HISTORIC REMINISCENCES OF SERVIA—BELGRADE.
I HAD previously thought that there was no Socialist party in Servia, but on examination I found that it really exists, only it is chiefly made up of peasants, whose sole desire is to govern themselves by means of their respective communes, and to pay the smallest possible amount of taxes. They are levellers in this sense, that they do not agree with the establishment of numerous officials, living at their cost. A member of the Radical party came to see me and gave me some particulars of the history of Socialism in Servia.A thoroughly good notice on this subject has been published in Jahrbücher für Sozialwissenschaft, Erst. Jahr. 2 Hälfte, p. 384, and Zweiter Jahr. p. 327. The origin of this movement may be traced to the year 1860 and to the formation of the Omladina. It arose amongst the Servians, who, to the number of about a million, inhabit Hungary. They were then more advanced than the other Servians, and their chief town, Neusatz, on the bank of the Danube, was a centre of intellectual and ecclesiastical culture. The young people and the literary men arrived at the very just idea that "representatives" of the Servians of the Principality, of Croatia, and Lower Hungary, should hold a Congress every year. Thus was founded, in 1861, in the town of Gross-Kilinda, a politico-literary association, which took the name of Omladina,Page 209with the motto, "Through light to liberty." It was divided into sections, whose mission was to publish papers and found literary societies in their respective countries. Till 1871 the Omladina met each year in one of the three towns, Belgrade, Neusatz, and Pancsevo.
Two important Servian papers were started, the Srbija in Servia, the Zastawa in Hungary, which is still published.
Two different tendencies were developed within the Omladina: the one pointed to the liberty and intellectual progress of the Servians, preparing for the realization of the national idea, the great Servia; the other tended towards a vague ideal of social reforms and material equality. Some young people who had studied in Russia brought back the doctrines of Tchernyschewsky and Bakounine, which I have attempted to explain in my book on "Contemporary Socialism." Some amount of hostile feeling was shown by these two divisions, and the Omladina ceased to call them together.
Jouyovitch and Svetozar Markovitch were mentioned to me as amongst the best known Radical Socialists. Jouyovitch died young, in 1870, after having written many articles in the organ of the Servians, the Matiza, published at Neusatz, and the Glasnik at Belgrade.
Markovitch was educated at St. Petersburg and at the Polytechnicum at Zurich. He helped to bring over the young men to materialistic socialism, giving them at the same time a taste for natural science. He started a paper in 1865, the Radnik (the Workman). He sharply attacked the minister Ristich, and glorified the Commune of Paris, which drew him into law-suits, and finally led to the suppression of the paper. On the other hand, co-operative associations, both for consumption and production, were established, through his influence, in Servia, chiefly amongst the tailors, bootmakers, locksmiths, and blacksmiths.
I heard also of Adam Bogosawljewitch, a man of an interesting type, which makes us understand why the peasants so often choose radical and socialist deputies. He was born in 1844, in the village of Koprivnitza, in the department Page 210of Kragina; his father was a cattle dealer; he got a good education at the College of Zajetschar, and afterward, at the University of Belgrade; but he refused to receive any diploma, in order to shut himself off from an administrative career. He said, " It is a great misfortune for Servia that every young man who has been through the higher courses of education enters the service of the State, and so the bureaucracy is strengthened to the loss of productive work." He was right there, especially looking to the future. Amidst a society of very equal condition, and where there is no room for a lazy "bourgoisie," what can he do who, having acquired some smattering of knowledge, is no longer willing to work with his hands ? Nothing, if he does not become an official. Thus is formed a constantly increasing class of Government servants, who, upheld by the State, live on the budget, which has therefore to be increased constantly. A perilous hostility will inevitably arise between the tax-paying peasantry and this bureaucratic caste. If the opposition of the country people is crushed out or rendered useless, those who cultivate the ground, that is, the great mass of the nation, will be more severely taxed by the officials and the Western bankers than they were formerly by the Turkish Beys and Spahis.
Bogosawljewitch, like a Roman of the Republic, tilled the ground with his own hands, wearing the national dress, and introducing improved systems of cultivation, whilst he also reserved some leisure time, which he spent in his large and well-chosen library. He thus became the idol of the peasants, who called him "the people's friend," and who unfailingly appointed him deputy, although, on several occasions, the Minister induced the Skoupchtina to invalidate his election. In 1873 the support given him by the socialist paper, the Jawnost, gave his nomination a signification which irritated the Government. The dissolution of the Skoupchtina, where the Opposition seemed to have the majority, was decreed, and "the people's friend" was arrested and put in prison. But bands of armed countrymen invaded Negotin, where he was detained; they rescued Page 211him and took him home in triumph. His popularity was so great that he was left in freedom.
Re-elected to the Skoupchtina, he was again thrown into prison on March 29, 1879, and he died suddenly the next day from inflammation of the lungs. We see by this example what attracts the Servian peasantry towards the Socialists; it is neither their communistic nor their nihilistic theories, but their opposition to the expense and luxury of the Government, and their claims for Communal Autonomy.
About 1872 Svetozar Markovitch, one of the best known Socialist writers, returned to Belgrade. In his book, "Servia in the East," he tried to show that the extension of the zadrugas and the common ownership would bring the solution of the social question upon historic ground to the Jougo-Slavs. He founded, at Kragoujevatz, a centre of socialist radical activity which soon exerted great influence, and thus became the object of Government prosecutions. The papers which he started successively, the Jawnost, the Rad, the Glas Jawnosti, all fell under reiterated condemnations. He had himself to endure eight months in prison, which completely ruined his health. He died at Trieste, where he went in search of a milder climate, on February 25, 1875. All parties did homage to his talent. The paper of M. Ristitch said of him:
"The well-known Servian author, Svetozar Markovitch, died at Trieste. We may say of this man, that every page he published was written with his heart's blood and the very marrow of his bones."
