Pictures from the Balkans
Fraser, John Foster


An Affray at Orovsji - Civil War between Rival Christian Churches - Jealousies between the Powers - The Macedonians a Mixture of Races - Bulgarian "Bands" and their Methods - Greek "Bands" - Conversion and Reconversion - European Officers and the Gendarmerie - A Big Massacre Wanted - Servian "Bands" in Macedonia - Turk and Greek - The Remedy

RIDING in Macedonia I passed the village of Orovsji. The inhabitants had just buried seven Bulgarians and four Turkish soldiers who had killed each other the previous day. Otherwise all was quiet. Indeed, the Balkan peninsula was never so quiet. There were no wholesale massacres of peaceful Christians by ferocious Moslems, no fire and sword campaign by the troops of the Sultan, no batches of outrages on peasant women by devils wearing the fez. There were few incidents which newspaper correspondents at Constantinople heard of and telegraphed to London. And yet, if totals count, there were more murders in Macedonia in 1905 than during any of the years which have thrilled Christian Europe and caused worthy folk to exclaim, "Something must be done!"

The reason Macedonian methods have attracted


scant attention is because the barbarities have been scattered. A village of a dozen houses is burnt down - a common occurrence, not worthy the attention of Constantinople! A family is murdered - husband, wife, children, aged folk - shot, maybe, more likely with brains battered out, possibly with throats cut - an everyday affair!

The good Christian at home, when told, shudders, and being pious, offers a little prayer that the day may soon come when the accursed Turk will be swept out of Europe, and the sorely tried but patient Christian people of the Balkan peninsula be free to live peaceably and worship as the heart and conscience dictate. Very likely he sends a contribution to a Balkan committee to assist in the noble and patriotic work of feeding the destitute and driving the murderous Turks out of Europe.

What the worthy English Christian does not always realise, and what it is not the business of the propagandists to inform him, is that most of the murdering now going on in the Balkans is by Christians of Christians. The fact is the whole of the Balkans is infested with rival Christian "bands," which terrorise villages and convert them from the Greek Church to the Bulgarian Church, or from the Bulgarian Church to the Greek Church, at the dagger's point. The Turkish soldiers occasionally hunt these "bands," and when they catch one there is some quick killing.

The situation in the Balkans has gradually entered a new phase. The Christians hate the Turk; but they hate each other more. "What are you?"


I asked an innkeeper in a village near Koritza, on the borderland of Macedonia and Albania. "Well, sir," he replied, "I find it best to be a Greek." There was a Greek "band" in the neighbouring hills.

The genuine problem before those who seek the welfare of the Balkan people is not so much to remedy the incompetence of the Turk as to find a means of checking the civil war which is beginning to rage between rival Christian Churches. The adherents of these Churches perpetrate atrocities on each other as vile and inhuman as the Turk ever perpetrated on either. The Turk meanwhile quietly chuckles. Why should he slay the Christians when they are so busily engaged in slaying one another? The Balkans is a confused kettle of fish. The ordinary man knows there is a tangle of interests too complicated for him to understand. He does not try. In a rough way, however, he wonders why the Great Powers do not immediately come to some agreement to remove the Turk, as a ruler, out of Europe. That is what the Powers cannot do. Who shall have the Balkans when the Turk goes? The Russian has an eye on Constantinople. The Austrian has both eyes on Salonika. Russia freed Bulgaria from the Turk, meaning to use Bulgaria as a stepping-stone to the Bosphorus. Austria used Servia as a pawn to prepare the route to an Austrian port on the AEgean Sea. Both Russia and Austria were surprised and hurt that Bulgaria and Servia, instead of being grateful and subservient, began to preen themselves and dream dreams of a


Great Bulgaria, and an extension of Servia, with no interference from northern neighbours. About the same time the Greeks began to remember that Greece once extended far into the Balkan region. Then Roumania, on the other side of the Danube, startled everybody by the brilliant audacity of the claim that the Balkans was really Rouman territory.

