28 November, 2023
Under the conditions of the joint membership of Bulgaria and Romania in the European Union after 2007, which expands the opportunities for mutual contacts and cooperation, learning about the conflictual past of territorial and minority issues in bilateral relations is not only a scientific challenge, but also a prerequisite for understanding, explaining and adequately managing contemporary realities.  
Southern Dobrudzha at Kaliakra today (source: Inga Tomane, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Under the conditions of the joint membership of Bulgaria and Romania in the European Union after 2007, which expands the opportunities for mutual contacts and cooperation, learning about the conflictual past of territorial and minority issues in bilateral relations is not only a scientific challenge, but also a prerequisite for understanding, explaining and adequately managing contemporary realities.  

Blagovest Njagulov, Institute for Historical Studies, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

This article is contributed to the Bridge of Friendship blog by the author and has not been published before. It deals with the issues of minorities and the dispute over Dobruja in Bulgarian-Romanian relations until the resolution of the Dobrujan issue.


Romanian-Bulgarian relations were formed and developed in the centuries-long process of coexistence and neighbourliness between Bulgarians and Romanians and between their countries. Migratory movements north and south of the Danube and constant contacts are the prerequisites of mutual influences and rapprochement, but also of differentiation and conflict. The processes of creating separate ethnic groups and modern nations in the two communities are interdependent and not confrontational. The geopolitical connection of the inhabited territories, the common Orthodox religion, the intense economic and cultural ties and, above all, the common political interests of national emancipation from the Ottoman Empire conditioned the positive spirit of bilateral relations until 1878. 

On the other hand, the specific features of Bulgarian and Romanian national identity and national development, formed during the transition from medieval to modern times, created the conditions for a clearer differentiation and future competition. The most characteristic of the historically conditioned differences of the Romanians in relation to the Bulgarians are: the preservation of their autonomous status and their earlier state emancipation from the Ottoman Empire; the longer preservation of feudal remnants in agrarian relations; the greater social differentiation and even polarization of Romanian society; the lower degree of education of the broad masses of the population and the more pronounced elitism of the representative culture; the greater experience of the Romanian political elite and its broader ties with the West. On this basis, differences in national mentalities are also noticeable.

The distinction between the two neighbouring nations is also largely determined by the different emphases of national ideologies and propaganda. The thesis of the ‘Latin’ roots of the nation predetermines and underpins the attitude of superiority of the Romanian elite towards the neighbouring peoples, including the Bulgarians. By aspiring to the imperial heritage (Roman and Byzantine), this elite assumes the ‘mission’ of the Romanians as bearers of an advanced civilisation among the other ‘barbarian’ peoples in their neighbourhood. In turn, the Bulgarian national idea is formed on the political power of the medieval Bulgarian state, which encompassed the present Romanian lands at a time when there was no Romanian statehood, and on the Bulgarian cultural and educational mission, which was also carried out among the Romanians. The attitude towards the “Slavic factor” is also different. While in the past the Bulgarian national idea placed the main emphasis on the Slavic character of the nation, in the Romanian national ideology this factor was often overlooked, because the participation of the Slavs in the formation of the Romanian ethnicity did not fit into the claimed Latin origin. The denial of the “Slavic factor” in Romania is due to the earlier and much more explicit distancing – compared to the Bulgarians – from Russia and the subsequent problematic relations with it, due to the Russian imperial policy, disguised precisely behind a Slavic mask.               

The contradiction in Romanian-Bulgarian bilateral relations is primarily an expression of the intervention of the great powers and the rise of ethnic nationalism in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. Confrontational tendencies were already evident after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, which led to the restoration of the Bulgarian state as an autonomous principality, and the Romanian principality gained full independence from the Ottoman Empire. Romania’s attitude and policy towards Bulgaria changed as a result of Bulgarains’ appreciation of Russia as a “protector” and its potential or actual rivalry with the Bulgarian state for hegemony in the region. Until the end of the Second World War, relations between the two countries were mainly marked by disputes over territorial and minority issues, which gave rise to hostility and conflict. The dispute over Dobrudja’s membership was central to these, and the opposition during the Second Balkan War and the First World War had the most negative and lasting impact. On this basis, negative mutual stereotypes of Bulgarians and Romanians were formed, which had a lasting impact on bilateral relations.   

Borders, territories and minorities after 1878  

Romania was one of the first countries with which the Bulgarian Principality established diplomatic relations in 1879 and was also one of the first countries to recognise Bulgaria’s independence in 1908, which led to diplomatic missions in both capitals becoming legations in 1909. In 1879, Romania opened its consulate in Ruse. The Bulgarian government also tried to open more Bulgarian commercial agencies in Romania, but these were unsuccessful.     

In the development of Romanian-Bulgarian relations up to the Balkan Wars, there was cooperation and contradictions. Romania turned out to be the first trading partner of the Bulgarian Principality in the early years of its history. On the occasion of the nomination of candidates for the position of Bulgarian prince in 1878-1879 and during the so-called Bulgarian crisis of 1886-1887, ideas of a union between Bulgaria and Romania were even put forward, and the historical figure who was mentioned or nominated for this purpose was the Romanian prince (king since 1881) Carol I. Russia was the empire that most opposed this idea. At the same time, a close relationship was maintained between the Romanian ruler and the first Bulgarian prince, Alexander I Battenberg, strengthened by solidarity with regard to the two countries’ policy on Russia. An example of cooperation against the pressure of the Great Powers was the synchronisation of the positions of Romania and Bulgaria on the issue of navigation control on the Middle and Lower Danube, and the competences of the European Danube Commission. As a consequence of collective resistance to a Great Power solution to the Danube problem in 1883, until the First World War, navigation control was carried out separately by each riveran state. 

A series of bilateral acts regulated relations between Bulgaria and Romania in the non-political sphere. In 1885, the Bulgarian Principality concluded a convention on postal services with Romania, followed by a treaty on telegraph links (1896), a new convention on postal services (1896) and a convention for the regulation of the telephone service (1900). Several acts concern the common river frontier along the Danube and trade relations – a convention on fisheries (1901), a treaty on trade and navigation (1907) and a convention on the definition of the river boundary (1908).

At the same time, as early as the end of 1879, the first controversies arose. Bucharest insisted that the Romanian subjects should enjoy consular jurisdiction in the same way as the subjects of the Great Powers, i.e. that the capitulation regime imposed on Bulgaria in relation to the Ottoman Empire should also apply to them. After the intervention of Russia and Austria-Hungary, in the autumn of 1880, the Bulgarian government, which had initially refused to grant the Romanians’ request, granted the Romanian subjects the same rights enjoyed by the subjects of the Great Powers. Disagreements also arose in the negotiations for connecting the Romanian and Bulgarian railways by a railway from the Danube south to the Balkans or south-west to Sofia, which would have been a possible rival to the Vienna-Istanbul line.

At the heart of the Romanian-Bulgarian controversy is the issue of Dobrudja, which arose after the forced division of Dobrudja between the two countries in 1878. At the heart of this was Russia’s desire to recover southern Bessarabia, which had been taken away in 1856 and annexed to Romania. The Treaty of San Stefano, concluded on 3 March 1878, gave Russia the right to exchange the territory of the Tulcea arena, as well as the islands of the Delta and the Serpents’ Island, acquired as compensation from the Ottoman Empire, for southern Bessarabia. The Russian offer to exchange territories initially met with strong resistance from Romanian government circles and the Romanian press. According to a Romanian newspaper publication, the exchange was unacceptable because Dobrudja is not geographically and ethnographically part of Romanian territory, but an extension of Bulgaria. It also points out that Dobrudja “will be an ever open wound, an apple of discord between Romania and Bulgaria”. Steaua României, Bucureşti, 23.06.1878

Since the objections to the takeover of Southern Bessarabia from Romania were not supported, the Romanian representatives at the Congress convened in Berlin turned to obtaining greater compensation through an agreement with the Russian delegation. Their request to receive the whole of Dobrudja and part of Ludogorie (an area also known by the Turkish name Deliorman, with Razgrad as its centre) as far as the Ruse-Varna railway was rejected, but the Treaty of Berlin, concluded on 13 July 1878, confirmed the already planned exchange and extended the territory granted to Romania. According to the treaty, the land border of the new Bulgarian Principality with Romania was to follow the line starting east of Silistra and continuing to the Black Sea south of Mangalia. This decision was supported by Austria-Hungary, which sought to distract Romanian politicians from Transylvania, and by Germany, which wanted to secure its exports through Romania and the Black Sea to Turkey and the Middle East. Although the decision on territorial exchange in Berlin continues to provoke negative reactions in Romania, including among MPs, Parliament accepted the new province (Senate by 48 votes to 8, Chamber of Deputies by 83 votes to 27). They took Prime Minister Ion C. Brătianu’s arguments about the good prospects of owning the Danube Delta and the Black Sea port of Constanța. At the same time, Mihail Kogălniceanu, historian and at that time foreign minister, formulated the thesis of Dobrudja’s “secular belonging” to Romania and the “historical justice” of its “restoration”.The “recapture” thesis refers to the rule (albeit ephemeral) that the Wallachian prince/governor Mircea the Elder established over the area before its final fall under Ottoman rule in 1417-1420 In the years that followed, Romania not only strove to integrate its new province, but also claimed its expansion southwards at the expense of Bulgaria.            

The most serious problem in Romanian-Bulgarian relations in the early post-war years arose over the demarcation of the border in the Danube town of Silistra. The reason was Romanian aspirations for this town and strategic stronghold on the Danube, which found support among Western representatives on the European Delimitation Commission, but were thwarted by the Russian representative. Bucharest invokes a right recognised by the Great Powers, according to which the border at Silistra should be defined in such a way as to allow the construction of a bridge across the Danube linking the Romanian part of Dobrudja to the territory north of the river. According to the final act of the commission of December 1878, which was not signed by the Russian representative, the distance from Silistra, a town within the limits of the Bulgarian principality according to the text of the Berlin Treaty, to the new border with Romania was to be only 800 m.; the hill of Arab Tabia, which was the easternmost part of the Ottoman fortification system in the Danube town, was to be ceded to Romania. Unhappy with the Russian delay in handing Dobrudja over to the Romanian authorities, Romania occupied Arab Tabia Hill in early January 1879. After an ultimatum from the provisional Russian government in the Bulgarian principality, the Romanian troops withdrew and the border question remained open. 

Further diplomatic probes followed with ideas for solving the border problem. At Russia’s suggestion, approved by the other powers, a technical commission was set up in 1879 to determine the location of a bridge across the Danube, but this only reconfirmed the location determined by the previous commission. In 1880, Austria-Hungary proposed that the Arab Tabia hill be ceded to Romania and the territories south of the mountains to Bulgaria. This so-called ‘vegetable garden decision’ was favourably received by the Bulgarian side, but caused discontent in Bucharest. In August 1881, the Great Powers approved the route of the new frontier, making some changes in the final act of the European Delimitation Commission. After a Russian diplomatic demarche (in favour of securing Bulgarian access to the road between Silistra and s. Karaorman/Stratsimir and from there to Varna), the new border was also recognised by the Ottoman Empire, whose vassal was the Principality of Bulgaria. Bulgaria and Romania were not informed of the agreement between the powers until February 1883. New intervention by the Great Powers at the end of the century led to the convening of a joint Romanian-Bulgarian commission, where unsuccessful negotiations on the border issue were held. 

