The beginning of 2018 and the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union is a good time to look at the establishment and development of the political, economic and cultural ties between Bulgaria and the countries of Western and Central Europe.
In the coming months, we will tell you about the Bulgarian-European relations from the Bulgarian Revival to the present day. We will look into the life of the Bulgarians conducting the cultural exchange and their role in the building of the modern Bulgarian state. Together, we will reflect on the frequent reversals in the diplomatic orientation of Bulgaria and finding the right way for our country to the happiness, economic prosperity and spiritual development of its citizens.
Lovers of history are famous for the role of Khan Tervel in the rescue of Constantinople by the Arabs in the early VIII century. Almost 1,300 years ago, the Bulgarian ruler arrived at a critical moment from the Arab siege of help to the Byzantine Emperor. The victory of the Bulgarians, together with Carl Martel’s success in the Battle of Poitiers against the Omajid caliphate, 14 years later, prevented the Arab invasion of Europe and helped develop the medieval Christian civilization.
The Byzantine Empire is the most authoritative state in Early Middle-Eastern Europe, the heir of the Roman Empire.
The capital of Constantinople is the richest city on the continent with a population of more than half a million people. Byzantine diplomacy best exploited the achievements of Byzantine culture and art in order to preserve the dominant political position of the Empire despite the great migration of the peoples and its consequences. Quite naturally, the successors of Khan Tervel fall into the Byzantine orbit of influence – political and cultural, and consequently the acceptance of Christianity as a state religion by Prince Boris I
Over the following centuries, the balance of power in Europe has changed and the West has begun to play an ever greater economic, cultural and spiritual role to reach the 13th century when Constantinople was conquered by the crusaders of the IV Crusade, and the Bulgarian King Kaloyan confesses the spiritual championship of the Roman pope. The Ottoman invasion and the subjugation of the medieval Balkan states have for a long time devoted the region of Southeast Europe to the development of the rest of the continent. The population of the Balkans does not see the achievements of the Great Geographical Discoveries, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
After the initial shock from the foreign conquest, the Bulgarians gradually renewed their contacts with the nearby European Christian states – Russia and the Habsburg Empire, mainly with the help of the trade union of the Bulgarian Catholics. In the 19th century, a number of Bulgarians succeeded in touching the achievements of European civilization thanks to the modernization of the Ottoman Empire and the opportunity to study in Western universities. Returning to their native lands, they give a boost to the Bulgarian revival, which leads to the growing role of the Bulgarians in the Empire.
The process of inclusion deepened after the founding of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia.
Gradually, despite the reluctance of the Great Powers, Bulgarians became a factor in European international relations. Building a modern state with working institutions is a tough process, but thanks to highly educated and conscientious actors of several generations, Bulgaria has been able to significantly catch up with its economic, cultural and political backwardness. The penetration of Western capital and economic thought contribute to the gradual build-up of a stable economy, and the construction of modern railway lines allows for an increase in cultural exchange. The presence of foreign diplomats and investors in the Bulgarian capital diversifies social life and introduces the latest fashion trends on the native soil. The young Bulgarian intelligentsia maintains constant contacts with the European and succeeds in becoming part of it. The lack of traditions is compensated by labor and respect for knowledge and art.
The two major military conflicts that tear Europe through the twentieth century, followed by the Cold War, set new artificial boundaries in the communication and interaction between Bulgarian and European culture. Bulgaria seems to be moving away from Western Europe, despite the development of communication technologies. The political changes in Eastern Europe since the late 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union have led to a re-orientation of the country in the West. The country’s main strategic objective is the membership in the European Union. Bulgarians are increasingly beginning to travel, work and study in Western Europe, and in 2007 the country is recognized as an equal member of the European Union. And at the beginning of this year, it took over the chairmanship of one of its main bodies.
The Presidency of the Council of the European Union marks a new moment in Bulgaria’s political development and its foreign policy capabilities.
On the one hand, it is a chance for the country to show that it again feels and acts as an equal and indivisible part of Europe, and on the other – to consolidate its position as a constructive leader on the Balkan Peninsula. To take advantage of these opportunities, we must well know our history and role in the development of the Balkans and Europe.