Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1699/Russia and Turkey
From The Fortnightly Review.
RUSSIA AND TURKEY.
BY JAMES BRYCE.
Nearly all public writers and speakers in England, and indeed in Germany and the Austrian monarchy also, seem to take it for granted, that the ruling and permanent motive of Russian policy is the desire for territorial aggrandizement. Most of them further assume that this policy, so dangerous to her neighbors, and supposed to be so specially dangerous to English power in the East, can only be resisted by supporting the Turkish empire, as the state most directly threatened and least able to sustain an attack. Having been led, in the course of a journey undertaken this autumn through Russia and the Black Sea countries, to question both these assumptions, I desire to examine them, and that with reference rather to the course of Russian history generally, and to the character of the Turkish administrative system, than to the events of these last few weeks or months. My object is not so much to establish any positive conclusions as to show the unsoundness of the premises on which are based many of the doctrines most frequently and confidently put forward in our recent discussions on these topics; and this, I venture to hope, may be done without any desire or tendency to serve party interests. Properly understood, the question of our action in the East is altogether apart from English party politics, and a man's judgment of it ought to be quite unaffected by his view of our subjects of difference at home.
Let me say at starting that I am in no sense an advocate or even an apologist of Russia. Like most English Liberals, I had been accustomed to regard her, ever since the fatal day of Vilagos when she crushed the independence of Hungary, as the arch-foe of political progress, the incarnation of political evil. Even now, her further advance over the provinces of the Turkish empire would, as it seems to me, be a great misfortune for those provinces, for herself, for the world. But the Russia of 1876 is not the Russia of 1849. Just as we have come to look differently upon Austria since her acceptance of constitutionalism after 1866, and upon Prince Bismarck since he shook himself loose from the feudal party in Prussia, so we must learn to recognize the changes that have passed in Russia since the accession of Alexander II., changes more rapid than any other European country has undergone in an equally short space. And in any case we ought surely to unlearn the habit, not more unfair than it is unwise and misleading, of putting, as a matter of course, the worst construction upon every word or act of Russia. I do not therefore attempt, nor desire, to argue that the policy of the Russian government has been, or is now, a disinterested policy. I do not deny, that there is a party, a strong party, which hankers after further conquests, and dreams of some day reaching the Bosphorus. But what I hope to show is, firstly, that the recent history of Russia affords far less evidence of a passion for territorial aggrandizement than is commonly believed here; secondly, that such aggrandizement would be distinctly injurious to her; thirdly, that her present action is sufficiently explainable without the hypothesis, so generally accepted in England, that her aim is the seizure of European Turkey; and fourthly, that the actual condition of both Asiatic and European Turkey clearly shows that the worst possible way of checking Russia is to try to maintain the status quo there, to allow the Porte to go on expecting support from us, and to teach the subject Christian populations that it is to the czar, and to the czar alone, that they have to look for deliverance from intolerable misgovernment.
It is natural that any one who sees on the map the Muscovy of the sixteenth century, as it was under the czar Ivan the Terrible, and compares it with the Russian empire of to-day, should be astonished at the vast and rapid territorial growth of this state, a growth paralleled only by that of Roman and English dominion.
The alarm, however, which this comparison causes ought to disappear when it is understood how these vast territories have been acquired. By far the larger part have not been conquered at all, but simply colonized or occupied. Not only Siberia but the whole north-east of European Russia and a great portion of the south-east have come under Russian rule almost without a musket-shot, because these regions were inhabited by savage wandering tribes who had no hold on the soil, and made no objection to the advent of settlers. Some of them, such as the Tchouvasses, Mordvins and Tcheremisses of the Volga, are already half Russianized; others, like the Samovedes and Kirghiz, remain pagan or Mohammedan; but all are on perfectly good terms with their governors, and seem, indeed, never to have had anything to complain of. Other large districts, such as the Tatar khanates of Kazan and of the Crimea, have, indeed, been conquered, but conquered almost of necessity, being held by semi-civilized Mohammedan states between whom and the Muscovite frontier population it was found practically impossible for peace to subsist. Georgia was not conquered at all, but handed over to the czar by its last king, who could not defend it against his Mohammedan neighbors. The only acquisitions, therefore, on which the charge of deliberate aggression can be based are those of Finland and the Baltic provinces, Poland, the south-western provinces conquered from Turkey, and the districts recently occupied in Turkestan (omitting the trifling conquests in Transcaucasia made from Persia). A few words may suffice for each of these.
