Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

VIII. The Albanians

6. Prizrend and the Reforms
 

If Koritza is the capital of Lower Albania and of the milder Tosks, with their quasi-Hellenic civilisation and their new and bloodless cult of letters, Prizrend is a centre of the wilder Gheg race; and when I visited it in June, 1903, it was all agog with the Albanian revolt against the imposition of the Austro-Russian reforms. A strategic railway, which seems to carry no freight but cannon, no passengers save soldiers or prisoners of war, leads through a narrow glen from Uskub to the little village dépôt of Ferizovitch a place which won some celebrity a year or two ago by rising in revolt against its Turkish Mudir (sub-prefect), and driving him forth minus his ears. At Ferizovitch Albania begins. The outward sign that its frontier has been passed is to be seen in the tobacco-shops. The little booths stand open to the street, and lithe men in white caps the true Albanian rarely wears a fez sit cross-legged behind great heaps of contraband tobacco. They sell it openly, without disguise. There once were branches of the Turkish tobacco monopoly in Albania, but it proved


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so easy to murder their managers, and so difficult to check the trade in "free" tobacco, that they have long ceased to exist. Those fragrant heaps of native leaves are the scutcheon of Albanian anarchy, the symbol of the failure of the Turks to make, even in externals, the faintest impression upon this race of mountaineers. Between three and four years ago, in consequence of a murderous but fortunately unsuccessful attack on the Austrian consul in Prizrend, a few beginnings of ordered government were made in that town. The blood of the consuls is always the seed of civilisation in Turkey. In Ipek and in Djacova there is still literally no law and no court of justice. The civil code, more or less on the Napoleonic model, which Turkey possesses, is not in force in these towns. Such justice as is administered is dealt out by religious functionaries whose code is the Koran. In all that belongs to the civil side of politics, we are still in the heyday of Islam. The kadi administers the law as it was laid down by the Prophet, and his court observes the same maxims and the same ceremonies which prevailed when the Barmecides were Caliphs in Bagdad. It is still the world of the "Arabian Nights," and here in Europe, within a day's journey of the railway that leads to Vienna, we are in the East and the Middle Ages. Elsewhere in Albania at Scutari, for example even the law of the Koran is unrecognised. The only canon of justice is the antique code of the Albanian clans, which must be pretty much what it was when Achilles led his myrmidons to Troy. It deals chiefly with murder and its punishment, explains in what circumstances a man's house must be burned to the ground, when the son must die for the sins of the father, and under what conditions a man must take to the hills and devote himself in pursuit of vengeance to a life of outlawry. The Turks, despairing of replacing this code by anything of their own, gave up the struggle, and actually printed a translation of a crude version of it in the official calendar of the Vilayet of Scutari, thus adopting it as the law of the land. The historian in search of ironies and anomalies could find no stranger contrast than this of Turks and Albanians the

Servian peasants at Ferizovitch; Moslem types. Uskub market-place


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one, an Asiatic race of Mongol blood and the most meagre intellectual endowment, yet possessed, thanks to Arabian influence, of a fairly humane and elaborate code of laws; the other, a European people of Aryan stock, boasting in part a certain nominal Christianity, gifted, quick, and intelligent, and in contact through the ages with Greek and Italian civilisations, yet content in the twentieth century with a set of institutions which have remained unaltered since the first days of the Aryan migration. A show, however, was being made of changing all this when we were in Prizrend. Two new judges had been sent to Scutari, a Jew and a Greek. Both had been duly murdered. Two more had arrived in Prizrend, a Servian renegade and a Jew, and they were awaiting events. Turkish officials in Albania pass their lives in awaiting events. They bring little furniture with them, and feel their way cautiously before they unpack more than the bare necessities of life. The Albanians have a short way of demanding the removal of obnoxious officials. They simply make an appearance en masse, rifle in hand, round the official residence, and in a few hours' time a cavalcade is courteously escorting its late Governor towards the dull plains where tame men purchase their ready-made cigarettes from the licensed shops of the Turkish Regie.

Some years ago an unusually enterprising Turkish official compiled a work which describes itself as the Year-book of the Vilayet of Kossovo. It contains statistics of population, and taxation returns for every town and district of the province. It has long since grown obsolete, for as the years roll by, only the date on the cover is altered. There is one item, however, which has never grown antiquated. It relates to the districts of Djacova and Ipek, of which it is truthfully stated on a blank page that "no reliable statistics have yet been published." The plain fact is that Djacova and Ipek pay no taxes, and furnish no recruits to the Turkish army. It seemed for a moment as though all this would be changed, and in 1903 there were smooth official prophets who supposed that after a sharp revolt


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Albania had been cowed and reformed. It was a time of turmoil. Even the railway was forbidden to Europeans, and it was by a ruse, over which it is prudent to throw a veil of obscurity, that I contrived, during a brief absence of Hilmi Pasha from Uskub, to penetrate to Prizrend. Natives shook their heads, and spoke of the journey as an impossible adventure. It was twelve months since a European had been there, and he had gone in the train of two consuls, with a squadron of cavalry to guard him.

I left Uskub with high expectations. What might one not discover in that mysterious region, as strange as Arabia, as distant as the Soudan? I was not disappointed. I witnessed two miracles. I saw Albania tranquil, and discovered an official Turkish version of passing events which was substantially true. For the moment Prizrend was like any other town in Turkish Europe. It was outwardly stolid and calm. The Albanians, who up till two months before had never crossed the road without slinging their rifles on their shoulders, were going about unarmed. In the town nothing reminded you that you were in a country where no stranger dare walk alone unless, indeed, you happened to look behind as you passed down some narrow secret street and detected an Albanian in the act of solemnly spitting on the ground to express his indignation at your presence. There had really been "a sort of war" in Albania. A battle did really take place near Djacova. The Albanians were really more or less cowed, and for the moment they had accepted the "reforms."

Three months before, when we in Europe suddenly realised that there was an Albanian question, because an unfortunate Russian consul had been murdered in Mitrovitza, there were something like two thousand Albanians in arms round the town, and the inconsiderable Turkish garrison was wondering upon which side it would be more prudent to fight. And then week by week the faithful ragged regiments from Asia Minor began to arrive. By May there were thirty battalions ready to move. It was no trivial operation. The Sultan did not risk his troops in


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small detachments. And when thirty battalions came to Prizrend there remained nothing for the clansmen to do. They returned prudently to their villages, and left their rifles at home. It was doubtless humiliating; for your Albanian regards his rifle as our forefathers regarded their swords; it is the badge of nobility, if not of manhood, and, moreover, in this climate it is rather more necessary than clothing. But, after all, in Prizrend there was no particular need to resist. The thirty battalions interfered with nobody, and nobody interfered with them. It is true that twenty men were arrested, but as only three of them were persons of importance the incident could hardly be represented as a casus belli. The thirty battalions rested in dignity, and presently they moved on to Djacova.

Djacova despises Prizrend. In Prizrend there are two European families, while the soil of Djacova is still clean. And accordingly Djacova decided to indulge in passive resistance. For five whole days the market was closed, which is in the East the deadliest act of defiance. The thirty battalions and their three Pashas sat chafing while the telegraph worked. The three Pashas were not unanimous why else should they be there? In Turkish armies there are always three Pashas one to propose, one to oppose, and one to telegraph to Constantinople. Day after day the thirty battalions lay idle. Day after day the shops were closed. And Constantinople cautioned diplomacy. There must be no violence, no inconsiderate urgency, for Albanians are not infidels. But at last the order came which permitted the three Pashas and the thirty battalions to require the Albanians of Djacova in the Sultan's name to open their shops. On the sixth day the shops were duly opened, and in the Sultan's name they displayed once more to the eye of day and His Majesty's troops the excellent contraband tobacco for which the district is so justly famous. It was the beginning of the end. The Albanians in the hills treated the enforced opening of the shops as a declaration of war, and proceeded to take a cavalry patrol in an ambuscade. Something like thirty troopers were killed, and then at length the Turks acted in earnest. For one


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day there was fighting. The Albanians held positions in the hills, and the Turks assailed them with artillery. At the end of the day the Albanians still held their rocks, and each side had lost somewhere between eighty and one hundred men. Then came further days of inaction, during which the Turks contented themselves with destroying about ninety mediaeval towers or koulés. These koulés play some considerable part in the feudal organisation of Albania. Only a rich chief can build a koulé. Since he is rich he must have been unscrupulous, and since he is bold he becomes a leader. To destroy his tower is in some sense to sap his influence. Meantime, however, Turkish reinforcements were moving up from Ipek, and the Albanians ran the risk of being taken in flank. They were without commissariat or organisation, and their food and ammunition were all but exhausted. Day by day they dwindled away, and when at length the thirty battalions advanced, the hills were deserted. For that year there was no more fighting. At Mitrovitza, where some nine hundred tribesmen had attempted to rush the bridge against Turkish cannon, and again at Djacova the Albanians felt they had done enough for honour. They knew the Turks too well to take their threats of a permanent occupation and a regular administration in earnest. But in any event they lacked the organisation for a prolonged campaign. At the summons of their chiefs each man had marched to the rendezvous carrying as many cartridges as he could wear upon his person. When these had been exhausted there was nothing more to be done. The Albanians seem incapable of the long years of preparation which precede a Bulgarian revolt. They collect no war chest, and they amass no magazines of ammunition. Their risings accordingly are alarming but brief adventures, and if the Turks can survive until each man has shot away his belt-ful of cartridges, they may enjoy their triumph until the following spring.

And so for a season the comedy of reforms went on. Under the personal supervision of Hilmi Pasha the blank pages in the calendar of the Vilayet of Kossovo were


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gradually filled in, and beautiful lists were prepared showing how much these wild districts ought to pay in cattle-taxes, and how many conscripts they should furnish to be the despair of Turkish officers. [1] The budget of the Vilayet showed how the blessings of civilisation had already been squandered with a lavish hand on these wild regions. Half-way on the road to Prizrend we met a Greek engineer. He was a civilised man who had studied in Vienna, and he gladly stopped to talk with us and tell his tale. He had been for six months in the Turkish service. He had been sent to Scutari to inspect the roads a grim Turkish joke. It seems he was actually sent on a voyage of discovery to look for bridges, but although he was surrounded by a powerful Turkish escort, the Albanians forbade him to go on. Four months later he was transferred to Prizrend. He was told that in a week the road from Prizrend to the railway at Ferizovitch would be repaired, and he proceeded to inspect it. Ten per cent of the Macedonian revenues, so Hilmi Pasha had told me, had been set apart for the repair of the roads. Something had indeed been done. Two months before our visit the road was a species of torrent-bed which wandered among rocks and rivulets. After a careful inspection we were able to discover, over a space of several miles, murderous pegs driven into the centre of it at intervals of three hundred paces. These were the reforms. The hand of man had undoubtedly made its mark on the torrent-bed, and when oxen tripped over the pegs and wheels broke against them the natives thanked Europe for the boon. But as for the Greek engineer, he had seen enough. He was tired of waiting for next week. The money and the labour to repair the road were not forthcoming, and he was on his way to Uskub to tender his resignation. He seemed to me

1. The name by which the Albanians describe their Turkish officers is quite unprintable; suffice it to say that it breathes a withering contempt. The result is that an Albanian regiment in time of war or revolution does precisely as it pleases. I have heard a European witness describe how the Albanian conscripts employed in Adrianople during the late rebellion instead of marching, rode about in commandeered landaus.


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typical of all that the Turks had done in these Albanian regions to realise the reforms. They boasted that they had purged the gendarmerie of its worst characters. Its ranks were, in fact, recruited from among the more enterprising robbers of the country. A few of the more notorious had been dismissed. Already they had begun to return. In the course of a single stroll through Prizrend two gendarmes were pointed out to me, both of them notable murderers, who had been cashiered and then reinstated. For the rest, a very few Christians have been enrolled in the ranks. I am bound in fairness to say that some precautions had been taken to ensure their safety. They spent their day shut up in the police-office, lest the Albanians should see them; and when they returned to their homes at night, they were not allowed to take their rifles with them, as their Moslem comrades did. It was thought that the Albanians might feel less insulted if these Giaour policemen went about harmless and unarmed. That an infidel should carry a rifle and arrest one of the faithful would have been intolerable. And if, after all, the Albanians should fall upon the defenceless gendarmes as they returned to their homes, there would be a minimum of bloodshed. From a certain standpoint this refusal to arm the new recruits must be viewed as a humanitarian measure.

