Behind the barbed wires

I was taken from Sofia to see for myself the Bulgaro-Yugoslav frontier, and the barbed wire which Dr. Radovanovitch had dismissed so contemptuously. A great yellow motor-car hummed up to the hotel door before dawn, and in it two men were waiting for me. In a few seconds we were going full speed across sleeping Sofia, and heading towards Yugoslavia.
No sooner had we passed the suburbs where the first trams were just starting to leave their depots, than we seemed to reach the mountains. The road thereupon became mostly a simple dirt track poised upon the edge of precipices, at the bottom of which bright gleaming threads of water could be seen winding among splendid forests and heaps of fallen rock. Rudimentary wooden foot-bridges, for the most part without railings, carried us high over dry gorges which the torrents had cut. On our left, thick forests of beech and oak scaled the rocky inclines. On the right, not a tree : they had been felled by the Turks who found that the only way they could combat the comitadjis of the ORIM was to fell the scores of thousands of acres of forests, where their adversaries concealed themselves.
The silence was absolute.
An unexpected sight suddenly made me seize my field-glasses. Five or six hundred yards to the left a slender black silhouette stood out against the flaming sky; a helmeted soldier with a tapering bayonet.
My companion pointed his arm towards the apparition.
" Serb sentinel ! " he said laconically.
It was then that I saw in the dry grass ahead of us a narrow ditch, which constitutes the line of the Bulgaro-Yugoslav frontier.
Behind the ditch (which is but two feet in width and about eighteen inches in depth) on the Yugoslav side are the barbed wires.
Imagine a wall of steel wire six feet in height and seven feet thick. Imagine a hedge of wire whose twigs are so crossed and intercrossed, so stretched by iron stakes which maintain them, so interspersed and entangled from the ground to the top that even a little dog could not get through. That is the Yugoslav frontier.
Every eight feet in the centre of the wall are round holes, a yard in diameter, two in depth, half hidden by dry bushes. In the centre of each hole is the sharp point of an iron stake. Disaster to him who seeks to slip under the wires ! Six weeks before my visit, near Guechevo(Gecevo), a woman, tired of being beaten and violated, tried to get through, and spent two agonised days impaled on one of these points.
Behind the barbed wires are six, seven or eight parallel rows of pits, and reinforcing the barbed wire is a wall of cheval de frise, a yard in height, and a yard and a half in thickness.
Every two hundred yards there are thatched shelters, each about the size of a large dining-room table. They are arranged to slope downwards towards the frontier in such a way as to enable men to crawl under from the Yugoslav side and to fire towards the Bulgarian side from two loop- holes provided at ground-level. Under each shelter is a rough dugout. Each evening, from twilight, a sentry mounts guard there.
Between these watch-posts, among the brush and thistles, zigzags a narrow trail. All night long a police dog prowls there, and he is trained to warn the guard of any living being approaching the barbed wire from either side of the frontier. There is one of these dogs for each three watch- posts.
Four machine-guns are mounted at each fort : three are turned towards the Bulgar plain, and the fourth towards the annexed villages-a fact which puzzled me in view of the Yugoslav claim that their populations are all won over to Yugoslavia.
All along the mountains on the crest of which the frontier runs, the line of barbed wire and little forts runs in an unbroken line. Over hill and dale, and through the villages it goes. At Petritch, at Strezimirovci, at Izvor, at Guechvo, I saw houses where the yard was in Serbia, and the kitchen in Bulgaria. Watermelons and cucumbers in these gardens have different nationalities. To plant vegetables, or to sow grain, or to harvest, the peasant who has remained Bulgar while his fields have become Yugoslav, must get a permit from the authorities of the neighbouring city.
I saw cemeteries cut in two by the frontier. Better still, even graves where the head of the dead was in the centre of the barbed wire and his feet on the outside. I saw Bulgar mothers, whose children were in Yugoslavia, come to weep a few yards from the tombs of their dearly beloved which they were forbidden to approach.
