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Aleksandar Stamboliyski ( , variously transliterated) (March 1, 1879 - June 14, 1923) was the prime minister of Bulgariamarker from 1918 until 1923. Stamboliyski was a member of the Agrarian Union, a movement which was not allied to the monarchy, and edited their newspaper. Opposed to the country's participation in the Balkan War and its support for the Central Powers during World War I, he was court-martialed and sentenced to life in prison in 1915. He was a supporter of the idea of a Balkan federation and identified not as a Bulgarian, but as a South Slav.

In 1918, with the defeat of Bulgaria in the war, Tsar Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his son Tsar Boris III who released Stamboliyski from prison. He joined the government in January, 1919, and was appointed prime minister on October 14 of that year. On March 20, 1920, the Agrarian Union won national elections and Stamboliyski was confirmed as prime minister.

During his term in office, Stamboliyski took the unpopular measures of complying with the terms of Bulgaria's surrender. Though popular with the peasants, this antagonized the middle class and military. Many considered him to be a virtual dictator. He was ousted in a military coup on June 9, 1923. He attempted to raise a rebellion against the new government, but was captured by the military, tortured and killed.

Born to a farmer, Aleksandar Stamboliyski spent his childhood in the Bulgarian village of Slavovitsa, the same village where he would later gather several thousand insurrectionists from the region and advance against the town of Pazardjikmarker. However, before this grand counter-insurgence was to transpire, Stamboliyski had to work himself up the ranks of the nation’s political scene as the leader of the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union. Although successful in his political ambition of acquiring the highest political office of the state, the unstable political atmosphere of Bulgaria in the early inter-war years ultimately led to Stamboliyski’s demise.

Early political career

Unofficial Bulgarian Aleksandar Stambolijski commemoration medal.


Until the early 1900s, Bulgaria was primarily a land of small, independent peasant farmers. The Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, or BANU, emerged in 1899, due to grievances against the monarchial government in light of the low standard of living facing the agrarian peasants of Bulgaria at the turn of the twentieth century. By 1911, as the leader of the BANU, Stamboliyski was the most notorious anti-monarchist and head of the opposition to Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria. Bulgaria was the first defeated state of the First World War, and the regime, composed primarily of the state’s bourgeoisie members, tried to escape the national disgrace without punishment. It attempted to consolidate its domination by attracting into the administration the party with the largest membership — the BANU. On September 25, 1918, in order to gain the BANU’s acceptance, the regime was forced to release a number of political detainees, most notably Aleksandar Stamboliyski, who had been sentenced to life in prison after his meeting with Tsar Ferdinand to protest the war effort on 18 September 1915; two weeks before Bulgaria entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers.When the regime released Stamboliyski from prison, it did so with the hope that he would contain the growing unrest within the army. Although it is unclear if he was willing, or even able, to quell the army, it is undisputable that, with the influence of fellow agrarian party activist Raiko Daskalov, Stamboliyski soon faced another arrest order from the crown after Bulgaria was declared a Republic for the people on 27 September 1918, under the printed Declaration of Aleksandûr Stamboliyski. In the Declaration, which Stamboliyski is rumored to have been surprised to discover his name printed on the bottom, the tyrannical regime of Tsar Ferdinand was denounced and told to surrender to the new provisional government headed by the BANU leader.

The Radomir Rebellion of 1918

A rebellion, centered to the west of Sofia in the town of Radomir, was organized by Stamboliyski’s supporters and threatened to develop into a national revolution. However, the movement for a new, agrarian republic was quickly eliminated due to several factors and was left without the sufficient means to bring about the change it desired. Lasting from only 28 September until 2 October, the rebellion was very short-lived and led to many arrested and executions. Unlike many of his supporters, Stamboliyski was able to escape the fate of imprisonment or execution and, instead, went into hiding until he was to re-surface in the political arena during the reign of Tsar Boris III. The movement, however, could not be considered a total failure by the Agrarian Union as it was successful in eliminating the rule of Tsar Ferdinand, who fled Bulgaria by train on 3 October 1918, in the wake of Allied occupation. Ferdinand was to be succeeded by his son, Boris III, with the approval of the Allied Powers.

Ascension to power

After Tsar Boris III took the throne, the emerging political factions in Bulgaria were the Agrarians, the Socialists, and the Macedonian extremists. However, due to the loss of the territory of Macedonia immediately following Bulgaria’s surrender to the Allied forces, the Macedonian faction fell out of contention leaving the Agrarian and Communists factions struggling for political supremacy. As the general election of 1919 approached, Stamboliyski came out of hiding and won the election of prime minister of the new coalition cabinet. However, because the election was so close, Stamboliyski was forced to form a government coalition between the agrarians and the left-wing parliamentary parties. By March 1920, however, Stamboliyski was able to form a solely BANU government with another decisive election victory and a tactical manipulation of the parliamentary system. From his complete acquisition of power in March 1920, until his death on 14 June 1923, Stamboliyski ruled Bulgaria with a decisive force and caused many to remember him as a “virtual dictator.”

Rule

Stamboliyski’s government immediately faced pressures from the left and right as well as national problems such as food shortages, general strikes, and a great flu epidemic. His goal was to transform the political, economic, and social structures of the state. He aimed at establishing the absolute rule of the peasant, which composed nearly three-fourths of the population of Bulgaria during his era. Part of his objective was to offer each member of the dominant group an equitable distribution of property and access to the cultural and welfare facilities in all villages. The BANU organizations were to play a vital role in linking the peasant economy to the national and international markets. Stamboliyski founded the BANU Orange Guard, a peasant army that both protected him and carried out his agrarian reforms. In foreign policy, Stamboliyski abided by the terms he helped set in the peace treaty signed at Neuilly-sur-Seine in November 1919, which was eventually exploited by the extreme right factions of Bulgaria as he failed to lessen the outstanding reparations payments until 1923. Stamboliyski rejected territorial expansion and aimed at forming a Balkan federation of agrarian states. His administration was successful in bringing out land redistribution legislation, creating maximum property holding regulations. It also increased the vocational element in education, especially in rural areas. However, Stamboliyski never settled the Macedonian problem and failed to maintain a strong standing army (which was one of the provisions of the Neuilly-sur-Seine treaty).

The coup d’état of 9 June 1923 and the fall of Stamboliyski

On 9 June 1923, Stamboliyski’s government was overthrown by a coup composed of the right wing factions of the Military League, the National Alliance, and the army led by Aleksandar Tsankov. With the Communist faction refusing to intervene, Stamboliyski was taken prisoner in his native village of Slavovitsa, where he had fled following the coup d’état and was organizing a counter-insurgence that was large in number but weak in arms. He was brutally tortured and executed by the army immediately following his arrest. His head was sent to Sofia in a box of biscuits.

The town of Stamboliyski

In 1979 the then Communist government of Bulgaria renamed the town hitherto knowns as Novi Krichim to "Stamboliyskimarker", in honour of Aleksandar Stamboliyski.

Quotes

  • "I am neither a Serb nor a Bulgarian, I am a South Slav.!"


Notes

  1. Stavrianos, L. (1942) "The Balkan Federation Movement: A Neglected Aspect" in American Historical Review. Vol. 48.



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