Source: "Correspondence Respecting Affairs in Bosnia and Herzegovina." Parliamentary Papers, 1876, vol.84.
Buda-Pest, December 30, 1875.
Since the commencement of the troubles in the Herzegovina, the European Cabinets interested in the general peace have been compelled to fix their attention on the occurrences which threatened to endanger it.
The three Courts of Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany, after exchanging their views on this subject, have united for the purpose of employing in common their efforts for pacification.
This object appeared too much in conformity with the general wish for them to doubt that the other Cabinets, when invited to associate themselves in the movement through their Representatives at Constantinople, would hasten to join their efforts to ours.
The Powers have come to an agreement to make use of all the influence at their disposal in order to localize the conflict, and diminish its dangers and calamities by preventing Servia and Montenegro from participating in the movement.
Their language has been the more effectual from being identic, and has, consequently, testified the firm determination of Europe not to permit the general peace to be imperilled by rash impulses.
The Cabinets, moreover, have offered to the Turkish Government the good offices of their Consular Agents to assist in putting an end to the insurrection. In the pursuit of this object, they have been equally careful to avoid all meddling, and to guard the dignity, rights, and authority of the Sovereign.
The Delegates were not authorized to constitute themselves a Commission of Inquiry, or to make themselves the advocates of the wishes of the insurgent populations. Their mission was to undeceive them as to any assistance to be expected from without, and to exhort them to disperse after setting forth their wishes and grievances. The Powers merely reserved the power of urging on the Turkish Government such of the demands of the insurgents as should appear to be legitimate. This conciliatory action of the Cabinets sufficiently testified to the friendly intention which had inspired their good offices. It showed that in their eyes there existed a complete identity in the interests of Europe, of the Porte, and of the insurgent populations, to put an end to a ruinous and sanguinary conflict, and to prevent its recurrence by serious reforms and effective improvements of a nature to reconcile the real necessities of the country with the legitimate requirements of authority.
Such is briefly the history of the proceedings of the Powers since the outbreak of the insurrection.
The Cabinets have till now been especially guided by the desire to avoid everything that could be construed as an unseasonable interference on the part of Europe.
Accordingly, all the Cabinets have confined themselves to recommending the Sultan not to trust solely to military measures, but to apply himself to combating the evil by moral means, with a view to avert future disturbances.
In acting thus, the Cabinets intended to furnish the Sublime Porte with the moral support of which it stood in need; and, further, to give it time to pacify feelings in the revolted provinces, hoping that all danger of ulterior complications might thus be averted.
Unfortunately their hopes have been disappointed. On the one hand, the reforms published by the Porte do not appear to have had in view the pacification of the populations of the insurgent provinces, or to be sufficient for the attainment of this essential object. On the other hand, the Turkish arms have not been successful in putting an end to the insurrection.
Under these circumstances, we think that the moment has arrived for the Powers to agree on a course to be pursued in common, to prevent the peace of Europe being ultimately compromised by a continuation of the movement.
In common with the other Powers, we have applauded the benevolent intentions which have inspired the recent manifestoes of the Sultan. The Iradé of October 2, and Firman of December 12, contain a series of principles intended to introduce reforms into the organization of the Ottoman Empire. There is reason to believe that these principles, if embodied in wisely-conceived legislative measures, and if, above all, their execution fully corresponds with the enlightened views which have dictated them, will introduce real ameliorations into the administration of Turkey.
We cannot, however, disguise from ourselves that the projected reforms cannot, by themselves, arrest, even momentarily, the shedding of blood in the Heizegovina and Bosnia, still less establish on a secure basis the future tranquillity of these portions of the Ottoman Empire.
In fact, on examination of the contents of the Iradé of October 2 and the Firman of December 12, one must acknowledge that the Sublime Porte appears to be engrossed rather with general principles which, when they have been formulated, will serve as bases for the administration of the Empire, than with the pacification of the provinces at present in revolt.
Now, it is for the interest of the Ottoman Government that peace should, above all, be assured; for, so long as it is unsecured, it will be impossible to carry out even the principles which the Porte has proclaimed.
On the other hand, the state of anarchy which prevails in the provinces to the northwest of Turkey not only involves difficulties for the Sublime Porte, but also conceals grave danger to the general tranquillity; and the different European States cannot see with indifference the continuation and aggravation of a state of affairs which already weighs heavily on commerce and industry, and which, by daily shaking more and more the public confidence in the preservation of peace, tends to compromise the interests of all parties.
We, therefore, believe that we are fulfilling an imperative duty in calling the serious attention of the Guaranteeing Powers to the necessity of counselling the Sublime Porte to complete its undertaking by such measures as appear indispensable for the re-establishment of order and tranquillity in the provinces now ravaged by the scourge of civil war.
After a confidential exchange of ideas, which has taken place between ourselves and the Cabinets of St. Petersburgh and Berlin, it has been recognized that such measures must be sought for in a twofold direction-first, on a moral, and secondly, on a material, ground.
In fact, the material condition itself of the Christian inhabitants of Bosnia and the Herzegovina is primarily due to their social and moral position.
In examining the fundamental causes of the painful situation in which Herzegovina and Bosnia have been struggling for so many years, one is at once struck with the sentiments of enmity and rancour which animate the Christian and Mahommedan inhabitants against each other. It is in this frame of mind which has rendered it impossible for our delegates to persuade the Christians that the Turkish authorities could be sincerely disposed to redress their grievances. Perhaps there is no district of European Turkey where the antagonism which exists between the Cross and the Crescent takes such an acrimonious form. This fanatical hatred and distrust must be attributed to the proximity of populations of the same race in full enjoyment of that religious liberty of which the Herzegovinian and Bosnian Christians see themselves deprived. The effect of the incessant comparison is that they feel oppressed under the yoke of a real servitude, that the very name of rayah appears to place them in a position morally inferior to that of their neighbours, and that, in one word, they feel themselves slaves.
More than once Europe has had to occupy herself with their complaints, and with the methods for terminating them. The Hatti-Humayoum of 1856 is one of the results of the solicitude of the Powers. But, even by the terms of this Act, religious liberty is still limited by clauses which, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are enforced with a rigour which every year provokes new conflicts. The erection of buildings for religious and educational purposes, the use of bells, and the constitution of religious communities, are still subjected in these provinces to restrictions which appear to the Christians as so many tokens always before their eyes of that war of conquest which makes them see in the Mussulmans only the enemies of their faith, and perpetuates the impression that they live under the yoke of a slavery that it is their right and their duty to shake off.
The last Firman certainly touches this point of liberty of religion, as indeed the Hatti-Chérif of 1839, the Hatti-Houmayoum of 1856, and other acts emanating from the Sublime Porte, had already done. It confirms the powers with which the patriarchs and other spiritual heads are invested for the affairs of their respective communities and the free exercise of their religions; but it assigns to them "as limitations the rights and authorisations which have been accorded to them." It promises also facilities for the construction of churches and schools, a promise which has been more than once notified in official documents, but which cannot be re-assuring, because its realization depends on provincial authorities, who, being exposed to local pressure, could not even carry them into execution, unless the principle be clearly laid down.
The Firman, then, which has just been promulgated, goes no farther than what has already been accorded by the Hatti-Houmayoum, which, as I have already made apparent, surrounds religious liberty with restrictions, which, during the last few years, have provoked numerous conflicts. With such restrictions, the concessions in question have always been insufficient to content the Christians. All the more will this be the case now, after the events which have happened to lacerate the country, and which have only envenomed the antagonism which separates the two creeds, the insurrection once suppressed, the Mahommedan element considering itself as conqueror, will doubtless seek to avenge upon the Christians the losses to which so severe a contest has subjected it. A state of affairs which should render possible the co-existence of populations who have just been fighting with so much fury, can only be assured if the Christian religion be placed in law and in fact on a complete footing of equality with Islamism, and be openly recognized and respected, and not merely tolerated as it is at present. For this reason, as it appears to us, the guaranteeing power ought not only demand of the Porte, but obtain from it as the first and principal concession, full and complete religious liberty.
Equality before the law is a principle expressly proclaimed in the Hatti~Houmayoum, and sanctioned by legislation. Doubtless it is for this reason that the recent decrees of the Sultan have omitted to mention it.
But, whilst legally obligatory, this principle is not yet generally applied throughout the Empire. As a matter of fact, the evidence of Christians against Mussulmans is received by the tribunals of Constantinople, and the majority of the large towns, but in some distant provinces, such as Herzegovina and Bosnia, the judges refuse to recognize its validity. It would be important then to take practical steps to relieve the Christians in future from the fear of a denial of justice.
Another point which calls for prompt remedy is the farming of taxes. Already the Hatti-Chérif of 1839, in speaking of this system, has expressed itself in the following terms:
"A deplorable practice still subsists, though its consequences can not fail to be disastrous; it is that of the venal concessions known under the name of Iltizan. By this system the civil and financial administration of a district is handed over to the will of an individual, that is to say, sometimes to the iron hand of the most violent and avaricious passions."
And the Hatti-Houmayoum of 1856 contains the following:
"The promptest and most energetic measures will be taken into consideration for correcting the abuses in the collection of the taxes, especially of the tithes. The system of direct collection will be substituted by degrees, and as speedily as possible, for the practice of farming in all the branches of the State revenue."
In spite of these formal declarations, the system of farming is still in force to its fullest extent.