What a grand thing, peace, when the conquerors understand it thus !
There is a bullet for anyone coming from the Yugoslav side to the barbed wire, even though it be only some old woman or little child who has come to try to see from afar their parents, children, or husband.
On 11th August, 1931, somewhere between Besica and Nasalopsi, was to be seen the corpse of a little girl of twelve years of age, who had remained in annexed Macedonia after her parents had fled to Bulgaria. The pathetic little corpse lay four days on a mound, a hundred yards from the barbed wire, under a temperature of over a hundred in the shade. She had been killed by a machine-gun while she was throwing kisses to her mother standing on a neighbouring eminence on Bulgarian territory.
"We are in a virtual state of war with Bulgaria " the chief of the Press Bureau said to me at Belgrade.
Indeed !
With its man-traps, its night-watch posts, its reinforced blockhouses in which machine-guns point their leather-hooded mouths towards distant horizons, the wall of barbed wire stretches over two hundred miles. It is being reinforced, perfected, extended every day, until soon it will extend in a single block from the Danube to Albania.
Under impenetrable thorn hedges are hidden fields of ditches with sharp pointed stakes. France has furnished them. They come from the front of Champagne, of Verdun, of Artois, where they protected the heroes of the Great War. To-day they imprison a people !
At two or three places, near a blockhouse, a narrow passage has been made through the barbed wires. These are closed by means of movable bars, and may be opened for the cars of foreign tourists.
" I had chosen a main road to go from Yugoslavia to Bulgaria," Harry Franck, the American explorer wrote in the Indianopolis Star, on 7th March, 1932, "but on reaching the frontier I found a network of barbed wire 10 feet in height, all along the frontier. After having waited two days for permission to pass, I had to drive four days more over impracticable roads in order to find the only opening."
" The work of giants ! " you will say of this hermetic enclosure ; this formidable fortification of an entire frontier. No ! The work of convicts ! The barbed wires have been stretched, the man- traps and the sentinel posts dug, and the block- houses constructed, by the Macedonian population requisitioned en masse for this work in all the villages, hamlets and farms neighbouring the frontier.
One fine morning, a Sunday preferably, when all the inhabitants are assembled for church, the gendarmes arrive, reinforced by bands of irregulars, and shout : " Let's get going ! Ouste ! En route ! "
For those who protest or resist, there are twenty- five cudgel blows on the buttocks, or a sound beating with rifle stocks. "If I had as many ten-dinar notes as I have horse-whipped these louts," said the inspector of police, Djoganetitch, to me last year at Veles, " I wouldn't have to wait for my pension ! "
Yet Inspector Michel Djagonetitch, smiling, affable, inexhaustibly complacent, has nothing of the brute in him-so long as he is kept away from the Macedonians.
I saw an old man near a frontier blockhouse in the region of Petritch whose hands were nothing but sores as a result of having stretched barbed wires.
A few kilometres from Tzaribrod, I saw Serb gendarmes, jokingly throw some young Bulgar peasants head first into the midst of a network of barbed wire. The victims, their faces lacerated, rose without a word.
Working on the mantraps near Nasaloksi, I saw a young girl thrown on the ground, her skirts tucked up to the waist, and given fifteen blows of a horsewhip because she didn't work fast enough. Blood streaming down her thighs, she started again with her digging.
I saw and I heard many other things. I did not see them in the company of Macedonians or Bulgars, nor did I hear them from others. I saw them alone and with my own eyes. In fact, the Bulgars and Macedonians will not even know that I went there until they read these lines, if they do read them, for I was all alone, as I always am when I wish to see things for myself. It is thus that I saw the wall of wire.
But the wall of wire is not all.
