Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
The Officers’ Rebellion of the Russophiles in Rousse

MarianaDimitrova, Curator at the “Modern and Contemporary History” Department

After the Unification and the Serbian-Bulgaria War (1885) began the sharp polarization of the political powers in Bulgaria. A strong Russophile’s Party shaped in Bulgaria. A lot of officers, emotionally or politically related to Russia, were also sympathetic to it. Prince Alexander I Battenberg had the support of almost everyone, engaged in conducting the Unification. This includes the former Liberals of Eastern Rumelia, the people around Zahari Stoyanov and Dimitar Petkov, as well as the followers of Vassil Radoslavov. In their foreign-policy affiliation, they are directed towards the Western Powers. Many officers, who have related their fate with the fate of Bulgaria and Battenberg, are also included. The indicated two camps of Russophiles and Russophobes took radical positions in relation to the personality of the Prince and the foreign policy orientation of Bulgaria. Together with them, and in the same time, shaped the moderate flow of the former Liberal Party, headed by Petko Karavelov. These people were well-intentioned towards Russia and were against the forced removal of Prince Alexander from the Bulgarian throne.

In the summer of 1886 the knot of contradictions tightened and the political struggle intensified. The influence of Russia increased, which was trying to strengthen its positions in Bulgaria through the removal of Battenberg. Active political agitation was led for the winning of the armed forces. In the summer of 1886 Captain Atanas Benderev and Captain Radko Dimitriev organized a military plot for the dethronement of Prince Alexander I. They managed to concentrate in Sofia military units, loyal to them. The circle of th enlightened ones was not wide. Out of it remained almost all of the officers from the provincial garrisons. In the night between August 8th and 9th, 1886, cadets of the Military School, supported by the Struma Regiment, took over Sofia. The Palace was surrounded and Prince Alexander I Battenberg was forced to sign the following proclamation to the Bulgarian nation: “Because the Bulgarian people and the army are finding that my subsequent stay on the Bulgarian throne is harmful for the interests of the country, I’m resigning the throne, stating that I shall have no future intentions towards it”. After that the Prince was escorted to the town of Oryahovo on the Danube, from where by steamboat traveled to the town of Reni.
What was the attitude of the Garrison of Rousse and the citizens of Rousse towards the dethronement of Prince Alexander I.

In the day of the coup d’etat – August 9th, 1886, the Chairman of the National Assembly Stefan Stambolov was in Tarnovo and with a telegram informed Zahari Stoyanov and Dimitar Mantov in Rousse for the conducted coup. The official announcement caused a disturbance the followers of the Government. At noon the Russophile opposition in Rousse called a meeting. The orators Toma Kardzhiev and Teodor Teodorov supported the coup d’etat and attacked the government of Petko Karavelov and the Prince. The mayor Petar Vinarov red a resolution to the capital that the citizens of Rousse were approving the coup and that they trust the Provisional Government. Toma Kardzhiev made a demonstration by tearing apart the portrait of the Prince and by threatening the state and municipal servant with firing.
On August 11th Stefan Stambolov issued a proclamation against the coup. The counter-coup began. Stambolov telegraphed to Nikola Obretenov, County Governor of Tutrakan, to follow the Prince’s boat along the Danube and to require from the dethronement activists to free the Prince. Meanwhile in a conversation between Stambolov and Brigadier Dimitar Filov it became clear that the garrison of Rousse has not yet determined which side to support and waited for the events.

The establishment of Regency, headed by Stambolov and a Government of Vasil Radoslavov were outlining a total victory for the counter-coup. On August 13th a meeting was called again in Rousse, but this time opposing the coup from August 9th. The political opponents of Toma Kardzhiev stated that he has assured the Russian Government in the willingness of the Bulgarians to accept the Russian occupation.

On August 17th, with a ceremonial reception of the Prince in Rousse began his short re-enthronization on the Bulgarian throne. He was received on the Danubian riverbank by Stambolov, Radoslavov and thousands of citizens from Rousse. In the evening in the Prince’s residence in Rousse, a reception was held for the foreign consuls. The mayor Petar Vinarov, who has previously supported the coup, couldn’t find the proper words to flatter the Prince and made a blunder: “You, Mr. Stambolov, have returned the shame to Bulgaria”. Several hours later the Prince will sign his final abdication, giving to the Russian consul Shatohin a telegram to the Russian Emperor, placing the fate of the Bulgarian throne in his hands. During his stay in Rousse the Prime Minister Vasil Radoslavov appointed Dimitar Mantov for Regional governor. The Russophiles Toma Kardzhiev and brothers Zlatevi were accused of misusing public finances and accepting bribes from the Russian consul Shatohin. Arrests of famous Russophile activists started. In the basement of the building of the Regional Government, which has become known as “Mantov’s Dungeon”, the detainees were bullied.

On September 28th, 1886, were appointed the elections for the Third Grand National Assembly, which was to elect a new Prince. On the orders of the Russian Emperor Alexander III in Sofia arrived General Kaulbars, military attaché at the Russian embassy in Vienna. His awkward and rude actions worsened even more the Russo-Bulgarian relations. A movement started in the garrison of Rousse – the Russophile officers started negotiations with the garrisons of Shumen, Vidin and Sliven for joint actions if Battenberg was to be re-elected or other candidate, unsuitable for Russia. While the delegation toured the European courts in search for a candidate for the Bulgarian throne, an atmosphere for starting a mutiny maturated in Rousse. It is intensively being talked for a rebellion, organized by Russia in the spring of 1887 by an emigrants’ revolutionary committee in Bucharest, headed by Major Petar Gruev, and the captains Radko Dimitriev and Atanas Benderev against the Regency and the government of Dr. Vasil Radoslavov. For this purpose the leaders of the plot were backed by the army, without relying on any type of public support. The civilian society established the first committee “Bulgaria on its own”, where 72 people were registered and armed.
The most prepared for the mutiny were the garrisons in Silistra and Rousse. There was also a Russophile committee in Rousse: Toma Kardzhiev (chairman) amd Petar Zlatovm Andon Zlatov, Aleksandar Tsvetkov, Georgi Gerov, Pencho Cherkovski. Despite their cautiousness the authorities managed to reveal their activity in Silistra, which became the occasion for the prematurely start of the action. In order for the officers not to be arrested, the chief of the Silistra garrison, Captain Hristo Krastev announced a mutiny in the town on February 16th, which was quickly crushed.

On February 19th, 1887, started a rebellion against the Regency in Rousse. The leaders were prominent military men like major Atanas Uzunov, commandant of the town and commander of the Pioneer’s regiment, Major Olimpi Panov, lieutenant-colonel Dimitar Filov, etc. In the past they were prominent activists of the Bulgarian National revolution, heroes of the Liberation (1877-1878) and the Serbian-Bulgarian War (1885). The remaining loyal to the oath for the Fatherland officers from Rousse and soldiers of the Fifth Infantry Danube Regiment with the support of the national committee “Bulgaria on its own” managed to crush the rebellion of the Russophiles in Rousse. At the possibility of starting a Civil War, the Regency decided to act with an underlined tenacity. A Military Court, organized and led by the governmental delegate Major Racho Petrov sentenced the leaders of the rebellion to death. On February 22nd, the death sentences of Major Atanas Uzunov, Major Olimpi Panov, Captain Zelengorov, lieutenant Krastenyakov, lieutenant Kozhuharski, second lieutenant Enchev, second lieutenant Trambeshki, Toma Kardzhiev and Aleksandar Tsvetkov were executed. Other officers and soldiers were sentenced to jail.

The crisis, experienced by Bulgaria, is an important sign in its political life. The enchantement from Freedom and the romantic attitude towards Russia were gradually left behind. The position of the Russian diplomacy towards Bulgaria after the Unification increased the discontent, and in some sphere gave birth to hostility towards the Liberator. A certain role is already played by the shaped economic interests. The Bulgarian commercial and industrial bourgeoisie strengthened its ties with the states from Central and Western Europe. In this area Russia, whose interests are mainly political, cannot oppose. The economic domination hides large opportunities for serious political influence. Undoubtedly, the times of the Bulgarian crisis seriously interweaved the interests of several Great Powers. As a result of its aggressive diplomacy towards Bulgaria, Russia lost a strategic battle. Ferdinand’s enthronization in Bulgaria has a significant meaning not only for the development of the internal political life in Bulgaria, but also for its orientation in the upcoming fateful clashes on the Old continent.