In 1875 the Skoupchtina was in open opposition to the Ministry; in vain the Prince went himself to bring it back to his will : the Cabinet was compelled to retire. But the new Ministry was obliged to overawe the radical party by suits and imprisonments. Nevertheless, the new elections once more gave the Radicals a majority. Ristitch, again in power, thought that the time for yielding had come; he granted laws which extended communal autonomy, and with more protection to individual liberty and the freedom of the press.
Page 212At the new communal elections (1875) the Radical party was victorious in a large number of towns, and even in the ancient capital, Kragoujevatz. The rejoicings which took place on this occasion gave rise to some disturbances. Thirty-two of the principal inhabitants were put in prison and charged with the crime of conspiracy. This great trial moved the whole country; twelve barristers pleaded for the accused, who were all acquitted.
In 1877 the war with Turkey having permitted the Government to proclaim a state of siege, advantage was taken of it to condemn to prison and compulsory labour many Socialists accused of conspiracy. Some of these were even shot, Captain Jefrem Markovitch, who, amongst others, had distinguished himself by taking the important position of Ak-Palanka from the Turks. Notwithstanding the excessive severity of these repressive measures which forced many Radicals to seek safety in exile, twelve of their representatives were elected in 1878, and eighteen in 1881.
In October, 1882, Helen, the widow of Jefrem Markovitch attempted to avenge the death of her husband by killing King Milan. In the following June she was found dead in her prison, like her friend, Madame Knitchanine.
The elections of September 15, 1883, placed a Radical, or at least an anti-ministerialist, majority in the Skoupchtina. The Ristitch Ministry replaced the Progressist Cabinet: he ordered the arrest of a number of deputies and members of the electoral committees on the charge of plotting against the safety of the State. These violent and illegal measures provoked attempts at insurrection, which were pitilessly repressed under the laws of the state of siege. When a Government has recourse so frequently to exceptional measures we may conclude it is only upheld by force. It is a perilous situation for any country which is not wholly inured to despotism.
In order to understand the present situation of Servia and its after development, a brief summary of its recent history may be useful.
In 1801 the Dahis, the chiefs of the Janissaries, took Page 213possession of the Servian Government and massacred the heads of the communes and the principal inhabitants. There was a general insurrection, of which the wooded district of the Schoumadia was the centre. George Petrovitch, or Kara-George (from the Turkish word kara, black), put himself at the head of the movement. The Servians, supported by the Mussulman proprietors, the Spahis, pursued the Dahis and Janissaries: they gained a great victory over the Ottoman troops near Tchoupria and took their General prisoner, September, 1804. The country was organized, and the first Senate called together. The Servians placed themselves under the protection of Russia, who, on the peace with Turkey, in 1806, did not stipulate for sufficient guarantees for Servia; she increased the disagreements between Mladen, President of the Senate, and Kara-George in order that her aid might be still needed. Offensive return of the Ottoman troops. The Servians defeated at Tchoupria, 1809. Heroic defence of Deligrad. Aided by Russian troops they drove back the Turks in 1810 and 1811. Armistice de facto in 1812. The Treaty of Bucharest, between Russia and the Porte, did not ensure the independence of Servia.
In 1813 the Turkish armies invaded the country with overwhelming forces. The Servians were everywhere beaten, the country devastated. Kara-George fled to a foreign land.
In 1815 Milosch Obrenovitch headed a new insurrection. He drove back, at the same time, Reschid Pacha, who came from Bosnia, and the Grand Vizier, Marashli Ali Pacha, who advanced from the south. In 1817, provisional peace. Kara-George returned to Servia, and was killed by the Mayor of Smederevo Vuitza, whose guest he was. Milosch was not an accomplice of the crime. The firman of 1820 and the firman of Adrianople recognized the right of Servia to govern herself and choose her own sovereign in consideration of an annual tribute to the Porte. An address of thanks was sent to the Sultan and to the Czar, "the magnanimous protector of Servia."
Page 214Intrigues of the agents of Russia put obstacles in the way of the complete emancipation of Servia, opposed Milosch, upheld the Senate against him, and recommended the vote of a Constitution. Struggles for influence between England and Russia; the latter triumphed, and supporting the enemies of Milosch, forced him to abdicate June, 1839.
Milan, then Michael Obrenovitch, son of Milosch, was elected Prince. Vucsitch and Petronijevitch, senators and enemies of Michel, called in the intervention of the Turks against him. Russia, which did not find him a sufficiently compliant servant, deserted him. Triumphant insurrection. Alexander Kara-George elected. He became unpopular. Opposition of the Senate. Alexander, abandoned by both Russia and the Porte, compelled to flee from Belgrade, November, 1858.
Milosch was recalled. Patriarchal, energetic, independent government. On his death, in the spring of 1860, his son Michel succeeded him. He took for his motto, "The law is the supreme authority in Servia." Fight between Christians and Mussulmans at Belgrade. The Turks of the citadel bombarded the town. The Consuls protested. Organization of a national army. Turkey consented to evacuate the fortresses which she still occupied (1867). Reorganization of the Senate and National Assembly. The first Minister, Kristitch, governed autocratically; he was superseded by M. Ristitch, who was assisted by another very capable statesman, Garashanine. Prince Michael was assassinated, May 25, 1868. His nephew, Milan Obrenovitch, was proclaimed. Regency established under Blasnavatz. Reorganization of the army. Grant of a Liberal Constitution. Opposition of Russia. Law as to the liberty of the Press and general education. Prince Milan goes to the Crimea to re-establish good relations with the Czar. The events of the Russo-Turkish war, which have made Servia an independent kingdom, are too recent to be related here.
