HotFreeBooks.com
The New Frontiers of Freedom from the Alps to the AEgean
by Edward Alexander Powell
Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse

But the United States is not the only country which has lost the confidence of the Rumanians. France is even more deeply distrusted and disliked than we are. And this in spite of the fact that the upper classes of Rumania have held up the French as their ideal for the past fifty years. Indeed, wealthy Rumanians live in a fashion more French than if they dwelt in Paris itself. This sudden unpopularity of the French is due to several causes. After having expected much of them, the people were amazed and bitterly disappointed at their apparent indifference toward the future of Rumania. Then there were the unfortunate incidents at Odessa, the withdrawal of the French forces from that city before the advance of the Bolsheviks, and the regrettable happening in the French Black Sea fleet These things, of course, contributed to loss of French prestige. Another contributory factor has been the lack of enterprise of French capitalists, causing those who control the financial and economic development of Rumania to seek encouragement and assistance elsewhere. But the underlying reason for the deep-seated distrust of France is to be found, I think, in France's attempt to maintain the balance of power in Southeastern Europe by building up a strong Jugoslavia. Now the Rumanians, it must be remembered, hate the Jugoslavs even more bitterly than they hate the Hungarians—and they are far more afraid of them. This hatred is not merely the result of the age-long antagonism between the Latin and the Slav; it is also political. The Rumanians have watched with growing jealousy and apprehension the expansion of Serbia into a state with a population and area nearly equal to their own. After having long dreamed of the day when they would themselves be arbiters of the destinies of the nations of Southeastern Europe, they see their political supremacy challenged by the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, behind which they discern the power and influence of France. When the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire began, Rumania demanded and expected the whole of the great rich province of the Banat, with the Maros River for her northern and the Danube for her southern frontier.

"But that would place our capital within range of the Rumanian artillery," the Serbian prime minister is said to have exclaimed.

"Then move your capital," the Rumanian premier responded drily.

As a result of this controversy over the Banat the relations of the two nations have been strained almost to the breaking-point. When I was in the Banat in the autumn of 1919 the Rumanian and Serbian frontier guards were glowering at each other like fighting terriers held in leash, and the slightest untoward incident would have precipitated a conflict! Although, by the terms of the Treaty of St. Germain, Jugoslavia was awarded the western half of the Banat, Rumania is prepared to take advantage of the first opportunity which presents itself to take it away from her rival. When I was in Bucharest a cabinet minister concluded a lengthy exposition of Rumania's position by declaring:

"Within the next two or three years, in all probability, there will be a war between Jugoslavia and Italy over the Dalmatian question. The day that Jugoslavia goes to war with Italy we will attack Jugoslavia and seize the Banat. The Danube is Rumania's natural and logical frontier."

This would seem to bear out the assertion that there exists a secret alliance between Italy and Rumania, which, if true, would place Jugoslavia in the unhappy position of a nut between the jaws of a cracker. I have also been told on excellent authority that there is likewise an "understanding" between Italy and Bulgaria that, should the former become engaged in a war with the Jugoslavs, the latter will attack the Serbs from the east and regain her lost provinces in Macedonia. A pleasant prospect for Southeastern Europe, truly.

While we were in Bucharest we received an invitation—"command" is the correct word according to court usage—to visit the King and Queen of Rumania at their Chateau of Pelesch, near Sinaia, in the Carpathians. It is about a hundred miles by road from the capital to Sinaia and the first half of the journey, which we made by motor, was over a road as execrable as any we found in the Balkans. Upon reaching the foothills of the Carpathians, however, the highway, which had been steadily growing worse, suddenly took a turn for the better—due, no doubt, to the invigorating qualities of the mountain atmosphere—and climbed vigorously upward through wild gorges and splendid pine forests which reminded me of the Adirondacks of Northern New York. Notwithstanding the atrocious condition of the highway, which constantly threatened to dislocate our joints as well as those of the car, and the choking, blinding clouds of yellow dust, every change of figure on the speedometer brought new and interesting scenes. For mile after mile the road, straight as though marked out by a ruler, ran between fields of wheat and corn as vast as those of our own West. In spite of the fact that the Austro-Germans carried off all the animals and farming implements they could lay their hands on, the agricultural prosperity of Rumania is astounding. In 1916, for example, while involved in a terribly destructive war, Rumania produced more wheat than Minnesota and about twenty-five times as much corn as our three Pacific Coast states combined. At frequent intervals we passed huge scarlet threshing machines, most of them labeled "Made in U.S.A.," which were centers of activity for hundreds of white-smocked peasants who were hauling in the grain with ox-teams, feeding it into the voracious maws of the machines, and piling the residue of straw into the largest stacks I have ever seen. As we drew near the mountains the grain fields gave way to grazing lands where great herds of cattle of various breeds—brindled milch animals, massive cream-colored oxen, blue-gray buffalo with elephant like hides and broad, curving horns, and gaunt steers that looked for all the world like Texas longhorns—browsed amid the lush green grass.

