TWENTY YEARS OF BALKAN TANGLE BY M. EDITH DURHAM.
AUTHOR OF THE BURDEN OF THE BALKANS, HIGH ALBANIA, THE STRUGGLE FOR SCUTARI, ETC.
LONDON: GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD. RUSKIN HOUSE, 40 MUSEUM STREET, W.C.1
First published 1920
(All rights reserved)
"And let men beware how they neglect and suffer Matter of Trouble to be prepared; for no Man can forbid the Sparke nor tell whence it come." BACON.
MINE is but a tale of small straws; but of small straws carefully collected. And small straws show whence the wind blows. There are currents and cross currents which may make a whirlwind.
For this reason the tale of the plots and counterplots through which I lived in my many years of Balkan travel, seems worth the telling. Events which were incomprehensible at the time have since been illumined by later developments, and I myself am surprised to find how accurately small facts noted in my diaries, fit in with official revelations.
Every detail, every new point of view, may help the future history in calmer days than these, to a just understanding of the world catastrophe. It is with this hope that I record the main facts of the scenes I witnessed and in which I sometimes played a part.
M. E. DURHAM.
CHAPTER 1. PICKING UP THE THREADS CHAPTER 2. MONTENEGRO AND HER RULERS CHAPTER 3. FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF LAND AND PEOPLE CHAPTER 4. SERBIA AND THE WAY THERE CHAPTER 5. WHAT WAS BEHIND IT ALL CHAPTER 6. THE GREAT SERBIAN IDEA CHAPTER 7. 1903 AND WHAT HAPPENED CHAPTER 8. MACEDONIA 1903-1904 CHAPTER 9. ALBANIA CHAPTER 10. MURDER WILL OUT CHAPTER 11. 1905 CHAPTER 12. BOSNIA AND THE HERZEGOVINA CHAPTER 13. BOSNIA IN 1906. THE PLOT THICKENS CHAPTER 14. 1907 CHAPTER 15. 1908: A FATEFUL YEAR CHAPTER 16. 1909. CHAPTER 17. 1910 CHAPTER 18. 1911 AND THE INSURRECTION OF THE CATHOLICS CHAPTER 19. 1912. THE FIRST DROPS OF THE THUNDERSTORM CHAPTER 20. 1914. CHAPTER 21. THE YEARS OF THE WAR INDEX.
TWENTY YEARS OF BALKAN TANGLE
PICKING UP THE THREADS
It was in Cetinje in August, 1900, that I first picked up a thread of the Balkan tangle, little thinking how deeply enmeshed I should later become, and still less how this tangle would ultimately affect the whole world. Chance, or the Fates, took me Near Eastward. Completely exhausted by constant attendance on an invalid relative, the future stretched before me as endless years of grey monotony, and escape seemed hopeless. The doctor who insisted upon my having two months' holiday every year was kinder than he knew. "Take them in quite a new place," he said. "Get right away no matter where, so long as the change is complete."
Along with a friend I boarded an Austrian Lloyd steamer at Trieste, and with high hopes but weakened health, started for the ports of the Eastern Adriatic.
Threading the maze of mauve islets set in that incomparably blue and dazzling sea; touching every day at ancient towns where strange tongues were spoken and yet stranger garments worn, I began to feel that life after all might be worth living and the fascination of the Near East took hold of me.
A British Consul, bound to Asia Minor, leaned over the bulwark and drew a long breath of satisfaction. "We are in the East!" he said. "Can't you smell it? I feel I am going home. You are in the East so soon as you cross Adria." He added tentatively: "People don't understand. When you go back to England they say, 'How glad you must be to get home!' They made me spend most of my leave on a house-boat on the Thames, and of all the infernal things. ...
"I laughed. I did not care if I never saw England again. . . .
"You won't ever go back again now, will you?" he asked whimsically, after learning whence I came. "I must," said I, sadly. "Oh don't," said he; "tell them you can't, and just wander about the East." He transshipped shortly and disappeared, one of many passing travellers with whom one is for a few moments on common ground. Our voyage ended at Cattaro and there every one, Baedeker included, said it was correct to drive up to Cetinje. Then you could drive down next day and be able to say ever afterwards, "I have travelled in Montenegro."
It was in Cetinje that it was borne in on me that I had found the "quite new place" which I sought. Thus Fate led me to the Balkans.
Cetinje then was a mere red-roofed village conspicuous on the mountain-ringed plain. Its cottages were but one storeyed for the most part, and contained some three thousand inhabitants. One big building stood up on the left of the road as the traveller entered.
"No. That is not the palace of the Prince," said the driver. "It is the Austro-Hungarian Legation."
Austria had started the great Legation building competition which occupied the Great Powers for the next few years. Each Power strove to erect a mansion in proportion to the amount of "influence" it sought to obtain in this "sphere." Russia at once followed. Then came Italy, with France hard on her heels. England, it is interesting to note, started last; by way of economizing bought an old house, added, tinkered and finally at great expense rebuilt nearly the whole of it and got it quite done just before the outbreak of the Great War, when it was beginning to be doubtful if Montenegro would ever again require a British Legation. But this is anticipating.
In 1900 most of the Foreign Ministers Plenipotentiary dwelt in cottages or parlour-boarded at the Grand Hotel, the focus of civilization, where they dined together at the Round Table of Cetinje, presided over by Monsieur Piguet, the Swiss tutor of the young Princes; a truly tactful man whom I have observed to calm a heated altercation between two Great Powers by switching off the conversation from such a delicate question as: "Which Legation has the finest flag, France or Italy?" to something of international interest such as: "Which washer-woman in Cetinje gets up shirt fronts best?" For Ministers Plenipotentiary, when not artificially inflated with the importance of the land they represent, are quite like ordinary human beings.
Their number and variety caused me to ask: "But why are so many Powers represented in such a hole of a place?" And the Italian architect who was designing the Russian Legation replied, more truly than he was perhaps aware: "Because Montenegro is the matchbox upon which the next European war will be lighted!"
Cetinje was then extraordinarily picturesque. The Prince did all he could to emphasize nationality. National dress was worn by all. So fine was the Court dress of Montenegro that oddly enough Prince Nikola was about the only ruling Sovereign in Europe who really looked like one. The inroads of Cook's tourists had stopped his former custom of hobnobbing with visitors, and he dodged with dignity and skill the attempts of American snapshotters to corner him and say: "How do, Prince!"
A vivid picture remains in my mind of the Royal Family as it filed out of church on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin. The Prince, heavy-built, imposing, gorgeous; his hair iron grey, ruddy-faced, hook-nosed, keen-eyed. Danilo, his heir, crimped, oiled and self-conscious, in no respect a chip of the old block, who had married the previous year, Jutta, daughter of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg Strelitz, who, on her reception into the Orthodox Church, took the name of Militza. Montenegro was still excited about the wedding. She looked dazzlingly fair among her dark "in-laws." Old Princess Milena came, stately and handsome, her hair, still black, crowning her head with a huge plait. Prince Mirko, the second son, was still a slim and good looking youth. Petar, the youngest, a mere child, mounted a little white pony and galloped past in the full dress of an officer, reining up and saluting with a tiny sword as he passed his father. The crowd roared applause. It was all more like a fairy tale than real life. But the black coated Ministers Plenipotentiary were all quite real.
From Cetinje we went to Podgoritza where for the first time I saw Albanians. Podgoritza was full of them, all in national dress, for Montenegro had as yet done little towards suppressing this. Nor in this first visit did I go further inland.
But I had found "the land where I could have a complete change"; had learnt, too, of the Great Serbian Idea; had had the meaning of the Montenegrin cap explained to me; and been told how the reconstruction of the Great Serb Empire of the Middle Ages was what Montenegro lived for. Also that the first step in that direction must be the taking of the Sanjak of Novibazar, which had been formed as a barrier between the two branches of the Serb race by the Powers at the Berlin Congress. To me it sounded then fantastic—operatic. I had yet to learn that the opera bouffe of the Balkans is written in blood and that those who are dead when the curtain falls, never come to life again.
So much for Montenegro. We returned after a run to Trebinje, Serajevo and Mostar, to the Dalmatian coast and Trieste.
First impressions are vivid. There is a certain interest in the fact that I recorded Spalato in my diary as the first Slav town on our way south from Trieste and that my letter thence was dated Spljet, the Slav form of the name.
The one pre-eminently Italian town of Dalmatia is Zara. From Zara south, the language becomes more and more Slav. But the Slav speaking peasants that flock to market are by no means the same in physical type as the South Slavs of the Bosnian Hinterland. It is obvious that they are of other blood. They are known as Morlachs, that is Sea Vlachs, and historically are in all probability descendants of the pre-Slav native population which, together with the Roman colonists, fled coast ward before the inrush of the Slav invaders of the seventh century. Latin culture clung along the coast and was reinforced later by the Venetians. And a Latin dialect was spoken until recent times, dying out on the island of Veglio at the end of the nineteenth century. The Slavizing process which has steadily gone on is due, partly to natural pressure coastward of the Slav masses of the Hinterland and partly to artificial means.
