The insurgent provinces
A Forecast. II
THE outlook in Servia is particularly unpromising. King Peter finds his crown a crown of thorns, and those who know declare his punishment just. Twice before has the present king's name been mentioned in connexion with plots against the Obrenovic dynasty. Prince Michael was foully murdered in 1868, and the assassins were frustrated in their intention of immediately proclaiming Peter Karageorgevic only by the merest chance, and in 1882 King Milan narrowly escaped his predecessor's fate, when again Peter's name was heard.
The remarkable influence which the regicides hold over the present king, in the teeth of Europe and the Servian people, is capable of only one interpretation, and the rumour that incriminating documents exist is hinted with ever-gathering force.
The feud between the Obrenovic and Karageorgevic families is of old standing, and is nothing but a vendetta such as is still prevalent more or less in the Orient.
"Black" George (Turkish "Kara") was the first hero of the Servian struggle for freedom, Milosh Obrenovic the second, and it was Milosh Obrenovic who assassinated Kara George in 1817 whilst he slept. Terrible has been
the revenge of the descendants of Kara George, which was consummated in June last year, and stained the Servian nation with one of the most awful crimes of history.
It was less than two months before that ghastly tragedy that I sat in audience with the murdered king, and, by an odd coincidence, on the tenth anniversary of his sensational seizure of the reins of government as a boy of seventeen. A few days previously he had made his last and final coup d'etat.
I had waited over two hours in an ante-chamber beyond the appointed time, and seen the newly appointed senators and ministers troop in-for they were all received that morning en bloc. Some of these too shared their royal master's awful fate, and others escaped by a miracle. I was taken for a further weary wait into the Royal music and billiard room combined, and had ample leisure to study Queen Draga's taste in modern French literature and periodicals, for it was apparent that she had only just left the room.
Then at last my turn came, and I was ushered into the presence of a tall, solemn-looking young man, King Alexander of Servia. He was exceedingly unaffected, for he bade me be seated at the council table in the royal armchair at the head, whilst he sat in an ordinary straightbacked chair at the side.
"You must come and travel in Servia as you have done in Montenegro," he said. "When you wish to come you must let me know, and I will arrange your tour."
Alas! I was never able to accept his invitation.
I asked him for an interview, which he declined to grant, on the plea of having received two other journalists within the last few days. Yet one word led to another, and he
launched forth with great vigour, till he paused suddenly, and said with a laugh -
"Why, I am giving you the desired interview after all," and then he cut me short and added: "Now that I have begun, I will continue. What else do you want to know?"
Speaking of the reforms which had then just been submitted to the Sultan, he was very energetic, and his words hold good to-day.
"If Europe believes Turkey incapable of governing itself, then the proposed scheme of reforms is absurd, and no good can come from forcing elaborate measures on an admittedly inefficient government; and if, on the other hand, Turkey is capable of ruling her provinces properly, the reforms are unnecessary."
Alexander's enemies declared him to be an imbecile and diseased, but my own experience was that for three quarters of an hour he spoke with uncommon clearness and intelligence, and the interview I had with him was more interesting than many I have had with statesmen of reputed astuteness.
When he rose to dismiss me I ventured on a question, which I had been warned would be high treason to put. I asked if the recent coup d'etat was made in order to nominate Queen Draga's brother as heir to the throne, as maintained in many continental journals.
The king's slightly sleepy air vanished, and, still holding my hand - for he had given me his at parting - he fairly thundered, "A lie, an infamous lie." Then his smile returned, and he remarked: "I am still very young; I am only twenty-seven. There will be time enough to think of that when I am twenty years older and still childless. To nominate an heir now would only sow dissension,
and call up pretenders and plots. I am but twenty-seven, and why should I not have my own son?"
Another remark he made in connexion with the coup d'etat, when I hinted that the Servian people might be disaffected by the drastic change.
"I love my people, and am doing it for them. In time they will see that I am right. As for the present, I do not fear. I can reckon on my army to the last man."
Later that day I spoke to a prominent Servian, and repeated the king's denial of the rumour that his brother-in-law would be made heir, mentioning his argument as to his youth.
"Yes; but life is very uncertain," said the Servian.
"The king looks well enough," I answered.
"He may die suddenly," was the prophetic utterance of the Servian, and which I remembered with startling distinctness two months later. As to the future of Servia, it is gloomy indeed. Scarcely a day goes past without some new rumour, and the departure of all the European ministers from the court of the king at the New Year has made a deep impression on the nation. One plot against the regicides has been discovered, but the next is being skilfully planned. The heart of the Servians, people and army alike, was not in the foul murder of last June, however much the majority might have welcomed the abdication of the Obrenovic.
One thing the nation has already fully realized is that the rule of Alexander was no worse than that of the regicides, and their spirit rebels against the tyranny of a clique of officers, in whose hands their king is but a puppet - a tyranny which led to the boycott by Europe of their country.
If the king can keep his throne till the spring, then it is more than probable that Servia will go to war with Turkey. The regicidal party have already boldly declared that in this fashion they will be revenged on Europe; but much may happen ere then, and a bloody revolution seems another of the Balkan possibilities.
This time, however, it is likely that Austria will restore order in that misguided Balkan state.
One of the latest rumours declares that Prince Nicholas of Montenegro has been requested by Russia to interfere in the present untenable Servian position. King Peter will voluntarily abdicate, and the Powers appoint a new king, whose first duty would be to punish the regicides. This is an optimistic idea, though why Prince Nicholas should be entrusted with this task, excepting as father-in-law of King Peter, seems vague.
