Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Serbia, Romania, Turkey


The Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878 put Bulgaria on the political map of Europe. That great historical collision led to the San Stefano Treaty on the 3rd of March, 1878 which outlined the natural border of the Bulgarian state. However,

another collision on the field of diplomacy on which different forces and interests interfered,  led to the Berlin congress.

The treaty signed there, mostly imposed by Britain and Austria-Hungary, in order to limit the influence of Russia on the Balkans, divided the country into three: the Principality of Bulgaria, the vassal region of Eastern Rumelia and a big part that remained under the rule of the Sultan.
In order to become an equal entity among the other European countries, the Principality had to establish diplomatic relations with them. Some of the Great powers rushed to do so, others did not. Yet one by one they began to establish diplomatic relations with the young Bulgarian state. In 1879  ten European countries did so - Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Serbia, Romania and Turkey.

The process of recognition was inevitable

Unsurprisingly, the administration of the Provisional Russian governance in Bulgaria, headed by Prince (Knyaz) Alexander Dondukov-Korsakov, started the Office for General Affairs and Diplomatic Relations in 1878. Its chief was Major-General Mikhail Domontovich. After the adoption of the Tarnovo Constitution on May 25th, 1879 the Office was renamed into the Department of Foreign Affairs. Its responsibility was not only to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia and foreign representatives in the Principality, but also to prepare people of Bulgarian origin for the work in the future Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Principality of Bulgaria. The head of the department, Trofim Yuzefovich, sent notification letters to representatives of European countries and to the Turkish commissioner stating that he was appointed as a “Temporary Governor of the Foreign Affairs of the Principality”. That was real diplomacy and foreign policy. An encouraging response was immediately received by the representative of France, Josef Schaefer. According to some historians, his letter is considered as one of the first acknowledgements regarding the existence of the institution of Foreign Affairs of the Principality of Bulgaria.
On 17th of April 1879, the first Grand National Assembly, that elected Alexander Battenberg for Prince of the Principality of Bulgaria, was called together. On the 5th of July the first Bulgarian government led by Todor Burmov  was created. By Decree 1 of the same day, Marko Balabanov was appointed for Minister of Foreign Affairs and Religious Denominations. In Sofia, which became the capital of the Principality, official credentials were given to the foreign diplomatic representatives - consuls of the Great powers. They were called diplomatic agents and general consuls. Most of them had been consuls before that and just received a new assignment from their governments. Given the vassal position of the Principality towards the Ottoman Empire, the Bulgarian representatives were called diplomatic agents and they handed their credentials to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the countries where they were accredited as heads of legations.

On the 7th of July, the consul of Russia Alexander Davidov was the first to introduce himself to Prince Battenberg

He presented his credentials and started work. He continued the policy of Russia to strengthen its position on the Balkans, where the competition between the European trade and economic interests and influences from all aspects of life had begun. The Russian interests in the Principality of Bulgaria were related to the construction of railways. Not all projects proposed by Russian bankers were approved. The Russian government supported the project for the railway line Sofia-Lovech, Sevlievo-Tarnovo-Ruse, with deviations: Sofia-Serbian border, Tarnovo-Tryavna and Botevgrad-Oryahovo and waited for the Bulgarian government to decide.  However, there were people who stood behind the French project for the railroad Svishtov-Tarnovo-Nova Zagora. The disputes were so high that the Prince finally, being under pressure from Austria-Hungary, decided to build a railway from Sofia to Tarnovo, for which the construction funds were sought from Russia. Besides economic and trade issues Battenberg undertook the compound mission of uniting the Principality of Bulgaria with Eastern Rumelia. That was not an easy task after the clauses of the Treaty of Berlin and so he sought support from Russia.

On the 8th of July, the representatives of France and Germany awarded their credentials

After the solemn audience at the royal palace in Sofia, the French representative Schaefer began close cooperation with Alexander Battenberg and Balabanov. This led to the recruitment of French specialists as advisers in various newly formed institutions. Battenberg even appointed Gaston Shadurn chief of his personal office. Experts in post services and communications, in road and bridge constructions arrived. Later the statutes and regulations of the organization of the military schools in France were received as well. The interest in French education those days was as big as today. In 1889 a professor of Slavic languages and literature in Paris - Louis Leger, was even appointed a special delegate of the Bulgarian Government with the primary mission "to assist the Bulgarian students studying in France."
The first German representative, Tilau, also handed his consular patent to Prince Battenberg and became representative of his country. He immediately wrote to his government to seek support for Bulgaria in its efforts to deal with the brigand gangs in North-eastern Bulgaria. Bulgaria sought the support of Germany for the unification of the Principality and Eastern Rumelia as well as  its conflict with the Sublime Porte, which insisted the Principality of Bulgaria to be treated as Ottoman province. Bulgaria sent a diplomatic agent in Germany –General-Major N. Nikiforov, not until August 1904.

