Macedonia in the Railway Policy of Bulgaria (1878–1918)

Angel Dzhonev




Since the Liberation up to the end of the First World War military operations the geographic region of Macedonia took an extremely important place in the railway policy of Bulgaria. The railway connection between them and the development of this transport communication were considered to be one of the main components in solving the national question. In competitive conditions the young country defended, up to the level it was able to, its priorities and developed a strategy for transport network development. Aiming to preserve its sovereignty on the railway transport it allowed some compromises in connecting with its neighbours and in the establishing of the European network Vien – Belgrad – Sofia – Tsarigrad but without giving a priority to it. What had been achieved during the Conference of the four countries was a prerequisite for imposing a state monopoly over the railways in Bulgaria. State institutions were managing all stages of building, exploitation and control of the railway network.


Monopoly legalizing enabled the implementation of centralized railway policy carried out by the government bodies in Bulgaria. National Assembly, Council of Ministries and Monarch were the state authorities that had obtained the right to manage it. These three factors were in constant collaboration although they had contradictions on some issues. The National Assembly was the place for legalization of firsthand assignments that formally concerned acceptance of concrete railway project but in fact were a part of a global strategic plan. This statement is hard to be revealed out of the available short legislative cases but it is quite evident in plenary hall discussions. The Bulgarian railway policy regarding Macedonia obtained enviable consensus and the contradictions between the government and the opposition emerged mainly in taking unpopular negative decision. Uncertainties in several details of the followed strategy were also items of conflict but often the shown parliamentary harmony dominated over the cliquishness and the populism. Mainly, this was a consequence of the fact that the party formations took the Bulgaria railway policy to Macedonia as an important element of the strategy for the national unification. On this ground an unique succession and continuity can be ascertained in caring it out by the different governments which immediate priorities and opportunities influenced upon them.


The Council of Ministers is an institution that both initiated and accomplished the railway policy. Several basic ministries distinguished with their significance. Home political issues were managed by a specialized body that had passed through several alterations. After 1893 these functions were assigned to Minister of Public Buildings, Roads and Communications and after 1911 to Minister of Railways, Posts and Telegraphs. Foreign political issues were assigned to the Minister of Foreign Policy and Religion. Military Minister also had a decisive role especially in determining strategic characteristics. The Prime Minister didn’t just coordinate the railway policy but also sometimes managed country’s diplomatic activities or led the railway department. Among those persons with great contribution to Bulgarian railway policy towards Macedonia distinguish D. Tsankov, P. Karavelov, S. Stambolov, D. Grekov, G. Nachovich, K. Stoilov, R. Petrov, D. Stanchov, A. Malinov, St. Paprikov, I. Geshov, A. Lyapchev and others.


Monarchy body had also an important role. From the Liberation up to the end of the military operations of the First World War there were only two monarchs reigned over the Bulgarian country – King Aleksander I and King Ferdinand I. Their involvement revealed mainly in caring the Foreign policy out. They took part in diplomatic activities, led government delegations that accomplished the railway strategy. The long reigning period enabled Ferdinand to outstand as one of the unchangeable and most important factors. He had his own idea on the railway policy that sometimes contradicted with the official position of the other state factors.


Political structures affected mainly the managing and controlling functions. Operative activity was implemented by specialized bodies established in the three main ministries and concerning the home and foreign policy aspects. Railway experts have the decisive word mainly in determining the concrete parameters of each of the projects. They were responsible for project’s examination, for the permanent control on building works and for the railroad exploitation. Their opinion was taken into consideration when implementing the foreign policy activities. The diplomatic department and its structures abroad accomplished the international aspect. Their task was more complicated significantly because it combined the satisfaction of many contradictions. The biggest responsibility was assigned to Bulgarian deputy in Tsarigrad who led the direct negotiations. Diplomatic abilities were shown by G. Valkovich, P. Dimitrov, D. Markov, I. Geshov, M. Sarafov, A. Shopv, D. Rizov and others. The Military were the other experts who had been assigned to manage the railway policy. Up to the 1912–1918 wars they were responsible mainly for providing expert statements on developing and following a particular strategy. Their statements were one of the decisive ones in clearing out priority issues towards Macedonia. Military subdivisions were also involved in constructing some of the railway objects. This trend was kept and was given extremely important development during the Balkan Wars and in particular during the First World War. The most serious results were the ones achieved in building new narrow-gauge lines that had more particular specifications but also were with longer-lasting than the military ones objectives, mainly economic and political.


