In this chapter our focus will be wider. It will include other aspects of humanitarian intervention and not only diplomatic exchanges and the views of major protagonists. We will attempt to pinpoint the elements of a rising Russian and European sense of identification and empathy with the suffering. Moreover, we will trace the links and vehicles through which the suffering of ‘strangers’ in the unknown Balkans (the ‘Christian East’ of the Asian Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry) were brought to the attention of the wider Russian public and not only to elite circles. We will also include the contemporary critique of Russia’s policy and the questioning of whether its humanitarian motives were pure.
Russian foreign policy and the Eastern Question, 1856–78
The overall picture
The geo-schizophrenia’1 of Russia, situated between Europe and Asia, created in the nineteenth century an ‘uncertainty’ as to the place of the Russians within the ‘civilized’ (read ‘European’) world. Russian educated society pondered whether Russia was European, Eurasian or basically Slavic and Orthodox, that is, in a special category of its own civilization-wise.
Nineteenth-century Russian foreign policy was based on European international norms, the balance-of-power system, geopolitical and economic considerations and the limitation of costs for the Russian Empire. Most Russian diplomats and other high-ranking officials, most of them aristocrats, though not immune to the ideological, political and cultural differences within Russian society, were attuned to the reigning spirit and culture of Europe. Thus they upheld the concept of legitimacy, diplomatic dialogue and limited war as a last resort in order to resolve outstanding conflicts that could not be settled by concord.2
Despite the overall Russian conformity with the European modus operandi, the other European states regarded Russia as bent on expansion and world domination. This often led to recurring bouts of Russophobia, buttressed by semi-Orientalist stereotypes which placed Russia, as well as the emerging Slavic Orthodox states in the Balkans, between civilization and semi-civilization, in the twilight zone between Europe and Asia. The fact that the Russians were Orthodox, hence ‘schismatic’ according to Catholicism, was also a factor in downgrading them. The wars of Russia with the Ottoman Empire did little to lessen these fears, as they were seen as an effort to dissolve the ‘Turkish Empire’, with Constantinople and the Straits as the ultimate prize. The expansion of Russia in the Caucasus and central Asia did little to allay these suspicions.3
In fact, the eventual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was not solely a Russian interest but was widely discussed among the great powers, especially by Austria–Hungary. Russian policy was aimed at the survival of its weakening neighbour, in which Russian influence would be constant and intrusive. Russian decision-makers were aware that the balance of power was at no time so favourable as to give them full freedom of action and permit them to control Constantinople (which many Russians coveted), and that a unilateral move by Russia in the region would lead to a European war.4
Russia – like France in northern Africa or Britain in India – was also, partially, a Muslim power, as the imperial state expanded in the Caucasus and central Asia, thereby creating porous frontier zones with the Muslim Ottoman Empire. A ‘Christian war’ against the Ottomans could lead to the estrangement of Russia’s Muslims, with repercussions in its frontier regions. The Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire could side with Russia, but there was also the danger of Russian Muslims creating a fifth column within Russia.5 In particular, the conquest of the Caucasus, a process which lasted half a century, led to the exodus of many Turkic Muslims, and the expulsion of the Circassians, who settled in the Ottoman Empire.
The 1875–76 uprisings in the Balkans were a great headache for Russian leaders and especially for Tsar Alexander II and Chancellor/Foreign Minister Gorchakov. In Europe, however, the primary focus was on the personality and activities of Ambassador Nikolay Ignatiev in Constantinople, who was bent on achieving Russian prominence in the region through the Orthodox Slavic population in the Balkans.
When the Balkan crisis erupted in 1875–76, various publications appeared in Europe, translated into several languages (including Greek), all pointing to Russian expansionism on Pan-Slavic grounds. Among the best-known was Russian Intrigues: Secret Dispatches of General Ignatieff and Consular of the Great Panslavic Societies, which included Ignatiev’s correspondence as well as the minutes of the famous Slavic benevolent societies. The text in question and other such texts were forgeries, written in all probability by the Porte to throw the blame for the alleged strategy of destroying the Ottoman Empire on Ignatiev and the Russian Pan-Slavists. Yet at the time they were regarded as genuine and later, as Mathias Schulz has pointed out, they formed the basis for several biased studies on Russian foreign policy.6
‘Vice Sultan’ Ignatiev versus the European Russian Gorchakov
Ignatiev was regarded by his contemporaries as a person of great ability and diplomatic skill but also controversial and untrustworthy. Within the Russian Foreign Ministry he had made his mark as head of the Asian Department and was regarded the foremost expert on the ‘Ottoman East’. Gorchakov’s lack of interest in anything related to the Ottoman East left ample room for Ignatiev to try to forge his own vision of Russian foreign policy in the region.7 His various diplomatic successes in Constantinople, where he served from 1864 until 1877, and his good relations with Sultan Abdulaziz and various grand viziers, made him the most powerful European diplomat at the Porte, hence the nickname Vice Sultan.
Ignatiev was convinced that the vital interests of Russia lay in the ‘Christian East’, particularly in the Balkans, where Russia could expand its influence by leading the Slavic Balkan people to statehood.8 His active participation in the Slavic benevolent societies made his name synonymous with Pan-Slavism. As pointed out by his colleague A. N. Kartsov, his approach was not dissimilar to the politique des nationalités of France under Napoleon III; it was also in accord with the liberal tendencies of educated Russian society in the age of reforms.9 Ignatiev, like many nationalists in Europe, called for greater Russian independence and put into question the European Concert. Clearly, this approach was at odds with the Russian Foreign Ministry, which advocated a prudent foreign policy.10
Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov, who in his youth was a classmate of Russia’s national poet, Pushkin, was an astute European diplomat, moderate and fairly liberal, at least by Russian standards. He represented a new type of Russian official, one devoted primarily to the state and secondarily to the Tsar. Gorchakov, ‘the European Russian diplomat’, regarded the Eastern Question as a European issue. From this perspective, any unilateral Russian initiative against the status quo related to the Eastern Question was mistaken or downright foolish.11 Two factors reinforced this view: the traumatic experience of the Crimean War, and the need for international stability to allow time for the consolidation of Russia’s Great Reforms initiated under the reign of Alexander II. Hence until the 1875–78 Balkan crisis, Russia followed a policy of recueillement, the main emphasis being on domestic rather than foreign affairs.12
However, Gorchakov was not impervious to the ‘racial and religious’ links of Russia with the Christians of the East. As he put it: ‘As regards the East, apart from our immediate and vital interests, there are also traditions and national sympathies that influence our policy’.13 A constant theme was that Russia, having brought Greece to life, had a ‘historical duty’ to liberate the rest of the Balkan peoples. Obviously, this ‘duty’ ran counter to the pledge of Russia in the 1856 Paris Treaty, namely to abide by the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire.14 Hence the constant advice to their Orthodox co-religionists in the Balkans to remain peaceful until the time when Russia would be in a position to assist them without running the risk of a great power coalition against it.15
Gorchakov’s reluctance to endorse Balkan nationalism was also based on his appraisal that the Balkan peoples were not mature enough to establish responsible states. Thus his instructions to Ignatiev were not to encourage irresponsible nationalist activities.16 The ageing Foreign Minister could not understand, let alone appreciate, the fascination of the Balkan peoples with the ‘cosmopolitan revolutionary spirit’ of Italy, which they tried to emulate.17 This overall line was tempered somewhat by his great dislike of the ‘Turkish Empire’.
