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AND THE FUTURE OF MACEDONIA
'SIR EDWARD GREY desires peace, murmured the Austrian Foreign Minister last October, when we spoke of the need for reforming efforts in the Near East. We had come straight from Macedonia, and the very last man we had spoken to in that country was the minister's own military representative. As the train moved slowly out of Uskub he had handed us statistics, proving, in his sober German way, that the estimate of 10,000 violent deaths in four years was under the mark. Baron von Aehrenthal knew it well; but as the twilight from the Ballplatz faded in the princely office where we sat, our words sounded even in our own ears as those of a dreamer. The atmosphere of diplomacy is unreal and soft. Bloodshed was surely a fabrication. It seemed gauche to mention it.
The Baron's conversation is slow of foot; when words came they would doubtless be profound. But no. It is the same again. 'Your Sir Edward Grey is for peace. ‘Austria-Hungary is against reform, we seem to hear between the words. 'She sees no cause to worry; the knot is too intricate ; no one is sufficiently interested to run the risk of cutting it.' And so we all thought then; no solution seemed possible. Unless some mischance should occur upon the TurkoBulgarian frontier, unless some foolish company officer should trespass beyond recall, by no possible means could the evil equilibrium be disturbed. So thought also the readers of this Review, and if, last December, we had found in the list of contents an article upon Macedonia, we should have abused the editor. And so we all slept, with pleasant dreams, till the 28th of January.
When a man's dream is too vivid he sometimes walks out of the window and wakes with a shock. Such was the fate of Baron von Aehrenthal. Dreaming that no one cared for Macedonia, he proceeded quietly to seize a strategic route which would make that country as a ripe apple for Austria to pluck. Instantly Europe started up to belabour the Baron. Condemnation, hitherto reserved for those who suggested that all was not well, fell thick upon Austria. A semiofficial Petersburg organ remarked : ‘How much the isolated claim
of one power for separate privileges has increased the obstinacy of Turkey.' 'The Austrian press seeks to attribute the excitement among the Russian public to envy at Austria's politico-economic success, but this is absolutely false.' The views of English newspapers may be summarised in the following quotation :
The Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister has taken a step which marks the end of the friendly compact with Russia, which jeopardises, if it does not actually wreck, the prospects of Macedonian reform, which drives a wedge into the concert of Europe, which lifts the lid from the seething pot of the Balkans, which roughly jars the always delicate scheme of Austro-Italian relations, and which enables the Sultan and the Power which in a special sense is the Sultan's friend and protector, to snap their fingers at a Europe no longer united.
Such a kaleidoscopic change was never seen before. It fell to Sir Edward Grey to complete the transformation. Last year he had said : 'A Governor-General of Macedonia—that is a wide and sweeping proposal. It is not one that we could make alone.' The Baron's optimism had certainly some excuse.
But now with incredulous ears we heard this same man say: 'The situation is not beyond remedy, but it cannot be remedied by half measures.' Serious men for the first time find themselves wishing to know the facts, if only in order to follow the diplomacy of the British Minister, for Sir Edward Grey is always interesting, and in this case his course is unexpected. As a great diplomat remarked : 'What Grey says is always within what he means to do.'
So sudden a change from the dream to the business is a psychological curio; we can hardly remember our previous state of mind; it is worth while to record the dream, and to realise what is the business.
Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria understood the dream. When you talked of massacre he was moved, but he knew the subject to be academic. He would turn the talk from burnt villages to the destruction of forests, and the beauties of Pinus Macedonica. You realised that here was something worth talking about; you were debarred from changing the Sultan's Pashas, not from buying his forests. Europe might get the Turk to grow more trees, but not to grow more
The traveller outward bound, stopping at Sofia for the first time, might have thought the Prince callous ; on the return journey he would understand, for he would have learnt that even travellers live in a dream. From the moment when the visitor to Macedonia wakes up in the train to find himself out of Europe, everything conspires to hide the unpleasant and to make him happy. The valleys are beautiful and the tattered escort picturesque. For weeks he may travel with unqualified delight, with nothing to disturb the pure sense of sparkling sun, brilliant costumes, quaint medieval industry, hospitality, a sense of health unknown in London, and always the cloudless sky. As Kinglake says in the preface to Eothen, 'The people and things that most concern the traveller, however mean and insignificant, take large proportions in his picture, because they stand so near to him.' Thus are the realities concealed.
Then one day some old phenomenon begins to disquiet him. I remember once arriving with four companions new to Macedonia at a most welcome caravanserai. For six hours we had ridden from Velez through delightful hills, and came at last, with infinite satisfaction, to the great inn at Babuna. A hot stew was ready, there was a delightful verandah, and after lunch there were tame bears to watch at their dances and to feed with melons. Then we mounted our Syrian horses again for another five hours' ride to Prilep. Outside the gate we took a last glance at the friendly inn. For the first time we noticed peculiar spots scattered over the stone wall. What could they be? They were bullet marks, and it then appeared that within the last few weeks the spot had seen a pitched battle.
The change from the æsthetic to the tragic mood is too great, and after a few minutes of discomfort you decide to banish the unpleasant from your view and revert to the unwonted pleasure of unmitigated physical well-being.
Another midday halt, with another companion, was in a village, and we sat by a clear shallow pool, sharing our lunch with the village chickens and a great shoal of fish, which long experience had taught not to be afraid. The sun shone, and we wished that English villages were like these. Before mounting again we strolled among the houses, and lazily observed that one was in ruins. Coming nearer we found that it bore the marks of fire, and behind it, sitting by an improvised shelter, sat a women mending clothes. Only a few days before, an armed band had attacked the village. The woman's husband was killed. Her son had disappeared. It seemed that this place which appeared so happy was really the scene of misery and fear
. But the contrast with our own happiness was too great to realise, and we rode on unmoved.
