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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter IV. The Nation and Its Neighbors in Europe: Problems of Coexistence

Memorandum of the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee

Traduction de Elena Alexieva

Texte intégral

1Title: Принапомнювание (Мемоар), оmnравено на Н. И. В. Сулmана оm Тайния Централен Български Комитет (Memorandum to His Imperial Majesty the Sultan from the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee)

2Originally published: in the newspaper Hapoдност (1867)

3Language: Bulgarian

4The excerpts used are from Българско Възраждане. Хрuсmоmаmuя nо uсmорuя на България (Sofia: БАН, 1969), рр. 324–332.


5The SCBC (Secret Central Bulgarian Committee), established in Bucharest in 1866, was one of the most important Bulgarian political organizations before the creation of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee (see Hristo Botev, Hadji Dimiter and The hanging of Vasil Levski). In contrast to the previous period, the most important Bulgarian political organizations after the Crimean war were based in Russia and the Romanian principalities. Those based in Russia—such as the Virtuous Society (or ‘Committee of the Old’), created in 1862, and the Bulgarian Board of Trustees of Odessa, created in 1858—were of pro-Russian orientation and followed Russia’s Balkan policy. Both of them represented the merchant class and cultural elite of the Bulgarian diaspora in Russia. The two organizations proposed different dualist projects. In 1867 the Board of Trustees of Odessa developed a project for a dualist Serbo-Bulgarian (or Bulgaro-Serbian) Kingdom, which was initially accepted by the Serbian government under Russian persuasion but was not implemented in the end. In its turn, the Virtuous Society sent a letter to the Paris conference in 1869 (focusing on the problem of Crete), which formulated a dualist project for the future of the Ottoman Empire, in terms of a Turko-Bulgarian Kingdom. The opposite tendency, advocating a solution to the Bulgarian national question through arms and revolutionary struggle, was initially championed by Georgi Sava Rakovski (1821–1867), the founder of the organized national-revolutionary movement. He created and led in the 1860s regiments of Bulgarian volunteers in Serbia, which came to be known as the First and Second Bulgarian Legions, with the purpose of undertaking an armed campaign against the Ottoman Empire, thus provoking a general insurrection of the Bulgarians. Shortly before his death he conceived a new plan of liberation involving the creation of a unitary national army under a so-called Supreme Popular Bulgarian Civilian Government in Romania, with the goal of provoking a wholesale uprising of the Bulgarians free of any foreign interference.

6The SCBC, which was formed in Romania in 1866 by Rakovski’s secretary Ivan Kasabov, held a particular midway position between the revolutionary and the political reformist tendencies characterizing the Bulgarian political organizations. In the beginning, the agenda of the SCBC was to a large extent influenced by the politics of the Romanian government, which, after Prince Alexandru I. Cuza was forced to abdicate, had started to prepare for the attack of the Ottoman army against Romania and counted on the support of a large uprising in Bulgaria. Rakovski was given the task of organizing this military action. Unexpectedly, however, Romanian politics changed (because the new regime was quickly recognized internationally), and the SCBC lost the support of the government. As a result, in 1867, the SCBC changed its tactics radically by proposing to the Sublime Porte a project for the radical reformation of the Ottoman Empire into a new dual monarchy, envisioning the Bulgarian Kingdom as an integrative part of the Empire. Although this text remained without any significant consequence and did not receive any response from Constantinople, it can be considered the most developed dualist political project to emerge during the struggles for an independent Bulgarian state. The main elements of the project—obviously based on the Austro-Hungarian example—dealing with political autonomy are: the setting up of a constitutional government; the creation of a Bulgarian Kingdom under the sovereignty of the Empire; the Emperor as both ‘Sultan of the Ottomans’ and ‘King of the Bulgarians’; a Bulgarian Kingdom governed by a proxy, a Christian to be appointed by the government and endorsed by the Sultan; and, finally, the establishment of Eastern Orthodoxy as the official religion of the Bulgarian Kingdom.

