Pictures from the Balkans
Fraser, John Foster


The Different Parties - Decrease of the Moslem Population - Nationality not a Matter of Race - A Hotbed of Intrigue - The Macedonian Committees - Austria and Russia as Watchdogs - Greece the Tool of the Sultan - Where the Future of the Balkans is Likely to be Decided

IT has been pointed out that there is no distinct race that can be called Macedonian. Roughly the population is about 2,000,000. A third of these are Turks. Of the remaining two-thirds Sofia will tell you the tremendous majority are Bulgars; Athens assures you the preponderance is with the Greeks, whilst both Belgrade and Bukharest have a claim for Servians and Roumanians.

Servians and Roumanians do not count, and one is not far wrong in saying Bulgars and Greeks are about equally divided. In the thousands of villages which dot the country, some Bulgar, some Greek, some Turkish, some mixed, the different races and people of different religions live amicably until politics are brought along to stir ambitions and jealousies, Bulgars and Greeks against each other and the Turks against both.

The industrious qualities of the Bulgar and Greek and the natural indolence of the Turk have an effect on the population. By some people the decrease of the Moslem population is ascribed to the gross immorality of the modern Turk. Personally, I think


he is yielding to the pressure of a superior race, particularly the Bulgarian. I heard allegations made, especially at Monastir, that the Turks kidnap Christian children and bring them up as Mahommedans. There is a well-known case where a soldier sold a couple of children in the market-place for four shillings. They were bought by a Bulgarian Christian who knew them to be the little ones of an acquaintance who had been massacred. There was an uproar by correspondents. Christian consuls were indignant; newspaper writers brought tears to the eyes of Christians at home with the pathetic stories they had to tell. Anyway, the authorities gave instructions that no more Christian children were to be brought to Monastir, but were to be sold in the villages "where there are no prying consuls or correspondents."

Very roughly I have given equal division to Greeks and Bulgarians of the Christians in Macedonia. By doing so I lay myself open to severe, and, I do not deny, legitimate criticism. For there is nothing more difficult than to say any particular Macedonian village is Bulgarian or Greek. There are Bulgarians who speak Greek, Greeks who speak Bulgarian. There are Bulgarians who speak Bulgarian but belong to the Greek Orthodox Church and are counted Greek in nationality, and there are Greeks speaking Greek who belong to the Exarchist Church and thus are Bulgarian in nationality. Even with this confusion it might after a time be possible to say, "This village is Greek and that village Bulgarian." But people who call themselves Greek


this week will swear they are Bulgarians next week.

Nationality in Macedonia is a matter of fear, politics, and religion. Race has comparatively little to do with it. Language does not help you much, because most Macedonians are bilingual, and they change their tongue when they change their party. Again, you meet peasants with Hellenic or Bulgarian sentiments who can speak nothing but Turkish.

So, while for convenience sake we say the Christian bitterness is between Bulgarians and Greeks - meaning the Bulgar and Hellenic races who receive support from Sofia and Athens - we must make the endeavour to remember, in examining the Macedonian mess, that the country is not so much divided into rival peoples as into hostile parties. When, therefore, I speak of equal division between Bulgars and Greeks I have race in my mind and not the numbers of those who are totalled up as supporters of one propaganda or another.

This being so, no country should be easier to govern than Macedonia. The rivalry for predominance ought to have made the task of balancing claims and yielding to neither quite simple. But the Turk breaks down in administration.

The only thing that happened was that by oppression everybody was made discontented, Macedonian Turks as well as Macedonian Christians. The downtrodden Turks had nobody to appeal to. The Christians had ears tuned to listen to the revolutionary talk of the Komitaji, Bulgarian and Greek, who, under the plea of safeguarding their Christian


brethren, are really animated by desire to make Macedonia a part of Greece or an extension of Bulgaria or an independent country, with Greek or Bulgar as top dog, whichever happens to secure the position.

Were the Christians in Macedonia - Hellenes or Slavs - to combine against the Sultan they could clear his rule out of the country in six months. The reason they do not is that they have a greater hatred toward each other than they have in common against the Turk.

Macedonia is a hotbed of intrigue. The cry of protest which comes to us against Ottoman maladministration and the appeal for an extension of our Christian sympathy to Christians in the Balkans is too often an exploitation of discontent for political advantage. Many of the massacres of poor Christian peasants in Macedonia by the Turks have been the consequence of assassinations by Bulgarian Komitajis, who stirred up reprisals in the hope that they would be vile and that Europe would intervene. Nothing more cold-blooded is recorded in history than the manner in which sections of Bulgarians - however much they may have stayed their hands during the last two years - pressed the revolutionary cause on the attention of the world. Massacres of Bulgarian Christians were provoked, so that by making others the victims of Moslem ferocity the Komitajis might move toward the realisation of their political ambitions.

