A Book Sets the Beginning.
Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya (History of Bulgaria), written in 1762 by a Bulgarian monk, poses the puzzling question, “Why are you unreasonable people ashamed to call yourselves Bulgarians?”
For centuries, time stood still in the Balkans. The illiterate peasant population had no trace of national identity. Frozen in the Middle Ages, they had missed out on the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that took place in the West. They were loyal to their families and villages, and deeply suspicious of their Greek church and Ottoman government. The worldview was simple: The tsar was far away and God was high above, and what mattered was here – the changing of seasons, the growth of crops, marriages, funerals, and births.
The revival’s leaders – philosophers, poets, and revolutionaries – many of whom were educated abroad in the spirit of the European Romantic nationalism, set to change this. They preached about the new dream of an independent church and state, often discouraged by the peasants’ indifference.
In the meantime, the Ottoman Empire was collapsing. The so-called “sick man on the Bosporus” was in deep financial and political trouble, threatened by the Russian appetite for territorial expansion, and losing wars and land in bulk. It could no longer provide for the security of the Bulgarian lands where brigands and bandits were terrorizing the population, more often than not with the participation of the regular army.
The tireless revolutionary, Vasil Levski, criss-crossed the country to create a large underground network of revolutionary committees that led to the April uprising. He was captured and hanged by the Ottoman authorities before he could see the uprising and the independent state.
APRIL UPRISING (1876)
Monument of an April Uprising leader in Koprivshtitsa
The Bulgarian effort for liberation culminated with the April uprising in 1876. A somewhat naïve endeavor, lacking ammunitions, training, and, to a certain extent, mass support, it got off to a bad start and had to begin prematurely due to a betrayal from within.
Just days later, the uprising was brutally suppressed by irregular Turkish forces known as bashibazouk. Massacres of civilians followed, most notably in Batak where 3,000 to 5,000 civilians lost their lives.
The brutality caused a public outcry in Europe and Russia and indirectly led to the Bulgarian liberation.
RUSSO-TURKISH WAR (1877-78)
Shipka mountain pass was the site of several decisive battles.
The Ottoman Empire was terminally ill and the European powers were lining up for the inheritance.
Russia declared yet another war. Apart from geopolitical ambitions, it was responding to a mass sympathy for the Bulgarians fueled by their common religion and Slavic origin.
Soon the Russian armies crossed the Danube and, supported by the exalted locals, pushed the Ottomans all the way to Istanbul.
The Treaty of San Stefano was signed on March 3, 1878.
SAN STEFANO BULGARIA
The treaty drew a map of independent Bulgaria that extended from the Black Sea to the Aegean, and included most of Macedonia and parts of modern day Turkey.
The prospect of such a large Slavic state hopelessly infatuated with Russia was deemed unacceptable by Austria-Hungary and Great Britain. A few months later, the Berlin Treaty split San Stefano Bulgaria in three.
North Bulgaria became an independent principality with a capital (Sofia). A European nobleman was dug from relative obscurity and instated as prince there.
South Bulgaria became an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire called Eastern Rumelia with a capital (Plovdiv).
The land of today’s Macedonia was handed back to the Ottomans, causing waves of migrants toward independent Bulgaria. At the same time, thousands of ethnic Turks migrated from the newly independent territories to Turkey.