The Balkan Issue
The Balkan issue arose from the decline of the Ottoman Empire from the late 17th century and the power vacuum it created. Overlapping spheres of interest of the Great Powers and local nationalism made the Balkans a powder keg once central Europe became a power center with the unification of Italy and Germany in 1871.
The new national states in the Balkans are:
1) Greece in 1829
2) Serbia, Montenegro, Rumania in 1878
3) Bulgaria in 1885
4) Albania in 1913
Four series of conflicts in the Balkans marked the end of the Ottoman Empire in Europe:
1) The Bulgarian Crisis and the Russo-Turkish War (1877)
Nationalist uprisings in the
Balkans (Bosnia/Herzegovina in 1875, the Serbo-Turkish War of 1876)
were supported by Russia resulting in Russian victory, territorial
gains of Russia, and the formation of a large Bulgarian state in the
Treaty of San Stefano (March 1878).
To revoke the results of this treaty, the Great Powers summoned a conference to Berlin in June 1878 which resulted in
The division of Bulgaria into Bulgaria (autonomous but tributary principality), Eastern Rumelia (Turkish but internally autonomous), and Macedonia (Turkish)
The full independence of Serbia, Montenegro, and Rumania
Austria's occupation and administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Britain's lease of Cyprus
France's gain of Tunisia
Alienation between Germany and Russia
2) The Bulgarian Crisis (1885-87)
When Bulgarian nationalists established stronger links to Austria, the relations with Russia deteriorated (in 1883 Russian ministers and advisers were forced to resign, a liberal constitution was adopted, Bulgaria was to become a link in the planned Orient railway). In 1885 nationalists in Eastern Rumelia rose and demanded a merge with Bulgaria.
3) The Bosnian Annexation Crisis (1908)
The Bosnian annexation crisis became the “dress rehearsal” for 1914. After the military defeat in the Far East against Japan in 1904 Russia intensified its pressure in Europe. Austria's relations with Serbia deteriorated after the fall of a pro Austrian Obrenovich regime and its replacement by the pro Russian Karageorgevich regime in 1903, resulting in a short war between the two in 1905.
Austria saw two solutions to the Balkan problem:
The expansion of the Dual Monarchy into a Triple Monarchy where the southern Slavs would be the third pillar with the Germans and the Hungarians (resented by the Hungarians and by Serbia)
A preventive war to crush Serbia
Austria and Russia negotiated over their spheres of influence in the Balkans. As a result, Russia was to get the Straits while Austria was to annex Bosnia/Herzegovina. The crises mounted when Austria acted before Russia did. Russia, humiliated, pressured Serbia with aspirations to the territories to acknowledge the fait accompli, but decided not to let happen a similar thing again and began to prepare for war.
4) The Balkan Wars (1912/13)
An attempt at territorial aggrandizement of the new national states in the Balkans.
The First Balkan War (Oct. 1912 - May 1913)
The Balkan League (Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro) declared war on Turkey which lost all its European possessions in the Treaty of London (May 1913).
The Second Balkan War (June - Aug. 1913)
The war was a conflict over the spoils of the first war. In the Treaty of Bucharest (1913) Serbia was able to increase its population by 50%. However, with the creation of an independent Albania, Serbia's aspiration to gain access to the sea were fouled by Austria. The tensions between Austria and Serbia rose.