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CHAPTER XVIII

The Committee prepares the country for self rule—The Committee's Congress in Salonica—Reasons for its continued existence—Election of the secret Central Committee— The Greek ideal—Importance of Moslem supremacy— The Committee's election campaign—Propagandism in the theatre.

DURING the interregnum the most important task that had to be undertaken by the Committee of Union and Progress, and one that caused it a good deal of anxiety for a while, was the preparation of the country for the coming general election of the members of Turkey's new Parliament. It could not but be a dangerous experiment thus suddenly to give self-governing institutions to the ignorant Ottoman masses, who had endured thirty years of the worst of despotisms. It would naturally take long to make the peasantry understand that under the new order of things taxation would not be as it was under the old, that the money supplied by the people would be spent in reorganising and developing the country to their own great benefit. All that they knew of taxation was that it had been wrung from them to enrich the ruling clique, that Constantinople swallowed up the huge sums which were collected in every part of the Empire, and that little had been done for the people. It was difficult to convince them that taxation could possibly be for their own good. To quote from an article which appeared at the time in a Constantinople paper: “Persuasion in this case will be of no avail. Acts must precede arguments. Let works of public utility, roads, railways, harbours, irrigation canals, be undertaken at once. Let the police be organised. Let the troops in the provinces receive their pay and be given their proper clothing and equipment as in the capital.” If they beheld these changes, so advantageous to themselves, the people would no doubt gradually lose their profound distrust of everything connected with the administration of the State and realise that the sacrifices entailed by taxation might mean the return to the taxpayers, in the form of various benefits, of tenfold what they had contributed. When the elections did take place it was found that great numbers of the poorer and more ignorant peasants, though as taxpayers entitled to vote, refrained from exercising their right, for they suspected the needful registration of being in some way connected with the exaction of further taxation. In the meanwhile, people, prejudiced against all outward form of government and wholly ignorant of the elements of economics, suddenly found themselves the free electors of a representative assembly. Many people looked forward to the opening of the Parliament with grave misgivings. It is rankest heresy in these days to give utterance to such a sentiment, but one could not help thinking last autumn, when the result of the elections was still in doubt, that it might have been better to have continued the rule of the country for some time longer through a Ministry selected by the Young Turk oligarchy, and not to have conferred self-governing institutions on the people until these had been to some extent educated by the object-lessons of good government presented to them—the suppression of corruption, the efficiency of public departments, the bringing of prosperity to the wasted land, the wise expenditure on public works. But it had been decreed that the Parliament should meet as soon as possible, so the Committee of Union and Progress set itself to teach the electorate the duties of citizenship, to explain to them what constitutional government meant, and to employ its wide-reaching organisation to secure so strong a representation of its nominees in the Lower House as to give the Committee the control of affairs. The Young Turks were too wise to be over confident. They realised the difficulties and dangers before them. They knew that the reactionaries were intriguing everywhere and would seize their chance when they got it. The Young Turks remained on their guard,

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