Bulgarians and Romanians: from Dobrudzha to Brussels... Not Quite Yet
The 1920s and 1930s were a particularly bad time to be a Bulgarian in Dobrudzha, the narrow strip of land locked between the Danube and the Black sea, right before the former flows into the latter.
In 1913-1916 and 1919-1949, the southern third of Dobrudzha was occupied by Romania (for more information see the historical note below*). The result for the Bulgarian population there was that it had to endure the extremely harsh assimilation policy of "Greater Romania", which emerged after World War I as one of the winners under the Versailles Treaty System. Greater Romania more than doubled its size by gulping on the territories it was awarded as a winner including the all-Bulgarian populated Southern Dobrudzha.
There were hardly any ethnic Romanians living in Southern Dobrudzha when it was "awarded" to Romania in 1913, and then again in 1919. Thousands of Romanian colonists were then settled there on lands taken away from the local Bulgarian population (each Bulgarian family had to give up 1/3 of its land for that purpose). Church services, government documents, and school education were conducted into Romanian, and the entire "transformation" of the territory from Bulgarian into Romanian was carried out in a rather brutal way.
If you ask me how I know about that – it is not really from history textbooks. I know it mostly from my own grandparents who come from a tiny village right on today's Bulgarian-Romanian border. Growing up in the 1930s, they lived through these times still keeping very vivid memories, and have told me numerous rather shocking stories of the "disadvantages" of being Bulgarian in Dobrudzha back then.
Take this one. A classroom full of 30 Bulgarian students aged 6-8. There are two Romanian teachers (teaching in Romanian, of course), one of them inspects the children's hygiene. In a nutshell, Romanian educators were so well-wishing that the kids who were found to have lice were forced to... eat them.
(This is actually one of the "more fun" and "innocent" stories. Going into some of the more horrific ones might ruin the point I am trying to make here...)
Still earlier, in 1916, right before Romania entered World War I on the side of the Entente (Bulgaria was already fighting on the side of the Central Powers against Serbia), the Romanian authorities literally kidnapped 25 000 Bulgarian men from Southern Dobrudzha, and took them to what appear to have been concentration camps in Northeastern Romania.
My great-great-grandfather, named Ivan like me, was among these unfortunate captives. He never returned home (like many others) and only God knows what he suffered and how he perished; my great-grandfather aged 12 at the time, the oldest of five kids, had to start plowing the fields in order to provide for his mother and his brothers and sisters.
Luckily, the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, were a long time ago, and the Bulgarian-Romanian relations don't feel like they did in those times any more. But do they feel like in the 21st century?
These nasty stories are indeed worth remembering – not in order to hold an eternal grudge against your neighbor but in order to be always aware of what neighborly relations used to be like – and could be like – if there is greed and hatred instead of prudence and good will.
With all that said, last week was rather interesting for Bulgarian-Romanian relations because Southern Dobrudzha, i.e. Northeast Bulgaria celebrated the 70th year since the Treaty of Craiova which stipulated its return by Romania to Bulgaria after a total of 25 years of occupation (in 1913-1916 and 1919-1940). These celebrations pretty much overlapped with the visit of Romanian President Traian Basescu to Bulgaria. But make no mistake – the two events were not related. Although maybe they should have been.
Basically, the Bulgarian President Parvanov welcomed Basescu in Sofia on Thursday, and the next day went straight to the northeastern city of Dobrich, where he took part in the celebrations for the return of Southern Dobrudzha. Parvanov did say the same things in Sofia during the press conference with Basescu, and in Dobrich before the people of Dobrudzha – i.e. that Bulgaria and Romania really should finally start integrating with one another.
What is really bothering and disappointing, however, is that this is not working out in the proportions that it should. Even with 1 million Romanian tourists in Bulgaria and Romanian policemen patrolling the Bulgarian resorts, the Bulgarian-Romanian relations continue to be as underdeveloped as their border regions are.
In fact, they remain similar to what they were during the good old Cold War times when Bulgaria and Romania were once again in the same "bloc": as one Bulgarian history textbook put it, even "close without being particularly cordial."
Basescu himself declared in Sofia that Bulgaria and Romania need bridges, hydro power plants on the Danube, and other cool stuff; he, together with Parvanov, is hopeful with respect to the Danube Strategy of the EU.
A couple of things are not right here. First, did Basescu have to go all the way to Sofia to meet Parvanov when Parvanov was going to Dobrudzha, which is pretty close to Bucharest? Of course, in Sofia there was no mention of the Dobrudzha return anniversary, and in Dobrich there was no mention of the Parvanov-Basescu meeting in Sofia. What now – are we and the Romanians not going to mention history ever?
The two presidents really should have met in Dobrich. Or in Romania's Craiova for that matter. Because the Treaty of Craiova does not signify a transfer of territory, it was in fact an important settlement – it settled all territorial and population issues between the two countries, which dropped all claims for one another.
Second, do we really have to wait for the EU to hammer out a Danube Strategy so that we can finally integrate our economies for the mutual benefit? Now that we are finally in the EU, we should have both been much more proactive to those ends.