Though the villages of the Wallachian plain are few and far between, and though it is no uncommon thing for a peasant to walk a dozen miles from his home to the fields in which he works, the whole region seemed a-hum with industry. The Rumanian peasant, like his fellows below the Danube, is, as a rule, a good-natured, easy-going though easily excited, reasonably honest and extremely industrious fellow who labors from dawn to darkness in six days of the week and spends the seventh in harmless village carouses, chiefly characterized by dancing, music and the cheap native wine. Rumania is one of the few countries in Europe where the peasants still dress like the pictures on the postcards. The men wear curly-brimmed shovel hats of black felt, like those affected by English curates, and loose shirts of white linen, whose tails, instead of being tucked into the trousers, flap freely about their legs, giving them the appearance of having responded to an alarm of fire without waiting to finish dressing. On Sundays and holidays men and women alike appear in garments covered with the gorgeous needlework for which Rumania is famous, some of the women's dresses being so heavily embroidered in gold and silver that from a little distance the wearers look as though they were enveloped in chain mail. A considerable and undesirable element of Rumania's population consists of gipsies, whence their name of Romany, or Rumani. The Rumanian gipsies, who are nomads and vagrants like their kinsmen in the United States, are generally lazy, quarrelsome, dishonest and untrustworthy, supporting themselves by horse-trading and cattle-stealing or by their flocks and herds. We stopped near one of their picturesque encampments in order to repair a tire and I took a picture of a young woman with a child in her arms, but when I declined to pay her the five lei she demanded for the privilege, she flew at me like an angry cat, screaming curses and maledictions. But her picture was not worth five lei, as you can see for yourself.



The Castle of Pelesch is just such a royal residence as Anthony Hope has depicted in The Prisoner of Zenda. It gives the impression, at first sight, of a confusion of turrets, gables, balconies, terraces, parapets and fountains, but one quickly forgets its architectural shortcomings in the beauty of its surroundings. It stands amid velvet lawns and wonderful rose gardens in a sort of forest glade, from which the pine-clothed slopes of the Carpathians rise steeply on every side, the beam-and-plaster walls, the red-tiled roofs, and the blazing gardens of the chateau forming a striking contrast to the austerity of the mountains and the solemnity of the encircling forest.

