V. The Bulgarian movement
14. The Psychology of the Bulgarians
The first surprise was that this population rose at all, and rose en masse. The second surprise, to my thinking more startling than the first, was that all the sufferings of the autumn produced no reaction whatever against the Committee or its leaders. The peasantry remained loyal to the organisation which plunged it in all this misery. Among the ashes of comfortable villages, or in the wards of the hospitals where the Relief Society had gathered the wounded women and children, there were moments when one felt tempted to curse the whole idea of insurrection, to think that no provocation could justify a population in facing such risks, to doubt whether any gain in freedom could warrant the mere physical pain involved in winning it. But these were an outsider's reflections. They seldom entered the heads of the Macedonians themselves. One heard no recriminations, no blame of the Committee, no regrets for an apparently wasted effort. In the hospital in Castoria the patients in the men's ward, recovering slowly from diseases induced by hardship and exposure, would talk almost gaily of their future plans and of the struggle they meant to renew so soon as health and springtime should bring the opportunity. In Ochrida, where abject poverty and the tyranny of the Albanians has made the Bulgarian villagers peculiarly spiritless, ignorant, and degraded, I have known even old men declare that should the Committee give the order to march once more in the summer they would unhesitatingly obey. Nor was this attitude altogether difficult to explain. Centuries of oppression have schooled the Bulgarians to suffer. They scarcely discuss the motives of their oppressors. The idea that the Turk is naturally savage and that their own lot is to suffer is engraved on their minds. Women would
speak with as much indignation about the death of their men-folk killed in battle as about any murder of non-combatants. They have given up all attempt to understand the Turks. Each fresh loss, provoked though it may have been by their own act, is simply added to their memory of age-long miseries. They have ceased to reason or reflect. They can only suffer and resent. The rift between the two races is so profound that I doubt whether even a wholehearted and intelligent attempt at conciliation on the Turkish side, were such a thing possible, could bring the smallest improvement.
The more one learned to know of the Bulgarians of Macedonia, the more one came to respect their patriotism and courage. These are no flamboyant or picturesque virtues; they have grown up in a soil of serfdom among a reserved and unimaginative race. They are consistent with compromise and with prudence. There is something almost furtive in their manifestations. And yet when the Bulgarian seems most an opportunist and a time-server, he still cherishes his faith in the future of his people, and still works for its realisation. He has no great past to boast of, no glorious present to give him courage. He does not flaunt his nationality like the Greek, or claim an imagined superiority. He will risk no needless persecution for the pure joy of calling himself by the name of his ancestors. I knew one energetic organiser of revolt who posed before the authorities as a Greek, made a pilgrimage to Athens to give colour to his professions, and returned with lithographs of the Hellenic Royal Family with which he decorated his walls. Villages will shift their allegiance from the Greek to the Bulgarian Church twice or thrice in a year — "one must watch how the wind blows," to quote their saying — but under every disguise they remain obstinately Bulgarian at heart. I have even heard a Bulgarian Bishop explaining that he had advised certain villages to transfer themselves to the Greek (Patriarchist) Church in order to distract the suspicions of the authorities.
The same strain of prudence was evident in the military
conduct of the revolt. The leaders rarely challenged a general engagement. Their early successes were all surprises in which large bands of insurgents overpowered much smaller detachments of regulars. When a battle did take place — as, for example, in the mountains of Peristeri in October — Turkish officers who were present bore witness to the splendid obstinacy of the Bulgarians. But their tactics were seldom aggressive. They never attempted to storm a bridge against cannon, as the Albanian tribesmen did in the spring of 1903 at Mitrovitza. They waged a guerilla warfare, enduring immense fatigues and great privations, content to weary and baffle the Turks in an endless pursuit. I have often asked ex-insurgents what they thought of their chiefs. The answer was always the same. They gave the palm to Tchakalároff for the significant reason that during the whole campaign he lost only ten of his men. And yet these men, when the occasion came to throw their lives away for any definite purpose, were capable of an utterly reckless heroism. The Committee never found a difficulty in obtaining volunteers for such work as mining, bridge-wrecking, or bomb-throwing, which involved almost certain death. Education among the Bulgarians, so far from weakening the primitive tribal instinct of self-sacrifice, seems only to intensify it, instead of softening it with humanitarian scruples. In estimating their courage it is not enough to measure their military achievements. The real proof of courage is that they rose at all — these peasants accustomed to cringe before the meanest Turk, schooled to endure insults and floggings without a prospect of revenge, with no tradition of revolt to inspire them, no military knowledge, no soldierly past to give them confidence. The measure of their courage is the risk they ran. There is short shrift for the wounded on a Turkish battlefield, and few exiles return from banishment.
Without this steadfast and resolute capacity for suffering, this plodding, if furtive, patriotism, this somewhat passive courage, the Bulgarians could never have made their Committee. Yet another quality was necessary — loyalty — and this, too, they possess. They have no highly developed
sense of personal honour, as the Albanians have — for that a race must have carried arms and known no master. They neither love truth for its own sake nor scorn a meanness from self-respect. But some fellow-feeling, some sense of brotherhood, keeps them true. There are few secrets in the intimate common life of the village. Every one knows who is the Committee's agent, who harbours the wandering outlaws, who has a store of dynamite or of rifles buried in his yard. Most amazing of all is the ease with which the leaders of the revolution can travel unscathed from end to end of Macedonia. The villager who has grasped Saráfoff s hand will tell afterwards of his great experience, as a Scottish clansman might have boasted that he had seen Prince Charlie. All through the winter that followed the insurrection, Damian Groueff, the President of the Supreme Macedonian Committee, the real chief of the movement, and the organiser of the campaign, hibernated in a village not many miles from Monastir. The secret must have been the common property of thousands, and not one of them seems to have thought of selling it. In the spring M. Groueff actually entered Monastir itself, lodged in a Bulgarian house, and moved freely about in streets that swarm with soldiers, police, and spies. His presence was generally known to the Bulgarians of the place; but, despite the fact that a price had been placed on his head, not a man among them was found to prefer riches to loyalty. Nor was this an isolated occurrence. The insurgent chiefs constantly venture not only into Monastir but even into Salonica, yet no single instance of treason has ever been known to occur. When one compares this uniform immunity from treason with the history of Irish conspiracies, from the days of Wolfe Tone to the Phoenix Park murders, one is forced to admit that somewhere beneath the awkward reserve of the Bulgarian character there lies a fund of loyalty and steadfast faith more reliable than any picturesque or feudal chivalry.
I confess that I have sometimes wavered in my judgment of the Macedonian Committee. Fresh from Europe, and plunged suddenly into a world where men fight savagely
for ideals which, to us who have achieved them, seem reverend and sacred, it is hard to believe that freedom can be won by methods which include so much of terrorism and assassination. Amid all the horrors of an insurrection that has failed, one asks whether these abstract political conceptions of self-government and nationality are worth the tears of a widow or the shame of a maid. But as the months go by one understands that these simple things of daily life, the right to plough in peace and reap in security, to marry without dishonour and rear children who need not cringe, can only be attained by a sweeping political change. Returned to Europe, it seems no less clear among the comfort and ignorance of a nation busied with the affairs of half the earth, that the wretched corner of Europe which agonises forgotten beyond the Balkans can only hope to rouse us to our duties by the violent means of open revolt, which in fact it has adopted. If one shrinks from the despotism which the Committee exerts, this also is true, that the people themselves control it, and the people themselves submit to a sacrifice which is necessary if they are to achieve their end by conspiracy and rebellion. In making a temporary sacrifice of their liberty they are giving up what they do not possess — and giving it up in the hope of winning it. Lastly, if the recklessness with which the Committee destroys life and risks it seems shocking, let us remember that life has no worth or price in Macedonia. We in Europe talk of life as though it had an absolute value. In fact its value is relative to the degree of security which a given society affords. It would be interesting to inquire what premium an English insurance company would ask upon the life of the average Macedonian villager.
The Bulgarians of Macedonia are to be judged not by the standard of morality and civilisation which in fact they have attained, but by their courage and their determination in striving for better things. The history of their ten years' struggle is their title to our sympathy. If they lack some of the dignified and gracious virtues which their Albanian neighbours possess, let us remember that the
honour of the Albanian stands rooted in unfaithfulness. He renounced
his religion, and received as his reward the right to bear himself erect,
to carry weapons and to hector it, an overman amid a race of serfs. The
Bulgarian held to the faith which the centuries had bequeathed to him,
bowed himself to his daily task and his habitual sufferings, learned to
lie before men that he might be true to God, and acquired the vices of
a slave that he might keep the virtues of a martyr.
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