Sir A. Biliotti, formerly British Consul-General at Salonika, thus summarises a copy of " Regula-


tions" found in the frock of one of the captured Bulgarian "bandsmen." Members of the various Komitajis were

to accuse the troops of offences they did not commit; to exaggerate such offences as they may have committed; to colour their other actions so as to make them appear as offences; to persuade the villagers to go en masse and lay complaints first before the Consuls, afterwards before the Vali; to murder all "harmful or useless Christians" and to put the blame on the most likely Turk, bekji, seimen or other; to admit to membership of a band only such as have previously cominitted a murder by order of the band, whereby the latter is relieved of all suspicion and the former is compromised; to levy contributions regular and irregular from each village; to choose in each village "terrorists" who shall keep the population in subjection, act under the order of the band, and relieve the latter of the duty of murdering such as may require it; to maintain the utmost secrecy concerning the possession of arms and information.
M. Schopoff, Bulgarian Agent at Salonika, stated to Sir A. Biliotti that there was a vast number of young Bulgarians who, on finishing their two or three years' schooling, thought it beneath them to return to their homes and work in the fields as their fathers did, and that it was from among these that the Committees recruited for the bands. He estimated the number of these loafers in Macedonia at 20,000.

I have no right to say that many members of the Macedonian Committees are not actuated by worthy motives. But it is clear from a careful consideration of the Macedonian problem that in actual work the Committees forget they are Christians and are little more than relentless proselytising politicians.


In the beginning the Committees had high aims. Turkey had shamelessly neglected her obligations under the Treaty of Berlin. There was petty persecution; Bulgarian Christians crossed from Macedonia into Bulgaria proper and told their tales of woe. Then followed raids by armed bands of Bulgarians into Turkey. In time associations were formed in Bulgaria and secret committees in Macedonia to aid the Bulgarian cause. In time came a congress and the formation of the "High Committee," having for its object the securing of political autonomy for Macedonia, and pledged, in order to secure it, to take any action "which may be dictated by circumstances."

The consequence was that peaceful Bulgarians in Macedonia were forced into the revolutionary movement, compelled to secrete arms, made to contribute to the maintenance of the "bands," and were put to death if they reported to the Turks, or were massacred by the Turks because they were revolutionaries. However oppressive the Turks had been, however zealous were good Bulgarians to save their fellow - countrymen and co- religionists in Macedonia from oppression, the revolutionary movement, as it is in Macedonia to-day, is the outcome of terror and murder. There are exceptions, of course, but the Bulgarian Macedonians help the "bands," not because they regard them as brothers, but because they are afraid of assassination if they do not help them.

Witness, then, the peculiar situation. The Porte treats Christians in Macedonia exceedingly badly.


The Bulgarian Christians adopt assassination as a remedy. The Turkish Government retaliates and massacres those who are innocent of revolution or who have been forced into the movement. Christian Europe is horror-stricken at the barbarity of the Turk. Sympathy is given to the Bulgarian movement. The Bulgars think Macedonia is for them. The Greeks start a movement of their own. Greek "bands" meet Bulgar "bands" and cut one another up. The Turk is lectured on having a wretched Government to allow such things to take place. The Turk, to check rebellion, sends out troops and slaughters a "band" and burns the villages which have harboured it. Then the Turk is abused for massacring Christians. Was there ever anything more tragically comical?

When the whole country was in a welter and massacres were rife, in 1902, Europe shook itself, decided something must be done, and appointed Austria and Russia - the two countries who do not want peace in the Balkans, but hope to benefit in territory during a general Balkan conflagration - as watch-dogs.

All Europe barks at the Sultan except Germany, who is passive. The one country now on friendly terms with Turkey is her late enemy, Greece. The Greeks have for twenty years claimed that if Macedonia goes to a Christian Power, all the country south of Uskup must go to Greece with the whole of the vilayet of Adrianople. The Turco-Greek War, however, rather damped down Hellenic ambitions. Still, no opportunity is lost of showing that Mace-


donia is a Greek land. To prove numerical superiority over the hated Bulgarians, all Macedonians who do not belong to the "schismatic" Bulgarian Church are counted as belonging to the Orthodox Greek Church. That the Bulgarians should have broken away from the Greek Church was perfectly natural, because the Patriarchate, instead of being above race, tried to Hellenise the Balkan peninsula. It was the revolt of nationality rather than a difference in creed which led the Bulgarians to make the severance. There is little difference in the service except language, and the influence of both Churches is political rather than moral.

The Greek and the Bulgarian Churches are at enmity. The Sultan, seeing that European sympathy was with Bulgaria, was astute enough to encourage the Greek movement. That brought rival "bands" into Macedonia, not to wage war on the Turks, but on the Bulgarians, who were coercing Orthodox Bulgarians to become Exarchists. This did two things: it caused the Christians to kill one another and it reminded the Powers that there were other Christians besides Bulgarians in Macedonia. Turkey made all sorts of concessions to Greece, concluded commercial treaties, and, more important, upheld the Greeks in South Macedonia in wresting churches and schools from the Exarchists. Greece is the tool of the Sultan in complaining to Europe that the Porte would have made an end of the brigands long ago if it had been allowed liberty of action by the Powers.

The Balkan States cry out for Turkey to be dis-


possessed of Macedonia. If that were done a European war would be precipitated. Neither Austria nor Russia would allow Bulgaria or Greece to have it, and Germany would take care that neither Austria nor Russia got it. While the Greek priests do the bidding of Greek politicians, Greek politicians get their orders from Abdul Hamid, and Abdul Hamid is governed by the long-armed policy of the German Emperor. The future of the Balkans is more likely to be decided at Berlin than elsewhere.

The European Concert, to maintain the status quo in the Near East, is a futility. There is no status quo. In the diplomatic wire-pulling one country is ever securing an advantage over the others. Russia formerly had it; Great Britain had it recently; Germany has it now.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]