THE PLIGHT OF MONTENEGRO
AN ADDRESS By CAPT. A. V. SEFROVITCH
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto January 27, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--I feel very much honoured by your kind invitation to be with you today, and I feel happier than on many days when I am working and worrying in New York. Of course, worrying is not Christian-like; but how can one help not worrying. I am one of those who have given all to Montenegro and for the Holy Cause. I have given my money and all that I could give. I have given my health, as last summer, on account of the hard work I was doing, I was broken down nervously. I have also given my son. All of you here have given something to your own country, all that you could, otherwise you would not be present. Although I am not a speaker, I am going to tell you about the plight of Serbia and Montenegro in the best way I can, about these two countries which in olden times used to be one country, but which were separated by the invasion of the Turks. Since the invasion of the Serbian soil by the Turks over five hundred years ago, we Montenegrins have fought the Islam, side by side with the Serbians. Before the Seventh century, the Serbians used to dwell just where is now Galicia and they are known to be of the same race as the "Little Russian," or the Southern Russian of today. In the Seventh century they descended southward and crossed the Danube, perhaps in search of better land, because they were farmers--but that does not mean that they were not fighters. In the history of England and your colonies, I think you will find, that the farmers were always the best fighters. After crossing the Danube, the Serbians settled where you find them today--that is the region between the Danube and the Adriatic Sea. There they found such a lovely country that today you will scarcely find a real Serbian from Serbia in America and those who have come to America are those who were under the Austrian yoke. As I said before, the Serbians were farmers, and in the lovely place where they settled they went on with their work, and, as superiority is prevailing, they soon spread their qualities to their neighbours. Even if a superior race is under an invader it is natural that the latter will always imitate the best qualities of the oppressed one. The Serbians were very industrious and their neighbours learned much from them, especially how to plough. By and by the Ellyrians of the Roman Empire who occupied the country before the Serbians' arrival disappeared, and this is why the Serbians of today have a little drop of Roman blood in their veins. We Montenegrins are those Serbians who were braver and stronger physically and who ventured further South in search, perhaps, of still better climate and conditions more suitable to their fighting qualities. It seems that the Serbians of the Seventh century were divided into tribes that reached the farthest South, of whom we Montenegrins are descendants, and founded in the valley of the little river Zetta a state by the same name, which was ruled by chiefs of clans just like the Scotch people-and this because they were mountaineers. Now please mark this, that Zetta, or Montenegro, has been independent ever since the Serbians came into Europe and even under the rule of the Tzars of Serbia. Tazar Lazar was the last emperor of the Serbians and he lost the battle at Kossovo, the biggest battle against the Turks in 1389, and with this battle the rule of the Tzars of Serbia ends. But notwithstanding that since 1389 the Serbians were for 500 years under Turkish rule, they were continually fighting against their oppressors and during this time two dynasties have successively ruledthe Obrenovittch and the Karagorovitch as princes, and later as kings. Serbia has been in a geographical position so as to form a wall against invaders who were coming from the North and to others from the East. The Huns, about 1,025 years ago, came to face them on the river Danube, and finding that the Serbians were too strong, spread the swarm of invasion to reach Rome. The cruel Turks of today would have reached even Paris had it not been for the Serbians. This is because the -Turkish wave became exhausted in the battles in Serbia and when it reached Vienna in 1617 and when Vienna was menaced, who chased them back? The Slavs again! Sobieski, king of Poland, chased them back from under the walls of Vienna. We Montenegrins, having been separated from Serbia by the Turkish invasion in 1389, since we had to fight our battles separately, but we have never been conquered. We fought for over 500 years and the Turks never could return to tell the tale. When Zetta, under Ivan Coernoetitch extended its dominion also over Scutari and the Turks were nearing this place, this chief called all the clans of Zetta together and said to them : " Sons of Zetta, up those black mountains that you see there, you will find shelter against the barbarians who are menacing us." Therefore they abandoned the town of Scutari and retired into the barren