Austria, who ever since the break-up of the Holy Roman Empire, had recognized Italy as a possible danger, had mitigated this by drawing Italy into the Triple Alliance. But she was well aware that fear of France, not love of Austria, made Italy take this step. Therefore to reduce the danger of a strong Italia Irredenta on the east of Adria she encouraged Atavism against Italianism, regarding the ignorant and incoherent Slavs as less dangerous than the industrious and scientific Italians. Similarly, England decided that the half-barbarous Russians were less likely to be commercial rivals than the industrious and scientific Germans, and sided with Russia.
Future historians will judge the wisdom of these decisions.
During the fourteen years in which I went up and down the coast, the Slavizing process in Dalmatia visibly progressed, until the German-Austrians began to realize that they were "warming a viper," and to feel nervous. Almost yearly there were more zones in which no photographs might be taken and more forts were built.
Having picked up the thread of the Balkans the next thing was to learn a Balkan language, for in 1900 scarcely a soul in Montenegro spoke aught but Serb. Nor was any dictionary of the language to be bought at Cetinje. The one bookshop of Montenegro was carefully supervised by the Prince, who saw to it that the people should read nothing likely to disturb their ideas, and the literature obtainable was mainly old national ballads and the poetical works of the Prince and his father, Grand Voy voda Mirko.
In London in 1900 it was nearly impossible to find a teacher of Serb, and a New Testament from the Bible Society was the only book available. Finally a Pole—a political refugee from Russia and a student of all Slav languages—undertook to teach me. English he knew none, and but little German and had been but a few weeks in England.
I asked for his first impressions. His reply was unexpected. What surprised him most was that the English thought Russia a Great Power and were even afraid of her. I explained that Russia was a monster ready to spring on our Indian frontier—that she possessed untold wealth and countless hordes. He laughed scornfully. In halting German he said "Russia is nothing—nothing. The wealth is underground. They have not the sense to get it. Their Army is large, but it is rotten. All Russia is rotten. If there is a war the Russian Army will be—will be—" he stammered for a word—"will be like this!" He snatched up a piece of waste paper, crumpled it and flung it contemptuously into the waste paper basket.
I never forgot the gesture. Later, when folk foretold Japan's certain defeat if she tackled the monster, and in 1914 talked crazily of "the Russian steam-roller" I saw only that crumpled rag of paper flying into the basket. By that time I had seen too much of the Slav to trust him in any capacity. But this is anticipating.
MONTENEGRO AND HER RULERS
In days of old the priest was King, Obedient to his nod, Man rushed to slay his brother man As sacrifice to God.
THE events seen by the casual traveller are meaningless if he knows not what went before. They are mere sentences from the middle of a book he has not read. Before going further we must therefore tell briefly of Montenegro's past. It is indeed a key to many of the Near Eastern problems, for here in little, we see the century-old "pull devil-pull baker" tug between Austria and Russia, Teuton and Slav, for dominion.
In 1900, Montenegro, which was about the size of Yorkshire, consisted of some thirty plemena or tribes. A small core, mainly Cetinaajes, Nyegushi, Rijeka and Kchevo formed old Montenegro. To this was added the Brda group, which joined Montenegro voluntarily in the eighteenth century, in order to fight against the Turks. These are mainly of Albanian blood and were all Roman Catholics at the time of their annexation, but have since been converted to the Orthodox Church and Slavized. It is noteworthy that they are now strenuously resisting annexation by Serbia. Thirdly, came the extensive lands, some of them wholly Albanian, annexed to Montenegro in 1878 under the Treaty of Berlin, much of which, in spite of the efforts of the Montenegrin Government, is by no means Slavized.
Certain other small districts have also from time to time been joined to Montenegro at different times, e.g. Grahovo. Each of the Montenegrin tribes has a distinct tradition of origin from an individual or family. They tell almost invariably of immigration into their present site in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Thus Nyegushi in 1905 told me of descent from two brothers Jerak and Raiko, who fled from Nyegushi in the Herzegovina fourteen generations ago. The Royal family, the Petrovitches, traces descent from Jerak. If we take thirty years as a generation this gives us 1485. The Turks had then begun to overrun Bosnia and the Herzegovina.
Ivan Tsrnoievitch, chief of the tribes of the Zeta, was so hard pressed by the oncoming Turks that he burnt his capital of Zhablyak and withdrew to the mountains, where he founded Cetinje in 1484. Tradition thus corresponds closely with historic fact. The strength of Turkish influence is shown by the fact that even to-day the peasant speaks of Ivan as Ivan Beg.
The oft-repeated tale that Montenegro was founded by the refugees from Kosovo is thus we see mythical, as Kosovo was fought a century earlier in 1389. Lineally, the Montenegrins are Bosnians, Herzegovinians and Albanians rather than Serbs of Serbia. Bosnia and the Herzegovina were independent of the old Kingdom of Serbia, which explains much of the reluctance of Montenegro to be to-day incorporated by the Serbs.
Ivan and his refugee tribes successfully resisted the Turkish attacks on their stronghold and were helped by Venice. But conversions to Islam became frequent. One of Ivan's own sons turned Turk and fought against Montenegro. Finally, the last of the Trsnoievitch line, Ivan II, who had married a Venetian wife, decided that the leadership of a band of outlaws in the poverty-stricken mountains was not good enough. He retired to the fleshpots of Venice, trusting the defence of the district to a civil, hereditary leader and charging the Vladika [Bishop] with the duty of preventing ore of his flock going over to Islam, as the Serbs of Bosnia were now doing in great numbers.
It has been inaccurately represented that Montenegro was singular in being ruled by her Bishop. In this respect Montenegro in no way differed from other Christian districts ruled by the Turks who, with a tolerance at that date rare, recognized everywhere the religion of the country and entrusted all the affairs of the Christians to their own ecclesiastics. To the Turks, the Montenegrin tribes and the Albanian tribes of the mountains—who had also their own Bishops —were but insubordinate tribes against whom they sent punitive expeditions when taxes were in arrears and raids became intolerable. The Montenegrins descended from their natural fortress and plundered the fat flocks of the plain lands. They existed mainly by brigandage as their sheep-stealing ballads tell, and the history of raid and punitive expedition is much like that of our Indian frontier.
Till 1696 the Vladikas were chosen according to the usual methods of the Orthodox Church. After that date they were, with one exception, members of the Petrovitch family. This has been vaguely accounted for by saying that to prevent quarrels the Montenegrins decided to make the post hereditary in the Petrovitch family. As the Vladika was celibate, his successor had to be chosen from among members of his family. Later events, however, throw much light on this alleged interference with the rules of the Orthodox Church.
In June, 1696, Danilo Petrovitch, of Nyegushi, who, be it noted, was already in holy orders, was chosen as Vladika. A man of well-known courage such as the country needed, he accepted office, but was not consecrated till 1700. Till then the Vladikas of Montenegro had been consecrated by the Serb Patriarch at Ipek. But in 1680 Arsenius the Patriarch had decided to accept the protection of Austria and emigrated to Karlovatz with most of his flock. The turns of fortune's wheel are odd. The Serbs have more than once owed almost their existence to Austrian intervention. The Turks permitted the appointment of another Serb Patriarch, but Serb influence in the district waned rapidly and the Albanians rapidly resettled the lands from which their forefathers had been evicted. In 1769 the Phanariotes suppressed the Serb Patriarchate altogether, for the Greek was ever greedy of spreading over the whole peninsula, and the Vladika of Montenegro was thus the only head of a Serb Church in the Balkans and gained much in importance.
Danilo was a born ruler. He soon absorbed all the temporal power, and latterly left matters ecclesiastic to his nephew Sava.
The outstanding feature of his rule was his suppression of Mahommedanism. At this time conversions to Islam were increasing. Danilo, when on a visit to the plain of Podgoritza, to consecrate a small church by permission of the Pasha of Scutari, was taken prisoner by the local Moslems, though he had been promised safe conduct, and put up to ransom. He was bought off only by the sacrifice of the church plate of the monastery, and returned home hot with anger.
To avenge the insult and clear the land of Islam he organized the wholesale massacre of the Moslems of Montenegro. On Christmas Eve 1703 an armed band, led by the Martinovitches, rushed from house to house slaughtering all who refused baptism. Next morning the murderers came to the church, says the song: "Their arms were bloody to the shoulders." Danilo, flushed with joy, cried: "Dear God we thank Thee for all things!" A thanksgiving was held and a feast followed. Danilo thus gained extraordinary popularity. Such is the fame of his Christmas Eve that it was enthusiastically quoted to me in the Balkan War of 1912-13 as an example to be followed, and baptisms were enforced with hideous cruelty. The Balkan Christian of to-day is no whit less cruel than the Turk and is more fanatical.
Danilo's prestige after this massacre was so great that the tribes of the Brda formed a defensive alliance with him against the Turks. And his fame flew further, for Russia, now for the first time, appeared in Montenegro. Peter the Great sent his Envoy Miloradovitch to Cetinje in 1711—a date of very great importance, for from it begins modern Balkan policy and the power of the Petrovitches. Peter claimed the Montenegrins as of one blood and one faith with Russia and called on them to fight the Turk and meet him at Constantinople where they would together "glorify the Slav name; destroy the brood of the Agas and build up temples to the true faith."
