The War of the Stray Dog
Calling it The Incident at Petrich makes it sound like a serious breach of diplomatic protocol and perhaps even a valid reason for two countries to go to war with one another. But call it by its alternative – and more popular – name, The War of the Stray Dog, and you get an idea of just how petty this clash between Bulgaria and Greece in the 1920s really was. Tragically, what started out as a minor thing quickly escalated and led to casualties on both sides. On a brighter note, however, it proved to be a feather in the cap of the League of Nations, even if the international diplomatic body was to be thoroughly discredited soon afterward.
The year was 1925 and the Balkans was a cauldron of discontent and aggressive nationalism. The Second Balkan War of 1913 and then the First World War had produced outcomes that were far from favorable to the Bulgarians. In particular, the region of Macedonia (now, of course, a country in its own right) had been given to Greece. Unsurprisingly, some Bulgarians were not ready to accept this, not least those men and women allying themselves with the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, or IMRO for short. It was they who had, by the middle of the 1920s, established a stronghold in Petrich. In fact, some called this a ‘state within a state’, and it was a place where the Greeks would have been foolish to enter.
Tragically, the area’s dogs weren’t so clued-up on the politics of the time and on the day of 18 October a hound belonging to a Greek sentry ran across the disputed boundary. Acting on impulse, the dog’s owner ran after the animal and was shot dead by Bulgarian soldiers. A powder keg was on the brink of being ignited. To calm tensions down, the Bulgarian authorities admitted their mistake, saying their soldiers acted in haste and error. They also promised they would work with their Greek adversaries to get to the bottom of the matter. But Greece wasn’t happy. They demanded financial compensation, as well as an official apology and for the men responsible to be brought to account. To make matters worse, the Greek leaders sent troops into Petrich to make sure their demands were met.
As soon as the Greek soldiers entered Petrich, fighting started. The Bulgarians set up defensive positions, to be manned by volunteers including First World War veterans. The Greeks got ready to launch their attack and take the town. Before the full attack could be launched, however, the League of Nations intervened. The League ordered both sides to stand their armies down. They also ordered Greek to pull its troops back and to pay £45,000 in compensation to their Bulgarian foes, a deal both sides deemed to be satisfactory. It’s estimated that around 50 people died as a direct result of that stray dog incident, many of them civilians.