Building Bridges: The Danube Connection in Bulgarian-Romanian Relations

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History of the efforts of Bulgaria and Romania for transport interconnection over the river

Aneta Mihaylova

Institute of Balkan Studies with Center for Thracology – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

An earlier version of this article was presented at the joint Bulgarian-Romanian historical commission, whose secretary from the Bulgarian side is the author. The text was given exclusively to the blog “The Bridge of Friendship” and will become a part of a digital book on Bulgarian-Romanian political relations from 1878 until today. 

The idea of ​​building a bridge over the Danube, connecting Bulgaria and Romania has a long history and, although with varying intensity, it has been permanently present in the bilateral relations from the end of the 19th to the present day. If we are not to go so much back to the time of Constantine the Great, when the first bridge over the Danube connecting the people on both sides of the river, but focus on more modern times, the issue was raised during the time of Ottoman rule and after the Crimean War (1853-56) it became an integral part of the diplomacy and politics in the Balkans and a number of European countries. The construction of a bridge over the Danube was associated with the first plans for railway construction in the Ottoman Empire and the implementation of a land connection between Western and Central Europe to the Balkan Peninsula with access to the Aegean Sea. In 1881, only three years after the Liberation of Bulgaria, the first contacts were established between the Bulgarian principality and Romania, where the possibility of building a bridge over the Danube was discussed. Since then, this issue has become one of the constant topics in the relations between the two neighboring countries, but it has turned out to be very difficult to solve and it takes more than seven decades for this idea to be realized in practice. Another six decades were to pass before a second bridge was built over the Danube, connecting the Bulgarian and Romanian riverbanks. Negotiations for the construction of new bridges between the two countries continue to this day, and the prospects for success are not very clear.

If we set aside the purely economic importance of the bridge as a transport facility and look at its more abstract meaning of an opportunity to establish closer social and cultural contacts, the balance of the achievements in the bilateral relations over the past century and a half is not very optimistic. In the following lines I will make an attempt to outline the obstacles and difficulties that have arisen in the course of the negotiations for the construction of the Danube bridge, as well as the factors that have influenced its practical realization in different historical periods. I will also try to find an answer to the question to what extent one could find continuity in the policy of both countries on this issue.

The first attempts to build a bridge over the Danube, connecting Bulgaria and Romania to the practical implementation of this project in 1954 are presented in detail in the book by Dimitar Sazdov and Pencho Penchev “Danube Bridge. 100 years of diplomacy and politics”1 and therefore my task here will be rather to mark the main stages through which the development of the idea of the Danube bridge has passed starting from the end of the 19th century, the state of the problem today and to outline some perspectives for the future.

The idea of ​​building a bridge over the Danube to connect Bulgaria and Romania has appeared in the third quarter of the 19th century due to the changed economic and political conditions in the region. At that time, the construction of the first railway lines on the Balkan Peninsula began. In the first years after the Bulgarian National Liberation, when the government was discussing its plans for railway construction, the construction of a bridge over the Danube to connect the Bulgarian economy with that of Western Europe was considered a matter of paramount importance. In this context the need to look for opportunities for joint action with neighboring Romania was realized, because the bridge was supposed serve both countries, but at the same time the Bulgarian leadership was convinced that Bulgarian interests had to be taken into account and its construction was to be linked to the construction of the country’s railway network. This position was clearly stated by the Prime Minister Petko Karavelov during the parliamentary debates on this issue in 1880, when he indicated the points where the bridge could be built – near Vidin or Rustchuk (today Ruse)2.

