The insurgent provinces
A Forecast. I
THE AUTHOR UNDER ARREST
THERE are still a goodly number of people who believe Friday to be an unlucky day, and likewise connect the number "thirteen" with all manner of dire disasters.
"1904 will be a bad year," remarked an Austrian to me on New Year's Eve, "because it begins on a Friday. It is lucky it is not the 13th too."
The latter part of the above remark was doubtless a slip, and as such caused much merriment, but, oddly enough, thirteen days later, likewise on a Friday, the New Year was celebrated in the Balkans, where, as in Russia, time is reckoned by the old calendar. The very superstitious can therefore maintain that in a sense the New Year in the Balkans began on a Friday, and on the 13th, and deduce all kinds of catastrophes therefrom.
But joking apart, the immediate outlook in the Near East is exceedingly serious, and a peaceful solution well nigh impossible in the face of the many conflicting elements. "The man who understands the Balkans does not exist," Count Billow is reported to have said once, and in truth he is right.
We have two great Powers insisting on the introduction of impossible reforms, the successful fulfilment of which would set the half of the Sultan's European dominions in a
blaze. There are the insurgents determined to fight on, openly deriding these same reforms. Bulgaria is convinced that the time has now come when she must, once and for all, decide the fate of her brethren in Macedonia, and put an end to the annual and exceedingly embarrassing influx of starving and destitute refugees. Trade is paralysed throughout European Turkey, the Mahometans are at the limit of their patience, and Servia, seething with discontent, is openly preparing for an external diversion in conjunction with Bulgaria.
Whichever way the observer turns he can find no solution but war; and a retrospective glance into the histories of these turbulent peoples will show an almost exact parallel of the present situation a little more than a quarter of a century ago.
A miracle alone can save the Balkans from war, and I firmly avow the belief that the days of miracles are over, even at the risk of proving myself a false prophet. The Near East is nothing but a vast field of conjectures, and so it is difficult to know where to begin.
There seems no doubt whatever that the insurgents intend carrying on their operations with increased vigour as soon as the snows begin to thin on the mountain passes. Probably they will strike some great blow in Turkey - for instance, the blowing up of the railway near Adrianople, which would lead to an immediate conflict between Turkey and Bulgaria. The latter country is very likely to gain some decided advantages at the commencement, and these would be sufficient encouragement to cause Servia to march on Uesküb, and perhaps Montenegro on Ipek or Scutari. Likewise the Bulgaro-Macedonians would rise en bloc, and the Albanians would raid right and left. The immediate sequence of these events would be the occupation of Mitro-
vitza by Austria-Hungary - a step which would consolidate the now divided Albanian nation into a united whole against a common enemy - and the presence of an Italian fleet at Durazzo or Valona. The Turks would massacre, and a British squadron would land men at Salonica and perhaps force the Dardanelles.
Then will come the time for great European conferences, whilst the nations, big and little, are cutting each other's throats under the noses of the astute diplomatists, who will calmly and deliberately - with no indecent haste - dissect and rearrange the map of the Balkan Peninsula.
This is a terribly gloomy forecast, but it is the most probable. However, we can comfort ourselves that the probable is seldom realized, particularly in the Balkans. The improbable is that the insurgents will quarrel seriously amongst themselves, as they are now actually doing, with the consequence that their blows will be indecisive and easily dealt with by Turkey. The end of the war in the Far East will leave Russia's hands free to crush any attempt on Bulgaria's part to go to war. The Servians will content themselves with an internal revolution and a new King (though this contingency scarcely comes under the head of improbability). Austria will content herself with a mere demonstration in the Sandjak of Novibazar, hastily subdued on a remonstrance from Italy, and the work of reforms will be peacefully carried on, assisted by a now contented Mahometan population. A little child shall lead the Albanians, who will joyfully submit to arrest by Christian gendarmes, pay their taxes and become a law-abiding, god-fearing people.
