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Author: Mihail Arnaudov


Bulgarian National Revival

The revival process was in full swing during the first half and especially during the third quarter of the 19th century, the time when the Bulgarian bourgeoisie, having gained in number, economic power and social status, was highly susceptible to West European political and cultural influence and was able to appreciate the significance of national enlightenment and science. All this came as a result of the intense trade with Europe. What is more, while we know of the existence of some 390 monasteries and settlements in which books were hand-copied and most of which had small schools during the 17th and 18th century. In these schools, mostly set up at monasteries, instruction was given by a superficial method with the church psalms and basic arithmetic, though on a smaller scale. Teachers at such schools used to exercise the pupils on a wax-coated boards. In the 70s of the 19th century there were estimated some 2000 schools in the Bulgarian populated lands - democratic in character and secular in the nature of education.

Textbooks, too, began to be published as early as the first stage of the ensuing education work. After the 'Fish Primer' was issued in 1824 (the first textbook for elementary school), textbooks in grammar, arithmetic, history, geography, physics and other school subjects began to appear at various times.

During the early 19th century a unified spoken and written new Bulgarian language started to establish itself through education, literature and journalism. This language became prevalent in all regions populated by Bulgarians who, towards the mid-19th century, numbered no fewer than 4 million in Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia, which equaled four times as much as the ruling nationality - the Turks (according to approximate estimates, based on a 1844 household census taken in the Balkan provinces vassal to the Porte).

The Bulgarian parishes (the sole form of organization for the Bulgarians after their state was conquered) during the 19th century gradually became a major institution of the Bulgarian nation, carrying out administrative, taxation, educational and cultural work. They also became schools for public life, notwithstanding their limited authority and the conservatism of the well-to-do Bulgarians (the chorbadjii). The trade guilds too were involved in this upsurge and the teachers, both in the town and in the country, stood at its helm. The movement for Bulgarian education and an independent Bulgarian church, as a bourgeois peaceful revolution in the Bulgarian lands engaged generations of national enlighteners, some of whom fell prey to the persecution and slander of the Patriarchy and the Ottoman rule. Such was the fate, for instance, of the brothers Dimiter and Kostadin Miladinov, who pioneered the collection and publication of Bulgarian folklore (their works has today been published in ten volumes). In 1870 the Porte officially recognized the independent Bulgarian church and hence the Bulgarians as an independent nationality (prior to this the Bulgarians were categorized either as Christians or Greeks).

The intellectual life of the Bulgarians in the 19th century was influenced strongly by Russian culture. Russian scholars and public figures placed themselves at the service of the Bulgarian revival. The government of Russia issued grants to Bulgarian youths who were sent to study in Russia by Bulgarian village communes and city municipalities, school trustees and parish councils. Among those educated in Russia were such distinguished Bulgarians as Naiden Gerov (author of a six-volume dictionary of the Bulgarian language), Prof. Marin Drinov, Nesho Bonchev, Lyuben Karavelov and Hristo Botev.

The Bulgarians also drew on the experience of the European democratic movements. Quite a few Bulgarians were involved in these movements and the liberation struggles of neighboring peoples.

However, the struggle of the Bulgarians for political liberation encountered many complications. Russia and the Austrian empire had, since the end of the 16th century, been putting systematic pressure on the Porte, directing their expansion to the Balkans. In the meantime the economic contacts of the Ottoman empire with Western Europe facilitated the development of productive forces on the empire's territory and the promotion of the new, more progressive bourgeois social relations. The credits allocated to the empire by the West European capitalist countries bound it to economic dependency and in time the Ottoman empire became a kind of a semi-colony and a target of the conflicting interests of the Great Powers who spelled the course of European affairs. These conflicting interests, the designs of the foreign powers on the possessions of the withering Ottoman empire were impersonally known as the 'Eastern Question'. The object of the antagonistic aspirations was very much partial, however. In the chronically ailing empire the oppressed nationalities were standing up for their rights, seeking ways and means to throw off foreign domination. They also were a part of this 'Eastern Question'.

