The Balkan league

I. E. Gueshoff





Fifty years ago my father, a merchant of Philippopolis (Bulgaria), settled in Manchester with the double object of carrying on business there and of giving me an English education. I was then a lad of sixteen. After a year spent with a private teacher, I entered Owens College, now Victoria University. And writing from that excellent institution, I sent on September 18, 1866, the following letter to The Pall Mall Gazette :



To the Editor of “The Pall Mall Gazette”


Sir,—In your edition of Saturday, in the beginning of the article “The Language Question in the Tyrol and Istria,” after touching upon the much-disputed ground of the test for determining the race of any given people you illustrate your opinion, that the will of a nation must be considered as the definitive test of this determination, by the case of the Bulgarians, to whose will, you say, appeal must be made for determining their nationality, as some of them think of themselves as Russians, others as Servians, and others as of something standing by itself. Now, sir, allow me to correct a statement which is apt to cast disrepute upon our already sufficiently disreputed nation. No Bulgarian, in the present state of our national advancement, will think of himself as Russian or Servian—nationalities whose language and history are wholly distinct from ours. And, of course, the mere supposition that there are Bulgarians who think of themselves as







Greeks is an anachronism. In proof of this, I beg to state that those Bulgarians who were and are educated in Russia, Servia, and Greece, and who naturally ought to have some tendency towards these countries and their nationalities, are the boldest champions of the claim to our being a separate nationality—speak and write much more purely the Bulgarian than any others. As to your saying that the Bulgarians are in a fluid state, which admits of their moulding themselves into some other kindred race, I must say that there is no necessity and no will on their part for this moulding. What motive, indeed, could induce a nation of 5,000,000 to mould itself into another—a nation whose intellectual and material development, so much neglected under the double yoke of the Turks and the Greek clergy, is rapidly progressing, whose language is one of the sweetest of the Slavonian dialects, whose commercial activity in the interior of Turkey and the banks of the Danube, scarcely inferior to that of the Greeks, is spreading even to this city, whose industry, moral qualities, and claim to a better position among the more favoured nations of Europe are justly acknowledged by all travellers, and whose, at last, future is one of the brightest?


Apologising for occupying so much of your valuable space, I have the honour to be, sir,


Your obedient servant,

A Bulgarian.



September 18, 1866.



So far as I know, this letter was the first political utterance of a Bulgarian, addressed in English to a newspaper. It appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette of September 26, 1866. Lord Strangford, who had written the article “The Language Question in the Tyrol and Istria,”





published it with a long commentary, from which I extract the following passages. [1]



We willingly give insertion to our Bulgarian friend’s letter. It forms an important and authentic standard of appeal; one far from unnecessary at the present moment, when the great mass of our contemporaries are actually letting themselves imagine that the destruction of the Turkish power in Europe would both of necessity and of justice restore the Greeks, not to autonomy only, but to Imperial dominion. It is most astonishing that they should still so imagine, but there is no use in remonstrating with them, as it is not likely to lead to anything in practice. Still, it must be hard, from a Bulgarian point of view, to have to read through article after article of trash about the new Byzantine Empire being a “bulwark” of Europe against Russia, vice Osman, dead from over-doctoring. The last new clever thing about the Greeks is that they are to be the soul of the new Eastern body of rising nationalities. How does the Bulgarian like the prospect of a Greek soul? What does he think about his likelihood of having one, if it comes to that? He seems to think he has had enough of one already and is glad enough to have got rid of it. But we forget. He is to have a Wallachian soul, for it is the Danube which unites him to Wallachia, and the Balkan which separates him from that part of himself which is south of the Balkan; a view which our Bulgarian may see if he should happen to fall in with last Saturday’s Spectator as he should try and do at once, like a good, thoughtful Bulgarian as he doubtless is. The next time the Danubian theory turns up, or our old and eloquently advocated friend, the great Jugo-slavic



1. Selected Writings of Viscount Strangford. Edited by the Viscountess Strangford. London, 1869. Vol. I, p. 218.





theory, we hope our Bulgarian will speak up stoutly for his own people.



