Primary Documents - Statement by the Bulgarian Peace Delegation on Alleged Bulgarian Atrocities in Serbia, 1919
Reproduced below is the text of a statement issued by the Bulgarian Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The statement specifically deals with - and repudiates - charges that Bulgarian forces committed atrocities in occupied Serbia during wartime.
It is notable that much of the text is given over to suggestions that other nations' forces - Serbia being most often cited - conducted far worse atrocities than those allegedly committed by the Bulgarians.
Click here to read a statement issued by the Holland Section of the League of Neutral Nations in 1917 on the same subject.
The Bulgarian Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference on Alleged Bulgarian Atrocities Committed in Serbia
Our Serbian and Greek neighbours had no sooner returned to the territories formerly occupied by the Bulgarian armies than they opened against them a campaign of denunciations, charging them with massacres and destruction, and appealing to the civilized world to brand "the criminal conduct of the Bulgarians."
By this means they succeeded in bringing on two inquiries in Serbia and Eastern Macedonia which, carried out in a perfunctory fashion and without sufficient precautions being taken against possible errors, have, as might have been anticipated, resulted in a series of grave accusations against Bulgaria and the Bulgarian nation.
These accusations, of which only a faint echo reached us in our isolation after hostilities had ceased, making all defence well-nigh impossible, did not come to our full knowledge until after the arrival of the Bulgarian Delegation in Paris.
Without denying that reprehensible acts have been committed in the territories under Bulgarian occupation, the Bulgarian Delegation ventures to remind the Peace Conference that similar methods of accusation, employed by the Serbians and the Greeks in 1913, were soon after unmasked by the impartial and neutral Carnegie inquiry.
The report of the Allies' commission is divided into a series of paragraphs which we shall examine in their order.
Massacres of the Civilian Population
There is no doubt that certain offences against the Law of Nations were committed in the Morava region during the war.
But it is no less certain that the individuals guilty of violations of the laws of war have not escaped the sternness of Bulgarian justice; some of them were punished by the military courts during the occupation itself, while over the others legal proceedings are now pending.
Whoever desires to ascertain the real sentiments of the Bulgarian people toward the inhabitants of the occupied country has but to turn to the testimony of MM. Katslerovitch and Popovitch, well-known leaders of the Serbian Socialist party.
Speaking in their memorandum to the International Socialist Conference at Stockholm of the conduct of the Bulgarian soldiers in the Morava region, they say the following:
One of the two signers of this memorandum had during the first months of the war the opportunity of gaining a personal knowledge of the two administrations, that of the Bulgars and that of the Austro-Hungarians.
He was able to observe them at close range, and to compare them. The Bulgarian soldier, that is to say, the Bulgarian serving under the colours, made a good impression upon the entire Serbian population wherever he came in contact with it.
During the first days of the invasion, when every soldier had, so to say, the right of life and death over the subjugated population, when his discretionary power was unlimited and his responsibility was almost null, when there was no legal order in existence, the situation in the territory conquered by the Bulgarian army was easily better.
There was more order and liberty then than later, when the occupation authorities had come and introduced official "order."
During that first period, assassinations, cases of rape and pillage were unknown, and no one amused himself by maltreating the population.
The situation in the East of Serbia, occupied by the Bulgars, was at that time better, less intolerable, than that of the West, occupied by the Germans and Austrians.
The Bulgarian government has never shielded those who have been guilty of crime in the Morava region. When such cases came to its knowledge, it insisted on the exemplary punishment of their authors, irrespective of the position which they occupied.
In perfect accord with the aroused conscience of the nation, the Bulgarian government appointed on 18th of December, 1918 a Commission at the Ministry of War to investigate all offences committed in the occupied territories during the war and to arraign the culprits.
The principal offenders, such as Major Ilkoff, Colonel Kalkandjieff, who are mentioned by the Commission of Enquiry, Colonel Airanoff, Colonel Popoff and others responsible for the crimes perpetrated, are already in the hands of justice which will soon pronounce on the misdeeds which are imputed to them.
Major Kultchin, town commandant at Kyupriya during the war, whose prosecution was begun early in 1918, has been sentenced to death and executed in Sofia. Bulgarian justice was proceeding with rigour against offenders long before the conclusion of the armistice.
During the Morava insurrectionary movement in February 1917, which, as we shall see farther on, was instigated and directed from the Serbian Headquarters and seriously threatened the sole line of communication between the rear and the front of the Bulgarian army, the Bulgarian authorities prosecuted and punished none but rebels and comitadjis, some of whom even crossed over into Bulgaria and gave themselves to murdering and looting the population.
The Bulgarian army was indeed magnanimous towards the rebels. As evidence of this we may mention the following example. The revolutionary band of the Plavtchitch Brothers who on 27th of January, 1918, had waylaid and assassinated seven Bulgarian soldiers, including a corporal, and seriously wounded two others, were merely interned in Bulgaria, upon consenting to surrender voluntarily to the Bulgarian authorities.
