Correspondence for the New York Evening Post

Albert Sonnichsen




The Bulgar and the Filipino

By Albert Sonnichsen


New York Evening Post (Saturday, April 1, 1905)

Saturday supplement

Pages 1 to 8


[Special Correspondence of The Evening Post]



Scans as a .pdf file (1.7 Mb)



Their struggles for self-government have been similar


Impressions of a Traveller After Living Eight Months at Kustendil — Russia's Wrongly Played Game to Keep the Whip Hand Over Bulgaria and What Has Resulted



KUSTENDIL, Bulgaria, March 10. — It is now almost eight months that I am here among the Bulgarians, mixing with them as well as a foreigner ever may, observing them and the conditions under which they live with an interest intensely personal rather than professional. It is only now, though, that I am beginning to know them at all, for even, the keenest observer cannot well say that he knows a people before he has talked to them in their own tongue. It is not in interviewing their leading citizens through an interpreter that he makes their acquaintance, but gather in quarrelling with shopkeepers over prices or gossiping scandal and politics with the Sunday idlers. At least, such has been my method, a slow and tedious one, but giving more satisfying results.


The knowledge has come to me gradually and unconsciously. First impressions have changed as others have slowly taken their places. But during all this time, at unexpected moments have come other vague impressions of having been through this great lesson once before. Certain racial peculiarities, glimpses of character, have appeared, touching chords of some old memory of a subconscious past, almost as though I had lived among these people in a former incarnation. If you can imagine meeting the brother or father of some intimate acquaintance before knowing of their relations, and trying to place certain individual peculiarities you observe in him, you may understand just my experience.


If is only lately that I have grasped the meaning of these first subconscious impressions. I know now that I have, indeed, met the brother of my friend the Bulgar, and recognized the relationship through the ever-growing resemblance. That brother, also my former good friend, is the Filipino of Luzon.


At first thought, it may seem ridiculous to discover similarity between an Asiatic Malay and a European Slav. But they are really more alike than Irishman and Englishman. It is not a question of physical, but of temperamental resemblance, although ethnically they are not so far apart as might seem at first glance. The civilized Filipinos of Luzon are only half Malay, the other half is a little Mongolian and most European, as Americans well know. The Bulgar, like his neighbor the Magyar, has a strong, visible streak of the Asiatic brown man in him. He calls himself a Slav, but the flashing black eyes so common here, the prominent cheek bones, the stiff black hair and the dark color of the skin are not found further up in Russia. However, that is merely incidental, it is not a question of race origin. It is along other lines that I wish to make a comparison between the two peoples for the purpose which shall become apparent at the conclusion.


First, let me say that however well I may yet learn to know these Bulgarians, even though I remain here to amalgamate myself with them, it is not likely I shall ever have the opportunity to see them just as I saw the Filipinos, in such diverse moods and lights. As a prisoner of war for ten months among the latter, a great part of which period was spent in comparative freedom among them, permitting social intercourse, I saw them, first, at their worst, and — at their best, I was with them during their brief term of actual freedom, the one time they tasted liberty, when they could cast off the restraints and hypocrisy of centuries and be themselves. Later, I was able to observe them again when they had once more resumed the yoke, and the smile that is deceptive, conquered by a nation who need not respect the jealousies of European Powers.


My object is not only to compare the two peoples, but also the similar conditions that have made them alike, a factor as portent in the forming of their racial and national characters as the oppression which has transformed the Jews from a simple pastoral and agricultural people to what they are now the world over, regardless of geographical location of climate.




