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THE DIPLOMATIC HISTORY OF THE EASTERN QUESTION CRISIS, BRITAIN AND THE BULGARIANS, 1875-76 Roumen L. Genov The impressive showmanship at the Congress of Berlin in the summer of 1878, preceded by aggressive gestures towards the “Russian bear”, and his pacific achievement, the “peace with honour” were the crowning moment in Benjamin Disraeli’s long political career. The same very achievements made him a hate figure in Bulgaria (and may be to not a lesser degree in Russia). As political leader and prime-minister of the 19th-century super-power Benjamin Disraeli had left his impact not only on Victorian Britain but in Europe generally, including faraway Bulgaria. His career, impossible by all standards of the time, and his views, were most extraordinary, and quite naturally he had attracted the attention of innumerable scholars, fiction writers, dramatists, filmmakers, British, American, French, Canadian, even Czech and Bulgarian. That is especially true of the recent decades, when at least half a dozen books on Disraeli were being published every decade, and least one large authoritative or “thick” biographies (like those of Lord Blake or Stanley Weintraub) in every one score years. To say nothing of innumerable scholarly articles on various aspects of his career and policies. In the course of time new and different views on Disraeli’s personality and policies, revisions and reappraisals, regarding his imperialism, ideology or domestic policies, etc., are being advanced. The following is a modest contribution to the vast Disraeliana, namely a Bulgarian view of one of the episodes of the career of the Victorian titan, namely, an appraisal of his attitudes and policies during the great Eastern Question crisis of 1875-78, and in particular to the ‘Bulgarian atrocities,’ that had stuck firmly to his image, and the ensuing campaign in Britain, known as “Bulgarian atrocities agitation”, or simply “Bulgarian agitation”. Disraeli’s name and historical role are popular across the world, the United States to Russia, and Cyprus and Malta to Japan and Australia. He is also one of the most popular British statesman in the South-Eastern Europe, and in Bulgaria, in particular. His popularity or rather notoriety, is, however, of most negative nature. He is largely known in Bulgaria as the Western European statesman who was principally responsible for destroying ‘Great Bulgaria’ at the Berlin Congress, and respectively for all the misfortunes and national catastrophes that folollowed. Even more, Disraeli’s name became synonymous with “Bulgar hater”, comparablre probably in that respect only with the Byzantine emperor Basil II the ‘Bulgar slayer’, and had become a common noun to denote anti-Bulgarian feelings, policies and acts. They used to speak of “Beaconsfieldism” or “Beaconsfield spirit” in British diplomacy or in European politics, inimical to the Bulgarian nation and its aspirations. Contemporary Bulgarian writers, leading ones as well less prominent contributed greatly in creating, by their penmanship, to creating and perpetuating the negative image of Disraeli. The author who wrote most strongly against Disraeli and was largely responsible for making him a hate figure was Ivan Vazov (1850-1921). Vazov was the central figure in modern Bulgarian literature, his works (poems, novels, dramas) are regarded as forming the canon of Bulgarian literature, and he is most often styled as the “patriarch” of the Bulgarian literature. In his first book “The Sorrows of Bulgaria” (1877), Vazov included a number of poems - direct comment of Disraeli’s pro-Turkish policies. The British prime-minister was characterized as one the one of the “greatest villains of the 19th century”, a “soulless Jew”, a “genius of evil” (alongside with other British figures, the ambassador Sir Henry Eliot, the consul Charles Blunt, the 15th Earl of Derby, allegedly inspired by hatred of the Bulgarian nation and the cause of freedom). In 1881 Vazov wrote an epitaph on the death of Disraeli reading like

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this: “Lord Beaconsfield is dead / Eternal darkness swallowed him, / And every honest man has heartily laughed, / From London to Batak”. Vazov found it necessary to explain in an accompanying note his rather un-Christian attitude to Disraeli, comparing the deceased lord with Caligula and Nero applauding to horrible catastrophe. For Vazov Disraeli was the politician responsible for the devastation of Bulgaria, who left two million people under the sway of tyranical sultan. A prolific but now completely forgotten Bulgarian playwright by the name of Todor Hadjistanchev, published in 1878, a rude farce “Disraeli”, in which the protagonist was shown as an enemy to Bulgarian freedom, instigating the sultan to send the bashibozooks and Circassians to exterminate all the Bulgarians, in order to secure complete peace in his dominions, and respectively, repayment of the multimillion British loans. Zachary Stoyanov, Bulgarian writer and historian, himself one of the leader of the revolts of 1875 and 1876 (his account of them was the first work by modern Bulgarian author translated in English more than a century ago as “Diary of a Bulgarian Rebel”), compared the “European luminaries”, Disraeli and Bismarck with the notorious Tossoun Bey, governor of Karlovo, whose Bashibozook hordes burnt down the town of Klissoura and other places in the valley of Stryama River, killing, looting and raping helpless populace. The difference between them was only that Tossoun “was fighting in cavalier way with a knife in his hand”, while “the European bashibozooks were acting by means of pen, but a pen dipped in red blood”. 