The traveller who leaves Varna by the midday train reaches, three hours later, the Bulgarian frontier station of Oborice. Here he can regale himself in the humble station restaurant with excellent mutton cutlets while waiting for passport formalities to be completed.
Then four soldiers, nursing new Belgian rifles, get into the compartment, the doors are locked, and the train rolls slowly past several gulleys and a sector of completely flat country until it reaches a small white hut. From the hut flies the blue-yellow-red flag of Rumania, and by it a soldier, wearing in winter a sheepskin hat, stands on duty.
The traveller has reached Southern Dobroudja, which is, to the Bulgarians, what Ulster is to the Irish Nationalists. It is impossible to carry on a conversation on political subjects with any Bulgarian without having the Dobroudja mentioned after a few sentences. Bulgaria's loss of the Southern Dobroudja is the chief obstacle in the way of Bulgarian collaboration with the other Balkan Powers, and keeps her in the ranks of the 'dissatisfied' nations.
Southern Dobroudja, sometimes known as the Dobroudja Quadrilateral, was Bulgarian territory from 1878 – the year of Bulgarian liberation from the Turks – until 1913.
In 1912 the Balkan Wars occurred. The Serbs and Bulgarians and Bulgarians and Greeks signed a military alliance for the purpose of driving the Turks out of that part of the Balkans they still held – Macedonia. In the late summer of 1912 the attack on Turkey was launched by all the Balkan nations. Within four weeks the Turkish armies were practically wiped out. Began the problem of sharing the spoils, the solution of which took such a long time that the Turks had time to reorganize, took the field again, but were once more beaten by the Bulgarians and Serbs combined, losing the important fortress town of Adrianople.
With the Turks finally beaten the question of spoils again arose.
According to the Bulgarian interpretation of the Military Alliance between Bulgaria and Serbia, Bulgaria was to get eastern and central Macedonia, the Serbs a small district in north-western European Turkey, and the fate of the rest of Macedonia, in case of dispute, was to be decided by the Russian Emperor.
But the Serbs, Bulgarians maintain, demanded that the Russian Emperor apportion between Bulgaria and Serbia not only the fate of the rest of Macedonia (the so-called disputed zone), but the whole of Macedonia.
This aroused intense bitterness among the Bulgarian armies. On the night of 29 June 1913 the Bulgarians attacked without warning their Serbian allies. They stirred up a hornets' nest. The Serbian and Greek armies counter-attacked the Bulgarians. The Turks resumed the offensive against Bulgaria elsewhere, and the Rumanians invaded Bulgaria from the north.
The Rumanians took the Southern Dobroudja from Bulgaria, and by Article 2 of the Treaty of Peace of Bucharest of 28 July 1913 the Rumanian hold on the Dobroudja was confirmed.
Since that time the Dobroudja question has never ceased to rankle in the Bulgarian mind. A German promise of the Dobroudja was one of the inducements which led to Bulgarian intervention in the Great War on the side of the Central Powers, and Bulgarian soldiers actually beat the Rumanian and Russian armies and reoccupied this territory. But Rumania got it back again after the Great War.
The Dobroudja Quadrilateral is bounded in the west by the Danube, in the east by the Black Sea, in the north by the old Bulgarian-Rumanian frontier of 1878, and in the south by a line parallel to this former frontier, which divides into two nearly equal parts the territory between the old frontier and the railway line Ruschuk-Varna.
The Bulgarians claim that Southern Dobroudja means nothing to Rumania, being poor compared with Rumania's other lands and constituting but 2.5 per cent of her postwar territory. It represents, on the other hand, nearly 10 per cent of the present area of Bulgaria. They also urge that:
1. Rumania only took the Dobroudja in 1913 to provide a patriotic outlet for the passions of the Rumanian peasants who were pressing the large Rumanian landowners for a share in ownership of the land; invoking at the same time the 'balance of Powers' principle, i.e. that Bulgaria was getting too strong.
2. Strategic reasons advanced by Rumanians for seizing the Dobroudja, namely safeguarding of the Danube bridge between Fetesti and Cernavoda (the only bridge over the Danube between Belgrade and the Black Sea) and the important railway line to Constanza (Rumania's only direct rail access to the Black Sea) are not valid. In any case there is no reason why Varna, one of Bulgaria's two main Black Sea ports, should be endangered by the proximity of the Rumanian frontier in order to make Constanza safe.
3. Rumanian projects for the establishment of commercial and military ports either at Mangalia or at Baltchik in the Southern Dobroudja have never been carried out because neither of the ports is suitable. Indeed, the Rumanians have now built a military base at Tachaoul, twelve and a half miles north of Constanza.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the statistics on the fertility and desirability of the Southern Dobroudja issued by the Bulgarians makes it seem a land flowing with milk and honey – a second Eldorado – and not the fairly fertile, at times marshy agricultural land it is. They find, for instance, that while the Southern Dobroudja represents only 7.81 per cent of the total area of Bulgaria it has 12.5 per cent of Bulgaria's cultivatable surface, that Southern Dobroudja had 42 per cent of Bulgaria's seed-sowing machines, one-fifth of her horses, one-quarter of her horse-drawn ploughs, more iron than wooden ploughs, etc., etc., figures which appeal to the mind of the Bulgarian peasant.