We had rather expected to be presented to Queen Marie with some semblance of formality in one of the reception rooms of the chateau, but she sent word by her lady-in-waiting that she would receive us in the gardens. A few minutes later she came swinging toward us across a great stretch of rolling lawn, a splendid figure of a woman, dressed in a magnificent native costume of white and silver, a white scarf partially concealing her masses of tawny hair, a long-bladed poniard in a silver sheath hanging from her girdle. At her heels were a dozen Russian wolf hounds, the gift, so she told me, of the Grand Duke Nicholas, the former commander-in-chief of the Russian armies. I have seen many queens, but I have never seen one who so completely meets the popular conception of what a queen should look like as Marie of Rumania. Though in the middle forties, her complexion is so faultless, her physique so superb, her presence so commanding that, were she utterly unknown, she would still be a center of attraction in any assemblage. Had she not been born to a crown she would almost certainly have made a great name for herself, probably as an actress. She paints exceptionally well and has written several successful books and stories, thereby following the example of her famous predecessor on the Rumanian throne, Queen Elizabeth, better known as Carmen Sylva. She speaks English like an Englishwoman, as well she may, for she is a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She is also a descendant of the Romanoffs, for one of her grandfathers was Alexander III of Russia. In her manner she is more simple and democratic than many American women that I know, her poise and simplicity being in striking contrast to the manners of two of my countrywomen who had spent the night preceding our arrival at the castle and who were manifestly much impressed by this contact with the Lord's Anointed. When luncheon was announced her second daughter, Princess Marie, had not put in an appearance. But, instead of despatching the major domo to inform her Royal Highness that the meal was served, the Queen stepped to the foot of the great staircase and called, "Hurry up, Mignon. You're keeping us all waiting," whereupon a voice replied from the upper regions, "All right, mamma. I'll be down in a minute." Not much like the picture of palace life that the novelists and the motion-picture playwrights give us, is it? I might add that the Queen commonly refers to the plump young princess as "Fatty," a nickname which she hardly deserves, however. In her conversations with me the Queen was at times almost disconcertingly frank. "Royalty is going out of fashion," she remarked on one occasion, "but I like my job and I'm going to do everything I can to keep it." To Mrs. Powell she said, "I have beauty, intelligence and executive ability. I would be successful in life if I were not a queen."

Unlike many persons who occupy exalted positions, she has a real sense of humor.

"Yesterday," she remarked, "was Nicholas's birthday," referring to her second son, Prince Nicholas, who, since his elder brother, Prince Carol, renounced his rights to the throne in order to marry the girl he loved, has become the heir apparent. "At breakfast his father remarked, 'I'm sorry, Nicholas, but I haven't any birthday present for you. The shops in Bucharest were pretty well cleaned out by the Germans, you know, and I didn't remember your birthday in time to send to Paris for a present.' 'Do you really wish to give Nicholas a present, Nando?' (the diminutive of Ferdinand) I asked him. 'Of course I do,' the King answered, 'but what is there to give him?' 'That's the easiest thing in the world,' I replied. 'There is nothing that would give Nicholas so much pleasure as an engraving of his dear father—on a thousand-franc note.'"

Prince Nicholas, the future king of Rumania, who is being educated at Eton, looks and acts like any normal American "prep" school boy.

"Do the boys still wear top hats at Eton?" I asked him.

"Yes, they do," he answered, "but it's a silly custom. And they cost two guineas apiece. I leave it to you, Major, if two guineas isn't too much for any hat."

When I told him that in democratic America certain Fifth Avenue hatters charge the equivalent of five guineas for a bowler he looked at me in frank unbelief. "But then," he remarked, "all Americans are rich."

Shortly before luncheon we were joined by King Ferdinand, a slenderly built man, somewhat under medium height, with a grizzled beard, a genial smile and merry, twinkling eyes. He wore the gray-green field uniform and gold-laced kepi of a Rumanian general, the only thing about his dress which suggested his exalted rank being the insignia of the Order of Michael the Brave, which hung from his neck by a gold-and-purple ribbon. Were you to see him in other clothes and other circumstances you might well mistake him for an active and successful professional man. King Ferdinand is the sort of man one enjoys chatting with in front of an open fire over the cigars, for, in addition to being a shrewd judge of men and events and having a remarkably exact knowledge of world affairs, he possesses in an altogether exceptional degree the qualities of tact, kindliness and humor.

The King did not hesitate to express his indignation that the re-making of the map of Europe should have been entrusted to men who possessed so little first-hand knowledge of the nations whose boundaries they were re-shaping.

"A few days before the signing of the Treaty of St. Germain," he told me, "Lloyd George sent for one of the experts attached to the Peace Conference.

"'Where is this Banat that Rumania and Serbia are quarreling over?' he inquired.

"'I will show you, sir,' the attache answered, unrolling a map of southeastern Europe. For several minutes he explained in detail to the British Premier the boundaries of the Banat and the conflicting territorial claims to which its division had given rise. But when he paused Lloyd George made no response. He was sound asleep!

"Yet a little group of men," the King continued, "who know no more about the nations whose destinies they are deciding than Lloyd George knew about the Banat, have abrogated to themselves the right to cut up and apportion territories as casually as though they were dividing apple-tarts."



