to Mr. Evarts.
Vienna, November 19, 1879. (Received December 6.)
Sir: In further obedience to your instructions (No. 123), I now have the honor to submit herewith a condensed report upon the general condition of the Principality of Servia, as gathered from the notes and observations made by me during my recent official visit to that country. This report, together with that made upon the foreign trade of Servia (No. 258), will be as fully responsive to your instructions as it is practicable now to make it. For detailed information for the direct use of American merchants, a consul resident in the country is required.[Page 83]
the organization of the government.
The independence of Servia was recognized by the great powers upon the conditions stated in Art. XXXV of the treaty of Berlin.
The constitution was voted by the National Assembly in 1869, and the prince took an oath to observe it. It guarantees to the citizens equality before the law; personal liberty; liberty of the press; inviolability of property; abolition of confiscation; free public instruction, primary, secondary, and superior; the liberty of religious confessions and their public exercise, and general liberty of opinion.
The executive power is vested in the Prince and in a responsible ministry. The person of the Prince being inviolable, all official acts must be countersigned by a minister, who takes the responsibility. There are seven ministries: Foreign affairs, finance, public works, war, interior, justice, worship and instruction.
The legislative power is vested in the Prince and Skupchtina, or Legislative Assembly. The latter is a single body, composed of 175 members, of whom 45 are appointed by the Prince, and 130 are elected by universal suffrage. The Prince convokes the Skupchtina annually in ordinary session and in extraordinary session as occasion may require. Taxes and appropriations must be voted by this Assembly. The ministerial budget is annually submitted to them. While not many of the members can be counted stupid many are unable to read or write; consequently the delegates appointed by the Prince, seated conveniently among them, exercise great influence over them.
The government also does not hestitate to interfere very positively in the elections. There is a bitter opposition, but it presents a small minority of numbers.
the financial condition of servia.
Aside from the military expenses of the principality, the finances of Servia would be easily managed, and an equilibrium in the budget easily maintained. After 1873, they largely increased their armament, and again still more in the war of 1876. These expenditures involved them seriously in debt. The statement of the public debt of Servia, given to me officially, is as follows:
|Russian loan of 1876, at 6 per cent||$6,816,000|
|Arrears of interest||918,843|
|Owed to foreigners for supplies||1,617,981|
|Home debt, national loan, 8 per cent||7,626,742|
|Interest on same||1,249,288|
|Deposits under the law||2,916,411|
|Total public debt in 1879||30,314,221|
The mode of stating the liabilities is somewhat obscure, and it would not be unwise to add some millions on the 1st of January, 1880, in view of deficits to be annually covered by loans. They are now proposing to again increase their armament, and to purchase a large quantity of the best modern arms for their entire military force. This can only be accomplished by a new emission of obligations, which cannot be placed at par. In the present condition of the country increased taxation cannot well be borne, though they claim that the present debt amounts to only 18 francs per head on the number of inhabitants.
They use no paper money in Servia. The only moneys are gold and [Page 84] silver. For these they have adopted the French system, and have begun a national coinage, of which the one dinar (franc) silver pieces are already in circulation. Pending the introduction of their own gold coins, the Austrian gold ducats (about 12½ francs) continue to be the favorite coin of the country, and circulate largely in Servia, although rarely seen in Austrian circulation.
It is a remnant of the Oriental habits, and insecurity of property, that an indisposition exists on the part of the people to engage in any enterprises which require organized capital and attract attention as evidences of wealth. With abundant forests and water-power, they told me there were yet no saw-mills in Servia, and that manufactured timber was imported; cotton-mills and woolen-mills are wholly wanting.
The copper and lead mines are worked by foreigners; the petroleum sources are undeveloped. There are one or two large breweries, also inaugurated by foreign enterprise. The injurious habit prevails among holders of money to invest it solely at usury, where it is not still more profitably employed in trade. There are no manufactories of iron or other metals more extensive than the common blacksmith-shop, or that of the handworkers of copper, of brass, or of steel. In a word, manufacturing industry is totally undeveloped.
All beyond the rudest implements are imported.
Tillage is carried on in the methods and by the means inherited from past generations. The peasant does not like to pay taxes, and is disposed to be content without a surplus, if he has only enough product to provide for the simple wants of his family for the year. He rarely has enough money to buy modern implements for his farm. Improvement in this respect will begin in the suburban districts, and the experience of its advantages here will steadily extend the demand. Special effort will be required for their first introduction.
For their general use improved ways of communication will be required, that the increased production may find a ready and remunerative market.
This improvement of transport ways is now the object of study on the part of the Servian Government, especially in the form of a railroad communication with Mitrovitza, whence a railroad exists to the port of Salonica. To this they look for effectual means of affording to other nations an equal competition with Austria in their market and to themselves a new outlet for their productions.
There are no large proprietors placed in Servia.
The people of the country are generally poor, and cultivate only so much soil as each family can manage with their rude implements, as simple in the workshop as they are on the farm. The rudeness extends to their wagons and to all their draught apparatus.
Notwithstanding this, I saw at Belgrade great activity in the wagon and iron shops, extending late into the night; and I was told that the ironsmiths worked double sets of hands, covering night and day. In agriculture, and all the industries connected with it there is in Servia a new and almost raw but fertile world, which western enterprise must soon enter and develop by persistently urging upon the people the advantages of new methods, of culture.[Page 85]
education and intelligence.
They are making praiseworthy attempts to give better instruction to the present generation of Servian youth.
About 700 teachers in all are employed in the principality. Only 10 receive a salary amounting to $300. The remainder are paid in diminishing sums, till the amount becomes a mere auxiliary to insufficient means of living. They are obliged to accept such teachers as can be had, and these are often shoemakers and tailors, who combine the duties of instruction, such as they can give, with their other laborious employments. Some 80 teachers out of the whole number are represented as qualified. The most competent are of course found in the large towns and villages.
The common clergy of the established church are represented as not sufficiently active in assistance and encouragement to popular education, and as not infrequently presenting bad examples to the youth around them.
The church wields an almost irresistible influence over the public mind, and of course embraces in its ranks many good and exemplary men, as well as the inefficient and the bad referred to above.
The children observed at Belgrade have the appearance of abundant capacity for a high order of instruction. They are quick-witted, animated in speech and manner, and apparently ambitious of scholastic attainments.
There are two or three educational and religious periodicals published in Servia, and two newspapers, one of which is “official” and the other said to be “officious.” Thus the government is not troubled by printed assaults upon its integrity, or criticisms upon its conduct. Besides these means of influencing the public mind, the government has in its pay, as I was assured by an employé of the government, three agents, who send the necessary telegrams and other correspondence touching Servian affairs to the journals of foreign countries. I formed a most favorable opinion of the natural mental vigor of the people.
It is a common remark that “they beat the Jews” at a bargain; that no Jew can grow rich in Servia. Their faults are not those of stupidity, but rather those of “smartness.” The moral elements—veracity, self-respect, love of the right and of justice, a sense of personal responsibility, devotion to the sentiment of honor, both public and private—these need much development.
The school of Turkish supremacy was not one from which these virtues could be expected. Direct contact with western civilization and manners will, it is hoped, lead to amelioration in these respects.
ways of communication.
There are now only two ways of Servian imports and exports, by rail across Hungary from Austria and the German ports, and from the Black Sea by the river Danube. Local distribution is effected by steamers on the Danube and on the Save, and between the river landings and the interior by rude wagons drawn by oxen. This interior transportation must be large, if I may judge by the activity apparent at the landings on the Danube between the Save and Bazias, the lowest landing which I reached.
The Austrian Steam Navigation Company’s line of steamers has almost a monopoly of the transport on both these rivers, and the cost of transportation is complained of as excessive.[Page 86]
For American heavy merchandize the route would be through the Black Sea to Galatz, and thence by steamer to the Servian river ports. After the completion of the Mitrovitza and Belgrade Railroad the communication will be also by way of the Mediterranean and the port of Salonica.
I have, &c.,