Today all those comitadjis are back in their homes and one of them, Ivan Plavtchitch, is mayor of the village of Borovtsi, district of Lebane.
The Bulgarian authorities did their utmost to protect the inhabitants from the activities of the revolutionary ringleaders, and even endeavoured to win over the rebels by kindness and persuasion, publishing to that effect a series of amnesties.
It is very characteristic of Serbian conduct and methods that the Serb comitadjis have always tried to charge the Bulgarian authorities with the crimes which they themselves committed.
A comitadji writes the following in one of the letters: "Sinadine Yankovitch (one of the prominent comitadjis in the district of Lebane) assassinated Sava Dragovitch in the fields, in broad daylight, and attributed this crime to the Bulgarian authorities."
It is difficult to imagine how many of these crimes are today ascribed to Bulgarians. Certain it is, that the figures given by the Serbs in their report also include the victims of their own comitadjis in the Morava region.
As much must be said of the Serbian charges in the matter of alleged tortures committed by the Bulgarian authorities upon the inhabitants of the province.
Here, in fact, is what the famous rebel chief Costa Petchanatz wrote himself in June 1917, to his colleague Dmitry Dmitrievitch: "You and your infamous bandits have burnt children, old men and old women in order to extort money from them."
Another Serb voivode, Tosho Vlakhovitch, wrote about the same time:
We at once broached the topic which was the object of our meeting. I asked Costa Petchanatz why he had permitted the comitadjis to pillage and carry on in this wicked manner. He explained to me that it was impossible to stop this nuisance because the men were bad characters. Later I talked to him of the pillaging in the villages of Lapotintsi and Stuble and pointed out to him the comitadjis who had done it. He thereupon said that it was a trifling matter in comparison with what other comitadjis were doing, and cited as example that three children had been cooked on the fire because their parents had not given money.
The Bulgarians are accused of having thrown living men into wells. This charge is surely of the same origin.
Internments are not sanctioned either by International Law or by the Hague Conventions; nevertheless they have been practised by all the belligerents. We therefore believe that it would be unjust to hold none but the Bulgarians strictly answerable for them.
It is not true that the interned were not told the reasons for the measure taken with regard to them. Order No. 48 of 10th July 1917, issued by the General Officer in command of the Morava Military Inspection Area, is categorical in this respect. He directs that the person whom it is proposed to intern should be acquainted with the motives of his internment, and that his objections and the opinion of the local notables should be considered, before carrying out the measure.
The remaining Serbian charges on this count are no better founded:
1. It is false to pretend that the Bulgarian authorities left the interned no time to prepare for the journey. T he orders of the Military Inspection tended all the other way and were always carried out. To enable the interned to set their private affairs in order and to get what they required after their internment, leaves from 15-20 days were granted from time to time.
More than that, with the object of hastening the arrival of the clothing which the families of the interned forwarded, a special courier visited the villages of the interned to receive the parcels and bring them to the internment camps. As for the complaint that the interned were conveyed in cattle trucks, it should be remembered that the Bulgarian soldiers and even the officers fared no better in that respect...
The Attitude o f the Bulgarian Authorities in Macedonia
We now come to the most astounding of all the accusations: that concerning the conduct of the Bulgarian authorities in Macedonia.
The Serbians have the audacity to speak of "general massacres" perpetrated upon "compact Serbian populations" constituting the "centre of the opposition to the Bulgarian propaganda" in Macedonia and to assert that the Bulgarians, in their wish "to annihilate all the more compact Serbian populations," interned the male population in such large numbers "that the traffic on the roads leading to Bulgaria was congested and the Germans, unable to proceed freely with the dislocation of their troops, had to ask on military grounds for a temporary suspension of the internments."
The least one can say of such accusations on the part of the Serbs is that they are out of place. There certainly was a time when the roads in Macedonia were encumbered, but that was during the mournful days of the exodus of Macedonians who, in 1913 and 1914, fled in thousands to Bulgaria to escape from the "favours" with which their "deliverers" the Serbians wished to overwhelm them.
There have also been murders and revolting massacres; but that was during the sad period of the Serbian occupation, when entire populations were moved away because they would remain Bulgarian, and when all those who dared show their affection for Bulgaria, the mother country which had just sacrificed the best of its children for their liberation, were persecuted and pitilessly exterminated.
We have no wish to dwell on these facts; the honourable Conference will find a full account of them in the "Enquiry in the Balkans" of the Carnegie Commission, as well as in the memorandum entitled "The Bulgarian Question and the Balkan States."
Our only purpose here is to show the absurdity of an accusation which might with better cause be addressed to those who have formulated it.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
"Lance corporal bacon" was the name used by Anzac soldiers to describe very fatty bacon with a sliver of lean meat running through it.
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