Treaty of Bucharest ends Balkans fighting, but for how long?
The exhaustion of war: Serbian soldiers, shown here sleeping during the day before an all-night battle, will welcome the cessation of hostilities. Photo: Illustrated London News [London, England], 9 August 1913

Treaty of Bucharest ends Balkans fighting, but for how long?

Unease at peace settlement as Bulgaria alleges coercion

Published: 14 August 1913

A peace conference in Bucharest has ended with a settlement and the restoration of the peace only temporarily achieved by Treaty of London in May this year.

The core elements to the peace deal address Bulgaria’s various relations with Romania, Greece and Serbia. Under the new agreement, the Rumano-Bulgarian frontier shall start from the Danube above Turtakai and terminate on the Black Sea to the south of Arkania. The Serbo-Bulgarian frontier, meanwhile, will start from the old frontier of the Partarica, and the Graeco-Bulgarian frontier will start from near the Serbian frontier near the crest Belesica Elenira, and terminate at the mouth of the River Mesta, on the Aegean Sea. In addition, Bulgaria will waive all claims to the island of Crete. It was also agreed that the Bulgarian armies will begin to demobilise on the day following the signature of the Treaty and this process is now underway.

There is much in the Treaty for the Bulgarians to baulk at, but the loss of the bulk of its population in Macedonia to Serbia, and the concession of Kavalla – the only possible access point for a Bulgarian railway to the Aegean Sea – to Greece are likely to be particularly problematic. For now, the settlement should succeed in delivering an immediate cessation of hostilities, yet it has done little to instil confidence in the prospects for long-term peace in the region. An editorial in The Irish Times contends that a ‘more unsatisfactory instrument for the maintenance of peace it would have been almost impossible to devise.’ The Irish Independent is equally critical of the treatment of the Bulgarians; the country had, it suggested, been beaten ‘to her knees by her former allies aided by a grasping Rumania [and] forced to sign a humiliating Treaty of Peace which she has no intention of observing’.

Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, unhappy with the terms of the new Treaty, has described it as a betrayal on the part of the other former members of the Balkan League, and has hinted that this might not be the end of conflict in the region.
(Image: © National Portrait Gallery, London)

Notwithstanding the harsh terms and conditions of the settlement, the rhetoric of the Bulgarians remains at once accusatory and defiant. King Ferdinand, in an Order addressed to his Army, has claimed betrayal on the part of former allies and hinted at further struggles to come. ‘Pressed on all sides’, he commented, ‘we were obliged to sign the Treaty of Bucharest, our country not being in a condition to struggle with its five neighbours without risking the loss of everything.  Exhausted and tired, but not conquered, we had to furl our glorious standards until better days. Tell your children and your grandchildren about the gallantry of the Bulgarian soldier and prepare them to complete one day the glorious work they have begun.’

Bulgaria may be defeated, but they are not friendless. Sir Edward Grey, speaking in the House of Commons, suggested that if Russia were to act to enforce Bulgaria’s claims, none of the other Powers would come to Turkey’s assistance so long as their own interests in Asia Minor remained unaffected.

The fighting in the Balkans has already come at a massive cost in terms of human life. It has been speculated that a total 358,000 lives have been lost in the recent wars in the region.  The Bulgarians have borne the heaviest losses in both wars with an estimated 140,000 of their men killed. It is also estimated – though all figures come with a warning regarding their accuracy - that the Turks have lost 100,000, the Serbians 70,000, the Greeks 40,000 and the Montenegrins 8,000.

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