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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 10:233–239.


Hungarian-Bulgarian Relations in Education from 1880s until 1940s


There is a quite a large literature on the history of Hungarian-Bulgarian relations1 but hardly anything that concerns the field of education. Thus my paper is a first and sketchy attempt to reconstruct the Hungarian-Bulgarian relations in the field of education during a period of half a century. The subject is topical as far as it pertains to the modernization of Bulgaria in the last quarter of the 19th century. After the Russian-Turkish War of 1877–1878 the newly formed Bulgarian state suffered from lack of its own well-trained experts. Intellectuals from Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary too, came to take part in the creation of the modern Bulgarian administration and culture. Therefore Bulgaria was open to foreign, including Hungarian, influence. That’s why this paper aims at examining the Hungarian role in the creation of the modern educational system in Bulgaria and the part of Hungarian universities in the training of Bulgarian experts in different fields of economy and culture. It follows another aspect as well, that is how trends in Hungary’s and Bulgaria’s political interests influenced the bilateral relations in the field of education.

The time from the 1880s to the 1940s encompasses two historically distinct periods, divided by World War I, which actually represented different political frameworks for the development of Hungarian-Bulgarian cultural relations. But these were essentially uniform in terms of tradition and continuity. Moreover a unifying feature of the whole period was the absence of a formal cultural agreement between the two countries;2 so, the realization of the bilateral relations to a large extent depended on the personal interests and initiative of outstanding Hungarian and Bulgarian intellectuals, public and political figures.

The period examined starts with the 1880s when Austria-Hungary began to implement her new policy of economic penetration in the Balkans. Within this trend of the Monarchy’s common foreign policy Hungary pursued its own goals in the Balkans. Being a direct neighbour of the Balkans, Hungary was considered to be a bridge between the West and East. But Hungary’s and the Balkan countries’ cultural knowledge of each other was regarded to play an important role in the realization of their commercial connections. It was achieved mainly by means of education.

The great interest on the Austro-Hungarian part towards education was determined by the Monarchy’s role in the creation of modern culture and in the training of Monarchy-oriented Bulgarian intellectuals. A number of Austro-Hungarian intellectuals, usually teachers, practiced their profession in Bulgaria, e.g. the first Bulgarian Minister of Education came from the Monarchy. He was the young historian of Czech origin, later distinguished Slav scholar, Konstantin Jirecek. In September 1881 he mentioned in his diary the emperor himself, Franz Josef’s interest in the situation at Bulgarian schools, expressed during his visit to the court. According to K. Jirecek one fourth of the teachers at the existing 12 secondary schools was from Austria-Hungary.3

At the same time young Bulgarians also got scholarships at schools and universities in Austria-Hungary. In fact this tendency began in the 1870s when they were already orientated towards schooling at Western universities. Thus with the help of the well-known and very influential Balkans traveller of Hungarian origin Felix Kanitz, the young Ivan Shishmanov, future Minister of Education (1903–1907), got such a scholarship in 1876 for studying in Vienna. In the 1880s the already old Felix Kanitz interceded with K. Jirecek and I. Shishmanov, at that time adviser at the Ministry of Education, for giving positions as teachers to Bulgarians who had finished their studies in Austria-Hungary.4

During the seven years of Stefan Stambolov’s administration (1887–1894) Austria-Hungary set up a number of joint-stock companies. Experts were needed for the effective work of these agencies. Benjamin Kállay, the best expert in the Balkans, was the first Hungarian politician who saw the necessity of educating the Monarchy’s diplomats in Balkan studies. In 1873 he wrote a report on the activity of Austria-Hungary’s Eastern delegations. According to him their efficiency was low since the diplomats were not acquainted enough with the traditions and history of the Eastern peoples. The superficial, sometimes even misleading information of their reports on the political situation in the region was dangerous for the Monarchy in making her Eastern policy. The Hungarian Royal Eastern Commercial Academy in Budapest (founded two decades later) was supposed not only to train Hungarian experts in economic and commercial relations with Eastern countries, but also to give them a good knowledge of these peoples’ languages, history and traditions. At the turn of 19th century it became a real center of Balkan studies.

During the twenty-five school-years before 1917, 685 regular students had graduated from the Academy as experts in Eastern commerce: most of them were Hungarians, but there were Jews, Germans, Romanians and Southern Slavs as well; among the latter there were some descendents of Bulgarian settlers in the Banat region, too.6

The educational program of the Hungarian Royal Eastern Commercial Academy included mainly economic disciplines and banking. Besides this there were several courses which gave common knowledge on traditions, culture, history and geography of the Balkan peoples. In addition Turkish, Modern Greek, Romanian, Serbian and Bulgarian languages were studied by the students’ own choice together with an obligatory Western language.

