"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Races unfit for liberty - Denationalizing reforms - Despatch of Fuad Pasha - The tax of blood - Mussulman troops and Christian officers - Extreme concessions - A village Medjliss or council - The Vilayets.

A SOCIAL and liberal revolution effected by an absolute Government can bear no fruits, for the good and simple reason that it is generally "against the grain" of the people, that Reforms the most liberal in appearance, and from which the happiest results are hoped for - being without a reason for their existence, and neither wished for nor comprehended by the country - can serve no useful purpose, and not being appreciated by the people are put to uses far different from those for which they were intended.

Liberty in the abstract is beautiful and desirable, but in order that liberty may be valued and valuable, it must have been won by a people who have felt the need of it, and whose struggles in its attainment have taught them its worth, and prepared them to use, and not abuse, it; to give liberty and civil rights to those who are ready neither for the one nor the other, is to throw pearls before swine.

An absolute and powerful Government, or a vigorous aristocracy, are the schoolmasters of an infant people; stern masters sometimes, and yet it is in their schools that the greatest nations of the civilized world have been educated.

Grant to the Russian Mougick all that he asks, and see what he will do with it; look at the state of Russia since the enfranchisement of the peasants; compare the exports of grain from Wallachia before and after the coup d'etat of Prince Couza. The reason is simple; the Russian or Wallachian peasant, ignorant of the value of liberty, and not understanding the advantages of becoming a landowner, hating work above all things, and having seen, as he imagined, his master profit by his rights of property only to do nothing - for he is not aware that capital represents the result of dormant labour coined into money or transmuted into land - says to himself, “When I am free, and a landowner, I will do like the masters, I will do nothing but enjoy myself."

The idea has never presented itself to him, that land without it labour is entirely unproductive, and when he has found out this truth by experience, and his money is spent, he sells his property instead of working, and sinks back into the whole country suffers, and the peasant has gained nothing.

We are very far from asserting that the despotism of a Government, or of a class, is a good or desirable state of things, but we maintain that liberty, when it is neither won nor deserved, degenerates into licence, and can produce only disorder and stagnation; give the peasant such an education as will make him a man, and then bestow on him all civil rights.

Suppose that entire liberty were granted to children, what use would they make of it?

Happily, in civilized Europe there are no such peasantry as those of whom we have been speaking, and our argument will perhaps be little understood for that reason; but if, ceasing to generalize, we glance at the state of Turkey, it will become more easily comprehensible.

The edict or Hatti Sheriff of Gul Haue grants to the Rayahs a species of Charter: that the life, liberty, and honour of every subject of the Sultan should be ensured and guaranteed is but just, but the spoliation of one race for the benefit of the other is unjust, and especially when the favoured people has no real right to the favours it has obtained. The Government has performed what it promised, but it has forgotten to do so “without distinction of religion or of race."

Turkish reformers have acted in precisely the same manner as the official Liberals of Russia, they have granted the widest concessions to a class which did not feel the want of them, and which has not yet even the hope of a future, and they have stripped another class whose tendencies are towards civilization, and who are not without elements of progress; the Russian nobles, and the Turks, are despoiled for the benefit of the peasants and the Rayahs. Russia, where civilization had already gained a footing and industry was beginning to spring up, is ruined, and Turkey is in a state of chaos almost irremediable.

Such is the first cause and origin of the disastrous anomalies from which Turkey suffers, and which render her the theatre of civil and political disorder; it is owing to this governmental revolution that property is no longer property, that everywhere you see immense Chifliks [Farms] lying waste and uncultivated, that agriculture is the ruin instead of the wealth of the country, that industry does not exist, that the Turk is forced to spend half his time in sauntering along the streets of a garrison town dressed up like a gipsy's ape, and that the Rayah wastes his capital of labour, and the resources of the land bestowed on him by the Government, in idleness and drunkenness.

Such is the great sin of commission of the reformers, by disorder and misery have been sown broadcast; have stigmatized the social and economical crime of which they are guilty, we will now follow them in their operations and examine the unskilful and sometimes laughable palliatives to which they have recourse.

