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The Foreign Office at least must have been well informed about King Constantine's demeanour, for there is reason to believe that it is represented at Athens by a thoroughly efficient staff. We cannot know, and possibly for many years to come we shall not be allowed to know, the contents of Viscount Grey's despatches to Sir Francis Elliot. But after taking every known factor into consideration, we are justified in thinking that his general attitude was one of excessive caution and credulity. It is a curious irony, illustrating the dangers of manufactured opinion, that Viscount Grey, the unscrupulous imperialist of socialistic pamphleteers, the vulturine schemer of German caricatures, should be in reality a man of morbid timidity, who spent most of his time at the Foreign Office telling his subordinates to be careful. Such at least is the conclusion to which we are led by the only evidence that is accessible to the ordinary citizen.
It must be understood that any attempt to give an account of the attitude of the Foreign Office in face of the Athenian situation depends mainly on inferences and personal impressions. Anyone who has read through two or three collections of State Papers will have in his head the wonderfully inconclusive rhythm which is one of the proudest traditions of our diplomacy, and will be able to imagine Viscount Grey's instructions couched in that familiar instrument of non-committal, the conditional statement of fact, which gradually evaporates altogether in a series of qualifications. This picture of the optimistic and therefore obstructive character of the Foreign Office under Viscount Grey is supported by the fact that our most drastic intervention at Athens prior to the ist of December - our ultimatum of June 21, when we demanded demobilisation and a general election—had the appearance of being quite unintentional, for the naval blockade seems to have been enforced two or three days before the ultimatum was delivered. It is further supported by the fact that both General Sarrail and Admiral du Fournet seem from time to time, usually at the wrong moment, to have taken matters into their own hands. Reviewing the series of incomplete or half-hearted ultimatums which have alternated with assurances of benevolence during the last twelve months, one gets a picture of some strong
personality among our representatives at Athens occasionally galvanising the Alliance into decided action before being once more entangled in the slow-dropping veils of diplomatic qualification, or even daring to act on his own initiative, and being suddenly reminded from Downing Street that he must not hurt the feelings of a King who, to quote a phrase used by the Speaker of the House of Commons, 'is at present neutral, ‘and who must be treated as a Sovereign of a friendly State.'
In any case it cannot be denied that after M. Venizelos, relying on our protection, had left Athens and put himself at the head of the Provisional Government at Salonica, we not only refused to give his government any official recognition, but we actually assured King Constantine that the movement of National Defence should not be allowed to spread beyond the narrow limits assigned to it. We gave King Constantine this assurance gratuitously, on the pretext of avoiding civil war in Greece, in spite of the fact that Venizelos had repeatedly denied that the movement had any designs against the Throne. There is yet another reason for regarding Viscount Grey as principally responsible for the periodical mist of conciliation and apology which seems to have risen between Sir Francis Elliot and King Constantine-namely the remarkable analogy that exists between our credulous year at Athens and our credulous year at Sofia before Bulgaria entered the war. Of the negotiations at Sofia in 1915 it has been said that Viscount Grey, being a perfect gentleman, judged the Bulgarians by his own honour and thought them incapable of bargaining with England if they were already bound to Germany. It is, to say the least, tempting to suppose that in the following year Viscount Grey judged King Constantine by the same standard.
It will be naturally objected that it is unfair to make England, in the person of Viscount Grey, responsible for the collective bargaining of the Allied Powers. This in effect was the plea repeated by Lord Robert Cecil in the House of Commons in answer to the devoted band of Philhellenes * who attempted to defend the interests of Venizelos and to elicit the cause of the extraordinary tenderness shown to King Constantine. Lord Robert seemed to affirm with an air
* Notably Commander Bellairs, Sir Edwin Cornwall, Mr. Dillon, Dr. Lynch, and Mr. Ronald McNeill.
of injured innocence that there was no such thing as British policy, its place having been taken for the duration of the war by the policy of the Allies; and that his own function was merely to describe that policy, not to defend it or to ' discuss whether that policy was a good or a bad one'perhaps the most extraordinary words ever uttered in the House of Commons by a member of the Executive. Such a theory of partnership would, if upheld, put the conduct of an ex hypothesi democratic war into the control of the least democratic partner; and it might easily be extended so as to allow a minister to disclaim responsibility for his own department on the ground that he was only one member of a collectively responsible Cabinet. It might be observed incidentally that Lord Robert Cecil would have done better to apply the principle of separate and distinct responsibilities, enunciated by himself only a few days before, when, in speaking of the relation of the Executive to the House of Commons, he implied that the Cabinet were responsible for the conduct of the war, and the House of Commons only for the result; this might have led him to conclude that each member of an alliance has a separate function for which he is individually responsible, and that consequently diplomats, like generals, can co-operate without losing their independence. Leaving this theoretical point on one side, it is certain that British policy in Greece must have had no little influence on the policy of the Alliance : and if, as Lord Robert was careful to explain, the Allies were in complete agreement, there can be no reason why British Ministers should escape full responsibility.