During the first half of the nineteenth century Russia dominated the scene, becoming, by virtue of her political and military might, a major factor in European politics. At the time Russia acted more or less unimpeded against the Ottoman empire, and her aspirations objectively coincided with those of the liberation struggles of the Balkan peoples.

During the war of 1810-11 Russian troops controlled for some time the Bulgarian towns of Dobrich, Pleven, Razgrad, Lovech and Sevlievo. Organizing their assistance to the Russians, the Bulgarians set up their own People's Committee for Liberation, headed by bishop Sophroni of Vratsa, one of the first writers of the Bulgarian Revival. The Committee also organized a Bulgarian People's Army, which took part in the siege of Silistra in 1811. During the war of 1828-29, when the Russian army crossed the Balkans from the Danube on the way to Adrianople, the Bulgarians again organized themselves to fight for liberation. The Porte relinquished its hold on some of its possessions, albeit on the outlying ones. It granted autonomy to Serbia in 1815 and independence to Greece in 1829. The attainment of the political freedom of the Bulgarians, due to the country's proximity to the capital of the empire and for a number of other reasons, proved the crux of the Eastern question. Many Bulgarians over this period left their native parts to settle in Russia.

After the Crimean War (1853-1856) external circumstances from the point of view of the Bulgarian struggles for political liberation were complicated. Russia suffered defeat. The West European capitalist states, whose designs provided for the preservation of the entity of the Ottoman empire, gained superiority in the settlement of the Eastern question. From the beginning of the 19th century the Porte launched some reforms aimed at revitalizing the empire. A regular army was set up on the Western European model. The spahi institution was abolished in the 30s to let the basic producers, the farmers and artisans, settle their relationship with central power directly through taxation, independent of their local masters. These and other reforms that followed were, however, either only half-way implemented or simply remained on paper. Great care was expended only on the upkeep of a well-equipped and modernized army.

The penetration of European capitalism into the economy of the Ottoman empire led to a one-sided economic development within the empire and the Bulgarian lands. Many of the workshops, whose produce had been sold on the empire's markets all the way from Bosnia to Egypt and throughout the Arab Peninsula, failed to keep up with the competition and went bankrupt. The Ottoman empire became an exporter of farm produce (cotton, wool, leather, fur, silk, etc.) to the European markets and a consumer of a large portion of Europe's industrial goods.

It was in these circumstances that the Bulgarians' patriarchal and regional awareness became a national awareness. In the context of foreign domination the structure of Bulgarian society did not become entirely bourgeois. In the third quarter of the 19th century four textile and two silk-spinning mills, two soap-making factories, a salt factory, a state printing house and rolling stock repair shop, a macaroni factory, a beer and liquor breweries, a shoe-polish factory, three tanneries, six steam-operated flour mills and some twenty more advanced water-mills went into operation on territories populated by Bulgarians. This made a total of 25 industrial enterprises employing no more than 750 workers. The numbers of the working class grew also as a result of the differentiation that took place among the artisans and the increasing demand for wage labor by city firms, shops and inns. According to latest research, hired- and white-collar workers in the cities by the end of the 60s amounted to 12 per cent. Their wages were paltry and labor legislation non-existent.

A fair number of Bulgarians had intentions of building new factories but they came up against insurmountable difficulties and their capital thus went mostly into commerce or money-lending. In this way Bulgarian society was unable to go beyond the manufacturing, commercial and money-lending stage of capitalist development. In this situation the individual social groups had two-way functions, while they were bound both to the old disintegrating system and to the new economic activities opposing the old system. All strata of Bulgarian society suffered, to a varying degree, under the burden of foreign political oppression and were aware of the need for their own Bulgarian state organization. For this reason patriotic aspirations prevailed in the Bulgarian liberation movement despite class and ideological differences. This found expression in social charity: the well-off Bulgarians donated money for the construction of schools and public buildings, the decoration of churches and monasteries, the development of their native places, the erection of water-fountains, book publication, the education of the young, etc.

