Bulgaria's Democratic Struggles Through History: The Elections of 1886

Society » CULTURE | June 9, 2024, Sunday // 05:44
Bulgaria: Bulgaria's Democratic Struggles Through History: The Elections of 1886 Vasil Radoslavov (left) and Petko R. Slaveikov (right)

As Bulgaria heads to the polls this Sunday, June 6, widespread concerns about vote-buying and electoral fraud loom over the nation. These apprehensions echo the historical challenges the country has faced in establishing a fair and transparent democratic process. Reflecting on Bulgaria's tumultuous electoral past provides valuable insight into the persistent issues undermining its democratic integrity.

One of the most prominent figures of the Bulgarian National Revival, Petko R. Slaveikov, dedicated his life to the cause of raising national self-awareness. After the Liberation, he played a crucial role in building the foundations of the young Bulgarian state. Alongside Petko Karavelov, Slaveikov was a fervent advocate for a Constitution promoting liberal-democratic ideas.

In 1880, Slaveikov was elected chairman of the National Assembly and later served multiple times as a minister in Karavelov's liberal cabinets. He was known for his principled stance against political injustice, evidenced by his opposition to both Prince Battenberg's "Regime of Powers" and the Istanbul regime.

In one of Slaveikov's letters to Stefan Stambolov, he detailed the undemocratic methods employed by Vasil Radoslavov's government (August 1886 - July 1887) to secure power, particularly during parliamentary elections. At the time of the letter (September 28, 1886), Stambolov was a regent and not part of the legislature, though he had previously been chairman of the National Assembly.

Slaveikov described widespread use of police and military measures during the elections. The government arrested and interned numerous individuals, with numbers ranging from two or three to as many as 50 in some places, totaling over 800 people. In major electoral centers like Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse, Shumen, Vratsa, and Stara Zagora, many polling stations saw little to no participation from the public. Instead, government officials and bribers chose the candidates.

In Haskovo, the district governor canceled the elections due to strong opposition. No elections took place in Lovech, and in Aytos, the Burgas district chief conducted elections illegally after delays. Violence and severe disturbances occurred in Sliven, Kotel, and Dryanovo, with troops intervening and dispersing voters through intimidation.

In Tsaribrod and Novoseltsi, the police arrested and removed district chiefs and gendarmes to prevent scandals. However, in Kutlovitsa, Pleven, and Ryahovitsa, police and army interventions led to shootings, resulting in up to 40 people killed, 60 seriously or mortally wounded, and numerous others slightly injured. Slaveikov urged verification of these details for those interested.

Slaveikov's detailed account underscores the severe challenges and obstacles faced in the pursuit of democratic governance in Bulgaria's early years after the Liberation. His vivid descriptions of electoral manipulation and violence highlight the intense struggle between authoritarian practices and the emerging democratic ideals. His legacy reminds us of the importance of vigilance and integrity in safeguarding democratic principles now more than ever.

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Tags: Bulgarian, Slaveikov, elections

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