Category Archives: Bulgaria

South Slavic Nationalism before 1914

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 838-871:

The south Slavs lived in four different states – the Hapsburg Empire, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria – under eight different systems of government. Their impassioned nationalism imposed a dreadful blood forfeit: about 16 per cent of the entire population, almost two million men, women and children, perished violently in the six years of struggle that preceded Armistice Day 1918. Serbia fought two Balkan wars, in 1912 and 1913, to increase its size and power by seizing loose fragments of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912 the Russian foreign minister declared that a Serb–Bulgarian triumph over the Turks would be the worst outcome of the First Balkan War, because it would empower the local states to turn their aggressive instincts from Islamism, against Germanism: ‘In this event one … must prepare for a great and decisive general European war.’ Yet the Serbs and Bulgarians indeed triumphed in that conflict; a subsequent Serb–Romanian victory in the Second Balkan War – a squabble over the spoils of the First – made matters worse. Serbia doubled its territory by incorporating Macedonia and Kosovo. Serbians burst with pride, ambition and over-confidence. Wars seemed to work well for them.

In June 1914 the Russian minister in Belgrade, the dedicated pan-Slavist Nikolai Hartwig, was believed actively to desire an armed clash between Serbia and Austria, though St Petersburg almost certainly did not. The Russian ambassador in Constantinople complained that Hartwig, a former newspaper columnist, ‘shows the activity of an irresponsible journalist’. Serbia was a young country wrested from the Ottoman Empire only in 1878, which now clung to the south-eastern frontier of the Hapsburg Empire like some malevolent growth. Western statesmen regarded the place with impatience and suspicion. Its self-assertiveness, its popular catchphrase ‘Where a Serb dwells, there is Serbia,’ estabilised the Balkans. Europe’s chancelleries were irritated by its ‘little Serbia’, proud-victim culture. Serbs treated their own minority subjects, especially Muslims, with conspicuous and often murderous brutality. Every continental power recognised that the Serbs could achieve their ambition to enfold in their own polity two million brethren still under Hapsburg rule only at the cost of bringing down Franz Joseph’s empire.

Just four and a half million Serbs occupied 87,300 square kilometres of rich rural regions and barren mountains, a smaller country than Romania or Greece. Four-fifths of them lived off the land, and the country retained an exotic oriental legacy from its long subjection to the Ottomans. Such industries as it had were agriculturally based – flour and sawmills, sugar refineries, tobacco. ‘Within little more than two days’ rail from [London],’ wrote an enthusiastic pre-war British traveller, ‘there lies an undeveloped country of extraordinary fertility and potential wealth, possessing a history more wonderful than any fairy tale, and a race of heroes and patriots who may one day set Europe by the ears … I know no country which can offer so general an impression of beauty, so decided an aroma of the Middle Ages. The whole atmosphere is that of a thrilling romance. Conversation is larded with accounts of hairbreadth ’scapes and deeds of chivalry … Every stranger is welcome, and an Englishman more than any.’

Others saw Serbia in much less roseate hues: the country exemplified the Balkan tradition of domestic violence, regime change by murder. On the night of 11 June 1903, a group of young Serb officers fell upon the tyrannical King Alexander and his hated Queen Draga by candlelight in the private apartments of their palace: the bodies were later found in the garden, riddled with bullets and mutilated. Among the assassins was Dragutin Dimitrijević, who became the ‘Apis’ of the Sarajevo conspiracy: he was wounded in a clash with the royal guards, which earned him the status of a national hero. When King Peter returned from a long exile in Switzerland to take the throne of a notional constitutional monarchy, Serbia continued to seethe with factionalism. Peter had two sons: the elder, Djordje, educated in Russia, was a violent playboy who was forced to relinquish his claim to the throne after a 1908 scandal in which he kicked his butler to death. His brother Alexander, who became the royal heir, was suspected of attempting to poison Djordje. The Serb royal family provided no template for peaceful co-existence, and the army wielded as much power as that of a modern African statelet.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Austria, Balkans, Bulgaria, nationalism, Romania, Russia, Turkey, war, Yugoslavia

The Turkish Defeat at Plevna, 1877

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 189-191:

The breakout was, of course, doomed from the start. And yet Osman Pasha all but brought off another miracle. Security in Plevna had been so strict that the Russians were quite unaware of the plans until a Polish spy woke up Skobeleff at 4 a.m. on the day. The Russian troops had hardly assembled before masses of Turkish troops started streaming across the snowy plain west of the town. At their head rode Osman Pasha on a chestnut stallion. Behind them rumbled thousands of wagons. Without wavering 2000 picked Turkish troops, with bands blazing and banners unfurled, charged the Russian trenches. By 8.30 a.m. they had annihilated one Russian regiment and broken the first links in the iron ring.

