The Chargé in Bulgaria (Cable) to the Secretary of State

No. 743

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s Instruction No. 141 of September 23, 1925, relative to the attitude of the various capitulary [sic] powers in Bulgaria.

Inasmuch as the Capitulations in Bulgaria are a legacy of the Ottoman Empire and as the historical point of view arises even to-day, it appears best to take up the case from its inception.

The Treaty of Berlin of 1878,6 which marks the first real step in the independence of Bulgaria, stipulates that the Capitulations in force under Turkish domination shall remain in vigor. (Art. 8) Of necessity the signatories to the Treaty of Berlin were the nations to enjoy the rights exercised thereunder. However, other nations who enjoyed capitulary rights in the Ottoman Empire claimed them also in Bulgaria and obtained them. (Holland, Spain, etc.) The Bulgarians claim that by actual right only the signatories of the Treaty of Berlin have a right to Capitulations in Bulgaria, that other nations have acquired that position during the formative period of the country, and only enjoy the privileges due to the complaisance of the signatories. In reality the Capitulations are a charge imposed on Bulgaria by the Great Powers with the original accord of the Sublime Porte. From the terms of the Treaty of Berlin it would appear that for Bulgaria to receive modifications in the Capitulations it would take unanimous action on the part of the signatories. Serbia, by various conventions, agreements and treaties has accomplished this very end, inasmuch as the various nations interested had some definite end to gain.

In 1891 the French Government invoked its Capitulary right when the Bulgarian Government attempted to expel a Mr. Chadbourne, a French correspondent who had criticized Bulgarian politics. Carnot’s Government, de Freycinet was Premier at the time, broke diplomatic relations with Bulgaria and recalled Lanel, the French [Page 539] Chargé d’Affaires. Placed in this position there was nothing for Ferdinand to do but knuckle under. France was given satisfaction and the incident was considered closed. However, it showed both the attitude of the Bulgarian Government, and the possible use that could be made of the Capitulations, both as a threat or as a barter, for the Bulgarians were ready to exchange anything against their removal at that time.

Beginning with 1892 Bulgaria began, by treaty and agreement, to ameliorate her position. Almost invariably such steps in advance as she consummated were solely on the judicial side, and dealt mostly with civil law. Italy, Germany and Austria all withdrew the necessity of the presence of a consular representative in case of civil action. Curiously enough, Great Britain which had plead[ed] the cause of Bulgaria at Berlin never acquiesced to this modification.

By degrees practically all cases to be tried before a civil court were allowed to pass without challenge by the Capitulary nations. Certain agreements were entered into to protect nationals undergoing bankruptcy or similar commercial misadventures in Bulgaria.

By degrees Bulgaria came to believe herself free from the onus of the Capitulations and as they were not invoked, as far as I can discover, from 1908, when she became a sovereign state, and [to] the end of the war she, possibly, had every reason to think that they were considered non-existent.

However, Article 175 of the Treaty of Neuilly clearly stipulates that the Capitulary rights are to be considered as still in existence.

In 1924 and again in 1925 Great Britain, France and Italy acting in consort [concert?] brought up the question of the extraterritoriality of their consuls based on the Capitulations. I must state, that from conversation with the representatives of these powers, I am inclined to believe that the representations made were rather to obtain preferential commercial agreements as against relinquishment of the rights enjoyed, and if the point could be definitely forced home it was a point definitely gained.

After the explosion in the Cathedral on April 16th, 1925, the situation respecting the capitulations became a trifle more involved. Léger, a Frenchman, and his wife were arrested for complicity in the affair. They had rented rooms to some of the conspirators and I believe personally that Léger knew that he was without the law. At all hazards [sic], the fact remains that, they were tried by a military tribunal and both were found guilty. Léger was condemned to death and his wife to life-imprisonment.

The French Chargé did not hear till several days after his arrest that Léger was in prison. He contented himself at that time with furnishing the man with counsel and seeing that Madame Léger receive[d] some sort of preferential treatment from the prison authorities. [Page 540] However, after the two were sentenced, the French Minister who had newly arrived received instructions to request clemency of the King for Léger. The French Minister tells me that in making the request he pointed out that in other countries the crime of which the condemned was accused was not punishable by death, and that should the Government persist in its attitude it might be necessary to invoke the Capitulations. He found a ready listener in the King, who at all times is against capital punishment, and the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment; which was satisfactory to all concerned.

Inasmuch as the trial had caused a certain amount of comment, seeing that it comprised [sic] foreigners, the British Legation requested what its attitude should be under similar circumstances of the Home authorities. The reply was to the effect that in all cases of a criminal nature as soon as the Legation learned of the arrest all possible facilities should be arranged for the detained person. It is to be understood that this refers primarily to political crime. Later, as the case developed would be time enough to determine on a definite line of action.

The attitude of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is that the Capitulations no longer exist. They state that since the Capitulations have been abolished in Turkey they can no longer be invoked in Bulgaria, as they were merely a relic of Ottoman rule. When faced with Article 175 of the Treaty of Neuilly, to which the British Minister once called their attention, they assume a calmer attitude. There is no doubt that their existence is a thorn in the flesh, and that present Bulgaria would do much to remove them.

At this moment the attitude of the three Great Powers holding capitulary rights under the terms of the Treaty of Neuilly is about as follows:

Great Britain has withdrawn rights in Civil cases, but have made definite statements concerning their rights in Criminal cases. Will use Capitulations as a lever to obtain preferences in proposed Commercial Treaty.

France has adopted a similar attitude, perhaps a trifle more conciliatory, but have made it clear that Capitulations certainly exist in Criminal cases. It is to be noted that all Roman Catholics in Bulgaria are supposedly under the protection of the French. This dates from the time of Francis the First, and it appears unlikely that it would be invoked.

Italy joined Britain and France concerning the Consular question pointed out in the foregoing. Their Chargé (Italy’s) tells me that he does not believe that his country would invoke the Capitulations except in a flagrant miscarriage of justice in a criminal case. I believe, inasmuch as Italy is bending every effort toward capturing [Page 541] the trade of Bulgaria, that she prefers to use the Capitulations to gain some end and that eventually she will barter them away against some Treaty or Agreement.

At the present moment American citizens in Bulgaria receive the same treatment as that accorded to the nationals of other countries. Moreover, such Americans as reside in this country are unlikely to run afoul of the law in criminal matters. Their litigation, such as it is, would come before a civil court.

There is one side of the question that must be considered attentively. In a country as prone to political disturbance as Bulgaria it would appear unwise to renounce capitulary rights in cases involving political crime. Even though the Government at Washington might not desire to institute a Consular Court to examine a case, nevertheless as shown in the case of Léger, the remindance [sic] of the existence of the Capitulations might have a salutary effect. It would appear to be the best policy to hold the capitulary rights of the United States in reserve against either the possible defense of a national or to use for some commercial preference.

I have [etc.]

Philander L. Cable
  1. British and Foreign State Papers, 1877–1878, vol. lxix, p. 749.