VII.

PRINCE FERDINAND.

(1887-1896.)

THE abdication of Prince Alexander made it desirable to select a suitable candidate for the vacant throne without delay, in order that law and order might be restored as soon as possible. With the avowed object of "assisting" the Bulgarians in their difficulties, the Czar sent them Major-General Kaulbars, Russian military attaché at Vienna and brother of the General Kaulbars who had acted as Bulgarian war minister five years before. To the action of this man more than to any other cause may be attributed the antipathy to Russia which has grown up in the country which she helped to liberate. For General Kaulbars, as a Bulgarian statesman once said, "came with a knout in his hand." His methods were unparalleled in the history of diplomacy. Instead of expressing his views in official interviews with the usual diplomatic forms, he took the mob into his confidence and stumped the country as the election agent of the Czar. His "twelve commandments" 233 234 PRINCE FERDINAND. to the Russian consuls and vice-consuls in Bulgaria aroused the utmost indignation. His great desire was to postpone the elections to the Grand Sodranje, which were prescribed by the constitution to take place within a month, in order that the new prince might be chosen at once. As the regents insisted on holding these elections, he started on an electoral tour through the towns and villages of Bulgaria. His speeches were interrupted by cries and groans; when he discoursed on what he was pleased to call his "three points"—the raising of the prevailing state of siege, the liberation of the officers involved in the late conspiracy, and the postponement of the elections—he was greeted with shouts of "Impossible." At two places alone did he succeed in persuading the electors to abstain from voting. Stambuloff and the national party obtained an immense majority, and General Kaulbars had to fall back upon the allegation that the elections were invalid, a convenient theory, which his agents endeavoured to substantiate by their violence and the riots, which they incited. A second plot at Bourgas and the presence of two Russian men-of-war at Varna failed to frighten the Bulgarians into submission, and finally, disgusted and disappointed, General Kaulbars and all the Russian consular agents shook the dust of Bulgaria off their feet and returned to their own country.

The Grand Sobranje met at Trnovo and elected Prince Waldemar of Denmark, brother of the Princess of Wales and the Dowager Empress of Russia, as Prince Alexander's successor. It was thought that the Czar would approve of so near a kinsman; but 235 ELECTION OF PRINCE FERDINAND. he would not consent, so Prince Waldemar declined the proffered crown. To the candidature of the Prince of Mingrelia, a Caucasian potentate, who was put forward by Turkey and was considered to be acceptable to Russia, the Bulgarians would not listen. The best of all choices would have been the King of Roumania, to whom the throne was actually offered. Had King Carol accepted, he might have formed the strongest of all Balkan states, which would have realised the ancient idea of a "Wallacho- Bulgarian Empire," and might have even proved to be the "nucleus of a Balkan confederation." But the King was afraid of arousing the jealousy of the Powers, and once more the welfare of the Peninsula was sacrificed to the exigencies of its great neighbours.

Meanwhile, the position of the Regents was becoming dangerous; plot succeeded plot in rapid succession, Russia had been mortally offended, and it was imperative that a prince should be found. Three delegates were accordingly sent out on a tour of inspection among the royal cadets of Europe. One evening a member of the deputation was drinking his glass of beer at Ronacher's Circus in Vienna, when a friend introduced him to a gentleman, who professed to know the very man for the post. The delighted delegate told his colleagues, and next day all three waited upon Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and offered him the throne. In order to meet the prince's objections, the Grand Sobranje promptly elected him. At first, he made his acceptance conditional on the approval of the Powers. But his scruples were overcome, and on August 14, 1887, 236 PRINCE FERDINAND. he took the oath before the Grand Sobranje in the ancient capital of the Bulgarian Czars, to whom he alluded in his opening proclamation.

