Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

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Note from Bulgarian history

How a carefully designed consociational power-sharing arrangement was subverted by a young mathematical politician

(I've taken this from R.J. Crampton's excellent History of Bulgaria, page 21; some subsequent correspondence with Crampton; and Sava Grozdev's account as given in Paul Jainta's article, "Problem Corner: Contests from Bulgaria, I" in the European Mathematical Society's Newsletter No. 45, September 2002)

The problem is this:
Given a set A = {a1, a2, ..., a10}, find 30 subsets Ai, each with 6 elements, such that each element of A belongs to exactly 10 of the subsets Ai.
The context was the Treaty of Berlin of 1878. Bulgaria had gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in possession of a huge swathe of territory in the southern Balkans; the western Great Powers felt that this would give Russia too much influence and divided it three ways, with Macedonia going back to Ottoman control, a much smaller Bulgarian principality set up with its capital in Sofia, and an even smaller autonomous province called Eastern Rumelia, with its capital at Plovdiv (then called Philippopolis in English).

(More maps here and here, taken from WikiPedia)

The Great Powers wanted to set up the Eastern Rumelian government in such a way that the Greek and Turkish minorities would be represented in it. The province held elections for an assembly, and each member of the assembly got six votes for candidates for the ten-member "Permanent Commission" which was to be the province's government. Richard Crampton tells me that on the eve of the elections in 1879, the 30 Bulgaria Orthodox assembly members met in Plovdiv under the chairmanship of Metropolitan Panaret. Ivan Salabashev, who had a PhD in maths (from Bolgrad in Bessarabia, now Bolhrad in Ukraine, where a lot of Bulgarian emigres to the Russian empire had settled), showed they how they could secure all ten seats for Bulgarian Orthodox representatives. The delegates refused to believe him and remained unconvinced until he staged a mock poll, or dry run. This changed things, and on the following day, Salabashev wrote out the voting slips for all the Bulgarian Orthodox delegates, and the result was as he had said it would be.

The subsequent history of Eastern Rumelia is brief. With its government firmly in the hands of ethnic Bulgarians, it voted to unify with the larger principality to the north in 1885, sparking war with Serbia. The Bulgarians won quite rapidly, and the war is now remembered outside the region, if at all, only as the setting for George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man".

The subsequent history of Ivan Salabashev is a bit longer. According to the Ministry website he served three times as Minister of Finance of the unified Bulgarian state, and spent the last fourteen years of his life representing his country in Vienna. (I am intrigued by the ministry's comment that he served as head of the "department of National Enlightenment" - "Дирекцията на народното просвещение" - in Eastern Rumelia in the 1879-1885 period - sounds pretty sinister, though I imagine it just means that he got the job equivalent to Minister of Education, which seems appropriate enough.)

Anyway, it all goes to show that no matter how many bells and whistles the international community may try and put into such arrangements, it is always vulnerable to the locals being willing to comply, and runs into real difficulty if the locals are smarter than the diplomats who set it up.
Tags: mathematics, world: bulgaria

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