black rocks just where you find us today. And there the Montenegrins have been living and enjoying independency until they have been lately invaded by the AustroHuns. Unfortunately these last barbarians were better provided with modern artillery and they attacked Montenegro-about 200,000 against 30,000 between the ages of 16 and 75 on a front of over 300 miles. We had practically no artillery, clothing or food. How could we resist that invasion? As long as -Serbia was not invaded, we had only a front of 50 miles to defend, with about 25,000 soldiers. Well, that was possible against 100,000 Austrians on a front of about 50 miles, but since Serbia has been invaded and since the Bulgarians and Germans have reached the eastern border of our country, we were surrounded from three sides, that is; from the North by the Austro-Hungarians, from the East by the joint Austrian army and the Austrian fleet bombarding Mt. Lovchin, from the West by the Bulgarians and Germans and from the South by the northern Albanians who were hostile to our cause, except the Albanian general, Essed Pasha, a recent friend of our King. Our King who has ruled over fifty years over his beloved people is not only the king but also has been like a father to all of us; he has no difficult court ceremonials and receives every Montenegrin who wishes to speak to him. Thus this lovely father of our heroic people of Mountaineers has acquired the admiration, friendship and esteem of the world, but the Huns have robbed him of his throne. Even Essed Pasha the defender of Scutari who fought us in 1913 was in this last struggle with us and the allies; this is greatly due to the good policy of our King, who besides being a diplomat is also a poet and a brave soldier. This old venerable gentleman, our King, is over eighty but still young. He is now the guest of great France, which is the best proof that this country too recognizes his loyalty to the holy cause. His Majesty the Czar of Russia has sent a special Ambassador to the new quarters of my King, which action will dissipate all false reports by enemies' agents, peoples serving the Huns. The King and people that have been great in victories are now still greater in their sufferings.
I have published a protest in the American papers against some false rumours and false insinuations which aim to harm my country, and in the same protest I have described also our army. About 30,000 men was the maximum that my country could .put on a real footing at the beginning of the hostilities against the Turks in 1912. Since that date we fought side by side with the Serbians, the Bulgarians and the Greeks, against the hated Turks, and then when Bulgaria treacherously attacked Serbia, after the Turkish War, we again went to help our brethren, the Serbians. For six days 10,000 of our braves, making 48 miles in about 24 hours, went like lightning to join the Serbian soldiers against Bulgaria. I think that we broke some records, but our men are a little taller than I am. They are provided with long legs and they make such long steps. They are very frugal in their eating. Of course they were marching through villages that were friendly to them, that is on Serbian soil, but when they reached the trenches they were so tired that our noble brethren the Serbians told them "you will not fight today, but stand in reserve" but those 10,000 brave Montenegrins did not accept this kind offer and went straight to the firing lines. On the firing line they were so impatient to attack the enemy that they stamped the earth like horses. As the Montenegrins do not, like to fight in trenches but in the open, they went straight to the Bulgarian trenches and dislodged them, revolvers in hand.
Another characteristic of the Montenegrins is their hatred for bayonets, and, as I said before, when they reached the enemies' trenches the Bulgarians seeing this new kind of warfare, those who were not dead in the trenches took to their heels. This is how we won the day against the Bulgarians.
In time of peace Montenegro had only one hospital with 40 beds and there were only four doctors in Cettigne but none elsewhere. This is because the population of Montenegro is so healthy. Doctors have been rather only for show. The one engaged in the royal palace was there perhaps to tell the king "how healthy you look, Majesty, you are just as young as a boy of twenty." Indeed he never pretends to be more than twenty and is strong and healthy yet.
When war broke out against Austria we were again without medicines and doctors. I have some accounts from Dr. Gutcha, an American doctor, who volunteered with the Montenegrins and Serbians and was with the unfortunate expedition of 500 reservists that I had gathered in Canada and who were lost at St. John of Medua as well as boo tons of supplies, my work for six months. He tells that in order to cope with a great quantity of cases of articular rheumatism, in absence of medicines, Dr. Gutcha had to advise his patients to heat pieces of rock and apply them to the sore places and alleviate the pain.
