Chapter Fifteen

Traicho Kostov and Tito's Plans for Eastern Europe

If Laszlo Rajk could be regarded as the right arm of Tito's plans for Eastern Europe, Traicho Kostov, member of the Bulgarian Politburo and Deputy Premier, was certainly his left arm. I sat in a crowded court in Sofia in December, 1949, heard and watched Traicho Kostov and ten other accused and dozens of witnesses testify to a Yugoslav plan for Bulgaria every whit as diabolical and bloodthirsty as that for Hungary. In reality there was only one overall strategic plan with "Operation Rajk" and "Operation Kostov" as tactical moves. Kostov was a different type of man to Laszlo Rajk. Kostov was a political being, a man whose whole life and every action were guided by political motives. There was nothing of the South American dictator adventurer about Kostov; he was a Bulgarian Trotsky. Brilliant, ambitious, an intellectual, he had two things in common with Rajk. Firstly, when put to the test, he would betray his closest comrades to save his skin, and secondly, he was a man of great personal ambitions; a man with lust for power. Rajk, however, was a gambler who threw in his hand with the best grace possible when the game was up; Kostov played on right till the end the same crafty, double-faced game he had played during his whole political career.

Kostov was played up as a hero in the West, because in court he refuted his written confession and for almost the first time in such a trial, he pleaded "not guilty" to the main charges of treason and espionage. Without denying that he had written in his own hand-writing the 30,000 word document, quoted in the indictment and which contained his political biography, in court he denied many of the facts in the statement.

In short the charges against Kostov were as follows: In 1942, when he and other leading members of the illegal Communist Party were arrested, Kostov broke down under police beating and signed a document agreeing to work for Tsar Boris' police. As a result his life was saved although less important Communists in the same trial were shot. This document was used later by the chief of British Intelligence in the Balkans, Colonel William Bailey (former liaison officer with the Chetnik leader, General Mihailovich) to recruit Kostov as a British agent. Kostov also maintained close contact with Tito and agreed to attach Bulgaria to Yugoslavia as the seventh Republic, with the help of the Yugoslav Army, before Dimitrov returned from Moscow. There were widespread ramifications in the plot and as they involved state military secrets, all the details were not revealed in the court. High ranking officers involved were tried later by military tribunals in camera.

It is fashionable in the West, even among leftist intellectuals, to regard with deep scepticism what they regard as the wearisome and repetitious tales of such plots in Eastern Europe. If one counts up over the last 30 years, the violent changes of government in Bulgaria; Hungary and other countries in Eastern Europe by just such coups as Tito, Rajk and Kostov planned, one will understand why the governments in these countries to-day view the matter in another light.'

Kostov belonged to what was known as the "left-sectarian" faction of the Bulgarian Communist Party in the 1930's. The history of the Party as noted earlier, is shot through with the struggle between the "left-sectarian" factions and the followers of Dimitrov and Kolarov.

Ironically enough Trotsky and later Kristu Rakovsky (tried with Radek and others in the 1938 Moscow trials) were at one stage sent down to Bulgaria by the Comintern to try and heal the breach, although "left-sectarianism" later became known as the Bulgarian version of Trotskyism.'

Kostov always supported this faction when he was in exile in Moscow, and later when he returned to Bulgaria. In his written statement he said he had to camouflage his feelings when Dimitrov emerged as the great hero after the Leipzig trial. He paid lip service then to Dimitrov and Kolarov but in his heart he was against them. In general the difference in policy was that the "left-sectarians" opposed the united front with the Agrarians Union, they believed the Communist Party should act alone, drawing its sole strength from the industrial workers and the intellectual leadership. Later they developed a line of "National Communism" divorced from the Soviet Union.

In 1934 Kostov was in Moscow as chief of cadres at the Balkan Secretariat. One of his close associates was Bela Kun, the discredited leader of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1919, who also made costly mistakes by neglecting the peasants, a mistake which soon brought his government tumbling about his head. Kostov also knew Comrade Walter quite well in Moscow. "Walter" later became Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. As chief of cadres in the Balkan Secretariat, Kostov was naturally responsible for party appointments in the Balkans. In court he denied that he had sent "Walter" to Yugoslavia and said he met him only once in his office when he completed his dossiers on the Yugoslav emigre. But in his written statement Kostov said:

"The position of the Yugoslav Communist Party was still difficult. Its leadership was torn by strong factional struggles. The question was to render assistance for a new Party leadership inside the country mainly from local Party functionaries.

"The choice of Bela Kun and Valetsky, who at that time were not yet unmasked as Trotskyists had fallen on Tito. At that time he was known under the pseudonym of 'Walter.' The choice of Bela Kun and Valetsky proved not to be accidental because as I convinced myself through the materials at my disposal and through the personal Party files of "Walter'–Tito, the latter had also taken up Trotskyist positions... during 1934 Tito told me of his Trotskyist ideas telling me about the troubles he had because of them... he expressed his hatred towards the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party headed by Stalin.... Thanks only to the support of Bela Kun and Valetsky and thanks to the favourable characteristic given by me Tito was able to leave in 1934 for Yugoslavia and assume a leading position there."

