The 1923 September Uprising in Bulgarian history

Arrested rebels in Vratsa, September 1923
Photo: archive

This year Bulgaria marks the 90th anniversary of the September Uprising from 1923 that expressed the political instability and the crisis of democracy in this country after WWI. The military defeat strengthened the leftist movement here. The biggest leftist party – the Bulgarian Agricultural National Union /BANU/ came into power in the period 1920 – 1923 and reforms were started, but there were allegations of corruption and authoritarianism too. The rulers were isolated and a military coup put an end to their governing on 9 June 1923. Aleksandar Tsankov became the next pm of Bulgaria. The coup was followed by the June Uprising that was quickly smashed. The Communist Party remained neutral at that time.

“A sitting of the Comintern’s Executive Committee took place at that time in Moscow and the tactics of the Bulgarian communists was strongly criticized,” says historian Prof. Lyudmil Spasov. “Secretary General of Comintern at that time Vassil Kolarov was sent to Bulgaria. He sent a telegram from here, reporting a calm situation with no chances for a revolution.”

However, the Comintern’s reaction was a sharp one, as Moscow saw a possibility for a socialist revolution not only in Germany, but also in other European countries.

“The Comintern wouldn’t change its stance, while at the same time the Bulgarian communists defended theirs,” Prof. Spasov goes on to say. “Even Georgi Dimitrov, who was to become a top communist leader stated that the 9 June coup had been a really progressive action. The Comintern had to interfere and in the beginning of August its agent Aleksander Abramovich-Chetuev was sent to Bulgaria. He forced Vassil Kolarov to change his initial position and so the Bulgarian Communist Party /BCP/ started to prepare for an armed uprising.”

Negotiations with the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization /IMRO/ kicked off. Its leader Todor Aleksandrov set as a condition for his neutrality Southwestern Bulgaria to remain still due to a possible Yugoslavian intervention. Northwest Bulgaria was selected to be a center of the uprising, still close to the border with Yugoslavia. The idea was that a crisis in the relations with Yugoslavia could support the eventual German revolution, easing the victory. Only Stalin had his doubts on the revolutionary environment in Germany, but he had to withdraw those…

In Bulgaria police agents of PM Tsankov were informed on the changed position of the BCP and the premier sent a serious message to the people. Over 2,500 communists were arrested on September 12 – 13. The uprising burst prematurely in Maglizh /South Bulgaria/ on September 13. The communist violated the agreement with Todor Aleksandrov and a regiment was prepared in the town of Gorna Djumaya /now Blagoevgrad/. The IMRO activists smashed the uprising there.

© Photo: archive

Rebels from Maglizh, Stara Zagora region

“The uprising’s headquarters could be found in the town of Ferdinand /Montana today/, where Georgi Dimitrov, Vassil Kolarov and Gavril Genov resided. The latter took Boichinovtsi with about 2,000 rebels. However, on September 18 the government asked the great powers to give a permission for a violation of the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine /it had imposed heavy restrictions to Bulgaria after WWI/. About 3,000 people were called up, along with troops from the garrisons in Russe, Pleven and Shumen. Thus the uprising of the communists was smashed, as over 5,000 of them were killed, some 15,000 were arrested and 2,000 had to emigrate, headed by the leaders – Georgi Dimitrov and Vassil Kolarov.”

Soon after the rebellion polls took place in Bulgaria and the new parliament adopted a State Protection Act, banning the communist party. The latter went underground and kicked off terrorist actions. This situation was preserved up until WWII and the Soviet occupation that followed.


English version: Zhivko Stanchev

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