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Author: Ivan Stoyanov


The period 1879-1886 was a most turbulent and eventful one. Since the summer of 1879 the Principality of Bulgaria followed its own way of development under a Bulgarian government. Most characteristic of the internal political development of the country at the time were constant political struggle, clashes and contradictions as a result of the different views mainly on the state system and of the different interpretation of the Tarnovo Constitution. These contradictions dated as far back as the programmes of the political groups in Bulgaria during the National Revival but they were most clearly manifested in the first years of the independent existence of the Principality of Bulgaria.

In the period considered here the Liberal Party played a leading part in the political life of the restored Bulgarian state. Yet in the Constituent Assembly the representatives of the Liberal tendency led bitter struggle and fought for advanced ideas. As a result of this had been passed the Tarnovo Constitution, one of the most democratic for its time. In spite of the clear distinction between the two political fractions in the Assembly there were no political parties yet. It was rather a struggle for principles than a fight for establishing definite political programmes. The Liberal fraction developed into political party only in October-November 1879. The party thus formed represented the interests of the majority of the Bulgarian people, those of the lower and the upper middle class of the town and the country.

During its first independent rule the Liberal Party did a lot to the advantage of the Principality of Bulgaria. The reorganization of finances and the financial policy were of crucial importance for the development of Bulgaria. Much consideration was given to the agrarian problem. A new administrative division of the Principality was carried out. A law was passed to remedy the situation of the poor champions for freedom, etc. At the same time serious mistakes, inevitable for any beginning, were made. As a result of these blunders the Party lost prestige and on 27 April 1881 a coup d'etat was staged in the Principality. That put an end to the first Liberal rule.

The coup d'etat of 27 April 1881 occupies an important place in the political history of the Principality of Bulgaria. This obvious attempt at changing the basic principles underlying the Tarnovo Constitution had its impact on all aspects of the development of the restored Bulgarian state. The contradictions between the two political forces — the Liberal and the Conservative Party, were intensified.

One of the basic results of the regime of credentials, established after 1 July 1881, was the splitting up of the old Liberal Party into two separate parties — the party of Tsankov and the party of Karavelov. The first one expressed the interests of the well-to-do upper middle class while Karavelov's party represented the lower middle class.

At the end of 1883 the regime of credentials was finally abolished. In the elections for 4th Common National Assembly, held in the spring of 1884, the party of Karavelov was successful, a fact that predetermined the formation of an independent government of Liberals supporters of Karavelov.

The new Council of Ministers pursued a favourable home policy. Very important were the financial measures of the ruling forces. They aimed at the economic stabilization of the Principality and in spite of the attacks of the opposition the financial measures provided the state with the means which proved essential in the events that followed.

Karavelov's government took special notice of railroad building in the country. A law was passed for the purchase of the Rustchuk-Varna railroad line and another one for the building of: the line Tsaribrod-Sofia-Vakarel. Funds were granted for the survey of new road-beds for future building.

But the greatest success of the government is connected with the victory in the war so treacherously imposed by Serbia and with the solution of the problem of the union of Eastern Rumelia with the Bulgarian Principality in 1885. In these important events in our history the ruling Liberals proved to be capable statesmen and diplomats. Taking advantage of the contradictions among the Great Powers and, before all, between England and Russia, Karavelov's government managed to solve the question of the union of North and South Bulgaria. Prince Alexander of Battenberg himself proved a good politician and diplomat.

Between 1884 and 1886 political struggle in the Principality of Bulgaria became intensified. The struggle at that time was between the two Liberal parties, before all. In the recesses of the ruling party gradually took shape new currents which by and by formed their policy outlooks, differing from those of Karavelov's supporters. In July-August 1885 was formed a new current which centred around the newspaper "Nezavisimost". Its leaders, D. Petkov and D. Rizov, split off the Liberal Party. Later on Z. Stoyanov joined them. Their followers declared themselves for a decisive and firm policy to Russia and the opposition in Bulgaria, as well as for an uncompromising assertion of national interests.