The foreign political factors also influenced a lot the Bulgarian railway policy. First, it was the role of the Ottoman Empire, which up to the last months of 1912 ruled the geographic area of Macedonia. The Turkish rulers, especially Abdulhamid II Sultan and the Military, put number of obstacles against the Bulgarian policy’s goals. The main reason for this was connected with the established opinion that along with any successful accomplishment the Bulgarian political influence would increased.


Great Powers were the other factor which actions could be hardly assessed synonymously neither in positive nor in negative point. What concretely distinguished was the influence of Austria-Hungary, which following its interests in Western Balkans, in particular in Macedonia, opposed most decisively the aspirations directed to building the project towards Skopje. With some tactical derogations, this policy stayed stable up to the wars. German interests to the East revealed later and for them Macedonia was less important. Despite this statement, proved by their project on the Bagdat railway, at first, they only assisted Vienna’s activities, but gradually they were getting involved and began showing their expansion intentions on the Balkans. While Austria-Hungary played pointedly negative role, German had a significant contribution to accomplishing the Bulgaria policy, especially through delivering a park and commissioning its representatives in building the narrow-gauge lines in Macedonia.


The rest of the Great Powers didn’t act so categorically complying with their direct interests. Russia, Italia, England and France followed their long-term political objectives and in separate cases supported the Bulgarian activities. A very serious problem for the governors in Sofia was their impossibility to gain a strategic ally or to secure more sustainable international lobby.


In different periods building contractors connected with separate or several Great Powers showed interest to Macedonia and formed themselves as another important factor. Like a conductor of foreign economic and political expansion, these foundations didn’t play a positive role on the Balkans at all and were observed with mistrust by the government bodies in Bulgaria. They acted carefully even in cases that had established opportunities for achieving mutual benefits.


Though small the Balkan countries should also be observed as an important factor. Among them Serbia acted as a paranoiac adversary against Bulgarian policy, including the railway one, towards Macedonia. Greece opposed too but not so hysterically and stayed a bit calmly. Monte Negro and Romania influenced directly through their trans-Balkan projects mainly. In such unfavourable situation Bulgaria carried out its railway policy concerning Macedonia. Foreign political aspect gained absolutely priority and dominated over the home political one especially up to the Balkan War.


Within the forty-year period – from 1878 to 1918 – in Bulgaria numerous projects and draft versions were prepared for connecting and for railway development in Macedonia. They were many especially along the bordering area because a lot of compromises were made in chasing the goal. Several general projects were developed on Bulgarian territory with main center the capital Sofia. The direction to Skopje was prior, followed by that to Struma River and to Bregalnitsa River gaining popularity recently. The main trace followed the upper Struma River flow and the alternatives that were discussed the most were those along the River. Projects along the upper Iskar River flow crossing the town of Samokov to Struma River and starting from the catch area of Maritsa River to the Mesta River Valley were also admitted. However, they stood on the periphery of the railway policy.


Among the planned railways none of the projects was completely accomplished. The trace to Skopje was built between Sofia and Gyueshevo on a distance of 134 km. A part of other objects were constructed as narrow-gauge lines, which, nevertheless that couldn’t contend with the rest of the railways, had been prepared reasonably for longer-term exploitation. They also weren’t built up to the planned end point, which was another significant disadvantage. There were some kilometers of the line along the Struma River incomplete failing to connect Sofia with the White Sea coast. The same was the situation with the narrow-gauge railway from Skopje that reached the vicinities of Ohrid and from Grad ended on some kilometers away from Bitolya. Despite the failure, Bulgaria has granted Macedonia 671 km of railway (88, 3 %) of the total 760 km planned. Among them 390 km were in-cluded in the territory of Serbia and Greece after the truce at the end of September 1918 and together with the movable equipment accounted about 9 677 880 Mark.


Bulgaria has done a lot for the successful accomplishment of its railway policy concerning Macedonia. It has been considered as an important element of the state strategy in achieving the nation unification. Several objectives have been achieved but the most significant among them – direct railway connection – has not been accomplished. It is to be realized in some next period of time.


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