The Macedonian Question, 1878-1908

Macedonia and the treaty of Berlin

The region known as Macedonia may be roughly defined as the basins of the Vardar, Struma, and Mesta Zara Rivers, except the headwaters of the Struma. Nowhere in the Balkan peninsula or in the Near East are races and nationalities so inextricably intermingled as in Macedonia. The population includes large numbers of Bulgars, Greeks, Serbs, Roumanian Vlacks, Turks and Jews. Much of the difficulty of the Macedonian problem lies in the communal antagonisms of these peoples, and in the ambitions of the neighboring Balkan States, and in the sympathy of their inhabitants for the Macedonian members of their own nationality. The strategic position of Macedonia, especially Salonika, controlling one of the principal highways of trade between the Near East and central and western Europe and the Drang nach Osten ambitions of the Dual Monarchy added to the complexity and difficulty of the problem. That the Macedonian question developed into an almost constant source of anxiety to the diplomatists and statesmen of Europe for many years prior to 1914 and became in large measure the causa causans of the Balkan wars of 1912-1913, thereby contributing materially to the outbreak of the World War, must be imputed in large measure to the Balkan settlement arranged by the Congress of Berlin.

The Treaty of San Stefano had included nearly all of Macedonia in the Great Bulgaria which Russia designed to establish. But the Congress of Berlin, influenced by a natural and not wholly unjustified suspicion of Russia, decided that Macedonia should remain under Turkish rule with only a few vague guarantees for improved government. Experiences soon showed that these guarantees were wholly ineffective. The decision to leave Macedonia under Turkish rule was the fatal error of the Congress of Berlin.

Balkan rivalry in Macedonia, 1885-1897

Turkish administration, despite the projected law of vilayets of 1880 (a measure agreed upon between the Turkish Government and European commissioners, but never promulgated), went on unchanged, embodying the customary evils of Turkish rule. Conditions were perhaps no worse than for generations past, but they were becoming more and more out of harmony with the advancing times. The Bulgarian Revolution of 1885 altered the situation. The people of the strengthened principality began to aid their still subjugated brethren. At first they used only peaceful methods by instituting and supporting schools and churches, and working to secure Bulgarian bishoprics according to the firman of 1870, which instituted the Bulgarian Exarchate. A Bulgarian bishop could be appointed for a district in which two-thirds of the inhabitants were shown to be Bulgarian. Two or three appointments were secured in 1890 and a like number in 1894. The Bulgarian educational work developed along propagandist lines, which were rivaled by similar efforts of Greeks, Serbians, and, after a time, Roumanians. Committees were organized, with more or less connivance of officials. An insurrection in Bulgarian interest was attempted in 1895, but failed.

Macedonia and the Turko - Greek war of 1897

At the time of the Greco-Turkish war of 1897 action on the part of Bulgaria and Serbia was prevented by an agreement reached between Austria and Russia to preserve the status quo in European Turkey. The remaining powers were glad to escape the responsibility and practically commissioned the two empires to act for all. Plans of uniting Macedonia with Bulgaria, or dividing it between the neighboring Christian States, or securing for it separate autonomy or independence, were laid aside, and for 10 years the futile method of attempting to reform the Turkish rule was the only one omitted by the Concert of Europe.

Agitation in Macedonia, 1899-1902

Such was not the will of the Balkan peoples. In January, 1899, a Macedonian committee was organized at Sofia, to work for an autonomous regime in Macedonia, under a governor-general chosen for five years from the "predominant nationality." Greeks and Serbians could see in such a plan only a Bulgarian advantage. The committees in the different small states began to encourage brigand bands, on the theory that if Macedonia be made anarchial by robbery, rape and murder, fire and sword, Europe would be aroused to genuine and effective action. Europe took little notice, however, until 1902, when conditions had become exceedingly serious. The Sultan then sought to anticipate interference by himself instituting changes. In November he ordered the organization of a mixed gendarmerie, under an inspector general with the rank of vizier.

The Morzsteg Program, 1903

It was felt that the Sultan's plan did not go far enough, and in February, 1903, Austria-Hungary and Russia transmitted a memorandum, which urged the use of foreign officers to command the new gendarmerie, that Mohammedans Christians should compose it in proportion to population, and better financial arrangements for the support of the scheme. This plan met with the approval of the other powers. The Porte accepted the modifications, but matters became much worse in the summer of 1903, and it was evident that more must be done. The Emperors of Austria and Russia met at the end of September, and their chancellors, Counts Goluchowski and Lamsdorff, proceeded to draw up the new "Mürzsteg program," which was intended to strengthen and elaborate the plan of February. Austrian and Russian civil agents were to be attached to the inspector. A foreign general was to command the gendarmerie, and certain much-needed administrative and judicial improvements were to be made with the participation of the Christian population. The Porte bent before the will of the great powers, the new generals were appointed, and the other changes taken in hand. In 1904 the Bulgarian and Turkish Governments agreed on measures for the prevention of the activities of irregular armed bands. The situation was improved somewhat, but brigandage did not cease. Nor did the Turkish officials, who resented the presence of foreign officers, mend their ways materially.

British note of May 18, 1906

In 1905 the British Government, feeling that further steps should be taken, took the initiative in proposing financial reforms. This resulted in a note of May 18, 1906, aimed mainly at securing more revenues to support the administration in Macedonia (the three vilayets of Saloniki, Monastir, and Uskub). The Porte of course, accepted the recommendation, especially since it was accompanied by the consent of the powers to increase the duties on goods imported into Turkey. But anarchy continued, and threatened to make of Macedonia a shambles and a desert. It was evident that the attempt at settlement by Turkish reform could have no success.

Anglo - Russian project for reforms, 1908

The difficulty was that the agreement of Austria and Russia in suppressing their mutual rivalry, suppressed also nearly all action. A wholly new face was put upon affairs by the understanding arrived at between England and Russia on August 31, 1907. The opposition of 50 years' duration was changed into harmonious action, the effect of which speedily became apparent in Turkish affairs. In March of 1908 the former arrangements for Macedonia were pronged for six years. Sir Edward Grey set forth in the House of Commons a plan which would take the step, so long deferred, of virtually withdrawing the region from Turkish control. Macedonia was to have a governor general nominated by the powers and the number of Turkish troops was to be reduced. Russia joined promptly in the recommendation, adding further details in the direction of strengthening European control. The legal sovereignty of Turkey was to be insisted upon in order to check the ambitions of the neighboring small nations.

The project created great emotion in Turkey, and, in conjunction with the Reval Interview, was one of the elements which led to the Revolution of July, 1908. The Young Turks expected to save Macedonia for Turkey by a complete change of government. The powers and the Balkan States willingly gave them a chance, and the whole structure and scheme of foreign interference was immediately withdrawn.

Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey, Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870-1914

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