The Mirtschteg Reforms in Macedonia
http://www.balkanalysis.com/2006/03/14/ ... ervention/
In Mirtschteg, Austria, on 2 October 1903, the Russian and Austro--Hungarian ministers for foreign affairs agreed that in addition to peace and order, reforms were needed in Macedonia. In accordance with the Mirtschteg Agreement, a mutual reform program was prepared and accepted by the other European powers including, finally, Turkey. The reform program contained nine points, and it made the Macedonian issue even more engaging. According to these points, among other things, two civilian reppresentatives were appointed, representing Austro Hungary and Russia. They were supposed to assist and advise Hilmi Pasha, who was appointed by the Turkish government as head inspector in the three Macedonian vilayets (Skopje, Bitola and Salonica). They were to inspect the introduction of the reforms as well as the work of the Turkish administration. Based on the agreement by the European forces, especially Austro-Hungary and Turkey, the reform program had the following missions: to improve the administration and judiciary; to establish the mistreatment and abuse of the Turkish organs during the Ilinden Uprising; to estimate the damage suffered by the refugees who abandoned their destroyed homes; to work on repatriation of the refugees and reconstruction of the destroyed villages; to free the populace from paying taxes for a year; to remove the Turkish irregular armed forces. One of the most complex questions raised by Mirtschteg Reform Program was the reorganization of the Turkish police force. The most bitter complaints of the Macedonian people were addressed to the work of this force. Thus, a special commission was formed, headed by an Italian, General De Gorgis. Participating in its work were military representatives of France, Italy, England, Germany, Russia and Austria. Their task was to help De Gorgis reorganize the Turkish police force in the Macedonian vilayets. For this purpose Macedonia was divided into several sectors where selected military officers from the European powers were to carry oi£t one of the most important points of the Mirtschteg Reform Program. At this time the European powers indicated their interest in particular Macedonian regions. Germany decided to establish military schools in Salonica. Bitola and Skopje particularly had a fri-endly attitude toward the Turkish Empire. The social, political and economic situation in Macedonia required further continuation of the Macedonian reforms which were to be completed within two years and which now also covered the departments of finance, judiciary, and administration. Turkey strongly protested this decision, particularly the program's concern with the finances in the Macedonian vilayets. It meant recognizing the Macedonian vilayets as autonomous units, or, in other words, giving autonomy to Macedonia as a whole.
Turkey found itself under great pressure from the European powers (the Bleet's demonstrations in Salonica in 1905 as well as diplomatic pressure) who insisted that it accept their decision concerning the enlar-gement of the reform program which, as a matter of fact, was suggested by the Mirtschteg Reform Program. Finally Turkey yielded. But the reforms could neither solve the numerous problems nor could they do away with the great defects and oppositions within the administration as well as in the political and economic system of the Turkish Empire. The Mirtschteg Reform Program failed to bring the results that it was designed for. Constantinople's rulers were not really willing to change the Macedonian situation. The other Balkan countries also hindered the introduction of the reforms because they hoped to conquer Macedonia. All this was compounded by the opposing interests and attitudes of the other European powers at the time when the reforms were being in-troduced.
Particularly important were the reforms for Macedonia decided on by England and Russia at the meeting of their sovereigns in Reval (Talin, today's capital of the Socialist Republic of Estonia) in 1908. Acccording to these reforms Macedonia was to gain autonomy. This was the real cause of the Young Turkish Revolution that began in 1908.
After the Young Turkish Revolution the situation in Macedonia was such that officers could not carry on the reform program. Toward the end of 1909 they abandoned the program, and so the decisions of tbe Raval meeting were never enacted.
By September of 1909, the Mürzsteg Reform Plan was officially dead. Its tepid results meant that it would only be a matter of time before the lackluster intervention – and the status quo it propped up – would be overtaken by events. Among these the most important were the Young Turk revolution of July 1908, and the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia three months later.
The Great Powers, which had gone into Macedonia with the stated hope of making benevolent rulers of the Turks, instead abetted the bloodshed and followed their interests. Yet their interpretation of their own best interests was antiquated; it was based on obsolete conceptions of the world and the relation of states with one another.
At this feverish time of transition, however, each of the Great Powers followed its own interventionist and colonialist intuition on a quixotic quest deep into the Balkans. None of the states would come out of it unscathed, even if the full brunt of the blowback only arrived five years after the end of the Mürzsteg Programme, with the onset of the Great War.
Rebecca West quoted in the same article:
“…the comitadji who waged guerrilla warfare against the Turks in Macedonia before the war covered a wide range of character. Some were highly disciplined, courageous, and ascetic men, often from good families in the freed Slav countries, who harried the Turkish troops, particularly those sent to punish Christian villages, and who held unofficial courts to correct the collapse of the legal system in the Turkish provinces. Others were fanatics who were happy in massacring the Turks but even happier when they were purging the movement of suspected traitors. Others were robust nationalists, to whom the proceedings seemed a natural way of spirited living. Others were black-guards who were in the business because they enjoyed murder and banditry.
All intermediate shades of character were fully represented. This made it difficult for the Western student to form a clear opinion about Near Eastern politics; it also made it difficult, very difficult, for a Macedonian peasant who saw a band of armed men approaching his village.”
An Appetite for Atrocities
On the continent, the French newspapers Le Temps and Le Matin, as well as the Austrian newspaper Neue Freie Presse covered Macedonian events regularly, as did the London papers. To focus attention on the crisis in Macedonia, and thus to press the case for intervention, the Western media resorted to lurid descriptions of Turkish repression and demonized its leadership. Well before Slobodan Milosevic, therefore, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid was castigated as a “bloodthirsty tyrant” by a Western press that was fuelling the fires for intervention. This style of depiction was partially the result of the media’s eternal appetite for sensational news. But it also derived to some extent from the European countries’ pro-Christian sentiment, at that time much more fervent than it is today. The Western media thus focused on the slaughter of helpless Christians by an infidel overlord. There had been, after all, plenty of precedents in “European Turkey” during the 19th century.
News reports spoke of “atrocities” and “massacres” committed in Macedonia, while they relayed the words of Bulgarian officials who accused the Turkish forces of “exterminating” the Bulgarian population, committing atrocities, torture, and murders. They also provided extensive lists of villages demolished and torched by the Turks.
Indeed, Western media reporting from Macedonia was somewhat manipulated and biased. Yet so was the information coming from the Turkish side. In 1903, the Ottomans sought to counter this harmful coverage, putting into effect a “strategy of information” aimed at improving Ottoman public relations and thus managing, to whatever extent possible, the media’s coverage of unfolding events in Macedonia. They sought to ’spin’ the uprising as mere acts of terrorism conducted by Bulgarian terrorists, allegedly a fringe and marginal movement with no popular support. They refused to grant Western journalists travel permits to cover the events in Macedonia, instead, presenting news handouts for journalists that presented a biased, misleading and in some cases false picture.
Yet some tentative allies such as Austria did try to placate the Porte. Agenor Goluchowski, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, stated that “speaking of extermination [of the Christians] is exaggerated.” And British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour declared, after all, that “the balance of criminality lies not with the Turks, but with the rebels” in September 1903.