In August 1885, tension at the Dobrudjan border at Silistra escalated to the brink of military conflict. The Bulgarian authorities’ construction of a border post and customs post at Arab Tabia hill was considered by the Romanian side as an illegal occupation. After demands for the demolition of the two installations were not met, Romanian troops occupied Arab Tabia, its surroundings and the village of Kadaköy/Malak Preslavets. Sofia announced partial mobilisation and sent soldiers to the occupied area. The danger of a military confrontation between the two countries was averted after the Russian diplomatic agent in Sofia advised Bulgarian leaders to be cautious. After further Romanian-Bulgarian negotiations, an agreement was reached that the Romanian troops would withdraw, leaving only the posts on Arab Tabia. 

The union of the Bulgarian Principality and Eastern Romania in September 1885 initially aroused fears in Bucharest about the emergence of a large and powerful state in the south that would be allied with Russia and claim northern Dobrudja. Romanian diplomats made representations to the Great Powers to alert them to this ‘danger’; demands were made in Bucharest for a ‘strategic repair of the Dobrogian frontier’; a Romanian military contingent of two batteries was even sent to the frontier. Before the negotiations for the recognition of the Union in Constantinople and the Serbo-Bulgarian war, the government in Bucharest tried to take advantage of the difficult situation in Bulgaria. It issued an ultimatum to end the border dispute by immediately convening the Joint Commission and threatened to unilaterally establish the border line near Silistra. A little later, the Romanian side also demanded the destruction of the Bulgarian forts on the Danube. The Romanian demands and threats ceased after Russia’s warning intervention following the Bulgarian approaches. Petersburg resisted the territorial compensation demanded by Romania at the expense of Bulgaria and even directed its troops towards the Russian-Romanian border along the Prut River.    

The Romanian political position began to shift in Bulgaria’s favour, influenced by Russia’s opposition to the Union (this is the 1885 union between the Principality of Bulgaria, occupying today’s northern Bulgaria between 1878 and 1885, and the county of Sofia and the autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia, occupying a significant part of today’s southern Bulgaria). After the outbreak of the Serbo-Bulgarian war, the Bulgarian side now received favourable support from Romania, which feared a further disturbance of the “balance” in the Balkans. Moreover, at the suggestion of German Chancellor Bismarck, negotiations for a post-war peace treaty were held in the Romanian capital. 

In March 1886, as Romanian-Bulgarian relations improved, the work of the joint border commission was resumed in Bucharest, which demarcated the land border on the spot. Its decisions confirmed that Arab Tabia, the vineyards near Silistra and the Bulgarian villages remained within Romania’s borders. The issue of the so-called dual ownership properties on Bulgarian and Romanian territory remains open. The demarcation of the inter-state border (i.e. the marking of border crossing points with boundary markers) took place in 1902. The first stage of the tortuous saga of the Bulgarian-Romanian border in Dobrudja has ended, leaving both sides unhappy. Bulgaria was unhappy with the border “bordering” Silistra, condemning the town to a slow economic decline, and Romania for failing to acquire the important city-city that dominated Dobrudja on the Danube. As for the bridge between Silistra and the town across the Danube, Calarasi, it is still waiting to be built…             

Problems in bilateral relations also arise at the Bulgarian-Romanian river border on the Danube. According to the decision of the European Delimitation Commission of September 1879, “Bulgaria’s northern border follows the Danube slope” (i.e. the line marking the deepest part of the riverbed), which must be recognised and regularly verified by both neighbouring countries. However, Romania wants the border to follow the right bank of the river, fearing that the new demarcation would deprive the country of the Danube islands, which it has held by virtue of the demarcation made since 1830. Towards the end of the 19th century, a particularly acute dispute arose over the ownership of two islands, Eshek Adas/Magarecik Island and Bujorescu, located between the Danube towns of Svishtov and Zimnicea, which until then had been within Bulgaria’s borders. Due to the sediments, the second late-formed island was gradually connected to the first and later to the Romanian coast. According to some reports, the natural process of sediment deposition was artificially “helped” by throwing a barge of stones on the Romanian side. In 1898, the Bulgarian government recognised that Bujorescu Island now belonged to Romania, asking instead to reserve Eshek Adas Island to Bulgaria and to obtain concessions for other islands, but Romania rejected these requests. In 1899 a conflict over border posts on the islands broke out, ending in Romania’s favour and provoking a hostile press campaign on both sides of the Danube. At the beginning of 1900, the Bulgarian government proposed to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, but without obtaining the consent of the Romanian side. Lengthy bilateral negotiations on the delimitation of the entire river border followed, culminating in the signing of the relevant convention in early 1908. On the basis of the combined approach adopted (respect for the line of the talweg and the line dividing the river into two equal halves), the regime of islands to be crossed from one country to the other was also regulated. The two islands connected between Svishtov and Zimnicea are already within Romania’s borders.           

However, the demarcation of the Danube is proving more successful than linking the two countries via a bridge across the great river. The issue is directly linked to that of rail networks in Bulgaria and Romania. The idea of a railway bridge was first discussed in bilateral relations in 1881, it appeared periodically in the following years (in 1890 there was even a tender for the construction of the bridge in Bucharest), it was taken up by Bulgarian diplomats in Bucharest in the last decade of the 19th century, and in 1909 a special joint commission of experts was convened. The two sides failed to reach an agreement on the location of the bridge and to solve the technical and financial problems related to its construction. Amid political controversy and diverging economic interests, the bridge idea was not unanimously accepted. There was less support for it in Romania, which was directing its trade traffic from Central and Western Europe to Constanta via railway lines to this Black Sea port, which crossed over the newly built bridge at Cerna Voda, inaugurated in 1895. However, it was not completed until after the communist regimes in both countries were established, with the inauguration in 1954 of the so-called Friendship Bridge (now the Danube Bridge), built at Ruse-Giurgiu with the ‘blessing’ and direct participation of the Soviet Union.                               

As regards the issue of Dobrudja in Bulgarian-Romanian relations, both the territorial and minority aspects stand out. In its national program, Bulgaria generally left the question of changing the territorial status quo regarding Dobrudja on the back burner, either because of the priority of the Bulgarian national cause in Ottoman-ruled Macedonia, Western Thrace and Eastern Thrace, or because of the perception of northern (Romanian) Dobrudja as a “tax” imposed by Russia for the liberation of Bulgaria. In turn, Romania made territorial claims to the southern (Bulgarian) part of the area. Driven by military-strategic reasons and motivated by fears of Bulgarian territorial aspirations in the north, the government in Bucharest sought to secure its hold on northern Dobrudja by extending Romanian territory beyond the land border with Bulgaria. The international situation of the country is of great importance in the formulation of this claim. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, its territorial claims, linked to the unification of territories with a Romanian-speaking population, were mainly directed towards the region of Transylvania, under Austro-Hungarian domination, and Bessarabia, under Russian domination. But Romania’s accession to the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy) in 1883 temporarily put Transylvania’s claim on the back burner. And the formation of the other political and military bloc, the Triple Alliance or Entente (England, France and Russia), made it problematic to satisfy the Romanian claim to Bessarabia. At a time when no change in the territorial status quo could be expected in relation to the great neighbouring powers, the Danube and Russian empires, Romania made a territorial claim on its ‘weaker’ southern neighbour, Bulgaria, although unlike the other two, this claim had no ethnic basis.   

The rupture between Bulgaria and Russia after 1886 created the preconditions for securing Bulgarian favours with Romania in the event of a possible Russian-Romanian conflict. This trend was interrupted by the improvement in Russo-Bulgarian relations after the fall of Stefan Stambolov’s regime in 1894. According to the Romanian view, a large and powerful Bulgarian state would have disturbed the ‘balance’ in the Balkans (in reality, it was an arrangement of forces that would not have been advantageous for Romania) and could have claimed northern Dobrudja. In this situation, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Romania formulated compensatory claims for part of the Ottoman inheritance in Europe. In Romanian diplomacy, the formula that “the road to Dobrudja passes through Macedonia” was imposed.

In defence of its claims, Romanian diplomacy put forward two arguments – the presence of an Aromanian population in Macedonia and the need to preserve the Balkan balance. On this basis, Bucharest is demanding compensation from Bulgaria if it receives territories in Macedonia, Western Thrace and Eastern Thrace. At the same time, Romania has intensified its cultural and integrationist propaganda among the Macedonian Aromanians and, at the same time, has taken a negative stance towards the growing Bulgarian national movement in that country, supported by Bulgaria.     

An opportunity to compromise the Bulgarian cause in Ottoman-ruled Macedonia was created by the terrorist activities of the Macedonian-Adrian Supreme Committee (a Macedonian and Thracian refugee organisation based in Sofia) on Romanian territory. The assassination of the headmaster of the Greek gymnasium in Bucharest, Ștefan Mihăileanu, because of his activities and articles against the Bulgarian national movement in Macedonia, became the occasion of an acute diplomatic conflict between Romania and Bulgaria, which lasted from mid-1900 to mid-1901. As a result of the noisy campaign by Romanians abroad, the Bulgarian state was forced to take measures against the Supreme Committee and its structures. 

Romanian aspirations for southern Dobrudja depended on the development of Bulgarian-Turkish relations. On various occasions, Romanian diplomats suggested that Romania would remain neutral in a Bulgarian-Turkish military conflict only if it was rewarded with a rectification of the Dobrogian border. The ‘compensatory’ claims were directed towards the so-called Quadrilater, which was formed between the Bulgarian towns of Shumen, Ruse, Silistra and Varna or parts of it, i.e. mainly the territory of southern Dobrudja. The territorial extent of Romanian aspirations until 1913 changed according to specific circumstances related to the interests of the Great Powers and the international and internal situation of Romania and Bulgaria. 

For its part, Bulgaria tried to guarantee its security in relation to Romania through the secret military convention concluded with Russia in 1902, proposed by the Russian side. This act was in fact motivated by false information about a military convention between Romania and Austria-Hungary in 1900, whereby Vienna allegedly recognised Romanian claims across the Dobrudja border with Bulgaria. The Bulgarian-Russian convention provided for Russian guarantees of the territorial integrity of the Bulgarian Principality, favourable Russian neutrality in the event of a Bulgarian-Romanian military conflict, and Russian military support if Austria-Hungary supported Romania.  However, the Russian Army General Staff also informally drew up a military plan for the Bulgarian army to advance into the Danube Delta and, consequently, for the annexation of Northern Dobrudja to Bulgaria. 

Like all nationalist states that emerged after the collapse of the great empires of Eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania pursued policies of ethno-national homogenisation of their populations through schools, the church, the army, etc. The first international commitments of the two countries to the minorities on their territory came from the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, which emphasised the rights of religious minorities. With a few exceptions, in the following years, minority issues did not create conflicting situations in Bulgaria, while in Romania the Jewish issue came to the fore due to official Bucharest’s refusal to recognise the civil rights of Jews in the country. The rights of Bulgarians in Northern Dobrudja and, to a lesser extent, Romanians/Vlavs in Bulgaria partly involved Bulgarian-Romanian relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where the principle of reciprocity in minority policy was more or less applied.           

The population of Bulgarian origin and language in Romania in the period under analysis included the historical Bulgarian diaspora in the Romanian regions of Oltenia, Muntenia and Moldova (up to the Prut River), as well as the Bulgarians of Northern Dobrudja. The Romanian censuses of that time do not contain data on the ethnicity of the population and therefore on the number of ethnic Bulgarians. According to estimates by the Bulgarian researcher Stoyan Romanski, based on field research at the beginning of the 20th century, the ethnic Bulgarians of Oltenia, Muntenia and Moldova, regardless of the degree of ethnic self-preservation, numbered up to 200,000 people and lived in 57 settlements. Formed as a result of migrations during centuries of Ottoman rule on Bulgarian lands and before the formation of the modern Bulgarian nation, this predominantly agrarian diaspora was already in an advanced process of assimilation into the predominantly Romanian ethnic environment. The process intensified especially in the last decades of the 19th century, following the entry of the Romanian part into the Bulgarian principality. This led to the complete identification of thousands of ethnic Bulgarians with the Romanian ethnic group or to the formation of a split Romanian-Bulgarian identity, whose Bulgarian components were not officially declared and manifested themselves only in families or in small communities in ‘safe’ conditions. After 1878, Bulgarian churches and schools in the cities of Bucharest, Braila and Galati were already in decline. However, churches were preserved and schools were re-established in the first decades of the 20th century with a limited student population.  

