Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

V. The Bulgarian movement

6. Early Struggles with the Turks
 

During the earlier years of its existence the "Internal Organisation" was a comparatively peaceful and inconspicuous society. It was occupied mainly with its moral propaganda in preaching the doctrine of revolt, in founding on its spiritual side the idea of a Macedonian fatherland. It also busied itself with the task of arming and drilling the younger men in the villages, but as yet the moment for raising the flag of rebellion was sufficiently distant. But little by little a variety of circumstances hardly foreseen in its plan of campaign drove it to more violent and questionable methods. Its activities, in a country where the Greeks are always ready to serve as the spies of the Turks, could not remain a complete secret; and as one leader after another fell under the suspicion of the authorities, these marked men became by force of circumstances outlaws who were compelled to "take to the mountains," rifle in hand, and to live the restless, hunted life of the traditional brigand-patriots of the Balkans. Such men gathered little bands of desperate spirits about them, and naturally served as the police and the pioneers of the movement. They had nothing to fear save capture, and as long as they could


124

escape a Turkish prison by their own wits and the loyal connivance of the sympathetic peasants; they were free to do the work of the Committee without much fear of consequences. In the anarchical interior, where the Turk is lord only of the towns, the high-roads, and the daylight, they could move freely over the mountain paths, and the remoter villages were a comparatively safe refuge. Their task was to preach rebellion, to inspire the young men with a passion for liberty and brave deeds, to punish traitors, to overawe the Greeks, to collect or to extort the funds which were to purchase arms, to exact vengeance upon individual Turks, and to train up a generation with some faith in its own right arm. As the years went on an elaborate military organisation gradually came into being. The country was mapped out into military zones, in each of which a permanent outlaw band led by a trusted leader was always under arms. It might number only from ten to twenty men, but these cadres were constantly changed and renewed, so that all the promising young men were expected to undergo, as it were, a period of training. Latterly when such a band found itself hard pressed, it summoned the "reserves" from the villages. The reserve was divided into several classes according to age, but this refinement existed, I fancy, only on paper, for the simple reason that there were never rifles enough for more than the younger men. Every family was expected to contribute one member to the reserve. He had to buy a rifle, or, if he were too poor, some sort of gun was found for him. Each village chose its own officer, and, as far as circumstances allowed, the reserve was drilled in preparation for the general rising which formed the end and purpose of all this elaborate organisation. In practice, I cannot believe that this drilling was serious. But a real moral preparation there certainly was, and the organisation made willing recruits, imbued with a spirit of self-sacrifice and a sense of discipline, even if it failed to train good marksmen. The only reliable troops the Committee had were the men who had served in the permanent guerilla bands. The "reserve," however, was by no means lacking in courage;


126

it had the endurance of all laborious peasant races, and to convert it into a real patriotic militia nothing was wanting but experience and opportunity. Against European troops it would, of course, have been useless, but the Turkish regulars undergo no training whatever in musketry. The problem was to create a force which, however deficient it might be in the qualities of a professional soldiery, would still have cohesion enough and self-confidence enough to face the Turks. It was a moral rather than a military problem. The military results of the insurrection when it came at last in the autumn of 1903 were inconsiderable, but as a demonstration it was undoubtedly effective. A race of serfs, without military training or traditions, accustomed for five centuries to oppose nothing but a sullen patience to the insults and brutalities of its oppressors, did at length dare to meet the disciplined troops of a conquering race in the field, and to oppose to them, though outnumbered in the ratio of ten to one, a stubborn if unsuccessful resistance. That is the best evidence of the fruits of the Committee's work and the best justification for its existence. It has not yet won liberty for Macedonia in any outward or official form, but it has converted the children of slaves into men who are free at heart.

Accident has played a large part in hastening the full development of the Committee's plans. Up till the year 1897 the Turks seem hardly to have suspected its existence. Chance opened their eyes, unmasked the whole conspiracy, forced it into the open, and incidentally gave to the European world the first hint that a Macedonian question existed. Some raiders from Bulgaria robbed a Turkish landed proprietor of 800 in the village of Vinitza, not far from the Bulgarian frontier, in the province of Uskub. During the tortures and perquisitions which followed, the Turkish police came suddenly upon a hidden store of dynamite and rifles, and further inquiry revealed the work which for four years the Committee had been carrying on under the eyes of the indolent authorities. For two months a veritable reign of terror oppressed the whole province of Uskub. The search for hidden arms was


127

conducted in every Bulgarian village, and the Turks, seized with a madness which sprang partly from panic and partly from anger, indulged in a more than normal cruelty. Torture and violation were freely used, and it was the intellectual leaders of the people the priests, and still more the schoolmasters who suffered most severely. Over five hundred partisans of the Committee in the Uskub Vilayet were flung into prison, and about three hundred fled to Bulgaria.

