Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

I. Characterictics of Turkish rule

7. The Meaning of Fear in Macedonia
 

The government of Turkey may be, as one chooses to view it, an instructive study or a diverting amusement. The peasant in his brighter moments can sometimes see it in its aspect of humour, and there are to be found in collections of Bulgarian folk-songs some delightful satires on Turkish incompetence. But in the main it provokes less laughter than tears, and the pervading emotion under the Crescent is a paralysing fear. But fear in Macedonia is more than an emotion. It is a physical disease, the malady of the country, the ailment that comes of tyranny. One enters some hovel which a peasant family calls its home. In the oppressive darkness one becomes gradually aware of a living something which stirs or groans in the gloomiest corner on the floor beneath a filthy blanket. Is it fever, one asks, or smallpox? And the answer comes in the accents of custom and commonplace, "He is ill with fear." The word becomes the key to half the circumstances of existence. Fear is the dominant, the ever-present motive. It builds villages. It dictates migrations. It explains deceits. It has created the morals of a country. The Bulgarians are, of all races, the most stolid and enduring; they seem insensible to pain, and proof against panic. It is no common shock which wrings a cry from them or unsteadies their nerves,

A desert swept by a hurricane - the village of Zagorichani after the rising in 1903


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for their physical organisation has adapted itself to their political conditions. And yet fear is the great fact of their daily lives. Looking back upon my wanderings among them, a procession of ruined minds conies before the memory an old priest lying beside a burning house speechless with terror and dying slowly; a woman who had barked like a dog since the day her village was burned; a maiden who became an imbecile because her mother buried her in a hole under the floor to save her from the soldiers; a lad who turned ill with "fear" from the moment when a soldier put a knife to his throat; children who flee in terror at the sight of a stranger, crying "Turks! Turks!" These are the human wreckage of the hurricane which usurps the functions of a Government. And upon those also who escape, sane and whole, the terror sets its indelible mark. In that world of nightmare a massacre is always possible. One can hardly spend a week in such a town as Monastir without noting on some peaceful afternoon that the streets are strangely silent and the shutters of the shops are closed. Is it the Jews' Sabbath, one asks, or an Orthodox feast-day? But a glance at the names over the closed doors shows that it is some rite which affects all creeds alike. It is simply that most ordinary of all social phenomena in Turkey a panic. Some rumour has run round the bazaar of impending trouble, and every house has closed its doors. The calendar is marked with its appointed days of fear. It may be the months of Ramazam and Bairam when the Moslems are supposed to be excitable and dangerous. It may be Easter when the Orthodox processions are thought to excite their fanaticism. Perhaps it is the festival of Saints Cyril and Methodius when the Bulgarians remember that they are a nation. Or else it is St. George's Day, when spring begins and the insurgent leaves his winter quarters the day when "the snow melts on the Balkans." The occasion matters little there is always a good reason for fear. The European in Turkey, secure under consular protection, because he casts the shadow of an ironclad wherever he moves, is apt to make light of these fears.


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But even he has his illuminating experiences. He wakes, perhaps, on some wintry morning to find that while the frost performed its secret ministry in the darkness, a guard of Turkish troops as silent, as unsummoned as the frost, had taken their station and kept vigil at his gate sent, as he may afterwards learn, by the prefect who had heard that the Moslem mob had taken a vow to make an end of the Giaour.

Massacres rarely happen. Even murders do not pass unnoticed. But the chance of massacre can never be forgotten, and the risk of murder is ever present. It is this rather than the actual outrages which makes the ruinous insecurity of Turkey. The native mind is always on the alert to divine the uncertain developments of an event, and every incident has its penumbra of alarming possibilities. A Turk murders a Christian, but matters may not end there. It may be the beginning of some epidemic violence, some studied series of excesses. One assassination in the market-place will suffice to close the bazaar and to sow fear in every home. And this has its influence on the whole social and economic life of the country. There was a village named Krusje, not far from Resna, which was burned to the ground during the late insurrection. The peasants, however, were sturdy and resourceful. They found a temporary home in a neighbouring village, and maintained themselves by burning charcoal on the mountains. They had no need of charity until January. On Christmas Day two of their number were caught on the high-road and wantonly murdered. A week afterwards another of these charcoal-burners, going about his work, was met by soldiers and beaten severely. Ten days later I was in the village (Jancovetz) where most of the Krusje families had found refuge. The beaten man was still seriously ill, and I had scarcely visited him before there arrived some seven men of the little community, hasty and empty-handed. Some were blood-stained, some lame, some bruised, some little more than frightened. The same soldiers from the same garrison had set upon them, armed, on the same mountain-side, beaten them, and


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robbed them of their tools and their beasts. It was the end of charcoal-burning for the winter, and the village of Krusje came upon the books of the Relief Fund. These men were not cowards. They probably had their rifles hidden somewhere on the hillside against the next insurrection. But no Christian may carry arms even in self-defence. They could only bow to the menace and wait for a distant revenge and a yet more doubtful liberation. In a society thus dominated by fear there can be no enterprise, no commerce, no steady industrial life. [1] In the town of Resna, the centre of this particular district, there were several comparatively wealthy men, who had no undertakings of their own which could have employed their spare capital. Ten villages in the immediate neighbourhood had been burned. The peasants were eager to borrow money, on the security of their land, to purchase plough-oxen, utensils, and building material. But no one was willing to lend, even at the exorbitant rates of interest (say 60 per cent.) which rule in Macedonia. The risks were too great brigandage, assassination, and insurrection. For one purpose only would a usurer lend money to assist a peasant to leave the country. Over three thousand peasants are said to have left Macedonia in the winter of 1903-4 for America. The creditor was going beyond the reach of the Turkish courts to an unknown land. He might fail or die or forget his bond. But the moneylender preferred to trust to his bare word of honour rather than accept a mortgage in his own district, subject to all the local risks of violence and chicanery. There could be no more eloquent witness than this crude economic fact to the reign of fear and insecurity which is the normal consequence of the Turkish system of ascendancy. [2]

1. It is worth noting that all the incidents recorded in this chapter happened in "reformed" Macedonia after the promulgation of the Mürzsteg programme.

2. The result of the insecurity of the roads is that travelling in Macedonia is reduced to a minimum. An irritating and expensive system of passports restricts free circulation between one province (vilayet) and another. The peasants, who have less to fear from robbers than the middle classes, are the least incommoded, but even they dread a journey. Where railways have not yet penetrated, there is so little intercommunication between one town and another, that no system of stage coaches or public diligences exists partly because travellers are few, and partly because the roads are always unsafe and frequently impassable. The townsfolk of the wealthier classes rarely dare to visit the country at all. I knew a Bulgarian in Ochrida, an old man, who owned several farms not many miles from the town, which in all his life he had never visited. A Greek in Monastir, who drew all his income from his farms, had let five years elapse without once inspecting them. A Bulgarian in Resna, who had a large estate about six miles from the town, was much concerned to know how far it had been damaged during the insurrection, but though he was certainly not a timid man, he allowed nine months at least to pass without going to see it. To travel at all in winter is thought to be foolhardy; to travel after dark is treated as a clear proof of insanity.
 

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