The cession of northern Dobrudja to Romania in 1878 increased the ethnic Bulgarian presence in the country, probably by up to 50,000 Bulgarians. These were indigenous populations and descendants of settlers from settlements south of the Balkan Mountains, who settled in the area mainly as a result of migration during the Russo-Turkish wars of the early 19th century. According to Bulgarian data, these Bulgarians are relatively the largest ethnic community, constituting about half of the district’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. In addition, they were at a relatively advanced stage of national development compared to Muslims (Turks and Tatars), Romanians and other communities. The new Romanian authorities set up an extra-constitutional regime of government in Northern Dobrudja, whose aim was to change the ethno-demographic picture, to Romanise and integrate the region. Until 1909, the local population did not have the right to elect their representatives in parliament. The new province became an outlet for the great social tensions in the country. On the basis of an arbitrary interpretation of Ottoman agrarian law, according to the 1882 Law of Real Property, the owners of the so-called miriye lands (according to the Ottoman legislation, the “miriye” (mera) lands were arable lands outside the settlements, which were held by the peasants through a tapia (official document), but which remained the supreme property of the Sultan, i.e. state property) were obliged to cede 1/3 of them free of charge to the Romanian state or to pay for this part if they wanted to keep it. The accumulated land fund was used for the needs of Romanian colonization. Thanks to this process, the population of Northern Dobrudja increased considerably, and in 1912 ethnic Romanians already constituted 57% of the total population. By the end of the 19th century, probably around 10 000 ethnic Bulgarians were forced to leave the area for economic and political reasons. The Bulgarian schools (55) and churches (60) that existed until 1878 were almost entirely Romanianised. By the beginning of the 20th century, only the Bulgarian school and church in Constanta and the church in Tulcea remained. As a reaction to the regime, a Bulgarian national movement emerged in northern Dobrudja, whose objectives were to preserve the position of Bulgarians in the local administration, acquire political rights and spiritual and cultural autonomy. 

From the end of 1879, the Bulgarian government tried to open a Bulgarian consulate in Tulcea, through which the rights of the Bulgarians in Northern Dobrudja could be protected. The Romanian side refused to grant this request. During the period under review, Sofia rarely supported the rights of the Bulgarian population in the area and informally offered financial support to the few remaining Bulgarian schools and churches in the area.           

After 1878, within the borders of the Bulgarian principality there lived three groups of the Eastern Romanic-speaking population, a term reflecting their linguistic and cultural diversity. Most often the traditional ethnonym ‘Vlachs’ is used, which is a proper name or a name given by the Bulgarians to this population. The first and largest group are the Vlachs (recorded in Bulgarian censuses under the modern ethnonym ‘Romanians’), who live in settlements in northern Bulgaria along the Vlach River. Danube, and are more compact in the settlements in the north-western part of the country – between the Danube and the Timoc River or in the region of the city of Vidin, as well as in the town of In the Vidin region, in the Vidin region, and in the Tutrakan region, in the Bulgarian region of Dobrudja. They are mainly descendants of emigrants from the Principality of Wallachia in the second half of the 18th and early 19th centuries, who are mainly engaged in agriculture and whose language and culture are similar to those of the Romanians north of the river. The second group are the Aromanians (after their self-designation, the Aromanians), who are also called by the Bulgarians ‘țințari’ when they are sedentary traders and craftsmen (they come from the Bitola region of Vardar Macedonia) and ‘kutsovlasi’ when they are engaged in nomadic sheep farming (they originate from the Gramos Mountains in north-western Greece). The origins of the Aromanians are associated with the Roman settlers or the Romanised Balkan population mixed with them during Roman rule in the Balkans. They have their own written language and culture, similar but not identical to the Romanian one, and settled in the territory of the modern Bulgarian state in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The third group is made up of the so-called rudars, also known as ‘Vlach/Romanian Gypsies’, who lead a nomadic or semi-nomadic life and earn their living mainly by crafting small wooden objects or raiding towns for animals. According to the 1910 census, there were 79 429 Romanians and 1 843 Kutsovlasi and Tzintarii of “nationality” living on the territory of Bulgaria with “mother tongue” and 6 502 people with Romanian “mother tongue”.

The situation of the Vlachs in the northern territories of Bulgaria does not provide much reason for the separation and organisation of their minority. This population is gradually integrating into Bulgarian society, is generally loyal to the Bulgarian state and has almost no minority claims. The Romanian language was used in worship and in some Chilician schools that survived until the beginning of the 20th century. Until the Balkan wars, two secular Romanian schools operated in the country – in Tutrakan, where the Romanian-speaking population predominated, and in Sofia, where there was a Romanian colony. Both schools were supported by the Romanian state. Unlike the Danubian Vlachs, the Aromanians set up their own societies, some of which were intended to help their compatriots under Ottoman rule in Macedonia. The Bulgarian state imposed restrictions on Romanian schools in Tutrakan largely as a reaction to the Romanianisation of Bulgarian schools in northern Dobrudja and introduced secular education in Bulgarian in Vlach settlements where there was no alternative to secular schools in Romanian. Romania’s political interests at that time were directed towards the Aromanians in the Ottoman Empire, but not towards the Vlachs in north-western Bulgaria.

Military clashes and territorial dispute

Although short, the period from the beginning of the First Balkan War to the end of the First World War (1912-1918) was the most eventful and conflictive period in the history of Romanian-Bulgarian relations. Then, the territorial dispute decisively dominated minority issues. After the start of the Balkan Union (Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro) war against the Ottoman Empire on 26 September 1912, Romania adopted a wait-and-see attitude. But as early as the end of October of the same year, Romanian diplomacy formulated a concrete request for the Romanian-Bulgarian border to be rectified in favour of the Romanian state up to the line between the towns of Tutrakan and Balchik. The First Balkan War raised Romania’s price as an ally, and the great powers of both blocs tried to enlist it on their side. Although they were rival empires, Russia and Austria-Hungary supported the Romanian claim to southern Dobrudja to distract Romanians from Bessarabia and Transylvania respectively. Initially, the Bulgarian side ignored and categorically rejected Romanian territorial claims, but was later forced to make concessions. 

In January 1913, representatives of the two governments signed the so-called London Protocol, in which each side set out its views on the issues in dispute. Romania again demanded the rectification of the border along the Tutrakan-Balkan line, while Bulgaria was already prepared to cede two small triangles on the land border and a third triangle on the Black Sea coast. At the same time, the Bulgarian side announced that it was prepared to destroy all its fortifications around Silistra. A few months later, the Romanian-Bulgarian dispute is examined by a conference of ambassadors of the major powers, convened in St Petersburg. In April of the same year, the Petersburg Protocol was signed, whereby Bulgaria ceded to Romania the town of Silistra together with the surrounding area within a radius of 3 km, measured from the outskirts of the town. This concession was not the last. 

The Second Balkan War (also called the Inter-Allied War), which began on 16 June 1913 between Bulgaria and its former allies Serbia, Montenegro and Greece, created the conditions for the full realisation of Romanian aspirations towards the Bulgarian state. Romania prepared a military intervention and on 28 June its troops invaded southern Dobrudja. This act had been coordinated in advance with the major states of Serbia and Greece. The Romanian Prime Minister’s stated objectives were to enable Romania to participate in the settlement of the demarcation issue between the former allies and to satisfy his demand for a new ‘strategic’ border with Bulgaria. Given the commitment of Bulgarian troops against Serbian and Greek troops, the government in Sofia decided that it should not resist Romanian troops, who were pushing deeper into Bulgarian territory. The Bulgarian government asked the Great Powers for help, but they refrained from putting pressure on Romania. Despite the expressed desire to mediate between Sofia and Bucharest, the advance of Romanian troops continued and reached the vicinity of the Bulgarian capital.

Before the Bucharest peace conference, the southern Dobrudja issue was already a foregone conclusion. Pressured by military confrontation with all its neighbours, Romanian demands and the position of the Great Powers, the new government in Sofia, led by Vasil Radoslavov, was forced to take the decision to cede to Romania the Bulgarian territory north-east of the Tutrakan-Balchik line. The Treaty of Bucharest, signed on 28 July 1913 by Bulgaria, on the one hand, and Greece, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, on the other, stipulated that the new Romanian-Bulgarian border in Dobrudja “starts from the Danube, upstream from Tutrakan, and reaches the Black Sea south of Ecrene [Kranevo]. “It is expressly agreed that Bulgaria will demolish the existing fortifications and will not build new ones in the towns of Ruse and Shumen, in the intermediate area and in the area 20 km from the town of Balchik. Thus began a new and more conflictual stage in the development of the disputed issue of Dobrudja. The internal war interrupted Romanian-Bulgarian diplomatic relations for the first time. They were re-established at the end of August 1913 on the Bulgarian side and at the end of December 1913 on the Romanian side. 

The two Balkan wars were the occasion for agreements on the rights of the Aromanians in the former Ottoman territories. As patron, Romania managed to obtain guarantees of cultural autonomy for the Aromanian population from the Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek governments. By the Petersburg Protocol mentioned above and by virtue of a telegram annexed to the Treaty of Bucharest, Bulgaria agreed to grant autonomy to the schools and churches of the Aromanians living in the future Bulgarian territories and to allow the establishment of a bishopric for this population, while ensuring that the Romanian government could subsidise these institutions under the control of the Bulgarian government. 

As a result of the Treaty of Bucharest, which led to Bulgaria’s “first national catastrophe”, the country was obliged to cede to Romania approx. 7,500 km2 of territory, with a population of almost 300,000, predominantly Bulgarians. According to the Bulgarian census of 1910, the ratio of ethnic groups in southern Dobrudja was as follows: Bulgarians – 134 355 or 47.6%, Turks – 106 568 or 37.8%, Gypsies – 12 192 or 4.3%, Tatars – 11 718 or 4.2%, Romanians – 6348 or 2.3%, Gagauz – 4912 or 1.7%, etc. Thus, following the annexation of the area by Romania, the Bulgarian minority in Romania was joined by a significant ethnic Bulgarian community with an already formed national consciousness, which was located on the border and had potentially iredentist attitudes. 

The minority presence of Romanians in the new Romanian province, as well as the economic and social order in Romania, determined the nature of the state policy of discrimination directed against the local population and forced Romanianisation in southern Dobrudja. In contradiction to the Bulgarian agrarian legislation and similar to what had already been done in Northern Dobrudja, the 1914 Law on Land Planning in New Dobrudja obliged the owners of the so-called “myrie” lands to cede 1/3 of them to the Romanian state or pay the maximum value if they wanted to keep them. Bulgarian schools were Romanianised, except for 4 private schools remaining in the towns; school and church properties were expropriated for the benefit of the state; Romanian was introduced as compulsory in church services. Before their evacuation in 1916, the Romanian authorities confiscated thousands of head of cattle and tons of grain, committed great atrocities and deported to Moldova more than 25,000 civilians from Dobrudja, many of whom (about 15,000 according to Bulgarian figures) died of hunger, cold and disease.  