All these territories, except Turkestan, were conquered when conquest was still the order of the day in Europe, and regarded as the natural reward, even where it had not been the original object, of a war. Our present sentiment, which condemns the transference of a population to the rule of a victorious alien state, is extremely modern, and far from universally dominant: witness the case of north Schleswig and the general desire of the French, in and before the summer of 1870, to annex the purely German districts on the left bank of the lower Rhine. In the case of Finland, Russia had this excuse, that while it was held by a foreign power St. Petersburg, lying close to the Swedish border, was at the mercy of an invading force. Finland, moreover, has, ever since her submission, been treated with singular consideration. She retains her laws, her two languages, her metallic currency. Her free constitution, never abolished, has of late years been recalled to active life; no attempt has been made to Russify her people or institutions; she spends all her own revenues and costs Russia a considerable sum besides. The story of Poland offers a sad contrast to this generosity, and it is mainly her cruelties there that have drawn on Russia the aversion of western Europe. Nothing can excuse those cruelties, worse even than those of which we were guilty in Ireland in 1798; or the French in Algeria. Several points, however, may deserve to be noticed. One is, that in the original partition of Poland Russia did no more than was done by Austria and Prussia. A second is, that there existed an ancient and bitter hatred between Russians and Poles, dating from the days when the latter, then the stronger power, had nearly crushed the national existence of Russia. Further, the democratic party in Russia in 1863, seeing in the division between the peasantry of the Lithuanian provinces, who had no Polish sympathies, and the nobles who had, an opportunity of inflicting a blow upon the nobility generally, hounded on the government against the insurgents. And the government itself was stimulated to greater harshness by its fear of the revolutionary spirit which had made Warsaw an outpost. To stamp out the conspiracies which were always simmering there, seemed to them necessary for the safety of Russia itself.
The acquisitions of Asiatic territory made in 1828 from Persia and in 1829 from Turkey were less considerable than might have been expected, considering the weakness of the beaten party. We need not set this down to generosity — generosity was not a feature in the character of Nicholas — it was due to the sense that annexations were not really for the conqueror's interest, who had enough on his hands already. The war of 1828-29 was not a war of aggression, but arose out of the conduct of Turkey towards the Greeks, and though the Turks were reduced by the second campaign to complete helplessness, not an acre of land in Europe was demanded as the price of peace.
It is mainly the more recent advances of Russia in central Asia that have excited the attention of Europe and the suspicions of England. Yet nothing can be more natural than these advances, and England is the country which ought best to understand this, since the causes are almost exactly the same as those which drew us on from conquest to conquest till we became masters of India; or as those which have similarly drawn on the French in Algeria, and the Americans over the land they had reserved for the Indian tribes. A civilized state with semi-civilized states or predatory nomad races on its frontiers cannot stop where it will. With the former it makes treaties; the treaties are broken; it is obliged to punish, and can often only punish by annexing, or by assuming a protectorate which comes to almost the same thing as annexation. With the latter no treaty can be made, and the civilized power must therefore protect its borders by stationing troops along them, and must chastise every inroad by pursuing the marauders on their homeward way, perhaps for great distances. This is found so expensive and troublesome that a regular expedition is undertaken; the offending tribe is defeated, and to prevent fresh irruptions forts are erected and garrisons stationed in its country, which thus becomes reduced to submission. This advance involves a contact with fresh tribes, who molest the peaceable natives or the civilized settlers by their inroads; and the same process is repeated, the line of outposts always moving forward, and the line of settled subject country following it. In some such way as this has the frontier of Russia advanced from the river Ural to the banks of the upper Oxus and the Thian-shan Mountains, One of the most distinguished officers in the Russian service, a man whose veracity no one could dream of questioning, assured me that the archives of the war office at St. Petersburg were full of directions to the generals commanding on the Turkoman steppes, forbidding them to engage in fresh wars or annex fresh territory; but that the nature of things had been too strong for the war office, and had carried the Cossack outposts steadily forward. Something, I think, must also be allowed for the desire of the frontier generals to find occupation for their troops, and to distinguish themselves by conquest, just as Cæsar advanced against the will of the senate, and our Indian generals or statesmen in spite of the East India Company. And it is no doubt also true that the extension of territory has been regarded with a certain pleasure by the unthinking majority of the Russian people, more particularly by the army, everywhere the home of chauvinism. But one may well believe that the government has not desired, much less designed, these advances, for they bring nothing but expense and responsibility. Turkestan is a poor country, quite unable to pay the expense of managing it; the central Asian trade which it opens up is of no great consequence, so thinly peopled are all these countries; and in case of a European war the necessity of wasting troops in this remote corner of the empire might be seriously felt.
That Russia, finding herself at the north foot of the Hindoo Koosh (which she may probably reach before long), would in the event of a war with England use her position there to annoy us by stirring up the Afghans or hill tribes of the Punjab frontier, or even by intriguing with the native princes of India itself, is probable enough. But it is quite another thing to fancy, as so many people in England do, that she is going to the Hindoo Koosh for that express purpose. Had she wished either to menace India or to increase her Asiatic dominions by war, there was, there still is, another course open to her. That course, not more costly in the first instance, and far more profitable in the long run, is to annex Persia, a country with no army, no fleet, and hardly any government, a country of great natural resources, with a splendid geographical position between the Caspian and the Indian Ocean, inhabited by a population far less warlike and fanatical than the Turkomans, industrious and settled, though reduced by misgovernment to a point far below its natural level; a country moreover from which India could be threatened much more effectively than from Khiva or Bokhara. Needless to say that we could not have saved Persia, and that she could not have defended herself: six or eight regiments would be enough to overrun the whole kingdom.
That Russia has during the last three centuries extended her borders farther and faster than any other European state is undeniable. But then she is the only European state that could so extend itself. The settler who lives on the edge of the wilderness may take in as much land as he pleases, while a proprietor in Kent or Normandy cannot push his fence six inches back without risking a lawsuit. And in her extensions to north, east, and south, where she found either unoccupied lands or races inferior to her own, she has really played the part of an improving and civilizing power.
Territorial extension, however, which marks a period, sometimes a long period, in the history of almost all great states always comes sooner or later to an end, sometimes, as with most of the countries of modern Europe, because there is no longer room for it, sometimes also, as in our own case and that of the United States, or as of Rome in the time of the early emperors, because it is believed to be no longer for the interest of the state itself. Twenty years ago we used to have panic-fits about the extension of the United States. We now know that they do not desire either Canada or Mexico or the Antilles, and have even neglected chances of getting a footing in the two latter. Similarly, we have ourselves repeatedly refused to found new colonies or annex new territories in the East, though the world does not yet credit us with such moderation.
Now Russia seems to have reached this point, when for her own interest further territorial growth ought to stop. How far she sees this herself, I shall inquire presently; meantime let me endeavor to state the grounds for believing that she would only injure herself by attempting to incorporate the provinces of Turkey, for example, or to wrest from us any part of India.
Russia has already more land and vaster natural resources than she needs or can deal with. Not to speak of the mineral riches of Siberia, still only half opened up, or of the fertile countries along the lower Amour, or of Turkestan, or of Transcaucasia with so many sources of wealth only requiring capital for their development, she has in the southern part of European Russia, between the Dnieper and the Ural River, a region of unsurpassed fertility not a third or fourth part of which is now under cultivation, and which could probably support a population as large again as that of the present European dominions. In this vast tract, which one may call the "Great West" of Russia, colonization does indeed go on, and now the faster since railways have been made through it; but it goes on with nothing like American or even Canadian speed, and at the present rate another century will not see the country even fairly well settled. People in western Europe often talk of Russia as "overflowing with men " of her "teeming millions," and so forth. The truth is that she is the most sparsely populated of civilized states, with the possible exception of Sweden, and that her population increases slowly. She is a child in the shoes of a giant. Instead, therefore, of grasping at fresh territories which she is not able either to occupy with settlers or develop by an expenditure of skill and capital, it is her interest to concentrate all her energies on her internal growth, to fill up her empty spaces, improve her communications, train her people to add the higher forms of skilled industry to those comparatively rude and raw handicrafts which, speaking broadly alone at present thrive among them. One cannot travel through the country without seeing that this policy, already to some extent begun, will make her more prosperous and more powerful than any course of conquest could possibly do.
Further, Russia is at this moment unfitted to assimilate or administer new territories, and notably such territories as the Turkish. So large an empire as hers is already requires a great multitude of officials, and the supply of good officials is far below the demand. I do not speak merely of corruption, which every one in Russia asserts to be so widely spread — for of its existence a stranger has no means of judging — but of incompetence for the higher administrative functions. Russia, it cannot be too often repeated, is a new country, where civilization has but recently taken root. Great efforts have been made, and made with much success — for the people is not only a quick but a really gifted one — to spread education and rear up a cultivated class. But that class is still small, compared with the whole population, or compared with the same class in France, Germany, or England. And even in those who have been to the university, culture is not the same thing as it is in educated men in those above-named western countries, where it rests, so to speak, on a basis of hereditary cultivation going back for centuries. If, then, a sufficiently qualified bureaucracy is now wanting in European Russia, how much greater would the deficiency be in the countries west and south of the Euxine, where several half-civilized races live intermingled, differing in religion and language, hating one another, depending entirely on their governors for the impulse which is to pacify, elevate, discipline, and, in fine, civilize them? Highly qualified men, morally as well as intellectually, are needed to deal with the problems which such countries present. We believe that we send such men to India; but we are able to do so because the class from which they come is, in an old and overpeopled country like this, unusually large. In Russia such men are too few, and they are likely to be still fewer, for at present the tendency of educated youth there is quite away from official life, towards the professions or towards employment under such local authorities as are independent of the central government.