The trial of Kostov was held in a Military Officers' Club in Sofia's main street, the Tsar Liberator Boulevard. In the old days, it used to be a very gay club indeed. Tsar Boris used to attend regimental balls there, and never failed to take part in the New Year's Celebration with the gallant officers and the loveliest ladies of Sofia's high society. There was a different audience this time. Shock workers and peasants, a sprinkling of soldiers and some relatives of the accused. They were a stern-faced audience as the catalogue of crimes against their new society unfolded. Kostov, a short stocky man, with a plump, crafty face and beautifully kept hands, which played a constant tattoo on his knees, listened intently as his statement was read.

There was not only a great contradiction between Kostov's written and spoken evidence, there was a still greater contradiction between his attitude in the trial of 1949 and his own account of his attitude in 1942.

The crucial question was whether or not he had saved his life by becoming a police agent in 1942. His real crime according to the indictment started from that point. The data about "left-sectarianism" referred to his background only, and did not form the substance of any charges. What happened when he was arrested in 1942? Only two men could give the answer. Kostov himself and Bulgaria's astutest political police officer, Geshev, who fled the country in September, 1944, and is believed to be working for British Intelligence in Istanbul.

Kostov told the Court, "I was beaten cruelly for three days but never gave in. They paraded before me Anton Ivanov who said I was a member of the Central Committee. I said I had never seen Ivanov before. I did not disclose anything." The Judge pointed out that Kostov was the Secretary of the Central Committee, the other accused held less important posts, yet they were shot and Kostov was spared. "The others were sentenced to death" Kostov said, "and were shot. In my case extenuating circumstances were recognised, also in the case of Maslarov, the Komsomol secretary, and the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment."

The extenuating circumstances given according to Kostov were the difficult circumstances of his family, his own health and his "ideological misconceptions." He admitted that all these factors applied even more in the case of his comrades but they were all shot. The reprieve (as was proved later when the Fascist president and prosecutor of the court which tried Kostov in 1942 gave evidence) was ordered by King Boris himself through his Minister of War. The important thing about Kostov's statement in Court was that he denied having betrayed one name or fact despite the most cruel torture from Boris' Fascist police, in April, 1942.

In his written statement he told another story: "During the first days of the police enquiry I was beaten cruelly and had to confront four of my co-defendants who confirmed that I was a member of the Central Committee and one of the most active. At first I denied the charges against me. About ten days after my arrest, I was called before Geshev, the most experienced and skilful worker in the Bulgarian Political Police, whose reputation was widely known among the Communists... Geshev warned me he had sufficient proof to condemn me to death... and declared the only chance for me to avoid this cruel fate was to become his collaborator...

"It was clear that as things were in 1942 with martial law, Geshev's threats were not empty words... he gave me a quarter of an hour to think it over..." Kostov wrote that he was sure Germany would lose the war, Geshev would be finished, and any pledge he gave would be cancelled out. "I accepted and Geshev replied that to show my sincerity I must give a detailed written account of the underground work of the Central Committee... In the evidence I wrote down for Geshev that night, which was so memorable for me, I admitted that I was a member of the Central Committee and gave away the other members. I described the functions of all members of the Central Committee, the decisions of the C.C. taken after the German-Soviet war began, for armed resistance against Germans in Bulgaria; for the creation of a military organisation under Colonel Radoinov; for the formation of partisan units and sabotage groups... I wrote that contacts with the Yugoslav units had been established and that Bulgarian emigres were arriving from the Soviet Union by parachute and submarines; about the channels and contacts of our Party with other countries as well as other essential details of our underground activities... Apart from this I wrote out a declaration and handed it to Geshev: in which I undertook to collaborate with the police in the future."

Geshev then promised that the beatings would cease, that Kostov would be tried but not sentenced to death. So that Kostov would not be regarded suspiciously by other Communists, the prosecutor would treat him as one of the most active members of the C.C. and would demand the death penalty, but Geshev assured him the sentence would be commuted. Whilst Kostov was awaiting trial another Communist he had named, Colonel Radoinov was tried and executed. Of those accused with Kostov seven were shot, Kostov and Maslarov were spared.

The written statement of Kostov, read out before the People's Court in December, 1949, was a long one. In it he gave the most detailed activities of the work of the illegal group he gathered around him on Yugoslav and Anglo-American orders. He named no less than 14 leading Bulgarian Communists, including seven Ministers, and Deputy Ministers, all free men at the time Kostov wrote his statement. A number of them were being tried with Kostov. Each of those 14 men arrested incriminated numbers more, probably running into several hundreds altogether, all denounced by Kostov. Apart from this he named about twenty leading Yugoslavs including several attached at that time to the Yugoslav Legation in Sofia.

In his oral statement to the Court, he denied having betrayed any person or party secrets under cruel torture in 1942, denied having put his name to any documents to save his life, but in 1949 he prepared a document which he never repudiated in which he betrayed dozens of his closest colleagues, important people in the Party and Administration, and caused them to be arrested by the State Security Police.

The press and diplomatic gallery in the Courtroom was packed with correspondents from Western Europe, there was a representative from the American Legation present. If Kostov's written statement was a fraud and his oral denial correct, if he was the man of courage he depicted himself to be in 1942, no police pressure nor any threats of punishment afterwards should have prevented him from crying "My statement is false. It was made under pressure. These other accused have been falsely arrested. Everything I wrote was a lie. I retract it all."

If Kostov was the man who withstood beatings and was prepared to face the firing squad rather than betray his comrades and his party in 1942, this is what he would have done in 1949. Firstly, he would never have written a statement, secondly, if a statement had been forced out of him, he would have retracted it. But he played the double-faced role he had played in the 1930's, the role he had played in the Courtroom in 1942, when he admitted everything to Geshev, the role he played in early 1949 after he was just denounced in the Politburo.