Returning through Uskub, nearly a year later, I learned (April, 1904) something of the sequel to this curious chapter of history. The first attempt to enforce taxation and conscription at the expense of the Ghegs of Djacova and the North had led once more to a rising, this time more extensive and more dangerous. Dibra also was up in arms, and had not the Turks displayed notable strategy in preventing the union of the contingents from that region with the rebels of Liuma and Djacova, they might have had to face a somewhat serious rebellion. As it was, a very considerable Turkish force under Shakir Pasha was surrounded near Djacova, and would have had no resource but capitulation had not Shemsi Pasha marched from Uskub at the head of a formidable army. The negotiations which followed ended in a substantial success for the Albanians.


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The Turks did not quite consent to renounce their rights to raise taxes and enrol conscripts in Upper Albania, but they did agree to postpone these obnoxious operations for two years a term which is likely enough to prove an equivalent to the Greek Kalends. The Turks, of course, are compelled in deference to Austria and Russia, to continue to make a show of introducing reforms, and from time to time some Christian Servian gendarmes are enrolled. But it is tolerably certain that if these attempts should seem too serious or too persistent, the Albanians will rise once more. It is a little difficult to explain the motives which have brought about these Albanian risings. When a Bulgarian takes a rifle in his hand, appeals to the sympathy of Europe, invokes the sanctity of the Berlin Treaty, and says that he wants liberty and autonomy, reforms and a constitution, we think that we know what he means. He uses the catchwords of Western Europe, and his attitude towards ourselves is deferential. But the Albanians have defied Europe. They began their campaign by murdering M. Sterbina, the Russian Consul at Mitrovitza. And their object seems to be to protest against reform. Certainly, if we look no further than the surface, their movement is not deserving of much sympathy. It seems to be confessedly reactionary, and Europe has some excuse if she supposes that they are more fanatical than the Turks themselves. Their leaders, too, are men of the old school, chiefs whom the average Christian of the Balkans describes without hesitation as "brigands." It is true that some of them have risen to consideration through rapine. A brigand or a successful "rural guard" will often retire on the proceeds of his robberies, build himself a mediaeval keep, and terrorise the neighbourhood. His district becomes an Alsatia, a refuge for every desperate outlaw, and he concludes no treaties of extradition. The Turks make it their policy to humour him. The highwayman of yesterday is decorated to-day, and the path is open to uniforms and offices. He becomes a kingmaker in his little territory. At his complaint the prefect (Kaimakam) is dismissed, and if he makes common cause with a few of his fellow "chiefs" he may


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even hope to unseat a Vali. He is free to rob, free to murder, free to grow rich. No Christian dare complain against him, for the local officials are his creatures. If he has a behest to make, he need only send the bellman round the town to shout it to the people. When it was rumoured that a Russian consul was coming to Mitrovitza the chief Isa Bolétinaz sent his henchman publicly drumming through the streets with the cry, "I, Isa Bolétinaz, forbid any man of Mitrovitza to let his house to the Russian Consul, and if he does, it will be the worse for him." But the better class of these men are hereditary chieftains of old families, who have won their martial reputation, not in brigandage, but by prowess in local feuds. Isa Bolétinaz, for example, spent six years "in the mountains" avenging the murder of a relative. In the course of a campaign of this sort an Albanian may play the brigand, in the sense that he lives upon the country; but his object is not so much plunder as revenge. The distinction may seem a subtle one. Certainly the men behind this movement Suleiman Batúsha and Isa Bolétinaz, for example are the representatives of the old anarchical tradition. To some of them anarchy is a vested interest, to others it represents a sentiment of independence.