At the end of 1885 and the beginning of 1886 a new Liberal group was formed around the Minister of Justice, Dr. V. Radoslavov. At the Fourth special session of the 4th Common National Assembly in July 1886 the followers of V. Radoslavov split off the ruling party and came up with their own political programme. The history of the old Liberal Party ended up immediately after that in a coup d'etat of August 1886. From the Party originated four new formations which grew into independent political parties led by D. Tsankov, V. Radoslavov, S. Stambolov and P. Karavelov.

The reasons for the final splitting-up of the Liberal Party can be found first of all in the economic and social changes that took place in Bulgarian society in the period considered here. The idea of a petty bourgeois equality and a thriving petty bourgeois society proved Utopian. It was just this not taking into account the objective laws of development that can be pointed out as one of the main reasons for the process of decay that spread in the Liberal Party. There were other important reasons connected with the development of the Bulgarian Principality, as the solution of the national problem and the attitudes of the Great Powers to it, the attitude to Russia and the West European countries, and also to Turkey. The contradictions between the Great Powers in regard to the Bulgarian problems also had great impact on the polarization of Bulgarian society. The individual qualities of the Liberal leaders who have their place in this process, should not be ignored either.

All those reasons led to the final collapse of the old Liberal Party. At the cost of many efforts it managed to impose the democratic principle in the organization of the Bulgarian state. But the Liberal Party was powerless against the objective laws of social and economic development.




Petko Stoychev Karavelov (5 April 1843 - 6 February 1903) is Bulgarian politician, one of the leaders of the Liberal Party and later the Democratic Party. He is the brother of writer Karavelov and father of Laura Karavelova, wife of the poet Peyo Yavorov.

Born in Koprivshtitsa in 1843 Petko Karavelov went to his brother Karavelov in Russia, where he graduated in Law at Moscow University (1869). After the liberation of Bulgaria Karavelov actively participates in the drafting of the Tarnovo Constitution. He leads the radical wing of the Liberal Party and became Prime Minister of Bulgaria (1880-1881). Ousted from power by Prince Alexander I, who established Regime of credentials. Karavelov went to Eastern Rumelia, where he became mayor of Plovdiv (1883-1884).

After the restoration of the Tarnovo Constitution Petko Karavelov returned to Sofia and again headed the Liberal Party government (1884-1886). In 1884 he became a regular member of the Bulgarian Literary Society. After pro-Russian riots in 1887 he was arrested briefly. Opposed to the election of Prince Ferdinand I. In 1891 he was sentenced to five years in prison for complicity in the murder of Hristo Belchev, but in 1894 was pardoned.

In 1896 founded the Democratic Party, which he led to his death. Karavelov was prime minister for the fourth time in coalition with Progressive Liberal Party.

Petko Karavelov died in 1903 in Sofia and was buried in the churchyard of "Holy Seven Saints". According to financier Atanas Burov, Petko Karavelov is the only Bulgarian politician who has not even stolen a penny. One of his famous thoughts on politics is “The best cure for most, if not all, evil is freedom.”

Petko Karavelov was married to Catherine Velikova Peneva (1860-1947), and have three children: Radka, Viola and Laura.



Dragan Tsankov Kiryakov (9 November 1928 - 11 March 1911) is Bulgarian politician, a honorary member of the Bulgarian Literary Society. He is the third Prime Minister of Bulgaria, performed this office from 7 April - 10 December 1880, and the eighth Prime Minister of Bulgaria 19 September 1883 - 11 July 1884. He was an MP in the Constituent, and I Grand National Assembly (1879). With small intermissions he participated in all Ordinary National Assemblies till 1903. Chairman of the XII Ordinary National Assembly (22 April 1902 - 21 August 1903).

Primary education Dragan Tsankov got in his hometown Svishtov, where he studied with Hristaki Pavlovich and Emmanuel Vaskidovich. Later graduated in the Gabrovo school of Vasil Aprilov. After 1845 he continued his education at Odessa High School and the Seminary in Kiev. Since 1848 to 1850 he was a teacher in Galati, Rumania. Later studied in Vienna, where he attached to the philological studies and issued in 1852 a Bulgarian grammar in German. That same year Dragan Tsankov brought in his hometown of Svishtov printing equipment with the intent to open his own printing office, but received no permission from the authorities. This forced him to go to Constantinople, where in 1855, with the help of the French Embassy was supplied with the permit. He accommodate the printers in the Catholic Monastery of San Benua in Galati, where he worked in the Catholic college. Active advocacy of the French clergy on the Bulgarian educational cause was the main motive that Dragan Tsankov converted secretly to Catholicism in 1855.

