Ο καιρός της Φλώρινας

Κυριακή, 15 Ιανουαρίου 2012

Allen Upward. "The East and of Europe" -THE LIBERATION OF RAKOVO.

Allen Upward, The East End of Europe, London 1908, pp 283-297
The work of liberation— An Exarchist gendarmery officer— A Patriarchist village — Rural life in Macedonia — An oppressed taxpayer — Peter takes his precautions — Turkish tyranny — Peasant fear— The trail of the Comitadjis — A voice from America — A typical Turkish atrocity — The tyrant trembles — The grievance of  Obsima.

About the time that I was setting out from Europe a band of liberators fell one night upon the Macedonian village of Rakovo, and burned it to the ground.

Rakovo lies about four hours from Monastir, and I decided to visit it in order to see for myself how the work of liberation is carried on. Before going 1 mentioned my intention to the Greek Bishop administering the diocese of Monastir. The Bishop told me that, shortly before the attack on their village, the people had come to him to complain that an Italian officer of gendarmery had advised them to turn Exarchists. The officer complained of gave the explanation that it must have been his dragoman, an explanation which I can fully believe. He had not since dismissed the dragoman, neither had he thought it worth while to take any other step to assure the villagers that the dragoman had not spoken with his authority.

The dragoman's advice could not have been sounder if he had been in the counsels of the Exarchists, instead of being an agent of the Powers who have insisted on aiding the Turkish Government to suppress the Exarchist bands. A Bulgarian band duly arrived in fulfilment of the warning, and set fire to every house in Rakovo in which there was no armed defender. How many of the inhabitants would have perished can only be guessed. But the flames that shot up in the night from the burning village were seen by a Greek band encamped on the mountains. The Greeks hastened to the rescue of their brethren, and, after a brief combat in which two or three lives were lost on both sides, the Bulgarians fled. That is a typical example of how the Folk War is waged. It is the warfare of the Dark Ages. We seem to be reading of the Danes and Saxons.

The burn-tout inhabitants took refuge in Monastir, where they were kindly received and cared for by the Greek community. The Greek charitable organisation of the town undertook the work of rebuilding their ruined homes for them ; and it was the
contractor employed on the work who acted as my guide on the present occasion.

The first part of the journey was by carriage, over a rough and broken road, across the plain of Monastir. At one point we were met by some peasants, who had come out to warn us that the way was foundrous farther on, and to direct us by another route. These local roads are the curse of Rumelia, because they are the first things that strike every traveller, and by them he judges the whole country. They are scarcely better than those of Russia.

The carriage way ended at Obsirna, a smaller village, lying at the entrance of the valley which has Rakovo at its upper end. The plain across which we had driven is one of the empty cells of the Macedonian honeycomb. The invading bands wander along the dividing ridges, and descend where they please. The more I studied local conditions, the more difficult it became to hope that the Folk War could be suppressed by the methods hitherto employed.

The village of Obsirna, I was informed by the inhabitants, contains only twenty-five houses. It is a typical instance of the fallacy of reckoning five persons to a house, in estimating this population. While I was questioning the people about their means of livelihood, I learned that some houses were richer in labour while others were richer in land. Thus, one patriarch was pointed out to me as having, I think, a dozen men in his "house." In short, we have here the primitive family group as it has existed at one time or another half over the world. These villagers are still living in a state of society which is familiar to sociologists. They own houses and lands and cattle, but they own them in families, and not as individuals. The members of the household whose labour is not needed at home are sent to earn money in the town, or further afield. The money is not regarded as theirs. It is earned on behalf of the household to which they belong, and in which they still retain their proprietary rights. Their earnings, or whatever they bring back with them, will go into the common fund, and they will be housed and fed on the same footing as the rest.

It would be misleading to speak of such labourers as domestic serfs, because they are, of course, the descendants or kinsmen of their patriarch. But that seems to be their economic condition. Even when they emigrate to the United States they continue to acknowledge their father's authority, and remit him a portion of their earnings.

This village of twenty-five " houses " owns no less than thirty mills, driven by the water which issues from the valley above. I examined one, owned by a wealthy villager named Peter. It was a small affair; one pair of millstones only were revolving inside a shed built over the stream, and the contents of a sack of com were being dribbled out through a hopper. The mill-owner, who has three such mills on his estate, told me that Obsirna formerly ground the corn of all the villages round about. Since the Folk War broke out their Bulgarian neighbours had ceased to bring their corn to these Patriarchist mills, but the more tolerant Moslems continued to come as before.

