first_bulgarian_constition_iv_kyosevThe nature gives us dignity and faculties,

the fate converts them into actions.

Francois de La Rochefoucauld


The year 2014 marks an important anniversary for the political history of southeastern Europe. In this year we celebrate 135 years from announcing the first Bulgarian constitution – so called Turnovo Constitution (named on the town where it was passed) from 1879. This is a legal- political act (Lex fundamentalis) that establishes the foundations of the Third Bulgarian state. Thus Bulgaria and it’s citizens make an important transition from feudal economic and social relations of Ottoman Empire to capitalist economy and liberal-democratic legal-political order[1]. In the same time thanks to its legal-political profile this constitution represents the best of the political achievements of the western European civilization, combined with the specifications of the national character and specific Bulgarian necessities. The first Bulgarian constitution is a great symbol of bulgarians’ strive towards independence and national dignity. The initial plan of the dominating world political powers at this moment wasn’t in a direction creation a modern Bulgarian constitution (the initial project was named “Organic statute”). As a fundamental merit now we mark the courage of the fathers-founders of the Third Bulgarian state to create a constitutional framework of Bulgarian political life and state order, named Constitution of the Bulgarian principality[2]. That’s how Bulgarian state, institutions and civil society obtain their constitutional formation. This is an important premise for creating a Law-governed independent state. In contrast to the legal-political acts from previous historical periods (e.g. the French Constitutional charter from June 1814) which were regarded as peculiar donations from the monarch to His subjects, the first Bulgarian constitution is a result of a rational and patriotically inspired national effort.

Turnovo constitution is drawn in town Veliko Turnovo, so called The Old bulgarian capital (because of its’ glorious medieval past- the political and cultural heart of the Bulgarian kingdom). Here, in the “Old capital”, on April 14-th 1879 the constitution was officially announced. But until that date it was series of preparations, debates and legendary political battles between newborn political formations and political wings at the Constitutive assembly concerning the fundamental political principles and concrete constitutional texts. There were formed two main political fractions- liberals and conservators. Afterwards from the first group emerged Liberal party, People’s liberal party, Democratic Party and Progressive-liberal party. Conservative group gives birth of the People’s party, founded later on in 1894. Irrespective of the political division there is one significant circumstance: “the political parties’ ideological differences disappear completely when it comes to matters that deeply affect the democratic instinct of the nation”[3].

The Constitutive assembly for debates and acceptance of the Constitution comprises 231 members, recruited from the prominent representatives of the population (public figures, judges, local governors, church leaders, journalists, etc.). This team started work on 10th February 1879. There was composed a special committee within the Assembly in order to draw and present the leading lines and legal-political bases of the future main legal-political Act of the newborn state. A short passage from the report of this committee reveals the values and the way of thinking of these noble men: “Our constitution and our future government should have as aim to educate the people in Law-obedience and to prepare the population so as to thoroughly enjoy in a short period this freedom to which strive the most enlightened nations… That’s why we consider to obtain a constitution that guarantees people’s liberties and lays firm foundations of a freedom-loving social development…”.

After a period of discussions upon the main legal-political issues the legislative body decided to include into the constitutional project many modern basic principles concerning fundamental human rights and political procedures and institutions[4]. In this respect even at the stage constitutional project (before official acceptance) this act appears as a unique legal-political example, more modern and humane than many other western European analogues.

Turnovo constitution belongs to the second constitutional generation[5]. Proclaiming the principles of political and economical liberalism are the essential features of this type basic legal-political acts. In accordance with the necessities of the people and the priorities of the historical moment bulgarian Lex fundamentalis arranges the fundamental human rights and constitutional protection of the private property.

1. Constitutional arrangement of human and citizens’ rights and liberties

A few constitutional chapters are devoted to the legal status of the citizens. Without any doubt the Constitution is famous with the legal arrangement of some fundamental rights and liberties of the free human beings. Here is presented the core of the general welfare- the triad “libertéégalité– fraternité”. The Constitution proclaims principles of legality, national sovereignty, equality before the Law, personal liberty, freedom of the press, meetings and civil associations.

Fundamental importance plays the principle of legality. According to the Article 43: “Bulgarian Principality is governed exactly by the Acts, drafted and promulgated by the constitutionally established procedure”. Thus is created the constitutional framework of État de droit.

In Chapter XII, part I is stated: “All Bulgarian subjects are equal before the Law. The estate division of society is not allowed”. In this chapter also is proclaimed the universal human right of freedom and prohibition of the slavery. The unforgettable impact (because of the tragic Bulgarian past) cause the words of the fathers-founders, exposed in the article 61: “(1) Nobody in Bulgarian principality must not buy or sell human beings. (2)Any slave from any gender, belief or nationality, become free after stepping on Bulgarian territory”. Here there is a direct correspondence with the principles and decrees of the French Declaration of the man’s and the citizen’s rights.

