Bulgaria, in fact, threw herself into the war only to regain her Macedonian
territories. But she did it only after having offered her alliance to the Allies in
exchange for the territories which the Serbo-Bulgar convention had formally promised to
her a few years before.
In 1915 Bulgar public opinion was pro-Ally, not pro-German, and its opposition to the decision of King Ferdinand and his ministers to join with Germany caused such mutinies in the army that the government of Sofia had to imprison en mass those politicians who were hostile to the intervention of their country against Russia and her Allies.
The Bulgar troops in the Great War fought without enthusiasm, save when they were fighting against the Serbs or the Roumanians. They displayed an antipathy towards the Germans so violent that it was impossible to billet the soldiers of the two countries in the vicinity of each other. After the reoccupation of Macedonia and Dobroudja in 1916 (her war aims being attained) Bulgaria had but a single thought- to retire from the struggle.
The peace imposed upon her by the treaty of Neuilly left her crushed: she had to pay a war indemnity proportionally much greater than that of Germany; she had more than 135,000 killed, as many invalids and mutilated; she had to give to Serbia the new Bulgarian lands of Strounitza, Bossilegrad, Tzaribrod and the Valley of Tinok; to Greece she had to surrender all Southern Thrace with Dedeagatch, Gumuldjina and Xznthi; and to Roumania, Dobroudja. Moreover she suffered the loss of Macedonia and of all access to the sea.
The facts of the two Balkan wars and of the Bulgarian participation in the World War have been mentioned here only in so far as the knowledge of past facts seemed to me necessary to the proper understanding of the present situation, and notably of this peril of a Balkan War which mounts again on the horizon of Europe.
The Bulgars are still indignant over the pitless way in which the Allies treated them in 1919. They are deeply sensible of the present designs of Belgrade on their national independence. Each day they are reminded of their position and their future fate by the systematic provocations and the unreasonable hostilities of their powerful neighbour.
With all this, no Bulgar hides his bitterness. But I have not encountered a single one, be he minister, representative at the Sobrania, mechanic, farmer or shepherd, who did not bow before the accomplished fact. The Macedonian chiefs themselves (who have not ceased for fourteen years to struggle for liberation, not by war, but by pacific means) say simply:
"We have lost the war, we must pay!"
The Serb attitude, however, has remained uncompromising and hostile; the official Serb propaganda has never neglected an opportunity to prejudice, in every way possible, her neighbours in Bulgaria.
The most striking example of this deliberate hatred that I know is the dispatch sent to the Agence Avala in 1928, from the frontier station of Tzaribrod, by Vasitch of the Yugoslav Legation at Sofia on the day before the Bulgarian 7 1/2% loan was floated in Paris. The aim of this loan was to support the stabilisation of the lev, and its success was of vital importance to Bulgaria. The message dispatched to the world from Tzaribrod announced that the Bulgars were massacring one another in the streets of Sofia, that the province was in revolution and that a state of siege had had to be proclaimed throughout the kingdom. All the newspapers of Europe and America reproduced it. The whole thing was a tissue of lies. The Bulgarians denied it strenuously, but it was too late, the mischief was done.
The loan was saved simply because the Paris Bourse remembered that Bulgaria was the only Balkan borrower (including Yugoslavia) who returned what was lent her.
Nothing reveals better the atmosphere which reigns on both sides of the frontier, as well as the true attitude of the two governments, than the welcome reserved by each of them for each other's subjects. In Bulgaria, the Yugoslav subjects come and go as freely as do the Italians, the Americans and the French. In Yugoslavia, the Bulgarian subjects, when they have succeeded in getting there at all, and God knows what difficulties the Yugoslav consular authorities create before giving them a visa, are subject to the most humiliating police supervision. Brutal expulsions await them at each step. Those who have obtained permission only to cross Yugoslavia are not permitted to leave the station when they change trains. On the morning of 6th July, 1932, I was standing on Ljubljana station, waiting for the express to Zagreb, when I saw a Bulgar being mercilessly beaten by the police for having asked to go to a pharmacy fifty yards from the station to buy some medicine for a child. Two policemen were hitting him right and left, after having torn off his collar and spat in his face. They released him only upon my intervention, which was all the more vigorous when I discovered that the sick child was a little French boy going to rejoin his parents in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria has had neither minister nor charge d'affaires at Belgrade for three years. A consul represents her. Why? Because the Yugoslav government systematically refused to accept the candidates successively proposed to her by the government of Bulgaria.
At Sofia, on the contrary, as everyone knows the Yugoslav Legation, and the consulate, directed by one of the cleverest and most intelligent diplomats of the Pan-Serb Government, M. Voukchevitch, is the rallying centre for all the adversaries of the present order in Bulgaria.
The Yugoslav military attache at Sofia, Colonel Chektich, was convicted of having created an organisation of paid assassins for the purpose of suppressing the most conspicuous of the Macedonian chiefs. Few diplomats at Sofia consented to shake hands with him, and his departure was welcomed by all the diplomatic circle.
