"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Taxes, personal and on property - Inequality of property-tax - Dime and its farming - Consequent loss to the revenue - Mode of collection, and injury to the cultivator - Pleas against reform - A land-tax suggested - Already exists in the case of vineyards - Customs - Corvee - Ex-traordinary contributions.

IN the preceding chapter we have stigmatized the gross injustice of the arrangement whereby the severest of imposts, that paid by the youth and available labour of Turkey, is distributed so as to affect but one Creed and one Nationality.

This anomaly, which has never been appreciated in Europe, may perhaps have astonished our readers; and the contents of the present chapter will furnish them with equal matter for reflection, if they take any interest in the welfare of Turkey, and have formed definite ideas upon the subject of those economical truths which are in our day recognized as the bond between Government and people.

The authorized and regular taxes which are levied upon the subjects of the Sultan are of two classes:

1. Those which may be called personal.
A. The Virghu or tax upon the person and supposed property, which may be fairly averaged at 30
B. The tax of blood, or of military service, which as we have seen costs the Mussulman  400
And the Rayah (as Kharatch) 25

By these the Mussulman peasant or soldier is taxed annually  430
Whilst the Rayah proletarian pays only 55

II. Taxes upon the produce of lands granted and held under a Tapou; [This system of tenure will be explained in the following Chapter] these vary according to locality, but in Bulgaria consist of

C. The tax of the Ashar, ' Dime,' or tithe of the produce of cereals.
D. The Beylik or capitation tax upon various domestic animals.
E. A tax upon orchards, vineyards, and market gardens.

There are also indirect taxes upon various home or foreign products, which are paid to the Gumruk or customs.

We have already sufficiently proved the hardship inflicted by the unequal partition of the exemption tax between Mussulman and Christian, the former paying in proportion to the latter as 400 to 25, or 16 times more than his favoured fellow subject.

As for the Virghu or property tax, we have given one instance out of a thousand, the case of Mehmet Agha and Anastaz, in which the Turk pays the same sum as the Rayah for an estate which is only about one third as large: it follows that there must be either a very faulty and unjust system of classification or, what is possible but not probable, venality or peculation on the part of the collectors of this tax; this last hypothesis we qualify as improbable, not from any high opinion of the character of the tax-gatherers as a body, but because the details of extent of property, sum paid, &c., &c., in each case are set forth in the official Teskeres or receipts for taxes, and this would act as a cheek upon fraud; rejecting then this supposition, we conclude that the system of valuation is excessively imperfect.

As regards the tax upon produce, or dime, it will be seen from the brief historical sketch given in the last chapter (and without the aid of arguments which we reserve for another place), that a great injustice is committed upon the Turk, who, from being the receiver of a certain tax, has been reduced to pay it himself; at any rate he should be considered as bona fide proprietor of the land he cultivates, and consequently the taxes paid by him upon his produce are really taxes, whilst the Rayah, whose tenure of land (if not illegal) is not on the same footing with that of the Mussulman, is in reality merely a farmer of Government lands, and the tithe paid by him is no longer a tax, but a rent paid for the ground he holds.

Without further remark upon the unequal manner in which these taxes press upon the two populations of Turkey, we will pass to a detailed examination of their general effects upon the state of the country.

The most important of these taxes is the dime of produce, which (putting aside for the moment the bad economy it leads to) is raised in a manner equally disadvantageous to the treasury and the country, for it is not collected by Government officials but sold to tax farmers - what this sale involves will be understood when we remember that the buyers are speculators to whom 50 per cent. is a despicable profit.

The tithes of the Vilayat are sold by auction, and if bought by a single person are resold, privately, by Pashaliks or districts, which are again sold in small lots, so that the final proprietor of the tithes of a village has obtained them at fourth or fifth hand and consequently three or four different profits have already been made, each of which, to take a very low average, reaches 30 per cent., the whole forming a loss to the Government of 120 l. to 185 l. for every 100 l. it receives.

He does not, however, lose by the bargain, for any commercial transaction with the Turkish Government is sure to put money into the pockets of everybody who has to do with it, even to the last link in the chain of the tithe - farmers, and if the Beylikji [Acquirer of the thite or beylik] of a village does not contrive to gain at least 100 per cent. upon his purchase, he is either less skilful or more scrupulous than most of his fellows.

