Bulgaria Table of Contents

Full independence made Bulgaria a more aggressive party in the complex of Balkan politics. The end of Ottoman occupation heightened territorial ambitions that involved Bulgaria and its neighbors in three wars within four years.

The First Balkan War

The period from 1908 to 1912 was one of colliding interests in the Balkans and collapse of the system created by the Treaty of Berlin. Beginning in 1908, the Young Turks attempted to consolidate Turkish influence in the Balkans while ensuring equality for all nationalities in their empire. Rivals Italy and Austria threatened to intervene on behalf of an Albanian revolt against the Turks in 1909. Russia then urged a Bulgarian-Serbian alliance to keep such foreign powers at bay and ensure continued Slavic control in the region. In 1912, after long negotiations, Serbia and Bulgaria reached temporary agreement on the disposition of Macedonia, the chief issue dividing them. Subsequent agreements by Greece with Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro completed the Balkan League--an uneasy alliance designed by Russia to finally push the Turks out of Europe and curtail great-power meddling in the Balkans. The First Balkan War, which began in October 1912, coincided with Italy's campaign to liberate Tripoli from the Turks. Bulgarian forces moved quickly across Ottoman Europe, driving the Turks out of Thrace. However, the Bulgarians then overextended their position by a fruitless attack toward Constantinople. In the peace negotiations that followed, Bulgaria regained Thrace, but the fragile alliance against the Turks collapsed over the unresolved issue of Macedonia.

The Second Balkan War

The final removal of the Turks from Europe posed the problem of dividing Ottoman territory and heightened the worries of the European great powers about balancing influence in that strategic region. Disagreement about the disposition of Macedonia quickly rearranged the alliances of the First Balkan War and ignited a Second Balkan War in 1913. The Treaty of London that had ended the first war stipulated only that the Balkan powers resolve existing claims among themselves. The Bulgarians, having had the greatest military success, demanded compensation on that basis; the Serbs and Greeks demanded adjustment of the 1912 treaty of alliance to ensure a balance of Balkan powers; and the Romanians demanded territorial reward for their neutral position in the first war. Even before the First Balkan War ended, a strong faction in Bulgaria had demanded war against Serbia to preserve Bulgaria's claim to Macedonia. Ferdinand sided with that faction in 1913, and Bulgaria attacked Serbia. Turkey, Greece, and Romania then declared war on Bulgaria because they all feared Bulgarian domination of the Balkans if Macedonia were not partitioned. Because most Bulgarian forces were on the Serbian frontier, Turkish and Romanian troops easily occupied Bulgarian territory by mid-1913, and Bulgaria was defeated. The Treaty of Bucharest (1913) allowed Bulgaria to retain only very small parts of Macedonia and Thrace; Greece and Serbia divided the rest, humiliating Bulgarian territorial claims and canceling the gains of the First Balkan War. This loss further inflamed Bulgarian nationalism, especially when Bulgarians in Serbian and Greek Macedonia were subjected to extreme hardship after the new partition. At this point Russia, whose warnings Bulgaria had defied by attacking Serbia, shifted its support to the Serbs as its Balkan counterbalance against Austro-Hungarian claims.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress