Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

V. The Bulgarian movement

9. The Salonica Outrages
 

But this episode had one salutary result. It reminded Europe once more of the Macedonian Question, which had been forgotten since the repression of 1897, and diplomacy began to occupy itself with the question of reforms. The Western Governments were comparatively indifferent and took the fatal step of allowing Russia and Austria, as the two interested Powers, to manage the crisis as they pleased. The Sultan meanwhile was determined to anticipate the intervention of Europe, and in December, 1902, he drew up a scheme of reforms of his own, in which the only important item was that Hussein Hilmi Pasha was appointed Inspector-General of the Three Vilayets (Uskub, Salonica, and Monastir). In February Austria and Russia published their first Reform Scheme, which was destined to remain a dead letter (see Chapter IX. pp. 304-305). Its sole effect upon the situation was to convince the Bulgarians that Europe would do nothing without some powerful stimulus, some bloody and sensational object-lesson, which would convince her that the misgovernment of Macedonia is an evil which calls for a drastic remedy. But what form should that object-lesson take ? The Macedonians knew to their cost that it is useless to talk about the normal misrule under which they suffer. Petitions, deputations, notes of protest and appeal from the friendly Bulgarian Government attract no attention whatever. Partial revolts and brutal repressions result in nothing more than futile remonstrance and feeble counsels of reform. Europe acts with energy only when the lives and property of her own subjects are endangered. Then indeed the ironclads move, and the spectacle of cleared decks induces the Sultan to yield to superior force. The younger men among the Macedonian Extremists were full of this idea, and wild plans for attacking the railways and the consulates were in the air. It was thought that if the insurgents could create a state of anarchy dangerous to European capital the Concert would intervene. The Internal Organisation as a whole rejected this scheme, but there was a small group of Extremists [1]

1. I came to know one of these men rather intimately, and a more pathetic and incongruous character I have never met. He was a Macedonian from Resna, educated in Bulgaria, a schoolmaster by profession, and twenty-three years of age. His appointed task was to blow up a certain mosque on a given Friday in order to excite the fanaticism of the Turks and to make a massacre inevitable. He was arrested before he could put it into execution, imprisoned for some months, and then released. There was no evidence against him, and the Turks did not know what his plan really was. In the gaol at Monastir, where he slept on stones and lived on bread and water, his health was ruined and he contracted a galloping consumption. I found him living on charity in a very miserable state, and the Relief Society's doctor did what was possible to make his end easier. I had many a talk with him, and though his scheme has always seemed to me merely diabolical, he was personally one of the gentlest and most attractive characters that I met in Macedonia. His parents were peasants, but his mind and his manners were refined. He was intelligent and well-read, considering his youth and his scanty opportunities. His solace during the long days when he lay dying with a clear mind was to read incessantly, and his relaxation to gaze from his window upon the beauty of Ochrida Lake. The thought that he had left certain books unread seemed to make him more uneasy than any physical discomfort, and he would have us search Macedonia for a translation of Sir Walter Scott, for one or two romances of Dumas the Elder, and of all books in the world for Bel Ami! But when he talked, his anxiety was always to hear political news. Patriotism was with him a consuming fever, and certain words Liberty, Independence, and the like would bring the fire to his eyes and a resonance to his hollow voice. His gentleness and resignation made devoted friends of two or three poor townsfolk who visited him. It was with a constant shock that one realised that this kindly and sensitive nature, with its capacity for sympathy and its half-developed Aesthetic tastes, could have been capable of the bloody act of criminal heroism for which he had vowed to sacrifice his life. He was under the dominion of certain abstract ideas, which obsessed him and paralysed his own natural instincts. His generous and enthusiastic temperament had brooded on the shame of slavery, the allurement of freedom, the glory that might await his liberated race, until no other thoughts were left in the patchwork of his mind half tillage, half desert. If he was typical of the Macedonian "terrorists " they merit rather pitiful sympathy than angry censure.


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who were determined to defy its discipline and to give this plan a trial. They concentrated their efforts upon a plan to blow up the Ottoman Bank at Salonica, a large and pretentious building in which a European manager and his family resided, and which formed the centre of European trade in the port. They worked steadily and secretly though I think many of the Bulgarians of the town were aware of their plot. They opened a little grocer's shop beside the bank and mined laboriously, carrying away the earth from their tunnel in paper bags and parcels. It is said


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that the Internal Organisation, hearing what was afoot, ordered them to desist and sentenced them to death when they continued their work, so that they were compelled to strike their blow prematurely. The Turks had been warned of what was going on, but nothing would induce them to interfere, and the inference is either that they were bribed or that they were clear-headed enough and Machiavellian enough to allow the Bulgarians to discredit themselves in the eyes of Europe unmolested. The bank in due course (April, 1903) was blown up with complete success, all Salonica was plunged into panic, and bombs were also thrown, though without much effect, at the railway station, the Konak, the German School, and a European hotel. A French steamship in the bay was completely wrecked. Most of the terrorists were killed, either in resisting arrest or by their own bombs, and a massacre of the Christians of the town was only averted by the belated energy of the old Vali, who exposed himself fearlessly and managed to control and utilise his troops before the mob had done more than sixty Christians to death. These outrages had a disastrous effect upon the Macedonian Movement. Public opinion in Europe was shocked, and only two or three of its more thoughtful leaders, like M. de Pressense and M. Berard, had the insight to see that this cruel and desperate act, which, after all, required courage and devotion, was really a grim commentary upon the indifference of Europe. If we care nothing for the daily sufferings of the Macedonians, if neither petitions nor Blue-Books nor the evidence of travellers will impress the facts upon our imagination, if we have forgotten our own pledges and the remedies we prescribed at Berlin, who is to blame if the abandoned victims of Turkish tyranny take strange means to jog our memories ? If we would listen neither to persuasion nor to cries, these young Macedonians were determined that we should hear dynamite. Our own deafness is as guilty as their violence. But the comfortable and the uninformed did not reason on these lines. Perhaps the outrage was not really serious enough to alarm them. At all events only a few ironclads came to Salonica, and


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their mission was naturally not to coerce the Turks, but simply to protect the lives and property of the European colony. The Turks, moreover, had the sense in the main to confine their protests and repression to legal means. They presented an ultimatum to Bulgaria, which they withdrew immediately under the pressure of Europe. For the rest they contented themselves with stamping out the insurrectionary movement within Macedonia itself. There was no such massacre as the "anarchist" group expected to provoke, nothing but a round of minor cruelties and uninteresting oppressions nothing, in short, which could attract the attention of Europe or stir its sluggish pity. Once only did the Moslem mob break bounds at Monastir on St. George's Day (Old Style), and even then the number of victims was not considerable. [2]

2. The Moslems were anxious to find a pretext for avenging the Salonica outrage. A rumour got about that the Bulgarians were going to blow up a mosque, and a trivial quarrel between a Turk and a Bulgarian in the market-place gave the signal for slaughter. Armed bands of Turkish civilians, tolerated, and sometimes aided, by the police, patrolled the streets for the best part of two days. As it began on a feast day most of the Christians were within doors, and not many more than thirty were killed, though others were beaten and maltreated. The Vali posted troops somewhat tardily, but none of the murderers were punished. The attack was quite unprovoked, and Greeks suffered as well as Bulgarians.
 

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