In fact from 1891 to the 1910s Hungary’s cultural activity concerning Bulgaria was realized through the work of the Eastern Commercial Academy in Budapest. It was expressed through one outlet, i.e. teaching of Bulgarian studies, which covered three general fields within the framework of Balkan studies. Bulgarian language was first taught by the Hungarian prime minister’s interpreter Sándor Popovics, and from 1894 in the course of two decades by the eminent Slavist Oszkár Asbóth. Bulgarian economic geography, included in the general course of Eastern commercial geography was taught by the excellent specialist in Bulgaria, the economist and folklorist Adolf Strausz. Bulgarian ethnography and history was taught by the famous orientalist Ignácz Kunós within the course „Ethnographical and historical knowledge of the East”.

In 1896 when I. Kunós was chosen as head of the Academy, some changes were made in the syllabus. The two courses concerning geography and humanities were joined under the name of „Ethnography and Geography of the East” taught by A. Strausz. Within it Bulgarian history was taught on the basis of K. Jirecek’s book „History of the Bulgarians”7 and F. Kanitz’s „Danubian Bulgaria and the Balkans”8. Another change was made in 1897 when the emphasis concentrated on the further development of export trade. New subjects were introduced, such as economic and trade policy, customs legislation and knowledge of goods, which covered Bulgaria as well.

The first Bulgarian grammar for Hungarians was published in 1893 in Budapest under the title „Bulgarian grammar for school and private usage”.9 Being published in German too,10 it was the first systematic Bulgarian grammar in Western Europe. A. Strausz and I. Dugovics wrote it to meet the needs of merchants and industrialists, and for the students of the Eastern Academy. The textbook was prepared with the cooperation of the Bulgarian government.11 I. Shishmanov was the person through whom A. Strausz asked Ivan Vazov, the „father of modern Bulgarian literature”, to write the introduction to his grammar, as well as for translations of Hungarian poems into Bulgarian to be used as examples in it.12 So, among the texts for reading practice we find Vazov’s translation of Pefőfi’s poem „The Mad Man”.

The practical part of the education at the Eastern Commercial Academy included school-excursions in the Balkan countries, organized every year. Their purpose was to make the students acquainted with the most important industrial and commercial centres of the East and with the culture of the Eastern peoples as well as to examine the economic situation in the Eastern countries.

The result of the Academy’s educational activity was reflected in the work of her twenty-six students, who after graduation, became employees of Bulgarian banks and trade offices as well as of Austro-Hungarian agencies in Bulgaria and thus personally took part in the creation of the modern Bulgarian financial and commercial structure.13

Besides the regular tuition, during the four years from 1897 to 1901 the Eastern Commercial Academy every year organized an evening Eastern language course. Its purpose was to help the Hungarian merchants and industrialists who were interested in Balkan trade. Bulgarian was included within this course. Representatives of such famous factory-owners’ families in Hungary as Weis and Rosenberg took part in it.

Bulgarian studies in the field of linguistics were taught at the P. Pázmány University within the framework of Slavistics. Bulgarian language, being a Slav one, was taught in the Russian course. In fact Old Bulgarian was studied and only occasionally Modern Bulgarian grammar. It was the Indo-European linguist Aurél Mayer who first began teaching the Old Bulgarian grammar in 1875–76. In 1880 Oszkár Asbóth taught it as a separate discipline under the name of Old Slav (later renamed Old Bulgarian)14 With regard to the teaching of Bulgarian language in Slavistics we should recognize that in the period until World War I it depended on the possibilities and vision of the scholar-expert in the field, who chiefly took care to train one or two disciples.

The first impulse for change in the teaching of Slavistics and, in its framework, of Bulgarian language as well, came in the 1910s as a result of changes in the character of Hungarian domestic and foreign policy. In the domestic aspect it was the quantitative development of the Hungarian educational system on a very large scale during the last decade of the Monarchy’s existence. In foreign policy it came with the Balkan war and with the new concepts of paying greater attention to the Southern Slavs (Bulgarians, Serbs and Croats). At that time Hungarian-Bulgarian relations concerned not only commerce, but had political aspects as well: In particular Austria- Hungary’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, István Burián emphasized the necessity of opposing Serbia with a strong Bulgarian state as an ally.

