HL Deb 29 November 1920 vol 42 cc703-11

LORD SYDENHAM rose to ask His Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to carry out their wishes in regard to Montenegro as announced by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on November 11, 1919, in the following words: "There is no other desire on the part of His Majesty's Government than that the Montenegrin people should achieve a form of government at their own desire and according to their own wishes, and such a form of government as is compatible with Montenegro's free and peaceful development"; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have twice attempted to draw attention to the great tragedy of Montenegro, and I ask your Lordships' forbearance if I once again try to plead the cause of that most unfortunate little country. Soon after the debate of last June, and in consequence of that debate, I received a letter from Rome in which the writer said— I have just returned from Albania and Montenegro where my firm has traded for sixty years. I take the liberty to inform you that in several prisons in Montenegro there are from 5,000 to 6,000 young men who are kept in prison, and are only fed on bread and water. Consumption is destroying this healthy youth. Could you in any way help this suffering people; it would be an act of mercy. That was a striking confirmation of the statement which I ventured to make in your Lordships' House last June.

Since June, so far as I can understand, the Serbians have persisted in their policy of trying to terrorise the Montenegrins into submission to the Government of Belgrade. The shocking atrocities which were perpetrated upon the Bulatovitch family, some members of which served most gallantly in the war, have been made public in many newspapers here and abroad, and I am sure the reports of those atrocities must have been sent to the Foreign Office. Many witnesses of those atrocities were available in Italy, and confirmation or refutation could easily have been obtained.

In June I mentioned the peculiar case of an American citizen named Batchevitch, who came back to Montenegro, his own country, to bring away his family, and who was immediately placed in prison by the Serbians, and all his money taken away from him. There has been a sequel to that case. This man was able in some way or other to convey an appeal to the American Embassy in Rome, and Mr. Edward Arnold was sent at once to Belgrade, where he demanded and obtained the release of this man. Mr. Arnold, on his return, made a Report containing the following— The Montenegrins at present are living in a constant fear, which may be explained by saying that many Montenegrins have revolted against the Jugo-Slav Government, which they regard in the light of an enemy occupation rather than a chosen form of Government. The atrocities that the families of these men have suffered at the hands of the Government are calculated to strike terror to the heart of any human being. Many of these men have fled the country; others are at large in the hills. I am told by members of the Red Cross personnel of homes being robbed, whole families being murdered, and houses burned. The Jugo-Slav Government naturally charges all these acts of atrocities to those at large in the hills. But it is clear that these acts are the work of Jugo-Slav soldiers, and carried out as a part of a plan to keep the people in subjection through terror. Captain Whiting, A.R.C., who states that he has been in the worst parts of France and Belgium, considers the condition in Montenegro the worst that he has seen in Europe. This, coming from an independent outside witness, is very startling.

But British subjects have received no such protection as was accorded to this Montenegrin ex-soldier. Colonel Burnham, who was the head of the Canadian Medical Mission which has been doing its best to relieve suffering in Montenegro, has been ignominiously turned out of the country. These are his words— The District Governor came to Dulcigno and sent for me, threatened me, and concluded by ordering this Mission out of the country. It is a pity that such men are allowed to exist to terrorise the people of this country. I never thought it possible that such atrocities could be perpetrated by one of our Allies against another. Has any protest against this been addressed to Belgrade?

The Serbian Government has not confined its energies to the districts of Montenegro. The Anglo-Albanian Society pointed out in a letter to The Times this month that the Serbian troops "continue to occupy a large tract of Albanian territory within the frontier delimitated in 1913." Then the Society call upon Serbia "to withdraw her forces from these regions and so enable the 30,000 destitute refugees from the villages of the occupied districts, who are now starving in Scutari, Tirana and Elbassan, to return to their homes." Apparently, the Serbian Army is responsible for the suffering in Montenegro and Albania also. There has been recently a rising of Croats which has been put down by the Serbian troops, but I have no details to hand in regard to it. But the Croats have declared their sympathies with Montenegro, and the Slovenes are demanding independence of the Government at Belgrade, which they declare to be incompetent, and which, as far as I can see, is in a constant state of change which cannot tend to its efficiency.