Peter proved a most interesting acquaintance, perhaps as favourable a type as could be found of the Christian peasant of Rumelia. He met us, along with the priest and headman, on our arrival, and conducted us to a house apparently selected for its superior accommodation. It was quite equal in size and convenience to an old-fashioned Swiss chalet, in those Swiss valleys which have not yet been irrigated by tourist gold. Indeed most of these Rumelian villages compared favourably with some I have seen in the Canton of Valais, particularly as regards cleanliness. The house I was shown into stood in a walled enclosure containing barns, stables, and pigsties. Scattered about the farmyard, I noticed a number of small wooden troughs, like dug-out canoes. These were the property of the pigs. In England the pigs have only one trough in common ; in Macedonia each pig has his own. The Macedonian pig is more civilised than his English brother.

Peter and his friends brought us upstairs and gave us wooden stools to sit on while coffee was being prepared. Peter was the most eloquent of the party, and from him I obtained my first real glimpse at the iniquities of Turkish rule.

The occasion was a favourable one. There were no gendarmes present, the vigilance of the authorities had been so far allayed, the room contained only sympathisers. I myself had come thither under the aegis of their Bishop — before my return I was asked to become their advocate with the Bishop, as will be seen hereafter. It was a golden opportunity to learn the truth about European Turkey, to penetrate beneath the glozing apologies of the corrupt functionaries, and see the frightful machinery of Turkish government at work.

Petros Papoulkas
And Peter told me a dismal tale. The greatest grievance, of course, was the taxation. Peter owns a hundred sheep— how many English villagers own three mills and a hundred sheep? — and on each he has to pay a tax of five piastres and ten paras, that is to say, an English shilling. Moreover, the tax is collected with unreasonable rigour. On the last visit of the tax-gatherer one of the sheep was dangerously ill. Peter drew his attention to its languishing condition, but in vain. The tax-gatherer, obedient to instructions from Salonika, was obdurate, and the suffering animal was inscribed. Within three days it had breathed its last !

Peter has also to pay nearly thirty shillings a year for exemption from military service. This tax is called the bedel, or bedale. The other men in his house pay fifteen shillings. He pays £12 a year in English money under the head of tithes. His mills pay £3 more. The tithe on wine comes to fifteen shillings. The road-tax is £1 for which he hardly gets value. Altogether he pays thirty Turkish pounds a year — say £25 English.

That is the total deduction, whether in the nature of rent, rates, taxes or tithes, from Peter's profits on his farm, his mills, his stock, his vineyard, and the labour of his household. A Greek friend estimates that Peter's sheep, which graze free on the mountain, ought to bring him in £50 a year. The tax on them would therefore appear to be a tithe. At that rate, his net annual income should be not far short of £200. And, as the same friend observed, a hundred pounds in Macedonia is equal to a thousand in England. The salary of the priest of Obsima, I ascertained, is eight Turkish pounds a year; but he receives gifts of food in addition.
As we have seen, these taxes are oppressively collected. It is not only on the sheep that the tax-gatherer casts a jaundiced eye. When Peter exhibits to him a hundred okes of wine as the produce of his vineyard, the tax-gatherer remorselessly writes down five hundred. It reminded me of a picturesque incident in one of the Comitadji books. The author has arrived hotfoot on the track of the tax-gatherer. The peasants make a similar complaint, and show him the small heap of corn-cobs which the sceptical tax-gatherer has just multiplied by five. The sympathetic visitor counts every corn-cob, and pronounces a burning malediction on the oppressor.

Alas! I have been a cross-examining counsel. I asked Peter if it had ever occurred to him to conceal any portion of his produce before the tax-gatherer's arrival He replied, with perfect frankness, " When we have much we hide it ; when we have little we are afraid to." The unfortunate tax-gatherer evidently has to trust rather to his judgment than his eyesight. By this time I had almost abandoned the hope of coming across any genuine Turkish outrage, any bona-fide instance of those horrors which have moved the Exarchist population to deliver themselves, or at least have moved kindly hearts in Sofia to deliver them, from their chains. I do not think that this was because I was less persevering than previous travellers who have enlightened Europe on the subject. I went through the country with my eyes and ears open, and I missed no opportunity of putting questions to peasants who have long been taught that Europe expects them to be against the Government I can only attribute the result to my having had some experience of peasants at home and abroad, and some slight practice in the art of eliciting the truth, both as a counsel and as a judge.