The issue of Dobrudja came to the fore again during the First World War. Then Bulgaria and Romania were placed in the two hostile political and military blocs – the Triple Alliance (Central Powers or Quadruple Alliance) and the Entente respectively. Bulgaria entered the war after signing a secret military agreement with Germany in August 1915. Under this act, the country guaranteed the return of southern Dobrudja in the event of a Central Powers victory, but subject to Romania’s behaviour. The agreement also provided, without specifying, for the possibility that the Romanian-Bulgarian land border, established by the Treaty of Berlin, could be adjusted to Bulgaria’s advantage. After long hesitation, Romania entered the World War on the side of the Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary on 27 August 1916. A few days later, on 1 September, Bulgaria declared war on Romania, an act which also led to a new rupture in diplomatic relations between the two countries. 

During the fighting on the Dobrudja front, the Bulgarian 3rd Army, under the command of Gen. Stefan Toshev together with German and Turkish troops under the joint command of German Field Marshal August von Mackensen fought against Romanian, Russian and Serbian units. After successful battles at Kochmar-Karapelit, Dobrici, Tutrakan and elsewhere, in early January 1917, the Allies pushed the enemy forces across the Danube and established full control of the area. Bulgarian troops crossed the great river, conquered Braila and reached the lower reaches of the Siret, where they took up positions. Particularly impressive was the victory at the Tutrakan military fortress on 5 and 6 September 1916, which became known in Bulgaria as the “Tutrakan Epic” and in Romania as one of the greatest defeats of the Romanian army. The 1st Cavalry Division, commanded by Major-General Ivan Kolev, made a significant contribution to the Bulgarian 3rd Army’s offensive in Dobrudja. The high motivation of the Bulgarian soldiers and commanders was no doubt due to a sense of revenge against Romania for the annexation of southern Dobrudja in 1913. From the Bulgarian point of view, the conquest of the whole of Dobrudja up to the Danube delta was perceived and appreciated as a ‘liberation’, but the situation in the two parts of the region was different – in the north, the Bulgarians had long been a minority. In the meantime, the new Danube army, made up of Bulgarian, German and Turkish troops, again under Mackensen’s command, crossed the Danube at Svishtov on 23 November 1916, headed for Bucharest and on 5/6 December captured the Romanian capital. The Bulgarians marched in solemn parade through the city centre. Under the ruthless imperatives of war, the “liberation” of southern Dobruja turned into the subjugation of foreign territories. From the Romanian point of view, it was a period of foreign “occupation” of Dobrudja and the country, which left traumatic memories.               

Issues related to the military and civil administration of Dobrudja in 1916-1918 and its future territorial status became a field of constant controversy between the Bulgarian and German allies. The Bulgarian side wanted to receive not only the southern part of Dobrudja, as agreed in the Bulgarian-German treaty of 1915, but also its northern part, now heavily Romanianised. On the contrary, German military, diplomatic and economic circles wanted to keep control of the area and, in particular, of the railway line to the port city of Constanta, in view of German plans for economic domination in Central Europe. In the course of the hostilities, a German-Bulgarian agreement was reached, according to which Northern Dobrudja was divided into two zones: a staging area, controlled by the German Staging Administration and covering the territory between the old Romanian-Bulgarian border in the south and the Cerna Voda-Constanta railway (with port) in the north; and an operational area, located north of the railway and under the control of the Bulgarian Third Army. However, this agreement was not respected, the German occupation authorities had the last word on the ground, and relations between them and the Bulgarian authorities deteriorated. 

Following the Romanian military surrender, a peace treaty was concluded in Bucharest on 7 May 1918 between Bulgaria, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey on the one hand and Romania on the other. The treaty stipulated that Southern Dobrudja was to revert to Bulgaria, with a correction of the border to the north (up to 3-8 km south of the Cerna Voda-Constanta line), while Northern Dobrudja was to come under the control of the jointly administered Quadruple Alliance, the so-called Condominium. In the northern part of the district, German stage units carried out large requisitions and tolerated the re-establishment of Romanian positions in municipal councils, schools and churches. Following a conference of representatives of the Quadruple Alliance, convened in Berlin at the initiative of Bulgaria, a secret protocol on border issues was signed on 24 September 1918, according to which Northern Dobrudja also became part of the territory of the Bulgarian Kingdom. This belated ‘gesture’ to Bulgaria remained without legal value, as five days later the Bulgarian army surrendered on the Macedonian front.   

Under the conditions of the ongoing war, a broad national movement developed among the Bulgarian population in northern and southern Dobrudja, with strong Bulgarian support. Popular committees were set up at local level, Bulgarian schools and churches were opened and cultural events were organised. In the summer of 1917, the Central People’s Council of Dobrudja was established and held two popular congresses calling for the annexation of the whole of Dobrudja to Bulgaria. At the same time, Dobrudjan organisations and the state took steps to investigate the violence committed by the Romanian authorities against the civilian population before and at the beginning of the hostilities, and to support, liberate and return the so-called “Dobrudja”. After mediation by Austria-Hungary, Romania and the Central Powers signed a special treaty on 10 January 1918 for the return of those deported by the Romanian authorities (except for men aged between 17 and 46, fit for military service). By the beginning of May, some 10,000 deportees had been released, but they were not only from Dobrudja. 

On the other hand, during the war, the Romanian civilian population in Dobrudja was also subjected to coercion, looting, physical abuse and atrocities by the occupying authorities. Romanian information sources mention dozens of such cases, also committed by Bulgarians. The whole nature of the First World War had its mark on the actions of all combatants and did not ‘select’ civilian victims according to ethnicity and nationality. The clashes between Bulgaria and Romania in 1913 and 1916-1918 and their aftermath were decisive in shaping the negative mutual perceptions of neighbours on both sides of the Danube.                               

The victory of the Entente in the “Great War” changed once again the territorial status of Dobrudja. With the signing of the Thessaloniki Armistice on 29 September 1918, Bulgaria left the war as a defeated state. Although the armistice provided for the maintenance of the Bulgarian administration in southern Dobrudja and the presence of Bulgarian troops along the border, at the end of December 1918, the military command of the Entente allowed Romania to establish full military and administrative control over the area. The return of the Romanian authorities was possible even before the peace treaty was concluded, primarily thanks to the support of France. Romania’s value to the victorious Great Powers increased after the war. The country was valued as a barrier against Russian and communist influence and as an important factor in the liquidation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. These international positions influenced the settlement of the Dobrudja question at the Paris Peace Conference, which began in January 1919. 

The positions of the victorious powers on the Dobrudja problem in Paris were not unified. In line with President W. Wilson’s so-called “14 points” for European peace, especially the principle of national self-determination, and with a view to attracting Bulgaria as a friendly country, the United States supported the Bulgarian cause for southern Dobrudja. The British position is closer to the American, but more hesitant. Italian diplomacy limited its support for Bulgaria mainly to the issues disputed with the Yugoslav Kingdom. France had a decisive say in the Romanian-Bulgarian territorial dispute and highly valued Romania’s role as an ally in the post-war period. Moreover, in redrawing the map of Europe at the peace conference, the French thesis was that of a ‘punitive’ peace that was imposed on the ‘losers’. 

The Commission for the Study of Territorial Questions concerning Romania and Yugoslavia, set up by the Peace Conference, took the view that it could not propose ceding to an enemy country (Bulgaria) a territory that was rightly and de facto part of an allied country (Romania). Only on condition that Romania was willing to make such concessions did the Commission recommend possible changes to the Romanian-Bulgarian border line. These should be done in such a way as to preserve the security of the Romanian port of Constanta, to ensure the defence of the two neighbouring countries and to return to Bulgaria those areas which are economically oriented to the south and where the Romanian population is insignificant compared to the Bulgarian one. According to the attached map, this means that 2/3 of the territory of Southern Dobrudja, with the towns of Dobrici, Balchik and Kavarna, should revert to the Bulgarian state. During the discussion on Dobrudja by the representatives of the victorious Great Powers in Paris, the unrealised idea of using Southern Dobrudja as a “territorial compensation” was also launched. According to this idea, Romania could make concessions in Dobrudja if Bulgaria, in return, ceded territory in Macedonia to Serbia, which in turn would cede the entire Banat region to Romania.

On the question of Dobrudja’s membership, as on all other territorial issues, the Bulgarian government’s memorandum to the Peace Conference referred to the right to national self-determination. On several occasions, Sofia proposed that the populations of the disputed areas between the Balkan states should be called upon to express their will through a plebiscite organised under the control of the new international organisation, the League of Nations. These appeals were not heeded by the victorious powers. Contrary to the principle of national self-determination, the official Romanian memorandum presented at the conference was based on the right of conquest. The request for southern Dobrudja was motivated by the fact that Romania’s border with Bulgaria had already been established before the World War by the 1913 Bucharest Peace Treaty. This claim was reinforced by strong anti-Bulgarian propaganda in Romania and the other victorious countries. The Treaty of Neuilly, signed on 27 November 1919, stipulated that the border between Bulgaria and Romania should remain as it was on 1 August 1914, i.e. before the outbreak of the First World War. As after 1913, the entire territory of the area between the Danube and the Black Sea was again part of the Romanian state borders.   

Dobrudja and minority issues between the two world wars

Diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Romania were re-established in 1920. In the same year, Romania re-established its consulate in Ruse (which lasted until 1954) and opened its own consulate in Varna (closed in 1941). In 1926, a Romanian consulate general was also established in Vidin (closed 1948) and an honorary consulate in Burgas (closed 1939). After the First World War, Romanian-Bulgarian relations in the non-political sphere were regulated by a series of treaties and conventions: a surrender convention and a judicial convention (1924), a commercial convention (1930 and its amendment in 1942), a convention on the regulation of railway communications (1935), a convention on the regulation of ferry communications (1937), a convention on payments (1940). 

The positions of ‘defeated’ Bulgaria and ‘victorious’ Romania in post-war international relations were opposite. While Sofia sought a peaceful revision of some of the clauses of the Treaty of Neuilly on the basis of the possibilities offered by Article 19 of the League of Nations Pact (NLP), Bucharest wished to retain territorial and other gains made after the war and was firmly opposed to revising the peace treaties. In the context of the prevailing tendency to maintain the status quo and the “punitive peace” imposed by the victorious Great Powers, the advantages in Romanian-Bulgarian relations are on Romania’s side. However, despite differences in principle, both countries have certain reasons for maintaining good neighbourly relations. Bulgaria is trying to weaken the hostile circle of states around it, expects Romania to mediate in the tense relations between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, and hopes that good Bulgarian-Romanian relations will help improve the situation of the Bulgarian population in southern Dobrudja. As for Romania, Bulgaria seemed to be relatively the least ‘dangerous’ of its neighbours (compared to the Soviet Union and Hungary) to challenge its post-war borders. Bulgarian territorial revisionism towards Cadrilat in the post-World War I years was more a potential than a real possibility.   

Due to the advanced integration of Northern Dobrudja into Romania before the wars, the issue of Dobrudja in the interwar period was mainly limited to the territorial status of Southern Dobrudja and the situation of the Bulgarian population there. The uncertainty of the government in Bucharest about the Romanian possession of Cadrilat had two dimensions. On the one hand, it was caused by the so-called Bulgarian iredentism, a term used by the Romanian special security services, nationalist circles and the media to refer to the manifestations of the illegal and sectarian movement, the legal Bulgarian minority claims and manifestations supported by Bulgaria, as well as its minority or territorial claims to the area. On the other hand, it refers to the spread among the population of Dobrudja of the revolutionary communist ideas infiltrated by the Soviet Union and Comintern and propagated by the communist parties – ideas that are intertwined with traditional Russian territorial aspirations for Bessarabia under Romanian rule.          