By the mid-nineteenth century the Bulgarian nation already had its own intelligentsia whose members had obtained their degrees in various European universities and who had learned from the experience of the other liberation movements on the continent. This intelligentsia began to revise the traditional national virtues in unison with the cultural upsurge of Western Europe, supplemented by the general pan-Slavic spiritual awakening. This brought in its wake the creation of inimitable works of Bulgarian art (particularly during the third quarter of the 19th century, and in iconography and church-painting as early as the beginning of the century). There were many Bulgarians among the numerous builders, icon-painters, woodcarvers and stone-masons who travelled to work in Constantinople, Jerusalem and Alexandria. Upon return to their country they constructed and decorated the tall and elegant houses, preserved to date in Plovdiv and Koprivshtitsa. In the meantime the first Bulgarian scholars obtained their degrees and began to work outside their homeland, in Russia, Romania, France and other countries. Suffice it to follow the work and progress of Spiridon Palauzov, Marin Drinov and Dr Peter Beron of Kotel.

The Bulgarian Revival, this 'wonder of the 19th century', as Louis Leger called it, does not lend to a sketchy, diagrammatical description; it cannot be conceived as the direct result of the existing economic base, which remained but implicit. The main-spring of the potential of the nation, elevated to a maximum, was something different. The antipodes stood out clearly and when the prerequisites and conditions were at hand they brought to life titans of the mind and the cause. When a community combines its forces to overcome the factors impeding its progress, it professes an extraordinary affinity for the accomplishments of the preceding generations and the surrounding world. The maxim: 'We are in time and time is in us. We transform it and it transforms us' (Vasil Levski) holds good in this case.
The third quarter of the century was characterized by the rapid development of Bulgarian culture, which permeated by Renaissance, Enlightenment and Humanistic ideas, adapted modern bourgeois conceptions of social life to regional conditions and tasks.

Most of the writers and revolutionaries of the Bulgarian National Revival were educated in Russia, in the atmosphere and spirit of the Russian populist intelligentsia, who fought against the autocracy for a republic and a representative popular government. We must add to this the direct or oblique influence of the forces opposing national and social injustice in the European countries - the platform of Giuseppe Mazzini which had acquired European significance, the Italian national liberation movement headed by Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Polish revolutionaries, the revolutionary democracy of Hertzen, Chernishevski, Dobrolyubov and Nekrasov, of Proudhon and Bakunin, of the First International and the example set by the Paris Commune.

The preparations for the national liberation revolution began in the early 60s under the guidance of Georgi Rakovski (1821-1867). The revolutionary actions of the time, the dispatching to Bulgaria across neighboring borders of revolutionary chetas did not meet the support of the local population. The well-to-do Bulgarians were as yet reserved and hesitant.

Relatively better prospects for the Bulgarian national liberation movement opened up only at the end of the 60s and the early 70s after the Austro-Prussian war (1866) and the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) when the Ottoman empire lost two of its most ardent patrons (Austria and France) and Russia rejected the restrictive clauses of the 1856 Treaty of Paris and regained its status as a great power. As far as Russian foreign policy was concerned, however, the Eastern Question remained in the background during this period, too. This made it imperative for the Bulgarians to surmount the policy of temporization and accommodation towards Great Power policy and turn to active revolutionary work which would bring about the final resolution. The Bulgarian revolutionaries became aware of this necessity in time. This is shown by the way in which the great Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev (1848-1876) called for a revolution of the people, immediate and desperate: 'Europe and the political circumstances grant freedom and independence only to those who can win it alone'.

