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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter II. Self-determination, democratization, and the homogenizing state

Tarnovo Constitution

Traduction de Zornitsa Dimova-Hristova

Texte intégral

1Title: Қοнcmumyuя нa БъπƨapcКomo Княжecmϐο (Constitution of the Bulgarian Principality)

2Originally published: Voted on 16 April 1879

3Language: Bulgarian
The excerpts used are from the anthology: Veselin Metodiev and Lachezar Stoyanov eds., БъπƨapcКu Koнcmumyųuu u Кohcmumyųuoннu npoeКmu (Sofia: ИЗД. Д-p ПeTъp БepoH, 1990), pp. 25–28.


4The modern Bulgarian state was founded in the aftermath of the 1877–1878 Russian–Ottoman war. The Treaty of San Stefano, signed by Russia and the Ottoman Empire, declared the creation of a large Bulgarian state which included Macedonia and Thrace. The unwillingness of the other European powers (Austria-Hungary in particular) to accept the creation of a large Russian-dominated state in Europe resulted in the Berlin Congress of 1878, in accordance with which Macedonia and Thrace remained Ottoman provinces. A smaller Bulgarian principality in the north was granted political autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. The ephemeral Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia was created in the south, with Plovdiv (Tur. Filibe, Gr. Fili-poupolis) as its administrative center. Eastern Rumelia was annexed by the Bulgarian principality in 1885. Even though the suzerainty of the Sublime Porte remained nominal throughout the period of autonomy, in the wake of the Young Turk constitutional movement of 1908, Bulgaria was eventually declared an independent kingdom by Prince Ferdinand.

5In 1879, in Veliko Tarnovo, the medieval capital of Bulgaria, a Constituent Assembly (Grand National Assembly) was convened, with the purpose of establishing the main state institutions and drawing up a constitution for the new state. The preliminary agenda of the deputies (leading figures of the period of ‘National Revival’) essentially relied on the Russian proposal entitled the ‘Project for the Organic Charter of the Bulgarian principality.’ This project took as its model the Prussian constitution of 1850, on which the Serbian constitution of 1869 had also been based. The Prussian constitution mirrored the European constitutional monarchic model in the period after 1848. First was the formation of a constitutional commission which produced the ‘Report of the Commission on the Basic Principles of the Constitution of the Bulgarian Principality.’ In the initial project, elements from the Belgian constitution were also introduced, which had also served as a model for the Romanian and the Greek constitutions.

6The parliamentary debate took this report as its starting point. The two rival groups reproduced, in a sense, the main opposition factions of the 1870s: the ‘old’ and the ‘young,’ the conservatives and the liberals. The leaders of the conservative trend were Dimitar Grekov, Konstantin Stoilov and Grigor Nachevich; the liberals’ figureheads, on the other hand, were Dragan Tzankov, Petko Slaveykov, Petko Karavelov and Stefan Stambolov.

  • 1 This transition was analyzed in detail in the first chapter of Ivan Elenkov’s influential book Poд (...)

7The etatism permeating the text was the focal point of the liberals’ critique, which defended the freedom of the nation as opposed to the state power celebrated in the conservative ‘Report.’ This was, for instance, Petko Slaveykov’s position, in which he claimed that the ‘Report’ portrayed the Bulgarian people as too immature for freedom. This attitude revealed the populist basis of the liberals’ ideology. In other words, even in the liberal camp, the concept of the nation remained privileged over that of the citizen. It should be emphasized, though, that the final result of the work of the Grand National Assembly did not reflect the rhetoric of these populist claims. In the end, the Tarnovo Constitution devised a framework for modern liberal political values. Although it was seemingly underestimated during the discussions, the ‘citizen’ became the key notion of the document, and in this sense the Tarnovo Constitution represented a rupture with the populist rhetoric of the ‘Revival’ period. However, the liberals’ attempt to transform the constitutional monarchy promoted by the ‘Report’ into a parliamentary monarchy was not entirely successful as the monarch was endowed with extensive prerogatives.1

8The Constitution stipulated separation of powers, even though the autonomy of the judiciary power was not guaranteed. The monarch was endowed with extensive legislative and executive prerogatives, and, as a result, the German nobleman Alexander Battenberg was elected the Prince of Bulgaria. The Con stitution also established a universal manhood suffrage (the voting age limit being 21), a one-chamber system, strong municipal government and guaranteed civic freedoms. The Tarnovo Constitution was de facto suspended by the military coup in 1934, resulting in the personal regime of king Boris III. The new Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, voted by the 6th Grand National Assembly, replaced the Tarnovo Constitution in December 1947. Bulgarian political and historical literature perceives the Tarnovo Constitution as one of the most liberal European constitutions of the time. This is the reason why the Tarnovo Constitution became not only a basic institutional text, but also an ideological symbol of political modernity in the newly established state. Even decades after its suspension in 1934, especially after the fall of the communist regime in 1989, it continued to be one of the legitimating symbols of the Bulgarian liberal project.


