Primary Documents - Daily Telegraph Report of a Meeting Between the Bulgarian Tsar and Opposition Members, October 1915

Tsar Ferdinand I Reproduced below is an extract from an Italian despatch which appeared in the London Daily Telegraph in October 1915.  The despatch recounts the events of a meeting between the Bulgarian Tsar, Ferdinand I, and five opposition members of parliament.

During the meeting each of the opposition members clearly stated their opposition to war with Russia; it was bluntly stated by one that the Tsar's own crown - and head - was at stake should the wrong decision be taken.  The opposition members were particularly concerned to have learnt that a decision had effectively already been taken and that war with Serbia - and therefore by extension Russia - was inevitable.

In closing they urged the Tsar to reconsider such a policy for the sake of his country and for himself.

London Daily Telegraph Despatch from Italy Regarding Bulgaria's Decision to Enter the War

Five opposition members of the parliament, MM. Gueshoff, Danoff, Malinoff, Zanoff, and Stambulivski, were received by the King in the Red Room at the Royal Palace, and chairs had been placed for them around a big table.

The King entered the room, accompanied by Prince Boris, the heir apparent, and his Secretary, M. Bobcovitch.

 "Be seated, gentlemen," said the King, as he sat down himself as if for a very quiet talk.  His Secretary took a seat at a table a little apart to take notes, but the conversation immediately became so heated and rapid that he was unable to write it down.

The first to speak was M. Malinoff, leader of the Democratic Party, who said: "The policy adopted by the Government is one of adventure tending to throw Bulgaria into the arms of Germany, and driving her to attack Serbia.  This policy is contrary to the aspirations, feeling, and interests of the country, and if the Government obstinately continues in this way it will provoke disturbances of the greatest gravity."

It was the first allusion to the possibility of a revolution, but the King listened without flinching.  M. Malinoff concluded: "For these reasons we beg your Majesty, after having vainly asked the Government, to convoke the Chamber immediately, and we ask this convocation for the precise object of saving the country from dangerous adventures by the formation of a coalition Ministry."

The King remained silent, and, with a nod, invited M. Stambulivski to speak.

M. Stambulivski is the leader of the Agrarian Party, a man of sturdy rustic appearance, accustomed to speak out his mind boldly, and exceedingly popular among the peasant population.  He grew up himself as a peasant, and wore the labourer's blouse up till very recently.  He stood up, and, looking the King straight in the face, said in a resolute tone:

"In the name of every farmer in Bulgaria I add to what M. Malinoff has just said, that the Bulgarian people hold you personally responsible more than your Government for the disastrous adventure of 1913.  If a similar adventure were to be repeated now its gravity this time would be irreparable.  The responsibility would once more fall on your policy, which is contrary to the welfare of our country, and the nation would not hesitate to call you personally to account.  That there may be no mistake as to the real wishes of the country, I present to your Majesty my country's demand in writing."

He handed the King a letter containing the resolution voted by the Agrarians.  The King read it, and then turned to M. Zanoff, leader of the Radical Democrats, and asked him to speak.  M. Zanoff did so, speaking very slowly and impressively, and also looking the King straight in the face:

"Sire, I had sworn never again to set foot inside your palace, and if I came to-day, it is because the interests of my country are above personal questions, and have compelled me.  Your Majesty may read what I have to say in this letter, which I submit to you in behalf of our party."

He handed the letter, and the King read it and still remained silent.  Then he said, turning to his former Prime Minister and ablest politician: "Gueshoff, it is now your turn to speak."

M. Gueshoff got up and said: "I also am fully in accord with what M. Stambulivski has just said.  No matter how severe his words may have been in their simple, unpolished frankness, which ignores the ordinary formalities of etiquette, they entirely express our unanimous opinion.  We all, as representing the Opposition, consider the present policy of the Government contrary to the sentiments and the interests of the country because by driving it to make common cause with Germany it makes us the enemies of Russia, which was our deliverer, and the adventure into which we are thus thrown compromises our future.  We disapprove most absolutely of such a policy, and we also ask that the Chamber be convoked and a Ministry formed with the cooperation of all parties."

After M. Gueshoff, the former Premier M. Danoff also spoke and associated himself with what had already been said.

The King remained still silent for a while.  Then he also stood up and said: "Gentlemen, I have listened to your threats and will refer them to the President of the Council of Ministers that he may know and decide what to do."

All present bowed, and a chilly silence followed.  The King had evidently taken the frank warning given him as a threat to him personally, and he walked up and down nervously for a while.

Prince Boris turned aside to talk with the Secretary, who had resumed taking notes.  The King continued pacing to and fro, evidently very nettled.  Then, approaching M. Zanoff, and as if to change the conversation, he asked him for news about this season's harvest.

M. Zanoff abruptly replied: "Your Majesty knows that we have not come here to talk about the harvest, but of something far more important at present, namely, the policy of your Government, which is on the point of ruining our country.  We can on no account approve a policy that is anti-Russian. I f the Crown and M. Radoslavoff persist in their policy we shall not answer for the consequences.  We have not desired to seek out those responsible for the disaster of 1913, because other grave events have been precipitated, but it was a disaster due to criminal folly.  It must not be repeated by an attack on Serbia by Bulgaria, as seems contemplated by M. Radoslavoff, and which, according to all appearances, has the approval of your Majesty.  It would be a premeditated crime, and deserve to be punished."

The King hesitated a moment, and then held out his hand to M. Zanoff, saying: "All right; at all events, I thank you for your frankness."  Then approaching M. Stambulivski, he repeated to him his question about the harvest.

M. Stambulivski, as a simple peasant, at first allowed himself to be led into discussion of this secondary matter, and had expressed the hope that the prohibition of the export of cereals would be removed, when he suddenly remembered, and said: "But this is not the moment to speak of these things.  I again repeat to your Majesty that the country does not want a policy of adventure, which cost it so dear in 1913.  It was your own policy, too.  Before 1913 we thought you were a great diplomatist, but since then we have seen what fruits your diplomacy bears.  You took advantage of all the loopholes in the Constitution to direct the country according to your own views.  Your Ministers are nothing; you alone are the author of this policy, and you will have to bear the responsibility."

The King replied frigidly: "The policy which I have decided to follow is that which I consider the best for the welfare of the country."

"It is a policy that will only bring misfortune," replied the sturdy Agrarian.  "It will lead to fresh catastrophes and compromise not only the future of our country but that of your dynasty, and may cost you your head."

It was as bold a saying as ever was uttered before a King, and Ferdinand looked astonished at the peasant who was thus speaking to him.  He said: "Do not mind my head; it is already old.  Rather mind your own," he added, with a disdainful smile, as he turned away.

M. Stambulivski retorted: "My head matters little, Sire.  What matters more is the good of our country."

The King paid no more attention to him, and took M. Gueshoff and M. Danoff apart, who again insisted on convoking the Chamber, and assured him that M. Radoslavoff's Government would be in a minority.  They also referred to the Premier's oracular utterances.

"Ah!" said the King, "has Radoslavoff spoken to you?  And what has he said?"

"He has said," replied the leaders, "that Bulgaria would march with Germany and attack Serbia."

The King made a vague gesture, and then said: "Oh, I did not know!"

The incidents of this famous interview are beginning to be gradually known in Sofia, and have created a deep impression in political circles.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

In WW1 an "ace" was a pilot who scored five confirmed "kills".

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