The accused who followed Kostov one by one to the witness stand did not know that Kostov had repudiated some of his evidence. They remained in court to hear the testimony of those that followed them, but did not hear those that preceded them. It was only after the hearing of evidence was completed, the case for prosecution and defence was closed, and the accused were given the right to the last word, that the other ten realised that Kostov was pleading not guilty to the main charges.

The second accused, former Minister of Finance, Ivan Stefanov, leapt to his feet and turned on gray-faced Kostov, his voice choking with rage. "I am deeply shocked," he said, "that the chief organiser of this conspiracy, the man responsible for my being in this court to-day, had not the courage openly to admit his guilt for the crimes he has committed." Stefanov took off his spectacles, and looked Kostov full in the face as he said, "It seems-that Traicho Kostov wants to remain a traitor and wants to prove himself a coward to the very end." Several others of the accused were equally furious with Kostov, for first of all having recruited them into his conspiracy, then betrayed them, and at the last minute repudiated his own part in the affair.

By Kostov's bearing, the knowable parts of his background and the testimony of the other accused in the case, I believe the truth of the conspiracy was that outlined by Kostov in his written statement. Some of his perfidious acts he could not deny, they were known to all members of the Central Committee who survived the resistance period. His double-faced behaviour after he was first denounced in December, 1948, was known to all members of the Politburo and the Central Committee. Briefly summarised, his activities as described in his written statement were as follows, starting from the agreement to work for Geshev, in 1942.

It was more than a year before Kostov heard again from the police chief. In the meantime he was transferred to the Pleven prison and treated much better than at the Sofia Central prison. In September, 1943, a messenger arrived from Geshev telling him that there were three other prisoners at Pleven who had also saved their lives by agreeing to work with the police. Kostov should contact them. Their names were Ivan Maslarov, reprieved in the same trial as Kostov, Nikola Pavlov and Stefan Bogdanov. Without letting them know that he was cooperating with the police, Kostov approached them individually, told them he knew they had broken down, but that he would keep it secret and protect them when the war came to an end: "Thus at the beginning of 1944 a closely knit group of political prisoners was formed around me. Pavlov, Maslarov and Bogdanov knew nothing about each other's capitulation but their common friendship with me and the hope of my support after our liberation kept them together The three did everything possible to strengthen my prestige with the other political prisoners."

Later Geshev ordered Kostov to use his authority as Secretary of the Central Committee to call off the partisan activity which was causing the police and Germans increasing difficulties. Kostov sent such instructions from his prison cell, but got a sharp reprimand back from the fighting Central Committee outside for his "defeatist conceptions." Partisan activity, instead of slackening, was stepped up. September, 1944, came and with it liberation. Kostov was still Secretary of the C.C. He appointed Bogdanov to a top position in the Security Service, Maslarov in charge of the key post of the Cadre Department of the C.C. (as Szonyi in Hungary). Pavlov he appointed to the Central Committee and later as Secretary of the politburo. Only three men to start with, but each in vital posts and each absolutely bound to Kostov. The first job was for Pavlov and Bogdanov to look through the police dossiers and remove any incriminating material. Kostov's dossier was found, but the declaration was not in it. Kostov supposed that Geshev had burnt it before he fled. Pavlov found his own file and burnt it, but also found the files of a number of other important people who had been recruited by Geshev. These he handed over to Kostov who promptly used them as blackmail to recruit these people for himself. He appointed them all to key positions, with their dossiers locked away in his desk.

It isn't quite clear how Kostov saw the future for himself at this stage. The records were destroyed, his past was clear; the future was with the Communist Party of which he was a most honoured member. Kolarov and Dimitrov were still out of the country. Kostov was the senior Communist inside the country, 15 years younger than Dimitrov, 20 years younger than Kolarov. His star seemed set for an unlimited ascendancy. But Kostov's speculations soon received a brutal jolt when he was invited to lunch with the chief of the British Military Mission, General Oxley. The General withdrew after coffee and left Kostov alone with Colonel Bailey, who shocked him by his revelation that Geshev had been a British agent for many years; that Geshev had acted on British instructions, transmitted via King Boris, when he intervened to save Kostov's life. Kostov's declaration of 1942 and his report on the Communist Party were in safe British keeping, and Colonel Bailey was sure Kostov was an honourable man who would redeem his bond.

At this stage Kostov could have gone to the Party and explained everything. He would have been reprimanded, could never have held his high post in the Party, but he would have been forgiven. He had given way under severe torture and such things are understood. (Another accused Vasil Ivanovsky told the Court that he had also betrayed three Communists, members of the regional Committee including Peter Chengelov, a leader of the Party. The three were hanged. Ivanovsky had tried to commit suicide rather than betray them, but he had failed and it was while he was still recovering from the suicide attempt that the information was wrung out of him. He told the Party what had happened and he was forgiven.) But Kostov capitulated again. He was too ambitious and individualist to even consider losing his high post in the Party, of wrecking the bright future opening out for him. He agreed to work for Bailey and it was arranged that contact should be maintained by one Kiril Slavov, a Bulgarian industrialist who managed to worm his way into the Party but who had long been a British agent. The meeting with Bailey took place in November, 1944, two months after the Liberation.