Economically, the importance of southern Dobrudja remains much greater for Bulgaria than for Romania. The loss of Southern Dobrudja, known as the ‘breadbasket of Bulgaria’, led to a decline in agricultural production in the country, mainly due to the lack of large farms producing for domestic and foreign markets. The region’s decline also affects Bulgaria’s two major ports – the city of Varna on the Black Sea and the city of Ruse on the Danube. They are losing their hinterland, which reduces trade there. In the post-war enlarged Romanian state, southern Dobrudja was treated mainly as an agrarian and raw material appendix (internal colony) and as an object of colonisation, and the local population was subjected to economic deprivation.  

As a result of the wars, the quantitative and spatial parameters of the mutual minorities in the two neighbouring countries changed. The Bulgarian-speaking population within the borders of the enlarged Romanian state increased significantly. According to official Romanian data from 1930, the number of Bulgarians of “nationality” in Romania was 366,384. (2.1% of the total population), and those with Bulgarian “mother tongue” – 364,373. The number of Bulgarians by provinces is as follows. (Southern Dobrudja alone – 143,209 d.), Bessarabia – 163,726 d., Banat – 10,012 d., Muntenia – 3,664 d., Moldova – 1,644 d., Transylvania – 886 d., Oltenia – 538 d., etc. According to Bulgarian data, which is based on ethnic origin, the number of Bulgarians in Romania after World War I exceeded 600,000 and even reached one million. In general, the Bulgarians of “Greater Romania” are a predominantly agrarian population with a relatively low intellectual stratum. In the behaviour of the various regional communities towards the Romanian state in the interwar period, accommodation was evident. The separatist or iredentist sentiments that were most pronounced among the Bulgarians of southern Dobrudja existed more in a latent state – as an expectation of territorial changes in the future. 

Romanian policy towards the Bulgarians as a minority is the result of Romanian nationalist efforts to integrate, assimilate or, in the extreme case, force them to emigrate, and to transform the territories inhabited by them into integral parts of the “national state” desired by the political elite. For official Bucharest, the Bulgarian minority is a “problem” primarily because of the compact Bulgarian community in southern Dobrudja. The elements of the regime imposed there are: the special law on “New Dobrudja” of 1924, which, also based on the thesis of preserving the “mirilors” of the sultanal property, obliged “lords” with more than 5 hectares to cede 1/3 of their land to the Romanian state; the application of the post-war agrarian reform of 1921. The massive colonisation of Romanians from the “old kingdom” and especially of the Aromanians, especially from Greece, which was carried out without sufficient prior preparation and to the detriment of the local population; the arbitrary actions of the administrative, military, police and gendarmerie authorities, as well as of extremist nationalist organisations, composed mainly of Aromanian settlers, one of the results of which were pogroms with dozens of victims, such as those in the village of St. In 1926, the Armenian army attacked the village of Staro Selo (1926) and the village of S. This regime forced some 36,000 Bulgarians from southern Dobrudja to emigrate to Bulgaria, where they set up their own organisations (the largest being the “Dobrudja” Union). 

The violence in Quadrilateral was linked to the specific conditions of Romanian rule, but also to the national and social struggles of the Bulgarian Dobrudjanss. Of particular importance are the manifestations of the so-called communitarianism in the area and the reactions against it. Romanian propaganda often equates it with banditry as a threat to territorial integrity and state security, but in fact they are different phenomena. The ideologically motivated actions of the Chechens in Dobrudja, organised by right-wing and left-wing forces (nationalists and communists) within the framework of the movement for the liberation of Dobrudja, should be attributed to ‘communitarianism’. Forms of this movement were the clandestine autonomist organisation that emerged after the First World War, the Internal Dobrudja Revolutionary Organisation (1923), in which right and left coexisted temporarily before becoming an exclusively nationalist organisation, and the pro-communist Dobrudja Revolutionary Organisation (1925). Their bases were mostly on Bulgarian territory and included both refugees and locals. Chechen demonstrations included revolutionary terror against representatives of the authorities and were on a wider scale by the end of 1926. The activity of the “Komitagi” served as the main justification for the curfew (martial law) in Quadrilateral, which was imposed after the World War and continued intermittently until the end of 1928, when it was maintained only in the 15-kilometre border area. The official Romanian responses to complaints of repression of the local population by the Romanian authorities or nationalist circles are also part of the same explanation. The “communist” attacks were also used as a pretext to exert pressure on the Bulgarian governments or to counter their claims regarding the situation and rights of Bulgarians in Dobrudja. 

On the other hand, the Romanian state allowed, albeit with restrictions, the existence of Bulgarian legal institutions in Southern Dobrudja. These included private schools and cultural societies in the towns (Silistra, Dobrici, Balchik, Kavarna), the publication of periodicals and literature in Bulgarian, as well as some manifestations of Bulgarian culture. Some of the Bulgarians became fully integrated into the political, economic and, less frequently, cultural life of “Greater Romania”. 

Like the Bulgarians of Dobrudja, the Bulgarians of Bessarabia, who showed strong pro-Russian sympathies, accepted the establishment of Romanian power with hostility. They felt the consequences of the Romanian regime of government introduced in the Soviet-disputed area, which became known as the ‘Bessarabian system’ and synonymous with anarchy, abuse, corruption and terror. This regime led to a general economic decline, which resulted in impoverishment, de-urbanisation and emigration, as well as the complete Romanisation of the educational and cultural life of the Bulgarian population. The situation of the Bulgarian Catholics in Banat is different. The high population level and the general climate of inter-ethnic tolerance in Banat, the small number of Bulgarians in Banat, their remoteness from Bulgaria and the Hungarian influence already imposed on them explain the relative tolerance of the Romanian authorities towards their ethnic manifestations. 

Romanian politics determined the main demands of the organised legal movement of the Bulgarian minority in the country during the period under review. The aim of this minority movement was to defend, within the framework of international treaties and the country’s constitution, the rights and interests of the minority community. The main problem in its ideological and political development is that of the attitude towards the modalities of political behaviour and the corresponding forms of organisation. Three modes of action can be distinguished, namely through Romanian political parties, through a minority party of its own or through a non-party organisation as a compromise option.

Membership of Romanian majority parties was imposed immediately after the war and remained dominant in Bulgarian political behaviour. Some of the political actions of Bulgarian parliamentarians (MPs and senators) in Southern Dobrudja in favour of the Bulgarian minority had partial results, but did not lead to lasting changes. Disillusionment with the Romanian parties, the disunity of the Bulgarian electorate, the deterioration of the situation of the minorities and the emergence of a new generation of leaders stimulated the trends of organising Bulgarian minority parties in the second half of the 1920s and early 1930s. The activists of the “minority” idea in Southern Dobrudja did not have electoral successes, but they achieved results in terms of media coverage of minority issues and presentation of the corresponding demands of the Bulgarians, preservation and development of Bulgarian cultural and educational work, editing of publications, relations with other Bulgarian communities in Romania and support of their legal movements, foreign propaganda through participation in congresses of national minorities in European countries. The idea of a non-partisan organisation that would go beyond the scope of the existing Bulgarian cultural societies took hold among the Bulgarians of Southern Dobrudja after the intervention of the Bulgarian government in the mid-1930s. The non-partisan organisation was a compromise between the two approaches of the Bulgarian movement until then and an attempt to overcome the disunity among the minority. In order to achieve this unification, the tactic of “political opportunism” was recommended, i.e. supporting the ruling parties in exchange for satisfying certain minority demands. The failure of efforts in this direction was predetermined by internal contradictions and the change of political government in early 1938. 

During the royal dictatorship of 1938-1940, the Bulgarians, like other minorities in Romania, were officially integrated into the new government through the National Revival Front, a caste organisation that was conceived as a ‘mass’ totalitarian party. During this period, Bulgarian participation in Romanian political life lost its autonomy and remained ineffective in addressing the problems of the Bulgarian minority.

The Bulgarian state strove to improve the situation of the Bulgarians in Southern Dobrudja in order to maintain the ethnic Bulgarian presence in the area until a favourable opportunity arose for the peaceful return of the area. It therefore provides direct support to the Bulgarian minority movement by covert means, encouraging organisational unification of the Bulgarian community (except for communist circles), covering most of the running costs of Bulgarian private schools, supporting the publication of the Bulgarian periodical press and financing some private banks.   

The disputes between Bulgaria and Romania arising from the so-called “unresolved issues” after the “Great War” and attempts to resolve them almost exhausted the content of bilateral political relations between the two world wars. Bulgaria has made some diplomatic efforts in favour of the rights of the Bulgarian minority in Southern Dobrudja, which, however, have always been subordinated to the resolution of other, more important foreign policy issues of the country. For its part, Romanian diplomacy countered Bulgarian demands against the Bulgarians in Quadrilateral with complaints about the iredentist activities of Dobrudjan organisations and, in particular, sectarian actions, which gave rise to collective protest notes by neighbouring countries against Bulgaria. As a counterweight to Bulgarian aspirations, Romania also raised the issue of the Romanian-speaking population in Bulgaria, and from the mid-1920s launched the idea of reciprocal treatment of minorities or their exchange. 

In the 1920s, the two neighbouring countries held lengthy negotiations to lift the embargo on the property of Bulgarian subjects in Romania. The Bulgarian side was more active in these negotiations, while Romanian diplomacy dragged its feet, formulating financial and property claims of individual Romanian subjects against Bulgaria. Negotiations resulted in a bilateral agreement, brokered by the Great Powers at The Hague in 1930, under which Romania undertook to lift the embargo in return for Bulgaria’s obligation to pay 110 million lei. After many delays on the Romanian side, the seizure was lifted only from the urban estates, while the Polish estates, which were in the majority and located mainly in southern Dobrudja, were expropriated for negligible compensation. 

After the Balkan Wars and the First World War, the size of the population of the Aromanians in Bulgaria increased due to the annexation of Pirin Macedonia to Bulgaria, while that of the Vlachs in northern Bulgaria decreased due to the loss of southern Dobrudja (the Vlachs there lived mainly in Tutrakan) and the so-called western suburbs (the Vlachs had their population in the confiscated villages near Kula). The 1926 census data in the country indicates 69,080 Romanians by “nationality”, 5,324 Aromanians, 3,733 Kutvlahs and 1,551 Tentians (79,728 d. in total), and – 83,746 d. with Romanian “mother tongue”. According to various Romanian sources, the number of ethnic Romanians in Bulgaria between the two world wars varied between 120,000 and 250,000. 

In the period between the two world wars, the Vlachs of north-western Bulgaria became a minority issue in Bulgarian-Romanian relations. In the context of the rise of the minority issue on the international scene, a process of ethnic awareness and increased self-identification with the Romanian nation began among part of the intelligentsia of this population. The main demands of the minority addressed to the Bulgarian state authorities in several memoirs from the 1920s were the establishment of Romanian schools and religious services in Romanian. This process was stimulated by Romania, was limited in scope and, despite some attempts, did not lead to the creation of an organised minority movement. After the coup d’état of 9 June 1923 in Sofia, the attitude towards the Vlachs changed in a negative direction towards their demands due to the escalation of Bulgarian nationalism. As a result, with increasing support from Romania, their minority rights movement moved north of the Danube. 

The behaviour of the Bulgarian authorities and public circles towards the Romanian-speaking Vlachs after 1923 was to a large extent a projection of the conflictual Bulgarian-Romanian relations, as well as a consequence of Romania’s annexation of southern Dobrudja and its policy towards the Bulgarians. The so-called Romanian propaganda among the Vlachs by the Bulgarian authorities also provoked manifestations of extreme nationalism towards the minority population. The assimilationist objectives pursued by the Bulgarian side are to limit and counteract the impact of Romanian policy and to prevent the formation of a Romanian national identity among the Vlachs, to suppress elements of their ethnic culture and to impose the Bulgarian language and Bulgarian self-identification. The methods used are more limited to prohibitions (do not speak the mother tongue, do not wear traditional costumes, etc.) and repression, and less to cultural policy, which often takes coercive forms. Restrictive measures are mainly the initiative of local authorities and Bulgarian nationalist organisations. 

