14 September 1915 – Radoslavov

Bulgaria has been secretly mobilizing to attack Serbia for the last three days. Having concluded a private agreement with the Central Powers on the 6th, Tsar Ferdinand I signed off on the fateful decision three days later, effective after forty-eight hours. While implementing his orders within the civilian government today, Prime Minister Vasil Radoslavov receives a late note from the Entente powers — Russia, Britain, France, and Italy — offering to occupy the uncontested Serbian-held territory that Bulgaria covets in order to ensure its transfer to Sofia if they will only enter the war on the Entente side and help defeat the Central Powers. It is their latest failing attempt to sweeten the deal they have on offer.

The scheme even has the grudging acceptance of the Serbs, who have also already shifted half their small army to the Bulgarian border in full anticipation of a betrayal, for they understand their neighbor much better than London or Paris. A germanophile since his days as a law student at Heidelberg’s Ruprecht Karl University, Radoslavov had already taken turns at Justice Minister and a brief premiership before his anti-Russian stance caught Ferdinand’s eye in 1913, elevating him once again to Prime Minister. His policy has been marked by a diplomatic break with Petrograd, and the Entente allies are unable to meet primary territorial demands, such as the restoration of fertile farmlands in the Southern Dobrudja that were lost to Romania in the Second Balkan War 1913, or the whole of Vardar Macedonia, of which they were also deprived.

Radoslavov meets the latest Entente communication with just enough feigned interest in maintaining neutrality to keep his new enemies talking, apparently unsuspecting and unprepared for what is coming. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian Army is coordinating matters with their German and Austro-Hungarian counterparts; General August von Mackensen, who commanded the immense offensive which has put the Russian Army to flight since May, is currently on leave before taking command of the Austro-German force which is to attack Serbia in coordination with Bulgaria. But even with the unmistakable signs of imminent war, Radoslavov has London and Paris engaged in discussion until the moment his country reveals its true intentions.

Ludwig III of Bavaria 1916

Radoslavov (white beard) and Ferdinand I (shaking hands) meet Ludwig III of Bavaria (right) at the train station in Sofia, 1916

The scars of the previous war are still fresh for Bulgaria, where prosperity, trade, and agricultural production have declined. Radoslavov has negotiated the German loans which have helped keep the country afloat, and later cites those financial considerations as justification for choosing the Central Powers. But the truth is that Bulgaria still smarts from the betrayal of its former ally in the First Balkan War. As Radoslavov explains in a statement published on October 11th, the behavior of Serbia’s army in Macedonia towards Bulgar peoples is unacceptable to Sofia.

Our greatest foe today is Serbia.  It has subjugated the purely Bulgarian Macedonia and is administering it in a barbarian manner never before witnessed.

For the Macedonian populace there are no laws and no human rights of any sort.  This populace is, without exception, exposed to slaughter; the streams are red with blood; women have been violated, and the male population suitable for military service has been sent into the field to die for the creation of a “Greater Serbia.”

One need only profess to be a Bulgar in Macedonia to be beaten to death like a dog, so great is the hatred of Serbia toward Bulgaria.  After the wars the Serbs had grown so arrogant that the transit of a Bulgar through Serbia – no matter who he was – was absolutely dangerous to his life, because in that State, which, according to our Government (newspaper), Narodni Prava, is ruled by liars, there exist no laws for Bulgars.

If we do not more quickly deliver our brothers in Macedonia from the unbearable, cruel, and bloody yoke, not a Bulgar will be left in this purely Bulgarian land.  Things are, moreover, already in such a condition that Bulgaria cannot possibly exist next to a “Greater Serbia,” inasmuch as the latter, which lays claim to our country up to the Jantra, will continually challenge us until it destroys us.

Having swung his country away from Russia like a pendulum, Radoslavov considers the Russian Army all but defeated. This view of the Entente allies as overstretched and on the ropes is not unique to Bulgaria, but widespread as a result of the ongoing fiasco at Gallipoli. Quite simply, Radoslavov is not worried about the military threat his new enemies represent.

We need not linger long over the question, inasmuch as it has become clear to the point of certainty for every observer that Russia, which has lost fortresses like Warsaw and Ivangorod, will soon be overthrown, and then the turn will come for France, Italy, England, and Serbia.

Germany has proved that it is so strongly organized in a military and material sense and can dispose of such enormous, superior, and inexhaustible forces as will enable it soon to overthrow its foes.

This will prove to be a horrible miscalculation on his part. Even with proud Serbia vanquished, the war does not end soon enough for Bulgaria, which lacks the native industrial capacity or manpower to wage an extended war of attrition. The inevitable results will be hunger, disillusionment, and defeat.


Family ties: Kaiser Wilhelm II meeting with Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, in 1917. Though he was certainly pro-German by training, inclination, and relations, Ferdinand had disliked always personally disliked his nephew’s impetuous nature