See the welter! The Great Powers cannot agree to clear out the Sultan. They know Russia and Austria want to annex the dispossessed region. Germany stands in the background; she will have no part in bullying and badgering the Sultan to reform the Macedonian administration. The thankful Sultan accordingly gives Germans the most valuable concessions in the Turkish Empire. Germans grow more than ordinarily fat and wealthy. Also they can afford to smile. They know that though Austria and Russia may join France and Britain and Italy in demanding reform, reform is just the thing neither Russia nor Austria wants. It is the disturbed condition of the peninsula which gives the two countries hope that their services may be required to come in with armies to secure peace-and stay! Germany thinks that over the little kingdom of Servia and the principality of Bulgaria Austria will reach Salonika and Russia Constantinople. Germany sees far. She hopes Austria will get to Salonika. Also she reckons that the Austrian Empire is doomed, that the German Empire must expand. She thinks she sees the not-distant day when Salonika will be a German port.


But Britain? The Christian populations in the Balkans appreciate that England has no territorial aspirations. They believe that were any of the nations to attempt annexation they would have to face British cannon. They know that Britain squeezes Turkey, sometimes very uncomfortably, to put its Macedonian house in order. They rely on Britain - if Turkey does not govern the country well, as she never will-first to secure European control of Macedonia, and ultimately to give the Macedonians independence. So the name of England is honoured. England is the one European Power which, unselfishly, and from purely humanitarian motives, will see justice is done the Macedonians.

But who are the Macedonians? You will find Bulgarians and Turks who call themselves Macedonians, you find Greek Macedonians, there are Servian Macedonians, and it is possible to find Roumanian Macedonians. You will not, however, find a single Christian Macedonian who is not a Servian, a Bulgarian, a Greek, or a Roumanian.

They all curse the Turk, and they love Macedonia. But it is Greek Macedonia, or Bulgarian Macedonia, and their eyes flame with passion, whilst their fingers seek the triggers of their guns, at the suggestion that any of the other races are Macedonian, or, indeed, anything but interlopers. In point of fact, Macedonia is little more than a name given to a tract of Turkish territory where, besides the Turks, live congeries of races, chiefly Bulgarian and Greek. Converse with a Roumanian consul, say at


Monastir. "True, these people talk Bulgarian or Greek," he says; "but they are really Roumanian, though they don't know it. Therefore, when Macedonia is freed from the Turk, its natural and proper ruler is'Roumania." Interview a Servian. "Before, the coming of the Turks," says he, "the Servian Empire stretched south to the sea." Seek the views of a Bulgarian. "It is obvious," he tells you, "that practically all Macedonia is filled with Bulgarians. They speak Bulgarian, and are adherents of the Bulgarian Church. Many people who speak Greek and are Orthodox have been coerced; but they are Bulgarian. Macedonia is the rightful heritage of Bulgaria." "Nothing of the kind," retorts the Greek; "the Bulgarians are schismatics, and are not even entitled to the name of Christian. They compel villages by threats to renounce the Orthodox Church, and then they are reckoned Bulgarian. Bah on the butchers!"

It is this race animosity, nurtured by politicians and egged on by the priests in the name of Christianity, which is putting an obstacle in the way of the Powers doing much to remedy the condition of the country, and would do so even were they united and possessed of the best intentions in the world. The misrule of the Turk is bad enough. But to hand over Macedonia to the Christians of Macedonia to work out their own salvation would be to plunge the country into direst bloodshed. The rivals are afflicted with land hunger. That we can appreciate, especially as the claimants bring forward plausible reasons. The regrettable thing is


that the war of extermination waged by Christians upon Christians is unconsciously fostered by wellmeaning but ignorant Christians in other parts of the world.

Among the Balkan races the Bulgarians are undoubtedly the sturdiest, most industrious, best fitted for self-government. What they have done with Bulgaria, since the Turks were driven out of their land, is deserving of respect and admiration. When the Bulgarian frontier was fixed it should have been drawn much further to the south and west than it is, and have included districts, undoubtedly Bulgarian, which were unfortunately left in the Turkish Empire. Bulgaria, especially since it realised its potentialities as a nation, has smarted under the limitation. A considerable section of the Bulgarians is working for a "Greater Bulgaria." But this laudable ambition has run wild, and is the cause of much of the existing unhappy strife.