The port of Varna has suffered heavily as a result of the loss of its economic hinterland, the Southern Dobroudja.
In the year 1911, the last year of peace before the Balkan wars, Varna's import and export turnover totalled 415,554 tons. The corresponding post-war figure averages 150,000 tons, just over one-third of the total before Southern Dobroudja was lost.
Bulgaria has also suffered heavily in export trade as a result of the loss of the Quadrilateral, Southern Dobroudja's agricultural exports accounting, Bulgarian statistics maintain, for nearly 18 per cent of Bulgaria's total exports.
To these financial losses come the losses sustained by the Bulgarian inhabitants of the Dobroudja. Bulgarian statistics of Southern Dobroudja nationalities in 1910 give the total population at 282,007 people, of which 47.6 per cent were Bulgarians and 37.8 per cent Turks. The flight of Bulgarian families and settling of Rumanian peasants in the territory has since considerably altered the proportion of Bulgarian inhabitants. The Bulgarians who remain have not been too generously treated by the Rumanians, which is perhaps to be expected in an exposed frontier region where the Bulgarian peasants actively helped their kinsmen when Southern Dobroudja was invaded by the Bulgarians during the Great War.
Lurid stories of Rumanian oppression of Bulgarian peasants are told by Bulgarian seasonal workers, some fifty thousand of whom used to migrate to the Southern Dobroudja in summer to help with the harvests, and there are said to be fifty thousand Bulgarian refugees from the Southern Dobroudja now in Bulgaria, creating an economic and social problem for the Bulgarian authorities.
The Bulgarian case was supported by the Commission for the study of Rumanian and Yugoslav territorial questions presented to the Allied Supreme War Council in 1919, under the signatures of M. Andre Tardieu, President of the Commission, Mr. A. W. A. Leeper (Great Britain), C. Day and C. Seymour (U.S.), and others.
The Commission proposed that justice would be done both to Rumanian and Bulgarian defensive needs and to the Bulgarian minorities in Southern Dobroudja by the cession of the larger part of Southern Dobroudja to Bulgaria, including the important towns of Dobritch, Baltchik, Cavarna, and Kurtbounar.
The question of Southern Dobroudja is a festering ulcer in Bulgarian-Rumanian relations, and while proposals to a friendly nation to cede territory form a delicate subject for Great Britain, which has also certain mandated territories which it has not relinquished, there is no doubt of the elementary justice of the Bulgarian case and of the improvement which would result in Bulgar-Rumanian relations and the relations of the Balkan countries as a whole if the Southern Dobroudja question were amicably settled.
The Bulgarians would like to make territorial concessions the preliminary to closer relations between Rumania and Bulgaria, but this is a dangerous attitude. As Sir Reginald Hoare, the British Minister in Bucharest, told me: 'Territorial concessions can consecrate but cannot initiate friendship.'
Rumania has also to consider that there are other countries with far more vital territorial demands on her, and once she admits the principle of concessions there is no knowing where concessions would end in the present state of international tension and uncertainty. Would even Bulgarian claims on Rumania stop at the Southern Dobroudja?
It does seem, however, that a Rumanian promise to Bulgaria for satisfaction of her Dobroudja claims after the War, supported by an Allied guarantee, if given now, would do much to bring Bulgaria into the Allied camp and reduce the danger of a Russian move in her strategically important territory. The least it might achieve would be to ensure friendly Bulgarian neutrality.
Nor would settlement of this question be without its economic effect in a peaceable post-war Europe. Projects for the construction of a railway bridge which would link Danzig, Warsaw, Bucharest, and the Aegean Sea via Bulgaria are in suspense pending establishment of mutual Bulgarian-Rumanian confidence. Such a line calls for the building of an expensive bridge between Giurgui on the Rumanian side and Ruschuk on the Bulgarian side of the Danube, or alternatively between Zimnicea and Svistov.
Both Rumania and Bulgaria would benefit from the transit traffic such a line would create, but neither country is willing to sink money in such an expensive development until the future is more certain.
There is also this argument for Rumanian concessions that a friendly Bulgaria might be a far better safeguard of her frontiers than is provided by the strip of Southern Dobroudja territory she has acquired from Bulgaria.
An observer who advances the point of view of any one nation on territorial issues in the Balkans is generally accused of having swallowed gullibly that nation's propaganda. But there is reason to believe that the justice of Bulgaria's case of the Southern Dobroudja is not seriously contested by many influential Rumanians, subject to the proviso that the present is not the time to make concessions.
Bulgaria's second territorial grievance concerns her lack of an outlet to the Aegean Sea.
She lays claim to a stretch of now Greek territory extending from the Turkish frontier, bounded by the River Maritsa in the east, to the mouth of the River Mesta in the west, and bounded in the north by the Rhodope Mountains.
The history of this territory is one of those racial and territorial jumbles such as are to be found nowhere but the Balkans.
