The Long View - 09/07/2012
Jonathan Freedland compares the debate about international intervention in Syria today with the brutal Ottoman suppression of the Bulgarian uprising of 1876.
The Great powers are at loggerheads over what to do about Syria. The opinion of the western powers lead by the United states and Britain is that, on the strength of the reports coming in of atrocities committed against innocent civilians, something has to be done. Opposing that is the Russian view that to encourage or even condone regime change is to destabilise the region without any real idea of what might happen in the aftermath.
Back in 1876 the debate was similarly uncomfortable when vivid news reports came in of the terrible violence meted out by the Ottoman authorities after an uprising in the land that now constitutes modern Bulgaria. Thousands of people were killed, women and children among them. And all this, recorded in detail, was available to readers of the London Evening News. Back then it was the Russians who demanded that 'something must be done' while the British Prime Minster Benjamin Disraeli first played down the atrocities and then tried to caution against intervention. His old opponent William Gladstone, inspired by a national reaction to the atrocities, added his voice to those who demanded action in the form of a famous pamphlet 'Bulgarian Horrors and the question of the East' . When the Russians attacked the Turks Disraeli threatened to join on the Ottoman side. The result was the treaty of San Stefano and subsequently the congress of Berlin with Bulgaria gaining a degree of autonomy while the other great powers took the opportunity of dismantling part of the Ottoman empire for their own gains, Britain took control of Cyprus.
But did this re-shaping of the Balkans deliver long term 'peace with honour' as Disraeli had claimed, or was it yet another example of Liberal intervention assuaging national consciences but creating dangerous instability in the process. Lord Ashdown, John Baron MP and Professor Robert Service are on hand to take the Long View of Liberal Intervention.