Unification Day (September 6) to its Bulgarian and Bulgaria-loving readers from around the world!

(Read on below to learn the history of Bulgaria’s National Unification!)

On the occasion of the national holiday, Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia has showcased a rare postcard from 1885 depicting the national enthusiasm and celebrations 131 years ago as well as a number of other items such as the “Unified Bulgaria” litography by Bulgarian painter Nikolay Pavlovich (view below).

“The Unification is the first independent national act in Bulgaria’s new history. The Bulgarians, on their own, without the official approval of the Great Powers, and against the backdrop of Russia’s all-out opposition, rejected a humiliating clause of the Berlin Treaty [of 1878]. This event is the first step towards a national unification which, unfortunately, was followed by a series of unsuccessful moves,” says the National Museum of History in a release.

“The grand event that we celebrate on September 6 is a testimony that small nations are able to a great extent to avoid the constant intervention and guardianship on part of the Great Powers when resolving matters that are crucial for their nation and state,” it concludes.

Every year Bulgaria’s Unification Day celebrations are hosted by the southern city of Plovdiv which was where the Unification was declared in 1885.

In spite of boasting high culture and Pre-Renaissance or Early Renaissance art, the feudally fragmented medieval Bulgarian Empire fell prey to the Ottoman Turkish invaders who conquered it at the end of the 14th century, ushering into five centuries of what is known in Bulgarian history as the period of Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912).

The Ottoman conquest and five-century rule set Bulgaria’s back centuries in development, destroyed its high medieval culture, annihilated or assimilating an enormous share of the Bulgarian population, and doomed the rest to a slave-like status.

The Bulgarians resisted the Ottoman rule in a number of ways including by staging at least 60 major uprisings, revolts, and mutinies, by keeping up guerrilla resistance (by the so called hayduti, or haiduks), and by volunteering in the forces of other great and small powers fighting Ottoman Turkey. Their fight for freedom and independence took a better organized form only during the National Revival Period (18th-19th century), and intensified especially in the third quarter of the 19th century.

It culminated into the April Uprising of 1876 which was crushed with savage brutality by the Ottoman troops and irregulars (30,000 Bulgarians were massacred) – just like any other revolt ever staged by the Bulgarians. This time, however, the stories of the Ottoman atrocities caused international outrage thanks to coverage by a US journalist working for the British press, Januarius MacGahan (1844-1878). This led the otherwise competing great European powers of the time to agree on the need of a humanitarian intervention in Bulgaria (the British Empire and Austria-Hungary agreed not to intervene in an assault of the Russian Empire against Ottoman Turkey).

The humanitarian intervention came in the form of the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 which ended on March 3, 1878, with the Peace Treaty of San Stefano, a small town near the Ottoman capital Istanbul (Constantinople), between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, reviving Bulgaria on the political map of Europe and the world.

With Bulgaria’s National Liberation under the San Stefano Treaty, the newly liberated country encompassed most of what are the three historical and geographic regions traditionally inhabited by Bulgarians: Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia. However, this treaty was not final, and was revised at the Congress of Berlin three months later. The result was the Berlin Treaty which was signed by all European great powers at the time.

Because of the great power rivalry between Britain and Russia, and Austria-Hungary and Russia, the Berlin Congress chaired by the “Iron Chancellor” of Germany Otto von Bismarck balancing the interests of the great powers, resulted in reducing the newly liberated Bulgaria to about a fourth of all Bulgarian-populated regions in the Balkans and a third of the territories granted to it by the San Stefano Treaty, stripping it of territories in the geographic regions of Macedonia, Thrace, the Western Outlands, and Northern Dobrudzha (view the map below).

Despite its National Liberation, the newly liberated Principality of Bulgaria (ruled by a Knyaz meaning “Prince” or “King”) was a vassal state of the Ottoman Sultan, while another part of Bulgaria was fashioned into the Ottoman autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia.

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The newly liberated Bulgaria after the Treaty of San Stefano (March 1878) and the Treaty of Berlin (July 1878). Map: Todor Bozhinov, Wikipedia

The newly liberated Bulgaria after the Treaty of San Stefano (March 1878) and the Treaty of Berlin (July 1878). Map: Todor Bozhinov, Wikipedia

A map showing the Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia on September 6, 1885, and the Serbian-Bulgarian War of November 1885. Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

A map showing the Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia on September 6, 1885, and the Serbian-Bulgarian War of November 1885. Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

As a result of Bulgaria’s partitioning under the Berlin Treaty, the entire foreign and defense policy and social life of the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944/46) was directed at treaty revision and achieving the unification of all Bulgarian-populated lands in one nation state, leading it to participate in five wars in that period. The 1885 Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia at the time was hailed as a major but nonetheless still partial step towards this goal.

The Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia were unified in the National Unification of September 6, 1885, another national holiday in today’s Bulgaria called Unification Day.