Without hesitation Osman charged into the attack on the inner Russian defence line, but here the opposition was stiffer as nearly 50,000 Turks and Russians fought hand to hand. Yet the Turks were holding their own against heavy odds and might well have succeeded, but for a catastrophe. A stray bullet wounded Osman Pasha. Those around him saw him lurch, then fall from his horse. In fact he was only wounded in the leg, but in a matter of moments the rumour galloped through the Turkish ranks that he had been killed. It was more than the half-starved, half-sick men could bear, and in a panic they streamed away from the Russian defences. By the time they had been regrouped, it was too late, and the Russians had occupied the Turkish redoubts, cutting off any hope of reaching a temporary sanctuary there. By one o’clock, the last shot was fired in a siege that had lasted 143 days, and from a house near the bridge, where the wounded Osman had taken refuge, a white flag fluttered.

Osman Pasha was treated as a hero by the Russians. When the Grand Duke Nicholas finally came face to face with him, he shook his hand and cried, ‘I compliment you on your defence of Plevna. It is one of the most splendid exploits in history.’ The immaculately booted Russian officers echoed, ‘Bravo!’ And when Osman Pasha first met the general in white uniform and realised it was Skobeleff, he took his hand and said to him, ‘One day you will be commander-in-chief of the Russian Army.’

The Czar invited Osman Pasha to luncheon, and when Osman removed his sword the Czar returned it to him. As Osman prepared to leave for internment in Kharkov, a member of the Czar’s staff offered him a sprig of myrtle – a traditional Russian sign that he was no longer their enemy.

A very different fate was reserved for the soldiers of the line. Despite repeated Russian promises that prisoners would be well treated, nearly 45,000 Turks were kept in the bitterly cold open air of Plevna for two weeks. They received virtually no food, drugs, medical aid; nor could then even drink the water of the River Vid which was contaminated by hundreds of corpses. Three thousand men died before the rest set off in the snow to various interment camps. Of the 42,000 men who started, often barefoot, on the long march to prison, barely 15,000 reached Russia. A fate as terrible awaited the seriously wounded left behind by Osman. The Bulgarians, conveniently ignoring their promises, dragged them from the hospitals and massacred every man.

One last and gruesome echo of the heroic siege of Plevna appeared in, of all places, a Bristol newspaper. It consisted of one paragraph that escaped general notice in England. In an article dealing with fertilizers, it read simply: ‘Thirty tons of human bones, comprising thirty thousand skeletons, have just been landed at Bristol from Plevna.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Turkey, war

Baruto the Giant Baltic Cowboy Ozeki

I imagine even regular readers don’t often see the giants of Japan’s sumo world profiled in the Wall Street Journal, and I’ve never, ever seen anyone compare any rikishi to Leonardo DiCaprio—until now. (Either the Titanic or the iceberg that sunk it is a more likely comparison, but I wouldn’t want to jinx anyone, especially not the genial giant featured in this WSJ vignette.)

As the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament gets underway in Tokyo, the spotlight shines on Baruto, the rising star aficionados hope can give a lift to the scandal-plagued national sport.

This is the first time for the Estonian-born wrestler to compete as an ozeki, sumo’s second-highest title. Having gotten off to a strong 4-0 start, his fans hope he could soon vault into the top ranks of yokozuna, making him the first European to reach that exalted status.

The 25-year-old’s relatively trim (for a sumo star) figure, and glamorous looks have drawn comparisons in the Japanese press to Leonardo DiCaprio. His inspiring story, including a rise from hard labor on a rural Estonian cattle farm, is well-known. “Baruto” means “Baltic” in Japanese.

The rapid climb of the clean-cut Baruto — nee [sic] Kaido Höövelson — comes at a moment of need for the struggling sport. Earlier this year, grand champion Asashoryu resigned suddenly after tabloid reports of a bar fight, just the latest in a string of embarrassing reports about the Mongolian in recent years.

Before that, other wrestlers were arrested for dope-smoking, and there was a hazing death. The fan base has been shrinking, and fewer young Japanese are taking up the sport, with its extreme discipline and hierarchy at odds with the comforts of modern Japan.

Here are a few more details from Japan’s Daily Yomiuri, which profiled the newly promoted ozeki before the May tournament got underway.

“When he first came here he had problems with the food,” the stablemaster said. “One of the wrestlers told him that as a foreigner he wouldn’t like natto. Baruto simply filled a huge bowl and ate the lot. It didn’t do him much good but I was impressed that he didn’t like to lose or give up.”

A former nightclub bouncer and judo champion, Baruto has more than repaid the faith shown in him since arriving from Estonia.

After making his debut in May 2004, he became the first wrestler in 43 years to win the juryo division with a perfect 15-0 record when he triumphed at the 2006 Spring Basho.

On March 31 of this year, he was promoted to the sport’s second-highest rank, having won 35 bouts in the previous three tournaments.