But, alas! it is just this last improbability which is the greatest of all, and one perhaps least reckoned with by Europe. Otherwise the picture would be idyllic, so much
so that there is not a European statesman who will not smile when he contemplates it. In short, it is an after-dinner vision, when we sometimes fancy the world is Utopian.
To a very great extent the immediate fate of the Balkans depends on events in the Far East. This makes it extremely difficult to speak on the Near Eastern situation. The struggle in Asia is almost bound to cause a conflagration in the Balkans. Any serious reverse to the Russian arms would very likely lead to an outbreak of a serious nature in the interior of the Czar's dominions, which is seething with discontent. There is not a Balkan nation that would not use its advantage to the full, for however great Russia's influence may be - with her hands free - she is intensely hated by Serb, Bulgar, Greek and Turk alike. Montenegro is Russia's only friend and, to be biblical, what is one, and such a little one, amongst so many? On the contrary, Montenegro would inevitably join in the game of grab.
Then will Austria-Hungary take up her appointed task, and will duly, but with much pain, proceed to take the chestnuts out of the furnace. That Austria-Hungary realizes her responsibilities to the full is very apparent at the present moment.
Three army corps, those of Temesvar, Sarajevo, and Agram, have been on a war-footing since April, 1903. A fourth, in Bohemia, has now been warned for service, and is doubtlessly intended to garrison the three districts eventually denuded of troops.
How near we were to an armed intervention on the part of Austria on more than one occasion last year, few outsiders know. I know that after the Belgrade tragedy several regi-
ments were actually entrained, and for the officers of the above-mentioned army corps to obtain leave was at the critical junctures an impossibility. To-day, the probability of war is spoken of freely by both officers and men.
The task of Austria will be an extremely difficult one. In spite of a long-sustained propaganda amongst the Albanians, this warlike race will oppose any advance of Austria into their country to the last. Many are the talks that I have had with Albanians, both Mahometan and Christian, who declare that they will have neither Austrian nor Italian rule. They argue that the former, torn by internal dissension, has neither time nor energy to expend on additional territory, whilst the Italians they regard as utterly poor and incapable.
And this brings me to what I consider to be the crucial point of the Balkan question, viz., the future of Albania. Beside it the Macedonian problem fades into insignificance. There is a possibility, nay a probability, that when once Macedonia is granted autonomy - which is inevitable sooner or later - it will become as peaceable as Crete. But the accomplishment of this leaves Albania separated from Turkey, and, in its present state, a standing menace to the peace of the Balkans. What is to be done with Albania? Is it to be annexed, and by whom? What will Turkey do when she sees the severance of her last bulwark against the West inevitable? What Power will feel inclined to adopt this race, which has never hitherto acknowledged the yoke of a master, except in name: a nation that is born to arms, with no literature, no laws except the most primitive, divided into clans, and where the vendetta is compulsory: a nation divided against itself in times of peace by religion, yet animated throughout by the same love of independence,
inhabiting for the most part inaccessible mountains, and imbued with a fierce hatred of foreigners?
They have sworn to oppose the reforms, and they are men who know how to keep oaths; they hold the trump cards at Constantinople, for the Sultan is literally in their hands.
Count Goluchowski has said that it will take two years to introduce the reforms. A more weak and foolish statement has seldom been made. Yet it is a commonly believed theory to-day that the Balkans can be ruled by firm diplomacy. As a matter of fact, the reform farce will probably last till the spring, and no longer. But assuming that the Bulgars, the Serbs, and the insurgents can be brought to reason and to relinquish their national ideas, we still have the Albanians with us.
I have heard that arms and ammunition have been steadily pouring into Albania during the past year, and it is a fact that the Vali of Scutari recently remarked to a personal friend last October, that now it would be too late for Turkey to attempt to quell a determined Albanian rising. Indeed Turkey could never dare really to crush the Albanians unless the Sultan ordered the wholesale massacre of his Albanian bodyguard, a contingency of the greatest improbability.