In the contemporary history of Servia two things are set in strong relief. Firstly, the Russian policy, which, Page 215through its hostile influences, blundered signally and lost the result of its previous sacrifices. It was certainly, to a great extent, to Russian support that Servia owed its existence as an independent State, and especiallyits recent extension; but, wishing still to keep it dependent, Russia was opposed to the growth of its liberty and power, and encouraged internal discord. It therefore follows that the Servians have not retained any feelings of gratitude towards the Russians. The same policy has been followed in Bulgaria. Russia harms, in this way, both herself and those whom she protects. Establish new States, respect their independence and support their legitimate aspirations, then you may count upon them in the hour of peril.
The second point that I wish to point out is the odious conduct of men who, like Vucsitch, imitating the betrayal of Vuk to Kossovo, ask the help of foreigners to upset their enemies at home. The struggles of the Great Powers for influence provoke these coalitions, which ought to be branded as a crime by all parties.
We do not realize how little education there was throughout Servia when the War of Independence began. In 1807 a decree was passed that only those who could read and write should be allowed to fill the high offices of the State. "Useless command," said Madame Mijatovitch; "twenty years afterwards the most important posts were held by men who could hardly sign their own name."
In order to study the economic conditions more thoroughly I decided to go by land to Constantinople, thus traversing the Balkan Peninsula diagonally, from one end to the other. The railway, since opened from Belgrade to Nisch, was not then completed, but my journey was greatly helped by the kindness of the Servian Government, which placed a travelling carriage at my disposal, and gave me as guide and interpreter a young Frenchman, M. Vavasseur, who, having come as a volunteer in the War of Independence, had married a Servian lady, and become an attaché to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We started for Smederevo—Semendria—in splendid weather. The summers are dry Page 216and warm throughout Eastern Europe, and, unless there is a storm, it never rains.
I left with regret the "White Town," so cheerful in the morning sunshine. What a contrast with the impression that it made upon Blanqui in 1842! He said, "From the time we approach Belgrade, besides a few houses with green shutters built in the European style, all that presents itself to view is of Turkish physiognomy: the walls of the fortress in ruins, tall white minarets amidst the cypress trees, the many-coloured lattices before the windows, the uneven pavement, the unswept streets; here, houses in ruins; further away, large open spaces, dark and dirty shops, casements without windows, and ragged people." I noticed, in passing, the national arms of Servia on some of the public buildings—a white cross upon a red ground, with four golden C's, signifying Cama, Cloga, Cpasiva, Cerbi, "Unity alone can save Servia."
On leaving Belgrade I was surprised to see such a barren country. Open and deserted spaces, no villas, no market-gardens. The vegetables used in Belgrade are grown by Bulgarians on the other side of the Save, and brought every morning from Semlin; they are very dear. It would pay well to establish some dairies, with vegetable gardens near Belgrade. It would be better than begging for Government places, or starting uncertain and precarious trades.
Our road became charming as it neared the Danube, passing at the foot of hills covered with vines, walnut trees, and oaks. Now and then we saw a house surrounded by plum trees. In Servia, as in Bosnia, dried plums are an important article of commerce. More than 12,000 tons were exported in 1881, valued at 5d. the kilogramme. They also make prune brandy, slivovitza, known to all the Jougo-Slavs. Common slivovitza, very weak, is only worth 2d. the litre, but when it is strong it is sold at 10d.
We changed horses at Grotchka. Near here, the Austrians, under General Wallis, sustained, in 1793, a humiliating defeat, which ended the three years of war Page 217which they had kept up against the Turks. The powers of resistance of the Ottoman Empire were enormous at that time. It is the attempt to assimilate our civilization which is killing it now. We arrived at Smederevo towards noon. How imposing is the sight of that old fortress, with its high mediæval towers, which rise proudly above the banks of the Danube ! It was erected in 1432 by George Brankovitch. The principal church, dedicated to St. George, was built by a Tzintzar architect. The Tzintzars, as I have said, were the great builders of this country. Much activity at the port; long flat boats are being loaded with pigs, others are discharging their cargo of fine rock salt, clear as crystal, from the salt-mines of Maros-Ujvar, in Transylvania. I have seen beds of more than 100 metres in thickness, like those of a stone quarry. The hotel where we dined à l'Autrichienne, that is, very well, was full of Servian and Hungarian merchants. Upon the walls were pictures of scantily-dressed girls, which do not give a high idea of the morality of Smederevo. I saw nothing of the kind in the interior of the country: there, the engraving upon the walls represent the national saints, present sovereigns, and frequently the heroes of the last war. I am told that morality is good all over Servia.
Our road here left the Danube. We followed upwards the banks of the Jessava, which is one of the outlets of the Morava, the watershed of which, ramified in all directions, includes almost the whole of Servia.
I admired the fine vineyards on the hills overlooking Smederevo. It is the aureus mons asserted by Eutropius to be planted by the soldiers of the Emperor M. Aurelius Probus. A railway runs parallel with the road on the other side of the Jessava; it is a provisional branch, intended to bring the materials from the Danube to the Morava; it has been made permanent, and it is the nearest way to a port on the Danube. The valley of the Morava is open as far as Nisch, and the mountains on both sides are wooded, and not steep. It is the valley of the Rhine between Bâle and Strasbourg in miniature Page 218The land is fertile and not badly cultivated. The predominant system of the succession of crops is the triennial, wheat or rye, maize and fallow. It is the same almost everywhere, with this difference, that in fertile parts they grow maize for several years together, and in barren land it is the fallow which lasts during a longer time. The dwelling-houses are large, with outbuildings, stables, cow-houses, maize ricks, barns, all together in a large, well-hedged space, in which the animals wander about. These constructions are generally thatched, and made of clay or wood, but being whitewashed, they peep out prettily amidst the fruit trees, which form a complete wood.