On the occasion of the destruction of the boat with the above mentioned reservists which left Halifax on December 8th, and which was sunk, we lost also a very fine American nurse who died as a heroine. She gave what she could--her life--for our country and for the holy cause of the Red Cross. She was a nurse of the Red Cross in Serbia since 1912 and came here to see her parents in New York and expressed the wish to go back to help the Montenegrins. We have given a memorial to her in the Bohemian Presbyterian church in New York, and we also hope to do something for her family. Montenegrins are always faithful and they never forget the good done to them. Perhaps you will be interested to know something about the difference of character between the Serbians and the Montenegrins, although we are the same race. Serbians are down when they are in sorrow and very happy when they are well and prosperous. They express their feelings very much like the French. We Montenegrins are more like the Scotch. We are a little more silent, and this is why we have no good talkers.
Both Serbians and Montenegrins are lovers of music. Our strictly national instrument is the "Gouzla," a primitive instrument like a small tambourine, carved out in cherry wood with only one string of horse hair and on which one plays with a small bow just as primitive as the instrument itself. The man that plays the instrument is the "Gouzlar." Usually "Gouzlars" are rapsods, very old men that walk from village to village singing in rhyme the history of the Serbians, our victories as well as our sufferances. Thus for lack of printed history which did not exist in the old time, our youth have learned it from the mouth of the venerable gouzlars and transmitted it further in the same way to their sons. Of course the instrument itself is very monotonous but it serves to give the rhythm to the dull song of our historian. We owe to the "Gouzla" and the Gouzlar" our national existence, there is our life, our traditions, and everything else.
When the "Gouzlar" sings and plays, everybody round gathers to listen attentively and to learn by heart his tales. It is there in these circles under a tree or round a fire, that heroes have sprung, and full of courage inspired by our true history, they have repulsed bravely the cruel Turk.
Montenegrins do not enjoy jolly tales of some kinds. They do not consider them nice. They do not swear, do you hear that; and drunkards in the streets would be a shame for the Montenegrins. I myself am a tee-totaler. Montenegrins are very proud of their national dress which shows also artistic taste of the race. As you see me here in this attire, there are a great many of them walking in the streets of Cettigne, and as the king wears the same costume as the people and the soldiers, it is considered a shame for any Montenegrin to be immoral. The best thing for the Montenegrin is the family. The family is based on religious principles as we are all Christians. We have very few Mohammedans in our country and very few Roman Catholics, just some at the Albanian border and the only religion among Montenegrins is the Greek Oriental; but we are not fanatics, and this is why we tolerate missions in our country and everything connected with Christian work. Only it would be a most difficult thing to convert a Montenegrin or a Serbian from his religion to another. I know families where they ask the blessing at every meal; I know families where the father would send out of doors a son who would swear; I know families who, if there is an intoxicated member in the family, would send him out of their family or send him over the border. Such are our families and the cause why Montenegro is such a healthy nation. We marry young and have many children, as many as the Lord can give. The Germans, as barbarians, are different and do not possess the same qualities and the soldiers that they have in the trenches today--the sons of that race--are merely products of immorality, because no country in the world is more up-to-date with white slavery than Germany. It would perhaps require three days for me to speak of Germany's white slavery, and I know it, as I was in Germany for some time. Our young people are the products of marriage, of love, blessing and health and everything to call a man a man. If the Montenegrins have not increased as greatly as they should, it is because the mortality amongst children in their infancy is very great, and because of continuous wars. We do not take care of our babies in the modern ways of hygienic rules. The Serbian and Montenegrin mother has to work hard. The Serbian and Montenegrin father has to work hard, too, and very often children are left to take care of themselves while their Parents are working in the open fields and mountains, and are left out in the cold. There are, as I have said, no doctors and no medicines and such are the conditions forcibly, or because our people do not know better. But those of the children who survive all these hardships and exposure, in their later age, can survive almost anything. This is why the Serbians and Montenegrins have made such good soldiers. The Austrians and the Bulgarians know that, and while we have heard that the country has been invaded and the Austrians have taken the rule there, they have perpetrated the greatest cruelties that any one can imagine in order to destroy such a strong and noble race. Wholesale slaughters are taking place there. In Serbia as well as in Bosnia Herzegovina they have taken boys by the hundreds and filed them alongside the wall and shot them. I have brought today to the President of your Club a number of photographs taken on the spot and I vouch for the truth. These photographs have been given to me by a representative of the Serbian Government. They show atrocities such as not even wild animals could do. It is