Understanding that when Concerted Europe should be sick of endeavouring to badger or kick the Turk into improving his methods of government, autonomy would probably be given to Macedonia, the Bulgarians began to arrange so that, at the proper moment, Macedonia should fall like a ripe plum into the mouth of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Committees, safely ensconced in Sofia, organised the notorious "bands," not only to retaliate upon the Turk and guard Bulgarian villages from Turkish depredations, but also to further the Bulgarian propaganda in those parts of Macedonia which were not quite sure. Be


it remembered that when Bulgaria broke away from the Greek Orthodox Church, numerous villages in Macedonia did likewise, and appropriated to themselves the Greek churches. But there were and are many villages of Bulgarian-speaking peasants who did not secede from the Greek Church, but whoafter the manner of the Balkans - are called Greeks, though they do not know a word of Greek. Further, there are Greek-speaking peasants who call themselves Bulgarians because - living probably in districts where the real Bulgarians predominate - they have succumbed to local religious influences.

The men composing the Bulgarian "bands" are courageous fellows. They undergo many hardships in the mountains. They risk their lives in the Bulgarian cause. But they are playing at revolution, and when they lose a point in the game and are caught by the Turks and slain, and their heads thrown into saddle-bags, so that Turkish soldiers may give proof they have earned reward for killing brigands, it is for their friends to regret their loss, but not to rail at the barbarity of the Turk.

Here were the methods invented and pursued by the Bulgarian "bands." They visited the Bulgarian villages, levied contributions, and stored arms, so that on an appointed day there might be a rising against the Turk, and Bulgarian Macedonians be liberated from their oppressors for ever. Naturally they were greeted as heroes; food was willingly found for them. Most of the industrious peasants living under the eye of the Turk knew where the rifles were stored, and were sworn to join the re-


volution when the signal was given. But there were Bulgarian villages which - maybe not knowing better - were content with their lot, lived in amity with their Turkish neighbours, had no national aspirations, and, what is more important, dreaded any trafficking with the "bands," which would lead to terrible reprisals by the Turks.

And the Turk is a bungler in administering punishment. His spies inform him when a village is the headquarters of a "band." He sets out to capture the revolutionists. He rarely does so, however, for the "bandsmen" also have their spies, are warned of the coming of the troops, and are off to the fastnesses of the hills before the Turks appear. The soldiers do not follow. They proceed, on the usual Asiatic lines, to punish the village. They shoot, they burn houses, they commit rapine. So the innocent and the least guilty suffer while the revolutionists escape. If the "punishment" is severe, Constantinople in time hears of it, very likely in a grossly exaggerated form, and we read over our breakfast of a wanton and unprovoked attack by Turkish soldiers on a peaceful Bulgarian village, guilty of no other crime than that of being Christian!

Now it is occasionally forgotten that half the population of Macedonia is Moslem and Turk. The Turkish peasant is just as good and industrious a fellow as the Christian. He has to give the "bloodtax " in serving as a soldier, which the Christian has not, and the bloodsuckers of Turkish officials oppress him quite as much as they oppress the Christian. He has no foreign consul willing to


listen to his tale of woe, and no Orthodox or Exarchist bishop to carry a complaint to higher officials. On the whole he accepts his fate resignedly, taking it as part of the order of things that he should be ill-treated, just as his neighbour the Christian, after four centuries of Turkish authorityi is sometimes disposed to take the exactions of the tax-gatherer as part of the scheme of life. And because it is characteristic of human nature for us to open our ears to tales of tragedy, and be heedless of quiet contentment, we are occasionally disposed to ignore the hundreds of Moslem and Christian villages in Macedonia, all subject to Turkish misrule, which, as between themselves, have no animosity whatever. Indeed, I have been in many a Macedonian village where Turk and Christian trade and deal and live side by side in perfect accord.

Take the case of a Bulgarian village which has no desire to be mixed up with the "patriotic" movement. Those who resist are generally one or two men of character. If they do not yield to the demands of the " band," and all the rest of the male inhabitants swear to join the revolution, it is not unlikely that some morning a couple of resisters, or maybe three, will be found dead. After that the village is submissive.

