H. Gregson, Buffer states of the Balkans
CHAPTER II  Bulgaria  – Back door to the Dardanelles


BULGARIA, if only because of her geographical situation, can be of crucial importance in the event of hostilities in the Balkan area.

Three possible Bulgarian attitudes to aggression by a major Power in the Balkans, so long as the Allies maintain the inviolability of neutrals as a cardinal principle, may be envisaged.

The first attitude is that of strict neutrality. This would remove any apprehensions Rumania, Yugoslavia, Greece or Turkey might feel at having a dangerous neighbour along their frontiers when their main forces might be engaged elsewhere.

The second possible attitude is that of hostility towards Britain and France and any Balkan countries allied with them. This hostility might arise out of Bulgaria's grievances at the losses of territory imposed on her following the Balkan and Great Wars, i.e. claims on Rumania, Greece and Yugoslavia.

Such hostility towards Britain and France and their Allies might be created by promises of territory to Bulgaria by a hostile major Power at the expense of other Balkan States.

The Germans induced King Ferdinand to enter the Great War on their side in 1915 by offering Bulgaria Serbian and Rumanian territory which she coveted. To-day, for example, Bulgaria might be offered Dobroudja in return for a Bulgarian attack in the rear on Rumania simultaneously with aggression by a major Power against that country. To such inducements the Bulgarian people might, if they were produced at the right psychological moment, succumb.

There is yet another and more dangerous factor which might bring Bulgaria into the war against the Allies, namely non-resistance to violation open or disguised of her neutrality by a major Power, by a Power, for instance, with designs on the Dardanelles.

Some observers maintain that Bulgaria being so small her hostility would not matter a great deal. Turkey and Rumania would mass their armies on Bulgaria's northern and southern frontiers in the event of doubts regarding Bulgaria's attitude, as they did in the autumn of 1939. I heard it said that they could have overrun Bulgaria in three weeks.

Bulgaria is not a member of the Balkan Entente and any attempt by her to alter her frontiers by force at the expense of the other Balkan countries – Turkey, Greece, Rumania, and Yugoslavia–would inevitably bring her into conflict with all four countries at once, so long as the Balkan Pact remains binding on its signatories.

Speedy overrunning of Bulgaria assumes, however, a deterioration in her powers of resistance for which there is no precedent in the Great War. It also assumes that Bulgaria would enter hostilities without allies capable of rendering her immediate effective help.

A hostile Bulgaria might prove a very dangerous neighbour. She might make things decidedly uncomfortable for Rumania were that country involved in a life-and-death struggle on other fronts. Still in memory is how Bulgaria precipitated the collapse of the Serbian armies which were valiantly resisting the Germans and Austrians in the Great War. Also in memory is the Bulgarian effort against Salonika in the Great War, for which the Struma Valley, in Bulgarian territory, and the Vardar Valley offer an inviting approach.

The third possible Bulgarian attitude in the event of aggression by a major Power in the Balkans is that of friendliness towards the Allies. If this friendliness were translated into active intervention with them on the Allied side it would improve immeasurably the powers of resistance to aggression of the other Balkan States. We would indeed have the united Balkan Front which has been the dream of far-sighted Balkan statesmen for many years, among the members of the front being Turkey, who has a Pact with Britain and France.

For Britain and France, the importance of an actively friendly Bulgaria cannot be underestimated. Bulgaria affords many land routes for speedy help to Rumania against aggression. Vidin, Nikopol, and Ruschuk (the latter being the route of the Sofia-Bucharest train ferry) are points at which troops could pour across the Danube to help Rumania if Bulgarian permission were obtained.

Bulgaria's value as an ally in this respect, however, would depend on Turkish acquiescence and to a lesser extent on Greece and Yugoslavia giving permission for troops to cross their territory to enter Bulgaria.

Indeed, it is not going too far to say that Rumania's destiny may be in Bulgaria's hands.

* * *
The traveller who takes the night train from Belgrade on the Paris-Constantinople line finds himself the next morning passing through towering mountains along the Nisava Valley, and shortly afterwards tall, burly Bulgarian officials, in grey-green uniforms, board the train and demand his passport.

Bulgaria is the most truly Balkan of all Balkan lands. From the most northerly of the two great mountain ranges which intersect Bulgaria the Balkans derive their name. This range, known in Bulgaria as the Stara Planina, was christened by the Turks 'The Balkans.'

The visitor's impressions of Bulgaria are likely to be governed by his philosophy of life. If he is in search of hectic society and oriental pleasures he will detest Bulgaria. It is the most Puritan country of Europe. Night life is practically non-existent, and the main attraction of one of the two best hotels of Varna, Bulgaria's chief Black Sea port, is an aspidistra, flanked by two Bibles, which greet the guest in the entrance hall.

Those who find their delights in beautiful scenery and the simple life, on the other hand, would find Bulgaria an extremely pleasant country.

In the north are the incredibly fantastic Balkan mountains – masses of limestone into which wind and weather have eaten to create topographical nightmares of sheer precipice, grottoes, twisted columns, sugar-loaf edifices, and caves.

Beyond the mountains, to where Bulgaria is bounded in the north by 246 miles of the Danube, are rolling hills, covered with oceans of waving poppies, vineyards, flocks of black and white sheep, brightly-dressed peasants, shaggy oxen, and geese.

