Two conflicting qualities, those of the warrior and the peasant, have dominated Bulgarian history. Like Serbia, Bulgaria is a country of warriors who struggled on through centuries of Turkish servitude until they gained their independence during the nineteenth century. But, dissatisfied with what they had obtained, they recalled the ninth century when their nation under Czar Simeon ruled from the Black Sea to the Adriatic, and from the southern Carpathians to the Aegean.
Twice their dream of the restoration of such an empire was almost realized. The first time was during the Balkan War in 1912 when the Bulgarian armies had conquered the region around the mouth of the Maritsa River, and were fighting near the walls of Constantinople. But discord between Bulgaria and its Balkan allies was followed by a war that shattered the dream, and Bulgaria lost some of her gains, although she temporarily retained the Maritsa Valley. The second opportunity for the dream to be realized came during the World War when Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, helped to crush Serbia, occupied a great part of it, and reconquered the Dobruja from the Rumanians. Again she failed to find her allies in full sympathy with her aims, and it was probably in the main from dissatisfaction and disappointment that Bulgaria broke down in 1918 at the beginning of the total collapse of the Central Powers. Once more she lost; the Dobruja remained Rumanian, the new-born Yugoslavia obtained boundary rearrangements which brought the western frontier still nearer to Sofia, and Greece shut Bulgaria off from the Aegean.
Beaten and bankrupt, Bulgaria again awaits an opportunity for expansion. Except where the country's boundaries are formed by the waters of the Danube and the Black Sea, the Bulgarians wish to push them farther back. Most of all they want an outlet on the Aegean Sea. Friendly understanding among the Balkan States is indeed helping to eliminate the friction of the "Balkan problem" which has long been a great source of unrest in Europe, and is also helping to bring progress and prosperity among the Balkan people themselves. Nevertheless, Bulgaria is in essence a second Hungary, ready at any moment to renew the long fight for what it conceives to be its national destiny.
The other side of the Bulgarian character is quite different. The word Bulgar means not only peasant, but a humble sort of plowing peasant who perhaps works for others rather than on his own land. Bulgaria is as completely agricultural as any country in Europe. Most of them cultivate their own small farms, for the large estates owned by their former Turkish rulers are almost gone. The Bulgarians have a high reputation in many respects. Their efforts to secure education are especially notable. So, too, are their industry, frugality, and eagerness to learn new methods of work. Sometimes their thriftiness makes them stingy, and their eagerness for progress and education destroys or prevents light-hearted gaiety such as is so common in Spain, Italy, and Serbia. Moreover, the land-holdings are so sadly small, the amount of land lying fallow is so large, and the available capital therefore so limited that it is very difficult to adopt modern methods. Wooden plows, the sowing of wheat by hand, and the reaping of it with sickles are still very widespread. Nevertheless, it is often said that no other Balkan country gives so strong an impression of sturdy and determined progress in spite of great discouragements.