1 Even Bulgarian national leaders and politician who were accused of compromising the “national ideal”, that is “Bulgaria of San Stefano” or “Great Bulgaria”, were called “Bulgarian Beaconsfields”. There is another side in Disraeli’s еxtremely bad reputation in Bulgaria, he was perceived not only as a British statesman but as a Jew, and respectively his alleged role in Bulgarian history was used to foster if not anti-Semitism, which in its modern racist form was not known in this country, than traditional and more primitive Judaeophobia. Its exponents often recoursed to Disraeli’s name and alleged anti-Bulgarian deeds. The Defence of the Nation Act of 1941, introduced in Bulgarian parliament by the then pro-German government, dealing with the “secret and international organizations”, like the Masonic lodges, Rotarians, Boyscouts, YMCA, etc., but thrusting mostly at the civic and political rights of the Jews, and imitating the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, with certain local modifications, was supported with historical arguments, like “the evil done to the Bulgarian nation by the Jews such as Disraeli”. 2 In communist Bulgaria, for decades after World War II, the respective units on the international repercussions of the national rising of April 1876 in the secondary school history textbook were invariably illustrated with the cartoon by the famous caricaturist of the Punch, John Tenniel, “The Neutrality in Difficulty” (with Disraeli telling to indignant allegorical Britannia pointing to him the horrible scenes in the background, with maidens dragged by Turkish soldiery, babies spiked on bayonets, etc., that he did not see that in the Blue Books.) As to the Bulgarians’ feelings towards Britain it should be noted that Disraeli’s bad name was more than amply counterbalanced in the eyes of the Bulgarians by the enormous popularity of his great opponent William Gladstone who was proclaimed a “great friend” and “benefactor” of the Bulgarian nation. How did Disraeli become such a hate figure in Bulgaria? In fact his career in that respect started with the climax of the Eastern Question crisis of the 1870s. It was signalled by a Serb rising in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1875, but it evolved from a local Balkan one into an all-European the next year after the brutal suppression of the April rising in Bulgaria. The number of victims of the massacres were given between 12,000 (as in the report of the British commissioner Walter Baring sent by the Foreign Office to investigate the matter in South Bulgaria) and 30,000 (as in Bulgarian publications ). 3 The question of

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the actual number is important, of course, but I do not intend to dwell on this object of controversies. There are recent authors, by the way, who dismiss the massacres as a Christian myth, or claiming that the tendency of massacring Christian population in the Ottoman Empire was showing a clear tendency of decline, contrary to the evidence to the opposite. 4 There were massacres of Christian or other subjects of the Sultan, before and after that date, of even larger scale. Western European visitors of the Balkans in the 19th century, for instance, were startled by the pyramid near the town of Nish made of skulls the insurgents in 1816 (such as the French commissioner Jerome-Adolphe Blanqui sent by the Quai d’Orsay to investigate the reasons and effects of the revolt of the peasants in North-Western Bulgaria in the early 1840s, who called that structure a “cannibal arc de de triomphe”, 5 or the Austro-Hungarian traveler, ethnologist and artist, Felix Kanitz, who recorded his impressions in words and graphics, in his “Travels in the Danubian Bulgaria”. More important in this case was that the impact of the events in Bulgaria was much greater than any other case and all subsequent development (the diplomatic crisis, the Russo-Turkish War and the Berlin Congress). All the Great Powers became involved in the crisis, which became more intense with the ensuing war of Serbia and Montenegro on Turkey. Russia, which traditionally assumed the role of the Balkan Christians, intensified its pressure on the Ottoman government for reforms in their favor. Disraeli’s government pursued the traditional policy of the British cabinets after the Crimean War of guarantor of the integrity of the empire of the Sultan, and maintaining the status quo in the Balkans. There are differing views among British and American historians regarding Disraeli’s imperialism (as to when his commitment with the empire started, or how consistent it was throughout his career, or whether his policies in the 1870s marked the beginning of “new imperialism”, or whether he was really concerned with imperial expansion for its own sake). 