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Liberation Day, The National Holiday

March 3rd sees Bulgaria is the Day of Liberation from Ottoman rule; it celebrate the signing of the San Stefano peace contract, which ended 500 years of Ottoman rule. On this day in 1878 the Principality of Bulgaria was founded as a result of the Russian-Turkish liberation war of 1877-1878.


The history behind the event

In 1868, Vasil Levski led a rebellion against the Ottoman Turks. His propaganda for freedom stirred up the Bulgarians to fight for their independence and restore their national and cultural heritage. He set up the Central Revolutionary Committee in Bucharest in 1871. Levski was arrested in 1872 and brutally executed in 1873. Bulgaria tried many times to revolt; in 1876 Georgi Benkowski led an army against the Turks, but their efforts were brutally thwarted and 30,000 were executed. In 1877, the Russians became involved when Czar Alexander II declared war on the Ottoman forces. The Bulgarians supported the Russians with an army of 7,000 volunteers. 200,000 lives were lost to the Russians alone. The war was concluded with a Russian victory and the Treaty of San Stefano was signed giving Bulgaria its independence. The new Bulgarian territory included Macedonia and Rumelia, however Britain and Austro-Hungary stopped this because they thought that it would give too much power to Russia who could use Bulgaria as a satellite state.  When disagreement threatened to thwart the proceedings, Bismarck called a meeting in 1878 known as the Berlin Congress, which cancelled the Treaty of San Stefano. They agreed to leave Thrace and Macedonia under Ottoman control and to give part of northern Bulgaria political independence within the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria remained under Russian protectorate until July 8th 1879.

Key highlights of the Liberation War

The Battle of Shipka Pass represents one of the most heroic acts on behalf of the Bulgarian people to free themselves from the Turkish yoke.  When the Russian army crossed the Danube, a detachment of troops was sent ahead to secure the Shipka Pass running through the Balkan Mountains. The Turks had around 5,000 men stationed at the pass but the combined Russian outfit in conjunction with Bulgarian rebels fighting with very limited battle supplies managed to gain capture the pass. Suleiman Pasha, leader of the Turkish army gathered 38,000 troops together to retake the pass and fought three more battles here but the final battle ended in a crushing defeat for the Turks because the Russians had sent more troops to assure further victory. The Bulgarian rebels used sticks stones as well as dead bodies to block the path of the oncoming Turks. Today a monument at the Shipka pass commemorates their brave efforts.

The Siege of Pleven was also another notorious conflict fought this time between the Turks and a combined Russian and Romanian army. The Russo Romanian army fought for five months to overthrow the Turks who were holed up in the city. This slowed Russia’s advance into Bulgaria down, but eventually the Turks were overthrown and the troops fighting at Pleven went on to fight the battle at the Shipka pass. Pleven has many monuments connected with the fight including the Pleven Panorama and the Museum of Pordim city.

National Holiday celebrations

March 3rd has been celebrated since 1990 as an official holiday across the country and is celebrated in a variety of ways; churches hold prayers during the morning and commemorative wreaths are laid at the Shipka Pass monument. In the capital, the Bulgarian flag is raised in front of the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Sofia. There is a gun salute and various parades and Wreaths are laid in memory of both Bulgarian and foreign people who died in pursuit of Bulgaria's freedom. The President and key members of the government join together in Sofia’s Narodno Sabranie Square to mark their respect. Most towns and cities have monument dedicated to those lost in battle or the founding fathers and on March 3rd local Bulgarians lay flowers on these monuments.