Popular Science Monthly/Volume 64/December 1903/The Storm Center in the Balkans

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1416434Popular Science Monthly Volume 64 December 1903 — The Storm Center in the Balkans1903Allan J. McLaughlin




MANY students of European political conditions believe that the end of Turkey as a European power is in sight and that in the near future important events will occur in the Balkan Peninsula which will change the map of that part of Europe.

The solution of the Balkan question has been confidently expected at various times during the past fifty years, but never have the signs of the times so consistently pointed toward this result as they do at the present time. The condition of anarchy and guerilla warfare in the so-called province of Macedonia and the accounts of wholesale murder of old men, women and children, even after due allowance for possible exaggeration, must excite a feeling of horror in the most indifferent observer. The position of the christian inhabitants in the unhappy country is such as to cause an outburst of popular feeling even in England against the Turk. The significance of the tone of hostility evinced by the English press lies in the fact that hitherto England has been the chief supporter of the Turk's political position in Europe.

The polyglot population of these Turkish provinces, differing from the Turk no less than from one another in race and speech, makes a favorable soil for the sowing of seeds of political discord, the value of which outside influences are not slow to recognize.

The Turk has availed himself of the racial differences of his subjects and encouraged the hostility of Greek for Slav, and the hatred of the Albanian for both. To understand the complicated conditions of the present insurrection it is necessary to consider the racial factors which go to form the population of the disaffected provinces and to review briefly the outside influences which tend to keep the Balkan question alive, and the reasons why the question has not sooner been settled.

There is no official division of the Turkish empire known as Macedonia; but the name has a wide popular usage in designating the territory occupied by these warring racial elements of European Turkey. The name is popularly applied to the Turkish vilayets of Salonika and Monastir, The resident factors in the racial problem of Macedonia consist of Slavs (Bulgars and Serbs), Albanians, Greeks, Roumans and Turks.

The Slavs came into Macedonia in the seventh century. They came in irresistible numbers, forced the Albanians to the mountains of the west, the Greeks to the south and the Roumans to the north. Two distinct elements were concerned in the Slavic invasion, the Bulgars and Serbs. The Bulgar and Serb alternated in the supremacy of the country for nearly eight centuries, until the Turk finally conquered both. For the past four hundred years the sultan has ruled the country and his rule has been frequently marked by barbaric cruelty and fanatical race hatred. The Slavic race (Servian or Bulgarian) predominates numerically in Macedonia. The race types that have survived the Slavic invasion and the Turkish conquest (Rouman, Greek and Albanian) are all modified by the infusion of Slavic blood.

Greeks are scattered throughout Macedonia in considerable numbers. They are mostly in the cities and towns engaged in trade and commerce, and are like the Rouman—inclined to let the Slav till the soil. The feeling between Greek and Turk is what might be expected after the race conflict of centuries. The Greek can never consider the Turk as anything but an intruder, and he will never relinquish his cherished dream of a great Greek empire with Constantinople for its capital. Yet many Greeks see their way clear to accept Turkish pay and assist in defeating the revolutionary schemes of their Slavic neighbors, the Bulgars.

The Wallachs, Vlachs or Roumans are a distinct division of the Latin family of peoples and to-day number about 5,000,000, most of them in Roumania; but Roumans are found in Bessarabia, Transylvania, Hungary, Albania and Macedonia. In Macedonia are numerous colonies of Roumans; and the Zintzars, as these Macedo-Roumans are called, are a factor of considerable importance in the question of the future of Macedonia. They are descended from a blended stock made up of Roman colonists and disbanded soldiers, and the Illyrian and Thracian inhabitants of Macedonia at the time of the Roman conquest (146 B. C.). The whole of Macedonia was, up to the seventh century and the coming of the Slav, occupied by a Latin-speaking race. The Slavic conquest forced the Roumans in great numbers to their brothers north of the Danube and many were carried farther by the wave of invasion—as far west as the Tyrol. The supremacy of the Slav did not wipe out the Rouman race, although the races probably blended to some extent. The Rouman exists to-day as a distinct type, speaking a Romance language and possessing in a marked degree the pride of race common to all peoples of Roman blood. In physical appearance the Vlachs are short and dark. They are very industrious and are usually engaged in trade and manufacturing. They are skilled in the building trades and metal working.