There were other shocks to come and one was a visit by Kardelj, Tito's closest confidant after Rankovich. He called on Kostov late one night in November, 1944, two weeks after Kostov's agreement with Bailey, on his way from Belgrade to Skopje, capital of Macedonia. He laid down Tito's grand strategy for Eastern Europe. "Kardelj informed me," continues the narrative, "in strict confidence that during the war the British and Americans supplied the Yugoslav partisans with arms and munitions on condition that at the end of the war Tito would keep Yugoslavia away from the U.S.S.R. and would not allow the Soviet Union to establish its influence either in Yugoslavia or in the rest of the Balkans. On this basis a formal agreement was concluded between Tito on the one hand and the British and Americans on the other, during the war."

The best way to implement this would be for Bulgaria to attach herself to Yugoslavia as a seventh republic in the Federation immediately. The advantages were numerous as Kardelj listed them. Firstly, Bulgaria would be part of a victor country, an ally of the West instead of a defeated partner of the Nazis. Secondly, Bulgaria would be part of a powerful state stretching from the Black Sea to the Adriatic with a population for a start, of twenty-five millions. Thirdly, there would be no reason for Soviet troops to remain in the country as Bulgaria would be a part of an Allied country. Fourthly, the British and Americans had agreed to the plan in principle. "Kardelj told me that the Western Allies had warned Tito that they would make a formal protest and would raise the usual noise in the press in order to put the blame for the whole thing on the Soviet Union. They would use this as an excuse to refuse to honour unpleasant obligations to the Soviet Union... As for the Soviet attitude, Kardelj thought they might object to the union being carried out before the end of the war because of complications with the Western Allies, but the Soviet Union would have to resign itself confronted with the accomplished fact of Federation."

Kardelj was anxious for immediate action before Dimitrov returned from Moscow and Kostov agreed with this. He had long been envious of Dimitrov, had carried on a personal feud against him and feared he would have to play a secondary role once Dimitrov returned. Kostov writes that he saw an immediate advantage in Tito's proposal in that Bulgaria would be the largest and most important Republic in the Federation in which he would be the leading figure, close to Tito. He would also have redeemed his pledge to Bailey, seeing that Tito's plans were approved by the British and Americans. Kostov put the matter of Federation up to the Politburo of the Party in a very different form to that proposed by Kardelj, hiding the fact that it was intended as a counter-weight to the Soviet Union, hiding the fact of Tito's understanding with the West, hiding the fact of the minor role Bulgaria would play.

The Politburo considered the proposal favourably but eventually insisted, against Kostov's wishes, that it be submitted at first to Dimitrov in Moscow. Dimitrov immediately urged caution. In March, 1945, Tito sent his propaganda chief, Milovan Djilas to see Kostov. Djilas bitterly reproached him for having sent the proposal to Dimitrov and for having delayed the proposed fusion. When Kostov said that he was forced by the Politburo to refer the matter to Dimitrov, Djilas replied, "Then you should have announced to the Politburo that Dimitrov had given a positive answer and quickly proclaimed the Federation." The Bulgarian Army would have been immediately placed under Tito's command and Dimitrov and the rest of the Politburo faced with a fait accompli.

In 1946 Kostov left for Belgrade and had his first talk with Rankovich. "Late at night," he writes, "I retired with Rankovich to his office where we could have a frank conversation. Rankovich, who had a little too much to drink at dinner, gave free rein to his tongue." The Yugoslav Minister of the Interior told Kostov he must pack the Ministry of the Interior with trusted persons, he must make arrangements for the Yugoslavs to have access to all government offices, the Army Ministry, Ministry of the Interior, all offices of the Party and the Administration. The pretext should be preparations for Federation. Kostov arranged this and an U.D.B.A. agent was even given an office in the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior with access to all secret files. The rough Yugoslav wine loosened Rankovich's tongue considerably it seems, and he began to discuss the larger aspects of Tito's plans:

"In his fervour, Rankovich developed the perspective that in case of success the policy of Tito would become not only Yugoslav and Bulgarian, but also Hungarian, Rumanian and Albanian. ‘Then,' exclaimed Rankovich, 'a bigger community would be formed of the countries of South-East Europe, headed by a federation, which under the leadership of Tito would represent an impressive force, which other states must take into account."

The next morning Kostov met Tito, for the first time since Kostov had packed him off to Yugoslavia from Moscow, twelve years previously.

"I had not seen Tito for 12 years," he continues, "and was greatly impressed by the remarkable change in him. He looked pompous in his military uniform with his bejewelled fingers. During our meeting Tito was constantly posing and with his outer appearance and manner of conversation he gave himself airs of being a great man. Tito met me as an old friend, but nevertheless he behaved in a haughty way, giving me to understand that he was not the same Tito of 12 years ago... He thanked me for the service rendered him in Moscow, giving me to understand that otherwise he would not have been able to hold the position he had now secured for himself in Yugoslavia."

