THE CHRISTIAN SUBJECTS OF THE PORTE.
From The Contemporary Review.
THE CHRISTIAN SUBJECTS OF THE PORTE.
The Eastern question has taken one of those strides in advance which, in the evolution of political events, cannot be retraced. Whatever else may issue out of the present political imbroglio, it is as certain as anything future can be that the yoke of the Turk can never again be imposed on the Christians of the revolted provinces in European Turkey. Autonomy, real, practical autonomy, they must have in some shape or another. It need not follow from this that there should be a single Turk the fewer in the provinces in question. But the Turk must no longer have the upper hand, and the instruments of his oppression must "clear out, bag and baggage." Nothing short of this will satisfy either the exigencies of the case, or the forces which are arrayed against the Sublime Porte, and whose action will no longer be arrested by futile programmes of paper reforms.
But what part is England to play in the drama? The nation has answered that question in tones which cannot be mistaken, and which the prime minister himself does not affect to misunderstand. It is impossible to doubt that if England were polled to-morrow it would pronounce in favor of autonomy for Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria. Lord Derby, on the other hand, has declared that the policy on which the nation has set its heart "is outside the range of practical politics;" and it is evident that if he do not actively oppose it, he will do nothing to help it forward. His face is in one direction; that of the nation in another. He sticks to the old policy, while the nation has pronounced unmistakably in favor of a new. He still believes in the possibility of reforms initiated by the Turkish government and executed by Turkish officials. The nation regards all such plans as "outside the range of practical politics." And the nation is right, as I shall now endeavor to show.
Six months ago the mass of Englishmen and Englishwomen had the vaguest possible idea of the real condition of the Christian subjects of the Porte. They now know that they are grievously oppressed, and exposed occasionally to unspeakable atrocities. But very few people in England even now have any idea of the nature of the oppression under which the Christian rayah groans, or of the absolute hopelessness of any remedy short of autonomy. I am no apologist for Russian atrocities, or any other atrocities. But to compare the doings of Russia in Turkistan, granting the absolute truth of every detail, to the doings of Turkey in her Christian provinces, is to misunderstand the whole question at issue.
- Is it right or wise [asks a vigorous writer in the new number of the Quarterly Review to cut off a whole family of mankind from our sympathy in order to sympathize the more with the victims of their crimes? Shall we apply the rule, only on the slopes of the Balkan, and not to the wilds of Circassia and Glencoe? to the valley of the Hebrus, and not to the Ganges, nor to the plains of Poland, or Hungary, or Turkestan? to Scio, and not to Jamaica? The terrible name even of Batak has a suspicious likeness to Badajoz.
Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that the crimes heaped together in this passage are all of the same moral hue, and that there is not much to choose between them; still the fact would be nothing to the purpose. What the Turkish atrocities have revealed and brought home to multitudes who never realized the fact before, is not that human nature, be it Turkish, Russian, or English, is capable in certain emergencies of doing frightful things, but that there is in the midst of us an organized political power of such a character that crimes against human nature are a necessary and a normal outcome of its existence. Russian troops may commit atrocities on the plains of Poland or the wilds of Turkistan. British troops may massacre men, women, and children in the streets of Badajoz or in the village and pass of Glencoe. But these crimes are violations of the moral code professed and ordinarily acted on by Russia and Great Britain. They are things which have to be explained, apologized for, and excused on the plea of extenuating circumstances, such as accident, misunderstanding, or dire necessity. They are never defended as right in themselves,