What is to become of Turkey in Europe?

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 21 April 1853


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Written at the beginning of April 1853
Reproduced from the New York Daily Tribune
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3748, April 21, 1853, as a leader;
reprinted in the New York Weekly Tribune, No. 607, April 30, 1853
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.32-36), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
Collection(s): New York Tribune

We have seen how the obstinate ignorance, the time-hallowed routine, the hereditary mental drowsiness of European statesmen, shrinks from the very attempt to answer this question. Aberdeen and Palmerston, Metternich and Guizot, not to mention their republican and constitutional substitutes of 1848 to 1852 who will ever be nameless all despair of a solution.And all the while Russia advances step by step, slowly, but irresistibly, towards Constantinople, in spite of all the diplomatic notes, plots and manoeuvres of France and England.

Now this steady advance of Russia, admitted by all parties, in all countries of Europe, has never been explained by official states-men. They see the effect, they see even the ultimate consequence, and yet the cause is hidden from them, although nothing is more simple.

The great motive power which speeds Russia on towards Constantinople, is nothing but the very device, designed to keep her away from it; the hollow, the never-enforced theory of the status quo.

What is this status quo? For the Christian subjects of the Porte, it means simply the maintenance for ever' and a day, of Turkish oppression over them. As long as they are oppressed by Turkish rule, the head of the Greek Church, the ruler of sixty millions of Greek Christians, be he in other respects what he may, is their natural liberator and protector. Thus it is, that ten millions of Greek Christians in European Turkey, are forced to appeal to Russian aid, by that very diplomatic scheme, invented in order to prevent Russian encroachments.

Look at the facts as history records them. Even before the reign of Catherine II Russia never omitted an opportunity of obtaining favorable conditions for Moldavia and Wallachia. These stipulations, at last, were carried to such a length in the Treaty of Adrianople (1829)[1] that the above-named principalities are now more subject to Russia than to Turkey. When, in 1804, the Servian revolution broke out, Russia took the rebel Rayahs at once under her protection, and in two treaties, after having supported them in two wars, guaranteed the internal independence of their country[2]. When the Greeks revolted, who decided the contest? Not the plots and rebellions of Ali Pasha of Janina, not the battle of Navarino, not the French army in the Morea[3], not the conferences and protocols of London, but the march of Diebitsch's Russians across the Balkan into the valley of the Maritza[4]. And while Russia thus fearlessly set about the dismemberment of Turkey, western diplomatists continued to guarantee and to hold up as sacred the status quo and the inviolability of the Ottoman territory!

So long as the tradition of the upholding, at any price, of the status quo and the independence of Turkey in her present state is the ruling maxim of Western diplomacy, so long will Russia be considered, by nine-tenths of the population of Turkey in Europe, their only support, their liberator, their Messiah.

Now, suppose for a moment that Turkish rule in the Graeco-Slavonian peninsula were got rid of; that a government more suitable to the wants of the people existed; what then would be the position of Russia? The fact is notorious, that in every one of the States which have sprung up upon Turkish soil and acquired either total or partial independence, a powerful anti-Russian party has formed itself. If that be the case at a time when Russian support is their only safeguard against Turkish oppression, what, then, are we to expect, as soon as the fear of Turkish oppression shall have vanished?

But to remove Turkish authority beyond the Bosphorus; to emancipate the various creeds and nationalities which populate the peninsula; to open the door to the schemes and machinations, the conflicting desires and interests of all the great powers of Europe;—why is not this provoking universal war? Thus asks diplomatic cowardice and routine.

Of course, it is not expected that the Palmerstons, the Aberdeens, the Clarendons, the Continental Foreign Secretaries, will do such a thing. They cannot look at it without shuddering. But whosoever has, in the study of history, learned to admire the eternal mutations of human affairs in which nothing is stable but instability, nothing constant but change; whosoever has followed up that stern march of history whose wheels pass relentlessly over the remains of empires, crushing entire generations, without holding them worthy even of a look of pity; whosoever, ) in short, has had his eyes open to the fact that there was never a demagogic appeal or insurgent proclamation, as revolutionary as the plain and simple records of the history of mankind; whoever knows how to appreciate the eminently revolutionary character of the present age, when steam and wind, electricity and the printing press, artillery and gold discoveries cooperate to produce more changes and revolutions in a year than were ever before brought about in a century, will certainly not shrink from facing a historical question, because of the consideration that its proper settlement may bring about a European war.