The Sublime Porte now foreshadows reforms in this direction, but without stating anything definitely. The Firman of December 12th again styles as abnormal the system for the collection of taxes actually in force. It orders the search for a mode of unification of taxes. It further prescribes measures to be taken "to prevent arbitrary proceedings in the collection of the tithe by the intervention of farmers," but it does not abolish farming.
If it is desired, then, to deprive the insurrection of an essential and perpetual source of nourishment, one of the points which must be demanded by the Porte is that she should clearly and categorically declare that the system of farming the taxes is suppressed, not only in law but in practice, for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this measure must be immediately applied.
One of the causes which still further materially aggravate the burden, already so heavy, of the taxes in Bosnia and the Herzegovina, is that the inhabitants believe themselves to be overburdened financially for the benefit of the capital. They entertain the belief that the proceeds of the taxes are not devoted to meeting the necessities of the province, but that the total of the sum received is immediately sent to Constantinople for the use of the Central Government.
It would then be necessary to alleviate morally the weight of the burdens the province has to support, by securing that, without any encroachment on that which the expenses of the Empire require, a portion of the product of the taxes paid by the province may be reserved for purposes beneficial to its peculiar interests.
With this view, the Porte should declare that the revenue from indirect taxation should, as heretofore, be applied to the necessities of the Empire in general, but that the funds arising from direct taxation should remain in the province, and be exclusively applied in its interests to enlarge its resources and augment its prosperity.
The execution of this regulation should be placed under the control of the Elective Council, of which mention will be made in the course of this paper.
The unhappy condition of the Bosnia and Herzegovinan Christians is caused in great measure by the nature of the relations subsisting between the rural population and the land owners. Agrarian difficulties have always had a peculiarly bitter character in the countries where the landlord class differs, either in religion, or nationality, from the bulk of the labourers. There are but too many examples of the furious conflicts which have resulted from such a situation.
In the provinces we are dealing with nearly the whole of the properties not belonging to the State or to the Mosques, are in the hands of Mussulmans, whilst the agricultural class is composed of Christians of both creeds. The agricultural question is then complicated by religious antagonism.
After the suppression of the first insurrection of the Bosnian Cegs in 1851, slavery was abolished; but, as often happens in such cases, this measure, instead of alleviating the condition of the peasants, has only aggravated it. They are no longer treated with the same consideration as before. Now-a-days there are only two antagonistic interests, and two religions face to face. From the moment when the disappearance of the feudal system effected the transformation of the former serfs into farmers (or "métayers"), the outrageous practices of the landlords provoked numerous general or partial outbreaks. A movement of this kind having broken out in 1858 in the north of Bosnia, the Porte was prevailed upon to take into its consideration the disputes which had occasioned it. Delegates from both sides were summoned to Constantinople, and, after long discussions, in which the officious intercession of the Internuncio of His Majesty the Emperor and King had a share, a Firman was obtained from the Sultan, the provisions of which appeared at that time sufficient to conciliate successfully enough the interests of the agricultural proprietors. However, this Firman has never been carried into execution.
It would not be out of place to examine, if some of the provisions of this document could not, even at the present time, serve as the basis for an equitable arrangement suitable for the amelioration of the condition of the rural population, or if it would be practicable to call upon the public treasury to facilitate the execution of the measures to be taken with this object, in imitation of what occurred twenty years ago in Bulgaria, where the landlords' dues have been brought up by means of the issue of public obligations (?) called "sekims." We feel that the task is difficult, and that its accomplishment cannot be the work of a day; but we believe that it is important to labour at it, so as to ameliorate the lot of the rural population in Bosnia and the Herzegovina, and to close thus one of the open wounds in the social condition of these Provinces. It would not seem impossible to us to find some combination which should gradually permit the peasants to acquire, on easy terms, portions of the waste lands which the State put up to sell. Whilst continuing, if they wished, to cultivate as farmers the estates of their Mussulman compatriots, they would, by degrees, attain to the possession themselves of a little real property, which would as-sure them a certain independence, and would provide for their imposts.
If one considers the distrust with which the promises of the Sublime Porte are received by the Christians, it is impossible to disguise from oneself that the published reforms can only inspire the necessary confidence by the creation at the same time of some institution capable of offering a certain guarantee that these reforms will be executed in earnest. To content oneself with confiding their execution to the discretion of the Provincial Governments would not be sufficient to remove the distrust of which I am speaking. It would be expedient then to nominate a Commission of the notables of the country, composed half of Mussulmans and half of Christians, and elected by the inhabitants of the Province in accordance with a scheme to be settled by the Sublime Porte.
I have now set forth the measures, the application of which to the revolted Provinces must be obtained to enable one to entertain a well-grounded hope of pacification.