They, are, primarily, two peoples, who for centuries have first endured oppression, then fiercely fought it for the one ideal — national liberty. So much alike are the histories of the two struggles that often it seems merely a shifting of names, even to the specific incidents that have marked their progress. Their endurance was long, longer than would have been that of pure northern races, for early they came in contact with the fatalistic spirit of Islam which begets resignation. However remote, it is always noticeable, even though it has been only ah external influence, as with the Bulgars. Once possessed of that influence, and only one thing can counteract it — enlightenment. Where it is strong, even that will fail to awaken. It is visible still in Bulgar and Filipino, you notice it first in the folk songs. They love those weird, melancholy, half-chanted melodies which express the sufferings of the past centuries more intensely than the best written history, the dirges of those who fell in the struggles. The Filipino hides this tinge of morbidness under an assumption of cheerfulness, like a nervous woman, but soon you recognize that fatalism in him which causes him to accept misfortune with stoical, almost sullen, indifference. It is a modification of the same spirit in which the Turk replies Kismet to all misfortune and which has rendered all Mohammedan peoples indifferent to tyranny. If they rise it is only in response to an appeal to religious fanaticism by some ambitious, intriguing leader. Such were the earliest risings of both peoples while a few descendants of their respective aristocracies still existed, of the early Tagalog rajahs and the Bulgarian czars. But these were soon wiped out, by the same policy pursued by the Greek tyrant of antiquity, expressed in the parable of the man who walked through his cornfield cutting off the heads of the tallest stalks. Then the masses were ground down into an ignorance as black as the soil they were made to till. It was that slight tinge of Mohammedan fatalism which kept them submissive rather than the swords of the ruling races.


Oppression, especially of this kind, where all of the oppressed race are denied any privileges open to the race of the rulers, breeds democracy, and of the strongest kind. The tax burdened people soon learn that they are brothers in toil and misery. In no part of America is this spirit of democracy so strong as in either Bulgaria or Luzon. Of course, in speaking of the Filipinos, I mean only the civilized natives of Luzon, where Spanish rule was firmly established. It was this democracy which I saw expressed in one instance by one of Aguinaldo's adjutants offering a light from his cigar to a street vender of bananas. The street was crowded, it is true, and he may have done it for display, but he knew the spirit of the people he was appealing to. You may see that same spirit manifested here to an almost similar degree.


The fact that the Bulgarians are ruled by a German princeling does not indicate the contrary; God knows they hate him enough. What he represents was foisted on them against their wishes by intriguing European autocrats. The real spirit of the intelligent classes is manifested by the strong hold that Socialism has taken of the schoolteachers, the students, and the professional men. Even in the villages the Socialist orators are many. That is why you do not find Bulgarian Jews in America, while their brethren from Rumania, just across the Danube, are there in multitudes. Whatever bad may be sad of a Socialist, he will not persecute a brother Socialist, especially he from whom he has learned Socialism.


Such are the Filipinos and the Bulgars — and the Jews — transformed thus by the same causes, for centuries ago, when these peoples were free they were governed by autocrats, the Filipinos by rujas, the Bulgars by czars — and the Jews had Solomon.


The reign of darkness lasted long for both peoples, until the French Revolution had happened, and had been recorded in books, that young men of adventurous spirit who stole abroad from the countries in darkness might read them. At the same time they saw the results of that great event, and returning home, told of what they had heard and seen. Others began going abroad, and returned to verify the first reports. They smuggled books back with them which they secretly taught their friends to read. The geographical situation of Bulgaria was especially suited to this process. The Filipinos at first depended on a few liberal Spaniards among the military officers and the monks;




Then came people of pious minds among them to teach them religion, but unconsciously teaching more of politics than of religion. The American missionary schools in the Balkan Peninsula, and the Jesuits in Luzon have each done their work, unintentionally though it may have been in each case. Many a revolutionist has come out of Robert College in Constantinople, and even more out of the Jesuit College in Manila.


This growing knowledge begat a discontent with a tangible object, which was soon followed by definite action. Secret meetings were held wherein conditions were discussed, then secret societies were formed. In Luzon some Spanish Free Masons got loose among the people and taught them organization. That was the beginning of the Katipunan. In Bulgaria Russian agents proved similarly useful, and the first committee was formed. Since then every Bulgarian revolutionist glories in the name "comitaji," even as the Filipinos proudly refer to those of themselves up in arms as "katipunan."


In two such similar situations it was natural that the struggles should begin and proceed along similar lines, and so they did. Though the leaders were all close students of the French Revolution, its methods could not be followed here. At first the movement, speaking of the two together, was entirely defensive. The organization had not the financial means to buy and smuggle arms into the country, so the people could not rise in a mass. In Luzon this problem had, almost impassable difficulties. A rifle, by the time some adventurous foreigner filibustered it into the country, was worth three times its original value.


The organization began with methods borrowed from the Church: it began to remove the tallest stalks. Its tactics were to make reprisals against the most aggressive individuals of the oppressors, termed a "system of cowardly assassinations" by the bland moralists of free countries. Greek bishops a degree more relentless than their colleagues were shot down by avenging brigands; monks were baloed in Luzon by ladrones.