All along the road we noticed, near each village, a clump of old oak trees in the middle of large meadows, which looked well in the landscape; here, the droves of travelling cattle and harnessed oxen and buffaloes may rest and browse quite freely. Each family owns a little plot of 5 or 10 hectares, and has also the right of getting fuel from the woods of the Commune and the State. Geese, ducks, fowls are very plentiful, and they need not be sold to pay the rent. Owner of his farm, he eats them himself, he has the "fowl in the pot."
The post-horses all came from Hungary. The Servian horse is no bigger than a pony; it is ugly in shape, but it can bear fatigue well, and is as quiet as a mule. It is rather a beast of burden than of draught. It is low in price, from £2 10s. to £6 in the interior of the country; £12 for the best kinds. Prince Michael greatly desires to improve the breed. He has set up two studs, one at Pazarevatz, the other at Dobritchevo, near Tchoupria. Time is needed to produce appreciable results, and also the co-operation of the cultivators themselves. It would be an easy source of profit to them.
We met numberless carts, of primitive form, drawn by a couple of thin black buffaloes; some were carrying cereals, wheat, or, more frequently, maize to the Danube; others were bringing back salt, salt and still salt, and sometimes bales of various goods. Exchanges are very few here, Page 219because each family produces within itself almost everything it needs.
Towards evening, when we were driving through the street of the village of Hadji-Begovatz, between Velika-Plana and Lapovo, my companion exclaimed, "What do I see! Here is the Abbé Tondini come to life again!" The Abbé had been sent by Strossmayer to administer the sacraments to 5,000 Italians, who were working on the railway. It had been stated by the Belgrade papers that one of them had killed him. He was very glad to meet us, and made us get out of the carriage and go with him to the garden of a neighbouring house, occupied by a French engineer, whose child he was going to baptize. It was a little festival. A long table was covered with fruit, flowers, and bottles. Frenchmen and Italians were fraternizing, glass in hand.
Strossmayer had spoken to me of the Abbé Tondini, of Quarenghi. "He is a true apostle," he had said, " wholly devoted to his work, educated, and speaking ten or twelve languages equally well." What a chance to meet him thus on the high road, in the very heart of Servia! We discovered another coincidence—that in a recent article of his in the Contemporary Review, against Panslavism, he had spoken of an article upon Bakounine that I had just published in the Revue des Deux Mondes.
He told me a very curious incident, which is another proof of Baron Kállay's assertion that Austria does not seek an Ultramontane propaganda. The Pope's Nuncio at Vienna, in obedience to the suggestions of the Austrian Ministry, opposed Tondini's nomination, solely on the ground that it would disturb Servian susceptibilities. It had needed all Strossmayer's energy to overcome the opposition of the Nuncio. "I am Bishop of Servia," he said. "It is my duty to send religious help when I am asked for it: I know it will not create any disturbance at Belgrade. I have appointed Tondini; I cannot recall him without being unfaithful to my mission." It was in vain that the Nuncio threatened to appeal to Rome; he was compelled to yield.
Page 220The railway keeps almost always alongside of the road in the middle of the Morava valley, where the ascent is insensible. I am no longer astonished that the line to Nisch was finished in two years; there are no engineering triumphs, neither embankments, nor cuttings. The company, which has been paid more than six thousand pounds per kilometre, must have gained a great profit.
We supped at Bagredan, in a mehana, inn, kept, as everywhere, by a Tzintzar. We were served with the special national dish, kissala tcherba, that is " sour soup." It was a kind of sour broth, made from boiled fowl, which, cut in pieces, still floated in its midst. I found it excellent: then came roast mutton and French beans, cooked with cream. The wine of this neighbourhood resembles that of Macon. I was prepared to fast; I was, therefore, agreeably surprised to find the Servian cooking so good, and the bill to pay so astonishingly moderate. It is true that in the mehanas the price of everything is fixed by an official tariff, as at our railway stations. They are public and privileged enterprises. A first-class mehana pays a special tax of £12, a second-class £10, and a third £8. The number of rooms that each mehana ought to have is also regulated according to its class. If the hotel overcharges a traveller, it is liable to lose its license. A permission is also required before a café or a drinking saloon can be opened. There is no country where the laws have been so universally and consistently enforced. It is not for the traveller to complain. In these times of increasing drunkenness it would be well finally to limit everywhere the number of drinking places.
During the night we passed two important places—Yagodina and Tchoupria. They resembled small Austrian towns, but had no remarkable features. In the morning we breakfasted at Alexinatz. The town had been half burned by the Turkish shells during the last war. They took advantage of this to improve it: pretty bright houses, streets planted with trees, many shops and cafés, and, by the side of a little affluent of the Morava, an immense and Page 221magnificent brewery. I repeat again here that this irresistible conqueror, Gambrinus, the god of beer, has invaded the domains of Bacchus.
We mounted a hill which overlooks Alexinatz. A pyramid has been erected there in honour of the Russian volunteers who were killed in the bloody battles which were fought in the neighbourhood. At our feet opens the valley of the Bulgarian Morava, through which the Turkish army from Nisch advanced: during three days fierce combats were continued. We still see on the heights around us the embankments which protected the Servian batteries. In the direction of Stalatch, to the north-west, at the foot of the high mountains, we catch a glimpse of the confluence of the Servian and Bulgarian Morava.
The Servians have been reproached with being badly beaten in the last war with the Turks. The heroic bravery which they displayed in the struggles of 1805 to 1815, in which they achieved their independence, was said to be no longer apparent. This reproach seems to me unfounded. When the Servians made flying skirmishes, like the Montenegrins, they showed equal courage; but when, in the open field, a militia, badly armed and manoeuvred, was opposed to the regular tactics of old soldiers, having better guns and cannon, it was impossible that they should conquer.
Stuart Mill remarks that the loss and ruin occasioned by a fire or a war are repaired with great speed when the productive forces of the nation are not worn out. Alexinatz adds another proof of the truth of this statement, which has just been added to that given by the wonderful resurrection of France after 1870.