The Montenegrins rushed to the fray with wild enthusiasm and on the high ground between Rijeka and Podgoritza won the battle called "The Field of the Sultan's Felling," such was the number of Turks who, entangled in the thorn bushes, were slaughtered wholesale, as the Montenegrin driver recounts to this day when he passes the spot.
A great victory—but Russia and Montenegro have not yet met at Constantinople. The Turks sent a strong punitive force and, not for the first time, burnt the monastery at Cetinje, wasted the land and doubtless removed enough gear to pay the haratch [tax] which Danilo had refused.
1715 is noteworthy as the date of Danilo's visit to Petersburg, when he was given the first of the many subsidies which the Tsars have bestowed till recently upon the Petrovitch family.
In a land which is rat-poor, the family which has wealth has power. The Petrovitches had gained power and they kept it. Fighting almost till the last, Danilo died full of years and fame, in 1735, and named his nephew Sava, who had acted for some time as ecclesiastical head, as his successor.
Sava had no ambition to be aught but a Churchman. He built the monastery of Stanjevitch and retired to it, leaving his nephew Vassili to govern.
Vassili, who was already in holy orders, had much of the quality of Danilo. He organized the defence of the land and defeated more than one attack upon it. Montenegro was now largely fighting against the Moslem Serbs of Bosnia and the Herzegovina. In fact the "Turk" with whom the Balkan Christian waged war was as often as not his compatriot, turned Moslem.
Vassili and Sava further strengthened their alliance with Russia by visiting Petersburg, where the Empress Elizabeth promised them a yearly subsidy of 3,000 roubles and money for schools. Vassili died in Russia in 1766 and Sava was left to manage alone.
He was quite unfit and his post was usurped by a remarkable imposter who appeared suddenly in Montenegro and said he was Peter III of Russia, who had been murdered in 1706. Russia was a name to conjure with. He thrilled the credulous tribesmen with tales of his escape and adventures. In the words of an old ballad: "He is known as Stefan the Little. The nation turns to him as a child to its father. They have dismissed their headmen, their Serdars, Knezhes and Voyvodas. All eyes turn to him and hail him as Tsar." Sava returned to his monastery and the imposter reigned. Even the Patriarch of Ipek who was on the verge of dismissal, cried for the protection of Stefan Mali, who set to work to govern with great energy. Venice, alarmed by his popularity, joined with the Turks and attacked Montenegro, but was repulsed. Russia, seeing her influence waning with the departed Sava, sent an Envoy to denounce the impostor. But "nothing succeeds like success." Stefan Mali had such a hold over the ignorant tribesmen that Russia, seeing Sava was useless, recognized Stefan as ruler. He reigned five more years and was murdered in 1774 by, it was said, an agent of the Pasha of Scutari. He is believed to have been of humble Bosnia origin and was one of the few successful impostors of history.
Sava had perforce to return to the world, and owing to his incapacity the post of Civil Governor of Montenegro now became important. The office, till now held always by a Vukotitch, had meant little save the leadership of tribal Soviets or councils. The Vukotitches exchanged the office with the Radonitches for that of Serdar, and under the title of Gubernator the first Radonitch rose to power.
This is a very important period for now for the first time Austria appears on the scene and the long diplomatic struggle with Russia for power in Montenegro begins.
In 1779 an appeal to the Emperor of Austria was sent, signed by Ivan Radonitch, Gubernator; Ivan Petrovitch, Serdar; and lastly by Petar Petrovitch, Archimandrite and Deputy-Metropolitan. From which we must conclude that Sava had definitely retired from power. From this date for several years Ivan Radonitch always signed first. He had just returned from a fruitless trip to Russia, and was seeking help from Austria. Sava died in 1783 and was succeeded by Vladika Plamenatz, a fact which, though well known in Montenegro, is rigidly excluded from her official history by the Petrovitches, whose version, the only "authorized" one, is constructed with more regard to the glory of their dynasty than historic truth.
On Sava's death the Radonitch party at once welcomed the first Austrian Mission to Montenegro and accommodated it in Sava's monastery. One of the Envoys has left a vivid picture of Montenegro in those days.
"The nation has no police, no laws. A kind of equality reigns. The headmen have only a certain authority for managing ordinary business and settling blood-feuds. The father of Radonitch was the first to whom the nation gave the title Gubernator in order to gain the respect of the Venetians and Turks. The Gubernator summons the Serdars, Voyvodas and Knezhes. They meet in the open air. The General Assembly takes place at the village of Cetinje. . . . The Vladika, or at least a couple of monks, are present. The Serdars similarly call local meetings of headmen and thus arrange peace between two families or villages. Their power consists only of persuasion. In practice murder is usually avenged by murder. The land has one Metropolitan, the Vladika, in whose eparchy are included Ipek, Kroja and Dalmatia spiritually, for the consecration of priests, he being, since the removal of the Patriarch of Ipek, the next Archbishop. But the foreign priests obey him in no respect save for consecration. His functions consist in the consecration of priests and churches. He visits the parishes but not so much for pastoral duties as for the collection of the so-called Milostina, the alms which form his payment. The monks too collect on their own behalf. The people who are very superstitious, fast rigorously and give willingly to the clergy. Their terror of excommunication makes them regard their Bishops as the highest and most respected in the land. Radonitch's father, first Gubernator, tried to obtain the highest position for himself but failed. His son now tries to, and would succeed, were he cleverer and had more money, for the Metropolitan Plamenatz is little respected and could not do much to prevent him. The Metropolitans have been used to visit Petersburg from time to time and to receive a subsidy for the Church and gifts in money and in the form of costly vestments for themselves. From which gifts, say the people, they receive no benefit. Since 1779 no Russian money has been received. The feelings of the country have consequently grown cold. People here obey only so long as they gain by so doing."
We now come upon the first notice of the development of the Great Serbian Idea, as a definite political plan in Montenegro. The Austrian Envoy writes:
"The following which was told me by a Montenegrin monk is worthy of further consideration. A little while after the Russian war was ended in 1773 a plan was made by the Metropolitan and some monks to reconstruct the old Serbian Kingdom and to include in it besides Bulgaria, Serbia, Upper Albania, Dalmatia and Bosnia, also the Banat of Karlstadt and Slavonia. The Turks in all the provinces were to be fallen upon at a given moment by the Schismatics, and it was also resolved that all foreign officers should be cleared out of all lands within the Imperial frontiers. The late Orthodox Bishop Jaksitch of Karlstadt is said to have agreed and carried on a correspondence with the Metropolitan of Montenegro by means of priests. . . . Though the carrying out of such a plan is very difficult, yet the project should not be left out of consideration."
The Petrovitch ambition to form and rule over Great Serbia was thus, we see, actually elaborated long before Serbia had obtained independence and before the Karageorgevitches had even been heard of. This explains much that has since happened.
Further the Envoy replies to the question: Whether or not Montenegro can be considered independent?—thus:
"From the frontier drawn by the Venetians with the Turks it follows that Montenegro belongs to the Turks. The nation does not deny that it has been twice conquered by the Turks, who, each time, destroyed Cetinje and the Monastery, where some Turks even settled, but were driven out. In 1768 they were forced to pay tribute by the Vezir of Bosnia. The Montenegrins on the plains, in fact, pay tribute. The Katunska and Rijeka nahias alone have paid no tribute since 1768. These facts show Montenegro belongs to the Porte.
"The Montenegrins on the contrary maintain that they have never recognized Turkish rule, and never paid tribute save when forced by overpowering numbers; that they do not recognize the assigning of their nahias to the Pashas of Spuzh and Scutari; that they have chosen a Gubernator whose title has not been disputed; that they rule themselves without Turkish interference. In truth, however, the apparent independence of the land depends as much on its mountainous character as on the courage of the inhabitants. The difficulties of the land make it more trouble than it is worth."
The country is described as completely lawless. Blood feuds rage between rival families and in seven months a hundred men have been killed in vengeance. Over this wild group of tribes Russia and Austria now struggled for influence. In 1782 Ivan Radonitch went for seven months to Vienna. Montenegro could not (and cannot) possibly exist without foreign aid. And he sought it.
But the Emperor Joseph II decided that to organize Montenegro as an Ally "would, in peace, be costly and in war of insufficient use." He withdrew the Mission but, to retain Montenegro's goodwill, allotted a small annual subsidy of which 500 ducats were to go to Radonitch, and but 150 to Vladika Plamenatz.
Russia, however, would not let Montenegro slip from her grasp. In May, 1788, a Russian Envoy arrived and began countermining Austria. Austria retorted by sending another Envoy, who reports complete anarchy and ceaseless inter-tribal fighting:
"Some were with us; some sought to destroy us; some fought the Turks; some were in alliance with them. They have a Bishop, Governor and Serdar, but these are mere names. People obey only if they can gain by so doing. We even heard a common man say to the Bishop's face: 'Holy Bishop, you lie like a hound! I will cut out your heart on the point of my knife.' Except that they keep the fasts they have no religion. They rob, steal, and have many wives. Some sell women and girls to the Turks and commit other crimes as one hears daily. All is done with the animal impulse of desire, or hatred, or selfishness. The inhabitants are used to raid neighbourlands for cattle, etc., and are even led by their priests on these expeditions which they think heroic."