No, diplomacy, Government according to the old fashion will never solve the difficulty. The solution of the Turkish problem is reserved, with that of other great problems, to the European Revolution. And there is no presumption in assigning this apparently remote question to the lawful domain of that great movement. The revolutionary landmarks have been steadily advancing ever since 1789. The last revolutionary outposts were Warsaw, Debreczin, Bucharest; the advanced posts of the next revolution must be Petersburg and Constantinople. They are the two vulnerable points where the Russian anti-revolutionary colossus must be attacked.

It would be a mere effort of fancy to give a detailed scheme as to how the Turkish territory in Europe might be partitioned out. Twenty such schemes could be invented, every one as plausible as the other. What we have to do is, not to draw up fanciful programmes, but to seek general conclusions from indisputable facts. And from this point of view the question presents a double aspect.

Firstly, then, it is an undeniable reality that the peninsula, commonly called Turkey in Europe, forms the natural inheritance of the South-Slavonian race. That race furnishes seven millions out of twelve of its inhabitants. It has been in possession of the soil for twelve hundred years. Its competitors if we except a sparse population which has adopted the Greek language, although in reality of Slavonic descent are Turkish or Arnaut barbarians, who have long since been convicted of the most inveterate opposition to all progress. The South-Slavonians, on the contrary, are, in the inland districts of the country, the exclusive representatives of civilization. They do not yet form a nation, but they have a powerful and comparatively enlightened nucleus of nationality in Servia. The Servians have a history, a literature of their own. They owe their present internal independence to an eleven years' struggle, carried on valiantly against superior numbers. They have, for the last twenty years, grown rapidly in culture and the means of civilization. They are looked upon by the Christians of Bulgaria, Thrace, Macedonia and Bosnia as the center, around which, in their future efforts for independence and nationality, all of them must rally. In fact, it may be said that, the more Servia and Servian nationality has consolidated itself, the more has the direct influence of Russia on the Turkish Slavonians been thrown into the background; for Servia, in order to maintain its distinct position as a Christian State, has been obliged to borrow from the West of Europe its political institutions, its schools, its scientific knowledge, its industrial appliances; and thus is explained the anomaly, that, in spite of Russian protection, Servia, ever since her emancipation, has formed a constitutional monarchy.

Whatever may be the bonds which consanguinity and common religious belief may draw between the Russian and the Turkish Slavonians, their interests will be decidedly opposite from the day the latter are emancipated. The commercial necessities arising from the geographical position of the two countries explain this. Russia, a compact inland country, is essentially a country of predominant agricultural, and perhaps, one day, manufacturing production. The Graeco-Slavonian peninsula, small in extent, comparatively, with an enormous extent of shore on three seas, one of which it commands, is now essentially a country of commercial transit, though with the best capacities for independent production. Russia is monopolizing, South Slavonia is expansive. They are, besides, competitors in Central Asia; but while Russia has every interest to exclude all but her own produce, South Slavonia has, even now, every interest to introduce into the Eastern markets the produce of Western Europe. How, then, is it possible for the two nations to agree? In fact, the Turkish South Slavonians and Greeks have, even now, far more interests in common with Western Europe than with Russia. And as soon as the line of railway, which now extends from Ostende, Havre and Hamburg to Pesth, shall have been continued to Belgrade and Constantinople (which is now under consideration), the influence of Western civilization and Western trade will become permanent in the South-east of Europe.

Again: The Turkish Slavonians especially suffer by their subjection to a Mussulman class of military occupants whom they have to support. These military occupants unite in themselves all public functions, military, civil and judicial. Now what is the Russian system of government, wherever it is not mixed up with feudal institutions, but a military occupation, in which the civil and judicial hierarchy are organized in a military manner, and where the people have to pay for the whole? Whoever thinks that such a system can have a charm for the South Slavonians, may study the history of Servia since 1804. Kara-George, the founder of Servian independence, was abandoned by the people, and Miloš Obrenović, the restorer of that independence, was ignominiously turned out of the country, because they attempted to introduce the Russian autocratic system, accompanied with its concomitant corruption, half-military bureaucracy and pasha-like extortion.

Here then is the simple and final solution of the question. History and the facts of the present day alike point to the erection of a free and independent Christian State on the ruins of the Moslem Empire in Europe. The next effort of the Revolution can hardly fail to render such an event necessary, for it can hardly fail to inaugurate the long-maturing conflict between Russian Absolutism and European Democracy. In that conflict England must bear a part, in whatever hands her Government may for the moment happen to be placed. She can never allow Russia to obtain possession of Constantinople. She must then, take sides with the enemies of the Czar and favor the construction of an independent Slavonian Government in the place of the effete and overthrown Sublime Porte[5].