When the Serbian rebellion in Herzegovina erupted, Ignatiev foresaw other rebellions in the Balkans.18 For him, Russia should come to their support, given Slav affinity and the fact that only Russia’s intervention would be selfless. He hoped that his cordial relations with the Sultan and the Grand Vizier would permit the settlement of the problem on a bilateral basis, without European involvement.19 He therefore suggested a plan of broad reforms, including autonomy, a Christian police force, tax reductions and the handing over of the provinces that had revolted to the principality of Montenegro.20 But Andrassy reacted to the Russian suggestion with his own plan (the Andrassy Note). Gorchakov’s acceptance of the Berlin Memorandum expressed the willingness of St Petersburg (against the wishes of Ignatiev) to settle the conflict à trois.21
The Bulgarian leaders based in Bucharest were leftists (Karavelov, Levski and Botev) and thus beyond Russian control, as they ‘espoused doctrines dangerous to the Russian state’.22 Ignatiev urged the Porte to send regular troops to the Bulgarian regions to restore order and advised punishing the guilty and not the innocent; the officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry remained apprehensive but non-committal, as did their European counterparts.23
It was mainly European and Russian public opinion that brought the matter onto the European agenda, following detailed reports of the atrocities. A case in point was the report of MacGahan in the London Daily News on the Bulgarian atrocities. MacGahan was well known in Russian society (he was married to Varvara Nikolaeva Elagina, who, after her husband’s death, became a correspondent in Russia of various US newspapers) and was a friend of General Skobelev (of central Asian fame and later head of the Russian army in the 1877–78 Russo-Ottoman War).
Contrary to their lack of information regarding the Bulgarians, the Russian officials were aware of the upcoming Serbian and Montenegrin war against the Ottomans. St Petersburg instructed Kartsov, the Russian consul in Belgrade, to restrain them and to warn the Serbs that if they resorted to war they would be on their own, without Russian support. Privately, however, Kartsov advised Prince Milan of Serbia not to heed the warning. It seems that the consul was trying to strike a balance between instructions from St Petersburg and rival instructions from his immediate boss, Ignatiev. Following a visit to the Russian capital, he got the impression that Russia’s official stance was not crystal clear on the Serbian question, as pointed out to him by Alexander Jomini (the son of the famous Swiss strategist), the third in command at the Foreign Ministry after Gorchakov and Assistant Foreign Minister Nikolay Giers.24
When the Serbs and Montenegrins were prepared to declare war, the Russian Pan-Slavs and liberals called for Russian support. Ex-general Cherniaev, editor of the Pan-Slav newspaper Ruskii mir, predicted that the Serbs would win and liberate themselves and the other Balkan Christians. The liberal Viesnik Evropy urged moral support for the Serbian cause. But other leading Russian newspapers backed the official Russian policy of not becoming involved. Alexander forbade Cherniaev to recruit volunteers and leave for the Balkans, which of course he did not heed. The Tsar could not stomach a former Russian general becoming the head of ‘those thieves’ as he called the Serbs.25 When Cherniaev and the other volunteers arrived in Belgrade (28 April 1876), openly advocating an independent and enlarged Serbia under the Obrenovic dynasty and implying that Russia would come to their aid, he was made a Serbian citizen and commander of its eastern army. In Russia the undisputed leader of the Russian Pan-Slav movement was Ivan Aksakov, chairman of the Moscow Slav Committee, who urged greater Russian involvement and was in contact with Cherniaev.26
Alexander ordered Kartsov to sever all ties with Cherniaev and prevent Serbia from going to war.27 But Gorchakov was equivocal. As he put it to Kartsov: ‘Do not forget that although the Tsar is opposed to war, his son, the heir to the throne, stands as the head of the Slav movement’.28 Indeed, the Tsar’s heir as well as the Tsar’s wife pressed Alexander for a dynamic intervention in the name of the Slavic cause.29 St Petersburg did not want the Serbs to start a war but being irresolute, known to sympathize with the Serb cause and having sent contradictory signals, it prompted the Serbs and Montenegrins to resort to war on 18 June (old-style Julian calendar) or 30 June (new-style Gregorian calendar) 1876.30 In private even the Tsar and Gorchakov sympathized with the Serbians and, under pressure from public opinion, allowed Russian military personnel to resign from the army and join as volunteers. Jomini told a member of the St Petersburg Slavophile Committee, ‘Do anything you like provided we do not know anything about it officially’.31
But throughout the Serb-Ottoman war the main concern of the Tsar was to avoid a wider conflagration which could involve the other powers. As Gorchakov put it in desperation to Miliutin (the Minister of War): ‘Let us leave everything to chance. Let the arms decide which party wins and which party is destroyed’.32 Even Ignatiev had second thoughts and was not supportive of Russian military intervention, although he did endorse the use of diplomacy and, if possible, a European conference that would stop the bloodshed and settle the conflict.33
The careful policy of Russia throughout 1876 did not allay the fears of Vienna and London, despite the attempts of ambassadors Novikov and Shuvalov, respectively. Novikov was a distinguished Slav specialist but as a diplomat he was anti-Pan-Slav. Shuvalov, a diehard conservative, had previously served in various posts related to internal security, including the Third Department of the Imperial Chancellery, in charge of suppressing revolutionary movement within the Russian Empire. He had become so powerful that he came to be known as Pyotr IV. The two ambassadors had gained the confidence of Andrassy and Derby, respectively, and played a considerable role in not allowing bilateral relations to deteriorate. But the fact that they were known to be anti-Pan-Slav and against war with the Ottoman Empire – more resolutely so than either the Tsar or Gorchakov on both counts – limited their credibility as true representatives of the ‘real Russia’.
Disraeli made a bellicose speech at a banquet held by the Lord Mayor of London, in Guildhall (28 October/9 November 1876), where the following words made their mark: ‘Peace is especially an English policy.… She covets no cities and no provinces.… But although the policy of England is peace, there is no country so well prepared for war as our own. If she enters into conflict in a righteous cause … her resources, I feel, are inexhaustible’.34
Two days later (30 October/11 November) Alexander, travelling from Livadia (in the Crimea) to St Petersburg, broke his journey to make a speech, addressing the Moscow nobility and civic authorities, in what seemed like a reply to Disraeli.35 He stated: ‘As you know Turkey submitted to my demand for immediate ending of the hostilities, to put an end to the aimless slaughtering in Serbia and Montenegro’.36 And he concluded thus:37
I know that all Russia joins with me in taking the deepest interest in the sufferings of our brothers by faith and by origin; but for me the true interests of Russia are dearer than everything, and I would do my utmost to spare precious Russian blood being shed. That is why I have striven and am continuing to strive to achieve by peaceful means a real improvement in the life of all the Christian inhabitants of the Balkan peninsula. Deliberations between the representatives of the six great powers are shortly to be begun at Constantinople … I much desire that we shall reach a general agreement. If this is not attained and if I see that we are not gaining such guarantees as would assure the execution if our just demands upon the Porte, then I firmly intend to act independently and I am convinced that in such an eventuality all Russia will respond to my appeal, when I count it necessary and the honour of Russia requires it.
Alexander’s aim was to publicly clarify Russian policy and to show to the excited Russian public that he was on the same wavelength, while indicating his preference for peace and for a wider international consensus for the adequate protection of the insurgents. According to Richard Wortman, Alexander in his speech sought ‘to show himself acting in concert with his people and taking account of public opinion’.38 Aksakov’s wife, Anna Aksakova (daughter of the famous poet and diplomat Tyuchev), wrote in her diary that the Tsar was clearly moved by what he said and this was also the case with his wife and his son (the future Alexander III), who were present. Many of the listeners shed tears according to Aksakova.39
The very next day, mobilization was announced. According to General Nikolay Obruchev, who was put in charge of setting out a plan for a war with the Ottoman Empire, ‘The aim of the war is to extract from the Sultan’s authority that Christian country [Bulgaria] where the Turks had committed atrocities and to put an end to every crisis of the Eastern Question’.40
When the Constantinople Conference was convened in December 1876, Ignatiev presented a maximum and a minimum proposal. Tsereteliev, who had experience as consul in various Balkan posts, and the US diplomat Eugene Schuyler (who had travelled to Batak together with MacGahan and had written a detailed account of the atrocities, which had been published as a booklet) were given the task of preparing the maximum plan. It provided for a large autonomous Bulgaria headed by a Christian administrator, a security force comprising locals, and other measures. Ignatiev prepared the minimal plan, to be put forward if Britain objected to the maximum approach. This divided Bulgaria into two parts, which included most of the Bulgarian-inhabited regions. When Salisbury accepted the minimum plan with some minor changes, Ignatiev was able to make some small territorial changes in favour of Serbia and Montenegro and recommend a level of autonomy for Bosnia and Herzegovina. With agreement reached, Ignatiev was satisfied to have made Russian aims the official goals of the great powers and hoped that, in the future, the two parts of Bulgaria would be united (an aspiration which in fact came about).41
The overall Russian aim was to bring about great power pressure for Ottoman reforms that would defuse the situation. Alexander, Miliutin, Reutern (the Economics Minister) and Gorchakov were averse to war and regarded the Bulgarian and other uprisings of Slavic peoples in the Balkans with deep suspicion, viewing the activists as socialists, radicals and atheists, the ‘worst possible revolutionaries’, and were fearful that the Balkan rebellions would send shockwaves within Russia itself, triggering insubordination against the imperial order.42 The various reforms that had commenced in the army and elsewhere, the considerable economic difficulties facing the country (in 1874 there was a major famine), the lack of funds, the limited industrial and military hardware as well as the lack of infrastructure and transportation (railways towards the south or adequate roads), called for caution and not for a military adventure.43
It is within this spirit that Ignatiev was sent to the European capitals, though the choice of envoy was hardly ideal in that it created great nervousness, especially in London. The final outcome was of course the watered-down London Protocol. When Disraeli, following the Protocol, called for the demobilization of the Russian army, Alexander mused: ‘They forgot the subject of the amelioration of the life of the Christians and they are only interested in disarming Russia’.44
The Russo-Ottoman War: ‘a generous crusade’
As Seton-Watson has argued, the correspondence before the war between Ignatiev and Shuvalov and of both to Gorchakov, ‘leave[s] no possible room for doubt as to the pacific intentions of the Tsar and his Government’, whose aim was limited to obtaining an agreement with Britain to protect the Christians ‘against Turkish misrule’.45
Following the failure of the Constantinople Conference, Russia presented the crisis not as ‘a Russo-Turkish or Slav question, but one of humanity and Christendom’ (the very words of the Tsar).46 The Tsar was in a dilemma: ‘pacific though he was, he could not abandon the cause of Christian kith and kin without alienating those upon whose support his throne rested’.47
As pointed out by Alfred Rieber: ‘Officially Alexander opposed the grandiose designs of the Pan-Slavs, but his moral commitment to Orthodoxy as a kind of substitute for national unity left him helpless to resist their pressure at the decisive moment’.48 His assessment is that by 1877 the Tsar had reached the point ‘where he had unwittingly staked his own honor and that of the empire upon saving the rebellious Christian population of the Ottoman Empire from their legitimate sovereign’.49
Above all, it was a matter of prestige and honour for Alexander to implement Russia’s will, if necessary by force. Within the imperial ideology and mentality, the Tsar was sensitive to the need to be seen to maintain an ‘ethical authority’ in policy matters, which in this case was keeping his promise to save the Christian Balkan peoples.50 He was of the belief that, by now, the prospect of war had been justified in the eyes of Europe as humanitarian, as a reaction to the extreme violence against the Christians and to Ottoman intransigence. He also had in mind the precedent fifty years previously, when the three powers had saved the Greeks.51
By now not only the Tsar, but even Gorchakov and Miliutin, who had been opposed to war, had given in. The only minister to oppose war until the end (for it would upset fiscal stability) was the Economics Minister, Reutern, who resigned.52 The moderate Jomini saw it as the best opportunity to crush the Ottomans. The war planner Obruchev estimated that the Russian army would be within reach of Constantinople within three months.53
Miliutin saw the prospect of war as ‘a sad but inevitable reality’54 in view of the stance of the European powers, which were prepared ‘to sacrifice the fate of the Balkan peoples to Turkish barbarity’. ‘[E]nvy towards us has made Europe abandon its dignity in the deep belief that any bolstering of the Turkish Porte would be a blow to our traditional policy’. He concluded that the goal of war was ‘a real peace, a dignified peace … that would protect the existence of the Balkan Christians from all bestiality and violence’.55
When the war started, Professor F. F. Martens, the legal adviser to the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote that ‘Russia was obliged to draw the sword, in order to safeguard the interests recognized worthy of sympathy by all civilized nations. Russia could not consent to the abandonment at the mercy of the Bashibazouks the life and honour of the Christians’.56 He called the Ottoman regime ‘an outrage to human nature’ and asserted that ‘Russia declared war against Turkey in the name of the interests of humanity … to put an end to a state of affairs that revolted the most respectable sentiments of the Russian people’.57
In his proclamation to the army in Kishinev, where the official declaration of war was made on 12/24 April 1877, Alexander pointed out that the war was waged for high moral reasons: for the honour of Russia, to save the Christian population from the wrath of the Turks, to bring about necessary reforms and to establish a lasting peace. War was rendered a necessity in view of the intransigence of the Porte. Moreover, the self-definition of Russian dignity at the time made the war inevitable and necessary.58
In the proclamation for the Bulgarians, the Tsar stressed ‘the sympathies of Russia for her coreligionists in the East’, ‘the sacred rights of your nationality’ gained not by ‘armed resistance, but at the cost of centuries of suffering, and the cost of blood of martyrs with which you and your ancestors have soaked the soil of your country’.59 However, humanitarian motives, including safeguarding the moral integrity and prestige of Russia, were not unrelated to political objectives, namely acquiring greater influence in the Balkans by saving its Slav Orthodox peoples.