On the way to Nisch we were two hours driving on an immense plain, very fertile, covered with maize and corn, but without a house or a tree. We are entering a territory lately occupied by the Turks: the neighbourhood of Turkish towns is always deserted, because the cultivators dare not settle there on account of the exactions of the governors and the robberies of the soldiers.
In 1840 this whole district was ravaged by the Turks. Page 222The Hatti-Scheriff of Gulhané had granted equal rights to all the Sultan's subjects, Christians and Mussulmans. Great joy of the rayas, fury and indignation of the Turks, who wished to take advantage of their power to crush out those to whom equality had been granted. Their requirements redoubled; they overwhelmed the unhappy peasantry with exactions and insults, and carried off their daughters. The Bulgarians, driven beyond endurance, rose and valiantly repulsed the first attack, but they were dispersed by the help of artillery. The Pachalik of Nisch was completely devastated; 225 villages were burned and destroyed, and the inhabitants who escaped instant massacre fled to the forests of Servia. It was in vain that the unhappy refugees begged for help from the Czar Nicholas and the Prince of Servia. Not one voice was raised on their behalf. A well-cultivated district became a desert. Is it astonishing that we only find villages far away from the roads in all countries that have lately belonged to the Turks?
Nisch has already the look of a Hungarian town. After its cession to Servia, the Mussulmans emigrated, and their houses, all of wood, were sold at a low price. The Municipality has destroyed them to make wide streets, where are new stone houses and shops with an air of the West. I went to pay my respects to the French Consul, who lived in a Turkish house in the middle of a pretty garden, on the banks of the Nischava. Nothing any longer recalls the Ottoman rule, except some rich Turks, who have returned to sell their property. Here is the wife of one going into her dwelling. It might be a ball of violet silk; two servants followed her, also enveloped in their feredges.
The only remarkable building in Nisch is a great fortress which dates from the conquest; it now serves for barracks. It is incredible how, since the recent annexation with Servia, everything is transformed and has taken a Western look. Nothing astonished me more than our hotel; it was a building so large that in the quadrilateral formed by its dependencies it enclosed a large garden with trees and Page 223flowers, where we supped in the open air, with a numerous company, enjoying the music of the Hungarian Tchardas. The rooms were clean, even elegant. An immense café, with a billiard-room, was full of people. All the beds were taken. Nisch has already become an important commercial centre; by the way of Lescovatz it receives the products of Macedonia—wool, leather, skins—and also some stuffs and hardware from England, imported by Salonica. At Nisch, the railway, on which we see an engine, will have two branches: one will go by Pirot and Sofia to the already opened line of Sarambey-Constantinople; the other by Vrania Mitrovitza-Salonica, either at Varosch or at Uskub.
The doctor of the department came to sup with us. He gave me details as to the working of the famous sanitary laws that I have previously discussed, and as to the manner of life of the people. He said: " The Servian willingly obeys the law, when he believes that his interest is intended. Thus compulsory vaccination never meets with opposition. It is done without charge; but the doctors of the districts and communes receive four-pence for each case, which interests them in carrying out the law. Our people are very healthy and robust. Although maize is the principal food, the Italian pellagra is unknown here, because our peasants all eat pork, mutton, and plenty of salt: salt is an excellent thing, and very lightly taxed. We consume already ten kilogrammes of salt per head, two of sugar, half a kilogramme of coffee. Does not that show a certain comfort ? What weakens our cultivators is the fast days, whole or partial, which occur almost every other day. They observe them more strictly than their attendance at church, even on Sunday."
Although the roads were perfectly safe, yet when I left Nisch for Pirot, the préfet and the departmental doctor accompanied us in their carriage as far as the next stage, and two gensdarmes on horseback preceded us—another kindness of M. Pirotchanatz. A little way from the town they made me get out and took me to examine a very Page 224strange monument, which seemed to be the ruins of a Roman tower. It was made of a singular concrete; one would think it was of large white stones embedded in cement. I went near, and saw that these stones were human skulls. I am reminded of a heroic incident in the War of Independence. In 1809 the Servians attacked the Turks not far from here, in the village of Kamenitza, and were defeated. Their chief, Singgelitch, withdrew into a fort on the Vojnik, and when the enemy carried the entrenchments he blew it up. The assailants and the heroic band were buried together under the ruins. The victorious Pacha thought to overawe the people by building the tower of skulls—Kele-kalessi. The surroundings are in contrast to this horrible monument. In 1860 Mahmoud Pacha had erected a pretty white marble fountain, with inscriptions from the Koran. The water has favoured the growth of a fine clump of graceful willows. Little by little the frost and the peasants are carrying away the remains of this ill-omened tower. It will disappear unless it is taken care of. Not long ago the rayas wished it; would it not be more worth while to keep it now that they are set free, to inspire them with the horror of foreign domination? In any case a marble slab should be set up which would commemorate the exploit of Singgelitch.
The road to Pirot first follows the Nischava; but soon the river sinks into a terrible gorge, dominated by the steep slopes of the Gufijanska-Planina. The railway will have to go through this. The engineers who have examined it were much impressed: there is not even a footpath, and the torrent rushes over the fallen rocks. We passed to the right an outspur of the Suva-Planina, an imposing mass of mountains, wooded below, but terminating in sharp peaks, quite covered with snow. To speak accurately, it is here that the Balkans begin; for by the Suva-Planina the chain is continued eastward as far as the Black Sea, where it ends in Cape Emineh. I could think myself in the Tyrolese Alps, if the fir trees were not completely wanting. The woods, as in Bosnia, are of oak, beech, and Page 225ash; but large trees are rare; they have been cut down everywhere in the vicinity of the roads.
