I. Characterictics of Turkish rule
8. Note. Law Courts and Finance
On reading over this general chapter on Turkish rule I notice that I have said little or nothing about the administration of justice, and, beyond defending the omission, I have not much to add. One often reads about the terrible abuses of the Turkish courts, but I can hardly recall an instance in which I have ever heard any one in Turkey talking of the courts as a real factor in his daily life. They are so thoroughly bad and corrupt that no one ever dreams of having recourse to them for the redress of an injury, and it is exceedingly interesting to note how well, on the whole, society manages without law courts. I do not think there is more trickery or injustice between man and man in Macedonia than there is in Europe — always excepting the relationship between Turks and their Christian dependents. But it would be better if there were no civil courts at all, for at present the wealthy of both creeds, who can afford to bribe, are apt to use them as a means of overreaching the poor. As for the criminal courts, they are so much a mere department of the executive that they can hardly be said to exist. A man may be imprisoned for months or years without a trial, and as often as not he is released without a trial — particularly if his friends have managed to collect a sufficiently handsome bribe. When a trial does take place before judges who are as corrupt and ignorant as they are subservient and prejudiced, it is, as a rule, a mere formality, particularly if the accused is a Christian. It is not accurate to say, as is sometimes done, that the word of a Christian is not admitted as evidence, but it is true that no evidence is considered at all unless it confirms the preconceptions of the court. The Christians occasionally attempt to set up private tribunals of their own to judge disputes which arise among themselves, and the Bulgarian Revolutionary Committee, always anxious to act as a State within the State, encourages these experiments, but they are always regarded as highly seditious and punished accordingly.
Turkish finance, on the other hand, would make a curious and amusing subject for study, but really when one has said that everything is chaotic and corrupt, it is scarcely necessary to go into detail. Stupidity and rascality are almost equally to blame. The officials are
quite ignorant of accounts, and indeed to keep accurate ledgers in the Turkish language would be difficult.
Provincial finance suffers under the two main evils — (a) the tithes in a very large number of districts are mortgaged to provide the interest on the Ottoman Public Debt. (b) The provinces are never treated as self-contained units with local budgets of their own. At any moment they may be called upon to pay a draft, known as a "havaleh," which has been drawn against their treasuries by the Imperial Government. These drafts are given without any preliminary inquiry as to whether the province in question has a real surplus after meeting its own obligations — it is enough that it has some cash in its chest or can raise it by taxation.
It must not be supposed that the excessive burdens which the individual
has to pay really go to enrich the State. The tax-collector defrauds his
master as well as his victims. A favourite device is to leave a man in
peace for several years, and then suddenly to demand the arrears of his
house-tax or of the tax on wages or even of the capitation tax. He cannot
pay, but to avoid being thrown into prison he will give a substantial backsheesh
to the official. Sometimes in return for a bribe the collector will assess
a substantial three-storey house at a lower figure than he imposes on a
mud-cabin. Of the customs, every traveller who has paid the dollar which
is openly demanded of him by the revenue officer who examines his trunk
in the railway station at Constantinople, will form his own impressions.
But one need not accumulate examples. It is a system which wrongs every
one concerned. The official receives no salary, and he robs the Exchequer
and the citizen with an impartial hand.
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