VI.

THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER.

(1878-1886.)

BULGARIA, to use a phrase of Prince Bismarck, had thus been "put in the saddle," but she had not yet "learnt to ride." Under the long rule of the Turks there had been no opportunity for acquiring the elements of political education. The old Bulgarian Empire had been based upon serfdom, and maintained by an aristocracy. But the Bulgarian state which suddenly came into existence in 1878, was essentially democratic. Its people were mainly peasants with little knowledge of the art of government. Naturally the Russians were the practical rulers of the country. Prince Dondukoff-Korsakoff the Imperial Commissary, during the interregnum which intervened between the Berlin Treaty and the election of the first Prince of Bulgaria, made progresses through the land just as if it were a Russian province. All the administrative posts were filled by Russians, and no care was taken to spare the feelings of the natives. Of all races in the Peninsula, the Bulgarians 215 216 THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. are the most suspicious of foreigners, and the most economical. Yet, the Russian Government not only monopolised every office in the principality, but sent as officials to Bulgaria men who had proved either failures or firebrands wherever they had been employed, and who spent money—the peasants' money —right and left. Prince Dondukoff was personally popular, and he began his career when all the memories of the Turkish captivity and the Russian liberation were fresh in the minds of the people. But the Bulgarians are practical persons with whom gratitude is chiefly a sense of favours to come. When the first flush of excitement was over many of them began to doubt whether they had not exchanged the rule of King Log for that of King Stork. During the first two years of its independence Bulgaria was materially less prosperous than in the four fat years of Midhat.

In order to make Russia's hold upon the country doubly secure, Prince Dondukoff drew up a constitution, which might have been framed by a pupil of Machiavelli. A more inconsistent document was never devised by a statesman, but there was a method in its author's inconsistency. The Commissary had to plan an elaborate system of checks and balances. If the Prince of Bulgaria, when elected, should prove a willing tool of Russia, that was an excellent reason for granting him almost autocratic power over his people; but, on the other hand, he might become refractory, therefore his people must be provided with the means of checkmating him. In either event Russia would rule, whether Prince or people governed, 217 THE BULGARIAN CONSTITUTION. and a constitution at once very autocratic and very democratic was accordingly created to suit either emergency. The calculations of the wily constitution- monger were, however, vitiated by one defect: he never considered the possibility of Prince and people both uniting against Russia. Yet that was what actually came to pass, thanks to the tactless conduct of the Russian officials.

An Assembly of Notables, in accordance with the provisions of the Berlin Treaty, met at Trnovo early in 1879 and passed the Constitution. Of the two hundred and thirteen Bulgarians, mostly peasants, whose signatures attested this curious instrument few had any conception of its meaning. Except to those who had travelled in the West of Europe, parliamentary institutions were a profound mystery. Yet, without any previous training, they were suddenly presented with a system of representation, outwardly far more democratic than that of England or America. The Parliament, or ordinary Sobranje, was to consist of a single chamber, elected by manhood suffrage, to which any citizen of thirty years of age, who could read and write, was eligible. Payment of members and equal electoral districts are both "points" in this Bulgarian charter. On the other hand, the ministers are absolutely independent of the chamber. They are nominated by, and responsible to, the Prince; no parliamentary majority can upset them; they are not necessarily members of Parliament. As head of the army, the Prince can dismiss and appoint every officer; he may dissolve the Sobranje when he chooses, and if the country should decide against him, he need 218 THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. not give way. Care was taken by the framer of the constitution that there should be no way out of a deadlock, which might arise between Prince and Parliament. The princely dignity was made hereditary in the male line, and the civil list fixed at £24,000. Absolute freedom of the press was guaranteed, and Bulgarian journalists avail themselves of it to the utmost. Freedom of election exists in theory alone, for Bulgarian statesmen are adepts at the art of "managing" voters, and the number of votes recorded often bears no proportion to the actual number of voters. A Ministry, by means of its hold upon the local authorities, can generally contrive to keep in power, and the peasant statesmen have learnt the cynical maxim of Prince Dondukoff himself: "Les constitutions, c'est comme les jolies femmes, elles ne demandent qu'àêtre violées!" Conscription and elementary education are compulsory, and the democratic spirit of the people was gratified by the prohibition of all titles of nobility.