something awful. Jawbones and arms that have been skinned with an open knife, pregnant women violated and then bayoneted left and right. Do you know any brute of any kind that would do that? Germans, too, and Bulgarians, too. Similar atrocities as those above mentioned have been' perpetrated also by Germans on Russian soldiers and population, and I am sorry not to have with me today photographs in possession of some of my colleagues. Bulgarians are not Slavs. They come from Asia on the Volga River and that is why they are called Volgarians, because theyare vulgar. As I said before, if the invader is inferior he always copies or adopts, so the Bulgarians, not having a language, adopted ours, because we were superior and because theirs was too ugly. While their language is not like ours, it is just a little similar. Look at the Bulgarian lips, how thick they are. I am just like you. Look at their noses how, flat and big they are. I am not like them. We have also a fair people just like the Scotch. Perhaps you will take me for a Scotchman, but I swear I have never tasted a drop of it. Montenegrins are just like Scotchmen. They have a little bagpipe. Yours is a little bigger, but Scotland is a bigger country too. We have only 10,000 square miles of land and before 1912 we had only 8,000 square miles. It is on that territory that we used to lick the Turks. On 8,000 square miles and with a population of only 300,000 inhabitants. After the last Balkan war we got some more people of our race who were under the Turkish domination and thus we have increased our population to nearly half a million inhabitants. I have said that Montenegrins are more like Scotch; they have the sword dance like the Scotch. They are thinkers like the Scotch, and they are poets like the Scotch. The King is one of our best poets and nearly every Montenegrin can write some verses. They say that a child cried in rhyme whilst corrected by his mother. They are big smokers and comparing this Club with a gathering in Montenegro, it gives me the impression of being in Montenegro itself. Montenegrins do not chew tobacco in our country; they do not know what that is-but they learn it in the United States, perhaps.
The Montenegrin woman is a little different from your ladies, and she is the mother who has given life to those brave soldiers. She is different because she works hard. For five centuries our men went battling and had no time to do any farm work around the house, and in time when he was allowed to rest a little and enjoy the family life he dressed in his best attire, like a little lord, with his pistols and knives. In the war he used to carry very often two guns, and while he was unloading one, his wife, who very often accompanied him to the firing lines, used to load the other. Our poor women had to do all of the housework as well as carrying on her back anything that was necessary for the firing lines-just like a little pack donkey. She used to carry the food for her husband as well as ammunition. She used to give the soldiers motherly care, and was a nurse to the wounded under the whistling bullets of the enemy's fire, and so she has done in this last war. Please read the French reports about this, and do not listen to the Austrian reports-I am sure you will not-these false reports have given out a statement that Montenegro has surrendered. The Montenegrins will not surrender! Yes, my grandmother at home will surrender, but my mother has gone with the soldiers to Scutari and down to Albania. She is carrying on her back all the belongings and food and ammunition that the men could not bring. There is my mother! My grandmother only is left at home. The Bulgarians and Huns want to show a big victory over a little country like Montenegro by killing noncombatants.
Our great Allies have been fighting for eighteen months against the enemy, what could a poor army of 25,000 Montenegrins do against a many times stronger foe ? What could Montenegro do with guns of old Russian pattern (guns of 1898) worn out with four years' fighting, with 2 batteries of cannon taken from the forts of Leghorn, Italy, which we bought in 1896, when they were dismantled and put out of commission; with three batteries which the French in their great generosity gave us, and many a brave French artillery man and instructor died in Montenegro. We had also a few machine guns from England and a few we helped ourselves to from the Austrians. That is what we had for artillery and muskets. We also had two batteries of field artillery presented to us by the Serbians and this was taken by the Serbians from the Turks in the battle of Kumanovo. This is how we were provided with artillery and rifles. We also lacked clothing, food and medical supplies. In some instances our soldiers went without food for two days, and for three or four days there were braves in the trenches living mostly on onions and bacon, with no bread, no medicines and no doctors. Many of your officers who are sitting in the room on my right hand side will tell you what, life in the trenches means, when they have to pump the water out in order to find a dry spot, when after a long war they nearly all suffer of rheumatism, and have no medicine to alleviate their pains, but are obliged to heat pieces of rock and wrap them in pieces of bag and put them around their knees. Under these conditions my countrymen could not keep the fight up any longer,--but they are still fighting. They have not yet surrendered, I tell you. If there was a surrender, a traitor would not live among the Montenegrins, for they would kill him. Our King is in France and another part of the government is in Italy. The tribes of Kutch are still holding out, our General Martinovitch is retiring towards Scutari. The hostile population of Albania fired at the poor Serbians and Montenegrins from the windows of houses.
