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The "Eastern Question" Index

The Treaty of Berlin 1878
The Balkans and the Alliance System
The Bosnia Crisis
The Balkan Wars and After

History Chapters Main Index

 

The Balkans 1871

The Balkans 1871

 

The Balkans 1878

The Balkans 1878

 

The Balkans 1914

The Balkans 1914

 

 

TWO CENTURIES OF REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE

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The "Eastern Question"

The most sensitive corner of Europe is the extreme south-east, in and around the country that used to be called Yugoslavia.

Unlike in France or in Britain, the nation-state, that is a strong central government ruling undisputed over a single people, did not emerge five hundred years ago, but only within the last century, or even less. Unlike in western Europe, within the frontiers of Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria and Greece are peoples of different languages and religions who are not happy to be part of that country and who are sometimes prepared to fight for their independence.

All the eastern Mediterranean and south-east Europe in the 18th century had belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Little by little, encouraged by other Big Powers of Europe, the Ottoman peoples shook off Turkish rule, sometimes to become French or British colonies, sometimes to become part of the Austrian Empire or the Russian Empire and, sometimes, to become completely independent. Turkey was the "sick old man of Europe", dying and having its possessions divided up by its avid neighbours.

 

Big Power Ambitions in the Balkans

By 1878, Greece and Rumania (see map) had managed to gain independence from the Turks. Five years later Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria also rose in rebellions against Muslim Turkey. Supporting them was Russia, coming to the aid of fellow Slav peoples in their quest for independence.

Russia's help to its fellow Slav and Orthodox brothers in Bulgaria and Serbia was not looked upon with sympathy by the rest of Europe. Was Russia really fighting for their independence from a corrupt and oppressive ruler, or was Russia simply more interested in extending its own frontiers and influence towards the Mediterranean? Russia had always had ambitions to, one day, use a Mediterranean port, perhaps to take Constantinople, the Ottoman capital, itself.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, particularly, distrusted Russian "friendliness" to the Balkan peoples. The Austrians had their own ambitions. They also wanted a Mediterranean port, looking at Salonika as a possibility.

France and Britain were exasperated with Turkey and tried to encourage the Sultans to reform and modernise their empire, so that subject peoples would not rebel. They wanted Turkey to allow religious freedom, to have equality before the law, to abolish torture and end corruption. They were not against the Ottoman Empire breaking up, but they did object to Russia and Austria gaining important territories in the eastern Mediterranean. This could upset the trade routes to India and challenge France's position in the Middle East.

 

 

 

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