The Albanians are probably the chief disturbing element in Macedonia to-day, if we except outside influences. They constitute an important factor in the question, not only because thousands of them live in western Macedonia, but because many thousands more are enrolled in the Turkish army as irregular troops, or bashi-bazouks. The cradle of their race lies along the shores of the Adriatic from Montenegro on the north to Greece on the south. The country corresponds to ancient Epirus and in physical character resembles the highlands of Scotland. They are descended from the old Illyrians, who were never recognized as Hellenes by the ancient Greeks, but were probably allied to the Greeks racially.

The Roman occupation left many traces, especially in the valleys and more accessible parts of the country, and the great number of Latin derivatives in the Albanian language makes it semi-Romance in character as spoken to-day. The Albanians have blended to some extent also with Slavic elements in the north and Greeks in the south. Their religion is a form of Mohammedanism, but they take their religion less seriously than the moslem Turk and probably embraced it more for political reasons than for feelings of religious conviction. They made a magnificent fight against the conquering Turks in the fifteenth century. For twenty years under their heroic leader, George Castriot, they repelled army after army sent against them. After the death of Castriot, or Scanderbeg, as the Turks called him, the Albanians lost heart and with the fall of Scutari in 1478 they passed under Turkish dominion. They were governed by pashas appointed by the Porte, and under one of these, Ali Pasha, in the early part of the last century they became practically independent. They at first sympathized with Greece in the Grecian war for independence, but the Greeks refused their offers of friendship, and in a certain town besieged and captured by Greeks, there were massacred along with the Turkish garrison a body of 3,000 Albanians who had signified their willingness to desert the Turks and deliver the town to the Greek besiegers. Their treatment at the hands of the Greeks forced the Albanians into the arms of the Turk, and they have since fought valiantly to maintain the supremacy of the Porte. Their native dress is not unlike that of the Scotch highlander, and their skill and bravery in war, their constant interclan strife and their fierce untamable character make the analogy almost complete between the Scotch highlander and this other highlander of the Albanian mountains. The Albanian is a born plunderer. War is his business, and pillage his pastime; and he is held in great dread by the Slav, Rouman and Greek inhabitants of Macedonia.

The Macedonian question is kept alive by several distinct forces. The warring racial elements—Slav, Greek, Rouman and Albanian—and common hatred of the christian inhabitants for the Turk cause constant turmoil and riot. The desire of Servia, Bulgaria and Greece to annex Macedonia no doubt also contributes to the local unrest. The influence of Russia must not be overlooked. Russia has been accused, and history supports the accusation, of fomenting insurrection in Macedonia through the agency of the Macedonian Revolutionary Committee.

Thus in this small territory of Macedonia we have five distinct elements, each discontented with Turkish domination, and yet each suspicious of his neighbor and fellow sufferer of alien race. The Albanian is at present on the side of the Turk. The Greek hates the Albanian, fears the Slav and detests the Rouman; yet hopes to dominate all three in some miraculous way from Constantinople after the Turk is forced out of Europe.

The Rouman hopes for the restoration of Rouman supremacy in the Balkan states through the agency of Roumania. The Serb and Bulgar are suspicious of the Greek and yet do not trust each other. All these races have one thing in common—the desire to free themselves from Turkey. The sultan is clever enough to take advantage of these race quarrels in Macedonia. In this game he has played Greek against Slav, and the Albanian against both, and thus made his own supremacy secure.

Russia has continually stirred up trouble in the Balkans, hoping to profit thereby. Each state separated from the Turkish empire brought Russia one step nearer the Bosphorus. In fact, Russia if left to herself would have settled the Macedonian question long ago. But this would necessitate driving the Turk across the Bosphorus and Russian occupation of Constantinople.

With Russia in Constantinople, the control of the eastern end of the Mediterranean sea and the entrance to the Suez canal would be lost to England. The weak Slavic Balkan states would become Russian, and the Slovenes and Croats, and all Austria's Slavic dominion south of the Danube would probably be lost to Russia.

England can never permit Russia to occupy Constantinople and control the great waterway to India, no matter what sentimental reasons might be advanced for ending Turkish barbarity. Austria must consider each Russian advance toward Constantinople as a step toward her own impending disintegration.

Germany, with the kindly feeling engendered by liberal railway concessions in Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, will endeavor to strengthen the sultan's failing grasp on the last European province left him. Time alone can tell what action the great powers will take. Turkey and Bulgaria are on the verge of war and in the event of such a war European intervention would surely follow.

It is almost certain that the powers will intervene anyway and give to the disaffected provinces some form of civilized government. It is very unlikely that Russia will soon occupy Constantinople. All the great powers, with the possible exception of France, would be against such a step. Nor is it likely that the petty ambition of Servia, Bulgaria, Roumania or Greece will be gratified by territorial acquisitions in Macedonia.