  1. The Treaty of Adrianople—a peace treaty signed between Turkey and Russia in September 1829 to end the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-29. By the treaty Russia obtained the Danube Delta with its islands and a considerable portion of the eastern Black Sea coast south of the Kuban estuary. Turkey was to recognise the autonomy of Moldavia and Wallachia, granting them the right to elect their Hospodars independently; their autonomy was to be guaranteed by Russia. The Turkish Government also pledged to recognise Greece as an independent state, whose only obligation to Turkey was to pay an annual tribute to the Sultan, and to observe the previous treaties with regard to Serbian autonomy, issuing a special order in official recognition of it. Marx's notebook with excerpts for 1853 contains, on page 18, a passage in French from the Adrianople treaty. The text of the treaty was published in many collections of documents, in works by various authors quoted by Marx, and in periodicals.
  2. The Serbian insurrection, which flared up in February 1804 against the arbitrary rule and brutal reprisals of the Turkish janissaries, developed into an armed struggle for the country's independence from Turkey. During the insurrection a national government was set up and Georgi Petrović (Karageorge), the leader of the insurgents, was proclaimed the hereditary supreme ruler of the Serbian people in 1808. The Serbian movement was greatly advanced by the successful operations of the Russian army in the Balkans during the Russo-Turkish war of 1806-12. According to the Bucharest peace treaty of 1812 Turkey was to give Serbia autonomy in domestic affairs. Taking advantage of Napoleon's invasion into Russia, however, the Turkish Sultan organised a punitive expedition to Serbia in 1813 and restored his rule there. As a result of a new insurrection by the Serbs in 1815 and also diplomatic assistance from Russia, Turkish rule was overthrown. After the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-29, which ended with the signing of a peace treaty in Adrianople in 1829, Turkey recognised the autonomy, i.e., the virtual independence, of the Serbian Principality in a special order issued by the Sultan in 1830.
  3. Ali Pasha of Janina, who ruled over a vast territory in the south-west of the Balkans (Epirus, Albania, South Macedonia and other lands, with Janina as the centre), had been at war with the Turkish Sultan since 1820, a fact which contributed to the success of the Greek uprising. However, unlike the national liberation movement of the Greeks, this struggle was of a feudal-separatist nature and ended in his defeat in 1822.

    The battle of Navarino took place on October 20, 1827. It was fought by the Turko-Egyptian fleet, on the one side, and the allied British, Ft-cm h and Russian fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Codrington, on the other. The latter was sent by the European powers to Greek waters for the purpose of armed mediation in the war between Turkey and the Greek insurgents. The battle ended in a crushing defeat for the Turko-Egyptian fleet.

    When war broke out between Turkey and Russia in the spring of 1828, French troops under the command of General Maison landed in Morea (the Peloponnesus) in Southern Greece in August and occupied the peninsula. The aim of the expedition, which was organised on the pretext of rendering assistance to the Greeks, was to counteract growing Russian influence in the Balkans and consolidate the position of France in the region.
  4. The London conferences of the representatives of Britain, Russia and France were held in 1827-29 and discussed the Greek question. On July 6, 1827, the three powers signed a Convention which confirmed the Protocol on Greek autonomy signed by Britain and Russia in St. Petersburg on April 4, 1826. Both the Protocol and the Convention contained clauses on the diplomatic recognition of Greece as an independent state and armed mediation in the Turko-Greek conflict. On the basis of this Convention the allied fleet was sent into Greek waters and took part in the battle of Navarino. A number of other documents concerning Greece were also signed, including a Protocol of March 22, 1829, which established the borders of the Greek state and provided for a monarchical form of government in Greece. However, these agreements and the steps taken by Britain and France, who hoped to settle the conflict through diplomacy, without a defeat for Turkey in the Russo-Turkish war, could not make Turkey change her attitude on the Greek question. It was only after the victory of the Russian army under General Diebich in the 1829 campaign that Turkey agreed to make some concessions.
  5. The editors of the New York Daily Tribune inserted the following passage at the end of the article (which was also reproduced in the New York Weekly Tribune): "For the present, the duty of those who would forward the popular cause in Europe is to lend all possible aid to the development of industry, education, obedience to law, and the instinct of freedom and independence in the Christian dependencies of Turkey. The future peace and progress of the world are concerned in it. If there is to be a harvest, too much care cannot be given to the preparation of the soil and the sowing of the seed."