VI.

THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA.

(1860-1878.)

MICHAEL OBRENOVIĆ III., who on the death of his father once again mounted the throne of Servia, inaugurated a new era in the history of his country. If Milosh had contended that "the sovereign's will is the highest law," his son took as his motto the much more modern sentiment that "the law is the highest authority." He had travelled much since his brief and boyish reign eighteen years earlier. His residence in Western capitals had filled him with progressive ideas, and he represented the new spirit which had manifested itself in Servia during his long exile. Michael is the best ruler whom his country has yet had, and his second reign short as it was, has left a permanent mark upon the national life. For he was a moderate reformer, who recognised the great truth that institutions may be excellent in themselves, and yet be quite unsuited to a people which is not sufficiently advanced to appreciate them. He openly avowed his preference for the British con 332 333 MICHAEL'S REFORMS. stitution, but expressed his conviction that Servia had much to learn before she could understand it. In every department of the State his influence was for good. He began by reforming the Senate of Seventeen, which ever since its creation had been nothing but a Venetian oligarchy, making and unmaking princes at its will, and forming a perpetual hotbed of intrigues. Relying on the assumption that the consent of the Sultan was necessary for their removal, the senators had always set the sovereign at defiance, while they had entirely monopolised legislative power. Michael now adopted a compromise. He left the senators their legislative functions, but made them amenable to the decisions of the law courts, which, without consulting the Sultan, had the right to remove them for misconduct. Having thus curtailed the privileges of the Senate, he proceeded to regulate the authority of the National Assembly, or Skupschtina. During the reign of Karageorgević this body had been only twice summoned, the second occasion being the deposition of that prince. The "Assembly of St. Andrew," as it was popularly called from its custom of meeting on the festival of that national saint, had taken that opportunity to assert itself, and, under the influence of a few men of the professional class who had studied abroad, aimed at copying the British House of Commons. But the peasants, with their natural suspicion of those who had acquired more culture than themselves, were not prepared for so democratic a step, and Michael accordingly summoned the Assembly every third year tor the discussion of such measures as were laid 334 THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA. before it by the ministers. Its duties were to express the wishes of the people on these proposals. It had no power of originating legislation, and it could not touch the budget, which was reserved for the Senate. But as the nation acquired more political education, Michael intended to extend its political rights and even grant it a free press. Another and much more democratic measure he attempted without success. A graduated income-tax is unknown in countries far more advanced than was Servia thirty years ago. But Prince, Michael, conscious of the grievous injustice of the existing poll-tax, which had hitherto been levied on rich and poor alike, endeavoured to introduce the principle of payment in proportion to income. The result showed the futility of such a scheme in the then state of public morality, for the returns sent in were constantly falsified. Michael abandoned the scheme, and substituted for it the method of taxing each district at a certain sum, to be collected by the local authorities from those who were best able to pay it. The introduction of the decimal system and the issue for the first time of a distinctive Servian coinage completed his political and economic reforms.

It was to Michael, too, that Servia owed the first attempt at military organisation. Hitherto the Servian armies had been mere conglomerations of individuals, admirably adapted for a guerilla warfare among the mountains, but without discipline, and badly armed. The Prince knew the valour of his subjects, and saw that they only required to be properly drilled and equipped to become efficient 335 MICHAEL'S FOREIGN POLICY. soldiers. He accordingly purchased two hundred thousand rifles of the latest pattern, which, in spite of Turkish protests, he smuggled into the country and sold at a very low rate to his people. Conscription at once followed; every Serb above the age of twenty was liable to serve, and a force of cavalry and artillery was raised from the different towns. The effect of this reform was at once felt in the national policy. The Prince found his new army the strongest argument when he spoke in the name of his country and demanded further liberties from the Sultan.

