"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Writers in the pay of Russia - Too much experience of Russian promises - The Bulgarian does not wish what he is supposed to wish - Un-ambitious minds - Exceptions.

IT is very difficult to say what changes in their political or social government are really desired by the mass of the Rayahs, of whom most are too apathetic and ignorant to imagine for themselves any remedy against the oppression from which the emissaries of a party endeavour to make them think they suffer. In Turkey, is elsewhere, the loudest talkers attract the greatest attention, and to judge by articles written in some of the journals of Constantinople and Athens, the dearest wish of the Bulgarians is to be united to Russia. These articles are, however, even when written by genuine Bulgarians, only the exponents of the feelings of a very small party, who imagine that in the event of this union taking place, their services will be gratefully remembered and rewarded by their new masters. But as the number of Bulgarians in Turkey who are capable of expressing their wishes in writing is excessively limited, those pathetic letters bearing the signature of 'Un Bulgare' or 'Boulgapos,' are usually composed by some of the innumerable foreign agents who earn their roubles or their drachmas by unceasing attempts to sow the seeds of discord and separation between the Government of the Porte and its Christian subjects; and yet these epistles, if read in France and England, are probably considered as the wail of an "oppressed nationality" groaning under the fetters of their Ottoman tyrants.

Although Russian agents may have succeeded formerly, when the Rayahs had some fair grounds of complaints against their rulers, in persuading them that the mild government of the Czar was preferable to the cruelties of the Padischah, this species of propaganda has now become almost hopeless since the Bulgarians have learnt wisdom by their sad experience. Russia committed the folly of inviting emigrants from these provinces to settle in her territories, with fair promises of many special advantages to the new settlers; the Porte was wise enough to profit by this false move of its adversary, and placed no obstacles in the way of the intending emigrants. In some instances whole villages left their native land for the promised Canaan, whilst in others one or two families only went out to spy the land: their immovable property was converted into money, much to the advantage of the purchasers, who of course profited as much as possible by the enforced sale. And with this small stock of cash they landed in Russia with the expectation of making rapid fortunes. A few years elapsed, and those of the exiles who were able to escape from the paternal care of the Muscovite returned to their villages, wiser and poorer than when they had left them, to advise their families and friends not to change bad for worse, and to relate over-true tales of the scorpion scourge of Russia for which they had exchanged the iron rod of Turkey. The sufferings of their fathers are still too fresh in the memory of the present generation of peasants for the Russian agent to have much chance of recommencing his played out game; and though he is still frequently to be met with in the Balkan, under the disguise of a travelling pedlar, a collector of old coins, or a seller of Greek Calendars for the few who can read, and of Russian saints painted on wood, he generally confines himself to endeavouring to make the Bulgarians discontented with their Government, and to assuring them that in the event of their endeavouring to cast off the yoke and become a great and independent nation, Russia will disinterestedly assist them, and that France and England will never again appear in arms for the rescue of an effete oligarchy. Even these attempts produce no great fruits, for the Bulgarian has learnt to distrust Russia, and has perhaps even heard of her fondness for fishing in troubled waters.

The meteor of Panslavism, however it may dazzle the eyes of the guests of Moscow, has no attractions for the Rayah of the Balkan, to whom ethnological questions are of little importance compared with the price of wheat or pigs at Varna, Burgass, or Adrianople, and who would receive with equal stolidity and belief the information that he was allied to the great Slavonic family of Europe or to the North American tribe of Tete-de-Boule Indians.

Independence such as that of the Principalities, union with Servia, annexation to Greece even - such are the political cries of the small band of agitators who represent themselves to Europe as the organs of Bulgaria, knowing well that even if their representations should reach the ears of their supposed constituents, these latter are too apathetic as well as too illiterate to contradict them.

All such changes are what the Rayah does not wish for, and are questions which interest him no more than the history of the Prussian campaign of  '66 would do if it were related to him. What he does wish for is, as we have said, difficult to determine.