When the préfet of Nisch and the departmental doctor left us, they entrusted us to Sreski-naichalnik, sous-préfet of Ak-Palanka, M. Stankovitch, who had come to meet us, wearing the old Servian costume, with a large belt in which were pistols and yatagans—a whole arsenal. He was a handsome man in the graceful dress of a hussar; he rode a good Russian horse that he bought in the last war. We talked of the district as he trotted lightly by the carriage. "It is," he said, "one of the wildest in Servia; it is inhabited only by shepherds, who take their flocks to the mountains. In these narrow gorges there is no space for cultivation; but wild animals abound—the lynx, bear, wolf, eagle, and all kinds of birds of prey. Bear-hunting is one of my amusements." I remarked on the absence of large trees in the forests I had seen. "You are right," he said. "Servia was formerly covered with magnificent forests of oak and beech: they disappear as the population increases. In 1839 Milosch had found it necessary to enact severe laws to preserve them. Since then, in 1847 and 1867, our Assembly has passed still more rigorous ones, giving the State the absolute right of control. But how can it be carried out? The peasants have always had their fire and building wood from the forests of the State and the Commune, and this cannot be prohibited. The only thing is to convince the people of the bad effects of destroying the woods, especially in the mountains. If you would see fine forests you must go to the peninsula of Krajna, formed by the bend of the Danube, between the Pek and the Timok. Do not forget that more than one-third of our land—about four millions of hectares—is still wooded."
We arrived at Ak-Palanka about noon. It is a small village with a few houses. High mountains rise on all sides. We feel far away from everything in this hidden nook, in the midst of the Balkan Peninsula. The mehana is of primitive simplicity. The three compulsory beds are there, but they are wide wooden forms, on which one Page 226would have to spread a carpet before sleeping: however, everything is very clean. The walls are white-washed, and upon a fine linen table-cloth, embroidered and trimmed with lace, they served a kissala tcherba soup, roast mutton, a fowl, salad, and good Nisch wine; then Turkish coffee. We were three with the sous-préfet, and I paid 3s. 4d. for the whole.
Before us rose the ruins of an old Turkish fortress. This karal commanded the passage, which was of great strategic importance, for the road attaching Servia to the Ottoman Empire ran through here. But Ak-Palanka can no longer be called, as formerly, a fortified place. The gate, left open, is of a graceful Arab character, like that of the Alhambra. The court is full of ruins, amongst which I noticed a capital that seemed Roman. From the remains of the ancient walls barracks for the pandours have been built, and a konak for the sous-préfet. It is a building of one story; but his young wife had arranged a charming drawing-room, with carpets and bear-skins on the floor; photographs and engravings ornamenting the walls; sofas, easy-chairs; and flowers in the windows. This oasis of cultured taste in the midst of this wild scenery and steep and desolate mountains produced a great impression. We were offered, according to the general custom of Servia, preserve, that is taken with a small spoon into a crystal cup, and accompanied by a glass of water. Madame Stankovitch, who spoke French and German equally well, besides Servian, complained of their absolute solitude in winter, when, for months together, the country is covered with snow, and they hear in the night the howling of the wolves. Bears are still numerous in the neighbouring mountains. I admired the superb skins of these animals on the floor, killed by the sous-préfet.
What a change when the steam-engine comes near here on the banks of the Nischava!
The sous-préfet went with us to the place where the hussars of Pirot were to meet us, and we were delighted with his kind escort and instructive conversation.
Page 227The préfet of Pirot sent his pissar (secretary) to bid us welcome. Although he came on horseback, he was in official dress—white cravat and black coat, ornamented with decorations and medals, testimonies to his courage in the War of Independence. The hussars, who preceded him, had a savage look. How different from the gentlemanly-looking gensdarmes of Nisch!
The secretary pointed out to us a group of shepherds in the middle of a field, with an immense flock of sheep and goats. We went up to them: they had made a hut of branches, in which they had passed the night, and where they were making cheese from the milk, pressi copia lactis. It is the flock of a village, shared together, as in the Swiss cheese-making fromagerus. The family communities, or zadrugas, are still numerous in this neighbourhood.
There are several zadrugas at Gnilan, a small village half an hour to the left of the Nisch road, at the gates of Pirot. The departmental authorities encourage the formation of new zadrugas, and the preservation of those already established. Here is a zadruga of twenty-four persons. The grandfather, Djenko Thodorovitch, is starechina. He has three married sons, and two unmarried ones; the remainder of the family is composed of daughters-in-law and little children. This zadruga, considered to be very poor, owned twenty plougovas—a measure rather less than a hectare—of land, 60 sheep and goats, 8 oxen, 2 horses, and 3 pigs.
The zadruga pays a tax of £10 to the State. Under the Turkish rule it paid the dime and the devehak (tax of a ninth paid to the Bey, or lord), and that was much heavier than the tax. The members of this zadruga observe scrupulously the Lenten fast, which corresponds with the Catholic Lent, and they fast every Wednesday and Friday. 'Their ordinary food is milk and cheese, with meat occasionally. The rye-bread is very well made, and good. They received us by offering us sarmas—mincemeat cooked in vine leaves—and very good wine, all served upon a little round table, fifteen centimetres in height, in the Turkish Page 228fashion. The interior of the house was somewhat dilapidated; there were three rooms—one for meals, and the others for sleeping and other domestic uses: there was no floor, only beaten earth. The costume was thoroughly Bulgarian. The slava of the zadruga was St. Arandjel. The customs of this zadruga are the same as in Croatia.
