March 3rd: Celebrating Bulgaria's National Holiday and Historical Resilience

Society » CULTURE | March 3, 2024, Sunday // 07:56
Bulgaria: March 3rd: Celebrating Bulgaria's National Holiday and Historical Resilience Photo: Stella Ivanova

Every year on March 3rd, Bulgarians come together to celebrate their National Holiday, marking a pivotal moment in their history – the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. This day holds immense significance, not only as a commemoration of past struggles and triumphs but also as a symbol of national unity, resilience, and the enduring spirit of the Bulgarian people.

The roots of Bulgaria's National Holiday trace back to the 19th century when the country was under Ottoman domination for nearly five centuries. The struggle for independence was arduous and marked by numerous uprisings and revolutions against Ottoman rule. However, it was the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 that ultimately led to Bulgaria's liberation.

On March 3rd, 1878, the Treaty of San Stefano was signed, officially ending the Russo-Turkish War and recognizing the independence of Bulgaria. This historic event not only marked the birth of modern Bulgaria but also restored the Bulgarian statehood and paved the way for the establishment of the Third Bulgarian State.

The significance of March 3rd extends beyond its historical context; it embodies the spirit of unity and solidarity among Bulgarians. It is a day when people from all walks of life, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs, come together to celebrate their shared heritage and identity.

The celebration of Bulgaria's National Holiday typically begins with official ceremonies and commemorations held across the country. In Sofia, the capital city, festivities take place at prominent historical sites such as the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and the National Assembly building. These events often include flag-raising ceremonies, wreath-laying ceremonies, and speeches by government officials, dignitaries, and public figures.

Throughout the day, Bulgarians pay homage to the heroes and martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the country's freedom and independence. They visit monuments, memorials, and museums dedicated to Bulgaria's liberation struggle, honoring the memory of those who fought bravely for their homeland.

March 3rd is also a time for cultural celebrations, showcasing the rich heritage and traditions of Bulgaria. Folk music and dance performances, traditional food festivals, and art exhibitions are organized in towns and cities across the country. These cultural events not only entertain but also educate future generations about Bulgaria's history and cultural heritage.

Moreover, Bulgaria's National Holiday serves as a reminder of the country's enduring commitment to democracy, human rights, and peace. It is a time to reflect on the values that unite Bulgarians – freedom, justice, and equality – and to reaffirm their dedication to building a better future for generations to come.

Brief history of March 3rd

The first celebration of Bulgaria's liberation took place in Veliko Tarnovo on February 19 (March 3, new style) 1879. Antim I, the inaugural exarch of the Bulgarian Exarchy and chairman of the Constituent National Assembly at the time, conducted a commemorative service at the "St. Mother of God" church, attended by assembly deputies and citizens.

Initially, March 3rd was observed in Sofia as the Day of the Ascension to the Throne of Russian Emperor Alexander II, two years after the Liberation in 1880. However, it was officially recognized as the Day of Bulgaria's Liberation from Ottoman rule in 1888. Following the establishment of the People's Republic in 1946, efforts were made to integrate Bulgaria into a Balkan Federation, leading to the abolition of the holiday in 1951 under the Labor Code, deemed as promoting Bulgarian chauvinism.

With the gradual rehabilitation of Bulgarian nationalism under Todor Zhivkov, March 3rd began to be unofficially celebrated again in 1978, marking the 100th anniversary of the event, albeit not as an official holiday. Following the political changes of 1989, the Great National Assembly reinstated the holiday in 1991 by amending the Labor Code, thereby restoring March 3rd as an official national holiday in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Controversy surrounding the date

The proposal to alter the national holiday originated from the ruling "We Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria" party as part of a broader initiative for constitutional amendments. This proposal garnered support from GERB and DPS, with the aim of avoiding societal division associated with the current holiday, which some perceive as symbolizing Russian influence in Bulgaria.

However, the suggestion sparked controversy, with some left-wing politicians and public figures advocating for a referendum to maintain March 3 as the national holiday. Despite the attention drawn to this proposal, other significant constitutional changes, such as reforms to the judiciary, received less focus.

Borisov's decision to not continue with the change effectively put an end to the push for a referendum aimed at preserving March 3 as the official national holiday, a cause championed by left-wing figures aligned with President Rumen Radev.

The proposal to designate May 24 as the new national holiday was initiated by the coalition "We Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria" and received cautious backing from GERB and DPS, who endorsed the constitutional amendment project.

The aim of this initiative was to replace March 3, a holiday that some Bulgarians perceive as emblematic of Russian influence over Bulgarian statehood, with May 24.

The inclusion of this proposal in the constitutional draft remained uncertain until its submission to the National Assembly, ultimately garnering significant public attention at the expense of discussions on judicial reform.

WCC-DB justified their proposal by emphasizing the goal of fostering unity rather than division within society, with the intention for the national holiday to reflect Bulgarians' aspirations for education.

Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov underscored this sentiment during the proposal's presentation, stating, "We sought a holiday that would bring people together, not drive them apart."

Subsequently, a Gallup survey revealed that while a majority of Bulgarians generally support constitutional reforms, there was minimal backing for changing the national holiday from March 3 to May 24.

According to the survey, 69.3% of respondents expressed support for retaining March 3 as the national holiday, while 14% favored various other options related to national historical events. Only 9.6% advocated for switching to May 24, with 3% preferring September 6 and 1.4% opting for September 22.

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Tags: Bulgaria, national holiday, March 3rd, liberation

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