But the methods of the Bulgarian "bands" went further. They terrorised Bulgarian villages belonging to the Orthodox Church, and therefore deemed Greek, into renouncing the Greek Church and becoming Exarchist and Bulgarian. For in the Balkans race and speech count for nothing in


nationality. Nationality is decided by the Church to which you belong. It is much as though a London-born Roman Catholic were called and counted an Irishman, or a Presbyterian in New York, though his ancestors came from Germany, were called and counted a Scotsman. The plan of campaign on the part of the "bands" was to make Macedonia Bulgarian. In furtherance of this they took to "converting" villages that were not only Greek in religion but Greek in speech and race.

The Greek nation, with memory of Hellenic influence stretching far into the Balkans - with hundreds of Greek villages penetrating half through Macedonia, till they mingle with Bulgarian villages and then disappear - resented the methods of the Bulgarian "bands." If there was to be any division of Macedonia, Greece was entitled to the larger share. Accordingly, Greek "bands" appeared to check the propaganda of the Bulgarian "bands." What amounted to civil war began. Greek "bands" adopted the methods of the Bulgarian "bands." Greek-speaking villages which had adopted the Bulgarian Church were obliged to renounce their religion, and become Greeks proper, or have their houses burnt, or worse. The villagers, who would like to be left in peace, yielded, and instead of Bulgarians became Greeks. When the Greek "band" withdrew, down came the Bulgarian "band" to "re-convert" the village and make the inhabitant Bulgarians again. Thereupon the Greek "band" cut a few throats and


fired a few houses just to remind the peasants they must be Greeks or be killed. The Greeks invaded Bulgarian villages - Bulgarian in race, speech, and religion - and, with murder, compelled a conversion to the Orthodox Greek Church. The bishops and priests of the Greek Church not only countenanced but urged crime as a means of compelling Bulgarian Macedonians to proclaim themselves Greeks. What think you of a letter written by a Greek bishop advising a "band" to warn a village that if it is not converted all the Bulgarian houses will be burnt; and on the top of the notepaper the emblem of the Christian faith!

The Bulgarian "bands" are excused on the ground that they are necessary to protect Bulgarian villages from indignities at the hands of the Greeks, and the Greeks say that their "bands" are only to frighten off the Bulgarians from molesting Greek villages. Both races believe they are engaged in a high patriotic mission. They will not listen to reason. They regard the others as vermin deserving only extermination. So the burning of houses, the murder of partisans, is proceeding apace in a more flagrant manner than during the times of Turkish atrocities.

What impressed me two or three times a day as I wandered through that wild and bloodstained land was that the bitterness against the Turk was, even among the Bulgarians, not so ardent as it was two or three years ago. The explanation is that the Turks, except when "punishing" a village for harbouring "brigands," have been comparatively,


guiltless of violence. This is not because the leopard has changed his spots. It is because the Turk knows he is being watched by the European officers who have been introduced to assist in the reform of the Gendarmerie: the British at Drama, the French at Seres, the Russians at Salonika, the Italians at Monastir, the Austrians at Uskup. Individual officers are stationed in particular districts, and few are beyond three days' horse-journey from any point of outrage, where they can make personal inquiry. Therefore the Turk is behaving himself, and the country is comparatively quiet.

Yet the murders and the burnings as between Christians continue. They are not made much of to the outer world by the rivals, because they dread the alienation of Western European sympathy, and do not want to be interfered with in their reprisals. It is only in quiet conversation you get the brutal truth.

This was said to me by one of the Bulgarian leaders in Sofia: "We intend to make every village in Macedonia a centre of revolution. If there are any, Greeks or Bulgarians, who check us, they must be removed in the interests of Macedonian independence. The time for argument is gone. We shall run no risk from traitors. At the proper time the country will rise en masse against the Turk."

"But what chance," I asked, "will your peasants have against trained Turkish soldiers? You know what the Turkish soldier is when let loose. The country will welter in massacre."


