Bulgaria, 1939–41: No Key for Britain

  • Elisabeth Barker
Part of the Studies in Russian and East European History book series (SREEHS)


When Halifax told the War Cabinet in September 1939 that Bulgaria was ‘the key to the Balkans’, he should have added that it was a peculiarly difficult key for Britain to turn. Apart from Albania, it was the poorest and least developed country of the area, with the smallest middle class. It was ruled by King Boris, an obstinate but nervous man. He had good reason to be nervous. He had come to the throne as a result of his country’s defeat in the 1914–18 war. The landmarks of his rule had been a brief period of dictatorial government by a forceful revolutionary peasant leader, Alexander Stamboliski, an abortive Communist rising, the plots and intrigues of Macedonian revolutionaries, an army conspiracy against the throne. The Peasant Party — the natural representative of the majority of the people — had split into factions, and because of a strong under-tow of pro-Russian feeling, the peasants were liable to turn to Communism if they had no satisfactory representation of their own. There was also, as the British Minister, Rendel, reported, a ‘small but very active industrial population’ which was ‘Communist in the modern sense’ and ‘working directly for union with Russia’. It included the factory workers and nearly all the port workers at Burgas and Varna.1


Communist Party Soviet Government British Policy German Troop British Minister 
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© Elisabeth Barker 1976

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  • Elisabeth Barker

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