This article is available in Bulgarian here
Today is the 3rd of March – the Bulgarian national day. I am not much of a patriot but I get quite annoyed reading Internet comments these days where Russians claim that Bulgarians should be grateful to Russia for our liberation. This is what made me write this article and this is why it is in English. I would write it in Russian if I could but I was born too late to be forced to learn it in school.
Bulgaria gained its freedom as a result from a war between Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Why is it "a war" and not "the war"? Well because there were many wars between the two empires. Wikipedia lists more than ten
. This brings us to the first important point – the Russian Empire did not fight any war with the purpose to liberate Bulgaria. The Russian Empire was fighting the Ottoman Empire for its own economic and political reasons. I have seen Russians claim that their great-great-grandfathers gave their lives on Bulgarian soil for the freedom of Bulgaria. Nope they did not. They gave their lives for the Russian Empire and whatever its interests were at the time.
It is also very important to note that Bulgarians did not sit idly for five centuries and wait for Russians to come around and grant them freedom. There were multiple uprisings that were crashed by the Ottoman Empire but they did not show signs of stopping and in fact were happening much more often with time. Bulgarians did not wait for anyone. Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski
was convinced that Bulgaria should achieve its freedom alone because if another country helped it would later enslave us. It turned out that he was quite right as the fact that Bulgarians are thankful to Russia was constantly abused from the day of liberation to this very day and will probably be abused in the future. I personally remember the pro-Soviet propaganda in school books that was prevailing in every material about our liberation. Even the totally unrelated unsuccessful uprisings that were drowned in blood were discussed in the context of "see what happens if you try to do it without Russia". Oh and BTW it seems like the uprisings were inspired much more by the USA than by the Russian Empire. Levski wanted "pure and sacred Republic" and several uprisings were cared under the "Give me liberty or give me death" slogan (for the record they were given death).
So would Bulgaria achieve liberation without the help of Russia? I think the answer to that is a resounding "yes". First of all the Ottoman Empire fought many wars and many of its opponents were seeking allies. Who knows maybe if Russia was not fighting a war the Austro-Hungarian Empire would. Most importantly the Ottoman Empire was falling apart for economic reasons. It was simply unable to sustain itself and fight off the economic pressure from the new powers of the world. As a matter of fact up to 1885 Bulgaria was split in two and Eastern Rumelia
which was supposed to be semi-autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire was declared a part of Bulgaria without the support of Russia and without any fighting. This is how weak the Ottoman Empire was at the time. With or without the Russians Bulgarians would achieve freedom a couple of decades later.
However we may want to look at what actually happened. Did the Russians march into Bulgarian territory and grant us freedom while Bulgarians were throwing flowers and praising them? Nope this is not how it went at all. Thousands of Bulgarians joined the Russian army and fought and died in very real battles. Some of the most crucial battles were won by Bulgarians. The most notable of which is the battle of Shipka pass
where an army consisting primary of Bulgarians and lead by a Russian general held the four-five times larger Ottoman forces for three days providing crucial time for other Russian military to arrive. Historical accounts say that Bulgarians held positions even when Russians retreated and by the end they were out of ammo and literally throwing the bodies of the fallen against the Ottoman soldiers. Make no mistake Russians were glad to have Bulgarians as an ally and we were a significant part of their success. Claiming that we should be thankful to the Russians for our freedom is like claiming that one should be thankful to the store for selling bread and disregarding the fact that he is paying for it. Russians and Bulgarians were partners in this war and there are no debts to be paid.
Bulgarians paid for their freedom the only way freedom is paid for – in blood.