In February 1881, the Bulgarian diplomatic agent in Bucharest, Kiryak Tsankov, was assigned the task to investigate the attitude of the Romanian government towards the construction of a bridge over the Danube. The answer was not long in coming, and only a week later he assured the Bulgarian government that the Romanian Foreign Minister had ruled in favor of connecting the railways at Svishtov, as the international Craiova-Svishtov-Constantinople line would be the shortest, and through Ruse it would be much longer than the one that passed through Serbia3. In August 1884 the issue was discussed at the meeting of the Bulgarian Prince Alexander Battenberg and the Romanian King Carol I in Sinaia, which was followed by a meeting of the two prime ministers Petko Karavelov and Ion Bratianu in November of that year, but the negotiations ended without a specific result. The Bulgarian Prime Minister Petko Karavelov was reserved because the connection at these points was not coordinated with the plans for the railway network in Bulgaria and it would burden the finances of the Bulgarian Principality too much. In the end, Bulgaria decided that resolving the issue at that moment was not urgent. Negotiations were resumed only in 1895 under the government of Konstantin Stoilov, who attached great importance to a second connection with Western Europe and showed a sincere desire to build a bridge with Romania4.

Meanwhile, Bucharest focused on building a bridge over the Danube at Cherna Voda, modernizing the port of Constanţa and completing the Bucharest-Constanţa railway line. While Bulgaria was becoming even more aware of the importance of the bridge for its trade, Romania feared that connecting the railways with Bulgaria would diminish the importance of the port of Constanţa. In addition to the rail link to Constantinople, Bucharest was trying to establish trade contacts with Thessaloniki and the Aegean Sea, but through Serbia. In the 1990s, Romanian diplomacy became increasingly reticent about the idea of ​​building a Danube bridge with Bulgaria, and additional complications were brought about by Serbia’s involvement in the interstate combinations to build railways on the Balkan Peninsula. In 1890, Serbia also launched plans to connect its railways with Romania, and in 1898 the two countries reached an agreement to build a bridge over the Danube between Turnu Severin and Kladovo. Although the signed convention did not bring to a practical result, that had an adverse effect on the Bulgarian-Romanian negotiations for the Danube bridge. In the following years, the talks on building a bridge between Bulgaria and Romania acquired the nature of an act of diplomatic courtesy, and the issue was gradually removed from the agenda of Bulgarian foreign policy5.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of ​​building a bridge over the Danube between Bulgaria and Romania entered a new stage. The period coincides with the already formed clear concepts for the construction of the railway networks of the two countries6. The initiator of the negotiations was again Bulgaria, which was aware of the great economic importance of connecting its railways with the Romanian ones. The accelerated economic development of Bulgaria in the early twentieth century determined its search for new and secure connections with Austria-Hungary, Germany, France and the other advanced countries. The Great Powers also had their economic interests in the Balkans and that had its impact on the construction of the overall transport structure of the peninsula. The frequent economic and political conflicts between Serbia and Austria-Hungary had a negative impact on the Bulgarian exchange with Western and Central Europe. Austria-Hungary, for its part, was also looking for a way around Serbia in its economic contacts with Bulgaria and Turkey.

A step forward as compared to what had been achieved between Bulgaria and Romania on the Danube Bridge at the end of the 19th century were the negotiations in 1909, when the two countries moved from the phase of diplomatic probing to direct contacts and negotiations between specialists. We find comprehensive information about the course of these negotiations in the memoirs of the then Bulgarian Minister Plenipotentiary in Bucharest, Hristofor Hesapchiev. Following the signing at the end of 1907 of a series of agreements between Bulgaria and Romania that regulated unresolved issues in relations between the two countries and created the preconditions for closer cooperation – Treaty on Trade, Customs and Shipping, Conventions on the Danube Border and Convention on Fishing in the Danube, on April 9, 1909, Romania recognized Bulgarian independence, and the question of the Danube bridge came to the fore again.

In the course of the negotiations in the specially established bilateral commission of experts, obstacles of different nature arose, but the main hindrance were the differences in the positions of the two countries regarding the place of construction of the bridge. Bulgaria proposed the bridge to be built at Svishtov-Zimnich, which was Romania’s preference expressed two decades earlier, but this time the Romanian side insisted that the bridge could only be built near Korabia. Bulgaria was forced to make many concessions, and at the same time Romania’s attempts to impose its views on the direction of the line south of the bridge often led to delays in the negotiations. The conditions set by the Romanian side were very unfavorable for Bulgaria, they were associated with many technical and financial difficulties, because they required a connection with a new railway line in the Iskar Valley and in the end the negotiations ended without success7.

