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JUST as Jugoslavia presses for a trade outlet southward through Saloniki, so Bulgaria frets at the thin Greek coastal strip -- in one place only ten miles wide -- that shuts her off from the Ægean and relegates her commerce to the roundabout Black Sea route or the slow passage up the Danube. The Principal Allied Powers, speaking in the Treaty of Neuilly, promised Bulgaria that in view of their decision to turn the northern Ægean seaboard over to Greece they would arrange suitable facilities for the transit of Bulgarian Commerce. But the facilities which they subsequently offered were refused as "psychologically inadmissable" by Bulgaria, who apparently hoped, or thought it worth while to pretend she hoped, that the original undertaking implied something very much like Bulgarian sovereignty over a corridor to the Ægean; Bulgaria's counter-propositions were rejected absolutely by the Allies; and there, for official purposes, the matter rested. But though no formal negotiations are admitted to be in progress as this is written, the question is continually under discussion in the Bulgarian press and will one day have to be settled. Incidentally, Greece may be presumed to desire a settlement because uncordial relations with Bulgaria might prove disastrous in the event of serious trouble with a third party -- with Jugoslavia over Saloniki, with Italy over the Dodecanese, or with Turkey over any one of many possible bones of contention.
Bulgarian aspirations for an outlet on the Ægean received their first impetus from Russia in 1878, at the time of the Treaty of San Stefano. In 1876 the "Bulgarian atrocities" had aroused Europe. The following year Russia declared war, and succeeded in routing the Turks and threatening Constantinople. Her rapid success changed European sentiment overnight. British feeling ran so high that, despite Gladstone's opposition, a fleet was dispatched to the Straits to show that a Russian seizure of Constantinople would not be tolerated. Russia made peace, but decided to strengthen Bulgaria as much as possible, perhaps with a view to future operations against the Turks. By the Treaty of San Stefano she proposed to create a Greater Bulgaria, to include most of Macedonia and part of the northern Ægean coast. Britain and Austria hastened to reject an arrangement which so greatly increased Russian influence in the Balkans, and at the Congress of Berlin, convoked later in the same year, the Treaty of San Stefano was set aside. Turkey was handed back the bulk of her lost territory, including the Ægean littoral, and Austria was given the mandate to occupy the coveted Slav provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But although the San Stefano arrangement was so swiftly blotted out it was not forgotten in Bulgaria, and the Ægean coast was one of her chief objectives when she joined with the other Balkan states in 1912 in the war against Turkey. Though the First Balkan War gave her much of the desired coast line, the second Balkan War deprived her of it. She lost the port of Kavala and the surrounding region, but retained the stretch between, roughly, the Mesta and Maritza Rivers, including the two ports of Dedeagach and Kara Agach.
It was to recoup the losses suffered as a result of her unwise provocation of the Second Balkan War that Bulgaria in 1915 decided to gamble again. That her ambitions were far from modest was demonstrated by her reply on September 26, 1917, to the Pope's enquiry regarding her peace aims, as well as by the earlier negotiations in which Tsar Ferdinand and his Cabinet took part before they finally chose the side of the Central Empires. Premier Venizelos stated in a Memorandum to the Peace Conference that in 1915, Greece, Serbia and Rumania had offered to Bulgaria, as the price of her aid in the war, the part of the Dobrudja which she had lost to Rumania in 1913, Thrace to the Sea of Marmora, Kavala, and Serbian Macedonia westward to the Albanian frontier; Bulgaria, he said, had scornfully refused, asking in addition a large slice of southern Serbia and a part of Albania, so that her territories should extend from the Black Sea to the Ægean. It was for such great stakes that Bulgaria played, and losing forfeited also the stretch of Ægean coast that had been hers.
The statistics are so unreliable that is is hardly possible to say whether there is a Greek or Bulgarian majority in Western Thrace as a whole, though it seems to be accepted that the Greeks have the better of it in the coastal strip because of the predominantly Greek character of the sea towns.[i] (It should be noted that as between Greeks and Bulgars, the Turkish section of the population -- which really includes many Pomaks, or Mohammedan Bulgarians -- would naturally prefer the Bulgars as rulers.) The frontier finally established followed the watershed of the Rhodope Mountains. There seems no doubt, however, that beyond all ethnic arguments the Allies were influenced by the desire to diminish the strategic importance of a state that had cost them so dear by cutting off Russia from her western allies, by bringing Germany to Constantinople, and by all but destroying Serbia by attacking her on a new front.
The disaster of the Greek armies in Asia Minor was the signal for Bulgaria to begin agitation for the fulfilment of the promise contained in the Treaty of Neuilly (Nov. 27, 1919; Art. 48): "The Principal Allied and Associated Powers undertake to ensure the economic outlets of Bulgaria to the Ægean Sea. The conditions of this guarantee will be fixed at a later date." At the beginning, Bulgaria's former Thracian territory had remained under the joint military occupation of the Principal Allied Powers. This had come to an end on August 10, 1920, when they handed it over to Greece by the so-called Thracian Treaty, which, though unratified, entered into effect in that the Allied troops withdrew and left the Greeks in possession. The Thracian Treaty specified that Bulgaria should have free transit over the territories and through the ports involved, with a permanent lease of the port of Dedeagach, and that an international commission should ensure her enjoyment of these rights.
Now, three years later, in view of the changed conditions resulting from the overturn of the Treaty of Sèvres, Bulgaria was invited to come to Lausanne to put forward her case in the Thracian matter. Premier Stambulisky, appearing in person, stated it was essential that the Principal Allied Powers retain ownership of the territory in question, that they neutralize it and allow Bulgaria special facilities for building her own railways and a port at Dedeagach, or nearby at Makri. He reasoned that his government would in any case find difficulty in securing capital for this work and that if Thrace were to be under Greek sovereignty the outlook would be hopeless. A proposition that Dedeagach be equipped as a "free port" and that it and the railway be administered by a joint British, French, Italian, Bulgarian, Greek, Rumanian, Jugoslav and Turk commission was refused by the Bulgarian delegation in a statement which plainly indicated their real objective: "It is only by direct possession of the territory in the neighborhood of the railway and port, or by placing that territory under a completely autonomous régime, economically tied to Bulgaria by special stipulations, that the port of Dedeagach can be constructed, controlled and developed in accordance with the economic interests of Bulgaria." In subsequent discussions M. Venizelos said that if the arrangement in Dedeagach proposed by the Allies were inacceptable, he would gladly set apart a Bulgarian zone in Saloniki similar to that being arranged there for Jugoslav commerce. Replying, M. Stancioff said that one proposition was as unsatisfactory as the other, and ended the matter so far as the Lausanne Conference was concerned by adding that he did not wish to pursue the discussion further.
A word about the ports themselves. Dedeagach, a town of about four thousand inhabitants, is the only Ægean seaport east of Saloniki having a direct railway connection. The railway runs down to the water's edge, and there is a small railway pier. But in its present state the port would be useless to Bulgaria even if it were opened to her commerce freely, as the water inshore is shallow and cargoes must be landed by lighters from vessels anchored over half a mile out. Kavala, further west, likewise has nothing but an exposed roadstead, and in its present state is not really a port. It still has to rely on motor transport for reaching the railway at Drama, some fifteen miles to the north. Between Kavala and Dedeagach, on the edge of the rich tobacco growing plain of Xanthi, lies Kara Agach, known also as Porto Logos, possessing the only sheltered port on all this coast. The district is marshy and unhealthy, and the town has no railway connection, but it had been chosen by Bulgaria before the Great War for development as a center of export trade.
All three ports would need dredging, Dedeagach or Kavala would need the construction of elaborate breakwaters and moles, and Kavala and Kara Agach would require railway connections. It is quite understandable that Bulgaria does not wish to undertake the financing of any of these operations unless she is sure of profiting permanently. The question as to whether she overplayed her hand at Lausanne need no longer be argued. The Allies felt that they had done their best at Lausanne to fulfill their obligations under the Treaty of Neuilly, and refused to put pressure on Greece to make further concessions. But geography continues to direct Bulgaria's eyes southward to the new ports of Greece.
Any possible solution of the difficulty can now be reached only by direct negotiation between the two countries concerned. On October 19, 1925, the Greek Free Zone was inaugurated at Saloniki for the purpose of giving "the Balkan States, and especially Bulgaria, access to the Ægean Sea, under regulations which will allow any country to use the port for the shipment of goods, incoming or outgoing, without restriction as to duties, right of seizure or right of search." Though Jugoslavia has found that such promises often read better on paper than they prove in practice, and though the facilities offered will hardly satisfy Bulgaria, who once already has rejected such an arrangement as wholly inadequate, Greece probably made the move with a sincere desire of appraising Bulgarian opinion. She remembers, perhaps, how unpleasantly close Jugoslavia and Bulgaria came to achieving coöperation against her in 1922 when Stambulisky, en route to Lausanne, stopped off at Belgrade and had long talks with the King and with MM. Pashitch and Nintchitch. Unfortunately on the very day that the Greek Free Zone was inaugurated occured the Demi Hissar frontier incident, which for a moment threatened to bring the two countries to war. Relations were strained for some time, and it still remains to be seen whether Bulgaria will attempt to make any use of the new arrangement at Saloniki. A necessary preliminary would be the connection of the Greek and Bulgarian railway systems. The easiest way of doing this would be to prolong the Bulgarian line which now ends at Petritch, just short of the Greek frontier, to join the Saloniki-Dedeagach railway at Demi Hisar. Reports from Athens[ii] have indicated that the Greek Government favors this step, though in some quarters it is being urged that a better alternative would be for Bulgaria to complete a long projected line southward through the mountains from Karadjin, to be joined by a Greek line pushed northward from Gumuldjina. The construction of either railway link would be an excellent preliminary to the adaptation of one of the Ægean ports to Bulgarian needs.
The Greek suggestion indicates a satisfactory tendency at Athens to settle the question by direct negotiation with Sofia. The result will be awaited with anxiety by those who look forward to the day when it will be possible for Balkan statesmen to turn to the elaboration of a pact of amity and non-aggression.
[i] In Western Thrace, the Bulgarian census of December, 1914, showed: Bulgars, 185,524; Turks, 210,336; Greeks, 32,377; miscellaneous, 6,289; total, 434,526. This census further divided the Bulgars into Christians, 115,509, Pomaks, 70,015. At the Peace Conference in 1919 very contradictory Bulgarian and Greek estimates were submitted. The Bulgarian estimate showed: Bulgars, 235,950; Turks, 197,863; total, 433,813. At the same time M. Venizelos presented an estimate as follows: Bulgars, 59,418; Turks, 285,083; Greeks, 70,558; total, 415,059. He probably counted the Pomaks as Turks, just as the Bulgarians probably counted the Greek-speaking Mohammedans as Turks.
[ii] See La Bulgarie (Sofia), Feb. 2, 1926, and Elefteron Vima (Athens), Feb. 7, 1926.