HL Deb 22 May 1845 vol 80 cc755-66
Lord Beaumont

rose, in compliance with the Notice which he had given on Tuesday last, to move for the production of Papers and correspondence relating to recent events in the kingdom of Greece. He thought that their Lordships would require no apology from him for bringing this subject before them. Nor did he anticipate that they would consider him either premature or unreasonable, if while he asked for further information on the subject, he should endeavour to obtain from the Secretary for Foreign Affairs an assurance that he had taken such steps as would tend to prevent the present alarming state of affairs in Greece, assuming a still more serious character. Not only had all the expectations which had been raised by the Greek people, during the time of the Revolution, as it had been called, or rather during the changes which had taken place in the former Government of that country, in September, 1843, been blasted; but from that period scenes had taken place in the internal arrangements of Greece, in its elections, in connexion with all the liberties which the Greek people had acquired by their Constitution, which, he was sorry to say, had verified the fears of those persons who then stated that that people were not sufficiently advanced in the knowledge of self-government to enjoy, without danger to their neighbours, if not to themselves, those constitutional rights which they then acquired. Not only had Athens become the scene of the deepest and strangest intrigues—not only had all questions of a purely Greek character been forgotten and altogether overlooked in party quarrels, but even beyond the internal affairs of Greece, beyond the frontiers, had that country already shown a total disrespect, not only for treaties, but for the common laws of nations—for the common practice of international friendship; and set at defiance the common laws of humanity, by establishing on the frontiers of Turkey an absolute system of brigandage. If the information recently received from Greece was correct, if the news which had arrived within the last few days, and had been publicly stated in the papers, was true, Greece had already, on the frontiers of Turkey, assumed an attitude which was well calculated to excite alarm, and which appeared to call for some decided course of action on the part of the guaranteeing powers. He would, before he sat down, quote passages from the despatches of the noble Earl opposite (Lord Aberdeen), which left him (Lord Aberdeen) no choice with regard to this question. He would quote passages which showed that the noble Earl was pledged as to what he would do under such circumstances as now existed in Greece, and passages which bound the noble Earl no longer to remain inactive, but to step forward, and, in his own words, to take "strong and peremptory measures" for the purpose of putting an end to the present state of things on the Greek frontier of Turkey; to maintain the integrity of the Turkish Empire against the marauders of Greece; and also to protect it from that spirit of propagandism which was now being so rapidly spared throughout its provinces. The Government of Greece was now in the hands of a person totally incapable of performing the duties appertaining to the position which he held, and who, from his former career in life, the country and Europe at large might well have supposed would have been the very last person selected for the performance of the important duties devolving upon the chief Minister of the State. He did not think it necessary to enter, at that time, into the minute and disgusting intrigues by which such a deplorable state of things was effected; yet he must still remind their Lordships how parties did at present stand in Greece. What were these parties, and what their object and their character? There were at present three great parties in Greece, widely distinguished from each other even by their respective denominations; and the hopes expressed in September, 1843, that these parties would, if not immediately, at least speedily, coalesce into one for the good of Greece, had totally failed, and intrigues, instead, were still continuing, and as much in force now as they were three years ago. The three great parties which at present divided the Greek kingdom between them were commonly called, as their Lordships were well aware, the English, the Russian, and the French parties. Each of these was supposed to have at its head one of the Greek leaders; and thus these leaders were supposed to represent the three different interests adverted to. It was well known that Mavrocordato was supposed to be at the head of the English party. From his previous habits, and from his education at and residence in Constantinople, he, perhaps, had, of all the others, the greatest knowledge of European policy; and he might say, that if any individual could have been selected in Greece to direct the affairs of that country, in whom Europe could repose its confidence, Mavrocordato was the man. But the party which he was supposed to represent was anything but in the ascendant at present in Greece. Not only had he no voice in the guidance of affairs at present, but the election of Mavrocordato had actually been four different times set