On the crest, which runs immediately behind the ridge upon which the barbed wire has been placed, and at a distance varying from two to three miles from it, a new series of blockhouses has been constructed. They are spaced at a distance of from three to four miles, and form a much more powerful defence than do even the barbed wires. These little forts are armed with six light and 'four heavy machine-guns, and two rapid-firing guns. The blockhouses, near the barbed wires, are occupied by about ten men, but those of this second line have a garrison of about twenty-five to forty soldiers commanded by an officer.
A few miles behind, situated upon yet a third range of hills, higher than the first two ranges, is a third fortified line. Placed at intervals of eight miles, and equipped with long-range guns, these garrisons are manned by a personnel of over a hundred.
Still further along, on the fourth line of mountains, are supplementary forts of the most modern type, guarding from their almost inaccessible heights all this truly extraordinary organisation.
From the Bulgarian hills which are close to the frontier, one can see clearly with the naked eye the essential details of the first two systems of fortification. With .field-glasses one may, on a clear day, see the whole of this quadruple barrier of steel and reinforced concrete which the Yugoslav general- staff erected " to put an end to the incursions of volunteers of the ORIM on to the territory of annexed Macedonia."
That, at least, is the reason given by Belgrade to justify both the colossal expense which these works represent, and the violent and total separation of the two halves of the Macedonian peoples which it causes. Let us analyse this reason. The Pan- Serbs say that there are 10,000 of the ORIM. This figure is grossly exaggerated, of course, but let us accept that exaggeration, and even make it 15,000 or 20,000, which is pure madness. Of these few thousands, the biggest revolutionary bands which ever penetrated into annexed Macedonia did not exceed fifty men.
We are asked to believe, in other words, that Yugoslavia has been compelled to fortify her frontiers in this colossal manner in order to prevent a few irregular bands from penetrating a region occupied by more than 50,000 soldiers. If it is true, what a lamentable confession of weakness it makes ! Besides what becomes of the official statements that Macedonia is happy to have become Serb again and that the comitadjis of the ORIM are received with gunfire when certain of them succeed "by chance" in penetrating into annexed Macedonia.
No, the whole thing is preposterous ! It is about as ridiculous as would be a concentration of the British Fleet in the Irish channel for fear of an invasion of England by the Sinn Feiners.
It is true that the barbed wires have almost entirely halted the incursions of the volunteers of the ORIM into annexed Macedonia. Henceforth they are obliged to cross Roumania and to take a train at Belgrade for Skoplje; Bitolj or Guevgueli: This is not so easy.
It is also quite true that the barbed wire has transformed Serbian Macedonia into an immense prison, into an indescribable hell of violence and misery, from which it is no longer possible to escape, no longer possible to enter without special permission from the Yugoslav authorities. The jailors in this prison are not responsible to anyone.
These obvious truths admitted, it is only too manifest that this formidable fortification of the Yugoslav frontier from the Danube to Albania has been effected for reasons other than those given by Belgrade or denounced by the Macedonians of Sofia.
The real truth is that the Yugoslav general-staff has not forgotten the tragic lessons of the World War. It has not forgotten the Bulgar attack of 1915 and the general insurrection of Macedonia which compelled them to make their disastrous retreat from Albania. Their frontier of barbed wires makes it almost impossible for them to be attacked from the rear on the day the other trouble engages them on the North and West frontier. Thanks to the Macedonian fortifications, a few regiments of territorials will suffice to paralyse any Bulgar attack.
Poor Bulgaria ! She must be flattered in an ironic sense by these colossal preparations against her. As one recedes into Bulgaria one wonders whether the whole thing is not a dream-a giant mirage thrown by the disordered minds of Belgrade.
For where is the means of attack to which this mass of wire and cannon is opposed?
Here and there along the Bulgarian frontier, five or six soldiers and a non-commissioned officer, armed only with rifles, occupy former Turkish custom-posts. Wretched and dilapidated, too, are the brick and earthen walls of these posts. In five minutes the machine-guns of the neighbouring Yugoslav blockhouses would transform them into colanders.

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