"You are playing a dangerous game," I said in the summer of 1932 to M. Voukchevitch, whom I have known long enough under such circumstances that give me the right to speak frankly. "If a Macedonian were to shoot down one of your men here in the street, which you will agree would be his absolute right after all that your men have done, what complications would not ensue? In fact, I am compelled to believe, my dear Minister, that you are seeking for an incident?"
Voukchevitch laughed. "If that incident takes place, it will be rigorously settled. I know that I am personally marked out by the ORM and the National Committee!"
At the Union Club in Sofia I mentioned what I had heard in Belgrade about the aversion of the Bulgarian people for King Boris. The man to whom I mentioned this fact was not a Bulgarian, but the charge d'affaires of a nation that is quite friendly towards Belgrade.
"Such a statement would be absurd," he replied, "were it not so dangerous and so calculated to make mischief. To think that a people as sensible, as basically pacific and estimable as the Serbs should permit themselves to be led by such men as are now at the head of affairs."
The official Yugoslav propaganda against King Boris is, however, carried out with inconceivable stupidity. So stupid it is, in fact, that one would think the Yugoslavs were aiming to consolidate Bulgar sentiment around their sovereign.
No long investigation is necessary to learn the real sentiments of the Bulgarian people towards King Boris. The Bulgars, the refugees, the Macedonians, the inhabitants of the foreign colony, all are unanimous. His popularity is complete.
"He is extraordinary," said the French military attache to me after an interview with the king. "He is just in his views; he has a wonderful power of assimilation. We talked politics, literature, aviation. He knows all, he understands all, he is acquainted with all. He is an absolute charmer!"
The Bulgarians love their king for his simplicity of appearance, his benevolance and his continual solicitude for the needs of the humble. Rare are the Bulgar hamlets that have not seen the sovereign's sports car stop in their midst, and the king get out and start to talk familiarly with the peasants. Thus he enters into their problems, encourages them with his counsel, and even comes discreetly to the aid of the very poor. From his father, Czar Ferdinand, he takes his precise and clear intelligence, the finesse of his mind, and the prudence and the sharpness of his political vision. And those who loved his mother find again in him the admirable qualities of heart which make Bulgaria venerate her memory.
In this country, where to believe the news stories, the most nsignificant party chief or representative does not dare leave his home unless he be surrounded with armed guards; where a bullet awaits those who have forfeited the esteem of the ORIM or the Macedonian National Committee, King Boris comes and goes alone in his car with Queen Jeanne or with his chauffeur.
It will be said by the enemies of Bulgaria that this is not true, and that King Boris has been attacked twice- in both cases with nearly fatal results. The first attack half-destroyed the Sveta Nedelia Church of Sofia on 16th April, 1925, where the king was to attend the funeral of one of his generals and was prevented from coming only by an unforseen chance. The second was an ambush which had been prepared for him in a deserted part of the route from Orhania to Sofia. Here again the sovereign escaped only by a miracle.
For a long time these two attacks were attributed to militant communists. As a result, the popular reaction against the Bolshevist Party was such that, in spite of the intensity of the economic crisis so favourable to its propaganda, it has lost all influence on the political life of Bulgaria. "In Bulgaria," said the Red International Syndical in December 1931, "the position of the Red syndicates is very weak. It has only 1,136 adherents out of 16,000 in the textile industry, and 1,230 adherents in the tobacco industry out of 30,000 workers."
It is certain that the Bolshevists participated in the attack of 16th April, 1925, but they acted only as individuals. The coup itself had been prepared by non-communist agents. As for the ambush of Orhania, that is another story. It was executed by Bulgars in the pay of foreigners.
"The men who surround King Boris; all the high political and administrative personnel, military and official, are imbeciles or dishonest men," said Dr. Radovanovitch to me at Belgrade.
That there are not lions among them is clear from the results. The deplorable system which at each general election sweeps away the administrative personnel and replaces them by the friends and puppets of the victorious party does not succeed in pushing valuable men to the first rank at Sofia. But the Bulgarian ministers do not have a monopoly on the simpletons.
And if it is true (as M. Henri Prost wrote) that the Bulgar officials, miserably paid and uncertain of their future, "display proof of their heroism by refusing the bribes which are offered to them," others, in neighboring countries, do not have this virtue. No Frenchman or Englishman who has done business with a Yugoslav, a Roumanian, or a Greek administration will contradict me when I affirm that backsheesh (which is called at Belgrade, "reimbursement of expenses"; at Athens, "for the unforseen"; and at Bukarest, "Cigarettes for Madame") has to be allowed for in the estimate of foreign corporations when they quote these nations for public contracts.
Ask a certain great French corporation what it had to distribute to enable it to obtain the concession for the new bridge over the Sava!
All the condemnation which the Pan-Serbs heap upon Bulgaria is an attempt to justify their attitude of hostility towards her. They pretend that Bulgaria is devoured with a desire for revenge, and they make much of her alleged secret rearmament.