aside; and he (Lord Beaumont) believed that he had not yet succeeded in obtaining a seat in Congress. The second party to which he alluded was the Russian party. That party was well known and familiar to their Lordships as the Nappist party, and was sup- posed to be represented by Metaxa. This party was noted for the depth and persevering character of its intrigues, as well as for the pliability and address with which it adapted itself and made court to every discontented body that rose in the State. It had allied itself with the Phil-orthodox Society, who sought to sever the Church of Greece from the Church of Constantinople, by declaring its independent of the Patriarch; and thus enabling the friends of Russian ambition to propose a union of the Greek and Russian Churches, which would have secured to the Emperor an unlimited influence in Greece. Metaxa, the man who was the supposed head of the Russian party at this moment, had been constantly changing from side to side, being now with the English, and now acting with the Russian party; which gave to his conduct an appearance of inconsistency which could only be explained by the ultimate but secret objects of his party. The third party in Greece was the French party; but why it was designated the French party, he was utterly at a loss to understand; because, certainly, the policy which it seemed to adopt could be no more for the interests of France than for those of England; being, in his opinion, equally inimical to both. But that party had, somehow or other, obtained great favour in the eyes of France, and also in the eyes of all those who were anxious for the disturbance of the East—who were anxious to sow the seeds of difficulty there, so that in the confusion which might ensue, they might have the opportunity of carving out and obtaining for themselves a portion of the advantages which an unscrupulous aggression might secure to them. At the head of this party was Coletti. This man was long known as the head of the Palikars. The Palikars were originally the militia of Turkey. A portion of them were regulars, and kept in strict discipline; but the rest had long sunk to the condition of brigands. It was as the representative of the latter portion of the Palikars that Coletti had always been known in Greece. Without going far back into the recent events in Greece—to the time when the Three Powers offered their intervention, or subsequently, when by Treaty they acknowledged the independence of Greece, or again, when by conference, still later, they extended the limits of that kingdom—without going back to these events at present, he would merely allude to the Papers which were in their Lordships' House, and which were placed on their Lordships' Table subsequently to the revolution of September, 1843, already alluded to. Their Lordships were aware that, in 1841, the Government of this country, and also M. Guizot, were of opinion that as yet a complete constitutional Government should not be given to Greece. The Russian party, however, did not give in its adherence to that opinion; and it was then that Metaxa, who formerly entertained very different sentiments, coalesced with the ultra-Liberal party, and arranged with that party to upset, by a coup d'etat, the then existing state of affairs, and to substitute a constitution in the place of the form of government which then obtained in Greece. It was well known that they met before the palace of the King; it was well known that they were successful. Kalergis was the leader of this movement; but Kalergis was also the first to restrain the violence of the successful party, and interfered between the King and the people when the latter sought the expulsion of the former, and the former hesitated to acknowledge the constitution proclaimed by the latter. Metaxa was a party to this movement, and Catakasy, the Russian Minister, was supposed to be both cognizant and approving of it. The Russian Government subsequently disavowed the connivance of its agents; but it is acknowledged that Metaxa and the Nappists were the chief supporters of Kalergis and the movement party. These events were now well known both here and on the Continent; and it was also well known that, at the advice of England and France, the King, after refusing, acceded to their proposals, adopted the constitution proposed by them; and from that period it was hoped that the three contending parties, by coalescing to support the new state of things, would put an end to the pitiful intrigues which had theretofore existed. Such a consummation, however, was not, it seemed, to be achieved. Intrigues still followed; but before he alluded to these, their Lordships would allow him to remind the noble Earl of some passages to be found in the Papers at that time laid on the Table of the House, and in which were the passages to which he alluded, when he said that the noble Earl had no choice left as to the conduct which he was bound to pursue in view of the present state of affairs in Greece. In a letter (No. 5, from Lord Aberdeen to Sir Edmund Lyons), dated October 25, occurred this passage. The noble Lord here read the passage, which was to the effect, that it might be necessary for the three guaranteeing Powers to exert themselves to moderate