Although Bulgaria has no second chamber, the constitution provided for the creation of a Grand Sobranje, which meets, not at Sofia, like the ordinary Parliament, but at Trnovo, to consider the election of a Prince, the nomination of Regents, the extension of territory, or the revision of the Constitution. This body is elected by the same constituencies as the other, but consists of twice as many members, and ceases to exist as soon as the specific business for which it was chosen has been discharged. Thus Bulgaria, a state without statesmen, a nation devoid of a governing class, without experience, without 219 THE NEW PRINCE. traditions, was equipped in a few months with a brand-new paper constitution. It is highly creditable to the common-sense of the people, that the machinery of government has worked so well.

The constituent assembly, having passed the constitution, proceeded to the election of a Prince. The choice of the deputies fell upon Prince Alexander of Battenberg, son of Prince Alexander of Hesse, and, as nephew of the Czar Alexander II., presumably a person acceptable to the Russian Government The first Prince of Bulgaria was, at the time of his election, twenty-two years of age, and living in the humble quarters of a Prussian officer at Potsdam. It is said that he hesitated at first to accept the doubtful honour thrust upon him; but a throne was too tempting to be refused. He consulted Prince Bismarck, who, thirteen years earlier, had advised another German Prince to accept a Balkan throne, and received a reply that at any rate a reign in Bulgaria would be a "pleasant reminiscence." Prince Alexander made a preliminary tour of the European Courts, and, amidst great enthusiasm took the oath to the constitution at Trnovo on the 9th of July. A week later the Russian army of occupation evacuated Bulgaria.

The first Prince of Bulgaria is one of the most romantic figures in the history of our time. His career borders on the marvellous, his character had something of the heroic about it. His frank and open hearing, his social charms, and his military prowess on behalf of his adopted country on the field of Slivnitza, endeared him to the cold hearts of a people which is seldom enthusiastic. He was essentially a 220 THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. soldier, and was the best possible ruler of a country like Bulgaria in time of war. But he was lamentably deficient in the arts of a statesman. A diplomatist, who knew him intimately, has described to the writer the "obstinacy" and "singular incapacity" which he showed in matters of business, while he committed indiscretions of speech which proved that he had, like some other sovereigns, never mastered that aphorism of Metternich, that "a monarch should not talk." He had a singular knack of quarrelling with his advisers, which once drew down upon him a sharp rebuke from the Czar. He was not a great administrator or a clever politician; but if he had had an old and experienced statesman to guide him, he might have succeeded. Unfortunately, he estranged first the Liberals, who included all the ablest men in Bulgaria, and then the Russians, and when the latter desired his fall, he fell. For the first two years of his reign, down to the death of the Czar Alexander II. in 1881, his position was comparatively easy. His Imperial patron had a personal liking for him, and fear of their sovereign's displeasure checked the arrogance of the Russian officers who were sent to Bulgaria. Having ascended the throne as a Russian nominee, the Prince naturally chose his early advisers from the Conservative, or Russophil party, and openly described the Liberal or national party as "Nihilists." But as the first Bulgarian Parliament was elected without Government pressure, the Liberals obtained an enormous majority, and a deadlock at once ensued. The Prince gave way, and Dragan Zankoff, the Liberal leader, and at that period Russia's principal antagonist, became 221 THE COUP D'ÉTAT. Prime Minister. This man has in his time played many parts; he has professed all political and most theological creeds; he has been alternately the sworn foe and the salaried agent of Russia, and his one guiding principle has been his own advancement. When he fell from office in 1880, he made a remark, which has become historical, that he wanted "neither Russia's honey nor her sting." Prince Alexander had been convinced by this brief experience of constitutional government, that he could not work with his Parliament. Accordingly, on the 27th of April, 1881, he executed a coup d'état, suspended the Constitution, made a Russian General Ernroth his Premier, and demanded irresponsible power for seven years, threatening to resign unless he obtained it. A packed Assembly granted him his demands, and in July the Prince, under the auspices of Russia, was absolute master of the country. Two more Russian generals were sent from St. Petersburg to "uphold his prestige," and representative institutions were only preserved by "a small Assembly," which had no function save that of voting the budget.