This vivid account will be recognized as the truth by all who have lived in native huts and listened to local tradition. It describes the life of the Balkan Christian up till recent days. My Montenegrin guide used to lament the good old times when a second wife could be taken and no fuss made; and when as many as fifteen men were shot in a feud; and his great uncle had commanded a pirate ship which plied between the Adriatic and the Aegean.
There is nothing new under the sun. In 1788, as in the twentieth century, we find the rival Powers trying to buy partisans. "We never could satisfy them," says the Austrian Envoy. "When we thought we had won him with one gift, we found next day he had joined the opposition party or demanded a new gift as if he had not had one. Even the Bishop, though he tried by all means to win our favour, could not hide from us his false intriguing heart."
The struggle was brief. Russia was victorious. Vladika Plamenatz disappeared suddenly, and the Petrovitches came again to the fore. Vladika Petar's name headed all official documents, the Gubernator fell to second rank, and the blood-feud between the Plamenatzes and the Petrovitches compelled some of the former to seek shelter with the Turks. Russia has never permitted a pro-Austrian to rule long in Slav lands. Witness the-fate of the Obrenovitches, in Serbia. Vladika Petar was a strong man, which is probably why he obtained Russian support. He drove his unruly team with much success and won its respect.
Russia and Austria came to one of their many "understandings" and in 1788 declared war together on the Turk with the expressed intention of ending the Sultan's rule. Both encouraged the Montenegrins to harry the Turkish borders. The Austrian Envoy, however, distrusted the Montenegrins and wrote: "Very much more can we rely on the faith and courage of the Catholic Albanians of the Brda, the very numerous Bijelopavlitchi, Piperi, Kuchi, Vasojevitchi, Klementi, Hoti, etc., who could muster 20,000 very outrageous fighters whom the Sultan fears more than he does the Montenegrins." A passage of great interest, for to-day many of these Albanian tribes, having fallen under Montenegrin rule, have been completely Slavized and have 'joined the Orthodox Church.
Some of these tribes did support Austria, were left in the lurch by her when she made peace in 1791, and were punished by the Turks. Part of the Klementi dared not return home and settled in Hungary, where their descendants still live.
Montenegro was mentioned in the Treaty of Sistova merely as a rebellious Turkish province, but Vladika Petar had gained much power, for the Brda tribes now definitely accepted him as their head and the Tsutsi and Bijelitch tribes emigrated into Montenegro from the Herzegovina and were given land.
The Turks forcibly opposed the union of the Brda with Montenegro, but could not prevent it, and in the fight the Pasha of Scutari was killed. His head, on a stake, for long adorned the tower at Cetinje.
A hard blow was now struck at Montenegro. The Venetians in 1797 ceded the Bocche di Cattaro to Austria. Till then the frontier had been vague. The Vladika was spiritual head of the Bocchese and the Montenegrins considered them as part of themselves. The new frontier caused much wrath. Russia hurried to support the Vladika. Austria strove in vain for influence. Her Envoy wrote in 1798, "The Gubernator sees his authority daily weakening while that of the Vladika increases." He says the frontier must be fixed "so as to force this horde of brigands to remain within the frontiers which they cross only to molest his Majesty's subjects and make them victims of brigandage. The Metropolitan and the Gubernator have given no satisfaction to the complaints daily addressed to them."
No. They did not. For they had a strong backing. Up hurried a special Envoy of the Tsar with rich gifts for the Vladika, who received him with a salute of guns, and further insulted Austria by hoisting the Russian flag over the Monastery. "Devil and Baker" had both pulled. Which won? I leave that to the reader.
Russia was now ruling power in Montenegro. When Napoleon's troops appeared in the Near East the Montenegrins joined the Russian forces and attacked the French at Ragusa where their ferocity horrified even the hardened soldiers of Napoleon. A Ragusan gave me her grandfather's account of the yelling horde of savage mountaineers who rushed into battle with the decapitated heads of their foes dangling from their necks and belts, sparing no one, pillaging and destroying, and enraging the Russian officers by rushing home so soon as they had secured booty worth carrying off. In considering the Near East of to-day it should never be forgotten that but a century ago much of the population was as wild as the Red Indians of the same date.
The French held the Bocche di Cattaro some years during which the Vladika, as Russia's ally, flatly refused to come to terms with them. And in 1813, so soon as Napoleon's defeat became known Vladika Petar and Vuko Radonitch, the new Gubernator, summoned the tribesmen, swooped down on Cattaro, stormed the Trinity fort and captured Budua. A short-lived triumph. Russia, wishing peace with Austria and having no further use for Montenegro, ordered the Vladika to yield his newly conquered lands and they were formally allotted to Austria by Treaty.
During these years the resurrection of Serbia was taking place. In this Montenegro was unable to take active part, being more than enough occupied with her own affairs. But the Vladika himself sang Karageorge's heroism and tried to send a force to his aid.
Vladika Petar I died in 1830. He left Montenegro larger and stronger than he found it, for he had worked hard to unite the ever-quarrelling tribes by establishing laws to suppress blood-feuds. Inability to cohere is ever the curse of Slav lands. Only a strong autocrat has as yet welded them. Petar earned the fame he bears in the land.
His body is to this day deeply reverenced by the superstitious mountaineers. Some years after burial it was found to have been miraculously preserved from decay and he was thereupon canonized under the name of St. Petar Cetinski.
When dying he nominated as his successor his nephew Rada, then a lad not yet in holy orders, and made his chiefs swear to support him.
Such an irregular proceeding as appointing a youth of seventeen to an Archbishopric could hardly have been carried out, even in the Balkans, had it not been for the terror of a dead man's curse—a thing still dreaded in the land. And also for the fact that Rada's election had the support too of Vuko Radonitch the Gubernator.
Vuko hoped doubtless to obtain the upper hand over such a young rival. Rada, with no further training, was at once consecrated as Vladika Petar II by the Bishop of Prizren and this strange consecration was confirmed later at Petersburg, whither the young Petrovitch duly went.
Russia has all along consistently furthered her influence and plans in the Balkans by planting suitable Bishops as political agents. Russia was now powerful in Montenegro. A Russian officer led the clans a-raiding into Turkey and returned with so many decapitated heads to adorn Cetinje, that the Tsar thought fit to protest. The tug between Austria and Russia continued. Vuko, the Gubernator, and his party, finding the youthful Archbishop taking the upper hand with Russian aid, entered into negotiations with Austria. The plot was, however, detected. Vuko fled to Austria. His brother was assassinated; the family house at Nyegushi was burnt down and the family exiled. Russia would tolerate no influence but her own and had begun in fact the same policy she afterwards developed in Serbia. From that date—1832—the office of Gubernator was abolished. Imitation is the sincerest flattery. The Petrovitches began to model themselves on their patrons, the Tsars, and strove for absolutism.
Petar II ranks high as author and poet. He further organized the laws against the blood-feuds which were sapping the strength of the nation and ingeniously ordered a murderer to be shot by a party made up of one man from each tribe. As the relatives of the dead man could not possibly avenge themselves on every tribe in the land the murder-sequence had perforce to end. To reconcile public opinion to this form of punishment he permitted the condemned man to run for his life. If the firing party missed him, he was pardoned. The point gained was that the murder became the affair of the central government, not of the local one.
Petar also did much to start education in the land. He died before he was forty of tuberculosis, in 1851, one of the early victims of the disease which shortly afterwards began to ravage Montenegro and has killed many Petrovitches.
He named as his successor his nephew Danilo.
Danilo's accession is a turning point in Montenegrin history. He at once stated that he did not wish to enter holy orders and would accept temporal power only. He was, in fact, about to marry a lady who was an Austrian Slav. For this, the consent of Russia had to be obtained, for till now it was through the Church that Russia had ruled in Montenegro. She had ever—with the sole exception of the usurper Stefan Mali—supported the Vladika against the Gubernator. This office was, however, now abolished. There had been difficulty more than once about transmitting the ruling power from uncle to nephew. Russia decided that she could obtain a yet firmer hold of the land if she established a directly hereditary dynasty. Danilo was proclaimed Prince and ecclesiastical affairs alone were to be administered by the Bishop.
The Sultan who had accepted the rule of the Bishop in Montenegro as in other Christian districts, protested against the recognition of an hereditary Prince and at once attacked Montenegro, which was saved by the diplomatic intervention of both Russia and Austria, neither of whom wished its destruction. Peace was made and Danilo formally recognized. He was never popular. He had received his title from Russia, but his sympathies leaned towards Austria. And he offended both Russia and his Montenegrins by refusing to take part in the Crimean war, to the wrath of the tribes who saw in it a fine opportunity for harrying their foes of the border. Attempts to enforce law and order provoked hostility among the recently annexed tribes of the Brda who, though they had voluntarily joined Montenegro as opposed to the Turks, refused flatly to pay taxes. Danilo put down this rising with great severity and gained the hatred of the revolted tribes.