Tito also urged Kostov to speed-up preparations, said he knew and appreciated the line set by Rankovich and told him he must pack the State apparatus with reliable men. "When I questioned Tito about the orientation of Yugoslavia's foreign policy, he expressed his disdain of the British, who were according to him, on the wane as a great power and must give way to American capitalism. He promised to put me in touch with Americans." Kostov went back to Sofia and made arrangements for free access of Yugoslav agents to all military and security installations and also for a great propaganda campaign to boost Tito's popularity in the country. Dimitrov and Kolarov had returned from Moscow in the meantime, elections had been held and Dimitrov was made Premier, Kostov Vice-Premier and Kolarov Foreign Minister. Dimitrov was Secretary-General of the Communist Party and Kostov Secretary of the Central Committee. Kostov was at pains to keep the question of federation well to the fore and Dimitrov quite unsuspecting Kostov's and Tito's real aims, expressed the feelings of the Politburo at that time in a speech favouring a South Slav federation, the age-old dream of the Balkan peoples. "Pravda" promptly sounded a note of warning about rushing too quickly into such a federation. Tito's intrigues in other parts of Eastern Europe were beginning to attract attention in Moscow where they were better known than they could have been in Sofia.

Kostov in the meantime had opened every door to the Yugoslavs in Sofia; "Beginning with the official representatives of the Macedonian Government, Lazar Kolishevsky, who was with me in the Pleven prison, Dimiter Vlakhov, whom I had known since 1933, and ending with the counsellors of the Yugoslav Legation, Mangovsky, Zafirovsky, and Hadjipanzov, all these secret and open agents and spies, were assured free access to the C.C. of the Bulgarian Communist Party. They often came to me too and I saw to their demands."

Their demands were that as Kostov had failed to bring about the complete federation, he must pave the way for Tito to annex Pirin Macedonia. And here a few words must be said about the much vexed and complicated problem of Macedonia.

The Macedonians have been the longest oppressed of any of the Balkan Peoples. An ancient mountain people with unbroken traditions stretching back through the centuries to their golden period under Philip and Alexander the Great, they were the last of the Balkan states to be liberated from the Turks, against whom they waged an unceasing struggle. When the Turks were expelled, instead of the independent state that had been hoped for, Macedonia was split up among Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria. It became a catspaw in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. Bulgarian Chauvinists wanted to attach Vardar Macedonia in Serbia to Bulgaria. The Serbian chauvinists wanted to get Pirin Macedonia from Bulgaria. The end of the first World War left Macedonia still divided, with the Vardar region in the new Yugoslavia.

The Macedonians had no reason to love Greeks more than Serbs or Bulgars, to love Serbs more than Bulgars or vice versa: Every land had persecuted them, had cruelly suppressed their strivings for independence. On balance they fared better with the Bulgarians than elsewhere, and traditionally when they were persecuted, they migrated further East. There are 600,000 Macedonians in Bulgaria to-day, almost ten per cent. of the population; their language is nearer Bulgarian than Serb. The Bulgarian Communist Party supported I.M.R.O., the Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, and always stood for an independent Macedonia.

A whole book could be written about the intrigues in Macedonia during and after World War II. Tito was determined to secure the whole of Macedonia for Yugoslavia, while the war was still going on even it if meant liquidating the last partisan on the Bulgarian side of the border, according to Macedonians who fought in the Pirin region throughout the occupation. But at the end of the war, the frontiers were the same as before, cutting through Macedonia with Pirin on the Bulgarian side, and the Vardar region on the Yugoslav side.

It was hoped that under stable conditions after the war, the South Slav Federation of Communist States would be created, with that part ofMacedonia in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia at least joined together in an autonomous state with equal rights with Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. It was hoped that a new democratic Greece would give the Macedonians there a chance to decide whether they wanted to attach themselves to the new state and give it an outlet to the sea with a capital at Salonika.

By the end of 1946, Kostov had arranged for Yugoslav agents to swarm over the Pirin area, openly giving lectures about the forthcoming incorporation of the region into Yugoslavia. Frightened peasants began packing their belongings to move further East, out of Pirin, but they were told that was useless as Bulgaria as a whole would soon be absorbed. Portraits of Dimitrov were torn down and replaced by those of Tito.

On the home front, Kostov began to consolidate his position by enlarging his nucleus ofdependables and by promoting those already installed; Pavlov was moved up to Secretary of the Politburo, Chief of the Prime Minister's Cabinet, as well as Secretary ofthe C.C. foreconomic questions. Maslarov was made a member of the well as chief ofcadres and chief of Organisation. Kostov urged them to work on packing all important posts with men loyal to Kostov's line. He had, ofcourse, long since taken them into his confidence as to the role he was playing; had told them of the tie-up with Tito with the blessings of the British and Americans. He arranged the appointment of Stefanov, an old-time Trotskyist, as Minister of Finance; Sekelarov, another Trotskyist, to Minister of Electrification; Kunin (whose dossier as police agent Pavlov had found) as Minister of Industry, others as Deputy Ministers ofRailway, Transport and Commerce, mostly men whom Pavlov's researches had uncovered to be former police agents. His contact man with Slavov, Nikola Nachev, an old-time British agent, Kostov appointed as his own personal assistant. Kostov at this time in addition to his other duties, was President of the Supreme Economic Council. Each one of those appointed was expected to and did, pack his department with similar "dependables."

On the military side, Kostov had won over the chief ofMilitary Intelligence, General Peter Vrenchov, and the Deputy-Commander ofthe Frontier Guards, Colonel Lev Glavinchev, as a nucleus on which to build. On the Security side, he had Bogdanov in a key post.

