"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Mithat Pasha’s attempted reforms - Suppression of brigandage - Secularization of education - Inspection of weights and measures - The Agio - Lending banks - Orphanages - Recovery from Philorayahism.

MITHAT PASHA, the late Governor of the Vilayet, or Province, of the Danube, is an honest and upright man, and possesses a quality even more valuable than these, for he is energetic in times when energy seems to have deserted the governing classes of Turkey to take refuge amongst the governed. Had Mithat Pasha been allowed to prosecute his scheme of reform a little longer, he might have succeeded, in spite of Constantinople, in bringing about some definite result by means of experiments which he alone could venture to make; but the present Government of Turkey imagine that perfection has been reached, and so the analytical chemist is ordered to turn apothecary's boy, and to serve out drugs which he has neither examined nor rectified.

To men in power the organization of the Vilayets is the ne plus ultra of progress, and if the friends of the Eastern Christian are not contented with it, it is because they are insatiable; but now the great chemist has departed, his box of chemicals, carefully locked up and minus the key, is given to another, and the new professor has only the right to amuse himself by looking at the outside; the Vilayet of the Danube has ceased to be a centre or creation for reforms.

We have said that the education of the civilized Turk is very incomplete, and to give it that European finish which is natural to the European brain is very difficult if not impossible; thus, when a Turk wishes to cease to be a Mussulman and Osmanli, and to look at things with European eyes, he finds himself in a very embarrassing position; for, owing to his entirely theoretical education, he is irresistibly impelled to mistake cause for effect, and effect for cause; Mithat Pasha, though unable to avoid falling into this error, struggled gallantly against it, and seemed to be on the eve of victory when he was suddenly called upon to preside over the future Conseil d’Etat [This is a rather complicated mechanical toy, which, having been much admired in Paris, has lately been sent as a present to Constantinople; the packers, however, either forgot to put in the works, or these were lost on the journey, so the clever little Turkish boys have not been able to play with it yet; however, all the grandest clock-makers have been ordered to make a new set of works, very strong, and adapted to the climate; these are not yet ready, but it is hoped they will soon be finished, and great expectations are formed of the Conseil d’Etat when it is once in working order.] at the very moment when he was beginning his work of re-organization in earnest.

Mithat Pasha has done much for the Vilayet of the Danube, and would have done more; for he possessed both the energy to venture innovations, and a reputation which permitted him to do so unchecked by official ignorance or timidity.

He began his career by a serious attack upon brigandage, and even ventured to hang a few brigands and to send some robbers to Widin; these repressive measures were rendered necessary by the establishment of agricultural banks, which naturally led to the establishment of bands of thieves. He actually dared to treat political brigands coming to Turkey from other countries as common brigands, and nothing more, and even administered a slap to the Capitulations, a very gentle one, it is true, and quite within the limits of the law, but in time he might have learned to hit harder and straighter. He has dared to place himself in the path sacred to Eastern commerce, by creating Government agricultural banks, very petty banks, very foolishly contrived, and not very useful, but they have had the effect of ruining a few small bankers (every Rayah who owns a capital, stolen or borrowed, of ten shillings, is a banker, and lends money, and of this class were the victims of the agricultural banks), a trifling result certainly; but in time Mithat Pasha might have succeeded in cutting off the other heads of the hydra.

Mithat Pasha ventured to put obstacles in the way of Agio, and would one day have abolished it; he even conceived the bold idea of educating the Rayahs, and wished to establish schools in which something else would have been taught than the precepts of the “Tserkierne," [Russian 'Church Books.'] and which would have inculcated honesty and morality; and one day he would have dared to enforce the one and the other, and perhaps even to do justice to the Turks. But Mithat Pasha, is dead and buried in the Conseil d'Etat. Requiescat in pace!

As we have pronounced the funeral oration of his Excellency Mithat Pasha, we will now enter a little more into the details of some of the institutions traced out by him. First in point of importance comes the question of Bulgarian education, which, as our readers will perhaps have noticed, has been rather neglected.

Since the schism, the Bulgarians have established a few schools which they call National, and in which an individual strongly perfumed with garlic gives lessons to a dozen of the village children; but what does he teach them? To read what are called the Bulgarian characters, a strange medley of Russian lay and ecclesiastical type, to know the figures of the Russian ecclesiastical arithmetic, which are letters, and finally to repeat the orthodox and imperial catechism prepared for the Bulgarian nation in books printed for this special purpose: this catechism teaches one great truth to the infant Bulgarians, that above the Sultan is God, and above God is the Czar. Such is the primary school: what do more pretentious schools teach? What results do they produce but troubles, and what morality that can be expressed otherwise than by a high figure with a minus before it? Mithat Pasha knew this perfectly well, and wished to secularize the schools - to secularize is the right word, for the education given in them is, though not religious, entirely ecclesiastical - but the Bulgarians refused, in spite of the very advantageous offers made to them; had Mithat Pasha remained at his post he would have carried out this scheme in spite of their opposition.

Once upon a time Mithat Pasha went so far as to order a verification of weights and measures by the police; but here he was stopped by the Capitulations, the great protector of all abuses committed by foreigners; the Consuls cried out with one voice. "This is an attack upon our rights, we only can judge or interfere in any way with our respective subjects: to allow the Turkish police to enter the shop of a foreigner is to open the door to Turkish peculation and corruption." In the face of this refusal nothing could be done, and consequently false weights and measures flourish as they always did and always will do in Turkey.

To abolish false weights and measures, or a fraudulent Agio, the prohibition and penalties must apply equally to all; had Mithat Pasha punished those Turkish subjects who infringed the law, whilst foreigners were outside or rather above the law, he would but have granted a new monopoly. As a natural consequence that article of the Turkish Penal Code which punishes this species of cheating is a mere dead letter.

The fraudulent Agio which exists in this country also attracted the attention of Mithat Pasha. An Agio on foreign coin exists everywhere, but in all other countries it is insignificant, [We do not here allude to bank notes or other paper, but to current coin.] and more or less justly regulated: in Turkey, on the contrary, it is enormous, and varies largely according to the interest of speculators, a fact which greatly injures the Ottoman finances.

This is bad enough but in what other country will you find an Agio upon the coin issued by Government?

The English and French bronze coins are only counters representing a nominal value, but who would dare to ask fifteen pence for a shilling, or twenty-five sous for a franc? This, however, is what is done in Turkey: the gold pound (lira) is worth 100 piastres, 110 or 115 are asked for it in copper, and the Turkish copper has a far greater intrinsic value than the English or French bronze; the silver Medjidie is worth twenty piastres, and twenty-two are asked for it; besides this, there is an Agio between gold and silver; but this is not all, you buy the lira at 110, but you sell it at 105! This Agio forms the means of existence of a swarm of petty parasites who style themselves Serafs or bankers.

Oriental commerce has of course seized upon this Agio which it has invented for its own speculations; thus, when the peasants sell their corn, the lira is at 110 or 115, and is paid to them for their grain at this rate; but when the peasants come to buy, the lira has suddenly fallen to 102 or 104! The peasant, too, is obliged to pay his taxes in gold or silver, and the Government will receive the lira only at 100; not that the Government profits by this, as it gives out the lira at the same price that it takes it; and as the emission of silver is at the same rate, it in reality loses.

Mithat Pasha wished to put a stop to these evils; but to prevent the existence of Agio by decreeing that gold, silver, and copper should each have only their proper value, could be done only by the central Government, for if this were the case in one Vilayet alone, that province would have been robbed by the others of the percentage on the Agio, and speedily drained of all gold coin; he took then a mezzo termine, and prohibited the circulation of copper; but Eastern commerce was too clever for him, and peculated as much as ever by inventing an Agio on silver! So Mithat Pasha had to leave the Agio alone.

The agricultural banks were originated in order to remedy another evil, usury, which was, and is, terrible and excessive.

In this country the peasant, that is, the one person who can offer a security which is worth anything, cannot raise money under 60 per cent., and often pays double that interest. Mithat Pasha created agricultural banks to cheek this, but he set about their formation in a very original manner; he ordered every village to sow so much grain, and when the corn was sold, [In other Vilayets every peasant is taxed two bushels of corn per pair of oxen or buffaloes per annum, but though he may have paid for years, he cannot borrow money if he is poor; even if he can, what does he really pay for it? The peasant if he requires money, usually needs about 5 l. or 500 piastres, for this he pays, at 10 per cent., 50 piastres, but as since the three years that these banks have been established he has paid yearly two bushels of corn of the value of 50 piastres, he really gives 200 piastres to borrow 500 for a year!

In justice, as the capital of the bank comes out of the peasants' own pocket, he ought to be able to borrow at 1 per cent., or indeed without paying any interest whatever.] employed the proceeds to form the capital of the rural bank. These banks are bound to lend to the peasant at 10 or 12 per cent., but it seems somewhat unreasonable to say to the people "Pay us your money, and we will lend it you again at 10 or 12 per cent."

It will give some idea of the country, and of Eastern commerce. when we say that even such an absurdity as these banks would have been a great benefit to the country, had not Greeks and Rayahs contrived to slip in as clerks, &c. As soon as this pernicious element seized upon the agricultural banks they changed their nature and became mere counting-houses of a commerce carried on after the Greek fashion. The clerks speculate on the Agio, in grain, and in usury, all with the money of the peasants; if one of the latter comes to ask for a loan, he is refused - "There is no money, it has all been lent," and so the peasant goes sadly away. “Wait a bit, my friend," says a private employe of the official clerk of the agricultural bank, if you want five pounds, I can let you have them if you will pay me seven at harvest time."

The peasant needs the money, and accepts; "But," says the usurer, “I we will do it on the bank paper; I will lend seven pounds to the bank, and you will sign a bill, for the bank to keep, of seven pounds payable in three months: come along." The peasant goes upstairs, signs the bill, and receives five pounds for his promise to pay seven, whilst the unaccredited clerk hands over to the accredited clerk seven pounds which in reality belong to the peasant, who, by-the-bye, is very lucky if he is paid in gold, and not in copper.

This is what the Rayahs have made of the benevolent agricultural institutions of Mithat Pasha. Until there is a severe justice executed in the country, and the Capitulations cease to protect robbers of all nations, the admittance of a Rayah or an Eastern Christian into any undertaking, in any capacity, is the admittance of fraud and theft, and, still worse, is the ruin, physical and moral, of the undertaking, if it be intended as an honest one.

Mithat Pasha, in his solicitude for the welfare of the provinces he ruled, and in his anxiety to copy everything good that he had seen in Europe, actually built an orphan asylum.

The house was ready, the employes at their places, and the revenue assured by a hotel [The Isla Khane at Rustchuk.] built out of his Excellency's private purse, of which the profits were to be spent in keeping up this charitable establishment; but there wasn't an orphan to be found in all the country! And for the simple reason that every Turkish house is a ready-made orphan's home, as the poorest Turk will adopt any child left at his door.

However, as the asylum existed, it was necessary to give a reason for its existence by the presence of one or two children, but no foundlings were to be found; at last a zealous employe promised to procure a real orphan, and kept his word, so the asylum at last boasted of an inmate, who was brought up as a Christian, as he declared himself to be so. The philanthropic Pasha was delighted, but alas one day an individual presented himself, and claimed the child as being his relation. Great was the consternation and many the discussions as to whether the orphan should be surrendered or no, but it was found that the Turkish laws required that he should be given up to his affectionate uncle, which was accordingly done amidst the tears of the whole establishment. But this was not quite the end; the relative who had given up the orphan to the zealous employe brought a claim against the Pasha for the loss of his nephew's services as an apprentice shoe maker - and the Pasha had to pay!

We must not laugh at this rather Quixotic undertaking of Mithat Pasha, for he intended to benefit the country, and there are not many Pashas of whom the same can be said.

Cheated and deceived whenever he had any-thing to do with the Rayahs, Mithat Pasha was beginning to understand them, and to see the falsity of that fundamental principle of the Vilayets which prescribes (in Article V., if we are not mistaken), "that all the tribunals, offices, appointments, &c., shall be equally divided between Turks and Rayahs.”

Mithat Pasha saw that by abolishing the Chorbajis who held their office for life, and replacing them by Chorbajis who were elected for a year only, he had but increased the disorder without extirpating robbery or preventing the ruin of the Rayah villages, that ruin whose throne is the Tukhan; he was recovering from the dangerous fever of Philorayahism, [Mithat Pasha had two nicknames, Guieuzluklu (spectacled) Pasha and Giaur Pasha, the latter being gained by the favour which he at first showed to the Rayahs; latterly, however, the second name has a good deal fallen into disuse.] and was already sufficiently convalescent to commence scouring the country, attended only by one or two Zaptiehs, and executing a summary and much-needed justice, when he was suddenly snatched away from his Vilayet by the inexorable Conseil d’Etat. Mithat Pasha is dead and buried - Resurgetne?

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