The constitution gives a high level of citizens’ legal protection against most serious violations. A special attention requires part VI of Chapter XII, named “On personal inviolability and inviolability of the residence and the correspondence”. According to the article 73: “Nobody could be punished without the sentence, which came into effect and is passed by a legitimate court”. Article 74 proclaims that penetration and search into the citizens’ residence could be done on a lawful basis only. The inviolability of the correspondence is an object of a separate article (here a special attention requires the normative arrangement of the public servants’ responsibility for the illegal interference into the personal correspondence).

The constitutional arrangement of these fundamental principles is an important premise for every state that strives for political-legal development so as to enter into the group of États de droit.

The first Bulgarian Constitution proclaims some important political rights of the citizens (including electoral rights). To this constitutional area belongs constitutionally arranged possibility for creation of citizens’ unions, including political parties. This is one of the great achievements of the Turnovo constitution[6]. Also in this constitutional sphere are the basic political rights of the citizens. According to the Chapter XIV, part I, article 86 (3): “Constituents are all Bulgarian citizens older than 21 years obtaining civil and political rights”. Article 86 (4) proclaims that any Bulgarian citizen who is older than 30 years, enjoying full rights and is literate could become a member of the Parliament. This is an important manifestation of the first Bulgarian constitution’s democratic spirit.

In accordance with the modern tendencies in social relations Constitution proclaims the freedom of the press and the prohibition of the censorship. Thus is provided legal-political protection of the only media of this time. The process of socio-political evolution requires constantly flowing discourse over the citizens’ priorities and requirements . Media are a powerful tool for the social development from the Age of Enlightement up to nowadays. Especially important is the role of media in the transition periods, marked with crucial socio-political changes. Such example is presented at this research paper- the period of Bulgarian legal-political history which gives birth of a new perspectives and draws bright horizons for the state and society.

The issues of a great importance for the progress of a young independent state are stimulating the economical enterprise and  constitutional defense of the personal estates and other individuals’ possessions. In part III of Chapter XII of the Constitution is stated: “The rights of property are inviolable. Expropriation of private property is permissible for state or social benefit only”. This constitutional framework establishes a legal-political basis for creating a protectionist legislation concerning the development of the national industry and national market of common goods. Legal-normative examples in this respect are the Act of the reassurance of the local industry (1894), the Act of obligatory wearing of locally made clothes and shoes (1897) and the Act of organization of the crafts and the guild unions (1903). Special attention requires the first of the mentioned acts. Along with the many alleviations and benefits of the local factories this act sets the beginning of the legal arrangement of the industrial concessions[7]. In accordance with the rational and humane constitutional framework in 1907 is accepted the Act of Labor inspectorate. This Act imposes state control over legality of industry, trades and crafts. Also this Act protects the worker’s labor rights.

Great achievement of the Constitution is proclaiming of compulsory and free of charge primary education for all subjects of Bulgarian Principality.

2. Constitutional framework of the public institutions and the state order

2.1. The Crown

As a legal-political foundation of the newborn independent state the first Bulgarian constitution arranges the structure and functions of the supreme state powers. The state is proclaimed as a constitutional monarchy. The monarch is supreme representative and head of state[8]. The head of state possess power to interfere both in the legislative and the executive sphere of the governance. According to the article 9: “The legislative power belongs to the Prince (after the constitutional change from 1911- the Tzar) and to the parliament”. The monarch possess legislative initiative and promulgates the legal-normative Acts of the parliament. The Prince’s legislative prerogatives are derivative from the legal-political context of the time. The Head of state still is a powerful agent during this transitional period from constitutional to parliamentary monarchy. Also the participation of the Prince in the legislative sector of the governance is regarded as a supportive factor to the state stability and the lasting national priorities[9].

Also the central executive power of the state- the Council of ministers (the executive departments) works on behalf of and under the supreme surveillance of the Prince. The monarch appoints and releases the heads of the different departments. The prince is a supreme military chief and appoints officers to the military ranks.

With constitutional change from 1911 the monarch and its’ government are empowered to lead international negotiations and to conclude international contracts without sanction and notification of the parliament[10]. This is the official beginning of the secret diplomacy of the Crown. With accordance to His constitutionally arranged position the monarch is irresponsible for his actions and legal-political acts. Article 18 of the Constitution proclaims: “The regulations and orders of the Prince are in effect when they are subscribed by the respective ministers who take the whole responsibility”. This is the legal figure of the contra-signature, legal-political technique which marks an evolutional step towards new balance between the supreme state powers.

