Bulgarian Legion

Bulgarian Legion

The Bulgarian Legion ( _bg. Българска легия, "Balgarska legiya") was the name of two military bands formed by Bulgarian volunteers and revolutionary workers in the Serbian capital of Belgrade in the second part of the 19th century. Their ultimate goal was the liberation of the Bulgarian people from Ottoman rule through coordinated actions with the neighbouring Balkan countries.

First Bulgarian Legion

The First Bulgarian Legion (Първа българска легия) was established in 1862 by Georgi Sava Rakovski in agreement with the Serbian government. At the time Montenegro was at war with the Ottoman empire and Serbia itself was planning to join the conflict. [cite book
last =Perry
first =Duncan
title =Stefan Stambolov and the Emergence of Modern Bulgaria, 1870-1895
publisher =Duke University Press
date =1993
pages =p.8
isbn =0822313138
] According to the initial plan, in case of war between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire, the Legion would cross the border and enter the Bulgarian lands, where it would instigate an uprising among the population.

In order to sustain direct contact with the Serbian government, the so-called Provisional Bulgarian Command was established on the initiative of Rakovski. His "Plan for the Liberation of Bulgaria" inspired Bulgarians and some six hundred young people responded to his appeal to create the Legion, many of them emigrants and refugees in Romania. Among them were Vasil Levski, Stefan Karadzha, Vasil Drumev, Dimitar Obshti, Matey Preobrazhenski and other figures that later came into national prominence.

The support of the Legion was taken care of by the Serbian government. [Perry, p.8] The members had to go through some military training so as to be able to participate in the future uprising and in the expected conflict between Serbia and the Ottoman empire. [cite book
last =Trotsky
first =Leon
coauthors =Brian Pearce, George Weissman, Duncan Williams
title =The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky. The Balkan Wars, 1912-13
publisher =Resistance Books
date =1980
pages =p.487
isbn =0909196087
] When the Turkish forces entered Belgrade, the Bulgarian legion distinguished itself in the fighting. [Trotsky, p.487] However the conflict ended swiftly and the subsequent Constantinople conference decided that not all Ottoman troops should withdraw from Serbia [Trotsky, p.487] . Due to pressure from the Ottoman Empire the Serbian authorities requested the Legion to be disbanded [Trotsky, p.487.] As a result on 21 September 1862 the participants were expelled from Belgrade.

econd Bulgarian Legion

The Second Bulgarian Legion (Втора българска легия) was founded in 1867, as relations between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire once again worsened and the Serbian authorities began preparing for war. This was used by the Band of Virtues (Добродетелна дружина), who concluded an agreement with Serbia to establish a Bulgarian military school in Belgrade to instruct military leaders for a future uprising in Bulgaria.

This time the expenditures were paid by Russia, the volunteers being trained by Serbian officers. The surviving rebels from the bands of Panayot Hitov and Filip Totyu joined the Legion, as well as young people from Bulgarian and the Bulgarian diaspora in Romania.

However, since the expected war between the two countries never broke out due to the Ottoman authorities' engagement with the suppresion of the Great Cretan Uprising and reluctance to further complicate its relations with Serbia. Meanwhile the government of Jovan Ristić, which opted for reconciliation with the Ottomans, came into office in Serbia. The Second Bulgarian Legion became redundant to the Serbians as a result of this. It was disbanded in April 1868 despite the opposition of the Russian diplomats, its members being expelled from Serbia.

Historical experience

The experience of the two Legions showed the Bulgarian revolutionaries that the formation of an insurectionary centre to manage the Bulgarian liberational movement from the outside and particularly the binding of the national revolution's task with the politics of other states would always be exposed to danger. Nevertheless, the Legions were an excellent school that prepared a large number of the future Bulgarian revolutionary leaders.


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