Lord Strangford did not live to see how I followed his advice. Four years after my return to Philippopolis, the Bulgarian insurrection of 1876 broke out. And I did my best to enlighten those who brought about or took part in Mr. Baring’s inquiry into the “Bulgarian Atrocities,” made famous by Mr. W. E. Gladstone’s pamphlet. On the eve of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877, I wrote in The Times a series of seven letters, in which I voiced the sufferings and hopes of my people and for which I was imprisoned by the Turks and sentenced to death. In 1879, after the Treaty of Berlin, again in 1885, after the Union between Bulgaria and East Roumelia, I was sent to England to plead the cause of my country. And after speaking up stoutly for Bulgaria in different capacities, I was appointed in 1911 to the post of its Prime Minister. And it fell to my lot to inaugurate that Balkan Alliance which was to solve the Balkan problem. Events having given in 1913 a wrong solution to that problem, I trust the English public will not find fault with me if, in the present crisis of the Near East, I venture to raise again my voice and tell the truth in a matter of supreme moment to my people, more sinned against than sinning, and to the Balkan Peninsula, more distracted than ever.


I. E. Gueshoff.



August 1915.







On September 30, 1912, Europe was startled by an epoch-making event. The Christian States in the Balkan Peninsula, which had hitherto been disunited, appeared for the first time in the character of allies and ordered simultaneously a general mobilisation of their armies with a view to solving a timeworn problem. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they tried to induce Turkey to help them in that task by conferring on her European provinces the boon of ethnic self-government, so indispensable to Balkan peace. But all their efforts proved of no avail. And on October 18, after the Sublime Porte had declared war on them, they in their turn had recourse to armed force.


Then a miracle took place for which few were prepared. Within the brief space of one month the Balkan Alliance demolished the Ottoman Empire, four tiny countries, with a population of some 10,000,000 souls, defeating a Great Power whose inhabitants numbered 25,000,000. The alliance and its victories were greeted with enthusiasm by all the friends of peace and freedom. Millions of European people were being liberated and the world would be spared a frightful nightmare.







Once the Turks were driven back to Constantinople and Asia Minor, the Eastern Question would cease to be a source of troubles and dangers.


On May 30, 1913, this solution of the problem was consecrated by the Treaty of London. The Balkan war thus ended as it had begun—by a miracle. More territories were being reclaimed from Turkish hands than in the case of the most victorious war ever waged by a great Power against the Sultan.


But when the time came for determining the fate of these liberated territories, the Balkan Alliance perished, thanks to narrow-minded people among the allies, in the throes of an impious fratricidal struggle. And those whom the successes of the alliance had cowed immediately began to recover breath. They ceased to be pacific and grew warlike. The revelations of Signor Giolitti prove that as early as August 10, 1913, Austria was proposing to Italy a war against Serbia ; while on November 22, 1913, M. Jules Cambon, French Ambassador in Berlin, wrote to his Government that the German Emperor “was no longer a partisan of peace.”


Since the Balkan Alliance was destined to have such terrible consequences, it seems to me that its authors owe both to their own countries and to humanity at large the full truth on this subject. The treaties on which the Balkan League reposed having already been made public, there is no longer any reason why secrecy should be observed





on the motives which inspired those treaties, the negotiations which preceded their signature, and the causes which brought about their disruption. And as the treaties in question were concluded in Sofia, Bulgaria standing at the head of the Balkan Alliance and making for it during the war against Turkey greater sacrifices than all the other allies put together, it is only right that the Bulgarian statesman who conducted the negotiations should be the first to break silence and tell what he did for that alliance, how hard he tried to save it from destruction, and how little was the Bulgarian nation responsible for its downfall.


I. E. G.



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