Romania’s interest in the Vlachs of north-western Bulgaria emerged just after the First World War and intensified as Romanian assimilationist pressure in southern Dobrudja intensified. Romanian diplomacy raised the issue of the situation and rights of the Vlachs in Bulgaria not only out of concern for minority rights (Bucharest showed no interest in this population until the World War). Of decisive importance in this case was the desire to neutralise the Bulgarian minority and possible territorial claims to southern Dobrudja. In addition, according to some circles in Bucharest, Romania’s long-term interests required the ethnic preservation of the Romanian community in the Timoc River region in Serbia and Bulgaria, with a view to eventual territorial annexation under ‘favourable’ conditions. In fact, some Romanian territorial aspirations for the region around Vidin had already emerged during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, when the Romanian army also fought in this region; and on the eve of the First World War, the same territory was mentioned in the list of Romanian aspirations, although not as a main claim. The main manifestations and means of Romanian policy towards the Bulgarian Vlachs in the period between the two world wars were: diplomatic interventions on their behalf; distribution of Romanian textbooks, periodicals and literature; visits of Romanian students and intellectuals to localities with a Vlach population; attracting and financing supporters, researchers – students and pupils from Romania, as well as expatriates; instigating petition activity in Bulgaria and abroad. The Romanian Consul General in Vidin, Hristo Curtovici, appointed in 1926, played an important role in this policy, according to which his main objective was to help establish Romanian schools and churches in the region.

After the First World War, a Romanian school and church operated in Sofia, as well as a Romanian primary school and chapel in the town of Vidin. Gorna Giumaia / Blagoevgrad. Although in their role the schools are close to minority educational institutions (children of Bulgarian origin study in them), according to the normative documents they are rather foreign schools – they are housed in buildings owned by the Romanian state, are fully supported by it, and most of the teachers are Romanians by nationality and citizenship. 

The emigration of Bulgarian Vlachs to Romania in the interwar period was not massive and was stimulated by the Romanian side. Up to 200 families emigrated from the Vidin area by 1933. The expulsions of the Aromanians from southern Bulgaria were caused by the economic problems faced especially by the shepherds after the wars and the imposition of the new state borders, as well as by the actions of the nationalists in the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation. Emigrants and refugees from Bulgaria settled mainly in southern Dobrudja, where Romanian governments pursued an active colonisation policy.

Bulgaria and Romania were obliged to respect the international system of minority protection established after the First World War under the UN guarantee. Their obligations are enshrined in the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria and the special treaty on minorities concluded in 1919 between Romania and the victorious Great Powers. But the two neighbouring states again have different attitudes to the commitments thus imposed on them, because of their opposing interests in the sphere of minorities – predominantly ‘external’ in the case of the Bulgarians, they are predominantly ‘internal’ in the case of the Romanians. The Bulgarian government and public opinion in the country readily accepted the clauses of the treaty for the protection of minorities in the country, expressing a strong desire to see them applied to the many Bulgarian minorities in neighbouring countries. On the contrary, Romania, which is faced with the difficult task of integrating large and iredentist minorities (especially Hungarians), is initially opposed to the obligations imposed on it, arguing that it cannot accept external interference in solving its national problems.   

The practice of petitioning on the situation of minorities affects Bulgaria and Romania differently. During the period in which the system operated under League of Nations auspices, only two minority petitions declared admissible concerned minority communities in Bulgaria. One of these petitions was filed by the Academic Society “Dacia Aureliană” in Bucharest on the situation of the Romanian minority in Bulgaria. During the same period, Romanian governments were cited in a total of 81 petitions declared admissible concerning the situation of minorities. The majority of these petitions concern the problems of Hungarians in Transylvania, while 8 petitions concern the situation of Bulgarians in Romania (6 of them were made by the Union of Refugees “Dobrudja” and other Bulgarian organisations concerning the situation of Bulgarians in South Dobrudja, one concerns Bulgarians in Bessarabia and one concerns a private problem). In the considerations sent to the World Organisation on the minority petitions, both governments tried to play down the issues raised and justify their policies. But unlike Bucharest’s responses to the Bulgarian petitions, with regard to the Romanian petition, the government in Sofia declared itself ready to accept a UN investigation on its territory and to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, provided that this investigation is extended to the situation of the Bulgarian minority in Romania and that the relevant recommendations are accepted by the Romanian government. Such an inquiry is not taking place.    

Negotiations between Bulgaria and Romania on controversial issues, including the treatment of minorities, began in 1933 in a new international context. Hitler’s coming to power in Germany reinforced the principle of revising the Versailles treaty system in international relations, and in the Balkans the initiative of an anti-revisionist bloc was taken. Trying to draw Bulgaria into this bloc, in October 1933, the Romanian Foreign Minister, Nicolae Titulescu, made a proposal to solve the unresolved problems in bilateral relations. In early December of the same year, the Bulgarian government presented a memorandum to the Romanian side containing the Bulgarian positions on these issues, including that of the Bulgarian minority in Romania. The Romanian government’s reply, accompanied by a memorandum on the treatment of the Romanian minority in Bulgaria, was received only in February 1935. The Bulgarian memorandum and the Romanian reply were discussed by the representatives of the two countries during negotiations held in Sofia between 24 April and 11 May 1936. In order to speed up the negotiations and to overcome the controversy, the Bulgarian side drew up and approved in August 1936 two draft conventions, one for the settlement of the outstanding issues on which a solution seemed possible and the other for the treatment of mutual minorities in the two countries. In May 1937, the Romanian plenipotentiary minister in Sofia handed over the Romanian reply to the two drafts, thus concluding the active phase of bilateral negotiations.                 

During the Romanian-Bulgarian negotiations, Bulgarian diplomacy was initially more active, while Romanian interest was weak, being conditioned by current problems in Romanian Balkan politics. Bulgaria insisted that the so-called one-third of the land taken from the inhabitants of southern Dobrudja be returned or compensated, that Bulgarian homes occupied by Romanian settlers be evacuated, and that confiscated properties of Bulgarian schools and churches be returned. Romania, for its part, has been unwilling to resolve these issues retrospectively or, at best, has given evasive answers. The Romanian government is willing to waive the 55 million lei owed by Bulgaria under the 1930 Hague Agreement, but in return offers the Bulgarian side to waive any monetary claims against the Romanian state. In the course of the negotiations, the two sides failed to reach agreement on the degree of reciprocity in terms of minority school and church rights and a number of other issues. 

In fact, the principle of reciprocity has become the crux of the controversy over minority issues. In connection with Romanian requests for such reciprocity, as early as 1927, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Atanas Burov told the Romanian Minister Plenipotentiary in Sofia that the Bulgarian government was ready to discuss the question of opening Romanian public schools in Bulgaria on a reciprocal basis, as well as to allow the establishment of private schools and churches in the Vidin region, if legitimate requests were made and if the societies supporting them had the necessary means. But then the Romanian diplomacy considered that it was not advantageous for Romania to discuss the school issue on the basis of reciprocity, because in that case Bulgaria would have demanded that state primary schools taught in Bulgarian be opened in many localities in Dobrudja and Bessarabia. In fact, both Bulgaria, as far as the Vlachs are concerned, and Romania, as far as the Bulgarians are concerned, do not comply with the recommendations of the post-war treaties to provide primary education in the minority language when it predominates in a given area.          

In the post-1933 negotiations on the rights claims of the Bulgarian population in southern Dobrudja, the Romanian side insisted on reciprocal treatment of Romanians in north-western Bulgaria and Bulgarians in southern Dobrudja. Bulgarian diplomats refuse to accept this principle, arguing that the historical formation and national consciousness of the two minority populations are different. According to these criteria, reciprocity should be sought between the Vlach population of north-western Bulgaria, on the one hand, and the population of Bulgarian origin in Oltenia, Muntenia and other territories of the “old Romanian kingdom” until 1913. The Bulgarian side opposes the Romanian position to exclude from the scope of the negotiations the Bulgarians of Northern Dobrudja, Bessarabia, Banat and other areas of Romania. Moreover, the Romanian plenipotentiary minister V. Stoica assessed these Bulgarians as “islands of foreigners” “destined to disappear”. 

Another difference is the mechanism for introducing minority languages into education and worship. Bulgarian diplomats propose that these languages be introduced in primary schools on the basis of parents’ requests, while Romanian diplomats insist that this should be done in pre-established schools where the language is taught for six hours a week. A similar divergence can be seen in the church sector. Bulgaria proposes the introduction of worship in the mother tongue according to the size of the congregation, while Romania insists on a prior enumeration of the settlements in which worship will be introduced. The Romanian side again excludes Bulgarians outside southern Dobrudja, but claims Romanian parishes throughout Bulgaria. While the Bulgarian position is based on the free will of the minority populations, the Romanian position emphasises the will of the government, which predetermines decisions.

In connection with the controversies that arose during the negotiations, Bulgaria proposed the establishment of a commission of inquiry with a chairman appointed by the League of Nations to examine the wishes and demands of the respective minorities in both countries. This proposal was not accepted by Romanian diplomats, who argued that they did not want to allow Romania’s internal politics to be controlled by foreigners. Because of this position, the Bulgarians’ intention to give an international character to bilateral minority issues was not realised.  

In the end, Romania refused to commit to the special convention on the treatment of minorities prepared by the Bulgarian side, pointing out that both countries are already bound by UN obligations to protect minorities. In fact, Romania’s motivation in this case is that it does not want the proposed convention to create a “dangerous precedent”, given Romania’s relations with Hungary in relation to the significant Hungarian minority within the borders of the Romanian state.  

International events in 1938 led to a loss of interest on Bulgaria’s part in continuing negotiations. Germany’s annexation of Austria and the Munich Agreement, which allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, strengthened the hopes of the revisionist states. The Thessaloniki Agreement between Bulgaria and the Balkan Entente, which revised the military clauses of the Nuremberg Treaty, also abolished the demilitarised zone from Western Thrace to Thrace, a decision that limited Bulgaria’s territorial outlet into the Aegean. Under these new conditions, Bulgarian territorial claims were directed primarily towards southern Dobrudja, with a view to its peaceful return to the Bulgarian state. It was then that the Romanian side became the one to take initiatives for an agreement on minorities, in order to prevent the “danger” of international support for Bulgarian territorial claims. Due to the opposing interests of Bulgaria and Romania, the lack of willingness to compromise and, above all, the territorial dispute over Dobrudja, the bilateral negotiations on minority issues did not reach a result in the spirit of the principles of international protection of minority rights. In the political context of the era of nationalism and territorial revisionism, this is a predictable outcome.               

The Treaty of Craiova and the settlement of the dispute in the Dobrudja region 

On the eve of the Second World War, in 1939, Bulgarian diplomacy undertook a survey in the capitals of the great powers to sound out opinions on possible international reactions to the territorial claim to southern Dobrudja. Efforts to gain international support intensified in the early 1940s, when Bulgarian diplomats applied identical diplomatic ‘bullying’ moves. They suggested to Germany and Italy that it was not in their interest to solve the Dobrudja problem with the help of Britain and the Soviet Union. At the same time, to the Anglo-French bloc, they issued the threat of Soviet support for the Bulgarian claim. Although Soviet support was as resolute as possible, even going so far as to annex Northern Dobrudja to Bulgaria and establish a common Bulgarian-Soviet border, the leaders in Sofia sought the cooperation above all of Germany, the main factor of territorial revisionism and the most dominant power in the Balkans at the time. 