It was a severe blow to the Internal Organisation. It terrified the peasants, it enormously enhanced the risks of propagandist work, it removed some of the best leaders of the movement, and it gave the signal for a systematic persecution of the Bulgarian schools, since it taught the Turks that in the education of the peasantry lay the chief danger to their rule. Since 1897 every Bulgarian teacher has been suspected. Those who had been educated in the principality of Bulgaria are absolutely forbidden to teach, and the rest are subjected to a system of guarantees which makes it enormously difficult to obtain any teachers at all. The years which followed witnessed a monotonous series of repetitions of the Uskub affair, and with the beginning of persecution came the plague of espionage. The Committee had to choose between the abandonment of its work and the adoption of a ruthless police system. The disloyalty of one member might involve a whole province in ruin. One affair of this kind will serve as an illustration. A native of Northern Macedonia who had killed a Turk fled to the Southern Castoria district with the avengers of blood at his heels, and posing as a martyr persuaded the villagers to harbour him. Believing him to be an outlaw, they readily admitted him to their confidence and their secrets. He was a Christian by birth, but had secretly become a convert to Islam and had accepted service as a Turkish spy. In three months he had learned all he required to know, and was able to present the authorities with a list of six hundred of the Committee's partisans. Tortures and imprisonments followed on a vast scale, and those who escaped gaol, did so only by "taking to the hills"


128

a euphemism which means in the Balkans that they became open rebels. The Committee was now a frankly terroristic organisation. Exposed to the hideous perils of Turkish reprisals, it became in its turn ruthless and savage. Confronted by the open hostility of the Greeks, it took up the gauntlet and replied to espionage and intrigue by assassination and violence. It could carry on its work of organisation only by means of its peripatetic bands of outlaws, and it shrank from no means which might diminish the risks of their enterprise. Occasionally it contrived to bribe the venal Turkish authorities to connive at its proceedings. More frequently fear was its only weapon. It imposed an iron discipline upon all its partisans. Its decisions were debated freely and put to the vote, but once adopted, it was held legitimate to punish disobedience with death. A village which showed itself remiss in provisioning or concealing a band ran the risk of seeing its men beaten and its houses burned. A peasant who revealed the least of its secrets to an enemy was ruthlessly murdered. No doubt there was usually a species of trial, and often a suspected person was warned to behave with more discretion. But I am afraid that even trials and warnings ottered scant security that the wild justice of revenge would be honestly used. The Balkan peasant, bred under an Asiatic despotism, has only the most elementary conception of justice and evidence, and the intimate life of the Macedonian villages breeds reckless and unscrupulous hatreds. A private enemy has only to breathe the suggestion that a certain man is a traitor, and from that hour his fate is sealed. Suspicion is in the air and fear is the one universal passion. The least eccentricity of conduct, the slightest show of independence may doom a perfectly innocent man. [1] In Macedonia no man will trust another

1. The inevitable result has been that the Committee moves and acts as one man. Personal liberty can hardly be said to exist, and one repeatedly makes the disconcerting discovery that all one's calculations based upon the high character of some individual are overthrown by the mysterious force behind him. A man whom one would trust absolutely in any ordinary relation of life may wish to act honourably, but if the Committee behind him should feel impelled to interfere, his personality counts for nothing. He is simply a unit which obeys. The same conditions prevail under every strenuous secret society. In Turkey the developments are worse and more glaring only because the tyranny itself is grosser, and the need for an absolute moral solidarity which obliterates private interests and overrides private scruples is also more imperative.


129

whose creed or opinions differ by one hairsbreadth from his own. [2] It is not intolerance. It is not blood-thirstiness. It is simply the typical Macedonian disease the paralysing fear which tyranny begets. The Committee has done much good by raising the moral of the peasant, but it has wrought terrible evil by organising the pervading fear into a system of oppression. But if one admits the right of rebellion one cannot eliminate violence. A revolutionary organisation has as much right as a recognised Government to punish traitors and to levy taxes by force. In both cases the sanction is the same the interests of a national idea. It makes much difference in law but none in morality whether this national idea is recognised by neighbouring states, or whether the chiefs who are its spokesmen have a place in the Almanach de Gotha. If to conserve its national idea a majority may rightfully coerce an individual, it may do as much to win formal recognition for its nationality. To deny the right of a revolted race to use force is sheer cant, if one also upholds that right in a constituted nation. Only an anarchist may consistently censure.

2. We had under us in our relief work men and women of all creeds and races. I believe that all of them were absolutely loyal. But while complete confidence reigned between us and them, the wildest suspicions were at work among themselves. One man, an Albanian Protestant, who gave me every proof of a rare courage and devotion in dangerous and difficult circumstances, was the continual butt of the suspicions of our Catholic and Orthodox helpers. They were as honourable as himself. But no tale was too mad for them to believe of him. For them he was a traitor and the origin of every trouble that arose. I questioned them carefully, but they had never a tittle of evidence. It was enough that he was a reserved and difficult man and a Protestant. Had they been insurgents they would have murdered him by a unanimous vote.
 

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]