A martyr to duty and friendship, Januarius Aloysius MacGahan, the most brilliant journalist of the XlXth century, visited Bulgaria in July and August of the memorable year of 1876, when he wrote his famous reports on the Bulgarian uprising, reports which were to enter the annals of world journalism as epoch-making documents and classical models. These reports had an unprecedented circulation and influence. The Bulgarian national revolution, vividly and inimitably illuminated by his pen, stirred public opinion in Europe and demonstrated to the whole world the Bulgarian people's right to freedom and independence.
Born on 12 June 1844 near New Lexington, Ohio, USA, of Irish parentage, Januarius MacGahan began his schooling in America, continued it in Europe, and studied law at Brussels University. On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, he set out for the battlefields as correspondent of the «New York Herald». Following his baptism of fire as a war correspondent, his life was to be one of constant encounters with difficulties and danger. In 1871, he found himself in the midst of the gunfire of the Commune of Paris. Throughout this brief but heroic episode, MacGahan was the only newspaper correspondent on the scene — the witness, participant and chronicler of the Commune. Five years later in Bulgaria, at Panagurishte, he was to be filled with passionate admiration for the Bulgarian insurgents, who, for him, had much in common with the Paris communards. But meanwhile the tempering of his character continues in Russia. In 1873, in defiance of the ban imposed by the tsarist government, he reached the Russian army in Turkestan and sent despatches to the «New York Herald» on Russian military operations in Asia. MacGahan's descriptions of the capitulation of Khiva (« Campaigning on the Oxus, and the Fall of Khiva ») are considered to be masterpieces of military journalism. Whether in Cuba or Spain, in England or France, or within the Arctic circle on the « Pandora » expedition (« Under the Northern lights »), MacGahan always upheld the highest ideals of his time and raised a strong voice in the defense of Man. In 1876, after the doyen of the British press « The Times », through fear of the progressive attitude reflected in his articles, refused him a post on the newspaper, MacGahan welcomed the campaign of the London newspaper « Daily News » on behalf of the Bulgarian people and rendered invaluable service to that cause. A year later, after joining the Russian army, he formed a sincere friendship with General Skobelev and General Gurko and took part in all major battles for the liberation of Bulgaria. His descriptions of the battles of Plevna and Shipka remain outstanding examples of journalism. Despite a broken ankle, he was continuously present at operations on the front throughout the Russo-Turkish war. Near Istanbul, exhausted, he contracted typhoid fever whilst caring for his companion in arms and died on 9 June 1878 at the age of 34, thus linking his destiny with the liberation of the Bulgarian people.
The reports on the April uprising came as a result of the conflict which sprang up between the British government and the leaders of the liberal « Daily News » (Frank Hill, chief editor). Famous for its well organized foreign service, the « Daily News » published on the 23rd and the 30th of June 1876 a series of letters from Edween Pears, correspondent in Constantinople, referring to the monstrous atrocities in Bulgaria. These aroused doubts amongst the British public about the government's policy with regard to the Balkan area. To appease an excited public clamouring for more exhaustive information and to refute the accusations of the government, the editorial board of the « Daily News » decided to conduct an inquiry on its own behalf and sent out a special commissioner to Bulgaria. No journalist was ever more suited to such a mission as was MacGahan. He arrived in Philippopolis on July 23rd and immediatly set about his task. On the other hand, the British government instructed Sir Henry Elliot, ambassador to Constantinople, to head an official inquiry, and Walter Baring, secretary of the Legation, was given the task. At the suggestion of Dr. George Washburn, director of Robert College, the American plenipotentiary minister Maynard decided in his turn to inquire into the atrocities and entrusted the General-consul Eugene Schuyler, a well-known expert of his time on Russian foreign policy, with this third fact-finding expedition. The result was three parallel investigations led respectively by MacGahan, Schuyler and Baring. Schuyler and Baring (the latter escorted by Guaracino, an official at the British consular service and self-avowed philo-turk) became the diplomatic satellites of the young journalist, and if Schuyler's report published on August 28th, was accepted as a competent confirmation of MacGahan's accounts, the British diplomat refuted the conclusions he had previously been instructed to draw.