In the spring of 1940, a favourable international situation was created for Bulgaria to resolve the territorial dispute. By that time, Germany had already succeeded in luring Romania and, seeking a final victory, Bulgaria was also willing to support the idea of compensation in its favour by regaining southern Dobrudja. The German-Soviet (Ribbentrop-Molotov) Pact of 23 August 1939, which redistributed spheres of influence in Eastern Europe as well as the territorial aspirations of neighbouring states, placed Romania in international isolation. The country was abandoned by its former Western patrons, France and England, who gave up the guarantees they had offered and also recognised the legitimacy of the Bulgarian demands. The Soviet Union remained on the side of Bulgaria’s rights to southern Dobrudja and continued to offer its support, and at the end of June 1940, with German consent and after an ultimatum, occupied Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. After unsuccessful Romanian-Hungarian negotiations, at the end of August of the same year, Germany and Italy forced Romania (through the so-called “Second Vienna Arbitration”) to cede Northern Transylvania to Hungary. Isolated, Romania was forced to seek ways to settle the dispute with Bulgaria as well.

On 4 April 1940, at a meeting at the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, southern Dobrudja was identified as the most accessible object of Bulgarian territorial aspirations. According to Foreign Minister Ivan Popov’s programme, Bulgaria wished to recover this area peacefully within its 1913 borders in order to redress an injustice and, at the same time, was prepared to conclude a non-aggression pact with Romania or guarantee a new common border. Bulgarian diplomacy’s drive to gain international support ended with German Führer Hitler agreeing to resolve the Dobrudja issue in accordance with Bulgaria’s request. At the same time, Germany pressured Romanian leaders to open negotiations with Bulgaria. 

During the preliminary Romanian-Bulgarian explorations and subsequent negotiations, which began in the Romanian city of Craiova on 19 August, the Bulgarian position of returning southern Dobrudja to its pre-annexation borders by Romania and the Romanian position of territorial concessions and reservation for Romania of the towns of Silistra and Balchik, as well as a coastal area, clashed. In addition, Romania asked the Bulgarian side for a preliminary declaration stating that it would allow sufficient time for the evacuation of the area, that it undertook to “repatriate” all Bulgarians from the territory of the Romanian state and that it would pay for the property of the Romanian population expelled from Southern Dobrudja. The Romanian side tried to postpone the negotiations, while the Bulgarian side again asked for help from Germany and Italy. This led to the signing of the Romanian-Bulgarian treaty in Craiova on 7 September 1940, whereby Southern Dobrudja became part of Bulgaria again.

The Treaty of Craiova defined the new Romanian-Bulgarian border as “definitive and eternal”. The various annexes to the treaty are an integral part of it: Protocol, according to which the new frontier “will run from the Danube just below Silistra to the Black Sea about 8 km south of Mangalia”; Agreement on the modalities of emptying Southern Dobrudja from Romanian administration and military power and transferring it to Bulgaria; An agreement on the compulsory and voluntary exchange of Bulgarian and Romanian populations; A financial agreement whereby the Bulgarian government undertakes to pay the Romanian government the sum of one billion lei as compensation for Romanian property in Southern Dobrudja. In a manifesto of 21 September 1940,Държавен вестник, София, 12.09.1940, Притурка Tsar Boris III ordered the army to conquer the territory of Southern Dobrudja returned to Bulgaria. This act was greeted with great enthusiasm, both in the country and by the local Bulgarian population.

Essential to Bulgaria’s success was the fact that Bulgarian aspirations were recognised as just by all the great powers of the time. After the settlement of the Dobrudja problem, the Bulgarian government thanked Germany and Italy, but did not fail to express its gratitude to the Soviet and British governments. Important for keeping Southern Dobrudja within Bulgaria’s borders after the war was the fact that the change in the status quo was achieved through peaceful negotiations and not through aggression or external arbitration (as was the case with Northern Transylvania). At the Paris Peace Conference in 1946, the Soviet Union supported the territorial integrity of Bulgaria, which was already included in the Soviet zone of influence. Thus, the Bulgarian state turned out to be the only former satellite of Germany to emerge from the war with territorial gains, namely Southern Dobrudja.

Internal criticism of the Bulgarian government over the Treaty of Craiova came from some Bulgarian Dobrudja. They refer to the “abandonment” of the Bulgarians of Northern Dobrudja, who were forced to leave their homes and properties to resettle in Bulgaria, and to the large financial obligation assumed by the Bulgarian side as compensation for the properties of the Romanian emigrants from Southern Dobrudja. However, despite these critical voices, the prevailing opinion among Bulgarian society and politicians is that the settlement of the South Dobrudja problem in 1940 was an undeniable achievement of Bulgarian foreign policy, which corrected a historical injustice imposed on Bulgaria in 1913 and 1919.

The return of Southern Dobrudja had a positive impact on Bulgaria’s trade with Romania and on the Bulgarian economy as a whole. As a result of the exchange of lei by the local population, a considerable amount of Romanian currency accumulated in the Bulgarian National Bank, which allowed for an increase in the import of oil products from Romania. The cities of Varna and Ruse regained their hinterland, which had a beneficial impact on their development as economic and commercial port centres. The regaining of Southern Dobrudja has also had a positive effect on Bulgarian agriculture. Large farms in the district, producing for the market, contributed to increased production and the extensive use of modern machinery in agricultural work. Bulgaria is rebuilding its granary. 

The clauses of the Treaty of Craiova did not provoke dramatic reactions in Romania, despite some exceptions of the time and the subsequent ideological inscription of the treaty in the 1940 Romanian “golgota” (i.e. the successive losses of Bessarabia, Northern Transylvania and Southern Dobrudja). This is confirmed by the comment of the famous Romanian historian, ideologist and politician Nicolae Iorga. A few days after the signing of the Treaty of Craiova, he admitted that the annexation of Southern Dobrudja in 1913 was the result of a mistaken policy towards a territory that was not part of the Romanian national heritage and in which Romanians felt alien.Neamul Românesc, Bucureşti, 17.09.1940 The following observation by the Romanian emigrant, lecturer and presidential advisor Sorin Alexandrescu, made at the end of the 20th century, is eloquent in the same sense: “Since 1940 and until today, no one in Romania seems to regret this loss, not even the older or newer nationalists, perhaps because of the vague feeling, that is, as far as I know, never cut, that in fact we are not entitled to this territory, won in May without reason by Maiorescu in 1913”. Alexandrescu, S. Paradoxul român, Bucureşti, 1998, p. 133.

Territorial and minority issues were central to Bulgarian-Romanian political relations in the years of World War II. The Treaty of Craiova offered a relatively balanced solution to the most painful problem in bilateral relations, but it did not liquidate the contradictions between the two neighbouring countries or abrogate their mutual claims. The alliance ties between Bulgaria and Romania under the Tripartite Pact don’t help either. After diplomatic relations between Romania and the Soviet Union broke down on 22 June 1941, the Bulgarian government, at Bucharest’s official request, took over the protection of Romanian interests in the Soviet Union through its legation in Moscow. At different levels and on different occasions, the Romanian ruling circles had various aspirations towards Bulgaria: for the restoration of southern Dobrudja; for the annexation of part of the Vidin region, because of the Romanian-speaking population living there; for the establishment of a condominium with Romanian participation in the part of Macedonia that was under temporary Bulgarian rule, because of the presence of an Armenian population in that area. The Bulgarian governments, in turn, took a keen interest in the fate of the Bulgarian communities remaining under Romanian rule – in Bessarabia, under Romanian military occupation after 1941, and in Banat, acting to protect their rights and interests. In relation to the situation of the Bulgarian Basarabians, after long negotiations, a Bulgarian Consulate General was opened in Galati at the end of 1942. 

The implementation of the Treaty of Craiova was a significant part of Romanian-Bulgarian relations during the war. The supreme authority in this process was the Romanian-Bulgarian Joint Commission, which met in the city of Galicia. The Joint Commission was seized of issues that had not been resolved by the other commissions provided for in the treaty. The Commission for the acceptance of the ceded territory functioned until 1 October 1940, when Bulgarian troops reached the new border line. The Boundary Commission had a number of disagreements between the two countries, but the complete cession of southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria forced the Boundary Commission to leave the boundary line unchanged as demarcated in 1902. The Romanian-Bulgarian Arbitration Court, set up on this occasion, had a specific place in the treaty implementation process; it operated from June 1941 to April 1943 and stimulated compromise solutions to the disputed issues. 

The implementation of the population exchange between Bulgaria and Romania, provided for in the Treaty of Craiova, was one of the main strengths of bilateral relations. The difficulty of reconciling the interests and positions of the two governments gave rise to numerous contradictions and problems, both in the drafting and implementation of the relevant clauses of the Treaty. In the Craiova negotiations, the principle of exchange of populations was adopted at the insistence of the Romanian government. Initially, it demanded the compulsory expulsion of all Bulgarians from Romania in exchange for the expulsion of the colonised Romanian population from southern Dobrudja. The Bulgarian government accepted the debate on the principle of the exchange in order not to derail the negotiations, but rejected Romania’s request on the scope of this exchange, and managed to impose its point of view, which was enshrined in the final text.

Article three of the Treaty of Craiova states: compulsory exchange of Romanian subjects of Bulgarian nationality in Northern Dobrudja with Romanian subjects of Romanian nationality in Southern Dobrudja; voluntary expulsion for the remaining persons of Bulgarian and Romanian nationality living in other areas, in Romania and Bulgaria respectively, to be carried out within one year of the exchange of the ratification documents; the right of each government to order the compulsory expulsion of persons of the nationality of the other party until equalisation The technical aspects of the population transfer are regulated by a special agreement annexed to the treaty. According to its provisions, the Polish real estate of the emigrants becomes the property of the state from which they emigrated and the receiving state undertakes to compensate them; urban real estate remains the private property of the emigrants; they also retain the right of ownership of any movable property they may take with them; the authorities of both countries must facilitate the transport of the emigrants and their belongings; a special Romanian-Bulgarian joint commission for population exchange is set up.

The commission approved an exchange regulation, according to which the lists for compulsory expulsion were to be drawn up in accordance with the Romanian census data of 1930. The Bulgarian government is trying to prevent the migration of the entire Bulgarian population from Northern Dobrudja by insisting, on the basis of the regulations, that only those registered as Bulgarians according to the Romanian census be evicted. Bucharest’s position is the opposite – to completely “cleanse” Northern Dobrudja of all Bulgarians. The roles are reversed on the issue of relocating Romanians from Southern Dobrudja. Bulgaria insists on the relocation of all Romanians, i.e. not only the settlers – Romanians and Ardelenians, who are the vast majority, but also the significantly smaller local population of Wallachian origin. For its part, Romania tried to maintain a minimal Romanian presence in the former Quadrilateral.  

The obligatory exchange of Bulgarians and Romanians living in the territories on both sides of the new ‘old’ border in Dobrudja took place in two successive waves. Most of the Romanian settlers left southern Dobrudja with the retreating Romanian army and administration, even before the formation of the population exchange commissions – a total of approx. 104,000 people, of whom 83,929 were rural and approx. 20 000 people urban population. The main migration of Bulgarians from northern Dobrudja took place in the first two weeks of November 1940 and included about 63,000 people. The second wave of migration took place in April and May 1941, based on a protocol of 11 April 1941, which provided for the additional relocation of 4,700 Romanians from southern Dobrudja and 3,600 Bulgarians from northern Dobrudja. By this protocol, the two sides agreed to consider the issue of compulsory population exchange as definitively closed. The total number of compulsorily displaced persons is about 66,800 Bulgarians, who settled in Bulgarian Dobrudja, and about 108,700 Romanians and Ardelenians, most of whom settled in Romanian Dobrudja.