He has a general idea that he is in some way an ill-used being, for the rumours from the outer world penetrate, however slowly, even into the ravines and gorges of the Hemus; and Janaki the schoolmaster (if there is a school in the village), or Dimitri the Papas (if he can read), has somehow got hold of an old copy of some Greek newspaper, and one evening at the Bakal's has, by the light of a solitary tallow candle stuck upon a wine barrel, precise its news, and informed those present that the Russian Ambassador at Stamboul has spoken seriously to the Porte upon the subject of the infamous treatment of its Christian subjects; that the French Ambassador has presented with the same intention a collective note from the representatives of Italy, Prussia, Greece, and the Emperor Theodore; and that even England has ordered her Consul to report to the Foreign Office upon the manner in which Turkey has carried out the stipulations of the Hatti Humayoun. Janaki, who completed his studies at Athens, enlarges upon the topic, and says that it is a shame that the Bulgarians should not have their interests cared for by a Chamber of Representatives chosen by and from amongst themselves; and this idea, from its grandeur and because no one but Janaki has the least idea of what it means, meets with general approbation, and the assembly finally separates with the unanimous conviction that something ought to be done by some one towards the formation of such a desirable institution. Tanaz, as he goes home, thinks that the Chamber of Representatives might perhaps be able to tell him where he buried his crock of money last year, as he has never been able to recollect the spot, having been far from sober when he hid it. Michal thinks that being a Chorbadji he would have a fair chance of being one of the Representatives, and that if the work was not hard, the pay good, and mastica near at hand during the deliberations, he would not dislike the employment. However, as thinking, especially upon political questions, is hard work, Michal and Tanaz forget all about the Chamber of Representatives by next day, and retain merely the impression that perhaps some day the somebody will be found to do the something, and that they will be immensely benefited by the operation. Not having any great hardship to complain of, they do not exactly know what ameliorations to hope for, unless it be that the farmers of the beylik may get the worst of the mutual attempt to cheat each other between them and the peasant; or that the Zaptieh should not be allowed, when he spends the night at their village, to pry about the houses and seize upon the concealed horde of eggs and butter which were promised to the Papas.

Perhaps some amongst them hope that the Government will remit all taxes, and send Turks to cultivate the fields of the village, giving all the produce to the Rayah, and then buying the grain from him at double the market value. Schemes more practical than these seldom enter the head of the peasant, who is contented with his lot, so long as he has little work to do and plenty to drink. The Rayah in general has no ambition to become rich, so long as he has enough to eat and drink: if he makes money, he hides it; he does not employ it in buying more land, or better ploughing because he has enough of the former to give him and his sons as much work as they care for, and to produce grain which will pay for his year's expenses: as to the latter, he does not see the good of these new inventions, the old plough does well enough, and he is satisfied.

The question of the schism in the Greek Church which will probably lead to the formation of an independent Bulgarian hierarchy, is one which exclusively interests the priests: the peasant does not care whether his Papas owns allegiance to a Greek metropolitan, or Bulgarian bishop, or patriarch: although he is too superstitious to refuse compliance with arbitrary exactions of the priests (which are spoken of at length in another chapter), he undoubtedly feels that the continual abstraction of his lambs, eggs, fowls, pigs, &c., is a grievance; but if he knows of the proposed ecclesiastical change, he has sense enough to see that the priest will not want less mutton or fewer eggs because there is a new Bulgarian Church, and therefore he does not care about the result of the movement.

The wishes of the Rayah, when he takes the trouble of wishing, are confined to the removal of a few petty grievances which equally affect his Mussulman fellow-subjects: what his "friends" wish for him is sufficiently well known in England from the newspapers of Russia and one or two other countries, and diplomatic reports. Of course if he is told that such and such a change will improve his condition he is willing to put his mark to a petition to that effect, and the next day he would do the same for another petition which might be perfectly contrary to and incompatible with the first. He, however, has sense enough to know that he is well off, and excepting when he is told that he is not so much so as he deserves to be, he is contented.

These remarks apply only to the genuine peasant, and not to the Bulgarian who has deserted the peaceful and humble occupation of ploughman or herdsman for the luxuries of a town, and whom the prospects of clothes alla Franca and varnished boots have induced to turn shopboy to some Greek trader, with the hopes of becoming later one of the pillars of Eastern commerce.

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