If a Power undertakes the task, then the Sultan will have to decide whether his life and throne are worth a war with Christian Europe. Sooner or later he will have to choose, for the patience of the Mahometans is rapidly and undoubtedly reaching its limit. It is another fallacy of Europe to believe that Turkey will submit to this interference in its own affairs for ever.
There is the proverb of the ultimate turning of the worm, and the Sultan has but to lift a finger to send every Christian in his Empire to destruction. Up till now, his subjects have
given their sovereign no ultimatum of this kind, but there are signs that this eventuality does not belong to the impossible. Besides, Turkey is by no means a worm, but a nation animated to-day, as it was centuries ago, by the same fanatical hatred of the Christians, held in check in intelligent quarters now only by a wholesome fear of the hopelessness of a war against united Europe.
One thing is certain, that the loss of the Macedonian vilayets would inflict such a blow to the Sultan's prestige that his life would be worth nothing-a fact realized by him to the full. As it is, any thinking Turk will tell you that the country is rotten and impoverished. One province after another has been lost, indignities and insults are heaped upon it; but the time is coming when Turkey will stand this no more.
A Pacha bursting with indignation at some fresh indignity once said to me: "How long does Europe think we shall be her slave? How long, how long?" This he repeated a dozen times.
"We know what is coming," he continued passionately. "We must leave Europe; but where are we to go to? You must give us somewhere to go to. But when we depart, we shall go out on a wave of blood."
On the other hand, there are a few enlightened Turks, a very few, it is true, heartily sick of the corruption and bad government, who would welcome a change, though they clamour for the impossible-they insist on the annexation of Turkey by England, but by no other Power.
It is a noteworthy fact that in Salonica last summer, and at the time when the British Fleet was expected, it was feared that on its arrival the British flag would be run up on the citadel. Furthermore, several British correspondents,
including myself, were secretly visited by deputations of the leading Turkish merchants, who begged them to use their influence to secure the active interference of Great Britain.
There are already many signs that the Sultan's patience is giving out. The last scheme of reforms cost him a tremendous effort to accept, and he has thrown every obstacle in the way, plainly hoping to retard the work till the spring, when insurgent "outrages" may disgust Europe, and cause it to leave Macedonia to its fate. In fact, this is the Sultan's only hope, and on it hangs his throne, though, happily for the wretched rayahs in his dominions, it is a forlorn hope.
It might be here pointed out that Turkey is to-day more vulnerable, and will be far more easily brought to its knees, than hitherto, for, thanks to years of corruption and bad government, it is defenceless by sea. It is not probable that even Russia would to-day attempt to march an army against Constantinople; but it would, and could, force the Bosphorus with the greatest of ease. Similarly it is held that the passage of the Dardanelles would present no difficulties. The mighty forts which frown over the narrow straits are believed to be useless; it is said that the artillerymen are, as in the field artillery, never drilled, and that the big guns, like the battleships, are not in working order.
As for mines, probably the explosives were sold within a week of their arrival, and it is not likely that a fleet would be fooled as was ours before Sebastopol, when, from fear of the mines known to be scattered in the entrance of the harbour, the British fleet-then minus the blessing of torpedo nets-stayed outside. The joke was that N6bel afterwards remarked to an Englishman that not a single
mine would have exploded a fortnight after it had been in the water, a knowledge which doubtless the British admiral would have paid dearly to obtain.
In another part of this volume I have dealt with the Turkish Army, but, bad as that is, the Navy beggars description. There is that famous yarn of a Turkish captain who was sent to Malta with his ship. After many days he returned, and made the now historical remark, "Yok Malta," which, being interpreted, means, "There is no Malta."
Another anecdote which may not be so well known is of comparatively recent occurrence.
