Balkan Crisis


Balkan Crisis
(1875–1878, 1908–1913)
   A series of ethnic conflicts in southeastern Europe intertwined with imperialist aspirations of the great powers directly involved, that is, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire, plus those indirectly implicated, that is, Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy, which led to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Under the impact of national movements all over Europe since the mid-nineteenth century, Southern Slavs became politically sensitive to the ethnic, religious, and cultural nature of Ottoman Muslim rule. Nationalists believed that a national government would better suit their Slavic identity than a multiethnic empire, and they were also convinced that the European Great Powers would support their struggle for independence. The first Balkan crisis began with an anti-Ottoman uprising in the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina in July 1875. At first a peasant revolt against Ottoman taxation, Serbs, and Croats ultimately demanded outright freedom. Although there were several revolts in the Balkans in the first half of the nineteenth century - such as the Serbian uprising of 1804–1810, the Greek war of independence from 1821 to 1830, and the rebellions in Montenegro in the 1850s - from the 1860s onward national protest seized broad masses of illiterate rural, non-Turkic population. The European powers feared insoluble ethnic conflicts and aimed at a preservation of the Ottoman Empire. They also appreciated that the situation in the Balkans could trigger a larger war among them like the Crimean War of 1853–56. At first, no European power sought to interfere in the Bosnian conflict, but when Serbia threatened to declare war on the Ottomans in order to support Bosnian Serbs, Austria-Hungary feared a territorial expansion of Serbia in the region.
   This fear was not far-fetched. A Serbian minority lived in the southern regions of Hungary, and there was the danger that irredentism could spread from the Balkans to Hungary and expose the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to the same fate of progressive disintegration as the Ottoman Empire. Austria-Hungary therefore began consultations on the Bosnian question with Germany and Russia, the other members of the Three Emperors’ League. In the summer of 1876, the situation escalated when Serbia declared war on the Porte on June 30 and was joined by Montenegro on July 2. Great Britain feared military intervention of Russia on the Serbian side. At the international conference in Constantinople in December 1876, a truce was negotiated between Serbia and the Ottomans, but the Porte rejected a Great Power demand for inner reforms. In April 1877, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, beginning the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 in which Romania and Serbia became Russian allies. The war ended with the Treaty of San Stefano in February 1878. The Ottomans were forced to guarantee the autonomy of the Bulgarian principality, independence of Montenegro, Serbia, and Romania, and cede self-administration to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
   This provoked the resistance of Great Britain and Austria-Hungary. German chancellor Bismarck mediated between Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Russia to prevent a major war in the Balkans. The Treaty of Berlin, concluded in July 1878, approved the state independence of Serbia, Montenegro and Romania yet failed to define clearly the new borders in the Balkans, thereby fuelling further armed conflicts over the territorial question that culminated in the Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 1908. This in turn aggravated Austro-Serbian animosity and Austro-Russian antagonism. Three years later Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece founded the Balkan League that declared war on the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War and the Porte from the Balkan territory in 1913. Internal strife among the allies over the territorial division then brought on the Second Balkan War in 1913. Bulgaria had to give up her dream of a leading power in the Balkans, while Macedonia was divided between Serbia and Greece.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Albertini, Luigi. The Origins of the War of 1914. 3 vols. Translated by Isabella M. Massey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952;
    Glenny, Misha. The Balkans 1804-1999: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers. London: Granta Books, 1999;
    Lieven, D.C.B. Russia and the Origins of the First World War. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983.
   EVA-MARIA STOLBERG

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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