In the dominions conquered by Russia, such as Transcaucasia, everything depends upon the bureaucracy, everything is referred to it, everything proceeds from it. What impulses to civilization are to be given must be given by it, for there are few individual settlers, and they do not affect the country in the least. Now with excellent intentions and considerable efforts, the bureaucracy has so far been able to do but little to improve or develop the later Russian conquests. Order is not yet secure in them, and they are so far from paying their way that they constitute a serious drain on the imperial revenues. They will not pay till they are civilized; and civilization cannot be introduced by ukase. With all this work on her hands it would be folly for Russia to attempt the larger and more difficult task of assimilating Bulgaria, Roumelia, and Anatolia. There are other reasons in the internal conditions of Russia proper why she should refrain from entangling herself with new difficulties. The emancipation of the serfs has raised as many problems as it seemed to solve, and no one can yet say how it may end. Serious reforms in the Church are talked of and likely to be before long undertaken. The finances of the empire, exhausted by the construction of so many railways, which have not yet begun to be remunerative, require the most careful nursing. Moreover (and this is a reason to which the enlightened liberals of Russia attach great weight) the addition of new territories obviously incapable of constitutional government would impede or delay that creation of free representative institutions which is the great and the most difficult question of the future for Russia, and towards which some cautious steps have already been taken. The power of the central government is now felt to be too great, and every extension of the districts which can only be ruled despotically by the central government will necessarily throw more upon it.
It may be answered, Supposing all that has just been urged to be true, it does not follow that the Russian government or people see it to be true. They may not believe in this alleged incapacity to find administrators, or they may think that the same course of aggrandizement which has brought them to their present point of greatness will carry them on with full sails over the difficulties of the future: tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito. Or, even while admitting that the development of their internal resources and the creation of representative institutions is the surest path to prosperity, they may be too much seduced by the brilliant prize that seems to lie within their grasp, too much intoxicated by a sense of their "historic panslavonic mission," to be able to halt when the voices of race and religion call them on.
This is a matter on which no one, no, not a Russian himself, can speak with confidence. The sentiment of a nation, the policy of a government, change from day to day, and change from causes beyond prediction. Two or three remarks however may be ventured for the sake of clearing away a prevalent misconception.
It is commonly fancied, not only in England but in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (where jealousy of Russia is even hotter than among ourselves), that what is called panslavism is the pervading passion of the Russian people and the guiding star of Russian foreign policy. No greater mistake. Panslavism is a theory, a doctrine, a sentiment, what you will, which has been taken up by a certain party in Russia, composed chiefly of such of the nobility as live in Moscow, of officers in the army, of a certain number of journalists and students. It has absolutely no hold on the peasantry, who would not even know what it meant, and very little on the merchants. It is repudiated by the advanced or socialistic democrats. It is in fact the doctrine of a party, not of the nation, of a party like that which in England would have us go to war for the Turks, or like that which in France desires to restore by arms the temporal power of the pope. That it exerts considerable influence is undeniable, but that influence is rather declining than increasing, and at this moment draws what appears to be its strength from a source that is really quite different — the religious sentiment of hatred to Islam. The wisest heads in Russia, and particularly those who surround the present emperor and reflect his moderation, see through the vague and flimsy notion, a wild inference drawn by ignorance and vanity from misconceived premises, that the largest Slavonic State is necessarily or naturally called upon to unite all Slavonic races under one sceptre. And though they may occasionally use this spectre to frighten their neighbors, they have far too sound an appreciation of what is practical in politics to be influenced by it themselves.
Similarly with regard to the supposed desire of all Russians to possess Constantinople. One may hear some irresponsible talk on the subject from private people: expressions of a belief that sooner or later the czar will plant the cross on St. Sophia, and that all south-eastern Europe will own the Muscovite faith and rule, while England and Austria gnash their teeth in the distance. Just such irresponsible talk one may hear from Germans about the necessity of annexing Holland, or even of gathering England and Scandinavia into the great pan-Teutonic empire. Just such idle hopes one may hear Spaniards express of the incorporation of Portugal. Just such was formerly the vaporing language of Americans about Canada and Mexico. A boy when he looks at a map fancies that the most powerful countries are those which cover the largest space, and it is wonderful how many of us remain boys in this regard. There are plenty of foolish persons in Russia as elsewhere, who fall into this vulgar confusion of bigness with greatness. But there, as elsewhere, sensible men see not only that Russia at Constantinople would be weaker and more exposed than she is now, but that she would run some risk of ceasing to be Russia at all, and would be led away into new paths whose end no one could see, and where the true interest of the old Russian people would soon be lost sight of.