For Michael's foreign policy was as successful as his internal reforms. At the death of his father, Turkish garrisons in the frontier fortresses and an annual tribute still reminded the people of the days of Ottoman domination. Michael resolved to secure the retirement of the last Turkish soldier from his country, and, above all, from the splendid castle which commanded his capital. At the outset he refused to go, as his predecessors had done, to the field before the fortress of Belgrade to hear the Turkish berat read, which confirmed his election, but proudly bade its bearer come to his palace. A collision between the garrison and the people in 1862 gave him the opportunity which he sought. The Turkish commandant bombarded the city; the consular body supported the Prince in his protest at Constantinople. The people urged him to join with Montenegro, then at war with the Turks, and he at once resigned his own civil list and offered to devote all his personal property to military purposes. But 336 THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA. the Powers suggested a Conference, and the Prince laid before it a demand for the immediate evacuation of every Servian fortress by the Turks. The Conference proposed as an alternative the withdrawal of the Mussulman population from the towns on payment of an indemnity for the property which they left behind, and this the Prince accepted as an instalment. Confident of the support of England, where his wife, Princess Julia, had awakened much sympathy for the Servian cause, he felt that he could afford to wait. It was at this time that Lord Palmerston made his famous pun to the Princess at one of his receptions. As she entered the room her dress caught in the door. "Princesse," said the witty Premier, hastening to release her, "la Porte est sur votre chemin, pour vous empêcher d'avancer." The Porte did not block her country's progress much longer. Encouraged by the tremendous enthusiasm which in 1865 hailed the jubilee of his father's rising against the Turks, and relying on the organised army which he now had at his back, the Prince petitioned the Sultan in 1867 for the evacuation or demolition of the fortresses still occupied by Turkish troops. The tactful manner in which the request was made pleased the formalists at the Porte, and the Cretan insurrection made it highly impolitic to offend the Serbs. Austria and England supported the claim, and the Sultan at last withdrew his garrisons with a good grace, merely stipulating that the forts should be kept up by the Serbs, and that on high days and holidays the Crescent should be displayed from one of the battlements. For the first time for centuries Belgrade was 337 BELGRADE ENTIRELY FREE. entirely free, and the grand old castle, which had braved a hundred sieges, was in the hands of a national garrison. As the last Turkish soldier quitted Servian soil Michael's policy was triumphantly vindicated, for the tribute now alone remained as a relic of the old Turkish days. It was even thought that the Prince would be supported by France and Austria if he added Bosnia to his dominions. Fortune was indeed smiling on the Serbs.

But the hand of the assassin had marked Prince Michael as a victim. From the beginning of his reign there had been a strong opposition against him. His virtues made him unpopular with some, for he rigidly refused to proscribe the adherents of the Karageorgević faction and hand their posts to his adherents. They could not understand the Prince's maxim, that "Servia was so small a country, and had so great a mission, that he could not look at the colour of the men whom he employed in the State service." The Karageorgević party was not in the least appeased by his generosity. The ex-Prince Alexander assumed the part of a Pretender, and his agents represented the fiscal and military reforms of Michael as injurious to the nation. In 1864 the discontented elements in the country united in a conspiracy against the Prince, some desiring the recall of Alexander, others wishing to proclaim a Republic. The plot failed, but the scandal caused by the acquittal of the conspirators, and the subsequent impeachment of the judges who had acquittal them, did no good to the Government. On his way back 23 338 THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA. from the Paris Exhibition the Prince was nearly murdered. But he refused to take precautions, and his carelessness at last cost him his life.

