874.00/8–1847: Telegram

The Acting Representative in Bulgaria (Horner) to the Secretary of State


682. There are obviously several lines of approach we can take with respect to the interrelated problems of endeavoring to secure justice for Nikola Petkov1 and preventing total disintegration of the opposition and establishment of complete totalitarian government in Bulgaria. One approach would be through ACC as suggested in Deptel 312, August 16.2 The other would be a personal appeal to Provisional President Kolarov for clemency and making a written protest to Acting PriMin on specific irregularities observed during trial. Of these three approaches, that through medium of ACC seems likely to be least effective.

During frequent conversations over past several weeks British and ourselves had considered and rejected ACC approach on two grounds; first, that it is almost certain to meet with refusal of Soviet Deputy Chairman on basis it would be interference with Bulgarian internal affairs, and secondly, because language of armistice seems to give ACC no jurisdiction in the matter. General Robertson and I have again discussed problem in light of Deptel 312 and have agreed that General Robertson and British will take immediate steps (see my next following [Page 169] telegram3) to call special meeting of ACC with view to instructing Bulgarian Government not to carry out sentence against Petkov until ACC has opportunity to review case. We still believe there is virtually no chance that Soviets will even discuss question but in any event we shall have consolation of not leaving any avenue unexplored and US and UK initiative could be publicized to demonstrate to Bulgarian people that we are not, as Communist propaganda is seeking to allege, washing our hands of Petkov and allowing him to meet his fate without struggle.

Prior to receipt of Deptel 312 British political representative and I had separately requested interviews with Provisional President Kolarov. We plan to make personal appeals to him to commute or annul sentence on grounds of humanity, (pointing out that Soviet Union has abolished capital punishment) and on Bulgaria’s interest in not further alienating world publicity [public] opinion. At same time we would make plain to Kolarov that we were in no way prejudicing our right to lodge specific objections to manner in which Petkov trial was carried out. Further, before seeing Kolarov, Sterndale-Bennett and I will call upon Soviet Minister to invite him to join with us in making representation. While he will undoubtedly refuse invitation, this should disprove any charge that we have ignored Soviets or that we are taking separate action.

As indicated in Mistel 658, August 134 General Robertson and I are strongly of opinion that our most effective course is to send strong note to Acting PriMin summarizing our view of farcical nature of the trial. We believe that note should be sent promptly and be given adequate publicity despite fact that Petkov still has legal right of appeal to Court of Cassation within 14 days of his sentence. (As indicated in Mistel 663, August 144 competent legal opinion here holds that Petkov could not be executed prior to expiration of 14 days regardless of whether he decides not to appeal. We are assured by Foreign Office that execution will not take place before that time.)

Note to be sent Acting Prime Minister might begin by referring to Dept’s statement of June 11.5 It could then record our conviction that Petkov trial amounted to nothing other than further step in program of Bulgarian Government to destroy all legal opposition to it in gross contravention of Yalta Agreement and Peace Treaty and to impose totalitarian regime. Reference might here be made to previous steps in [Page 170] this direction including suppression of opposition press; expulsion from Sobranje6 of 23 deputies; continued arrests of opposition members throughout country, and beginning of campaign to do away with opposition Agrarian Party in toto (Mistel 666, August 157). Following these introductory statements, specific reference might be made to following points all of which have been reported by mission.

Efforts of National Committee of Fatherland Front to force opposition Agrarian FF denounce Petkov in advance of his trial (Mistel 621, August 27).
Series of resolutions passed by factory and government workers demanding death penalty for Petkov (Mistel 624, August 37) which obviously calculated to prejudice Petkov in eyes of public opinion.
Steps taken by Bulgarian Government to prevent Petkov from being represented by his chosen attorney (Mistel 626, August 47).
Refusal of court to allow Petkov to call certain important witnesses (Mistel 631, August 67) on specious ground that they could add nothing important to testimony.
Continued bitter campaign of vilification against Petkov in official Bulgarian press (inter alia Mistel 633, August 67) which not only designed to influence opinion against Petkov but decidedly unfair in view fact that opposition press remained suppressed. In this connection reference might well be made to fact that some of most bitter articles were written by Director of Bulgarian Press and that campaign was joined by official organ of Soviet Army (Mistel 637, August 77) thus representing direct intervention in internal Bulgarian affairs.
Testimony continuously introduced during trial attempting to link Petkov with unnamed foreign countries which were stated to have planned to bring troops to Bulgaria. In this connection mention made in testimony of unnamed US representative on SC Balkan Inquiry Commission with implication that he had encouraged Petkov to carry out coup d’état (Mistel 640, August 87), and former US representative on ACC was referred to by name as having offered Petkov sanctuary (Mistel 637, August 7). These references to foreign nations, which were in no instance substantiated by evidence, had obvious intention of showing that Petkov was not free agent.
Simple fact that Petkov tried in company with four minor members of alleged conspiratorial organizations who in their testimony and that of their attorneys joined prosecution in attacks on Petkov, clearly intended to compromise Petkov’s defense. It was notable that neither General Ivan Popov nor General Kyril Stanchev appeared in court lending substantiation to persistent reports that both subjected to extreme cruelty (Mistel 641, August 97).
Parade of witnesses made obviously rehearsed speeches claiming that opposition press had inspired them to work for overthrow of govt. Confessed peasants spoke in literary language completely foreign to peasants and clearly without any understanding of what they said. Occasionally they would forget their lines and lapse into embarrassed silence to resume later with suddenly remembered rehearsed statements (Mistel 641, August 9).
Attitude of judges, all of whom are Communists, was decidedly biased. Conduct of presiding Judge Raichev was particularly reprehensible, and his conduct towards defense witnesses was extremely hostile. His tirades (Mistel 641, August 9) were omitted from public accounts of trial.
Charges that through his newspaper articles Petkov had prepared ground for coup d’état were nowhere substantiated nor can careful reading of these articles convey impression that they were meant to be other than legitimate criticism.
Many of charges against Petkov were for offenses alleged to have been committed before enactment of law for defense of peoples’ authority, thus giving ex post facto effect to law (Mistel 660, August 148).
In formulating its case prosecution relied throughout on doctrine of indirect responsibility (Mistel 657, August 138) and main props for its case were Petkov’s co-defendants, admittedly minor members of two allegedly subversive organizations. No clear evidence at any stage to show that Petkov had encouraged a coup d’état and in fact his whole career had demonstrated his abhorrence of any form of totalitarianism and his respect for civil liberties and the principles of democracy.

We have, of course, no illusions that any of three above-mentioned approaches will mitigate Petkov’s sentence if, as we assume to be case, Communists are determined to execute him as prelude to general purge of opposition. On other hand we cannot afford to let pass any possibility, however slim, of preventing punishment of clearly innocent man and through him of maintaining some vestige of democracy in Bulgaria.

During discussions just ended between Robertson, Sterndale-Bennett, and myself, we considered question of what our respective govts might do in event Petkov is executed. Our inescapable conclusion was that only effective step would be promptly to expel from UK and US, Bulgarian political representatives and their entire staffs. This is being put forward as serious and considered suggestion, and Sterndale-Bennett is making same recommendation to London. It may seem somewhat drastic, but we can honestly think of no other measure which might concretely demonstrate to Bulgarians just how strongly we feel on subject.

  1. On August 16, the Sofia Regional Court found Nikola Petkov guilty, among several other counts, of having inspired certain Bulgarian Army officers to organize a military conspiracy to overthrow the Bulgarian Government. Petkov was sentenced to death.
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  3. The telegram under reference here is not printed. It contained the text of a letter addressed by Major General Robertson on August 18 to the Acting Deputy Chairman of the Allied Control Commission for Bulgaria; see the editorial note infra.
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  6. See the bracketed note, p. 164.
  7. The Bulgarian National Assembly or Parliament; separate from the larger Grand National Assembly whose task was to formulate a new constitution.
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