Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 6, 1876 --- The Bulgarian Horrors

Disgusted by Prime Minister Disraeli's inaction and, even worse, indifference, after reports that the Turks had massacred as many as 12,000 Bulgarian Christians, Mr. Gladstone publishes a pamphlet entitled "The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East." In a month, 200,000 copies are sold as the country splits into bitterly partisan pro- and anti- Turk camps.

Gladstone is now 65 and had been in semi-retirement, happily reading his Aquinas and Scott when The Daily News began reporting on tales of the fiendish butchery in the Balkans. Disraeli, who dismissed reports of widespread torture as "mere coffee house babble," glibly told the Commons that the Turks "generally terminate their connection with culprits in a more expeditious manner."

Calling such comments immoral, Gladstone attacks the traditional British policy of using "the evil Turk" to keep Russia, Britain's rival for India, at bay. With rising anger, he condemned the infidel in a memorable peroration: "Let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible way, namely by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and their Yuzbachis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage shall, I hope, clear out from the province they have desolated and profaned."

The pamphlet clearly signals Gladstone's return to active political life; he soon reclaimed command of the Liberal Party. Even the Queen, who dreaded the return of "that half-madman" was moved. She urged Disraeli to offer "a word of sympathy if the occasion offered." The Government is forced to abandon the pro-Turk cause for the role of mediator, leading to the Congress of Berlin the following year which achieved "peace with honor" in the troubled Balkans.

Gladstone took credit for igniting a nation in "virtuous passion." Disraeli dismissed his rival's literary attack as "Vindictive and ill-written ... of all the Bulgarian horrors, perhaps the greatest."

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