Refugees. The Work Of The League
C. A. Macartney

The refugee problem in Bulgaria was neither so catastrophically sudden as that in Greece nor so vast in scale, but in many respects was not dissimilar from it.

Bulgaria became independent of Turkey in 1878; but her frontiers, as finally drawn in that year, included only a fraction of the territory claimed by her patriots. In the North, the Northern Dobruja (then containing few Roumanians) was assigned to Roumania; in the West, Nish and Pirot were given to Serbia; Macedonia and Thrace remained under Turkish rule.

Between 1878 and 1912 more than 250,000 Bulgars entered Bulgaria, chiefly from Macedonia and Thrace. These were absorbed without excessive difficulty in the thinly-populated country, particularly as a number of Turks emigrated, leaving their land vacant. The situation grew serious after 1912. After the two Balkan Wars, Southern Dobruja—an almost purely 'Bulgarian region—was ceded to Roumania, while in the South, Bulgaria, victorious over the Turks, but defeated by her ex-allies, Serbia and Greece, secured only a corner of Macedonia and part of Western Thrace. As a result of these struggles, some 120,000 Bulgars entered Bulgaria from Thrace, Macedonia and the Dobruja. A small number of them were able to profit by the exodus (though on a smaller scale) of Turks and Greeks;


but large numbers were still homeless when Bulgaria entered the World War in 1915. The end of this War was disastrous for Bulgaria. The loss of Southern Dobruja was sealed, after she had recovered it for a brief period in early 1918; the only result of this having been to exacerbate her relations with Roumania. In the South, she lost to Greece almost all the territory which she had gained at the expense of Turkey a few years previously. In the West, her share of Macedonia was still further reduced, and the purely Bulgarian districts of Tzaribrod, Vassilegrad, Trn and Kula were ceded to Yugoslavia for strategic reasons. Some 180,000 refugees entered Bulgaria from all these territories.

The question was complicated by political considerations. Most of the refugees from Turkey and Roumania had moved in with their families and property; but in Thrace and Macedonia the families had very often remained in their old homes; the refugees were individual males who had been connected with the sundry Macedonian revolutionary organisations, which enjoyed much sympathy in Bulgaria. These individuals collected in bands, mainly near the frontier, whence it was their habit to raid Yugoslav or Greek territory.

In addition to these Bulgarian refugees, Bulgaria was sheltering some 40,000 Russians and 25,000 Armenians.

The land of the emigres was for the most part confiscated in the Dobruja. In Thrace,


however, a mixed Commission for the voluntary reciprocal emigration was set up (see above, Section IV). As Bulgarian migration from Greece did not take place on a large scale during the first years of the Commission's working, the situation was not at first serious. It became grave when Bulgarians were deported from their homes—without, at first, any compensation—to make room for Greek immigrants from Asia Minor.

Successive Bulgarian Governments made very courageous attempts to cope with this influx of refugees. Some were settled on land liberated by Stambulisky's agrarian reform, or vacated by Turkish emigrants (a measure which gave rise to subsequent difficulties with Greece in the case of those Turks who afterwards became Greek subjects). The Greek emigrants, however, were largely urban, and their departure did little to relieve the situation. Others were kept alive by grants or by the efforts of foreign charitable societies. Some were absorbed into the tobacco factories; but here the crisis, due to over-production, which broke out in 1924, resulted in many workers being thrown again on the labour market. In any case, the severe economic depression under which Bulgaria was labouring prevented her from effecting a satisfactory settlement of her refugee problem; and most of those refugees whom she had been unable to settle on the land remained in a deplorable condition, generally as unemployed—or, at the best, sweated labourers.


In 1926 it was reported officially that 221,191 persons (minus deaths) of Bulgarian nationality alone had entered Bulgaria during the period 1913-25 (refugees previous to 1913 were regarded as absorbed). These formed a population capable of work of 115,782 persons. 30,422 of these had 'finally settled down'; 25,000 workmen and minor artisans, already settled in towns, could be disregarded for the purposes of settlement if partial assistance were given to them. There remained 60,360 persons capable of work and suitable for a settlement scheme; or, counting four persons, two of whom were capable of work, to each family, about 30,180 families or 120,000 individuals. It was anticipated that some 2,000 more families might come in during the next few years.

The cost of proper settlement of these refugees was estimated by the Bulgarian Government at at least £3,000,000, of which £1,700,000 would be used as direct assistance to refugees (allowing £70 per family), £700,000 for irrigation and draining, and the remainder, less the cost of floating the loan, for any undertakings which might, during the course of the work, appear desirable or necessary. It was far beyond the power of the Government to raise this sum directly, or by floating an internal loan. At first Bulgarian opinion was inclined to consider approaching foreign banking houses direct; but the influence of the Greek example prevailed, and on May 3, 1926, Bulgaria appealed to the League for help in raising a refugee loan.


The Financial Committee of the League recommended the loan as desirable on both political and economic grounds (since the refugees were not only a heavy charge on Bulgarian finances, but a source of internal and external political unrest), provided the necessary agreements could be reached with prior bondholders and with the Reparations Commission, and that the statutes of the National Bank were suitably revised. [*]

The Council approved this report on June 10, and the requisite negotiations with the Reparations Commission and the bondholders proceeded in such satisfactory fashion that as early as August 25 the Bulgarian Government was able to sign an agreement with the Bank of England under which the latter agreed to advance the National Bank of Bulgaria £400,000 to provide for the early autumn sowing in 1926 and shelter for the coming winter. In the meantime, however, a series of frontier incidents had aroused the wrath of Bulgaria's neighbours, who contested the accuracy of the Bulgarian Government's figures, suggested that Bulgaria's real purpose was the construction of strategic railways, and urged that, at least, they should be represented on a Committee of Control in Bulgaria. The difficulties were only smoothed out through the intervention of the League Council. On September 7, the Council adopted the draft settlement scheme, which was signed by the Bulgarian representative on the following

*. See document C.360 M.130, 1926,11, 11/6/26, and C.569, M.211, 1926, 11, 5/10/26.


day. The League Commissioner was given powers which would prevent the settlement of large numbers of refugees along the frontiers, or the construction of any strategic works. On December 21 the loan, for .£2,400,000 in 7 per cent, sterling bonds and 4,500,000 dollars (certain outstanding debts were to be paid off out of the surplus above £2,250,000), was issued (at 92). It was heavily oversubscribed.