The historic proclamation was made after a march by a handful of Bulgarians from the small town of Saedinenie (“Unification“) (back then called Golyamo Konare) to the town of Plovdiv. The Unification was prepared as an armed uprising of the Bulgarians in Eastern Roumelia, who were the overwhelming majority in the province, by a network of secret revolutionary committees, and was backed by the then Bulgarian ruler, Knyaz (King) Alexander I Battenberg (r. 1879-1886).

Great Britain had been in favor of downsizing Bulgaria during the Berlin Congress because it feared a large Bulgarian state with access to the Mediterranean would come under Russian influence, with the Balkans being just one of the fronts in the “Great Game between the two empires.

However, in 1885-1886, the British backed informally but rather noticeably Bulgaria’s Unification seizing the chance to minimize the Russian influence in the country since the Russian Empire at the time objected to it.

While the international situation led the Ottoman Empire to accept the unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia, and to abstain from a military response, the Russian were not the only ones who were unhappy about the Bulgaria‘s Unification.

Encouraged by Austria-Hungary, Serbia attacked Bulgaria in November 1885. In a major national effort to defend the Unification, the young Bulgarian Army, which had just been abandoned by its senior Russian officers (who had been training it), repulsed the attack, and defeated the Serbs on their territory, winning the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885, and forcing the international recognition of the Unification of Northern and Southern Bulgaria as a fait accompli. The Great Powers recognized the unified Bulgaria with a Bulgarian-Ottoman treaty in 1886.

Unified Bulgaria declared its Independence from Ottoman Turkey on September 22, 1908, celebrated in today’s Bulgaria as Independence Day, also a national holiday.

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“Bulgaria after the Treaty of Berlin”, a litography by Bulgarian painter Nikolay Pavlovich depicting the partitioned Bulgaria as three sisters representing the three historic provinces and geographic regions of Bulgaria – Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia, depending on their status after the Berlin Treaty: the first sister Moesia (representing the Principality of Bulgaria) stands free (in the middle); the second sister, Thrace, representing the autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia, stands subordinated to the Ottoman Sultan (on the left), and the third sister, Macedonia, stands still in the chains of the Ottoman Yoke (on the right, in the background). Photo: ClubHistory138

“Bulgaria after the Treaty of Berlin”, a litography by Bulgarian painter Nikolay Pavlovich depicting the partitioned Bulgaria as three sisters representing the three historic provinces and geographic regions of Bulgaria – Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia, depending on their status after the Berlin Treaty: the first sister Moesia (representing the Principality of Bulgaria) stands free (in the middle); the second sister, Thrace, representing the autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia, stands subordinated to the Ottoman Sultan (on the left), and the third sister, Macedonia, stands still in the chains of the Ottoman Yoke (on the right, in the background). Photo: ClubHistory138

“Unified Bulgaria”, a litography by Bulgarian painter Nikolay Pavlovich, on the Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Easter Rumelia. It is a follow-up of the previous litography depicting the partitioned Bulgaria (see above); now Moesia and Thrace, two of the three sisters representing Bulgaria’s three historic and geographic regions, Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia, are pictured standing together free and united. The third sister, Macedonia, is seen in the background on the right still in the chains of the Ottoman Yoke. Photo: Bulgarian National Radio

“Unified Bulgaria”, a litography by Bulgarian painter Nikolay Pavlovich, on the Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Easter Rumelia. It is a follow-up of the previous litography depicting the partitioned Bulgaria (see above); now Moesia and Thrace, two of the three sisters representing Bulgaria’s three historic and geographic regions, Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia, are pictured standing together free and united. The third sister, Macedonia, is seen in the background on the right still in the chains of the Ottoman Yoke. Photo: Bulgarian National Radio

Until then, the newly liberated Bulgaria had been a Principality (i.e. a Kingdom), with its monarch bearing the title of Knyaz (“Prince” or “King”), and still a tributary (vassal) state to the Ottoman Empire. With the Declaration of Independence of 1908, Bulgaria restored its medieval titles of Tsardom (technically meaning “an empire”) and “Tsar” (“Emperor”). These changes were reflected in the constitutional amendments of 1911.

Thus, the period in Bulgarian history before the Soviet occupation and Soviet-orchestrated coup of September 9, 1944, and the establishment of the communist regime is known as the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944/46), a successor to the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396).

After the Unification of 1885, Bulgaria’s efforts were directed at securing its unification with the rest of the Bulgarian-populated regions which had been part of Bulgaria’s historical territory in the Middle Ages, mostly in the regions of Macedonia and the rest of Thrace, still Ottoman provinces until 1912.

Thus, Bulgaria backed the Bulgarian revolutionary organization VMORO (Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization) and its staging of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenia Uprising of 1903, and subsequently took part in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, World War I (1915-1918) and World War II (1941-1945). However, because of major diplomatic blunders of the leadership of the Bulgarian Tsardom, including of Tsar Ferdinand I (r. 1887-1918), most of these historically Bulgarian and Bulgarian populated regions were lost for good.

Bulgaria‘s Unification Day, September 6, has been celebrated as a national holiday since 1998.

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