The impression prevails in other countries that it is Queen Marie who is really the head of the Rumanian royal family and that the King is little more than a figurehead. With this estimate I do not agree. Rumania could have no better spokesman than Queen Marie, whose talents, beauty, and exceptional tact peculiarly fit her for the difficult role she has been called upon to play. But the King, though he is by nature quiet and retiring, is by no means lacking in political sagacity or the courage of his convictions, being, I am convinced, as important a factor in the government of his country as the limitations of its constitution permit. Though none too well liked, I imagine, by the professional politicians, who in Rumania, as in other countries, resent any attempt at interference by the sovereign with their plans, the royal couple are immensely popular with the masses of the people, Ferdinand frequently being referred to as "the peasants' King." In the darkest days of the war, when Rumania was overrun by the enemy and it seemed as though Moldavia and the northern Dobrudja were all that could be saved to the nation, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, instead of escaping from their country or asking the enemy for terms, retreated with the army to Jassy, on the easternmost limits of the kingdom, where they underwent the horrors of that terrible winter with their soldiers, the King serving with the troops in the field and the Queen working in the hospitals as a Red Cross nurse. Less than three years later, however, on November twentieth, 1919, there assembled in Bucharest the first parliament of Greater Rumania, attended by deputies from all those Rumanian regions—Bessarabia, Transylvania, the Banat, the Bucovina and the Dobrudja—which had been restored to the Rumanian motherland. At the head of the chamber, in the great gilt chair of state, sat Ferdinand I, who, from the fugitive ruler, shivering with his ragged soldiers in the frozen marshes beside the Pruth, has become the sovereign of a country having the sixth largest population in Europe and has taken his place in Rumanian history beside Stephen the Great and Michael the Brave as Ferdinand the Liberator.



CHAPTER VII

MAKING A NATION TO ORDER

From the young officers who wore on their shoulders the silver greyhound of the American Courier Service we heard many discouraging tales of the annoyances and discomforts for which we must be prepared in traveling through Hungary, the Banat and Jugoslavia. But, to tell the truth, I did not take these warnings very seriously, for I had observed that a profoundly pessimistic attitude of mind characterized all of the Americans or English whose duties had kept them in the Balkans for any length of time. In Salonika this mental condition was referred to as "the Balkan tap"—derived, no doubt, from the verb "to knock," as with a hammer—and it usually implied that those suffering from the ailment had outstayed their period of usefulness and should be sent home.

Thrice weekly a train composed of an assortment of ramshackle and dilapidated coaches, called by courtesy the Orient Express, which maintained an average speed of fifteen miles an hour, left Bucharest for Vincovce, a small junction town in the Banat, where it was supposed to make connections with the south-bound Simplon Express from Paris to Belgrade and with the north-bound express from Belgrade to Paris. The Simplon Express likewise ran thrice weekly, so, if the connections were missed at Vincovce, the passengers were compelled to spend at least two days in a small Hungarian town which was notorious, even in that region, for its discomforts and its dirt. All went well with us, however, the train at one time attaining the dizzy speed of thirty miles an hour, until, in a particularly desolate portion of the great Hungarian plain, we came to an abrupt halt. When, after a half hour's wait, I descended to ascertain the cause of the delay, I found the train crew surrounded by a group of indignant and protesting passengers.

"What's the trouble?" I inquired.

"The engineer claims that he has run out of coal," some one answered. "But he says that there is a coal depot three or four kilometers ahead and that, if each first-class passenger will contribute fifty francs, and each second-class passenger twenty francs, he figures that it will enable him to buy just enough coal to reach Vincovce. Otherwise, he says, we will probably miss both connections, which means that we must stay in Vincovce for forty-eight hours. And if you had ever seen Vincovce you would understand that such a prospect is anything but alluring."

While my fellow-passengers were noisily debating the question I strolled ahead to take a look at the engine. As I had been led to expect from the stories I had heard from the courier officers, the tender contained an ample supply of coal—enough, it seemed to me, to haul the train to Trieste.

"This is nothing but a hold-up," I told the assembled passengers. "There is plenty of coal in the tender. I am as anxious to make the connection as any of you, but I will settle here and raise bananas, or whatever they do raise in the Banat, before I will submit to this highwayman's demands."