The Ottoman Government is well aware that there is something radically wrong in the administration and even in the organism of the country; but it does not know where -  “on entend sonner, mais on ne sait pas dans quelle eglise” - and would give a good deal to be enlightened on the point. Such knowledge is not very difficult to arrive at, ad if the Sultan were to call up any Balkan Chelibi and ask him what the country really needs, he would learn more than from all the political economists of Europe and Turkey, or any conseil d’etat present or future. The Balkan Chelibi knows the wants of Turkey, because he feels them himself, and its anomalies, because he suffers from them; and the remedies he would propose are logical, because they would be national. In Turkey it is necessary to base institutions upon one nationality alone, since it is impossible to satisfy all of them, and those who imagine themselves capable of doing so would do well previously to call to mind the fable of the old man, his son, and his ass; we have already said that there is but one nationality fitted to serve as a basis for sensible reforms, and even if any other were chosen the attempt would be in vain, for what would the Greeks and Armenians say if the Bulgarians were thus selected?

Unfortunately the Balkan Chelibi has not yet been summoned to the councils of his Majesty; and we have only to occupy ourselves with the reformers at present in fashion.

Undeniably the reforms of the day have no national or even popular foundation; everything is copied from foreign models, and it is fancied that by closely imitating a great foreign nation in its laws, institutions, and customs, a people equally great will be created in Turkey; but the Turkish Government forgets that the Frenchman is a Frenchman before he is a Republican or an Imperialist, and that those who have ventured to place party before nationality, and to be Royalists before they are Frenchmen, have abdicated their civil rights, and are no longer anything but a class without influence and without action in that great society of France which, whatever else may be said of it, is, to begin with, based upon nationality.

If Turkey can imitate so closely everything French, from a cafe chantant to a conseil d'etat, how is it that she has overlooked or neglected the principle of the French nationality?

The greatest and most essential want of the country is justice, justice everywhere; the Turks cry aloud for it, and the Rayah speechifies about it, although he knows too well what impartial justice would do for him to be really anxious about seeing it introduced.

Such justice would be difficult to establish, for the Government which made the attempt would find itself impeded by foreign residents, it would have to alter or modify the Capitulations, to make war against robbery and swindling, that is against the Eastern commerce which has taken a lease of Turkey on a pepper-corn rent; it would have to reform the method of conscription and to reestablish the rights of property, both of which changes would be most distasteful to the Rayah. Supposing this want to have been supplied, the second requirement of Turkey is strength; military strength to repel those who might endeavour to prevent the country from forming itself, political strength to be able to introduce order, and strength of internal organization in order to execute justice and repress evil. The Balkan Chelibi would thus have defined the wants of his country, but it is hardly necessary to say that this is not the view taken by Turkish reformers.

A curious and very significant document, [See Appendix M.] which may be considered as the programme of the Turkish reformers, is to be found appended to the English Consular Reports on Turkey; it is a species of Memoir presented to Lord Lyons by Fuad Pasha, in which that diplomatist explains the progress achieved and the progress yet remaining to be and the efforts made and yet to be made to satisfy, as the Memoir says, the conditions imposed upon Turkey before admitting her into the political family of the nations of Europe, and confidently asserts that his country has behaved well, and will still continue to do so, in spite of the Turks!

This document proves most convincingly that the Turkish authorities have done all in their power to ameliorate the physical, if not the moral condition of the Christians, but not a word is said upon the subject of the Mussulmans, if we, except a passage which is worth quotation, as it shows the manner in which even Turkish Ministers express themselves upon those questions which concern the Mussulmans. [We would strongly recommend those of our readers who may refer to Fuad Pasha's letter to read it in the original French, as the English translation is weak and incorrect throughout and occasionally even alters and perverts the meaning of the Turkish Minister; can the following for instance, be called a translation?

“Telle institution nouvelle que l’on trouve a peine ebauchee, apres plusieurs annees de luttes et d’efforts conscientieux, atteste plus victorieusement le progres que telle autre reforme entierement accomplie dont l’introduction n’a heurte ni les sentiments ni les pr prejuges des populations.”

“A fresh institution, at first roughly sketched out, after several years of struggles and conscientious efforts, whose introduction has wounded neither the feelings nor prejudices of the population, affords a better proof of progress than any other reform entirely carried out."