It became apparent that armed struggle was the only way out and that the path was irreversible. It was in this spirit that an entire generation of revolutionaries matured, whose humanism and uncompromising patriotism, respect for equality and freedom went hand in hand with the building of a revolutionary organization congenial to the conditions prevailing in Bulgaria. Lyuben Karavelov, the classic of Bulgarian prose-writing and publicist, complemented the Balkans and Europe from the point of view of the Bulgarian cause, while Hristo Botev, through his poetry and dazzling publicity elevated responsibility before the nation and mankind's freedom to the level of a cult. Together with other Bulgarian revolutionaries Hristo Botev enthusiastically hailed the Paris Commune and proclaimed 'The Credo of the Bulgarian Commune'. Unlike the pioneers of the Bulgarian Revival, who as individuals gave an impression of timidity, Hristo Botev was one of those people who came across powerfully with a clear-cut individuality of their own. He was also fully aware of what the times and duty to his country demanded of him. Reviewing what was achieved during the epoch under consideration, literary critics place Botev on a par with such world-renowned poets as Adam Mickiewicz and Sandor Petofi, and rightly so.

During the decisive stage of the struggle for political liberation there stood out the genius of Vasil Levski (1837-1873), who inspired hope in the Bulgarian nation's own strength and also took into account its possibilities of creating a military force of its own. Twice during the 1860s he joined the Belgrade legion (voluntary task force) which took part in operations carried out by the Serbian government against the Turkish garrison in Belgrade. A professional revolutionary, Vasil Levski toured the country on various occasions. During these tours, he distributed propaganda materials and advanced a new tactics of revolutionary struggle which consisted in carrying out a purposeful and prolonged political and organizing work among the Bulgarians within the movement for national education and for an independent Bulgarian church, a movement that had developed during the preceding decades. Instead of engaging in scattered and sporadic actions depending on the foreign political situation, he advocated the establishment of a political structure and military organization backed up by the mass of the people. Levski himself took up the difficult task of setting up, as he did, a network of local revolutionary committees, a secret postal service and security guard whose leadership was elective and subordinate to a single centre based in the town of Lovech. He drew up the 'Statutes of the Internal Revolutionary Organization', which was approved by the General Assembly of the Bulgarian Central Revolutionary Committee headquarters in Bucharest. The Statutes indicated the way of casting off tyranny and outlined the administration of the future free Bulgarian state.

In setting up the revolutionary organization Vasil Levski proceeded from the strictly established principles, which he further developed and upheld during his practical revolutionary activity: democratic centralism, internal organizational discipline, collective method of work, criticism and self-criticism in the relations between his followers. According to Levski, only sensible, persevering, fearless and magnanimous people were to be entrusted with responsible work. The 'Apostle of Freedom', as he was called by his contemporaries, was categorical: if one of these qualities was absent, the organizer of the people's work could harm the cause. Respect for the rights and freedoms of every individual was, to his mind, a sacred law dictated by the imperatives of the time.

At the height of his activity, in early 1873, Levski was caught and hanged in Sofia. His work was continued by his adherents in the four revolutionary districts that had taken shape in the Bulgarian lands. After the settlement of policy problems and some reshuffles, the Central Revolutionary Committee organized an armed uprising by the Bulgarians on both sides of the Balkan Range, in the region of Sredna Gora Mountain and in the northern parts of the Rhodopes against the oppressors. This was the April uprising of 1876.



Addendum: Here is what we managed to find as part of our additional research on the topic. As presented bellow, the poem or sonnet "The Ballad of Bulgarie" is written by Victorian playwright and poet Algernon Charles Swinburne /1837-1909/. By the time of the Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria and the conservative government of Disraeli in England (1876), hence, there was a mass of protests in Western Europe and America to alleviate the regime of the Porte. A.C. Swinburne at the time obviously stood on liberal Gladstonian positions and was supportive on intervention against Turkey. The poem was written on instigation from Sir John Bright, three times member of the liberal cabinet of Gladstone (1868, 1873 and 1880). Further, the piece of rhyme was printed for private circulation and was excerpted by M. Arnaudov from the Swinburne's archive in the British Museum, London /signature # 11 601, d. 24/. We give it here as re-printed from the bulgarian edition of Arnaudov's book with some minor notes being omitted, mainly commenting on the personality of John Bright ~ himself, a Quaker and proprietor of cotton factories in Rochdale.