Under the Protocol, the Bulgarian Government undertook to provide for settlement not less than 132,000 hectares of land which was or could be made suitable for agricultural settlement (exclusive of pasture). This, it was stipulated, was to be ' the unencumbered property of the Government.'

The Government already possessed a Land Reserve, under a Landed Property Directorate, dating from its agrarian reform of 1921. This Directorate put at the Commissioner's disposal some 175,000 hectares of land. This land came from various sources: State land, land belonging to emigrants, ownerless land, expropriated land. It was registered after all legal expropriation formalities had been completed, when it became State property. But when handed over to the Commissioner only about one-third had been registered; the ownership of most of the rest was in dispute, while part of it belonged to Greek emigrants, and thus came within the sphere of the Greco-Bulgarian Mixed Commission. Not only precise information regarding ownership, but even topographical documents, were lacking; only a list showing com-


munes and categories to which the land belonged was given. It was therefore usual for the Commission, on reaching a village, to find the land occupied or claimed by local peasants.

As in the case of Greece, a survey was thus necessary; this proceeded under extraordinary difficulties, and with many delays, and the ill-feeling which arose between the refugees and the natives was often very considerable. By the spring of 1929, however, the survey was completed, and by the following August over 26,000 families had been settled on their allotments. These were, indeed, rather smaller, on an average, than the figure of 40 decares envisaged by the Bulgarian agrarian law, but in the rich tobacco-growing districts it probably sufficed. The only families not provided with land were those to be settled on the reclaimed areas.

It is interesting to note that the first village built for Bulgarian refugees was the work, not of the Refugee Commission, but of British charity. This was the village subsequently christened 'Atolovo,' in honour of the Duchess of Atholl. The credit for this village is due to the Save the Children Fund, who financed it and whose representative, Mr. Lawrence Webster, constructed it. Mr. Webster afterwards acted as assistant to the League Commissioner, M. Charron, and the Commission's villages were largely constructed on the model of Atolovo.

The largest number of refugee families (over 10,000) were settled in the district of Burgas, in Eastern Bulgaria. The rest were distributed


fairly evenly throughout Bulgaria, mainly in the East. It was found unavoidable to settle a number of colonists in the regions of Varna and Petritch, near the Roumanian and Yugoslav borders respectively.

The rest of the work followed the example of the Greek settlement, on a smaller scale. On August 15, 1930, 8,747 houses were completed or in course of construction, and only 1,022 remained to be built to finish the work. A large amount of scrub and woodland had been cleared. More important was the work of drainage and reclamation; the marshes near Burgas were being drained—an operation which would have the additional effect of stamping out the malaria rampant in those districts. In Bulgaria, as in Greece, the health work done under the Commission's auspices, particularly in connection with malaria, deserves especial mention. A dyke had been built, reclaiming a marshy plain along the Danube bank, which had recovered for cultivation no less than 170,000 decares of exceptionally fertile land, on which 2,000 families were being settled. As in Greece, great pains were being taken to ensure a regular water-supply—an essential point; for North-Eastern Bulgaria, in particular, often suffers from disastrous droughts.

Seed and livestock had been advanced to the refugees, and those of them who had been established in the old Greek fishing villages along the Black Sea were being equipped with fishing material, with results that had exceeded


all expectations. Here a flourishing industry, altogether new to the Bulgarian nation, was growing up.

One railway was being built, from Rakovsky to Mastanla; and a certain number of roads were under construction, mainly in the Burgas area; these were calculated to open up the natural resources of the country and consolidate the work.

During the extension of this plan, Bulgaria was laid under an additional and most tragic handicap. In April and May, 1928, repeated earthquakes devastated the Maritza valley— the richest portion of the country—damaging Philippopolis, the second town of Bulgaria, very considerably, and completely destroying many villages and important country towns. In all, it was estimated that 150 places suffered; more than 17,000 houses were destroyed and nearly 20,000 damaged.

No part of the refugee funds could be devoted to assisting the victims of this catastrophe. On the other hand, somfe hundreds of refugees who had hitherto been left outside the scheme because they were already earning a precarious livelihood in the tobacco factories in and near Philippopolis were taken over. Further, the Commission felt justified in lending the Bulgarian Government, for urgent relief work, the interest which had accrued on the Commission's funds invested abroad, pending use—a total of 45,000,000 levas, or nearly £70,000. Meanwhile, one effect of the earthquake was further to increase the Com-


mission's difficulties, especially as the Government requisitioned all available timber for constructing houses for the victims of the earthquake.

In yet another respect Bulgaria followed the example of Greece; in seeking the help of the League on a larger scale for general financial reconstruction and currency stabilisation. The amount originally contemplated was £4,500,000; but in view of the earthquakes, this was raised to £5,000,000. The arrangements were once again carried through by the Financial Committee of the League, and approved by the Council on September 17, 1928. The loan was issued at 7 1/2 per cent., the price of issue being 96.

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