This English version is mere nonsense: what a pity that the traditional schoolboy did not happen to be spending his holidays at the Embassy with the aid of a French dictionary he would easily have produced something better than this.]

"L’admission en fait des sujets non-Musulmans dans l’armee Ottomane a rencontre des obstacles derivant presque exclusivement de la repugnance qu’inspire aux sujets non-Musulmans le service militaire. Mais le Gouvernement, loin de renoncer a l’execution de cette nmsure, qui est tout a l’avantage des Musulmans, qui actuellement supportent seuls l’impot du sang, recherche les moyens d’introduire l’element non-Musulman dans l’armee, soit par voie d’engagement volontaire, soit dans d’autres conditions propres a ecarter des susceptibilites ou des repugnances encore persistantes. Il existe au surplus dans l’armee Ottomane deux regiments de Cosaques mixtes, c’est a dire, composes de Musulmans et de Chretiens." - Consular Reports, page 82, paragraph 17.

And what are the effects of these “repugnances” and these “susceptibilites" which render military service little to the taste of the Rayahs, and of that dislike to Ottoman rule which promptis them to desire a "separation," and is the cause of those troubles which force the unhappy Turkish peasant to leave his home and join the army?

The sorrow and tears of the abandoned women and children, the muttered oath of the Turk as he leaves his cottage, the cry of his sick child still ringing in his ears and mingled with the discordant sound of the gaida or some Bulgarian revelry, as, heavy-hearted and sad, he passes at night by a non-Mussulman village where all is dancing, feasting, and drunkenness, and contrasts this merriment with reigns in that other village behind the distant hills - all this suffering, all this injustice, is lightly passed over by Fuad Pasha, with the vague penny-a-liner's phrase "the tax of blood," a phrase which means nothing at all.

The Frenchman pays his “tax of blood” when, with ribands streaming from his cap, he sets out laughing and singing, with the “field-marshal's baton” in his knapsack, to join a fine regiment, whose eagles glitter in a brilliant sun, which the crowd applauds, and which is accompanied by patriotic cheers; a glorious career is open to him, his comrades are gay as himself, and till the day of battle he is well fed, well clothed, well lodged, respected by all and envied by not a few; and when the bullets whistle around him, ambition, the thirst for glory, and patriotism, combine to urge him forward, and he fights with the assurance that he is serving his country and that he will be the conqueror in the battle, and not (like the poor Turks) vanquished in spite of victory. If the attractive, gay, and brilliant picnic of French military life is called "the tax of blood," what name shall we give to the life of misery and privation, to the lingering death of the Turk? What phrase shall we find for the hardship of the Turkish Rediff's being snatched from his home at a moment's notice? Perhaps the "tax of tears and of blood" would not be inappropriate.

Fuad Pasha at Constantinople has never witnessed the distressing scenes at which we, who live amongst the peoples of the Balkans, have but too often been present; he has never seen, as we have, men weep- and the heart must bleed before a tear moistens the eye of a Turk of the mountains - or he would understand that the tears of a brave man are more menacing than words.

Perhaps this very phrase "the tax of blood" with which the question of military service, so far as it regards the Turks, is dismissed, may yet prove to be a terrible though involuntary prophecy, for we know that prophets may be such unknown to themselves, and utter words which are dictated to them, but of which they are far from understanding the full meaning.

But if in paragraph 17 of the Ministerial Memoir the Turks are disposed of in a couple of words, - this is not the case with the Rayahs, or, to adopt the periphrasis in fashion, the “non-Mussulman subjects of the Sultan;" the grievance is all on their side, for they are denied the exciting chances of distinguishing themselves in the ranks of all army which ought to be national in order that they may find in it a support for their “legitimate national ambition." Fuad Pasha apologizes for being unable to create such an army just at present, and adds, that it is almost entirely owing to the “ repugnance qu’inspire aux sujets non-Musulmans le service militaire" that their praiseworthy aspirations have not yet been gratified, but "le Gouvernement, loin de renoncer a l’execution do cette mesure, recherche les moyens d’introduire l’element non-Musulman danis l’armee," &c. &c.

It is very evident that the “tax of blood" has not been reduced into figures or into days of labour by the Ottoman Ministry.