At the time of his accession Prince Ferdinand was twenty-six years of age. The younger son of a distinguished family, his father was a nobleman possessing large estates in Austria, his mother, Princess Clementine, was the granddaughter of King Louis Philippe. Well connected and with ample means, he had two indispensable qualifications for the throne. But he was wholly ignorant of the language and customs of his subjects, to whom he came, like Alexander, as a foreigner, but without Alexander's Russian introductions and dashing manners. Accident made Prince Ferdinand a sovereign, nature intended him for a student. He is never so happy as when rambling through the mountains in search of choice botanical specimens, and his tastes are not those of soldiers and sportsmen. The Bulgarians, as he has himself admitted, are not enthusiastic Royalists. They have adopted monarchical principles, because that was the only means of making their independence acceptable to the Powers. No one could, therefore, have expected them to display intense loyalty to a young sovereign, of whom few of them had ever heard, and who seemed deficient in those qualities which had endeared Alexander to the hearts of his people.

The Regents resigned upon Prince Ferdinand's accession, and retired into private life. But for M. Stambuloff, to whom more than any other man Bulgaria owed the maintenance of her independence 237 STAMBULOFF and Prince Ferdinand his throne, there was little rest. On September 1, 1887, the Prince requested him to accept the post of Prime Minister, which he occupied without intermission till his fall on the last day of May, 1894. For the greater portion of these seven years, the history of Bulgaria is little else but the story of his career.

Stepan Stambuloff was undoubtedly the ablest statesman whom the Balkan states have produced since their regeneration. Born at Trnovo in 1854, the son of an innkeeper, this remarkable man had acquired a European reputation at an age when most budding British premiers have been undersecretaries at the most. But youth is too common an attribute of Bulgarian politicians to attract any special notice. What gained Stambuloff the respect and admiration of foreign nations was the extraordinary skill and firmness which he displayed under most trying circumstances. He was always counted as one of the two or three really "strong men" of Europe. His friends called him the "Bulgarian Bismarck"; even hostile critics admitted that he was un géant dans un entresol. No doubt he had great faults. He believed that the end justified the means, and never hesitated to employ force if he considered it indispensable to the success of his plans. Like every other minister who has governed in Bulgaria, he manipulated the elections. for his own purposes, but those purposes were also the nation's; for he was a true patriot, whose whole public life was given up to Bulgaria. As a young man, he had been mixed up in frequent conspiracies for the emancipation of 238 PRINCE FERDINAND. his fellow-countrymen. Under Prince Alexander, he had chiefly devoted his time to his practice as a lawyer, but when the country was in danger he came forward as its saviour. Arbitrary he undoubtedly was, but for sheer ability and force of character he stood unrivalled among Balkan statesmen. If he had shown more tact towards his sovereign and more polish in his dealings with his sovereign's consort, he might have kept his place and his life for years. But the Bulgarian peasant was strong within him; he was the very opposite of a courtier, while his Prince attached an exaggerated amount of importance to the pomp and circumstance of royalty. It was inevitable that sooner or later the two men should disagree, and at the very first the minister thought that he could never get on with his master. But as long as Prince Ferdinand was a comparative stranger to the manners and customs of Bulgaria, there was peace between them, for the minister, from his superior knowledge, was necessarily supreme. It was only when the Prince had begun to feel himself capable of judging and acting for himself, that the two fell out. Stambuloff treated the Prince like a puppet, and had not the tact to rule his sovereign without showing that he ruled.

The first difficulty which beset the new Prince and his minister was the hostile attitude of Russia. By the Treaty of Berlin it was necessary that the ruler of Bulgaria should be elected by the Grand Sobranje with the consent of the Powers. This consent Russia, as one of the Powers, refused, basing her refusal upon the alleged invalidity of the elections to the Grand 239 STAMBULOFF'S SUCCESSES. Sobranje. Bulgaria was, therefore, socially boycotted by the Powers. From the Prince's point of view the formal recognition of his position was most desirable; but the question was of much less interest to his people, who, being practical persons, did not care to fight for mere forms when they had obtained the solid substance. Indirectly, the non-recognition of Prince Ferdinand had this advantage, that there was no Russian Agent accredited to his court, and consequently no Russian agency always at work to undermine his throne. At first Russia did, indeed, protest openly, on her own behalf and through the medium of the Porte, against the Prince's position, and even proposed at one time to eject him and put General Ernroth, who had been Minister of War at Sofia in 1882, as governor in his place. But the friendly policy of England towards the young state and the firm resolve of the Bulgarian Government to resist such a proposal by force deterred Russia from the attempt, and from 1888 to the present time she has taken no open steps to oust Prince Ferdinand. This year he has at last secured recognition.