On descending the mountain, a vast plain was suddenly unrolled at our feet, surrounded by hills. It was cultivated, but bare, without trees or houses. Towards the middle, on the banks of a river fringed with willows, rose a perfectly white town, with tall minarets and an old fortress; it is Pirot, chief town of the second province given to Servia by the Treaty of Berlin. The préfet came to take us to our mehana, and to show us the town. His name was Drobniak. He is of a race of heroes. His grandfather was the Probatine of Milosch. They swore brotherhood at the altar, before the pope (Eastern priest), letting their blood flow together; and they fought together everywhere against the Turks, at Tchatchak, Yagodina, and Krujevatz. His father had been the intimate friend of Prince Michael. He was himself formerly deputy for Grotschka, and has become, since the annexation, natchalnik, préfet, here. Pirot still retains the appearance of a Turkish town. Its streets have low open shops on both sides; in some we see the artizans at work, in others the merchant sits cross-legged amidst the wares he has for sale. All the Turks have emigrated; only three or four of the richest have returned. The mosques and the bath, the Hamam, are also falling into decay. The famous question of the vakoufs still remains to be settled with the Porte for the two annexed provinces. They will become the property of Servia, but not without an indemnity to the Government at Constantinople, which must be fixed.
The principal church of the Eastern Rite is very interesting. It is old, and has some wood carvings, icons, and pictures which look to have come from the Middle Ages. It is, however, very small for a town of 14,000 souls.
Perhaps they do here as in the zadrugas: some members Page 229of the family go to Mass for all the rest: the church has neither bell nor steeple, nothing to show what it is; a high windowless wall conceals it completely from the passers-by. Islamism was so fanatical, that the Christians had to hide their places of worship.
The natchalnik pointed out with pride that education was being at once provided for. Here is the primary school in a charming Turkish house, with a verandah and ceiling of carved wood. Upon the walls, maps, pictures of natural history, and even of human anatomy ! Further away there is a gymnasium, for which the town and the department have voted the supplies. The best pupils receive a scholarship of twenty-four dinars (about nineteen shillings) a month, and some books. There are 700 pupils to a population of 14,000. In the little shops, I noticed a crowd of dyers and sellers of woollen thread of the nicest and purest colours.
The chief local industry of Pirot is the manufacture of a special kind of carpet, which bears the name of the place. They are of "low warp," without pile, thin, therefore, but strong, and alike on both sides. The designs, in which red, white, and blue preponderate, are in very good taste. The colours formerly were indestructible; unfortunately they have begun to use aniline dyes, which do not last. In almost every family the women make these carpets entirely by hand, without even a shuttle. The warp is held perpendicularly, and the stooping worker passes into it the thread of the weft, without any pattern, and as it were by inspiration. She can only gain 3d. or 4d. for twelve hours of work. Certainly here, far from the markets, prices are fabulously low. A fowl is 5d.; a turkey, 1s. 3d.; ten eggs 1½d. These are still the prices of the Middle Ages. The influx of precious metals in the sixteenth century, and the gold mines of Australia and California, have not exerted any influence here. Economists often speak of the rise of prices as universal. Far from that; it is a phenomenon limited until now to the Western countries. Railways and the growth of the population will make it gradually Page 230more general before the close of the century, and in the proportion in which prices rise in these far-off places will they need more precious metals to effect their exchanges. The Pirot carpets are very cheap for their quality—about eight or ten shillings the square metre. They are made any size, to order. They are generally used in Servia, Bulgaria, and even Turkey: but Bulgaria, to encourage their manufacture within herself, and perhaps also to revenge the loss of a'district which she considered her own, has imposed a high duty on these carpets, accompanied also, they say, by all kinds of vexations.
In many open shops we may see the workmen hammering at the disc-shaped mass of silver buckles on which they work Byzantine designs in very good taste.
We are here in a region of mixed races. The préfet told me that the language is Servian, flavoured with Bulgarian, but it is more Bulgarian than Servian. The peasants' dress is Bulgarian—tight trousers of coarse white cloth, to which the stockings are fastened with straps which meet those of the opankas, a red belt, and a large sheepskin hat. The women wear, over the long tunic, two black woollen aprons, one behind and one before, a kind of diadem of bright colours on the head, and they all have flowers either in their coiled hair or in the long tresses which hang down the back. Some of them still have the loose trousers of the Turkish women. The guzla has three cords, as in Bulgaria, instead of one, as in Servia.
The language of the schools was Bulgarian under the Turks. Most of the family names end in of; only, they are beginning to change this Bulgarian termination to itch, in the Servian fashion. Geographically, it is attached to Nisch rather than to Sofia. First, it is nearer; and in the second place, both are on the banks of the Nischava. However, this country has always been considered as Bulgarian, and it is certainly more so than it is Servian: the sympathies of the people are for Bulgaria, as was seen recently when Prince Alexander's army occupied Pirot. In the schools the children are drilled for two hours every day Page 231in gymnastics and military exercises by retired officers. Now they are passing by, headed by a clarion: they have to enter the militia afterwards, and so the standing army is considerably decreased. Even the students who are to be ecclesiastics have also to learn the management of arms.
I saw a goatherd pass by with large pistols in his belt. He had a flock of long-haired goats, like those of Thibet: they are sheared like sheep, and their skin, with its thick hair, makes a very beautiful fur. Goat's hair is woven into a kind of smooth carpet, and into very strong sacks for oats, that may be seen everywhere on the backs of the pack-horses. It costs only 8d. a kilo, which is very little. At Pirot, 200 families weave cotton, which comes from Salonica. The trade from here takes the direction of Vrania, and the railway to Salonica, rather than towards Sofia. Butter and cheese are sent in large quantities to Constantinople. In this neighbourhood we find chiefly grass land: in several communes there is scarcely any arable land; everything comes from the flocks.
Boundary walls are constructed in a most primitive manner. Stakes are fixed into the ground, to which crossbars are fastened, and the interstices are filled up with beaten clay; and, to prevent the rain from washing away this inexpensive wall, it is covered all along with a little roof of thatch. However, they have begun to make burnt bricks, which cost more than sixteen shillings a thousand: with the low wages here they could be made at half price by the Belgian method. The new houses are built of bricks. The inhabitants of the town, who are old and well off, are wrapped in large cafetans, lined and trimmed with fox-skin; they wear a fez, and have the gravity and calm of Turks.