Thus began the real fight, each side as crafty and fearless as the other. They fought by the Bible, tooth for tooth, nail for hail, but ever in secrecy. Foreigners, travelling through the country would perhaps be unconscious of passing over a battleground. The fighting was all at night, and under roofs, down in the dungeons of the monasteries. It is hard to say which of the two Churches was more cruel in hunting down its enemies, but the Greeks were not far behind the Spaniards, if at all. Tortures unfit for description in print were used to force revelations from suspected members of the organization. Even in that respect the similitude becomes close again; both employed the notorious "water cure."


Gradually arms and ammunition were accumulated. Here Bulgaria's situation again helped her; it was merely a question of buying; it was easy enough to get them into the country. Some minor insurrections began, and were crushed by troops, but only temporarily. Finally, the crisis came, a revolution which failed, and a terrific reprisal by the victors. Those were the notorious Bulgarian atrocities of '77, first made known to the world in detail by an American journalist. The Greek Church had stepped back and allowed the Turkish Government to deal with the situation in its own peculiar manner.


Then rose the benevolent liberator. Russia began a war in the name of humanity. And if ever a war did begin for the cause of humanity, it was that Russo-Turkish war of '77.


In Luzon the movement was much behind, for the geographical reasons already stated. The crisis came at last, though, just twenty years later than it did in Bulgaria. The Katipunan struck, and struck well. The Spaniards conceded the reforms demanded, with a lump sum as guarantee, with which the leaders might finance a new beginning should the promises not be fulfilled. The Spaniards tricked them out of half the sum, and kept none of the promises. They may have been sincerely enough given, but the Church was too strong. They Katipunan was beginning again to plan for its next blow, when chance brought the benevolent liberator along. Here was the situation identical with that in Bulgaria in '77. To this point, while the movements were entirely internal, the similitude had continued. Both peoples had by the same slow, terrible process passed through the crudest training a people may experience and survive. It has left the same marks on both, good and bad, but on the whole good, for their battles have given them strength. But when outside influences, too powerful to be resisted, come over them, their common history forked, and became two.


The difference began in that Bulgaria is in Europe, and that Russia must gain her ends by diplomacy after having begun with force. Her will could not be supreme. Having driven the Turks down to the Bosphorus with the aid of the Rumanians and the Bulgarians themselves, without whom she would have been held at Plevna and Shipka, she proclaimed the existence of Great Bulgaria. It was the one thing she could do, but even then, the Christian Powers of Europe, seeing the final object of her game, intervened; and restored half the liberated country to the tender mercies of the Turk. For not one of Europe's statesmen, excepting Gladstone, who was not in power then, thought for a moment that Bulgaria was going to remain a free country. It was not that they feared Russia would deliberately annex the country, but that she would be forced to do so, not unwittingly, of course, by the internal turmoils which must follow the sudden liberation of a long oppressed people. For undoubtedly they sincerely believed in that cry, since so familiar to Americans, "they aren't at for self-government." It was Russia that most sincerely believed it, as she has proven since.


North Bulgaria, however, was nominally free, and soon became actually so. A constitution was drawn up, a ruler chosen by Russia to begin with, and one day the last regiment of the Russian army of occupation ostensibly recrossed the Danube. Undoubtedly, Russian ministers smiled and winked, at one another. With the ethnic divisions among the people of Bulgaria, with no historical precedent to look to, it was a natural thing to expect that the Bulgars, Greeks, Mussulmans, Vlachs, and Jews who constituted the population of Bulgaria would be flying at each other presently and compel a Russian intervention, which, of course, would end with annexation.




The Russian statesmen waited. They have waited ever since, and now they may wait unto eternity, or until the realization of that great dream, the confederation of the world.


Bulgaria, once on her feet, sturdily held her ground, in spite of the craftiest intrigues of Russian agents and spies to upset her. The internal turmoils did not come. Bulgars, Mussulmans, Greeks, Jews, and Vlachs, having drunk deep of the first draught of liberty, became intoxicated therewith and joined hands, and in their joyous deliriums forgot all old enmities. They would not quarrel and fight in spite of Russian intrigues.


