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


Bulgaria fears war, and this fear is the basis of King Boris's policy. When two powerful nations like Britain and France find Germany a tough nut to crack, when Finland went down in spite of a gallant fight against the Russian colossus, what chance would little unindustrialized Bulgaria stand?

On the whole the Bulgarians are not pro-Allied. Why should they love us? Britain's friends in the Balkans have been those neighbouring countries who gained territory at Bulgaria's expense in the Balkan and Great Wars. If we have not supported these countries' policy of maintaining the status quo, we have at least done little to induce them to make concessions to Bulgaria. There is even some resentment among the Bulgarian people at Britain's guarantee to Rumania, which deprives them of another opportunity of recovering the longed-for Dobroudja.

Something has gone wrong with Allied propaganda. The Bulgarians regard the Allied struggle against Nazi Germany not as a struggle for ideals, among them the integrity of small States, but as a quarrel between Powers for the dominance, economic and political, of Europe.

Bulgarians think Hitler a very clever man. They are somewhat naive. Bulgarian politicians, when they come to power, immediately get their friends and relatives positions of importance, besides, when possible, lining their own pockets. Hitler, say the Bulgarians, is a sincere man. Everything he does is for the State, not for his own benefit. They do not see lust for power as personal egoism.

Also Bulgaria's revisionist aims run to a certain extent parallel with Germany's. Both countries have grievances from the Great War.

Bulgarian infantrymen on manoeuvres

Nevertheless, Bulgarians do not love the Germans. They have a shrewd idea that Germany has lately been purchasing their products at less than market prices and selling them manufactured goods at more than world prices. It is seldom, too, that the slave loves his master, and Bulgaria is in economic servitude to Germany.

Russia is the only Great Power that has really done anything for Bulgaria, at least so it seems to the Bulgarians, and Russian influence in Bulgaria is the most dangerous factor for the Allied cause if Russia should be involved in war with the Allies.

Whatever Russia's ultimate aims may prove to be, she is vitally concerned with Russia's security, and Russia doubtless regards the security of the Dardanelles, either in her own or friendly hands, as necessary to her as Hanko in Finland and the Estonian Islands which control the approaches to Leningrad.

Bulgaria is a convenient partner for Russia, both for exerting pressure on Turkey and as a possible strategic base against the Dardanelles. She is further the Russian foothold for penetration in the Balkan area as a whole, including Bulgaria's Slav fellow nation, Yugoslavia.

"Would Bulgaria resist Russian violation, open or disguised, of her neutrality?"

I asked twenty well-informed people this question in Bulgaria. Eighteen of them replied " No."

One of those who gave this answer was Professor Tzankov, the man who crushed the peasant Government of Stambolisky in 1923 and was Prime Minister for the next three years. I met Professor Tzankov in the lounge, which is lined with the portraits of former Prime Ministers, of the Parliament Building in Sofia. Tzankov, I noticed, absenced himself from the Assembly Hall during the Throne speech of King Boris. Since the external danger to the Balkan countries has concentrated power in the hands of their rulers. Professor Tzankov and his Fascist movement no longer enjoy their former prestige. As a disappointed politician it may have given him a certain consolation to answer my question as to whether Bulgaria would resist a Russian invasion with a decided negative. Professor Tzankov is now inclining to portliness, but still retains a commanding presence, enhanced by his somewhat sharp features and greying beard.

The two people (out of twenty) who said Bulgaria would resist open or disguised violation of Bulgarian neutrality by Russia were both highly-placed Government officials.

It may be that King Boris and the army, counting on the Bulgarian people's fear of war, would have the final say in their determination to resist any violation of Bulgarian neutrality by a major Power. King Ferdinand got the Bulgarians to fight Russia in the Great War in spite of pro-Russian sentiment throughout Bulgaria. Russian violation of Bulgarian neutrality would entitle other major Powers to similar violation, which the Foreign Office in Sofia realizes quite well, although the peasant cannot be expected to realize this.