There is a guard-ship at Salonica, a fairly modern-looking small cruiser, lying year in year out peacefully at anchor in the bay. One day an order came to the commander to take a cruise, and the consternation of that gallant officer was great, because no screw steamer can move without a shaft, and that had been sold some time ago. But he was a man of resource, and had a shaft made of wood, praying that it would break within the first few minutes. The wooden shaft held by some miracle, and as the cruiser slowly steamed out of the gulf, the captain's heart sank, for he had no desire to go to sea with a shaft that must break sooner or later. So he sent below, and had the shaft sawn half-way through. A little extra steam, and the desired was accomplished, and the guard-ship was towed back "disabled."
It is more than probable that the forts of the Dardanelles are in much the same condition, and those persons who declare the mines to be nothing but empty cases may be quite right.
Should the probable happen this spring, and war break out between Bulgaria and Turkey, I feel convinced that Europe
has a surprise in store for her. I predict that Bulgaria will walk through Turkey until Europe stops her. On paper the Bulgarian army appears small compared to the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Turks, but in reality the superiority is only "on paper." Bulgaria is vulnerable on only one side, viz., the valley of the Maritza, and it will be between Philippopolis and Adrianople that the first decisive battle will be fought. The rest of her borders are more or less easily defensible.
The plan of campaign will be very simple. A Bulgarian army will hold the Maritza valley, and, if successfulwhich, with its superior discipline, organization, and equipment it probably will be-it will march on Adrianople. Simultaneously, a flying column of insurgents-now a uniformed Bulgarian corps, consisting of some five or six thousand of the most hardy, intrepid mountaineers in Europe with an intimate knowledge of the country-will cross the South-Western border and, keeping to the mountains, thoroughly demoralize the Turks from the rear. If no general Macedonian rising follows, hosts of small bands will operate all over the interior, blowing up the railway bridges and tunnels, with the consequence that Turkey will be in the midst of foes. Also it is quite likely that a second Bulgarian army will support General Tzontcheff's flying column, and by marching on Xanthi or Dedeaghatsch, threaten Adrianople from the rear, and also wedge itself between Eastern and Western Turkey. A glance at the map will plainly show the feasibility of this manoeuvre, for the distance between the Southern Bulgarian border and the sea is not great, and has been traversed by bands constantly and with utter impunity during the recent insurrection.
Turkey's only chance is to crush Bulgaria in the Maritza
valley, and take Philippopolis; but the latter's advance, as above stated, would immediately threaten Turkey's base at Adrianople, and make the advantage thus gained of little value. Furthermore, a Turkish advance beyond Philippopolis is practically out of the question, as a small army could easily hold the passes over the lofty Balkans into Bulgaria proper.
Craven cowardice and utter incompetency of the Bulgarian generals can alone cause Bulgaria's downfall, and there have been enough proofs in recent years to show that Turkey cannot reckon on either of these primary factors assisting her.
Bulgaria is still the same nation, which a thousandyears ago was one of the greatest in the world, and which won by hard fighting an Empire whose borders touched the Black and Egean seas, reaching far into Dalmatia on the Adriatic, and which was ruled by the first Emperors who proudly styled themselves "Czars," a title adopted five centuries later by Russia. I have also endeavoured in another chapter to show the extraordinary virility of this nation, and the enormously rapid strides they have made since gaining their independence once more.
The result of this war, if it occurs, will decide the fate not only of Macedonia, but of Turkey in Europe, and the task before the Powers is one of enormous responsibility.
The blunders of the Berlin Conference, and their ghastly consequences, must never be repeated, and independence must be restored to the only European nation still under the iron heel of the Ottoman Empire.
If Turkey hasnot learnt to govern with equity and justice during these long centuries, surely it is ridiculous to expect her to learn now, and within the space of a few months.
"Anybody who has visited Turkey of late realizes the absurdity of expecting
that country to govern itself in a civilized fashion," said an Austrian
deputy recently in a speech on Count Goluchowski's optimistic scheme of
reform. "Ergo, we should look the inevitable in the face."
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