At the end of 1912 Lajos Thallóczy, B. Kállay closest confidant and under-secretary of state, summed up in a memorandum Hungary’s cultural and economic intentions in the Balkans. It was a real programme, whose part about education envisaged the foundation of a Department for Balkan Studies at the P. Pázmány University in Budapest, obligatory study of Balkan languages at the local higher schools, education of Balkan youths at Hungarian commercial schools. Working on the memorandum Thallóczy consulted his confidants. Thus O. Asbóth’s student, the linguist János Melich proposed to L. Thallóczy to introduce at the universities the Study of Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian language and literature.15 Next year young Kunó Klebelsberg, the later famous cultural politician, offered Thallóczy a broader program, including Byzantinology, Orthodox Church Slavonic, Turkology and Slavistics. His idea was to connect the introduction of the Southern Slav and Balkan studies with the emergence of the newly founded Debrecen University. He wanted it to become their centre by creating relevant departments. K. Klebelsberg envisaged the establishment of departments at Debrecen University in Byzantinology under the direction of the famous scholar in Ancient Roman studies Jenő Darkó; in Orthodox Church Slavonic with emphasis on the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity; in Ottoman History with regard to the history of the Turkish occupation in Hungary; in the history of the Southern Slavs and in Southern Slav linguistics. Thus it was supposed the Hungarian educational system would be more attractive to the Eastern youth, anyway the Hungarian language was isolated.16

The regular schooling of Bulgarians in Hungary began in 1916-1917, when „Bulgarian educational action” was successfully organized by the Hungarian Turan Society. It was connected with the still optimistic projects concerning the results of the war, the realization of Great Bulgaria and of a common Hungarian-Bulgarian border17 and the creation of the two countries’ economic community.18

Thus in 1916 the leader of Turan Society Pál Teleki and the intendant of the Hungarian State Theatres Miklós Bánffy visited Bulgaria in order to look into the possibility of negotiations for schooling of Bulgarian young people in Hungary.19 In May talks were carried on in Budapest between Hungarian and Bulgarian deputies and the two sides came to a common consent. So, in the school-year of 1917–1918 fourty Bulgarians studied mainly in Temesvár and in 1918–1919 – eighty-one in Szeged, Temesvár, Budapest and Csaktornya.20 In 1919 another twenty-two young Bulgarians arrived in Budapest, where they were admitted to the Medical and Philosophical Departments of P. Pázmány University as well as to the Polytechnics.

Actually Hungarian universities really attracted the Bulgarian young people’s attention in the interwar period and during World War II. Their preference for them was due to the increasing political intimacy of Hungary and Bulgaria, which after the Peace Treaties of Trianon and Neuilly tried to overcome the isolation from the neighbouring countries and to realize the revision of the Peace Treaties.21 In contrast to Bulgaria, which pursued a policy of non-commitment, Hungary, supported by Italy, openly declared her revisionist aims. During the whole interwar period Hungary tried to gain Bulgaria as a partner in her foreign policy. Evolution in Bulgaria’s behaviour towards Hungary was evident as well especially in the years before the outbreak of World War II when both countries already moved towards Germany. The political rapprochement of the two countries was accompanied by the extension of Hungarian cultural propaganda in Bulgaria and vice versa. It concerned also the popularization of the Hungarian universities whose reputation considerably increased after the reformation of the educational system in the 1920s, carried out by Minister Kunó Klebelsberg.

Between 1918 and 1944 about four hundred Bulgarian students visited Hungarian universities – mostly the Polytechnics, P. Pázmány University and the University of Physical Education, all in Budapest, but there were Bulgarians at the Erzsébet University in Pécs as well as at the I. Tisza University in Debrecen.22 The specialities mostly preferred by them were medicine, engineering, physical education, veterinary medicine, agronomy. The absence of polytechnic education in Bulgaria and the fact that the higher schooling of such specialities as medicine, agronomy, veterinary medicine, economics, music, fine arts was comparatively new for the Bulgarian educational system comes to explain the desire of Bulgarian young people to study abroad. Moreover, for instance, the Medicine Department of the P. Pázmány University was well-known for its world famous scholars in the Interwar period. When trying to answer the question why Bulgarians went to study a given speciality in Hungary we should not ignore the personal connections of some Hungarian intellectuals the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, who succeeded in creating a real tradition in accepting Bulgarian young people at certain universities. (Such is the case with the University of Physical Education and its professors.) In the spirit of traditions education was one of the three flieds23 which the Hungarian-Bulgarian Cultural Agreement of February 1941 covered. It envisaged the establishment of lectureships at the Budapest and the Sofia Universities and provision of two scholarships by each Ministry of Education.

Finally, trying to summarize the main tendencies in Hungarian-Bulgarian relations in education we should say that they touched the subject-matter of instruction and the student-potential. The subject-matter of instruction concerned the teaching of Bulgarian studies (language, ethnography, history, economics) within the framework of the regular tuition and of free training at Hungarian higher schools. With regard to student potential it found expression in the education of Bulgarian students in Hungary.

In the last quarter of the 19th century and in the first decade of the 20th century Hungary’s economic interests in the Balkans were reflected in her educational system by the establishment of a special higher school for Eastern commercial studies. It was a part of the process for modernizing the Hungarian educational system. The main tendency within Hungarian-Bulgarian relations in the field of education was the teaching of Bulgarian studies in Hungary. It came to answer the challenge of making Hungarians acquainted with the culture of the Balkan peoples including those of the Bulgarians. From the time of World War I onwards this tendency in Hungarian education concerning Bulgarians changed. In the interwar period Hungary paid greatest attention to educating Bulgarian students at Hungarian high schools. Returning home they brought with themselves new ideas and knowledge and by starting to practice their professions they enriched Bulgarian medicine, physical education, culture, industry, agriculture with Hungarian experience.




E. Palotás: Az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia a berlini kongresszus után. 1878–1881. Budapest. 1982; M. Lalkov: Balkanskata politika na Avstro-Ungarija. 1914–1917. Sofija. 1983, Balgarija v balkanskata politika na Avstro-Ungarija. 1878–1903. Sofija. 1993; R. Mishev: Avstro-Ungarija i Balgarija. 1879–1894. Politicheski otnoshenija. Sofija. 1988; K. Gardev: Balgarija I Ungarija. 1923–1941. Sofija. 1988; I. Naidenova: Ungarskata hudozestvena literatura I vazpriemaneto I v Balgarija. Sofija. 1989.


The first Hungarian-Bulgarian cultural agreement was concluded on February 18, 1941.


K. Jirecek: Balgarski dnevnik. 30. X. 1878 – 26.X.1884. Sofija. 1930-1932. p. 15.


NABAN (Archives of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences). F. 3. Op. 1. A. e. 660. p. 10, 12–14; F. 11. Op. 3. A.e. 659. p. 1, 5.


MOL (Hungarian National Archives). P 344. 44. cs. É. 4.


This data is taken from the annual statistics of the Academy, published in its issue „A Keleti Kereskedelmi Akadémia 1891.-ik évi jelentései”.


Published in 1876. Hungarian edition – „A bolgárok története”. Nagybecskerek. 1889.


F. Kanitz travelled in Bulgaria in 1869–1872 and published his impressions in the three volumes of „Donau-Bulgarien und der Balkan”, Leipzig, 1875-1879.


A. Strausz–I. Dugovich: Bolgár nyelvtan iskolai és magán használatra. A legújabb bolgár nyelvtanok alapján. Budapest. 1893.


A Strauss–I. Dugovics: Bulgarische Grammatik. Ein Handbuch zur Erlernung der Modernen Bulgarischen Schrift- und Verkehrsprache Wien-Leipzig. 1895. It was published in French too.


NABAN. F. 11. Op. 3. A.e. 1714. p. 1, 3.


NABAN. F. 11. Op. 3. A.e. 1713. p. 31, 38.


See: „A M. Kir. Keleti kereskedelmi akadémia szövetségi értesítõje”. 1908, N 3, p. 7–8; 1909, N 4–7, p. 8– 9.


I. Kniezsa: A magyar szlavisztika problémai és feladatai. – In: MTA I. osztályának közleményei. XII. Budapest, 1958. p. 69–90;P. Király: Patyat i rezultatite na balgaristikata v Ungaria. Sofia. 1988. p. 9–22.


OSZK. Levelestár. (Manuscript Section of the National Széchényi Library). F XI / 673. f. 5.


OSZK. Levelestár. F XI / 549. p. 5, 6.


Protokolle des Gemeinsamen Ministerrates der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie. 1914-1918. Rd. M. Komjathy. Budapest. 1966, p. 447–448.


O. Faludi: Magyarország szerepe a magyar-bolgár gazdasági viszony kiépitésében.-In: A Temesvári Balkán Iroda kiadványai. Budapest. 1917. III; F. Fodor: Temesvár és Szeged földrajzi helyzete és balkáni hivatása.-In: Op. cit., IV.


Körösi Csoma Archivum. Budapest. 1940. Vol. III, N 1, p. II; Turán. 1917, N 6–7, p. 333.


MOL. P 1384. 14. cs. 14. t. p. 280.


K. Gardev: Balgarija i Ungarija. 1923–1941. Sofija. 1988. p. 196–197.


P. Pejkovska: Hungarian Universities and the Formation of the Bulgarian Intellectuals between 1918 and 1944. – In: Bulgarian Historical Review. 1998, N 3-4, p. 215-234.


The other two were science and cultural propaganda.