Those whose trade it is to whitewash ruinous or tottering institutions so as to give them an appearance of strength and solidity have not forgotten to daub over the laws which regulate the farming of the tithes, and have even invented new regulations concerning the manner in which payment is to be made and the method in which the sale is to be conducted, as well as the qualifications necessary in a purchaser; for Turkish reformers have yet to learn that mere palliatives will not care a disease which requires the knife of the surgeon.

There is no doubt that these new laws, which forbid an employe of the Government to become a purchaser of the tithes, which compel the auction to be held in public, and which even permit a village to buy its own tithes, are but so many evasions which can be recognized as valuable reforms only by the facile good nature of Europe; in Turkey all laws are easily eluded, and these perhaps more easily than any others.

Even if we admit that these cheeks have extirpated or at least thrown obstacles in the way of abuses in the collection of the tithes, (which may be the case under the jurisdiction of a man like Mithat Pasha), and that by their aid some millions of piastres have been rescued from the illegal peculations of a few employes, still the ruinous absurdity remains, in the fact that the country pays three or four times more than is received by the Imperial treasury: in other terms, the collection of the tax costs the Government from 2 to 3  of what is really paid by the people, and Eastern commerce, or rather Eastern speculation, which we have shown to be a monopoly of the Greeks, taxes the Ottoman Budget to the extent of 2 or 3 of its principal source of revenue - and it is hardly necessary to say more in proof of the absurdity, in a financial point of view, of the present system of tax farming.

In the collection of the tithe upon grain the tax-farmer has not very many opportunities of abusing his power, as he can do little more than choose the finest sheaves for himself, but in localities where this tithe is taken from olives, cocoons of silk, and other produce which cannot be estimated in the same manner as sheaves of corn, the farmer does not forget to bring with him his falsified weights and measures, whilst his natural ingenuity will suggest other means of getting as much as he can out of the poor peasant. [To give an idea of the profits realized by the tax farmer; the dime and beylik of our village was sold in 1867 for 400 Turkish lire, and the purchaser made, by the grain alone, 950 lire, a clear profit of 137 1/2 per cent., and in this instance the farmer was a Turk, and therefore probably less "business-like" than a Greek would have been. The farmer of the taxes of Baltchik cleared more than 4000 l. in the same year, but we are unable to state the sum he paid for his bargain. Counting the gains of the tax farmer of a village in a grain-producing district (other localities being still more advantageous to him) at only cent. per cent., and these of the respective purchasers of the Pashalik and district at 50 per cent. each, we obtain the gross sum of 200 per cent., which reduces the sum paid to Government to one-third of that paid by the peasants; startling as this calculation may be, it is to our knowledge not exaggerated, but might be raised still higher without exaggeration.]

The manner in which the tax-farmers collect the tithe is generally as follows : a little before harvest time they send to view the standing corn and estimate its value; if the harvest is likely to be a bad one and promises but small profits, they besiege the residence of the local Governor, and by the intervention of the original purchaser either procure a remission of some part of the sum paid to Government, or leave to take a smaller or larger percentage from the peasant, the difference to be made up the next year. [It is not often that the Government gives up any part of the money it has received, but permission is easily granted to take either 5 or 15 per cent. of the produce instead of 10. As the harvest of 1867 was a very plenteous one, the tax was raised from 10 to 15 for the benefit of the farmers, and next year it will only be 5 or 7 1/2.]

The day of harvest arrives and the grain is cut, but not a sheaf may be carried home until the tax-farmer or his delegate comes to take his share: to the Rayahs this is no great hardship, as their feast of 15 days occurring at this period prevents their working; but the Turk suffers much by it, as the Beylikji frequently appears two or three weeks after the corn has been cut, during the whole of which time it remains at the mercy of the weather, or of the pigeons who never fail to exact their tithe from it. In looking at the sheaves thus left upon the fields we have frequently noticed that from the heat of the sun and other causes much of the grain, falls out, and that instead of sixty or seventy grains in the ear we could rarely find more than a third of that number, whilst every day the loss became greater and greater.