The relations between Vienna and Sofia

also started on the 8th of July. The Austro-Hungarian Count Kevenhyuler-Sword was appointed diplomatic agent in Bulgaria. That was how our official diplomatic relations with Austria-Hungary began. The Sofia consulate reorganized itself and grew into a diplomatic agency and general consulate. In 1880 the Austro-Hungarian diplomacy started negotiations with the Bulgarian government in order to fulfil its obligations for the construction of the railway section Belovo-Sofia-Pirot, according to the Berlin Treaty, which assigned to the Principality the obligations that Turkey had towards Austria-Hungary. The Vienna diplomacy also rushed with the completion of the road construction to Istanbul, which would provide access to the Balkan markets and would connect the eastern railways through Serbia and Bulgaria. A little later, on January 16th 1881, the first Convention regarding the navigation on Danube between the Principality of Bulgaria and the First Imperial and Royal privileged association was signed with the assistance of the diplomatic agency in Sofia. In 1899, the government also signed a convention with the Hungarian river and sea shipping stock company. Significant contribution to the development of the relations between Vienna and Sofia in the field of education and culture immediately after the liberation of Bulgaria, had a young historian named Konstantin Irechek, who was appointed Minister of Education in the Bulgarian government. In the administration, educational and cultural institutions of the Principality, worked a number of specialists: Austrians, Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians who came to contribute to the development of the young state.

By December in the palace have come diplomats from Britain, Italy and Belgium

The British diplomat Lord Gifford Palgrave was the first representative of the United Kingdom. He presented himself  in the palace on July 23rd 1879. Bulgaria opened its diplomatic agency in London not before the 27th of September 1903, with its first diplomatic agent Dimitar Tzokov.
Domenico Brunendzhi was the first Italian general consul here. He presented his credentials on December 25th 1879. The Italian Consulate, which existed in Sofia before the liberation and was led by the notorious Vittorio Positano, had now moved to Ruse. Bulgaria opened its diplomatic agency in Italy in 1903, managed by Dimitar Minchovich.
The Belgian representative Camille Janssen presented his credentials on 11th December 1879. The first Bulgarian Envoy and Plenipotentiary Minister in Belgium was our Plenipotentiary Minister in Paris - Dimitar Stanchov. He presented his credentials to King Albert on March 29th 1910.
After the 1st of July 1879 when Prince Battenberg informed the head states of the neighbouring countries for his accession to the throne, the opening of the first Bulgarian diplomatic agencies in them began.
In the prince’s decree it was said: “… as we want to facilitate the intercourse with the Ottoman Principality, the Romanian and Serbian governments, we decreed and still decree: To set up an agency of the Principality in Constantinople where the Ottoman government is, another in Bucharest where the Romanian Government is, and a  third one in Belgrade where the Serbian government is”. Very carefully then the Bulgarian diplomatic representatives were selected - they were all people with influence and authority in the country. By decree, Dr. Dimitar Kirov was appointed diplomatic agent in Belgrade on the 3rd of August, Dragan Tsankov was appointed in Istanbul on the 17th of August and Evlogi Georgiev in Bucharest on 11th of November. These were the first Bulgarian diplomatic representatives abroad. Effort was now put on the establishment of the first Bulgarian diplomatic agency. The first one to present himself  to the Bulgarian prince was the Serbian diplomatic agent and general consul Sava Griuch on the 6th of September 1879; three days later and the same was done by the Romanian one - Alexandru Sturdza. Ferik Nihad Pasha became the representative of Turkey in July 1980.

Ekaterina Pavlova

The photographs illustrating the material are from the catalogue "Forgotten images of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878".
Text under the images:
- Peace discussions in San Stefano, led by representatives of the Great Powers
- Map of Bulgaria according to the Treaty signed in San Stefano
- Map of Bulgaria according to the Berlin Treaty