Boris III (1918-43)

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Behind the grey walls of Sofia's grey palace, death came suddenly to Boris III, King and Dictator of Bulgaria. His 25-year reign had begun in war and chaos. It closed in war and chaos.

Premier Bogdan Filoff broadcast tersely to the people: "Our beloved King died after a brief illness." Rumor, unconfirmed but persistent, added varying details:

> That Boris had been assassinated by Bulgaria's underground. Sofia radio tagged the tale as "grotesque and fantastic."

> That Boris had returned in broken health from a stormy visit with Adolf Hitler. Sofia and Berlin denied there had been a visit. But no one could forget other men who had left the Führer's presence the worse for wear. At Berchtesgaden in 1938, just before the annexation of Austria, stubborn Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg had been shattered by hysterics and threats.

At Berlin in 1939, on the eve of Czechoslovakia's dissolution, plodding President Emil Hacha had collapsed after 45 minutes of the Führer's ranting.

Present Crisis. Boris had died at one of the most uncertain moments in a rule plagued by internal violence and external pressure. His alliance with the Axis, signed in 1941, had gained for Bulgaria portions of Greece and Yugoslavia. It had cost thousands of casualties in Balkan guerrilla fighting. It had meant tighter belts so that Germans could have more of Bulgaria's wheat and potatoes. As the German lines sagged in Russia and the Mediterranean, Berlin demanded greater help from Sofia.

But Boris, long known as the foxiest monarch in Europe, saw the time had come to shift from a pro-German policy. Even if he had not faced the Führer's fury, the pressures squeezing his throne might have felled any man of weak heart.

Past Error. Before 1941 Boris had said: "My ministers are pro-German, my wife is pro-Italian, my people are pro-Russian—I am the only neutral in the country." The decision to discard his neutrality, rather than defend it against Nazi infiltration, was his prime mistake.

His Germanophile father, tyrannical Ferdinand I, had made the same mistake in 1914, had paid for it by abdicating in 1918. Boris III, at 24, began with a constitution, a Sobranye (Parliament), political parties and his people's respect.

But his government soon turned into a semi-dictatorship. The King was a puppet of politicians and generals. He preferred to spend his time in driving locomotives, collecting wild flowers, netting butterflies.

Civil strife racked the nation. Between 1921 and 1929 three spectacular attempts were made on the King's life. In 1924 the country had 200 political assassinations. Then, in 1934, Boris approved a military coup that suppressed the constitution, dissolved the Sobranye, abolished political parties. A year later he installed himself as dictator, began to play power politics.

His old father, an exile in the ancestral home at Coburg, urged a Germanophile course. Perhaps the son listened, unwisely.

Future Course. With the strong man gone, these were possibilities:

> A regency would be established. The Filoff government announced the ascension of Boris' son, six-year-old Simeon II. The Bulgarian Army swore fealty to the boy King. Premier Filoff, according to Berlin's radio, summoned the Sobranye to approve a regency.

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