It was a virtue of the Turkish domination of the Balkans that, however hard the repression of national aspirations, it did create at least an economic whole. All Thrace was Turkish until the Russian war of liberation in 1878. After this war Bulgaria says she should have received Aegean Thrace, but the Treaty of Berlin, negotiated by Great Britain, France, and others who feared Russian influence in the Balkans, ceded Aegean Thrace to Turkey.
One of the reasons for Bulgaria's entry into the Balkan wars of 1912-13 was to liberate this part of Thrace. This she achieved and secured, to her immense satisfaction, an outlet to the Mediterranean. But the war between the Balkan Allies which followed enabled the Turks to again make good their claim to a small part of Aegean Thrace, which did not, however, deprive Bulgaria altogether of her Aegean coastline.
The small part, still in the hands of the Turks, so rankled in the Bulgarian mind that when Bulgaria and Turkey became Allies in the Great War, Turkey voluntarily ceded it to Bulgaria.
But more disappointments were in store for Bulgaria. By Article 48 of the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria was forced to renounce in favour of the Allies all her rights to Thracian territory which belonged to the Bulgarian Monarchy.
Renunciation, say the Bulgarians, was given in return for an Allied promise that the liberty of Bulgaria's economic outlets to the Aegean Sea would be guaranteed.
A French army landed in Aegean Thrace under the command of General Charpy.
The Bulgarians say that the figures of the census then taken were manipulated
by the Greeks, who are notoriously the most skilful diplomats of the Balkans.
The census nevertheless put the population of Aegean Thrace as follows
|Bulgarians||. . . . . .||80,893|
|Turks||. . . . . .||73,220|
|Greeks||. . . . . .||51,706|
|Jews||. . . . . .||3,000|
|Armenians||. . . . . .||1,969|
|Gypsies||. . . . . .||1,834|
In spite of this, the Allies ceded the whole of the territory totalling 8,712 square kilometres to Greece.
The chain of mountains which forms the present political frontier between Bulgaria and Aegean Thrace is intersected by several small valleys which give easy access to the coastal plains. The plains are three in number – in the west the Xanthi-Gumurdjina plain along the coast, and in the east the plain of the Maritsa mouth and along the valley of the Maritsa.
These plains are extremely important for the poverty-stricken inhabitants of the Bulgarian Rhodope Mountains. Shepherds and agriculturalists, the rocky soil gives them an insufficient means of livelihood, and it was their custom to drive their flocks in winter down to the temperate Thracian coastal plains until spring arrived. Also many of them found employment as jobbing artisans when the rigours of winter made a livelihood no longer possible in the mountains. Such seasonal migrations have been prohibited by the Greeks. As a consequence herds have been depleted, poverty is widespread, and on more than one occasion famine has afflicted the inhabitants. The Bulgarians say that these people, inhabiting one-seventh of Bulgaria's surface, have been condemned to a living death.
At the same time they allege the Bulgarians remaining in Thrace have been persecuted and Aegean Thrace depopulated.
It is, however, above all the question of an outlet to the Aegean Sea which concerns the Bulgars.
At one time there were thriving ports in Aegean Thrace.
Owing to the increase in the size of vessels and the shallow coast line, Dede-Agatch, the main port of Aegean Thrace, which is connected by a branch line with the Salonika-Constantinople railway, demands the expenditure of large sums of money before it can be modernized.
Neither the Greek nor the Bulgarian Governments would be willing to undertake such expenditure while the political future of the territory is uncertain. The Bulgarians would like to have a direct rail connection between Plovdiv and Dede-Agatch in their territory, which again would enable a direct international line from the Aegean Sea to Danzig, ensuring immense economic advantages to Bulgaria, Rumania, and other countries the international line would traverse. The Greeks say: – 'use Salonika.'
Until such a direct Plovdiv-Dede-Agatch line is completed the whole of the exportable produce of Bulgaria's most important agricultural centre, the fertile Maritsa Valley, must be railed west to Salonika, or east to Burgas on the Black Sea, where it is shipped and makes a wide detour through the Black Sea and the Dardanelles to reach its destination in southern or western countries.
This adds enormously to the cost of Bulgarian produce and renders Bulgaria largely dependent on the German market, to which her goods can be railed direct.
Politically also Bulgaria is not content with ports in a closed sea, like the Black Sea.
A major Power interested in the Dardanelles would have every interest in pressing Bulgarian claims in the region of Aegean Thrace.
The exceedingly complicated question of Macedonia appears now to be of interest only in so far as Germany might use Bulgarian Macedonian terrorists to further her own ends in the Balkans. The Macedonian question has been more or less relegated to the background by Bulgaria and Yugoslavia as a result of the Treaty of Eternal Friendship between the two countries.
Todor Alexandroff, the fierce, bearded leader of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, which he reorganized to operate against Yugoslavia and Greece after the World War, was killed in 1924. His place has been taken by another equally desperate character, Ivan Mihailoff, in whom Ribbentrop is said to be interested.
Ivan Mihailoff's adventures are legend. He is a cleanshaven, square-jawed man, with regular features and a wide forehead. He does not, however, give the impression of being blessed with super-intelligence.
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