In late 1856 Dragan Tsankov initiated the creation and was first chairman of the Municipality of Bulgarian Literature, which is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Literary Society established in 1869 in Braila. On 1 January 1858 the company began publishing the magazine “Bulgarski Knizhitsi”, which played a major role in the cultural advancement of the people and for the formation of Bulgarian intelligentsia. Once in the magazine's editorial policy the ideas prevailed in conservative circles, Dragan Tsankov withdrew and created a journal "Bulgaria" (1859-1863) which preached through its ideas for resolving the Bulgarian Church Question through the Uniatstvoto. In 1861, he participated in the visit to Pope Pius IX in Rome where the Rev. Father Joseph Sokolsky was named bishop.

After the failure of the Unia in 1863, Tsankov returned to Svishtov and became official in the Ottoman administration. Later a teacher and judge in Rousse (1865-1867), and assistant trade manager in Vidin Sandzak (1869-1872). In the coming years as a teacher in Istanbul (1876-1877), together with Marko Balabanov was charged by the Bulgarian Exarchate to travel in Europe to inform public opinion about the situation of the Bulgarians after the April uprising.

After Liberation Dragan Tsankov was one of the leaders of the Liberal party in the Constituent Assembly in 1879. He became bright champion of Constitutionalism and Russophiles. He opposed the Regime of credentials and was interned in Vratsa, causing noisy political scandal.

After the restoration of the Tarnovo constitution in September 1883, the Prince entrusted the formation of new cabinet to Dragan Tsankov who attracted some figures in the government from the Conservative Party. This act revoked dissatisfaction from the “irreconcilable” liberals, led by Slaveykov and Karavelov. Between the two currents in the Liberal Party began fighting. In the summer of 1884, Dragan Tsankov together with his supporters ousted from the party and established a new pro-Russian political formation (Progressives).

During the crisis following the abdication of Alexander I of Battenberg, Dragan Tsankov was among the authors of the so-called “Mahzar” - formal request to the overlord of Bulgaria, the Turkish Sultan, which sought his intervention to resolve the situation through occupation.

In 1886, Tsankov emigrated to Russia. He returned to Bulgaria in 1895 after fall from power of Stefan Stambolov and immediately went to restore his party. In 1897, due to his advanced age he gave leadership post to Dr. Stoyan Danev. During the government of Progressive Liberal Party (1901-1903) he was Chairman of the National Assembly. After the party went into opposition, Dragan Tsankov retired from political life.

Dragan Tsankov was married to Rada Tsankova.


Picture 1: Sample illustration on the text above.

(i). Petko Karavelov and Dragan Tsankov — founding fathers of Political Liberalism in Bulgaria.


Picture 2: Provisional organization chart on Political Parties and Government Policies. Data is from 1879 to 1918 (end of World War I).

Sources: This provisional organization chart is compiled from scattered sources, mainly secondary reviews, that appeared in the Bulgarian literature for the past 130 years. The chart does not pretend to be definitive or even a scholarly authority, but it truly represents some continuity of political lines for the multitude of parties and formations that occupied the Bulgarian Parliament for the mentioned period. Whenever unreferenced, source is inferred by interpolation since access to stenography archives of the National Assembly is limited and subject to recent scholarly research activity.

Our limited financial base allowed us to do research only in the field of published literature from commercial printing editions. Thus, beside the titles from D. Sazdov, S. Grancharov, and Z. Popov which appear in the booklist — subsequently, less attention is paid to subsidiary (memoirs, diaries, etc.) literature on the subject. Very few titles, in fact, had treated political history of parties as specific item of their content. In Bulgarian language we can recommend two books written in the 1930s (Petar Peshev, Nikola Stanev, authors and journalists). In English language firstly our attention was given to Will Monroe's book "Bulgaria and her People". Then we managed to read copies from the best presentations of Anglo-American journalists, George Logio and Reuben Markham, both anchors in Bulgaria from before the Communist regime, ditto.




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