the projects of the Greek parties, since, however temperate and cautious they might hitherto have been, exaggerated propositions might be brought forward at the next meeting of the National Assembly. The despatch then proceeded in these words:— Any indication, should such appear, of an intention to interfere in the affairs of the Turkish Empire, and to introduce political changes in the condition of any of its provinces, would at once be firmly and peremptorily repressed. In another despatch he found the following:— Any extension of the franchise to subjects of the Porte, would afford just cause of umbrage to the Turkish Government, and would lead to the most serious consequences. It may not be superfluous at the present moment, when excited feelings prevail to add a warning against any interference in the affairs of neighbouring States. Her Majesty's Government would not view with indifference, or indeed tolerate, any attempts to produce disaffection and create disorder in the provinces of the Turkish Empire. At the same period Sir Stratford Canning wrote to the Earl of Aberdeen, and stated that Reschid Pacha had called on him, and had spoken of the affairs of Greece, stating that precautions had been taken on the part of the Turkish Government, and which appeared to Sir S. Canning to be extremely moderate. Sir S. Canning further stated, that the Turkish Minister had told him that the Council had determined to abide by the precautionary measures already adopted, and that they would watch the course of events, and rely, in the meanwhile, upon the three guaranteeing Powers. In reply, the noble Earl stated that he was perfectly satisfied with the part taken by the Turkish Government as regarded the events then passing in Greece; and further, that the Porte might rest assured that the Allied Powers would not tolerate any projects of encroachment or ambition on the part of the Greek State. The noble Earl was well aware that the whole tenor of the correspondence just referred to tended to one end, an assurance to Turkey that its interests would be respected; and also to Greece that any attempt on its part to interfere with Turkey, or to make any attack on the frontier of the Empire, would be immediately repressed. Having stated thus far, he would now proceed briefly to lay before their Lordships what he believed were the events which had recently transpired on the frontier. The present Greek Government had, in the first place, allowed to be issued pamphlets, proclamations, and written documents, proposing an extension of the Greek frontier, and also appealing to those Greeks who inhabited the Turkish Empire, and who were members of the Empire, to join them in their intention of aggrandizing the State of Greece, and to raise even an insurrection in Turkey. They had debated in the National Assembly of Greece the propriety of extending the franchise to Greeks who did not reside in Greece, and even in that assembly too, if his information were correct, had they openly spoken of the extension of their present frontier. Greece was not in the same position as other independent States: her frontiers were fixed by the Three high Powers of Europe, and guaranteed against all invasion by them. He did not question the right of the Senate to make what alterations they liked in the internal government of the country—nor did he deny them the privilege of seeking commercial advantages in their relations with neighbouring States; but he maintained that they could not avow an aggressive policy without forfeiting the protection of the guaranteeing Powers. The Greek villages and districts bordering on the Ottoman territories were inhabited by a race of robbers; and yet amongst these very borderers they allowed bodies to be organized, whose sole occupation seemed to be the pillage of their more peaceful neighbours. These bands were authorized by the Government itself, and designated by them as part of the forces of the State. They had, moreover, placed this army—if an army it might be called—upon the frontiers of Turkey. Some time since, one of the officers of this army made an invasion of the Turkish territory. The Porte then complained of what had taken place. A mock trial took place at Athens, and this man was acquitted. Since that time he had been appointed to the command of the army on the frontier, and another officer under his command had, since that appointment, passed the Turkish frontier. An encounter took place, in which blood was shed. Luckily the Turkish forces seized on those who made this wanton incursion, and, he believed, had punished some of the ringleaders. Such was at present the state of affairs on the frontier. Throughout the whole of Turkey, there were at this moment societies existing for supporting this wild scheme of the Greeks, for the extension of their territory; and the Reis Effendi was constantly complaining to the ambassadors of the Three Powers with regard to the manner in which the pamphlets and other documents to which he had alluded were circulated. Now then he had come to this conclusion, that, the state of affairs alluded to by the noble Earl had actually arrived, and that the noble Earl had now no choiee left, but must act up to his promises to Turkey, and up to his threats to