Throughout the entire period of its existence, Rakovski National Defense College has merited its important position in the army and public life of Bulgaria. It is a highly prestigious academic institution with a huge potential, a focus of military knowledge, a symbol of the national military science, and a place where the Bulgarian military theoretical thought is forged. The National Defense College is undoubtedly the most important center for military science and education in the country where thousands of officers have achieved high levels of qualification. However, back in 1912, the accomplishment of these goals was still too far in time…
The reforms and modernization of the Bulgarian army, carried out at the beginning of the 20th century, conditioned an increasing demand for officers’ higher education. That was the reason why the Defense Minister, Major-General Nikifor Nikiforov, advanced a well-grounded proposal for the creation of a Military Academy on December 11 of the same year, with a report to the Head of State, Tsar Ferdinand I. In the motives of his proposal, he pointed out that the rapid development of military science required “the establishment of a higher military school under the appellation Military Academy”.
On December 12, 1911, the report on the creation of the Academy was approved by Tsar Ferdinand I. “I very much welcome the introduction of this bill in the 15th Ordinary National Assembly and I congratulate the army on this happy and fateful decision.” On December 15, the Minister of Defense announced the decision and the bill was submitted for consideration and approval by the National Assembly. On March 1, 1912, the document was voted on and passed by the MPs, and on April 20, the Tsar approved the Act on the Military Academy by Decree No 26. On May 7, the document was stamped with the state seal and entered into legal force with its promulgation in the State Gazette on May 8 1912. Establishing the Academy was a fact.
The two Balkan wars of 1912-1913 delayed the opening of the Academy until January 4, 1915, when the academic year began with great solemnity. Tsar Ferdinand was also present. However, the military students once again failed to complete their studies. The reason was the raging World War I, the flames of which spread to Bulgaria in the autumn of 1915. All officers from the Bulgarian Army were sent to their units, and the studies of the military students were interrupted and postponed for a more tranquil time.
The war, however, did not bring better times in its wake. Under the Neuilly Treaty, signed with the countries of the Entente in the autumn of 1919, Bulgaria closed down all its centers for reserve officers and military training institutions. Only the Military School remained. Despite the restrictive clauses of the contract, in 1922 the Military Academy began its hidden existence on the premises of the Military School in Sofia, but disguised as an Instructor Training Course, remaining in this form until 1938.
In 1931, simultaneously with the General Staff specialty taught in the Instructor Training Course, the study of a new specialty with the same 3 year duration started. Thus, two separate departments were formed in the Defense College (the Military Academy) – General Staff and Services of Supply Staff, with each of them carrying out the respective training.
After 1935 the number of officers trained in the Instructor Training Course gradually increased. Until 1944, 16 officers’ batches of graduates completed their studies in the National Defense College, including 16 General Staff and 11 Services of Supply Staff ones. Higher education was provided for 521 officers, among them 10 foreigners (Croats), or an average of 32 people per year.
The learning process in the College was not terminated after the outbreak of the Second World War. The only change, introduced because of the ongoing war and hence the induced demand for commanders with higher education, was the reduction of the training period to two years. The staff of the Defense College did not take part in the war until 1944, but many of its graduates, now as generals, headed the Bulgarian army, and in the final stage of the Second World War (1944-1945) successfully organized, carried out and conducted its operations against the Wehrmacht troops.
After the return of the students, who participated in the war in 1945, the regular academic process of the National Defense College was resumed. On March 5, 1946, the College was given the name of the Patriarch of the Bulgarian national liberation movement Georgi Stoykov Rakovski by Decree of the Regency No. 6, and in 1952 it received its first battle flag.
In the following years, there was a series of changes in the Defense College, related to its transition to a peacetime mode of existence, rationalizing the experience of the war, and, most importantly, the aspiration of the Communist Party for gaining control of the institution. All this was reflected in the implementation of basic structural and personnel reorganizations as well as in the training and ideological education of its staff.
At the end of the 1940s, new units emerged at the National Defense College. Basic and extramural faculties, along with a Higher Academic Course were created, the latter training senior officers for responsible staff positions in the army; departments were also set up. In connection with the growing number of students, the personnel of the academy gradually increased to reach 1,000 in 1953. The tuition was mainly focused on the training of officers to manage units and formations at war time. Peacetime functions and tasks were increasingly losing priority.
Science research was also activated. In 1954, the first PhD students were taken on doctoral programs in the Defense College, the first academic titles were awarded, and its first professor was elected. Research led to the publication of scientific papers that mainly served the learning process. The first two volumes of “Academy Research Papers” were also published.
Following the autumn of 1958, after merging with the Military Technical and Political Academies, Rakovski National Defense College became the only center for training of qualified command, engineering, and ideological personnel for the army. The number of faculties grew to 5, and that of the departments – to 25. Gradually, their division by type of armed forces was abolished. New faculties were formed, uniting the preparation of command staff, ideological and engineering officers, as well as military students.
In 1967 specialized scientific councils on military, philosophical and economic sciences were established at the College. Military specialists from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Yemen and Vietnam also started their training at the institution.
In the 1980s, the curricula and syllabi in the academy were gradually improved and cleared from the topics that coincided with the training content taught in the military schools. Particular attention was paid to the operational tactical and special tactical training, as well as to the types of support for combat operations. By 1986, there were 7 professors, 68 associate professors, 5 doctors of sciences and 107 PhD holders in the College.
The conditions, under which Rakovski National Defense College existed in the years of the Cold War, had an impact on its structure and the curriculum subjects. Its contacts were limited within the frame of the Warsaw Pact and the learning process was ideologically biased. Despite certain drawbacks, the College successfully performed its role as a higher education institution. A number of disciples received training to become highly qualified lecturers and scientists in the field of warfare.
The profound socio-political changes that occurred in all public spheres in Bulgaria after 1989 affected the field of warfare as well. De-politicization and departisation were under way in the National Defense College, as well as in the units of the Bulgarian Army. The political structures of the Communist Party were abolished, and the military-political faculty, along with the ideological departments in the academy, was closed down.
Steps were taken towards a major revision of the training documentation, with the emphasis being placed on the preparation for defense military actions. The first contacts with military-scientific structures from NATO member-states and neighboring countries were carried out. Integration of military and civil education was accelerated: prominent scholars from other scientific institutions delivered their lectures. The number of military students was gradually reduced, and in the course of about 10 years it dropped 5 times, while that of the academics – 3 times.
Since 2000 the international cooperation of the academy has been expanding. Today it has official relations with more than 20 similar institutions from other countries. Through its involvement in the work of the Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes, the academic staff is involved in various international projects, which enhances the prestige of the National Defense College and promotes the Euro-Atlantic integration.
As a result of the structural transformations carried out since 1989, today there are four basic units – the National Security and Defense Faculty, the Command and Staff Faculty, the Department of Distance Learning, Language Training and Qualification, and the Institute for Prospective Defense Studies. The training is conducted in 12 master’s programs from the two accredited professional fields, “National Security” and “Warfare”, and 11 accredited scientific specialties for doctoral studies. About 1,000 officers and civilian staff are trained in postgraduate courses at the College. Today, Rakovski National Defense College is a national institution for higher education, qualification and scientific research on national security and defense. It is the oldest higher military school in Bulgaria and the third higher school to be set up after the liberation of the country.