The spreading of the war in the Balkans increased the complexity of the problem facing the great powers. No longer was it merely a question of arranging a satisfactory settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now Serbia and Montenegro were belligerents, while in Bulgaria the large-scale atrocities had so aroused European public opinion that the restoration of Turkish rule no longer was feasible. The English were particularly sensitive to the "Bulgarian Horrors" because they had fought the Crimean War to preserve the Ottoman Empire. In June, 1876, the first reports began to reach England of the depredations of the bashi-bazouks, the Turkish irregulars who had destroyed dozens of villages and massacred rebels and innocent alike. Disraeli at first summarily rejected the charges because his diplomatic representatives were slow in sending reports. But a mass of detailed information began pouring in from various trustworthy sources, including British correspondents, the American consul-general, Eugene Schuyler, President George Washburn of Robert College, and several American missionaries. It became clear that well over ten thousand Bulgarians had been massacred and several dozen villages destroyed.
A great storm of moral indignation swept over England. The high Point was Gladstone's passionate indictment of Turkish rule in his pamphlet, "Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East," of which it is said fifty thousand copies were sold in a few days. Gladstone did not call for outright partitioning of European Turkey. Rather, he demanded autonomy for the subject Christians so that they might be freed from the oppression of Turkish administrators and soldiers. "Let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible manner, namely by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and their Yuzbachis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province they have desolated and profaned." (14)
So great was the furor that one of the cabinet members, Lord Salisbury, wrote to Disraeli that concessions would have to be made to public opinion.
It is clear enough that the traditional Palmerstonian policy is at an end. We have not the power, even if we have the wish, to give back any of the revolted districts to the discretionary government of the Porte.... I should like to submit for your consideration whether the opportunity should not be taken to exact some security for the good government of the Christians generally thoroughout the Turkish Empire. The Govt. of 1856 was satisfied with promises.... We must have something more than promises...." (15)
This statement is quite significant. It suggested the possibility of fundamental changes in European Turkey. Russia could be counted on to press for 'something more than promises." Bismarck from the beginning had urged wholesale partitioning of the Ottoman Empire as a means of satisfying both the Balkan peoples and the great powers. But Disraeli refused to consider any drastic measures. He was convinced that the agitation in England was a momentary aberration and that the country soon would come to its senses. Also, he was determined, for reasons of prestige, to pursue an independent policy rather than follow behind the Drei-kaiserbund. The result was that now, as in the time of the Crimean War, Britain emerged as the defender of the Ottoman Empire. The Balkan crisis became more and more a duel between Britain, the supporter of the status quo, and Russia, the self appointed champion of Balkan liberation.
The remainder of the year 1876 was characterized by intense diplomatic activity. The most important consequences were the Reichstadt Agreement reached by Russia and Austria on July 8, the Russian ultimatum to Turkey which resulted in an armistice on October 31, and the international conference held in Constantinople in December, 1876, and January, 1877.
The background of the Reichstadt Agreement was the mounting Pan-Slav agitation in Russia for assistance to the embattled Balkan Slavs. The agitation reached such proportions that the Russian diplomats had to consider the possibility of intervention even against the wishes of the government. In that eventuality a prior agreement with Austria would be essential Otherwise the Russian army would run the risk of being ordered out of the Balkans, as had happened during the Crimean War. So Andrassy an Gorchakov met at Reichstadt and agreed that the prewar status quo should be restored if Serbia and Montenegro were defeated. But if the two Balkan States were victorious, Austria and Russia were to cooperate to regulate the territorial changes. They agreed that no large Slavic state should be set up in the Balkans, but misunderstanding existed from the start regarding the details of the new frontiers. Gorchakov understood that in case of victory Serbia and Montenegro would annex the larger part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and that Austria would receive only a small part of Bosnia. Andrassy, on the other hand, thought that the larger part of Bosnia-Herzegovina would fall to the Hapsburg Empire. This misunderstanding was to cause difficulties between the two powers before the crisis was resolved.
Meanwhile, it was the Turks who were winning over the Serbs and drawing closer to Belgrade. The Pan-Slavs redoubled their agitation and whipped up popular indignation in Russia. Finally, the tsar took action and dispatched a forty-eight-hour ultimatum to Constantinople demanding an armistice of six weeks for the Serbs. The Turks yielded and accepted the armistice on October 31, 1876. This was the last opportunity for a peaceful settlement. The powers agreed to send representatives to a conference in Constantinople to work out terms.
The conference opened on December 12. The British delegate was Lord Salisbury, one of the ministers who had less fear of Russia and more sympathy for the Balkan Christians than did Disraeli. Salisbury got along well with Ignatiev and the conference quickly reached a compromise agreement. The main provisions were that Bulgaria should be divided into an eastern and western province, Bosnia-Herzegovina united into one province, and each of the three provinces to have a considerable degree of autonomy, including a provincial assembly and a local police force. Also, Serbia was to lose no territory and Montenegro was to be allowed to keep the areas she had overrun in Herzegovina and northern Albania.
These terms were presented as the "irreducible minimum" which the powers would accept. The Turks nevertheless rejected them. This was the celebrated occasion, described in the last chapter, when the sultan promulgated the constitution which provided for reforms and which stipulated that Ottoman territory was inalienable. Under the circumstances the work of the conference became irrelevant and the delegates were so informed. The latter tried to salvage something from the wreckage by reducing their demands from the original "irreducible minimum" to what they now described as the ''quintessence." (16) But the Turks remained adamant in their refusal to grant con cessions to the rebels.