The loss thus occasioned cannot be estimated at less than six or eight per cent., and the tithe costs the peasants sixteen or eighteen instead of ten per cent., through the negligence of the tax-farmer, who, though he must be aware that he loses in proportion, probably regards such an infinitesimal percentage as of no account, being occupied during this time with other affairs which bring him in from 100 to 150 per cent., and which enable him to disregard the loss of a few hundred piastres in the village whilst, he is making some hundreds of pounds in the town.

When the sheaves of wheat are counted, the tax-farmer has his corn carted to the village, and placed in a spot reserved for it, before the peasants are allowed to carry their own grain: they are also forced to thrash and clean it, and finally to transport it to the nearest town, for which last service they are entitled to a certain payment per cartload. From Derekuoi to Varna, a distance of four hours by cart, they are paid two piastres, but unless compelled they would not do it under fifteen. Even this reduced price is not paid in money by the tax-farmer, who merely gives the peasant saman - chopped straw - for the amount due to him.

We have seen that this tax costs the country three times the amount it brings in to the Treasury, and occasions great loss to the taxpayers. But even these are minor evils when compared with the economical falsity of its principle, since it has the effect of rendering all agricultural enterprise almost impossible: in fact, can there be a worse-devised tax than one which affects produce and labour, instead of consumption?

In spite of the generally light taxation of Turkey, the tithe has the effect of discouraging intelligent labour, and driving the peasant to his present ruinous system of agriculture. It cannot be otherwise so long as an enterprising  man who, by a new method of cultivation, has succeeded in doubling or tripling the produce of the soil, shall have to pay the tithe in proportion, and thus submit to a not inconsiderable deduction from the profit he had hoped to clear. As it is his talent and industry which have increased his produce, it is these qualities and not the land which are taxed by Government. Can any system be more injurious to aggriculturists, or tend more to discourage labour and offer a premium to idleness?

The peasant who cultivates his land with intelligence and industry is heavily taxed, whilst he who leaves hundreds or even thousands of acres uncleared, pays nothing at all for them. It is to the Dime that Turkey owes the system of Mira (right of pasturage) of which we shall speak in the next chapter, and which is one of the numerous causes of her financial ruin.

Some time ago even Turkey appeared to realize the fact that if the Dime was not a means of destroying her prosperity, it was at any rate a very unprofitable tax to the Government. The political economists of Constantinople cudgelled their brains to solve the great problem of converting the tithe paid in kind into a fixed tax payable in money, and after much thought excogitated the following scheme: to calculate the sums paid to the tax-farmers during a period of five years, to strike an average from this amount, and exact the payment of such an annual sum from the provinces, villages, &c.

This experiment failed, for the peasant (who is not gifted with too much intelligence) preferred to pay in kind; and all those who were interested in the lucrative speculation of tax-farming agitated so successfully, that the authorities were obliged to return to the good old system.

The arguments employed in favour of the present farming of the tithes by its defenders - amongst whom are ranged all the Government employes, a fact which induces us to fancy that in spite of the new restrictions this class still manages to profit by the tax-are as follows: -

1st. That as the country possesses no roads, it is consequently impossible for the peasant to sell his produce and pay the Dime in money.
2nd. That the collection of the tax would cost more to Government than the loss occasioned by the sale to the farmers.
3rd. There having been no survey of the lands (cadastre), it would be impossible to tax the land instead of its produce.
4th. That to abolish this system would be to the disadvantage of commerce, and of those who live by farming the Dime.

Such pleas hardly require refutation. As to the cost of collection, it could surely never equal two-thirds of the revenue; a statistical record of lands granted and held does exist in the Tapou or Official Register, and if every commune were forced to mark out the limits of their lands, forest and pasturage included, a very approximative idea would be arrived at of the superficies of its possessions, and the tax could be easily and justly levied.

There are few new schemes or projects in which there are no difficulties to be encountered, but a little difficulty ought not to stop a Government when the welfare of its finances is at stake, and when the country has to be rescued from misery and placed in the path of prosperity and progress.