But even with enforced taxation Danilo was short of funds. Russia, angry at his failure to aid her, stood aside. Danilo begged of Austria and Austria refused. Montenegro could not and cannot live without foreign support. The French—now so active again in Balkan intrigue—came in and tried to detach Danilo from their then enemy Russia, by offering him a subsidy and certain concessions from the Sultan if he would accept Turkish suzerainty.
There ensued a quarrel between the Russian agent in Cetinje, B. M. Medakovitch, and Danilo over this. Medakovitch was Danilo's private secretary. "I lived in friendship and harmony with Prince Danilo," he says, "until he said to me, 'I know you wish the Montenegrins well and highly value their liberty. But it cannot be as you wish. We must recognize the Turks in order to obtain more money.' We might have remained friends but foreign intrigues crept in. ... Enemies of our faith and name denounced me as the "friend" of Russia. My faith and blood are dear to me. But I have always kept in view the good of the nation and followed the course which ever led to the fortune of Montenegro. ... I would not agree that Montenegro's glory should be denied in accordance with the wishes of the French Consul at Scutari, who in especial is trying to destroy the power of Montenegro." (History repeats itself. The French now, 1920, are aiming at Montenegro's destruction.) "I opposed Turkish rule . . . but the headmen sided with Prince Danilo and favoured the wish of the French Consul. They were ready to accept the Turk as lord. Only I and Prince George Petrovitch opposed them."
The quarrel was heightened by the fact that Tsar Nikola I, when he died in 1855, bequeathed 5,000 ducats to Montenegro, but stipulated they were to be used for charitable purposes under Russian control. Danilo was enraged by this as he wanted the cash himself. Medakovitch refused to give it him. "He regards as his friend him who gives him gold," says a contemporary; "who gives naught is his arch-enemy." Danilo continued negotiating with France, and Medakovitch carried the 5,000 ducats out of the country to the Russian Consul-General at Ragusa.
Danilo formed a crafty plan. He sent two cunning agents to Ragusa to pretend to the Russian that Montenegro was in a state of unrest, and that they could overthrow Danilo and re-establish Russian influence if they could have the 5,000 ducats. To what more laudable end could they be expended? But the Russian was a yet more wily fox and the plan failed.
Danilo then hurried to Paris to discuss matters and while he was absent George Petrovitch led a rising against him, instigated doubtless by Medakovitch. Danilo hastily returned to Montenegro and according to a contemporary account a reign of terror followed. He feared every popular man: "Thus it is that a series of executions without trial or formal accusation has gone on for months without it being possible to see when this terrible state of things will end. Persons who to-day are the Prince's favourites are to-morrow corpses. His commands, his threats and his gold obtain for him false oaths and false documents." A fierce blood-feud which lasted in effect till a few years ago, arose between him and the Gjurashkovitches. Marko Gjurashkovitch, one of the richest and handsomest of the headmen, dared, during the Prince's absence in France, to marry the widow of Pero Petrovitch, whom Danilo had meant to bestow on his favourite Petar Vukotitch. Danilo therefore bribed heavily Gligor Milanovitch the arambasha of a brigand band, who accused Marko Gjurashkovitch and another of a treasonable plot against Danilo's life. The two were at once arrested and executed in spite of their protestations of innocence. The Gjurashkovitches fled into Turkish territory where the two still held official posts under the Turkish Government till 1912.
Danilo found his scheme for accepting Turkish suzerainty now so unpopular that he dropped it and the Turks consequently at once attacked Montenegro. The land was saved by the valour of Danilo's brother, Grand Voyvoda Mirko, whose exploits are still sung by the peasants. A great battle was fought at Grahovo. The retreat of the Turkish army was cut off and the whole was slaughtered or captured. The prisoners, according to Montenegrin custom, were hideously mutilated and the British report of them as they passed Corfu on their return struck horror in Europe. By this victory Montenegro gained more land, but owed it to the valour of Mirko rather than to Danilo.
Danilo's best work was the codification and reformation of the unwritten law of the land. Code Danilo is rude enough, but an advance upon the laws of Vladika Petar. It was printed in Italian as well as Serb. Italian, till the beginning of the present century, was the only foreign tongue that had made any way in Montenegro.
When Danilo had refused the spiritual headship of the land and had chosen marriage, the superstitious foretold that no good would come of this and that no heir of his body would succeed him.
The prophecy came true. He was assassinated in the summer of 1860 on the shore of the Bocche di Cattaro, and left but two daughters. The assassin, a Montenegrin, was arrested and executed and died without giving any explanation of his deed. It has been ascribed both to Austria and Russia—but was far more probably an act of private vengeance.
Danilo was succeeded by Nikola I the present King of Montenegro, son of Voyvoda Mirko.
Two main points stand clear from this brief sketch.
(1) That the history of Montenegro, as that of all the Balkan peoples, is but a part of the gigantic racial struggle of Slav and Teuton for command of the Near East. The Slav ever pressing Southward and Westward, the Teuton standing as a bulwark for West Europe and holding back the advancing hordes. The one non-Slavonic lace in this group, the Albanian (with the exception of a few Catholic tribes) consistently struggles also against the Slav peril and sides with its opponents.
(2) It is also markedly a struggle for the supremacy of the Orthodox Church. For with the exception of Montenegro's fights against the armies of the Pasha of Scutari and his Albanians, the enemy of Montenegro was always the Moslem Serbs of Bosnia and the Herzegovina, people, that is, who racially and linguistically and by custom are identical with the Montenegrins.
Montenegro's history continued on precisely the same lines under Nikola I, until Slavonic and Teutonic rivalry culminated in the colossal struggle which began in August 1914.
Of all the Petrovitches Nikola is one of the most remarkable. The last of the mediaeval chieftains of Europe—a survival from a past age—he is an epitome of the good and bad qualities of his race. In common with that of other half-wild races the Montenegrin mind is credulous and child-like and at the same time crafty and cunning. With a very limited outlook, the Balkan politician is wont to spend infinite ingenuity in outwitting a rival in order to gain some petty advantage, and meanwhile to lose sight entirely of the larger issues. Prince Nikola, better equipped by a western education than any of his forerunners, rapidly gained a strong hold over his ignorant subjects and in the great game of Near Eastern politics was second only to Abdul Hamid at ruse and intrigue.
From the very first he had but one ambition—the reconstruction of the Great Serbian Empire with the Petrovitches as the reigning dynasty. He lived for it and he did all possible to foster it in the minds of his people. He enforced the wearing of the national cap, invented by Vladika Petar II. Each child was taught that his cap's red crown was blood that had to be avenged. For each tribe he wrote a Kolo song to be danced to at festive gatherings, to stimulate nationalism. And for the whole country he wrote that most popular national song:
Onward, onward, let me see Prizren, For it is mine—I shall come to my home!
The throne and the castle of Tsar Dushan at Prizren became a national obsession.
And to ensure the obedience of the Soviet of headmen he appointed his redoubtable father Voyvoda Mirko as President and chose the members himself.
He was but nineteen at the time of his accession and married almost at once, Milena, daughter of Voyvoda Vukotitch of the fighting tribe of Kchevo, to whom he had been affianced in childhood, as was then customary. Their reign began stormily. The Turks thirsting to avenge Grahovo attacked Montenegro on three sides. Voyvoda Mirko led his son's forces and the Montenegrins defended themselves desperately, but were so severely outnumbered that only the intervention of the Powers saved them. So much was Mirko dreaded that the Turks made it one of their peace terms that he must leave the country. This term was, however,' not fulfilled and the sturdy old savage remained in Montenegro till the day of his death, steadily opposing all western and modern ideas, especially the making of a carriage road into the country; and ever composing and singing to the gusle songs of battle and border fray, which, though devoid of literary merit, give an invaluable picture of the savagery of the land in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Old Mirko died of the great cholera epidemic which swept Montenegro, and Prince Nikola was then free to introduce new visages into the land.
Balanced perilously between Austria and Russia he managed to keep on good terms with both, but his sympathies were Russian. To Russia he turned for help to organize an army. Till then each tribe had fought according to its own ideas. Montenegro had no artillery and no equipment save flintlocks and the hand jar, the heavy knife used for decapitation. In Petersburg he was warmly received by Tsar Alexander II, who gave him funds both for schools and the army. A small-arms factory was started at Rijeka and a gun foundry near Cetinje. Weapons were bought from France and preparations made for the next campaign. You cannot talk to King Nikola long without learning that war, successful war, filled all his mind. Conquest and Great Serbia were the stars of his heaven and of that of his people. Border frays enough took place and when, in 1875, the Herzegovinians broke into open revolt the Montenegrins rushed to their aid. Nikola, commanded by the Powers to keep the peace, declared he could not restrain the tribesmen. Local tradition which is possibly correct states that his efforts to do so were not strenuous. In June 1876 Prince Milan of Serbia declared war on Turkey. Prince Nikola, who had already refused to acknowledge Milan as leader of the Serb peoples and regarded him with jealous eyes, thereupon declared war next day.
The Great Serbian Idea was already causing rivalry.