"The Anger of the Lord is slow, but it cometh," says the Bible. I know the Bible. There are 150,000 Serbians in Albania, but I do not know exactly where. They are re-organizing and putting themselves into good shape, and when Spring will come you will see them out on the march again, and if you Canadians send half a million men and if you do all you can do, you will see that we .are going to win a great victory by April or May, or before that.
I can tell you confidentially that those barbarians who were shooting at our poor refugees were descending the plain of Albania and those who were shooting at the retiring Serbian army, are no longer there to tell the tale, for the Serbian soldiers who were left alive knew what to do. The commandment is, of course, "Thou shalt not kill," but thou shalt defend thyself, and we are all in self defence in this war and nothing else.
Some one asked me in this meeting who I thought was the best general in this war, and I dared to tell him that the best General in this war can be found in this little book which I put at your disposal through the kindness of my mother-in-law who belongs to the Presbyterian Church (the little book proved to be the Gospel of St. John printed in English for the use of soldiers). As good Christians we will have our good victory which will be the victory of God and righteousness--the victory for which we are fighting for the Holy Christian Religion. A Bohemian nurse who came back from the war told me that she could not see a plain soldier in Montenegro-that they were all officers. This, of course, is because our soldiers at night crawled to the bodies of the shot Austrian officers and took away their uniforms and wore them. I spoke to a Montenegrin about the Canadian officers in Halifax. As he was educated in a high school, I asked him why he did not go and join the Canadian forces. He asked me what the pay was. I said $100 for a lieutenant. He asked me how long it would take for the training. I answered six weeks for a lieutenant. "Then," he said "how would it do for me to stay six months and get a generalship."
Gentlemen, those Canadian officers of six weeks will be heroes of future battles and will bring you back tales that you have not heard of before of their bravery. I am sure of that, because in Halifax especially I have been looking at their faces and I could see their determined jaw bones. Those men who are there in the trenches are getting to learn in six days more than they have learned in six weeks. The modern way of fighting is different from the ancient, and some one has said that courage is not required in modern warfare. On the contrary courage is required. Your forefathers who came first to Canada worked their way to the woods and they worked hard to build their muscles, and you are the sons of those who developed these muscles, and you still have them. Canada is a country much extended with beautiful woods and although some of you live in cities you live close to nature and close to God. It is a healthy country and a healthy nation and we want healthy young men who will make good soldiers, just as good as the Montenegrins. I understand the Canadians are going to give the Allies and their mother country, England, a big force which will prove to be at its height. It has already proved to be so. You will find that you will have a special page in history where they will mention Canada. I am sure of it. It cannot be otherwise and it should make you especially proud of it. I am asking you from my heart that you shall not for a moment forget this war, and that you should do as I do. I work the whole day for the holy cause. I do nothing but that. If I were consul with big pay, perhaps I would like the pay, but I have no pay. I made a present of it to the Red Cross and I am living on my own means out of what I gathered while I was working hard. It does not matter whether one works with his hands or his head, provided he works. That is the whole thing. I wish that you would not lose a moment and that by May you should have 500,000 soldiers, not later, because delays would mean other difficulties. Do not think the Germans are not working the same way. There are thousands of Turkish recruits that they are training in Asia, who are not in the field through lack of organization, etc., and because the Turks have never been well equipped soldiers. In the Greek war in 1897 I have seen Turkish soldiers bare-footed marching over the rocks. The Turks are soldiers of endurance and they are the best soldiers the Germans have to help them. Barbarians like themselves.