I cannot understand how any one can believe that the Serbians will be able to govern the various Slavonic; peoples, to say nothing of the Hungarians who have been assigned to them on paper. The present international situation in Montenegro is, to my mind, quite incomprehensible. In January, 1919, the Supreme Council refused to allow the claim of Serbia to absorb Montenegro, and I know of no authority given since to that Government to rule Montenegro as it has been doing for the past two years. His Majesty's Government withdrew their small subsidy to Montenegro seine time ago, and quite recently they ended their relations with the de facto Montenegrin Government by not filling the post which had been held by Sir George Grahame. On the other hand France, Italy, and America have continued relations with Montenegro, and in the debate in the Italian Chamber on March 24 on the Treaty of Rapallo every speaker advocated the independence of Montenegro.

On September 25 last M. Leygues wrote to M. Letourneur, Chargé d'Affaires of Montenegro, to this effect— Au moment ou je prends la direction du Ministère, je tiens à vous assurer de mon désir de travailler au maintien et au développement des bonnes rélations qui existent entre nos deux pays.

Apparently, therefore, there must be some unhappy divergence of policy among the Allies in regard to the treatment of Montenegrian affairs.

No small State broken in the war ever received such solemn and distinct pledges of independence as Montenegro. Will your Lordships bear with me while I try to make that statement good? I take first the definite promise of His Majesty's Government. On January 20, 1916, Mr. Asquith said— Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro will be restored and reconstituted. England will constantly carry on the war until the restoration of Montenegro and Serbia into independent nations. The present Prime Minister declared on September 7, 1917— The time of the small nations should come first, because round them is concentrated this great fight for freedom—that is, round Serbia, Montenegro, and Rumania—the day of their restoration will also be the day of the deliverance of the world. If those words have any meaning, my Lords, surely the honour of this country is pledged up to the hilt to restore to Montenegro her independence.

Coming to France, I will only quote one of a great many pronouncements of that kind. On November 21, 1918, President Poincaré wrote to King Nicholas— The presence of the Allied troops, the co-operation which they will lend to the inhabitants, will contribute no doubt to hasten the moment which your Majesty's every wish is awaiting. As soon as it has arrived the Government of the Republic will be happy, your Majesty, to facilitate your return voyage.

And M. Pichon wrote quite as strongly.

Lastly, there is the American undertaking, which is perhaps the strongest of all. Montenegro had the honour of being included in the celebrated Fourteen Points of President Wilson, and on July 4, 1918, Mr. Wilson telegraphed these words to the King. He announced— the determination of the United States to see that in the final victory, which will come, the integrity and rights of Montenegro shall be secured and recognised. Mr. Lodge, the Leader of the Republican Party, used very much the same words. After all these solemn pledges to Montenegro that country since the Armistice has been martyrised by the Serbians, who have killed, tortured, and imprisoned men, women, and children and have entirely blotted from their maps this poor little country. Surely it is a most serious matter that the three greatest Powers should have broken their pledges, and that no one seems to have intervened to secure the liberty of Montenegro for which they all of them fought.

The friends of Montenegro are only asking for a perfectly free expression of the opinion and wishes of the people. In my Question I have quoted the views and desires of His Majesty's Government on November 11, 1919, only one year ago. The Under-Secretary of State added this— I can safely say that all the good offices of His Majesty's Government as far as they can be effective—and we are not without weight in the councils of Europe—are at the disposal of the Montenegrins in working out their fate. Your Lordships will note that they were to work out their own destinies with the help of His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl the Leader of the House, on June 10, spoke sympathetically of Montenegro, and said— What we want is that there shall be free elections in that country, and for my own part if it is suggested that the presence of Allied officers would be a guarantee that the elections would be free and that terrorism or influence would not be exercised over the voters, I should be quite ready to support that proposal myself. In the present conditions I do not believe that the presence of Allied officers would have the slightest effect upon the already terrorised people. If there is to be freedom of election it is necessary that all Serbian troops, gendarmes, and officials should withdraw from the country; that the political prisoners, of whom there are very many, should be released; and that the refugees both in the mountains and in foreign countries should be allowed to return to their homes under a guarantee of safety. If that is not done the elections will be just as fraudulent as the election at Podgeritza in 1918 which the Supreme Council declined to recognise at the time.

The King of Greece was an active agent of Germany throughout the war, or a considerable part of it, and he is implicated in the treacherous killing of Allied soldiers and sailors. The Allies deposed him, but it is very probable that he will return to his Throne because his people have expressed the wish that he should do so. The King of Montenegro instantly offered to the Allies his little Army, which was all he had, without any conditions, and that Army fought most gallantly until it was overpowered by vastly superior numbers because we were unable at the time to render the assistance we had promised. The kingdom of Greece came into existence in 1829 by the action of the Great Powers. Montenegro has enjoyed complete independence for nearly 600 years, and she owes that independence solely to the extraordinary valour of her people. King Nicolas has offered to abide by the decision of his people if it is given in conditions of complete and absolute freedom. By what right can he be deposed and the Sovereign State of Montenegro be blotted out of the map until such a free plebiscite has been held in Montenegro? One thing is certain. Broken promises always bring their nemesis, and the atrocities which have been committed in Montenegro will not be forgotten, but will leave a bitter legacy of future trouble in the Balkan Peninsula.

Last week I received a report of the assassination of Dr. Drlievitch, who was a candidate for Kolashin in the elections. He was an ex-Minister and a leading advocate in Montenegro, and there were reasons why the Serbian Government may have wished to remove him. He is said to have been shot by a Serbian gendarme while he was conducting his canvass. I would not have mentioned this report without the confirmation which I received in a telegram from Rome this morning. I am informed that accounts of the tragedy have been published widely in many Swiss and Italian papers, and that Belgrade made no denial. I am also told that persons who lately came from Cattaro state that the authorities there have justified the assassination by placards declaring Dr. Drlievitch to have been a traitor. If that is so, the elections will have been inaugurated by murder, intended to intimidate the votes of the Montenegrin people. I beg His Majesty's Government to ascertain at once whether what I have said about the assassination is correct.

My Question is intended to elicit the steps which have been taken to carry out the wishes of His Majesty's Government, plainly expressed in November, 1919, in another place and reiterated here by the noble Earl who leads the House on June 10 last. The Papers for which I ask are two. The first is the Report of Count de Salis, which the noble Earl the Leader of the House said he had no objection to giving, but he added— If the report is made public, the names of witnesses would be contained in it who gave their evidence to Count de Salis only on the pledge of strictest secrecy, and who might, I think, suffer seriously from divulgation. Could there be a clearer admission of what is going on in Montenegro? I ask for the Report without names, personal or geographical, and I believe there are many precedents for such omissions. Secondly, I ask for the recent Report of Major Temperley, who I am certain has told faithfully whatever he was permitted to see. I am sorry to have had to detain the House so long, but I have been dealing with a question on which I feel most deeply, because it involves the honour of our own country and the fate of one of our oldest Allies, the little nation which Mr. Gladstone pronounced to be "glorious and immortal." I beg to move.


My Lords, I am glad to assure Lord Sydenham that His Majesty's Government have not lost sight of the special conditions existing in Montenegro during the period immediately preceding the elections for the Constituent Assembly of the new Jugo-Slav State. Those elections were to have been completed yesterday, and were to have been conducted under a special law issued by the Serb-Croat-Slovene Government. The provisions of that law were elaborated and designed to meet the special circumstances which must always exist when a large association of kindred peoples seeks to achieve their national unity.