7An attentive reading of the Statutes of the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee will note the ambivalent statement in Article 2, postulating that all means are valid as long as the final goal is achieved. In the light of this statement, the dualist project elaborated by the SCBC can be read as one of the possible ways pondered by its authors for achieving national freedom. This article and the last paragraph of the Memorandum determined the conventional interpretation of the Memorandum as a political bluff. The strongest argument supporting this interpretation is the fact that the successor of the SCBC, the ‘Bulgarian Society’ (1868–1869), organized the military detachment (cheta) of Hadji Dimiter and Stefan Karadja, with the intention to provoke a large-scale military conflict in Bulgaria. The cheta crossed the Danube in July 1868 and was subsequently destroyed by the Ottoman army (see Hristo Botev, Hadji Dimiter). As a matter of fact, after the announcement of the Memorandum, the SCBC had terminated its formal existence. It confined its activity to the publishing of the newspaper Narodnost (Nationality). Therefore, mainstream historiography tended to consider the SCBC as a transitory step in the development of the Bulgarian independentist project, which led to the creation of the BRCC.

8According to the more recent trends of interpretation, however, the text represents the views of a basically liberally-oriented formation, supported by a broad section of the emigrant community, transcending the ‘old’ and ‘young’ divide, that was less dogmatic about the means of solving the national question. That was its strength and its weakness and, as in many similar party-political cases, disputes over politics catalyzed organizational splits. The assumption that it was a ‘transitory step’ was natural within the logic of the teleological canon of ‘national liberation,’ postulating the pre-eminence of the revolutionary solution. According to another possible reading, however, the revolutionary option was not at all the obvious one and consequently, its historical success needs to be historicized.

9The contemporary debates around dualism did not take the ‘Memorandum’ into account simply because it preserved its conspiratorial character and reached the broader public only later. In any case, the Memorandum was criticized by the leaders (Dr. Stoyan Chomakov and Ilarion Makariopolski) of the movement for the establishment of an independent church in Constantinople as it was endangering their project of establishing a Bulgarian Exarchate. Similar was the attitude of the moderate Bulgarian press dominated by the elite circles in Constantinople, which championed a reformist project for the Ottoman Empire leading to a dualist Kingdom. In contrast, in the press of the revolutionary wing, based in Romania, dualism emerged as a pejorative topos denoting the conservative circles of Constantinople (see Hristo Botev, The People). Furthermore, it was mainly in the BRCC press organs that dualism became discussed, acquiring negative connotations. For Botev, the term “dualist” was synonymous with “traitor of the nation”—he labeled his social and political enemies as “dualists,” semantically related to the Bulgarian upper class (‘chorbadji’ and high clericals), whose headquarters were in Constantinople. This did not mean, however, the complete abandonment of the federal discourse. Even if a military uprising was considered by the proponents of a revolutionary solution as the most obvious way to acquire independence, federalism also remained an option. Liuben Karavelov, for instance, was a fervent promoter of the federalist idea: he championed the idea of a confederation of the Danubian states following the example of Switzerland, while Botev was advancing the project of a confederation of the Southern Slavs. But the vision of a Bulgarian-Ottoman dual monarchy became increasingly unrealistic as the Bulgarian national movement headed towards its decisive clash with the Empire.


Memorandum To His Imperial Majesty, Sultan Abdülaziz Khan, our Merciful Father and Master, from the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee

11Your Majesty!

12In the lives of nations times come when silence and endurance become more than pernicious both to them and to their governors, and therefore, worthier of condemnation than the claim of their needs and yearnings.

13The destiny of every private person, as well as of every nation in general, is in the hands of the almighty Creator that rules over the universe. This same destiny, four centuries ago, placed us, the Bulgarians, and our dear fatherland, under the rule of the glorious conquerors who founded the Ottoman Empire in Europe. To that time, our ancestors had been accustomed to being always the victors, and it was only the brave conquerors, the sultans Murad, Beyazid Yıldırım [Thunderbolt] and Mohamed II, who managed to defeat them.