My heart is broken by the cruelties that have been perpetrated by the enemy. The worst enemy of Serbia in this war is Bulgaria. Ninety percent of the cruelties have been perpetrated by the Bulgarians and Magyars. They hate us. They have cracked the heads of our wounded and filled them with boiled beans. They have opened the stomachs of our wounded with bayonets and filled them with hay that they used to give to the horses. They have done worse things, as I have said before, both the Huns and the Bulgarians. When this war is over and if the Lord helps us to have peace, and a peace to suit ourselves, that is, the Allies,-I hope the Bulgarians nor their barbarious allies will be as nations, but will be under us.
Just transport yourselves a little to those fields and those mountains covered with our Christian blood. The loss of Mt. Lovtchen is like the loss of a diamond as big as Lovtchen itself. When Lovtchen has fallen, all has fallen, and with it the work of many centuries of our dynasty, of our nation,-all has crumbled down. Now we are the guests of our good allies and European Christians. We are invaded! It is very unfortunate indeed. Help us to get back again to our lovely homes. The Montenegrins are faithful, and they are grateful. You can see them always employed as guardians of banks and for rich people in the Orient ready to die for their masters. They are not used to sweep streets. It is below the dignity of a Montenegrin to do that kind of work. They work in the mines of America, and in time of peace there were in the United States about 35,000 doing the difficult work of miners, rather than to bow to what they call work below their dignity. Such is our race and we cannot help it. Whilst in Montreal I have heard a lovely American speaker, Mr. Beck of New York, who said: "After this war France, England and the United States, will stand together for civilization like the Moench Elger and the Jungfrau in Switzerland, three united peaks on the same rock." I wish to say that I know a mountain in Montenegro "The Dormitur" which is our highest mountain where the snow sleeps eternally and this mountain has more than three peaks: May I add to Mr. Beck's trio, Russia, who have given so many sons in the wars for Christianity and in this last war. Italy too is fighting for our cause, and any other country that wishes to join in the lovely symphony for the sake of peace and humanity will be welcomed. An orchestras is so much nicer than a trio.
We people owe to Gladstone and the English people a great deal. Let us owe you more. Gladstone, who is printed in our hearts in a speech in 1895 said: "In my deliberate opinion the traditions of Montenegro exceed in glory those of Marathon and Thermopylae and are the real traditions of the world."
We owe plenty to Russia, who has always kept us and has never abandoned us. We owe to France, who has also helped us. We owe to France the light and education that many of us have received and also the help we have received in this last war. We owe to Italy the motherly kindness shown to our refugees and the sympathy to our cause, and to America sympathy and help to our poor and wounded.
Now, gentlemen, I thank you for the honour of listening to my little speech. As you see, I am not an orator and the English language I have only studied lately. You are a great nation, and if you have an opportunity to help us some time in the near future to restore us to our homes, we will be very grateful to you. We have a number of refugees in Europe who are calling for bread. Bread has been the cry of our people in that lovely land now covered with snow, but snow that is no more white but red with blood. And if it was not for our Mother Russia, who for centuries has helped and protected us, the people of Montenegro would have undergone many times famine. Yes Russia has also saved Bulgaria from the Turkish barbarism as well as all the other Christian nations of the Balkans, an enormous sacrifice. But there are ungrateful peoples who have forgotten the past. At twilight you can see the peaks of Montenegro appearing like those of Switzerland, red and gold, but now they are red with the blood of my brethren who have died for the holy freedom and the allies' cause, who have died to free the Serbians of Bosnia and Herzegovina and other Slavs under the Austro-Hungarian yoke, and who have died for the holy cause of Christianity and humanity.
The eagles of Lovtchen have left the rocks; they fly from place to place in search of a shelter but they will return one day again because the barbarians cannot destroy what God has created, nor can they be masters of the world. Throughout Serbia and Montenegro there are no more smiles and songs of long past wars, so characteristic of our people, but now there is mourning and tears. I have said. A hearty vote of thanks was passed.