Every visitor to Belgrade is taken to see the beautiful park of Topiderč, which is situated between two low oak-covered hills about two miles and a half away. In this park was the summer residence of the Prince, and it was his usual custom on hot afternoons to walk with his family along a shady path which he had had cut through the woods. All Belgrade knew his favourite walk, and the conspirators had no difficulty in laying their plans accordingly. On the afternoon of the 10th of June, 1868, the Prince set out for the park with his aunt, her daughter and granddaughter, his only retinue consisting of a single aid-de-camp and a groom. As the little party was walking along the narrow path under the trees four men suddenly came round the corner, and, with a respectful salute, stood aside to allow the Prince to pass. Scarcely had he done so than four pistol-shots were heard from behind, and the Prince fell. A few moments after he expired, and his cousin, who was also mortally wounded, died two hours later; her daughter received a severe injury, the aid-de-camp fainted, and the Prince's aunt and his groom alone escaped unhurt. In order to make certain of their victim's death, the assassins drew their knives and plunged them repeatedly into his prostrate body; no fewer than forty wounds were afterwards counted on his corpse. It was owing to this delay and the breakdown of their carriage on the way back to Belgrade that the murderers were baulked of the 339 MURDER OF MICHAEL. results which they had confidently anticipated from their horrible deed. Their intention had been to send one of their number at once to the city to proclaim Peter Karageorgević, son of the ex-Prince Alexander, and issue a new constitution in his name. This document was all ready, a list of new ministers had been drawn up, and as soon as the news of Michael's murder arrived those officials who showed any resistance were to be shot. But when their carriage at last reached Belgrade, the tidings had preceded them. The garrison was under arms, the energetic Minister of War, Petrović Blačnavac, the most intimate of the murdered Prince's advisers, was master of the situation, and the chief conspirators were speedily arrested. The four assassins were two brothers Radovanović, one of whom had been convicted of forgery, a wife-murderer named Mark, and a desperado called Rogić. The plot proved to be widespread, and many friends and connections of the Karageorgević family were implicated. Two of the ringleaders were the ex-Prince Alexander's brothers-in-law, another was his lawyer, and Prince Peter himself, at that time an exile in Vienna, was openly accused of being an accomplice. Party feeling ran high. The Conservatives declared the conspiracy to be the work of the Omladina, a literary and political society of advanced views, which existed wherever Serbs were found and numbered Prince Peter among its most recent recruits. The National Assembly, which was summoned under these exciting circumstances, unanimously decreed the exclusion of the Karageorgević family from the Servian throne for 340 THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA. ever, and to this day the descendants of Black George are exiles. Blood had been requited by blood, and the murder of the Servian Liberator by Milosh Obrenović had been avenged in the next generation by the murder of Milosh's son. The Assembly then proclaimed Michael's nearest relative, his cousin Milan, as hereditary Prince of Servia, under the title of Milan Obrenović IV. As the young Prince was at that time barely fourteen, a Regency of three persons, of whom Petrović Blačnavac was the chief, was appointed to carry on the government till he came of age.

The murder of Michael was indeed a blow for Servia. On his tomb in the cathedral of Belgrade his widow has engraved the words, "Thy memory shall not perish." No epitaph could better have expressed the feelings of the nation towards the best and ablest of all its modern rulers.

The three Regents began their task by securing from the Porte a final recognition of the hereditary rights of the Obrenović family. They then proceeded to draw up a somewhat more liberal constitution than that which had, with some modifications, existed for the last thirty years. Prince Michael in his reforms had only amended the old system of government; the Regents now took the bolder step of abolishing it altogether. The new constitution of 1869 entrusted all power to the Prince and the National Assembly, which was to meet every year and was re-elected every three. This body consisted for ordinary purposes of 120 members, of whom 90 were elected by the people and 30 nominated 341 ACCESSION OF MILAN. by the Prince. In order to pacify the jealousy which the Serb peasantry and small farmers felt of the professional class, it was provided that while members of the latter could be nominated by the Prince, no lawyer or official was eligible by the people. On extraordinary occasions a "Great Assembly" of 480 persons, all chosen by the people, replaced the ordinary legislature. The elections were open, and therefore easily manipulated by the Government, and it was found that the Assembly became the tool of the Ministers. This is the constitution which was restored by the coup d'élat of 1894, when the much more Radical Reform Act of 1888 was abolished by a stroke of the boy King Alexander's pen, and remains in force to the present day.

Prince Milan came of age in 1872, and soon showed his determination to govern in his own way. Educated in Paris, the new ruler had acquired decidedly Parisian tastes, but his abilities proved considerably better than his character. He had a strong will, but his love of pleasure, his reckless extravagance, and his devotion to the gaming-table ruined what might otherwise have been a successful career. A man of fashion rather than a soldier, he found himself compelled to support the agitation of the Serb race against the Turks, and the insurrection which broke out in the Herzegovina in 1875 dragged him, however unwillingly, into war.

During the Regency the idea of a "Great Servia," which should include all the scattered branches of the Serb stock under one ruler, had been sedulously cultivated. M. Ristić, the second Regent and a 342 THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA. statesman of marked ability, had been the soul of this policy, which was bound to offend the susceptibilities not only of Turkey, but of Austria-Hungary. It was not clear who was to be the head of this "great Servian kingdom"—Prince Milan of Servia, or Prince Nicholas of Montenegro, a born leader of men, greatly superior in character to the Prince of Servia. Prince Milan was therefore less anxious than Prince Nicholas for a war with Turkey, especially as the latter had declined to acknowledge him as leader of the Servian movement, although he had expressed his willingness to serve under Michael. But the voice of the Servian people prevailed over the hesitation of the ruler, and insisted upon a crusade against the hereditary enemy. Milan yielded, and on the 30th of June, 1876, proclaimed his intention of joining his arms to those of the Bosniaks and Herzegovinians. Montenegro declared war the day after Servia, and a campaign began between the two branches of the Serb race and the descendants of those who had destroyed the old Servian Empire nearly five centuries before.