Undaunted by previous failures, I put the oft repeated question. Beyond oppressive taxation, had Obsima suffered anything at the hands of the authorities ?

And this time it seemed that I was not to be disappointed. Suffered ?— it was Peter who answered me — ah ! yes, they had suffered, they were still suffering, grievous things. Armed soldiers raided their peaceful village, ransacked their houses under the pretence of searching for concealed arms, stole their possessions and terrified their women. It was the truth coming out at last. The Comitadji writers were justified ; it was possible that they had even understated their case.

With my note-book open in my hand, I invited Peter to furnish me with details of these outrages, and he eagerly did so. It appeared that he was himself the principal sufferer. In fact, his house was the only one that had as yet been searched — searched, mark you, in spite of the personal assurance given by the headman to the sergeant that Peter was a law-abiding citizen. And wherefore, then, had he been singled out for this persecution? He was the victim of appearances. On their first visit — they had been three times in all — the gendarmes had most unfortunately found arms concealed on his premises. The arms consisted of a revolver and a number of rifle cartridges. The revolver was an old and worthless weapon preserved by Peter as a curiosity, much as halberts and crossbows are preserved in other private collections. The cartridges were there by accident.

A short time previously Peter had been shot at by a Bulgarian on the road. His horse had been wounded — Peter pressed me to adjourn to the stable and inspect the wound with my own eyes. The Bulgarian had fled from pursuit, after dropping a quantity of cartridges on the ground. Peter had picked up these cartridges and brought them home as mementoes, in fact, trophies; but they were Bulgarian cartridges, and the gendarmes had placed a false construction on his possession of them. He had even been dragged off to the prison of Monastir and detained there for some days on suspicion.

I invited details of the robberies committed by the gendarmes, or soldiers — for the peasants seem to draw no distinction between the two forces. On one occasion, after a visit from the sergeant, Peter had found himself the poorer by a pair of stockings.

I asked if any woman had been touched. No ; but they were frightened when they saw the soldiers come.

Such was the story of Peter, as told to me by himself in the presence of his friends and neighbours. I did not doubt one word of it; I dispensed with the corroborative evidence of the wounded horse.

My sympathies were wholly with Peter in his undeserved misfortunes. But what had I come out to see? Three vilayets drenched in blood to save Peter from the loss of a pair of stockings?

That the women of Obsima were alarmed by the sight of soldiers in their midst was very likely true, although in other villages the presence of the soldiers seemed very welcome. Speaking broadly, I should be inclined to say that many of these Rumelian peasants are afraid of the Turkish troops. They are equally afraid of ghosts. The question is whether one fear is any better founded than the other, or whether both are traditional instincts which time and education will obliterate.

We must again fall back on the Comparative Method. I once took part in a Liberal meeting in an English village. It was well attended. The candidate spoke long and eloquently, but did not elicit a single cheer. A Nonconformist minister followed in a humorous vein, but did not elicit a single laugh. The other speakers were not more fortunate than they. We were coming away, feeling very much depressed, when one of the villagers ran after and caught up the carriage. He said: "That was a grand meeting. Everybody was delighted."

" But you never cheered ! You never laughed ! "

“ Ah ! that was because the squire had a man sitting at the back of the room watching us. But we were drinking in every word."

Now, that is peasant fear. It is the inherited instinct of the Folk. Every Liberal candidate in a rural constituency in the south of England must have come across it. It is a commonplace with Liberal agents that this fear exists, and that it must be allowed for in their arrangements. The fear may be well-grounded, or it may be ill-grounded; but while it still flourishes in England, in spite of ballots and board-schools and halfpenny papers, and all the other guarantees of freedom, we must be prepared to find something very like it when we go abroad.

Whatever be the case with regard to the women, the men of Obsirna are not wanting in courage. The village is renowned in the country-side for its stubborn refusal to accept liberation at the hands of the Comitadjis. Even in the rising of 1903, when so many Patriarchist villages were lured away by the Bulgarian promises, Obsirna held out. I found that the example made of its neighbour, Rakovo, had not daunted the spirit of Obsirna. In one house into which I was taken — Peter's own, I believe — I found the roof too low for comfort. My host laughed as he remarked, " We are waiting till the Bulgarians burn our village to rebuild our houses in better style." Others hinted, in the same light-hearted tone, that when the Bulgarians came they would find Obsirna ready for them. In short, they seemed to be looking forward, with some eagerness, to such a visit; or, as they say in Ireland, they were spoiling for a fight. However much such a spirit is to be regretted, there is something extremely cruel in the spirit which can make no allowance for it. Humanitarians are too ready to put human nature in handcuffs.