Seeing that his bluff had been called, the engineer, favoring me with a murderous glance, sullenly climbed into his cab and the train started, only to stop again, however, a few miles further on, this time, the engineer explained, because the engine had broken down. There being no way of disputing this statement, it became a question of pay or stay—and we stayed. The engineer did not get his tribute and we did not get our train at Vincovce, where we spent twenty hot, hungry and extremely disagreeable hours before the arrival of a local train bound for Semlin, across the Danube from Belgrade. We completed our journey to the Jugoslav capital in a fourth-class compartment into which were already squeezed two Serbian soldiers, eight peasants, a crate of live poultry and a dog, to say nothing of a multitude of small and undesired occupants whose presence caused considerable annoyance to every one, including the dog. We were glad when the train arrived at Semlin.

Late in the summer of 1919, as a result of the reconstruction of the railway bridges which had been blown up by the Bulgarians early in the war, through service between Salonika and Belgrade was restored. As the journey consumed from three to five days, however, the train stopping for the night at stations where the hotel accommodation was of the most impossible description, the American and British officials and relief-workers who were compelled to make the journey (I never heard of any one making it for pleasure) usually hired a freight car, which they fitted up with army cots and a small cook-stove, thus traveling in comparative comfort.

Curiously enough, the only trains running on anything approaching a schedule in the Balkans were those loaded with Swiss goods and belonging to the Swiss Government. In crossing Southern Hungary we passed at least half-a-dozen of them, they being readily distinguished by a Swiss flag painted on each car. Each train, consisting of forty cars, was accompanied by a Swiss officer and twenty infantrymen—finely set-up fellows in feldgrau with steel helmets modeled after the German pattern. Had the trains not been thus guarded, I was told, the goods would never have reached their destination and the cars, which are the property of the Swiss State Railways, would never have been returned. It is by such drastic methods as this that Switzerland, though hard hit by the war, has kept the wheels of her industries turning and her currency from serious depreciation. I have rarely seen more hopeless-looking people than those congregated on the platforms of the little stations at which we stopped in Hungary. The Rumanian armies had swept the country clean of livestock and agricultural machinery, throwing thousands of peasants out of work, and, owing to the appalling depreciation of the kroner, which was worth less than a twentieth of its normal value, great numbers of people who, under ordinary conditions, would have been described as comfortably well off, found themselves with barely sufficient resources to keep themselves from want. To add to their discouragement, the greatest uncertainty prevailed as to Hungary's future. In order to obtain an idea of just how familiar the inhabitants of the rural districts were with political conditions, I asked four intelligent-looking men in succession who was the ruler of Hungary and what was its present form of government. The first opined that the Archduke Joseph had been chosen king; another ventured the belief that the country was a republic with Bela Kun as president; the third asserted that Hungary had been annexed to Rumania; while the last man I questioned said quite frankly that he didn't know who was running the country, or what its form of government was, and that he didn't much care. As a result of the decision of the Peace Conference which awarded Transylvania to Rumania and divided the Banat between Rumania and Jugoslavia, Hungary finds herself stripped of virtually all her forests, all her mines, all her oil wells, and all of her manufactories save those in Budapest, thus stripping the bankrupt and demoralized nation of practically all of her resources save her wheat-fields. I talked with a number of Americans and English who were conversant with Hungary's internal condition and they agreed that it was doubtful if the country, stripped of its richest territories, deprived of most of its resources, and hemmed in by hostile and jealous peoples, could long exist as an independent state. On several occasions I heard the opinion expressed that sooner or later the Hungarians, in order to save themselves from complete ruin, would ask to be admitted to the Jugoslav Confederation, thereby obtaining for their products an outlet to the sea. In any event, the Hungarians appear to have a more friendly feeling for their Jugoslav neighbors than for the Rumanians, whom they charge with a deliberate attempt to bring about their economic ruin.

