The Congress of Berlin

The Congress of Berlin, 1878, failed to end the persecution of Bulgarians outside the Bulgarian Principality

When on March 3, 1878, a peace treaty was signed between Russia and Turkey in San Stefano to result in the liberation of Bulgaria, all Bulgarians came to believe that at the long last an end was put to their 5-century-long political unfranchised status under the Ottoman Empire, which deteriorated as early as the 14th century the development of this country from its leading role, played at the time among the European nations. The history of Bulgarians during the ensuing 5 centuries of yoke is a deplorable chronicle of a genocide, which lasted decades and even centuries, rather than years; the genocide was perpetrated with varying intensity in different forms, from slaughtering Bulgarians to their displacement, to loss of spiritual and cultural identity to assimilation. After each attempt to throw off the Sultan's rule and re-achieve their statehood through uprisings, which they staged cherishing hopes also to be supported by the independent European countries, Bulgarians paid too high a price - tens of thousands of massacred, displaced, sold into slavery, or immigrants from their native places within the borders of the Ottoman Empire for good. Many of those early attempts to throw off the yoke and regain independence, which in fact came to support the efforts of the countries from Central and Western Europe to repulse the Ottoman invasion into Vienna, have been wiped out by time in the historical chronicles. Yet, the last century prior to the liberation of Bulgaria has been observed and documented in the reports of European diplomats, who had already turned their eyes on the Southeast, which attracted their attention mostly with the thought of the forthcoming rivalry for the division of the heritage of the "sick man". In the early 19th century the European public was informed about hundreds of reduced to ashes or destroyed Bulgarian villages in Eastern Thrace and about the displacement or emigration of tens of thousand Bulgarian families to Bessarabia, Wallachia or Hungary. The public was also told about the series of mercilessly crushed uprisings in the western Bulgarian lands. Europeans traveling from Vienna to Istanbul used to tell about the repeatedly described tower monument between the towns of Nis and Pirot, built up of human skulls in the wake of yet another in a row Bulgarian uprising, as well as about the thousand or so heads of Bulgarian rebels, lined on both sides of the road to the town, as the Sultan or other high official was expected to pass by. Valiant journalists with their pathetic reports to the European newspapers on the unimaginable massacres of civil Bulgarian population in many villages and towns, of elderly people, women and children during the uprising of April 1876, shattered the European public emotionally.

No less pathetic were the reports on such outrages committed on the peaceful population by the retreating Ottoman units and the bashi-bazouk in the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78.

At the signing of the treaty of 1878 no Bulgarian ever assumed that after been granted the right of free existence gained at the price of numerous victims in a victorious war, morally supported by the public from across Europe, they would once again be persecuted and massacred, and this time not only by their former usurpers. It will suffice to open the documentary work by Prof. Lyubomir Miletich The Ruining of Thracian Bulgarians in 1913 in order to appreciate several things. First, that all this did not happen in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries, the latter of which was marred by monstrous carnages of Bulgarian civilians, mostly women and children, who in their despair sought rescue through God's mercy near the altars of the churches in Batak in 1876, as well as in the Lyubenova Neighborhood in 1877, but in the humane 20th c. Second, such a systematic expulsion from their native places and massacres of people for national reasons occurred not some place else but in Europe. Third, the world deems it a must to remind of the genocide on Armenians and of the Jewish holocaust as a warning to humankind and as a token of respect to the victims, and recently, to talk of genocide perpetrated in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the grounded insisting all those accountable for the crimes against humanity committed there to be punished, but it dawns on nobody to mention that the 20th century, when all across the civilized world domestic and international laws secure the freedoms and rights of the peoples, has been marred by yet another genocide against the Bulgarians, committed systematically for a prolonged period of time by more than one perpetrator in different places.

As the use of such terms necessitates some elaboration, I explain at this early point that I am to stick to the classical meaning of the term, comprising for no apparent reason two heterogeneous words, the Greek word "genos" and the Latin "caedo" (kill), used to designate massacre of groups of the population for racial, national of religious reasons; however, in this case I am to extend its connotations to deeds, called nowadays "ethnic cleansing", for, in the long run, both actions are equally disgusting and worthy of condemnation and contempt.

I am not to involve myself in debates on whether the pogroms and general carnages of Bulgarians in the 20th century in the cases I am to list and outline in a most schematic manner always fit precisely into the definition of genocide, as given in the dictionaries. Nor shall I argue, if opposed, that some of the mentioned deeds are "merely" cases of "ethnic cleansing", involving massacres and mass ruining of Bulgarian population outside the present borders of Bulgaria. I am not to get into such an argument, as it is not linguistic thoughts that invade my mind at hearing either words from the dictionary of misanthropy, but the thought of the European statistical reports, according to which Bulgarians in the European part of Turkey in the mid-19th century were the most numerous people within the bounds of the then European Turkey, more than all the rest taken together, and as much as the population of modern Bulgaria in the early 21st century is, given that other neighboring or remoter nations have increased tenfold since that time.

Understandably, the reasons leading to such a slump in the rhythm of the natural reproduction of the most numerous, vital and entrepreneurial nation in Southeastern Europe until a century ago, were not "the fire and sward" alone, as the other oppressive political factors, apparently, were no less destructive to it. For the many wars and battles Bulgarians waged in their millennial history, as gory as they were, never rendered the nation lifeless irrecoverably and never undermined its vitality to an extent that it was unable to turn around soon. Quite the contrary, they mobilized its vigor, putting it back on track for a new in a row demographic and economic expansion.

To the Bulgarian people its fragmentation under the Treaty of Berlin, on the one hand, and on the other, the narrowed for any economic endeavor space, both literally and metaphorically, into which external factors had sandwiched it with the joint efforts of the Great Powers and of not that great neighbors, proved to be much more disastrous. The Bulgarian Principality, established by the Great Powers at the Berlin Congress in 1878, hosted in fact less Bulgarians, than those who remained outside its borders. A small part of those not admitted into the Principality, were comprised by the so-called Eastern Rumelia, an autonomic district of vague status, but still others - those in Macedonia and Edirne region remained under the old regime within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire; others in the regions of Nis and Pirot, as well as those in Northern Dobrudja became subjects to neighboring countries, Serbia and Romania.

This unnatural fragmentation of Bulgarian people and of the united to that moment ethnic territory, into many parts and the placing of each of those in different cultural and political environment has been even then conflicting with both the spirit and the already established European principles of nations' self-determination.

I am not to broach here the destructive effect of the narrowed space on the demographic development of a people such as the Bulgarian is, which as early as the onset of the European civilization had its active and state-establishing presence, i.e. a creative one, in different places in the large Euro-Asian space, I'd rather stick to the announced topic of the genocide against Bulgarians in the 20th century, which topic is pressed upon one with each leafing through a documentary book, such as the one by Lyubomir Miletich The Ruining of Thracian Bulgarians in 1913 is. However, I'd not restrict myself to its manifestations in Thrace, I'd rather try to outline, though sketchy for the time being, the similar fates of the rest of Bulgarians, irregardless of their whereabouts over the 20th century.