Having checkmated the designs of Bulgaria's former liberators, Stamhuloff proceeded to establish friendly relations with his country's ancient master. Since the war Turkey had made no attempt to interfere with the practical independence of her old province, and she was quite ready to meet the Bulgarian Premier's overtures. Stambuloff's policy was as successful as it was statesmanlike. Thanks to this good understanding with the Sultan, he was able to obtain in 1890 Turkish berats for the appointment of two 240 PRINCE FERDINAND. Bulgarian bishops to the sees of Ochrida and Uskub in Macedonia, which had been abolished by the Porte after the war. This important concession was followed four years later by the nomination of two more Bulgarian bishops in Macedonia, while the Bulgarian schools in that part of the Turkish Empire were granted the same rights as the Greek, and forty Bulgarian communes were formally recognised. These successes were hailed with the greatest enthusiasm in Bulgaria, but aroused much jealousy at Athens and Belgrade, and were regarded by Europe generally as a signal blow to Russia, which had formerly asked on behalf of Bulgaria, and been refused a similar favour, Stambuloff visited Constantinople and was received by the Sultan, and his foreign policy seemed to have been fully justified. Bulgaria rose in the estimation of Western Europe, and fell more than ever under the displeasure of the Czar.

But it was not to be expected that a country, which for so many years had been honeycombed with conspiracies, would become suddenly free from these subterranean movements. If Russia had ceased to trouble Bulgaria, there were not wanting Russophils, who were, ready to stir up the people to revolt. The Prince had been barely four months on the throne when two plots were discovered at Eski Zagra and Bourgas, the scene of two former insurrections against his predecessor. Nabôkoff, the author of the Bourgas rising, had already been implicated in a similar attempt at the same spot. Followed by a hand of Montenegrins, whom he had collected with the assistance of Zankoff at Constantinople, he landed in the harbour, and, after 241 THE PANITZA PLOT. a brief encounter with the authorities, was shot by the peasants. A much more serious movement was crushed in 1890. Major Panitza, the leader of this conspiracy, was a well-known officer in the army, who had been a friend and fellow-comrade of Prince Alexander. Disappointed of his colonelcy and annoyed at the failure of a negotiation for the purchase of rifles by the War Office, in which he was pecuniarily interested, he resolved to dethrone Prince Ferdinand, as Bendereff had dethroned Prince Alexander. He found considerable support for his plans, and three-fourths of the garrison of Sofia were on his side. Stambuloff, who had been informed of Panitza's intentions, lost no time in striking. With sardonic humour he ordered two officers, whom he knew to be Panitza's accomplices, to arrest their leader, and ordered a detachment of men, upon whom he could rely, to see that they did their work. Panitza was arrested and put on his trial by court-martial. Confident of the power of Russia to protect him from the consequences of acts undertaken, as the documentary evidence proved, with her approval, he showed no fear of the result. But Stambuloff vowed that, at all hazards, the sentence of the court should be carried out. That sentence was death, and Panitza was shot without ceremony as a traitor.

A year later the Premier himself narrowly escaped assassination. One evening, as he was walking home with M. Beltcheff, the Minister of Finance from a café, where the ministers were wont to adjourn after Cabinet Councils, a bullet suddenly whistled past their ears. With a cry to his companion to "run," 17 242 PRINCE FERDINAND. Stambuloff set him the example and made for the nearest guard-house on the road. Two more shots followed, and the cry, "Stambuloff is killed," convinced him that it was at himself and not at his unoffending colleague that they had been aimed. Returning with the guards, he found the unfortunate Beltcheff lying dead in the public garden, whither he had fled, with a shot through his heart. The crime aroused the most intense indignation. Stambuloff, although he felt from that day that his doom was certain, followed up the assassins with relentless zeal. Torture was applied to extort a confession from one of the prisoners, and the utmost rigour of the law was put forth against every suspicious person in the country. Terrified by the violence of these measures, the conspirators fled from Bulgaria and chose their next victim abroad, This was Dr. Vulkovic, the Bulgarian agent at Constantinople. While walking through the streets he was stabbed in the back by one of the same gang, which had been guilty of Beltcheff's murder. This double crime made it clear, that, though brigandage had been suppressed in Bulgaria, the time-honoured Oriental plan of "removing" political opponents still prevailed. But the worst example of this horrible practice was yet to come.

