3 March – Bulgaria’s National Holiday

On this day, remembered in history as Bulgaria Liberation Day, the people of Bulgaria pause for a tribute. The first time of marking March 3 occurred in 1880, in honor of Enthronement of Russian Emperor Tzar Alexander the Second – Tzar Osvoboditel, meaning Tzar Liberator. Since 1888, March 3 has become Bulgaria’s Day of Liberation and it was pronounced a National Holiday in 1978. Since 1990 the date March 3 is included in the list of Bulgaria’s official holidays, according to a parliamentary decree.

Appropriately, Bulgaria honors Russian Tzar Alexander II as a primary figure among its “founding fathers” with statues of him in many cities, including one in the heart of its capital, Sofia. Decidedly a man of peace, Tzar Alexander II became the reluctant champion of the oppressed Slav peoples and in 1877 finally declared war on Turkey. Following initial setbacks, Russian arms eventually triumphed, and, early in 1878, the vanguard of the Russian armies stood encamped on the shores of the Sea of Marmara. The prime reward of Russian victory — seriously reduced by the European powers at the Congress of Berlin — was the independence of Bulgaria from Turkey.

The struggle of the Balkan peoples for freedom from centuries of Ottoman domination was reflected in the Ottoman Empire’s strained international relations: the Serbian-Turkish conflict of 1876; and the Russian-Turkish wars of 1877 through 1878. The latter conflict was resolved, for the time being, by the signing of the San Stefano Peace Treaty on March 3, 1878. With Turkey defeated and weakened by internal strife, the Russian Tzar was able to dictate the terms of the treaty. In an attempt to secure enduring access to the Aegean Sea, he created the new Bulgarian state on the Balkans. However, when the Western powers convened for the Congress of Berlin in July, 1878, the Russian hopes for creating a Greater Bulgaria on the Balkans were stymied.

The Treaty of San Stefano of March 3, 1878 provided for an independent Bulgarian state, which spanned over the geographical regions of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. However, trying to preserve the balance of power in Europe and fearing the establishment of a large Russian client state on the Balkans, the other Great Powers were reluctant to agree to the treaty. As a result, the Treaty of Berlin (1878), under the supervision of Otto von Bismarck of Germany and Benjamin Disraeli of Britain, revised the earlier treaty, and scaled back the proposed Bulgarian state. An autonomous Principality of Bulgaria was created, between the Danube and the Stara Planina range, with its seat at the Old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Turnovo, and including Sofia. This state was to be under nominal Ottoman sovereignty but was to be ruled by a prince elected by a congress of Bulgarian notables and approved by the Powers. They insisted that the Prince could not be a Russian, but in a compromise Prince Alexander of Battenberg, a nephew of Tzar Alexander II, was chosen. An autonomous Ottoman province under the name of Eastern Rumelia was created south of the Stara Planina range. The Bulgarians in Macedonia and Eastern Thrace were left under the rule of the Sultan. Some Bulgarian territories were also given to Serbia and Romania.