|Bulgaria Table of Contents
The period after World War I was one of uneasy political coalitions, slow economic growth, and continued appearance of the Macedonia problem. Although social unrest remained at a high level, Boris kept firm control of his government as World War II approached.
Stamboliiski and Agrarian Reform
The 1919 election reflected massive public dissatisfaction with the war reparations, inflation, and rising taxes that prolonged the chaotic living conditions of the war. The socialist and agrarian parties tightened their organizations and increased membership. The left wing of the Bulgarian Workers' Socialist-Democratic Party (BWSDP) numbered only 25,000 in 1919, and the BANU emerged as the largest party in the country. The BANU received 28 percent of the 1919 vote, giving it a plurality but not a majority in the new subranie. Stamboliiski sought to include the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP)--which had finished second in the election-- and the BWSDP in a coalition government. (The BCP and the BWSDP were the two factions of the Bulgarian communist movement that had sprung from the Social Democratic Party founded in 1891; they would remain separate until the former was disbanded after World War II.) Stamboliiski could not permit the two factions the control they desired, however, so they refused participation.
The postwar governing coalition thus included only factions to Stamboliiski's right. The first major test for the Stamboliiski government was a transport strike that lasted from December 1919 until February 1920. Fomented by the communists and the social democrats and joined by urban workers and middle-class Bulgarians, the striker protests were quelled harshly by the army and the Orange Guard, a quasi-military force that Stamboliiski formed to counter mass demonstrations by the parties of the left.
Suppression of the strike, mobilization of the peasant vote, and intimidation at the polls gave the BANU enough support to win the parliamentary election of 1920 over the communists and form a non-coalition government. Tsar Boris and much of the Bulgarian middle class preferred the agrarians to the communists and social democrats, whom they feared much more. Stamboliiski immediately began drastic economic reforms. He abolished the merchants' trade monopoly on grain, replacing it with a government consortium; broke up large urban and rural landholdings and sold the surplus to the poor; enacted an obligatory labor law to ease the postwar labor shortage; introduced a progressive income tax; and made secondary schooling compulsory. All aspects of the radical reform policy aimed at ridding society of "harmful" classes of society such as lawyers, usurers, and merchants, distributing capital and obligations more evenly through society, and raising the living standards of the landless and poor peasants.
In foreign policy, Stamboliiski officially abandoned Bulgaria's territorial claims, which he associated with a standing army, monarchy, large government expenditures, and other prewar phenomena that the agrarians deemed anachronistic. After the war, no major power was available to protect Bulgarian interests in the Balkans. For this reason, the traditional approach to foreign policy was discarded in favor of rapprochement with all European powers and the new government of Kemal Atatürk in Turkey, membership in the League of Nations, and friendship with the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). Relations with Turkey were greatly improved by Bulgarian support of Atatürk's revolutionary Turkish Republic in 1920.
Reconciliation with Yugoslavia was a necessary step toward Stamboliiski's ultimate goal of a multiethnic Balkan peasant federation. Improved Yugoslav relations required a crackdown on the powerful Macedonian extremist movement. Accordingly, Stamboliiski began a two-year program of harsh suppression of IMRO in 1921; in 1923 Yugoslavia and Bulgaria agreed at the Nis Convention to cooperate in controlling extremists.
The Fall of Stamboliiski
Led by a large Macedonian group in Sofia, the strong nationalist elements remaining in Bulgaria found the new pacifist policy alarming. The urban working class, unaided by agrarian reforms, gravitated to the communists or the socialist workers. Inflation and industrial exploitation continued. Many of Stamboliiski's subordinates inflamed social tensions by taking very dogmatic positions in favor of peasant rights. The Bulgarian right, silent since the war, reorganized into a confederation called the National Alliance. Stamboliiski's Orange Guard jailed the leaders of that group in 1922, temporarily stopping its momentum. Meanwhile, in late 1922 and early 1923, Macedonian nationalists occupied Kiustendil along the Yugoslav border and attacked government figures to protest rapprochement with Yugoslavia and Greece. Stamboliiski responded with mass arrests, an accelerated campaign against IMRO terrorism, a purge of his own fragmented and notoriously corrupt party, and a new parliamentary election. These dictatorial measures united the agrarians' various opponents (IMRO, the National Alliance, army factions, and the social democrats) into a coalition led by Aleksandur Tsankov. The communists remained outside the group. Bulgaria's Western creditors would not protect a government that had rejected their reparations policy. In June 1923, Stamboliiski was brutally assassinated by IMRO agents, and the conspirators shortly took control of the entire country with only scattered and ineffectual agrarian resistance.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress