874.404/3–549: Telegram

The Chargé in Bulgaria ( O’Donoghue ) to the Secretary of State


184. Following comments on general atmosphere trial court 15 pastors:1

Accused seated in left front rows of audience seats, each flanked by militiamen. Throughout time in court no accused able talk to his counsel, nor more than make remarks other accused.

Court on high dais with prosecutor and assistant at same level to the court’s right gives effect dominating person standing in witness box below. Court appears generally bored with proceedings, only president has papers before him. Court, usually president, occasionally questions witness or accused quietly, showing little interest in response other than getting all required facts in the record. Questions from prosecutors who look contentedly confident and scarcely more interested are also few in number and seldom asked with any show of [Page 328] verve or attempt browbeating. In conjunction with court, defense counsel and accused, they all seem interested in assuring that final record of trial is satisfactory according to the initial plans.

Defense counsel, consisting 18 attorneys, selected from screened lawyers of Communist cooperatives must, from their appearance, not inspire confidence in accused. They sit in sort of huddle around and in front of long table below court and to its left. Few have any papers or documents with them. They appear pay minimum attention proceedings, spending much time going out for smokes or to buffet. One noted remained buried behind large podium throughout session either asleep or disgusted. Counsel bar rarely questions accused or witnesses for either side and at no time have any of them shown any sign of having organized brief for defense. Defense questions generally of nature helpful to prosecution such as to accused “did you know that this act constituted espionage?”, etc.

Accused make statements almost without interruption, appear to be well versed in what they are to say not memorized but facts clearly in mind. Most speak from notes. Many practice histrionics, others use frank and open approach, most are emotional but only few abject all give maximum effort to self-denunciatory peroration and final expression repentence, placing special emphasis on praise USSR and present regime (especially tossing bouquets state security for fine treatment) and on denunciation schemes Anglo-American imperialists.

Witnesses for prosecution numbered over 60; at least 40 not called, presumably shorten proceedings in light satisfactory evidence first called. Witnesses merely make statements, generally without much guidance. Cross-examination virtually non-existent. Most witnesses for prosecution from among persons presently in prison and testimony appears prepared. Prosecutors prompt witnesses with leading questions if they forget their story. Defense witnesses never witnesses on substance but only on character. General effect is they are only present to add form to trial.

Summary: Trial satisfies all civil procedural requirements, technically correct. General impression will conducted stage play, all actors anxious play part well so play effective and final climax logical and according to script. Clue to fact it is not a trial in true sense lies in attitude court, selection defense counsel and their inactivity, eagerness of accused to live up to demands of required confession and lack of effort on part accused or counsel build up true defense. The primary purpose propaganda is shown column-long glorification new regime in Bulgarian press version indictment, emphasis on seeing light in statements by accused and praise for Communism and vilification Anglo-American imperialists in prosecutors summation.

  1. The trial of the fifteen Bulgarian Protestant pastors (see telegram 52, February 18, to Sofia, supra) was held in the Sofia District Court, February 25–March 8, 1949. All were found guilty of various charges of treason, espionage, and black-marketing. Four of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment while the remainder received various lesser sentences. Reports on the progress of the trial are included in file 874.404. Substantial portions of the testimony of the accused and the statements of the prosecution are presented in The Trial of the Fifteen Protestant Pastors—Spies (cited in footnote 2 to telegram 52 to Sofia, p. 326).