Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

IX. The problem of reform

4. Hilmi Pasha and the First Reforms

It is necessary to give here some account of the use which Russia and Austria have made of their mandate, if only because the outlines of their reform schemes are likely to serve in some sort as a basis for future reforms.

The earlier scheme came into force in February, 1903, as a sort of refinement and amplification of the reforms which the Sultan had drafted spontaneously in December, 1902. The pivot of the new plan was the Inspector-General, Hussein Hilmi Pasha, who was supposed to be "controlled," wherever he might happen to be, by the local Austrian and Russian consuls. Hilmi Pasha is certainly a man of rather exceptional ability, with much more culture than is common among Ottoman officials. He has read a little, and speaks French well. But he has never been out of Turkey in his life, and his ideals, for all his superficial education, are simply those of the Hamidian court. He had been Governor of the Yemen, and was, I fancy, a trusted "Palace" man. Certainly there is a ring in his deep and musical voice when he speaks of his Imperial master, which suggests that he may be among those who have been hypnotised by the singular personal charm which all unprejudiced witnesses ascribe to Abdul Hamid. Hilmi Pasha has something of the same magnetism. His manner is grave, courteous, and distinguished. He suggests the Arab rather than the Turk. One's first impression is that he is profoundly sincere and completely honest. His optimism is contagious, and one experiences in his presence that rarest of all emotions in the East a thrill of hope. Further acquaintance modifies the impression, and one realises that one has to deal with the first


comedian of Europe. But the process of being deceived is still agreeable. It is a species of flattery, and it is hard to feel indignant with a performer so finished and so graceful. Besides, the man is an indefatigable worker, always at his desk, always with some paper in his hand, always accessible, and ever ready to extend his working day far into the small hours of the morning. It is the method rather than the will which is at fault. The whole conception of reform in Hilmi Pasha's mind, is the production of results on paper which will impress his constant visitors, the consuls, and figure ultimately in some official report which will confound Europe with the amazing progress of Macedonia under his paternal sway. I can quite believe that he deceives himself. He is an incorrigible bureaucrat, who spends his days in a haze of tobacco smoke with telegrams and statistics as the only realities before him. He rarely quits his audience-chamber and then only to pay formal calls on consuls, and I should doubt whether he has ever had the curiosity since his arrival in Macedonia to visit a single one of the villages which he governs, or to converse with a single representative of the two million peasants whose fate depends upon his telegrams and his edicts. One can handle statistics without touching fact. I shall not readily forget my first interview with him in May, 1903, when with pardonable pride he read me his report upon the progress of his reforms. He boasted that over a thousand brigands had been arrested since his arrival in Macedonia indeed, nearly all of them had voluntarily surrendered. It was a proof of energy. Ten minutes later he assured me that a thousand penitent offenders had been released from prison. It was a proof of clemency. Away from the magnetic presence, it dawned upon me that the figures tallied oddly. The brigands in league with the gendarmes had simply walked in at one door of the gaol to the glory of Abdul Hamid and out at the other. But the figures were there. The reforms had been accomplished, and on any sceptic Hilmi Pasha would smile blandly and meet his objections (as he answered mine when I told him that everywhere the peasants were so terrified that they dare not come to market), with a magnifi-


cent gesture and a sonorous and conclusive "Grâce à Dieu la tranquillité regne partout."

In effect I think the appointment of Hilmi Pasha was actually mischievous. It marked a further stage in the insane centralisation of the Turkish system. Instead of dealing as before with three Valis among whom there might chance to be one honest and independent personality, the Palace need now reckon only with the Inspector-General. At the same time the task of espionage was rendered easier and the consequent confusion more complete. The Valis, jealous of Hilmi Pasha, ignored him and corresponded directly with Constantinople. The minor prefects and governors (caimakams and mutessarifs), instead of reporting through the Valis, were in direct relations with Hilmi Pasha. He himself was surrounded with spies, and the military commanders were peculiarly anxious to restrict his authority. It is the sort of complicated and superfluous muddle which allows the Sultan to feel absolutely secure. Hilmi Pasha, however, cannot be ubiquitous. He spends his time between Uskub, Salonica, and Monastir, passing, as a rule, three or four months in each of these great administrative centres. His arrival virtually deposes the local Vali, who sulks, or plays chess, or goes off to harry the Albanians, while Hilmi Pasha and all the troupe of the travelling reform company occupy the stage and overhaul the stock properties. For a brief season the administrative machine works at high pressure. The unhappy telegraph clerks forget the meaning of sleep, and all the penmen of the administration are set to compile statistics and draft reports for the consuls. The police, the prefects, the revenue officers, the civil and ecclesiastical judges, hurry to the room where careers are made, and for three months the Vali is the only idle official in all the vilayet. But at length the strain is relaxed and the restless reformer betakes himself to another sphere of action. The Vali begins once more to frequent his office. The telegraph clerks enjoy their slumbers, and the traditional Turkish motto, "Yavash Yavash," which may be roughly rendered, "Ca' canny," breathes repose where all was agitation. An abnormal


