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Fellow Seminar

09 February 2017

Dr. Martin Valkov will present his research proposal on the topic: "Victors' Justice or a Travesty of Justice: The Prosecution of War Crimes in Bulgaria after the First World War" on 9 February 2017 (Thursday) at 16:30h at CAS Conference Hall.


The issues of war crimes and their prosecution are not usually associated with the First World War and there is a good reason for that. The crimes committed by Nazi Germany and its allies in the Second World War, the mass murder of millions, and the Holocaust, as well as the subsequent Nuremberg and Tokyo trials completely overshadowed the earlier precedents and shaped public memory.

However, the first attempt in history at establishing tribunals with international jurisdiction came not in 1945 but at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 when the victorious Allied powers seriously contemplated the possibility of creating international tribunals to judge German, Ottoman and Bulgarian nationals accused of committing war crimes. It was also the first time that the peace treaties with the defeated countries provided that the latter are obliged to hand over to the victors any of their nationals accused of war crimes. These provisions never materialized, but under Entente pressure both Germany and the Ottoman Empire established their own tribunals to try the accused in order to avoid delivering them to their former enemies. And while the history of the trials in Leipzig and Istanbul has been studied in literature, the Bulgarian case is still conspicuously missing. To this date the problem remains not only under-researched but is even completely ignored both in Bulgarian and Western historiography.

When conducting research in the archives I came upon some extremely intriguing documents. In order to answer the allegations of committed numerous war crimes in Bulgarian-occupied Serbian and Greek territories at the end of 1918 an Inquiry Commission at the Ministry of War was established. The Commission held preliminary investigations and if it found enough evidence it submitted the cases to courts martial. According to the archival documentation that I have been able to study so far, there had been more than fifty trials and the courts martial passed more than fifty sentences. My project studies the history of these trials.

The project will be based mainly upon original archival material not used by other scholars to this date. Apart from the "hard facts" the project will presents a novel methodological approach, taking into account the legal, political and social dimensions of these trials and the different motivations of the various actors who co-produced the legal action. Drawing on the concept of "the new justice" the project will analyze how (or if) the Bulgarian war crimes trials fit into this new set of legal principles, which included the possibility to prosecute heads of state, individual responsibility for the violation of international law, the establishment of international tribunals, and the extradition of war criminals.

By providing for the first time a thorough account of one the three cases of war crimes trials after the First World War, the project aims to fill the vacuum both within the fields of Bulgarian history, European history of post-WWI order, and international history of the prosecution of war crimes, thus integrating the Bulgarian case within the broader European and global perspective.

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