It was made abundantly clear that Russia had no intention of dissolving the Ottoman Empire; it had ‘neither the interest to do so, nor the desire or the means’. If Constantinople was to be occupied, this would be provisional and only for short-term military purposes. Any final arrangement would involve all the Europeans.60 When the Russian army did in fact reach the outskirts of Constantinople, Alexander did not permit its seizure, despite the strong pressure to do so by a segment of the military, by his brother Grand Prince Nicholas (after his army entered Adrianople) and by the nationalist and Pan-Slav circles headed by Aksakov.61
Alexander also made it a point to be present as the army advanced. Wortman, who has studied the symbolism of ceremonies in the Russian Empire, points out that ‘Alexander’s presence at the theater of war was widely publicized and dramatized his personal leadership’ and eyewitnesses presented him as ‘a sentimental hero, acting purely out of the altruism that inspired his people’, ‘a military leader and a moral one’, who had ‘the ability and compassion for suffering’.62 In the conservative national discourse of the time, these were regarded as the virtues of the Russian people – love for the stranger, emotion for the suffering of others – thus the Balkan cause was one of altruism, sacrifice for the high goal of liberating the Balkans from the Muslim yoke, and all this without an inkling of national ambition or insatiable appetite for gains.
Interestingly, the war has been presented as humanitarian even by foreign witnesses hardly associated with Russian expansionism or Pan-Slavism, as seen in the case of Francis Greene, a lieutenant in the US army who covered the war from the Russian ranks. He assured his readers that Alexander’s attempt was to ‘free his cο-religionists from the intolerable oppression of the Turks. No more generous or holy crusade was ever been undertaken on the part of a strong race to befriend a weak one’.63
The victory of the Russian army brought Ignatiev to the highest point of his career. Now was his chance to remodel the Ottoman Empire according to his taste.64 An imperial council was convened and Ignatiev presented (as at Constantinople earlier) a maximum and minimum proposal. The first suggested the creation of a large independent Bulgaria with an extended outlet to the Aegean Sea, including Salonica (where a large segment of the population were Sephardic Jews) as well as major gains for Serbia, Montenegro and Greece. The minimum plan was accepted, which limited the gains to Montenegro and the Bulgarians (the climate was not favourable to Serbia). Independence for Bulgaria, including Salonica, were not accepted, but a large Bulgaria with an extended Aegean outlet was endorsed. Ignatiev left for Constantinople triumphant and regarded as the most likely successor of the ageing and almost senile Gorchakov.65
The Treaty of San Stefano was seen as a worthy reward for the war and the sacrifices of the Russian people but it could not be implemented due to the resistance of Europe, which regarded Great Bulgaria as a Russian satellite that brought Russian power and influence to the Aegean and not far from the Straits and Constantinople.66 According to Shuvalov, San Stefano was ‘the greatest act of stupidity we could have committed’, adding that ‘Ignatiev’s Bulgaria is nonsense’.67 As regards San Stefano, apart from the Ignatiev factor and the clamouring of the Pan-Slavists and the Russian press, it seems that the Russians were momentarily carried away by their victory and now wanted gains commensurate with their difficult victory (the war had cost Russia more men and money than defeat in the Crimean War68). There were the territorial demands of the Balkan states to reckon with, not least for reasons of Russian credibility and prestige. Moreover, it seems that Gorchakov wanted to confront the other powers with a maximum number of faits accomplis69 or, put differently, ‘they took more than they expected to keep in order to have some surplus for bargaining’.70
Ignatiev was sent to Andrassy to convince him of the need to retain the essence of San Stefano but the demands of the latter were so excessive that, in effect, Vienna would have made the greatest gains without having fired a single shot.71
The Berlin Congress, when Russia was obliged to back down from San Stefano, was seen as ‘a black page’ in Russian diplomacy. Gorchakov, who avoided sessions in Berlin when Russia had to yield (and thus was able to throw the onus as well as the blame for yielding on Shuvalov), wrote: ‘I only regret having had my signature to such a transaction’ and told Alexander that ‘I consider the Berlin treaty the darkest page of my life’, to which Tsar’s answer was ‘and in mine too’.72
Ignatiev used the following words: ‘My whole soul rebelled against destroying with my own hands my … work of fifteen years, killing all the hopes of the Slavs and strengthening Vienna’s predominance in the east … I considered granting Bosnia and Herzegovina to Austria to be a crime against the Slav population and shameful to Russia’.73
But not all Russian officials felt this way. Shuvalov regarded the compromise as inevitable, since Russia was in no position to wage another war, this time against Europeans.74 Giers was optimistic. He wrote to Jomini during the Berlin Congress to say that the results were satisfactory, pointing to the independence of three principalities and the creation of two Bulgarian entities, and that everything was done with the ‘sanction of Europe’.75
Three years later, Alexander II was assassinated (1/13 March 1881) by a member of a revolutionary organization named Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will). Alexander III, who as heir to the throne had been a supporter of war on behalf of the Bulgarians and Serbs on Pan-Slav grounds, changed his mind following the Berlin Congress. In 1885, when relations with Bulgaria were worse than ever, following an uprising in Eastern Rumelia, which declared union with Bulgaria, he was not prepared to spend even a coin for them.76 Similar views were held by Giers, the successor of Gorchakov to the Foreign Ministry. As he told the British ambassador in 1885: ‘a lesson we can never forget and one which is most wholesome for us – Never again to go forth making moral conquests with our blood and money but to think of ourselves and our interests only’.77
San Stefano, Ignatiev’s brainchild,78 can be seen as ‘the fullest practical expression ever given in Russian foreign policy to the Panslav ideal’.79 But the Russian government (with the exception of Ignatiev and the consuls under his command) did not adopt the Pan-Slav agenda.80 However, Alexander II had every reason to bow to public opinion and to the rhetoric of protection of life, and to present it as the justification for war, a war that could also serve Russian influence and prestige in the region, as both had faced a severe blow with defeat in the Crimean War.81 War had the added advantage of silencing internal divisions and redirecting interest to external matters.
As we have seen in the 1875–78 Balkan crisis, Pan-Slavism looms large and was seen by European Russophobes as the bogey. Thus a brief discussion of Pan-Slavism is in order.