No less problematic is the issue of voluntary expulsion provided for in the Treaty of Craiova at the insistence of the Bulgarian side. Voluntary emigration has a much more limited scope than compulsory emigration. Within a year, or rather at the beginning of 1941, 213 Bulgarians in Romania were expelled voluntarily and no Romanian in Bulgaria left the country. On 1 April 1943, the two governments signed an Agreement for the settlement of disputes arising from the Treaty of Craiova. The Regulation on Voluntary Exchanges, annexed to this agreement, extended the period of voluntary emigration until 1 November 1943, but on 22 May of the same year the two governments decided to end the migration process because of wartime difficulties. Under the regulations, 61 Bulgarian households (155 d.) emigrated voluntarily from Romania (from Banat and other areas) to Bulgaria. The number of voluntary emigrants from Bulgaria to Romania was 95 families of Aromanians from the Gorna Giumaia region (Blagoevgrad) and Vlachs from the Vidin region. 

The results of the population exchange between Bulgaria and Romania on the basis of the Treaty of Craiova are contradictory. The compulsory exchange established an ethnic border between Bulgarians and Romanians in Dobrudja, which already coincided with the inter-state border. This coincidence had a positive impact on bilateral relations as it thwarted territorial claims based on ethnic arguments. On the other hand, compulsory emigration meant the inevitable separation of emigrants from their homes, the deterioration of their economic situation and problems adapting to their new residences. At the same time, after the population shuffle, the tendency for the assimilation of mutual ethnic minorities remaining within the borders of the two nation states is increasing. 

The implementation of the Treaty of Craiova also involved the resolution of many property, financial and legal issues. The determination of the value and quantity of the settlers’ harvests in Northern and Southern Dobrudja gave rise to major disputes within the Joint Commission. The Commission also dealt with the valuation of the settlers’ properties and their rights, as well as the determination of the total balance of the field properties left by them. As regards the monetary debt that Bulgaria was obliged to pay to Romania, or the so-called confiscation sum, the Bulgarian government refused to pay the first instalment on the grounds that Romania had breached two of its obligations – to cede the territory of Southern Dobrudja without causing damage and to expel the Bulgarians from Northern Dobrudja without incident or hindrance. The disputed issues were referred directly to the Bulgarian and Romanian governments.    

The Romanian-Bulgarian agreement of 1 April 1943, concluded by an exchange of diplomatic notes, clarified many of the terms of the treaty and its annexes and settled most of the disputes. Bulgaria’s obligation under the confiscation was to remain, but its payment was conditional on Romania’s return of all archives relating to southern Dobrudja. The additional issues raised, mostly related to more secondary claims and grievances, became the subject of another special agreement signed in Sofia on 16 December 1943. 

The consequences of the implementation of the Treaty of Craiova were not definitively settled until after the Second World War, when Bulgaria and Romania also remained allies but joined the Moscow-dominated Eastern bloc. The settlement of the disputed issues came with the signing by the two countries of the Bistrita Protocol on 16 July 1947. The most difficult problem to resolve was that of urban property in northern and southern Dobrudja. Two more bilateral protocols were signed on this issue, and in 1949 a new special joint commission was set up to solve it. At the suggestion of the Bulgarian side, an intergovernmental agreement was concluded in 1952 by exchange of notes. By virtue of this act, the Bulgarian urban properties in Northern Dobrudja became the property of the Romanian state, in exchange for which the Romanian urban properties in Southern Dobrudja became the property of the Bulgarian state, without Bulgaria and Romania paying any difference. By internal acts, each country regulates the financial compensation of its citizens for the loss of urban real estate located on the territory of the other country. 

The symbol of the Romanian presence in southern Dobrudja, the Palace of Queen Maria of Romania in Balchik, initially remained the property of the Romanian monarchy and after 1947 of the new republic. Due to maintenance difficulties, in 1953 the Romanian state decided to sell this property to the Bulgarian state, as well as other Romanian properties (those of the Romanian Institute in Sofia, the consulate in Ruse, etc.). After lengthy valuation negotiations, an agreement was reached in 1961 that Sofia would pay 6 million leva for the properties in question, which, according to a Romanian proposal, was to be used for the construction of a new building for the Romanian embassy in Bulgaria. 

At the cost of difficult negotiations, mutual compromises and no small sacrifice on the part of the affected populations, the implementation of the Treaty of Craiova resolved by political means, and in the best possible way in the context of the time, the controversial issue of Dobrudja in Bulgarian-Romanian state relations.


The Treaty of Craiova put an end to the long-standing Romanian-Bulgarian territorial dispute by definitively dividing Dobrudja between the two neighbouring states. Despite the existence of subsequent (primarily post-1989) and unofficial recurrences of territorial aspirations towards the other side, which occurred mostly in Romania but also in Bulgaria, the Dobrudja issue has left the sphere of inter-state political relations. Differing opinions on its history will be expressed mainly in the fields of science and propaganda, which are often influenced by national politics and ideologies. The historiographical debate on Dobrudja, provoked by the territorial dispute of the past, continues to give expression to opposing views. National interpretations of Dobrudja’s history persist to this day in Bulgaria and Romania, but the influence of political and ideological factors on them has weakened under conditions of democratisation and international integration.  

The annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union, the return of Southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria and the Bulgarian-Romanian population exchange during the Second World War changed the spatial, quantitative and identity characteristics of the mutual minorities in both countries. The respective policies of the state authorities contributed to this, as they were less inclined to recognise ethnic diversity on their territory after the resolution of the Dobrudja problem. The number of people declaring their membership of minority communities in official censuses remains low to date. In 1948, 13,408 Bulgarian speakers were counted in Romania. According to the last Romanian census in 2011, Bulgarians by “ethnicity” numbered 7336 people, and people with Bulgarian “mother tongue” – 6518 people (most of them are Bulgarians from Banat). Data from the 1946 census in Bulgaria shows that Romanians by “nationality” were only 2459 people. According to the latest census of 2011, by “ethnic groups” there are 3598 Vlachs and 866 Romanians (4464 d. in total), while those who declare their “mother tongue” as Vlach and Romanian are 1815 and 5454 people respectively (total 7269 e.).The presence of the “ethnic groups” “Vlachs” and “Romanians”, as well as “Vlach” and “Romanian” “mother tongue” in the Bulgarian censuses reflects the split between traditional – ethnic – and modern – ethno-national identity. It is also reflected in the different names of the contemporary minority organisations of this population. Apart from Romanian citizens naturalized in Bulgaria, the persons who identify with the above-mentioned “ethnic groups” are Vlachs from Northern Bulgaria, Arumans and Romanian-speaking Gypsies/Roma, for whom the Romanian identity appears to be preferred as more prestigious. Well-integrated in the host countries, mutual minorities no longer give rise to inter-ethnic conflicts and major tensions in bilateral relations. Their place is rather peripheral. The processes of integration and advanced assimilation have completely transformed or ‘diluted’ the original ethnic identity of the vast majority of people belonging to these communities. As a result, the manifestations of “ethnic revival” after the fall of the communist regimes have given rise to certain contradictions between minorities and sometimes intensified the identity crisis.          

After the Second World War, Bulgaria and Romania experienced a short-lived liberalisation of policies towards minorities, led by the Communists. However, from the 1950s and 1960s onwards, these were gradually replaced by restrictive policies aimed not only at social but also ethno-national unification of the population. In contrast to the period between the two world wars, the positions of Bulgaria and Romania on minority issues during the socialist period were already similar. Their priorities towards minorities were ‘internal’ and based on communist principles of solving the national problem by creating united socialist nations, without allowing international factors to intervene in this sphere. After the end of the communist regimes, when both countries accepted the basic principles of international protection of human and minority rights, the similarity of positions initially persisted. The unitary nation-state model, which is the “successor” of a significant minority community linked to a neighbouring kin state (the Turks in Bulgaria and the Hungarians in Romania respectively), determines the common positions in favour of individual minority rights and against the extension of minority protection.            

Despite these similarities, Romanian policy towards minorities during the transition to democracy after 1989 was generally more active and more adapted to international standards. The reasons for this are the historical legacy of the Romanian-Hungarian debate on Transylvanian membership, the role of the significant Hungarian minority in Romania claiming cultural and territorial autonomy, the strong commitment of contemporary Hungarian policy to Hungarian issues abroad, and international influences on Romania. These are also the challenges that stimulate the Romanian policy of “positive discrimination” against minorities such as the Bulgarian one. The main components of the new Romanian ethnic model are the special right of representation of these minorities through a single deputy in Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) with a reduced electoral quota and the significant subsidies granted by the state to minority organisations that win this seat. Echoing the efforts to integrate “internal” minorities and in the spirit of a revival of nationalism, the Romanian state is more interested in supporting Romanian-speaking communities outside the country, including the Vlachs and Romanians in Bulgaria.             

Compared to Romania, minority policy in Bulgaria remains closer to liberal democracy, which ignores ethnic differences. The reasons are the fear of the negative legacy of the forced name change of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria during late socialism, the lack of radical demands from Turkish minority spokespersons and Muslims in the country, Turkey’s more restrained policy towards minority issues and the fact that Bulgaria is not in the international spotlight because of dramatic interethnic crises. As a result, after 1989, the Bulgarian state was slower to “positively discriminate” against “internal” minorities and paid less attention to Bulgarian communities abroad. Also, unlike Romania, which ‘seeks’ to conclude bilateral agreements with other countries on minorities on the basis of reciprocity, Bulgaria prefers to align its policy only with commitments made in international organisations, whose minority rights instruments remain in the realm of ‘soft’, i.e. non-binding legislation. 

Romanian proposals made at the end of the 1990s and subsequently for reciprocal treatment of minorities on the basis of a bilateral Bulgarian-Romanian agreement were hijacked by the Bulgarian side. The only form of agreement remains the 1999 agreement to open Bulgarian-language high schools in Bucharest and Romanian-language high schools in Sofia. This was also at the initiative of Romania and based on a protocol from the meeting of representatives of the two ministries of education. However, the practical significance of this initiative for the study of “mother tongues” among mutual and small minority groups is largely formal, especially in the case of the so-called Bulgarian high school in Bucharest. The two schools are not primarily oriented towards minority pupils, nor are they concentrated in the capital. Unlike the Mihai Eminescu High School with intensive teaching in Romanian in Sofia, which has the status of a linguistic high school in the Bulgarian education system, the Hristo Botev Bulgarian Theoretical High School in the Romanian capital is “Bulgarian” in name only, as the presence of Bulgarian in the education of pupils there is limited to a minimum. Also, since the 1990s, Bulgaria and Romania have offered opportunities to acquire higher education, by state order, to young people of Bulgarian and Vlach/Romanian ethnic origin living in the neighbouring country respectively. In this respect, the interest in educating Bulgarian citizens in Romanian universities is higher.    

In the context of the joint accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union after 2007, which expands the opportunities for mutual contacts and cooperation, the knowledge of the conflictual past of territorial and minority issues in bilateral relations is not only a scientific challenge, but also a prerequisite for understanding, explaining and adequately managing contemporary realities.  

BIBLIOGRAPHYThis bibliography includes, without claiming to be exhaustive, contemporary publications of documents and studies on the subject in Bulgaria and Romania. A scientific critique of the various historiographical interpretations is not the aim of the present study, which is of a review and largely promotional nature.

Алманах на българските национални движения след 1878 г. София: АИ “Марин Дринов”, 2005.

Боя, Л. Балчик: Малкият рай на Велика Румъния. Превод: Ст. Деянов, София: Критика и хуманизъм, Humanitas, 2014. 

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Photo: Dobrudja after the settlement of the territorial dispute between Bulgaria and Romania in 1940: North (in orange) and South (in yellow)

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