The River Danube is the watery marking point which divides the Balkan neighbours, Romania and Bulgaria. As it flows from Vidin, past Lom, Svishtov, Ruse and down to Silistra, the consistent boundary between the two lands is clear, however, as the river flows north to the Delta, the divide changes. From this point, the two countries are separated by nothing more than a line on the map. This is the Dobruja
The Dobruja is an informal area of land, shared between both southeastern Romania and northeastern Bulgaria. The Romanian northern Dobruja stretches up to Ismail on the Danube Delta. The Bulgarian southern Dobruja is a fertile agricultural plateau which includes Tutrakan, Silistra, Balchik, Kavarna and the main city of Dobrich.
After the creation of the Principality of Bulgaria in 1878, the Southern Dobrudja was part of the new state. The population was of mixed ethnic groups, including a large number of ethnic Turks and Tartars. Bulgarians, according to all observers, were the largest single group. There were also many Gypsies, Armenians, and, uniquely in Bulgaria a number of ethnic Germans.
The main administrative centre was known to the Ottomans as Pazarjik, and to differentiate it from the town of Pazarjik near Plovdiv, this was Hajioglu Pazarjik, whereas the one to the South was Tatarski Pazarjik. In Romanian the spelling is usually Bazargic. In 1882 the name was changed to Dobrich, and that is the name the town bears again today. From 1946 to 1990 it was renamed for while after the Soviet Marshal, Tolbukhin, who commanded the forces that came this way in 1944.
The Southern Dobruja was part of Bulgaria from the independence in 1878 until the Second Balkan War. As a result of Bulgaria’s defeat by her neighbours in that war, the territory became part of Romania in 1913. The Romanian population was not large – about 6,000 out of 280,000 in 1912. Attempts at increasing the Romanian population by immigration were not successful.
During the First World War Bulgaria re-occupied the Southern Dobruja. Defeat in the War and the imposition of the Treaty of Neuilly again removed the area from Bulgarian rule. From 1918, for 22 years, the area was again Romanian. Today, if you visit the area you can see quite clearly the Romanian architectural style in many of the buildings in Dobrich and other towns. Look especially for public buildings from that period, and you will see that the distinctive ‘Wallachian’ style is quite obvious.
In international affairs the defeated Bulgarian state was driven into the camp of the other ‘losers’ of World War One. As many Germans wanted revenge for Versailles, Bulgaria wanted revenge for Neuilly. Few Bulgarians accepted the loss of the Southern Dobruja and successive governments in the 1920’s and 1930’s waited for their chance to regain the lost territories from Romania and Serbia.
Their chance came in 1940. Under strong pressure from Berlin, the government in Bucharest agreed to return the area to Bulgaria. Ethnic Romanians living in the Southern part were forced to leave and resettle in Romanian territory. Bulgarians living in the Northern Dobruja – and there were many thousands – were expelled from Romania and settled in Bulgarian territory.
On 15 September, 1940, Bulgarian forces occupied their regained lands. Photographs and newsreel taken at the time show the jubilant locals welcoming the Royal Bulgarian Army and the subsequent visit of Tsar Boris III, now given the title of ‘The Unifier’
Of course less than four years later came the revolution of 9th September 1944, the beginning of ‘People’s Power’ and the departure of the Royal Family in 1946. Many in the Dobruja must have been anxious that the gains of 1940 would be lost. However reason prevailed. Bulgaria had to return territory to Yugoslavia, but the Southern Dobruja with a Bulgarian majority (and a large number of other ethnic groups) remained Bulgarian, as it is today.
This area is now a popular are for the ‘New Bulgarians’ from Britain, Ireland and elsewhere. Visitors who have been on the Black Sea Coast are attracted by Balchik, yet how many of these tourists think of this as a former Romanian province? Visitors to the Botanical Garden and to the palace on the shore below it may be totally unaware that this was the favourite spot of Queen Marie of Romania.
For those who look around the area with open eyes and prior knowledge there are signs everywhere. One particular giveaway is on the main Varna-Dobrich road, just before the archaic Romanian-Bulgarian border. Built in the 1920s there stands a squat and ugly reinforced concrete pill-box. How many bored Bulgarian squaddies did duty there, waiting for the attack from Romania that never came?
This unique area between a once fought over land should be explored with this knowledge in mind. Marvel at the rich agricultural lands and the wheat fields that stretch for miles. When the wheat is golden-yellow and ready for harvest you can see where the expression ‘Golden Dobruja’ (‘Zlatna Dobruja’ in Bulgarian) comes from. Explore inland from the Black Sea and look at some of the villages where people still lead a poorer, but more natural life than those in the ‘West’. Take the train from Varna-Kardam. Drive around and explore.