The possibility of the Prince's untimely death by the hand of an assassin made it all the more desirable that he should found a dynasty as soon as possible. Accordingly, in the spring of 1893 he married Princess Marie Louise of Parma, a member of the Bourbon family, gifted with more than the usual abilities of her race. Later in the year, the death of 243 CONVERSION OF BORIS. Prince Alexander made Prince Ferdinand indispensable to his people. To the last some had hoped against hope for the return of their first ruler, and would have no Prince but Alexander. These now loyally rallied to his successor. The birth of an heir in the following January, who received the name of the ancient Czar Boris, gave for the first time a national character to the Prince's rule. The greatest enthusiasm greeted the event, and the dynasty was further strengthened by the birth of a second son, Cyril, last winter. Over the head of the tiny Boris there has raged, however, a most unseemly theological controversy. The Duke of Parma had consented to his daughter's marriage on condition that her children should be brought up in the Catholic religion. The Vulgarian constitution provided that the heir to the throne should belong to the Orthodox Greek Church, which is the creed of the vast majority of his future subjects. Stambuloff, anxious for the marriage, was ready even at the risk of his personal popularity, to procure the revision of this article of the constitution, and Boris was baptised a Catholic. But Prince Ferdinand, desirous to please Russia, and rightly believing that the conversion of Boris to the Greek faith would be the means of obtaining his own recognition by the Czar, endeavoured, without success, to obtain the Pope's consent to this step. Policy certainly dictates that the future Prince of Bulgaria should profess the same form of religion as his people, and, without the consent of the Holy See, Boris has been formally converted. Thus, in our own day, the old struggle between the Greek and Roman 244 PRINCE FERDINAND. Churches for supremacy in Bulgaria, which we saw in the times of the present Czars, has been once more apparent.