14Was it a feeling of national pride, or of civil virtue, so deeply rooted in the hearts of our last kings, Ivan Shishman, Georgi Stratimir and Asen IV, that prevented them from asking the powerful sultans for peace and mercy, as the Serb princes and especially the Moldo-Wallachian chieftains did?

15We do not wish to rummage the secrets of history for those who have dauntlessly triumphed, and for those who have gloriously fallen; we shall only say that such was the destiny, that Providence had prepared for us.

16Even today, God only knows the reasons for the rise and fall of nations; God only knows the future that is preserved both for the most powerful empires, and for the humblest nations.

17Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that a new era is being prepared in the East, and one need not open the book of destiny to understand that we are already on the verge of fundamental changes.

18In such a critical situation for the Ottoman Empire, and one not less critical for the Bulgarian people as well, it will be more reasonable than anything else for them to voice their true wishes and sufferings to their august Monarch.

19As the true body of the Bulgarian nation, the most numerous among those nations which Providence has placed under your rule, we raise our voice on its behalf, believing that this voice will be heard and that its lawful wishes will be fulfilled.

20Your Majesty!

  • 1 Unreadable parts are marked with ellipses.

21The evil we have noted has long ago attracted the attention of the Imperial Government, and already at the time of your august brother and predecessor, the ever-memorable Sultan Abdülmecid, more edicts were issued—the Hatt-i şerif, the Tanzimat, and the Hatt-i hümayün—by the supreme authority, attempting to correct this harm; but unfortunately, due to the non-execution of some of their provisions and the misinterpretation of others, the cure turned out to be worse than the disease itself, and the situation of the people, instead of improving, became even more toilsome. In order to be convinced of this, one should only cast a glance at the present state of the Empire. Bewail if such measures are still to be taken, for these shall not have …1 happiness and will not in the least satisfy the people.

22With this conviction, we dare present to Your Imperial Majesty that which, we believe, is the sole means to overcome the danger that threatens the Empire, and to solve the Eastern problem in favor of the integrity of the Empire and its resuscitation with fresh elements.

23In doing this, we act as loyal subjects of the Empire, to which we are bound through four centuries of history. Therefore, we ask Your Imperial Majesty not to condemn this act as intending harm, but to consider even more the wishes of a nation which desires nothing but to give its ruler new evidence of its everlasting loyalty.

24Your Majesty!

25The requests of the Bulgarian people are to be found in the few words below:

26That Your Imperial Majesty strengthen forever the ties that keep us bound to Your throne by proclaiming our political and religious autonomy, based on an independent Constitution. That Your Imperial Majesty add to his title “Sultan of the Ottomans” that of “King of the Bulgarians.” At first glance, these requests may seem contradictory to the politics and the interests of the Empire; however, we dare say that were the Bulgarians allowed to have advocates close to the throne, like those persons who are given audience at present in relation to our ecclesiastical question, the Sublime Porte would have long ago heard the requests we voice today, and great benefits would have been effected both for the Ottoman Empire in general, and for the Bulgarian people in particular.

27Let it now be allowed us to present to Your Imperial Majesty the foundations upon which the Bulgarian people wishes and requests its autonomy to be proclaimed.

Concerning political autonomy

28Article 1. There shall be a constitutional government of the people.

29Article 2. Bulgaria, together with all its provinces with a Bulgarian population, shall be identified as, and called, “the Bulgarian Kingdom.”

  • 2 Tr., State, country.

30Article 3. The said Bulgarian Kingdom shall politically depend on the Ottoman Empire and shall always have, as its King, the Emperor of the Supreme Devlet2 of Istanbul, His Imperial Majesty Sultan Abdülaziz and his successors, who shall add to their title of “Sultan of the Ottomans” the title “King of the Bulgarians.”

31Article 4. His Imperial Majesty the Sultan shall always be crowned as King of the Bulgarians in one of the old capitals of the Bulgarian Kingdom, which shall be determined by the National Assembly.

32Article 5. The Kingdom shall be governed by a King’s Proxy, a Christian to be appointed by the people’s government and recognized by the Sultan.

