Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

V. The Bulgarian movement

7. Terrorism and Feud with the Greeks
 

The worst developments of the Committee's terrorism were directed against the Greeks, and by common consent the teachers and priests of both races bore the brunt of their feud. The Greeks chose to denounce the Bulgarian


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teachers and priests to the Turks as fomentors of sedition (which in fact they were). The result was that these devoted men carried their lives in their hands, and went about their work expecting torture, imprisonment, exile, or death for their wages. The Bulgarians could not retort in kind. They assassinated. The only difference was that the Greeks murdered by proxy, the Bulgarians with their own hands. The instinct of the natural man is always against the spy and the informer. But it is only fair to recognise that these Greeks in their turn were doing what they conceived to be a patriotic work. They too took their lives in their hands. They obeyed their prelates, they were applauded in Athens, they were sustained by a consciousness of patriotic motives. Both sides were the victims of a narrow nationalism. It is true that the Bulgarians were fighting for liberty, while the Greeks had allied themselves with the tyrant. Again one's instinctive sympathies speak clearly. But again one must admit that the policy of the Greeks was adopted at the dictation of a genuine if short-sighted patriotism. Both sides gave proof of courage, and both sides were guilty of reckless cruelty. A word from a Greek Bishop would often condemn a whole Bulgarian hamlet to the flames. A Bulgarian band, descending by night upon a hostile village to murder a spy-priest and to burn his house, was not always careful to save his widow and her children from the conflagration.

These acts of violence fall into several classes of different degrees of culpability, (1) The murder of spies and informers one must at once allow to be legitimate in extreme cases, if one admits that an oppressed race has any right to revolt. It can do so with success only by safeguarding its secrets and protecting the lives of its adherents. (2) Where money is involved the case is more complicated. An agent of the Committee goes to a Greek business man in Monastir, shows his credentials and demands the usual tax for the war of liberation. The Greek, who does not choose to be liberated in this way, refuses. The agent warns him, and returns a second time, and perhaps he uses threats and shows his revolver. The Greek is a man of spirit and promptly


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denounces the Bulgarian to the Turks who are, after all, the nominal custodians of public order. The Bulgarian is arrested, possibly tortured, and it may be contracts typhus in some pestilent dungeon and dies. The Greek was certainly within his rights, and deserves sympathy. But the Committee must either punish him or else abandon its system of levying contributions by force. It does not hesitate between these alternatives, and the Greek, who is now a "traitor," is presently shot, perhaps killed. Morally it is clear that the Committee is in the wrong, and yet, after all, it can argue with some plausibility, on the low plane of Balkan morality, that the end justifies the means. The whole system of levying contributions by violence is from the standpoint of individualism nothing more or less than organised brigandage. But it would be just as fair to compare it to legal taxation. It is at all events rather better than the Turkish system which Europe tolerates. It is not more violent, and, unlike the legal taxation, it is directed to an end of which the majority of the people approve. (3) A village which is entirely Slav in race language and sympathies has long desired to join the Bulgarian Church, to worship in its own tongue, to have its children taught in a language they can understand, and to avow its political leanings openly and boldly. But the headman, the priest, and the teacher are "Greeks" i.e., they are Slavs who belong to the Greek faction. Their private interests are at stake, their self-love and perhaps their patriotism have also to be reckoned with. They oppose the official recognition of the Bulgarian nationality of the village, and they claim the ownership of the church and school which the peasants built with their own hands. The authorities support them, and until the peasants can show an official paper signed with the seal of the village, they cannot give in their collective adhesion to the Bulgarian Church. The problem then narrows itself down to seizing the seal which the headman has no sort of moral right to withhold against the wish of the villagers. He is, let us suppose, a man of some strength of character. He supports himself by appealing to the Greek Bishop, and the Greek Bishop threatens to denounce the whole village


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to the Turks as seditious i.e., to have it burned or sacked, or in one of many familiar ways placed beneath the harrow. The short way out of the difficulty is to murder the headman, and the habit of the Balkans is to prefer short ways. These are definite cases which constantly recur, and I believe that in a rough way they cover most of the Committee's acts of violence. The Greeks assert that it is nothing more or less than a league of murderers which systematically assassinates Greek teachers, priests, and notables in order to exterminate Hellenism. The Servians on their side tell a similar tale, and both races can show an appalling list of martyrs. The Bulgarian reply is that the Committee has never murdered a man merely for his Greek or Servian sympathies or even for any legitimate zeal he might display on behalf of the Greek or Servian causes. Undoubtedly a large number of the notables and pioneers of these races have been killed, but these murders, it is claimed, were all of them deliberate acts of reprisal in reply to some appeal to the Turkish authorities against the Bulgarian agitators. On the whole I think the balance of truth lies rather with the Bulgarian side of the case though I confess that I express this opinion with hesitation but the line between punishment and mere murder can never be accurately drawn. The indignation of the Greeks and Servians is very natural, and yet I do not see what other means of defence the Bulgarians could have adopted against their rival's policy of espionage. It is probable that the limits of mere defence have often been overstepped, but some of the responsibility for such excesses must lie with the races who provoked them. One fact which has not been sufficiently weighed tells on the Bulgarian side. During the first three weeks of the insurrection of 1903 they were the undisputed masters of the greater part of the province of Monastir. The Turks were taken by surprise, and the Greeks were entirely defenceless. And yet to the best of my knowledge no notorious instance of murderous violence occurred, although the Bulgarians actually occupied three country towns inhabitated mainly by Vlachs of the Greek faction. Had the policy of the Bulgarians really been to exterminate


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the Greek teachers and priests, they might, during these three weeks, have carried out a wholesale massacre with complete impunity. Their correct behaviour, while they had the power to work their will upon their enemies, seems to me a rather decisive proof that when they do resort to reprisals the motive is not race-hatred but an instinct of self-defence.

The mischief is not merely that the Macedonians have their own standards of humanity they are often unaware that any higher standards exist. [1] A Greek Bishop once fulminated to me against the Bulgarians for murdering Greek spies. I replied that in my view the worst thing they had done recently was to murder some Turkish lads whom they caught unarmed during the insurrection. He was amazed and rather shocked, and could not understand why I should consider the murder of a Moslem as a crime. I never found the peasants at all shy of admitting their excesses, and this in a sense constitutes an excuse. I once had a talk with a man who had drugged ten Turkish soldiers in an inn and then burned them alive. When I expressed my horror, he replied by pouring out a tale which I confess staggered me all the recent wrongs of his village the men carried away captive into slavery by brigands, the women forced to appear in this same inn and to dance naked for the amusement of passing soldiers. Somehow my vocabulary of censure ran dry, and I tried to suggest that such reprisals were a mistake, since they alienate the sympathies of Europe. He replied that by murdering ten men who richly deserved it, he had obtained ten rifles for the cause of liberty. "Surely," I answered, "the good opinion of the civilised world is worth more than ten rifles ?" He smiled bitterly, reflected for a moment and then, mimicking my tones, inquired laconically, "What was the good opinion of your civilised world worth to the Armenians ?" I was silenced. "Judge not that ye be not judged" is a golden rule in Macedonia, of criminality."
 

1. A village once came mysteriously to us and asked us to direct the Relief Society's doctor to make up a strong poison. It proposed to invite its local traitors to a banquet. Clearly it had no idea that we might disapprove.
 

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