Nikola fought and won his first battle at Vuchidol. Montenegrin arms were successful everywhere—penetrated far into the Herzegovina; took Podgoritza, Nikshitch and Antivari. When the victorious Russians drew up the Treaty of San Stefano at the very gates of Constantinople Prince Nikola, "the Tsar's only friend," received liberal treatment, and Serbia, suspected of Austrian leanings, but scant recognition.
The Treaty of Berlin reversed this. England was especially anti-Russian and, represented by Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury, insisted on entrusting the bulk of Montenegro's conquests in the Herzegovina to Austrian administration. "The Tsar's only friend" was regarded with suspicion. Montenegro was unfortunately compensated mainly with Albanian territory. It was a great injustice. The Albanians had made just as stubborn a fight for their nationality as had the Montenegrins, and had never lost local autonomy. They resisted violently and prevented Montenegro from occupying either Plava, Gusinje or Tuzi. The Powers tried to make up by an even worse act of injustice. Mr. Gladstone, having little or no personal experience of the Orthodox Church, was possessed of an extraordinary admiration for it, and, filled with the erroneous idea that every Moslem was a Turk, he was in favour of giving Dulcigno, a wholly Albanian town, to Montenegro in place of the other three. It was a peculiarly unjust and cruel decision. Even in the days of the Serb Kings Dulcigno had kept its autonomy and at one time coined its own money. All old travellers state the spoken language was Albanian. The Montenegrins could not take it and had no claim to it. A naval demonstration of the Powers forced it to surrender, perhaps one of the biggest acts of bullying of which the Powers have as yet been guilty.
Albanian Dulcigno was handed over to its hereditary foe. The strength of its purely Albanian nature is shown by the fact that whereas in Nikshitch, Podgoritza, and Spuzh the Moslems, Serbs and Albanians, were stripped of all their property and expelled wholesale to starve as very many did—the Montenegrins did not dare interfere with the large and hostile population of Dulcigno and have in no way succeeded in Slavizing it: The Dulcigniotes still ask for re-union with Albania.
Montenegro was recognized by the Treaty of Berlin for the first time as an independent Principality, and Serbia, in 1880, was raised to a Kingdom. To Prince Nikola and his Montenegrins who had refused to recognize Prince Milan as leader of the Serb nation this was a most bitter pill. Rivalry between the two branches of the Serb race was intensified. Prince Nikola strove by a remarkable series of marriages to unite himself to any and all of the Powers by means of his numerous offspring.
Russia being his "only friend" he aspired to marry one of his elder daughters to the Tsarivitch. But the poor girl who was being educated for the purpose in Russia, died young.
Two other daughters he however successfully married to the Grand Duke Nikola Nikolaievitch and the Grand Duke Peter. With Great Serbia in view, and on bad terms with the Obrenovitches of Serbia, he married his daughter Zorka in 1883 to Petar Karageorgevitch, the exiled claimant to the Serbian throne. Having thus married his elder children to Russian and Serb he then turned to the Triple Alliance and married Helena to the Crown Prince of Italy, thus securing an ally, as he hoped, across the Adriatic; and his heir Prince Danilo to the daughter of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg Strelitz. For his daughter Anna he selected Prince Joseph Battenburg. "How do you think this young man will do as Prince of Macedonia?" he once cheerfully asked Mr. Bouchier, to Prince Joseph's embarrassment.
Lastly, in order to have claim on Serbia whichever way the political cat hopped, he married Prince Mirko to Natalie Constantinovitch, cousin to Alexander Obrenovitch of Serbia. All that Prince Nikola could do to conquer Europe by "peaceful penetration" he certainly did.
Two daughters remained: Princesses Xenia and Vera. Popular report had it that one was destined for Bulgaria and the other for Greece, and there was much disappointment when the Princes of those lands made other choice. Nor I fear are either ladies likely now to mount thrones.
One error of judgment which has largely helped to thwart Prince Nikola's hopes is the fact that, alarmed lest foreign luxury should make his sons discontented with their stony fatherland, he would not send them abroad to be educated. They were taught at home by a tutor who was an able man enough, but the future ruler of even a tiny realm needs a wider experience and training. He further made the fatal mistake of bringing them up as Princes apart from the people, whereas he himself had played with village children. As a result they grew up with exaggerated ideas of their own importance, devoid of discipline and ignorant of all things most needful for a successful ruler in a poor land. They had all the vices of Princes and none of their virtues.
It was a tragic error with tragic consequences. Nikola came to the throne as a mediaeval chieftain in a yet mediaeval land. To succeed in his ambitions, and he was then amply justified in believing that he would succeed, it was needful to train up a successor fit to rule in the twentieth century.
The gates of time were of a sudden flung open. In the space of a few years something like five centuries poured over the land. Nikola stood on the rocks with his sons hoping to escape the devastating torrent. But there was no way of escape. They must swim with the stream of time—or drown.
Nor does it now seem likely that one of his immediate descendants will ever rule Great Serbia.
They failed to take the "tide in the affairs of men" and their golden dream has been swept, into the Never-Never Land. It is bitter tragedy to end life as a failure.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF LAND AND PEOPLE
In 1901 I visited Montenegro and went down the lake to Scutari. Scutari captured me at once. It had colour, life, art. Its people were friendly and industrious and did not spend all their time drinking rakia and swaggering up and down the street as at Cetinje. There was something very human about them and of all things I wanted to go into the Albanian mountains. But our Consul there was but just arrived. He consulted his Austrian colleague and as Austria was then keeping the mountains as its own preserve, he replied, emphatically, that the journey was impossible for me.
No particular political crisis was happening, but there were rumours of a certain Kastrioti in Paris who claimed descent from the great Skenderbeg and his possible arrival as Prince of Albania roused a certain excitement in Albanian breasts. Hopes of independence were already spoken of in hushed whispers.
In Montenegro Great Serbia was the talk, and I was shewn crude prints of the heroes of old, on many a cottage wall. And some flashlights on Montenegrin character showed vividly the different mentality of the Balkans.
The new British Vice-Consul for Scutari came up to Cetinje on business, for the British Minister had left owing to ill-health. The Montenegrins did not like the new Vice-Consul and seriously consulted me as to the possibility of having him exchanged for another. I was extremely surprised. "But why do you not like him?" I asked. "Because he does not like us," was the confident reply. "But he has only been here a week," I urged. "How can he know yet whether he likes you or not? In any case what does it matter. It is not necessary to like a Consul."
"But yes!" came the horrified reply. "How is it not necessary? One must either love or hate!"
One must either love or hate. There is no medium. It was Dushan Gregovitch that spoke.
Lazar Mioushkovitch flashed the next beam on the national character. Some tourists arrived and, at the lunch table, talked with Lazar. One was a clergyman. He told how Canon McColl during the Turko-Russian War of 1877 had reported having seen severed heads on poles, and how all England, including Punch, had jeered at him for thinking such a thing possible in Europe in the nineteenth century. Mioushkovitch was sadly puzzled. "But how, I ask you, could he fail to see severed heads in a war? The cutting off of heads in fact—I see nothing remarkable in that!" Then, seeing the expression of the reverend gentleman's face, he added quickly: "But when it comes to teaching the children to stick cigarettes in the mouths—there I agree with you, it is a bit too strong!" (c'est un peu fort ca!) There was a sudden silence. The Near East had, in fact, momentarily undraped itself.
Last came the days when we daily expected to hear that the Queen of Italy had given birth to a son and heir. A gun was made ready to fire twenty-one shots. Candles were prepared to light in every window. The flags waited to be unfurled. We all sat at lunch in the hotel. The door flew open and a perianik (royal guard) entered. He spoke a few words to Monsieur Piguet, the Prince's tutor. Piguet excused himself and left the room.
After some interval he returned, heaved a heavy sigh, and in a voice of deep depression, said to the Diplomatic table: Eh bien Messieurs —nous avons une fille! It was appalling. No one in Montenegro, it would appear, had thought such a catastrophe even possible. To the Montenegrin the birth of a daughter was a misfortune. "You feed your son for yourself. You feed your daughter for another man." Faced with this mediaeval point of view the Diplomatic circle was struck dumb. Till the British Consul said bravely: "I don't care what the etiquette is! I won't condole with him." And the tension was relieved.
No guns were fired, no candles lighted. Cetinje tried to look as though nothing at all had happened.
One member of the Round Table at this time needs mention. Count Louis Voynovitch from Ragusa was staying in Cetinje to draw up a new code of laws. This clever adventurer was looked on with some jealousy by the Montenegrins and much favoured by the Royal Family whom he amused with anecdotes and jokes.
It was said he was to be permanently Minister of Justice, but he left Montenegro rather suddenly over, it was said, a cherchez la femme affair. He then went to Bulgaria as tutor, I believe, to the young Princes, and afterwards held a post in Serbia.
And he returned again to Montenegro and represented Montenegro at the Ambassadors Conference in London during the Balkan War of 1912-13. He was reputed to be deep dipped in every intrigue of the Balkans and in Jugoslavia we may some day hear of him again.
Nothing else now worth recording occurred in my 1901 holiday. Next year was a full one.