These measures are as follows:--
Religious liberty, full and entire;
Abolition of the farming of taxes;
A law to guarantee that the product of the direct taxation of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall be employed for the immediate interests of the Province, under the control of bodies constituted in the sense of the Firman of December 12;
The institution of a Special Commission, composed of an equal number of Mussulmans and Christians, to superintend the execution of the reforms proposed by the Powers, as well as of those proclaimed in the Iradé of October 2 and Firman of December 12;
Lastly, the amelioration of the condition of the rural populations. The first four points could and should be immediately carried out by the Sublime Porte; the fifth by degrees, as soon as possible.
If, independently of these concessions, which appear to us the most essential, Bosnia and Herzegovina obtain in addition the following reforms indicated in the recent Firman, a Provincial Council and tribunals freely elected by the inhabitants, irremovability of judges, secular justice, individual liberty, security against ill-treatment, the reorganization of the police, whose conduct has excited so many complaints, the abandonment of the abuses to which the levies for public works give rise, an equitable reduction in the tax for exemption from military service, security for proprietary rights, --if all these reforms, the communication of which we claim from the Porte, in order to take formal note thereof, are applied in the insurgent Provinces, which, to judge by the text of the Firman, would not appear as yet to be in a position to benefit by them, one may hope to see peace restored in these desolated districts.
To resume. The indefinite promises of the Iradé of October 2 and Firman of December 12, can only excite aspirations without satisfying them. On the other hand it is clear that the Turkish arms have not succeeded in putting down the insurrection. Winter has suspended action, spring will see it revive. The conviction is general among the Christians that, spring once come, fresh elements will strengthen the proceedings, that Bulgaria, the Cretans, &c., will come to swell the movement. Be this as it may, it is to be foreseen that the Governments of Servia and Montenegro, who already, lap to this time, have had great difficulty in holding aloof from the movement, will be powerless to resist the current, and for the future, under the influence of events and of public Opinion in their countries, they appear to have accustomed themselves to the idea of taking part in the struggle on the melting of the snows.
In this situation the task of the Powers, who in the interest of the general peace desire to stave off ulterior complications, becomes very difficult. Austria-Hungary and the two other Imperial Courts, after a confidential exchange of ideas, are all agreed that, were one merely to await the effect of the principles enunciated by the last Firman--principles which, moreover, according to the intentions of the Porte, do not appear to be intended to be immediately applied to the revolted countries, the only result would be to see the conflict widely extended at the termination of the winter. The three Cabinets then think that the only chance to avoid fresh complications is in a manifestation emanating from the Powers and making clear their firm resolution to arrest the movement which menaces to involve the East.
Now this end cannot be attained by the simple method of an injunction addressed to the Governments of the Principalities and to the Christian populations subjects of the Sultan. To give this action, very difficult in itself, a chance of success, it is absolutely necessary that the Powers should be in a position to appeal to Acts, clear, indisputable, practicable, and specially suited for the improvement of the situation of Herzegovina and Bosnia, in one word that their action may be grounded on facts and not on programmes. It is only by these means that the Cabinets will find themselves in a position to turn to a proper account their pacific counsels.
There is another difficulty--and it is the greatest--which must, at all hazards, be overcome if one hopes to be able to reckon on any sort of a favourable result. This difficulty is the deeply-rooted distrust that every promise of the Porte's encounters at the hands of the Christians. One of the principal causes of this mistrust is discoverable in the fact that more than one measure announced in the Sultan's latest rescripts has already been announced in former Hatti-Chénfs, without causing any appreciable amelioration of the lot of the Christians.
The Cabinets think it, therefore, absolutely necessary to obtain from the Sultan's Government, by means of an official Commission, the confirmation of his intentions with regard to the whole Empire, set forth in the Iradé of October 2 and Firman of December 12, and his notification to the Powers of his acceptance of the points specified above the special object of which is the pacification of the revolted Provinces.
Undoubtedly the Christians would not, by this method, obtain the form of guarantee they appear to demand at this moment, but they would find a relative security in the very fact that the reforms accorded would be recognized as indispensable by the Powers, and that the Porte would have pledged itself to Europe to carry them into execution.
Such is the firm conviction resulting from a preliminary exchange of ideas between the Cabinets of Austria, Hungary, Russia, and Germany.
Your Excellency is directed to bring this view of the case to the knowledge of the Court of St. James, and to obtain its concurrence in the work of peace, the success of which our efforts tend to assure.
If, as I hope, the views of the English Government accord with our own, we should propose, out of consideration for the dignity and independence of the Porte, not to address our advice to the latter in the form of a collective note, but to confine ourselves to inviting our Representatives at Constantinople to act conjointly and in an identic manner towards the Sultan's Government in the sense of what we have set forth.
You will be so good, M. le Comte, as to read the present despatch to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and to leave him a copy of it, and I should be glad to know as soon as possible the impression it has made on his Excellency.
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