At bottom the Albanian movement is, like all Balkan movements, inspired by a nationalist ideal, and by a wish to obtain emancipation from Turkish rule, and if it wears an appearance of hostility to Europe that is only because Europe ignored Albania in the Berlin Treaty, and because she has made herself in practice the protectress of the Slavs, with whom the Albanians have a traditional feud. I have often tried, in conversation with Albanians, to obtain some clue to their attitude. The Ghegs have, as a rule, too little education to explain with any clearness what it really is they mean and want. The rising was an instinctive outburst. But if one can imagine a Gheg primitive enough to share the views of Bolétinaz and his tribesmen, and educated enough to state them clearly, it is somewhat in this way that he would explain the national attitude: "We Albanians," he would say, "are the original and autoch-


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thonous race of the Balkans. The Slavs are conquerors and immigrants, who came but yesterday from Asia. As for the Bulgarians, they are a Mongol tribe which has no business in Europe. The Russians may call themselves Europeans, but when their consuls come here and lord it over us with their whips, we notice their little eyes and their high cheekbones, and we feel that they too are Tartars. The Servians, under their Tsar Dushan, conquered the country which they have the impudence to call 'Old Servia.' They settled there and drove us back for a season to our mountains. But little by little we have regained our own. 'Old Servia' is Albanian once more to-day, as it always was and always will be. It is true that a minority of Servians remains, protected by Russia. She has even sent up a handful of Russian monks from Mount Athos to hold the sacred Servian monastery of Detchani. Why is it that she defends our hereditary enemies? Because they are Slavs. These so-called 'reforms' are nothing but the device of a Panslavist conspiracy. Why does Russia confine her attention only to the Vilayet of Kossovo, while she does nothing for Jannina and for Scutari? Because there are Slavs in Kossovo. Why does she do nothing to help us with our schools and our language? Because we are not Slavs. These reforms are only intended to benefit the Slavs. Why, then, should we submit to them? Russia tells you that there ought to be Christians in the gendarmerie, and you imagine that we are fanatical because we oppose her. It is not a question between Moslem and Christian at all. There were hundreds of Catholic Albanians in our ranks when we fought at Mitrovitza and at Djacova. In point of fact, when Russia says that there ought to be Christians in the gendarmerie, she means Servian Christians. When the time came for enlisting Christian gendarmes, whom did the Russian consuls recommend? They got together all their own spies, their agents provocateurs, the most notorious instruments of the Slav propaganda, and forced the Turks to put them into uniforms and to give them rifles. Shall we allow these men to rule over us? As for


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Austria, we all know that her dream is to annex Albania, and she too is a Slav Power. Her consuls are never Germans. They are always Czechs or Croats or Poles. Our programme is Albania for the Albanians, and we do not intend to submit to any foreign domination, and certainly not to that of the Slavs. If the Turks cannot protect us against Panslavism, then we are quite prepared to fight the Turks. We have never accepted their yoke. We have preserved our customs, our language, and our local independence. But we have never paid taxes. We have fought as volunteers for the Sultan in every Turkish war at Plevna as at Domokos but we have never worn the Turkish uniform or accepted the slavery of the barracks. You profess to be the friends of the Cretans and the Bulgarians when they defend their freedom. Why do you wish to impose the Turkish yoke upon us? It is, I suppose, because we are not Slavs, or because so many of us are Moslems. That is your tolerance. No, we do not want reforms. We prefer liberty."

My imaginary Albanian has said some things which are absurd and other things which are true. One must look behind words. It was not against reform that the Albanians rose, but against the tightening of Turkish control, and the more distant menace involved in the predominance of Austria and Russia. Europe did a monstrous thing when she entrusted the destinies of Macedonia to two interested Powers. Both Russia and Austria are partisans in the Macedonian chaos. For generations they have been engaged in propagandas of their own, furthering the interests of one race against another to secure their own position and prepare their future claims. It was absurd to suppose that they could play the rôle of impartial arbiters. The Albanians speak the truth when they insist that they are themselves, by virtue of their numbers, overwhelmingly the preponderant population of "Old Servia"; but just in so far as they show themselves incapable of respecting the claims of the Servian minority, they destroy their own natural right to govern.
 

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