Greece. He (Lord Beaumont) must, before concluding, qualify to some degree a remark which fell from him at the commencement of the statement which he had just made. He had spoken of Greece as not being yet fit for a constitutional Government. He believed that very few countries when they first acquired such government were fit for it; for it was necessary that they should possess it for a short time before they became properly accustomed to its privileges. So far from regretting the events of September in Greece, he was rather glad that they had taken place; but, considering Greece as merely the creation of the Three Allied Powers, they should take care how that constitutional Government was proceeded with in Greece; and take care also that nothing should arise in the early period of its existence which might eventually lead to its destruction, or cause it to become dangerous to surrounding countries. He did not call for any interference in the internal affairs of Greece. He called upon the Government merely to prevent Greece from doing that which might embroil the whole world—from doing that which they would prevent Turkey from doing, should it attempt it—to prevent it, in short, from doing a great injustice to a neighbouring Power. Greece had nothing to fear from foreign invasion on the part of Turkey, and consequently the idea of collecting an army on the frontier of Turkey was an absurdity in itself. A good system of police was necessary for Greece; but no army was necessary, since its Turkish frontier had the guarantee for its preservation of the Three Powers. What had Turkey done under recent aggravating circumstances? The Ottoman Government had behaved better in this instance than most European Powers would have done. With a great degree of patience they had borne long and long the attacks made upon them from Athens, and had, in good faith with their Foreign Allies, joined in council with them, listened to their advice, and complied with that advice. They had trusted implicitly to the Foreign Powers; and now if these Powers—which had assured them that their Greek subjects would not be interfered with—deserted them, such desertion would be a monstrous breach of all national faith, a monstrous and cruel injustice inflicted upon Turkey—an injustice which must, sooner or later, bring its punishment along with it. He did not come forward for the purpose of criticising the domestic Government of Greece: he might regret the total abandonment of all principle of justice and wisdom displayed by the present Ministry: he might condemn the means taken to put aside the elections of its opponents as unconstitutional: he might consider the disbanding the regular troops, and substituting in their place the Palikars, as a system of anarchy; but he did not call for any explanations on these grounds. He carefully confined himself to those acts of the Government which affected the foreign relations of the country, and which, therefore, came within the direct province and office of the Allied Powers. It was their duty to maintain peace between the two countries; and the recent proceedings threatened that peace. Having thus stated the extent to which be hoped an explanation by the noble Earl would be given, he would now proceed to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, for Copy of Correspondence between the Foreign Office and the English Legations at Athens and Constantinople, relating to recent Events in Greece.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said: From the Notice given by the noble Lord of his intention to move for Papers relating to recent events in Greece, it was not very easy for me to know what was the precise object he had in view, or indeed to form any correct opinion of what events he referred to. From the speech of the noble Lord, I imagine that he refers to certain incursions on the Turkish frontiers committed by Greek "troops," as he calls them. I beg to assure the noble Lord that in so designating them he is in error, and that he has been misinformed. As far as I have been able to learn, in the month of March last, a band of robbers—of two or three dozen robbers—did pass the Turkish frontier, killed two unhappy people, and robbed a house. This is the invasion which the noble Lord calls on the Three Powers to unite in repressing. I have not the least doubt that those excesses are as much lamented at Athens as they can be at Constantinople. The Greek Government had nothing to do with the lawless acts of the banditti which are too often to be met with in the provinces of that country. The army which the noble Lord states to have been sent to the frontiers has no existence except in his own imagination. The Greek Government has sent no army to the frontier. It is true that the Turkish Government, being provoked by incendiary proclamations and intrigues, have advanced a force to their frontier; and, although I think the measure one of questionable wisdom, I cannot find fault with the Turkish Government for taking measures which they thought necessary for their own protection. But the Greek Government possesses no means of preventing the proclamations to which the noble Lord has referred. Greece has a free press; and the Greek newspapers publish the matters alluded