POST-WAR CRISIS 1918-1925
After the First World War, the Bulgarian society lapsed in deep crisis. The crippling wars had resulted not only in territorial losses but also in economic ruin, psychological loss of faith and ultimately, of genuine trust in the future prospects of the country. The struggle for the unification of all Bulgarian inhabited lands, which had invariably been the main task facing the Bulgarian society after 1878, and which had taken enormous intellectual efforts and all other resources of the country, ended in an utter defeat unheard of in all Bulgarian history. The Bulgarians were confronted with all the complexities of the question 'Which way to take now?'. Their small defeated country, which had been subjected to ruthless treatment by both the European Great Powers and its Balkan neighbors, was at loss. It had to choose between reconciling itself with the defeat and unconditionally sticking to its heavy obligations under the peace treaty on one side, or continually delving into the past of enmity and serving the 'bad blood' feeling, hoping for a revenge at the opportune moment, on the other. If Bulgaria, with its paltry, even contemptible potentialities and its international isolation was to take either of these courses at that moment, it stood no other chance but only more ruin staring it in the face.
The crisis did not have only economic and psychological dimensions. The country also was in the grip of serious crisis of confidence in the traditional political institutions - the monarchy, the bourgeois parties, the Parliament and the system of government. Some of the bourgeois political groups which used to enjoy certain popularity before the treaty of Neuille, had now lost it completely. Their electorate had dwindled to nothing. Political life was quickly turning to radicalism. Two parties, marginal until then, came up the political stage - the Bulgarian People's Agrarian Union (BPAU) and the Bulgarian Social-Democratic party, which changed its name to Bulgarian Communist Party in 1919. At the elections in 1919 the predominating part of the electorate voted for the Agrarian party candidates. The Bulgarian Communist party came second.
The BPAU came to power in 1920 and had three years in office. Its rule was one of the most interesting phenomena in the European post-war political period. For it made a political attempt at finding an unconventional way out of the heavy crisis which had befallen the defeated countries but had also affected the other parties to the world conflict.
The ideology of the BPAU was a system of views typical of the European petty bourgeois doctrines. Its hopes were centered on moderate reforms which were to secure the existence of lower and middle class proprietors. Complying with this formulation, the Agrarian government undertook relevant legislative measures which affected the interests of the bourgeoisie, laid restrictions on big business and encouraged small holders enterprise.
BPAU pursued a policy of bringing discredit on the bourgeois parties once and for all. In its views these were lacking in mass social support and their leaders were to blame for the national catastrophes in the wars. Many of them were indeed tried and sent to prison. The policy of destroying the brain-centers of the bourgeois parties and of exerting constant pressure on them, was not always implemented by democratic methods. This gave ground for the agrarian government to be accused of totalitarianism.
The agrarian politicians' attitude towards their natural ally, the communist party, was rather inconsistent. They did realize that only the communists could offer them support at a crucial moment; they often carried out joint actions aiming at the settlement of the political problems of the day. At the same time, however, viewing the communists as their most dangerous rival in the battle for power, the agrarians subjected their activities to pressure, even to repression, too.
The organization of the Bulgarians exiled from their native country and now living in Macedonia and Thrace, the Internal Macedoniaan Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) had resumed its activity during the first years after the war. The absence of sufficient regular army made it possible for the armed detachments of the IMRO to get full control over the Pirin area (the small part of Macedonia that had remained in Bulgaria) and increasingly interfered in the country's political life. The stand of the organization as officially proclaimed, was that it was not interested in the policies of governments in Sofia with the exception of one single point - their attitude to the lands and the fate of the Macedonian Bulgarians. The organization also proclaimed that it would fight against any government which, in its foreign policy, would undertake steps adverse to the national aspirations in Macedonia and Thrace. A captive to its own conceptions which, to a large degree, disregarded the realities in post-war European political life, the place and the potentialities of Bulgaria, in particular the IMRO, along with its heroic struggle against the Serbian invaders in Yugoslav Macedonia, killed quite needlessly a number of activists of various political trends in Bulgaria, as well as some of their own followers.
The lack of strong unity of action between the BPAU and the Bulgarian Communist party (BCP) made it possible for some of the tottery traditional political parties to unite in a political organization called the Popular entente. At that time, another force, the League of reserve officers came into being. This was an organization of few still active and many thousands of unemployed officers. On the night of the 8th of June 1923 the army, which was supportive of these political elements, overthrew the agrarians. The prime-minister, Alexander Stambolisky was assassinated with utmost brutality.
It was beyond the powers of the small Bulgarian army to cope with possible rural upheavals. Indeed, the Agrarian party organizations in some of the bigger centers in the country rose in armed struggle against the coup perpetrators and their government, composed of representatives of the bourgeois parties in the Popular entente. Under these circumstances, the communists' position on the situation was to decide the outcome. The BCP set up a strong military organization. It was well supplied with arms by BCP followers within the barracks. The BCP was admitted to the Communist International (the Comintern) and, unlike the party of the agrarians, was already in the grip of the notorious communist iron discipline. Its leadership in Bulgaria, however, declared the coup as replacement of one military dictatorship - that of the rural bourgeoisie and their 'posse comitatus', with another - that of the urban upper middle class. This attitude turned out to be fatal to agrarians and communists in Bulgaria alike, as it enabled the men of the coup to oust them one by one. Having suppressed the June uprising of the agrarians, the government undertook mass repressions against the communist party', too. Conscious of its error and pressurized by the Comintern, the BCP leadership took a decision in August to foment an armed uprising in conjunction with the BPAU, no later than September 1923. The very short time for preparation did not permit to establish an all-round united front. On the eve of the uprising the government found out about its plans and subjected the communists to mass arrests. This was a severe blow on the whole organization. On the night of the 22nd to the 23rd the uprising broke out in some odd regions in the country, but it was quickly suppressed by government detachments. The rebellious areas were drowned in blood. Thousands of Bulgarians - BPAU supporters and, especially, BCP followers, were killed without charge or trial.
The international position of the Popular entente government grew rather unstable due to a wave of indignation at its outrage which had gripped Europe. The guerrilla movement in Bulgaria, organized by the communists and the agrarians and some of the government allies falling away from it (e.g. the IMRO which could not forgive its conciliation policy towards Yugoslavia), destabilized the domestic situation of the government, too. The BCP thought it the right time to confirm its course of armed struggle as still valid in 1924.
In this situation of 'white-collar' terrorism, the BCP military league, composed mainly of reserve army officers, embarked on counter-terrorism. Dozens of political and military figures - parties to the coup, were murdered and an abortive attempt to assassinate tsar Boris III was made, too.
On 16 April 1925, taking advantage of the whole government and military ruling top gathering at the 'St. Nedelya' church for the funeral of a murdered general, the BCP underground military league engineered a bomb explosion, counting on the elimination of the ruling political kernel at one go. Dozens of innocent people got killed but, by some miracle, the rulers remained sound in life and limb in the only unscathed part of the church. The general public resentment at the drastic bomb outrage was used by the government as a long-looked-for cause for capital retribution with regard to all opposition forces. Special task packs of officers massacred thousands of Bulgarians without charge or trial and the victims were not only members of the BCP and BPAU but also thousands of intellectuals having nothing to do with the political parties, such as academics, writers, poets and journalists. Those events gave rise to a new wave of discontent in democratic Europe.
- Translated from the book "Bulgaria Illustrated History" by Maria Nikolotva
- Bulgarian text by Bojidar Dimitrov, PhD.
- Published by BORIANA Publishing House, Sofia, Bulgaria
text used here with permission from translator, save modifications for noding