In August, 1947, Dimitrov headed the Bulgarian Delegation to Yugoslavia to negotiate a treaty of friendship with Tito. The discussion took place at Bled. Tito formally broached the question offederation again, but Dimitrov insisted that the time was not ripe. He did agree that Yugoslav teachers and librarians could enter the Pirin region to introduce the new written Macedonian language and prepare Macedonian people for an eventual union in an autonomous state within the larger framework of a future South Slav federation. When this time came, Bulgaria would be given back her "Western Territories," an area west of Sofia awarded to Yugoslavia after the first World War.

Tito came to Sofia to sign the treaty at the end of 1947, and the occasion was used by Kostov to arrange a great personal publicity tour of Bulgaria by the new Balkan Caesar, who behaved, according to Kostov, "as if he were already master of Bulgaria." Tito arrived in great state, with one guard train preceding his special train, another following it. "I took all steps," writes Kostov, "that he might be welcomed most pompously and with the greatest glamour. Tito arrived in all the splendour of his imagined grandeur. Along the entire route of his tour from Sofia to Varna through Northern Bulgaria, and back to Sofia through Southern Bulgaria, Tito's face was wreathed with smiles. He thought the warm feelings of the Bulgarian people were for him personally and not for the Yugoslav people. He already felt himself master of Bulgaria as well. He behaved in a haughty way and lost no chance of expressing his arrogant and scornful attitude towards everybody, even including Georgi Dimitrov. His example was followed not only by Djilas and Rankovich, but by the most insignificant members of his guard. They showed an offensive mistrust of the Bulgarian guards. The apartment set aside for Tito at the Euxinograd Palace, which had been carefully prepared and scrupulously examined by Bulgarian Security agents, was turned upside down by Tito's guards. This .was done purposely to underline that in every way Yugoslav organisation was superior." (Rajk gave a similar account of Tito's visit to Budapest. He was ordered by the Yugoslavs to arrange the greatest possible display for Tito, including torch-light processions, complete control of arrangements by Tito's security police, and the finest villa in town. Rajk was forbidden by the Hungarian government to overdo things and at the last moment Tito warned he would not come unless at least the finest villa in Budapest was cleared and placed at his disposal. Rajk did his best, arranged some things without reference to the Cabinet and the great man arrived with all the pomp of Mussolini on a State visit to an Italian colony.)

Kostov accompanied Tito on his triumphal tour and the two conspirators had plenty of chances for intimate discussion of their plans. "My conversation with Tito this time assumed a more heart to heart character. It was a meeting of old friend and adherents, following a common aim."

Tito announced that he would soon break openly with the Soviet Union. He disagreed with the Soviet rejection of Marshall Plan Aid and took the view that backward countries like Yugoslavia and Bulgaria could not advance without American help, "But – Tito told me – the Americans insisted on one condition, that we be detached from the U.S.S.R." Kostov continued. "Tito declared pompously that in all the People's Democracies he and the new Yugoslavia alone enjoyed sufficient prestige to rally all the countries around him in a bloc separate from the Soviet Union and oriented towards Britain and America. 'The Americans admit now,' said Tito, 'that only through me can the People's Democracies be won away from the Soviet Union'! "

Tito this time demanded decisive action, before the open break came with the Soviet Union. Kostov must form a new government and immediately announce union with Yugoslavia and Tito described how simply the whole thing could be accomplished. "The moment you announce union with us," Tito explained, "Bulgaria will be part of Yugoslavia. We can send in our armed forces immediately and that cannot possibly be regarded as aggression. That would be assistance within the framework of the federation itself." Merely the despatch of troops from one party of Yugoslavia to another. No cause for anybody, neither the Soviet Union nor the Western Powers to intervene. A purely local problem. It was diabolically simple, but Kostov warned Tito that it was difficult for him to act as long as Dimitrov was still the head of the government and pointed out that Dimitrov was a sick man who could not live much longer.

"Tito could not restrain his hatred at the mention of Dimitrov's name. 'How long will this old man continue to cross my path,' he thundered. It was obvious that Dimitrov stuck like a fishbone in his throat."

Kostov told Tito he thought the best solution was a natural one, to await Dimitrov's death which would surely make Kostov chief of the government and the federation a painless process. Tito thought this was a good idea as long as it was certain Dimitrov's death would not long be delayed. "Otherwise," said Tito, "you should be ready to act in the most resolute way, to arrest, and if necessary to liquidate Georgi Dimitrov, relying on our immediate aid as well." Rankovich gave Kostov the same advice, urging swift action, and after Tito and his entourage had left, Kostov talked the whole matter over with his chief lieutenants. They were nervous about internal reactions to any coup which "liquidated" Dimitrov, and they decided to await his death. In the meantime they would do everything possible to increase Kostov's prestige in the party leadership and to decrease Dimitrov's popularity among the people by embarking on large-scale sabotage to cause distress and unrest among the population. When Kostov took over, he could then immediately win popularity by blaming everything on the past regime and promising swift improvement.

In April, 1948, Kostov was visited by the Yugoslav Ambassador, Colonel Obrad Cicmil, who told him that the break with the Soviet Union would soon come out into the open... In case Kostov could not bring off his coup before this, Kostov must support the official Communist Party line in the matter, otherwise he would be denounced and would become useless. Kostov should not be alarmed if the Yugoslav press started an offensive against him, this would be just so much sand in the eyes of the Cominform. Contact would be maintained by some Yugoslavs who would declare themselves for the Cominform. Meanwhile the plan was still in force. Developments in Hungary were excellent, good news could be expected at any time. Publicly Kostov must support the Cominform resolution, privately through the people he had grouped around him, he must oppose it with propaganda which would reach as far down as possible among party cadres.

