Letter: History's lessons on Turkish intervention

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The Independent Online
Sir: In your editorial 'A proper role for Turkey in Bosnia' (8 March) you write that before Austria took over in 1878 'the Ottomans ruled Bosnia with 120 officials', but that subsequently, 'Viennese bureaucracy required 9,533'. You imply that this self-evidently reflects credit upon Turkey.

Leaving aside the important distinction between the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, this is not the case.

The Ottoman Empire required comparatively few civilian officials because it provided little in the way of services. In the events leading up to the Austrian takeover a demand the Sultan could not bring himself to accept was to apply direct taxes, locally levied in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the local needs of the provinces.

The Austrians, on the other hand, imposed a modern 19th-century colonial administration, investing in roads and bridges, combatting tuberculosis and malaria, and introducing improved animal breeds, steel sloughs, irrigation, and protection of forests.

A British visitor to Bosnia in 1906, M Edith Durham, remarked: 'The officials . . . give the impression of being overworked,' and 'The large majority (of officials) were Slavs.' Admittedly 'Everything was centralised . . .' and 'They wrestled with a mass of detail'. (M. Edith Durham, Twenty Years of the Balkan Tangle, 1920.)

Yours faithfully,


Horsham, Sussex

9 March