MacGahan's method of investigation is that of direct contact with the reality of the situation. In this relation is shown the intense humanism and combative attitude of the author in the face of all that is humiliating and a defiling of humanity. The principal figure in these reports is the martyred Bulgarian people and the Bulgarian soil, charred and bloodsoaked by the Turkish secular tyrant. At Panagurishte, on the fortifications stained with blood, in the church at Batak, transformed into a horrible graveyard, before the heaped human skulls, amidst the crowds of widows and orphans, flocking beneath a moaning wafting heavenwards, amidst the witnesses of unseen human exploit of honor in Perustitsa, MacGahan followed in the wake of the insurgents and fulfilled the duty imposed on him by his conscience. With a flag all is possible! Before the banner of the revolution fallen bespattered and torn into the hands of the enemy, MacGahan took his stand in defense of the victims. The descriptions of human remains, burning homes, the blanket of clouds in flame beneath the Bulgarian sky, the half buried corpse with a bouquet carefully placed in its mouth, the mournful cries of the Bulgarian mother, wailing at the loss of her sons, their wives and their children, the horror-stricken girls, the little Bulgarian babes impaled on bayonets — oh, destiny, so much bitterness and blood cannot be endured and borne in silence! To what avail the long meditations on mankind and the structure of his society? The cries, the moans, the wrath become a concerted hymn of liberty, founded in bloodshed, yet immortal. There is no capacity for human horrors. Faced by the atrocities inflicted upon the Bulgarian people, human values crumble into dusty irrelevance. From this moment, the consuming curiosity of the American journalist, the mutinous blood of the Irishman, the acute judgment of the Englishman, the exalted spirit of the French communard, the sensibility of the Slavophil are combined in one international genius which in turn is united with the ideals and sentiments of the Bulgarian people. MacGahan hunts down the facts, confronts them, and shows from an objective point of view the interrelationship of the various incidents of the April uprising. However, he presents those facts which are most widely representative of the whole episode in order to extract and demonstrate the profound meaning of the events. Thus, by way of a documentation of the events in their true perspective, and in so doing revealing simultaneously the power of his logic and the historical proof of his writings, MacGahan seeks to open the dimensions of the future and smashes the political, moral and religious prejudices of the epoch.
Written with a polemic passion, harmoniously blending feeling with logic, in the eruptive style that results from the excitement and energy generated by controlled thoughts, with all the epithets, the metaphors, the questioning and exclamatory sentences, with all the catch-words and the landscape details, MacGahan's work recreates the moving scenes and characters within an intense atmosphere which reveals the author's deep psychological insight of the heroic days of the April uprising.
In the context of the shrieking blood of the revolution, the governments and state institutions of the epoch found caricatures of themselves bearing an uncanny resemblance to reality. MacGahan openly accused the great European powers which, under the pretence of protecting the Balkan peoples, followed a demagogic policy of conquest. MacGahan delivered a revocatory, frontal attack on the British prime-minister Disraeli and his foreign minister Lord Derby, who represented the main political support for the criminal and corrupt Turkish government. MacGahan revealed clearly that the Turkish government and the landlords could no longer cling to their power, and that the time for the higher strata of Turkish society to abandon its traditional style of living has long since been at hand. The progress of the people both on the Bulgarian and on the Turkish side is objectively conditioned. In the existing revolutionary situation the network of Bulgarian revolutionary committees gave way to exculpated fighting actions. MacGahan demonstrated how the conception of territorial integrity for Turkey and the preserving of the «status quo» are essentially incompatible. He denounced the mass slaughters as a means of solving the national question and exercised a strong influence in the consequent changes in Russian and British foreign policies.
MacGahan's reports are the instigator of that powerful movement known as the Bulgarian agitation which developed in England throughout 1876 and marked the most profoundly democratic display in the secular annals of English history. All internal and external political life in England in 1876 had the April uprising as its prime mover. The Queen, Parliament, government, political parties, church, intelegentsia, large sections from the mass of the population, particularly from the working class, surged together on protest over the question of attitude towards Bulgaria.
Scattered over England and the whole of Europe, MacGahan's reports contributed to create out of the April uprising a process testing the political and moral conscience of the epoch. In that above all else consists the supreme importance of these pages stained with blood.
Theodore Delchev Dimitrov
SUPPLEMENT: COVERING-PAGE FROM "THE TURKISH ATROCITIES IN BULGARIA".
Source: Januarius A. MacGahan. The Turkish Atrocities in Bulgaria. Geneva: n. p., 1966 (original title - The Bulgarian Atrocities: "Daily News" Special Inquiry)