Ottoman dominion

The Bulgarians hold their land on a system derived from the days of the Ottoman dominion. In Turkey, as in all Oriental countries, the Sultan is theoretically the absolute owner of all the land, over which he rules by the grace of Allah. In practice, he is a sort of ground landlord, whose tenants, subject to certain specified conditions, have a perpetual lease, which descends as a matter of law to their heirs. In Bulgaria the condition of tenure was that the lessees of the land had to pay one-tenth of the gross produce of their farms to the tax-collectors of the Government. In the event of default of payment of the tithe, or of the lands being left uncultivated for three consecutive years, or of the owner dying without legal heirs, the land reverted to the State. In the old days, this system paved the way for a great amount of abuse. Still in this, as in other matters, the Turks adhered loyally to any contract into which they had entered; and I gather that even under Mahommedan rule the Bulgarian peasantry had practically a good title to their lands.

Bulgaria became independent

When Bulgaria became independent, the State stepped into the place of the Sultan; and the old system of land tenure has not been materially modified. Taxation by tithes is, however, at the best, a very costly, cumbrous, and unsatisfactory arrangement In Turkish days the tithe was mainly paid in kind ; during the last few years, various, more or less successful, attempts have been made to substitute payment in cash for payment in kind. But these reforms have not made so much progress as might have been expected. Owing to the intense conservatism, characteristic of peasant communities, and to their profound distrust of any innovation, even if it can be shown to be conducive to their own advantage, payment in cash is viewed with scanty favour by the mass of the population. The tithe system tends to check improvement in agriculture or the employment of money in the development of the land. The farmer, as it is, pays one-tenth of his gross produce. If he raises crops valued at ten pounds, according to the market rates, he pays one pound as a tax to the treasury. But if he spends twenty pounds on manure or irrigation, and thereby raises the produce of his land to twenty pounds, he has to pay two pounds in the shape of taxes, without any deduction being made for the capital he has invested in the per-manent improvement of his lands. Thus the action of the tithe system actually augments the natural reluctance of an ignorant and thrifty community of peasant proprietors to spend money on improvements. In consequence, the Government are anxious to do away with the present mode of estimating the land-tax in proportion to the produce of each particular year, and to substitute for it a fixed rental, payable in coin, irrespective of the rise and fall in the amount of the year’s production. In other words, if the proposed changes should be carried out, the tenant will become a freehold owner, subject only to the payment of a yearly land-tax to the State, in virtue of a perpetual settlement.

 

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