The active sympathy shown by the Russian nation with the Herzegovinians and Servians during the last few months has been taken in some quarters as conclusive evidence of its passion for conquest. No assumption can be more gratuitous. It would have been strange indeed if a people among whom religion is an infinitely more potent force (the only one that moves all classes) than in any other part of Europe, had not sympathized with its co-religionists in their struggle, not against ordinary enemies, but against the very enemies before whom Russia had lain prostrate for two centuries, and with whom she had maintained a long, doubtful, though ultimately successful, warfare for three centuries more. The hatred of the Russian people to Mohammedans is almost as striking a feature in their national history and character as it was in those of the Spaniards of the sixteenth century, among whom its origin had been precisely the same. It is almost as deep a feeling as their devotion to the Orthodox Church; it is, in fact, with them a part alike of their religion and their patriotism. No one can understand the attitude of Russia in these questions without allowing for the intensity in her people of this combined sentiment — the result of her whole history — of sympathy with Christians of the Orthodox rite and faith, and hatred to their Mussulman rulers. In the present instance there was added to these feelings a wrath and horror at the cruelties perpetrated by the Turks, which were not indeed more deep or genuine than the indignation those cruelties called forth in England, but were all the fiercer because it was commonly believed in Russia, down to the middle of September last, that Europe generally, and England in particular, were viewing those cruelties with complete sang froid, and that they had not in the least affected the traditional English friendship for Turkey. These things being so, one has no need either of panslavistic theories or the lust for conquest to explain that passionate outburst of feeling in Russia this summer which the czar and his advisers have found it so hard to resist. It pervaded, it still pervades, all classes, even down to the peasantry who know and care nothing about politics. It would make it far easier for the government, despite its financial embarrassments, to undertake a war against Turkey now than at any time within this century. People have compared it to our sympathy with the Garibaldians in 1859, or to that of the Germans for the Holsteiners in 1863. But it is, by the nature of the case, infinitely stronger than in either of those instances (in which, nevertheless, plenty of volunteers were found ready to start), and may best be likened to the feeling wherewith the English people heard in 1641 of the terrible massacre of the Protestant colonists of Ulster, a feeling which bore no small part in bringing on the great civil war.
It is no part of my purpose to discuss the recent policy of Russia. Whether it has been selfish and tortuous, or whether the government has honestly endeavored to restrain the fanaticism of its subjects and co-operate with the other powers for the benefit of the Christians in Turkey, is a matter of present political controversy, and I desire here to keep as much as possible upon historical ground. But however its rulers may use the enthusiasm of the Russian people, the fact of that enthusiasm and its grounds ought to be known and weighed, for they are most important elements in the problem before us.
Without professing to see farther into a millstone than the rest of the world, one may incline to believe that whatever be the dreams or schemes of the party of advance in Russia, and whatever the possibility that the cabinet of St. Petersburg may ultimately, more or less, adopt them, its present policy is directed, not so much to the acquisition of territory as to the extension and strengthening of its influence in Turkey, both upon the Porte itself and upon the subject Christian populations, so as to establish, in fact, a sort of protectorate over the sultan and his dominions. Such a protectorate might be sought either from selfish or disinterested motives; doubtless it is sought from both. But be this as it may, be Russia's object the extension of her dominions or only the extension of her influence, the question how she may best be met — checked, if you will — is not, substantially, very different. On this question a few words may be said in conclusion.
The influence of Russia over the Christians of Turkey and her power for agression, so far as it depends on that influence, is held to be derived from two sources. One is, their belief that she, and she alone, sympathizes with their sufferings, and is prepared to help them. This is a real and potent cause. The other is their sense of nearness to her in blood and religion, the feeling of Slavs for Slavs, of Orthodox Eastern Christians for one another. This cause has some force; but a force both much more limited in area and weaker within that area than is usually ascribed to it. Let us see how both may be met.