"We know it, we know it!" was the quick exclamation in reply. "We want a big massacre! It is the price we shall have to pay. We shall provoke the Turk into such a massacre that Europe will-must-intervene. I do not expect anything from your Reform movements, or Boards of Financial Control. The Turk plays with you and defeats you every time. I know Europe is getting sick of the Macedonian muddle. But Europe has got to be stirred. The only thing to stir it to interfere and take Macedonia from Turkey will be a great massacre of Christians. That is the way by which Macedonia will get its liberation."

Horrible words! Spoken by a revolutionary leader, a man whose name is well known in England and America to the more prominent sympathisers with the Macedonian movement.

Another phase of the situation. Servian "bands," and, I believe, even Roumanian "bands," have appeared in Macedonia, ostensibly to save Serb and Roumanian villages from "conversion" to Bulgar or Hellenic nationality. And while the Bulgarian "bands" are the more numerous - figures are difficult to obtain, but I think about 7,000 "bandsmen" were in the hills last summer - they have not been so active with their propaganda as the Greeks. They received orders from Sofia to "go gently!" If Western Europe and America knew how Christians were waging war on Christians the clock of Macedonian freedom would be put far back. Accordingly the Bulgarians have not been so energetic as the Greeks.


If one must balance criminality, the weight of horrors now rests with the Greeks. And I am within the mark in saying that the Turkish authorities wink at the doings of the Greek " bands." The Turk abets the weaker party and helps Greek propaganda, not because he loves the Greeks, but because he wants - and this is the blunt truth - to let the rival parties get more equal in numbers, to provoke reprisals, and let the mutual murdering by the Infidels proceed. I saw constant evidence of this. Whilst the Bulgarian "bands" are hunted by the Turkish soldiers, the Greek "bands" are now left alone.

Further, in all mixed Christian villages where there is strife, whether the Church is Greek Orthodox or Bulgarian Exarchist, the Turk aids the Greek. In many a village where the Church was originally Orthodox, but became Exarchist when the Bulgarians renounced the authority of the Greek Church, the Turk by his authority has handed church, schools, and revenues to the Greek minority. The consequence is that to-day you can hardly meet a Greek who will not tell you the Turk is doing the right thing by seeing that Christian property is restored to the legitimate owners. The Greek fails to perceive that the whole proceeding is part of a scheme to keep the Christians at enmity.

As things are, the misrule of the Turk is preferable to the condition of affairs that would be inevitable if the races in Macedonia were given their freedom. That the Turk is impossible as a ruler is a truism. That all the tinkering at reform will end in


nothing is recognised by everybody who has any direct acquaintance with the Balkans. The Turk, fine fellow as he is personally, cannot, in governing, conceive the right way to do a, thing, and even when it is pointed out to him, he is content to do it in the wrong way.

But there can be no genuine and lasting amelioration in the Balkans till the Revolutionary Committees in Sofia and Athens understand that the desire of the outer world is not to aid Bulgarian or Greek aspirations, but to save Christians, of whatever Church, from injustice. If there is to be outrage in the Balkans, let it not be between the Christians themselves.

Many students of the Balkan problem are plunged in pessimism as to any solution being possible. I am not without hope, though I am quite certain that pricking the Sultan will not lead to anything beneficial. The idea that Macedonia may become peaceful under the Turk may be put on one side. The Macedonians themselves, being quite unfitted for self-government, must consent - and they will consent if Great Britain, whose impartiality is recognised by all the Balkan States, gives the lead - to efficient European control by the representatives of all the Powers. Bulgaria, Greece, Servia, and Roumania ought to be given to understand that they need expect no territorial acquisitions, that Macedonia is a state unto itself. "Bands" and propagandists, whoever they are, must be repressed in the sternest manner.

Then Macedonia will have an opportunity to


develop; and in that development and consequent prosperity I have some hope that in years to come the inhabitants will think less of their Turkish, Bulgarian, or Greek origin and a great deal more of the fact that they are all Macedonians. And then only can self-government be conceded to Macedonia. Behind that, however, I have hopes there may be a Confederation of the Balkan States, with the remainder of European Turkey as part of the Confederation. So long as there are half a dozen little nations open to attack by powerful neighbours, the Balkans will continue to be a region of unrest. A Confederation of the States for defensive purposes would, however, not only count for mutual prosperity, but would remove the cause of the bad dreams from which European statesmen often suffer.

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