to by the noble Lord, quite independently of their Government; the Turkish Government wishes to prevent the circulation of those publications, but the Greek Government cannot prevent their publication: so much for the invasion of the Turkish territories. The noble Lord has described the state of the Government and Administration of Greece; and he has pretty candidly confessed that his Motion has been made, not for the object of acquiring any information which the Papers he has moved for would furnish, but for the purpose of a due compliance with the Orders of the House. There is no information, except with respect to the insignificant affair I have referred to, which is in the possession of the Government. There is a short account of that; but I should be unwilling to bring before the House the details of a mere act of robbery, unconnected with the Government of Greece. The noble Lord has described at some length the various parties into which Greece is divided; and the noble Lord is perfectly free to make any comment which he may think proper; but he can hardly expect me to follow him in a criticism upon the internal government of that or any other country. My business is, as far as I am able, to preserve the relations of friendly intercourse between Her Majesty and the Government of that country. If it be true that King Otho has chosen a very bad Minister, that is his misfortune, and the misfortune of the country; but how we were to interfere in order to prevent it is not very apparent. Perhaps the noble Lord may think that this is a misfortune which has befallen, and may befall, other countries as well as Greece. I do not know how he can expect that we should advise His Hellenic Majesty as to the choice of his Ministry. With respect to the three parties in Greece, to which the noble Lord has referred, I have always regarded it as the greatest misfortune that could befall Greece; but when he says that the English party is at the very lowest abyss of degradation, I am of opinion that the noble Lord is much mistaken—the gentleman he refers to was never otherwise than friendly to this country. The friendship of Greece towards this country not only exists now, but has always existed, quite as much as this country has a right to expect that it should exist. What is it we ought really to desire to see in Greece? What is it upon which English influence there really depends? It is upon the wealth, upon the integrity, upon the enterprise of our merchants, and upon our commercial dealings with that country. That is the real source of our influence, and that is all the influence which it is necessary for this country to possess. Whether the internal administration of Greece might not be better ordered is not for us to inquire; but the noble Lord may be assured that the rights of British subjects will always be protected and attended to, be the Minister who he may, either Colletti or any one else. I assure him also that there is no intention whatever on the part of the Three Powers to tolerate any act of aggression on the part of the Greek Government against the Turkish Empire. But are the Three Powers to be called upon to interfere, because a band of robbers had put to death one or two persons in a village, robbed a house, and then returned to their own country for safety—persons quite unconnected with the Greek Government? The noble Lord can hardly be serious when he applies to such a state of things the declaration I refer to. I hope the force which the Turkish Government has sent to the frontiers will act with the prudence and forbearance for which the noble Lord gives them so much credit; and as, at present, no force is opposed to them, their advance is directed entirely against pamphlets and newspapers. Whether the measure will protect the Turkish provinces from the intrigues excited by those publications, I know not; but this is quite independent of any hostile aggression on the part of the Greek Government. I abstain from giving any opinion upon the other points mentioned by the noble Lord; and I will only add, that whatever party be in power, the rights and privileges of British subjects will be properly maintained; and, as far as any hostile aggression on the part of the Greek Government upon the Turkish provinces is concerned, it has been confined to the affair of which I have given the details. There are no Papers I am aware of which can answer the object of the noble Lord, and I must decline to hunt out any that may meet his views. The only subject is the incursion of two or three dozen robbers, which is not, in my opinion, worthy of your Lordships' consideration.

Lord Beaumont

had never doubted that the interests of British subjects would be attended to. His wish was to know what course the Government might think proper to adopt in a case of the aggravated nature which this had been represented to him to be. If the information which he had received was true, there was a body of men equivalent to an army, in respect to the harm it might do, although not in respect to discipline. There was an undisciplined body of Palicars on the frontiers of Greece. If the noble Lord refused the Papers, he could not press the Motion, and should consequently ask leave to withdraw it.

Motion withdrawn.