SERBIA AND THE WAY THERE
"The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous is bold as a lion."
Twice had I visited Montenegro and had heard much of Great Serbia. Of the past as seen by Serb eyes I read in any number of cheap pink and blue ballad books. As for the present, big Montenegrins in the most decorative national dress in Europe, swaggered up and down the main street of Cetinje, consumed unlimited black coffee and rakia and discussed the glorious days when all Serbs should again be united under Gospodar Nikita. But that they were taking any active steps to create this earthly paradise I had then no idea.
My 1902 holiday was due. I decided to go further afield and see Serbia itself, but to go first to Montenegro where I might obtain information and introductions. No one in England could tell me anything and only one recent book on the subject could be found. This was of no consequence for the real joy of travel begins with the plunge into the unknown and in 1902 it was still possible to find this joy in Europe. From Whittaker's Almanac I learnt that all passports must be visaed at the Serbian Legation and thither I hastened.
I had never travelled without a passport, for accidents may always happen and even so near home as Paris identity papers may be useful. But I had never before sought a special visa.
Light-heartedly, therefore, I rang the Legation bell and cheerfully offered the youth, who admitted me, the passport with a request for a visa. He told me to wait; and wait I did until—though not quite new to the Near East I began to wonder what overwhelming world-politics were detaining the Serbian Minister. Persons peeped at me cautiously through the half-open door and darted back when I looked round. Finally, I was summoned into M. Militchevitch's presence.
Stiffly he asked why I wanted to go to Serbia. My reply, that having visited Montenegro I now proposed seeing other Serb lands, did not please him at all. I made things worse by enlarging on my Montenegrin experiences for I had no idea then of the fact that there is nothing one Slav State hates so much as another Slav State, and truly thought to please him.
He persisted in wanting "definite information." "What do you want to do there?"
"Travel and sketch and photograph and collect curios."
He suggested sternly that there were other lands in Europe where all this could be done.
His attitude was incomprehensible to me, who then knew foreign lands only as places which received tourists with open arms and hotels gaping for guests. He, on the other hand, found me quite as incomprehensible for, like many another Balkan man, he could conceive of no travel without a political object.
And I was quite unaware that the murders upon which Great Serbia was to be built were even then being plotted.
Point-blank, I asked, "Is travelling in Serbia so very dangerous then?"
The shot told. "Not at all!" said he hastily.
"Then why may I not go?"
After more argle-bargle he consented to give me the visa on condition I went straight to the British Consul at Belgrade and did nothing without his advice. He signed, remarking that he took no responsibility. I paid and left triumphant, all unaware of the hornet's nest I was now free to enter.
Of Serb politics I knew at that time little beyond the fact that King Alexander was unpopular owing to an unfortunate marriage and the still more unfortunate attempt of Queen Draga to plant a false heir upon the country by pretending pregnancy; that his father's career had been melodramatic and that the history of Serbia for the whole period of her independence had been one long blood-feud between the rival dynasties of Karageorge and Obrenovitch, neither of which seemed popular in Montenegro. Off I went to Cetinje and told various people my plan for seeing Serbia. Rather to my surprise no one offered me introductions, but having been repeatedly told that the Montenegrins were the cream of the Serb nation, and would lead Serbia to glory I believed that the mere mention of Montenegro and my acquaintance with it would suffice to assure me a welcome.
Near the door of the Monastery of Cetinje is the grave of one of the Karageorgevitches and the priest who showed it me told that the families Petrovitch and Karageorgevitch had been on very friendly terms. Prince Nikola had married his daughter Zorka to Petar Karageorgevitch, the rival claimant to the Serbian throne, in 1883; that the young couple had lived in Cetinje and their three children were born there; but that, after Zorka's death in 1890, father-in-law and son-in-law had fallen out badly about money matters and Petar had been seen no more in Montenegro. The fact that the present Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia was born in Cetinje is of some interest now, when he is attempting to seize his grandfather's throne—but more of this later. In 1902 it was still undreamed of.
Only Count Bollati, then Italian Minister to Montenegro, took any active interest in my plans. Le bon Dieu, he said, "has created you expressly to travel in the Balkans." He loathed Cetinje and explained he had accepted it only as one degree better than Buenos Ayres because nearer to Rome. "Nothing bites you," he continued; "everything bites me. Your method of seeing lands is undoubtedly the best, but I am satisfied with what I see from the windows of the best hotel." Nor, unfortunately, was Count Bollati in any way unique in his tastes a fact which may have affected the politics of Europe.
He had held a diplomatic post in Belgrade and was very curious to know how I should fare. "Sooner you than I!" he laughed, and meanwhile sketched me a route through the chief towns and told me his first experience in the land.
It was at a court ball, given by the gay and dashing King Milan. The salon was awhirl with dancers when-click—something fell to the ground near the Count's feet. A lady's jewel doubtless. He stooped and picked up a revolver cartridge. Laughing, he showed it to an aide-de-camp near him, who saw no joke in the matter and referred it to King Milan, who turned white and looked gravely anxious. And Bollati for the first time realized the Balkans. Before I left Cetinje it was officially announced that the marriage of Prince Mirko (Prince Nikola's second son) with Mademoiselle Natalie Constantinovitch had been fixed for July 12 O.S. (1902), and the faire parts were sent to the Corps Diplomatique.
The bride was cousin to King Alexander Obrenovitch who had no direct heir. Failing one, she was one of the nearest relations to the Obrenovitch dynasty. The astute Prince Nikola, having married a daughter to the Karageorge claimant to the throne, now strove to make assurance doubly sure by marrying a son to a possible rival candidate. My diary notes though: "It seems there has been a lot of bother about it and that it was nearly 'off' as Papa Constantinovitch required Mirko to put down a considerable amount in florins. And Mirko could not produce them. I suppose he has now borrowed on his expectation of the Serbian throne. Which is, I imagine, his only asset."
I confess that at this time I did not know the Balkans and saw all these doings humorously, as a comic operetta. But the comic operas of the Balkans are written in blood and what was then fun to me was to end in a world tragedy.
My route to Belgrade was by boat to Fiume and thence by rail via Agram. On the boat I picked up a Croatian lady and her daughter, who moped miserably in the hot and stuffy cabin till they ventured to ask my permission to sit with me on deck. "You are English, so the men will not dare annoy us," they said, "if we are with you." Only English women, they declared, could travel as I did. The mere idea of a journey in Serbia terrified them and they assured me it was quite impossible.
And the cheap hotel in Agram, to which they recommended me, was of the same opinion. The company there assured me that King Alexander was drinking himself to death, and were loud in their expression of contempt for land and people. In those days union between Croatia and Serbia was possible only if Croatia swallowed Serbia. And not very long after I was in Agram riots took place in which the Serbs of the town were attacked and plundered.
As the train lumbered over the plains north of the Save, on the way to Belgrade, my fellow travellers, too, thought I was bound on a mad and impossible errand. As is usual in the Near East they all cross-examined me about my private affairs with boring persistency, and their verdict was that not even a British passport would see me through. "You will never see Serbia," they declared. I did though. For, being wholly innocent of any plots, all the efforts of all the multitudinous police of Serbia failed to turn me from my plan. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous is as bold as a lion."
The train thundered over the iron bridge at night and deposited me in Belgrade. I had to give up my passport and my troubles began. I had come to see Serbia, and finally saw the whole of it and have described it in another book. But for obvious reasons I did not then recount all that befell me; I did not even understand it all.
Looking back on that tour I can only wonder at the dogged persistence with which I overcame all the obstacles which the Serb police put in my way. Short of forbidding me to travel they did all they could.
In accordance with my promise to M. Militchevitch, "To do nothing without consulting the British Consul," I went to the consulate, where I found a nice young man, who had but recently arrived and seemed to know nothing whatever about the country. He was playing with a dachsdog and told me cheerfully I could go anywhere I liked "and none of them will dare touch you." But he warned me that it would be very expensive as carriages were two pounds a day. I suggested mildly that the land being a poor one this could not possibly be the regular charge, but that people sometimes had to pay extra for the privilege of being British Consul; which apparently he had never thought of. It proved correct though. Serbia in those days was the cheapest spot in Europe. Never again in all probability will the peasant be so well off.
But before starting up country I meant to see Belgrade, and began by asking at the hotel where the King was to be seen. For a King, in 1902 at any rate, was still an object of interest, and one of the "show sights" of most European countries. The waiter replied "You want to see our King? You won't see him. He dares not come out of the Konak. He is probably drunk." Nor in fact during the time I spent in Belgrade did he ever come out.
In Belgrade the first thing I learnt was that I was "shadowed" by the police. To the uninitiated this is most uncanny. The same man keeps turning up. He does it very badly as a rule. You sit and have coffee on one side of a street and he sits and drinks beer at the restaurant opposite. You wander on and think: "What an ass I was to think he was following me!" and meet him at the next corner. Most disquieting of all perhaps is to come suddenly out of your bedroom and almost tumble over him in the corridor. All these and more were my experiences in the first weeks of my tour. And always I said to myself in triumph: "They can't do anything to me for I have not done anything." I could not even buy a railway ticket for a day's outing without being cross-examined as to my purpose, my father, my uncles and other relatives. The officials in Vain assured me that there was nothing to see in the place I wished to visit. I played the card which had succeeded with Militchevitch and asked if it were dangerous. I could not enter a village without being at once asked by the local policeman for my passport. Blankly ignorant of what was behind these proceedings I steadily pursued my way, smiling at all questions and supplying at demand long biographies of various members of my family. No; my father had not been in the diplomatic service, nor my uncles, nor brothers, nor cousins. No; none of them were officers.