The Ballad of Bulgarie


The gentle Knight, Sir John de Bright,

(Of Brummagemme was he,)

Forth would he prance with lifted lance

(For love of Bulgarie.)

No lance in hand other land

Sir Bright would ever take;

For wicked works, save those of Turks,

No head of man would break;

But that Bulgarie should not be free,

This mad his high heart quake.

From spur to plume a star of doom,

(Few knights be like to him,)

How shone from far that stormy star,

His basnet broad of brim!

Twas not for love of Cant above,

Not Cotton’s holy call,

But a lance would, be break for Bulgary’s sake,

And Termagant should sprawl.

The molher-maid. Our Lady of Trade

His spurs on heel she bound,

She belted the brand for his knightly hand,

Full wide the silk went round;

And the brand was bright as his name, to smite

The spawn of false Mahound,

His basnet broad that all men awed

No broader was to see

From brim to brim that shadowed him

As forth to fight rode he,

South-east by south, with his war-cry in mouth

“St. John for Bulgarie!”

He had not ridden a mile but one

When loud and loud cried he,

Now who will stand at my right hand

And beard the Turk for me?

Up spake on this guise Sir William the Wise

The People’s Knight was he,

Lo, I wille stand an thy stalwart hand

And beard the Turk with thee.

Gramercy! Then quoth Sir Bright — by my troth!

If better may not be

Content were (tho’l would not swear)

To slay the Turk with thee.

Bur who will stand at my left hand

And smite the Turk for me?

The up spake old Sir Thomas the bold

A Chelsea Knight was he

On earth no knight was hardier wight

No man had seen him flee.

A stalwart sight of a grand old knight,

As man of old might see

Lo, I wille stand at thy quaking hand

And beard the Turk with thee.

And Marry Amen! Sir Bright said then

For better none might be;

But grieved I am, or god me — save,

That I may not ride with thee.

For the words thou hast said of fair Free Trade.

My lady fair and free.

Up then spake him, True Thomas,

And a scornful man was he

Wilt thou bide at the side of the Brummagem bride

Or go to Bulgarie?

But out then spake him, Wise William

Right softy then he spake

Deem it ill man’s blood to spill

Tho’ but for Bulgary’s sake;

And miseems it were better ere weather wax wetter

Our homeward way to take.

I don’t mind writing — I do mind fighting,

(So spake the bold Sir Bill),

He don’t mean outing — he does mean spouting.

But that’s his life’s still.

We don’t mean hitting — we don’t mind spitting

For Turks have swords to kill

Which I greatly regret — should it happen — but yet

‘Tis true tho’ it gives me pain

For the Greek will not fight (which is far from right)

And the Russian has all to gain;

And I think it were vulgar to cheat a poor Bulgar,

With offers of help in vain!

Ha! Beauseant! said Sir Bright, God’s Bread!

And by God’s mother dear!

By my halidom! may, I might add, perfay!

What caitiff wights be here?

Tho ‘Sir Thomas look black and Sir William go back

While tongue is mine to wag

By the help of Our Lady, Tho’ matters look shady

It shall fight for the Red Cross flag;

Shout, gentlemen, for sweet Saint Penn!

Up, gallants, for Saint George!

(His name in his day was Fox, by the way)

Till the Paynim fiend disgorge

Till he loosen his hold of the shrines of old

That yet his clutch is on,

Till the Sepulcher Blest by our arms repossessed

As soon as his own shall be gone.

And the mount of night that Olivet hight.

Strike, strike for Sweet Saint John!




Copyright © 2007 by the author