But the Prince soon found that he was not master in his own house. His Russian ministers plainly told him that they took their orders from the Czar, and Alexander III. had the greatest dislike for his cousin. Bulgaria after the coup d'état was as much a province of Russia as if she had been annexed to the country. The President of the Council, the Minister of War, the Chief of Police, the Governor of Sofia, and three hundred superior officers in the army were all Russians. The Russian Agent, M. Hitrovo, 222 THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. cleverly worked upon the national dread of Austria, and tried to play the part of a British political Resident at the court of an Indian prince. But both Prince and people grew restive under this alien bond-age. The native officers became impatient of Russian control in the army; the sovereign chafed under the impertinences of his Russian ministers. The Prince restored the Constitution in 1883, his Russian advisers resigned, and the Liberals, under Zankoff, ruled in their stead. The discovery of a plot to kidnap the Prince widened the breach with Russia. In the dead of night, Generals Sobbleff and Kaulbars arrived at the Palace and demanded an audience of the sovereign. The sentry refused admittance; and, when they attempted to force it, drew his sword and threatened to cut them down. A search revealed the presence of a carriage at the gates, in which the Prince was to have been privily conveyed to the Danube. Proclamations, announcing Alexander's expulsion and the formation of a provisional government under the two leading conspirators, proved conclusively the complicity of Russia. For the moment, however, the plot had failed.

Meanwhile, in Eastern Roumelia, the bitter disappointment caused by the separation of the two Bulgarias in the Treaty of Berlin, had increased. The Bulgarian, Aleko Pasha, who had been appointed first Governor-General after the departure of the Russians in 1879, had looked with some favour upon the national aspirations of the people, and so far incurred the hostility of the Russian party, that he was superseded by Gavril Pasha, a Slav, in 1884. Early in the 223 THE PHILIPPOPOLIS REVOLUTION. reign of Prince Alexander, deputations from Eastern Roumelia had come to Sofia, begging for a union, and offering to support it by force of arms. In the summer of 1885 the Liberals of Eastern Roumelia felt that now was the moment to strike the blow. On the morning of September 18th, as Gavril Pasha was quietly sipping his coffee in the Konak at Philippopolis, Major Nikolajeff and several officers entered his room and informed him that he was their prisoner. The Pasha yielded to superior force, and, under the guard of a schoolmistress with a sword in her hand, was driven round the town amidst the jeers of his late subjects. The army fraternised with the insurgents, and without a drop of blood the capital of Eastern Roumelia was theirs. Nikolajeff at once proclaimed the union of the two Bulgarias under Prince Alexander. The Prince hesitated to accept the honour. He consulted Stambuloff, at that time Speaker of the Sobranje, who pointedly told him that he stood at the cross-roads of his career. "The one road," he said, "leads to Philippopolis, and as far further as God may lead, the other to the Danube and Darmstadt." Alexander chose the former, and on September 20th issued a proclamation as "Prince of North and South Bulgaria." He soothed the feelings of his Mussulman subjects by visiting the chief mosque at Philippopolis, and the care, which he had always taken to prevent outrages against Mahommcdans in Bulgaria, gained him the confidence of their co-religionists in Eastern Roumelia.

But every one expected international complications. It seemed incredible that Turkey would ac 224 THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. quiesce in the Union without a struggle; it was known that the aggrandisement of Bulgaria would excite the wildest jealousies of both Greeks and Serbs. But the Sultan, from fear of assassination, dared not strip his capital of the necessary troops; Greece was kept in order by a naval demonstration of the Powers, and Servia alone. entered the field. At the Conferences, which were held at Constantinople, Sir William White, the British Ambassador, strongly supported the Bulgarian cause, while the Russians, who seven years earlier had advocated the Union of the two Bulgarias at San Stefano, now counselled the Sultan to occupy Eastern Roumelia by force. Thus England and Russia had exchanged parts in the "Great" Bulgarian drama. To mark yet more clearly his displeasure at what he regarded as "ingratitude," the Czar struck Prince Alexander's name out of the Russian army list, and recalled every Russian officer from Bulgaria. But the blow recoiled on its author. From that instant Prince Alexander became in the eyes of his people a national hero, whom they would follow to the death. Then for the first time was heard the ominous phrase, "We would rather be Turkish than Russian."

While Bulgaria was thus suddenly thrown upon her own resources, Servia suddenly declared war. About a year before the Union there had been boundary disputes with Servia, which had been jealous of Bulgaria ever since the Berlin Treaty. King Milan thought the moment favourable for that territorial extension which his people desired. His neighbours had just seen their army denuded of its 225 THE SERVIAN WAR. Russian officers; their Prince was under the ban of the Powers; their frontier was open to invasion. There could, he thought— and most onlookers thought too— be only one result of a war under-taken under such conditions. So, on November 13, 1885, his Premier, M. Garashinine, telegraphed to Sofia that hostilities would begin next morning. The people of Belgrade toasted their sovereign as "King of Servia and Macedonia," and the troops invoked the name of Stephen Dušan as they marched through the streets. But the statesmen of Servia had not reckoned with the enthusiasm of their adversaries. Prince Alexander again reaped the reward of his toleration towards his Mussulman subjects, for six thousand of them at once voluntered for the war. The Bulgarians of Macedonia formed a "brigand brigade" of three thousand more, and in a few days the Prince found himself at the head of ninety thousand men. At the first intelligence of the war he had hurried back from Philippopolis to Sofia, and the evening of the 16th found his headquarters established in a wretched little khan at Slivnitza, a town on the direct route from Servia to Sofia.