So successful was Bulgarian free government, that eastern Rumelia, still under the Turks, but adjoining the free land, chose a favorable moment to proclaim her annexation to free Bulgaria. England, now guided by the humanitarian Gladstone, supported the movement, and the revolution was accomplished without a drop of blood being shed.


But Russia, once so keenly in favor of a Great Bulgaria, had learned a lesson, she feared now even this small increase, and protested, in vain. Her protests were unheeded. Turkey refused to follow her advice, to occupy the seceding province, for British warships hovered about the Dardanelles. Then Russia had recourse to other means. By intrigue she persuaded Servia to suddenly declare war on Bulgaria,


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at a moment when the Bulgarian army, not suspecting trouble in that direction, was down on the Turkish frontier, ready to support the Rumelians.


The Servian army crossed the frontier and advanced on Soda. It was so sudden, so unexpected, that Sofia did not realize her position till the Servians were only two days' march away; the capital was defenceless.


Then Bulgaria showed the stuff within her, the result of her early training. The army set out on foot for the invaded territory, a seven days' march. A few could go on trains. The Prince, who stoutly adhered to his adopted country, rode up to Sofia in a train, crowded with soldiers. They lay in tiers on top his coach.


The Bulgarian army met the Servians not far out of Soda. Much interior in numbers, they began the battle, although the Russian officers who had been "training" the Bulgarians, all suddenly resigned at the critical moment. That was part of the plot.


Among the Bulgarians were 6,000 Mussulmans, volunteers. They fought with a fury they had never displayed in the old days under the Sultan's colors. The Bulgarians of Macedonia were there in a "brigand brigade" of 3,000. The Servians were crushed, driven back, routed, and the Bulgarians had foiled the Russian plot. The war had lasted a week; actual fighting, three days.


Naturally, Russia, was enraged. Her rulers blamed the German Prince Alexander for what had happened, a weak, amiable, loyal sort of man. He, thought the Russians, is the man who foils us by holding Bulgaria together. So they determined to remove him. Russian agents again began brewing plots, which resulted in the Prince being kidnapped one night. Russian agents, in the guise of Bulgarian patriots, proclaimed a provisional government, which the Church, ever Russia's friend, immediately blessed.


But Bulgaria was on her guard again. A member of the Sobranje, the popular assembly, arose and denounced the provisional government. The whole people backed him, and the provisional government collapsed, its members fleeing, outlawed, home to Russia. This Bulgarian senator, Stambuloff, with two others, assumed the regency until the Prince could be found. He was found, at last, in Lemberg, Russia. They brought him back. Russia had failed, and abjectly humiliated herself again.


As though to prove how small a part he had in Bulgaria's growing strength, the Prince now showed its natural weakness. He had been frightened. "Russia gave me my crown," he servilely telegraphed to the Czar. "I am ready to return it into the hands of her sovereign," The Czar took him at his word. The Prince resigned.


Russia had gained her object — the Prince's removal. But now the true Bulgaria revealed herself. A statesman stepped up, a strong man, peasant-born, but the greatest statesman the Balkan States have ever produced, and by some historians rated equal to any of Europe. For seven years he defied the Russians, and their intrigues, tracking down the Czar's agents, even executing one who attempted to head a revolt which should result in the longed-for turmoil. All failed. Stambuloff saved his country from, the claws of her "liberator."


Driven to desperation, Russia had recourse to her last hope. Stambuloff was assassinated. For years Europe has pointed at Bulgaria, saying: "See, they murder their best men. They are still savages.'' Only a short time ago the truth came out. Now Stambuloff's self-confessed murderer lives, unpunished, in Russia; a Russian "agent." Stambuloff fell as the Filipino Stambuloff, Antonio Luna, fell. It remains yet to be proven who caused Luna's death. But, unlike him, Stambuloff was allowed first to do his work.


Russia has played the wrong game. Now, when too late, she realizes it. Even though she continue her policy of intrigue and assassination, Bulgaria is now too firmly planted to fear her, unless, of course, history drops back a century, and Europe should allow a military invasion; but that is not likely. Bulgaria has proven that centuries of oppression, with half a century of active revolutionary experience; is sound training for self-government. It is true, of course, that her present Government is far from ideal; that reform is needed here, as elsewhere; but it stands high up above those of her neighbors, whose oppressed subjects find shelter here. Bulgaria has proven herself; her fortune was in her opportunity to gain her feet before being compelled to do so.


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