It is, or ought to be, superfluous to add a particle of fresh evidence to that which is already before Europe of the misgovernment of the Turkish provinces and of the utter incapacity of the government for reform. Every Frank you meet in Anatolia or Roumelia or Constantinople itself, however much he may prefer (as he usually does) the individual Turk to the individual Greek or Armenian, tells you that things are certainly no better than they were twenty years ago, in the days of the Crimean war, that they are probably worse, than it is useless to expect any reform from the Porte, that all the promises it makes will and must be broken — must, because there are neither men fit to carry out reforms, nor is there any force at headquarters to compel them to do so. It is really hardly necessary, in order to get any idea of what Turkish government is, to do more than sail down the Bosphorus and count the magnificent palaces, rich with marble without and sumptuous decorations within, that line its shore, palaces erected by Sultan Abdul Aziz out of the money he borrowed in the west while his own revenue was diminishing, the oppression of the provinces increasing, the most necessary public undertakings lying unfinished. But wherever one goes in the Turkish empire one hears the same story of the inhabitants oppressed by exactions, of wanton cruelties perpetrated by the officials and the tax-farmers, of land dropping out of cultivation because the people cannot pay the taxes, of the decline of trade, of the decrease of wealth even among the richer families, of mines unworked, because the functionaries from whom the concession must be obtained break faith or demand extravagant bribes. In a disorganized and dying empire it usually happens that a provincial governor or satrap makes himself independent and establishes a government stronger if not better than the one he has revolted from. The Porte guards against this danger by changing its local governors very frequently; and what is the result? A good governor — for there are good governors even in Turkey — is taken away just when he has begun to know something of his district, and all the sooner if it is suspected that he is popular there. A bad one — and considering the nature of the court influences by which they are appointed, it is not surprising that most of them should be heartily bad — makes the most of his short tenure by squeezing every piastre he can out of his wretched subjects, whether by way of taxes or bribes or of plain downright extortion. And in both sets of cases all continuity and regularity of administration, all possibility of carrying out reforms, is destroyed by these frequent changes.
From the unspeakable misery which this misrule causes, the Mohammedan population suffers, not indeed so much as the Christian, because the former have more chance of protection from the courts of law, may carry arms, and are less liable to be robbed or bastinadoed by a brother Muslim, but still quite enough to entitle them to our earnest sympathy. It is surely a mistake in dealing with this question, to endeavor to set creed against creed, and enlist European feeling on behalf of the Christians only. It is also a mistake to make the indictment against the Porte appear to rest on isolated acts of cruelty and revenge, however hideous. It rests upon a long course of migovernment, persevered in after repeated warnings, which has reduced some of the richest countries in the world to beggary, which makes the lives of their inhabitants wretched, which produces the state of society wherein massacres like that of May last had become possible.
Notwithstanding these facts, which might be supposed to have by this time become pretty well known in the west, people talk about the integrity of the Turkish empire, the importance of maintaining the status quo, etc., etc. Now, you cannot maintain the status quo. As a great German writer has somewhere said, there is in the moral and political, as in the material world, no such thing as a status quo. All is change and motion, if not from worse to better, then from better to worse. You may keep Turkey unscathed by foreign invasion. You may aid the sultan to suppress revolts within. But you will not thereby, no, nor by exacting a hundred promises of reform, arrest that sure and steady though silent process of decay which has been going on for the last century or more, and makes the government more and more powerless for everything but evil. You cannot prevent the empire from one day falling to pieces, after another era of silent oppression varied by revolts and massacres. You may make that era longer, but it will end at last, and when it ends, the hatred of Muslim and Christian, more bitter now than twenty years ago, will probably have become more bitter still.
It is their impatience of this tyranny and their belief that while the other powers — England and Austria especially — desire simply to maintain the status quo, Russia alone is willing and able to help them, that has accustomed the Christians of Turkey to look to Russia, and has given her the influence she now enjoys. Nothing can be more natural, nor do we need either secret societies or Russian emissaries (though for aught I know Russian emissaries may be at work, like moles, on every Bulgarian farm) to account for so simple a phenomenon. These poor people are surely not to be cut off from all hope: and what conceivable loyalty or duty can they owe to a ruling caste and government which calls them and treats them like dogs ? Which of us, under such a government, would not intrigue, and rebel too whenever he got the chance? The only way to remove this disposition to turn to Russia is to remove its cause, that is, to improve the internal condition of the Turkish empire. As regards the largest part of that empire, where the government of the sultan must be suffered to subsist, because there is nothing to put in its place, the only really effective measure would be to appoint European commissioners, not only to watch and stimulate the ministry at Constantinople, but to reside at all the principal seats of provincial government and see that the pashas and kadis do their duty. But there are districts where it is fortunately possible to go somewhat further, outlying tracts where the Christians are in a large majority, and which may therefore be practically withdrawn from Turkish administration, even if left nominally subject to the sultan, as Roumania was and Servia is. Thus Thessaly and Crete might go to Greece, not because Greece has deserved them — what have practical politics to do with deserts? — but because it will be better for all parties: Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Herzegovina would acquire a species of qualified independence, under the guarantee of the great powers, and be no longer ruled and pillaged by Turkish officials and tax-farmers. It is in these last-named provinces that the anti-Turkish and pro-Russian feeling is strongest; for in them the Christian population is largest, and lying nearer to Russia they are naturally more inclined to look to her as a deliverer. If she devours Turkey, they will be the first mouthful; if she attacks Turkey, their sympathy will be a considerable aid to her. Our Russophobists ought therefore to think it more specially important to do something to relieve the wrongs of these provinces, although those who hold that we have also a duty in the matter will not rest content without trying to assuage the misery of the inhabitants, Muslim as well as Christian, of Roumelia and Asia Minor.