(In fact, considering the number of collaborators Kostov had in key positions in the party and administration, it is surprising that he had practically no support at regional level and none at all among rank and file party members. This is probably explained by the fact that only one of his group, Ivanovsky, who played an unimportant role, was of working class or peasant origin. The others were all intellectuals, professional people or former businessmen who were isolated from the worker and peasant members of the Communist Party. Their work was exclusively at a high level and as such, dangerous enough, but as it had no roots the whole thing passed off without creating any crisis in the Communist Party or the government. Such a crisis would have occurred, with civil war the outcome, had Kostov acted on Tito's advice; carried out a coup and assassinated Dimitrov.)

In July, 1948, at a meeting of the C.C. of the Party, Kostov felt strong enough to launch a vicious personal attack on Dimitrov, who was in very poor health at the time. He blamed all the mistakes the party had made since its foundation in 1919 on the General Secretary. He tried to play off Dimitrov against Kolarov, and was, of course, supported by members of his group. In the Court, Kostov had to admit this one fact about which every member of the C.C. knew: "I criticised Dimitrov sharply and unobjectively, and even made personal attacks on him. It was an attempt on my part to lower his prestige." In his written statement he states: "With all these activities of mine I inflicted a blow on Dimitrov's morale and I worsened his already precarious health."

Dimitrov indeed was fighting a valiant battle with death at that time, and was four months in bed after Kostov's attack. Kostov thought the long battle had come to an end. He took over Dimitrov's functions and awaited daily news of his death. Dimitrov meanwhile was preparing for one last gigantic effort, the political report which amounts to a history of the Bulgarian Communist Party and a guide to its future, which he was to present in a six-hour speech to the Fifth Congress of the Party in December, 1948.

Kostov was so sure of his position that he overreached himself. He began to act in an arrogant way not only towards Soviet representatives in Sofia, who, naturally enough, had always enjoyed special privileges. (Not only was the Soviet Union the fatherland of the Communist parties, not only did the Soviet Army liberate Bulgaria, not only did the Soviet Union alone support the Bulgarian resistance movement throughout the war, not only did the Soviet Union from 1919 onwards give every support to the Bulgarian Communist Party and open its door to every Communist seeking refuge, but the Soviet Union saved Bulgaria from famine in the first post-war years when the country was dogged by three bad harvests in succession.) Soviet representatives received special information about prices, export-import arrangements, and other commercial data. Kostov, acting as Prime Minister, put a stop to this and applied the State Secrets Act to Soviet representatives. A Soviet complaint about this led to the first thread which gradually unrolled the whole skein of Kostov's activities. This was as Kostov expressed it, "the stone which upset my applecart."

The question of Traicho Kostov was discussed by the Politburo in December, 1948, and again in January. Kostov's behaviour then was quite consistent with his whole life and with his attitude in the Court. The Politburo subjected a good deal of his past to searching debate. They did not know anything like the full story and when Kostov had established how much they knew, he made a self-criticism which covered just those points brought up by Politburo members. He then went away for a holiday – to the Soviet Union of all places – and apparently decided that his position was not too bad after all. The Politburo had only brought up matters of his "Nationalist Deviation," Kostov, from the Soviet Union, then circularised individual members of the Central Committee with letters, withdrawing most of his self-criticism, trying to restore his prestige and again attacking Dimitrov. But the Politburo's criticism was only the beginning of a deep inquiry into the double-life of Kostov.

At first he was dismissed from the Politburo and his post of Vice-Premier, but remained a member of the Central Committee. He continued to intrigue desperately. His only chance was to smear Dimitrov's reputation and restore his own prestige. In Court he said, "Comrade Judges, I plead guilty to an attempt to drive a wedge between the Politburo and the Central Committee... if my efforts had been successful they would inevitably have caused a crisis within the Party at the moment when the internal and international situation demanded maximum unity within the party and our country."

In his written disposition he said: "I wrote several contradictory declarations in which I first admitted and then again denied my guilt... I tried all sorts of manoeuvres to deceive the Central Committee and the Party, to save myself and whatever could still be saved of my position...." But the investigation had dug deep arid turned up evidence which was as great a blow to Dimitrov and Kolarov as anything that had ever happened inside the Bulgarian Party. Kostov was dismissed from the Central Committee, and eventually expelled from the Party and his deputy's mandate removed. On June 20, 1949, he was arrested, and as he had done seven years earlier, he made a full 30,000 word confession, giving the minutest details of his activities, implicating all those whom he had drawn into his service. If he later denied parts of his confession, this was only in keeping with his whole life.

After he was sentenced – and he had sat in Court and heard everyone of the other ten accused give a long and damning account of his activities, Kostov sent a letter to the Presidium admitting that his written confession was correct and pleading for mercy.

"I plead guilty to the accusation brought before the Court," he wrote, "and fully confirm the dispositions written in my own hand during the enquiry. Realising barely at the last moment the incorrectness of my conduct before the People's Court... regretting sincerely this conduct of mine which was a result of extremely excited nerves and the morbid selfishness of an intellectual, as well as those of my activities and crimes in my capacity of Vice-President of the Council of Ministers and President of the Committee for Economic and Financial questions... I beg you to revoke my death sentence if you consider it possible and to commute it to close confinement for life..:"

No mercy was shown to Traicho Kostov, however, and he was hanged on December 16, 1949, two days after the trial ended.