In old Servia we arrived towards evening at a small mountain farm, and to show us honour the farmer killed a pig; in the gloaming we watched it roasting whole over a wood fire ; at last, with the sauce of a perfect hunger, we ate it; finally, infinitely satisfied, we lit our pipes and sat leaning against the wall of the little room. Then, the Turkish escort having retired at the sight of swine’s flesh, we asked the farmer, who was a Christian, how he fared. His answer was disconcerting. My father,' he said, 'was shot in this room by the Arnauts, and they have threatened me with death if I do not give up my land ; there are the bullet marks in the wall, just above your head.' But it seemed a pity not to finish our pipes.
Sometimes, the contrast and the unreality are redoubled by the amazingly European, even English, character of your surroundings. I remember a crystalline brook which rose from the limestone in a single reedy marsh, exactly after the manner of a Hampshire chalkstream, and flowed through green meadows with the peculiar regular form and quiet motion which one associates with big trout and dry flies. Something rose in the water too, like a feeding fish, and although, after all, it proved to be a tortoise, the illusion remained ; we must surely be in the South of England. But going back to the road and the dilapidated inn I found a row of Turkish deserters from the army reserve in handcuffs, and six gendarmes in charge of them, taken from their proper duties in spite of the protest of the European officers sent to supervise them.
There is a valley near Monastir, where, riding along among the beeches and oaks, we were surely in Devonshire. At the head of the valley where it widened out was a large village with good stone houses, delightful at a distance to see ; you entered it with pleasant anticipation; you found an Inferno. In that village, three days before, ten houses had been burnt, nine men shot, four women stabbed, and entering the house, as you might enter any cottage in England, you saw the walls covered with bullet holes, and the floor with blood. But riding home again in a gorgeous sunset, we were still in a peaceful Devonshire valley.
There are so many European officers now in Macedonia that even in a provincial town like Uskub or Monastir you may make up a considerable dinner party, and the hotel keepers have learnt to serve considerable dinners. Probably before the third course an orderly will bring a message for the officer to whom you are speaking. A man has just been shot in the next street. No one stops talking. The news is merely a bore. It is as if someone remarked 'It has begun to rain.'
You have become familiar now, you know that you can see such things and yet enjoy the day. Something in the air makes it all a dream, and, after all, you are on your holidays, and cannot afford to have them spoilt.
So Prince Ferdinand was right when he turned the conversation from murders to trees. How completely right, you realise when you get home. I have before me a photograph taken by one of the European officers in a harvest field. It represents a family stabbed at their work, and propped up against the sheaves of barley for the officer to photograph them. The boy has his face marked where the contusions have begun to turn colour, and a pretty girl about ten years old has her hand standing up because it had grown stiff as she lay on her side ; the murderers have left the bracelets on her wrists. But I know that these things have happened hundreds of times, and something of the kind is happening to-day. There is nothing new about it. We have all grown used to it. And after all we remember best that we enjoyed ourselves in Macedonia, and that the hedges were full of Traveller's Joy.'
Thus it is not surprising that the public of Europe have grown indifferent. Continental countries are callous enough on such matters. Russia, indeed, is roused on occasion to passionate sympathy with her fellow Slavs, but she is not yet habituated to the freedom of the press. The Teutonic empires keep a tight hand on inconvenient news. The idea that the public should interfere in foreign affairs is not tolerated at Berlin or Vienna. Even to educated Germans and Austrians it is incredible that public agitation on foreign questions such as exists in England can be a spontaneous movement, and they insist that the British Foreign Office must have inspired it and should control it. In Germany, indeed, one element, the Socialist, is free and keenly interested ; but it is not allowed to count. In Austria, even Socialists, in regard to foreign questions, are purely official, and a newspaper could hardly be found which would print an article on foreign affairs without first submitting it to the Foreign Office; in Hungary, constitutionally equal in power to Austria, domestic problems still absorb the governing mind, and the nation, so suspicious of Austrian assumption, is strangely content to leave the Near East, which lies at the very door of Hungary, to the diplomats of Vienna.
Even Liberal Italy regulates foreign news, and actually censors the telegrams of the correspondents of English newspapers; all must obtain the approval of the Foreign Office at Rome. Thus, though the officers of Italy stationed in Macedonia are by far the most active, and though the zeal for freedom is a far more real force in the country of Garibaldi than in any other land, yet the international weakness of the Italian Government brings about an apparent indifference, and prevents that public knowledge which would make Italy a force in Macedonian affairs.
Nowhere is there more knowledge of the question and more ability to judge of it than among the publicists of France ; nowhere have more impressive demonstrations of public feeling for liberty been witnessed than at Paris ; nor could emotional oratory rise higher than when, in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre, the vast audience listens to M. Jaurès, pleading, with the inimitable impressiveness of French declamation : 'In the name of the Universal Conscience, which condemns the crimes of Abdul Hamid.' But the results are disappointing. * Thou art unto them as the very lovely sound of him that hath s pleasant voice.' Public opinion does not exert itself, and in practice allows itself to appear through its representative at Constantinople as inspired by financial greed in its most unpleasant form.
In all these great countries the newspapers are brief, the news meagre, the habit of public expression undeveloped, the diplomatic traditions unable to escape from the temptation to pursue material advantage by the betrayal of loyalty to the duty of Europe.