6 There are doubts, however, that his foreign and European policies were motivated by imperial considerations, whether meaning reflecting back into Europe the strength Britain drew from India and other far flung colonies, or of empire as “visible expression of the power of England in the affairs of the world”. 7 For him ‘empire’ was a means of social integration, minimization of class conflict, of uniting of the aims and ideas of the “two nations”, and a cause’ that can unite them behind the Conservative Party. Disraeli’s programmatic speeches of 1872, putting forward the ideology of the Conservative Party and its three main objectives, “to maintain our institutions, to uphold the Empire, and elevate the conditions of the people”, 8 were overshadowed by earlier pronouncements on the empire in 1866-68. There is evidence that Disraeli was concerned with the preservation of the empire throughout his career. 9 Maintaining the Ottoman Empire as bulwark against the traditional Russian expansion to the “warm seas” (the Mediterranean) was an integral part was an integral part of the British imperial strategy, not only under Disraeli, but throughout the 19th century. The political climate in the 1870s, however, differed in many ways compared with the other crises of the Eastern Question, and one of the reasons was the rise of the mass press. The first alarm about the massacres was sounded by Edwin Pears, a lawyer and part time journalist in Constantinople. He sent a number of letters to the Daily News of London (June 16 and 23) giving information about the suppression of the insurrection in South Bulgaria he received from American Protestant missionaries (Dr. Albert Long and Dr. George Washburn) in June 1876. The Times’ correspondent at Istanbul Antonio Galenga reported 25,000 Bulgarians massacred, over 100 villages destroyed, thousands sold as slaves, and about 10,000 arrested and tortured. Then they had sent from the London Daily News as special correspondent Januarius MacGahan, an IrishAmerican journalist of great experience, who made his name reporting the Paris Commune, the Russian conquest of Turkestan, an Arctic expedition, and was a

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representative of the new dynamic journalism, which exerted enormous influence on the public opinion. He accompanied the American consul-general Eugene Schuyler in who was sent to carry out an inquiry in South Bulgaria. MacGahan vivid reports (10 in all) from the places of massacres had shocking effect on the British and European public. The name of the little town Batak, the “vale of death”, where most of the 9,000 inhabitants were massacred by Moslem irregulars, became known to the world. 10 The revelations of the massacres provoked an outburst of moral indignation in Britain. After the publication of the preliminary report of the American consul Schuyler on August 10, the Queen wrote in her diary of the “immense excitement and indignation”, she felt and of her amazement of the sympathy of Disraeli with the Turkish government. Obviously those revelations were a serious blow on the idea of the Victorians of unhindered, incontrovertible social progress, and moral rectitude. Liberal peer, George Douglas, the 8th Duke of Argyle exclaimed in the House that he was appalled by the “horrors of an African war in the heart of Christianity, … horrors worth of Genghis Khan in the era of Queen Victoria”. 11 Bulgarian massacres were debated in the House of Commons on several occasion. Disraeli took part in the debates on July 10, and again 26th, his last appearances on the floor of the House of Commons before his elevation to peerage. The prime minister tried to belittle the scale of the massacres and reprisals. He doubted that great number of Bulgarians were tortured and imprisoned, and drawing on his own experience gained during the tour in the Orient 45 years ago, claimed that torture was rarely practiced by the people there “who generally terminate their relations with the culprits in a more expeditious manner.” 