As far as the Bulgarian side is concerned, the one thing which is perplexing with respect to the Romanian attitudes is that ever since the start of the EU accession negotiations, there has been idiotic gloating whenever Bulgaria gets three pats on the should, and Romania gets two. There has been this spirit of unhealthy competition (read: envy, jealousy) for some semi-pointless praises by some eurocrat sitting in some cubicle in the Berlaymont building, or for who should get the missiles and who – the radar in the US missile defense in Europe, or – in the latest events – who will cover up their Roma issues better in order to make it first to the Schengen Area.
The real problem is that the Dobrduzha story has not become just a bad memory yet and a moral for future generations because the so called "elites" of Bulgaria and Romania fail to appreciate its meaning.
Both countries are facing the same issues and the only really decent hope for their future is integration – based on mutual benefit and mutual understand, respect and appreciation.
From my contacts with Romanians I have seen there is increasing appreciation of that on part of the middle classes of the two countries – to the extent that they exist.
Now, one should not forget that there is much more to the joint history of Bulgaria and Romania than Dobrudzha – in the Middle Ages, they were practically one country – during the First Bulgarian Empire in the 9th-11th century; and briefly during the Second Bulgarian Empire – in the 13th century. This is how both became Eastern Orthodox and started using the Slavic script (Romania later switched to the Latin alphabet).
In Bulgaria's Revival Period (18th-19th century), Romania was the safe heaven for thousands and thousands of Bulgarian freedom fighters, scholars, and tradesmen who fled Ottoman Turkish repressions; it was the site of the Bulgarian revolutionary organizations. Bulgarian writer and revolutionary Zahari Stoyanov called Romania "a blissful land of freedom."
Maybe in 2020 or 2030, there will be five new bridges on the Danube, the future presidents will celebrate together year since the Treaty of Craiova, and people will be going for a picnic from country to the other. But there is a lot of work to be done for all that to happen.
*The Treaty of Craiova was signed on September 7, 1940 between the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Romania. Under the terms of this treaty, Romania returned the southern part of the region of Dobruzha (today's Northeastern Bulgarian) to Bulgaria and agreed to participate in the organization of a population exchange. (Map of Dobrudzha view HERE)
The treaty was approved by all major international powers Germany, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Italy, USA, and France.
From the Middle Ages until the late 19th century the entire region of Dobrudzha – the narrow piece of land between the Black Sea and the Danube River – was considered part of the territories with predominantly Bulgarian population even though it also included Turkish, Tatar and Gagauz population.
Under the San Stefanov Treaty between the Russian Empire and Ottoman Turkey, which restored the Bulgarian state on March 3, 1878, the northern half of Dobrudzha was granted to Romania in exchange for its participation on the Russian side in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78, and as a compensation for the Russian occupation of the region of Bessarabia (roughly today's Moldova).
Three months later, the Treaty of Berlin from July 1878 gave Romania an additional section of Dobrudzha setting the Bulgarian-Romanian land border where it is today. Thus, roughly one third of the region remained in Bulgaria (Southern Dobrudzha with an area of 7 656 square km) and two thirds remained in Romania (Northern Dobrudzha with an area of 15 500 square km).
During the Second Balkan War in 1913, Romania intervened against Bulgaria on the side of Serbia and Greece, annexing Southern Dobrudzha under the Treaty of Bucharest. Subsequently, in 1916, after Romania joined the Entente in World War I, Bulgaria, which was an ally of the Central Powers, waged a successful war campaign against the Romanian, Russian, and Serbo-Croatian forces conquering the entire territory of Dobrudzha as well as the Romanian capital Bucharest (together with forces of Germany and Austria-Hungary).
For most of the rest of the war, however, most of Northern Dobrudzha was ruled by a condominium of the Central Powers despite the Bulgarian claims as Germany and Austria-Hungary wanted to exploit its resources. Germany recognized the Bulgarian claims only shortly before the end of the war in 1918.
Under the Treaty of Neuilly, which Bulgaria singed with the Entente after World War I, it ceded all of Dobrudzha to Romania despite the fact that it was almost entirely populated by ethnic Bulgarians. Subsequently, the regaining of Southern Dobrudzha (and of Aegean Thrace) became a major goal of the Bulgarian diplomacy between the two world wars.
This goal was achieved with the sanctions of the major world powers in 1940 of the Treaty of Craiova, which set the current land border between Bulgaria and Romania.
With this treaty both Bulgaria and Romania renounced any further territorial disputes.
The terms of the Treaty provided for the mandatory exchange of Romanian citizens with Bulgarian national origin historically living in Romania-ruled Northern Dobrudzha and the Romanians living in Southern Dobrudzha, which were almost entirely colonists settled there to assimilate the local population after 1913-1919.
Thus, some 80 000 Romanian colonists left Southern Dobruja resettling in the northern part, while 65 000 Bulgarians from the northern part had to leave their homes and resettle in Bulgaria.
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