HL Deb 05 August 1904 vol 139 cc1097-101

My Lords, I rise to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether it is the case that the Russian and Austrian Governments have intimated to the Porte that they intend to increase the number of their officers in the Macedonian International Gendarmerie; whether this step has been taken without consultation with the other Powers; and whether it has been assented to by the Turkish Government. Since this Question appeared on the Paper an Answer has been given in another place, from which I infer that the reply is in the affirmative. Reading between the lines of this Answer I am disposed to think my inference is correct, namely, that the Austrian and Russian Governments have made this application behind the backs of the other Governments interested. If this is the case, it is only one more proof of the correctness of the view which is entertained throughout the Balkan Peninsular, that Austria and Russia have been, and are, working for their own ends, with the ultimate and eventual object of dividing up that country between themselves when the proper moment arrives.

It is hardly necessary for me to point out, because we know that His Majesty's Government are well alive to the fact, that we possess quite as much right as Austria or Russia in that part of the world, and i they should take upon themselves to insist upon an increase in the number of their officers, it is perfectly plain that we have the right to do the same should we desire to do it. I understand, however, that the officer who is responsible for the British section does not require any additional assistance at present. But should it be necessary to imitate the example of Austria and Russia and send additional officers out, I suggest they might be profitably employed in the Adrianople vilayet. Additional officers do not mean additional expense so far as this country is concerned, because the Turkish Government is made to pay for them.

I should like to utter one word of warning before I sit down against the view that, because everything at this moment appears to be calm, therefore there is no danger to be apprehended in the future. If the noble Marquess asserts that everything is going on all right, and if I, on my part, assert that everything is going on all wrong, I am afraid the noble Marquess is more likely to be believed than I am. His source of information ought a events, to be more correct than my own; but I must confess that from my own experience and from information which I constantly receive, I do not myself in the least believe that a satisfactory settle-men is assured. I admit the success of the international gendarmerie scheme, and it is especially satisfactory that the work of the British officers has been conspicuously successful. But what I desire to point out is this, that if that country is quiet, it is not quiet solely on account of the presence of a few foreign offices. It is quiet, first of all, in consequence of the exhaustion from which the people are suffering after the proceedings last year, and, in the second place, in consequence of the presence of a large number of Asiatic soldiers, who live under conditions which long ago would have promoted mutiny among the forces of any other nation. When I hear of the departure of the vast numbers of Asiatic soldiers who are now in Macedonia, I shall believe that a satisfactory settlement is in sight; but under present conditions, I still hold the view that a general outbreak, followed by war, in that part of the world is merely a question of time, and that unless very close attention is paid to the movements of the Austrian and Russian Governments, we may find some day that this outbreak which I foretell may have been anticipated by some arrangement between these two Powers under which they will appropriate and divide the country.


My Lords, before the noble Marquess rises to answer the Question which has just been put to him by the noble Lord opposite, I should like to supplement it to some extent, as this is probably the last occasion on which we shall have an opportunity this session of referring to this important subject. The Question of the noble Lord merely refers to the Austrian and Russian demand for increasing the number of their officers in the Macedonian International Gendarmerie; but the matter is so important, and has excited so much feeling in the country, that I would ask the noble Marquess to state to the House the present position in Macedonia. We would like to know whether the convention between Bulgaria and Turkey has had any effect, and whether the general condition of the country is such that we may hope that peace may reign there for some time.


My Lords, the noble Earl has very considerably extended the scope of the Question put to me by the noble Lord behind me. I dwell upon that point because it may explain the comparative meagreness of the Answer which, on the spur of the moment, I am able to give to the noble Earl. It is true that within the last few days the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Ambassadors have applied to the Porte for permission to appoint more officers, six in the one case and five in the other, and I believe the Porte has raised objections to the proposal. The noble Lord suggested that this step has been taken behind the backs of the Powers and with some sinister object which he indicated plainly. There is nothing in the information before us to show that the step taken by the two Ambassadors was taken in such a manner. The question has been discussed by them with their colleagues at Constantinople, and I may take it upon myself to say that it is admitted by all concerned that this question of appointing officers is one which from the first has concerned not only Austro-Hungary and Russia, but the whole of the Powers who were signatories to the treaty of Berlin. We hold strongly to that position, and claim for ourselves the right to increase the number of our officers in proportion as an increase is made by other Powers. Originally there were to be sixty of these officers appointed by the Powers, and that number for a time was reduced to twenty-five.

Of course the question of the number of officers must in common fairness have sonic reference to the requirements of the different districts to which they are appointed, and when my noble friend suggests that we need not greatly exercise our minds over the question of expense because it was Turkey that pays the bill, I feel bound to reply to him that we must have some regard for the financial position of Turkey, and that it would be grossly unfair to impose upon her officers who were clearly superfluous. But there is ample room in Macedonia for officers who might be considered superfluous so far as the particular districts allotted to the different Powers are concerned. Such officers might be well employed outside these districts; possibly in extending similar measures to the vilayet of Adrianople, as my noble friend suggested, or in other ways assisting the Turkish authorities in the work of administration.

The noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition invited a statement on the position of the whole Macedonian question. That is a very large order. The noble Lord behind me begged me not to imagine for a moment that no danger lay below the surface of the present calm, and I am well aware of the truth of that proposition. It would be an exaggeration to say, using my noble friend's words, either that things were "all right" or "all wrong." My own impression is that there has been considerable amelioration in the position of affairs in Macedonia; it has been slow and gradual as might have been expected, but I believe it has nevertheless been substantial. The gendarmerieofficers have undoubtedly done excellent work, and their presence has been most useful, not only because they have been able to make some progress in the duty of reorganising the gendarmerie, but also because their presence has inspired a feeling of confidence which was lacking before. I have heard nothing but praise of the manner in which General De Giorgis Pasha has performed his duties and conducted his relations with the gendarmerie officers, including those sent from this country. I have also within the last few hours received information through the Austro-Hungarian Embassy of the progress made by the civil agents; I have scarcely had time to examine the documents, but I gather from them that the civil agents have been able to make tours of the country, a point about which my noble friend remembers there was at one moment a doubt, and that the effect of these tours has been to put a better face on the situation of affairs. I do not know that it is in my power to make any further statement, for I had no idea that the larger question would be raised; but I can assure the noble Earl that His Majesty's Government are anxiously watching the Macedonian problem, and that if we regard it more hopefully at the moment than my noble friend (Lord Newton) does it is not because we ignore the very serious dangers that always underlie the surface of affairs in that country.