Bulgaria continued its attempts to move forward the issue of connecting its railways with the Romanian ones through a bridge over the Danube during wars in the period 1912-1918. Negotiations were held again in 1914 and 1918, but the Bulgarian side met Bucharest’s overt or covert desire for a treaty. Several rounds of fruitless negotiations took place. Once again, the location for building the bridge became an insurmountable obstacle to reaching an agreement – Bulgaria insisted on Nikopol – Turnu Severin, and Romania on Korabia – the village of Gigen8.

The Bulgarian governments estimated the bridge as extremely important for the economic interests of the country, so it remained a topical issue in the coming years. Despite the difficult economic and political situation in which the country found itself after the end of World War I, it did not give up the idea of ​​the Danube bridge and in the interwar period focused its diplomatic efforts on finding allies to implement this idea, including through the mediation of the League of Nations. Bulgaria’s limited resources, the country’s political isolation and the many unresolved problems with its neighbors made the construction of the bridge impossible. The allied relations between Yugoslavia and Romania further hampered the progress on the Bulgarian-Romanian Danube transport corridor, as Yugoslav-Romanian negotiations for the construction of a bridge over the Danube were once again brought to the fore and they continued in the 1930s9.

Due to the huge international and economic obstacles to the construction of the bridge, the idea of ​​building a ferry connection between the two countries, which was also important for the economic connection with Central Europe, was gradually making its way. On July 20, 1937 in Varna was signed Bulgarian-Romanian Convention on the Ferry Communications. The convention stipulated that the transport of goods and passengers between the port of Ruse and the port of Giurgiu would be carried out by two ferries – one owned by Bulgarian State Railways, the other – by Romanian railways, whereas both ferries had to operate the same number of flights per year10. On June 8, 1941 took place the launching of the ferry boat “Sofia” and two days later a regular railway connection between Bulgaria and Romania was officially opened. The ferry had its drawbacks – dependence on weather conditions, limited traffic limited, but at that time that was the maximum that could be achieved. Reaching an agreement on a ferry connection with Romania was considered a success by the Bulgarian government because it reduced the economic dependence on Yugoslavia and opened new markets for the Bulgarian goods. The beginning World War II delayed the setting of the ferry boat in motion. Parallel with the launching of the Ruse-Giurgiu ferry, between another one began operating for the needs of the German army between Vidin and Calafat, which ceased to function in 1945.

World War II gave a new impetus to the idea of ​​building a bridge over the Danube. During this period, when Bulgaria and Romania were allies of the Third Reich, the Bulgarian politicians tried to win German support for resolving this decade-long issue between the two neighboring countries. The active side was again Bulgaria, which used every opportunity to convince the German authorities of its usefulness, thus trying to avoid the difficulties of direct negotiations with Romania. Assessing the strategic military significance of such a facility, Berlin accepted the idea relatively well. During the visit of the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivan Popov to Berlin on November 26, 1941, he expressed to the Reich’s Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop the Bulgarian government’s desire a construction of a bridge over the Danube between Bulgaria and Romania to be envisaged in the framework of the large construction plans of the Todd organization for new communications roads. Popov pointed out that the lack of such a bridge had been felt for a long time and that its construction was extremely important for Bulgaria. Ribbentrop, for his part, noted that this desire was interesting and it was worth checking it out11. A new official step for the construction of the bridge was made by the Bulgarian Prime Minister Bogdan Filov during the visit of the Romanian Minister of Public Works Constantin Bushila to Bulgaria in the second half of May 1942. Finally, during a visit of a Bulgarian government delegation to Bucharest on October 10 of that year two protocols were signed – for the construction of a bridge on the Danube and for the telegraph and telephone communications between the two countries. The agreement provided for road and rail connections, and determined the location of the bridge – near Ruse-Giurgiu12.

Thus, the long-term efforts of the Bulgarian diplomacy to reach an agreement with the Romanian side for the construction of a bridge over the Danube were crowned with success. A favorable factor for achieving this result is the absence of Yugoslavia from the stage of Balkan relations, but of crucial importance was the fact that the construction of such a facility was in line with the German economic and strategic interests at the time. However, concluded under German auspices, the Danube bridge agreement failed to materialize due to the intensified hostilities and the impending danger posed by the fact that the two countries were allies of the Axis and Germany was starting to lose the war.

The issue of the construction of the bridge became relevant again in the aftermath of World War II, but in a completely different situation, when the two countries were allies within the Eastern bloc. In the immediate post-war years, several economic agreements were reached between Bulgaria and Romania and in July 1947 a meeting of the Bulgarian and Romanian government delegations was held in the Bistritsa Palace (Chamkoria), at which the unresolved issues between the two countries were discussed and an agreement was reached to build a bridge over the Danube “in the nearest future”13. In January 1948, during the visit of the Bulgarian Prime Minister Georgi Dimitrov to Bucharest, an agreement was signed for the construction of a bridge over the Danube, the initially chosen location being Korabia-Gigen. Both countries decided to turn to other stakeholders for technical and financial assistance – the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland. The establishment of the COMECON in January 1949 was a very favorable factor, but Stalin’s considerations were paramount, and it was him who gave the green light for the construction of the bridge after Valko Chervenkov raised the issue during a visit to Moscow in July 1949. In July 1950 a protocol for preliminary studies by Soviet experts on the possibility of building a bridge or tunnel on the Danube was signed in Bucharest. Finally, it was decided that the place for the construction of the bridge would be Ruse-Giurgiu.

The initiative and the active efforts to reach an agreement again belonged to the Bulgarian side. At the same time, Bulgarian diplomatic documents testify to the Romanian government’s low interest and lack of commitment to the bridge construction initiative.14 The bridge was built in two and a half years with the combined efforts of the USSR, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland and was officially opened for operation on June 20, 1954. At the time, it was the largest combined bridge (with a railway line and for road traffic) in Europe. Fully in the rhetoric of that time, it was called the “Bridge of Friendship”, which turned out to be somewhat paradoxical, when in the 1980s air pollution from the chemical plant in Giurgiu became one of the bitter points in the bilateral relations.

Meanwhile, in August 1950, Bulgaria and Romania signed a convention to reopen the Vidin-Calafat ferry connection. This happened in 1952 and it became the longest-functioning ferry connection between the two countries, closing only in 2013 with the launching of the second bridge over the Danube at Vidin-Calafat.

Since the 1980s, Bulgaria had been discussing the idea of ​​a more direct and rapid connection with the countries of Central and Northern Europe by means of an alternative route through Vidin that was to replace the decades-old Vidin-Calafat railway and later road ferry with a combined bridge. In the new conditions after 1989, the need to build new transport corridors to facilitate trade with EU countries came to the fore, and Bulgaria again became an active party in negotiations with its northern neighbor for the construction of a second bridge over the Danube. The need to strengthen the Danube connection with Western Europe was particularly acute in Bulgaria in the late 1990s, when the country was forced to close its border with Yugoslavia as a result of the international economic embargo imposed on Yugoslavia due to the war in Kosovo. This caused great damage to the already weak economy in northwestern Bulgaria. In fact, the whole country was isolated, as Bulgarians had always relied on the road through Serbia for their transit transport to Western Europe.

As in previous negotiations between the two countries on this issue, the location of the bridge had once again turned into an obstacle to reaching an agreement. Since 1993, there had been a long and sharp dispute between Romania and Bulgaria over the location of the second Danube bridge. Bulgaria wanted to revive the isolated city of Vidin, placing the bridge as far west as possible between Vidin and Calafat. Romania, for its part, wanted the transit trucks to remain on Romanian territory for as long as possible by building a bridge more to the east, between Turnu Magurele and Nikopol.

The launching of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe in 1999 gave an important impetus for the activation of the project for a second Danube bridge. The suspension of Danube navigation following the destruction of bridges during the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 and the extension of the land route from Western and Central Europe to the Balkans and Asia affected the economic interests of the EU countries and therefore they started to intervene more actively in the negotiations between Bulgaria and Romania for the construction of the second bridge over the Danube.

On February 7, 2000 a closed-door meeting between Bulgarian and Romanian government delegations was held in Brussels at the invitation of Stability Pact Coordinator Bodo Hombach and in the presence of European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen. Bulgaria’s position was supported by the EU and the Stability Pact. A bilateral agreement was signed that in the near future the construction of a second combined (road and rail) bridge between Bulgaria and Romania would start and it would be on the route of the Pan-European Transport Corridor 4, which passed through Vidin. On March 27, 2000, the two prime ministers, Ivan Kostov and Mugur Isarescu, signed an intergovernmental agreement on the construction of the second Danube bridge. It entered into force on April 6, 2001, and the construction officially began on May 13, 2007 and it was scheduled to be completed in 2010, with most of the construction to be carried out by Bulgarian subcontractors. The Bulgarian Ministry of Transport postponed the start of construction at least three times before the official opening ceremony of the bridge, which took place on June 14, 2013. It took 13 years for the Danube Bridge 2 or the so-called bridge “New Europe” to become a reality and it was not accidental that in the media it was called the “bridge of shame”15.

After 1990 ferry lines were opened between a number of Bulgarian and Romanian Danube ports, but they are of local importance. Such are the ferry lines Oryahovo-Beket and Nikopol-Turnu Magurele, in addition to the existing since the 1970s ferry line Silistra-Călăraşi, and in 2010 the ferry line Svishtov-Zimnicea was opened. The opening of the second bridge called into question the existence of ferry connections between the two countries, and only a month after the opening of the second bridge, the Vidin-Calafat ferry was stopped.

Meanwhile, even before the finalization of the second bridge over the Danube at various levels between the two countries were being discussed the possibilities for the construction of more bridges over the river. Among the locations discussed were: Nikopol-Turnu Măgurele, Silistra-Călăraşi, Oryahovo-Beket and the second bridge near Ruse-Giurgiu. At the end of October 2014 in Bucharest the Bulgarian Minister of Transport, Information Technology and Communications Nikolina Angelkova and the Minister of Regional Development and Public Administration of Romania Liviu Dragnea signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct investigations for the construction of new bridges on the Danube. The main motive behind the signing of this agreement was to improve the transport links between the two countries and to attract investment. The memorandum envisaged the timely start of research activities to be funded by the cross-border cooperation program, and the construction itself to be implemented with funding through public-private partnership16.

The issue of building bridges over the Danube River also became the subject of the talks by the so-called “Troika of Craiova” (Bulgaria-Romania-Serbia), named after the Romanian city where the first intergovernmental meeting in this format was held in April 2015 and whose main objective was joint action to improve infrastructure and energy connectivity between the three countries. Within the framework of this meeting, the Ministers of Transport of Bulgaria and Romania Ivaylo Moskovski and Ioan Rus held a special meeting, at which an agreement was reached the dividend received by the Bulgarian-Romanian company “Danube Bridge Vidin – Calafat” Ltd to be distributed depending on the investments made by the sides during the construction of the bridge, which for 2013 and 2014 was 76% to 24% in favor of Bulgaria. During the meeting, the construction of two new bridges was discussed: at Nikopol-Turnu Magurele and at Silistra-Călăraşi, and an agreement was reached for the two countries to start feasibility studies for the construction of the bridge facilities. The two transport ministers also discussed the projects for building a railway connection between the countries, reaching an agreement for each country to develop as a matter of priority on its territory the railway line crossing Danube Bridge 217.

At that moment, the Romanian preferences were focused on the Nikopol-Turnu Măgurele location, while Bulgaria was taking into account the strategic advantages of Silistra-Călăraşi18. Therefore, it was surprising that shortly before the joint meeting between the Bulgarian and Romanian governments in Varna in early October 2017, the construction of a second bridge over the Danube near Ruse became one of the priorities of the Bulgarian government. The main argument presented by the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was that this would reduce the queues of trucks. He also pointed out that the bridge had already been set as a starting point for the future highway Ruse – Veliko Tarnovo. Until then there had only been talks of expanding the existing facility, although during his visit to Bulgaria in the summer of 2015, EU Regional Development Commissioner Corina Creţu had said that the European Commission awaited a suitability study, i.e. cost-benefit analysis and that would determine whether there would be a second bridge at Ruse-Giurgiu19.

The issue of building a second bridge near Ruse-Giurgiu was discussed at a joint meeting of the Romanian and Bulgarian governments in early October 2017. At that meeting the Bulgarian Prime Minister pointed out that the new bridge would have a positive economic impact on the city of Ruse. In fact, the initiative to build the third bridge belonged to Ruse Governor Galin Grigorov and it came in response to the growing role of Pan-European Corridors 7 and 9, the increase in the trade between Romania and Bulgaria, but also the traffic jam that was taking place on the existent Giurgiu-Ruse bridge. Boyko Borissov also said that the new bridge could be built without the need for financial support from the Bulgarian and Romanian governments, but he did not clearly indicate the source of funding. According to experts, the construction of the new bridge would cost about 250m euros ($ 293.9m). Borissov said the two countries were looking for investors for two more infrastructure projects – a bridge over the Danube connecting the Bulgarian town of Nikopol and the Romanian Turnu Măgurele, and a 200km highway connecting Romania’s Black Sea city of Constanţa with Bulgaria’s ports of Varna and Bourgas20.

At the end of June 2018, during a visit to Ruse, where he held a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and Public Administration of Romania Paul Stanescu, the Bulgarian Minister of Regional Development and Public Works Nikolay Nankov stated that the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works was to submit to the Council of Ministers a draft amendment to the memorandum between the governments of Bulgaria and Romania, in which would be added a second bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu over the Danube. He added that an expert working group with deputy ministers and experts from the two ministries, as well as representatives of the transport ministries of the two countries, would be set up immediately afterwards to lay the foundations for designing, seeking funding and establishing project company for the realization of the planned bridges that were included in the memorandum, but since according to objective criteria Ruse-Giurgiu had the greatest potential for realization, maximum efforts would be made for it21.

In the spring of the following year, however, at the state level, it started suddeently to be spoken about the construction of a third bridge near Svishtov. This time the initiative belonged to the Romanian side. During the Fifth Summit of the Bulgaria-Romania Cooperation Council held in Bucharest on March 29, 2019, the Romanian and Bulgarian governments agreed to accelerate the construction of bridges between the two neighboring countries. In the Memorandum of understanding between the governments of the two countries for the implementation of joint initiatives to improve the conditions for navigation in the common Bulgarian-Romanian section of the Danube and the transport connectivity between the two countries that was signed in the Romanian capital it was written that an expert group of the two countries was launching a study for the building of a third bridge on the Danube between Bulgaria and Romania in one of the following locations: Oryahovo-Beket, Nikopol-Turnu Măgurele, Svishtov-Zimnicea, Ruse-Giurgiu, Silistra-Călăraşi. There was a general agreement between the governments of the two countries that the choice of the location for the third bridge on the Danube should be Romania’s, as Bulgaria had chosen Vidin-Calafat for the second bridge. At a meeting on April 18, 2019, the Romanian government decided to build the bridge at Zimnicea-Svishtov22.

According to Romanian media, in the reasons for the adoption of the Memorandum for the construction of a new bridge over the Danube between the cities of Zimnicea and Svishtov, the government of Viorica Dăncila had stated that the bridge would connect with the highway between Bucharest and the western city of Lugoj via Alexandria, Craiova and Drobeta-Turnu Severin, and for the diversion to Zimnicea all procedures for the design and expropriation of private properties had already been activated. As an additional argument, the government in Bucharest stated that this project would contribute to the implementation of the transit corridors for road traffic by providing connections between Central and Northern Europe and the southern part of the continent – respectively Turkey, Greece, Albania, through Romania and Bulgaria. According to the Romanian news site Hotnews.ro, two leadership factors weighed heavily on the choice of a bridge in the Teleorman county – both the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, and the Prime Minister Viorica Dăncila were born in the region23.

Upon returning from the meeting of the heads of government of the countries from the “16+China” initiative in Dubrovnik on April 12, 2019, where Dăncila informed the Bulgarian Prime Minister in advance about the upcoming Romanian decision on the bridge, he stated that Bulgaria would comply with this decision, although it was much more profitable for the country to build the bridge near Ruse-Giurgiu and that he hoped a concrete agreement to be reached quickly24. In the following months, a Romanian private investor offered the Bulgarian side a preliminary feasibility study for the Danube South Svishtov-Zimnicea investment project, and at a ministerial meeting an agreement was reached to prepare a draft international agreement covering the necessary elements in order to start the construction of the bridge. A team of Bulgarian specialists was formed and started working. However, by the autumn of 2019 the Romanian side gradually stopped the correspondence on the preparation of the project and thus in practice no agreement was signed25.

In conclusion, the idea of ​​building bridges between Bulgaria and Romania over the Danube has undergone a long evolution from the end of the 19th century to the present day. The “Danube connection” in the bilateral relations turned out to be difficult to achieve and its realization became possible only after the decisive intervention of an external force. The history of the bridge reflects the complex twists and turns in Balkan political and economic relations due to conflicting interests, limited financial resources and the divergent interference of the major European countries. Only in the period of World War II, under the auspices of Germany, Bulgaria and Romania managed to reach an agreement for the construction of a bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu, but due to historical circumstances it failed to materialize. For six decades, the “Bridge of Friendship” has been the only bridge connecting Bulgaria and Romania along the 470-kilometer river section that forms the border between the two countries. The construction of a second bridge on the Danube between the two countries became a reality in a completely different political environment, but again with the strong support of a foreign power. And the third bridge is still just an idea.

It is noteworthy that the active side in most cases was Bulgaria, which showed a surprising continuity in the pursuit of this goal, while Romania was most often looking for a good reason to reject or postpone the persistent demands of its southern neighbor. The biggest difficulty in the bilateral negotiations on the Danube bridge was its location. In this respect, Bulgaria and Romania had different views and approaches, as they were motivated by different economic and strategic priorities. Bulgaria showed flexibility and a willingness to make a compromise.

We could agree with Prof. Andrey Pantev that the construction of bridges is guided mainly by economic and strategic motives, but we must also keep in mind that bridges are not just ordinary transport corridors, because they are also a means of overcoming spaces, which slow down cultural and political communication, and especially in the Balkans, bridges must not only reduce ethno-political differences, but also to overcome geographical and political gaps26. At the same time, bridges are also a symbol of human relations, so outside of the economic considerations it is necessary to understand that if Bulgaria and Romania fail to build real bridges, they will not have bridges for dialogue.


1 D. Sazdov P. Penchev. Danube Bridge. 100 years of diplomacy and politics, Sofia, university publishing house “Stopanstvo”, 2006

2 Ibid, p. 22.

3 Hr. Hesapchiev. Service of Bulgaria abroad. Military-diplomatic memories. 1899-1914, Sofia, military publishing house “Sv. Georgi Pobedonosec”, 1993, p. 348.

4 For more details see: E. Statelova, V. Tankova, Konstantin Stoilov in the political life of Bulgaria, Sofia: Anubis, 2001.

5 Sazdov, Penchev, Op. cit., 33-44.

6 For more details on this issue see: A. Kostov, Transport and communication on the Balkans (1800-1914), Sofia, university publishing house “St. Kl. Ohrirdski”, 2017.

7 Hesapchiev, Op. cit., 352-367.

8 See: Sazdov, Penchev, Op. cit., 59-73.

9 A. Kuzmanova, The Balkan policy of Romania (1933 – 1939) . Sofia, 1984, 55-79.

10 State Newspaper, 18.I.1938, nr. 11, p. 130-138.

11 V. Toshkova and others (compiler) Doomed and saved. Bulgaria in the anti-semitic programme of the Third Reich. Research and documents, Sofia: Sineva, 2007, p. 259.

12 Central State Archiev, f. 176k, op. 8, а.е. 1227, l. 8

13 Foreign policy of People’s Republic of Bulgaria. Collection of documents and materials in two volumes, volue.1: 1944-1962, Sofia: Science and Art, 1970, 83-88.

14 М. Alexieva, The difficulties in the Bulgarian-Romanian negotiations on the construction of Danube Bridge I (1881-1954), Аnamneza, Year. III, 2008, book 2, p. 127-131.

15 For the technical and characteristics and financial value of the facility see: Danube Bridge 2 – history of more than a century, INVESTOR.BG, 14.06.2013. – https://www.investor.bg/ikonomika-i-politika/332/a/dunav-most-2-istoriia-na-poveche-ot-vek-152677/

16 Bulgaria and Romania signed a memorandum for the two new bridges over the Danube, mediapool.bg, 28 October 2014 – https://www.mediapool.bg/bulgaria-i-rumaniya-podpisaha-memorandum-za-dvata-novi-mosta-nad-dunav-news226521.html

17 The dividents from Danube Bridge 2 will be 76%-24% in the advantage of Bulgaria, facti.bg, 24 April 2015 –https://fakti.bg/bulgaria/140487-dividentite-ot-dunav-most-76-kam-24-v-polza-na-balgaria-

18 M. Roussev. “Silistra-Calarasi: geostrategic priorities and complex efficiency of the third bridge between Bulgaria and Romania, Geopolitiics, nr. 5, 28 November 2014 

19 Rousse and Giurgiu are said to be an example of cross-border cooperation, Bugarian Telegraphic Agency, 15 Junge 2015 – http://www.bta.bg/bg/c/BO/id/1100891

20 A study on the value of the Danube Bridge Nicopole – Turnu Magurele is assigned, dariknews.bg, 3 October 2017 – https://dariknews.bg/regioni/pleven/vyzlozheno-e-prouchvane-za-stojnostta-na-dunav-most-nikopol-turnu-mygurele-2052078

21 Minister Nikolay Nankov: We prioritise the building of a second bridge at Rousse between Bulgaria and Romania, MRRB, 29 June 2018 г. – https://www.mrrb.bg/bg/ministur-nikolaj-nankov-prioritizirame-stroitelstvoto-na-vtori-most-pri-ruse-mejdu-bulgariya-i-rumuniya/-

22 Romania to build new bridge over the Danube at Zimnicea, Romania Insider, 19 April 2019 – https://www.romania-insider.com/bridge-danube-zimnicea

23 Guvernul Dăncilă vrea să facă pod peste Dunăre la Zimnicea, Teleorman, în parteneriat public-privat/ A fost aprobat memorandum, HotNews.ro, 18 aprilie 2019. – https://economie.hotnews.ro/stiri-companii-23096530-guvernul-dancila-vrea-faca-pod-peste-dunare-zimnicea-teleorman-parteneriat-public-privat-fost-aprobat-memorandum.htm

24 М. Cherneva, How Svishtov acquired a bridge. Only in words, Capital, 18 April 2019 – https://www.capital.bg/politika_i_ikonomika/bulgaria/2019/04/18/3421471_kak_svishtov_se_sdobi_s_most_na_dumi/

25 V. Bochevska, Zhelyazkov: In 2019 Romania stopped the correspondence on the preparation of the contract for the Danube Bridge 3, 24chasa.bg, 10.07.2019г. – https://www.24chasa.bg/novini/article/8796395

26 А. Pantev, “The Danubian relation of Bulgaria with Europe”. – in: D. Sazdov, P. Penchev, quoted works, p. 7.

Photo: Ferryboat at Danube (source: Pixabay, CC0)

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