The Turks took such a strong stand because they knew they had strong popular backing. Public opinion was aroused and articulate in Constantinople as well as in London and St. Petersburg. Also, there is little doubt that the Turks were encouraged to stand firm by the British ambassador, Sir Henry Elliot, who effectively undermined Lord Salisbury in Constantinople. Elliot considered the terms laid down by the conference as "impossible demands." He criticized them severely to his government and apparently he did not hide his views from the Turks. Salisbury asked that Elliot be removed from Constantinople. The request was denied because both Disraeli and Foreign Minister Lord Derby shared Elliot's views. In fact, Lord Derby had informed the Turkish ambassador the day before the conference opened that England would not "assent to, or assist in coercive measures against Turkey" (17) Likewise, Disraeli was criticizing Salisbury severely for conceding too much to Ignatiev. "Sal. seems most prejudiced," he wrote to Lord Derby on December 30, "and not to be aware, that his principal object, in being sent to Const., is to keep the Russians out of Turkey, not to create an ideal existence for Turkish Xtians. He is more Russian than Ignatieff...." (18) The Turks were aware of these views in high places in England and therefore expected substantial assistance in case of war with Russia. Under these circumstances they naturally refused to make serious concessions.
Russia had anticipated the failure of the Constantinople Conference and had opened negotiations with Austria beforehand in order to clear the way for action against Turkey. Russia had no choice in this matter because she could not wage a campaign in the Balkans without the consent of Austria. On January l5, 1877, the two powers signed the so-called Budapest Convention. This provided that if the Constantinople Conference failed and war ensued between Russia and Turkey, Austria would remain benevolently neutral and in return could annex Bosnia-Herzegovina. Russia was to regain the Bessarabian area lost in 1856. Like the Reichstadt Agreement, this convention stipulated that no large state should be created in the Balkans.
These terms meant that in case of war Russia would do the fighting and Austria would derive most of the advantage. Russia therefore made a final effort for a peaceful settlement. She persuaded the powers to sign the London Convention (March 31, 1877), which merely asked Turkey to introduce those reforms which she herself had already proposed. The powers were to watch the operation of the reforms, and if conditions remained unsatisfactory they reserved the right "to declare that such a state of things would be incompatible with their interests and those of Europe in general." The "irreducible minimum" had been reduced virtually to the vanishing point. But the Turks felt themselves in a strong position and rejected the proposal on the grounds that it violated the Treaty of Paris. Finally, on April 24, 1877, after nearly two years of futile negotiations, Russia declared war upon Turkey.
1. Cited by W. L. Langer, European Alliances and Alignments 1871-1890 (New York, 1931),p.15.
2. Cited by G. Trubetzkoi, "La politique russe en Orient, le schisme bulgare," Revue d'histoire diplomatique, XXI (1907),191.
3. From 1874 memorandum of N. P. Ignatiev in izvestiia Ministerstva Inostrannykh Del (St. Petersburg, 1914),Bk.IV,p.92.
4. Cited by R. W. Seton-Watson, "Les relations de l'Autriche-Hongrie et de la Serbie entre 1868 et 1874; la mission de Benjamin Kallay a Belgrade," Le monde slave, III (August, 1926), 283.
5. N. Iorga, Correspondance diplomatique roumaine sous le roi Charles 1, 18661880 (Paris, 1923), p. 324.
6. Cited by A. Onou, "The Memoirs of Count N. Ignatyev," Slavonic Review, X (December, 1931), 390, 391.
7. A. Leroy-Beaulieu, "Les reformes de la Turquie, la politique russe et le panslavisme," Revue des deux mondes, XVIII (December 1, 1876), 530.
8. Cited by B. H. Sumner, Russia and the Balkans 1870-1880 (Oxford, 1937), p. 582.
9. Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 3rd Series, CCIV, 81-82.
10. Edited by D. Harris, A Diplomatic History of the Balkan Crisis of 1875-1878: The First Year (Stanford, Calif., 1936), pp. 107-108.
11. Cited ibid., p. 120
12. Ibid., p. 379.
13. Iorga, op. cit., pp. 128-129.
14. Cited by D. Harris, Britain and the Bulgarian Horrors of 1876 (Chicago, 1939), p. 235.
15. W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli (New York, 1920), VI, 70.
16. H. G. Elliot, Some Revolutions and Other Diplomatic Experiences (London, 1922), pp. 285-286.
17. Cited by M. D. Stojanovic, Great Powers and the Balkans 1875-1878 (Cambridge, Eng., 1938), p. 134.
18. Monypenny and Buckle, op. cit., VI, 111.
19. Gwendolen Cecil, Life of Robert Marquis of Salisbury (London, 1921), II, 139.
20. Monypenny and Buckle, op. cit., VI, 217-218.
21. Cited by R. W. Seton-Watson, Disraeli, Gladstone and the Eastern Question (London, 1935), p. 450.
22. Ibid., p. 445.
23. Cited by Langer, op. cit., p. 160.
24. Cited by Seton-Watson, Disraeli, Gladstone and the Eastern Question, p. 490.
25. H..D. Wolff, Rambling Recollections (London, 1908), II, 265.
(Excerpts from "The Balkans Since 1453" by L. S. Stavrianos, Professor of History, Northwestern University, published in 1963 by Holt, Rinehart and WinstonLibrary of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-7242)
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