A mezzo termine was possible which would have suited the ambition of the non-Mussulman youth of Turkey, namely, to throw open to them the military colleges, and offer them all the highest ranks in the army, without forcing them to carry the rifle and knapsack; there are plenty of non-Mussulman Pashas in the most lucrative civil posts, and the most distinguished positions in the Civil Service and the administration of the country are open to them, so why should the military service form an exception? Paragraph 9 of the same Memoir offers an apology; [“Les officiers sortant de cette ecole etant appeles a  former les cadres d’une armee composee exclusivement de soldats Musulmans, il etait necessaire de limiter le nombre des officiers Chretiens appeles a y exrcer des commandements."] we will hope that it is from a sense of justice that “certaines reserves ont ete apportees dans l’admission des eleves non-Mussulmans" into the military colleges, and not from a fear of seeing the beardless non-Mussulman captain lifted from the ground, not by the arms, but by the feet of his company of veteran Mussulmans. Perhaps the Turkish War Office may yet adopt our plan of substituting charreks for the regulation boots of rotten leather, in order to be no longer compelled to "limiter le nombre des officies Chretiens appeles a y exercer des commandements”, a change which would certainly render the position of the non-Mussulman officer more bearable.

We see by this sketch of a single point in the Memoir in what manner vital questions are solved, or rather eluded, and we limit ourselves to this one specimen, as the reader can, if he chooses, continue the criticism by comparing the document in question (although, indeed, it carries its own criticism with it) with this book.

We must, however, notice slightly the organization of the Vilayets, “cette recente institution qui embrasse les plus larges et les plus importantes reformes," “fruit de longues etudes”, &c &c. Before doing so, however, we must render justice to the skilful author of the document in question, and admit that although the Memoir does not, in a Turkish point of view, solve a single important question, it is as regards Europe the most ample and complete, the most honest and true apology for the Turkish Government that could possibly be made. Reading this letter, which in no way exaggerates the favours bestowed upon the Christians, it is impossible to deny that all that could be done, and a great deal more than ought to have been done, has been done for them by the Ottoman Government, to the detriment of the Osmanli people, against all interests but those of the favoured race, and even to the prejudice of the Government itself.

If Europe were enlightened as to the state of this country by able, honest, and impartial agents, this document would be no longer an apology, but the bitterest and most sarcastic criticism on European influence in Turkey; for to those who know the country it says, "See, Europe, what we have done to gratify your unreasonable and ill-founded sympathies; the country, the State itself, has been turned upside down that your proteges may be able to come to the surface; we have given them unbounded licence in everything, from their religion to their pettiest wishes; the Giaour of fifty years ago, the oppressed Rayah without civil or political rights, has become the non-Mussulman subject, he alone possesses rights, and he oppresses in his turn; we have made the Turk the Rayah of him who was formerly the Giaour. The non-Mussulman subject governs himself as he pleases and after his own fashion, and he even governs the Turk; not one of his least wishes have we left ungratified, except, perhaps, that of becoming commander-in-chief of the Ottoman armies, but even this denial is for his own good, so long as the Turkish soldiers wear boots and not charreks; the day on which the non-Mussulman subject prefers the bivouac of the camp to that in front of the Tukhan, the intoxication of glory to that of wine and spirits, long marches to a dolce far niente, and death by the sabre or the bullet to death by delirium tremens - on that very day his wish shall be satisfied. The non-Mussulman subject has but to say the word and he is appointed a civil Pasha; for him we reform, for him we organize. Look around, Europe, behold your work, and be content, for the Russians themselves could not have done more in Turkey than we have done to please you!

Compare Fuad Pasha's letter, not only with this book, for we have no pretensions to be the only persons who dare to speak the truth, but with the Report of Consul-General Longworth, or even with the majority of the Consular Reports, and this satirical form will be easily appreciable.

