Strongest Premier in Parley is Stambouliski of Bulgaria

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Daily Star/April 25, 1922

Genoa.—In the rows of white faces gathered around the green baize tables at the sessions of the Genoa Conference, the weatherbeaten red face of [Aleksandr] Stambouliski, prime minister of Bulgaria, stood out like a ripe blackberry in a bunch of daisies.

Stambouliski is chunky, red-brown-faced, has a black mustache that turns up like a sergeant major’s, understands not a word of any language except Bulgarian, once made a speech of fifteen hours’ duration in that guttural tongue, and is the strongest premier in Europe, bar none.

For years as leader of the agrarian, or Farmers’, party, Stambouliski fought to keep Bulgaria out of the various Balkan wars. He had one idea. Bulgaria was a farming country and her salvation lay in farming, not fighting. He opposed Bulgaria going into the European war on the side of Germany.

“This step will cost you your head,” he shouted at King Ferdinand and Ferdinand had him put into prison. Twice, for his attitude during the war, he was condemned to death; but the government lacked the courage to carry out the sentences for Stambouliski is the idol of the sheepskin-coated, ragged, dirty, courageous and hard-working farmers that make up eighty­five percent of Bulgaria’s population.

When the army started drifting back after the armistice with revolutionary committees at the head of the various regiments, and it looked as though Bulgaria was going down to bolshevism as fast as greased skids could carry her, King Ferdinand sent for Stambouliski to be brought to him.

“Can you hold things together if I make you premier?” Ferdinand asked the man who was under sentence of death.

“I can never work with you and never will!” Stambouliski roared. “There is only one thing for you to do—get out of the country!” Ferdinand being a keen judge of situations, very promptly got out.

Boris, his son, wanted to leave the country with his father. Stambouliski took him by the shoulder.

“If you attempt to leave Bulgaria I will put you under arrest,” he said. “You are the new king.”

So now Boris, a polished, good-humored, cosmopolitan youth is king, and being king consists in interpreting for Stambouliski, who comes into Sofia often enough from his farm to see that the government is running all right. Sometimes he stays on the farm for two and three weeks at a time. There are no telephone connections and ambassadors wait those two or three weeks to see him. Then he comes in, calls in Boris to interpret, tells the ambassador what he wants and what he does not want, what he will do and what he will not do, and goes back to his farm.

There are no internal problems in Bulgaria, there are no troublesome minorities. The Farmers’ party—and they are actually farmers, attending parliament in their sheep coats and mud-covered boots—have 150 representatives. The Communist party is next with 50 members. The only other members are the two bourgeois representatives who have the inalienable right of all minorities—that to endorse.

It was at a meeting of the Farmers’ party that Stambouliski made his famous fifteen-hour speech. That speech broke the hearts of the Communists. It is no good opposing a man of few words who can talk for fifteen hours.

Bulgaria is much better off than Serbia, who has to maintain a large army to keep all her troublesome “New Serbs” in order, many of them having no desire to be Serbs at all. Bulgaria is well fed also, while Europe all around her is starving, because Stambouliski keeps her farming.

At the conference, Stambouliski sits forward in his chair, looks at the ceiling with his bull-like old face, and the light from the great chandelier glints on his shiny, blue serge suit. Occasionally a slightly less stolid expression comes over his face, it relaxes just the least bit, that is the nearest he ever comes to smiling. When that expression comes it means that Stambouliski is thinking that while the conference at Genoa is going on, back in Bulgaria men are farming.

(Source: William White, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Dateline: Toronto.Simon and Schuster, 2002.)

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