12 News about the massacres Disraeli said, were merely “coffee-house babble”. His light manner of speaking on the subject irritated members on both sides of the House, as well as people in the country, in Europe, and in Bulgaria particularly. There is an explanation of those phrases which cost Disraeli dearly. Not only he had overestimated his еxpert knowledge of the Orient (which he believed to know as a result of the tour he had made in his youth), but he was misinformed by the British diplomats on the spot. In fact, the ambassador at Stamboul Sir Henry Eliot, did not sent the report of the consul in Adrianople Hutton Dupuy, a city close to the scenes of massacres, and Disraeli had to resort to a dispatch of the consul Dalziel from Rousse, a city on the Danube. In his dispatches Dalziel informed about conversations overheard in the coffee-houses in town. 13 Since early July 1876 Britain became a scene of an unprecedented mass political campaign which became known as “Bulgarian atrocities agitation” or simply “Bulgarian agitation”. It was spontaneous reaction which started with meetings in the open air of agricultural labourers, sending working men delegations headed by Liberal M.P John Bright, the trade union leaders George Howell, Thomas Burt, George Potter, and Henry Richard of the Peace Society, to the Foreign Office to protest against the Government’s support of the sultan and the moral complicity of Britain in the outrages perpetrated in Bulgaria. 14 According to the classical study of the subject of Richard T. Shannon, the Bulgarian agitation was the most important “incursion of the public opinion” in the sphere of foreign policy in Victorian era. Representatives of practically all social strata became involved in the Bulgaria agitation, from agricultural labourers to peers (including even some Tory ones). The campaign was especially impressive in England, Wales and Scotland, where hundreds of public meetings were held, and protest resolutions adopted and to the FO, demanding the revision of the policy of unconditional support of the Sultan Turkey. Ireland remained aloof, mostly because at a later stage the agitation was identified with Gladstone and his anti-Vaticanism. The pro-Liberal press, Daily News, Manchester “Guardian” Sheffield ”Independent” (edited by Robert Leader), “Darlington Echo” (editor William T. Stead) became spokesmen of the movement. 15

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Gladstone sensed the potency of the Bulgarian agitation as a focal point of popular appeal. 16 Gladstone may has shown personally indifference to imperial questions, but not his party and his governments. It was his government that had, gave Livingston a state funeral in the Westminster Abbey, embarked on the Ashanti War in 1866-68, sent an expedition to occupy Egypt in 1882, sent Sir Bartle Frere mission to Zanzibar (annexed by Britain in 1890) After being urged (by the his former boss, Lord John Russell and others) he took a decisive stand he wrote and published in early September the pamphlet “Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East”, which became a bestseller (a quarter of a million copies sold within a fortnight) and is generally regarded as classics of the 19th century political rhetoric. Despite the fiery denunciation of the sultan’s rule and its criminal functionaries, and tacitly, of their British protector and accessory (Disraeli), and the famous “bag and baggage” phrase, a closer look shows that the practical solution to the Balkan tangle offered by the Grand Old Man, was quite moderate, namely, autonomy for the Balkan Christian provinces, without bringing in question the principle of integrity of the Ottoman Empire. 17 Gladstone made a number of speeches, the most notable at Blackheath (before a crowd of 10,000 under torrential rain, on Sept. 9). At its later stages the Bulgarian agitation became dominated by the Liberal element, and culminated in the National Conference on the Eastern Question held in London on Dec. 8, 1876. The main speakers were Gladstone, the Bishop of Oxford, Henry Richard, James Bryce, George Otto Trevelyan, Th.omas Falwell Buxton, Edward Freeman. It was attended or supported morally by the cream of the Victorian intellectual elite, among them Anthony J. Froude (a controversial historian and biographer of Disraeli, by the way), Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, Charles Darwin, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Thomas Carlyle. The conference was intended to put pressure on Disraeli’s government, esp. on its positions on the forthcoming conference of the ambassadors of the Great Powers at Istanbul. 18 British representatives at the conference were the Marques of Salisbury and the ambassador Henry Eliot. The representatives of the Powers agreed at the preparatory phase on a project prepared by the American consul-general Eugene Schuyler and the Russian diplomat Prince Alexander Tseretelev. It provided for the creation of two autonomous Bulgarian provinces comprising all the lands inhabited primarily by Bulgarian – Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. 