The Bulgars, they say, no moe accept their defeat than do the Hungarians ofr the Germans. The Yugoslavs also allege that the Bulgars are the secret allies of Fascist Italy, and allege that they have recieved from Rome enough rifles, munitions, cannons, machine-guns and equipment generally to arm more than 300,000 men."
"We are not only ones to know it," says Belgrade. "The French Intelligence Service also possesses proof of it."
The French War Ministry has made a study of the military situation of Bulgaria, with a view to verifying the sensational reports of the Yugoslavs. But I have reasons to doubt that they have confirmed all the information furnished by Belgrade.
The treaty of Neuilly allowed Bulgaria an army of 33,000 men, made up of 20,000 soldiers, 10,000 gendarmes, foresters and customs guards, and 3,000 frontier guards. These men have to be enlisted volunteers- the officers for twenty years, the men for twelve. Bulgaria is not allowed to possess military aeroplanes, arsenals, arms or amunition factories, or more than a few dozen machine-guns and pieces of light artillery.
It may be that its effective force and its armament exceed these figures by a small margin. The army may comprise about 40,000 men (of whom 4,000 are frontier guards) instead of 33,000, and may possess a number of cannon and machine-guns nearly double that authorized by the Peace Treaty. But what chance would an army like this have against Yugoslavia?
Of the magnificent Bulgarian military organization of former times, no more than the shadow of a shadow survives. Twenty years ago the Bulgarian armies crushed the Turks and opposed the united Serbs and Greeks. Today she could not even resist a Greek attack.
As for this secret convention with Italy, by means of which Bulgaria is alleged to have promised help to Italy in the event of an Italo-Yugoslav conflict, this has become a nightmare to the Pan-Serbs since the marriage of King Boris with Princess Jeanne of Savoy.
"If the Bulgars were not backed by the Macaronis," Dr. Marianovitch said to me, "they would be less insolent, or we should have given them a kick in the behind long ago. Sofia is in the pay of fascism; the gold of Mussolini greases the palm of her ministers and her henerals, just as it feeds the banditry of Mihailoff and the propaganda of the National Committee. We have proof that hundreds of Italian macjine-guns, millions of cartriges and grenades, and tons of explosives have entered Bulgaria in the past two years, hidden in oil barrels or boxes labelled Preserves or Farm Tractors.
He was annoyed with me when I expressed surprise that Italy and Bulgaria, being able to communicate freely by sea, should be reduced to such subterfuge. If machine-guns and munitions from the Italians do enter Bulgaria, it is not necessary to hide them in grease casks or clothing bales.
That Italy, believing in the inevitability of an armed conflict with the Yugoslavs, plays the Bulgar card against them (as she plays the Hungarian card in Central Europe) it would be an insult to her political sense to doubt. That she makes an effort to furnish them with the means of action which they lack, appears likely, since it is undeniable that any aggression against Sofia would see Rome rise up against the aggressor.
But who is really at bottom to blame for this state of affirs?
Let us not forget that for half-a-century now Bulgaria has been baulked by Belgrade upon every occasion that she has attempted to attain a national unity. Nor must we, when we seek to understand the nature of the qaurrel which separates the two neighbors, forget that Bulgaria, in spite of the ambush of June 1913, and in spite of the injustices of 1918, has vainly sought to live on friendly terms with her powerful neighbor. She has no more merited the implacable hostility and the incessant provocations of the Government of Belgrade than had France merited the hatred of victorious Germany from 1870 to 1914. Yugoslavia could easily have made herself a friend of Bulgaria. If this Italo-Bulgar alliance really does exist, one must agree that everything possible has been done by the Serbs to throw Bulgaria into the arms of the Italians.
And, after all, what has Yugoslavia to fear from Bulgaria? She has neither howitzers nor heavy artillery. The few training-planes which she might transform into war-planes have neither speed nor power and would be annihilated at once. Her only aerodrome is near the frontier at Sofia, which serves at present as a base for French, German and Polish commercial lines to the Levant. She has no arsenals; no small-arms factories, no munition works or chemical plants for making asphyxiating gas. Her roads and railways are in an unimaginable state of ruin; her rolling-stock non-existent.
Moreover, the Bulgarian people, whom a universal suffrage and a democratic spirit render masters of their destinies, wish to hear no more about war at any price, even though it be for Macedonia, which is the flesh of their flesh and the cradle of their race for which they have already fought three times.
The Bulgars have no means to make war, nor dot they wish to do so.
They will go to war only if the Pan-Serb imperialists, ignoring the fear of Italian intervention, and France's counsel of moderation, decide to destroy the Macedonian revolutionary organisations, and to occupy all or a part of Bulgaria.
"If they did that, Gospodine," said the old priest to me as we stood before the tomb of the national poet, Ivan Vasov, among the geraniums and cedars of the garden of the Sveta Sofia, "if they did that, the bones of our dead sons would rise up and rout them."
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