The organization by Vilayets, of which the Government is so proud, and which it only succeeded in evolving after such “longues etudes”, is neither more nor less than a copy of French organization; for Vilavet read Province, for Sanjak, Prefecture, for Caza, Sous-prefecture, and you have the Vilayet system before you. There are elective "Conseils Communaux” presided over by a Maire, who is styled Kuoi Chorbadji in the Rayah villages, Mukhtiar amongst the Mussulmans; there are "Conseils Municipaux," also elective, and a “Conseil d'etat " is in process of formation; probably before long the country will be blessed with a Senat and a Corps Lelgislatif, and then the resemblance to France will be complete - in all points.

A very interesting and edifying spectacle is a debate of the village Medjliss, or Rayah “Conseil Communal;” the "Mairie" is the Tukhan or public-house, and "M. le Maire" is a being remarkable by the dirt with which he is thickly encrusted, and who is, moreover, three-quarters tipsy; he is as uneducated as the rest of his colleagues, who differ from him in physical appearance only by being a little more or less unwashed, and a little more or less inebriated.

The whole council is seated on the ground alla Turca, or lying about in any attitude they find convenient; smoking and drinking go on uninterruptedly, for a Bulgarian Medjliss is always thirsty, and the Bakal steps over the bodies of prostrate honourable members to fill their glasses and give his opinion on the subject in question.

The case undergoing discussion is as follows: An honest Turk has caught a horse-thief in flagrante delicto, and as the horse belongs to the village of Derekuoi he has delivered up thief and stolen property to the "authorities" of the village; the culprit is seated in a corner of the Tukhan, drinking his mastica. and occasionally joining in the debate, as do also the village witch and various other women whom the gravity of the occurrence has attracted to the door of the public house. [This scene is related as it really occurred.]

"What were we talking about?" says Mr. le Maire, who has taken off his old sheepskin cap, and is engaged in a minute investigation of its recesses.
"Kto snaje?" (who knows?) answers Vassili, pausing for a moment in his occupation of washing his feet with a penknife.
"You're an idiot, Vassili!" cries Nikolaki, his political opponent, an advanced Liberal who detests the old-fashioned Conservatism of Vassili.

Vassili replies by some strictly unparliamentary language, and Nicolaki continues -

"An idiot and nothing else! We were talking about the horse, and you are too great a fool to recollect even that!"

Hereupon ensues a free fight; but, as everybody has been drinking too freely to be able to hit out, not much damage is done, except that a few pipes and one of the Bakal's two glasses are broken; finally, order and harmony are restored, and M. de Maire, who has effected an exchange of caps during the scuffle, recovers the thread of his discourse and resumes -

"Yes, we were talking about the horse and what we are to do in this case - -"

But what they did, or rather what they did not do, is related in the Chapter on Brigandage, where the reader will find the sequel of the story.

The Medjlisses of the Cazas (sous-prefectures), and even of the Sanjaks (prefectures), though better composed, and not enlivened by wine or mastica, are but little more expeditious in their deliberations, owing in a great measure to that chronic somnambulism of the Christian members which Mr. Dupuis, their chief friend amongst the English Consular Corps, has depicted with so much pathos and clearness. [See Consular Reports, No. VII.]

The mixed tribunals, and a new code of law, criminal, civil, and commercial, are also institutions depending on the new organization; but in spite of them goods are bought and sold openly by false weights and measures, and brigandage is not yet extinct in the Balkan. [The energy of Mithat Pasha has greatly diminished brigandage but the Capitulations prevented him putting a stop to fraud.]

The whole of the Vilayet system consists in the establishment of a new administrative sub-division and of various elective councils or tribunals, in which the non-Mussulman element enters largely.

This organization would be a real boon to the country if the people were ready and fitted to profit by it, if non-Mussulman evidence were not too often false, if non-Mussulman members could keep awake when other interests than their own are at stake, and above all if Mithat Pasha had been left a little longer at Rustchuk to correct its faults by his energy, and to venture upon reforms which are really needed by the country, and which his reputation would have enabled him to attempt. As yet, in spite of the Vilayet system, not one of the important questions which form the titles of many of our chapters has been solved, or even raised, and the new organization is still nothing but a name; on the appreciation of its principles depends the salvation of the empire, but if it is carried out, as seems to be intended, it is merely the ass's kick given to the Turkish people.

Having thus described the Vilayet system, we cannot pass over in silence its originator, or rather introducer, and we shall therefore devote a chapter to Mithat Pasha.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]