UPDATE: Baruto started strong but lost several bouts during the second week of the tournament. On Day 13, the sole yokozuna, Hakuho from Mongolia, clinched victory with a record of 13-0. Behind him, at 10-3, is the Russian Aran. Behind him, at 9-4, are the giant Estonian ozeki Baruto, the diminutive Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji, the lanky Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu, and the Mongolian Hakuba, who made his debut in the highest division in January. Not one Japanese among the leaders!

Leave a comment

Filed under Baltics, Bulgaria, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, sumo

Salonica, 1800s: Religion vs. Nation

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 242-243:

TO THE OTTOMAN AUTHORITIES what had always mattered were religious rather than national or linguistic differences: Balkan Christians were either under the authority of the Patriarch in Constantinople or they were—more rarely—Catholic or Protestant. The Patriarchate shared the same outlook; it was indifferent to whether its flock spoke Greek, Vlach, Bulgarian or any other language or dialect. As for the illiterate Slav-speaking peasants tilling the fields, they rarely felt strongly about either Greece or Bulgaria and when asked which they were, many insisted on being known simply, as they had been for centuries, as “Christians.”

In Salonica itself, the growth of the Christian population had come from continual immigration over centuries from outlying villages, often as distant as the far side of the Pindos mountains, where many of the inhabitants spoke not Greek but Vlach (a Romance language akin to Romanian), Albanian or indeed various forms of Slavic. The city’s life, schools and priests gave these villagers, or their children, a new tongue, and turned them into Greeks. In fact many famous Greek figures of the past were really Vlachs by origin, including the savant Mosiodax, the revolutionary Rhigas Velestinlis, as well as the city’s first “Greek” printers, the Garbolas family, and the Manakis brothers, pioneers of Balkan cinema. “Twenty years ago there was nothing in Balkan politics so inevitable, so nearly axiomatic, as the connection of the Vlachs with the Greek cause,” wrote Brailsford in 1905. “They had no national consciousness and no national ambition … With some of them Hellenism was a passion and an enthusiasm. They believed themselves to be Greek. They baptized their children ‘Themistocles’ and ‘Penelope.’ They studied in Athens and they left their fortunes to Greek schools and Greek hospitals.” So many Vlachs settled in Salonica that in 1880 a Romanian paper claimed, to the fury of the Greek community, that there were no genuine Greeks there at all. Changing—or rather, acquiring—nationality was often simply a matter of upward mobility and a French consul once notoriously boasted that with a million pounds he could make Macedonians into Frenchmen.

Money affected nationality in other ways as well. In the Ottoman system, the Orthodox Church was not merely a focus of spiritual life; it was also a gatherer of taxes. Peasants in the countryside, just like wealthy magnates in Salonica itself, chafed at the power and corruption that accompanied these privileges. But while most bishops and the higher ecclesiastical hierarchy spoke Greek—the traditional language of the church and religious learning—and looked down on the use of Slavic, most Christian peasants around Salonica spoke Bulgarian—or if not Bulgarian then a Slavic tongue close to it. This started to matter to the peasants themselves once they identified Greek with the language not merely of holy scripture but of excessive taxation and corruption. In 1860, the Bishop of Cassandra’s extortions actually drove some villagers under his jurisdiction to threaten to convert to Catholicism—French priests from Salonica contacted the families concerned, promising them complete freedom of worship and a “Bishop of your own creed who will not take a single piastre from you.” Other villagers from near Kilkis demanded a bishop who would provide the liturgy in Old Church Slavonic and got one after they too started to declare themselves for Rome.

Yet what these peasants were talking was about shifting their religious not their national allegiance and it took decades for the discontent of the village tax-payer to be further transformed into nationalism. Greek continued to be the language of upward mobility through the nineteenth century. As for Bulgarian self-consciousness, this was slow to develop. Sir Henry Layard visited Salonica in 1842 to enquire into the movement which was alleged to be in progress amongst the Bulgarians but he did not find very much. “The Bulgarians, being of the Greek faith” he wrote later, “were then included by the Porte in classifying the Christian subjects of the Sultan, among the Greeks. It was not until many years afterwards that the Christians to the south of the Balkans speaking the Bulgarian language, were recognized as a distinct nation. At the time of my visit to Salonica no part of its Christian population, which was considerable, was known as Bulgarian.”

What led Slavic speakers to see their mother tongue in a new light was the influence of political ideologies coming from central and eastern Europe. German-inspired romantic nationalism glorified and ennobled the language of the peasantry and insisted it was as worthy of study and propagation as any other. Pan-Slavism—helped along perhaps by Russian agents—gave them pride in their unwritten family tongue and identified the enemy, for the first time, as Greek cultural arrogance. “I feel a great sorrow,” wrote Kiryak/Kyriakos Durzhiovich/Darlovitsi, the printer, “that although I am a Bulgarian I do not know how to write in the Bulgarian language.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Balkans, Bulgaria, education, Greece, language, nationalism, religion, Romania, Turkey