Funeral rites are more observed here than at Belgrade. A special cake, called panaia, is prepared for the occasion, and on the anniversaries the favourite food of the deceased is distributed to the poor. The cake of the slava, patron saint, is called kolievo. I tasted a cake made of maize; it was really good, and was very superior to the Italian polenta (cake made of maize).
Page 232Near the Turkish bridge across the Nischava, the variety of forms, colours, and costumes, and the small shops filled with bright-coloured wools make a brilliant picture. The women still occasionally wear Turkish trousers of rose colour or light yellow: their belts are fastened by immense copper or silver buckles of fine workmanship. The number of goldsmiths making them in sight of the public is considerable: all the peasants of the neighbourhood come to buy them here. The men have thick white woollen trousers fastened to the stocking with straps (like the barbarians on Constantine's Arch in Rome), and a kind of blouse also of white wool, with a large red belt, and heavy opankas on their feet. Before the not very numerous refreshment-rooms I noticed a small barrel, full of black gelatine, intended to grease the axles of the buffalo waggons.
I invited the natchalnik to take supper with us at the mehana. Fearing that the wine was not good there, he brought us some from Négotine. It was very deep coloured, almost black; it had 30 per cent. of alcohol, and resembled light port, only it had a too strongly marked flavour, which would need to be lessened before it would be appreciated by Western connoisseurs. I prefer the growths of Nisch and the Schoumadia. Servian wines are not made with sufficient care. They have begun to export them; in 1882, 40,000 hectolitres were sold abroad, of which 13,000 went to France.
Servia's 150,000 hectares of vineyards produce about a million hectolitres of wine. At Pirot a litre is sold for 2d. or 2½d., but at Belgrade it is already worth 4d. or 5d.
The natchalnik told us that there were no more signs of hostility to the Turks. Toleration is perfect. The Municipality pays the salary of the Mussulman priest, the hodja, with an additional pound a month for the support of his mosque. The Jews of Spanish origin are respected, and most of them are in comfortable circumstances, or rich. Thirty or forty families of Tzigane Mussulmans have settled here and become agriculturalists. One has been Page 233made judge. At Negotine a Tzigane is attached to the law court.
The country is quite quiet. The inhabitants are peaceable and crime is rare; for a long time there has only been one criminal in the prison. Pirot will grow rapidly as soon as the railway gets here: already the wooden Turkish houses are being replaced by solid buildings of bricks. The manufacture of carpets will increase rapidly when the West is open for their sale. The striped and tough material which is made here with goat's hair, and which advantageously replaces mats upon the floor, might also become an article of commerce. Lastly, not far from the town are some hot springs as powerful as those of Bania, near Alexinatz; this would be another source of wealth for the neighbourhood. We talked of these things till very late with the natchalnik and the postmaster. I was struck with their ardent patriotism: their constant care is the greatness of the Servian nation, which they think is called to take a principal part in the Peninsula.
If I attempt to sum up the impression left upon me by my stay in Servia, and the study of the documents with which I was furnished, I arrive at this conclusion: that the Servian nation is till now one of the happiest of our continent, and possesses all the elements of a brilliant future. It combines all the conditions of true civilization, of that which gives to all morality, liberty, enlightenment, and comfort. Here, local autonomies and communal liberties, closely linked with the past, still survive; whilst in the West they have to be re-made and endowed with new life. The production of wealth is still limited, but every family lives upon its own land. A certain comfort is in the lot of each, and we do not find the distressing contrast, too common at home, of great wealth with extreme poverty. Education is not yet sufficiently diffused, and, as the Government quite understands, it is to this that their efforts must be directed; but poetry and history are brought into the home by the popular songs. The nation governs itself through its representatives, who are elected Page 234by all the ratepayers. Democracy, most frequently attained elsewhere at the price of bloody revolutions, exists here as an ancient institution and hereditary custom: besides, the best laws and most perfect rules of the West are added to help on the march of progress. As I have said, my fear is lest, to imitate the external brilliance of our capitals, which costs us so much in all ways, and creates such serious dangers, they should too suddenly break with the past, at the risk of sacrificing freedom.
Centralization, the energetic action of authority, certainly ensures the more rapid, regular, and uniform advance of a nation, but they weaken the individual initiative and lessen the natural energy of the people by forcibly leading them in a way which is not of their own choosing. This was what the iron hand of Peter the Great did for Russia, and I do not see that she has much to be proud of. The situation of our West is not so enviable as to wish to see reproduced in the Balkan Peninsula the causes which give rise to the difficulties that beset us on all sides.
The great danger for Servia appears to me to be her excessive expenses, chiefly unproductive, and the repeated loans they necessitate. I cannot sufficiently call the attention of the Servian statesmen of all parties to this point. The foreign financiers, as a guarantee for the loans, acquire the right to the produce of certain taxes, and thus gain a power of interference in the internal affairs of the country. When the Turks act thus they shut their eyes to the morrow; they must have money at any price. But what can be sadder than to see a young State, to whom the future belongs, thus deliver itself into the hands of pitiless bondholders! No Western State has ever consented to such vassalage. The Egyptian situation will be reproduced here; the free, proud Servians will be reduced to labour like the fellahs for their Western creditors, and if the payment is behindhand, the Lœnderbank, supported by all the Exchanges of Europe, would advise Austria to occupy Servia to raise the heavy tribute Page 235demanded by the Western Shylock. In any case, the constant increase of the taxes will arouse disturbances that would have to be suppressed. Then the freedom of the press and of speech must be lessened, for the organs of the popular feeling would express violent and sometimes revolutionary sentiments of opposition. This would lead to an autocratic rule, for which the country is not prepared, and which could only be maintained by force of arms. It is in Servia particularly that they should weigh this saying, "Bayonets will do for a support, but they do not make a good seat."