In spite of the prohibitive cost of labor and materials, we found that the traces of the Austrian bombardment of Belgrade in 1914, which did enormous damage to the Serbian capital, were rapidly being effaced and that the city was fast resuming its pre-war appearance. The place was as busy as a boom town in the oil country. The Grand Hotel, where the food was the best and cheapest we found in the Balkans, was filled to the doors with officers, politicians, members of parliament—for the Skupshtina was in session—relief workers, commercial travelers and concession seekers, and the huge Hotel Moskowa, built, I believe, with Russian capital, was about to reopen. Architecturally, Belgrade shows many traces of Muscovite influence, many of the more important buildings having the ornate facades of pink, green and purple tiles, the colored glass windows, and the gilded domes which are so characteristically Russian. Though the main thoroughfare of the city, formerly called the Terasia but now known as Milan Street, is admirably paved with wooden blocks, the cobble pavements of the other streets have remained unchanged since the days of Turkish rule, being so rough that it is almost impossible to drive a motor car over them without imminent danger of breaking the springs. Five minutes' walk from the center of the city, on a promontory commanding a superb view of the Danube and its junction with the Save, is a really charming park known as the Slopes of Dreaming, where, on fine evenings, almost the entire population of the capital appears to be promenading, the rather drab appearance of an urban crowd being brightened by the gaily embroidered costumes of the peasants and the silver-trimmed uniforms of the Serbian officers.

The palace known as the Old Konak, where King Alexander and Queen Draga were assassinated under peculiarly revolting circumstances on the night of June 11, 1905, and from an upper window of which their mutilated bodies were thrown into the garden, has been torn down, presumably because of its unpleasant associations for the present dynasty, but only a stone's throw away from the tragic spot is being erected a large and ornate palace of gray stone, ornamented with numerous carvings, as a residence for Prince-Regent Alexander, who, when I was there, was occupying a modest one-story building on the opposite side of the street. By far the most interesting building in Belgrade, however, is a low, tile-roofed, white-walled wine-shop at the corner of Knes Mihajelowa Uliza and Kolartsch Uliza, which is pointed out to visitors as "the Cradle of the War," for in the low-ceilinged room on the second floor is said to have been hatched the plot which resulted in the assassination of the Austrian archducal couple at Serajevo in the spring of 1914 and thereby precipitated Armageddon.



In this connection, here is a story, told me by a Czechoslovak who had served as an officer in the Serbian army during the war, which throws an interesting sidelight on the tragedy of Serajevo. This officer's uncle, a colonel in the Austrian army, had been, it seemed, equerry to the Archduke Ferdinand, being in attendance on the Archduke at the Imperial shooting-lodge in Bohemia when, early in the spring of 1914, the German Emperor, accompanied by Admiral von Tirpitz, went there, ostensibly for the shooting. The day after their arrival, according to my informant's story, the Emperor and the Archduke went out with the guns, leaving Admiral von Tirpitz at the lodge with the Archduchess. The equerry, who was on duty in an anteroom, through a partly opened door overheard the Admiral urging the Archduchess to obtain the consent of her husband—with whom she was known to exert extraordinary influence—to a union of Austria-Hungary with Germany upon the death of Francis Joseph, who was then believed to be dying—a scheme which had long been cherished by the Kaiser and the Pan-Germans.

"Never will I lend my influence to such a plan!" the equerry heard the Archduchess violently exclaim. "Never! Never! Never!"

At the moment the Emperor and the Archduke, having returned from their battue, entered the room, whereupon the Archduchess, her voice shrill with indignation, poured out to her husband the story of von Tirpitz's proposal. The Archduke, always noted for the violence of his temper, promptly sided with his wife, angrily accusing the Kaiser of intriguing behind his back against the independence of Austria. Ensued a violent altercation between the ruler of Germany and the Austrian heir-apparent, which ended in the Kaiser and his adviser abruptly terminating their visit and departing the same evening for Berlin.

For the truth of this story I do not vouch; I merely repeat it in the words in which it was told to me by an officer whose veracity I have no reason to question. There are many things which point to its probability. Certain it is that the Archduke, who was a man of strong character and passionately devoted to the best interests of the Dual Monarchy, was the greatest obstacle to the Kaiser's scheme for the union of the two empires under his rule, a scheme which, could it have been realized, would have given Germany that highroad to the East and that outlet to the Warm Water of which the Pan-Germans had long dreamed. The assassination of the Archduke a few weeks later not only removed the greatest stumbling-block to these schemes of Teutonic expansion, but it further served the Kaiser's purpose by forcing Austria into war with Serbia, thereby making Austria responsible, in the eyes of the world, for launching the conflict which the Kaiser had planned.