19 A. J. P. Taylor claimed in his “Struggle for Mastery” that at Istanbul Salisbury cheated his boss, Disraeli, collaborating too closely with the Russian ambassador Count Nikolay P. Ignatiev, an ardent Pan-Slavist. Indeed, Disraeli showed irritation with Salisbury’s line, however there seems to have been little difference between Salisbury and Disraeli on autonomy of the Balkan Slav provinces of the Sultan. Disraeli’s performance at the Berlin Congress was strong and impressive, and made its president German chancellor Bismarck exclaim that “The old Jew was a real man.” At all that the Congress in practical terms mostly stamped decisions taken beforehand, including destroying “Great Bulgaria”, its divisions into two parts, its status, its boundaries. Prince Alexander Gosrchakov, senile Russian chancellor, who intended to turn the Congress in the crowning triumph of his long career, spent most of the time in semi-slumber, made a number of blunders, was overshadowed by no less old, but British prime-minister. It was, however, not that important, for major decisions were based on secret treaties – Austrian-British, British-Turkish, Russo-British (Shuvalov-Salisbury agreement of May 30, 1878), and the Congress in most cases only stamped them. If we compare Disraeli and Gladstone, who are most often considered antipodes, respectively, the high-minded, moral, anti-imperialist, idealistic Gladstone, and the cynical, opportunistic, unscrupulous practioner of Realpolitik, Disraeli, we can see that in practical terms their ideas, concepts, and actions were not so diametrically opposite. Gladstone’s pamphlet “Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East” is full of fiery rhetoric. He urged all the officials of the Sultan to clear the Balkan provinces they had desolated and profaned, “bag

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baggage”. But his proposition to solve the Eastern crisis in practical terms was limited to granting to these provinces certain degree of autonomy. On May 29, 1876, when the crisis still had not reached its climax Prime Minister Disraeli wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Edward Stanley, the 15th Earl Derby, and explained his concept regarding its solution. His scheme, he wrote, was founded on the status-quo in the Ottoman Empire, but “that a liberal interpretation should be placed on that phrase, so that we may create other vassal states.” 20 That amounted to the same, as Gladstone’s proposition, and in fact almost all Balkan national states, prior to gaining independence, passed through a stage of principalities vassal or tributary to the Ottoman Empire. The case comes to demonstrate once again the astounding continuity in the actual conduct of Victorian foreign policy, despite all the party rhetoric and ideological divergence.

Stoyanov, Zachary. Notes on the Bulgarian Risings. Sofia, 1996, p. 308. [In Bulgarian] 2 National Assembly. Stenographic Report of the Proceedings of the XXV Ordinary National Assembly. 2nd Regular Session, 1940-41. Sofia, 1941), pp. 204-207 [In Bulgarian]. 3 Stambolov, Stefan. Political Journalism, 1875-95. Sofia, 1996, p. 218. [In Bulgarian]. 4 Millman, Richard. Britain and the Eastern Crisis, 1875-78. Oxford, 1979; Saab, Ann Pottinger. Reluctant Icon: Gladstone, Bulgaria and the Working Classes, 18561878. Cambridge, Mass.-London, 1991. 5 Blanqui, J.-A. Voyage en Bulgarie pendant l’anneée 1841. Paris, 1843, pp. 168169. 6 See, for instance: Stembridge, Stanley R.. Disraeli and the Millstones. – The Journal of British Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Nov. 1965), pp. 122-39; Harcourt, Freda. Disraeli’s Imperialism, 1866-68: A Question of Timing. – The Historical Journal, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Jan. 1980), pp. 87-109. 7 Thornton, A. P. The Imperial Idea and Its Enemies. London, 1959, pp. XII-XIII. 8 Bradford, Sarah. Disraeli. New York, 1982, pp. 295. 9 Stembridge Stanley R. Op. cit., p. 126. 10 Walker, Dale. Januarius MacGahan: The Life and Campaigns of an American War Correspondent. Athens, Ohio, 1988, pp. 170-181. 11 Daily News. September 13, 1876. 12 Hansard. Vol. CCCXXX, July 10, 1876, cols. 1181-1182; Buckle, G. Life of Disraeli. Vol. IV. Pp. 44-46. 13 See Temperley, Harold. The Bulgarian and Other Atrocities in the Light of Historical Criticism. Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. XVII (1931). 14 Genov, R. The English Working Men and the Eastern Crisis of 1876-1878. Bulgarian Historical Review, Vol. XX, Nos. 1-2, pp. 44-58. 15 . Shannon, R. T. Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation, 1876. London, 1963, p. 49. 16 Ramm, A. (Ed.) The Political Correspondence of Mr. Gladstone and Lord Granville. 1876-1886. Vol. I. Oxford, 1952, p. 3.

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Gladstone, W. E. Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East. London, 1876,

p. Eastern Question Association. Reprt of the Proceedings at the National Conference at St. James’s Hall. London, 1876, p. 20; Shannon, R. T. Op. cit., p. 259. 19 Panayotov, I. N. Towards the Diplomatic History of the Constantinople Conference (December 1876-January 1877). Sofia, 1956, pp. 52-54 [In Bulgarian] 20 Dep. Hughenden, 69/4, ff. 13-14. – Modern Western MSS, Bodleian Library, Oxford University.
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