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Ministry of Defense - History

Setting up an Army was one of the first steps taken by the Bulgarian Authorities after the Liberation of 1878. The Bulgarian Territorial Army was established by force of Order dated 15 July 1878, and the structure of the very first Government of free Bulgaria, headed by Prime Minister Todor Burmov, included the War Ministry as one of the central institutions of the state. It was founded by force of Decree No. 23 dated 17 July 1879, on the grounds of Article 161 of the Tarnovo Constitution.

Being the highest military administrative institution in Bulgaria, the War Ministry was tasked to protect the state sovereignty and national independence, to guard and defend the territorial integrity of the country, and to uphold the interests of the society of Bulgaria and our national identity.

Over the first few years of the 20th century, the War Ministry persistently worked on the development of a modern mass army. Its structure underwent alterations aimed at bringing it into line with the changes introduced to the organization, training, logistics support and manning of the armed forces.

In 1905, a Military Council was established as an advisory body under the War Minister, followed by an Information Bureau in 1907. The structure of the War Ministry remained unchanged until 11 July 1911, when by force of amendment to the Tarnovo Constitution, it was renamed Ministry of War. The Ministry of War was tasked with the training and mobilization of the reserve forces and the formation of new units. Manning the Army with Commanders became a priority task for the Ministry of War.

The Red Army met little hostility during its occupation of Bulgaria from 1944 to 1947. At the time of invasion, the Soviet Union did not regard Bulgaria as an enemy state, because Bulgaria had not declared war or participated actively in the German eastern front. According to the Yalta agreements of 1945, the Allied Control Commission for Bulgaria, assigned to administer the country until a peace treaty was signed, was essentially an extension of the Red Army military administration. Under pressure from Britain, the preponderant interest of the Soviet Union in Bulgaria was recognized by giving it 75 percent control of the commission.

The Soviet Union immediately reorganized the Bulgarian army to ensure that the BCP would have a leading role. More than 40 generals and 800 officers discredited by their association with the German Army were purged or resigned when Bulgaria switched sides in the war. Although former Minister of War Damian Velchev returned to his post in the Fatherland Front coalition government, the BCP used the presence of Soviet occupation forces to push the old officer corps out of domestic politics. In July 1946, control of the army shifted from the Ministry of War to the full cabinet, 2,000 allegedly reactionary officers were purged, and Velchev resigned in protest. The combination of events provided an opening for the BCP to establish full control over the military. It conducted a decisive purge in October 1947. Accusing the remaining noncommunist senior officers of plotting to overthrow the Fatherland Front, the BCP dismissed one-third of the officer corps. After 1949 the BCP dominated the army, and party membership was obligatory for officers on active duty.

Prior to November 1989, the chairman of the State Defense Committee was the commander in chief of the BPA, and as such made every important decision about internal and external security. The secretary general of the BCP and president of the State Council automatically held the position of chairman of the State Defense Committee as well. The consolidation of these three positions had enabled a single person, Todor Zhivkov, to make political decisions on security issues and supervise their implementation within the government apparatus, especially as they concerned the economy and defense industries.

In the post-Zhivkov order, the commander in chief of the armed forces was the president of the republic, a position independent of party affiliation. In 1990 the National Security Council was formed as a consultative organ under the president after the State Defense Committee was abolished. The National Security Council advised the president in making decisions on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues related to national security, including defense preparedness, organization, training, and deployment of the armed forces, public order, and use of the internal security forces. The National Security Council included the vice president, the chairman of the Council of Ministers, the ministers of foreign affairs, national defense, internal affairs, and economy and planning and the chief of the General Staff. Decisions were implemented through the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of National Defense, and the General Staff.

The democratization of 1990 allowed the National Assembly to participate in making decisions on security issues rather than merely rubber-stamping decisions made elsewhere. In 1990 the National Assembly established a new legislative body, the Commission on National Security, to provide oversight for government activities in internal and external security. The commission's role remained largely undefined in 1991, but its nominal function was to enforce government compliance with the rule of law in security matters and to protect the rights of citizens.

Despite these organizational changes, the constitutional provisions, most laws and statutes, and instructions and regulations pertaining to national security and defense adopted by the government under the former BCP remained in effect. A complex of laws, drafted for inclusion in the new constitution ratified by the National Assembly in 1991, were designed to codify the many individual changes made in military practice and institutions after 1989.

During and after the ouster of Zhivkov, the prestige of the military among the people appeared to remain quite high. Despite its association with the former BCP regime, the military was credited for remaining in the barracks during the political transition. Although some long-serving, high-ranking officers were removed later, others remained and even advanced as a result of the ouster. Longtime Minister of National Defense and BCP Politburo member Army General Dobri Dzhurov was dismissed in 1990 in the aftermath of the democratic opening. However, Colonel General Atanas Semerdzhiev, first deputy minister of defense and chief of the General Staff under Zhivkov, rose to the post of minister of the interior in 1990. The retention and promotion of an officer like Semerdzhiev, formerly decorated and favored by Zhivkov himself, indicated the value placed on the stabilizing role of the military during this turbulent period.

The high command consisted of the Ministry of National Defense and the General Staff. The minister of national defense was always a professional officer bearing the rank of army general or colonel general. In 1990, however, reformers called for a civilian defense minister to ensure civilian control over the armed forces. The military flatly rejected such demands, insisting that the minister of national defense must be a professional officer because civilians lacked the required expertise--despite evidence of able civilian administration of defense ministries in other countries.

The Ministry of National Defense was responsible for implementing the decisions of the National Security Council and the National Assembly within the armed forces. The ministry recruited, equipped, and administered the armed forces according to directives of the executive and legislative branches of government. The ministry linked the armed forces to the national economy for the purpose of procuring weapons and military equipment. The Ministry of National Defense was organized according to a Soviet model. The first deputy minister of national defense was also the chief of the General Staff, responsible for planning and directing the operational deployment of the armed forces and coordinating the actions of the three armed services in peacetime and wartime. The deputy minister's staff included a first deputy, several deputy chiefs, and a disarmament inspectorate.

In late 1990, the minister of national defense announced that reductions in the armed services would affect the command elements and administrative organizations within the Ministry of National Defense in proportion to reductions in operational forces. Some directorates with related functions reportedly were merged, but the full extent of reductions in the Ministry of National Defense was not yet evident in 1991.

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