10Every slave, of whatever gender, creed or nationality, becomes free on entering Bulgarian territory.

Constitution of the Bulgarian Principality

Chapter XII: regarding the citizens of the Bulgarian Principality

Part I. General Principles […]

1154. All who were born in Bulgaria and never became foreign citizens shall be considered citizens of the Bulgarian Principality.

1255. Foreigners may become Bulgarian citizens as regulated by the National Assembly.

1356. Every subject of the Principality can renounce his citizenship after having completed his military service and fulfilled his other obligations to the state according to laws to be elaborated.

1457. All Bulgarian citizens are equal before the law. The division of estates in Bulgaria is impermissible.

1558. No aristocratic titles, or other distinctions or decorations may exist in the Bulgarian Principality.

1659. The Prince is allowed to grant titles of distinction in times of war and for military men only.

1760. Political rights should benefit only the citizens of the Bulgarian Principality, while civil rights should benefit all residents of the Principality.

1861. Nobody in the Bulgarian principality may buy or sell human beings.

1962. Legislation on public development and law enforcement is equally binding for all residents of Bulgaria.

2063. Bulgarian laws govern all real estate in the Principality, even if they have foreign ownership.

2164. In all other cases, the status of foreign citizens is regulated by specific laws.

Part II. Regarding State and Public Service

2265. Only Bulgarian citizens may take positions in state and public service and in the military.

2366. Foreign citizens may also be employed in such positions, but only with the explicit permission of the National Assembly.

Part III. Regarding Property Rights

2467. The rights of property are inviolable.

2568. The compulsory cession of ownership can only take place for the benefit of the state or the public and with a prior equivalent payment. The regulations for such a cession shall be determined by a special law. […]

Part VI. Regarding Inviolability of the Individual, Inviolability of the Home and Inviolability of Correspondence

2673. Nobody may be punished without a verdict by an appropriate court.

2774. Arrests and house searches may only be made according to the rule of law.

2875. Nobody may receive a punishment that has not been determined by the law. All torture is forbidden, whatever the charge is. The same applies for the confiscation of property.

2976. Should any developments threaten public security, the Prince may suspend articles 74 and 75 in the whole Principality or in specific regions, but only after receiving confirmation for such an injunction from the First National Assembly.

3077. Private letters and private telegraph messages are considered secret and inviolable.

Part VII. Regarding National Education

3178. Primary education is compulsory for all citizens of the Bulgarian Principality

Part VIII. Regarding the Freedom of the Press

3279. The Press is free. No censure is admissible. When the writer is known and living in the Principality, the publisher, printer and distributor will not be held responsible for any liabilities.

3380. The Holy Scriptures, liturgical books and writings of dogmatic content intended for use in Orthodox churches, as well as bible class textbooks for Orthodox schools, will need to be sanctioned by the Holy Synod.

3481. Press-related crimes are to be persecuted according to common juridical ordinance.

Part IX. Regarding the Freedom of Assembly and Association

3582. The citizens of the Bulgarian Principality have the right to assemble in a peaceful and unarmed manner, to discuss any issue without asking for prior permission. Outdoor assemblies should fully abide by police rules.

3683. Bulgarian citizens have the right to form associations without needing any prior permission, as long as the means and ends of those associations are not to disrupt the state and social order and do not offend the religion and morals of the state.

Part X. Regarding the Right to Petition

3784. Every Bulgarian citizen has the right to present the appropriate authorities with petitions, signed by one or collectively by many persons. Lawfully established institutions can present petitions through their representatives.


1 This transition was analyzed in detail in the first chapter of Ivan Elenkov’s influential book Poднo u дяcнo [Populism and Right Wing] (Sofia: LiK, 1998).

© Central European University Press, 2010

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