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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.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 7th, 2006 12:14 pm (UTC)
Slightly tangentially, but triggered by the Bulgarians' ongoing fondness for Serbo-Croat speaking Macedonia... to what extent is Bulgarian essentially the same language as Serbo-Croat, albeit with some regionalised specialism? (-ian)
May. 7th, 2006 03:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Serbo-Croat-Bulgar?
Bulgarian and Macedonian are closer to each other than either is to Serbo-Croat. Serbo-Croat does not have articles, but does decline its nouns into several different cases. Bulgarian and Macedonian have the article as a suffix to the noun, and use only the vocative and nominative cases. Though for most practical purposes they are all mutually intelligible.
May. 10th, 2006 11:27 pm (UTC)
this is generally true
about the standard Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian. Yet there are the so-called transitional dialects in north Macedonia, western Bulgaria and southeastern Serbia so the picture is fuzzier, in actual fact. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torlakian
May. 8th, 2006 04:17 am (UTC)
18 subsets?
Isn't it 18 subsets? A1 ... A30 would have 180 elements in total; one can find subsets such that each element of A belongs to exactly 18 subsets.

(From the EMS newsletter, it seems that there were 47 members in total, so even if the other 17 voted together, they still couldn't get any of their candidates in.)

Very interesting story.
May. 10th, 2006 10:16 am (UTC)
Slabashev completed his doctorate in Prague, not in Bolhrad which was a major centre of secondary education. In the 19th century usage, "prosveshtenie", a Church Slavonic archaism, was synonymous with "prosveta", a later vernacular form, meaning education. Nowadays, "prosveshtenie" means "enlightenment" only. Nothing sinister really ...
May. 10th, 2006 10:33 am (UTC)
Re: Salabashev
Professor Crampton, I presume?

I wondered about Prague. The Ministry of Finance website didn't mention it, and you didn't seem sure about it when we corresponded a few years back, so I left it out. But I did also wonder about Bolhrad - didn't sound like a place where one might get a doctorate!
May. 10th, 2006 11:21 pm (UTC)
not really
just a modest disciple of Prof Crampton's, don't be confused by my IP address. Actually, it turns out Salabashev went to high shool in Bohemia too (in the town of Tabor). He was a teacher at Bolgard where the first Bulgarian High School had opened back in 1858. More info: http://bg.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%98%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BD_%D0%A1%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B1%D0%B0%D1%88%D0%B5%D0%B2
Oct. 8th, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC)
Re: not really
Coming a bit late to the party, but:

I don't think you could have gotten a doctorate *anywhere* in Bessarabia in the 1870s -- it was very much a backwater province, and I don't think there was any university there at all, even in Chisinau, until the 1890s.

Bolgrad was a strategically important port, but it was never a very large town. It's a modest tourist site today -- there are medieval and Ottoman ruins worth looking at.

Bessarabia had a large population of Bulgarians from the early 1800s onward. They were refugees from Ottoman oppression, which grew worse after 1800 as the Empire grew more retrograde (and the Bulgarians grew more nationalist). They're still a significant minority -- like, four or five percent -- in modern Moldova; there are lots of villages and some towns that are entirely ethnic Bulgarian. In modern Moldovan politics, they are considered part of the "Russian speaking" bloc (that is, their preferred second language is Russian rather than Romanian).

I would imagine they played a nontrivial role in the 1877 war and the subsequent first generation or two of independent Bulgaria, but I don't know of any examples other than this one that you've just given.


Doug m.

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