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Bulgaria during WWII (1939-1945)


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Bulgaria during WWII (1939-1945)

The conclusion of the Versailles system of peace treaties (1919), which fixed the end of WWI, transferring the whole blame only on the losing side, places the beginning of the road to WWII. Territorially and economically robbed, the losing countries become a nest of an inevitable desire for revenge. The idea for a revision of the peace treaties is led by Germany, especially after Adolf Hitler comes to power in 1933. Germany begins to reject one by one the restrictive terms of the treaty of Versailles. In 1935 Germany initiates again the obligatory military service and on the next year occupies with its forces the demilitarized by the treaty region of Rhein. The disappointed by the results of the WWI Italy also begins expansionist politics and occupies Ethiopia. The clear-sighted politics realize that the start of the war is only a matter of time.

The initiative of the fascist states is not met with the needed attention and determination from the side of England and France. As for the USSR, Moscow never reconciled itself with the lost after WWI territories and also orients itself towards a revision.

In this complicated for Bulgaria situation there is no alternative than to keep its neutrality and non-alignment. In the beginning of the 30s the neutrality gives its first fruits with the removal of the restrictive military terms. In front of the coming war the Bulgarian government understands very well that without a modernized army, it won’t have the possibility to defend its national interests and sovereignty. After the armament of Germany is permitted, the “breakthrough” for Bulgaria isn’t late. On the 31st of July 1938 Bulgaria signs with the countries of the Balkan pact (Greece, Turkey, Romania and Yugoslavia) the Solun agreement, which removes the restrictive military terms for our country. Through this agreement Bulgaria renounces the heaviest terms of the Neuille treaty, without breaking its neutrality and non-alignment and without taking any additional engagements in exchange of the returned right. From this moment the Bulgarian foreign policy is submitted only to the aim of achieving a peaceful revision.

In the autumn of 1939 fateful events for the European peace happen. Under German pressure England, France and Italy agree that the Sudetian region of Czechoslovakia, in which the German population is predominant, should be disjoined. The signed in Munchen revisionist act is the first after the war, which changes the territorial status after 1919. Tsar Boris III takes a direct part in the negotiations around Munchen, by taking the role of a courier between London and Berlin. His participation in the preparation of the conference shows that the Bulgarian diplomacy will continue searching for a peaceful revision of the Neuille peace treaty. The Munchen agreement gives hopes that the peaceful revisionist wave could also reach the Balkans.

After Munchen the Bulgarian government prepares itself for practical realization of its aims – the regaining of the state’s territories, which belonged to Bulgaria before the Bucharest peace (1913). But the government realizes that the objective could not be achieved at once, but through gradual realization of the separate points of the Bulgarian territorial program. As most realistic it appears to be the claim for correcting the border in Southern Dobrudzha, because the USSR also intents to put Romania under revisionist pressure.

In the Spring of 1939 the Prime Minister Georgi Kioseivanov issues and spreads to the Bulgarian diplomatic representatives a secret directive under №19, in which he rates the Bulgarian demands: Southern Dobruszha – to the borders defined by the Berlin congress, Aegean Thrace – in the borders defined by the Bucharest peace (1913) and eventually the given to Yugoslavia with the Neuille treaty Western Ends.

The aim of Georgi Kioseivanov is Turkey and Yugoslavia to be neutralized and thus a pressure to be given over the Balkan pact by the axis Athens-Bucharest. In its decision the government assesses that the Pact is an ineffective organization, which would crumble by the first pressure. Directive №19 shows that Bulgaria would continue its policy of non-alignment. In the meantime it’s given that Bulgaria is economically bound with Germany, which makes it impossible for her to be on the side of the western democracies.

On the 23rd of August 1939 the USSR and Germany conclude a non-aggression pact, which decides the fate of Poland, Besarabia, Bukovina, and the Baltic states. The two totalitarian powers divide between each other the Eastern space of Europe. Thus the hands of Germany are untied to attack Poland (1.IX.1939), with which the beginning of the WWII is placed. For the Bulgarian diplomacy it becomes clear that it would be able to continue its policy of neutrality only if the war doesn’t reach the Bulgarian borders. The war conclusively wipes away the possibility for understanding between Germany and Italy, on one side, and England and France – on the other.

In the spring of 1940 the German troops crush for several days its enemies in Western Europe and the changes in South-Eastern Europe come to the front. Using the engagement of Germany to the west, in accordance with the agreements between the two states, on the 28th of June 1940 the Soviet troops start the return of Besarabia and Bukovina to the USSR. For Bulgaria this is a good moment to give a pressure over Bucharest, in order to take back Southern Dobrudzha. Manoeuvring between Berlin and Moscow, Bulgaria secures the agreement of the Romanian diplomacy for negotiations.

On the 7th of September 1940 an agreement is signed between Bulgaria and Romania in the Romanian city of Kraiowa, according to which Southern Dobrudzha is returned to Bulgaria. By this way the policy of peaceful revision gives its first fruits.

After concluding the Kraiowa agreement a massive pressure from the side of Germany towards Bulgaria started, which aimed for the joining of Bulgaria to the signed on the 27th of September 1940 Tripartite pact between Germany, Italy and Japan. The pressure over Bulgaria began to take a dictatorial form. On the 16th of October 1940 the German foreign minister Ribentrop demands from Sofia to determine its policy towards the Pact within two days. In the same day in Rome Mussolini states to the Bulgarian ambassador that he expects Bulgaria to join to the expected war with Greece. Sofia understands that between Italy and Germany there is no coordination, which gives it the possibility to reject the both offers.

Two days after the Italian-German pressure the government in Sofia is warned also from the English King George VI that if Bulgaria puts itself among the enemies of the British Empire, it will become a stage of battle actions. The USA joins the diplomatic pressure on Bulgaria as well.

After the bitter lessons from the previous wars, in front of the country is left only one possible way of action – prolonging and delaying the committing until the last possible moment.

The USSR is also taking an active part in the pressure over Bulgaria by striving to gain exceptional rights in the eastern parts of the Balkans. On the 12th and 13th November 1940 the Soviet foreign minister Viacheslav Molotov visits Berlin, in order to receive Hitler’s permission for the USSR to give Bulgaria guarantees like the ones given by Germany to Romania. It’s a matter of having Soviet bases in the Bulgarian ports and airports. Hitler declines this offer, but Molotov tries to achieve his goal by sending a direct message to Sofia. The general secretary of the Soviet foreign ministry A. Sobolev arrives in Sofia and offers concluding a pact for mutual aid and acknowledging the interests of the both countries in the Black Sea basin. The USSR promises to help Bulgaria “realize its national aspirations not only in Western, but also in Eastern Thrace” and in exchange Bulgaria should recognize the Soviet territorial interests in the Straits. But in Sobolev’s offer the declared from the Soviet side in Berlin right of Bulgaria to restore its sovereignty in the territories given to Yugoslavia is missing.

Sobolev’s offer and his mission in the country are accompanied with a loud campaign of the communist party, which gathers signatures in support of the Soviet offer. But the government fears from an untimely joining to the war and declines the offer.

Thus the first offensive for the joining of Bulgaria to the fights ends with a failure.

In the beginning of 1941 the situation on the peninsula changes. Hitler begins realizing his intentions for a war with the USSR and this forces him to strengthen his position in the South-Eastern part of the continent. For this purpose Berlin aims to bind Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey. On the 17th of February 1941 Bulgaria and Turkey sign a pact of non-aggression.

Hitler tries to join also Yugoslavia to his combination, as the rulers in Sofia categorically state that in order of joining the Tripartite pact, Bulgaria wants to see Yugoslavia in it. Only after Belgrade confirms their readiness to enter the Pact and based on the fact that there’s a large German army on the Danube River, the government decides to join the Pact. On the 1st of March 1941 the Prime Minister Bogdan Filov signs in Vienna the joining of Bulgaria to the Tripartite pact. In the same day the armies of the Wehrmacht start entering the country and concentrating at the southern and the western border. Their aim is to crush the resisting to Mussolini Greece and to attack Yugoslavia, which in the last moment, after a coup, refuses to enter the Pact.

Immediately after this act the English and the American diplomats leave the country. After the defeat of Yugoslavia and Greece on the 19th of April 1941 the Bulgarian government sends armed subdivisions in the territories, populated by Bulgarians. Bulgaria receives for a temporary administration Vardar Macedonia and Aegean Thrace. The Bulgarian army is welcomed as liberator, Tsar Boris III is declared “Tsar-Unifier”, and the government raises its prestige incredibly high.

After strengthening its positions on the Balkans, Hitler starts his consecutive military campaign – against the USSR. On the 22nd of June 1941 the forces of the Wehrmacht cross the borders with the USSR. Immediately after the beginning of the military actions on the Eastern front, the Bulgarian communists start realizing a course of armed resistance. The decision is taken on the 24th of June 1941. Unlike the occupied countries, where the partisan movement is aimed against an occupier, in Bulgaria it is aimed against its own government, which gives a reflection on the scale and aims of the movement. The government has a high social support at this moment, because it manages to keep the country from a military defeat, does not send forces at the fronts and joins to Bulgaria almost all of the territories, populated by Bulgarians. Therefore the government doesn’t have big problems with limiting and counteracting the resistance, especially in the first phase of its opening. Strikes are delivered to the illegal movement, after conspiracy centers have been discovered, and the leaders of the resistance are arrested and sentenced to death and long-lasting terms in prison. The communists realize that alone they won’t be able to deal with the government and start looking for a unity of action with other oppositional groups.

As a main oppositional stream emerges the so called Legal opposition, which includes the remains of the traditional political parties, standing on the principles, sanctified by the Tarnovo Constitution. Among them are BZNS (Bulgarski Zemedelski Naroden Saiuz; Bulgarian Agrarian National Union) “Vrabcha 1”, led by Vergil Dimov, Dimitar Gichev and Konstantin Muraviev; the Democratic party of Nikola Mushanov; the former “sgovoristi” (“agreers”), gathered around Atanas Burov and a part of the socialist-democrats. They do not accept the armed form of resistance and therefore decline entering a combination with the communists. These parties are bound with the traditional values of the constitutionalism and western democracy, because of that they believe that the saving of the country is in establishing close relations wit England and the USA. On the 13th of December 1941, pressed by Hitler and Mussolini, the Bulgarian governors declare “a symbolic war” to England and the States. But this war becomes a reality when the English-American bombings over Bulgaria start in the winter of 1943.

The other alternative of the opposition is the Political sphere “Zveno”, parts of the Socialist-democratic and the Radical-democratic parties and BZNS “Pladne”. With their radical and authoritarian conceptions they are prone to an eventual cooperation with the communists.

The joining of Bulgaria in the war sharply changes the internal-political situation. The executive power is increased. Already in April 1940 was passed a Law for the national mobilization, with which the government takes the direct leadership of the bigger part of the economical sector in the state. Increased are the measures against the liberty of speech and press, restricted are the rights of correspondence, gatherings and meetings.

On the 21st of January 1941 one of the most shameful laws ever voted in the Bulgarian parliament enters in power - The law of the defense of the nation (ZZN). It copies a large part of the German legislation, concerning the Jews, which lose their civil and political rights. Forbidden are the mixed marriages, a large part of the Jewish possessions is seized, provided is for concentrating the Jewish population in different settlements. On the basis of the ZZN in August 1942 a Commissariat of the Jewish matters is created, led by the confident supporter of Hitler’s conceptions Aleksander Belev. The danger for the Bulgarian Jews impends in the end of 1942 when Germany starts a pressure over the Bulgarian government for “a conclusive decision of the Jewish matter” within the boundaries of Europe. On the 12th of February 1943 the Council of Ministers accepts the agreement for deporting 20 000 Bulgarian Jews to Germany. The government gives its agreement only for Jews from its “new” lands, motivating themselves that they’re not Bulgarian citizens. In March 1943 11 480 Jews from Thrace, Macedonia and the Pirot region are deported. This puts a beginning of mass protest among the Bulgarians, supported also from the Orthodox Church. Tsar Boris III takes a stand behind them as well, in result of which the government does not allow any further deportations of Jews.

In the meantime the battle of communists against the government is increasing more and more. On the 17th of June 1942 radio-station “Hristo Botev” broadcasts the program of the Fatherland Front (OF). This is an offer of the communists for a creation of a wide social front against the government. It isn’t mentioned in this program for a change of the social-political system in the country after the taking of power. It is insisted in it that Bulgaria should not take part in the direct battle actions, the Bulgarian troops to be withdrawn from the neighbouring states, the alliance with the Axis to be broken and the country to join the antihitlerist coalition. In the region of the internal policy it promises restoration of the Tarnovo Constitution and the provided by it rights and freedoms. Because the initiative comes from the communists, the other part of the opposition declines their offer.

In February 1943, after the Soviet army crushes the forces of the Wehrmacht near Stalingrad, a turning point of the battle actions gradually begins. This complicates the situation of Bulgaria as a German ally. The crisis is increased even more by the death of Tsar Boris III (the 28th of August 1943), who’s the most authoritative, consolidative figure in the Bulgarian political life. Since the heir to the throne Simeon II is under-age, a regency is chosen of Bogdan Filov, general Nikola Mihov and Prince Cyril, brother of the late tsar, with which the Constitution is violated, as relatives of the monarch have no right to be regents. As a Prime Minister the regents choose the previous financial minister Dobri Bozhilov.

The new government is pressed by the activated work of the armed resistance. Already since the beginning of 1943 the communists start creating their own military organization, which centralizes the partisan movement. As a response the government creates a gendarmerie for fighting the partisans, which not infrequently resorts to mass executions of whole families. Thus the conflict between partisans and government gets deeper and deeper, instead of calming down.

Simultaneously with the internal problems, the pressure from Moscow is increasing more and more. On the 18th of May 1944 the Soviet government delivers a harsh note to Bulgaria with the demand that Bulgaria should immediately break its alliance with Germany. In the same day the cabinet of Dobri Bozhilov hands its resignation, in order not to give a categorical answer. The created on the 1st of June 1944 government of Ivan Bagrianov has the task to find a way out of the deepening crysis.

Sofia tries to get out of the war and establishes contacts with the British and American diplomacy. In August 1944 Stoicho Moshanov is sent for negotiations in Ankara and Cairo, but the events forestall the truce.

On the 12th of August the parliamentary opposition and the Fatherland front come out with a common declaration for creating a “new constitutional government”. After a pressure from Moscow and the directive of Georgi Dimitrov the Fatherland front rejects their signature from the declaration. Left without the support of the OF, the parliamentary opposition creates on the 2nd of September 1944 the government of the National and the Democratic party and BZNS, led by Konstantin Muraviev. The new government makes attempts to restore the constitutional regime – the un-freely chosen National council (Narodno sabranie, the parliament) is dismissed, political amnesty is declared, the gendarmerie and the ban on the political parties are removed.

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