2.2. The National assembly

According to the Constitution the Parliament (the National assembly) could exist in two legal-political forms. The Ordinary national assembly carries out the regular legislative activity (producing of legal-normative acts and other current parliamentary decisions). The Ordinary assembly has one chamber and is recruited on basis of direct elections from the voters[11]. The constitutional rule is that there must be one representative to 10 000 people from the entire population. Also the parliament discusses the year budget of the state, the state loans and the details of the tax policy. The Ordinary assembly executes the important function of parliamentary control over the actions of the Central executive power- the state departments.

The drafting procedure started by the Cabinet (the Council of ministers) under the Prince’s order or by the individual MP (providing that the project is supported by ¼ of the presented MPs). The Assembly is empowered to make changes or amendments to the brought in bills.

Important achievement of the Constitution is arrangement of the legal-political construction of the free mandate. According to the article 87 (1): “Members of the parliament represent not only their constituents but all people”. That’s how the MPs are obliged to defend the rights and liberties of the nation as a whole and to work for the general welfare of the population.

The length of the MPs mandate initially is three years, afterwards become five years (constitutional change from 1893) and finally is fixed to the period of four years (constitutional change from 1911).

An important, crucial principles of the modern state are the freedom of opinion and persuasions, inviolability of the MPs and publicity of the parliamentary process. These basic rules are arranged in Part II and III of Chapter XIV of the Constitution. Under certain circumstances the parliamentary meetings could be holded in camera.

A vital premise for the normal work of the MPs is their immunity. According to the article 96: “Five days before the opening and during the mandate of the Assembly members of the parliament cannot be arrested and sued except if they committed crimes, punishable with most grave penalties. In these cases the Assembly must be informed immediately for the arrest and gives permission for the due judicial proceedings”.

The second form of the parliament is the Grand national assembly. This legal-political body is regarded as supreme source of people’s sovereignty. The legal-political presumption is that nation expresses and imposes it’s will through the Grand assembly[12]. The number of the MPs of this legislative body is twice as much this of the Ordinary assembly. This is the constitutive power of the state (pouvoir constituant). The Grand national assembly is empowered to change or to create entirely different legal-political reality. The main functions of this Assembly are: constitutional changes, creating a new constitution and decisions connected with the change of the state borders. To deal with these issues the assembly is convened by the Prince. That’s how any constitutional change depends on the monarch’s will and cooperation. Also the Grand assembly decides on the election of a new Prince in case that the previous one is dead and without successors.

The Grand assembly terminates when fulfill it’s tasks or if there is taken a decision of prematurely dissolve[13].

2.3. The Executive power

According to the Constitution the operative executive power of the state is assigned to the Council of ministers (the Cabinet). The statute and functions of this institution are arranged in Chapter XXI of the Constitution. There is a prime minister and chiefs of the different state departments (ministers). Constitution declares six state departments- Department of foreign affairs and confessions; Department of inner affairs; Department of education; Finance department; Department of justice; Department of war. Later on, by means of constitutional changes the departments increase to ten, including- Department of trade, industry and labor, Department of agriculture and state estates, Department of public buildings, roads and urbanization and Department of railways, post-service and telegraphs. By unwritten tradition there is one privileged position with special functions within the Cabinet- head of the Department of war is playing the role of the eyes, ears and sword of the monarch.

The central executive institution (the Cabinet) possess a wide scope of governmental instruments. As it is stated in the doctrine: “While in France the Council of ministers is mentioned in only two legal-normative acts, in our country (Bulgaria) in almost every administrative or financial Act the Cabinet is presented as a highest authority”[14]. The constitutional principle is that the monarch governs through the Cabinet. The Council of ministers can draw legal-normative acts so as to fulfill it’s governmental functions- decrees, statutes and regulations. Every department head during his service is responsible before the monarch and before the parliament for his governmental domain. There is also a collective responsibility of the Cabinet. According to the Article 153: “Heads of the departments are responsible before the Prince and the National Assembly in common for the general measures that they take, and in person for everything that the minister has done concerning his province.” The political responsibility of the Cabinet and it’s members before the National assembly marks an important step in the long and complicated process of movement towards establishing a real parliamentary democracy. Also in this order of constitutional regulations there is provided a special supreme court (convened ad hoc) that decides on the cases of crimes committed by the members of the Cabinet.