We have a great experience in the British Empire of combining local traditions and political aspirations with the good of the Commonwealth. In the Balkans in the past it cannot be denied that local aspirations have clashed with each other without political results, except in those cases where they fell within the grip of rigid dynastic and military systems, such as the old Habsburg and Ottoman Empires. As already announced by the Secretary of State, we have watched the rights of the new nationality of the Southern Slays with great interest and sympathy. That nationality has grown out of the desire of the Serbs, the Croats, and the Slovenes, and a great many of the Montenegrins also, to form a single State. In a few days we shall know what is the wish of the Montenegrin people as a whole, as a result of the elections to the Constituent Assembly.

As your Lordships are aware, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes has met with the initial difficulty that a large portion of the population have at various times been, willingly or unwillingly, under Governments which, from the actual circumstances of their growth, could not consider the interests of all the Southern Slays from a single point of view. Some territories were provinces of Austria or Hungary; some enjoyed the dubious benefits of Habsburg supremacy and Ottoman suzerainty combined; a third group had become isolated and had maintained a precarious independence under the Prince-Bishops of Montenegro. The modern history of this Montenegrin group has been that the Bishopric has gradually been converted into a dynasty, whereby the Montenegrins, who are of the same race as the Serbs, were prevented, just as the Croats and Slovenes were prevented, from having a national life in common with the Serbian State or Kingdom.

The Assembly which met immediately after the Armistice at Podgoritza declared the deposition of King Nicholas and the union of Montenegro with Jugo-Slavia, under the dynasty of the Karageorgevic. There was considerable doubt, however, as to whether this was at the time a fair or correct reflexion of the feelings of the Montenegrin people. His Majesty's Government were reluctant to accept the decision of the Podgoritza Assembly as definite, and decided to await the result of the elections to the Constituent Assembly.

In order to secure independent evidence during the actual time when the elections were proceeding, His Majesty's Government have despatched an official to visit Montenegro in order that he might be present while the people are actually voting. The official selected is Mr. Bryce, who has had much experience in Yugo-Slavia, and has a special knowledge of elections in which Yugo-Slav voters took part, having served as Assistant Commissioner for the Klagenfurt plebiscite. His Majesty's Government have every confidence that Mr. Bryce will be able to judge properly as to the correctness of the electoral returns, and their future attitude towards the question will be largely based on the evidence thus received.

With regard to the -actual Motion for Papers, let me in the first place thank Lord Sydenham for giving me notice of the documents he desires. I think he is under some misapprehension as to Lord Curzon's statement. Lord Curzon never said he had no objection to laying the Report of Count de Salis, and on March 11 he gave reasons why in his opinion it was really impossible to lay it, and that particular answer has been repeatedly given in the House of Commons. The fact is that to publish this Report in the form desired by Lord Sydenham would involve serious truncations and mutilations, which would so much interfere with the sequence and symmetry of the Report that the Foreign Office propose to adhere to their original decision not to submit it to the public.

The second Report which Lord Sydenham desires is that of Major Temperley. Lord Sydenham said he was sure Major Temperley had told faithfully what he had been permitted to see. I have no doubt that that applies equally to every officer, whether commissioned officer or member of the diplomatic service, directed by His Majesty's Government to make Reports. The considerations to which I have referred in connection with the Report of Count de Salis apply equally to the Report of Major Temperley in its original form. This was a confidential document intended for the information of His Majesty's Government, and it would obviously be impossible to lay down the general proposition that no confidential Report should be received by the Foreign Office without a Parliamentary demand being made for its publication. Major Temperley's Report, however, contains much valuable information which we shall be glad to make public. Subject to what I said just now about the actual form of Major Temperley's Report, it will be laid, possibly with any other Papers that may be available, at an early date.


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot pretend to regard the answer of the noble Earl as at all satisfactory. It seems to me that no steps whatever have been taken to guard the Montenegrin voters from intimidation. It is a very good thing, no doubt, that an official has been sent there to watch what has been going on, but he cannot in any way protect the voters, who it seems to me will have to vote under the threat of Serbian bayonets. I am afraid, therefore, that this election will be just as fraudulent as the Podgoritza Election in 1918. I understand from the noble Earl that the Report of Major Temperley will be given, and I therefore beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.