The other source of Russian influence over the Christians of Turkey lies, or is supposed, to lie, in panslavism. Now, whatever panslavism may be in Russia itself, outside of Russia it is a mere phantom, a spectre evoked to terrify Magyars and Germans, but which vanishes when you approach it. Over whom is it supposed to have power? Not over the Roumans, who are no Slavs, who are excessively afraid of being absorbed by Russia, and have shown not a spark of sympathy all these last months for their Bulgarian and Servian neighbors. Not over the Slavic subjects of Austria, who are nearly all Roman Catholics, and therefore far more repelled from Russia by religion than they can be attracted to her by the fantastic sentiment of race. The Poles, of course, and the Czechs hardly less than their Polish brethren, heartily hate Russia; the other Austrian Slavs sometimes use her to frighten the Magyars, but they know well enough that they are far better as they are than they would be under Muscovite rule, and that with the aid of the Germans and their own numerical preponderance they can hold their own against the Magyars. It is by no means solely or even chiefly due to the prohibition of the government that hardly a volunteer has gone from among the Slavs of Austria to help the Servians. Coming to Turkey itself, the Greeks and Armenians have of course no Slavonic sympathies; the Greeks, indeed, have quite different visions of their own — visions of a Greek empire upon the Bosphorus. As to the Christian Slavs, Servians, Bosnians, Herzegovinians, Montenegrins, Bulgarians (including for the sake of the argument the Bulgarians among the Slavs), the panslavistic propaganda has made no progress among the mass of them: its doctrines are known only to some few journalists and politicians. They are, however (except the Bosnian Catholics), drawn to Russia by ecclesiastical sympathy. They are proud of her as a big elder brother. They are grateful to her for what encouragement she has given them. They would rather be under her rule than the sultan's, but they have otherwise no desire to be absorbed by her. We have just marked how soon ill-feeling sprang up between the Servians and their too powerful friends. The Bulgarians would be very sorry to see their lately won ecclesiastical independence sacrificed, as it certainly would be, to the Russian desire for ecclesiastical uniformity and centralization. Once delivered from Turkish oppression, the Bulgarians and Bosnians would have no more desire to come under the Russian conscription, the Russian customs system, the vexatious Russian police supervision, than the Servians or Roumans have now. Any kind of independence would seem preferable — why be swallowed up and forgotten in that monstrous state, like snow-flakes in a river? Panslavism would soon have no more power over the Slavs of the Danube than pan-Teutonism has over Swedes or Dutchmen.
Whichever way the question is regarded, the conclusion appears to be the same, that the best way of stopping Russia is to remove as far as possible the grounds which justify her interference, and substitute the powers collectively, and England not least conspicuously among them, for Russia alone as the protecting influence to which the subject populations have to look. One part of this is to exact from the Porte all such reforms in the administration of its provinces generally as it is possible for the watchful presence of European commissioners to see carried out. The other is to erect in the north of European Turkey a group of semi-independent principalities whose interest it will be to maintain and strengthen their separate national, life, and which will, in fact, constitute a barrier against the farther advance of Russia in that direction. Of course there will be plenty of intrigue and corruption in such principalities, as there is in Roumania now (whose people, by the way, are in every respect inferior to the Bulgarians), and very likely Russia will have a linger in such intrigues. But two facts will remain: the condition of the inhabitants will be better than it is under the Porte, and instead of looking to Russia to send her troops in among them, they will have every motive to keep her at arm's-length.
This is putting the case from the most anti-Russian point of view, and assuming her motives to be merely selfish — an assumption that seems to me thoroughly wanton and unfair. True it is that some of the bolder spirits in the Russian party of aggression would regret the loss of a fulcrum by which they worked on the subjects of the Porte, and by which they could also stimulate at times the enthusiasm of their more ignorant fellow-countrymen, thereby winning for their cause a strength not its own. This weapon, this passionate sympathy for Christians oppressed by Muslims, which makes Russia at the present moment really formidable, they would lose, to the world's gain. But many of the best and wisest people in Russia (including, one may well hope and believe, the emperor himself) would be heartily glad to see substantial reforms carried out in Turkey and the frontier provinces liberated, both for the sake of the subject Christians, and because they feel that a large part of their own people would thereby be led to turn their aspirations into a healthier channel and think more of developing intellectually and materially the Russia they have got, than of adding to her new provinces which could only be a source of weakness.
