For people in Western Europe it might be interesting to know why the people of the East European country of Bulgaria are celebrating today. When asked, we answer: “today is the third of March, our independence day.” Yet, there are a few details, myths and historically misinterpreted facts which should be noted.
First, Bulgarian autonomy was brought about in 1878 at the end of the Russian-Ottoman war. The fact is that the war ended on 3 March of that year, and that is where we derive our national holiday. Yet, following the peace treaty, the Great Powers in Europe at the time were not happy with the re-distribution of land and power away from the Ottoman Empire and therefore concluded the Treaty of Berlin in July 1878, effectively reinstating Ottoman rule over several areas and dividing Bulgaria into two parts – principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia. So, it should be noted that the country was independent, but not completely.
Second, a historical fact which Bulgarians and foreigners who know the country traditions often make mistakes about is the name of Russia’s Tzar Alexander II, known as ‘the liberator’. It was under his rule that the above-mentioned war took place. Yet, the label of ‘liberator’ was NOT given to him because he freed the Bulgarian people, but because of his decree for the emancipation of the Russian serfs in 1861. Nevertheless, his statue in front of the Bulgarian house of parliament is a tribute to a great man.
Third, another Bulgarian holiday is 6 September, when we celebrate the Principality of Bulgaria’s unification with Eastern Rumelia, which took place in 1885. The borders of the new state only now begin to resemble the contemporary ones. This is the reason that 3 March is ‘national day’ and not something else.
Then, in 1908, the Young Turk Revolution in the Ottoman lands reduced Great Power support for the Empire and many saw it as an opportunity to annex or claim the failing state’s European territories. Among them, Bulgaria gained its officially recognized independence on 5 October. This leads us to the point that 3 March is ‘national day’ and 5 October is ‘independence day’, even though the latter is not an official holiday in the country and many consider the former to encompass both holidays at once.
I can only hope that Bulgarians and Westerners alike have learned something about the Eastern European state’s history and can remember to use the correct terminology when talking about the holiday.
I wish every Bulgarian a happy national day!