Birth of the republic

​Bulgaria had willingly entered the First World War but after several years of fighting, involvement in the conflict became increasingly unpopular with the population, who were suffering great economic hardship and seen increasingly high casualties being inflicted on the Bulgarian military. Furthermore, being a predominately Christian country, many disliked fighting alongside Muslim Ottomans – fellow allies in the Central Powers - against other Christians.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 caused much unrest in Bulgaria, increasing anti-war sentiment and placing much of the blame on the monarchy. Widespread mutinies soon broke out, the government was forced to resign, and a republic was proclaimed. 

The Second National Tragedy

By the end of the First World War, the ruler of Bulgaria, Tsar Ferdinand, was forced to abdicate due to increasing anti-monarchist sentiments in his country.

His son Boris III, who was free from much of the blame, became ruler. Under the Treaty of Neuilly (Also known as Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine - one of several treaties signed at the Paris Peace Conference – the most famous being the Treaty of Versailles),

Bulgaria, like other countries on the losing side – lost significant chunks of territory:

Tsar Ferdinand I

  • Western Thrace was awarded to Greece – which therefore cut off Bulgaria's direct route to the Aegean Sea.
  • An area measuring 2,563 km2 was awarded to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia).
  • Romania regained the area of Dobruja.

Additionally, Bulgaria also had to:

The Bulgarians referred to these terms as the ‘Second National Tragedy’. (The First National Catastrophe was the defeat of Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War in 1913, which saw it lose territory to Romania.)

Map of Bulgaria after the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1919.

Alexander Stamboliyski

In 1920, Alexander Stamboliyski, a member of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (BANU) became Prime Minister of a genuinely democratic government. 

He faced several challenges due to the huge war reparations the country had to pay and a largely peasant population.

He was able to carry out many social reforms, but facing constant opposition from army officers, landlords and even the Tsar himself,

Stamboliyski aligned himself the Bulgarian Communist Party and forged links with Soviet Russia. 

The splendidly mustachioed Alexander Stamboliyski.

However, in 1923, Stamboliyski was killed in a coup after attempting to supress the VMRO – a Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - who favoured war to regain Bulgaria’s lost territories. 

Alexandar Tsankov

With the death of Stamboliyski, a right-wing government lead by Aleksandar Tsankov took power. It had the support of the Tsar, army and VMRO and violently supressed BANU members and communists.

Alexandar Tsankov

In 1926, after the brief and unusually named ‘War of the Stray Dog’ (a border incident with Greece in which a Greek soldier was allegedly shot after pursuing a stray dog onto Bulgarian territory), the Tsar convinced Tsankov to resign

The Popular Bloc

A more moderate government was then formed with Andrev Lyapchev as Prime Minister and with his term of office, the politically motivated violence started to calm down. 

A general amnesty was announced, designed to bring a halt to the ongoing conflicts (although communism remained banned), and the 1931 elections were won by an alliance called the ‘Popular Bloc’.

A subtle Bulgarian anti-Bolshevik propaganda poster from the 1930's.

The Tsar takes control

​However, in 1934 yet more upheaval occurred with a coup taking place by the Military League, which removed the Popular Bloc from power and establishing an authoritarian military regime in its place – headed by Kimon Georgiev.

Yet only a year later, this regime in turn was removed from power, and Tsar Boris restored a form of parliamentary rule but under his own strict control. It claimed neutrality, but in reality, had started to gravitate towards Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

This shift would ultimately drag Bulgaria into a second world war.

Tsar Boris III