124.743/8–549: Telegram

The Minister in Bulgaria ( Heath ) to the Secretary of State

top secret

658. Reference Legtel 642, August l.1 Through grapevine Secoulov’s death has become fairly widely known in Sofia. Now known that he did not die on July 28 but on July 24, just three days after arrest.

Preliminary step, acting counselor yesterday made inquiry of Bulgarian Chief of Protocol who agreed after some demur, Foreign Office might investigate “rumors” Secoulov’s death. I am of opinion, however, we should delay official protest and publicity while we explore possibility of saving other employees.

In negotiations for reciprocal deblocking of funds and treatment of Legation personnel we have been leading up to request that Michael Shipkov, Legation’s senior Bulgarian employee, and his family be allowed to leave Bulgaria. His loyal services and judgment have been of utmost value. Secoulov’s sudden death after his arrest must be highly unwelcome to Foreign Office and Bulgarian Government. They may have succeeded in extorting a confession from him in the three days of his arrest but it seems most probable that they intended him to testify in a publicized political trial involving opposition political figures now under arrest or in internal exile, under surveillance, in Bulgaria. The testimony of a dead man would be of poor internal propaganda value. Publicity of Secoulov’s death under more than suspicious circumstances would embarrass Bulgarian claims that they respect human rights clauses of peace treaty and are eligible for entrance into UN.

It seems possible that in return for agreement, presumably tacit, that we would not make publicized protest over Bulgarians’ doing away with Secoulov, Bulgarians might permit Shipkovs to leave. The advantage of having a man of Shipkov’s character, courage and intelligence in Bulgarian refugee organization or continuing in some US Government employment outside would be worth our making such concession.

If however Bulgarians decline to let Shipkovs leave, then I think we must make thoroughly publicized protest. It would then be only a short time until security police jailed or killed Shipkov and only way we could save him and family, since no underground railway has yet been perfected, would be to offer them asylum my official residence. There need be no open grant of asylum; I could simply inform Foreign Office that I was using couple, who are both on Legation’s roster, as major-domo and housekeeper. They of course could never leave premises.

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If it came to the point Foreign Office might react violently even if I maintained that they were merely domestic employees and such action, if coupled with publicity of Secoulov’s death, might be followed by new restrictions on this Legation (inevitable in any case) or even my being declared persona non grata, although I find it difficult to believe Soviets would permit Bulgarians to go so far at this time. I am fully aware of Department’s traditional attitude on political asylum but suggest that time may have come to revise our policy, at least in satellite countries where by treaty we have certain responsibility for human and political rights. We have, in fact, made one exception to our policy giving refuge in 1946 to G. M. Dimitrov whom Barnes was later able to get out of Bulgaria to the good, I believe, of cause of eventual liberation of this country.2

Further if government refuses to allow Shipkovs leave Bulgaria, there arises question of form and publicity to be given to protest over police murder of Secoulov. My present feeling is that I should then insist on interview with Kolarov, point out that despite Foreign Office assurances that Legation was free to employ Bulgarians and that it not be subjected to persecution by secret police, that nevertheless secret police had arrested and baselessly condemned to death two employees (Peev and Dimitrov, Legtel 1369 of November 2, 19483); thereafter they had forced other employees by threats to resign—that we had absolute proof of militia threats against Secoulov whose resignation I had not accepted but merely placed on leave without pay; that such actions were in flagrant violation of civilized practice, of treaty and of assurances of Foreign Office and accordingly my government must reserve full liberty of action in circumstances. My idea would be to leave aide-mémoire of my observations and this aide-mémoire should be given full publicity in American press and VOA.

It would be appreciated if Department would let me have at earliest date its observations and instructions re foregoing suggestions for action in this situation. If we do not take some effective action, we may be certain that Bulgarian persecution and restrictions on this and other Legations will proceed accellerando. At present time Bulgaria has recently declared one officer western Legation persona non grata while [Page 343] declining give reasons. His Minister is debating this action but with scant hopes success.

  1. Supra.
  2. The reference here is to the extension of refuge at the United States Mission in Bulgaria in 1945 by Maynard Barnes, then United States Representative in Bulgaria, to Georgi Dimitrov, Secretary of the Bulgarian Agrarian Union and chief opponent of the Communist-dominated regime. Dimitrov eventually escaped from Bulgaria in September 1945. For documentation on the Dimitrov case, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. iv, pp. 140314, passim.
  3. Not printed; regarding Peev and Dimitrov, see footnote 4 to telegram 642, August 1, from Sofia, p. 340.