The three days' battle of Slivnitza revealed the Bulgarians to Europe in a new light. The courage of the Prince, who exposed himself to the enemy's fire with the most reckless disregard of danger, inspired his soldiers to the utmost efforts. Early on the morning of the third day a rumour reached headquarters that the enemy was marching by the south on Sofia, and a panic broke out in the capital. The Russophil party, under Zankoff, was preparing for a 16 226 THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. "Provisional Government," the national exchequer had been sent for safety to Plevna, when the news came that the alarm was false. At Slivnitza the Bulgarians had triumphed, everywhere the Serbs had been driven back. King Milan sent a letter, asking for an armistice, which was refused, and the victors crossed the frontier and occupied Pirot. Belgrade seemed in danger, for its defenders had only one round of ammunition left; but Count Khevenhiiller, the Austrian Minister to Servia, arrived in the Bulgarian headquarters, and told Prince Alexander that, if he advanced further, Austria would join Servia in resisting his march. The Prince yielded to superior force, and in March, 1886, a treaty of peace was signed at Bucharest. Servia did not cede a single yard of territory; she did not even pay a war indemnity, which ought, according to the Bulgarian statesmen, to have consisted of two million pigs, the commodity of which the Serbs had most to spare. But if Bulgaria had not gained land or cash from Servia, the Union with Eastern Roumelia was secured by the war. The Sultan made a treaty with Prince Alexander early in 1886, and named him Governor-General of the country, which was henceforth known as South Bulgaria. The war had not been in vain; Slivnitza was found by the politicians to have its literal meaning of "that which unites"; for the blood of the soldiers who died there cemented the union of the two Bulgarias.

Prince Alexander had driven back the Serbs, and returned in triumph to his capital as the "hero of Slivnitza"; but the vengeance of Russia dogged his 227 PLOT AGAINST THE PRINCE. footsteps. Baffled by his success, enraged at his growing spirit of independence, the Russian agents in Bulgaria were keener than ever to overthrow him. Peace had scarcely been signed, when a conspiracy was discovered at Bourgas to carry off, or, if necessary, kill, the Prince. Foiled in this second attempt against his person, the Russophil party used every means to poison public opinion against him. There were officers in the army, like Bendereff and Dimitrieff, who were ready to avenge real or imaginary slights received from their sovereign. The rumour that the Serbs were about to renew hostilities had the double effect of stripping the capital of loyal troops and of causing much discontent among the peaceful and thrifty Bulgarians. Russophil prints described the Prince as a monster of vice, a creature who fattened upon the hard-won earnings of the poor. A regiment upon which the conspirators could rely was quietly marched into Sofia, and all was ready for the final blow. As Bendereff was acting Minister for War, and Grueff head of the Military Academy, the gang held all the trump cards. To crown all, the Church, in the person of the Metropolitan, Clement, a sworn friend of Russia and a born intriguer, pronounced its blessing on the enterprise.

At two in the morning of the 21st of August, 1886, the Prince was aroused from his slumbers by one of his guards, who rushed into his bedroom, thrust a revolver into his hand, and told him that the palace was surrounded by a band of conspirators. Escape was hopeless, repeated volleys and cries of Dolu, dolu! "Down with him, down with him!" rent the air. 228 THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. Hurrying on his clothes, the Prince went into the hall, where a crowd of officers, led by Major Grueff, called on him to "abdicate," emphasing their demands by pointing their loaded pistols at his head. Captain Dimitrieff tore a page out of the visitors' book, which lay in the hall, and sat down to draw up the deed of abdication. Drink and excitement prevented him from scrawling more than a few unintelligible words on the paper, and a young cadet took the pen from

ROMAN RELIEF AT MADARA.

him and finished the document. Grueff, presenting his revolver full in the Prince's face, cried out, "Sign, or I'll shoot !" To resist would have been fatal; the Prince wrote the words in German, "God protect Bulgaria—Alexander," and the deed was done.

