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100 years ago: War on private citizens

01 September 2023

August 31st, 1923.

THE Manchester Guardian calls attention to a very hard case of the operation of those treaty-clauses which gave power to the victorious countries to rob — or deprive —subjects of enemy countries of their private property. Just before the war the University of Sofia deposited in London a sum of money for materials for their new buildings, The sum has been confiscated, quite legally of course, under the terms of the Treaty of Neuilly. The result is that the Bulgarian students either study under conditions of the greatest inconvenience, and even squalor, or are sent abroad to get their education in the German universities. So, for the sake of a paltry £12,000, the British Government risks the further alienation of a country which has always been more or less disposed, since the time of Gladstone, to look to England for its ideals. It will be said that Bulgaria is suffering the penalty for coming into the war, and that the children’s teeth are set on edge because their fathers have eaten sour grapes. We shall not deny that all is legally in order; nor have we any predilection whatever for Bulgaria, which is of all the Balkan States the least admirable. But her case is hard, and our dealing with it is politically foolish. Moreover, we have recognized a principle new to English law and tradition. It has not been our custom to make war upon private persons, or to rob them in form of law; nor is it a valid argument that we may now do it because the Germans did it; two wrongs do not make a right. Under the Treaty the Government has taken the savings of Austrian and German governesses and left them penniless. During the war British soldiers caught looting in enemy villages were liable to be shot. There is here a moral discrepancy which is disturbing not a few consciences.

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