The apparently evasive answers of Lord Robert Cecil gave the unfortunate impression that some secret influence was at work to protect King Constantine, and this naturally gave life to many fantastic rumours of 'dynastic 'interference. They are worth mentioning, because rumours, such is their nature, die as soon as they are printed; and as this war is largely the outcome of Prussian autocracy, it is proper that there should be no suspicion of monarchical interference on our own side. Let us confess then that it was whispered around London that King Constantine was a monarch, and that the Russian Court would forbid any European monarchy to be imperilled ; that King Constantine was a nephew, and that some member of our own Royal Family might be sorry, out of mere family affection, to see him humiliated; that even the French Premier
might have a tender spot for a King whose brother was married to a French princess and had made his home in Paris. It will be noticed that each of the Three Powers in turn could be plausibly made responsible for the general hesitation. None of these ingenious inventions deserves a moment's credence. Yet so studiously mysterious were the official pronouncements that one could almost believe that Cabinet Ministers were inclined to encourage these suburban stories of family feeling so that their own incompetence might be covered up by the legend of royal and extraneous influences.
As an example of official methods the reader may be reminded that the Foreign Office professed to be deeply shocked when they learned that Miss Hobhouse-a lady whose offence consisted in believing, with Spinoza, that hatred ought in all circumstances to be discouraged—had entered Germany and interviewed a German official ; although the report of her experiences was not published till after her return to England, and might therefore, if it really endangered the Defence of the Realm, have been suppressed by the censor. Yet, the Foreign Office apparently saw no objection to the grand tours of King Constantine's brothers. Prince George of Greece was even received at the Foreign Office before he left London for Berlin.
Incidents like these, though doubtless intrinsically unimportant, served to distract public attention from the real reason of diplomatic delay, and also increased that delay by distracting diplomatic attention from Athens, which should always have remained the centre of Allied policy in the Balkans. The final reason for the inefficiency of Allied diplomacy in Greece, for its uncertainty and frequent retractations, was the necessity of consulting three or four different governments before any decisive action could be taken by the ministers at Athens who alone knew what action was required. King Constantine knew perfectly well that whatever he did nothing could happen to him until at least sixteen different men in four different capitals had written to each other and received satisfactory replies. Sir Francis Elliot can do nothing until he has consulted the Foreign Office, and the Foreign Office can do nothing until it has consulted individually and collectively each of our numerous Allies. As an example of the contemptible consequences of this centrifugal diplomacy it is sufficient to record that on December 1 King Constantine - for his complicity is not denied-shot down in cold blood with hidden machine-guns the detachments of French and British marines which Admiral du Fournet, in a last attempt to enforce Greek neutrality, had sent to occupy certain prearranged points of the Greek capital. Yet, until a fortnight after the event, no joint ultimatum was presented by the Allies and, beyond the automatic proclamation of a blockade, no united policy had been determined. During that fortnight King Constantine, in wireless communication with Berlin, was mobilising his army, while his hooligans of the Reservists' League (which was long ago' dissolved ') had shot or imprisoned without trial anyone who professed Liberal opinions, had looted and burned and tortured, and his journalists had continued, by methods which included the crudest forgery of incriminating documents, to urge the complete extirpation of the democratic party and the democratic Powers.
The necessity for united action is, and always must be, an impediment to the diplomacy of an alliance :* and this impediment could only have been minimised by a centripetal system which would have concentrated power in the hands of Sir Francis Elliot, so as to allow him to act on the spot in concert with his diplomatic colleagues, and especially by delegating the authority of the alliance to the three members who were peculiarly qualified to act in Greek affairs. It seems clear, however, from Lord Robert Cecil's references to the policy of the * Allies,' that no action was taken at Athens by the Three Protecting Powers as such, and that every step in the negotiations required the approval and co-operation of Italy and, for all we know, of Belgium, Portugal, Serbia, and Japan.
The inclusion of Italy in these negotiations complicated the situation, for the knowledge of Italy's territorial ambitions in the Near East was quite sufficient to antagonise a portion of the Greek population. There can be no object in pretending to ignore this unfortunate result, for a considerable section of the Italian press had made no attempt to conceal a hostile attitude to Greece and to many Greek claims. That section
* In 1862, for example, to refer to a case in which all the correspondence has been published, it took a full month of negotiation before Earl Russell and Prince Gortchakoff could decide to make a collective declaration at Athens on a principle which both were equally determined to uphold, namely the exclusion from the Greek throne, according to the Protocol of 1830, of all members of the reigning families of the Protecting Powers.