33Article 6. The King’s Proxy shall be, after His Majesty the Sultan, head of the state, the government and the executive power, commander-in-chief of the Bulgarian army and executive of justice.

34Article 7. The King’s Proxy shall rule the Kingdom with the help of a council, whose members shall be exclusively Bulgarian and shall be elected by the National Assembly. The members of the council shall share power among themselves, each of them being head of one section; they shall have the right to initiate the preparation of projects of laws and the drafting of the state budget, which drafts, after having been approved by the National Assembly, shall be submitted for the supreme authorization of the King’s Proxy; they shall be mutually responsible for their acts, and therefore, no resolution of the King’s proxy shall come into effect unless it has been endorsed by the council members.

35Article 8. The National Assembly shall be composed of a fixed number of members representing all the populations of Bulgaria. These shall be elected by the people on the basis of a majority of votes, in compliance with a special law, without the least interference on the part of the government.

36Article 9. Eastern Orthodoxy shall be the dominant religion in the country.

37Article 10. Justice shall be conducted under the special Bulgarian laws that will be adopted by the Assembly.

38It will be separated from, and independent of, the administrative part. Courts shall rule in the name of the law and the King’s Proxy. In the capital of the kingdom there shall be a Supreme Court of Justice, which shall review, approve or invalidate the verdicts of the courts.

39Article 11. The Bulgarian Kingdom shall have a people’s army of its own, independent and organized according to the new systems, and in compliance with a special law.

40The commanders of the army, as well as its priests, shall be Bulgarian. The army uniform shall be the national military costume. Its flags shall have the imperial coat of arms on one side, and the Lion, which is the emblem of Bulgaria, on the other. It shall participate together with the imperial army in every operation that has to do with the defense of our shared homeland; its operations shall be restricted to Europe only.

41Article 12. An obligation shall be fixed which the Bulgarian Kingdom shall pay to the Empire on an annual basis, and which shall be provided for every year in the Kingdom’s budget.

42Article 13. The Bulgarian language shall be the official language of the Kingdom.

43Article 14. Every civil and political freedom shall be granted, for example, freedom of the press, of speech, of meetings, of public discussions on political and public issues and so forth, as well as personal freedom, the inviolability of private property and religious tolerance.

44Article 15. Town and village municipalities shall have their own councils in order to administer local issues, independently from the state administration and in compliance with a special law.

Concerning the Bulgarian Church

45Article 1. The Bulgarian Church shall be re-established according to the way it used to exist in the past, i.e., autonomous and independent from any other Church, and shall bear the name ‘Bulgarian Orthodox Church.’

46Your Majesty!

47Above every other step, the Bulgarians, by submitting this Memorandum to Your Imperial Majesty, perform one of their greatest duties. But if, unfortunately, their wishes are left unanswered, the grave responsibility for the consequences, which might follow, will be on those who condemn the lawful requests of an entire nation, loyal and obedient.

48This act of ours is not inspired by any kind of foreign influence. This Memorandum, written among Bulgarians and by themselves, expresses their true wishes.

49As traditionally loyal subjects of Your Imperial Majesty and as true representatives of the Bulgarian people, in the name of four centuries of suffering, in the name of the spirit of the Enlightenment and justice of the nineteenth century, for the fame and glory of Your Imperial Majesty, for the salvation and grandeur of the Ottoman Empire, we request fulfillment of the wishes of the Bulgarian people, so that we may all exclaim as one: Long live His Imperial Majesty Abdülaziz Khan, Sultan of the Ottomans, King of the Bulgarians!


51The Secret Central Bulgarian Committee

The Statutes of the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee

52[…] Article 2. Their [i.e. the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee’s] principles and aim are the liberation of their Fatherland, in whatever ways and with whatever means—i.e. through the reestablishment of an independent Bulgarian Kingdom; through the reestablishment of an autonomous Bulgarian Kingdom under the Porte; or through confederation (union) with neighboring nations.


1 Unreadable parts are marked with ellipses.

2 Tr., State, country.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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