Obsirna may defy the Bulgarian bands, but so long as she speaks a dialect resembling the Bulgarian, she stands in danger of liberation, not by them, but by the Powers. The danger has been realised. Obsirna has started a little school for the first time, and a patriotic native is training the new generation in Greek. We rode on to Rakovo on horses belonging to the friendly Peter, who would accept no payment in return. The little valley was as peaceful as if no armed band had ever traversed it, and on the hills above the sheep were browsing in happy ignorance of taxes and tax-gatherers.

After an hour or two we reached the opening into another small upland plain like that of Nisia, and in the neck, commanding the issue from the valley, stood what had once been Rakovo.

It was a wilderness of ruins. Rakovo had been a larger place than Obsirna, possessing a fine church and a considerable school, and the desolation covered half a mile. Blackened walls were standing roofless amid chaotic heaps of fallen stones over which it was difficult to clamber. The one or two houses that had escaped rose amid the wreck hke a few solitary teeth in the jaw of some decrepit crone. The efforts of the Greek charitable society had completed about twenty new ones, of rough but solid construction, yet even their courtyards were still cumbered with ruins. Such of the inhabitants as had ventured back wandered with drooping heads among the shapeless rubbish heaps, searching for the site of their homes. They seemed rather ghosts than men. I did not hear them laugh at the Bulgarians. Rakovo had been liberated indeed.

The only cheerful spirit in the place was a man newly returned from the United States. He had been thrown out of work by the financial crisis over there; and so the collapse of the Trusts had sent a little ripple of distress all the way into ruined Rakovo. For, of course, he also had remained, on the other side of the Atlantic, a vassal of the " house." He introduced me to his venerable father. The American had told me he belonged to the Republican Party, and I wondered whether he had given his support to President Roosevelt on orders received from Macedonia.

The priest of Rakovo also had a son in the United States, who was prospering as a baker. He showed me a letter from his boy, and it proved to be a piece of evidence bearing on this inquiry ; for it was written on a sheet of paper with the printed heading : "greek macedon bakery" Consider that. Messieurs the Comitadjis ! You may do your worst to Bulgarise Rakovo ; you will find it harder to Bulgarise the Greek Macedon Bakery!

What an answer to the claim of Sofia, the claim that every Macedonian who uses a Slave dialect must belong to her! Here, in the heart of Macedonia, on the very track of her desolating bands, amid the charred monuments of her vengeance, I had come upon this clear voice, speaking from a continent of whose existence Alexander did not dream, to tell me, to tell Europe, to tell even the agents of Sofia, what the Macedonians "wish themselves."

The story of the destruction of the village was told me by the muktar, a man of strong but not very amiable character, who barely thanked me for what my dragoman advised me would be a substantial contribution to the relief fund.

He said that a small party of soldiers had come into the place about an hour before the Bulgarians, and warned them that they were about to be attacked. The officer in command had asked where they would wish him to post his men for their defence. The muktar had replied, with some harshness, " We are not generals; you ought to know your own business. Post your men where you think best"; and the soldiers had then decamped without waiting for the enemy. The Greek band, on the other hand, had performed marvels, slaying no less than sixty Bulgars, with a loss of only two on their own side.

I had not the heart to cross-examine the poor creatures amid their ruined homes, but the greater part of the Bulgarian corpses must have been mysteriously spirited away during the night, as when the Greek Consul arrived on the scene next day he found only two or three.

The headman of Rakovo was clearly no Turcophile, but I shall not seek to attenuate his evidence on that account. He led me round what had been the village, and pointed out the site of the school, remarking that it was the second time that their school had been burnt down in three years. I asked who had burned it the first time, and he answered, “The soldiers."

At last! Take heart, my Christian friend, for at last we are on the scent of a real Turkish atrocity. It has not been easy work; we have had to inquire long and painfully, but now our perseverance is about to be rewarded, and we may say of the Turk what we will. I asked why the soldiers had been guilty of such a deed. " They did it by mistake. They had been sent against a Bulgarian village which had taken part in the insurrection, and they came to Rakovo by mistake. The soldiers admitted that they had done wrong."