Pan-Slavism (an offshoot of Slavophilism) was an assortment of contrasting narratives. It was not merely the terrain of right-wing conservatives and nationalists, but represented an array of ideologies across the political spectrum. Adherents included: conservative intellectuals such as Mikhail P. Pogodin, Aleksey S. Khomyakov, the brothers Konstantin S. and Ivan S. Aksakov, Juriy F. Samarin and Nikolay Yakovlevich Danilevskiy; liberals such as Aleksander Pypin; radicals and socialists such as Aleksander Gertsen, N. I. Kostomarov, M. P. Drahomanov and others; and even anarchists such as M. Bakunin.82
The Pan-Slav discourse was developed by different Slavic peoples who lived in the three continental empires, Austria–Hungary, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The common elements were Slavic ancestry (actually a perceived common ancestry based on language) from which the need for Slavic solidarity arose and the principle of nationalities. The whole discourse put into question the basis of legitimacy of the three empires and was linked in part to the famous Eastern Question.
In Russian society this narrative came to the fore following the traumatic Crimean War. The Slavic idea was part and parcel of the discussion of the national question in Russia and the creation of Russian national identity. There were no fewer than three versions of Russian identity: ethnically or culturally russkiy, racially Slav or state rossiskiy.
The Crimean War – the European ‘invasion’ into Russia’s ‘soft underbelly’ – coupled with Europe’s Russophobia and the dogma of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, convinced an increasing number of Russian intellectuals that Western Europe’s object of enmity and hatred was no longer Islam and the ‘Turk’ but Russia and the Slavic world. Thus some conservative Pan-Slavs, such as Nikolay Danilevskiy and General Fadeev, jumped to the conclusion that Europe was not only different but also the ‘absolute Enemy’.83 The Slavophiles and other conservatives argued that the Western European model of historical evolution was not the only way forward and far from ideal. However, the majority of Russian intellectuals of various ideological hues came to perceive the difference between Europe and Russia as an intra-European family affair rather than a clash between Europe as a whole and Russia. The Slavophiles, particularly those of the second generation, though anti-European, defined Europe as part of their world, of their own ‘Christian world’, with common Indo-European roots.84
The Russian Slavophiles felt a greater affinity for the southern Slavs, who were Orthodox. The issue of the relationship of Russia to Europe soon became the relationship of the Slavic world as a whole towards Europe. The situation was conceived as one of exclusion of the Slavic world from the rest of Europe. In the words of M. Pogodin: ‘The Slavs are forgotten by history, they are forgotten by geography, by diplomacy and by politics’.85 The Slavs were ‘the plebeians of history’ according to Orest Miller. However, this predicament had a positive twist: these very plebeians had historical time on their side, as youthful nations; they were in a process of revival and political struggle. Thus, according to Miller, the future belonged to these very plebeians.86 For second-generation Slavophiles such as Ivan Aksakov, V. I. Lamanskiy or Orest Miller, Russia’s historical mission in the East (and with regard to the Eastern Question) derived not only from its Christian Orthodox faith but also from its Slavic credentials. The Slavic question overlapped and was interlinked with the Eastern Question and the ultimate fate of the ‘Sick Man’. Hence the Eastern Question was perceived largely as ‘the narration of the gradual emancipation of the Slavs’.87
The Slavophiles tried to reorient the foreign (and internal) policy of Russia. Russia should go ahead and play a leading role in liberating the Slavic peoples, and in so doing follow an unfettered foreign policy not wedded to the traditional Russian line of trying to forge a common great power policy towards the unwieldy Eastern Question.88
The conservative version of Pan-Slavism went hand in hand with Russian state imperialism and Russian nationalism. Conservative Pan-Slavs, such as Fadeev, Danilevskiy and Ivan Aksakov, sought Russian dominance of the Slavs, with Russia functioning as the Slavic Piedmont for a future union of all the Slavs. Others, such as Miller, put emphasis on two prerequisites: on the principle of nationalities, which should apply to the Slavic peoples as well as to all the nations of Europe; and on selflessness on the part of Russia, which, in helping its Slav brothers, should not aim to gain territory from the Ottoman Empire when the Eastern Question was resolved.89
For the liberals, the Slav nations were European nations that had to follow the road of European civilization and progress. Α case in point among the liberal Slavophiles was Pypin, who, in his long academic carrier and through the liberal journal Vesntik Evropy, studied Slav solidarity. For Pypin, Russia should participate in a Pan-Slav federation of equal members, provided that it had shed absolutism and become a modern democratic society. He criticized the repressive Russian policies against the Slavs within Russia, as in the case of the Poles and Ukrainians, and endorsed the Ukrainian cultural movement, although without endorsing its separatist ideas.90 As Alexei Miller points out, he shared the idea of the all-Russian nation but opposed forced assimilation.91
Radical and socialist Slavophiles, such as Gertzen, Chernisevsky and Bakunin, claimed that Pan-Slavism and nationalism could be democratic and lead to the liberation of suppressed Slavic peoples in a confederation of equal independent states.92
Ukrainian Slavophiles, such as Kostomarov and Drahomanov, supported the Ukrainian renaissance but not secessionism, provided Russia became a modern democratic state. Their approach had intellectual links with the Decembrists, notably with Pavel Pestel, and with the Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius, which envisaged the creation of a large Slavic union, a federation, comprising Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Lusitians, Illyrian Serbs, Serbs, Croatians and Bulgarians.93
Public opinion in Russian and Russian–British–American entanglements
Russian society was transformed in the 1860s and 1870s as a result of Alexander’s reforms; new social strata and an array of social organizations came to the fore calling for the ‘common good’, ‘public duty’ and effective participation and greater change than that provided by the reforms. From the 1860s onwards a new political and social conscience crystallized with novel notions, such as obshchestvennost’, a complex term which refers to public space, educated society engaged in the common good and progress, and a sense of public duty, implying a civil society and citizenship. The concept of intelligentsia also came with the Narodnics, as people equipped with critical thought, independent of the state, who acted on the basis of high ideals and aiming at human progress.94
The daily and weekly press multiplied. The printed press was of great importance in the absence of institutionalized political dialogue. The role of publishers was also of importance.95 New forms of contact and information flourished, such as letters, distributed handwritten manuscripts, and trips abroad, all of which contributed to the exchange of ideas like running water, with information and views across frontiers as never before in the history of Russia.
When the Balkan uprisings occurred, various currents in Russia’s educated society supported them in the hope that liberty would arrive at home as well.96 Educated society increasingly criticized absolutism, which it regarded as responsible for the backwardness and other problems of the country in comparison with most of Europe. There was a widening gap between the authoritarian state and ‘unruly’ society.
Khevrolina, who has studied the archives of the police and the Imperial Third Department, found that following the defeat of the Serbs in the autumn of 1876, there was revolutionary ferment, indeed, a real danger of a revolution, especially among young students. If the state did not take measures in support of the Balkan Slavs, the prospect of revolution in Russia along Pan-Slav lines could become real.97
The Russian press had had since the 1860s a good information network regarding Balkan affairs, due to southern Slavic emigration to Russia. A case in point was the daily Golos, which had correspondents in various Balkan cities, and published articles on the Slavic and Eastern questions by progressive radicals from the Balkans, such as the Serb Zhivoin Zhuevich and the Bulgarian Karavelov, who wrote on Ottoman misrule and independent statehood for Serbia and Bulgaria as the only way out of their predicament.98
When the Bulgarian April Uprising took place there were constant reports in the Russian press from its network in the Balkans, in Cherniaev’s newspaper Russkiy Mir, and in the newspapers Moskovskoe Vedomosti and Novoe Vremya, which painted a grim picture of the suffering of the Bulgarians as martyrs at the hands of the atrocious ‘Turks’.99
When the first report by Pears appeared in the Daily News it was immediately translated into Russian, as was a booklet by MacGahan (Turkish Atrocities in Bulgaria), who was fluent in Russian. MacGahan was close to Schuyler, the US diplomat, who also knew Russian (he had translated into English Tolstoy and Turgenev, whom he knew personally), who wrote the preface to the booklet.
Gladstone was highly regarded in Russia. His Bulgarian Horrors was immediately translated as a booklet and it was introduced in Vsemirnaya Illiustratsiya, with an engraving of him speaking in the pouring rain at Blackheath, with fist raised. The publication noted that Gladstone recognized the selfless aims of the Russians and supported a common policy for the two European states. Jomini noted that even the British accepted the Russian demands for Bulgarian autonomy under Ottoman suzerainty.100 The money raised from Gladstone’s pamphlet was handed to the relatives of the Bulgarian victims.101
The anarchist Kropotkin, in exile outside Russia, remembered that his anarchist friends, among them the radical intellectuals Stepnyak and Clements, after having read the Daily News, went to volunteer for the Bulgarian cause as soldiers or hospital assistants.102
Pears, MacGahan, Schuyler and their views were constantly referred to, as were those of Stead, who supported Gladstone and was considered the prime Russophile journalist in Britain. Stead stressed the need for a crusade in the name of outraged humanity – blurring the boundaries between the medieval crusade and a nineteenth-century humanitarian crusade against the Turks.103 The entry of Reed’s diary for 14 January 1877 makes it clear: ‘The honour of Bulgarian virgins is in the custody of the English voter. And what is true of Bulgaria is true of larger things.’104 It also won him the compliments of two of his heroes: Gladstone and Carlyle. He became a key figure in the British journalistic landscape and was invited to the London salons of the expatriate Russian propagandist Olga Kireeva Novikova (Novikoff in her English writings), where he first met Gladstone, Carlyle and Froude, among others. Stead was one of the three Englishmen, alongside Gladstone and the liberal journalist Peter Clayden, the editor of the Daily News, to receive a vote of thanks from the first Bulgarian National Assembly in 1878 for their role in the Bulgarian agitation movement in Britain.105
Novikova had cultivated Gladstone since 1873, when they were introduced by the Russian ambassador in London, and they were united by their common interest in religious questions. Novikova, of aristocratic background, while in Russia was part of an intellectual circle comprising Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Tiuchev and others. After her divorce from the brother of ambassador Novikov, she passed from 1866 onwards her winters in London, surrounded by a circle of like-minded people in her salon at Claridge’s Hotel. Following the death of her brother, Nicholas Kireev, in Serbia, she started writing to her many British friends, including Napier, Froude, Kinglake, Freeman, Villiers, Harcourt and of course Gladstone. To her surprise and grief Gladstone was one of the few who did not answer. But he did something more worthwhile: a little later he sent her a copy of his famous pamphlet.106 During the crisis Aksakov kept her well informed on Russian foreign policy and she in her turn wrote many articles in Stead’s Northern Echo, where she translated the views of Aksakov and his speeches to the Slavic Committee of Moscow. At the same time she wrote a column ‘News from England’ in the conservative Moskovkye Vedomosty of Katkov. Among her best-known articles are the following, with characteristic titles: ‘Is Russia Wrong?’ (1878), ‘Friends or Foes’ (1879), ‘Russia and England, a Protest and an Appeal’ (1880), which Gladstone appreciated very much, and ‘Skobelev and the Slavonic Cause’ (1884).107
Russian society’s sympathy for the Slavs
In the years preceding the Balkan crisis there had been considerable advances in literacy in Russia, among the peasants and workers.108 ‘Once the farmers learned to read they covered all the news of the paper’, especially events in the Balkans, the head of police in Siberia wrote in a report.109 Though this may have been an overstatement, it is a fact that far more than in the Greek case half a century previously, members of the lower classes who could now read joined in the pro-Balkans call. The elaborate Pan-Slavist argumentations of Pagodin, Miller or Lamanski may have been very difficult to understand but there were also the sermons in the churches which referred to the agony of the Slavs at the hands of the ‘barbaric Muslims’.
The publishers of the daily press reacted accordingly to this rising literacy, trying to augment the circulation of their newspapers. There were also the so-called lubki, cheap publications with many illustrations accompanied by short texts. The events of 1875–78 led to a great rise in demand for such publications. As put by Ivan Dmitrievich Sytin, a successful publisher of lubki, I ‘hired the best graphic artists and first class printers, did not bargain with them over wages, but demanded high quality work; finally, I followed the market and with the greatest effort studied people’s preferences’.110 There were also new periodicals with wide circulation which included evocative illustrations, such as the weakly Niva, intended for reading by families, and the popular scientific Vsemirnaya Illiustratsiya (World Illustration), whose target audiences were the middle strata. Contrary to the elitist ‘thick journals’, the periodicals, especially Vsemirnaya Illiustratsiya, presented a visual form of narration easily understood by simple folk. The Bulgarian horrors and other atrocities in the Balkans were presented by dramatic illustrations that depicted all kinds of barbarities, arson, pillage, rape (the raping of semi-nude women was one of the most common images), sodomy, torture, people in chains, priests in chains, the slaughtering of women, children, the elderly and priests, with various symbols of Christianity wrecked or downtrodden, such as the cross, the Bible, icons, church bells and so on. The image of the Turks (usually presented as very dark-skinned) was of ferocious men equipped with an array of daggers and swords. The captions were also very suggestive: ‘Turkish barbarities’, ‘Brutalities’, ‘The Balkan drama’, ‘Bulgarian village robbed by the Bashibazouks and the Circassians’. Noted artists also joined in, such as Konstantin Makovskiy, with his 1877 painting The Bulgarian Martyresses, which depicted the rape of two women (one of whom is killed) within a church by two African-looking Bashibazouks (a year later the painting appeared in France as part of the Russian contribution to the Paris Art Exhibition).
The same publications also had articles and illustrations of peaceful events in the secure, civilized world, such as the 1876 World Fair in Philadelphia, and advertisements for beauty lotions for ladies. These made a stark contrast between ‘civilization’ and ‘barbarity’, peace and tragedy. Readers might have felt a sense of shame for doing little for the Slavs.
Turgenev, the liberal writer who lived in Paris and often travelled to Britain (where he was widely acclaimed), was so moved by the news of the horrors that he wanted to go to the Balkans as a volunteer, as was the case with Tolstoy (both of them were dissuaded from going due to their old age). Turgenev, while travelling by train from Moscow to St Petersburg, wrote a satirical poem entitled ‘Croquet at Windsor’, whose first version in English (a prose version from the French translation) runs thus:111
The Queen is sitting in her forest of Windsor, around her the ladies of her court play at a game which not long since came into fashion – a game called croquet.… The Queen looks on and laughs; but suddenly she stops; her face grows deathly pale.
It seems to her that, instead of shapely balls driven by the lightly-tapping mallet, there are hundreds of heads rolling along, all smeared with blood. Heads of women, of young girls, of children: faces with marks of dreadful tortures and bestial outrages, of the claws of beasts, and all the horror of death-pangs.…
‘My doctor, quick, quick, let him come to me!’ And she tells him her terrible vision. But he then answers: ‘It doesn’t surprise me; reading the newspapers has disturbed you. The Times explains to us so well how the Bulgarians have deserved the wrath of the Turks.…
The Russian newspapers did not publish the poem (it was circulated by hand), in order not to offend Queen Victoria, and this was also the case in Britain. But it was translated into French, German and Bulgarian, and into English first by Henry James (the above prose version), who was an admirer and friend of Turgenev, and published in the American journal The Nation. James explained why he liked the poem: ‘At any rate the cynical, brutal barbarous pro-Turkish attitudes of an immense mass of people here (I am no fanatic for Russia, but I think the Emperor of Russia might have been treated like a gentleman!) has thrown into vivid relief the most discreditable side of the English character’.112
The events also moved Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who was commissioned by the Russian Musical Society to write an orchestral piece for a concert in aid of the Red Cross Society, for the benefit of wounded Serbian veterans. He initially called the piece the ‘Serbo-Russian March’ but when it was performed in Moscow in November 1876 (conducted by his close friend Nikolai Rubinstein) it was named ‘Slave March’ (Slavonic March).
Art and literature, as an aesthetic experience, are connected to perceptions and the emotions connected to perceptions are another way to make sense of international politics. Emotions have a social character and can construct communities of understandings and like-mindedness and in this way can play an important role in political events. In this case sentiment for those suffering was the basis for the construction of a community of saviours of the Balkan Slavs, stirred by images of martyrdom and torture, not least represented by the frail but alluring bodies of women. As one Russian volunteer put it in a letter back home, ‘I have joined to defend freedom, the human rights of my brothers and the disgraced honour of their wives and daughters’.113
According to reports of the police forwarded to the Third Department, sympathy of all the social classes for war was sweeping the country, as was the belief that the Tsar should save and liberate the Balkan Slavs.114 Andrey Zhelyabov (who set up in Odessa ‘The People Will’, a secret revolutionary organization, which organized Alexander’s assassination in 1881) wrote that ‘[t]here was much discussion about the various efforts for collecting monetary contributions for the Serbian refugees. The humanitarian concerns were widespread, in particular among the little people and the peasantry: they were all ready to sacrifice their own lives and families fortunes for the cause that they considered sacred’.115
The patriotic enthusiasm expressed itself in different ways. The Slavic benevolent societies were especially active, led by Ivan Aksakov, gathering money for the cause, an activity initially prohibited by the Tsar (he later accepted the contribution if they were for the benefit of victims).116 The Russian Red Cross Society worked in Serbia with its doctors and nurses, with the Russians helping their Serbian colleagues, who were generally ill-trained as medical doctors. Several hundred thousand volunteers left for the unknown Balkans from various social strata and backgrounds. The Southern Russian Union of Workers and the Odessa Railroad Workers were among the first to announce their solidarity with the Balkan insurgents. Half of the several thousand volunteers to Serbia were Ukrainians.117 Members of the Young Latvians, involved in planning the Latvian national revival, became volunteers, such as the romantic writer Andreis Pumpurs (he met Aksakov, who sent him to the volunteers).118 Among the volunteers were radical friends of Kropotkin as well as monarchists, such as the brother of Novikova, one of the main organizers of the volunteers.
Rethinking the ‘noble cause’
Russian solidarity with the Slavs in the Balkans has been characterized as a spontaneous democratic movement and compared with the great Patriotic War of 1812 (against Napoleon’s invasion).119 In fact, the movement had lost much of its allure and enthusiasm once the first defeats of the Serbs became known and the volunteers themselves found that their Serbian ‘brothers’ were not particularly enthusiastic about their ‘saviours’ who had come to shed their blood for the Serbian cause.
The writer and prominent Narodnik Gleb Uspensky, who had gone to Serbia, sent reports in the form of letters. The gist of these is that the volunteers had gone there above all for the experience and in order to leave behind the various dead-ends of Russian life. It was, he said, ‘in order to live at a thousand different levels’ that the volunteers left for Serbia.120
But best known is the controversy between Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, as a result of the eighth and last chapter of Anna Karenina (Russian novels at the time were serially published in journals before being released in book form). In a scene where various positive as well as negative views are presented regarding the volunteer body sent to Serbia, the main protagonist of the novel, Levin, expresses the conviction that Russian society did not associate itself with the southern Slavs and, worse, did not even understand their national movements. Levin went even further, questioning the size and mass character of the pro-Serbian movement.
Tolstoy’s doctrine of non-resistance to evil and strict pacifism (which later impressed Gandhi, who corresponded with Tolstoy) put into question the possibility of a ‘just war’, which he regarded as unattainable, however noble the goal. He questioned how one could ever be certain what the general good is. The central hero of Anna Karenina contemplated that the achievement of this general good was possible with strict adherence to the law of goodness, which is inherent in every person, and as a result he could not desire war or propagate it for general aims.
Dostoyevsky, from the pages of A Writer’ Diary, voiced his strong disagreement with Tolstoy. Dostoyevsky’s discourse of Slavophile and romantic nationalism is founded on the belief that ‘Russia’s psyche’ is imbued with a unique blend of universal humanism and selflessness which empathizes with alien pain. Thus the Russian people could not but participate in the Balkan quest for freedom, equipped as they were ‘with an inherent and well-developed historical instinct’. In this endeavour the Russian people were also putting into effect what was no less than God’s will. From a humanistic perspective, the Russian people had the moral duty to afford support to their suppressed Slav Orthodox brethren. Furthermore, by pursuing a foreign policy aimed at saving the southern Slavs, Russia was accelerating the process of Slavic national emancipation, which would eventually lead to Slavic unity, which was a godly end.121
When the Russo-Ottoman War was declared, Dostoyevsky stated in The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’ (April 1877) that this step gave the Russian people the opportunity to create a new Christian order. In an article entitled ‘The Paradoxalist’, referring to the Christian ethical belief that war brings only blood and violence (and obviously intended for Tolstoy’s pacifism), he retorts that wars take place because humanity cannot live without noble ideas, and he underlines that ‘I suspect that humanity loves war precisely because it wants to be part of a noble idea’.122
A few months later, in October 1877, Vsevolod Garshin, one of the most talented authors of his generation (who committed suicide at the age of thirty-three), wrote his acclaimed first short story, ‘Four Days’, a statement on modern war, in the Narodnik journal Otechestvennye Zapiski, based on a real incident from his experience as a volunteer in the 1877–78 Russo-Ottoman War, in which he had fought bravely and was wounded. The hero of the story, Ivanov, goes to war in the belief that he is serving a noble cause. He is wounded and taken for dead, is left on the battleground for four days, face to face with the corpse of the Ottoman soldier he had killed. The story is a basically a monologue by the wounded Russian soldier, who asks himself ‘why did I kill him?’ He ponders about the duty of an intellectual when faced with the horror of killing another human being.123
There was also the question of Russia itself, which, immersed in the war, had left many of its own daunting problems unresolved. As put in the pages of Οtechestvennye Zapiski, ‘In view of the fate of the Slavs Russia has forgotten that it exists in the world … it has all transformed itself into a society of self-sacrifice … in fact we also need help no less than the [Balkan] Slavs’.124 As acidly put by Jomini to Giers in September 1877, while the war was still raging:125
I continue to think that instead of pursuing these Slavic fantasies, we should have done better to have taken care of our own Christian Slavs. If the emperor wished to descend from official heights and splendors and play Haroum al Rashid, if he wished to visit incognito the suburbs of Bucharest and his own capital, he would be convinced of all that there was to do to civilize, organize and develop his own country and he would be convinced that a crusade against drunkenness and syphilis was more necessary and profitable to Russia than the ruinous crusade against the Turks for the profit of the Bulgarians.
Criticism came on other grounds as well. The Ukrainian academic Drahomanov questioned the humanistic motives of the Tsar. For one, the war started late, when all the uprisings had been quelled and a great number of Serbs, Bulgarians and Russian (the volunteers) had been killed. He argued that the Tsar had in fact started a war not in order to save human beings but for his honour and fame, not as the representative of the Slavs but as the leader of a great European power poised to show resolve and power; in other words, the humanitarian rhetoric was simply a smoke-screen for political and other tangible interests. In a series of articles with characteristic titles such as ‘Internal and External Turks’, ‘Clean Cases Need Clean Hands’ and ‘Internal Slavery and the War of Liberation’, he pointed to the hypocrisy of Russia’s ‘humanitarian intervention’ against the Turks in support of the Slavs, while the Russian state suppressed a number of Slav nations in its midst. He also pointed to the contradiction of, on the one hand, the so-called historical Russian mission to liberate the Slavs and, on the other, having ‘Turkish structures’ and absolutism within the Russian Empire. And he referred to discrimination against many ethnic groups, including the Jews, and the use of violence by the Russian state in the Caucasus and against the Poles, the Ukrainians and others, violating the right to life which it supposedly wanted to defend in the Balkans.126 He called for the creation of a democratic federal Russia, for Russia was not ‘Turkey’, with its innate inability to join the ‘civilized’ states.
The east of the semi-east
In 1876 an important international scientific event took place in St Petersburg, the conference of Orientalists, little noticed by educated society, which was absorbed by events in the Balkans. The introductory speech by Orientalist Grigoriev referred to events of ‘religious passions’ and ‘one race arming against the other’, but reassured his audience that they were secure in the safe embrace of science, where even rival parties can search for truth.127 The scientific committee of the conference had set forth thirty-eight subjects to address, the twenty-sixth being whether in the history of the Arabs the motivating force was Islamic fanaticism or the thirst for plunder and booty which characterized all nomadic peoples. Note that the massacres in the Balkans were largely depicted as outbursts of religious fanaticism, which was regarded an inherent characteristic of all those who hailed from Asia.
Such Orientalist thinking was in line with the views of the young science of international law, which distinguished between civilized and semi-civilized or barbarous states (see chapter 3). In Russia, this view was set forth in the second half of the nineteenth century by international jurists Kamarowski and Martens, who asserted that between civilized states no intervention for humanitarian reasons was conceivable; this was applicable only between civilized states against barbarous states if the latter persecuted Christian communities (see chapter 4).
As pointed out by Susan Layton, the events of 1875–78 contributed to the further ‘Easternization’ of the Ottoman state, which, though obliged to reform and treat its Christian subject decently, was seen as unable to truly reform and act in a civilized way. In the case of Russia, the Turkic Circassians showed that the ‘Turks’ in the Ottoman Empire, as well as Russia, were unredeemable barbarians, on the prowl and capable of the most despicable acts of inhumanity. This was seen in popular illustrations as well as in high literature. She describes a picture which appeared in 1878 in Niva, entitled ‘Circassians Returning from a Raid’:128
[The illustration] shows a band of tribesmen crossing a river with captives, rustled horses, and cattle. Near the center rides a swarthy mountaineer with a blonde woman on his horse. She is naked to the waist with some cloth loosely draped about her legs. Another woman with an infant is visible on a raft in the foreground. This iconography gave even illiterate Russians access in the postwar mythology of national victory over Asian fiends.
Dostoevsky in A Writer’s Diary referred on a number of occasions to ‘a Muslim conspiracy in the interior of the empire’, reacting in this way to the various calls that treating the Muslims disdainfully was inappropriate when so many millions of them lived peacefully and loyally within the confines of the Russian Empire. The Diary dramatizes Islamic savagery with the story of a simple soldier who was caught by the Muslims during the conquest of central Asia, and was offered his freedom and wealth if he became Muslim. He did not want to convert and suffered terrible torture as a martyr to the Christian faith.129 And it was probably no coincidence that the Russian heroes of the Russo-Ottoman War were also previously heroes of the colonial expeditions of Russia to central Asia or the Caucuses.
This image of the Turkic peoples in the Caucasus or central Asia or in the Balkans with the Circassian onslaught against the Bulgarians served a distinct purpose: to justify Russian violence and absolve Russia of the guilt of the ethnic cleansing of the Circassians in the Caucasus in the 1860s. Needless to say, such a posture left little room for the discourse of the ‘Other’, of the Muslim, Turk or Turkic, while the Russian conquest was dubbed pacification and a civilizing mission. The Christian slaughters and atrocities against Muslims were not registered at all, for the Muslim as a victim was simply not visible.
The Russian (and European) image of the Balkans, as shown by the work of Maria Todorova,130 is more complex, the presentation not only of the ‘Turks’ but also of all the Balkan Christians as beyond the purview of civilization, as Metternich saw it the first part of the nineteenth century and Bismarck in the 1870s. According to the journal Otechestvennye Zapiski:131
Hearing of the violent behaviour of the Turks we should bear in mind that it is not a unique characteristic for them alone, but one of the East and of the southern Christians as well. Harshness and violence are an everyday occasion and it is used by all against all. Human life may cost little to the Ottomans but this also applies to the [Balkan] Christian peoples, who are at a low level of cultural development. Even in the present insurgency the most popular are those leaders who never give in, such as Peiko Pavlovits, who collected as his trophies human heads.
Humanitarian sentiments went hand in hand with the patronizing attitude of the ‘saviour’ towards the victim, another aspect of humanitarian interventions in the nineteenth century.