3. General conclusions

These presented features, achievements and constitutional legal-normative framework make the first Bulgarian Constitution one of the most rational, progressive and humane of the respective historical period. As a representative of the second constitutional generation Bulgarian Lex fundamentalis establishes more refined and efficient governmental model than the previous one (the first constitutional generation). The constitution of the Third Bulgarian state arranges the governmental structure and the functions of the main ruling actors. There is presented in a specific type the principle of the division of state powers (flexible division of the state powers)[15]. The Constitution creates a legal-political foundation and provides the starting point of the Bulgarian’s state legislative system, based on the main legal principles- national sovereignty, legality, equality before the Law, inviolability of the private ownership. Thus are created the different legal branches and respective Acts- Private law (the Act of obligations and contracts /1892/, the Commercial Act /1898/, the Act of estates, ownership and servitudes /1904/, the Act of the persons /1907/, the Act of the corporations /1933/, etc.); Public law (the Penal code /1896/, the Act of civil proceedings /1892/, the Act of criminal proceedings /1897/, the Act of the courts’ organization /1880/, etc.); Labor law (the Act of women’s and children’s labor /1905/, the Act of Labor inspectorate /1907/, the Act of hygiene and safety of the labor /1917/).

In the field of basic human rights and liberties the Constitution is an ideal example of it’s time. The Bulgarian fundamental legal act establishes political and legal principles (legality, human and national dignity, freedom, personal inviolability, personal enterprise) and legal-normative framework that oblige it’s contemporaries and the future generations to speak and act in conformity with it’s spirit[16].

The spirit of this legal-political act fully correspond with a famous definition of the constitution, created by one of the greatest French political philosophers: “Any legitimate act of common will equally obliges and benefits all citizens. What exactly is the act of sovereignty? Тhat is not an agreement between the superior and the inferior, but an agreement between the body and any of it’s members, a lawful agreement, because in it’s basis lays The Social contract /Le Contrat social/ (the italic mine- Ivan Kyosev); fair, because it is common for everyone; useful, because it’s aim is the general welfare; and firm because it’s guarantee is the public power…”[17]


[1] Bulgaria gain it’s independence thanks to the Russian-Turkish war (1877- 1878) between Russia and Ottoman Empire. Official acknowledgement of the consequences of this war is made by the Treaty of Berlin (1878). Although there is created an independent state- Bulgarian principality, a significant part of the Bulgarian population and its natural habitat is left outside the territory of the Principality.

[2] At this historical time the dominating European state model is constitutional monarchy. The two exceptions from this model were France and Switzerland.

[3] Radev, S. The builders of the modern Bulgaria. S., 1990, p. 87.

[4] Serious influence on Bulgarian constitution exert the Belgian constitution from February 1831, the Constitution of Romania (1866), and the Constitution of Serbia (1869).

[5] In legal-historical perspective up to nowadays there are four constitutional generations. The first constitutional generation is a result of the ideas and political movements during the Age of Enlightement and the revolutions in France and North America from the end of XVIII-th century. Representatives of the first constitutional generation are Constitution of USA (1787) and the first Constitution of France (1791). The second constitutional generation appears in the period from the beginning of XIX century to the start of the First world war.

[6] In previous historical period in some countries (e.g. in France) citizens’ unions were set beyond the Law.

[7] See also: Manolova, M. The protectionist policy of Bulgarian governments concerning the local industry. In: Society and Law, № 2, 2013, p. 78-83.

[8] As it is visible from the statements of the most prominent Bulgarian politicians of this time they sincerely believe that the main care of the monarch is and should be the care for the prosperity of the population and strengthening the state.

[9] See also: Belov, M. Dynamics of the institutional unbalance under the effect of Turnovo constitution. In: 100 years from the birth of prof. Michail Andreev, S., 2011, p. 80- 81.

[10] This constitutional change leads to involving the state into tough war conflicts, including the First world war and causes severe damages on the state and the nation. That’s how Bulgaria falls into the First national catastrophe.

[11] During this historical period electoral rights possess only men. After a period of social evolution and many political battles for women’s rights this situation is changed. In Bulgarian political reality only until 1937 women obtain active electoral right on condition that they are married, divorced or widows.

[12] See also: Miliukov, P. Bulgarian constitution. Sofia. 2009, p. 117.

[13] Under the effect of Turnovo constitution the Grand assembly is convened five times.

[14] Balamezov, S. The ministers- their role and their power in the parliamentary monarchy. S., 2010, p. 126.

[15] This type of division of the state powers is characterized with specialization and cooperation between the parliament, the Council of ministers and the monarch. There is not strictly saved domains for each of the supreme political actors. See also: Bliznashki, G. The principles of the parliamentary governance. S., 2007, p. 91-92.

[16] Unfortunately in following political practice there are many unpleasant examples of hidden or evident breach of the main principles and legal-normative structures of this Constitution (e.g. the Personal regime of the monarch from the end of XIX and the beginning of XX century and the military coup d’Etat from 19 May 1934 which establishes monocracy, eliminates the political parties and deprives the country of it’s parliament for a period of 4 years).

[17] Rousseau, J.-J. Du Contrat social ou Principes du droit politique. S., 1988, p. 107.


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