The Servian army was under the directions of the Russian General Tchernaieff, and consisted, all told, of some 148,000 men. But it soon became clear that the soldiers were not only inferior to the Montenegrins, but were no match for the Turks. At first the superior generalship of their Russian commander enabled them to carry the war into the enemy's country near Ak-palanka. But the Turks soon penetrated into Servia and drove them back. A battle beneath the walls of Alexinac resulted in the 343 THE WAR WITH TURKEY. complete defeat of Prince Milan's army, and the Porte refused to grant peace except on the most onerous terms. The negotiations begun by England were hindered by the proclamation of the Prince as King of Servia at Deligrad on the 16th of September at the suggestion of General Tchernaieff, and the war went on as before. The capture of Alexinac and Deligrad by the Turks left the road to Belgrade at their mercy, and the Servian troops, with the exception of the artillerymen, became utterly disorganised. An armistice was arranged by the intervention of the Powers, and while Montenegro continued the struggle, Servia made peace with Turkey on the 1st of March, 1877. The war, so far as Prince Milan was concerned, had produced no material result, for the position before it had commenced was maintained. Russia had saved Servia by a timely ultimatum from the consequences of her defeats, and, thanks to the Powers, no loss of territory and no war indemnity were inflicted upon her.

When, in Prince Milan's words, "the defence of the holy cause had passed into stronger hands" and Russia declared war against the Sultan, Servia, from fear of Austria, refrained for some months from taking part in the struggle. She looked on while the Roumanians invested Plevna, and it was not till December that the Prince resumed hostilities. Invoking the names of "the old heroes of Takovo," he crossed the frontier on this second campaign. The result was much more favourable to Servia than that of the first. In spite of severe losses from the ice and snow one detachment won a decisive victory at 344 THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA. Pirot, while another, commanded by the Prince in person, captured the ancient Servian town of Nisch,

SARCOPHAGUS AT DEMNO.

which since the fatal day of Kossovo, five centuries 345 THE TREATY OF BERLIN. before, had been part of the Turkish Empire. Great was the enthusiasm of his people when Prince Milan entered the gates as a conqueror. Nine days later the victory of General Bela Marković (afterwards one of the Regents) at Vranja completed the trio of Servian successes. The armistice and the Treaty of San Stefano cut short the further progress of the campaign.

By that treaty Servia obtained the recognition of her independence, and ceased to be tributary to the Sultan. She was to receive a considerable accession of territory, including the town of Nisch. Still more important, in view of a future union of the Serb race, the south-western frontier of Servia, as drawn at San Stefano, would have gone close by Novibazar, and have thus come very close to that of Montenegro. But the Berlin Treaty of 1878, which replaced the abortive arrangements of San Stefano, provided that Servia should have territorial compensation on the side of Bulgaria rather than in the direction of Montenegro. A wedge was allowed to remain, in the shape of the Sandjak of Novibazar, between the two Serb states, and the right of garrisoning certain places in that region, which was conceded to Austria, has checked the aspirations of the Serbs for reunion quite as effectually as the Austrian "occupation" of Bosnia and the Herzegovina. On the south-east, however, Servia received the Bulgarian-speaking district of Pirot and was allowed to retain Vranja and Nisch, so that the area of the principality was increased by more than one-fourth. She undertook to pay a proportion of the 346 THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA. Ottoman Debt for her new territories, and took over the engagements of the Porte with regard to the railways. Finally her independence, already recognised by the Sultan at San Stefano, was affirmed by the Powers. Thus she was at last free in theory as well as in fact. The practical independence which she had gained when the Turkish garrisons were withdrawn in 1867 was formally completed by the solemn act of Europe in 1878. Four years later, on the 6th of March, 1882, the Prince was proclaimed king under the title of Milan I., and Servia once more ranked as a kingdom.