Prince Ferdinand's marriage and the birth of an heir strengthened the dynasty but weakened its great minister. From that date, the sovereign became increasingly impatient of control, until at last on the 31st of May, 1894, the world learnt with surprise that he had dismissed the "Bismarck of Bulgaria" from his counsels. His alliance with a Bourbon princess had greatly increased his desire for recognition, and he regarded his minister as the chief obstacle in the way. There were intriguers at the Prince's elbow, old colleagues whom Stambuloff's growing arrogance had alienated, who poisoned their sovereign's. mind against the Premier. Relations between the two mcii became worse; conversations at the palace were faithfully reported to the minister, who was not backward in telling his master to his face what he thought of his conduct, Stambuloff twice offered to resign, the Prince declined to accept his resignation, fearing that the great popularity, which his minister had just gained by the appointment of the second batch of Bulgarian bishops in Macedonia, would make him even more dangerous in opposition than in office. A domestic scandal, in which one of Stambuloff's most trusted colleagues was involved, gave the Prince his opportunity. He pressed for the nomination of a favourite of his own to the vacant portfolio, and carried his point by threatening to abdicate rather than yield. The presence of an enemy within his Cabinet embarrassed the Premier and emboldened 245 STAMBULOFF'S FALL. the Prince and the opposition to further attacks. In a moment of anger, Stambuloff sat down and wrote a hasty letter to his sovereign, in which he informed him of his resignation, and expressed the hope that his successor in the premiership would not be such a "common fellow "—the epithet which the Prince had conferred upon him. On May 31, 1894, M. Stoiloff, an able lawyer, who had been private secretary to Prince Alexander and had left Stambuloff in disgust, became President of the Council. The people of Sofia, for whom the fallen statesman had done so much, now proved the truth of the maxim that there is no gratitude in politics. He, who had been but yesterday the idol of the populace, was spat on in the streets and greeted with shouts of "Down with the tyrant!" when he took his walks abroad with his faithful servant. His house was besieged by the mob, and the, Government took no steps to protect him from the violence of his enemies. Only one thing was needed to complete the parallel between the "Bulgarian Bismarck" and his great prototype, and that was not lacking long. Following the bad example of the great ex-chancellor, Stambuloff unbosomed himself to a sympathetic journalist, who published in a German newspaper a violent diatribe against Prince Ferdinand. For this indiscretion Stambuloff was never forgiven. From that moment the buttons were off the foils, and it was war to the death between the rivals. The Prince instituted legal proceedings against him for defamation; the new Cabinet dismissed his adherents from every official post. If Stambuloff had chastised the electors 246 PRINCE FERDINAND. with whips, Stoiloff chastised them with scorpions. In one night the newly-elected Sobranje passed thirty- two laws, one of them consisting of some three hundred sections. A law was enacted "for the prosecution of government officials, who appear to possess more wealth than they ought"; another abolished the existing pension system, and thus reduced the families of ex-Ministers to beggary. Stambuloff's property was sequestrated; bands of peasants felled the timber on his estates; he was almost ruined, and had to borrow money to avoid an execution on his furniture; he applied for a passport, in order to recruit his shattered health at a foreign spa, and his application was refused. But he had not to endure these insults much longer. On the evening of July 15, 1895, as he was driving home from the Union Club with an old friend, three men leapt into the street, with yataghans and a revolver in their hands. Before Stambuloff's old servant had had time to fire, the assassins had cut his master down and were hacking his prostrate body with their knives as it lay on the roadway. At the first shot, the three murderers fled, and the police, who were present, made no attempt to arrest them. Their unfortunate victim was taken home to die. Death came as a relief, for both his arms had been cut to pieces, one eye had been half gouged out, and his forehead bore the marks of fifteen wounds. Three days later the ablest of Bulgaria's sons breathed his last. But his enemies did not spare him even when dead. The scene at his funeral was scandalous, and showed that seventeen years of modern civilisation had not 247 STAMBULOFF'S MURDER. entirely effaced the savage characteristics of the ancient Bulgarians.

Since that date Bulgaria has been in disgrace in the eyes of Europe. This is not the place to discuss the truth of the charges which have been levelled at the head of Prince Ferdinand by the murdered statesman's friends, who have not hesitated to accuse the sovereign of complicity in the crime. But the neglect of the Government to bring the assassins to justice has excited general indignation, and Bulgaria, so long the admiration of Western Europe, has fallen under the ban.

It would he unfair, however, to judge the Bulgarian nation by the misdeeds of some of its members or by the passing temper of the moment, With all their faults, and in spite of all their trials and temptations, the peasant statesmen have achieved great triumphs during the comparatively brief period of their country's existence as a practically independent state. Roads have been improved; railways constructed; bridges built. The capital has been remodelled, until the traveller can scarcely recognise in the stuccoed Sofia of to-day the squalid Turkish village of twenty years ago. The old feeling of hatred towards the Turks has all but died away; and, though we still hear of occasional outrages upon Mohammedans, the "Bulgarian atrocities " of 1876, and the subsequent reprisals during the war have left no traces behind. The migration of the Mussulman inhabitants is deplored by the Government, because it deprives the country of a source of prosperity, and at the last census, out of a total population of considerably over three 248 PRINCE FERDINAND. millions, scarcely more than half a million were Turks. But it is upon the Bulgarians themselves that the future of the nation depends. Sir Frank Lascelles told them when he was British representative at Sofia that they possessed more common-sense than any other people whom he knew. Sternly practical, thrifty, and without wild ideals, they may not be the most attractive of the Balkan races; but they possess qualities which must tell in the long run, and which should one day secure them, under proper Government, the foremost place in the history of the Peninsula.