When the actual crisis came it would be a severe test for King Boris. 'Dobroudja ' emotions are too easily aroused in Bulgaria for the King and the army to regard with equanimity the offer of this territory to Bulgaria by a major Power interested in crushing a neighbouring Balkan State or obtaining a foothold in the Bulgarian frontiers.

In their avowed unwillingness to resist Russian aggression the Bulgarians are also influenced by their exaggerated idea of Russia's might. The only big fleet Bulgarian fishermen see is the Russian Fleet. Russian propaganda does all it can to emphasize Russia's wealth and resources, both economic and military, and in the defeat of Finland the Bulgarians see yet another argument for their inclination to offer no resistance to Russia.

How curiously opinions can distort what should be evident facts is revealed by my questions on the Dardanelles. The eighteen well-informed people who said Bulgaria would not resist Russia thought Bulgaria the obvious backdoor to the Dardanelles, and illustrated their argument with masses of convincing detail.

The two Government officials who said Bulgaria would resist Russia discounted the vulnerability of the Dardanelles from the Bulgarian frontier. They maintained that never in history have the Dardanelles been taken by assault from the land, urging among other considerations that control of the Asiatic as well as the European side of the Straits is necessary to secure tenure.

Nevertheless, I believe it is true that the French sent a mission to Sofia before Bulgaria joined Germany in the Great War to see what could be done against the Dardanelles (then in the hands of Turks, our enemies) from the land side, and were convinced enough of Bulgaria's utility to offer certain inducements to Bulgaria.

The Allies are doing a great deal, but could try to do a great deal more to help King Boris and his advisers in their fight, which is, after all, in the true Bulgarian interest, against German economic and Russian ideological domination of the less far-sighted peasant population of Bulgaria.

Bulgaria, let it be admitted without reserve, has fulfilled her obligations under the Peace Treaties. She has not attempted to obtain a revision of her frontiers by force, nor did she rearm except in agreement with the terms of the Treaty. She is a poor country, and the people are honest and hard-working, with a great sense of justice and injustice.

Bulgaria is not willingly economically dependent on Germany. There are too many dangers for her if Germany should abandon her, in addition to the trump hand it gives Germany in Bulgarian internal and external affairs. Nor are the Germans loved. Bulgaria remembers too well the overbearing attitude of allied German troops during the Great War and their economic spoliation of the country-side. Efforts are being made to develop Bulgarian trade with neighbouring Balkan States, but apart from Rumanian oil there is very little these States can profitably exchange with Bulgaria. They are all more agricultural than industrial and have no great need of each other's products.

The Allies might do much to ensure greater consumption of Bulgarian products in Britain, France, and the Empire, and the system of pre-emption is being used not without effect. Especially should we smoke more Bulgarian tobacco, Bulgaria's main exportable crop.

Settlement of the Dobroudja question is also another essential if the Russian danger in Bulgaria is to be removed. An Allied promise, backing a Rumanian promise, would carry far more weight with the Bulgarians than a Rumanian promise alone, while an outlet to the Aegean would give Bulgaria economic opportunities outside Germany's sphere.

There are some favourable signs for the Allies.

Rumanian and Turkish Ministers have visited Sofia, and relations with these two countries and with Yugoslavia have been taking a decided turn for the better.

Bulgaria is becoming more 'Balkan' and less 'Bulgaria' conscious, and so long as Turkey is our trusted Ally this development is welcome to us.

It is essential that the impression of Russian and German might so assiduously pumped into the Bulgarians be counteracted by British propaganda and facts. Control of the Black Sea would be the best propaganda we could have in this respect, but failing this films of the Navy, Air Force, and Army can do a great deal.

With Turkey our Ally, and Bulgaria a satisfied and loyal member of the Balkan Entente, Allied prestige and strategy would gain immeasurably in the Balkans.

Also, in view of the Bulgarian's love of justice and susceptibility to ideological influences, something might be done to bring home more to the peasant the real meaning of the ideals for which we are fighting and what those ideals are. Publication of President Wilson's Fourteen Points contributed largely to the collapse of Bulgarian resistance in 1918. A constructive peace policy would appeal to him.

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