slackness succeeds to an unwonted stir. [1] The discredited Vali has no authority or prestige left to enforce even a moderate standard of energy, and in a very few days the state of the reformed province is worse than before. But the statistics and the reports are still in evidence. Who shall doubt that the enervated and demoralised administration has been thoroughly reformed? Littera scripta manet.

The outline of the reforms which were attempted, both on the initiative of the Sultan, and of the two interested Powers, during the year 1903 must be briefly sketched it never was more than an outline, (1) The finances were supposed to be placed in some mysterious way under the jurisdiction of the Imperial Ottoman Bank an international institution controlled mainly by French capital. It opened new branches in Uskub and Monastir, and it was supposed to act as paymaster and treasurer. But it had no powers of control. It banked the supplies if any confided to it, and paid without question the sums demanded of it. (2) The civil and criminal courts were reorganised on an ambitious scale. The number of professional judges was increased, and their nominal salaries raised a reform which cost nothing. This was actually a reactionary step. Under the old system the civil tribunals were largely composed of elective members, local notables chosen by the various religious communities of the chief towns Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Jews. They were not trained lawyers, but they were usually men of substance and reputation, who were not compelled to live by bribes, and they were amenable to public opinion. Their fault was not so much venality as timidity. They dared not assert themselves against the executive officials. To substitute for these men a hungry crowd of unpaid professional Levantine lawyers who are venal as well as timid, was a very doubtful "reform." (3) There was much

1. I am far from implying that the slackness is worse than the stir. I, for example, was beset with spies and escorts as long as Hilmi Pasha remained in Monastir. As soon as he departed I was allowed to ride about, a free man.


talk of a reform of the gendarmerie. Some Christians were admitted to the ranks, but the officers, as before, were all of them Moslems. These new recruits were drawn from the lowest and most abject class of the population; they were rarely, if ever, Bulgarians, and they were employed only in menial duties. At the same time a few Swedish and Belgian officers were engaged to reorganise the "reformed" force. They were well paid, and some of them were easily made to understand that their functions were purely ornamental. They were allowed to give advice, but I should doubt if it was often, or indeed ever, followed.

(4) Great importance was claimed for a drastic reform affecting the rural guards of the villages the bekchi, as they are called retired brigands most of them, who prey upon the Christian peasants and bring an intimate domestic tyranny into their daily lives (see pp. 47-48). It was agreed that Christian villages instead of having to endure Moslem guards might elect Christians. But two reservations sufficed to render this privilege worthless. In the first place only landowners had the right to vote, so that villages which formed part of the estate of a Moslem bey were no better off than before. In the second place the Christian guards were not allowed to possess rifles. They wore their little badges, but their only arms were a cudgel or in some cases a fowling-piece. When the first bashi-bazouk with a rifle appeared on the scene, the only course open to the Christian rural guard was to hide in the nearest haystack. Moreover, by nominating a Christian bekchi the village did not necessarily get rid of its old tyrant. He handed over his badge and his title to a Christian underling, but he kept his rifle and drew his pay and indulged in his ravages as before. Such were the reforms in their first stage. Their uselessness merely served to encourage the insurgents in the belief that freedom could only be won by force of arms. Hilmi Pasha's real occupation during the first seven months of his tenure of office was not reform but repression. The insurrection of August was the fruit of his activity.

In September, 1903, the Emperor and the Tsar met at


the hunting-lodge of Mürzsteg, near Vienna, and the second Austro-Russian Reform Scheme was the result of their deliberations. Six months of procrastination followed, and it was not until April, 1904, that it came fully into operation in Macedonia. Its results have been as disappointing as those of the first essay in amelioration. The state of Macedonia is if anything worse than it was in 1902. Something, however, has been gained. A further blow has been struck at the direct sovereignty of the Turks; and though the principle of an exclusive Austro-Russian control remains intact, some place has been found in the new scheme for the other Powers. It makes an advance towards the ideal of an international protectorate.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]