From the Palace the conspirators took him to the War Office, where every humiliation was put upon him. Bendereff, with a terrible oath, asked him why he had not made him a major; Dimitrieff grinned, 229 THE PRINCE KIDNAPPED. as he munched an apple in his sovereign's face. Grueff alone felt some pangs of conscience; for when the Prince said reproachfully, "So you are also with them," he turned away and made no reply. At five in the morning the captive was driven, with an armed escort of military cadets, to the monastery of Etropol, in the mountains, about seventeen miles from Sofia. After a night spent in one of the cells, the Prince was conducted to the Danube, where his yacht was waiting. At the last moment, a chance of escape was offered him by the captain of an Austrian tug, which was lying alongside the yacht with full steam up. But the Prince's guards were too much on the alert for their prisoner to evade them. He was conveyed on board the yacht, and on the morning of the 23rd landed on Russian soil.

Meanwhile, consternation prevailed among the loyal Bulgarians. The Metropolitan Clement and the Russian Agent received the fulsome adoration of Zankoff and his partisans at the Russian Agency, and a new Ministry was formed, which assured the people by a proclamation that Bulgaria might count upon the protection of the Czar. But it had scarcely been launched, when a counter proclamation, signed by Stambuloff, as Speaker of the Sobranje, and Lieutenant-Colonel Mutkuroff, who was in command at Philippopolis, declared Clement and his colleagues to be outlaws, and appealed to the Bulgarians to defend the throne. It was at once clear that the country was with the loyalists. Stambuloff had no difficulty in dissolving the Provisional Government; and he and two other persons constituted themselves a 230 THE, UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. Regency until the Prince could he found. To discover the vanished sovereign was no easy matter; but after telegraphing all over Europe, it was ascertained that the Russian authorities had set him at liberty at Lemberg. Stambuloff at once telegraphed to him to return and resume his sway. The Prince accepted the offer, and, before a Russian Commissioner could forestall him, he had landed once more in Bulgaria.

The conspiracy, conceived and carried out on almost exactly similar lines to the Roumania mutiny against Prince Couza in 1866, had succeeded at first, only to be frustrated by the promptitude of the man who was for the next eight years to play the leading part in Balkan politics. The most extraordinary series of accidents had enabled the conspirators to execute their plans; a letter, which he had neglected, had warned the Prince of his fate, and at the last moment the yacht, which bore him a prisoner down the Danube, narrowly escaped the Bulgarian and Roumanian fire from the opposite banks. Thanks chiefly to Stambuloff, he had regained his crown. Thanks to his own weakness, he now voluntarily renounced it.

Among those who had assembled to meet the Prince on his landing at Rustchuk was M. Shatokhin, the Russian Consul. Without consulting his friends Prince Alexander despatched to the Czar, at this man's suggestion, a telegram, in which he thanked that monarch for sending a Russian high Commissioner to Bulgaria, and for the recognition which his Majesty's representative at Rustchuk had shown him. 231 THE PRINCE ABDICATES. The message ended with the servile phrase, "Russia gave me my crown; I am ready to return it into the hands of her sovereign." This telegram was the Prince's ruin. The Czar at once replied, "Cannot approve your return to Bulgaria. I shall refrain from all interference with the sad state to which Bulgaria has been brought as long as you remain there." The Prince saw that the game was up; by one foolish move he had lost, and had no further choice but to go. In vain Stambuloff urged him to remain, and, when arguments failed, threatened to keep him on the throne against his will. At last it was agreed that he should go, provided that Russia permitted the Bulgarians to elect some one in his stead. The Russian Agent consented. On September 7th Prince Alexander publicly announced his abdication, and appointed Stambuloff, Mutkuroff and Karaveloff as Regents. Next day, sadly and sorrowfully the Prince bade farewell to Bulgaria for ever. He summoned the chief men of Sofia to the palace, told them how the welfare of his adopted country had been his sole desire, and confessed that he had failed because of the great opposition which he had met. And then he set out with Stambuloff, amidst the tears of his subjects, sorry to leave them, yet glad to be freed from the responsibilities of a Balkan throne.

His memory lived, and still lives after his death, among the people of his adoption. Under the name of Count Hartenau, happily yet humbly married, he tried to bury the prince in the simple Austrian officer. But long after his departure there were men in Bulgaria who hoped for his return. His faults— 232 THE UNION UNDER PRINCE ALEXANDER. and they were many—were forgotten; it was remembered that in seven brief years he had created an army, led a nation to victory, and united the two Bulgarias together. And when he died in 1893, many a peasant in his humble cottage mourned for the soldier prince, the "hero of Slivnitza."