It seems to us that to change the Dime into a fixed tax, keeping in view the great object of encouraging industry and rendering idleness and parasitism ruinous if not impossible, is in itself sufficiently easy. To effect this it is only necessary to tax the land in place of its produce, an alteration by which the prohibitive tax which now oppresses labour will fall upon the idler instead.

The simplest plan would be to levy a fixed sum, say of five piastres, upon every dulum of land, whether cleared, arable pasturage, or forest, belonging to or in any way used by the commune to be taxed.

Taking an example in this neighbourhood, we find that the municipality of Varna possesses de facto, on the south side of the lake alone, a tract of land whose superficies is twenty-three square miles, or 37,500 dulums, for which it pays something less than 100 l. per annum as Beylik for the sheep, cattle, &c., which pasture in the forest. Supposing this land to be taxed at five piastres per dulum - that is, from one-quarter to one-sixth of the sum raised by the Dime from land sown in grain [Five dulums require one Varna kile of grain as seed, and produce at least 12 to 15 kiles of corn, of which the tenth will be from 1.2 to 1.5 kile; valuing the kile at an average of 100 piastres, the five dulums pay from 120 to 150 p., and each dulum 24 to 30 p.] the town of Varna would have to pay a sum of 187,500 piastres, or 1875 Turkish lire, eighteen times more than at present. The natural consequence would be that the municipality would farm out this tract, cultivate it for itself, or give it up altogether, in which latter case it would revert to Government, and plenty of persons would be willing to take it even at ten piastres per dulum.

This tax might be received in kind from districts where there are no roads, and where specie is consequently rare, always holding to the system of taxing the acreage possessed, without reference to the amount of produce raised.

Such a change would have the effect of forcing the peasant to cultivate his land properly, whilst the idler would soon be ruined or compelled to hire himself out as a day labourer, and the poor sheep or cattle would no longer, during a severe winter, wander half dead in the forest, for their owners would either feed them at home or sell them. The corn, too, would be thrashed by flails instead of being trodden out by miserable horses kept for that sole purpose.

We have thus dilated upon the Dime because it is the most ruinous tax both to Government and people, and in comparison with it such others as three piastres for every full-grown pig, four piastres for every ewe which has lambed, and three piastres for every hive of bees, are entirely inoffensive and innocuous.

The tax upon market gardens of one Turkish lire (100 piastres) per labourer is not a very reasonable one, but is not of sufficient importance to discuss.

Vineyards pay a tax, similar to that which we advocate in place of the Dime, of ten piastres for every dulum, and the vines are comparatively well cultivated, not an inch of ground being wasted, as the peasant knows that in this case he has to pay for the ground occupied, and not according to its produce. There is also an octroi duty of four paras per oke upon wine, and twelve piastres per oke upon tobacco.

The customs dues are eight per cent. ad valorem on exports and on imports, a tax which, however  foolishly imposed, does not do much harm to the country; as, though it may displease the merchants, it hardly touches the people, the dues received by the Government being as nothing when compared with the enormous percentage levied by Eastern commerce.

Besides the regular taxes which we have enumerated, there is another species of impost, irregular and arbitrary, which being in itself an authorized abuse, produces other abuses in the course of its execution. and much well-founded discontent among the peasantry. We allude to the tax of Corveee, or forced labour and extraordinary contributions. The Corvee, has always been a bad system, for a man just taken off his own labour is sure to work badly, and this forced labour in Turkey is sometimes a very heavy burden. By its aid the one or two roads which exist are kept in a state of dilapidated repair, the baggage of troops is transported, wood for gun-carriages is cut, &c., &c. The only merit which the Corvee can claim is that of impartiality, for it presses upon the Mussulman as heavily as upon the Rayah.

Extraordinary contributions are levied by the Pashas and Mudirs, often without the knowledge and nearly always without the consent of the Supreme Government at Constantinople; for it is not to be expected that a Pasha should inform the Sublime Porte that he has exacted from every house a bushel of corn to feed his horses, or that he has given permission to his friend the tax-farmer to have eleven sheaves instead of ten from each hundred because the harvest is bad.

Both corvees and extraordinary contributions are abuses, and the sooner an abuse is extirpated the better for the country.

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