One feels that they ought not to have admitted it. The outrage is robbed of its full flavour. The soldiers ought to have treated the affair as a jest, and cut the throats of any complaining villagers.

They do 30 in all impartial books about Macedonia. " Did the Government do nothing ? "

''Oh yes, the Government paid for rebuilding the school. They gave so many piastres a day to the men who were at work on it till it was finished."

My Christian friend, what are we to do? These wretched peasants give us no help. How can we work up the right degree of indignation against a Sultan whose soldiers apologise when they have done wrong, and who repairs the wrong almost before he is asked? The ground keeps slipping from under our feet. We shall have to look else- where for an object for our philanthropic wrath. We may even have to turn it on some Christian monarch. Suppose we try the ruler of the Congo State ?

The inhabitants of Rakovo, fresh from their experience of the Christian liberator, hardly showed proper dread of the Moslem tyrant. Thirty of the ferocious soldiers at whose name Europe has learned to shudder were now quartered in the village, and the villagers, so far from craving deliverance from these "official bandits," were practically hugging them to their bosoms.

Summon up all your fortitude, my Christian friend, and let us listen to the Christian headman of what was Rakovo. He is making a complaint; he considers that he has a grievance against the lieutenant in command of the Turkish troops. He, the muktar, has given the lieutenant quarters in a house in the centre of the village. But the officer has objected to the accommodation, and requested the headman's leave to shift his quarters to a more salubrious house on the outskirts. The headman has refused to gratify the tyrant's caprice. " Stay where I have put you," he had said to him sternly. “You are wanted there for our protection. If you don't like my decision, go and complain to your vali! "

Is there such a thing as the reductio ad absurdum in Fairyland ? Is it possible for fanaticism to see when it has overshot the mark? If so, I commend to you, my Christian friend, to you, Messieurs the Comitadji writers, who have deafened Europe with the wrongs of Macedonia, that little picture of Macedonia as it is. I had come out to see another Macedonia from this. I had come out to see poverty stricken Christians cowering before every passing Turk. And in this remote spot, up among the snow laden hills, I had found a Turkish officer, in command of a detachment sent thither to protect the Christians from each other, denied his choice of a lodging, bullied by a Christian headman, and told to complain if he dared. He had dared. The Governor-General of Monastir, to whom I submitted the case, had already heard of it. The muktar had lodged die lieutenant in the next house to his own, out of a selfish desire for his personal security. The lieutenant had found the house insanitary, and the rest of the villagers were quite willing for him to shift his quarters. But the headman was firm, and I fancied that the vali himself was half afraid to interfere lest he should find himself browbeaten by the Consuls, and held up to execration in half the newspapers of Europe.
Such is Turkey in Europe, as I found it.

Only one stroke remained to complete the picture, and it awaited me on my return through Obsima. The tax-ridden villagers, with Peter at their head, approached me with a petition. Would I, on my return to Monastir, speak to their Bishop on their behalf? They had a grievance, a very mild one to be sure, against the Bishop. They did not think he was showing enough energy in the business of their new church. Had they no church already? I inquired. They had a church, but it was not good enough. They wanted to put up a more imposing edifice, and they had saved up the money to pay for it, with some help from the Bishop. Permission had been applied for, the firman had come down from Constantinople, but after the burning of Rakovo it had been suspended, as they believed, lest the erection of the new church should draw down on them the attention of the Exarchists. But they were prepared to take the risk, and they begged me to stir up the Bishop, that he might in turn stir up the vali.

Peter, Peter, my honest, nay, my generous, friend— for did you not lend me three horses without charge ? — it goes to my heart to tell you that if, out of what the tax-gatherer has spared, you have enough money to build a superfluous and splendid church you must be better off than certain Christians living very near indeed to the centre of civilisation, almost within the shadow of a great cathedral, under the most enlightened of County Councils, in the full blaze of newspaper publicity, with half a dozen Bishops and ten thousand Christian ministers to attend to their least cry !

Postscript

The confident tone of the Obsirna villagers in speaking of a Bulgarian attack showed me pretty clearly that the revolver and cartridges captured from Peter did not exhaust their store of concealed arms. Not long after my visit the authorities made a more successful perquisition, and fifteen of the unlucky villagers were carried off to prison in consequence. It seems a cruel thing to punish the loyal Christians for taking measures to defend them- selves against the aggressions of robbers and blood- thirsty assassins sent against them by a foreign State. But such are the orders of the Powers, and the Turks dare not favour the victims more than the terrorists.

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