Even more picturesque is the southern part of Bulgaria. On the sunny side of the Balkan range, near the Shipka Pass, the traveller can exchange the smell of the sheepskin hats and coats, which the Bulgarians wear, for the scent of the rose. Here barefooted girls with white headcloths gather the roses from which three-quarters of the world's supply of rose oil is derived. , Bulgarians are the best gardeners in Europe, and the well-watered Maritsa Valley between the Balkan and Rhodope mountains resembles a vast garden in which tomatoes, tobacco (the best tobacco in the world), maize, barley, and corn abound.

Mountains are beautiful for the tourist, but for the peasant rocky soil means hard work. 'To work like a Bulgarian' is a Balkan proverb, and the Bulgarians are a stern people, who take life and duties very seriously.

It is a land of village communities. There are only ninety-three cities, and of these but ten have twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Village life is ruled by the village elders – stern, uncompromising men who frown on novelty. Their sheepskin coats are embroidered with white wool around the sleeves, collars, and pockets as a mark of authority. Without their permission no girl may marry, no departure from the settled ways of life be tolerated. They rule the family, say where the members shall work from morning until dusk in the fields, and, in association with other community elders, arrange the disposal of the harvest.

Silk stockings in Bulgaria are a rarity. Rouge is scarcely tolerated. It was very amusing to watch the girls in Varna's most modern restaurant hopping to the strains of the Lambeth Walk, sturdy legs well ensconced in black woollen stockings.

The chief attractions of night life, such as it is, in Sofia are a number of Hungarian dancing girls, who, it is reported, are functioning under a barter agreement whereby Bulgarian gardeners are lent to Hungary.

There are no unguarded level-crossings in Bulgaria. Whenever a train appears the level-crossing keeper is there with a red flag. The station master and his assistants stand to attention and salute every train as it leaves the station.

Eighty-five per cent of Bulgarians work on the land. They are a peasant nation, and ownership of land being their consuming passion, most of them are peasant smallholders. The Bulgarians are exceedingly brave. The only soldier they really respect is the Serb, because the Serb, they say, will stand up to them in their own method of fighting, namely hand-to-hand combat with knives. There are more men than women in Bulgaria – 3,053,893 males against 3,024,046 females. But the women do not have a good time. They work so hard in the fields that a Bulgarian woman is a 'Baba' (grandmother) at forty. The only time she is allowed to ride home from her day's labours in the fields is when she is expecting a baby. Many Bulgarian babies are born in ox-carts.

Frugality is another Bulgarian trait. Money is scarce, but food is plentiful. No Bulgarian dreams of riding second class in the train in ordinary times. If one wants to meet Bulgarians when travelling in Bulgaria one must travel third. Nobody goes hungry in Bulgaria, but wages are ridiculously low. A workman gets from 30 to 50 leva (about 2 shillings) a day. Students work as waiters to keep themselves alive while studying. An army officer gets 4000 leva (£8) a month, a civil servant from 1800 leva (nearly £4) a month, while the Prime Minister's remuneration is only £50 a month.

Bulgaria's 6,000,000 people have only 46,600 wireless sets among them.

In many respects the Bulgarians are the most admirable people of all Balkan nations. They are more honest than some nations, although centuries of Turkish misrule, under which favours were obtainable by guile rather than by straightforwardness, have naturally left their mark. Some Bulgarian business men will not hesitate to break a contract if a chance for greater profit presents itself in another quarter. On the whole, however, they are decent, quiet people, industrious, plodding, and good-natured.

In their country, poor as it is compared with more advanced nations, most Bulgarians have a vested interest. The three chief banks of Bulgaria are communal enterprises. The nearly twelve million acres of arable land in the country belong almost entirely to the people who work them. Approximately three-quarters of all the holdings in the country contain less than eighteen acres each. Only one hundred thousand families are landless. There are common grazing grounds, common woods, and all subsoil wealth belongs to the State. Communal ownership is well developed. But the Bulgarians are, at the same time, one of the most dangerous peoples of Europe mentally. Hard-headed and practical as they are, as a rule, they are liable to be seized with crusading fervour. Their reforming zeal can be fanatical. To quote Mr. E. H. Markham, whose book Meet Bulgaria is among the best works on the Bulgarian people:

'These prudent people, largely free from ordinary mysticism and with little taste for abstract metaphysics, give themselves with furious devotion and unexcelled heroism to grand social ideals with a moral aspect.'

Bogomilism, a kind of primitive Protestantism, which swept across Europe in the tenth century, claimed thousands of Bulgarians as martyrs. Adherence to the ideals of Bogomilism rendered the existence of the State absolutely impossible, but Bulgarian converts never saw this aspect of the movement.

Bulgarian Communists have willingly laid down their lives in hundreds of cases for their ideals. Tolstoy's doctrine of absolute love as the solution of all human problems is followed with unflinching zeal by many Bulgarians who do not flinch from hard work, ascetic living, and costly sacrifices to put their ideas into practice.

The highest structure in Sofia is the Vegetarian Home, put up by a co-operative society composed of the followers of Tolstoy to provide a restaurant and apartment house for poor students.

The proneness of the Bulgarian to attacks of reforming zeal may turn him into a dangerous neighbour for any bordering State. Not the least of these dangers is Communism and idyllic worship of ' Grandfather Ivan,' represented by Bolshevik Imperialist Russia.

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