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The "Eastern Question" Index

Introduction
Big Power Ambitions in the Balkans

 

The Balkans and the Alliance System

The settlement of 1878 revealed the extent to which Germany was willing to support Austria-Hungary in its Balkan aggression. These two countries had come together in a Dual Alliance in 1879, and, joined by Italy in 1882, had formed a Triple Alliance. In the event of war, each of these important countries was prepared to help its allies.

Triple Alliance 1882

Triple Alliance 1882

Fear of Austro-Hungarian (and behind Austria-Hungary, Germany) ambitions in south-east Europe explains why Russia joined France in a military alliance in 1892. Europe had formed two hostile, and increasingly armed, blocs.

The Franco-Russian Alliance 1892

The Franco-Russian Alliance 1892

 

 

 

 

Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand

The Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand who was assassinated on 28th June 1914.

 

Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb student who assassinated the Crown Prince.

TWO CENTURIES OF REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE

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The "Eastern Question"

Treaty of Berlin 1878

To restore some order in the Balkans, Bismarck, the German Chancellor, was host to a Congress in 1878. It was decided that Serbia, like Rumania and Greece, would be independent. Bulgaria would become a state, but still officially remain in the Ottoman Empire. Similarly, Bosnia would become a state, but pass under Austrian rule. Russia acquired some Rumanian lands to keep it satisfied.

 

Treaty of Berlin 1878

Treaty of Berlin 1878

 

The Big Powers acquired something, (Britain got Cyprus), at Berlin but the Balkan peoples did not achieve any of their aims and remained bitter and aggressive, both towards the Turks and the Big Powers of Europe.

 

The Bosnian Crisis

At the beginning of the 20th century, as at the end of it, the most unstable country in Europe was Bosnia-Herzegovina. Unlike its neighbours, such as Serbia and Albania, Bosnia had never enjoyed freedom or independence on freeing itself from Turkish rule. (Bosnia, in fact, only became independent for the first time in 1992). From being Turkish, Bosnia had come under Austrian control in 1878.

In 1908, taking advantage of a crisis within the Turkish government in Constantinople, Austria-Hungary actually annexed Bosnia. It was now not only under Austrian control, but also actually a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Serbia was furious at the annexation. As in the 1990s Serbia considered itself the "older brother" of a large part of the Bosnian population (i.e. the Bosnian Serbs). Again, as in the 1990s, Russia was prepared to support Serbia in its "defence" of the Bosnians. Some Serbs even hoped to unite all the Slavic peoples south of the Danube in a new country: South Serbia or Yugoslavia.

 

A 1908 French cartoon

A 1908 French cartoon showing the Austrian Emperor and Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria removing parts of the Ottoman Empire.

 

The Balkan Wars and after

"The Sick Old Man" was nearly dead in Europe. In 1912, a group of countries formed the Balkan League (Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro). The Balkan League attacked Turkey and conquered its remaining European territories. Turkey was left with just the little toe-hold in Europe that can be seen on a modern map.

These victories led to a Second Balkan War in 1913 when the League fought amongst itself for the rewards just won. Serbia came out of this second war feeling particularly triumphant and aggressive. It was determined to win Bosnia from Austro-Hungary. However, the Austro-Hungarian Empire (supported by Germany) was in no mood to be intimidated by Serbia. On the contrary, it wanted to teach this troublesome little country a lesson. It hoped, in fact, to crush it completely if possible as punishment for stirring up Slav nationalist feelings on its frontiers.

Against this background the Austrian Crown Prince, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated on 28th June 1914 in the streets of Sarajevo, Bosnia, by a Bosnian Serb student. Within six weeks the entire continent would be at war.

 

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