There has never been any conclusive proof, remember, that the Serbs were responsible for Ferdinand's assasination. Not that there is anything in their history which would lead one to believe that they would balk at that method of removing an enemy, but, regarded from a political standpoint, it would have been the most unintelligent and short-sighted thing they could possibly have done. Nor are the Serbs and the Pan-Germans the only ones to whom the crime might logically be traced. Ferdinand, remember, had many enemies within the borders of his own country. The Austrian anti-clericals hated and distrusted him because he surrounded himself by Jesuit advisers and because he was believed to be unduly under the influence of the Church of Rome. He was equally unpopular with a large and powerful element of the Hungarians, who foresaw a serious diminution of their influence in the affairs of the monarchy should the Archduke succeed in realizing his dream of a Triple Kingdom composed of Austria, Hungary and the Southern Slavs.

Strange indeed are the changes which have been brought about by the greatest conflict. Ferdinand, descendant of a long line of princes, kings and emperors, has passed round that dark corner whence no man returns, but his ambitious dreams of a triple kingdom which would include the Southern Slavs have survived him, though in a somewhat modified form. But he who sits on the throne of the new kingdom, and who rules to-day over a great portion of the former dominions of the Hapsburgs, instead of being a scion of the Imperial House of Austria, is the great-grandson of a Serbian blacksmith.

Owing to the ill-health and advanced age of King Peter of Serbia, his second son, Alexander, is Prince-Regent of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Prince Alexander, a slender, dark-complexioned man with characteristically Slav features, was educated in Vienna and is said to be an excellent soldier. He is extremely democratic, simple in manner, a student, a hard worker, and devoted to the best interests of his people. Though he is an accomplished horseman, a daring, even reckless motorist, and an excellent shot, he is probably the loneliest man in his kingdom, for he has no close associates of his own age, being surrounded by elderly and serious-minded advisers; his aged father is in a sanitarium, his scapegrace elder brother lives in Paris, and his sister, a Russian grand duchess, makes her home on the Riviera. Though old beyond his years and visibly burdened by the responsibilities of his difficult position, he possesses a peculiarly winning manner and is immensely popular with his soldiers, whose hardships he shared throughout the war. Though he enjoys no great measure of popularity among his new Croat and Slovene subjects, who might be expected to regard any Serb ruler with a certain degree of jealousy and suspicion, he has unquestionably won their profound respect. It is a difficult and trying position which this young man occupies, and it is not made any easier for him, I imagine, by the knowledge that, should he make a false step, should he arouse the enmity of certain of the powerful factions which surround him, the fate of his predecessor and namesake, King Alexander, might quite conceivably befall him.

I have been asked if, in my opinion, the peoples composing the new state of Jugoslavia will stick together. If there could be effected a confederation, modeled on that of Switzerland or the United States, in which the component states would have equal representation, with the executive power vested in a Federal Council, as in Switzerland, then I believe that Jugoslavia would develop into a stable and prosperous nation. But I very much doubt if the Croats, the Slovenes, the Bosnians and the Montenegrins will willingly consent to a permanent arrangement whereby the new nation is placed under a Serbian dynasty, no matter how complete are the safeguards afforded by the constitution or how conscientious and fair-minded the sovereign himself may be. No one questions the ability or the honesty of purpose of Prince Alexander, but the non-Serb elements feel, and not wholly without justification, that a Serbian prince on the throne means Serbian politicians in places of authority, thereby giving Serbia a disproportionate share of authority in the government of Jugoslavia, as Prussia had in the government of the German Empire.

Already there have been manifestations of friction between the Serbs and the Croats and between the Serbs and the Slovenes, to say nothing of the open hostility which exists between the Serbs and certain Montenegrin factions, to which I have alluded in a preceding chapter. It should be remembered that the Croats and Slovenes, though members of the great family of Southern Slavs, have by no means as much in common with their Serb kinsmen as is generally believed. Croatia and Slovenia have both educated and wealthy classes. Serbia, on the contrary, has a very small educated class and practically no wealthy class, it being said that there is not a millionaire in the country. Slovenia and Croatia each have their aristocracies, with titles and estates and traditions; Serbia's population is wholly composed of peasants, or of business and professional men who come from peasant stock. As a result of the large sums which were spent on public instruction in Croatia and Slovenia under Austrian rule, only a comparatively small proportion of the population is illiterate. But in Serbia public education is still in a regrettably backward state, the latest figures available showing that less than seventeen per cent. of the population can read and write, a condition which, I doubt not, will rapidly improve with the reestablishment of peace. Laibach (now known as Lubiana), the chief city of Croatia, Agram, in Slovenia, and Serajevo, the capital of Bosnia, have long been known as education centers, possessing a culture and educational facilities of which far larger cities would have reason to be proud. But Belgrade, having been, as it were, on the frontier of European civilization, has been compelled to concentrate its energies and its resources on commerce and the national defense. The attitude of the people of Agram toward the less sophisticated and cultured Serbs might be compared to that of an educated Bostonian toward an Arizona ranchman—a worthy, industrious fellow, no doubt, but rather lacking in culture and refinement. The truth of the matter is that the Croats and the Slovenes, though only too glad to escape the Allies' wrath by claiming kinship with the Serbs and taking refuge under the banner of Jugoslavia, at heart consider themselves immeasurably superior to their southern kinsmen, whose political dictation, now that the storm has passed, they are beginning to resent.

The first impression which the Serb makes upon a stranger is rarely a favorable one. As an American diplomat, who is a sincere friend of Serbia, remarked to me, "The Serb has neither manner nor manners. The visitor always sees his worst side while his best side remains hidden. He never puts his best foot forward."

A certain sullen defiance of public opinion is, it has sometimes seemed to me, a characteristic of the Serb. He gives one the impression of constantly carrying a chip on his shoulder and daring any one to knock it off. He is always eager for an argument, but, like so many argumentative persons, it is almost impossible to convince him that he is in the wrong. The slightest opposition often drives him into an almost childlike rage and if things go against him he is apt to charge his opponent with insincerity or prejudice. He can see things only one way, his way and he resents criticism so violently that it is seldom wise to argue with him.

Though the Serb, when afforded opportunities for education, usually shows great brilliancy as a student and often climbs high in his chosen profession, he all too frequently lacks the mental poise and the power of restraining his passions which are the heritage of those peoples who have been educated for generations.

In Serbia, as in the other Balkan states, it is the peasants who form the most substantial and likeable element of the population. The Serbian peasant is simple, kindly, honest, and hospitable, and, though he could not be described with strict truthfulness as a hard worker, his wife invariably is. Although, like most primitive peoples, he is suspicious of strangers, once he is assured that they are friends there is no sacrifice that he will not make for their comfort, going cold and hungry, if necessary, in order that they may have his blanket and his food. He is one of the very best soldiers in Europe, somewhat careless in dress, drill and discipline, perhaps, but a good shot, a tireless marcher, inured to every form of hardship, and invariably cheerful and uncomplaining. Perhaps it is his instinctive love of soldiering which makes him so reluctant to lay down the rifle and take up the hoe. He has fought three victorious wars in rapid succession and he has come to believe that his metier is fighting. In this he is tacitly encouraged by France, who sees in an armed and ready-to-fight-at-the-drop-of-the-hat Jugoslavia a counterbalance to Italian ambitions in the Balkans.

Though there are irresponsible elements in both Jugoslavia and Italy who talk lightly of war, I am convinced that the great bulk of the population in both countries realize that such a war would be the height of shortsightedness and folly. Throughout the Fiume and Dalmatian crises precipitated by d'Annunzio, Jugoslavia behaved with exemplary patience, dignity and discretion. Let her future foreign relations continue to be characterized by such self-control; let her turn her energies to developing the vast territories to which she has so unexpectedly fallen heir; let her take immediate steps toward inaugurating systems of transportation, public instruction and sanitation; let her waste no time in ridding herself of her jingo politicians and officers—let Jugoslavia do these things and her future will take care of itself. She is a young country, remember. Let us be charitable in judging her.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse