IX. The problem of reform
2. Policy of Austria
The claims of Austria and Russia to a privileged position in Macedonia rest on very diverse grounds. Of the two Powers, Austria has, I think, the sounder pretension. At least she has a large material stake in the country. The railroads are mainly Austrian concerns, although it cannot be said that their prosperity is seriously affected by the disorder which prevails under Turkish rule. Their profits are independent of their earnings, since they are derived from a kilometric guarantee which is secured by the tithes. But the trade of Salonica and Uskub is very largely in Austrian hands.  One meets commercial travellers from Budapest in Macedonian inns. The local Jews, who largely control the business of Salonica, readily enter into relations with their co-religionists in Hungary and Austria, and undoubtedly this considerable and beneficial intercourse is threatened by disorder, as it would be expanded by good government. Salonica is connected by direct railway with Vienna, and by the Lloyd steamships with Trieste, and there is no gainsaying the fact that Macedonia might be,
1. One ought not to forget, however, that 60 percent, of the foreign trade of Macedonia is said to be British.
under happier conditions, an important market for Austrian produce. There are small colonies of Austrian subjects in Uskub and Salonica; and the railway employes, though many of them are Greeks and some Italians, are on the whole to be reckoned as the pioneers of Austrian influence. The consulates are well staffed and filled for the most part with men of energy and ability. It would be difficult, however, to say with any precision what Austrian policy in Macedonia really is. It is easy, of course, to accept the current suspicion and to believe that Austria is stealthily but actively preparing for the occupation of the western half of Macedonia. The Bulgarians undoubtedly believe this, and the prospect fills them with grave alarm. I have no doubt that the more ambitious of the younger men in the consular and diplomatic services cherish such schemes. It is even hinted that they sometimes go so far as to encourage the insurgent element, with the idea of provoking complications serious enough to warrant the armed intervention of Austria. There is a whole ingenious legend, which it might be rash to dismiss as quite baseless, which links both Austria and Germany in an elaborate plot to seize Macedonia. Germany, it is said, aims at appropriating the purely German provinces of Austria proper, and encourages Austria to compensate herself by absorbing the Slavonic elements of the Balkans. I have even been assured, by a gentleman who was a member of a Bulgarian Cabinet in 1897, that overtures were made to his Government through a German diplomatic agent, suggesting a partition of Macedonia. The portion to the west of the Vardar Valley was to go to Austria, that to the east to be annexed by Bulgaria. I can give no reason for my scepticism, and yet I distrust this story — at least in this definite form. That individuals cherish such projects is doubtless true. But the whole policy of Austria betrays an irresolution incompatible with any conscious and determined policy of annexation. The aged Emperor is averse from adventure. Neither the Germans nor the Magyars are anxious to increase the Slavonic population, and the clericals are probably unwilling to add to the Orthodox element in the
Empire. Moreover, the military position of Austria is unfavourable. The railway is hers, but the railway passes through Servia. Nor could she easily advance from Bosnia along the Mitrovitza-Uskub line, for Montenegro and Servia would menace her flanks, and the Albanians are not to be relied upon to assist her. At sea she is neutralised by Italy, which would certainly resent an attempt to land an Austrian army of occupation at Salonica. Some acute minds suspect that she has intentionally put forward futile reform schemes, well knowing that they would fail, with the idea that their failure would make an occupation inevitable. But it is quite as probable that her policy is merely hesitating and weak because it is cautious and conservative. She does not wish to encourage revolution. She dreads any inconsiderate vigour which might conceivably provoke an armed conflict. She temporises, plays with reform, and endeavours to stave off a crisis, precisely as all bureaucracies do within their own territories when confronted by a demand for reform which they hardly understand. It is weak and culpable conduct, but it may be sincere. The most plausible theory is that Austria has no fixed and official policy at all in Macedonia. There is no doubt that she aims at absorbing Albania. If opportunity favoured, she would possibly be equally glad to extend her sphere of influence to Western Macedonia, but I doubt if there is evidence for suspecting the Foreign Office, as distinct from some of its more energetic agents, of working actively in favour of any design so considerable. For it is, after all, no mean ambition. The port of Salonica would be a great acquisition to a Power which is almost land-locked. As a commercial harbour it has incontestable advantages over Trieste and Fiume. It was made to be the busy dépôt of a great civilisation, and even the Turks have hardly been able to destroy its natural advantages. Under any civilised administration it would soon rival Marseilles. As a naval centre it would be even more invaluable to Austria, for it lies beyond the Italian sphere of influence, and its value could not be affected by a blockade which would close the mouth of the Adriatic. It might easily be made the great
port for the trade between Asia and Continental Europe, and raise Austria
to the level of a great maritime Power and the mistress of the Levant.
All this is very clear, and one cannot wonder that the dream of acquiring
Salonica floats before the imagination of Austrian patriots. But the route
between Salonica and Vienna lies through Belgrade, and the Power which
intends to acquire and utilise Salonica must absorb and conquer not merely
Macedonia, but Servia as well. While King Milan lived, that might have
been easy — he often dreamed of entering the Austrian Empire as a sort
of feudatory vassal — but even if the Servians were incapable of serious
resistance, the Concert might have something to say to so drastic a remodelling
of the map of Europe. It is the fashion to talk of the humble peasants
who are struggling for some poor measure of liberty in Macedonia as a subversive
and revolutionary element. They deserve the term far less than the Austrian
Imperialists who entertain such schemes as this. But it must be confessed
that Austria does not give evidence of the vigour and unanimity necessary
for the realisation of such a programme. Each race within her borders has
its own egoistic schemes. There are Germans and Czechs, Magyars and Croats.
But there are no Austrians, save, perhaps, a handful of bureaucrats in
the diplomatic service. These men may cherish their ambitions of expansion
and conquest. But it takes a people to make an Empire.
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