Whatever be Russia's real designs — as to which I will only repeat that I have not sought to prove that they are unselfish, but only that we shall certainly err by assuming them to be dishonest, and by ignoring the mighty popular forces that are at work pressing the czar onward — one thing seems tolerably clear. The mistake of England has been in leaving to Russia all these years, and more especially since the insurrection broke out in Herzegovina, the sole championship (whether real or apparent) of good government and the welfare of the Christian population in Turkey. What the consequences of that mistake have been during the last six months; how it has divided us at home in a way that would have been impossible had the whole truth been known; how it has made our policy waver in the eyes of foreign nations; has kept Austria afraid to rely on us; has incensed all Russia, and emboldened her war party; has encouraged the Porte to refuse what it would otherwise have conceded, and made it believe that in the last resort it can always play upon our fears for Constantinople — these are questions which it is beyond the scope of the present article to discuss.
- I pass over all this the more briefly because it has been admirably set forth by Mr. D. M. Wallace in an article in this review for last August.
- Of course all that is said here as to the present unfitness of Russia to annex the provinces of Turkey applies with tenfold force to India, as being far more distant and having far fewer elements of national affinity to start from. That Russia may some day wish to menace us through her proximity to India is possible enough. But that she will attempt, within any time one can presently foresee, to conquer India for herself, with all that she has on her hands already, and with the possibility of conquering Persia always open to her, is an opinion which would scarcely seem to require refutation. As to the interest of England in keeping Russia out of Constantinople, two grounds are commonly assigned. Some say that once there she could conquer Asia Minor and Syria, forgetting that she can do so now from Transcaucasia. Others say that she may block our path to India through the Levant. No. doubt, if we lose the command of the sea; but if we lose that we shall probably anyhow lose India too. It would certainly be a misfortune for the world (including Russia herself) if she seized Constantinople. But the injury to England in particular would have nothing to do with India: it would consist in the stoppage of our trade with the Black Sea countries and northern Persia.
- Two assumptions are constantly made by our Russophobists, which are perhaps less absurd as applied to Russia than they would be to a popular government, but still quite baseless: firstly, that Russia is one, instead of being divided into parties like ourselves; secondly, that she has one deep-laid unchanging scheme of policy, to which she adheres through all changes of circumstance.
- It is unnecessary to discuss whether this incapacity for reform is due to religion, or to race, or to both; but a protest may be made, in passing, against the notion that the Turks deserve to be driven out of Europe because they are Asiatics, as if the Magyars, for instance, were not Asiatics in almost the same sense as the Turks. For the matter of that, the Mohammedan population of the Turkish empire are not, ethnologically speaking, Turks at all, any more than we are Normans or the modern Spaniards Visigoths. There are places in Asia Minor where you may see a few true Turks still remaining, just as in the valleys of the Asturias you may occasionally find villages where blue eyes and light hair show the permanence of a Gothic type. But the Muslims of Turkey are probably one of the most mixed races in the world, the children of those subjects of the Byzantine empire who embraced Islam at first, or have been subsequently converted to it; of slaves brought into the empire; of janizaries; of the upper class of Turks by Georgian, Circassian, Mingrelian, Greek, Slavonic mothers. And the contrast is great indeed between the heavy, languid, flabby faces of the Turkish royal family, for instance, with their drooping eyelids and rounded sensual outlines, and the firm, hard, angular, bony features, small, fierce, restless eyes, and well-knit frames of the genuine Turks or Tatars of the Aral or Caspian steppes.
- It is often said that the Porte will not consent to any sweeping changes or limitations of its power. The truth is that the Forte, like other Oriental governments, will consent to anything if it is pressed hard enough, but to nothing while it thinks it can delay the evil day by professions and promises, and above all, while it has still got a friend left, ourselves, whose jealousy and suspicion may be played upon. If it saw that England was foremost (as the Crimean war gives her a right to be foremost) in exacting strict terms, its tone would soon change. There is no patriotism anywhere in Turkey, least of all in the official class. Among them there is only self-interest, and with self-interest one can always reckon. There is indeed plenty of fanaticism, active among the priests, dormant, but liable to be roused in a moment, among the lower class. But the officials could easily, if they wished, carry out all the changes the powers may demand, without exciting this fanaticism. Of course they now use it as a weapon, and a terrible weapon it is, against any demands of the powers.