The part that Montenegro will play in the Balkan drama will not be very important; but if the game of grab commences, something is certain to stick to her fingers. Montenegro joined in the general blaze twenty-five years ago, and secured the formal recognition of her independence, besides doubling her area.
But the direst poverty handicaps the little country, and unless it is substantially backed by Russia it can never expand or grow rich.
There are two more factors in the Balkan confusion - Roumania and Greece. The former has been suddenly taking an interest in her kinsmen in Macedonia, but it is to be doubted if this mere show of sentiment will lead to more determined steps. Roumania is well content to be left alone, and to avoid all serious complications. With Greece it is very different. She has hated and oppressed
the down-trodden Bulgarians for centuries, completing what the Turk left undone. Suddenly the worm turned, helped by Turkey, who loves to play off one Christian race against another, and in an amazingly short time the Greek priests, with their Church and language, were swept out of Bulgaria. Bulgaria had her own Church once more, snapped her fingers at the patriarchal thunders, and has, what is more, revived her religion and language in Macedonia, even unto the borders of Greece itself.
Then has come the Bulgaro-Macedonian insurrection, a movement in which the Greeks were invited to participate; but they refused, hoping to see the hated Bulgars crushed and exterminated, and fearing like death their ultimate success, which means, as in Bulgaria, the end of Greek influence in Macedonia.
The part Greece is playing in European Turkey is despicable in the extreme. Consuls wilfully distort facts, ignore Turkish atrocities on their own countrymen, and seek by every means in their power to check and malign the insurgents, who are fighting as much for the freedom of the Greek peasant as for the Bulgarian or Wallachian. No subterfuge is too mean to further their schemes; whole villages are converted to the Patriarchal Church under the rifles of Turkish soldiers and promptly enrolled as Greeks. By hook and crook the Greeks are striving to prove a numerical superiority over the Bulgarians. As a matter of fact the statistics now show an almost equal population; but when once the country has secured autonomy, the relative numbers will be very different. I know many cases where pure Bulgarians term themselves Greeks, speaking the Greek language, and attending the Greek Church, purely from political or
business reasons. Just as in Bulgaria a century ago the native indignantly declared he was a Greek, believing the admission of his real nationality to be a disgrace, so it is in Macedonia to-day, though largely modified since the activity and success of the bands.
For instance, my servant for a considerable part of my travels in the Balkans, whom I have called John, was a Bulgarian by birth and inclination, kidnapped in a sense as a child and educated at the Greek school, and now proudly enrolled as a Greek, though he was no more so than his father. His passport described him as a Greek, and when twitted on his apostacy he frankly declared that the privileges he thus obtained outweighed his nationality, saying" -
But when the time comes I shall be Bulgarian once more, and may that time come soon."
Certainly I could never have engaged his services had his pass declared him to be a Bulgarian.
The hatred of the Greeks for the Bulgarians is very natural. The Greeks are in every sense a deteriorated race, and powerless against the newly found strength and energy of the Bulgarians. They will stand no more chance of attaining supremacy in the new Macedonia than they did in new Bulgaria, but croakers who predict internal dissensions amongst the Christian races because of this are wrong. The Greeks are cowards, and will speedily accept the inevitable.
There was much talk last summer of the offer of certain Greek bands to help the Turks against the Bulgarians, and even of substantial support in the event of war. The offer was, I believe, accepted, but no Greek band was ever seen in the flesh or heard of again.
Similarly, Bulgaria regards the offer of assistance in the event of war with equanimity. After the lamentable exhibition of the Greeks during the so-called war with their hereditary enemies, the Turks, these offers are in very questionable taste and savour of the ludicrous.
That Greece will get something out of the Balkans seems probable, and the Epirus, which is really Greek, may fall to its lot; but whatever precautionary measures are primarily adopted in Macedonia antagonistic to the Bulgarians-for they are undeservedly mistrusted by all - they are the nation that is bound ultimately to gain the ascendancy.
The most stupendous problem of all remains to be, at any rate mentioned, and that is the future of Constantinople.
Will that much-desired city be left to Turkey as her last and only foothold in Europe? That seems the easiest solution at the present moment, but it will constitute a standing menace to European peace till the question is settled for good, if that is ever possible under existing circumstances.
The subject is open to so many conjectures that nothing but mere allusion is possible in these pages. Constantinople and its future would furnish material enough for a book.
Salonica, I believe, is destined to become in the not too far-off future an Austrian port, and, after all, that Power will deserve something for the arduous labours before it. When once the railway is built between Sarajevo and Mitrovitza - neither a difficult nor a lengthy task - Austria has her long-desired outlet in the Mediterranean, and can view Italy's intrigues on the Albanian coast with more equanimity.
In conclusion, there is one grain of comfort m this gloomy picture, viz., that the expected often does not happen, and in no country in the world does the unexpected play more tricks with the most careful calculations than in the Balkans.
Oddly enough, as I penned these last lines a letter arrived from Sofia, written by a leading Bulgarian.
"The situation darkens from day to day," he writes; "the preparations of the Bulgarian army are being pushed forward with the utmost speed and energy.
"Also the Turkish army is approaching the Bulgarian border. All preparations are being pushed because nothing good will come of the reforms, and the Macedonian question will now be decided by the sword. Most probably a terrible conflagration will burst in the coming spring.
"So we are now prepared to meet coming events with determination."
This is a literal copy of a letter received by the author on January 23, 1904.
Whatever happens, 1904 will be an eventful and memorable year in the
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