Balkan troubles1

The so-called Eastern Question had been a political topic throughout the nineteenth century in European politics. Russian expansion at the expense of the Ottoman Empire was increasingly feared. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire seemed ever more likely. At the same time, Eastern European nationalities grew self aware and looked to Russia as the idea of a pan-slavic identity expanded. Especially, the Hungarians had embraced an aggressive policy of Magyarization, which required the speaking of Magyar to be involved in Hungarian political life. Magyarization created especially hatred among the Slavic peoples, who looked to Russia. While Russia and Austria had agreed to maintain the status quo on the Balkans in 1897, the agreement did not last. Especially, Serbia demanded territorial changes to bring the Serbian population of the Austrian Empire into Serbia. In 1906, Austria and Serbia fought an economic war, the so-called Pig War,in which Austria prohibited the import of Serbian pork. Two years later, the Bosnia Crisis raised the specter of war when Austria formally occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was obvious that the Balkans would sooner or later cause some kind of conflict between Russia and Austria. To profit from Ottoman instability, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece formed the Balkan League. They went to war in the First Balkan War in 1912. After one month, the league emerged victorious, gaining territory from the Ottoman Empire. Feeling under compensated, Bulgaria went to war with Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Turkey in the Second Balkan War. Defeated quickly, the Peace of Bucharest cut down Bulgaria’s territory and pushed the country into an alliance with Austria and Germany. With Serbia increasingly the firebrand in the region, a violent nationalist organization emerged to force the Serbian government to promote the notion of a Greater Serbia. On June 28, 1914, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand visited Sarajevo with his wife Sophie. Ferdinand sympathized with the South Slavs but he also symbolized Austrian autocracy. Upon his arrival, a bomb exploded under his car. After a brief speech, Ferdinand’s motorcade got entangled in the narrow streets of Sarajevo. As the car stopped, terrorist Gavrilo Princip killed both the archduke and his wife.

By Dr. Niels Eichhorn