It has been argued in the West that Kostov actually committed no crime even if he planned one, but Bulgarian law as far as treason is concerned provides that a plot to commit treasonous action constitutes treason and provides grounds for prosecution. The law expresses the view that it must act before the plot has been put into operation and the State overthrown. As far as the charges of sabotage are concerned, they were well and clearly proven by the testimony of several accused supported by documentary evidence. The chief saboteur, apart from Finance Minister Stefanov, was a remarkable figure, a former millionaire industrialist, Ivan Gevrenov, who made a twenty-five years study of sabotage methods and was given his big chance to operate by Kostov.

A brief account of his activities will serve as an illustration of Kostov's methods to undermine the popularity of the Dimitrov government.

Gevrenov, a big, handsome man, bald-headed except for a tuft of hair above his forehead, clad in a very smart business suit, was delighted to tell the court of his activities. Sabotage was his hobby and he had been able to indulge his passion on a wide scale; he even seemed proud of his successes.

Like so many of Kostov's colleagues, he came from a wealthy family, but he enjoyed the luxury of progressive ideas and preferred the company of leftist intellectuals to that of his business colleagues. He studied abroad and associated with leftist groups in France and Belgium. Back in Bulgaria he told the Court, his socialist ideas gradually evaporated as "they came into conflict with my material interests." He married the daughter of a wealthy land-owner, founded a rubber factory, and by the 1930's was one of the richest men in Bulgaria. For some reason he had a morbid interest in sabotage, studied the accounts of sabotage by workers in Germany and Italy, cut out newspaper accounts of the sabotage trials in Moscow. He wrote to France and Switzerland asking for books on the subject, but to his surprise found nothing had been published. He decided to fill in the gap himself and on the basis of his newspaper clippings, from Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and Moscow, he produced a book in 1935 entitled "Sabotage, Plunder, Diversion Activities and Espionage." It was a strange study for a millionaire industrialist. However, it served him well when his own workers started to sabotage rubber production after the German occupation of Bulgaria. He knew just where to look and was able to nip the sabotage attempts in the bud. Later, after September, 1944, his factories were nationalised. To get his revenge Gevrenov pretended to be a friend of the regime, joined the Communist Party and acted as an enthusiastic supporter of the Fatherland Front. Eventually he was contacted by Finance Minister Stefanov and enrolled in the Kostov organisation. He was putin charge of the Rubber Trust and Canning Industry, and later entrusted with the regrouping of small industries into large combines. "I reduced the production of shoes in one factory from 4,000 pairs daily to 1,500," he said and jotting a few figures down on a pad, added: "I estimate that in two and a half years in the Bakish factory alone, I reduced production by 850,000 pairs of shoes.... In Ivanov's factory I cut down tyre production by 9.000 sets... The canning industry production was also wrecked.... after jars and cans are filled up with the juices in which the latter have been boiled, with concentrated juice which improves the flavour and preserves them... we filled them up instead with cold water... In the regrouping of factories I closed down the profitable ones and let the less profitable ones work... instead of grouping small plants around large modern ones I dismantled the modern ones and sent the machinery all over the country... or moved it to some place where there were no buildings ready to receive it... I so arranged things that dismantled machinery was lying around rusting in every railway yard, with no locomotives to shift it and no buildings to receive it even if it were shifted... Much of it was ruined by rust, rain and snow... when Traicho Kostov heard of these results in my branch, he was very well satisfied."

The total damage caused by Gevrenov's activities was estimated by himself and confirmed by the Commission of Experts at about fifteen million pounds. Small wonder that Gevrenov sat down with a satisfied smile after he had finished his testimony and returned his pad to his pocket.

Dimitrov played an active part in the final unmasking of Traicho Kostov. He knew his days were numbered but he was determined that the future of the party and the country should remain in hands which would not betray the Bulgarian revolution; hands which would not hand Bulgaria on a platter to Tito to be incorporated in an anti-Soviet bloc. Dimitrov personally directed the early stages of the enquiry into Kostov's activities. When Dimitrov was already lying ill in a sanatorium near Moscow, Kostov was finally stripped of all his party and government functions. He sent a message from his deathbed after Kostov had been expelled from the Central Committee expressing his relief that Kostov had been finally exposed.

"So far as Kostov and those that think like him are concerned," he wrote in a letter to the Central Committee, "that matter is not yet finished. After reading the minutes and the very long statement of Traicho Kostov, I have come to the conclusion that we are dealing not only with an intellectual individualist and a ruthless careerist but with a sly, unscrupulous traitor who cannot remain in a genuinely Bolshevik Party. Traicho Kostov is filled with base hatred and hides stones in his bosom, hoping to exploit any future difficult situations in his favour in order to come to the top again with his unparalleled intrigues and treachery."

Dimitrov died on July 2, by which time Kostov was already behind prison bars. Kolarov was able to carry on for another six months while the crisis in the top ranks of the Party and Government was surmounted. Within .a few weeks of the completion of the Kostov trial, Kolarov too died, but the crisis was finished, the leadership of the party and state was in the hands of men who would carry on the traditions of the Dimitrov-Kolarov leadership. But as far as Tito was concerned, Dimitrov and Kolarov had both lived just one year too long.

Click here to go to Chapter XVI

Click here to return to the index of archival material.