"I have come to see Serbia," said I, in return to the enquiry of a police officer. "But what do you see?" he asked, gazing wildly round. "I see nothing!"
Every official I think in every village, saw my sketch book, demanded an explanation of why I had selected such things as wells, gravestones, carts and cottages to draw, and remained mystified. For the common objects of Serbia were of no interest to them. I merely looked on all these vagaries as so many peculiar and silly Serbian customs—wondered what the Serbs would do if a hundred or so tourists appeared, for then there would not be enough police to go round—and did not allow myself to be ruffled even when three times in one day I had to show my passport to individuals who pounced down on me in the street.
When I arrived at the' least bad hotel in Nish the hotelier said he did not wish to be mixed up in the affair; gave me the worst room in the house and told me I had better leave by the first train next morning. I said I was going to stay and did. And explored Nish conscious of "guardian angels" at my heels.
But it was here that I realized that there was something sinister in the background, for so suspicious were the hotel people that when, for two days I was seriously unwell, not one of them would come in answer to my bell but an old woman, who flatly refused to bring me anything and never turned up again. I lived on Brand's beef lozenges till I was well enough on the evening of the second day to crawl downstairs and bribe a waiter to fetch me some milk. Once recovered I went to Pirot by rail in spite of pressing requests that I would return to Belgrade. I wanted to see the Pirot carpet factories, but of course no one believed this. They all imagined, as I learnt later, that I was bound for Bulgaria with evil intentions: messages from Montenegro for the undoing of Serbia. I was quite unaware at the time that Prince Ferdinand and Prince Nikola were plotting together. Arrived at Pirot it was obvious that I was considered dangerous. I was stopped in the station by police and military authorities, who had doubtless been warned of my arrival, and told that I was not to go near the Bulgar frontier, much less cross it. Only after some argument did they consent to let me stay two days in the town. Then I was to leave for Belgrade by the early morning train, and to make sure that I could not escape by any other route, they confiscated my passport and said it should be returned to me at the station when I left.
Tension between Serbia and Bulgaria was obviously extreme. By way of warning, I was told that a Bulgar spy had just been caught and was in prison. But I had come to see the carpet making and I saw it. The carpets are very interesting. They are made in no other part of Serbia and are in truth Bulgarian in origin. Pirot before its annexation to Serbia in 1878 was an undoubtedly Bulgar district. Old books of travel call Nish Bulgar. In Pirot a distinctly Bulgar cast of countenance and build is to be seen. And the neighbouring peasants play the bagpipe, the typical Bulgar instrument. The type extends not only into the south of Serbia (of 1902), but in the east spreads over the Timok. The population along the frontier and around Zaitchar I found Bulgar and Roumanian, the flat-faced, heavily built Bulgar with high cheekbones and lank black hair predominating—all being Serbized, of course. Having seen the carpet making at Pirot, I obediently appeared at the railway station at the appointed time as bidden. Suddenly, the whole atmosphere changed. The same officials who had received me so inimically now wanted me to stay! Having first worn my quite respectable supply of patience almost threadbare, the Serbs turned right round and did all they could to efface first impressions. The whole thing seemed to me childish and astonishing. But I profited largely by it and went the rest of my way in comparative comfort.
By this time I had learnt that Serbia was in a state of intense political tension, and that my ingenuous statement that I had come straight from Cetinje had gone badly against me.
Stupid officials asked me so many leading questions that they revealed far more than they had learnt and showed me quite clearly that a plot to put Prince Mirko on the throne of Serbia at no distant date, was believed to exist.
That most wily of Royal stud-grooms, Prince Nikola, had so married his family that he undoubtedly believed that "What he lost on the roundabouts he would gain on the swings," and that his position as Head of Great Serbia was assured.
Having heard so much of the Petrovitches as the natural lords of Great Serbia, this plan did not seem to me so unreasonable. But I soon found it had very little support in Serbia. Only in the extreme south—at Ivanjitza, Studenitza and thereabouts did I find Montenegro at all popular.
Elsewhere it was looked on with jealousy and suspicion. The Montenegrins, folk said, were incurably lazy and very dirty, and their immigration into the country was not desired.
Some Montenegrin students came to the Serbian schools, but were denounced as ungrateful and impossible. A Montenegrin, I was told, was a lout who would sit all day on the doorstep wearing a revolver and doing nothing, and would expect high pay or at least good keep for so doing. In 1898 the Serb Government had actually forbidden the immigration of Montenegrins.
In brief, it was clear Serbia would not accept a Montenegrin Prince at any price, and Mirko's chances were nil.
Montenegro was despised. Bulgaria was hated—was the enemy, always had been and always would be.
But even after I had been accepted by the country strange things still happened.
At Kraljevo there was almost a fight over me between the Nachelnik (Mayor) who ordered me to leave next day, and a man to whom I had been given a letter of introduction. He said I should stay: the other that I was to go, and they shouted at each other till both were scarlet.
When mentioning this later to a company of Serbs they asked "What was the name of the man you had an introduction to?" I gave it. They exchanged glances. "That family was in trouble formerly about the murder of Prince Michel" was all that was said. He was in point of fact a partisan of the Karageorgevitch family. And the Mayor was a pro-Obrenovitch.
At Kragujevatz I fell right into the Karageorgevitch party. That I met them in strength in Kragujevatz is now a matter of interest. At the time I little dreamed that from this straggling big village—it could hardly be called a town—would emanate bombs that would set Europe on fire.
The Royal Arsenal is at Kragujevatz, and when I was there in 1902 the place was certainly a centre of disaffection. It was here that I was told outright that Alexander must either divorce Draga—or go. What was to follow was uncertain. They wished, if possible, to avoid a revolution. I was even begged to work a propaganda in favour of Petar Karageorgevitch in England. Above all to write to The Times, and my informants said they trusted to my honour not to betray their names.
Had I pursued the subject I have now little doubt that I might have learnt much more and even have got in touch with the leaders of the movement—if indeed I had not already fallen into their hands! But it was my first contact with a plot of any kind and I instinctively recoiled from having anything to do with it. It is almost impossible for those who have led a peaceful life to realize that real human blood is going to be shed. The thing sounded more like melodrama than real life. But it was definitely stated that "something was going to happen" and that I should watch the papers and see at no distant date.
My new acquaintances were vexed that I should have$ been so harassed in the early stages of my journey, but oddly enough ascribed it not to the folly of their own officials, but to the fact that the British Consul had not given me letters of introduction! "If your own Consul will not guarantee you, of course it seems suspicious!"
This remark alone is enough to show the abyss that separated Serbia from West Europe. Politics in the Near East are an obsession—a nervous disease which may end in acute dementia and homicidal mania.
Having decided to confide in me, folk then began pouring out disgusting tales about Queen Draga. So disgusting that I soon cut all tales short so soon as her name occurred. Nor is it now necessary to rake up old muck-heaps. One point though is of interest. Among many races all over the world there is a widespread belief that sexual immorality, whether in the form of adultery or incest will inevitably entail most serious consequences not only upon the guilty parties, but upon the community as a whole, and even menace the existence of a whole people. Thebes, for example, suffered blight and pestilence owing to the incest of Oedipus. I found it widely believed in Serbia that before marrying Alexander, Draga had been his father's mistress and was told emphatically that the marriage must bring a curse. Serbia could never flourish while she was on the throne. It is highly probable that though the subsequent murders were arranged and carried out for a definite political purpose by an organized gang, they were acquiesced in by the ignorant mass for the above reason—a genuine belief that there was a curse on the land that would be removed only by Draga's death.
The country, I was told, was in a terrible state. None of the officers had been paid for six months. Draga, it was said, took all the money to buy diamonds. The wretched woman's little collection of jewellery which was sold at Christie's after her death, proved, however, the falsity of this tale. But it doubtless accounted partly for the unbridled ferocity with which the military gang fell upon her.
That there was not enough money to pay them seemed to me not surprising, for the land swarmed with officers. I was told that in proportion to its size there were more officers in Serbia than in Germany and noted in my diary at the time "the whole land seems eaten out of house and home with officers who seem to have nothing on earth to do but play cards. It is a great pity for the country. As soon as the peasants learn a little I expect they will turn Socialist." An army is an expensive luxury and "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do" is a true saying. Serbia has paid dearly for the lot of swankers, clad in most unnecessarily expensive uniforms, whom I saw gambling in the cafes from morning till night.
All these points are noteworthy in the light of the present. One other may yet strongly influence the future of the Serb race. That is their religious fanaticism, which then surprised me. It was not astonishing that the Serbs hated Islam, but that they should fiercely hate every other Christian Church I did not expect.