Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

II. Village life in Macedonia

3. Rural Guards
 

Where the tax-collector reaps, the Albanian gleans. The gendarmerie, which itself is largely composed of brigands out of work, finds it prudent as a rule to make terms with any notable robber. A wise village will take the same course. For a certain sum paid annually an Albanian chief will undertake to protect a tributary village, or if the village is outside the Albanian sphere of influence, it is generally obliged to have its own resident brigands, who may or may not be Albanians. If the village belongs to a Turkish landlord, these men are generally chosen from among his retainers. They are known under the name of bekchi, or


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rural guards. They are necessary because the Christian population is absolutely unarmed and defenceless. To a certain extent they guarantee the village against robbers from outside, and in return they carry on a licensed and modified robbery of their own. They support the Turkish landowner against his Christian serfs; and in a mixed village they back the Moslem villagers in any roguery or violence which they may wish to practise on their Christian neighbours. There are of course honourable men among them, who retain the old Albanian traditions of loyally and chivalry. But, in general, their conduct is what the conduct of armed men among an unarmed subject race [1] will always be. The rural guard exacts a substantial ransom in cash, for his services. For a consideration he will often undertake to compel a reluctant father to give his daughter to an unwelcome suitor. He levies certain traditional dues e.g., blackmail upon every maid, who marries. The sum varies with the ability of her father and her husband to pay, and in default of payment the bekchi will exercise the jus primes noctis. Indeed, an experienced consul in Monastir, an able man who had studied the country for many years, declared roundly that these men simply treat the women of the village as their harem. Beyond this they take what they desire in food or in services. In cash their exactions vary with their reputation for ferocity. It is quite easy to have-precise information. The village of Mavrovo, for example, had seven of these parasites. They received from £7 to £20 apiece. In other words, the average household with its annual net income of £10 paid away about £1 10s. to purchase the good-will of these domestic marauders.

1. In the districts where the Bulgarian Committee is active most of the villages have, in fact, acquired a certain number of rifles. But these must be kept buried. They are for use when the hour of insurrection comes, and they cannot be worn or displayed or used to prevent or to resent a personal injury. It is really more dangerous for a Christian to have a rifle than to be without one.
 

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