During the years when Bulgaria's membership of the EU seemed but a beautiful daydream people would often take comfort in the thought "So what! We've been Europeans for 1,300 years." In 681AD the Byzantine Empire had to make a treaty with a young, steadfast confederacy formed alongside the Danube and thus admit the political existence of Bulgaria. But the Bulgarians of the 7th Century were not exactly the Bulgarians you see today walking the streets of Sofia or Sozopol.
The young Bulgarian state was established by two different races: the tall and pale skinned Slavs and the short and swarthy Mongoloid-looking Bulgarians, who will be henceforth called "Proto-Bulgarians". It seems complicated, and is even more so, because the story of the birth of Bulgaria also includes Byzantine emperors, Huns, Goths, Avars, Khazars, Thracians, a great deal of good luck, several thousand Arabs and a plague.
THE BARBARIANS ARE COMING
In 330 AD Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and because he had declared Christianity an official religion 17 years earlier, he thought that his state was guaranteed years of safety.
What Constantine the Great did not suspect was that the Great Migration had already begun in the steppes of Central Asia and that 20 years later it would lead to the first Hunnish attacks on the empire, the largest rearrangement of peoples and tribes in the history of mankind and the onset of the Middle Ages.
The Huns left Central Asia either because of a climatic cataclysm which caused a reduction in the pasture for their herds and horses, or because of the stabilisation of China, which made them look for plunder in the lands of the Roman Empire which was at that time weak. Whatever the reason, the Huns rode west, sweeping along dozens of peoples, much like the movement of the white ball in snooker, which changes the trajectories of the rest of the balls on the table.
The first Hunnish raids on the empire lead the Christians to believe that the Apocalypse was about to begin: "How the mind shudders to contemplate the catastrophes of our age! Roman blood has drenched the lands between Constantinople and the Julian Alps. How many matrons, how many of God's virgins and ladies of noble birth have been made the playthings of these brutes?" wrote Eusebius Hieronymus in 396 AD. A year earlier Emperor Theodosius I had declared Christianity the only religion and divided the empire into the Eastern Roman Empire with Constantinople as its capital and the Western Roman Empire with Rome as the capital.
The barbarians terrified the Romans with their military technology: saddles with stirrups, swords and reflex bows, and a well-organised cavalry against which the Roman legions were helpless. Though they could not establish long-lasting states, the barbarians were horrifically efficient in destroying the ancient civilisation. They took and pillaged Rome several times in the 5th Century, reducing it to a pile of picturesque ruins.
The situation in Constantinople was much better. The "new Rome" successfully defended the borders of the Eastern Roman Empire, which would be transformed into the mediaeval superpower, the Byzantine Empire. It would survive until the 15th Century as history afforded it the chance to face its barbarians, the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians, in the 7th Century when it had already managed to become stable. However, the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians would become the first barbarians to establish a lasting state.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers