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by Steven W. Sowards

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Table of contents

TOPIC 1: Defining the "Balkans:" An other Europe

Lecture No. 1: Introduction to the course: The geography and ethnic geography of the Balkans to
Lecture No. 2: "Asia begins at the Landstrasse:" Comparing Eastern European and European

TOPIC 2: The "Old Regimes" in the Balkans before 1790

Lecture No. 3: The principles of Ottoman rule in the Balkans
Lecture No. 4: Hungary and the limits of Habsburg authority

TOPIC 3: The earliest national revolutions, 1804-1830

Lecture No. 5: The Serbian Revolution and the Serbian state
Lecture No. 6: The Greek Revolution and the Greek state

TOPIC 4: The Revolution of 1848 and its legacy

Lecture No. 7: Nationalism in Hungary, 1848-1867
Lecture No. 8: National revival in Romania, 1848-1866

TOPIC 5: The impact of the wider world: Economic, social, political

Lecture No. 9: Economic and social changes in Balkan life
Lecture No. 10: The Great Powers and the "Eastern Question"

TOPIC 6: The failure of change from above: Reform in Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina
Lecture No. 11: Macedonia and the failure of Ottoman reforms
Lecture No. 12: Bosnia-Hercegovina and the failure of reform in Austria-Hungary

TOPIC 7: Balkan nationalisms: Serbia and Greece

Lecture No. 13: Serbian nationalism from the "Nacertanije" to the Yugoslav Kingdom
Lecture No. 14: Greek nationalism, the "Megale Idea" and Venizelism to 1923

TOPIC 8: World War I: Causes and legacies

Lecture No. 15: The Balkan causes of World War I
Lecture No. 16: The legacies of 1917 and 1919

TOPIC 9: Limitations of Western models in the interwar period

Lecture No. 17: Nation without a state: The Balkan Jews
Lecture No. 18: Balkan politics drifts to the Right

TOPIC 10: Balkan politics during World War II

Lecture No. 19: The traditional regimes and the challenge of Nazism: Collaboration vs. resistance
Lecture No. 20: The traditional regimes and the challenge of Communism: Patriotism vs.

TOPIC 11: The coming of the Cold War

Lecture No. 21: Forging the Iron Curtain in the Balkans, 1944-1956

TOPIC 12: The Balkans in the age of bi-polar politics

Lecture No. 22: Balkan politics in the Cold War years
Lecture No. 23: Social and economic change in the Balkans

TOPIC 13: Explaining the revolutions of the 1980s

Lecture No. 24: The failure of Balkan Communism and the causes of the Revolutions of 1989
Lecture No. 25: The Yugoslav civil war
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 1: Geography and ethnic geography of the Balkans to 1500

One can't understand the Balkans without understanding its ethnic groups, and one can't
understand the ethnic groups and their history without knowing the influence of the region's

Even the geographic extent of the "Balkan" region is a matter of controversy. Many scholars,
especially those writing in the Cold War era, have included only the Communist states and linked
them with Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany, while omitting Greece and ignoring Turkey
and the Ottoman era. Other historians exclude Hungary, Croatia and other Habsburg lands, because
of their "central" European character, supposedly contrary to Balkan themes. But the presence of
contradictory themes is itself characteristically Balkan.

For the purposes of this course of lectures, the Balkan area includes Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia,
Romania, Albania and Hungary. Most of this area was once under Ottoman Turkish rule; the rest
under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The lectures will not deal with all of the Ottoman Empire, which
extended into Asia and Africa, or other former Habsburg lands such as Czechoslovakia and parts of

Physical geography

Balkan geography revolves around three features: the area's situation as a peninsula, its
mountains, and its rivers.


[Clicking here will display a general reference map of Europe -- including the Balkans, with physical
features and 1999 borders -- in another browser window, while leaving this lecture text in the
original browser window.]

The Balkan region is a triangular peninsula with a wide northern border, narrowing to a tip as it
extends to the south. The Black, the Aegean, the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Seas surround it;
they have served as both barriers and entry points. Unlike some peninsulas, the Balkan area has
not been physically isolated from nearby regions. In the northeast, Romania is exposed to the
steppe regions of the Ukraine, an easy invasion route from prehistoric times to the present. In the
northwest, the valley of the Danube and the flat Hungarian plain are easy points of entry. Most (but
not all) of the ethnic groups in the region entered by one of these paths.

While it is surrounded on three sides by water, the peninsula is not cut off from neighboring regions
to the east, west or south. To the east, the narrow straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles are
a natural pathway between the Balkans and Anatolia, and Asia beyond. To the west, the Italian
peninsula is only forty miles away across the Adriatic from Albania, and influence from that direction
has been another constant. Finally, the Aegean and Mediterranean islands to the south are stepping
stones to the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt. Not surprisingly, the Balkan region has been a
crossroads for traffic passing to and from all these destinations.

The mountains which divide the region are a prominent internal physical characteristic. The region
takes its name from the "Balkan" mountain range in Bulgaria (from a Turkish word meaning "a
chain of wooded mountains"). On a larger scale, one long continuous chain of mountains crosses the
region in the form of a reversed letter S, from the Carpathians south to the Balkan range proper,
before it marches away east into Anatolian Turkey. On the west coast, an offshoot of the Dinaric
Alps follows the coast south through Dalmatia and Albania, crosses Greece and continues into the
sea in the form of various islands.

The first effect of these mountains is to divide the region into small units within which distinct ethnic
groups have been able to sustain themselves. This area, a little smaller in size than France and
Germany or the states of Texas and Oklahoma, is home to a dozen or more prominent ethnic

Second, the mountains have been physical obstacles, hampering efforts at regional combination,
whether political, economic or cultural. The ethnic groups have tended toward distinct national
cultures, local economies and political autonomy.

Third, the mountains have subdivided every district into vertical ecological zones, ranging from
more valuable lowland farming areas to less valuable wooded or rocky uplands. This variety of
ecological niches supports various cultures in close proximity: traders, farmers, transhumant
herders, forest dwellers. In general, the higher up the zone, the less productive the land, and so the
upper regions of the mountains act as places of exile and refuge for defeated ethnic groups expelled
from more desirable coast and valley lands. In general, then, the mountain features of the Balkans
have contributed to the continued fragmentation of human groups in the area.

The rivers of the region are short; their influence is usually local, with one exception. The small
rivers of the area typically rise in coastal mountains and drop into the nearest sea after a short
course. They are too small to carry water traffic; instead they cut ravines that block travel along the
coasts. The great exception is the Danube. It enters from the northwest, passes through the
Hungarian plain, skirts the south Slavic states, and exits through Romania into the Black Sea on the
east. Despite its size, the Danube also fails to be a source of regional integration. Several factors
prevent easy use of the Danube for regular communication and trade: low water in the summer,
marshes obstructing access to the river bank, the narrow passage of the Iron Gates between Serbia
and Romania (fully opened to shipping by modern engineering techniques only in 1896), and the
tendency of the Black Sea delta to silt up. Instead, the Danube acts to introduce outside influences.
The western reaches of the river point to the German world; the eastern reaches lead to a dead end
in the Black Sea, and leave travel at the mercy of Russia and Turkey. The Danube serves the needs
of powerful external forces far more than it helps the internal needs of the Balkan peoples. Like the
mountains, the Balkan rivers have done little to foster unity in the area.

Ethnic geography

The Balkans have been inhabited since prehistoric times. but today's ethnic groups descend from
Indo-European migrants or ethnic groups that arrived in historical times. The pre-Indo-European
inhabitants left little behind except for archaelogical remnants and a few place names (like Knossos
on the island of Crete).

Knowledge of the area's national and ethnic groups is fundamental to Balkan history: they are the
alphabet, the periodic table of elements. At a minimum this means recognizing a dozen major ethnic
groups, where they live (now and in the past), and how their religions, languages and cultures
compare and interconnect.


[Clicking here will display a map indicating major ethnic groups in the Balkans in another browser
window, while leaving this lecture text in the original browser window.]

Placing these ethnic groups on the map in the order in which they came to the region is a simple
way to introduce them. It has the virtues of the chronological and helps explain how some later
arrivals affected their neighbors.

Unfortunately the early history of some groups is incomplete and the evidence is controversial. The
question of who has lived where, when and for how long is critical for several modern political and
territorial disputes. The story of the Albanians illustrates these points about evidence, and the
controversies about its use.

The Albanians
The Albanians, or more accurately their ancestors the Illyrians, "appeared" in the western Balkans
around 1200 BC (or BCE, Before Christian Era). More precisely, we can say that around 1200 BC the
archaeological record shows a "discontinuity," a significant break in material culture during a short
span of time. Objects left in graves and the structure of grave sites changed. Nineteenth century
writers explained this (and similar events, especially among the Greeks) by describing supposed
waves of Indo-European invaders: men, women and children travelling in wagons out of the
steppes, driving their herds before them and wiping out the existing population. Modern scholars
argue for scenarios with less drama. Alterations in burials can mean a total change in population,
but they can also mean that an existing population adopted new customs, with or without the
arrival of large numbers of new people. For example, future archaelogists should not see the sudden
appearance of Japanese VCRs in late twentieth century American landfills as evidence of migration
or invasion, but only of trade and cultural contact. The same thing is true in Balkan prehistory. In
1200 BC, people in the Western Balkans took up the cultural practices that we call "Illyrian". Some
new people probably entered the area, and some of the old population probably remained.

After 1200 BC, classical Greek records describe the Illyrians as a non-Greek people to the north and
west. The Illyrians left no "historic" or written records of their own. We have to use linguistic and
archaeological evidence to trace their story. Based on this evidence, scholars will say that the
Illyrians inhabited the region which today makes up Albania and the former Yugoslavia. Their
descendants have remained in the mountains of present-day Albania continuously since 1200 BC:
today's Albanians are in fact linked to the Illyrians. In the rest of former Illyria, other peoples took
their place.

Albanian is an Indo-European language, but one without relatives; it is believed to be the only
surviving language descended from ancient Illyrian. The linguistic evidence is not simple. Modern
Albanian is obviously very different from the language of its neighbors, but we have nothing written
in the language before the year 1555 of the Christian era, unlike Greek and the Slavic languages,
for which we have classical and/or medieval writings dating back to a very early period. Direct
linguistic descent is easy to trace in those kinds of records, but not for Illyrian/Albanian. The
linguistic evidence here relies on fields like "onomastics", the study of place names and the names
for everyday objects, and complex reasoning from meagre facts.

Archaeology is the second source for Albanian prehistory. Scholars can trace a continuous evolution
of burial goods, ornamentation on costumes, and cultural practices (deduced from material
remains) from 1200 BC forward to the historic Middle Ages. Based on that, and on the lack of
recorded migration to the area by other groups, scholars believe the Illyrians became the modern

The Albanians today number about five million. Three and a half million live within Albania, another
1.7 million in the adjacent Kosovo region of Serbia, and half a million in the new state known as the
"Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." Historically most Albanians have been Muslim since the
time of the Ottoman conquest, with Eastern Orthodox and smaller Catholic minorities. The Kosovo
region is a good example of competing historical claims to Balkan lands. Kosovo is a region of great
cultural significance for Serbia, the site of important medieval events. At the same time, it has a
majority Albanian population today, and the Illyrian evidence says that proto-Albanians were there
long before the Serbs. Both nations claim it. In cases like this, scholarship is mixed with nationalist
politics: that is why controversy accompanies history here.

The Greeks

The Greeks are as ancient as the Albanians in their Balkan ties. The 19th century model for Greek
entry to the area involved three "waves" of invaders riding in carts, driving cattle and overwhelming
the pre-Indo-European inhabitants. Each wave was associated with historic sites and a later dialect
group -- Achaeans, Ionians and Dorians -- with intricate dating squabbles. The current view is
simpler. Scholars now see a single immigration, with the dialects evolving later. The image of the
"tribal mass" in motion has been discarded in favor of two competing theories. According to the first
model, the "invasion" consisted of individuals, families and small groups blending into the
indigenous population. The second model sees a small clique of well-armed conquerors, who used
the innovation of the chariot to defeat and displace the existing rulers. In either case, the old
inhabitants simply took on the new culture, adopting new tools and a new religion, and creating a
mix which is classical "Greek" culture.

Ancient Greece encompassed not only today's Greek state but the Aegean islands and lands in
Anatolia. Greek colonies appeared all around the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean, and followed
Alexander the Great all over the Middle East.

We have copious historic records about Greece, but there are still some questions. The most
mysterious episode in Greek national history takes place at the end of the Roman period. The Greek
world was part of Rome, but Greek culture survived under Roman rule. Greek was the language of
the earliest Christian gospels. The eastern half of the Roman Empire was culturally Greek and
survived as the Byzantine Empire until 1453 AD (or CE, Christian Era). Between 600 and 800 AD,
Slavic invaders washed over Greece as far south as the Peloponessus. These "barbarians" created a
"dark age" in the Balkans during which written Greek records cease. In 800 AD Greek written
culture reappears. Apparently these "invasions" can also be characterized as an intermingling of
peoples. Greek civilization seems to have survived in small cities, and ultimately the newly arrived
Slavs became Hellenized. Are we then dealing with the same Greek identity? It persists in a cultural
sense, but the 19th century notion of "blood" might say that these are not quite the same people.
This is worth keeping in mind later as one wrestles with questions of ethnic identity.

In 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell under Ottoman rule, but Greek culture and language once again
survived. Today there are over ten million Greeks in Europe. Most Greeks live in the Greek state.
However, until the 1920s there were substantial Greek populations in Anatolia. Today the chief
"irredenta" (or minority populations outside the borders of Greece) are in Istanbul, on Cyprus and in
southern Albania (excluding Greeks in America, and others abroad).

The Greeks are overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox, under the authority of the Patriarch of
Constantinople. Many Americans fail to know that there are a dozen independent branches of the
Eastern Orthodox church, identified with separate Balkan and East European ethnic groups. Just as
the Roman Catholic Pope in Rome and the Greek Patriarch in Constantinople split over issues of
doctrinal authority in 1054 AD, the other national Orthodox churches have often rejected the
authority of the Greek patriarch. The Greek Orthodox Church has to be distinguished from the
Serbian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Church, and so on.

The Greek language has continued to evolve since classical times. Today it includes a formal written
version called katharevousa, a less formal spoken version called dimotiki, and an archaic version
used in church services. Until this century, notable Greek communities elsewhere in the Balkans or
in Anatolia spoke other languages (such as Turkish) but this is not common today.

The Romanians

The Romanians also have origins in the classical era, but their history is complicated and
controversial. Romanian and Hungarian nationalists disagree fundamentally about the origin of the
modern Romanians. The Romanian position is this. In 106 AD Rome conquered the kingdom of the
Getes, in what is today Transylvania (this event is the subject matter of Trajan's Column). The
Getes, Roman settlers, administrators and merchants mixed to form a new Latin-speaking Dacian
ethnic group. In 271 AD, Dacia was evacuated in the face of barbarian invasions. Soldiers,
townspeople, merchants and administrators fled south. Peasants and country folk probably did not
leave, but moved to safety in the wooded Carpathians during the barbarian invasions. During this
period the Magyars (Hungarians) settled in parts of Transylvania. In a document of 1247 AD,
Romanians reappear in historical records, both in Transylvania and in Moldavia and Wallachia.
Romanian nationalists say that this shows the descent of the original Daco-Roman population from
the Carpathians. Hungarian nationalists say instead that the Romanians of 1247 are remnant
Dacians who fled south and survived for a millenium as herdspeople in Serbia and northern Greece
before migrating north again. A Romanian-speaking Vlach ethnic group does live by herding in the
southern Balkans. In the Magyar view, the Dacians who remained behind were wiped out. By
implication, Romania thereby loses any claim to Transylvania.
Western scholars tend to accept the Romanian interpretation. The linguistic evidence supports the
Romanian position: Romanian lacks Greek loan words for religious or pastoral terms, which should
have come into use if Romanians spent such a long time in a Balkan exile. Romanian includes many
Turkish and Slavic loanwords, but its basic grammar and vocabulary are recognizable as based on

Twenty million ethnic Romanians live in the Romanian state. Outside the state, there are nearly 3
million "Moldovans" in that part of the former Soviet Union. Romania in turn has substantial
minorities within its own borders: some one and a half million Hungarians in Transylvania and at
least half a million Gypsies. There is a distinct Romanian Orthodox Church, but there are other
religions present, especially in Transylvania.

The Slavs

Migrating Slavs reached the Balkans during the waves of "barbarian" invasions at the end of the
Roman Empire. Many groups entering at that time left no mark. The South Slavs, as well as the
non-Slavic Magyars, concern us here.

The South Slav (Yugo-Slav) groups that became the Slovenes, Croatians, Serbians and Bulgarians
entered the Balkans from the north between 500 and 700 AD. They settled in an arc stretching from
the head of the Adriatic in the north, southward and eastward to the Black Sea. These groups were
divided into tribes before they arrived, but there was little variation between one group and its
neighbors. The hard and fast distinctions among them, especially in languages, are largely a
product of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Ethnic maps that draw neat lines around these
groups tend to oversimplify.

The Slovenes arrived first, in the 500s AD. Slovene resembles Slovak in some ways, and is quite
distinct from Serbo-Croatian. Some 1.7 million Slovenes live in the northwest corner of the former
Republic of Yugoslavia. Austrian and Italian influences have created a Central European culture and
Slovenes are chiefly Roman Catholic.

The other south Slavic peoples arrived in the 600s AD. Slavs probably occupied parts of the
Hungarian plain and Greece as well, but those Slavs later were absorbed into other cultures.

The south Slavic Croatians reached the Balkans in the late 500s and early 600s AD (arriving at the
same time as the Serbs). In the 800s, they fell under the nominal control of Charlemagne and his
heirs. The chief result was not political, but religious. Western Frankish missionaries followed and
began the process by which Croatia became a Catholic country (while the Serbs became Orthodox).
In 879 AD a Croatian state was recognized by the Pope. The acceptance of Christianity by the
Balkan nations tends to follow similar patterns, worth pointing out here. South Slav tribes lacked
anything like a strong king: they were organized into smaller units under warlords or village chiefs,
who evolved into a nobility. A strong central figure like a king generally arose when the tribe united
in response to some outside military threat. Once that threat receded, the nobles ceased to obey
the control of the central authority. The early kings adopted Christianity because in return for
leading mass conversions, the pope (or the patriarch) would grant a stamp of religious authority to
the monarch of the country. Thus conversion to Catholicism or Orthodoxy tended to take place at
the same time as the creation of an enduring monarchy.

Croatia reached its medieval pinnacle under Tomislav in the 900s, but the kings were still weak
relative to the nobility. In 1102 AD a coalition of nobles made a deal with the Hungarian king,
whose remote power was more attractive than the nearby king's authority. In return for Magyar
recognition of their control of local administrative and judicial affairs, the nobles pledged their
military service, and the Hungarian king also gained the right to approve all the laws of the Croatian
Diet of nobles. Thereafter Croatia existed as a feudal state under the kings of Hungary.

Today, some three and a half million Croatians or Croats live within the traditional borders of the
Croatian state, with perhaps 700,000 others in nearby Slovenia and Bosnia. Croatian culture has
Central European and Roman Catholic features. The Croatian language, made up of several distinct
dialects, overlaps with Serbian; in the former Yugoslavia a combined Serbo-Croatian was an official
language. The most obvious difference is the use of the Roman alphabet for Croatian, and the
Cyrillic for Serbian. There are also notable distinctions in vocabulary, some of them deliberately
fostered by nationalists (for example, the Croation listopad or "leaf-fall" for the month of October,
vs. the Serbian oktobar).

The south Slavic Serbians arrived at the same time as the Croatians, with an essentially identical
culture and language. The Serbs were closer to Byzantium so Serbian culture took on Byzantine
features (just as Croatian culture came to resemble that of the Franks) with Eastern Orthodox
missionaries at work (rather than Catholic ones) and a central state modelled on Byzantine forms.
Serbian feudalism also followed Byzantine patterns. All land was owned by the ruler, parcelled out
as "usufruct fiefs" (which were not heritable) for the support of feudal vassals, churches and
monasteries. The chief impetus for state-building was protection from the Bulgarians. The Serbian
medieval state peaked in the 1300s under Stefan Dushan. When Serbia was conquered by the Turks
in the 1400s, the impact of the Ottoman conquest was reduced for most peasants because the
Ottomans had already accepted and preserved the same Byzantine practices being used by the
Serbs. Serbs not only survived physically, but were able to preserve much of their culture as well as
their lives.

The 1981 Yugoslav census counted 9 million Serbs, some 7 million of them concentrated in the
Serbian Republic and Montenegro, but with important communities in Bosnia and Croatia (many of
them subsequently displaced by civil war during the 1990s). There is a separate Serbian Orthodox
Church which has always helped define Serbian ethnic identity.

"Bosnia" is a geographic, not an ethnic or linguistic entity. Medieval Bosnia was a border zone
between Croatia and Serbia, just as it is today. The chief ethnic marker of the so-called "Bosnians"
today is their Islamic faith, and this came about only later. In terms of language and descent, the
modern Bosnians are of the same origin as Croats and Serbs.

The south Slavs who became the Bulgarians also reached the Balkans in the early 600s AD. The
Turkic and nomadic "Bulgars" later conquered the area. They were few in numbers and after a few
centuries the more numerous Slavs absorbed them in terms of culture and language. In 886 AD the
missionary saints Methodius and Cyril (for whom the Cyrillic alphabet is named) converted tsar
Boris to Orthodox Christianity. In the 900s, Tsar Symeon's First Bulgarian Empire defeated
Byzantine and Serbian armies. The Second Bulgarian Empire was a rival of Byzantium around 1200
AD, but Bulgaria absorbed and adopted Byzantine culture, law, land use patterns and political
organization. Today some six and a half million Bulgarians live in the Bulgarian state. The Bulgarian
Orthodox Church has been a leading factor in national identity.

There are also 1.4 million Macedonians in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which
achieved independence after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1989. These South Slavs reached
Macedonia in the 600s AD. Citing historical, cultural or linguistic grounds, Serbia, Greece and
Bulgaria often have advanced claims to Macedonia in terms of both territory and ethnic affiliation
with the population. Macedonian history illustrates the complicated relationship between ethnic
identity, language and national independence.

The Hungarians

The Hungarians or Magyars came to Europe in 895 AD, crossing the Carpathians from the Ukraine
and conquering the Slavs who lived in the Pannonian basin (and thereby dividing the south Slavs
from the Czechs, Slovaks and Poles). Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language, the only one in the
Balkans, with connections to Turkish and the languages of Central Asia. For many years, the Magyar
cavalry raided Europe but in 955 it was decisively defeated. Believing that their "luck" had ended,
superstitious Magyar rulers accepted Christian missionaries and in 1000 AD King Stephen converted
to Catholicism. In return, the Pope recognized Hungarian rule over the so-called "lands of the Crown
of St. Stephen." This term now stands for the maximum geographic possessions of the Hungarian
state, including Slovakia, Transylvania and Croatia.

More than 10 million people live in Hungary. Hungary has a smaller proportion of ethnic minorities
than most of the Balkan states, with over 90% of the population consisting of ethnic Magyars (the
largest minority is half a million Roma or Gypsies). One and a half million Magyars live in Romanian
Transylvania, with several hundred thousand in Slovakia and several hundred thousand in the
Vojvodina region of Serbia. The separation of these populations is the legacy of backing the losing
side in two consecutive world wars. Hungary shares in much of Central European culture, and two
thirds of Hungarians are Roman Catholic, the other third mostly Protestant.

Other nationalities

Most of the ethnic groups mentioned are identified with states (the Macedonians and Bosnians being
exceptions until recently). A few other groups have had a presence since medieval times which has
not lead to enduring political entities. They are nevertheless important.

The "Gypsies" or Roma, a nomadic people traditionally employed as itinerant entertainers and
metalworkers, entered the Balkans in the 1300s AD, spreading from Asia Minor west into Europe.
Scholars identify their language as related to Indian languages like Sanskrit. Thanks to widespread
discrimination, most Balkan censuses tend to undercount the Roma minority, but an estimated one
million Roma live in the former Yugoslav areas, up to one million in Romania, and about one million
more scattered elsewhere in the Balkans, a total of three million or more.

There was never a Jewish state in the Balkans, but the area had a large Jewish population until the
Second World War. There have been Jewish communities in the Balkans since Roman times. The
Ottoman conquest of the area actually made the region more attractive than Western Europe for
Jews, because of Ottoman policies of religious toleration. From 1200-1500 AD, many Jews expelled
from Western European countries made their way to the Turkish Balkans. After the Spanish expelled
the Moors from Spain in 1492, they also expelled 200,000 Jews, most of whom went to Salonika
and Istanbul. The Jewish population of Hungary and Romania dates from the 1700s, mostly
consisting of Jews who moved south from Poland. On the eve of the Holocaust, there were over one
and a half million Jews in the Balkan countries, mostly in Romania and Hungary. About half were
murdered and most of the survivors emigrated after 1945. The present Jewish population of the
Balkans is about 100,000, mostly living in Hungary. The Jewish populations of the Balkans typically
spoke the languages of the country in which they lived, although the Sephardic Jews of Greece
spoke Ladino, a dialect of Spanish.

Until the end of the Second World War, there were important colonies of Germans in east central
European cities, including Hungary and Transylvania. Craftsmen and miners were invited to the
region for economic purposes by medieval rulers. These Volksdeutsch spoke German and
maintained separate communities. Accused of collaboration with the Nazis, most fled or were
expelled after 1945.

Finally, the Turks now have possession of only a small corner of the Balkans, but at one time ruled
much of it, and there were large Turkish populations in many areas, especially the cities. The Turks
entered Anatolia from Central Asia around 1240 as tribal nomads converted to Islam. Turkish
warriors were granted possession of any land that they could conquer as "ghazis" along the borders
of the growing Islamic world. The Ottomans, named for their leader Osman, were the most
successful of many tribal groups. The Byzantines hired them as soldiers for pay but soon lost control
over them. The Ottoman Turks crossed into Europe in 1352 AD as mercenaries hired to defend a
Byzantine fortress at Gallipoli on the Western side of the Straits of the Dardanelles; they never left
and the place became a springboard for conquest. The Ottomans soon overran Thrace and Bulgaria.
In 1389 at the battlefield of Kosovo, they destroyed the Serbian army, an event of legendary
importance in Serbian national memory.

The Turks were able to capture Constantinople in 1453 AD, attacking a Byzantine state weakened
by injuries inflicted by its Christian rivals. The Bulgarian and Serbian medieval states had taken
away many of its Balkan provinces. The Western "Franks" earlier dealt the greatest single blow to
Byzantine power, while Western European kings and knights were in the Balkans as "crusaders"
headed for Palestine. Thirty thousand soldiers of the Fourth Crusade camped outside Constantinople
in 1203-1204. The Byzantines and the Crusader leaders disagreed about who would pay for ships to
take them on to the Holy Land, and the Venetians then exploited the situation to make an attack on
their Byzantine trading rivals. The Crusaders sacked Constantinople and divided the Byzantine
Empire among themselves. While Byzantium eventually reemerged, the outer provinces remained
separate as miniature kingdoms that were easy pickings for the Turks. There was little or no
Western aid when the Ottoman challenge appeared, and the Byzantine Orthodox Greeks regarded
the Western Catholic Franks with hatred, further preventing any cooperation against the Ottomans.
In 1453 the Turks took Constantinople by siege. In 1526 at Mohacs they destroyed the Hungarian
army, killing the king and most of the Hungarian nobles. This was their high water mark, although
they were still strong enough to besiege to Vienna in 1683. The story of their gradual withdrawal
from "Rumeli" or Europe is a major part of this course.

In 1831, about a third of the population of the Balkans was "Muslim," including Turks and Albanians.
The present population of Turkey is over sixty million, but only about seven million Turks live in
European Turkey, around Istanbul. 700,000 Turks form a prominent minority in Bulgaria, despite
efforts since the early 1980s to Slavicize their names and pressure them to leave the country.

Turks have historically been Sunni Muslims, although in the 20th century the modern Turkish
Republic is secular. Turkish is a Turkic language, and thus related to other Altaic languages of
central Asia.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 2: "Asia begins at the Landstrasse:" Comparing Eastern European and European

In a Spring 1995 newspaper story about the shelling of Zagreb in Croatia, the city was described as
"more European than Balkan." This idea -- that the Balkans should be distinguished from the rest of
Europe -- is a common sentiment when we read about Southeastern Europe. In the 1820s, the
Austrian statesman Metternich said, "Asia begins at the Landstrasse," the royal highway leading
from Vienna east into Hungary. Why aren't the Balkans seen as part of Europe? If they are not,
where does Europe end? What makes us think of one country as part of Europe, and another as part
of the Balkans?

While this is in part a semantic game, it is also a significant discussion. For one thing, this kind of
thinking colors much scholarship and political planning that deals with the Balkans. For another, the
modern history of the Balkans involves a series of encounters with influences and concepts
originating in the western parts of Europe: nationalism, liberalism capitalism, Communism and so
forth. The encounter is not unilateral: when these ideas and movements enter the Balkan
environment, they are changed by it. If we are going to write and talk accurately about "Balkan
nationalism," then we need to be sure that we know what is meant by each word. And in return,
Balkan experiences can shed meaningful light on concepts associated with Western European
culture and ideology, by revealing unexpected attributes which come into view only in the less
familiar setting of Southeastern Europe.

The society, culture and history of Romania or Yugoslavia does differs from that of Britain or France,
of course. What then are the key differences which define the Balkans, which account for the
differences, and which are shared in the region?

Defining Eastern European and Balkan difference

It is helpful to answer a related, larger question first: is there such a thing as Eastern Europe? The
countries west of the old Soviet Union and east of Germany are often lumped together. How do we
equate places as different from one another as Greece, with its Mediterranean islands and olive
groves, and Finland, wrapped in ice and roamed by reindeer?

It may be helpful to define our terms. In terms of geography, we can say that Eastern Europe is a
belt of land extending from Greece in the south to Finland in the north, bounded on the west by
central European Italy and Germany, and on the east by Russia. It has been called the
"Zwischenlaender," the "lands between": neither Western European nor Russian. Such a definition
by negation -- what the region is not -- fails to tell us much about what it is. Are the Baltic states
such as Finland or Latvia usefully considered together with Greece or Hungary? Are Poland,
Czechoslovakia, and Austria part of Eastern Europe, or part of Central Europe? Should Hungary be
analyzed along with Austria, or with the Balkan states? And should our answer to that question vary
with the century, so that Habsburg-ruled Hungary differs from Soviet-ruled Hungary?

Without a knowledge of Eastern European history, it is easy to simply define the area as a transition
zone between the better-defined countries of Western or Central Europe on the one side, and Russia
on the other. By that line of reasoning, anything which clearly is neither Western nor Russian is
"Eastern European" by process of elimination. What is objectionable here is the tendency to define a
region purely on the basis of outside points of reference. It would be better, and more valid, to look
for points of definition from within the region itself.

Since 1945, it has been deceptively easy to define Eastern Europe in terms of Soviet Communist
domination. By this method, Eastern Europe is synonymous with the "satellites" set up by Stalin
after the Second World War: it is the region on the far side of the Iron Curtain. Now that the Iron
Curtain has disappeared, it is easier to see the flaws in this approach, but for students of the area it
always offered problems. For example, Greece was frequently excised from the area on the grounds
that it was not a Communist country, and lumped into something called the "Mediterranean." But to
assert that Greece and Spain share more in their historical backgrounds than do Greece and
Romania, one has to forget a great deal of Greek history. At the opposite end of the scale, East
Germany suddenly falls into "Eastern" Europe despite all of its Central European connections, and
then presumably falls back out again in 1989. Yet East Germany doesn't share many points of
experience with Romania or with Greece. It is also an erroneous oversimplification to lump together
Communist Poland with Communist Yugoslavia or Communist Albania: if the criterion here is
"satellite" status, more than one Communist state fails to meet most casual meanings of that term.

If we want to understand the history and development of Eastern Europe, including the Balkans, we
will get much farther by using a definition that is rooted in the local characteristics of the region. It
is easy but facile to say what the Balkan region is not: it is not the West, and it is not Russia. It is
harder but more useful to try to say what it is. What can we say about the similarities and
differences between the Balkans and the rest of Europe? Just what is different?

A number of things clearly are not very different. The population of the Balkans, like the rest of
Europe, is basically Indo-European: ethnic differences abound, but racial differences are minimal.
The Balkans, even more than East Central European areas like Bohemia, are tied to the classical
heritage of the Greco-Roman world. In terms of physical nearness, the distance from Athens to
Paris is no greater than that from Copenhagen to Madrid, or from Boston to Miami. Eastern Europe
experiences weather much like that in adjacent zones of Western Europe; most of the same animals
and plants grow there wild or are raised on farms. Why then do Athens and Paris appear to be so
much more remote from each other culturally and historically?

Despite much shared geography, there is certainly much that is different. Even after the revolutions
of 1989, it is easy to note that the Eastern European, and especially the Balkan, states remain less
urban than Western countries. We can see less industry. Until 1989, there were far fewer Western-
style parliamentary regimes. The Renaissance, the Reformation, the scientific revolution and various
liberal political revolutions appear to have had less impact on society. Religion retains a deeper role
in life than in secular Western states. However, we could observe that these matters are better seen
as the results of difference, not its cause or true character, because Eastern European development
already had diverged from that of the West before many of these events and trends.

Some deeper differences: ethnic identity remains more of a factor, one could say a problem, in
Eastern Europe -- despite decades of Marxism, differences in ethnicity and not difference in class
are driving events there [in 1995]. In the region's history the "nation-state" is absent, or absent
until rather recently, and in many cases is still imperfectly formed. Admittedly, even the so-called
nation-states of Western Europe contain many minorities, but in Eastern Europe multi-national and
multi-lingual states dominated the map until little more than a century ago. The national states of
recent vintage are small, and in some cases breaking up into even smaller units. These ethnic
differences are expressed by a greater variation in regional languages. The Romance and Germanic
languages cover most of the West; in the East one finds chiefly Slavic languages, but also
specimens of Turkic languages and others. Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism are present, but
so are Islam and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. There is a greater multiplicity of alphabets: not only
the Roman alphabet but Cyrillic -- and until recently Arabic and Hebrew scripts were also commonly
used. It is easy to overlook the minority problems and exceptional cases troubling Western
European states, but one still has a sense in Eastern Europe that variation is greater.

Despite their earnest desire to base their definitions in the local character of the region, scholars
still frequently get entangled in discussions that start with reference points outside the Balkan area.
This is understandable: until relatively recently, there was little tradition of objective historical
scholarship in the region itself. During periods of foreign domination, the study of national self-
awareness often was too political to be permitted by the ruling state. The scholarly apparatus
necessary for academic study often was absent until some time in the nineteenth century. Even
after the appearance or revival of autonomous local universities and investigators, the realities of
national political life often deformed scholarship along the lines of national chauvinism and later
along lines of conformity with Communism doctrine. For these reasons, most of the foundation work
in modern academic study of the region was conducted by Western scholars, or indigenous scholars
whose educations were grounded in Western traditions and perspectives.

For these observers, Eastern Europe was first of all an "Other" to be recognized by its differentness
from their own cultural milieu, and that differentness was something to be explained away. At its
worst, this perspective fell into the kind of trap described by Edward Said in 1978, writing about
"Orientalism" in the study of the Arab world. Said describes "Orientalism" as a discourse -- that is, a
system of talking about something -- which, to quote, "puts the Westerner in a whole series of
possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand." [Orientalism,
p. 7] That is, if the Orient is mystical, then the West is rational; if the Orient is backward, the West
is progressive; if the Orient is despotic, the West is democratic. In short, if the Orient is exotic, then
the West is normal, and the Orient is not merely different but abnormal, defective and inferior.
Much the same can be said about certain approaches to Eastern European or Balkan studies. This is
a faulty approach to knowledge which has infected not only Western, but also Eastern European

At the same time, the fact remains that Eastern Europe -- and the Balkans -- are different from
Western Europe, and a recognition of this fact is basic to understanding what is going on in Eastern
European history and Eastern European societies. It is no good to apply Western models and
chronologies casually to the Balkans. Looking for traces of the "bourgeoisie" or the industrial
working-class in the nineteenth century Balkans is a nearly pointless task, and explaining events
along those familiar lines is flat out incorrect. Something different is going on.

What then have observers said about this differentness? Prince Metternich, the German-born
chancellor of the Austrian Empire during much of the early nineteenth century, made a stab at
defining the Balkans which is so brilliantly wrong-headed that it is instructive. "Asia," he said,
"begins at the Landstrasse" -- in other words, on the high road which led south and east away from
the city of Vienna into the flat plains of Hungary. By Metternich's lights the Balkans were not really
a part of Europe, and could be dismissed accordingly as intractable, mysterious, backward, corrupt
and so on. What he says tells us a good deal about the attitude of the nineteenth century ruling
class toward the people of the Balkans. In the same vein, Bismarck said that the Balkans were not
worth the bones of one Pomeranian infantryman, and the same Franz Ferdinand whose murder
triggered World War I in 1914 remarked that "it was an act of bad taste for the Hungarians to have
come to Europe" in the first place. Western leaders today are finding out that the Balkans -- and
crises in Bosnia -- are as frustrating in 1993 as they were in 1893, 1875, or many other years. Our
leaders might agree on some gut level with Metternich or Bismarck. But these little explosions of
picque can't make the Balkans go away.

How "Asian" were the Balkans when viewed from the West? Nineteenth century diplomats employed
a set of convenient and Euro-centric geographic expressions which clearly removed the Balkans
along a spectrum leading away from Europe. In nineteenth century parlance, the "Far East" meant
much the same territory as it does today, but the "Middle East" and the "Near East" -- two concepts
that have collapsed into interchangeability for us today -- constituted distinct territories. The Middle
East encompassed the lands between Egypt and Iran. The Near East referred to the quite separate
area of the Eastern Mediterranean, and this included the Balkans. Kipling believed that "east was
east and west was west" and by European imperial lights, Southeastern Europe was "east."
Today we would disagree. The European connectedness of Eastern European and Balkan history
with the West is too well established to dismiss with Metternich's bon mot. The Balkans were part of
the Roman world: the imperial border ran along the line of the Danube, and the emperor Diocletian
(who ruled from 284-305 AD) was a Dalmatian who came to the throne through a career in the
army. Eastern Europeans in general have played a role in European life which is often overlooked.
Everyone knows today that Pope John Paul II is a Pole -- fewer people realize that so was the
astronomer Copernicus. The Western European urbanization which underlay the Industrial
Revolution was built in part upon imports of Eastern European grain. Both World Wars began in
Eastern Europe. If we forget that this area is a part of Europe, we do so at our peril.

Explaining the divergence of Eastern European history

Consider the area as a part of Europe, then. The question remains, how to explain the very different
path which Eastern European -- and specifically Balkan -- history has taken, relative to the West.
Simply saying that West and East are alike after all, is as inadequate as saying merely that they are
not alike. Modern scholars have begun their investigations by searching for explanations for the
different path. We can pick out several threads in the ongoing discussion.

In general, when scholars try to explain why Eastern Europe took a different course from the West,
they adopt one of two perspectives, selecting between what we might call "external" or "internal"
causes. According to one view, Eastern European societies have suffered from a series of damaging
interventions from outside the region, and this has been the dominant feature in determining the
region's history. Therefore external forces prevented East European or Balkan societies from making
the same progress as Western societies. According to the other view, internal factors are the most
important in explaining retarded development. The geography of the region, or inefficient features
of the local cultures themselves, are said to have blocked progress. Because these internal factors
are essential and unavoidable parts of the region and its culture, this view implies that Eastern
European society has itself to blame for most of its problems.

Argument has ranged back and forth between these two positions. Earlier stages of the debate
tended to look at political institutions and developments among the most prominent elements in
society: kings, bishops and so forth. With improved study of economic and social history,
sometimes down to the village level, economic institutions have attracted more attention in recent
years: political institutions are still of interest but are now being explained from the bottom up.

Halecki's view

In 1952 Oscar Halecki published a "history of East Central Europe" under the title Borderlands of
Western Civilization -- that is a good example of the earlier school of thought. [footnote 1] Halecki
states up front that he believes he is writing about countries which "contributed to the general
progress of European civilization" [p. 3]. He says that a European history in which "Western Europe
is identified with the whole continent" is incomplete. Writing at the height of the early Cold War, he
goes on to say that there will be no "permanent peace" in Europe until the states of East Central
Europe resume "their traditional place in the European community, now enlarged as the Atlantic
community" [p. 4].

What is this "traditional place" according to Halecki's view? It is as a "frontier" zone, a "borderland"
in which the forms and characteristics of Western European life encounter the contrasting forms and
characteristics of Eastern European civilizations such as Russia's. In Halecki's view it is the
geographic accident of being intermediate between West and East that has set the characteristic
stamp on Eastern Europe. Reading between the lines of his book, it seems that Halecki considers
some of the signs of Western civilization to be ethnic homogeneity, the legacy of Catholicism,
secularization, constitutionalism and nationalism -- in other words, some of the characteristic
features or trends familiar to us from a Western European context, and which also can be traced in
the history of Poland in particular. While the Balkans is not Halecki's real subject, he nevertheless
makes some interesting comments in passing. He sees the Balkans as a region distinct from East
Central Europe, chiefly because of its geographic form as a peninsula leading to the south and not
only to the east. The two regions (Balkan and East Central European) are also connected by
geography and by similar historical experiences, including roles as connecting paths leading from
Western civilization with its Roman legacy across the European plain toward Asia. In the case of the
Balkans, the dominant flow of influence became east to west as a result of the Ottoman invasions,
and therefore Balkan history diverged from East Central European history to the north. Regardless
of the outcome, however, it is the contact, conflict and tribulation brought on by being on the edge
of the West that makes Eastern Europe what it is.

McNeill's view

In 1964 the prominent world historian William McNeill published a book called Europe's Steppe
Frontier, 1500-1800 which looked at the same phenomenon of the borderland from a contrasting
perspective. Remember that Halecki thought of Eastern Europe was an exceptional form of Western
civilization, rendered thus by its geographic remoteness from the centers of Western European life.
For McNeill, Eastern Europe (and in particular the Balkans) has been shaped instead by an
exceptional form of a fundamentally Asian culture, that of the steppe nomad, altered here by its
encounter with woods and mountains where the steppe terminates at the Carpathian and Balkan
mountains. Second, McNeill is less interested in geography per se, and more interested in the
cultures that are created by humans as adaptations to geography.

Like Halecki, McNeill refers to "pioneers from Western Europe" as players on the Balkan stage, but
he is interested primarily in pioneers from the steppes acting as an engine to drive historical
development. At the foundation of his book is the conception of the "steppe empire" created by a
"great war captain" who temporarily pulls together separate pastoral groups whose ecological
adaptations make them more naturally suited to autonomy. Armed, mounted and not tied to
farmlands, these warrior groups were free to pursue plunder where they wished. Such nomads
began by living off their herds of stock animals, but they were also capable of living off human
conquests. Such empires are inherently "fragile," says McNeill, because their individual parts can
function alone and are apt to move away from the central authority. The Mongols created such an
empire, so did the Magyars who came to Hungary in the 900s AD, and so did the Turks who
conquered the Balkans shortly thereafter.

Two things combined in Eastern Europe to make these cultures diverge from the nomadic pattern
while still remaining different from Western European models. First, the presence of mountains and
forests instead of limitless steppe reduced the fragility of empires like those of the Ottomans or the
Magyars in a particular way: no longer surrounded by limitless horizons, the constituent parts of
these empires were more likely to remain in a permanent relationship with their leaders, perhaps
even to settle down and replace animal husbandry with agriculture. Second, during the period
between 1500 and 1800, Europe's political, economic and military institutions took on modern
forms, so that the balance of power shifted away from the nomad on horseback and in favor of the
stable, urban and industrial populations living west of the steppes, populations which McNeill is not
afraid to call "civilized."

Such a shift in the balance of power against the interests of the nomad would normally have broken
a nomadic empire apart into its separate units. In Eastern Europe, McNeill believes that the effect of
greater group cohesiveness (based on geography) instead turned the basically predatory habits of
the ruling group inward: instead of preying on far flung communities across the steppe, Magyar
nobles and Ottoman ghazis began to prey upon their own sedentary peasant populations. Because
the growth of urbanized states in Europe was accompanied by an increased demand for grains
which could be grown by those peasant populations, this form of predation became what has been
called "neo-serfdom." Neo-serfdom was a new imposition of harsh controls over the land, labor,
produce and freedom of movement of Eastern Europe's peasant families, at a time when Western
European peasants were casting off the remains of the older medieval serfdom. When the former
nomadic warrior class turned its attention inward, it retained its arms and its mobility, and remained
a significant local force especially in times of crisis. When the central authority was weak, these
"men of prowess" were ideally situated to exploit their peasants thoroughly, and to retain most of
the proceeds of taxation for their own local consumption. Enough of the "fragility" of the "steppe
empire" remained to promote weakness at the center and insubordination at the periphery of
Balkan states, and the internal troubles of the later regimes can be seen in this light. According to
McNeill, then, the characteristic political culture of the Balkans emerged rather recently in Balkan
history, and was a logical consequence of the juxtaposition of a particular steppe culture onto the
geographic characteristics of the area. McNeill's Eastern Europe is far less like Western Europe that
that of Halecki.
Theories of economic backwardness

The most recent examinations of the uniqueness of Balkan and Eastern European history take
advantage of better economic research to explain "backwardness" in the Balkans. Terms like
"relative economic backwardness" or "economic underdevelopment" are now invoked to explain a
whole range of associated social, political and economic developments. At the same time, there is
furious debate about the timing and the causes of backwardness in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

To talk about "backwardness" without defining it is merely to put a different name on "difference".
When we say the Balkans or Eastern Europe are backward, what are we trying to express? In
contemporary terms, it means fewer doctors per capita than the West, or fewer VCRs; it means
lower GNPs or lower per-capita incomes; it means high rates of unemployment in rural areas. These
facts really are observed consequences of backwardness: behind these descriptions of the results,
we need to also look at structures in societies and economies that lead to these consequences. For
example, when compared to urbanized countries, "backward" countries usually have a
proportionally smaller bourgeoisie (in the simple sense of an urban middle-class) and a lack of
industry. This lack of industry leads to "dependency" on outside industrial suppliers for certain kinds
of goods, and places the dependent country in a position of selling raw materials at a disadvantage
in return for processed goods. Most of the prerequisites for Industrial Revolutions are absent too.
There is insufficient demand for new goods, based on the absence of a rising population and
especially a rising urban population. There are no modern transportation systems to connect
potential new industrial producers with markets. Financial institutions and practices that might
channel economic surpluses into investment are absent. And there is a general lack of the modern
social institutions and ways of thinking associated with rationalism, science, the enlightenment,
liberalism and the rule of law, that lead to innovation and change from traditional patterns.

If this is a description of conditions in the Balkans, when did conditions there diverge from those in
Western Europe? Scholars have discussed four time periods and advanced particular explanations of
backwardness for each. The four periods are 1) the nineteenth century, during the period of
Western imperialism; 2) the centuries of decline in the Ottoman system; 3) the time of the original
Ottoman conquest; and 4) the pre-Ottoman Middle Ages.
Divergence in the nineteenth century
Those who see Balkan history diverging from Western European history at a rather late date, in the
nineteenth century, tend to place the blame for backwardness on "external" rather than "internal"
factors. For that reason Western institutions, as well as Balkan ones, play a part in the explanation.

According to one view, it is not very useful to discuss "backwardness" in the Balkans in isolation
because economic conditions in the modern Balkans resemble conditions in most of the modern
world. It is better to describe the Balkans (and similar regions) as "normal" and to consider the
industrialized West to be the exception. By this line of reasoning, the clues to relative disparities
between standards of living in the two parts of Europe lie outside the Balkans, and are better found
in the peculiar conditions which led to the Industrial Revolution in England and elsewhere.

This observation is true as far as it goes, but it doesn't help us to understand much about the
nature of Eastern Europe. It may be true that rural populations in both Romania and Central
America became "dependent" on Western capitalist markets, but that is a far cry from saying that
Central America and Romania are alike. For that matter, rural populations were "dependent" in both
Romania and Bulgaria, but socio-economic conditions in these two adjacent Balkan states differed a
great deal. In Romania, late nineteenth century peasants worked as sharecroppers on large estates
managed by absentee landlords pursuing the export of cash crops. In Bulgaria, late nineteenth
century peasants owned dwarf farms and practiced subsistence agriculture. Both were "dependent"
but reached that condition by following very different historical and cultural paths. It would seem
better to work with an explanation that lends itself to exploring the details of actual conditions.

Another view holds that Western intervention, especially imperialist economic and political activity,
is responsible for conditions in the Balkans (and in other parts of the world). The impetus behind
Balkan underdevelopment under this model is external, but the impact of external exploitation on
local conditions is important. Those adopting this explanation would look toward the repeated
political and military interventions conducted by the European Great Powers into the affairs of
Balkan states. The late nineteenth century saw many unfair trade agreements forced onto weaker
Balkan trading partners. Western governments and exporters aggressively pursued Balkan markets
on behalf of Western manufacturers, so that budding Balkan industries were smothered before they
could compete. Western investors holding bonds and railroad shares demanded profits even if this
meant that construction and investment took place along lines that did not serve the best needs of
local peoples. Total Western control of state treasuries was not unknown when bondholders required
it: both the Turkish and the Greek state budgets were subject for many years to detailed control by
representatives of Western banks and investors. The West was not above the use of force to get its
way, either: temporary armed invasions by gunboats and marines were commonly used to enforce
Western demands, and when local states resisted, war could follow. One can argue that all of these
activities added up to exploitation of the area, an exploitation that forced Balkan economic
development into channels that perpetuated and ensured underdevelopment.

These kinds of "external" explanations, all focussed on fairly recent events, share some
implications. First, they imply that differences in local conditions mattered less than the external
forces. However true it might be that Greece and Hungary had very different economies, what
matters is not their differences but their shared exploitation by outsiders. Second, such a view
implies that the peculiar circumstances of Ottoman rule were not all that important. After all, by the
late nineteenth century Hungary was a partner state in the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy; and
Greece, Serbia and Romania were virtually independent from Ottoman rule. Yet all parts of the
Balkans -- Ottoman, independent or otherwise -- shared the condition of backwardness.

Decline under Ottoman rule

For a great many scholars, explanations of Balkan underdevelopment which look at the nineteenth
century alone fail to account for too much prior Balkan history. They would argue that the particular
events and problems of the nineteenth century inevitably flowed from earlier developments during
the Ottoman period, a period in which misrule set up the imbalances between the Western and
Eastern European economies under which imperialism could take place. But how far back must one
look to find the critical period?

Many traditional explanations of Balkan economic and social backwardness, including those offered
by the first wave of scholars interested in the revival of national states in the Balkans, blamed the
Ottoman Empire (and to a lesser extent the Habsburgs) for the relative stagnation of the area. The
causes of poverty and so forth were blamed on misrule by these multi-national states, so different
from the nation-states of Western Europe. Underlying these arguments, made also by mainline
economists, is the notion that progress amd growth are normal for societies: where they are not
present, local institutions may be blocking normal progress.

In its simplest form, this argument is advanced in daily conversations in many Balkan countries, in
exchanges like this:
A tourist asks, "Why is the elevator out of order today (or why is there no milk or coffee or
To which a local citizen replies, "Pet sto godina pod igotom" (in Bulgarian, or its Greek or Romanian
or Serbian equivalent) -- five hundred years under the Turkish yoke.

In other words: in the centuries since the arrival of the Turks in the 1400s, everything has gone
bad. In contrast to views that blame backwardness on Western imperialism, it is worth noting that
in this analysis Western contact and intervention function as the antidote, not the problem.
Beginning with the Ottoman conquest, the forces behind decline are essentially internal in this view,
although driven by forces carried into the area by an invader.

Records do indeed show that the population of the Balkans declined during the period of Ottoman
rule. There was a growing tendency for local authorities to abuse their peasants. Taxes were too
high, the legal system was corrupt or absent, and Christians were subject to methodical
persecution. At the same time, local landlords failed to invest the surplus that they squeezed out of
their peasants, so that economic development lagged and led to permanent backwardness.
Peasants of courese were unwilling to invest their efforts in improvements to farmland that might be
stolen away from them at any time, directly or through taxes, and landlords preferred to waste their
income on luxuries. Where change came to rural areas, it often came in the form of a "second
serfdom" that institutionalized harmful trends. Some landlords turned to stock raising and made do
without peasants, while the growth of agricultural exports (traded for imported industrial goods)
ensured that towns remained backwaters. In the case of the Habsburg parts of the Balkans, the
religious division between ruler and ruled was muted or absent, but the abuse of peasants by a
landholding nobility had much the same result. In either society, rigid value systems led to a fear of
change and placed too many obstacles in the way of innovators.

Marxist historians of the early modern period tend to reach some similar conclusions although they
follow a slightly different line of reasoning. As society develops, socialism has to be preceded by an
earlier and inferior stage of nationalist and middle-class society. In the Balkans, this stage begins in
the nineteenth century and continues into the twentieth, up to 1945. However, there is also an
earlier pre-national and pre-bourgeois period which is in turn inferior to the national period: while
such an analysis of Ottoman and Habsburg society relies more on class arguments, it reaches more
or less the same conclusion held by nationalist historians. Local society is blamed.

The Ottoman and Habsburg Empires took a terrible beating in popular and scholarly Western
European writing during the years before and after World War I. In recent years, however, there
has been a tendency to separate the Ottoman period into an early, prosperous period and a later
period of decline, and to seek the causes of backwardness in this later period. The period of
Ottoman decline is usually seen as beginning in the 1600s and continues through the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries right up to the founding of modern Turkey in 1923. Scholars of the
Habsburg Empire have also devoted much talk to the issue of when the Austrian Empire went into

One group interested in this period accepts the prime role of outside factors, especially the relative
superiority of the Western economies, but sees critical events taking place well before the
nineteenth century. Under this view, the crucial factor is the rise of relatively advanced urban
centers in the West in the 1700s, during the period before and during the Industrial Revolution. As
soon as the new prominent towns in the West outstripped older urban centers in the East, the
playing field began to tilt in favor of Western economies. The appearance of large cities in the West
meant a heightened demand for agricultural goods, especially bulk grains which could be raised on
larger tracts of land and then shipped by sea from the Balkans to the West. The result was a
sharpened interest in agricultural production for sale by the ruling class in Eastern Europe, who
responded by increasing the taxes, labor dues and other tributes paid to them by their peasants. At
the same time, the ruling class was able to restrict the movement of peasants who lacked urban
centers as alternative markets for their labor or as refuges from noble oppressors: hence the
"second serfdom, exploiting peasants in the East just at the time when their Western counterparts
were able to use the growth of cities as a lever to reduce their obligations and increase their
opportunities. Western demand for grain thus had profound results for both the rich at the top and
the poor at the bottom of societies in Eastern Europe.

On the other hand, some scholars point to the eventual benefits of this capitalization of Eastern
agriculture: without Western markets, there would have been no incentive to improve productivity
and no way to amass capital. "Second serfdom" -- in this view -- was a cruel but necessary step
toward economic and technological progress.

The Ottoman conquest as disaster

The other school of thought blaming Balkan decline on Ottoman culture is even more critical. In this
view, the disasters of the Ottoman period begin at the first moment of the Turkish conquest. There
is no scope for distinguishing good and bad periods of Ottoman control. In this view, the violence of
the conquest wiped out important political institutions and destroyed normal patterns of settlement,
village life and the economy.

Note that blame here falls not on the period of decline alone but on the entire period of Turkish
control. The argument postulates that basic, essential features of the Turkish system were
backward even when the Ottoman Empire worked at its best. A key part of this analysis is the
alleged inability of the Muslim ruling class to pursue science, industry and new ideas. The Ottoman
feudal system, especially the Ottoman land tenure system, also is seen as fundamentally flawed:
this analysis rejects the idea that the system began as a reasonable one and only later became a
problem due to various abuses. We will spend some time on Ottoman feudalism next week, but for
now you need to know some of its most basic features in order to follow this debate about decline.

Ottoman feudalism was based on the idea that all land belonged to the sultan as the earthly
representative of God. The sultan in turn granted temporary use of specific plots of land to
subordinate institutions and individuals. In particular, the Ottoman cavalry consisted of armed
horsemen (called variously timariots or spahis) who were supported by the produce of plots of land
(timars or spahiliks) in exchange for pledges of military service in time of war. When the central
authorities were strong, feudal landholders were required to treat their peasants well because the
peasants' welfare was important to the sultan, as the ultimate landlord, and landholders could
forfeit their use of the land if they abused the system.

However, when the central authorities were weak, these local feudal figures took advantage of
conditions to squeeze excess revenue from their peasants, evade their obligations to the
government and sometimes to make permanent claims to land. By various legal devices, a timar or
spahilik could be converted to a chiftlik, a plot of land owned permanently by a landlord, and such a
chiftlik could then be passed down in his family. When land was converted to chiftlik status, the
central government lost influence, revenue and the ability to protect the peasants. At the local level,
peasants living on chiftlik land also were less likely to treat their land well or to try to improve it.
Under the original feudal system, they enjoyed some guarantees of retaining the fruits of their
efforts but this was lost when landlords secured full claims on land.

Recent scholarship on problems in Ottoman society pays a great deal of attention to the creation of
chiftliks. The causes of chiftlik formation are also causes of economic decline in general. For one
thing, the so-called "price revolution" of the period after 1550 brought serious inflation that made
the fixed income of a timar too low to live on: feudal landholders found that they had to abuse the
land tenure system merely to survive. At the same time, the rise of infantry made the timariot and
spahi cavalry less important to the central authorities, who lost interest in maintaining the old
feudal system used for raising horse troops.

Meanwhile, Eastern Europe was sharing in a general "crisis" in late feudal Europe. Overpopulation of
many rural areas, combined with a worsening climate and the exhaustion of marginal soils, led to
famine and this led in turn to increased susceptibility to disease. In many areas of Europe, rural
population went into a long decline. According to this view, the decline of Balkan population was
neither unusual nor a sign of local Ottoman misadministration. However, it did have very different
results in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, as compared to the West. In the West, the decline of
rural regions was accompanied by a growth in the relative power of towns. Rural decline also
strengthened central governments and weakened rural nobles. These were important steps on the
way to industrialization and nation-building.

In the Balkans, however, a healthy new kind of urban-rural economic relationship failed to appear.
Marginal farmland was abandoned and converted to stock-raising (sometimes in the hands of newly
arrived Turkish pastoralists migrating from Anatolia into the interior of the Ottoman Empire).
Instead of selling produce to local towns, Balkan landlords sold products like wool (and later, grain)
to the West. Balkan towns were not important for this traffic. Cut off from commerce and sources of
capital, the towns later could not compete as industrial centers when faced with cheaper, more
advanced imports from the West.

At one time, scholars believed that chiftliks came to dominate the Ottoman Balkans. It is now
believed that landlords used only about 10% of farmland to support agriculture for export: to be
profitable, such land had to be both productive and rather close to ports to allow export in the
absence of a decent internal road net. Elsewhere, Balkans farmland remained in the hands of
peasants in small plots: however, these peasants were themselves an obstacle to development,
because they lacked the resources or the motives for improvements and remained interested in
subsistence farming only.

Analysts who seek the sources of backwardness in the era of Ottoman decline describe a more
complicated interplay of external and internal forces.
Backwardness before the Ottomans
One further perspective remains: scholars like John Lampe place the causes of backwardness even
farther back in Balkan history, before the Ottomans or Habsburgs ever came to the area. Advocates
of this view point to indications that the area had been characterized by low population densities
(relative to the rest of Europe) as far back as the Middle Ages. Low population density in turn led to
a greater role for pastoralism in the rural economy, which in turn led to the weakness of towns and
an inability to compete with Western European urban industry in later centuries.

The specific processes and consequences of geographic weakness are these. First, farming land in
Southeastern Europe was handicapped by poorer soils, less rainfall and a division into smaller areas
because of mountains and other wastelands. Second, the "border" status of the region led to
warfare that ate up surpluses which otherwise might have been invested in improvements or town
building: the greater risk of loss made costly improvements less attractive as investments for all
members of society. Third, the presence of powerful and sophisticated nearby civilizations to the
south -- as far back as the classical world -- forced native industries into failed competition with
manufactures from the Byzantine empire and other centers.

To the extent that border disruptions caused medieval economic backwardness, we could expect the
"Pax Ottomanica" to bring improvements: with an end to active warfare, the climate for investment
would seem more attractive. There are several reasons why this did not occur.

First, the Ottoman conquest disrupted townlife for a long time and prompted many peasants to
abandon village agriculture for mountain herding.

Second, foreign trade ceased during long periods of warfare between Turkey and Venice, among

Third, internal trade remained hampered by geographic barriers like mountains and poor coastal
access. No net of good roads or ports was created. Thus trade remained local in focus.

Fourth, while the timar system brought stable taxes and ownership, other aspects of Ottoman law
and administration artificially hurt rural productivity. For example, grain sales to the state at low
costs were mandated to support the poor of Istanbul and the cities, and to reduce the cost of
feeding armies. The decline of timars in favor of chiftliks and other forms of illegal land ownership
also added to the burden on the peasants.

This analysis ends with the same observations about the relative weakness of the Balkan economy
when Western urban industry came into the picture. However, blame falls more on natural
conditions and less on inept or evil leaders. This is a rather pessimistic perspective, and also one
which is unattractive for political purposes. It undercuts the position of local authorities who would
like to blame current problems on specific foreign or class enemies. In addition, such a view implies
a harder road for future Eastern European and Balkan modernization because it indicates that
regional economic and social problems are rooted in geographic realities, not historical or political
mistakes subject to human remedy.

Such are some explanations for the characteristics that make Eastern Europe, and especially the
Balkans, different from the rest of Europe. It is an area with a unique and challenging physical
geography. As a borderland, it has experienced more than its share of political disruption. The
legacy of being a border also has meant ethnic diversity and ethnic strife, and these have prevented
nation building of the kind seen in other parts of Europe. The area has had its own cultures and its
own special history: Balkan culture and history are not just footnotes or exceptions when compared
to the history of the West.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 3: The principles of Ottoman rule in the Balkans

To make sense of the rapid changes during the last two hundred years of Balkan history, we need
some sense of what went before, by looking at the Habsburg and Ottoman "old regimes" in the
Early Modern period. The Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire are often (and usefully)
presented together as natural rivals: one Catholic, the other Muslim; one western and European,
the other eastern and Asian. You should already have some sense of the limits and pitfalls in such
paired dichotomies. Also, such an approach misses the fact that these two countries had a great
deal in common. Both were products of the late medieval period, and neither was well positioned to
adjust to the driving forces of "modern" history: forces like nationalism, and the industrial
revolution. They operated on the basis of pre-modern assumptions and institutions. We can begin to
understand both countries and their histories by identifying a few key principles that shaped them.
Those principles dictated the form of Ottoman and Habsburg history and when those principles
reached their limits these states fell apart.

Ottoman principles

If we make a list of the principles behind a modern Western European state, we might include
nationalism and a notion that the state and the ethnic nation are ideally identical; the rule of law
and the accompanying idea of a constitution; and the fundamental place of the citizens as the
embodiment of the country. In the Ottoman Empire, wholly different principles were at work. In its
prime the Ottoman Empire was defined by its ruler, by its faith and by its military, all acting
together. If we understand these forces, we can see reasons for its great successes and later for its
great failures.

The military principle

All countries have a military: why then focus on this as a defining force? Because without doing so,
one can't explain the rapid Turkish conquest of the Balkans or the social institutions that were
planted there.

The Turks are Muslims but not Arabs. There was a general migration of Turkish-speaking nomads
south into the Arab world after 700 CE. In 1055 Turks captured Baghdad and created the Seljuk
Empire, which remained Islamic but was no longer Arab-ruled. When the Mongols destroyed the
Seljuk state in the 1200s, Turkish tribes scattered West into Anatolia. One of them came to be
named for Osman, its leader. They became involved in the wars of the Byzantine Empire against
Bulgaria, Serbia and the Crusader states that had been set up in Greece after the sack of
Constantinople in 1204. Ottoman Turkish soldiers first entered the Balkans around 1345 as
Byzantine mercenaries and later returned to conquer it. They soon defeated the Bulgars and the

Incidentally, that Serbian defeat (which took place at the field of Kosovo in 1389) was a defining
moment for Serbian history. First, there was a great killing which wiped out the nobility and knights
and left the Serbs as a peasant nation. The democratic, populist, often vulgar nature of Serbian
politics in modern times owes something to Kosovo. Second, enshrined in national legends and epic
poetry, Kosovo encapsulated Serbian identity. The story of Kosovo allowed the Serbs to remember
who they were by remembering their enemies. Kosovo as a place remains part of the present day
ethnic strife in the Kosovo region. Even though its population today is mostly Albanian, the Serbs
are as likely to give up this sanctified battle field as, say, Texans would be to return the Alamo to

In 1444 at Varna Sultan Murad II crushed an intervening force of Hungarian, Polish, French and
German crusaders. In 1453, scarcely 100 years after the Turks entered Europe, Sultan Mohammed
II (known as "the Conqueror") took Constantinople by siege with an army of 100,000 and some of
the world's most modern artillery. In taking the city, Mohammed II erased the last remnant of the
Roman Empire and subjugated the Greek world. Symbolizing the transition, the great Church of the
Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, became a mosque.

After conquering Syria, Egypt, parts of the Arabian peninsula, Mesopotamia and North Africa as far
as Algeria, Sultan Suleiman "the Magnificent" overran Moldavia and Bessarabia (in today's Romania)
in the 1520s. At the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, his army killed 25,000 Hungarian knights and their
king. The Ottoman forces reached their European high water mark in 1529 when they failed to take
Vienna by siege (although they repeated the siege in 1683).
The "military principle" behind the Ottoman Empire helps explain how a tribal society of nomadic
mercenary cavalry soldiers from the steppes of Central Asia did so well. The Ottomans were
successful conquerors for some good reasons:

First, by comparison with their feudal European rivals, the early Ottoman state and its armies were
tightly organized and controlled.

Second, European rulers were divided amongst themselves, even at war with each other.

Third, Turkish armies were constantly reinforced by new waves of "ghazi" warriors from Central
Asia, who were motivated by both religion and the prospect of spoils.

Fourth, early Ottoman rule was not unattractive to the mass of its conquered Christian and Jewish
subjects. The Ottoman armies faced few threats from revolts in lands already conquered. More
about this later.

The dynastic principle

Dynastic rule was the second principle behind the Ottoman state. In this, Turkey reflected medieval
practice all over Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. The country consisted of the accumulated
conquered lands of the Ottoman ruling house (named after the border lord Osman) and that land
was passed down in the family. By the time of the Balkan conquests, the Ottoman rulers were no
longer simply tribal "beys" but "sultans" who were full masters of secular life. A state treasury had
appeared, distinct from the leader's private purse. To create a sophisticated state apparatus, the
Ottomans freely adopted useful institutions from the societies they conquered. The Seljuk Turks had
accepted Islamic religious, educational and legal institutions, and thus Ottoman society inherited
from the Seljuks a system of mosques, schools and courts. The Ottomans also adopted a whole
array of bureaucratic features from the Byzantines: taxes, court functions, feudal practices and
systems of land tenure. These institutions were strong tools supporting the dynasty.

The Islamic principle

Islam was the third key principle for Ottoman society. Political, cultural and legal forms followed
Islamic law or "sheriat". The Turks were Sunni Muslims: in contrast to Shi'i Muslim societies,
religious institutions served the secular state. The sultan was recognized as God's agent in the
world. The state had three purposes:

First, the preservation and expansion of Islam.

Second, the defense and expansion of the ruler's power, wealth and possessions. Because the
sultan was God's agent, his interests and those of Islam were believed to coincide. These first two
purposes acted in full agreement.

Third, justice and security for the sultan's subjects, as foundations of the first two purposes. The
sultan was regarded as a shepherd, and his subjects corresponded to the flock ("rayah"). In a well-
run Islamic state, all elements functioned in a smooth cycle. The government dispensed justice, safe
and secure subjects prospered, taxation flowed from their wealth, the state and its military were
sustained at necessary strength, and good government was preserved to begin the cycle again.

This ideal helps explain the attractions of Ottoman rule in its early days. Jews, Christians and
Muslims worshipped the same God. Jews and Christians were penalized only partially for failing to
accept God's most recent revelation through the prophet Mohammed. The Islamic conquerors
tolerated the other two religions, at a time when toleration was rare in Europe. After the Frankish
and Venetian sack of Byzantium in 1204, Orthodox Byzantine Greeks thought that Catholic Western
Europeans were as bad or worse than the Turks. In the Ottoman administration, talented men of all
faiths could fulfill at least limited roles. For peasants, the finality of Ottoman victory also meant an
end to centuries of wars between Serbs, Bulgars, Byzantines and Crusaders, and thus offered
stability. Ottoman taxes were lower than the taxes of the conquered Balkan Christian kingdoms.
How the principles worked together

These three principles -- Islam, the dynasty and the military -- acted together in the Ottoman
Empire. As head of state, the Sultan sat at the top of a pyramid. Just below him was a small ruling
class, his direct instruments. The mass of subjects were known as "rayah" or "protected flock." This
included both Muslims and non-Muslims. Jews and Christians were entitled to protection, but could
not join the military or the sultan's immediate ruling circle. However, if they chose to convert to
Islam, men of talent from all religious or ethnic backgrounds potentially could wield great power.

Because of its divine foundation, the power of the sultan had no theoretical limit so long as Islamic
law was upheld. The sultan was not just an absolute ruler in an abstract sense: many of his
operatives were in fact his slaves. However, we have to distinguish Ottoman slavery from the forms
of Western slavery with which we are more familiar. Ottoman slavery was based in the capture of
military captives, who became the property of their captor. Once taken in, however, and provided
that they were loyal, slaves were protected from abuse and enjoyed opportunities for responsibility
and advancement as soldiers, statesmen and officials. Slaves were often given their freedom as a
reward for service and their children were born free, not into slavery.

The "Devshirme"

One of the most exotic Ottoman institutions used slavery to seek out persons of talent, with
potential advantages for both the state and the slave. This was the "devshirme" or child-
contribution, established in the middle 1300s.

When recruits for the military were needed, Christian boys were confiscated from the population as
slaves and converted to Islam. While there were no regular timetables or set quotas, perhaps a
thousand boys were taken on average per year. As slaves, these boys became absolute dependents
of the sultan. They were not used for the army alone: after growing up and being trained, they took
on all kinds of roles in the imperial establishment. They were treated well and could aspire to power
and wealth. The brightest of these children were educated in the law, foreign languages, the
sciences, sports and administrative skills and then entered the sultan's "Inner Service". Promoted
on the basis of skill, they could grow up to be provincial governors, treasury officials, physicians,
architects, judges and high officials, and helped to run the empire. They could marry, if their
careers permitted it, and their children were free Muslims. So desirable were these positions during
the Ottoman heyday, that some rural Christian families bribed officials to select their sons. Because
the "devshirme" was levied as a tribute on the conquered, it involved only the non-Muslim
population, but some Muslim families also bribed officials to select their children illegally, in the
hope of placing relatives in powerful offices. Some members of the "ulema", the religion-based legal
and educational system, came from this background. So did members of the "divan" or council of
ministers and its supporting scribes and officials, including governors appointed to run provinces.

Levied children with less talent went into the military and formed the "janissary" infantry, the
30,000 men kept under arms as garrisons in key fortresses and as the core of the sultan's army.
The janissaries were supported by specialists such as armor makers and an Artillery Corps
supervised by experts, some of them renegades from Western Europe.

The "devshirme" was one way in which the military principle used prior conquests to strengthen the
state for more success. Another involved the feudal "timariots," who made up the rest of the
sultan's army and also acted as the local arm of the Ottoman state. Land was the wealth of the
state. Just as the sultan's officials were his slaves, so also the country's land was the possession of
the sultan as the agent of God. To further the purposes of the state, the sultan granted temporary
use of farm land to "timariots", often ghazis who had helped conquer new regions. In return these
men pledged to serve in the army as cavalry.

Under the Ottoman system, ownership of land was meant to be only temporary. Landholders
enjoyed "usufruct" privileges only, that is, the right to enjoy the fruits of someone else's property
(in this case, the sultan's). These fiefs ("timars" or "spahiliks") legally could not be inherited by the
landlord's children, although those children might be granted the same usufruct rights. Timariots
and spahis were also administrative agents of the state, collecting taxes and maintaining local order
in combination with local religous courts. A timar holding could be so small that its income
supported only a single cavalryman or it could be much larger if the timariot had to meet major
responsibilities in the provincial administration.

The Ottoman system linked the prosperity of these feudal leaders to the military success of the
empire. Ambitious Turkish horsemen could come to the Balkans from Asia Minor as military pilgrims
or "ghazis", help in conquest and receive estates as a reward for their success. Successful war paid
for itself and the spoils system helped recruit soldiers. However, the same system meant that
military failure had social consequences: we will look at this flaw in the system later.

Ottoman land tenure

The Ottoman Empire has had a low reputation in modern times and is sometimes dismissed as a
brutal creation of conquest. Such a view overlooks the sophisticated, complex structures that made
the early Ottoman Empire a powerful and civilized place. We can set the "timar" system into a wider
context of landholding and property law as one way to show this. The Ottomans recognized four
kinds of real property:

1) "Miri" or state land consisted of all arable farm land and pastures. It belonged to God and
therefore to the sultan as God's agent, unless granted to someone's use. The state also owned
forest lands, mountains and public areas such as roadways and market places. Land without heirs
reverted to the sultan as "miri."

2) "Timar" or semi-public land was miri land under usufruct grant by the sultan to civil or military
officials. It was the basis of feudalism. Timar land was not meant to be private property and could
not be inherited, but under certain legal or illegal conditions, timar land was often treated as if it
were privately owned. Legal evasions might take the form of very long leases, or simply illegal
grants resulting from bribery. Timar estates that had been converted to private property were called

3) "Vakf" land was tax-exempt property devoted to pious purposes or the support of institutions of
public welfare such as hospitals or fire companies. As a tax dodge, some landholders contrived to
place their land into vakf status by creating phony foundations for the support of their heirs (this
was one way to make public land essentially private).

4) "Mulk" land was true private property. Legally, it consisted of the land occupied by people's
houses, or by gardens, vineyards and orchards -- property improved by the owners. In essence,
when timar land was converted to private status it illegally became mulk land. Mulk property was
exempt from state control: the state could no longer demand military service from holders of "mulk"
and also found it hard to protect "rayah" living there from abuses like excess taxation. The growth
of private property therefore damaged the power of the sultan, the central state and the military.

Life in a religious state

Islam separated the world and its inhabitants into two zones: the world of Islam and the world of
non-Muslim heretics. Distinctions of ethnic nationality were not important. The lives of the mass of
population under the Ottoman system were tightly controlled, defined and divided according to
three other criteria:

1) The most important was the division of the population by religion into "millets". People interacted
with the state through the leaders of their own millet, through a hierarchy leading up from local
representatives to greater ones. Muslims were responsible to the "ulema" for taxes and legal
matters. Only members of the Muslim millet could bear arms (including the forcibly converted
janissaries), and were exempt from some taxes. Balkan Orthodox Christians (Greeks and Slavs
combined at first) were under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople. In case of confict,
Islamic law and state practice took precedence but otherwise the laws and institutions of the
Orthodox millet remained in force (largely unchanged from local customs before the conquest).
Because so much administrative, fiscal and legal business took place through the millet, the
Orthodox church acted as a "state within a state." Jews were administered through the chief rabbi in
Istanbul, both the Sephardic Jews who came to the Eastern Mediterranean from Spain and the
Ashkenazi Jews who were expelled from Central Europe. Finally, various small Christian minorities
like the Armenians were part of a hierarchy under the Gregorian archbishop of Bursa.

2) Place of residence also affected the rights of the common people. Peasants could not leave their
land and move into cities, because the Turks feared that the countryside would be depopulated. City
life was attractive because urban dwellers were exempt from certain taxes and labor dues, and from
auxiliary military duties (service as wagon-drivers, for example). Peasants paid taxes in kind: about
a tenth of their produce went to their timariot landlord. Much of the rest of their crop was purchased
by the state at a low price to feed the urban poor. Villages were liable for some duties as a
community, including a small cash rent for use of the sultan's land, and had to contribute labor to
work the timariot's estate (Western European peasants were liable for similar but larger burdens at
this time). Mountain areas unsuited for agriculture were granted to nomadic tribes who paid taxes in
kind: butter, yogurt, oil, cheese and other foods needed to feed the cities or the army.

3) In the cities, subjects were grouped according to their occupations. Craftsmen were members of
guilds, which often had monopoly control of production, for example of salt or candles. Guilds
regulated their own industries and taxed themselves to raise money for social welfare functions for
their members. Guild representatives sat as a city council to advise the "kadi" or mayor. Fire
departments, hospitals and other city services were supported by tax-exempt endowed foundations

This was the idealized Ottoman system. Why did the Ottoman state decline? There were limits to
what the principles of dynasty, Islam and military conquest could achieve. When the state passed
beyond those limits, those same principles acted together again but instead created a cycle of

Limits on the dynastic principle

The sultan was the core of the Ottoman state. When a ruling sultan was weak or incompetent, the
state suffered. Beginning with Osman in 1290 and continuing through the reign of Suleiman the
Magnificent who died in 1566, there were ten talented sultans in a row. Selim, known as "the Sot",
then came to the throne. He was the first in a succession of non-entities.

Several Ottoman practices worsened the situation. To avoid civil war, it had been Ottoman practice
to murder all the brothers of each new sultan when he came to power. When Sultan Ahmed died in
1617 without an adult male heir, there was concern that the usual fratricide could end the royal line
(because it would have meant the death of all the male heirs except one child, who might have died
before reaching adulthood and fathering a son himself). Thereafter the oldest male member of the
house became the new sultan, and the other male Ottomans were confined in the so-called "golden
cage" of the palace and harem. Surrounded by officials and insulated from moral and political
lessons, later products of the "golden cage" were very bad rulers, susceptible to competing factions
of corrupt officials. The later Ottoman Empire sometimes had strong grand viziers, but no more
outstanding sultans. Given the central power of the sultan, this left the state without a sense of

Limits on the military principle

The military principle also failed when it reached certain limits. The Ottoman system depended on
continued conquest. Assumptions of military victory and territorial expansion supported taxation,
the land system and the feudal cavalry. Conquest paid for war and created estates for ghazis who
became timariots, paid taxes and fought in new campaigns. When victory became defeat, spoils no
longer paid for warfare and defeated warriors became a burden.

The central role of the sultan affected Ottoman military practice. By tradition, the sultan assembled
one large army in Istanbul and then marched to the frontier to make war. After 1550 the sheer size
of the country created geographic limitations on further growth. The army could only travel 90 to
100 days' march before it had to turn back in order to get home before winter. In 1529, the siege of
Vienna could not begin until September 27 and had to be called off on October 15 to allow time for
the return journey. Even if later sultans had been good generals, the size of the country limited
their options. Regional armies, close to the borders, could have solved this problem, but
decentralization ran counter to the dynastic principle. Once decline began, regional armies became
risky centripetal forces.

The end of conquest meant lean times for ghazis and timariots: they lost income and after 1650
were sometimes forced off their lands by Austrian or Russian armies. Deprived of their incomes,
they set themselves up as local warlords or bandits in remote parts of the Balkans, too far from the
capital to be forced into obedience. Instead of preying on foreign enemies, they began to prey on
the peasants. Taxes and labor dues increased, local courts were intimidated or bribed, and usufruct
holdings became heritable private "chiftliks" passed down in the family. No local authorities were
available to enforce the law because the timariots were the only local authorities. The tax revenue
stream to the center then slowed to a trickle. Officials in Istanbul went unpaid and became
susceptible to bribes. In this way the collapse of the miltary feudal system soon damaged the rest of
the state.

Changes in military science also reduced the power of the Turkish armed forces. Western European
use of gunpowder and professional infantry made feudal cavalry obsolete. Meanwhile, the elite
janissary infantry declined. In the early 1500s janissaries gained the right to marry and have
children, and were given permission to practice a trade during the winter to support their families.
Membership became hereditary (the devshirme ceased in 1637). The janissaries soon devolved into
a mob of cobblers and weavers, only powerful enough to intimidate their own government when
paid off by various cabals. Riotous janissaries nevertheless blocked all military reforms from 1589
until 1826.

Limits on the Islamic principle

The inability to reform and improve was not confined to the military. The division of the country into
Muslim and non-Muslim halves led to tension and oppression. In the new hard times, Muslims had
better access to arms, political power, bribes and other ways to defend their interests. Corrupted
courts allowed local landlords to rob their Christian peasants. The burden of bad times fell on non-
Muslims, and the country broke into rival blocks based on the "millets."

The tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims also led to hostility and contempt for Christian
European culture. Until 1600, Ottoman medical, mathematical and military science was as good as
that of the West but after 1600 advances in science that originated outside the Muslim world were
rejected. The Ottomans therefore failed to keep up in science, technology, metallurgy, navigation
and other fields. No printing press, for example, was established in Turkey until 1727.
Backwardness had military consequences and after 1650 Turkey's wars nearly all ended in defeat.

There were also serious economic consequences. When Portugese navigators discovered the African
water route to India, Ottoman influence over trade between Europe and Asia stagnated. This led to
a decline in urban life and urban industries. After this, trade centered on the export of raw materials
and the import of European industrial goods. Because Western manufactured goods were cheaper,
the guilds in the Ottoman cities were undersold and declined.

Another consequence was price inflation because Ottoman consumers now competed with wealthier
Western Europeans for goods. Officials on fixed salaries had to resort to bribe-taking to feed their
families. Small-scale rural timariots were driven from their lands by rising expenses. Vacant lands
then fell under the control of powerful landlords, who raised private armies and acted virtually
without government control. By 1800, the "ayan" (or "notable") Ali Pasha of Jannina ruled the
northwestern portion of what is now Greece, while Osman Pasvanoglu ruled western Bulgaria. Such
men took advantage of the Napoleonic Wars to live like kings until the revolts in Serbia and Greece
forced them out. Such men paid few taxes to the central state, but held governors' titles as
"pashas" mostly because they were too strong to be evicted.

New forces
By this time the downward spiral was nearly complete. The interlocking principles of Ottoman
society were too complex for reform: instead new forces began to appear. These included
opportunistic merchants who lived by border smuggling. These "conquering Balkan Orthodox
merchants" (as one scholar dubbed them) included Greek ship-captains who owned a schooner or
two, Serbian pig farmers who drove hogs to markets in Hungary, and Bulgarian dockside traders
who imported Russian furs. These were the kind of people who created the revolutions that
completed the pattern of Ottoman decline.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 4: Hungary and the limits of Habsburg authority

The previous lecture tried to explain both the strengths and the shortcomings of the Ottoman
Empire in terms of the principles behind it. In the case of Turkey, those principles were dynasty,
religion and military prowess.

This lecture tries to do the same for the Habsburg Monarchy, also known at various times as the
Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary. Once again, this was a complex state organized along lines
very different from those of a modern nation-state. In the case of the Habsburgs, the three
operating principles were the dynasty, class and reform. These three pillars of Habsburg statecraft
require careful description but when that is done we should see (once again) some clues that
explain both the early success and the later failure of an empire.

Prior to 1800, those parts of the Balkans that were not possessions of the Ottomans belonged to the
Habsburg Empire. As indicated in Lecture 3, it is common to regard these two empires as opposites:
Eastern and Western, Muslim and Catholic. At the same time they shared many traits and above all
this one: both were multi-national empires, made up of numerous ethnic groups and governed
without much regard for the political expression of national identity.

In 1780 the population of the Habsburg lands included:

• 5.6 million Germans (mostly in Austria)

• 3.4 million Hungarian Magyars
• 2.5 million Czechs in Bohemia
• 2 million Walloons in soon-to-be-lost Holland
• 1.8 million Italians in the districts of the north
• 1.6 million Romanians in Hungarian Transylvania
• 1.2 million Slovaks
• 1 million Poles (mostly in Galicia)
• 900 thousand Croats
• 700 thousand Serbs, descendants of exiles along the Turkish border
• 350 thousand Jews, mostly from Poland
• 120 thousand Gypsies, and
• smaller numbers of Slovenes and Vlachs.

At one time, the Habsburg family domains had been even farther-flung including the Netherlands,
Spain and the Spanish possessions in the New World.

The first principle: the dynasty

Rather than conceal this ethnic diversity, the Habsburgs embraced it. When every national group
was a minority, only the person of the Emperor united the country. The official "Great Title" of the
Emperor Francis in 1806 gave equal time to all his possessions, large and small. Francis was
"Emperor of Austria; King of Jerusalem, Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia,
and Ludomiria; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Wurzburg, Franken, Styria,
Carinthia and Carniola; Grand Duke of Cracow; Prince of Transylvania; Margrave of Moravia; Duke
of Sandomir, Masovia, Lublin, Upper and Lower Silesia, Auschwitz and Zator, Teschen and Friule;
Prince of Berchtesgaden and Mergentheim; Princely Count of Habsburg, Goritz and Gradisca; and
Margrave of Upper and Lower Lausitz and Istria." Some of these possessions were later lost --
notably those in Germany and Italy -- and other lands were added, including Bosnia.

The Habsburg Empire was not primarily a Balkan country. Only Transylvania, Bosnia and perhaps
Croatia consistently are regarded as Balkan by most historians. Hungary is as Central European as it
is Balkan, but Transylvania and Croatia were parts of royal Hungary and it is impossible to make
sense out of their history without knowing something of Hungary. In turn, Hungary was part of the
Habsburg domain for five centuries and events there make little sense without the wider context.

The Ottomans gained their lands by military success, but the Habsburgs more often gained theirs by
the highly dynastic device of fortunate marriage ("Tu, felix Austria, nube" -- you, happy Austria,
marry -- was a dynastic slogan). The first Habsburg to rule over lands in the "East" (the origin of
the name "Austria") was Count Rudolph the First who took the land around Vienna away from the
King of Bohemia in 1278. During the Middle Ages the Habsburgs fought with other royal houses for
control of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary. The magic moment for the Habsburg dynasty came in
1526 and involved the same Battle of Mohacs that turned Hungary into an Ottoman province. Prior
to that time Ferdinand Habsburg married Anne, the daughter of Vladislav II, King of Hungary and
Bohemia. At the same time, Ferdinand's sister Mary married Vladislav's son Louis II, King of
Hungary (and thus also King of Croatia). Louis II died at Mohacs without leaving a male heir.
Because his sister Anne could not come to the throne under the laws of succession, her husband
Ferdinand Habsburg added Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia to his realms. After 1526 the Habsburgs
were the most powerful ruling house in Central Europe and remained in control of those countries
until 1918.

The second principle: class

If dynasty was the first principle behind the Habsburg system, the second principle was class. Such
a large country could not be ruled personally, so the Habsburgs allied with the powerful nobles in
their realms. In return for loyalty these lords gained extensive power, first at the local level and
later as key figures in the state apparatus.

The heads of the large noble families had historic medieval rights to meet in provincial Diets, with
the power to block crown action in some domestic matters (although not in matters of state). The
noble class also retained personal rights. The most important were exemption from taxes and the
power to administer local affairs. Nobles exercised administrative power in two ways.

First, as landlords on their own estates they exercised complete "juris-diction" in the original sense
of the word: they "spoke the law" as judges over the local inhabitants, many of whom were bound
to personal service as serfs. By controlling rights to land and the labor needed to work it, these
nobles also grew rich.

Second, nobles had the right to fill the administrative offices of the crown. Until the 1700s, these
offices consisted only of royal executive representatives in the provinces, known variously as
governors, viceroys or bans. When the state bureaucracy expanded, nobles still filled the upper
offices in the various ministries and made up the officer class in the army. These nobles defined
themselves by class, not ethnic nationality. Famous servants of the crown bore German names like
Metternich (who was born on the Rhein and raised in the Netherlands), Slavic ones like Radetzky,
Italian like Pallavicini, Magyar like Tisza, and Polish like Goluchowski.

The power of the nobility to vote on their choice of rulers remained active. In 1713, it became clear
that the Emperor Charles VI was going to die without leaving a male heir. Under existing
constitutional law this meant a potential competition for the throne and perhaps the separation of
Hungary from the rest of the empoire. No one wanted to risk this: a similar situation in Poland had
already reduced that country to the status of a pawn of Russia and Prussia. Therefore the nobles
agreed to allow Charles' daughter Maria Theresa to become emperor, under a new legal instrument
called the Pragmatic Sanction. In return, the Pragmatic Sanction spelled out limits for the powers of
the emperor:
a) to make all decisions in the area of foreign policy, including the power to go to war and or make

b) to raise armies as necessary to defend the various provinces, subject to approval by the Diets for
the extra taxes normally required to pay for them; and

c) to set financial and commercial policies, including the power to impose customs taxes and
indirect domestic taxes, but not the power to directly tax the nobles.

The third principle: reform

The third recurring theme in Habsburg history is "reform." By this I mean an essentially
conservative exercise, the selective application of new ideas to improve and support the status quo
in a modified form. We can point to three great waves of reform activity in Austria: first, the
religious Counter-Reformation in the 1600s; second, the application of Enlightenment ideas to
create an efficient but absolutist state in the 1700s; and third, the efforts at constitutional reform in
the 1800s whose failure attends the collapse of the empire. This third reform period is covered in
later lectures: this lecture will talk briefly about the first two periods.

The Counter-Reformation

The Catholic Church and the Habsburgs were allies, an arrangement dating from the Reformation,
the Counter Reformation and the Thirty Years War. As Catholic monarchs, Habsburg rulers derived
some of their authority from the Catholic Church. To strengthen that church, the Habsburgs
supported Catholic reform efforts in the 1500s and became allies of the Vatican during the Thirty
Years War when Protestant nobles defied Papal religious authority as well as the Habsburg
emperors. The Church relied on the crown for supportive tax measures; the crown relied on Church
doctrine to support the political establishment.

In the 1700s, Maria Theresa was a strong proponent of reform. In return for endowments, she
wanted the Church to help build an educated, healthy (and taxable) population by running parish
schools instead of monasteries. She found allies in the Jansenists, who reformed the seminaries so
as to produce priests devoted to social welfare as well as simple faith. The doctrine of Josef
Sonnenfels is representative: he believed the state should guide the spiritual and intellectual
development of its citizens with the assistance of the Church. Despite its association with religious
intolerance and censorship, Reform Catholicism generally helped to modernize Austria.

Enlightened despotism

Much of Maria Theresa's reform ideology derived from piety. Her son Joseph II, who shared the
throne with her for 25 years and ruled alone from 1780-1790, instead acted on the basis of
Enlightenment ideas. While the Enlightenment did much to foster democratic ideas, Joseph was
more influenced by its ideals of efficiency and central control, the tendency known as "enlightened
despotism." Born in 1741, he was educated by reform-oriented Jansenist tutors. The ideas of the
rights of man and the contractual nature of government led him to believe that a ruler had
responsibilities toward his subjects. Joseph II was a reformer but not a democrat. He was
opinionated and dogmatic as well as abrasive, and these traits impeded his efforts.

His influence over the state is typified by the growth of the bureaucracy. Under the Pragmatic
Sanction, the crown was permitted a few executive offices to run the foreign ministry, the army and
the treasury, as well as appointing provincial viceroys. Maria Theresa was able to expand and
strengthen these offices, and also secured the permission of the noble Diets to approve taxes every
ten years instead of one year at a time. Except in Hungary, the Diets quickly faded into minor
institutions. The new and enlarged bureaucracy allowed Joseph II to pursue radical extensions of
rationalism and reform.

Joseph pursued a vision of a unitary -- even a uniform -- state ruled according to a single standard
of best government. He achieved a remarkable number of radical reforms.
1) Believing that use of a single language would increase efficiency, he imposed the use of German
where he could for official purposes. Except in Hungary, the German language became a compulsory
subject in all schools, and the only language for the conduct of university instruction,
administration, the law and the army.

2) In 1781 Joseph issued the "Toleration Patent" making Catholicism the religion of state, but
permitting open worship for Calvinists, Lutherans, Orthodox Christians and Jews. Non-Catholics
could now own land, enter the professions and hold posts in the civil service or the army.

3) In 1783 marriage became a civil contract, although services were still carried out by priests as
agents of the state.

4) Joseph abolished six hundred orders of monks: proceeds from the sale of their lands supported
parish churches, poor relief and hospitals.

5) Censorship was largely suspended in 1781 but replaced by a secret police force that was
intended to halt corruption in the civil service.

6) Changes in the legal and penal codes extended the power of the state into areas previously
controlled by local officials and nobles. The death penalty was abolished. Inheritance law was
revised to guarantee equal shares to male and female heirs. Child labor was prohibited for those
under the age of nine.

7) To promote native industry, Joseph imposed hefty duties on 200 imported products. Products
imported from Hungary were subject to the same duties: the Hungarian nobles at this time paid
almost no other taxes toward meeting the expenses of the state. Domestic monopolies were

8) In a measure aimed to increase economic prosperity, serfdom was partially abolished in 1781.
Joseph sought to create prosperous peasants who could then pay more taxes. Peasants could now
marry without their lord's permission and appeal their lord's judicial decisions to state courts.
Peasants still owed dues and rents but could take up trades at will.

9) Joseph's last major project would have revised the existing patchwork of taxes and tax
exemptions into a single tax on land, payable by both commoners and nobles. All former peasant
dues would have been replaced by a single payment to their landlords. The effect would not have
been lighter taxes, but simplicity and better enforcement: revenues were expected to rise by 50%.
However, when Joseph II died in February 1790 his successor Leopold cancelled the plan. The
opposition of the Hungarian nobles was one reason. If we look at Hungary, we can see the limits
beyond which the principle of reform could not pass.

Hungary in the 1700s

Lecture 3 argued that a few principles lay behind the successes of the Ottoman Empire and also
were the basis for its later failures. The same can be said for the Habsburg Empire. I want to
illustrate this point by talking about the class of Hungarian nobles, their response to reform, and the
events of 1790.

When Joseph II became king, Hungary had been a Habsburg possession for 250 years but the
Magyars still retained their own language, customs and laws. Recall that the nomadic Magyars
conquered the Hungarian plain in the 800s and became a Catholic kingdom in the year 1000. As in
other Eastern European medieval states, noble landowners kept important constitutional rights.
Under the decree of 1222 known as the Golden Bull, in return for the right of taxation, the king
granted special rights to all noblemen -- defined as families of Magyar blood -- and denied those
rights to serfs. These included the right to hold office, exemption from taxes, and the right to
petition for grievances. Out of this right to petition grew a representative Diet or parliament. When
the royal house died out in 1301, the nobles gained the right to select (elect) their king: to secure
election, monarchs had to reconfirm the rights of the noble class.
After the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, the Habsburgs inherited the right to rule the Hungarian
kingdom, but in fact the land itself was under Turkish occupation and nearly depopulated. The
Habsburgs controlled only a small strip of land. In that area the usual Habsburg institutions took
root: a Diet, a royal governor, the bureaucracy. During the 1600s the Turks gradually gave up the
rest of Hungary due to military defeat, culminating in the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699. The
Habsburgs found themselves in possession of an undeveloped, unruly land. Under Turkish rule,
Hungary had grown used to religious toleration for Protestants. Protestant Magyar nobles rebelled
against the Catholic Habsburgs several times over their religious rights.

In its struggles with Magyar nobles, the Habsburgs established a pattern: in times of foreign war
the crown conceded rights to the nobility, and in times of peace tried to take them away, often
triggering revolts. After the decisive victory of 1699, the Habsburgs imposed direct taxes and a
military draft on the residents of Hungary, nobles and peasants alike. When Austria went to war
with France in 1703, the nobles revolted and forced Emperor Charles V to restore the old system of
noble privileges, through a treaty called the Peace of Szatmar of 1711. 1711 was the last year of
major warfare in Hungary: modern Hungarian history and the story of the revival of the country
begins at that time.

A sixth of Hungary's three million inhabitants died during the Szatmar revolt of 1703-1711.
Combined with the effect of Turkish misrule, this meant that the country was half empty. Now the
country filled up with new settlers: Ruthenians, Slovaks and Germans as well as Magyars returning
from the Habsburg-ruled zones. By 1780 the Magyars had become an ethnic minority in the
Hungarian plain, amounting to only a third of the population of five million (another five million
people lived in Croatia and Transylvania, and Magyars also were a minority in those places).

About five percent of the population exercised Hungarian noble rights: that is, they were adult men
who claimed historic class privileges.

In our modern view, class and national identity are separate aspects of identity. For Hungary's
nobles, the two theoretically were synonymous. To be a citizen of the political Magyar "nation" was
identical with nobility. These nobles claimed medieval rights, having forgotten their own recent
elevation to noble status (the ancient nobility mostly died on the battlefield of Mohacs in 1526, and
the Habsburgs then created new nobles from surviving landowners and officers in the army). Their
rights were these:

1) habeas corpus, that is, freedom from arrest and imprisonment without due cause;

2) free ownership of their land, that is, without taxes;

3) exemption from service to the state except for military service in war; and

4) the "jus resistendi," the right to use force to resist royal infringements on the constitutional
guarantees of the Golden Bull of 1222. Out of this right the Hungarian Diet claimed power to
confirm the Austrian candidate as king of Hungary, to elect the royal governor (the "palatin"), to
consent to the small number of taxes in place, and to legislate on other matters of autonomous
domestic rule; in times of crisis, the same right was used to justify armed revolts.

The counties were the basis of administration: they were small (fifty miles across) and numerous
(some seventy in all). The Hungarian county system decentralized many government functions and
thus placed administrative power in the hand of local nobles. At the same time, nobles controlled
the lives of peasants on their manors. The landlord acted as both policeman and judge, without
appeal. Peasants paid taxes and also owed 104 days' unpaid labor ("robot") per year on the noble's
personal land (52 days if the peasant brought along a plow horse or an ox). Peasants could not
leave the manor without consent (though many tried to reach the cities, where Germans and other
newcomers lived under other laws). Peasants could not bear arms.

After peace came in 1711, these rights created a boom time for noble landowners. Growing towns
and the Austrian border garrisons created a strong demand for grain, and landlords were in a
position to raise grain very profitably. Peasants on the other hand lived in misery: while Western
European peasants had shaken off medieval burdens, the peasants of Eastern Europe underwent
the so-called "second serfdom" as energetic nobles reimposed forgotten feudal dues. The Hungarian
towns stagnated: they paid a disproportionate share of taxes and were at the same time bypassed
in the grain trade, when nobles sold directly to the state or for export to Western Europe. At the
same time importation of cheap imported Western industrial goods ruined the traditional guilds and
crafts. In 1790 Vienna had 200,000 inhabitants but Debrecen, the largest city in Hungary, had only

A split developed between great landlords who made large profits and lesser nobles who did not.
The great nobles became involved in the wider empire. They sent their sons West to schools in
Vienna and brought artists and musicians East to enrich their lives (the composer Joseph Haydn was
an employee of the Eszterhazy family). When Maria Theresa and Joseph II offered them important
posts at court, the great magnates accepted. They came to have less and less connection with
Hungarian life: they spoke French and German in Vienna, Latin at the Diet, and Magyar only when
dealing with their peasants.

Meanwhile, the lesser nobles stayed home and became the leaders of the new Hungary. They
consisted of the so-called "bene possessionati" (those with middle sized holdings), and their allies
the poor "sandal wearing" nobles for whom legal claims of nobility were the only way to avoid
sinking into the mass of rural peasants. These lesser Hungarian nobles had a very different
encounter with the wider world of the 1700s. The grain trade and the economic boom hurt them.
When they listened to outside ideas, they preferred French Enlightenment authors like Rousseau
and Voltaire, with their messages about resistance to unjust authority and rights of political
discussion. Many lesser nobles wrote political pamphlets in imitation of the French: they read and
supported weekly newspapers, first in Latin and German (since 1707) and later in the Hungarian
language. The first Magyar language newspaper was published in 1780, part of thereaction to
Joseph II's policy of Germanization. Even though it had only 500 subscribers in 1789, such a
newspaper fostered the exchange of ideas among like-minded people in all the counties and
reinforced Hungarian national identity by its use of the local language.

Class vs. reform

Joseph II's enlightened reforms threatened the interests of these increasingly self-aware Magyars:
the two principles -- class and reform -- could not be reconciled in Hungary. The policy of
Germanization offended and inconvenienced Hungarians who were used to conducting legal and
administrative affairs in Latin or Magyar. Centralization of the judicial, penal and administrative
systems took power away from the lesser nobles who ran the county governments. Changes in the
tax and customs systems were objectionable on two grounds. First, they seemed to place an unfair
burden on Hungary that might slow economic growth. Second, they threatened the nobles' right of
tax-exemption. Finally, efforts to free the serfs alienated both rich and poor Magyars. Rich nobles
feared losing the free labor that supported their profits on the estates and their palaces in the city.
Poor nobles feared losing the legal distinction between "sandal-clad" nobles and mere peasants.

The Magyar revolt of 1788-1790

In 1787, 1788 and 1789 Joseph II became entrapped in expensive military adventures: first a revolt
in the Netherlands, then a new war with Turkey. He lacked the men and the funds to carry on these
wars without getting more tax revenue and more recruits from Hungary. The Hungarian nobles,
already angry over many of Joseph II's instrusions on their rights, now insisted on following the
legal procedures: the national Diet would have to be called to discuss the situation and vote before
money or men would appear. In 1788 Joseph II appealed directly to the county diets, but those
bodies refused to consent, insisting on assembly of the national Diet. Once assembled, the Diet
would have an opportunity for uncontrolled discussion and Joseph II was not ready to risk this. By
the summer of 1789 a similar assembly of the French 'parlement' in order to raise money for the
state had gotten out of control, and was well on the way to overthrowing the King of France (who
was married to Joseph II's sister, Marie Antoinette). Joseph grew discouraged, and his health was
failing. In January 1790 he revoked most of his reform decrees in so far as they applied to Hungary.
In February, he died and was succeeded by his brother Leopold II.
This change in rulers did not halt unrest in Hungary. Radical nobles and liberals from the cities
began plotting an armed revolt. A secret delegation aproached the King of Prussia to see if he
wished to be elected King of Hungary. Armed national militia units began to drill in the counties and
the Hungarian regiments of the royal army received messages calling upon them to mutiny.

Several factors averted an armed confrontation. The most important was the death of Joseph II,
which implied an end to reforms. Second, other military crises cooled off and Leopold was able to
assemble loyal army units for potential use against any Hungarian rebellion. The more prosperous
nobles had little stomach for a real war of independence. Finally, the growth of social tensions
forced even the lesser nobles to seek compromise. With so much radical talk going on, the ideas of
equality and political justice spread to peasant ears too, and small peasant revolts began to break
out, directed against Magyar landlords. Such outbreaks could be violent and dangerous: as recently
as 1784, armed peasants had slaughtered hundreds of nobles during a failed uprising. As a result,
in September 1790 both sides agreed to a restoration of the status quo ante and the old
constitutional rights.


The result was a stalemate, evidence that there were limits to the reforms that an even "absolute"
Habsburg monarch could impose. The application of enlightenment principles in Hungary slowed to
a crawl. At the same time, those enlightenment principles continued to be applied to problems in
other parts of the Habsburg Monarchy. While political liberalism was slow to come to the Habsburg
lands, equally important liberal ideas in the areas of economic change did move ahead in other
parts of the empire.

As time passed, the cost of political privilege for Hungary became backwardness in economic and
social development. As we will see later, the disparity between conditions in Hungary and in other
parts of the empire led to trouble in 1848 and later. For the Habsburg Empire as a whole, the
events of 1790 showed how hard it was going to be to reconcile the principles of dynastic power and
noble class privilege with the third principle: enlightened reform. As the nineteenth century
proceeded, this dilemma only became worse, especially when it encountered a new and competing
principle of state organization: nationalism.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 5: The Serbian Revolution and the Serbian State


Why should we present the modern history of the Balkans as "the age of nationalism?" Because the
most apparent change in the region during the last 200 years has been the appearance of national
states there. In 1800 the Balkans were divided between two dynastic empires -- a century later we
find independent states built on the national principle: Serbia, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and
Montenegro, followed shortly by Albania and Hungary.

I want to look at the so-called "national revolutions" of the nineteenth century beginning with Serbia
and Greece. Is it accurate to say that these societies changed to an extent that was "revolutionary?"
Was "nationalism" the main engine of that change? To answer these questions, we can look at the
impact of nationalism during three periods associated with the events that took place in Serbia and

• 1) developments before the unrest,

• 2) events during the "revolutionary" period itself, and
• 3) changes in the early years of the new independent states.

Serbia: Pre-conditions
We have already heard about weakness in the Ottoman and Habsburg systems. Both empires
experienced peasant revolts and other kinds of unrest prior to the nineteenth century. Those kinds
of episodes had created no new countries and no nationalist reorganization of societies. What
developments now led to national revolution?

In 1804 there was no Serbian polity, only memory of the medieval Serbian Empire kept alive
through epic poems like those about the Battle of Kosovo. The 1804 insurrection took place in the
Belgrade Pashalik (an area ruled by a pasha). The pashalik was an oval running 150 miles along the
south bank of the Danube River, and extending 100 miles south into forested hill country. The
population of the pashalik was about 350,000. About 10% were Turks or other Muslims including
janissary households displaced from lands to the north after a lost war with Austria in 1791. The
city of Belgrade (the "White City") was a center for the Ottoman administration, a janissary garrison
and Muslim shopkeepers. Serbian society was rural and existed in the countryside.

The average Serb had no notion of "nationality" in the modern sense, but despite 400 years of
Turkish rule, Serbian society was still alive and distinct from Ottoman Turkish society. In part this
was due to Ottoman toleration: conquered Slavs were not required to convert to Islam (although
some did, notably in Bosnia). However, this fact alone does not explain the cohesion in Serbian life
that made the Serbian national revival possible during the next generation. There were powerful
elements holding the society together.

First, we can cite the Turkish policy of religious separatism that accompanied religious toleration.
Under the millet system, Christian Orthodox Serbs were clearly not Muslim Ottoman Turks, as
evidenced by their subservient status in matters of law, taxes and privileges. No Serb could have
failed to notice this difference.

The second pillar of the Serbian community was the Serbian Orthodox Church. It harked back to the
pre conquest kingdom of Serbia. The Turks lumped all Orthodox believers together, both Slavic and
Greek, into a single millet. However, a distinctly Serbian archbishopric continued to exist at Pec until
1766. There was also a Serbian Orthodox bishop across the river in Habsburg Hungary, the result of
a mass migration of 70,000 Serbs into exile after a failed revolt in 1690. These Serbs were frontier
soldiers of the Habsburg "Military Border": their descendants continued to live in the "Krajina"
("border") region along the Croatian Bosnian border until the 1990s. The Serbian Church's hierarchy
of priests was a repository of limited education and administrative experience for Serbs. Services
were held in Old Church Slavonic and the church therefore preserved Serbian identity as a people
who had a separate language, not Turkish or Greek, as well as a separate faith.

Third, Turkish policies preserved Serbian village life. The Ottomans made each village responsible
collectively for the payment of taxes to the state and to the 900 timariot landlords in the pashalik.
To collect payments efficiently there had to be village leadership. To run the villages, the Turks
permitted the election of headmen (knezes) and advisory assemblies (skupstinas). These men
became Serbia's secular leaders. In 1793, Serb villagers even gained limited rights to bear arms:
the anarchy created by displaced janissaries and the rise of renegade pashas forced the sultan to
create local militias to maintain order. Serbian militia took part in Ottoman campaigns against
Pasvanoglu, an "ayan" or rebellious pasha setting up an independent realm in northwest Bulgaria.

Rural society also sustained the "zadruga," the extended household. A typical zadruga was made up
of a couple and their adult sons with their families, perhaps a dozen people living communally and
sharing farmland, herds and a living compound. The zadruga was flexibe enough to withstand the
stresses of Balkan life: some members of the family could leave home for long periods to tend
flocks in far-off pastures, make trading trips or go into the mountains as hajduks, adventurers who
sometimes acted as bandits and sometimes as anti-Ottoman guerillas.

In the late 1700s, these long-standing institutions combined with new forces to create the pre-
conditions for the successful revolution that began in 1804. What were these changes?

First, the Austrian reconquest of Hungary brought the border to the edge of Serbian territory: for a
short time, the Austrians even occupied parts of Serbia. The border meant a revival of trading
opportunities in Hungary. Enterprising Serbs fattened hogs on acorns in the region's forests and
then drove them north to market in Hungary, making a good profit.

The presence of the Habsburg state across the Danube also meant exposure to new ideas. Serbs
now could visit a place where Christians were not second-class citizens. At the same time, Habsburg
promotion of things German and Catholic again made Serbs aware of their separate identity. If the
Ottoman system taught Serbs that they were Christian, the Austrians taught them that they were
Slavic and Orthodox.

During the Austro-Turkish war of 1788-91, some Serbs served as soldiers and officers in Habsburg
armies. They learned about military tactics, organization and weapons. Some "hajduks" put this
knowledge to work even before the 1804 revolt. Other Serbs were employed in administrative
offices in Hungary or in the occupied zone.

Serbs began to travel in search of trade and education, and were exposed to European ideas about
secular society, politics, law and philosophy, including both rationalism and Romanticism. There was
an active Serbian community in southern Hungary: from there, ideas made their way south across
the Danube.

Serbs also found a model to admire in Russia, a Slavic and Orthodox country which had recently
modernized itself and was now a serious menace to the Turks. The Russian experience implied hope
for Serbia.

Other Serbian thinkers found strengths in the Serbian community itself. Two Serbian scholars were
influenced by Western learning to turn their attention to Serbia's own language and literature. One
was Dositej Obradovic, born ca. 1743. After a brief career as a monk he traveled to Western
Europe. Shocked that his people had no modern secular literature, he assembled grammars and
dictionaries to create a modern Serbian language, wrote some books himself and translated others.
Others followed his lead and revived tales of Serbia's medieval glory.

The second figure was Vuk Karadzic. Born in 1787, Vuk was less influenced by Enlightenment
rationalism and more by Romanticism with its belief in the values of unspoiled rural and peasant
communities. Vuk collected and published Serbian epic poetry, work that helped to build Serbian
awareness of a common identity based in shared customs and shared history. This kind of linguistic
and cultural self-awareness was a central feature of German nationalism in this period, and Serbian
intellectuals now applied the same ideas to the Balkans.

The events of 1804

Regardless of these pre-conditions, Serbian leaders had no plan to overthrow the sultan's rule. The
immediate cause of the armed Serbian uprising in 1804 was a further deterioration of the Ottoman
system. Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798: when the sultan stripped the Balkans of troops to defend
Egypt, the power of the central government to resist local Balkan notables declined. In 1801, the
Belgrade area filled with unruly janissaries. Some were refugees from Hungary; others had been
barred from the area in 1791 due to their abusive behavior and now returned. They murdered
pasha Hadji Mustafa who had been on good terms with his Serbian subjects. The four most powerful
janissary chiefs (known as "dahis") jointly ruled the country. Robbery and murder became common.
In February 1804 the dahis sent out bands of killers who murdered seventy prominent priests and
village leaders. Meant to prevent the sultan from using the Serbian militia against the dahis'
misrule, this crime had the opposite effect. Other Serbian leaders, fearing that they too would be
murdered, fled to safety in the forests, organized villagers and hajduks into armed units, and met
as a council to decide what to do. At the head of 30,000 armed peasants they soon forced the
janissary troops into the walled fortress of Belgrade. A military stalemate then ensued.

Was this a "national revolution?" Many Serbs only wanted to return to the old status quo. There was
no organized conspiracy like the one that began the Greek Revolution a few years later. On the
other hand, peasants had been increasingly unhappy even before the murders. Illegal chiftliks were
growing and peasants found themselves forced to pay double taxes, once to local toughs with illegal
control of the land and again to absentee legal landholders. Few peasants could have believed in a
restoration of the ideal Ottoman system. Other Serbs had new interests that made change

Djordje Petrovic, also known as Karageorge or "Black George" because of his dark features, became
the leader of the revolt. He was in many ways typical of a new class of prosperous livestock traders.
In 1804 he was about 35 years old, the son of a farm laborer. Karageorge left his rural district to
seek his fortune, sometimes tending sheep but also living as a bandit or hajduk. In the 1780s his
family fled across the Danube to safety in the Vojvodina district of Hungary. During the Austro-
Turkish war of 1788-1791 he served in a Serbian unit raised by the Austrians. After the war he
raised pigs for the trade with Hungary. As a successful man he was elected to be a knez or village
leader. The other Serb leaders had similar backgrounds: hajduks, knezes, officers.

The war began with no real plan to seek independence. The struggle lasted until 1815. It proceeded
through four stages: each one changed the stakes and made it harder to go back to the status quo.

First phase of the revolt

The first phase, from 1804 to 1806, was a conservative reaction to new abuses by the janissaries
and dahis. Most Serbs at this time wanted to restore the peaceful conditions in place when Hadji
Mustapha had been governor. But this was not possible: neither the sultan nor the Serbs could
expel the offending janissaries and appoint a new pasha. A negotiated settlement would have suited
sultan Selim III but domestic politics made this impossible. Powerful conservative Muslim elements
would not allow him to make concessions to Christian rebels. Nor could Selim guarantee that the
Serbs would not face revenge from the janissaries if they laid down their arms. Selim sent an army
to Serbia but it was driven away by the Serbs.

Second phase of the revolt

The second phase of the revolt, from 1806 to 1808, saw the rebels' goals expand. Several factors
were at work:

1) When they chose to fight off Selim's army, the Serbs had to decide that they were not longer
going to rely on the sultan for a remedy to the crisis.

2) The international situation also changed to the advantage of the Serbs. In 1806, the French and
the Turks became allies, and this left Russia free to attack Turkey. With Russian support the Serbs
were able to take Belgrade in 1807. The sultan then offered them full autonomy but the Russians
(who wanted the distracting war in Serbia to go on) convinced the Serbs to refuse. The war
continued with the Serbs now committed to a goal of complete independence.

3) Internal developments within Turkey also worked against a settlement. In an effort to create a
more effective military, Selim III pushed too far ahead with plans to replace the janissaries with a
modern army. Word got out and he was murdered by his own guards. The new sultan was in no
position to offer any kind of compromise to the Serbs. Neither side now wished to seek a reform
solution to the revolt.

The second phase of the war ended with a harsh lesson for the Serbs about Great Power allies.
Russia had other interests: in 1807 Tsar Alexander made peace with Napoleon and ended his
support of the Serbs. Left on their own, the Serbs lost Belgrade to a Turkish army in 1808. Many
fled into exile and others continued a guerilla war in the forests.

Third phase of the revolt

The third phase of the revolt began in 1809 when Russia renewed its war with Turkey and ended in
1813 with the apparent defeat of the Serbs. The Serbs failed to win for two reasons. First, Russia's
support was inconsistent and never sufficient for a decisive effort. Wider Russian interests led to the
restoration of peace with Turkey whenever war with France became a danger. When Napoleon
invaded Rusian in 1812 the Russians abandoned the Serbs again. The Serbs offered to put down
their arms in return for autonomy but the sultan refused. In 1813 a strong Ottoman army invaded
Serbia. Karageorge, many leaders and 100,000 people had to flee into the Austria Empire.

Serbian politics

The second cause of the Serbian failure was internal dissension. Karageorge quarreled with his
Council over supreme authority to make plans. These divisions not only affected the revolt but laid
the foundation for a century of Serbian politics.

Karageorge became supreme military leader in 1804 but this did not mean that he held sole power.
Serbian institutions of self-rule included the knezes, local popular assemblies called skupstinas, and
military leaders called vojvodes. Karageorge was supreme vojvode, but he had been selected by an
assembly that continued to meet each winter. A formal council of twelve was also created in 1805.
Karageorge and the Council argued over various draft constitutions: Karageorge demanded a
hereditary claim to supreme authority, while rival knezes on the Council wanted any leader to be
appointed by a "senate". In 1811, Karageorge used a vote of the national skupstina to get his way.
The whole affair diverted energy from the war. Karageorge also replaced the best military leaders
with men who were loyal to him. These factors contributed to the defeat of 1813.

Fourth phase of the revolt

The fourth phase (sometimes called the Second Revolution) took place in 1815 after an intermezzo
of restored Ottoman rule. The restoration began well enough. The Turks offered an amnesty in 1813
and reappointed returning Serb leaders as knezes.

Among them was one Milos Obrenovic. Milos was in his early twenties when the first revolt began
and about 32 in 1813. As a poor peasant youth he had travelled as far as the Dalmatian coast
driving cattle to market. He had a half-brother Milan, a wealthy livestock merchant who was one of
Karageorge's opponents on the Council. Milos became a successful military commander during the
revolt. Milan died in 1810, probably poisoned, and Milos blamed Karageorge for his death. After the
amnesty of 1813, the new pasha appointed Milos to administer three districts, as a known enemy of
Karageorge who could counterbalance his power.

Relations between Serbs and Turks soon turned bad. The Turks took supplies by force, tortured
villagers while searching for hidden arms, and raised taxes. After a riot at a Turkish estate in 1814,
the Turkish authorities massacred the local population and publicly impaled two hundred prisoners
at Belgrade.

The Serbian leaders, including Milos Obrenovic, decided to revolt again for two reasons. First, they
feared a general massacre of knezes. Second, they learned that Karageorge was planning to return
from exile in Russia. The anti-Karageorge faction, including Milos Obrenovic, was anxious to forestall
Karageorge and keep him out of power.

When fighting resumed at Easter in 1815, Milos became supreme leader of the new revolt. He
advocated a policy of restraint: captured Ottoman soldiers were not killed and civilians were
released. His announced goal was not independence but an end to abusive misrule. Wider European
events now helped the Serb cause. The final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 raised Turkish fears that
Russia might again intervene in Turkey. To avoid this the sultan agreed to make Serbia
autonomous. The specific terms of the settlement addressed many of the original complaints of

1) taxes were precisely defined and would be collected by Serb officials without Turkish

2) all janissaries were excluded and the Turkish garrison or administrators were confined to a few
fortress towns;
3) Serbian merchants gained the right to travel freely and conduct business anywhere in the
Ottoman Empire;

4) there was an amnesty and Serbs kept their arms;

5) a Serbian administration and a national skupstina or assembly were created; and

6) Milos became supreme knez with authority to carry out the decrees of the Turkish pasha.

After the Russo-Turkish War of 1829-1830 a new treaty ended some abuses of the settlement. All
Muslims left the country except a token garrison. Serbs acquired complete control of the internal
administration, the postal system and the courts. Taxes and dues were replaced by a single annual
tribute payment from the state to the sultan. Milos became the hereditary prince.

Was it a national revolution?

Was autonomous Serbia under Milos really different from the old pashalik of Belgrade? To answer
this, we need to look at the new ruling class, what the Serbs did with their autonomy and what new
institutions arose.

Measured against the Western European and American revolutions of 1688, 1776 or 1789, the
achievement of 1815 was limited. The Serbian people gained no access to "democratic" or
representative power. Milos was a tyrant who ran the country to suit his own interests. When the
Turks were expelled he bought the best Turkish estates for himself. He pocketed portions of the
state tax revenues. He enriched himself through monopolies on certain goods and indulged in
foolish luxuries like a carriage (at a time when the country had no roads).

Milos used spies and secret agents to harass or kill his enemies including Karageorge, who was
murdered when he came back to Serbia in 1817. To curry favor with the Turks, Milos had the great
rebel's head stuffed and sent to Istanbul. Other rivals died in mysterious "hunting accidents" or
were jailed. In many respects Milos was simply a Christian pasha.

The revolution against Ottoman power

On the other hand there were trends in autonomous Serbia that signalled real change. Above all,
the country was now ruled by Christians and not Muslims. Milos knew that he could never rely on
real support from Muslim and Ottoman circles. Milos therefore secured a gradual but effective
reduction of Turkish power and Serbian institutions inevitably filled the vacuum. For protection,
Milos evaded treaty limits and created a Serbian army. He began this process with palace guards
and police. After 1830 he was able to train soldiers openly. Milos' land policies steadily shifted
ownership from Turks to Serbs. Milos kept some prime land for himself but the state also sold land
to Serbian families to build up a healthy rural peasant class. A series of "homestead laws" beginning
in 1836 protected peasants from usurers and bankruptcies, and retarded the tendency to subdivide
farms into tiny inefficient plots.

There was also a revival of that key national institution, the Serbian Orthodox Church. The separate
Serbian bishopric had been abolished in 1766, submerged into the Greek-controlled hierarchy. Milos
pressured the sultan and the patriarch to restore Serbian church autonomy. The Serbian state paid
the Metropolitan of Belgrade, then withheld funds from appointees who were Greek. By the treaty of
1830 the Serbian government gained the right to name all candidates and soon secured a restored
Serbian church hierarchy with its seat at Belgrade.

When he controlled the church, Milos also gained control of the schools. In the 1830s Serbia set up
a school system with a curriculum that reflected national interests. Students now learned Serbian
grammar, Serbian literature and Serbian history.

Milos as a revolutionary figure

Following in the footsteps of Karageorge and other leaders, Milos was a new kind of Balkan leader, a
Christian who made his mark in opposition to the Turkish governing structure (unlike the Phanariot
Greeks who gained power within that structure) and also outside the traditional Orthodox Church.

It is interesting to contrast men of this kind with figures like Ali Pasha of Jannina or Pasvanoglu,
who had been successful in the preceding decades but soon found themselves set aside. There were
certain obvious similarities and differences. Men of both types were ambitious, talented, tough and
sometimes cruel. Men like Ali had followed careers that stayed within the conventions of Ottoman
rule: they were Muslim, sought and achieved official ranks in the Ottoman hierarchy, and paid
nominal obeisance to the sultan. The new men of Serbia were Christian. They rejected compromises
that would have allowed progress up the ladders of the old Ottoman system: they did not convert to
Islam or assume career paths in the Orthodox millet hierarchy. Instead, they relied for support on
forces outside the Ottoman Empire, including fellow Slavs and foreign powers hostile to the
Ottoman state. When they achieved power they used their positions not to assume Turkish offices
and titles, but to create new government structures of their own. Unlike a man like Ali, whose
interest was confined to manipulating the old system to benefit himself and his family, the new Serb
leaders set aside the old forms to pursue goals that changed the position of their co-nationals as

National politics as change

It is impossible to say how much Milos or other early leaders consciously sought to create a national
entity. While some leaders were exposed to Western European ideas, there was no completed
model of a small Balkan nation-state for them to imitate. However, the natural course of things
meant a steady widening of the circle of national political life in Serbia.

Naturally Milos had enemies: rival knezes, merchants who objected to monopolies and customs
duties, or civil servants who wanted appointments for life.

To resist his enemies Milos had to build support from other elements in society or risk losing his
office or even his life. In his maneuvering over constitutional issues and his search for allies, one
finds the beginnings of national politics, however corrupt or limited.

Constitutional disputes

The basic outlines of nineteenth century Serbian politics were clear as early as 1805 when
Karageorge clashed with his Council. Under Milos Obrenovic, the same question remained: who
spoke for the nation?

Between 1815 and 1869, Serbian politics involved repeated tests of strength between the ruling
princes and various manifestations of a "Constitutionalist" party, as jealous notables tried to gain
power by revising the constitution. In place of tyrrany, the notables offered oligarchy. The mass of
peasants were unrepresented or consulted as a national assembly only when one side or the other
needed a rubber stamp to support its own wishes.

In 1835 Milos granted the first real constitution. An upper chamber called the Council or Senate
gained legislative and administrative power, but all its members served at the pleasure of the
prince. A lower chamber called the Assembly had no real powers.

This document did not appease Milos' rivals. In 1838 Milos was on bad terms with the Russians, who
therefore helped secure a new Serbian Constitution from the Ottoman sultan as an "Organic
Statute" for a province that was still nominally Turkish.

Under this 1838 Constitution, the powers of the Council grew to suit the "Constitutionalist" notables.
Council members would serve for life and could not be removed by the prince. The state ministries
were responsible to the Council, not the prince. The Assembly disappeared so that the prince could
not use it against the council. When a military mutiny failed to cow his enemies, Milos abdicated and
left the country. His heir Milan was only 17 and deathly ill, so the Council took control of the state
as a Regency. When Milan died, he was succeeded by his 16-year old brother Michael. After another
abortive coup in 1842, Michael also left Serbia and the anti-Obrenovic notables completed their
triumph by selecting Alexander Karageorgevic, Karageorge's son, as prince. The Council retained
true power.

One can read in the transition from the Obrenovic to the Karageorgevic dynasty another measure of
national maturity. National identity and national political interest were no longer connected to the
identity of a specific ruling prince and his family. The oligarchy certainly was not a democracy but
on the other hand it was a far cry from a system in which the prince was a sort of "Christian pasha."
The rest of the century (as we will see in Lecture 13), brought an even wider expansion of political
participation in Serbia and a politics that can only be called nationalistic, for better or for worse.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 6: The Greek Revolution and the Greek State

The Greek revolution that began in 1821, followed by the war of independence, was the second of
the "national revolutions" in the Balkans. Again we need to ask: to what degree was this a
revolutionary change, and how "national" was it? To answer, we can again examine conditions prior
to the unrest, developments during the revolution itself, and what the Greeks did after their victory.


The life of the Greeks in the Ottoman Empire was more complex than that of the Serbs. If a Serbian
revolution was hampered by the weakness of the Serbs, a Greek revolution was hampered instead
by Greek strengths. In Serbia, the wealthiest or most educated elements of society were most likely
to encounter Western European revolutionary ideas and to accept them as beneficial. Among the
Greeks, on the other hand, wealthy or educated elements already enjoyed substantial privileges in
Ottoman society. Revolution was not so attractive for such Greeks, who had much to lose.

The Greek establishment

Greek life did not end when the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople in 1453. When the Ottomans
imposed the millet system, the Greeks began with some obvious advantages relative to other
Balkan Christians and added others as time went by.

Greek Orthodox clergy controlled the Orthodox millet. The Turks lumped together all their Balkan
Christian subjects, Greek or Slav. Greek clergy therefore had substantial religious, educational,
administrative and legal power in the Ottoman Balkans. The "Phanar" or lighthouse district of
Istanbul became the center of Ottoman Greek culture after the patriarch took up residence there,
and the well-connected Greeks of that city were known as Phanariots. Orthodox culture, faith and
educational systems became identified with Greek culture. Educated Orthodox Slavs were likely to
become Hellenized.

Greeks also benefited from reductions in the autonomy of the non-Greek churches. For example,
when Serbs assisted invading Habsburg armies in the 1600s and 1700s, Serbian bishoprics were
abolished as punishment. Greeks acquired political and economic power in the Romanian districts of
Wallachia and Moldavia through similar events. Until 1711, the Ottomans picked the governors or
hospodars of these provinces from the local Romanian boyar class. After Romanians supported a
Russian invasion in 1711, Phanariot Greeks replaced Romanians as hospodars.

Greeks held administrative roles in the central Ottoman administration itself. Greeks ran the office
of the Dragoman, the head of the sultan's interpreters' service, because Muslims were discouraged
from learning foreign languages. Greeks therefore participated in diplomatic negotiations and some
became de facto ambassadors. At a lower administrative level, Phanariots secured most of the
contracts for tax-farmers (men who bid to collect a district's taxes, and took their profits from
excess revenues squeezed out of the peasants). Greeks also acted as contractors to the Ottoman
court, supplying food and other services.
Such advantages slowed the Greek encounter with national identity in the modern form. Religion,
not ethnic descent or language, was the first criterion for identification in the millet system.
Religion, not language or residence, distinguished wealthy Orthodox Greeks from their Muslim
Ottoman counterparts. Some Anatolian Greeks did not even speak the Greek language. Nor was
"Greece" a definable place. Only half of the four million Greeks lived in modern mainland Greece as
we know it today: the Morea, Thessaly, Epirus and Thrace. The other two million were scattered in
towns along the coast of Anatolia, the Black Sea or the Mediterranean.

On the Greek mainland, Greek notables already exercised substantial local power. Because the
Morea or Peloponnessus was rather poor, in 1800 only 40,000 Turks lived there among 360,000
Greeks. The Turks owned two-thirds of the land, but lived in a few cities. Large stretches of
countryside had no Turkish presence at all. In those areas, Greek primates or "kodjabashis" virtually
ruled themselves, meeting in regional assemblies to supervise taxation and other administrative
matters. Greek militia or "armatoli" kept the peace while "klephts" or bandits flourished in the hills.

Greek shipowners in the islands enjoyed similar advantages. Greeks dominated Balkan commerce
by the 1700s. Some islands paid no taxes in cash, instead contributing via the labor of sailors. As
Christians, Greek traders were exempt from certain Muslim ethical and legal restraints on money-
lending at interest. Greeks were permitted commercial contacts with non-believers, an awkward
matter for Muslims. Turkish hostility toward Western Europeans also played into Greek hands.
Tiresome regulations and occasional anti-European riots discouraged Western Europeans from
coming to Turkey: instead Westerners who did business in the region used local Jews, Armenians or
Greeks as agents for reasons of safety, language and convenience. Different branches of the same
Greek family often operated in different cities, so that ties of kinship reduced the risks of trade.

Greeks were not merely commercial agents, but also shipowners and captains. Between 1529 and
1774 only ships under Ottoman registry could navigate in the isolated waters of the Black Sea, so
Greek trade there grew without competition from the Venetians. When the 1774 Treaty of Kuchuk
Kainarji opened the Turkish straits to Russian commerce, there were not enough Russian ships to
meet that country's export needs: the treaty allowed Ottoman Greeks to register their ships in
Russia, and so they benefitted from the new rules. Anglo-French naval warfare during the
Napoleonic Wars also cleared the seas for Greek ships: most Western merchant ships found the
Mediterranean too dangerous. By the 1810s there were over 600 Greek trading ships afloat, many
armed with cannon because of the threat of piracy.

Revolutionary influences

For these leading groups, Ottoman rule was tolerable. Rich shipowners on the island of Hydra,
prosperous merchants, high officials in the Orthodox Church, tax-farmers, Phanariot hospodars in
Romania, primates in the Peloponnessus and members of the interpreters' service all had much to
lose and little to gain by political adventures. How then can we explain the movement that led to
revolution in 1821?

First, not all Greeks shared in the power and prosperity of collaboration with the Ottomans. Poor
peasants, poor village priests, poor sailors and the like had no such investment in the status quo.
Without ideas or leadership, dissatisfaction among such people led to little except banditry by
klephts and occasional minor rebellions. By the 1700s, however, there were significant cultural
developments at work, many of them coming from abroad.

Greek civilization was never completely separated from the rest of Europe. After the fall of
Constantinople, some Greeks fled to Italy and played a role in the Renaissance. There were Greek
printing presses at work in Venice in the 1500s and trading contacts sustained some minimal level
of exchange of ideas. Greek traders returning from the West brought knowledge of new
manufacturing techniques, like those used to start a soap factory in the 1760s.

New ideas came too. Merchants and entrepreneurs found the economic and political concepts of
liberalism and the Enlightenment attractive. Greek wealth also paved the way for new forces in
Greek culture. Wealthy Greeks commissioned the printing of books. For students who could not
travel to the West to study, schools were founded at home. There was a revival of interest in Greek
learning and traditions, including a higher appreciation of classical mythology, and of traditional
tales and epic poems about Orthodox martyrs and heroic klephts.

Among the leaders in this revival was Adamantios Korais. Korais was born in 1748, the son of a
merchant in Smyrna on the Anatolian coast. Pursuing his education, he travelled to Paris. He was
heavily influenced by French Enlightenment thought and the ideas of Hobbes and Locke, and then
by the doctrines of the French Revolution, to which he was an eyewitness. He supported the idea of
a revolution in Greece. His chief contribution to Greek rebirth was not political but cultural. In order
to improve the Greek language and revive memories of Greek glories, he wrote modern versions of
tales from Greek antiquity, translated parts of Herodotus and Homer, and composed a Greek
language dictionary. As a secular humanist, his interests were not meant to conform to those of the
Orthodox leadership of the Greek millet at home. Korais died in France in 1833.

Another contrasting but prominent figure in the Greek revival was Rhigas Pheraios, who was born in
1757 in Thessaly. He began his career as an interpreter in the ranks of the Phanariot establishment,
but left Turkey to further his education. In Western Europe, he too was influenced by the ideas of
the French Revolution and of Romanticism. He was an active participant in secret societies and
lodges, and wrote revolutionary tracts addressed to his fellow Greeks. In 1798, he was arrested by
the Austrian police while on his way back to Turkey as part of a conspiracy. Turned over to the
Ottoman authorities, he was executed. He left behind a poem known as the "War Hymn", an
exhortation to revolt.

Clearly, the French Revolution played a role in the minds of some revolutionaries. Its practical effect
at the level of active participants in the fighting of 1821-1829 is hard to gauge.

Most Greeks could not go to France to be exposed to foreign ideas, but during the Napoleonic Wars
the French came to Greece. After defeating the Austrians in Italy in 1797, the French seized and
then annexed the Ionian Islands, the chain of islands lying at the mouth of the Adriatic between the
heel of Italy and the west coast of Greece. At certain points in the war the British replaced the
French as occupiers, but British ideas of liberalism and constitutional government had an influence
that was almost as subversive. Nearby Dalmatia also became part of the French Empire as the
"Illyrian Provinces." The French presence in these adjacent territories was accompanied by the
fanfare of revolutionary fervor, the tri-color flag and the spread of revolutionary ideals and laws.

If the French advance to the Ionians was not enough to alarm the Ottomans about the spread of
revolutionary zeal, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 was. While the British Navy ultimately
helped defeat the French invasion, the old way of life in Egypt was swept away and this Ottoman
province was soon on its way to reform and revival. After 1804, the example of the Serbian
Revolution also pointed toward possible change. All of these activities in nearby places were a spur
to Greek subversives and patriots.

One can get a good picture of the Greeks for whom change was attractive by looking at the
members of the conspiracy of 1821. The original instigators of the uprising were members of a
secret society called the "Philike Hetairia" or "friendly society." It was founded in 1814 in the
Russian port of Odessa. Like other lodges that were fraternal groups or self-help associations made
up of merchants, the society copied the Freemasons in its elaborate rituals, ranks and secrecy, but
its true purpose was revolt. The three founders of Philike Hetairia are representative. One was the
son of a Greek fur dealer living in Moscow, who already had been a member of a Greek society
while living in Paris. The second was a Greek merchant of Odessa, another veteran of an anti-
Turkish secret lodge. The third was a merchant from the Ionian Islands, a member of a Masonic
lodge there who had contacts in the National Guard created by the British occupation government.
In their merchant associations and their connections to the outside world, these three were typical
of the members who put together the plot.

From 1819 records of the lodge's Odessa branch, we know the occupation of 348 of the 452
members. 153 identified themselves as merchants and shippers, 60 as notables, 36 as soldiers, 24
as priests, 23 as minor officials, 22 as teachers or students, 10 as doctors, 4 as lawyers and 16 as
men with other professions. With the possible exception of the notables and professional men, most
members were not wealthy or influential.
The idea of revolution was also attractive to some of the powerful. In the last months of
preparation, Philike Hetairia sacrificed secrecy in favor of seeking extensive membership, and sent
representatives into Ottoman territory to recruit. A number of important klephts and district
notables enrolled, who could be counted on to control whole villages or bands of armed men. Some
of these men dropped their reservations because of the promise of Russian aid. This was plausible
because of the participation of two prominent Greeks who were in Russian service. One was Count
John Capodistrias, the tsar's foreign minister. He had been born on Corfu in 1776. After some time
studying in Italy, he returned to Corfu and played a role in the administration of the island, rising to
become secretary of state. When the island was transferred to French control, he left and used old
contacts to get a post in the Russian foreign service. His excellent reports on the Balkans brought
him to the tsar's attention, and he attended the Congress of Vienna in 1815. While he favored a
Greek uprising and was in close contact with the plotters, he shrank from the actual event and from
leadership. When fighting broke out the suspicious tsar fired him.

Another Greek with Russian ties was Alexander Ypsilantis. Born in Istanbul in 1792, he had grown
up in Russia in exile with his father. He attended the military cadet school and served with
distinction in the tsarist army, rising to the position of aide de camp to the tsar. More willing to risk
a crisis, he had less actual influence than Capodistrias.

The date for the uprising was first set for 1820, then pushed back to the spring of 1821. Turkey was
at war with Persia, and in the Balkans Ali Pasha was in revolt. The Great Powers (who opposed
revolutions on principle in the aftermath of Napoleon) were already preoccupied with revolts in
Spain and Italy. The radicals therefore believed that there would be no better time to act.

The Revolution of 1821: First Phase

If the Serbian uprising of 1804 began with a spontaneous national response to Turkish attacks, the
Greek revolution of 1821 began as a planned conspiracy, in which only selected elements of the
Greek nation had a role. The modern idea of nationality remained elusive, even for the most self-
conscious of revolutionaries. One need only examine the plot itself for signs of this confusion.

Philike Hetairia planned to start the uprising in three places. One was the Peloponnessus, where a
core group of klephts and primates supported the plot. The second site was Istanbul, where there
were plans for rioting among the Greek Phanariot community. The third part of the plan involved an
invasion of Moldavia and Wallachia (in Romania) by Greek forces crossing the Russian border from

Because Greek Phanariots had ruled these Romanian provinces as hospodars for a century, Greek
leaders thought of the area as a Greek national center, ignoring the fact that the local boyar
notables and peasants were ethnic Romanians. Alexander Ypsilantis and a corps of student
volunteers expected to lead Romanian peasants into battle against the Turks, assisted by a
Romanian ally Tudor Vladimirescu. Vladimirescu was a peasant, about 30 at this time, who had
acquired some education and administrative skill in a boyar's household. Appointed to an office in
the rural police, he grew wealthy. During the Russo-Turkish war of 1806 he helped the Russian
army and emerged with Russian citizenship and a new job in the Russian consular service, where he
met Capodistrias. Connected as he was to the Russians, the Romanian boyars and the plotters, he
seemed like a natural ally and was charged to organize the planned peasant uprising.

When Ypsilantis and 450 men of the "Sacred Battalion" entered Moldavia in March 1821, however,
the Romanian peasants ignored the Turks and instead attacked the manor houses of their local
boyar landlords. Vladimirescu and his boyar allies also ignored the Turks: their goal was to throw
out the Greek Phanariots so as to become hospodars themselves. The Greek invasion of Romania
was a complete fiasco. Ypsilantis retreated into Austria, where he eventually died in prison. With our
modern awareness of ethnicity, the reasons for this failure are obvious, but for the Greek plotters --
who conformed to an Ottoman way of thinking by dividing the world into Orthodox and Muslim
halves -- it was a surprise.
At the same time, the class divisions in Greek society undercut the success of the uprising in
Istanbul. The Turks reacted by hanging the Greek Orthodox patriarch. The new patriarch and other
well-connected Phanariots took the hint and condemned the revolution.

The only success was in the Peloponnesus. Most of the powerful primates originally opposed the
uprising but they were now summoned to appear before the Turkish pashas. In fear of arrest or
execution, in self-defense they now joined the revolt. The revolution swept across the Morea:
Turkish towns were taken and the Muslim population was massacred. Turkish forces meanwhile
massacred Greeks where they could, including the island of Chios. So ended the first phase of the

Phase Two

After the success of 1821, the war in the south became a stalemate until 1825 for several reasons.
First, neither side was strong enough for a decisive victory. The Ottoman army had to begin each
year from bases in Thessaly. Without a strong fleet, two land columns worked their way south along
the coast roads each spring, then withdrew in the fall because they could not secure a winter base
in the south. On their side, the Greek irregulars were too weak to take the offensive against the
Turks: they could only defend the Morea.

A second cause of the stalemate was internal dissension among the Greeks, reflecting pre-existing
class differences. The armed peasants and former klephts in the Morea were loyal to Theodore
Kolokotrones, a former klepht (whose memoirs are worth reading). Opposing him were the civilian
leaders in the National Assembly, including Alexander Mavrokordatos and George Koundouriotes.
Mavrokordatos came from a well-connected Phanariot family. Koundouriotes was a wealthy
shipowner from the island Hydra. They typified the assembly, which spoke for the wealthy notables,
influential primates and rich merchants. By 1823 the two sides were engaged in a civil war.

The third cause of the stalemate was intervention by Britain, France and Russia. Each of these
states had strategic political and economic interests in Turkey, and wanted to make sure that the
results of the war in Greece would not hurt them. In Lecture 10 we'll look more closely at the
"Eastern Question" -- the dilemma faced by the Great Powers, who had to choose between an
unstable Turkey and an unpredictable future if they allowed the Ottoman Empire to collapse. For
now, it is enough to know that the British were sympathetic to the Greek cause (in part out of
sentimental Phil-Hellenism, the result of education in the Classics) but unwilling to see Turkey
become so weak that Russia might gain control of the Turkish Straits and threaten the
Mediterranean trade routes. The Russian tsars in turn had sympathy for the Orthodox Greeks, but
also feared both the concept of revolution and a possible outcome in which a new Greek state might
become a British ally. French interests were partly financial, partly strategic. French trade with
Turkey was very important, and French investors also held large numbers of Turkish state bonds
that would be worthless if Turkey fell apart. France was also anxious to re-enter world politics after
the defeat of 1815, and played an active role partly for the simple sake of doing so.

From the perspective of the Great Powers, the stalemate showed that the Greek revolution would
not go away. These three states were prepared to intervene to make sure the final result was
acceptable to their interests.

Phases Three and Four

The third phase of the war was characterized by foreign interference, and ran from 1825 until 1827.
It began with an unlikely-seeming intervention by the armed forces of Egypt, a vassal of Turkey
that had undergone sweeping reforms under Mehmet Ali after the French invasion of 1798. Mehmet
Ali had ambitions and later tried to overthrow the sultan, but at this time he was able to make a
deal with the central regime. In return for a promise that he and his sons could rule what they
captured, Mehmet Ali's modernized navy and army invaded Greece in 1825, where they captured
the port of Navarino. This gave them the kind of base never held by the Turkish army, and the
Egyptians might well have defeated the Greek resistance.
The Great Powers would not accept a powerful Mehmet Ali who controlled both Egypt and Greece. In
1827 the British, French and Russians agreed to seek a mediated peace and backed up their
demands by sending a combined three-Power fleet of 27 ships to Navarino Bay in October to
observe the Egyptian navy. In the crowded bay, a musket shot escalated into a battle and the
European fleet sank 60 of the 89 Egyptian ships. The sultan was now without any armed force that
could reclaim the Morea or resist the Great Powers.

The fourth and last phase of the war coincided with the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1830. To end
Turkish stalling, the Russians invaded Turkey. The sultan gave in when the Russian army almost
reached Istanbul in 1829. Russia accepted British and French participation in the peace settlement.
The London Protocol of 1830 created a small, independent Greek kingdom ruled by Prince Otto of
Bavaria, a German prince acceptable to all three powers.

After the revolution

As was the case with Serbia, the achievements of the Greeks in 1830 are ambiguous. If Serbia
seemed to have only exchanged Muslim pashas for an Orthodox one, perhaps Greece had merely
increased the power of the very un-revolutionary oligarchs by removing their major hindrance, the
sultan. Moreover, the decisive victory of 1830 was won less by the Greeks themselves than by the
intervention of England, France and Russia, who thereafter claimed a major role in Greek politics.
The new King of Greece was not even Greek, but a Bavarian German prince, who brought German
cabinet ministers and German soldiers with him.

The new state faced several key problems and the way in which it proceeded tells us a good deal
about the degree to which 1830 was a "national revolution" after all.

First, there was the land question. After the fighting, the country was full of displaced refugees and
empty Turkish estates. By a series of land reforms over several decades, the government
distributed this confiscated land among veterans and the poor, so that by 1870 most Greek peasant
families owned about 20 acres. These farms were too small for prosperity but the land reform
signaled the goal of a society in which Greeks were equals and could support themselves, instead of
working for hire on the estates of the rich. The class basis of rivalry between Greek factions was
thereby reduced.

Second, the new state had to decide its relationship to the Greek nation at large. Some 800,000
Greeks lived in the kingdom, but 2 1/2 million remained under Ottoman rule. Greek foreign policy
quickly showed its "national" character. The most popular party (the "French" party of John
Kolettes) was a proponent of the "Megale Idea", the great idea of unifying all Greeks in one country.

Third, the Greek response to the foreign imposition of the Bavarian King Otto led to wider national
participation in politics. Greek domestic politics began as a continuation of the quarrels of the
revolutionary period, with "Constitutionalist" oligarchs opposing the central power (much like similar
events in Serbia).

Two characteristic features of Greek political life soon made their first appearance. In 1843, the
army responded to budget cuts with a military coup (the first of many in modern Greek history).
The result was a new Constitution in 1844 under which King Othon shared power with an upper
chamber of oligarchs appointed for life and a lower chamber elected by a very wide manhood
suffrage. Kolettes then used this arrangement to create a mass political machine known as "the
System" which delivered votes to the ruling party in return for patronage and favors for the voters.
No prefect, tax official, judge or policeman served without an exchange of favors with party leaders.
The System was corrupt, but it was also a mass organization that made the Greek people
participants in the political system.

The "national" character of Greek politics was underlined in a new constitutional crisis in 1862-1864.
Another military coup ousted Othon, largely because of his failure to pursue the Megale Idea. He
was replaced by a Danish prince, George I, but more important the Constitution of 1844 was
replaced by another in 1864. That document placed political power squarely in the hands of the
most democratic elements of Greek life: the senate was abolished in favor of a uni-cameral
legislature elected by direct, secret manhood suffrage. The politics of patronage remained but there
was no question that the entire nation could take part in political life. The coups against Othon also
reduced the influence of the Great Powers, because Greek elements prevailed over the Powers'
chosen king. King George managed to remain in power until 1913 largely by leaving Greek politics
to the Greeks.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 7: Nationalism in Hungary, 1848-1867

This lecture and the next look at two more Balkan revolutions: the Revolutions of 1848 in Hungary
and Romania. The 1848 Revolutions "failed" in the short run but if we trace events through the
following two decades, we find evidence of eventual success. At the same time, the limits of that
success shed light on contradictory themes behind the events of 1848 themselves.

If the Serb and Greek Revolutions were wars of independence, the Revolutions of 1848 were driven
far more by matters of internal domestic policy. In Western Europe, "1848" revolved around issues
like national unification, civil liberties and economic privilege but as the revolutionary impulse
spread to the East, issues of nationalism, nationality and ethnicity came to the fore.

1848 in Western Europe

Recall briefly the events of 1848 in France and Germany. In February, the restored French
monarchy was overthrown. In France, the political revolution was a result of commercial change: it
expressed demands for better political and economic conditions by an emerging, prosperous, urban
middle class and to a lesser degree by urban factory workers. The Liberal agenda of the middle
class soon clashed with the socialist agenda of the workers: bourgeois aspirations toward
entrepreneurial freedom clashed with labor's demands for an end to poverty and the exploitation of
workers by capitalists. Some of the principles of the revolution were sacrificed to achieve a new
stable social order. In France, the Liberal middle class allied with the nationalist right to reject
socialism in favor of Liberal capitalist economics and patriotic French nationalism.

The Revolution spread in March to the German states, where the same class issues (Liberalism vs.
socialism) were at work, but here the ideal of nationalism had more importance. There was no
united Germany in 1848, only a collection of miniature states. Unification was an important goal for
German Liberals, who were tired of political weakness and backward commercial laws. In Germany,
the middle class abandoned goals like representative government and political freedom, and
accepted national unification under the leadership of conservative Prussia. Once again, as in France,
mass patriotic nationalism replaced mass civil rights and liberties as the goal.


While the revolutions in the Habsburg Monarchy (and Romania) were inspired by the same ideals,
there was no large "middle class" in these places to sustain the Liberal focus. Ethnic nationalism
became the paramount issue as Italians, Slavs and Hungarians resisted rule by the German-
dominated Habsburg state. Except in Italy, nationalism did not just imply unification: it involved
language laws and rules that favored one ethnic group over another.

News of the events in Paris reached Vienna in March 1848. Citizen committees petitioned the
emperor for reforms. After soldiers fired on crowds in the street, the movement became more
radical. To make the story short, the middle class and its own National Guard (created to curb
lower-class elements) came to power in the city and forced the emperor to grant a constitution. The
middle classes later rejected radicalism and became isolated from students, workers and socialists.
In a similar way, the leaders of the German revolutionary party ignored the national needs of other
ethnic groups. 1848 marked a key moment for Slavic nationalism when Bohemian Czechs decided
not to attend the German National Assembly at Frankfurt: it had never occured to the Germans that
any Bohemian would not wish to become German, instead of seeking to promote a Slavic identity.
The revolution then spread to Hungary. When we last looked at Hungary, Magyar resistance in 1790
had blocked Joseph II's reform plans. The French Revolution subsequently made the idea of change
suspect, and tensions between the need for social and economic reform and the fossilized political
system increased. An agricultural depression after 1815 added poverty to political repression under
the so-called "System," the police state used by Prince Metternich to detect and suppress
revolutionary ideas.

Ethnic Magyars still made up the "political nation." This nobility was increasingly divided along class
lines. A few thousand great aristocrats were immune to most trouble thanks to their wealth and
power. They could sit in the Diet by right and had influence at court in Vienna. At a time when a
professional like a teacher earned perhaps 350 florints in a year, the average great estate produced
an income of 23,000 florints a year. The aristocrats' chief rivals for power were the medium sized
landowners known as "bene possessionati," some 25,000 families with average incomes ranging
from 500 to 3,000 florints a year. This class sustained local political life, filling local offices and
running the county assemblies. This class regarded the great aristocrats as absentee landlords who
had forgotten or even betrayed their national roots. Another 40,000 Magyar noble families were
poor "sandal nobles" who tilled small farms or worked as lawyers, teachers, priests or minor
officials. Some supported reforms. Others feared change, lest they lose their noble status and
privileges. Two figures represent the competing ideologies that shaped the pre-conditions for the
1848 revolution in Hungary: Istvan (Stephen) Szechenyi and Lajos (Louis) Kossuth.


Istvan Szechenyi was born a count in 1791 to a typical family of wealthy aristocrats: they had
estates near Vienna and a history of service to the Habsburgs. Szechenyi saw some of Western
Europe in 1813 as a young officer during the Napoleonic Wars, then went to England in 1815. He
was impressed by the order and stability of the British constitutional monarchy, the high level of
education and the productivity of modern industrial manufacturing, and returned home converted to
Liberalism in the nineteenth century sense (that is, an end to class economic privilege and
traditional legal obstacles to capitalism). He was convinced that if individuals pursued economic
wealth and political liberty, and were allowed to have responsible roles in society, the whole nation
would benefit.

In Hungary this was impossible as long as the nobles lived as social parasites. To spread his ideas
and engage his peers, Szechenyi used his connections to found clubs and associations promoting
commerce, agrarian research, horse-racing (for the breeding of better stock), a Danube River
steamboat company, a fire insurance company and a toll-bridge between Buda and Pest (the two
halves of the present-day unified city). Because nobles were expected to pay the toll like everyone
else, such a plan was radical and controversial: strict conservatives considered the toll to be a tax,
and nobles were exempt from taxation. To break down class barriers, he founded the Casino club in
Pest in 1825, open to anyone who could afford the dues, including non-nobles and Jews. In 1827 his
efforts created the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which revived interest in Hungary's language,
literature and culture.

In 1830 he published "Credit," a book which called for an end to the nobles' monopoly on owning
land. His reasoning was economic and Liberal, not directly political. Because only nobles could own
land, its value for economic development was limited, even for the nobles themselves. Because
commoners (through a bank) could not foreclose on land put up as collateral to secure a loan, land
was useless for nobles trying to raise capital; nor could commoners buy the land and develop it
themselves. These legalities deterred banks from backing investments that were needed to improve
the national economy.

Szechenyi emphasized individual entrepreneurs but he also saw a role for the national government.
Tax breaks and public money could boost industrial growth by promoting road-building, steam-
powered mills (it was more efficient to export flour than grain), coal mines and machine shops, and
a secular school system. In some of his plans, he said that the state should raise tariffs to protect
local industries, and organize a separate Hungarian army. However, the bulk of Szechenyi's ideas
revolved around Liberal individualism.
Legally, Szechenyi's plans required action by the Hungarian Diet, which began to debate them in
1831. By that time, his many projects had gained wide support. The nobles had also been shaken
out of complacency in 1830, when a cholera epidemic brought on by primitive sanitation killed
250,000 (out of ten million) and was followed by peasant rioting because rural folk blamed the
epidemic on poisoning by their landlords or Jews.

However, the backward nature of the Diet itself slowed reforms. Laws had to be approved by both
chambers and the Palatine (the representative of the Habsburg monarch). The upper house was
made up of 500 top aristocrats. In the lower house, members' authority was limited by tradition to
relaying the wishes of the county assemblies that the delegates represented. The system was not
designed for action: there were no parliamentary procedures, not even the concept of decision by
vote. In each chamber, the presiding officer heard all sides, then tried to state some middle
position. If new laws were passed, they were hard to implement: there was no official record of
their wording, let along a transcript of debates.


Parliamentary reform therefore had to precede social and economic reform in Hungary. In the
process, the idea of change became more political as it passed to a new generation. Lajos Kossuth
was their leader. He built on Szechenyi's work but represented different social elements, and the
two men did not get along personally. Kossuth (born in 1802) was not a great noble but the son of
a lawyer who was a servant on the huge Andrassy estates in the backward northern districts. The
family was part Slovak, but thoroughly Magyarized. While Kossuth's thinking encompassed
nationalism, it is worth noting that ethnic concepts of "blood" and race were not yet in vogue:
neither Kossuth nor his critics regarded him as anything but Hungarian.

Kossuth is a complex figure, more accessible than Szechenyi to modern understanding. It is possible
to see in him some elements that remind us of a 1980s yuppie. Trained as an attorney, Kossuth
held several local administrative offices. He made good money but ran up large debts by imitating
the costly lifestyle of the young nobles, entertaining and gambling. He was accused of borrowing
against funds for orphans left in his control, so aristrocratic friends got him safely out of town by
sending him to the Diet of 1832 as one of the county representatives.

At the national assembly, Kossuth found his mission in life. From 1832-1836, he organized a group
of young lawyers who wrote down and published the debates and proceedings. Because this scheme
opened the workings of the Diet to public scrutiny, it was condemned as rabble rousing by
Szechenyi and others. When Kossuth tried to do the same thing with county assembly transcripts,
he was arrested for sedition and spent three years in jail. The publicity made him a national political

In 1841 Kossuth founded the newspaper "Pesti Hirlap" (News of Pest) which was soon selling
10,000 copies. There he set out his views, in which political and civil rights eclipsed the economic
Liberalism of Szechenyi:

• the right for any man to hold any public office and
• to own property,
• the right of serfs to buy their freedom,
• taxation of nobles,
• an end to economic monopolies and special privileges,
• votes for middle-class commoners in big cities,
• creation of an independent judiciary,
• universal education, and
• an end to censorship.

While he supported a land bank to invest in rural development, Kossuth's position moved in the
direction of national strength over individual economic liberty. He stopped supporting "free trade"
and proposed protective tariffs for Hungarian industries.
Hungarian politics in the 1840s increasingly revolved around issues of ethnic nationalism. In 1843
the Diet declared Hungarian (Magyar) to be the official language of administration, replacing Latin.
Radicals like Ferencz (Francis) Deak called for the exclusive use of Magyar in education, despite (or
because of) Hungary's large Slavic and Romanian minorities.

The 1848 "April Laws"

In 1847 Kossuth, Deak and others privately circulated an "Oppositional Declaration" that stated
their most extreme position:

• the consent of the Diet to any royal decrees,

• a separate Hungarian ministry (not merely branches of the central ministry in Vienna),
• equality of nobles and non-nobles in matters of law, offices, representation, property and
• the end of peasant servitude (with state compensation to landlords), and
• freedom of the press.

In 1848, Kossuth saw an opportunity to ram this program through the Diet, thanks to the
revolutionary excitement. When the Diet opened in March, he promptly demanded a new
constitutional relationship between crown and Diet; it was easy to get the support of the lower
chamber. When news came of the successful revolution in Vienna, the Palatine (who was himself a
Hungarian aristocrat, Count Apponyi) joined the national cause, and secured the consent of the
upper house for a responsible, separate Hungarian ministry. Menaced by revolution in Vienna, the
Emperor Ferdinand was too weak to block the change. Having secured this kind of autonomous
power, the Diet then passed the ten sweeping "April Laws":

• First, all males aged at least 20 who met certain property requirements and spoke Magyar
would vote in elections to the lower chamber (this meant about 7 percent of the total
population: the upper house remained a hereditary house of lords).
• Second, a similar electoral franchise law went into effect for the county and municipal
• Third, toleration was extended to all Christian sects (but not Judaism): that is, all such
believers became eligible for all the rights of a citizen.
• Fourth, peasant dues and servitude were abolished but the 635,000 peasant families
received no title to the land they worked. Landlords would receive compensation, to be
worked out later.
• Fifth, taxation was extended to all, noble or not. The Catholic Church gave up its state-
collected tithe.
• Sixth, patrimonial courts on estates were abolished. All citizens became subject to the same
system of courts, with a right to trial by jury.
• Seventh, a national land bank for investment was set up.
• Eighth, freedom of the press and of instruction in schools was established.
• Ninth, a National Guard was created as an autonomous Hungarian armed force. And
• Tenth, administrative union with Transylvania was announced, pending confirmation by the
separate Transylvanian Diet (which consented unanimously in May).

The rise of Hungarian nationalism

The April Laws were the culmination of a popular nationalist trend embraced by ethnic Hungarians,
but one that ignored or offended the non-Magyar ethnic minorities. The extension of use of the
Magyar language (generally supplanting Latin) was a gauge of national chauvinism in Hungary. In
1831 mastery of Hungarian became a requirement to pass the legal bar; in 1838 it became the
official language of laws passed in the Diet; in 1839 it became the language of internal
administrative memos, and was required of all priests; in 1844 it became the official language of
secondary education; and now in 1848 it became a test for voters. Jews remained second-class
citizens, barred from holding office. The language laws discriminated against Slovak, Romanian and
South Slav minorities in the northern, eastern and southern regions. While Magyars pursued
autonomy for themselves, they ignored the same desires among these groups.

Alone among the minorities, the South Slavic Croatians had legal, political and military resources
with which to back up their complaints. Just as Hungary claimed a special constitutional position
within the Habsburg monarchy on the basis of medieval laws, Croatia claimed a similar position
within Hungary.

There had been a medieval Croatian kingdom and Croatian nobles claimed political rights, including
election of their kings. When their own dynasty died out in 1102, the Croatian Diet or "Sabor" chose
the Hungarian dynasty, trading away full independence for security, stability and internal autonomy.
The "Triune Kingdom of Dalmatia, Croatia and Slavonia" remained a legally distinct constitutional
entity. After Mohacs, the "Sabor" (assembly) separately selected the Habsburg candidate as
Croatia's king. Under the Habsburgs, this local diet of nobles made the laws and handled internal
administration, with the consent of the king's viceroy, the Ban.

However, Croatia constantly struggled to preserve its special rights in the face of Hungarian claims.
There were frequent conflicts between Hungarian and Croatian law: the Hungarian Diet claimed its
primacy in such cases, while Croatians claimed that the decisions of the Sabor should prevail within
Croatia. Croatian rights were also under pressure from Vienna. In 1690, Serbian refugees were
organized as the Military Border in special settlements under direct control of the state that fielded
border regiments to guard against the Turks. In the period of Enlightened Despotism, the Sabor
went long periods without being called, and German bureaucrats took over more administrative
functions. To resist Joseph II (and later Metternich's System) there was closer cooperation with
Hungary, which eroded Croatian separateness. But two issues always separated the Croatian Sabor
and the Hungarian Diet: legal supremacy and the tendency of the Diet to push the use of the
Hungarian language.

Against this background, a modern Croatian national revival began. As we have seen before, a
crucial element was linguistic revival. The key figure was Ljudevit Gaj, born in 1809 as the son of a
lower-class apothecary of German descent: but like Kossuth, Gaj's family had long ago taken on a
new (Slav) ethnicity. Gaj attended universities in Austria and Hungary and became excited by the
modern, Romantic notion of nationalism, which emphasized language, folk traditions and political
liberalism instead of noble rights and medieval privileges. Gaj believed that Croats and Serbs shared
a Southern Slav heritage (which he called "Illyrian") and he promoted a common Serbo-Croatian
language by publishing literary works in the "sto" dialect that was spoken by both Serbs and Croats.
He was able to create a shared language, although Croats continued to use the Latin alphabet and
Serbs the Cyrillic.

Gaj's ideas attracted support from the leaders of Croatian society: nobles and Catholic priests. In
1832 a noble caused a sensation by addressing the Sabor in Croatian instead of Latin. Gaj also got
permission to publish a newspaper in Croatian in 1835. Croatian nationalism soon took on an anti-
Hungarian tone, a development outside Gaj's purpose. In the 1840s the Sabor repeatedly asked the
crown to separate Croatia from Hungarian administration. In 1847, the Sabor voted to adopt
Croatian as the language of parliament. The Hungarian Diet responded by requiring the Sabor to
use Latin, although the Diet itself had given up Latin for Hungarian. By 1848 there was a self-
conscious Croatian national movement.

The Hungarian "April Laws" ignored Croatian autonomy. In response, Croatian leaders called for a
distinct Triune Kingdom as a separate entity under the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs now sent a new
royal Ban to Croatia, Josip Jellacic. He had been a colonel commanding Serbian troops in the
military border and was a known "Illyrian" in sentiment: the Habsburgs correctly hoped that he
would be an ally against Budapest. Jellacic refused to accept orders from the new Hungarian
regime, set up his own ruling council and widened the franchise to elect a new Sabor in May, which
endorsed his actions.

During the summer of 1848, the Habsburgs recovered most of the power they had lost to various
revolutionaries. Italian separatists were beaten in battle. A Habsburg general dispersed a "Congress
of Slavs" called in Prague and put down the revolution in Bohemia. These uses of force pointed to a
military clash between the monarchy and the Hungarian regime.
In August 1848, Jellacic sent a Croatian army into Hungary that fought its way to the Austrian
border near Vienna. In October, he prevented the Hungarians from aiding the revolutionary
government in Vienna when the Habsburgs used force to end the German Liberal revolution there.
Full scale war followed in 1849. Jellacic's Croatian army backed Franz Joseph, the new emperor who
replaced the mentally defective Ferdinand. In April 1849, the Diet voted to depose the Habsburg
dynasty. To conquer Hungary, the Austrians had to ask for Russian help to attack the Magyars from
behind. The war ended in August 1849: 114 captured officers were shot or hanged, others sent to
prison, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 was defeated. Or was it?

After the revolution

The revolutions in Paris, Frankfurt and Vienna tended to be phenomena of the city and of narrow
social groups like professionals, intellectuals and students. By contrast, the revolution in Hungary
had wide support, including the county and state legislative and executive apparatus, and the
armed forces . The revolutionary regimes in Paris, Prague, Vienna and Frankfurt were dispersed by
a few troops: it took a year of warfare by the combined forces of Austria and Russia to end the
Magyar experiment.

The divisions that hurt the Hungarian regime were based on ethnic differences, not class. The
Magyarization program of the April Laws made it impossible for Croats, Serbs, Slovaks and
Romanians to support those laws,and this made the minorities into handy allies for the Habsburgs.
If anything, their stance strengthened the forces of Magyar national chauvinism, despite defeat in

Not every revolutionary measure could be retracted and the Habsburg regime supported some
reforms to strengthen the state, as Joseph II had in the 1700s. These were:

1) To curry favor with the peasantry, the Habsburgs had already ended the remnants of serfdom by
an 1848 act of the Austrian parliament. Just as in the Diet's measure, peasants received title to
some land, while landlords retained title to the remainder and received state-paid compensation for
lost dues.

2) Tariffs were abolished within the empire, creating a Customs Union. This was an act of Liberal
policy that ruined a few industries but helped far more. Nobles benefitted by investing the
compensation received for lands lost to emancipation, and many became rich through

3) The provincial Diets and separate regional bureaucracies were replaced by unified national
institutions to curb separatism: this step also reduced the power of the nobility. The crown itself
saw advantages in creating a single body that replaced the regional Diets with their special
privileges, in a revival of centralism.

4) In place of historic, medieval constitutional laws, the empire embraced modern ideas of
constitutional government, even if imposed from above.

Toward the Compromise of 1867

After the revolution, the Habsburg rulers experimented with four different constitutional systems. All
of the schemes tried between 1849 and 1866 shared one key feature: they were efforts to rule the
country without making concessions to the two groups of revolutionaries of 1848, that is, the
Hungarians and the German Liberals.

After the defeat of 1849, Hungarian autonomy was abolished with the stroke of a pen. For purposes
of taxation, commerce and administration, Austria and Hungary became a single centralized state.
German replaced Latin or Hungarian as the language of official business. The crown sought allies
among groups without revolutionary associations. These included the peasants, who emerged from
1848 grateful for their land; the "nouveau riche" made up of beneficiaries of the tariff reform, both
enterprising aristocrats and urban capitalists; and harmless national minorities like the Polish
nobility of Galicia, who preferred Austrian rule to that of Russia.

Unfortunately, these manipulations could not create a strong country. Because the German Liberals
in the big cities were impeded, economic growth lagged behind the rest of Europe, especially growth
in Germany (which was unified by force under Prussia in the 1860s). The army suffered humiliating
defeats at the hands of Italian insurgents in 1859 and Prussia in 1866. The Hungarians refused to
participate in the occupation and subjugation of their country: this made administration of Hungary
a financial liability, and risked revolt. During the war with Prussia in 1866, plotters among the
boldest Hungarian radicals tried (unsuccessfully) to negotiate with Bismarck and make an alliance
against the Habsburgs.

Nor did the centralized state meet the demands of the minority Serbs, Croats, Romanians and
Slovaks, who suffered the same indignities of police surveillance and autocratic rule. As a Hungarian
wit remarked to a Croat: "What we received as a punishment, you received as a reward." The
Habsburg dictatorship was no better for the minorities than the Hungarian regime of the April Laws.

When Prussia defeated Austria in 1866, the crown at last came to terms with its two foes: the
German Liberals and the Magyars. Both groups had altered their own goals since 1848, and this
made negotiations possible. German-speaking Austrians now saw their minority neighbors as a
greater enemy than the crown, especially the Bohemian Czechs who were challenging the tradition
of German linguistic primacy in the courts, bureaucracy and schools. Most Germans were now ready
to choose the nationalist element of the ideals of 1848, and to sacrifice the element of political
Liberalism (economic Liberalism had already become a fact).

Hungarians made a similar choice, to seek Magyar national power over the ethnic minorities instead
of full political independence. The Croats, Serbs, Slovaks and Romanians were minorities, but in
combination they nearly equalled the number of ethnic Magyars. In return for a free hand with their
ethnic minority population, Hungarian leaders agreed to leave defense and foreign policy to the
Habsburgs, and also agreed to pay a proportional share of the imperial budget.

In 1867, Franz Joseph and a Hungarian delegation led by Ferenc Deak signed the "Ausgleich" or
Compromise creating the dual state known as Austria-Hungary. The former revolutionaries --
German and Magyar -- became de facto "peoples of state", each ruling half of a twin country united
only at the top through the King-Emperor and two common Ministries for Foreign Affairs and War.
Each half of the country had its own Prime Minister and parliament: in Hungary the Diet was
restored to power. The special status of Transylvania and the Military Border ended. A new
Nationalities Law was intended to preserve the rights of Romanians and Serbs, but was often
violated in practice.

The fate of Croatia was more complicated. The Diet worked out a second compromise with the
Croatian Diet. In theory this "Nagodba" of 1868 retained Croatia's separate identity, language rights
and the Sabor. In practice, the Nagodba left Croatia at the mercy of Hungary. Franz Joseph gave up
the right to act in Croatian affairs: the Ban was henceforth appointed in Budapest. The most bitter
point of disagreement was the status of the city of Rijeka (or Fiume) on the Adriatic, the best port
for both Hungarian and Croatian exports, and claimed by both. When the Hungarian delegates
brought the Nagodba to Franz Joseph for signature they adopted a simple solution to the stalemate:
in place of a clause meant to explain the dispute, they pasted a scrap of paper with their own text
which called for an end to Croatian rule. The Habsburgs chose never to remedy this trick.


By 1868, both the Hungarian and German programs of 1848 had been partially achieved, despite
the original defeat. Residents of the Dual Monarchy enjoyed substantial civil rights and were
represented by parliaments, even if those assemblies had limited power. Economic development
along Liberal lines was under way. The idea of nationalism increasingly controlled Austro-Hungarian
politics, not necessarily for the better. It remained to be seen how well the ambiguous legacy of
1848 would serve the empire and its future.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History
Lecture 8: National revival in Romania, 1848-1866

Romania's path of revolutionary change in some ways resembles that of Hungary. This is surprising
at first glance, because Romania developed under Ottoman and not Habsburg control. However,
when revolution came to Romania in 1848, it was not directed primarily at Turkish landlords (as was
the case in Serbia and Greece) nor did the revolutionaries have a goal like the revival of a Greek
Empire in the East. The themes at work were far more reflective of themes from Western Europe.

In addition, Romanian efforts at independence were complicated deeply by Western European

"Great Power" diplomacy. The lands inhabited by Romanians fell into the spheres of influence of
three Powers. Turkey dominated Moldavia and Wallachia. Transylvania was part of the Habsburg
Empire, and the object of territorial claims by Hungary. The Bessarabian district north of the River
Pruth was claimed by Russia. This area, part of which is the present-day Republic of Moldova, had
strategic importance because it touched the mouth of the Danube River. To achieve independence,
Romanians had to negotiate the thickets of the international "Eastern Question" -- the Great Power
debate over the future of the Balkans -- and this situation led to extensive involvement by Western
European states.

We will spend most of our time on Moldavia and Wallachia, because it was there that national self-
awareness grew among the boyars, the most privileged class of Romanians. Three things had to
happen to create a national movement: Romanians had to become aware of their own ethnic
identity, they had to accept the idea of self-determination, and they had to find opportunities to
overcome their powerful neighbors.


Recall that the modern Romanians emerge from historical obscurity in the late Middle Ages. We
should note one figure from that earlier era. Between 1593 and 1601 Prince Michael the Brave of
Wallachia briefly took control of both Wallachia and Moldavia. Just as Greek nationalists remember
Byzantium and Serbs remember the medieval empire of Stefan Dushan, Romanians have looked
back to Michael as a figure who united most Romanians in a single state, and defied Ottoman rule.
His legendary and symbolic status matters more than specific facts.

In the 1400s and 1500s, the Turks fought the Romanians and imposed increasing levels of tribute
as the price of peace. By the early 1600s, the sultans were taking two-thirds of the revenue of the
principalities. In addition to taxes, Ottoman officials exacted "gifts" whenever a new prince came to
the throne in Wallachia or Moldavia. To get more gifts, the Ottomans arranged to appoint new rulers
as often as possible. These areas were fertile and the Turks demanded tribute in kind, such as
thousands of sheep sold every year at a fixed low price to provide meat for the poor in Istanbul.

These Ottoman demands shaped Romania's social structure and created socio-economic problems
which lasted into the 20th century. At the top of society were the hospodars or princes, elected by
the local "boyar" nobles from among their own ranks but confirmed by the Ottomans. The princes
had little real power. A typical prince paid exorbitant bribes to secure his office, then milked as
much money out of his province as possible before another prince replaced him. Over time, the
average tenure in office gradually fell from eight years to three or four.

Below the princes were the other boyars. Originally they had been elected as village headmen, but
the power of the princes increased during the wars of the 1500s and later boyars were appointed by
the prince. By doing the bidding of the princes and Turks, these local notables grew into something
like a nobility. Dues and taxes paid by peasants went through their hands, and would-be princes
bribed them to win their votes. The boyars grew rich on income coming from both sides. When the
livestock trade (and later the grain trade) became profitable, the boyars grew rich as middlemen.

At the bottom of the social pyramid were the peasants. Peasants had always owed part of their
crops and labor as dues to support local churches and medieval administrative institutions. The
boyars gradually claimed control of these dues for themselves. When peasants began to leave their
villages to escape excessive taxes, Michael the Brave introduced legal serfdom in 1600, binding
families to their land. By the 1700s, peasants owed as much as 17 days' free labor each year to the
local boyar, but the boyars increased the legal definition of a day's work until it took some 40 days
per year to satisfy the requirement. Legal serfdom was abolished in 1749, but the boyars converted
the old dues into high rents: peasants were soon in debt, and were forbidden to leave until they
could pay what they owed.

Sources of nationalism

Until the 1700s, Romanian personal identity was defined by village residence, religion (Orthodox vs.
Muslim), and class (boyar vs. peasant). Awareness of national ethnic identity grew through the
influence of internal and external factors. An early step was awareness of conflicts with the Greek
Phanariots. The princely hospodars were elected from the boyar class, but in 1711 the Moldavian
prince collaborated with an invading Russian army. To punish this disloyalty, the sultan stopped
selecting Romanian boyars as princes and turned instead to the Phanariot Greeks. In the 1600s,
Greeks already occupied many church posts in Romania. Romania was Orthodox but church services
were conducted in Old Church Slavonic, not in Greek. The new Greek hospodars now abolished the
Slavonic Church liturgy. This move backfired. Greeks filled the upper ranks of the clergy and the
monasteries, but there were not enough Greek-speaking priests to fill all the rural parishes, and so
the new rule led to wider use of the Romanian language as a replacement for Slavonic. This trend
developed a crucial linguistic element of Romanian national revival.

The imposition of foreign Greek princes and the growth of Greek merchants as commercial
competitors also led the boyars to a sense of their own shared ethnicity, moving beyond their prior
sense of shared class interest. In the 1700s, national awareness was a phenomenon of the rural
ruling class, not city dwellers, because Greek culture dominated the towns. With increasing wealth,
the boyars sought a model for a more sophisticated way of life. They rejected the dominant Greek
and Ottoman cultural milieus. Instead they looked abroad, first for luxury goods such as furniture
but later for ideas too.

Russia offered them one alternative. Russian troops occupied the principalities from 1769-1774. The
boyars became familiar with the idea of a powerful Orthodox country that was not Greek, and the
1774 Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji created a legal role for Russia in Romanian affairs. Russia gained the
right to monitor and guarantee the religious freedoms and basic rights of the sultan's Christian
subjects, and Russian merchants got the right to do business in the region.

Thanks to their Latin-based language, Romanians found a second alternative cultural model in Italy.
In the later 1700s some Uniate Catholic Romanians from Transylvania went to Rome to study with
the Jesuits. They learned enough about the Roman history of Dacia to identify themselves as
descendants of the Latin-speaking Romans. Trajan's Column especially excited them, with its
images of the Dacians and the Roman conquest of the Romanian region. Literate Romanians soon
gave up the Cyrillic alphabet in favor of the Latin, and purged the language of Greek and Slavic

Friction with Magyars in Transylvania was a third source of nationalist sentiment. In the 1800s,
ambitious Romanians often left Transylvania because of the growth of Hungarian national
chauvinism. Better educated than most Romanians in the Principalities, these immigrants supplied
the majority of school teachers for Wallachia and Moldavia. Their background made them advocates
of Romanian ethnic rights and unification of the Romanian people.

A fourth model was France. Russian officers spoke French and introduced French culture during their
occupation of the area, and some Romanian students went to Paris. Romanians identified with
France as another civilization with Roman roots, and paid close attention to the French Revolution
and Napoleon. Among French ideas, the ideal of nationalism had special appeal. In the 1820s and
1830s, Romanian students identified with insurgent peoples like the Italians and Poles. Because
Russia opposed various Polish uprisings, Romanian interest in the Russian model waned while
sympathy for France grew.

The Greek Revolution

The Greek Revolution had a strong impact on Romania. The events of 1821 made it clear that the
Romanian boyars wanted to follow their own interests, not exchange Turkish rule for Greek rule.

An important result of the Greek revolt was the restoration of the office of hospodar to Romanian
hands, as the Turks reacted to Greek disloyalty. When the war of Greek independence ended with
the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, the Russians secured important provisions for Romania. Divans, or
councils of boyars, became part of the administration. Princes would be elected by the boyars for
set terms of seven years, increasing their autonomy. The divans were also ordered to draw up two
new constitutions (called Organic Statutes) for Wallachia and Moldavia. The new Organic Statutes of
1831 and 1832 firmly established new powers for the boyars. In each province, a legislature of
boyars was to make the laws, subject only to veto by the hospodars, who faced periodic election by

The boyars also cemented their control over land. Until this time, the boyars were limited in law to
"usufruct" rights, that is, ownership of peasant produce but not the land itself. The boyars now
claimed full proprietary ownership of all estates. Peasants became sharecroppers, supporting
themselves off two-thirds of the land. As rent, they now owed as much as 84 days' free labor on the
other third of the estate for the landlord's benefit. Boyars paid no taxes and were now in position to
profit from growing agricultural exports to Western Europe.

The Organic Statutes didn't unify the two principalities but laid important foundations for a later
unification. The two provinces shared identical government structures. In 1847 the two provinces
became a Customs Union and it became easy for citizens of one area to become citizens of the

The ideas of 1848

By 1848, the Romanian upper class had control of the local government, a monopoly on domestic
power and control of the country's land, the key to wealth. However, Liberals and revolutionaries
wanted more. Secret societies like the Philharmonic Society of 1833 sought unification of the two
provinces, a true constitution, free education and freedom of the press. These ideas reflected
Western influences but ignored the needs of poor Romanian peasants. At most, groups like
the"Brotherhood" society of 1843 were willing to concede legal equality for all Romanians: this was
far short of a land reform or other measures creating social or economic equality.

Another consistent demand was true independence. A revolution that merely replaced Turkish rule
with rule by Russia would be a failure. Russia was a special source of worry because the tsars used
the special powers of the 1829 treaty to interfere in Romanian affairs. Russia claimed the right to
veto any amendments to the Organic Statutes and tried to coerce commercial concessions for
Russian companies. Such efforts attacked the new powers of the boyars, and made the boyars into
potential supporters of revolutionary ideas.

1848 in Romania

Romanian students took part in the Paris revolutionary events of 1848, then returned to Romania.
In April 1848 a thousand people assembled in Jassy, the Moldavian capital. Among them was
Alexander Cuza, who later became ruler of the united principalities. He was typical of the 1848
revolutionaries: 28 years old, from a boyar family, educated in Paris. The crowd petitioned the
prince for civil liberties, a wider franchise and administrative reforms. These demands might have
been accepted but the document also required a new national assembly to replace the divan of
boyars, and creation of a "citizen guard," two measures that implied a real shift of power. The
prince had his militia arrest 300 people, and the leaders who escaped had to flee the country.

The revolution in Wallachia was more successful because it was better planned. A committee of
intellectuals, liberal boyars and sympathetic army commanders placed deputies in various towns so
that the June uprising began in several places at once. Among the plotters were members of the
Bratianu family: Ion later became leader of the powerful Liberal Party. In 1848 he was 27 years old,
another Paris-educated boyar. Faced with widespread unrest, the ruling prince agreed to a new
constitution before fleeing Bucharest. The revolutionaries then adopted the constitution for
themselves at a mass meeting. It included freedom of the press, equal civil rights for all (including
Jews), an end to the privileges of the boyar class, complete internal legislative and administrative
autonomy free of Ottoman interference, a responsible government answerable to a representative
assembly, a wider franchise and a solution to the peasant problem. The regime asked for unification
of the two provinces but did not demand formal independence from the Ottoman Empire.

These demands can be seen as falling into four areas:

1) civil liberties;

2) internal political changes;

3) social and economic reforms; and

4) independence from foreign rule.

The first two categories were less controversial than the latter two, which were unrealistic. Social
and economic reforms struck at the well-being of the very boyar class whose support was needed to
further political change, and the Great Powers would not consent to complete Romanian

After a month of debate in the divans, the boyars accepted the civil liberties clauses. The franchise
for elections to a national Constituent Assembly expanded to include free male Romanians aged 21
or over, who lived in towns (in other words, the rural peasants remained without the vote). There
was no income qualification. Voters would elect delegates to county assemblies, from whose ranks
the actual assembly delegates would be elected. Thus many Romanians would have some kind of
vote, but the two-tiered process guaranteed that prominent notables would sit in the final assembly.

A committee of boyars and peasants looked at the question of peasant land. They agreed in
principle that peasants should receive title to land in return for compensation to landlords, but could
not agree on how much land or its value.

Before these class conflicts led to open strife, foreign interests stepped in to end the revolution.
First, the Ottoman government refused to endorse a revolution that had obvious anti-Russian
elements. When a delegation brought the new constitution to Istanbul to get the sultan's approval in
August 1848, he refused to see them. A Turkish army was already camped in Wallachia; it was
joined in September by a Russian force, and units from both powers then marched into Bucharest
and put down the revolution. When the old regime was restored, it was altered to reduce the power
of the boyars: princes were now to be appointed by the sultan and then approved by the Russian
state, with no role for the Romanian assemblies.

After the revolution

Most of the Romanian leaders fled to Paris, where Napoleon III proved to be sympathetic to their
goal of national unification and independence. By emphasizing national pride and patriotism,
Napoleon III had rallied most of France around him even while he was dismantling the Republic
achieved in 1848. The "nationality principle" was a useful tool for France to use against Habsburg
influence in Italy and Germany, and he was willing to apply it to Romania as well.

At first, the "'48ers" (as they were called), found Napoleon III distasteful: his restoration of an
imperial monarchy offended their Liberal sentiments. After a time, however, realism changed their
minds. If Great Power influence had ended the 1848 Revolution, only Great Power counter-influence
could restore it.

In the same vein, the '48ers made some hard choices about the program they would pursue at
home. Most now opted for a much more limited goal: unification of the two principalities under a
foreign prince who would be free of Ottoman and Russian influence. The Liberal civil liberties agenda
and the socio-economic agenda of land reform were set aside, possibly to be pursued after Romania
became a sovereign state and free of foreign interference.

The '48ers also decided that armed revolt was futile and chose to work within the system, both in
the internal administration of the two provinces and especially in the international diplomatic arena.
In 1848 the revolution had been put down by cooperation between Russians and Ottoman Turks.
The new Romanian strategy involved waiting for an opportunity when Russia and Turkey were at
odds. This was not such a wild plan: after all, Russia and Turkey had fought numerous wars, the
latest only twenty years before. An independent Romania, especially one that seemed likely to be
anti-Russian, could be acceptable to Turkey. Such a state might become a barrier against Russian
invasions along the Black Sea coast.

The other Great Powers were also potential allies against Russia. Great Britain was never willing to
accept too much Russian control over the small Balkan states that were replacing the Ottoman
Empire. British policy reflected trade and commerce: it was important to keep Balkan markets open
to British goods. The Eastern Mediterranean was also a strategic route connecting England with
India. Austria also opposed too much Russian influence in the Balkans, partly for reasons of trade
rivalry and partly to reduce the attraction of Russia for the Slavic minorities in the Habsburg
Monarchy. France also had commercial reasons to resist too much Russian power, and the
nationalist regime of Napoleon III was ideologically opposed to Russian autocracy.

The Crimean War

The opportunity for Romanian independence came during the Crimean War of 1853-56. The war
pitted Russia against Turkey, England and France.

The crisis began over the symbolic issue of control of Christian Holy Places in Turkish-ruled
Jerusalem. Orthodox and Catholic monks quarreled over issues like the possession of keys to locked
shrines. Old treaties made Russia and France respectively the international guarantors of each side's
rights. In 1852, Napoleon III tried to undo some advances made by Greek Orthodox monks over the
years, as a way to distract French Catholic public opinion from resentment against his authoritarian

Because the dispute would be resolved at the highest levels of the Turkish government, it became a
symbolic struggle for influence. Mistakes led to war. The Russians badly misjudged the other
Powers: they failed to see that Britain could not accept a Russian victory, with its implications for
control of Turkish policymakers. Tensions rose and both sides sent armed forces to advanced
positions: withdrawal by one side then would have meant humiliation. A Russian army occupied the
two Principalities, and the Russians failed to see that this act threatened Austria's Balkan interests.
Russia expected gratitude from Vienna for its help against Hungary in 1849 but Austria refused to
support Russia. With the support of the Western powers, the Turks refused to negotiate and
declared war on Russia in 1853.

The Crimean War pulled in the Great Powers even though none of them wanted to go to war,
because no one could come up with an acceptable solution to the complex problem of influence in
the Balkans. This was not the last time the Balkans became a trap for the Great Powers.

For Romania, the key factor was the isolation of Russia. In 1854 Austria forced the Russians to
evacuate the Principalities: Austria stepped in instead, as a neutral power. In 1856 the Allied
powers took Sevastopol (the chief Russian port on the Black Sea,) and Tsar Nicholas I died. The
new tsar (Alexander II) agreed to terms at the Treaty of Paris. Romania gained important freedoms
from Russian domination:

1) the Danube was opened to shipping of all nations, and Southern Bessarabia (the north bank of
the mouth of the Danube) became part of Moldavia and no longer part of Russia.

2) Russia lost her unilateral status as the protector of Romanian rights: instead, all the European
powers assumed the role of guarantors of the treaty.
3) The two Romanian principalities remained under nominal Ottoman rule.

4) A European commission was set up to determine the basis for administration of the Principalities,
in conference with an elected assembly in each province.

This was exactly the situation which Romanians needed. No single Power could now veto local


Elections for constitutional assemblies were held in the summer of 1857. Turkish manipulation of
the polls brought in anti-unionist majorities but the interference was so blatant that new elections
were held in the fall. This time, assemblies elected in both provinces were pro-unification and
promptly voted to unite Wallachia and Moldavia.

Several Powers supported unification by this time. France was one thanks to Napoleon III; Russia
was another because of a new desire to curry favor with Romania. Britain and Austria, on the other
hand, wanted the principalities to stay separate. Britain realized that unification would remove the
area from Turkish control, and this was likely to reduce British influence. Austria feared that the
Romanian minority inside the Habsburg Monarchy would be attracted to a unified Romanian state.

The recent assembly votes also contradicted the terms of the 1856 treaty: the Powers only allowed
creation of parallel institutions and a joint Central Commission to deal with shared concerns. Each
province would still elect its own prince and its own parliament.

The two parliaments were elected in the fall of 1858. When they convened in January and February
of 1859, both bodies elected Alexander Cuza as prince for life. Napoleon III at once recognized
Cuza. Austria was in no position to enforce its wishes with arms, because she was already on the
verge of war in Italy against France and the Italian nationalists. Therefore it was agreed to treat this
as an exception: Cuza would fill both offices for the time being, while in all other ways the two
provinces would remain separate.

Cuza as prince

Cuza generally is not regarded as a brilliant politician, but he was smart enough to find bright
advisors and ministers drawn from the Liberal movement. It might also be accurate to say that he
listened well to the advice of those who placed him in power. He had not sought the office of prince,
and had only been nominated after Liberals saw conservatives splitting their vote between rival
boyar families.

Once in office, Cuza took several steps to bolster his position. In 1861 he persuaded the Ottomans
to let him rule with a single unified parliament and cabinet for his lifetime, in recognition of the
complexity of the task. Both Liberals and Conservatives in the two assemblies were willing to go
along with this because all factions saw the single parliament as an important step toward national
unification. Cuza, by his action, made himself personally indispensable for the continuation of that
single parliament.

Cuza then addressed another issue, through which he could place himself at the front of boyar
interests. Between a fourth and a third of Romania's arable land was controlled by Greek Phanariot
"Dedicated Monasteries" whose produce supported Greek monks in shrines like Mount Athos and
Jerusalem. These estates were tax-exempt and a substantial drain on state revenues. In 1863 Cuza
expropriated these lands with the backing of the parliament. He offered compensation to the Greek
Orthodox Church but the Patriarch refused to negotiate. This was a mistake: after several years the
Romanian government withdrew its offer and no compensation was ever paid. State revenues
thereby increased without adding any domestic tax burden.

Cuza then took up land reform. In doing so he seems to have imitated his sponsor Napoleon III,
who secured the support of the French peasants by a land reform measure. Cuza soon found
himself in conflict with conservative boyars. A Liberal bill granting peasants title to the land they
worked was defeated. Conservatives responded with a bill that ended all peasant dues and
responsibilities, but gave landlords title to all the land. Cuza vetoed the bill, then held a plebiscite to
alter the constitution, again in imitation of Napoleon III. His plan, to establish universal male
suffrage and the power of the prince to rule by decree, passed by a vote of 682,621 to 1,307. Cuza
then promulgated the Agrarian Law of 1863. This effort to solve the peasant land question granted
peasants freedom of movement and abolished all dues in labor and kind. Peasants received title to
some of the land they workedL they shared in the division of up to two thirds of each estate, while
landlords retained ownership of the other third. Where there was not enough land available to
create farms of realistic size under this formula, state lands (from the Dedicated Monasteries) would
be used. In return the boyars would receive payment from the state.

Cuza failed in his effort to create an alliance of prosperous peasants and a strong Liberal prince.
Many peasants ended up with smaller farms made up of inferior land in scattered plots. Landlords
arranged to keep the best land; they used the compensation fund as investment capital and
emerged with new wealth from capitalist agriculture.

At the same time, the landlords resented Cuza's actions. Budget problems and a personal scandal
involving his mistress eroded his popularity. In 1866 a group of army officers broke into the palace,
forced Cuza to sign abdication papers, and then escorted him over the border into Austria. He never

Ironically, Cuza's abdication accomplished one of the last goals of the '48ers: it led to rule by a
foreign prince whose international ties would lend legitimacy to the ruling house. Cuza was replaced
by Prince Charles of Hohenzollern, a 27-year old cousin of the King of Prussia. As Carol I, he ruled
until 1914.

1866 and 1848

By 1866, roughly the same date as their Hungarian counterparts, the political descendants of the
1848 Romanian revolutionaries achieved most of their original goals. Civil liberties existed at least
on paper. The country now had a constitutional government, a unified regime covering both
Wallachia and Moldavia, and a ruling house with ties to an influential foreign dynasty. While
Romania was technically a possession of Turkey, for all practical purposes it was independent. Only
the goals of social and economic reform remained unmet. Cuza's effort to solve the rural land
problem had done more for the landlords than the peasants. Nevertheless, only 18 years after the
failed nationalist revolutions of 1848, Romanians had achieved the greater part of the revolutionary
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 9: Economic and social changes in Balkan life

Not only political ideas, but also economic innovations came to the Balkans in the 1800s. In the long
run, these resulted in better communication and transportation systems, increased agricultural
yields, expanded industrial output and more jobs, but in the short run economic change created
significant social dislocation.

Traditional Balkan leaders and social institutions had a hard time dealing with change for several
reasons. The pace of change accelerated during the nineteenth century, much of it was difficult to
understand, and many of the forces behind it originated in distant places. This lecture covers the
period of this transformation, between the end of the 1700s and the year 1878.

Changes in trade

In the 1700s, foreign trade was a minor part of the Ottoman (and therefore the Balkan) economy.
Muslims were discouraged from trading with the Christian states of Western Europe, and prior to the
industrial revolution there were limited markets for exports anywhere. The Ottomans exported
luxury goods like silk, furs, tobacco and spices, and had a growing trade in cotton. From Europe, the
Ottomans imported goods that they did not make for themselves: woolen cloth, glassware and
some special manufactured goods like medicine, gunpowder and clocks. Most trade took place
within the vast empire stretching from the Danube to Africa, Arabia and Persia. By one estimate,
only 4 percent of the Ottoman gross national product was exported, and the Ottomans imported
less than they exported. In the 1700s, France dominated Western European trade with the Eastern
Mediterranean. The Austrians had the second greatest volume of trade, thanks to the long border
they shared with the Turks.

The Napoleonic Wars disrupted trade patterns for decades, not only during wartime but afterward:
even during the 1830s recovery was still underway. Between 1840 and 1870, however, Turkey's
foreign trade doubled as a share of the national economy, and the value of commerce rose even
more as the overall economy expanded. In the 1840s, the combined annual value of imports and
exports was about 13 million pounds sterling; by the 1870s it reached 40 million; and on the eve of
World War I, it was over 60 million despite the loss of most of Turkey's Balkan lands.

Trade not only grew, but its nature changed. During the 1800s, the Ottomans began to import more
than they exported, although the serious gap between imports and exports only appeared after the
1870s. Bulk goods and manufactures replaced luxuries in the import trade. Cotton cloth and cotton
yarn from British mills made up more than half of total imports, followed by food products like
sugar, coffee and rice. Agricultural goods made up more than 90 percent of Ottoman exports,
typically Mediterranean crops like grapes, figs and olive oil. France never recovered from wartime
losses and ceased to be Turkey's leading commercial partner. The British stepped in to replace the
French: from a pre-war level of about 10 percent, the British share of Turkish trade rose, eventually
reaching 45 percent in 1880. Austria (and Germany) remained important partners as well. This
expansion in foreign trade brought little wealth to Muslim Ottoman merchants. The state was
unwilling to create a new wealthy class and instead granted commercial licenses to Greeks,
Bulgarians, Armenians and other non-Muslim residents of the Ottoman Empire. Thanks to their local
knowledge, these Balkan traders rapidly displaced the Western Europeans who had dominated
commerce in the 1700s.

These developments caused social dislocation in the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire in several

• First, when imports outstripped exports, wealth began to leave the region.
• Second, within the Balkan region, new wealth flowed not to the traditional ruling class but
to other groups whose interests were at odds with the central state: Greek merchant
shipowners, for example, or the Romanian boyars. As this kind of wealth increased, so did
the forces that were fragmenting Ottoman society.
• Third, the pursuit of profitable imports and exports in the short term pushed the local
economies in directions that were not necessarily good for those local economies in the long
run. Both agricultural and industrial development tended to serve the needs of Western
European economic figures and their Balkan partners, but did so at a cost to the mass of
the region's inhabitants.


Agricultural exports offered the Balkans the best opportunity to sell goods on the world market,
thanks to the growth of Western European cities as markets. However, local conditions limited the
value of this opportunity for three reasons: inappropriate farmland, inadequate transportation and
ineffective social institutions.

The farmland in the Balkans was thin and rocky, and produced smaller crops than land in the North
European plain. Traditional Balkan farms were small and inefficient: the holdings of an individual
peasant consisted of small plots of land scattered around the village. The yield on such farms was
too low to create an excess for export. In areas of flat land, plots could be combined and worked as
one large field (especially where landlords had direct control of some land, legally or illegally) but in
wooded or mountainous parts of the Balkans (like Serbia) this was not practicable.

The second problem was transportation. Even if larger crop yields could be grown in large fields, the
lack of roads or navigable rivers often made it impossible to carry the harvest to markets or ports.
The Wallachian region in Romania was unusual: it combined good farmland on a flat plain with
access to the nearby Danube River, so that grain crops could easily be shipped to the West. The
addition of railroads to address this communication problem took place only in the latter part of the

Finally, Balkan institutions were not conducive to farming for export and profit. The Ottoman feudal
system was based on subsistence agriculture: local landlords took a portion of the diverse crops
raised by self-sufficient peasants for their own use. The system was not easily altered to
accomodate specialized agriculture, even if good farmland and transportation was available.
Peasants expected to raise and consume a variety of crops; if a peasant family began to raise a
single cereal grain, there were no economic mechanisms in place to import the other meat,
vegetable and dairy products they needed to eat. Where intensive agriculture was possible, it also
tended to further destabilize the Ottoman system because it enriched local notables whose interests
were at odds with the central state apparatus. Among figures like the boyars in Romania, wealth
from grain sales fostered social and cultural aspirations that led in turn to a nationalist revival and a
challenge to the Ottoman status quo. In a sense, this was little different from the earlier
phenomenon of the chiftlik: local notables and ayans like Pasvanoglu achieved wealth and power by
retaining revenue at the local level, and denying it to the central state.

Industrial change

Of course, enclosure of fields and the dislocation of rural dwellers was a major step in the Industrial
Revolution in Western Europe. Displaced peasants became factory workers in the enterprise
financed by wealthy landlords. In the long run, Western European standards of living rose. In the
Balkans, however, the spread of capitalist agriculture did not lead to an industrial revolution. This
was due to other aspects of the socio-economic changes that took place in the 1800s.

In the early modern period, manufacturing in the Ottoman Balkans was in the hands of guilds. Each
guild governed a trade such as iron-working, shoe-making, tanning, silk-weaving and so on (typical
of Ottoman associations, guilds also had roles in local government, the tax system and religious

Importation of manufactured goods from the West, especially from Britain, was a major blow to
many guilds. In 1816 (just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars) Britain exported some 250,000
pounds worth of goods to Turkey; by 1835 that figure had risen ten-fold, to some 2.7 million
pounds; and by 1845 the figure had nearly tripled again, reaching 7.6 million pounds. Much of this
consisted of yarn or cloth.

Goods made using Western factory techniques cost less than traditional hand-made goods, and this
put some guilds out of business. Western values and fashions also played a role in a decline in
Ottoman industry: Balkan and Turkish customers began to prefer cotton cloth (imported) over silk
cloth (woven domestically) and later switched to ready-made Western-style clothing.

As an example, we have available figures showing the collapse of the silk-weavers' guild in Bursa,
an Anatolian city near Istanbul: while not in the Balkans, it is representative of the trend. In 1815
the Bursa silk-weavers produced about 100,000 pieces of cloth on their looms. In the 1830s,
imports of Western cloth began to cut into their market. At the same time, competing Western
demand caused the cost of important dyes (like indigo) to double. The price of raw silk also went up
making it even harder for the Turkish weavers to get by. By the 1840s silk cloth production had
fallen to 20,000 pieces, and in the 1850s it fell to 12,000 pieces.

Ottoman industry was not always simply eliminated by Western competition: sometimes it was
transformed. While silk weaving was in decline, production of silk thread increased by a factor of
four in the same period (1815-1845). French capitalists established a modern spinning mill in Bursa
in 1834 and by 1860 there were 46 steam-powered mills in the city. By 1870, the output of silk
thread was eight times what it had been in 1815.

However, this kind of new industry was fundamentally different from the old weavers' guild. It
produced only raw goods, which were exported to the West for advanced processing before the final
product was reimported to Turkey for sale as cloth and clothing. Ownership of the expensive new
mills was in foreign hands. The workforce also was substantially different. The traditional weavers
were heads of households, worked at home and acted as officers in a guild that fulfilled important
roles in the society: training apprentices, ensuring quality of goods, performing rituals and collecting
taxes. Mill workers filled none of these autonomous, socially important roles. The work was hard
and unpleasant; there was no opportunity to advance, certainly not to own one's own business.
Former weavers refused to enter the mills, so the workers were drawn from low-status groups: at
first, migratory factory workers from Greece or Armenia, later women and girls drawn from the poor
countryside nearby. These workers lived in dormitories and contributed little to the local city
economy. They left after short careers, often to marry; their mill experience was a merely
temporary interaction with a modern economy.

Failures of state leadership

The Ottoman state was not very successful in dealing with modernization. As we will see next week,
there was a major reform movement in nineteenth century Turkey, but it concentrated on legal
codes and failed to master the intricacies of international investment, foreign loans and rural
development. Issues of this kind are common around the globe today, but these were new problems
in the 1800s and solutions were sought by a process of trial and error.

By the 1830s, Western European capitalists were investing in factories and other enterprises in the
Ottoman Empire. After 1850, Western investors began to make loans to the Turkish government
itself. The Ottoman state borrowed foreign money for the first time in 1854, to offset the high costs
of the Crimean War. This set the pattern for state borrowing in the Balkans: the Turkish
government (and later the successor states) tended to borrow in times of crisis, and used the
money to pay for the state apparatus itself (especially military forces) and not for investments like
factories that would later produce income. When the loans came due, there were no new sources of
revenue to pay them off: in many cases new loans were taken out simply to pay off old loans.

By 1875 the Ottomans owned 200 million pounds sterling to foreign investors; the interest
payments alone amounted to 12 million pounds a year, approximately half of the state revenues. In
1874, thanks to a combination of agricultural failure, military costs from unrest in the Balkans and a
worldwide economic depression, the Turkish government could no longer pay even the interest due
on its loans and went into formal bankruptcy. To preserve the Ottoman state and Balkan stability,
and to ensure payment to Western Europeans holding Turkish state bonds, the Great Powers took
partial control of the Turkish revenues in 1875 through an international agency, the Administration
of the Ottoman Public Debt. In order to restore access to credit, the sultan had to grant the OPDA
control over major parts of the state income, money that thereafter left the country.

As a result of this bankruptcy, state finance came to share in the problems of private industrial
development. In both cases, decisions about modernization in Turkey were made by foreigners who
were interested in profits, not development. In both cases, future investment followed channels not
necessarily to the best advantage of the local people, and the fruits of investment tended to leave
the country.

If social and econmic modernization failed to take off in the Ottoman Empire, it was not because the
Ottoman state was uniquely incapable of dealing with the novelties of modern life. In the new
Balkan states, events followed rather similar paths despite their success in replacing the Turkish
government with national regimes. Most of the industrial development in the new Balkan states took
place later than the 1870s; much of it extended into the twentieth century, and will be dealt with
later. In the area of agrarian change, however, we can look at trends in the 1800s.

Land reform

In the transformation of the silk industry, urban craftsmen were replaced by migrant workers
coming from the countryside to take jobs in the mills. Rural people were available for this kind of
low-paid, low-skill work because social and economic modernization was creating a surplus of rural
labor. While census figures are lacking or inaccurate, it is fair to say that the population of the
Balkans doubled during the 1800s thanks to improvements in health care, especially reductions in
death from famine and epidemic.

However, there were still not enough industries to create a demand for that potential labor force.
Most of the surplus population remained in rural areas where the shift to agriculture for export often
reduced the demand for farm labor, or at least reduced wages. With so many people trapped in
rural situations, land reform became a growing issue in the Balkans, especially in the new successor
states. When popular, nationalist movements expelled the Turks, the newly independent
populations often expected that political revival would be accompanied by economic revival. In
practice, this was very difficult to achieve, as we can see by looking at developments in Serbia,
Greece and Romania. In each of these new states, the new political system was called upon to solve
socio-economic problems, and land reform was usually the most important issue.


Dynastic disputes and factional fighting were mainstays of Serbian political life in the 1800s.
However, all parties agreed that peasant farms were the foundation of national life. Profits from
peasant entrepreneurs underlaid the national cultural revival, and peasant soldiers fought in the
revolution from 1804 to 1816. The new Serbian state was expected to solve the rural economic
problems that had been one source of dissatisfaction with Ottoman rule.

In the years before Serbia achieved self-rule, most peasant families had been self-sufficient and
existed outside any kind of modern economy. They lived in remote forest areas without roads. The
only significant trade involved livestock; the only significant use of money was the payment of
certain cash dues. Many peasants lived in a "communal joint-family" known as a "zadruga" in which
two or more nuclear families shared a farm, the necessary work and its produce. The zadruga was a
useful institution under traditional conditions: it provided a pool of labor to cover all necessities,
even when illness, war-time service or the need to drive herds to distant pastures took some
members of the clan away from the farm.

The number of zadrugas steadily declined after 1830 when new crops (like potatoes and maize
corn), better communications, trade opportunities, cash money and credit began to penetrate
Serbian village life. The self-sufficient zadruga was suited for a farm that raised mixed crops and
livestock, but farmers increasingly raised a single crop, often for cash sale. Population pressure
reduced the number of animals on farms by about 50%. It was easier for a single nuclear family to
make the decision to plant new crops, or to take out a loan for more land or some craft venture,
than it was for all members of a zadruga to do so. Other sources of strain included the growth of
industrial jobs which led some family members to leave the village, and the resulting differences of
income among family members. In addition, the growth of population put a strain on the available

The Constitutionalist regimes of the middle of the 1800s, with their Liberal economic tendencies,
were partly responsible for dislocations in rural areas because they took steps to end legal
restrictions on trade and improve roads. However, it was never their intention to jeopardize the
peasant backbone of the country. After all, most members of the leading classes were themselves
merely peasants who had grown rich.

Serbian ambivalence -- or simple misunderstanding -- about the path to modernization can be seen
in the legislation passed by the Serbian assembly, the Skupstina. To promote industry, Serbia in
1873 adopted the metric system and a new currency, and moved to attract foreign investors with
grants of ten-year tariff-free monopolies. The same session of the assembly, however, passed laws
intended to shield peasants from the kind of abuses that became possible in the unfamiliar climate
of cash and credit, and even from their own mistakes. Such laws had been passed periodically to
protect and preserve peasant life all through the century. The "Law of Six Days Plowing" prevented
any lender except the state from accepting the core 8 1/2 acres of a farm as collateral for a loan.
Such a measure kept safe the country's social foundations, but it also retarded the concentration of
capital in the countryside and was an obstacle to industrialization.
Combined with population growth and the subdivision of land, laws like this worked to maintain
large numbers of family farms but kept them small. By 1897, 58% of Serbian farms occupied five
hectares or less. This was well below the accepted figure of 7-8 hectares needed for a family's
support, and future generations of Serbs moved to industrial jobs in the growing cities as quickly as
they could find them. Nearly all, however, retained ties to the small family farm in their home
village, which offered a safe haven to which they could retire when financial hard times hit.

By deliberate policy, then, Serbia addressed its socio-economic problems by becaming a nation of
small peasants, and did so with a minimum of political debate because such a course suited the
national electorate. In the short term this satisfied peasant needs; in the long run, it prevented
industrialization and modernization, and institutionalized the sources of peasant poverty.


Greece entered its period of new-won independence in a somewhat different state than Serbia, but
land and land reform were still leading political issues. In 1833, the Greeks took control of a
countryside devastated by war, depopulated in places and hampered by primitive agriculture and
marginal soils. Just as in Serbia, communications were bad, presenting obstacles for any wider
foreign commerce.

Unlike Serbia, Greece had a substantial wealthy class of rural notables and island shipowners, and
access to 9,000,000 acres of land expropriated from Muslim owners who had fled or been killed.
This land was at the government's discretion and represented over 80% of the country's arable
acreage. The new state needed to establish legitimate land ownership quickly, bring the land back
into cultivation to restore both the national economy and sources of tax revenue, and meet the land
needs of refugees and war veterans (many of whom had been promised land in recognition for their

As in Serbia, the new Greek government deliberately adopted land reforms intended to create of
class of free peasants. The "Law for the Dotation of Greek Families" of 1835 extended 2,000
drachmas credit to every family, to be used to buy a 12-acre farm at auction under a low-cost loan
plan. The planners were inexperienced and had failed to anticipate inflation: so much available
credit drove up the price of land. As a result, only half of the expected 150,000 families bought land
and most of these families could buy only 7-8 acres. In 1871, an additional law completed the
transfer of land from the "National Estates" to the public. This time there were no auctions: families
merely filed government claims, often claiming land that they had been occupying and working for
many years in the absence of a clear legal title. Unoccupied land was also available for claim by
landless families. Over the next forty years, about 350,000 families secured 700,000 acres of land
under this program.

Obviously, like the Serbian program, the Greek plan succeeded in creating a class of free peasants,
but also like Serbia, the farms created were too small to be viable. Unlike Serbia, other economic
measures were available to offer industrial employment, thanks to the strengths of traditional Greek
commerce. The state improved shipping facilities at Piraeus, the port of Athens. New roads and
railroads were constructed. After export outlets became available, most Greek farmers shifted to
growing cash crops suitable for export: tobacco, olives, wine and dried fruit. In the 1880s, foreign
investment capital was brought in to build up a cotton textile industry. A major outlet for rural
overpopulation after the 1880s was emigration to the United States: by 1914 a quarter million
Greeks had come to America and were sending dollars back to Greece.

The biggest setbacks for Greece involved the political commitment toward the Greek irredenta, co-
nationals still living under Turkish rule. As we will see later, substantial resources were diverted
from internal improvements to the military because of the hope to liberate other Greeks. At the
same time, refugees from regions under Turkish rule streamed into the Greek Kingdom where they
contributed to overpopulation. Additional land came under Greek control in 1864 (the British-held
Ionian Islands) and 1881 (Ottoman-held Thessaly and Epirus). Each such episode required some
degree of economic adjustment.
The twin burden of a nationalist foreign policy and domestic economic reform eventually proved too
much for Greek resources. In 1897, Greece lost an ill-advised war with Turkey. The defeat followed
years of a depressed world market for agricultural goods, which had already brought the country to
the brink of bankruptcy due to the reduction in exports. After the defeat, the state went into formal
bankruptcy when it was unable to repay foreign loans. However, by accepting an International
Financial Commission of Control made up of European representatives of the country's creditors,
Greek credit was restored at some cost to national pride, and the resulting fiscal stability actually
improved the climate for investment.

Like Serbia, Greek leaders made decisions that produced a nation of small holders and small
merchants. The greater possibilities of export made this choice somewhat more successful in
Greece, even though the level of industrialization remained low.


Land reform policy followed a different line in Romania and was less successful. More accurately
stated, the reform was implemented in ways that sustained the power of the landholding boyar
class, the same class that wrote the laws. The boyars paid attention to land and the rural economy
at the time of Romania's autonomy. The Agrarian Law of 1864 emancipated the peasants and gave
them title to some farm land, but left the best land in the hands of the former landlords. Those
boyars also received state compensation payments for the land they gave up, which they were able
to use to advance their activity in the international grain trade.

Like Greek and Serbian farmers, Romanian farmers faced the problem of surviving on farms that
were too small. Figures for Moldavian farms after the Law of 1864 show that only 72,000 peasant
holdings (those define as "four oxen" farms) had the necessary 7-8 hectares. There were over
200,000 "two oxen" holdings consisted of 6 hectares, and 134,000 "one ox" holdings of only three
and a half hectares (half the necessary size). Another 60,000 families owned only enough land for a
house and garden, without any fields at all.

In order to have enough land to raise the crops they needed to survive, most peasants had to pay
high rents to use additional land that was now owned outright by their former boyar masters. There
was also an absence of credit institutions, and peasants needing loans often found themselves
paying usurious rates, sometimes to boyars and sometimes to Jewish merchants who often were
the only sources of ready cash in rural areas since there were no banks. Once they fell behind in
payments, peasants found themselves trapped in conditions which differed little from the serfdom
that they had recently escaped. In contrast, the 5,000 wealthy landlord families now had legal title
to half the arable land in the country. Such a system perpetuated both economic and political

Real reform did not come to Romania until after the great peasant revolt of 1907, an event that
demonstrated the depths of misery and dissatisfaction in rural areas. Beginning in Moldavia,
peasant mobs attacked Jewish houses and stores, and sacked the estate houses of the boyar
landlords. Before the unrest ended a month later, the army had been forced to turn artillery against
villages and over 10,000 people were killed.

After the revolt, the government passed measures to end abuse of the peasants. Agricultural
contracts were to be regulated at fair terms, size limits were placed on leased land to make more of
it available to small farmers, and state agencies were created to assist peasants in buying land or
renting it through cooperatives. Because enforcement remained in the hands of the old political
class, however, little really changed. It was not until after World War that effective land reform
measures finally went into effect. And in Romania, like Serbia and Greece, the kind of true industrial
growth that might have solved the problem of rural poverty was far in the future.


Economic factors thus played a role as great or greater than political factors in changing Balkan
society from 1800-1878. In both cases, novel forces led to social dislocations that could not be
locally controlled, interacted with Balkan conditions in unexpected ways, and produced results that
were not necessarily to the advantage of the Balkan peoples.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 10: The Great Powers and the "Eastern Question"

Two things happened during the nineteenth century to disturb the internal affairs of the Balkans.
The first was the introduction of novel social and economic forces (see Lecture 9). The second was
the increasing intervention of outside political forces. As the century advanced these developments
merged, as international diplomacy and international commerce became linked in the thinking of
Europe's Great Powers.

In the 1800s this process was only beginning. Concerns about raw materials and world markets
were only spreading slowly from England to the rest of Europe. International diplomacy still
operated on the basis of simpler calculations. Wars were still fought about drawing borders and
putting kings on thrones, without sophisticated consideration of economic elements or the impact of
social change. Diplomacy was conducted from the top down, by social elites with little interest in
social change or popular unrest.

If we look at the history of international relations in the Balkans in the nineteenth century, it is hard
to set aside our foreknowledge that the train of events will lead to World War I. Ultimately,
diplomacy of the old style failed in 1914 when new forces such as nationalism and militarism
escaped its control. In Balkan diplomatic history it is easy to find situations in which old-style
diplomacy encountered new forces and did a poor job dealing with them. Especially after 1878,
rivalries grew: Austria vs. Russia, Austria vs. Serbia, Serbia vs. Bulgaria, until the crisis of 1914.

On the other hand, there were many crises and wars before 1878 that merely led to limited
conflicts. It is inaccurate and misleading to analyse them only as rehearsals for World War I. The
central issue in Balkan diplomacy at this time was the Eastern Question.

The Eastern Question, to 1878

"The Eastern Question" revolved around one issue: what should happen to the Balkans if and when
the Ottoman Empire disappeared as the fundamental political fact in the Southeastern Europe? The
Great Powers approached each crisis with the hope of emerging with the maximum advantage.
Sometimes this led one or another to support revolutionary change. More often, state interests led
them to support the status quo.

The diplomacy of the Eastern Question went forward in disregard, and often ignorance, of the
wishes of the Balkan peoples. Because of its traditions and structures, old-style diplomacy was
poorly equipped to deal with popular movements like nationalism. The diplomacy of the Eastern
Question began in the Early Modern Period, before modern nationalism or representative
governments. Diplomats from the Great Powers did not take into account the wishes of their own
citizens, so why listen to Balkan peasants?

Treaties: Karlowitz and Kuchuk Kainarji

The issues that created the Eastern Question emerged when the Ottoman high tide in Central
Europe began to recede. The failed Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683 was the last important Turkish
threat to a European Power. Under the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699, the Habsburgs (who were allied
with Poland, Russia and Venice) took control of Hungary (including Croatia), and Russia got part of
the Ukraine. Thereafter, the Ottomans were on the defensive.

However, 1699 is a little remote for our purposes. The modern group of Great Powers had not yet
formed at that time (Poland and Venice were still major forces). Diplomatic practices had not yet
assumed their modern form, involving permanent embassies and specialized ministries. Nor were
economic interests involved in the same way that they came to be after the Industrial Revolution. It
is really in 1774 that the elements of the modern Eastern Question come into play. In that year,
after Russia defeated Turkey again the two powers signed the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji. That treaty
altered the Balkan scene in three important ways:

• Russia gained access to the Black Sea coast, so that for the first time Russia physically
impinged on the Turkish heartland, including the Balkans.
• Russian merchant ships got the right to enter the Black Sea, the Bosphorus and the
Dardanelles, Russian merchants got the right to trade in the Ottoman Empire, and Russia
got the right to appoint consular agents inside Turkey.
• Russia became protector of the Orthodox Christians of Turkey, with special rights in
Wallachia and Moldavia.

These clauses set in train a competition among the Great Powers for influence in Turkey because no
power was willing to permit Russia (or any other) to dominate the vast Ottoman holdings.

The interests of the Great Powers

Besides Turkey, there were six Great Powers during the late nineteenth century: Russia, Great
Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany. These states followed rather consistent Balkan
policies. Some of the Powers expressed an interest in the Balkan population, but in a crisis each
followed its own national security and defense needs. When Great Powers made compromises, they
did so out of a belief in the tactical value of stability because the outcomes and risks of war were
too hard to predict. States also compromised to retain their position as members of the "Concert of
Europe," the legal concept under which these large states gave themselves the right to settle
matters of war and peace. Policies crafted for such reasons often failed to address the real, local
causes of the repeated Balkan crises which took up so much of Europe's attention in these years.


Russia tended to be the most visible disturbing agent and was usually the agent of each new
Turkish defeat. Russia began the Early Modern period as the most backward of the Great Powers
but also was the state with the greatest potential to tap new resources and grow. In Eastern Europe
and the Balkans, a succession of states have opposed Russian interests (or at least perceived
Russian interests): the French under Napoleon, then the British Empire, then the Germans and their
allies during the two world wars, and most recently the United States. Russia's emergence onto the
wider world stage coincides with the emergence of the Eastern Question as a conscious focus of
international politics. Under the 1774 Kuchuk Kainarji Treaty, Russia gained access to the north
shore of the Black Sea. More important, the same treaty gave Russia important rights to intercede
on behalf of the Orthodox millet and to conduct commerce within the Ottoman Empire. Most of
Russia's subsequent policies expanded on these two concessions.

One aim of Russian policy was control of local client states. Russian policy toward the Orthodox
Christians of the Balkans involved mixed elements of compassion and self-interest. Russians
deplored the abuse of Balkan fellow Christians and Slavs (the Pan-Slav movement of the 1800s
brought forward similar Russian interests, in a slightly different form). On the other hand, as we
saw during Serbia's revolution, St. Petersburg abandoned its Balkan proteges when higher policy
required. After autonomous or independent Christian states appeared, Russian policy was
complicated by the need to find reliable client states in the region. When a state like Serbia fell
under Austrian influence, the Russians would switch their support to a regional rival, such as
Bulgaria. Russia had fewer ties to non-Slavic states like Romania: absent Pan-Slav ties, Russian
policy often came across as mere domination, especially when Russia annexed territory, such as
Bessarabia which was seized in 1878 and in 1940.

A second aim of Russian Balkan policy was retention and expansion of rights of navigation from the
Black Sea into the Mediterranean. Russia wanted full rights not only for its merchant trade but also
for warships to pass through the Straits, while resisting the rights of other states to send ships
(especially warships) into the Black Sea. In general, Russia has had to accept compromises that
allow free traffic for all merchant ships and no traffic for warships (except the largely harmless
Turkish navies).
A third aim of Russian policy, arising from the first two, has been outright physical possession of
Istanbul and the Dardanelles. Annexation of that region would guarantee passage of the Straits, and
make Balkan client states unnecessary. However, that step implied complete partition of the Turkish
Balkans and was never acceptable to the other Powers. This idea came up in talks with Napoleon in
1807, and was later revived during World War I. Limited partitions were a staple of Balkan
discussions, especially with Austria, but never came to any concrete result. No other Power would
concede such a great prize to the Russians. With the years of the Cold War behind us, and the
spectacle of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seems doubtful that Russia could have absorbed half
the Balkans successfully. At the time, however, the difficulty of ruling in the absence of local
consent was never strongly considered.

Rather than go into the details of Russian policy in Serbia, Greece and the other Balkan states, here
we can only point to themes. The greatest check to Russian expansion took place after the Crimean
War. By the Treaty of Paris of 1856, Russia lost much that she had gained. All warships were barred
from the Black Sea, and it was opened to merchant ships of all states: by these actions, Russian
lost her special status. All the Great Powers and not just Russia became the guarantors of the
Balkan Christian states like Serbia and Romania: again, Russia lost a former special right. Above all,
losing the war cast Russia in the role of an outcast state. Russian policy after 1856 aimed at
overturning the toughest clauses of the Paris Treaty, and restoring Russia's status as a full member
of the Concert.


[Clicking here will display a portion of a map of Europe showing the Balkans in 1856 in another
browser window, while leaving this lecture text in the original browser window.]

Great Britain

During the period 1815 to 1878 (and in fact up to 1907, when Russia and England allied against
Germany) Great Britain was Russia's most consistent rival for Balkan influence. British interests led
to intermittent support for Ottoman rule. Britain intervened against the Turks in the Greek
revolution in the 1820s because of Philhellenism and to block Russian influence, but went to war
against Russia in 1853 on Turkey's behalf, again to block Russian power. British Balkan interests
derived from interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Given Britain's position as the most
industrialized European state in the early 1800s, economic interest played a large role, as distinct
from simple geo-political interest. Britain needed to secure the shipping lanes to India. Those trade
routes passed through areas like Suez that were nominally Turkish. The Turks themselves were too
weak to act as a threat, so British policy opposed France, then Russia and eventually Germany,
when those states seemed most likely to get too much influence over a weak Turkey.

Britain also had humanitarian interests in the Balkans: with the most developed system of
representative government in Europe and the most influential popular press, London cabinets were
under pressure when Ottoman misrule led to uprisings, atrocities and repression. Britain's strategic
and humanitarian interests in the Ottoman parts of the Balkans tended to be in conflict. In 1876,
William Gladstone (a past and future Prime Minister) wrote a pamphlet called "The Bulgarian
Horrors and the Question of the East" condemning the massacres that the Turks carried out while
suppressing the latest Balkan revolt. After that year, no British cabinet could provide unlimited
support for the sultan. In 1853, Britain had gone to war rather than see Russian influence grow in
the Balkans, but when the Russians invaded and defeated Turkey in 1877-78, Britain stood by.
British leaders instead adopted a new policy to protect the sea lanes to India. In 1878 Britain took
control of the island of Cyprus, and in 1883 occupied Egypt and the Suez Canal. With those outposts
under control, Britain's need to intervene on the Balkan mainland waned, although Britain did keep
an eye on Greece and Russia's privileges at the Straits.

Britain also had important trading interests within the Ottoman Empire itself and later in the
successor states. Short term profits, political or economic, had to be balanced against long term
interests. Investors in railroads and state bonds preferred to take as much profit as they could, as
soon as they could; this tendency often pulled resources out of Turkey that might have contributed
to stability and long term profit. In general, British capitalists tried to take as much profit out of
Turkey as possible, without fatally weakening the country and killing the golden goose.

France, like Britain, had both political and economic Balkan interests. During the Napoleonic wars,
France was a major threat to Ottoman rule. Napoleon himself invaded Egypt in 1798. After defeat in
1815, France lost military and political clout: restoring French influence in the Concert of Europe
became a goal for its own sake (as it had been for Russia after 1856) and this inclined French policy
toward cooperation with other states.

French economic interests tended to outweigh political interests during the 1800s. France had
commercial rights in Turkey dating back to the Capitulation Treaties of the 1600s. Marseilles,
France's busiest port, relied heavily on trade with the Ottoman-ruled Eastern Mediterranean.

In the 1820s, France joined Britain and Russia to intervene on behalf of the Greek insurgents, partly
to protect commercial interests, partly out of Philhellenic sympathy for the Greeks, partly to prevent
a Russo-British condominium in the area, and partly to regain a role on the world stage after the
defeat of 1815. By treaty, France was also the protector of Catholics in Turkey: French intervention
in the quarrels between Orthodox and Catholic monks in Jerusalem was one excuse for the Crimean

Under Napoleon III, France also followed a policy of support for nationalists and this meant support
for rebels against the Ottomans. There was a special feeling of affinity in the case of Romania. Many
Romanian leaders had a French education and cultural ties. The Romance roots of their language
made Romania seem like an outpost of Latin culture in a sea of Slavs.

French investors also played a role in Balkan policy. During the crisis and war of 1875-78, the
Turkish state went bankrupt. French bondholders were the biggest potential losers in case of a
default so the French state pursued conservative fiscal policies in Turkey. When the Ottoman Public
Debt Administration was created to monitor Turkish state finances, French directors played a major
role: their policy begrudged every Turkish pound diverted away from debt repayment. Like British
investors, French investors forced their government to balance competing interests. The OPDA
directors followed a fine line, permitting Turkey enough financial resources to survive while
squeezing out the maximum return on Turkish bonds (although money for reforms was treated
more favorably than money for the military budget). All in all, France pursued a moderate course
because the French had so many interests, sometimes conflicting with each other.


At one time Austria had been the main threat to Ottoman rule, but after 1699 there were few actual
territorial transfers to the Habsburgs. Russia replaced Austria as the real threat to Ottoman survival.
However, Austria retained a major interest in the Ottoman Empire. The Balkans were adjacent to
Hungary: Vienna had no desire to see a weak Ottoman neighbor replaced by a potentially strong
Russia, or by pliant Russian clients in Serbia or Bulgaria.

Plans to diminish or partition Ottoman Turkey revolved around the independence of ethnic
minorities: because Austria too was an empire of nationalities, any precedent set in Turkey was a
potential threat to Habsburg power. For that reason, although Austrian (and later Austro-Hungarian)
Balkan interests resembled those of Russia, Habsburg diplomats came to very different conclusions
about plans to partition or annex Balkan territory. Austria especially saw the Western Balkans as an
economic resource and a potential market. Control of the coast was the key to allowing Austria's
foreign trade to pass through the Adriatic Sea, and the empire could ill afford to let that region fall
under the control of a hostile Great Power or a growing Balkan nation.

Partition of Turkey and annexation of the Western Balkans was not taken seriously as an option by
Austria, however, no matter how often it was suggested by Russian or German diplomats. The
ruling German Austrians (with their Hungarian partners after 1867) had no ethnic or religious ties to
the Slavs of the region. Austria's economic wealth was concentrated in advanced regions like
northern Italy and Bohemia. Until the war with Bismarck's Prussia in 1866, Vienna hoped to
advance through economic and political leadership in some kind of German federation. There was
little advantage in annexing backward, Slavic Balkan provinces.
After the defeat of 1866 made it clear that Germany, not Austria, would be the leader of Central
Europe, southeastern Europe remained as Vienna's only available arena for the exercise of power.
At the same time, the 1867 Ausgleich with the Magyars made the annexation of Slavic areas less
attractive. The Magyars made up barely 50% of the population in Hungary and had no desire to end
up as a minority by annexing more Slavic or Romanian lands. The Austrian Germans were already
experiencing complaints from the Slavic Czechs. Neither of the two ruling ethnic groups wanted to
annex any Balkan districts. For strategic reasons, Austria-Hungary occupied and administered
Bosnia-Hercegovina after 1878, but thirty years passed before the province was legally annexed.

The Habsburg dynasty, rulers of a multi-national empire, also wished to avoid setting an
unfortunate precedent by dismantling another multi-national empire, Turkey. Because Austria was
too weak to absorb the Balkans, she preferred to sustain a weak Ottoman Empire. This accounts for
Vienna's anti-Russian position during the Crimean War, and her alliance with Germany later. In fact,
Austria proved to be too weak to prevent the creation of successor states, even though the
existence of Serbia and Romania raised serious questions about the future of Habsburg-ruled
Serbian and Romanian minorities.

Given the existence of Serbia and Romania, Vienna tried to smother questions of irredentism by
controlling the two new states through political alliances and economic treaties. Romania feared
Russian occupation, and so governments in Bucharest generally accepted alliances with Austria.
Serbia had fewer enemies, and so less incentive to bend to Austrian wishes. The Obrenovic dynasty
often accepted Austrian backing in order to hold off its domestic political rivals; the Karageorgevic
dynasty therefore became the rallying point for anti-Austrian forces. After 1878, and especially after
1903, Serbia and Austria found themselves on a collision course that ended in the war of 1914.


Until 1859, there was no unified Italy. After successful wars against Austria in 1859 and 1866, the
Kingdom of Piedmont united the peninsula and sought a position as a new Great Power. While Italy
became a member of the Concert of Europe, the kingdom lagged behind the other Powers in terms
of economic and military might. What influence Italy could exercise came at the expense of the
nearby Ottoman Empire, which was even weaker.

Italy regarded the Western Balkans, especially Albania, as her natural zone of influence, and Italian
leaders watched for opportunities to take the area away from the Turks. Italy competed with Austria
for influence there: this rivalry was sharpened by Italian dreams of taking the whole Dalmatian sea-
coast away from Austria on the grounds that an Italian minority lived there. These Balkan ambitions
made Italy a rival not only of Turkey but also of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece. Those states
hoped to seize the same areas on the Adriatic that were the objects of Italian ambitions.

Generally, Italy followed a policy of opportunism. Italy was too weak to seize any of the Balkans up
to 1878, but in 1911 and 1912 took the Dodecanese Islands and Tripoli (the present Libya) from the


Germany, like Italy, was a newcomer to Great Power status. The Kingdom of Prussia had been
important, but it was only after the unification by Bismarck between 1862 and 1870 that Germany
gained real power and real responsibilities.

Thanks to military and economic might, Germany had more influence than Italy but no direct
interests in the Balkans. Bismarck remarked that the region was "not worth the bones of a
Pomeranian grenadier." For the new German Empire, the Balkans were mostly of interest as an
economic outlet and as a complication in Germany's long-running effort to dominate the continent
by forging strong alliances against her rivals (first against France, later Britain and ultimately
Russia). After defeating Austria in 1866, Bismarck was able to make Austria-Hungary the
cornerstone of his alliance system because no unsettled issues remained between the two states. To
retain Habsburg loyalty, however, Germany had to support Austrian needs in Balkan affairs.
After 1878, it became clear that Germany could no longer reconcile Russian and Austrian wishes in
the Balkans. By 1890 Germany and Austria were strongly allied while tsarist Russia had been driven
into an unlikely partnership with republican France. After this time, German Balkan policy was a
mixture (not always smoothly blended) of support for Austria, and economic and military
investment in Turkey, investment that soon made Germany a rival not only of Russia but also of
Britain. The Great Power alignments of the period 1890-1914 established a European pattern which
dominated two world wars.

Germany had no stake in the progress of any of the small successor states: for that reason
Germany was free to support the sultan (and later the Young Turk regime) against them. German
officers trained Turkish troops and German money built Turkish railways: in both cases Berlin
expected an eventual payoff, whether political or economic.

The Ottomans

The Ottoman Empire was the weakest of the Great Powers. As an ally of Britain and France when
the 1856 Treaty of Paris ended the Crimean War, the Turks gained a legal status that was beyond
their real powers. Ottoman Balkan policy was simple: to prevent the loss of additional territory in
the Balkans. In many instances, the sultan had to be satisfied with nominal control: the lands of the
disobedient ayans like Ali Pasha of Jannina or the purely legal vassalage of Serbia and Romania
come to mind as examples.

The Ottoman regime mistrusted all the other Powers, in part because those states were made up of
infidels and in part from practical experience. However, Russia was clearly Turkey's greatest enemy
because tsarist policies implied or required dismantling the empire. To ward off Russian threats,
Turkey engaged in close cooperation with other states but was always wary of falling too much
under the influence of any one Power. From the time of the Greek War of Independence up to the
1870s, Britain most often acted as Turkey's guardian. After 1878, Germany largely replaced Britain
as an economic and military sponsor. Turkish relations with the Balkan successor states were
uniformly bad, because their interests and plans involved expansion at Turkish expense.


[Clicking here will display a portion of a map of Europe showing the shrinking borders of the
Ottoman Empire in another browser window, while leaving this lecture text in the original browser

The diplomatic system

The diplomacy of the Eastern Question was managed from the top down, by actors who defied or
ignored popular wishes and the implications of social change. As a result, Great Power diplomacy in
the Balkans often failed because it did not take into account important forces operating from the
bottom up. This was not merely because of personalities and class prejudice. The physical restraints
on communication and the structures of the diplomatic establishment contributed to the
shortcomings of the system. Who the diplomats were, and how they carried out their business,
played a great role in Balkan politics.

Historians of World War I and 1914 have blamed the war on secret treaties, militarism, emotional
nationalism and economic jealousy. The structure and technique of diplomacy played a major role in
promoting these dangerous developments and insulating statesmen from healthier alternatives. The
same factors were at work in Balkan diplomacy.

Until the 1830s, diplomacy was carried out by powerful individual ambassadors acting on behalf of
their monarchs in virtual isolation. Prior to use of the telegraph, communication was slow and
uncertain: in 1816 it took two weeks for a message to make the trip from Vienna to St. Petersburg
(1200 miles, roughly the distance from Philadelphia to Minneapolis) and two more weeks for a reply.
Because ambassadors could not expect rapid instructions, they enjoyed tremendous freedom: they
reported what they wished, or acted on personal beliefs and interests, or did nothing. Russia's
ambassadors to Turkey were notorious up to the 1870s for their rashness and unpredictability:
those of the Western Powers may have been more subtle, but could be equally independent.
Kings and states granted such latitude only to men who were likely to think as the ruling class
thought, therefore most diplomats were drawn from the nobility. Diplomatic life was an extension of
aristocratic life. At the 1815 Congress of Vienna, important business took place informally at
banquets and balls. Family connections mattered. The new kings of Greece and Romania were
minor members of the German royalty: this increased the stature of the Balkan states, and also
placed them under the control of reliable figures. Social skills mattered more than professionalism:
in the 1820s, British ambassador Stratford Canning sometimes wrote his reports in rhyme for his
own amusement. Precise protocols and customs allowed representatives to express subtle nuances
of official policy. Diplomats were expected to share a common language (French). Such men neither
spoke for, nor understood, common people and their interests.

After 1830, central governments began to use technology to control their representatives abroad
and gather better information. In 1830 Metternich set up a "pony express" that cut the travel time
for messages to go from Vienna to Paris (roughly the distance from Philadelphia to Chicago, about
800 miles) to 60 hours. An 1838 semaphor telegraph could carry news from Berlin to St. Petersburg
in about 25 hours. By the 1850s, the electric telegraph opened the door for instantaneous
transmission of messages, but it still took decades to extend the necessary cables into remote
capitals. By 1900, diplomats could exchange multiple secret telegrams in code with their home
offices during a single day if a crisis required it.

These changes curtailed the independence of ambassadors, but social status and the cost of living
abroad ensured that nobles still filled the ranks of Europe's foreign services, even in the role of
clerks. While modernizing, foreign ministries also adopted a culture of bureacracy, which placed a
value on hierarchy and conformity. Foreign ministries tended to be isolated (physically and
procedurally), aloof, arrogant, secretive and arbitrary. In an age of growing mass culture and
politics, foreign services remained insulated from society. Architectural plans for the new French
Foreign Ministry in 1844 required that it be built at a "distance from the public thoroughfare." Safe
from public scrutiny, diplomats worked short hours and made few concessions to efficiency. French
ministerial departments competed at catering daily teas but resisted time-saving inventions like the
typewriter (rejected until 1900), the telephone (1910), the light bulb (1911) and the automobile
(1916). Diplomats saw little need to learn foreign languages (except French) or even to collect
accurate maps.

Apologists for the "old diplomacy" point to its positive features: negotiations were calm, precision
was prized, and dangerous surprises were kept to a minimum. However, these very strengths of the
"old diplomacy" made it especially ill-suited for dealing with crises in the Balkans. Balkan diplomats
had to deal with mass movements, secret activities, and revolutionary leaders who lacked official
status or aristocratic values or both. Traditional assumptions and Western European solutions
proved themselves irrelevant for the Balkans. The "advanced" Powers expected small states to obey
orders, but the new Balkan governments often refused. Even if they agreed, the state apparatus
was often too weak to overcome popular nationalism and secret conspirators.


Economic and social change, international rivalry and unsolved problems combined to unsettle the
Balkans. Neither local states nor Great Powers could control the situation. The result was a
succession of Balkan crises, some of which had serious consequences for Europe as a whole.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture No. 11: Macedonia and the failure of Ottoman reforms

The Ottomans and the Habsburgs were not passive spectators in the face of the revolutionary
nationalist movements that eventually destroyed their empires. Leaders in both countries regarded
reform efforts as an alternative that could blunt unrest and satisfy the mass of their populations.

In the nineteenth century, science and material progress seemed to offer solutions to society's
problems. In viewing the Balkans, reformers assumed that backwardness was the real source of
dissatisfaction, not political aspirations along ethnic-national lines. If corruption, crime and poverty
could be eliminated, Balkan unrest was expected to end. By this analysis, reform promised to
sustain both political and socio-economic changes: it was possible that common folk would tolerate,
if not embrace, regimes that could deliver personal security, civil liberties and economic

However, it was one thing to draw up reform plans on paper and another to make them work. As
can be seen by examining Ottoman efforts in Macedonia and Habsburg efforts in Bosnia-
Hercegovina, both empires lacked the resources or the will or both to carry out their reform plans.

Traditional Ottoman reform

Reform of a traditional kind had been an element in Ottoman life since the 1600s, when the first
military defeats led reformers to examine their own society. Traditional Ottoman reform thought
had five characteristics that limited the scope of reform.

First, the Ottomans assumed that their Muslim institutions were superior to those of non-Muslims.
Reformers expected to tinker with existing structures, not adopt Western European models. In the
belief that their society was based on divine tenets, devout Muslims doubted that mortal leaders
could or should try new ideas. Secular ideas, such as scientific inquiry and philosophical skepticism,
were especially suspect.

Second, the continued strength of some institutions in Ottoman society blocked efforts to change
socially dysfunctional elements. For example, the "ulema" (the Muslim religious hierarchy, law
courts and schools) was powerful enough to prevent changes in law or education. And the janissary
infantry was capable of killing reformers who planned to reform the Ottoman army: their victims
included Osman II in 1622, and Selim III in 1807.

Third, reform was only taken seriously in times of crisis. Some crises were so serious that
irreparable damage was done to the country before reforms could have an effect; and sometimes
the state was too weak during a crisis to take effective action.

Fourth, traditional reform solutions focused on external causes of problems, such as military defeats
or humiliating foreign loans. Reformers failed to see that these events were superficial symptoms of
deeper problems inside Ottoman society.

Fifth, reform remained superficial because Ottoman politics involved significant individuals, not
mass movements that might have spread reform thinking to the whole society. Without mass
support, reformers could be isolated and defeated, or simply ignored.

Modern Ottoman reform

Modern Ottoman reforms began with the importation of Western ideas and Western experts, and
planned changes in fundamental military, political, social and economic institutions. This process
began after the disastrous Kuchuk Kainarji Treaty in 1774.

Several sultans sought French advice to create modern artillery and naval units, until Selim III went
too far by planning a "new army" to replace the janissaries, who reacted by toppling him from
power in 1807. His successor, Mahmut II, ruled for three decades (from 1808 to 1839) and this
gave him time to proceed slowly. Mahmut II began with a modern corps of artillery, which did not
directly compete with the interests of the janissaries. He also wooed the "ulema" by pious acts such
as the building of mosques; as an ally of the ulema and its religious schools, he could decree
universal primary education in 1824. Mahmut waited for 18 years before challenging the janissaries:
when he did, he had loyal forces with modern arms at hand who crushed the old corps during the
so-called the "Auspicious Incident" of 1826.

No longer in fear of his life, Mahmut II next reduced the power of conservative religious institutions.
He abolished the conservative Bektashi order of dervishes and reorganized the Divan (the state
council) to separate religious and secular authorities. The Sheikh-ul-Islam, the head of the ulema,
remained responsible for education and the court system, but was embedded in an administrative
bureaucracy that restricted his freedom to act. The Grand Vezir was transformed from a medieval
palace official into a virtual prime minister, directing Western-style cabinet ministries for War,
Finance, the Interior and foreign affairs. The reformed Ottoman state was not a liberal state, but
closer to the enlightened despotism of Joseph II. There was no parliament, and new institutions like
the postal service were created in order to increase central power.

In several ways, Mahmut II broke with traditional reformers. First, he actively sought Western
ideas. He sent student and military cadets to study in Paris. At home, he founded a military
academy, a music academy (run by a brother of the composer Donizetti) and a medical school with
a curriculum in French. Mahmut set up a state press to publish laws and decrees and sponsored a
French language newspaper which began publication in 1834.

Second, Mahmut II altered the daily routines of Ottoman life so that all citizens became engaged in
change. The sultan became an active figure in the state instead of an aloof symbol. Chairs and
desks replaced couches and cushions in government offices. Dress changed. Soldiers already wore
Western style uniform pants, tunics and boots instead of robes and slippers. An 1829 law reserved
traditional robes and turbans for members of the ulema: other citizens had to adopt Western
clothing and wear the fez, a cap introduced from North Africa.

Other reforms attacked real social abuses through systematic measures. The much-abused tax-
farming system was replaced by a system of salaried state tax collectors. To ensure fair and
accurate taxes, a census was carried out between 1831 and 1838. Appointed mayors replaced guild
officers as city administrators.

Tanzimat reforms

These reforms still failed to address the grievances of non-Muslims, who were treated as second-
class citizens and exploited by Muslim criminals and corrupt officials. The third wave of government
reforms, known as the "Tanzimat", sought to establish legal and social equality for all Ottoman
citizens. Abdul Mejid I was only 16 when he succeeded his father Mahmut II in 1839, but he was
able to continue the reforms by surrounding himself with talented administrators.

Only five months into his reign, Abdul Mejid issued the "Hatti-Sherif of Gulhane" of 1839 (the Noble
Rescript of the Rose Chamber). Typically, the decree was issued during a time of national crisis, in
this case a rebellion by Egypt. The Rescript made four simple promises:

1) first, the state guaranteed security of life, honor and property;

2) second, a regular, fair tax system was to replace arbitrary tax-farming (which had continued to
flourish despite earlier efforts);

3) third, military conscription and the length of service was regularized (and extended to
Christians); and

4) fourth, the state promised equality under law and full rights to all the sultan's subjects, no
matter their faith.

The Hatti-Sherif of Gulhane was not a constitution: it did not replace the sultan's authority with
responsible or representative government. It did guarantee basic freedoms to all citizens. Even this
step was so radical that the sultan and his grand vezir, Mustafa Reshid Pasha, had to pause for four
years, and confine themselves for some time to legal reforms and a new commercial code.

The next milestone in the "Tanzimat" reforms came about once again during a crisis, this time the
Crimean War. In an effort to capitalize on wartime support from Ottoman citizens and the alliance
with Britain and France, the "Hatti Humayun" or Imperial Rescript of February 1856 extended the
basic rights and equalities set out in 1839. More specific than the first document, the new edict
promised equal status to Ottoman subjects of all faiths, races or languages, in taxation, education,
the judicial system, property rights and eligibility for office. The edict promised improved national
finances, better means of communication, and support for agriculture and commerce.

However, reforms were easier to describe than achieve. The Hatti Humayun of 1856 can be
interpreted as a list of areas in which earlier reform plans had failed. Ottoman Christians still
suffered from discrimination in taxation, and lacked access to schools, equal protection under the
law, participation in public administration, security of property and even security of their persons
and lives.

Anti-reform elements

Unfortunately, the Turkish state lacked the financial resources to enforce its own program. For local
officials, pay was often months or years in arrears, so that bribe-taking was their only source of
income. The state also lacked the money to improve roads, railroads and agricultural resources.

Many Muslims also resented the reforms, whether from a sense of piety or from economic self-
interest. When a series of revolts by Orthodox peasants broke out in Bosnia-Hercegovina and
Bulgaria in 1876, the Turkish army deposed two sultans in a matter of months. Sultan Abdul Hamid
came to the throne in November 1876. He promptly decreed a true constitution, a bill of rights, an
elected parliament and an independent judiciary. However, after settling into the levers of power,
he suspended the Constitution in 1877 and sent the parliament packing: it did not meet again until

Subsequent changes in the Ottoman Empire were restricted to measures supporting Abdul Hamid's
grip on power. He found money for the military, but not for schools or hospitals; he spent money for
advances in railroads and telegraph lines to move troops to the site of revolts, and to receive
reports from an army of domestic spies. Real reform ceased.

The Young Turks

Thanks to Abdul Hamid's tyrrany, the "fourth phase" of Ottoman reform moved outside the top
circles of government for the first time, into the ranks of students and professionals who eventually
formed the Young Turk Party. Their movement often resembled the national revivals in the Balkan

In 1865, Turkish literary figures -- some of whom were also Ottoman civil servants -- formed the
secret Young Ottoman Society in imitation of Western groups to share their ideas. Unlike the
Tanzimat reformers, the Young Ottomans opposed secular, Westernizing reforms. They expected to
use revitalized Islamic concepts to support a new "Ottomanism" that would nourish all the ethnic
groups in the country under Islamic law. Threatened with arrest, the Young Ottoman leaders went
into exile in Paris. Their notion of "Ottomanism" was coopted by the sultan in the form of Pan-
Islamic programs that appealed to conservative Muslims.

Cadets in the state military and professional academies now became the principal dissidents. Army
officers were especially aware of the contrast between Western and Ottoman power: they had
foreign teachers, read Western professional writings and sometimes traveled to Europe. The secret
Young Turk society was founded in 1889 by four medical students. They rejected both
"Ottomanism" and the supranational tenets of Pan-Islam. Instead they embraced a new Turkish
ethnic nationalism that became the foundation for a secular Turkey after the Young Turks came to
power in 1908, and especially after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

Brailsford's Macedonia

Meanwhile, the Tanzimat reforms remained unfulfilled under Abdul Hamid's reactionary regime. How
effective had all these reforms been by the turn of the century? How bad was life for Christian
peasants in the Balkans? In a 1904 book called Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future, the English
relief worker H. N. Brailsford describes lawless conditions in Macedonia, the central Balkan district
between Greece, Serbia, Albania and Bulgaria. In the areas Brailsford knew, the authorities had
little power. He writes:

"An Albanian went by night into a Bulgarian village and fired into the house of a man whom he
regarded as an enemy. ... The prefect ... endeavored to arrest the murderer, but [the man's
Albanian] village took up his cause, and the gendarmes returned empty-handed. The prefect ...
marched upon the offending village at the head of three hundred regular troops. ... The village did
not resist, but it still refused to give evidence against the guilty man. The prefect returned to
Ochrida with forty or fifty prisoners, kept them in gaol for three or four days, and then released
them all. ... To punish a simple outbreak of private passion in which no political element was
involved [the prefect] had to mobilise the whole armed force of his district, and even then he

Robbers and brigands operated with impunity: "Riding one day upon the high-road ... I came upon
a brigand seated on a boulder ... in the middle of the road, smoking his cigarette, with his rifle
across his knees, and calmly levying tribute from all the passers-by."

Extortionists, not police, were in control: "A wise village ... [has] its own resident brigands. ... They
are known as rural guards. They are necessary because the Christian population is absolutely
unarmed and defenceless. To a certain extent they guarantee the village against robbers from
outside, and in return they carry on a licensed and modified robbery of their own."

Self-defense by Orthodox peasants was dangerous: "The Government makes its presence felt ...
when a 'flying column' saunters out to hunt an elusive rebel band, or ... to punish some flagrant act
of defiance. ... The village may have ... resented the violence of the tax-collector ... [or] harboured
an armed band of insurgents...; or ... killed a neighbouring civilian Turk who had assaulted some
girl of the place. ... At the very least all the men who can be caught will be mercilessly beaten, at
the worst the village will be burned and some of its inhabitants massacred."

It was not surprising that peasants hated their rulers. "One enters some hovel ... something ... stirs
or groans in the gloomiest corner on the floor beneath a filthy blanket. Is it fever, one asks, or
smallpox? ... the answer comes ... 'He is ill with fear.' ... Looking back ... a procession of ruined
minds comes before the memory -- an old priest lying beside a burning house speechless with terror
...; a woman who had barked like a dog since the day her village was burned; a maiden who
became an imbecile because her mother buried her in a hole under the floor to save her from the
soldiers; ... children who flee in terror at the sight of a stranger, crying 'Turks! Turks!' These are the
human wreckage of the hurricane which usurps the functions of a Government."

Four things are worth noting in Brailsford's account as we consider the prospects for a reform
solution to Balkan problems. First, revolutionary politics was not the foremost issue for the Christian
population. Nationalism addressed the immediate problems in their daily lives only indirectly, by
promising a potentially better state in the future.

Second, loyalties were still local and based on the family and the village, not on abstract national
allegiances. If criminal abuses ended, the Ottoman state might yet have invented an Ottoman
"nationalism" to compete with Serbian, Greek, Romanian or Bulgarian nationalism.

Third, villagers did not cry out for new government departments or services, but only for relief from
corruption and crime. The creation of new national institutions was not necessary, only the reform
of existing institutions.

Fourth, and on the other hand, mistrust and violence between the two sides was habitual because
so many decades of reform had failed by this time. The situation was so hopeless and extreme that
few people on either side can have thought of reform as a realistic option.

Macedonia after 1878

Events in Macedonia offer an example of both the forces promoting reform, and the serious
challenges they faced. Macedonia is a region lying between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, and
therefore has strategic political and economic value. All three successor states had territorial
ambitions to seize all or part of the region.

The Great Powers preferred to keep Macedonia in Ottoman hands, because any partition of the
region implied the end of European Turkey. Macedonia was a land bridge between Istanbul, and
Albania and Bosnia. In other words, the Macedonian Question was an extreme expression of the old
Eastern Question: "What should succeed an Ottoman collapse?" The Great Powers also doubted that
Macedonia could be divided among the three Balkan states without a major crisis or even war.
Reform in Macedonia was attractive to the Great Powers because it might let them sidestep these
difficult questions.

In 1875, Orthodox peasants in the Bosnian and Bulgarian areas of the Ottoman Empire revolted;
despite brutal Turkish countermeasures, the uprising could not be halted. In 1877, the Russians
declared war on Turkey, and their armies pushed all the way to the outskirts of Istanbul by early
1878. Thoroughly defeated, the Turks signed the Treaty of San Stefano in March. The treaty
granted full independence to Serbia, Montenegro and Romania, and created a new, large and
autonomous Bulgarian state, including not only present-day Bulgaria but also the Aegean coast and
Macedonia. Albania, Bosnia and a strip of land in northern Greece remained under Ottoman control,
but would have been detached from the rest of Turkey except by sea routes.

The Bulgarians had gone through the same slow process of national revival as the other Balkan
peoples, and the San Stefano Treaty offered them a chance for self-rule. However, Serbia, Greece
and most of the Great Powers objected to the size of this "Big Bulgaria," and Russia was forced to
accept a new plan.

The Treaty of Berlin, signed in July 1878, redrew the borders to create a smaller autonomous
Bulgaria. The Turks retained control of Macedonia but promised to make reforms. Because Russia
was expected to dominate the new Bulgaria, other Powers were compensated in various ways.
Britain took control of the island of Cyprus, while Austria-Hungary occupied and thereafter
administered Bosnia and the associated district called Hercegovina.

These decisions in 1878 set three forces into motion that shaped the next 40 years of Balkan

First, Serbia lost the chance to seize Bosnia from the Turks. Instead, the Serbs found themselves in
a long-term confrontation with Austria-Hungary, a struggle that led to the Sarajevo assassination of
1914 (this will be discussed further in Lecture 12).

Second, Bulgarians were outraged when Macedonia was returned to Turkish rule. Nationalists in
Bulgaria and in Macedonia made plans to recover the area.

Third, Serbia and Greece were alarmed by the temporary creation of a Big Bulgaria at their
expense, and began pushing their own claims in Macedonia against some future time when the
Great Powers might revise the borders again.

The Treaty of Berlin ended one of the longest-running and worst Balkan crises but it laid the
groundwork for Balkan frictions that continue to the present day.

Who are the Macedonians?

Notice that the Treaty of Berlin balanced competing claims among the Great Powers. There was little
consideration of the best interests or wishes of the people of the Balkans, especially thre residents
of Macedonia. Instead, reforms were expected to solve Ottoman abuses. The balance of power and
the Eastern Question were two reasons for this approach, but a third reason was the difficulty in
determining what Macedonians wanted.
In 1878, Macedonia had no non-Muslim spokesmen, no popular organizations and no newspapers to
express local wishes. One way to end corrupt government might have been to award the region to
one of the Christian Balkan states, but it was not at all clear which state had the best claim. The
ethnicity of the Macedonians was, and still is, highly controversial. In the following decades,
Bulgarians claimed that the peasant inhabitants were Bulgarian because they spoke a Slavic dialect
much like Bulgarian. The Serbs claimed they were Serbs because they had folk customs like those
of Serbia. The Greeks pointed to the prevalence of Greek Orthodox churches and the presence of
Greeks in the area since the time of Alexander the Great, and argued that Macedonia's peasants
were Slavic-speaking Greeks (after all, there were many Turkish-speaking Greeks in Anatolia).

Beginning in the 1890s, some educated Macedonians declared that there was a separate
Macedonian Slavic nation. But most Macedonians had loyalties that were merely local: to family,
religion and village. One British traveller at the turn of the century met three brothers who identified
themselves in turn as Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek, based on their experiences and careers.

Assigning Macedonia to one Balkan nationality was also complicated because it was a region of
mixed ethnicity. There was no reliable census, and the available maps were contradictory. Albanians
lived in the mountains to the West. Vlach shepherds roamed the hills, and Jews were the majority in
the largest city, the port of Salonika. Slavic- and Greek-speaking settlements were sometimes
intermingled. Bulgaria claimed ties with large concentrations of Slavic-speaking peasants in the
western part of Macedonia, but farmlands and cities with significant Turkish populations lay between
that area and Bulgaria itself. There was no way to draw a simple border without leaving substantial
minorities separated from their co-nationals.

Reforms in Macedonia

For all these reasons, reform seemed to be a plausible solution. Unfortunately, the Ottoman state
had neither the money nor the will to enforce honest government, and abuses continued despite the
promises of 1878.

In 1893, a group of Macedonian-born professionals (teachers, doctors and the like), some of them
educated in Bulgaria, organized the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (known as
IMRO) to plan a mass uprising that would force the Great Powers to remove Macedonia from Turkish
rule. Factions within IMRO disagreed over re-uniting Macedonia with Bulgaria as opposed to creating
a separate country, but no IMRO faction sought ties with Serbia or Greece.

IMRO caused enough trouble (including the 1902 kidnapping of a female American missionary,
released for ransom) that Austria-Hungary and Russia forced the sultan to appoint a special
inspector-general to carry out the usual slate of reforms: better courts, more public works and
schools, more police. Without waiting to see if the reforms would work, IMRO launched its long-
planned revolt in August 1903. After some early successes, the insurgents were brutally crushed by
the Turkish army. Two thousand people were killed and 50,000 made homeless.

However, the disaster persuaded the Powers to demand more reforms. This time, Austria and
Russia forced the sultan to put European officers in charge of the rural police to help curb
revolutionary violence, while civil agents from the Great Powers worked directly with the Inspector-
General to insure that reforms were carried out and paid for. Between 1903 and 1908, the quality of
Ottoman administration did improve in Macedonia. The reformers did away with tax-farming,
dismissed corrupt officials and repaired bridges and roads.

Civil war in Macedonia

Unfortunately, nationalist leaders in Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia itself had no intention
of calling off their conspiracies because of any amount of reform. All of them expected that the
Great Powers eventuallywould partition Macedonia, and took steps to stake out as much territory as
possible for future claims.

Since the 1880s, the three neighboring states had competed to sponsor relief agencies and schools
in Macedonia: in some years, they spent more for schools in Macedonia than at home. The fighting
in 1903 ignited a civil war: Serbia and Greece sent former army officers across the border to
organize "chetas" or "comites" that fought against rival pro-Bulgarian IMRO units. Villagers were
caught in the middle: forced to shelter some guerilla band on one day, they might be punished the
next by a rival "comite" or by the Turkish gendarmerie. Mayors, teachers and priests were
murdered by all sides, and some villages were burned. By 1908, some 8,000 people had been killed
(out of 3 million); another 40,000 escaped by taking jobs in the United States.

The fighting finally stopped in 1908, when rumors of an imminent Great Power partition of
Macedonia led to the Young Turk Revolution by officers in the Ottoman army. The ensuing Young
Turk military dictatorship ran the empire until its final collapse in 1918. In the 1920s, the former
Young Turk and army general Mustapha Kemal (known as Ataturk) conducted a thorough-going
reform of Turkey, converting it into a secular republic. Ironically, however, this genuine reform of
Turkey's government and society only took place after the post-war truncation of the country had
removed nearly all of its ethnic minorities. Reduced to a core heartland of ethnic Turks, the country
could proceed with reform without the distractions of nationalist agitation.


The Macedonian experience shows why a century of reform in the Ottoman Empire failed to improve
social and economic conditions, halt political violence and block the spread of nationalism in the

1) Throughout the reform period, the central Ottoman leadership lacked the resources or the will or
both to carry out meaningful reforms.

2) Ottoman provincial leaders also lacked the resources to carry out reforms: in addition, their
incomes and careers were often so interlaced with corrupt practices, that they had disincentives for

3) Among the mass of the Muslim population, reform too often seemed to favor the Balkan
Christians. Social, economic and political dislocations also impoverished Balkan Muslims, but those
Muslims resisted reforms as a threat to their marginally better situation.

4) Balkan Christians under Ottoman rule never believed that reforms could solve their problems.
Peasants were too conscious of past reform failures; political leaders were committed to political
solutions for reasons of ideology or personal advantage.

5) The expansionist Balkan states had an interest in promoting revolutionary violence, not reform: a
reformed Ottoman Empire would be too strong for them to attack.

6) The Great Powers, while paying lip service to reforms, still placed their own national security and
economic interests ahead of the compromises that were required for reform to succeed.

For too many figures, reform required too much work. As a result, revolution remained the driving
force in Balkan affairs.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture No. 12: Bosnia-Hercegovina and the failure of reform in Austria-Hungary

Revolution and reform represented two approaches to change in late nineteenth century Europe. For
the Habsburgs, like the Ottomans, revolutionary nationalism was not acceptable as a solution to
political and social problems. Instead, Austria-Hungary's leaders expected that reforms would bring
economic progress, out of which would flow personal prosperity and ultimately political stability.

Lecture 11 showed that reform efforts lagged and ultimately failed in the Ottoman Empire, because
Ottoman leaders too often regarded reformers as outsiders usurping the power of the proper
Turkish authorities. "Reform" meant Western ideas and Western innovations, forced onto an
unwilling Ottoman establishment. Denied the help of the Ottoman state, Western European
reformers (even the leaders of the Great Powers) got nowhere.

In the case of Austria-Hungary, reform had no such handicap. Austria-Hungary was a "Western"
state: ideas that were foreign novelties in Turkey were the norm in the Habsburg Empire. The
Habsburgs had accepted legal equality, religious toleration, applied science and rational government
during the Enlightenment and the reign of Joseph II. Given a chance to apply these Western notions
in southeastern Europe, the Habsburg state in theory should have rapidly demonstrated the value of
reform and the power of "modern" Western society to solve problems of Balkan backwardness.

The opportunity to conduct such an experiment came to the Habsburgs in Bosnia-Hercegovina when
those districts came under Habsburg occupation and administration in 1878. Austria-Hungary
retained control of the area for the next forty years, legally annexing the province in 1908 and
holding it until 1918. However, instead of turning Bosnia into a model for the Balkans, the Habsburg
experiment revealed unexpected obstacles that hurt the reform solution and ultimately made Bosnia
the cradle for dangerous radicals. In 1914 Bosnian dissidents triggered World War I and with it the
collapse of the whole empire.

In order to understand what happened in Bosnia between 1878 and 1918, and because of the high
level of interest in Bosnia because of the Yugoslav civil war of the 1990s, it makes sense to sum up
Bosnia's prior history and point out the unique aspects of Bosnian society. It will also be useful to
say something about Austria-Hungary in the years after the Ausgleich of 1866.

Austria-Hungary after 1866

The political situation within the Habsburg Monarchy set an essential stamp on the character of
Austro-Hungarian reform policies. In 1866 the ruling Habsburgs and the conservative state
apparatus came to an accomodation with the country's German and Magyar citizens, after barring
them from political life since their participation in the liberal national revolutions of 1848. The
Germans and Magyars accepted the absolute authority ofthe Emperor Franz Joseph in matters of
diplomacy and military affairs. In return, the Germans and Magyars became de facto "peoples of
state," favored over other ethnic groups like the Czechs, Croatians, Serbs or Romanians in matters
of language and self-government.

For all three parties -- the Germans, the Magyars and the royal family -- the concessions of 1866
meant giving up some long-held principles. Endorsing the idea of reform made this step easier
because it offered a plausible, and potentially profitable, alternative to revolutionary confrontation.
At the same time, however, the arrangement of 1866 made the dynasty a captive of the specific
ethnic politics pursued by German and Hungarian leaders. Matters proceeded differently in the
Hungarian and non-Hungarian halves of the Dual Monarchy, reflecting local politics.

Since 1848, nationalist agitation had been identified with the prosperous parts of the urban
population. German and Czech nationalist political parties continued to rely on middle class voters.
To counteract their influence, the state expanded the voting franchise in the non-Hungarian parts of
the Empire, in hopes that class and economic issues would replace nationalist issues in
parliamentary life. Direct election of parliamentary deputies began in 1873; by 1907, all adult men
in the non-Hungarian half could take part through universal, secret balloting.

This policy had some success. New mass parties appealing to the urban working classes placed a
higher value on economic reforms than on ethnic politics. Unions were permitted as early as 1867,
and Marxist or Catholic Socialist parties achieved important benefits for workers. In the 1880s the
work day was reduced to 11 hours, child labor was forbidden, and the state set up pensions and
insurance funds. Industrial weakness had contributed to Austria's defeat by Bismarck in 1866: the
Prussians had superior railroads for mobility and superior armaments. The Habsburg state became
convinced that a prosperous national economy was essential for success in world affairs. Unions and
pension plans were intended to create healthy workers, as one element in national economic health.
At the same time the Vienna government committed itself to certain assumptions about agricultural
and industrial capitalism because those notions sustained the wealth and influence of the powerful
German (and Magyar) leading classes. Their investments and leadership were thought to be as
crucial for an industrial society as were workers.

In Hungary, on the other hand, ethnicity remained the driving force in politics. For example, later
Hungarian governments carried out policies that discriminated against the Slavic and Romanian
minorities inside Hungary. Property qualifications for voting kept most non-Magyars out of the
county and national Diets. The mandatory use of Hungarian in local government activity placed non-
Magyars at a disadvantage when they dealt with law courts and local bureaucrats. Magyarization in
education was especially resented: while children retained some rights to be taught in their own
languages, after 1879 all teachers had to master Hungarian. In 1906 only 16 of 205 high schools
gave classes in any languages but Hungarian. Hungarian language policy was a logical way to bring
all citizens into public life, just as Joseph II's rational eighteenth century reform plans included the
uniform use of German to help integrate the multiethnic empire. But in both cases, logic failed to
outweigh personal preferences and national pride, and made such "reforms" unpopular.

When the time came for Austria-Hungary to take control of Bosnia, both of these elements -- the
ethnic nationalism of Magyarization and the economic self-interest of capitalism -- played powerful
roles in the design and execution of plans for reform in the region.

Bosnian identities

The forces of revolutionary nationalism disturbed Bosnia-Herecegovina, like Macedonia, without

creating a unified national movement, and for some of the same reasons. Both Macedonia and
Bosnia are districts in which contrasting historical trends and social patterns meet and compete.
Greek, Turkish and Slavic elements met in Macedonia. Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox elements met
in Bosnia. Both districts are transition zones between one culture and another, and in both districts,
unlike populations have been mixed together in complex geographic and social patterns.

In Macedonia, the disparate parts of the population are distinguished by their language. In Bosnia,
the defining element of ethnic identity has been religion. Bosnians are divided according to their
Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim heritage. Bosnians of all faiths are not necessarily devout or even
active believers. Nevertheless, a family's historical connection with one religion or another defines
its ethnicity.

This fact tends to conceal the uniform historical population from which all three modern groups are
drawn. The mass of Bosnian Muslims are not Turks or Albanians, and not migrants to the Balkans
from some Middle Eastern country. They are Slavic speakers whose ancestors converted to Islam in
the years after the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia in the 1400s.

Bosnia before the Turkish conquest

The closely related Slavic speaking tribes known as the Serbs and the Croats settled in what
became modern Yugoslavia around the year 600 CE. At that time there were few differences
between the two groups. The Serbs settled in the south, and the Croats in the north, but it is
difficult to draw a line in the middle -- that is, across Bosnia -- and say with certainty that the
occupants of a particular area belonged to one group or the other. There is some evidence that the
first Slav inhabitants of Bosnia were Croatian tribes, but as time passed, Bosnia developed as a
place that was different from both Serbia and Croatia.

It is also important to remember that South Slavs in the Balkans did not have modern ideas of
"Serbian" or "Croatian" identity until the modern period: instead they identified themselves
primarily by their religion. Following the schism between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox
branches of Christianity in 1054, Bosnian Christians worshipped in ways that were closer to the
Roman than the Orthodox style (although the Bosnian Church remained distinct, about which more

After the Kings of Hungary became the Kings of Croatia in 1102, Bosnia drifted out of the direct
control of Hungary, and had rulers of its own. To further their claims over Bosnia, the Hungarians
persuaded the Pope that the Bosnians were heretics, and Catholic crusaders unsuccessfully invaded
the country in the middle of the 1200s. As a result, the Bosnian Church severed its ties to Rome,
but apparently retained its basically Catholic rituals and theology. A separate Bosnian Church
endured for some 200 years, finally fading away just before the Ottoman conquest.

Some historians have identified the medieval Bosnian Church with a schismatic, dualist heresy with
ties to the Manichees, and attached to it the label "Bogomil." However, recent scholarship has failed
to supply strong evidence that Bosnians were heretics or dualists or called Bogomils: the original
reports apparently derive from justifications for the politically motivated crusades of the 1240s.


After the Ottoman conquest, which took place in stages between 1450 and 1480, Bosnia took on its
unique character as a province with a large native, Slavic, Muslim population. Why did Bosnian
Slavs convert to Islam when Serbs, for example, did not? Much early writing on this topic has been
refuted by recent scholarship. The various explanations of the situation are worth going over one by

First, it was formerly said that the Bosnian Bogomils, resentful of both Catholicism and Orthodoxy,
converted en masse to Islam; and second, that they did so at the time of the conquest. Scholars no
longer accept the existence of heretical Bogomils, and the Bosnia Church itself was all but extinct
before the Ottomans arrived. Ottoman tax registers also show that the conversion process was long
and gradual. As late as 1600 Muslims were a minority in the population: a Catholic visitor's report of
1624 describes half of the population as Muslim, the other half Christian (of the Christians, two
thirds were Catholic, one third Orthodox).

A third myth states that the Bosnian nobility converted to Islam to preserve their position of
privilege, and carried their subjects with them. This theory fails to fit the evidence of gradual
conversion. Also, Christian feudal spahis were not unusual in the Balkans in the 1400s, so
conversion by nobles would not have been necessary. Finally, there is as much evidence of
conversion from Catholicism or the Bosnian Church to Orthodoxy as to Islam, a fact for which this
theory cannot account.

Recent explanations of the Islamicization of Bosnia are as follows. In the 1400s, both Orthodoxy
and Catholicism were already present in Bosnia, but neither had deep roots (in contrast to Serbia or
Greece). The region was primitive and lacked priests who could exert a strong influence over
isolated populations. After the Ottoman conquest, religious flux continued in the population as it had
before, with conversion back and forth between the two Christian sects and from both to Islam.
Islam was attractive not only because it was the faith of the ruling Ottomans, but because Islamic
institutions were sophisticated and fulfilling, enhanced by impressive mosques and a legal system.
Urban areas especially were centers of Islamic learning and refinement, and the rate of conversion
in Bosnian towns was in fact higher than in the countryside.

Instead of a single cause or episode, gradual conversion for a variety of reasons seems to offer the
best explanation. It is also worth noting that the Muslim share of the population fell back below half
during the wars of the 1600s and 1700s: Muslims in military service often failed to return, and there
were occasional migrations of Serbs into the area. In modern times, the Muslim share of the
population has been around 40 percent.

Ottoman Bosnia

Between 1480 and 1878, the history of Bosnia was not very different from the history of the rest of
the Balkans. The proportion of Muslims was high, but this was true in other Balkan districts and
cities: we simply tend to forget those areas, places where most Balkan Muslims left during later
wars of independence. However, Bosnia's isolation from ports or roads, and its rugged terrain, made
it one of the most backward Balkan provinces. The Christian population suffered from the usual
abuses of Ottoman misrule. The Austrian occupation in fact was the result of a peasant uprising in
1875, which led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 and so to the Treaty of Berlin.
When Austrian troops and administrators arrived in 1878, the population of Bosnia and Hercegovina
was perhaps 1.1 million people. 38 percent of them were Muslim, 42 percent Orthodox and 18
percent Catholic. The Yugoslav census of 1981, a hundred years later, recorded remarkably similar
figures: 40 percent Muslim, 32 percent Serb (Orthodox), and 18 percent Croat (Catholic), plus 8
percent who chose the category of "Yugoslav."

Bosnia's economy was backward. Only 5 percent of the country was good farmland, but 95 percent
of the population had to make its living from farming or herding livestock. Under Ottoman law, only
Muslims could own land. About 3 percent of the Muslims owned large estates. 75 percent were free
peasants with small farms, and 10 to 20 percent were tenant farmers. The rest lived in provincial
cities. Among the 100,000 non-Muslim families, the overwhelming majority were tenant farmers. By
law, tenants paid 44 percent of their income in dues, taxes and service charges: in practice, the
figure was often higher.

Tenants had few options: they needed their landlord's permission to give up their plots, and there
were no industrial jobs to go to. Many tenants worked tiny "dwarf" farms that produced too little to
live on, even before turning over half the produce as taxes. In the Balkans, a farm of 7-8 hectares
(about 18-20 acres) was generally considered necessary to support a family. In Bosnia in 1906, 48
percent of tenant farms amounted to five hectares or less. Poverty and dwarf farms were not
confined to Christian families: 77 percent of Muslim free peasant farms consisted of five hectares or
less. The population of Bosnia-Hercegovina grew from 1.1 million in 1878 to almost 2 million in
1914 . This made the problem worse, because families further subdivided their farms among their

Prior to 1878 there was almost no industry except a few small mines. The result was rural
overpopulation and underemployment. There was one minor center for iron mining and working,
and some surviving local guilds that made carpets, pots and the like for the local market. The only
significant export of Bosnian agriculture was a small prune crop. In 1879, the business district of
Sarajevo was destroyed in a great fire, further retarding commerce. Lending at interest was
contrary to Islamic law, so there were no banks and thus no source of investment capital for anyone
trying to start or upgrade a business. The transportation and communication system was medieval:
goods moved by ox cart. Foreign investors built a small railroad in 1872: it connected to no other
rail line, and promptly went bankrupt. Roads were few and unable to handle wet weather.

Social and legal defects worsened conditions. In line with the usual Ottoman practice, non-Muslims
lived as second-class citizens. The legal system was based on Islamic law and discriminated against
Christians; as in Macedonia, there was no legal equality, freedom of religion, or security of life or
property. The Ottoman government was an unrepresentative absolute monarchy, mitigated only by
its inefficiency.

The potential for reforms

After they occupied Bosnia in 1878, the Habsburgs had an ideal opportunity to show the superiority
of political and economic reform as a path to better lives, and as an alternative to ethnic nationalism
and revolutionary unrest. The Treaty of Berlin and the practical fact of the occupation gave Austro-
Hungarian leaders almost unlimited power to administer Bosnia as they wished.

Application of Habsburg government traditions and common sense would have implied the
implementation of reform measures like these:

1. Civil and legal equality among all the ethnic groups, regardless of ethnicity or faith.
2. Rigorous enforcement of the law to reduce violence, robbery and murder.
3. New courts, schools and administrative offices.
4. A role for the population in local rule.
5. An end to the tenant farming system, which amounted to virtual serfdom by tying tenants
to their land.
6. Banking and investment institutions to support improvements in agriculture and industry.
7. Better transportation and communications.
8. Expansion of industries, or at least conversion of some agriculture to crops for export
instead of subsistence.

How well did the Habsburgs achieve goals like these? The results were disappointing.

Political and legal reforms

Administrative change in Bosnia faced major hurdles. Neither Vienna nor Budapest wanted Bosnia
attached to their half of the Dual Monarchy: in either case, the addition of so many Slavs would
have spoiled delicate balances in ethnic politics. Instead the joint Austro-Hungarian Finance Ministry
ran the province. One result of this decision was that the new administration in Bosnia had to pay
for itself, and this delayed or blocked important improvements. According to the plan for fiscal self-
sufficiency, railroads would be built first as a precondition for investing in industry and trade; as a
second stage, there would be mass education; and only as a third stage would there be any
measure of political reform or efforts at popular participation in running the province.

The Austrian occupation was in theory temporary: in theory, the sultan's administration might have
to be restored. In practice, this fiction was ignored when it was inconvenient. However, the
separation between foreign administration and indigenous population meant that acts of the
expanded administration were not grounded in local needs, and too often functioned as a source of
patronage for foreigners. New jobs in the provincial administration went to Austro-Hungarian
citizens, not to local Bosnian residents. There were 120 Ottoman officials at work in 1878; by 1908
over 9,500 Habsburg officials were employed in Bosnia, a significant drain on local taxpayers.

In part because of the fiction that the occupation was temporary, and in part to reduce armed
Muslim resistance (there was an armed revolt in 1883), the Habsburgs chose to keep many existing
institutions derived from the millet system, including separate school systems. Religious schools
remained in place for Muslim villages. Orthodox village schools and churches fell under the scrutiny
of the new regime: Serbian books, teachers and priests regarded as anti-Austrian were excluded.
Catholic churches and schools did very well on the other hand, supported by money from Catholic

Also retained was a court system based on Islamic law. Violence against Christians was curbed, but
economic discrimination based on property went unchecked. When new law codes were introduced,
they represented compromises based on political and budgetary facts, not good law. Because the
Austrian and Hungarian codes differed, the new Bosnian criminal law code of 1879 was based
instead on the Habsburg military code of law. Although there was a need for a good system of low-
level local courts, these would have been too expensive; to save money, many legal decisions were
handed over to administrators instead.

Agrarian reforms

The biggest disappointment for most Bosnians was the failure to use land reform to defuse ethnic
tension. The Habsburg state declined to act because reducing the power of landowners would have
risked political unrest in Bosnia, and created a dangerous precedent for Magyar landlords in
Hungary, given their Romanian and Serbia tenants. Also, tax relief for Bosnian peasants would have
been a threat to the tax revenues of the provincial administration, which had to be self-supporting.
Conditions for tenants improved and their productivity went up, but the peasants derived little
benefit: under the tithe law, their taxes simply went up too, so that the state collected twice as
much revenue in 1895 as it had in 1880. Meanwhile, tenants remained tied to their land unless they
could pay an indemnity to their landlords: during the 35 years from 1878 to 1913, less than a third
of the tenant families were able to do so. The occupation thus failed to end the tenant farming


The Habsburg administration did make a major effort to attract investments to pay for railroads,
mines, industries and agricultural exports. However, industrial growth was handled for the benefit of
the Habsburg state and the investors, not the local inhabitants.
Not long after the occupation, Austrian state monopolies on goods like tobacco and salt were
extended into Bosnia, along with Austrian freight and customs rates. This measure helped to finance
the Bosnian administration but pushed many local small merchants into bankruptcy because they
could not compete with better-financed firms outside the province. Local enterprises were replaced
by government-run salt mines and tobacco factories. These plants did create jobs, but too few jobs
to create a middle class or a working class in Bosnia. In the same way, while many railroads were
built in Bosnia, they were not constructed in ways that sustained the local economy. Some rail lines
fulfilled strategic needs of the army. Others met the needs of Hungarian companies that used them
to maximize the profits they made from exporting Bosnia raw materials. As a result, the railroad
system as a whole did not support industrial growth.

The growth of heavy industries and mines was also retarded by political factors. Hungarian cartels,
in particular, used bureaucratic tactics to delay the opening of potential competitors. Coal mines,
iron foundries and chemical factories that opened in Bosnia tended to be successful, but were too
few and too late to have a strong effect on the economy. Coal and iron had been foundation
industries in the English industrial revolution: political shortsightedness and economic jealousy
prevented them from playing the same role in Bosnia.

Light industry was also neglected. Because the textile trade required less capitalization, some local
Bosnians were able to open a factory in 1884. With proper care the textile sector might have
expanded. However, the potential profits would have gone to the local Bosnian owners, not to
Austro-Hungarian investors who intended to profit from any improvements in Bosnia's economy.
Outside investors had far more influence with lending banks. As a result, the textile trade got very
few loans and was unable to grow.

Banking and investments themselves were also casualties of jealousy and greed. Thanks to the
minimal budget resources available, the state apparatus lacked the money to fund agricultural
improvements. Instead, large banks were given monopoly licenses. This led to abuses and scandal:
in 1908 the Hungarian bank that had the sole right to lend money to tenants who hoped to buy
their land, was found to be fixing the rate of return so that tenants paid more than 10 percent
interest per year. As a result, peasant needs went unmet and agricultural progress was stalled.


As we look at the period of Habsburg rule in Bosnia, the results are disappointing from both
economic and political perspectives. Austria-Hungary took control of the region for two reasons:
first, to assure military control over a sensitive border area, and second, to improve the deplorable
socio-economic conditions there. As the events of 1914 showed, the latter goal had the potential for
profound effects on the former. Because the Habsburg regime failed to reform Bosnia's economy or
society, political turmoil only increased, and eventually led the empire into the fatal war of 1914.

Sadly, the failure to meet reform goals was a result of greed, jealousy and petty politics, not
inadequate national resources. Too few railroads were built, too few industries founded and too few
peasants rescued from serfdom, largely because political and economic leaders in Austria-Hungary
chose to serve their own needs first. As we later consider the origins of the Bosnian Serb assassins
of 1914, keep the failures of the Habsburg occupation in mind. No outside power, no Turkish pasha
dictated this course to Austro-Hungarian leaders. They themselves made the decisions which
sustained discontent in Bosnia, and eventually they paid dearly for their choice.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 13: Serbian nationalism from the "Nacertanije" to the Yugoslav Kingdom

Lectures 13 and 14 concern two related topics -- Serbian and Greek nationalism -- and approach
them in a way that is contrary to the usual division of early twentieth century European history into
pre- and post-World War I periods.
For Britain, France, Germany, even Russia and the United States, the World War I years of 1914 to
1918 are powerful dates around which we can organize our thinking. World War I stands as a
watershed event that fundamentally changed these nations' historic progress.

Such a view of World War I is less attractive and useful for thinking about Balkan affairs. Halting a
discussion of Greek or Serbian nationalism in 1914 or 1918 leaves the story unfinished. It makes
more sense to trace Serbian nationalist thought from the 1840s all the way up to 1929, perhaps
even to the history of Serbia during World War II and during the 1980s. In the same way, it makes
sense to look at Greece from 1821 up to 1923 and beyond: events as recent as the Cyprus crisis of
the 1970s are extensions of nineteenth century issues.

In Western Europe, 1914 ended a century of relative peace, but for the Balkan countries, World War
I was only the latest war in a string of crises and confrontations. For Serbia, 1914 was an extension
of the fighting of 1912 and 1913, and it has been called the "Third Balkan War" by some writers. For
Greece, the period 1914-1918 was a middle period in a decade of fighting that began in 1912 and
ended in 1923. For these reasons, the next two lectures anticipate some material that is most often
presented in the context of post-1918 Europe. Later lectures will bring the story of the other Balkan
states up to date.

Garasanin's Program of 1844

When the last two lectures dealt with events in Macedonia and Bosnia, from time to time it was
necessary to refer to Serbian territorial ambitions. Because those lectures focused on reform, the
contrasting force of Serbian nationalism was taken more or less for granted. This lecture may help
to explain some of the consistent, recurring and powerful elements at work.

Recall that the Serb state was revived in the revolts of 1804 and 1816, which led to a period of
autonomy. In 1843, Ilija Garasanin became Minister of Internal Affairs in the government of a new
Serbian prince. Alexander Karageorgevic (the son of the rebel Karageorge) had just replaced
Michael Obrenovic, the son of Milos Obrenovic, Serbia's first ruling prince. Garasanin was the son of
a prosperous merchant, and a leader in the Constitutionalist Party, the wealthy notables, traders,
and landowners who held power in the Council (or Senate) created by the Constitution of 1838. This
faction of oligarchs had been stifled by the authoritarian style of the Obrenovic dynasty. Under
Alexander Karageorgevic, this faction or party could pursue its own agenda for the first time.

In 1844 Garasanin sent a secret Memorandum to Prince Alexander, usually refered to by its Serbo-
Croatian designation as the "Nacertanije" (or Program). In this document, Garasanin recalled the
glories of medieval Serbia and speculated on a revival of Serbia's fortunes. He recognized that
Serbian expansion implied not only the destruction of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, but also
Serbian conflict with the Austrian Empire, which was likely to replace Turkey as the region's
dominant power. Garasanin called Austria "the eternal enemy of a Serbian state."

Garasanin went on to list potential territories for future Serbian rule. Of primary interest were
Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro and northern Albania, all Turkish possessions with Serbian
inhabitants. Albania was also important because it offered an outlet to the sea, a necessity to
prevent an Austrian stranglehold over Serbian foreign trade. Garasanin was also interested in Serbs
living in Banat, Backa and the Vojvodina (districts in southern Hungary across the Danube from
Belgrade). For pragmatic reasons, Garasanin argued against any early effort to unite with these
areas, because they belonged to Austria, a state better able than Turkey to resist Serbia. The same
caution applied to Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. Garasanin wanted more information about the
Croatian lands, although he clearly thought of them as inhabited by related South Slavs who should
have some relationship with Serbia. The Slavs of Bulgaria also deserved less immediate attention in
his estimate, because the Ottoman grip was stronger there, and Russia was likely to oppose an
expansion of Serbia into the eastern Balkans, so close to Istanbul. Garasanin had sympathy for the
Slavic Czechs, but recognized that they were not South Slavs; he expressed no interest in a joint
Czech-Serb political future.

The Nacertanije is remarkable as the first elaboration of themes that drive Serbian politics even
today. Garasanin identified the core areas of Serbian interest, recognized the ambiguous
relationship between Serbs and Croats (at a time when South Slavic thinkers in the Illyrian
Movement in Croatia assumed unity of purpose), and accepted the inevitable conflict of interest
between Austrian state interests and those of Serbia.

In practice, Garasanin and the Constitutionalists had little opportunity to carry out his ideas. Russia
was Serbia's patron, and Russian leaders constantly tried to dictate policy to Serbian leaders.
Garasanin wished for foreign support from a distant, more disinterested power like France, but in
practice he had to make compromises with Austria as a counterweight against Russian interference.

Serbia's only foreign policy achievements in these years were the retention of its autonomy and its
escape from foreign occupation. To accomplish this, Prince Alexander had to cooperate with Austria,
an unpopular course that cost him the support of most Serbs. For example, Alexander refused to
support Orthodox Russia during the Crimean War, a decision that played a part in his forced
abdication a few years later in 1858.

When the rival Obrenovic dynasty returned to power in that year, they secured a new Constitution
from the sultan that ended the power of the Council and the Constitutionalist Party for a decade.
However, in 1868 Michael Obrenovic was assassinated, leaving his 14-year old son Milan on the
throne. A Regency took power and in a period of confusion new political forces emerged. The
Skupstina (the national assembly) had been revived by the 1858 Constitution, and its powers grew.
The Skupstina became the springboard for a new mass party, the Radicals, which took up the work
of Serbian nationalist foreign policy for the next generation.

Nikola Pasic and the Radical Party

The Serbian Radicals sought to imitate a new kind of Western European politics. Most of the Radical
leaders had been educated abroad; they were professional politicians, not merchants or landowners
who had turned to politics to advance traditional economic interests. The Radicals embraced new
ideas such as popular political participation and mass parties, and saw the value of a thriving class
of industrial workers. Their program mixed nationalist and socialist rhetoric in a way that had been
discredited in Western Europe after the events of 1848, but this populist message was new in Serbia
and had wide appeal.

The Radical Party's rival was the paternalistic Progressive Party, which favored government by a
well-qualified elite so that liberal reforms, better education and planned economic growth would
eventually benefit all Serbs. Progresssive Party proposals could not compete with the appeal of the
Radical platform: a universal male franchise, full government power for the national assembly,
protection against world capitalism for workers and small-traders, and an aggressive patriotism.
Elections to the Skupstina soon became direct and secret, and this popular assembly took control of
the budget, the cabinet ministries and most legislative action. By satisfying small town merchants
pursuing state contracts, prosperous farmers trying to cut their taxes, and urban intellectuals
seeking appointments in the civil service, the Radicals held power almost without interruption during
all the remaining years of Serbia's existence (that is, until its 1918 transformation into Yugoslavia).

The principal Radical leader was Nicola Pasic, who was a talented speaker and political campaigner.
Born in 1846, by 1875 he was writing for a socialist newspaper but also smuggling money across
the border into Bosnia to support the anti-Ottoman uprising there. In his own thinking and that of
his party, simple nationalism steadily outstripped socialism as a priority.

In 1878 the 32-year old Pasic was elected to the Skupstina. Something of a demagogue, he had to
flee the country in 1883 under sentence of death for taking part in a failed coup. By 1889 he was
back, after the Radicals used another regency (this time for 13-year old Alexander, Milan
Obrenovic's son) to issue amnesties and rewrite the Constitution again. In the 1890s Pasic was
Serbian ambassador to Russia, sent there by the king as a way to get him far away from the levers
of power in Belgrade. In St. Petersburg, Pasic's Pan-Slav sympathies did him good: the Russians
shared his dislike of the close ties between the Obrenovic house and Austria. When the
Karageorgevic house again replaced the house of Obrenovic on the throne in 1903, Pasic became
Prime Minister in the ruling Radical cabinet.
Teaching nationalism

Popular nationalism was the product of other forces in addition to the Radical Party. Beginning in
the 1880s, the Progressive and Radical parties agreed to expand free public education. By the
1890s half of the eligible male students in the country were completing four years of elementary
education. The state exercised total control over the schools, including the curriculum and
textbooks, and those textbooks conveyed an emphatic Serbian nationalist message.

The basic geography text identified all the lands that made up the later Yugoslav state as Serbian
(and not simply South Slavic), except for Slovenia. Supposedly Serbian areas include the Hungarian
Vojvodina, Macedonia as far south or farther than the eventual 1912 border with Greece, parts of
eastern and northern Albania, and all of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. There was no mention of a
separate Croatian ethnicity or language: when Croats were identified, it was as "Catholic Serbs."

History texts contained a similar message. One widely studied history textbook described the Croats
as "a Serbian tribe" that had settled in a different region and became Catholic. Serbian history
textbooks also laid claim to Macedonia on historical as well as ethnic grounds, because it had been
part of medieval Serbia. Bulgaria was identified as an enemy state because of its rival claims on
Macedonia. Serbian texts were filled with tales of heroic martyrs who killed or were killed for their
country, from folk-poetry about Kosovo to the story of Prince Michael's murder in 1868. Thanks to
patriotic books and teachers, such accounts influenced a generation of Serbian students, including
some Serbs from Bosnia who came to Serbia for their education.

The end of the Obrenovic dynasty

After the loss of Bosnia to Austria in 1878 popular and political nationalist agitation increased, but
the ruling Obrenovic family was out of step with this movement. To resist the Radical party, Prince
Milan sought support from the Austro-Hungarians. The price paid was Habsburg control over
Serbian trade. Hungary dominated the Serbian economy, thanks to a new railroad connection and
low tariffs.

Serbs also felt humiliated by their own ruling family. They knew that western Europeans viewed
Serbian dynastic politics as a comic opera. Milan led the country into war with Bulgaria in 1885, only
to be defeated. Milan was known to cheat on Queen Nathalie. His son Alexander came to the throne
in 1889, and continued to offend Serbian pride while making serious political enemies. No foreign
court would receive the royal couple, after Alexander caused a scandal by marrying one of his
mother's servants. In 1900 a team of foreign doctors essentially called the queen a liar by refuting
her claims to be pregnant with an heir to the throne. In 1903, police shot students who were
demonstrating against the king, and terrorized so many voters that the Radicals boycotted the
skupstina elections.

The coup of 1903

The king could cow the parliament and the students, but not the army. The Serbian officer corps
was a magnet for poor but ambitious young men. They got a free education at the state Military
Academy, entered a profession as officers, and were influential in the capital city. By 1900, army
officers were fed up. The defeat of 1885 had not been forgotten, and now the state proposed to cut
funds for new equipment, even for new uniforms. Officers often went months without a paycheck.
Actually, Pasic regarded the army as a dangerous rival and his Radical Party was to blame for
arrears in pay, but the officers were not sophisticated enough to see this. Instead, the army
despised the king.

In 1901, a group of junior officers began plans to overthrow Alexander. Their leader was a 25-year
old infantry lieutenant named Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known to his friends as "the Bull" (Apis)
because of his size. Apis was born to a family of Belgrade tinsmiths. His father died when Dragutin
was eight, but his sister (a teacher) saw that he got a good education. At age sixteen Apis entered
the Military Academy: ten years later old cadet friends joined him in the conspiracy. 120 junior
officers joined the plot; not one person warned the royal family.
On a June night in 1903, twenty-eight conspirators assembled at the Belgrade Officers Club, then
marched to the palace. Other conspirator unlocked the gates, seized the telephone and telegraph
offices, and confined civilian politicians to their homes. The plotters blew the locked doors off the
royal bedroom with dynamite, then cornered the king and queen behind some curtains, where the
plotters shot them 48 times, hacked them with swords, and threw the bodies off a balcony. Within
days the parliament was restored, and Peter Karageorgevic (Alexander's son) became king. The
appalling violence of the crime was condemned across Europe, but the coup was popular in Serbia.

The coup of 1903 had a lasting influence on Serbian politics. It made the army a powerful force in
domestic politics, and put the army's rivals on notice that their lives might be in physical danger. At
the same time, the work of the junior officers demonstrated weakness in the army hierarchy: top
officers were not in control of the armed patriots serving under them.

Serbian foreign relations

Nationalist tensions also dominated Serbia's foreign relations. In Macedonia, Serbia competed
against Greece and Bulgaria for the loyalty of Christian peasants, first by building schools, later by
sending in armed guerilla bands (known as "chetas," and the men in them as "chetniks"). After the
civil war in Macedonia helped trigger the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, Austria-Hungary annexed
Bosnia-Hercegovina because a reformed Young Turk regime might have eliminated the excuse for
Habsburg administrative control. All of Serbia's enemies seemed to be on the ascendant in 1908:
Bulgaria declared full independence from Ottoman rule; Macedonia seemed securely in Turkish
hands; and the Serbs of Bosnia had slipped farther away under Austro-Hungarian control. For
Serbian nationalists, only aggressive policies offered a way to catch up.

Deferring their rival claims to Macedonian territory, Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria
agreed to cooperate in defiance of the Great Powers, then made plans to throw the Turks out of
Europe. In 1912, all four states declared war on Turkey and rapidly liberated Macedonia and much
of Thrace in the First Balkan War. Serbian and Greek troops divided Macedonia between
themselves: when Bulgaria demanded a share, Greece, Serbia and Romania fought the Second
Balkan War in 1913 in order to keep the spoils. Serbia increased in size by 82 percent, the greatest
single step so far toward Garasanin's Great Serbian vision in the Nacertanije. Serbian attention now
turned north toward Austrian-ruled Bosnia, Croatia and Vojvodina.

Croatian nationalism

South Slav nationalism was not confined to Serbia. Before 1848, the "Illyrian Movement" in
Habsburg-ruled Croatia combined a program of Croatian political rights with the concept of South
Slav unity. Influential figures like Ljudevit Gaj believed that Serbs and Croats could work together
for their mutual benefit. Later in the nineteenth century, similar concepts were associated with
"Yugoslavism" and the goal of unifying Slovenes, Croats and Serbs.

South Slav nationalism in Croatia was based also on the historic constitutional rights of medieval
Croatia. Croatians felt no need to defer to Serbs in pursuit of their national rights. For many years,
Magyar tactics of "divide and rule" successfully isolated the various ethnic minorities, but in 1905 a
coalition of Serb and Croat politicians issued the so-called "Fiume Resolutions." Calling for autonomy
and language rights, the program also asserted that Croats and Serbs were a single people. This
display of unity alarmed ruling circles (in 1909 the Serbo-Croat leaders were tried and acquitted in a
ludicrous treason trial based on clumsy forged papers) but had little practical impact at the time.
The Belgrade Serbs paid little attention to Croatian politics, and neither did a new generation of
Croatian populist leaders who organized the mass Croatian Peasant Party. Not until the end of World
War I did Croatian-style Yugoslavism briefly dictate the direction of South Slav nationalism.

Serbia vs. Austria

Ethnic tensions in Croatia were accompanied by a breakdown in Austro-Serbian relations, driven by

a crisis over trade. Since 1881, Austria-Hungary had dominated Serbia's foreign trade, which
consisted mostly of pigs driven to slaughterhouses in Hungary. By 1905, 84 percent of Serbian
exports were going to Austria-Hungary, and Austria supplied 53 percent of goods entering Serbia.
Austria also manufactured Serbia's artillery and ammunition, and held most Serbian state bonds.

Pasic was anxious to escape this kind of monopoly. In 1904, he negotiated a French loan, intended
to pay for new guns from French sources, then ignored protests from Vienna. In 1905, the Austro-
Serbian tariff treaty expired and Pasic negotiated a customs union with Bulgaria, gaining an
alternative market for Serbian products and access to non-Austrian seaports. Austria then closed
the border to Serbian livestock, supposedly to keep out diseased Serbian pigs: thus the episode
goes by the name of the "Pig War." Pasic resisted this extortion: he arranged to ship cattle and pigs
through Salonika, shipped other goods through Romania and Bulgaria, and built food processing
plants so that Serbia could export flour and canned meat instead of raw cereal grains and livestock.
By 1911, only 30 percent of Serbian exports were going to Austro-Hungarian markets and the
stranglehold was broken.

Bosnian plots

Austro-Serbian relations continued to deteriorate over Bosnian issues as well. Anti-Habsburg secret
societies were common among Bosnian Serbs, especially students, who organized small groups tied
loosely to each other and to nationalist clubs in Serbia. The most important was "Mlada Bosna"
(Young Bosnia), organized in 1893 by teeage boys at a boarding school in Mostar. Mlada Bosna
agitated for land reforms and became interested in revolutionary socialism after the 1905 Russian
Revolution. After the 1908 annexation, some members of Mlada Bosna decided to resist Austrian
rule with violence. In 1910, a 23-year old graduate of the Mostar high school, a peasant's son
named Bogdan Zerajic, tried but failed to shoot the Habsburg governor of Bosnia, then killed

Serbia's largest nationalist society was "Narodna Odbrana" (National Defence), founded to support
guerilla units in Macedonia. By 1909, Narodna Odbrana was confining itself to cultural matters and
education, but its local committees still provided a network for subversives.

More dangerous was "Ujedinjenje ili Smrt" (Union or Death) known as the "Black Hand." Apis
organized the society in 1911 from among the regicides of 1903: they swore an oath of secrecy and
agreed to obey orders on pain of death. Many army officers were still at odds with the Radical Party
and mistrusted parliamentary government in general. Black Hand members infiltrated organizations
like Narodna Odbrana, and used them for their own plots. The Black Hand published a rabble-
rousing newspaper called "Pijemont" (named after the Italian kingdom that was the kernel of Italian
unification), paid for with funds embezzled from the army. In 1913 Apis became head of Serbian
military intelligence, an ideal position from which to carry out secret plots.

Lecture 15 looks more carefully at Serbian responsibility for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in
1914. For now, it is enough to say that a variety of groups believed they were best suited to
promote Serbian national interests. The Pasic regime was the least radical, and in fact feared
violence from Apis and the Black Hand. The Black Hand was willing to sponsor all kinds of anti-
Habsburg mischief in Bosnia, and supplied the weapons used in the assassination, although Apis
may not have known what was intended. The actual assassins (about whom more next time) were
high school students, motivated by their own beliefs. As we will see, the outbreak of the World War
itself was an unexpected result, in which wider European politics played a major role. Even the most
aggressive of the Serbian plotters probably expected only a limited Third Balkan War, this time
directed at Austria.

Wartime diplomacy

Once World War I began, Serbia was in a contradictory position. For the first time, little Serbia had
major Great Power allies (Britain, Russia, France and later Italy and the U.S.) and a realistic chance
to defeat Austria-Hungary. However, in the Balkan theater Serbia was defeated on the battlefield by
1915: the army and the government fled over the mountains of Albania and spent the rest of the
war in exile.
Allied victory in the war did not automatically guarantee results that met Serbian interests. Serbian
war aims conflicted with those of Italy: both states had plans to take the Dalmatian coast away
from Austria, for example. Britain and France, on the other hand, were reluctant to accept the
territorial destruction of the Habsburg Monarchy: they feared that a collection of small successor
states would soon fall under German or Russian influence (a rather prophetic forecast). It was not
until 1917 that Paris and London gave up on hopes for a negotiated peace with Vienna.

The work of Croatian leaders also played a role in war-time politics. When the war broke out,
several leaders of the "Yugoslav Movement" fled abroad. They organized a "Yugoslav Committee" to
lobby the Allies in favor of political rights for the Habsburg South Slavs. In 1915, the "Yugoslav
Committee" learned that the Treaty of London had promised Fiume and part of Dalmatia to Italy in
return for Italian help to the Allies. The Committee informed Nikola Pasic and the Serbian
government about the treaty, and the two groups protested jointly. The Allies had to accept plans
for a South Slav state at the expense of Austria, in order to end the crisis. The episode also
established important connections between Serbian and Croatian figures.

The Yugoslav Committee sought further cooperation toward a South Slav state to be organized on
the Croatian model of a federation of Serbs and Croats. Because Yugo-Slav ideas contradicted some
tenets of Great Serbian nationalism, the exiled Pasic government at first displayed little interest. In
1917, however, developments forced the Serbs to be flexible. When Russia left the war, Serbia lost
her most powerful ally against Italian claims and felt the need to find new supporters. The success
of Yugo-Slav agitation both in the United States and within the Habsburg Monarchy made the
Yugoslav Committee into an attractive ally. In July 1917 Pasic and the Committee issued the so-
called Corfu Declaration, which laid plans for a post-war state:

1. Yugoslavia would be a united Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, under the
Karageorgevic dynasty.
2. There would be common citizenship for Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, equality in religion, and
the use of both alphabets (Latin and Cyrillic).
3. The country would be a parliamentary monarchy with a single unified chamber of
representatives elected by direct, secret ballot.

The preamble stated that Serbs, Croats and Slovenes were "the same by blood [and] by language,"
and for the first time, the Pasic ministry used the term Yugo-Slav. The balance between Serbian
centralism and Croatian federalism was left unresolved, pending a constitutional convention.

After the war

Once the war ended and the Italian threat receded, the rivalry between Croats and Serbs revived.
Serbian leaders retained a vision of a centralized country united around Serbia, as described in the
Nacertanije and painfully pursued in past wars and crises. They had little understanding for Ljudevit
Gaj's Illyrianism, Croatian Yugoslavism, or the Croatian experience of Magyar domination, which
was driving demands in Zagreb for federalism and autonomy.

Each step in establishing the post-war state showed that Croatian federalists were going to be
disappointed. "Yugoslavia" was rejected as the official name of the country in favor of the "Kingdom
of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes." A more serious blow fell in 1921, when a national assembly
adopted a centralist constitution based on that of pre-war Serbia. The voting followed ethnic lines:
although the election was fair and democratic, it set a bad precedent because the voting amounted
to a tyranny of the majority. Serbs were the most numerous ethnic group, and Serbs in all
provinces voted for nationalist parties, taking 183 out of 419 assembly seats. Prime Minister Pasic
secured the votes of forty Slovene and Bosnian Muslim representatives by promising jobs for their
co-nationals on the state railways, and the 1921 Constitution passed by a vote of 223 to 35.

The Croatian delegates boycotted the voting session, setting another precedent that increased the
impact of Great Serbian nationalism on interwar Yugoslavia. The Austro-Hungarian parliament never
exercised real power or responsibilities, and the Croatian Peasant Party (led by Stjepan Radic) hasd
never picked up the practical political skills it needed to be a "loyal opposition." Rather than work
for compromise or engage in parliamentary struggle, Radic's party preferred the grand gesture and
ideological purity.

Unchallenged, it was perhaps inevitable that the Serbs would dominate the new state. In the next
22 years, every Prime Minister was a Serb, and so were most other Cabinet ministers. In 1938, 161
of 165 generals were Serbs. Serbs dominated the foreign service, the state banks and state
patronage jobs, and ran the country to suit Serbian interests.

Stjepan Radic and the Croatian Peasant Party bear some responsibility for this state of affairs.
Outvoted and frustrated, Radic insulted Pasic and the king, and came close to treason by appealing
for Italian intervention. In 1925 he became Minister of Education, but only used the post to criticize
his colleagues, not to secure Croatian educational rights. He made unrealistic proposals, such as a
plan to use the Arabic script instead of the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets.

On the other hand, the Serbs tended to abuse the power they had achieved. Political deal-making
and corruption were widespread. Serbian politicians never seriously considered Croatian proposals
for federalism and autonomy. Finally, there was an ugly violent streak in Great Serbian nationalism,
which seems all the more unnecessary given the Serbian monopoly on state power. In 1928, a
Radical Party delegate (a Serb from Montenegro) pulled a revolver on the floor of the Skupstina
during a debate, and fatally wounded three Croatian deputies, including Stjepan Radic. His death
not only meant the end of Croatian hopes for autonomy, but the end of a meaningful system of
parliamentary government. In 1929, King Alexander dismissed the parliament and imposed a royal
dictatorship, in which Serbs still retained power.


Because of an inability to compromise, Great Serbian nationalism created dangerous forces that
eventually undid the successes of the nineteenth century, the Balkan Wars and World War I. King
Alexander was assassinated in 1934 by a Macedonian terrorist with Croatian connections. When the
German army invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, only the Serbs stood up to defend the country.
Yugoslavia then was partitioned and its people subjected to brutal mistreatment by the Nazis and by
rival factions in a civil war. The post-1945 Communist regime explicitly rejected Serbian nationalism
and suppressed it until 1989, when its revival led to ongoing crises and more war. It remains to be
seen whether today's Serbian leaders will have to pay too high a price for reviving ideas first laid
out by Garasanin 150 years ago.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 14: Greek nationalism, the "Megale Idea" and Venizelism to 1923

As noted in Lecture 13, some themes and trends in Balkan history are easier to understand if we
abandon preconceptions drawn from general European history, including preconceptions about
periodization. This is true in Greek as well as Serbian history, and very apparent when we gauge the
proper place of World War I in Greek historical chronology. 1914 and 1918 are not the most useful
or critical dates for an understanding of Greek nationalism, because the forces at work began well
before the start of the Great War and continued after its conclusion.

Broadly, we can say that nationalism in foreign relations began for Greece with the Revolution of
1821. Narrowly, we can say that the European War of 1914-1918 was only one episode in a series
of wars for national territorial expansion, than began with the First Balkan War of 1912 and ended
with the war against Kemal Ataturk's revived Turkish republic in 1923. And this decade-long contest
was merely one link in a chain of events that is still being forged in places like Cyprus and in Greek
relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Origins of the Megale Idea

Greek nationalism has the "Megale Idea," the counterpart of Serbia's "Nacertanije." Literally
translated as the "great idea" or "grand idea," the Megale Idea implies the goal of reestablishing a
Greek state as a homeland for all the Greeks of the Mediterranean and Balkan world. Such a Greece
would be territorially larger than the Greek state of today, but would be smaller than the Greek
world of classical times, which extended west to the coast of Sicily, northeast into the Black Sea,
and south to Egypt. Alexander the Great -- a figure of classical Greek history and legend exploited
by competing modern-day politicians -- spread the influence of Hellenism even wider, into Africa
and Asia. The Eastern half of the Roman Empire became solidly Greek as Byzantium, and sustained
Greek culture in the Balkans and Asia Minor.

One of the unsettled aspects of the Megale Idea and the goals of Greek nationalism has been
uncertainty about what is properly considered Greek, and why. In the nineteenth century, religious
affiliation with the Greek Orthodox church was often confused with ethnic affiliation: the Bulgarians,
for example, worked for many years to secure a separate Bulgarian Exarchate Church for this
reason. Extreme Greek territorial claims resulted when the geography of classical Greece was
applied to modern maps. The result has been conflict with Albania over Epirus, with Serbia and
Bulgaria over Macedonia, and with Turkey over Istanbul (Constantinople), the western coast of
Anatolia and islands from the Aegean to Cyprus.

While the fall of Constantinople in 1453 put an end to Greek political power in the Balkans, the
Ottoman millet system ensured that Greek influence would remain strong through the agency of the
Orthodox Church. As indicated in Lecture 6, the power of the Patriarch and his hierarchy opened
important doors for Greeks, and this helped to keep alive visions of a revived Greek state among
the Greeks of the Ottoman empire.

Intellectual currents outside the Ottoman Empire also contributed to a consciousness of things
Greek. Some educated Greeks fled to Italy after the fall of Constantinople: their writings promoted
interest in antiquity during the Renaissance. Western European interest in ancient Greece led to
Phil-Hellenism. The British ruling class, in particular, gained an interest in Greece from their
education in the classics, and this led to British support for the Greek revolution in the 1820s.

Rhigas Pheraios published a manifesto in 1797, one year before his arrest and execution for anti-
Turkish plotting. His work offers insight into Greek thought about a revived Greece, on the eve of
the modern revolutionary era. Rhigas envisaged a large country occupying both the Balkans and
Anatolia, sheltering all the ethnic groups found there but ruled according to Greek ideas. Rhigas was
advanced enough in his thinking to abandon religion as a criterion for national identity but he was
not farsighted enough to see the ways in which modern ethnic nationalism, with its emphasis on
shared language and culture, would make such an idea impossible. He influenced the planners of
the Revolution of 1821: we can see echoes of his thinking in the plans for a three-fold uprising, to
take place in Istanbul and the Romanian provinces, as well as in the Greek Peloponessus. And we
have seen how this idea broke down in the face of incipient Romanian nationalism, so that the
uprising in Romania failed because Romanians resented their Greek Phanariot hospodars.

The Megale Idea after 1830

After the achievement of Greek independence in 1830, the Megale Idea played a major role in
Greek politics. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the Greek people remained outside the
borders of the limited Greece permitted by the Great Powers, who had no intention that a large
Greek state should replace the Ottoman Empire. King Othon became "King of Greece" and not "King
of the Greeks" for exactly that reason: the latter title would have implied interests outside the new

The Megale Idea continued to be an intellectual as well as a political concept. The work of the
historian Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos shows how ideas underlay politics. Paparrigopoulos was born
in 1815 in Istanbul. As a child his family fled to Odessa after the 1821 uprising failed in the Turkish
capital. In the new Greece, he became an influential professor writing history in the service of
nationalism and "the fatherland." His work shows to what degree the Greek state relied not only on
present-day needs but historical roots to justify and identify itself. In 1843 Paparrigopoulos refuted
a German paper claiming that the present Greek population was descended from Slavs and
Albanians who had repopulated Greece in the 500s CE. His work was self-consciously political: he
spoke at political rallies and offered his expertise at the Congress of Berlin to ensure that the
borders drawn in 1878 reflected Greek positions about the ethnic identity of the Macedonian
population. Paparrigopoulos tied modern Greece to its classical and medieval roots, a position which
implied valid claims to all the lands of the Byzantine Empire.
Greeks and their leaders uniformly wanted to liberate the "unredeemed" Greeks abroad, but differed
about when and how to do so. In the 1880s, Kharilaos Trikoupis (seven times prime minister
between 1875 and 1895) stood for reform and modernizing the domestic economy before taking
international risks. His rival, Theodoros Deliyannis (five times prime minister between 1885 and
1905) took the opposite tack, and his career shows the risks at work. When the small Bulgarian
principality expanded into Eastern Roumelia in 1885, Deliyannis mobilized the Greek army in an
effort to secure more territory for Greece as well: but the Great Powers reacted with a blockade that
damaged Greece's economy. Deliyannis went to war with Turkey in 1897 over the island of Crete,
leading to twin humiliations: the Ottomans soundly defeated Greece in battle and a state
bankruptcy led to Great Power control of the Greek national budget. But despite these setbacks,
pursuit of the Megale Idea remained a viable basis for a political career.

The Olympic Games

It is slightly unfair to dwell always on the negative aspects of nationalism. While national pride has
caused some of the worst of wars, it can also lead to positive results. One of the most interesting
has been the revival of the Olympic Games in a modern form, which took place for the first time in
Athens in 1896.

The impetus for our modern international Olympics came from Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman
who hoped that athletic programs on the British model would help revive France after the defeat by
Germany in 1870. Interest in the Olympic concept was not new. Groups of Phil-Hellenes in England
held "Olympic Games" off and on since the 1600s: Shakespeare referred to the ancient Olympic
Games in 'Henry VI.' The King of Greece contributed one of the trophies for a long-running series of
English games held in Shropshire from the 1840s to the 1880s. King Othon sponsored Olympic
Games outside Athens in 1859, an event that took place again in 1870, 1875 and 1888.

None of these festivals involved competition between athletes from different countries but the
notion of an international event, held in modern Greece but harking back to classical times, had
obvious appeal for Greeks trying to attract attention in the world community. The Games carried the
clear message that ancient and modern Greece were one and the same, and supported Greek hopes
that the glories of the former would attract international support for the ambitions of the latter.
Greeks therefore welcomed de Coubertin's idea.

When de Coubertin began serious planning in 1894, a Greek named Demetrios Bikelas organized
the International Olympic Committee. Consistent with their contrasting politics, Deliyannis endorsed
the idea, while Trikoupis rejected it as a waste of money. However, the idea had the support of both
the Greek population and King George. The king agreed to host the Games at Athens in 1896, and
private funds were found to pay for them. To further the identification between ancient feats and
modern sports, sponsors invented a new 40-kilometer "Marathon" race based on legends about the
Athenian victory at Marathon in 490 BCE. Again in line with nationalist undercurrents, the games
opened on the Greek independence day: April 6, 1896. Greek pride received a boost when a Greek
won the first marathon race. Even though a Greek proposal to make Athens the permanent site of
the quadrennial games was rejected, the Olympics became an unusual and peaceful way to secure
credibility for Greece, based on its national history.

Crete and Macedonia

After the high good times of 1896, the lost war of 1897 was a reminder that economic
backwardness, military weakness and political corruption still prevented Greece from achieving the
goals of the Megale Idea.

The country was unable to achieve union ("enosis") with Crete despite repeated uprisings on the
island. In Macedonia, Greeks were surprised by the pro-Bulgarian uprising of 1903 and had to
create a rival guerilla force in haste. When Paul Melas, son of a prominent Athens family and a
commissioned officer in the Greek army, was killed while serving secretly and illegally in Macedonia,
the revelation caused a scandal: the Great Powers condemned Greek interference inside Turkey, but
the Greek population condemned the government for not doing more to secure Macedonia for
Greece. Although Greek guerillas gradually secured the southern half of Macedonia by defeating
pro-Bulgarian units, nothing came of their victories because the 1908 Young Turk revolution
restored Ottoman rule, apparently in a form that was stronger than ever. 1909 saw another uprising
on the island of Crete, and once again Greece was too weak to risk "enosis" by war.

The Goudhi coup

No one was more aware of political corruption and military weakness, or more susceptible to
patriotic embarassment, than the officers in the Greek army. In July 1909, 1300 junior officers
organized themselves as the "Military League" and drew up a petition asking for financial and tax
reforms, to be used to pay for expansion and improvement of the military. King George installed a
ministry that promised reform, but within a few days the new prime minister (the unremarkable
Mavromichalis) went back on his pledge and installed the usual cronies in key posts. The officers'
protest seemed to have become an excuse for the usual factional politics. Mavromichalis then began
court martial proceedings against the Military League's leaders and refused to meet with a
delegation of officers.

In response, the Athens garrison marched to the suburb of Goudhi, then threatened to occupy the
capital to enforce demands for reforms and amnesty. The small craft guilds of the city came out in
favor of the League, which was also calling for lower taxes. Another reform ministry took power but
this time the Military League placed the government on notice: unless specified laws were passed,
the League would assume power as a military dictatorship. The measures were promptly passed.

As in Serbia in 1903, a dangerous precedent had been set: the civilian government now functioned
at the mercy of junior officers in the army. In the next months, the Military League forced some
civilian officials and ambassadors out of office, repressed a mutiny by naval personnel who wanted a
share of the power seized by the army, and forced the legislature to pass a list of economic bills,
many of which were unworkable (lower taxes, for example, could not be reconciled with demands to
spend more on the military).


By January 1910, the officers were frustrated by an inability to make progress through dealings with
the legislature. Most members of the Military League had no wish to become politicians, only to
assure themselves that the military would get sound financial support. To improve their legislative
negotiating skills, they brought in the Cretan politician Eleutherios Venizelos as their adviser and

Venizelos was 46 years old and a native of the island of Crete, which was still under Ottoman rule
and remained so until the Balkan Wars. He had attended law school in Athens, then returned to
Crete. Venizelos was active in an 1896 rebellion that led the Great Powers to grant the island some
degree of autonomy under Turkish rule. He served in Crete's assembly and as minister of justice.
Venizelos' supporters called him a political genius; his detractors, an opportunist. By 1910 he saw
that he could do little more in his position on Crete, so he accepted the League's offer to become its
spokesman. He soon negotiated the dissolution of the League, when the officers accepted a royal
promise to hold special elections for a national assembly.

When the special elections took place, independents and reformers replaced the old party hacks as
the majority and Venizelos was invited to lead them, even though he was technically not a citizen.
Venizelos' rhetoric appealed to all the important constituencies: he spoke in favor of a moral
regeneration of Greece, but also praised the monarchy. In this way he gained the support of the
king, who felt threatened by republican extremists in the Military League. Late in 1910 Venizelos
had the king call another round of elections: Venizelist delegates now took 260 of 362 seats. This
large majority let him pass a long list of reform bills aimed at ending the spoils system, the
manipulation of votes, and other tools of the old oligarchical parties.

Venizelos' success has been ascribed to a "bourgeois revolution" in Greek politics: the political heirs
of the old notables and landowners gave way to a new class based on manufacturing, shipping, the
professions and other new forms of enterprise. The Venizelist party also captured popular support
by becoming the primary advocate for the Megale Idea. The old elite was often lukewarm about
national expansion, because its power base in the the old core of the state would have been diluted
by the addition of new lands whose inhabitants often worked in the new industries. When World War
I raised the question of national expansion in an acute form, Venizelos' identification with
irredentism led to a crisis in Greek politics.

We can also call this a conflict between "insiders" and "outsiders." Recall that at the time of the
Greek Revolution, there was a deep split -- even civil war -- between two competing classes. On
one side, power and wealth flowed from a legacy of old privileges granted to ex-Ottoman officials
and the landowning notables of the Peloponnessus: both had been well-connected insiders during
the Ottoman period. On the other side, the outsiders came from a newer class of merchants,
shipowners and professionals, and were sustained by incomes, skills and connections derived from
ties to Western Europe.

By 1909, the old wealth-holding class of landowners had been joined by a new kind of insiders:
bureaucrats and politicians who lived by controlling government patronage. The status quo satisfied
these groups: for them, reforms meant higher taxes and the potential loss of their jobs. All their
rivals, in turn, suffered under the status quo: those rivals included reform-oriented liberal
politicians, a growing industrial and commercial middle-class, and members of modern professions
ranging from teachers to army officers.

These outsider groups -- the party of Venizelism -- looked favorably on the expansion of Greek
territory because it offered them access to more resources, expanded markets and new voters, all
of which further pushed the balance in their favor against the entrenched power of the insiders and
oligarchs. Every territorial expansion not only took Greece closer to the goals of the Megale Idea: it
also strengthened Venizelism. After the victorious Balkans Wars of 1912-1913 Greece added a
million new citizens, and most of them voted as Venizelists.

Greece in World War I

Involvement in the Balkan Wars was not controversial or risky: Greece had pursued land in
Macedonia for thirty years, and the Balkan League alliance clearly was too strong to be defeated by
Turkey. But in 1914, Greeks were divided about their best course. When Bulgaria and Turkey joined
the Central Powers, the potential stakes rose for Greece. It was likely that the end of the war would
bring major border changes. If the Central Powers won, Bulgaria might claim land in Macedonia and
Thrace at the expense of Greece. On the other hand, if the Allies won, Bulgaria and especially
Turkey would lose territory. As a noncombatant, a neutral Greece would have no say in the peace
treaty and the lands of the Megale Idea might be awarded to rival states.

King Constantine (George having been assassinated in 1913) opposed entering the war at all, and
especially opposed joining on the Allied side. His family was German: he was the Kaiser's brother-
in-law. He expected the Central Powers to win. Prime Minister Venizelos on the other hand was sure
that the Allies would win the war and that Greek participation would yield benefits against Bulgaria
and Turkey.

Relations between the king and Venizelos deteriorated. When Bulgaria attacked Serbia in October
1915, Allied interest in a Greek alliance rose. As Prime Minister, Venizelos invited French and British
troops to land at Salonika. He justified his action under a very wide interpretation of an old Greco-
Serb treaty, and under the original 1830 treaty that gave the British and French rights to act as
protecting powers for the Greek state. The assembly voted (147 to 110) to declare war against
Germany. When the King refused to go along, Venizelos resigned and Greece remained neutral
(despite the presence of Allied troops in the north).

In 1916 Venizelos' party boycotted new elections: by doing so he ended any chance to resolve the
crisis through constitutional, parliamentary channels and made the situation much more dangerous.
In September 1916 Bulgarian forces occupied part of northern Greece (the Allies had forced neutral
Greek troops out of the area, uncertain whether Greece might unexpectedly join the Central
Powers). Venizelos decided on extreme measures to save the state. He proclaimed himself the head
of a revolutionary government. Eager to bring Greece into the war, the Allies backed Venizelos and
forced the king to abdicate in June 1917. This divided Greece into hostile camps, on the verge of
civil war.

Venizelos had staked his political prestige on the assumption that the Allies would allow Greece to
fulfill the Megale Idea, but he had no specific promises that Greece would gain control of her
unredeemed populations in the event of an Allied victory. Meanwhile, the Royalists were treated as
potentially hostile elements to be neutralized. The Allies demanded control of the Greek navy, key
railroads and military supplies, and enforced their demands with a naval blockade that left the
country short of food and fuel. King Constantine left the country to defuse the crisis. Prime Minister
Venizelos became head of a regency, and Greek units joined the French and British facing Bulgarian
units around Salonika.

For the Balkan states, World War I had now become a referendum on the Balkan Wars: the
territorial winners (Serbia, Greece and Romania) faced the losers (Bulgaria and Turkey).

For a while the Central Powers prospered. Serbia was overrun, and Romania forced to sue for
peace. Bulgaria recovered lands in Macedonia, Thrace and the Dobrudja. Greece faced an
ambiguous situation, thanks to contradictory Allied promises about post-war arrangements. Greek
designs on Albania competed with Serbian, Montenegrin and Italian plans. Greek hopes to annex
Western Anatolia conflicted with Italian plans for a protectorate. Greek claims on Constantinople
(Istanbul) faced Russian plans to annex the zone of the Straits.

Despite the minor and ambivalent role played by Greece during World War I, the Allied victory
brought substantial rewards. Competing Russian claims to Constantinople were ignored after the
Russian Revolution took Russia out of the war: instead the area became a demilitarized zone under
weak Turkish control. The collapse of Turkey allowed Greece to act in Anatolia. Greek troops landed
at Smyrna (Izmir) in 1919, and the 1920 peace treaty with Turkey designated a large part of
western Anatolia as an autonomous zone under Greek occupation. A plebiscite was planned for
1925: after five years of Greek administration, it was a certainty that the population then would
vote for annexation to Greece.

However, the apparent triumph soon fell apart. Turkish nationalists refused to accept the harsh
treaty and retreated into the interior of Anatolia. A Greek army followed them to enforce Allied
wishes. At the end of extended supply lines, their advance stalled in 1921 and in 1922 a Turkish
counterattack threw the Greek forces all the way back to Izmir. The remnants had to be evacuated
by sea and much of the city's Greek population left with them, ending a Greek presence that
stretched back thousands of years. A revised peace with Turkey made the situation permanent: a
million Greeks from Turkey were transferred to Macedonia in exchange for a smaller number of

The Megale Idea after the defeat of 1923

On the verge of the greatest achievement of the Megale Idea, the loss of Anatolia was a stunning
defeat. The disaster poisoned Greek politics, already strained by the civil conflict during the war.
Although the Anatolian adventure was the direct result of Venizelos' policy, the events of 1922-23
took place under a Royalist administration thanks to an accident of timing (King Constantine had
returned to the throne in 1920 after his son King Alexander died of an infection from a pet monkey's
bite). When six royalist generals were shot for treason after trial by a new and revolutionary
government of Venizelists, the seeds were sown for lingering political bitterness.

The competition between Venizelists and Royalists involved the social fabric as well. A million
refugees needed to be integrated into social and economic life. Many families arrived without
possessions, sometimes unable to speak Greek (Turkish-speaking Orthodox Greeks were a feature
of Anatolia) and certainly without connections in the cozy world of the Athens insiders.
Quintessential outsiders, these new voters became Venizelists. Most settled in northern Greece,
where farms forfeited by expelled Turks were redistributed by Venizelist administrators to refugees
who remembered which party gave them their land. 38 percent of the cultivated land of Greece
came into new hands during this period. Living on small plots, the refugees found that export crops
like tobacco offered a better living than subsistence farming. The Venizelists were also the party
that favored exports and trade.

The royalists, on the other hand, kept the allegiance of older rural smallholders who gained nothing
from the land reform; of the old-fashioned shopkeepers of Athens, who were threatened by imports
and new industries; and of Greece's small organized labor movement, whose members watched
wages fall thanks to the influx of refugees.


The legacy of the Megale Idea in the 1920s and 1930s became a destructive cycle of political rivalry
and dictatorships. Instead of seeking compromise and solving national problems, the two sides
expended their energy attacking each other. We will return to this in a later lecture, but it is safe to
say that the immediate interests of the Greek nation were sacrificed in the service of an illusory
Greek nation that might have been, based on the Megale Idea. This fundamental flaw in Greek
politics continues as an influence even today: the Megale Idea and aggressive nationalism reappear
whenever one side or another needs a rallying point at times of crisis. Both the right-wing Colonels
of the 1970s and their leftist successors have employed nationalism this way, and the ongoing
Cyprus crisis is fueled by it. After generations of population exchanges, the rationale for Greek
irredentism has dwindled but its power has not.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 15: The Balkan causes of World War I

Few issues in modern history have received as much attention as assigning responsibility for the
outbreak of the World War in 1914. The debate began during the war itself as each side tried to lay
blame on the other, became part of the "war guilt" question after 1918, went through a phase of
revisionism in the 1920s, and was revived in the 1960s thanks to the work of Fritz Fischer.

This lecture also deals with the causes of World War I, but does so from a Balkan perspective.
Certainly Great Power tensions were widespread in 1914, and those tensions caused the rapid
spread of the war after it broke out, but many previous Great Power crises had been resolved
without war. Why did this particular episode, a Balkan crisis that began with a political murder in
Bosnia, prove so unmanageable and dangerous?

Some questions will help to frame our inquiry:

• What was the purpose of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28,
• Who was responsible for the killing, besides the assassins themselves?
• Was a war inevitable after the murder, or did policy-makers let the crisis escape their
• Finally, why did a Balkan crisis lead to a world war in 1914, when other crises had not?

Focusing on the Balkans

From a Balkan perspective, it is crucial to look at the actors and decision-makers who were at work
during the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, the two states involved in the original
Sarajevo crisis. Doing so highlights factors that are somewhat different from those at work among
the Great Powers at large, or those cited in general explanations for the war.

General treatments of the European crisis of 1914 often blame Great Power statesmen for their
shortsightedness, incompetence, or failure to act in a timely or effective way to keep the peace. A
common theme is the passive nature of Great Power policy: leaders reacted to events instead of
proactively managing the crisis. With some justification, scholars conclude that French leaders had
little choice: France was the object of a German invasion. England in turn entered the war because
a successful German attack on France and Belgium would have made Germany too powerful. Both
Germany and Russia mobilized their armies in haste, because each one feared defeat by powerful
enemies if they delayed. Germany and Russia also rashly committed themselves to support Balkan
clients -- Austria-Hungary and Serbia, respectively -- because Berlin and St. Petersburg feared that
failure to do so would cost them the trust of important allies and leave them isolated. This
interpretation treats Balkan matters largely through their influence on policies elsewhere.

An analysis rooted in a Balkan perspective, on the other hand, can evaluate the proactive steps
taken in the region from the start of the crisis. Unfortunately, when Austrians, Hungarians and
Serbs made important decisions early in the crisis, they consistently avoided compromise and risked
war. Two months passed between the murder of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-
Hungary, by a Bosnian Serb high school student on June 28, and the coming of general war at the
end of August. In other words, there was plenty of time for calculation, caution and decision. Who
chose to risk war, and why?

The purpose of the murder itself

The murder itself was hardly a mystery. There were scores of witnesses and the killers were
immediately arrested: we even have a photograph of Gavrilo Princip being wrestled to the ground
by police. The conspirators willingly confessed: transcripts of their trial statements have been
published. Nor was the fact of murder per se crucial. It was an age of assassins: Franz Joseph's
wife, the Empress Elizabeth, had been murdered in 1898 in Switzerland by an Italian, but Austria
did not seek war with Italy or Switzerland. It was the significance of this particular crime for Austro-
Serbian relations that mattered.

Serbian blame: the assassins

To assess the degree of Serbian guilt, we should look in three places: the young Bosnian assassins,
their backers in Serbia, and the Serbian government.

In an open car, Franz Ferdinand, his wife Sophie Chotek and Governor Potiorek passed seven
assassins as their procession drove through Sarajevo. A look at the actual participants tells us
something about South Slav nationalist dissatisfaction in Habsburg-ruled Bosnia.

The first conspirator along the parade route was Mehmed Mehmedbasic, a 27-year old carpenter,
son of an impoverished Bosnian Muslim notable: he had a bomb. After planning a plot of his own to
kill Governor Potiorek, Mehmedbasic joined the larger plot. When the car passed him, he did
nothing: a gendarme stood close by, and Mehmedbasic feared that a botched attempt might spoil
the chance for the others. He was the only one of the assassins to escape.

Map: SARAJEVO IN 1905/1914

[Clicking here will display a tourist map of the city of Sarajevo in 1905 in another browser window,
while leaving this lecture text in the original browser window.]

Next was Vaso Cubrilovic, a 17-year old student armed with a revolver. Cubrilovic was recruited for
the plot during a political discussion: in Bosnia in 1914, virtual strangers could soon be plotting
political murders together, if they shared radical interests. Cubrilovic had been expelled from the
Tuzla high school for walking out during the Habsburg anthem. Cubrilovic too did nothing, afraid of
shooting Duchess Sophie by accident. Under Austrian law, there was no death penalty for juvenile
offenders, so Cubrilovic was sentenced to 16 years. In later life he became a history professor.

Nedelko Cabrinovic was the third man, a 20-year old idler who was on bad terms with his family
over his politics: he took part in strikes and read anarchist books. His father ran a cafe, did errands
for the local police, and beat his family. Nedeljko dropped out of school, and moved from job to job:
locksmithing, operating a lathe and setting type. In 1914 Cabrinovic worked for the Serbian state
printing house in Belgrade. He was a friend of Gavrilo Princip, who recruited him there for the
killing, and they travelled together back to Sarajevo. Cabrinovic threw a bomb, but failed to see the
car in time to aim well: he missed the heir's car and hit the next one, injuring several people.
Cabrinovic swallowed poison and jumped into a canal, but he was saved from suicide and arrested.
He died of tuberculosis in prison in 1916.
The fourth and fifth plotters were standing together. One was Cvetko Popovic, an 18-year old
student who seems to have lost his nerve, although he claimed not to have seen the car, being
nearsighted. Popovic received a 13-year sentence, and later became a school principal.

Nearby was 24-year old Danilo Ilic, the main organizer of the plot; he had no weapon. Ilic was
raised in Sarajevo by his mother, a laundress. His father was dead, and Ilic worked as a newsboy, a
theatre usher, a laborer, a railway porter, a stone-worker and a longshoreman while finishing
school; later he was a teacher, a bank clerk, and a nurse during the Balkan Wars. His real vocation
was political agitation: he had contacts in Bosnia, with the Black Hand in Serbia and in the exile
community in Switzerland. He obtained the guns and bombs used in the plot. Ilic was executed for
the crime.

The final two of the seven conspirators were farther down the road. Trifko Grabez was a 19-year old
Bosnian going to school in Belgrade, where he became friends with Princip. He too did nothing: at
his trial he said he was afraid of hurting some nearby women and children, and feared that an
innocent friend standing with him would be arrested unjustly. He too died in prison: the Austrians
spared few resources for the health of the assassins after conviction.

Gavrilo Princip was last. Also 19-years old, he was a student who had never held a job. His peasant
family owned a tiny farm of four acres, the remnant of a communal zadruga broken up in the
1880s; for extra cash, his father drove a mail coach. Gavrilo was sickly but smart: at 13 he went off
to the Merchants Boarding School in Sarajevo. He soon turned up his nose at commerce in favor of
literature, poetry and student politics. For his role in a demonstration, he was expelled and lost his
scholarship. In 1912 he went to Belgrade: he never enrolled in school, but dabbled in literature and
politics, and somehow made contact with Apis and the Black Hand. During the Balkan Wars he
volunteered for the Serbian army, but was rejected as too small and weak.

On the day of the attack, Princip heard Cabrinovic's bomb go off and assumed that the Archduke
was dead. By the time he heard what had really happened, the cars had driven past him. By bad
luck, a little later the returning procession missed a turn and stopped to back up at a corner just as
Princip happened to walk by. Princip fired two shots: one killed the archduke, the other his wife.
Princip was arrested before he could swallow his poison capsule or shoot himself. Princip too was a
minor under Austrian law, so he could not be executed. Instead he was sentenced to 20 years in
prison, and died of tuberculosis in 1916.

We can make some generalizations about the plotters. All were Bosnian by birth. Most were
Serbian, or one might say Orthodox, but one was a Bosnian Muslim: at their trial, the plotters did
not speak of Serbian, Croatian or Muslim identity, only their unhappiness with the Habsburgs. None
of the plotters was older than 27: so none of them were old enough to remember the Ottoman
regime. Their anger over conditions in Bosnia seems directed simply at the visible authorities. The
assassins were not advanced political thinkers: most were high school students. From statements at
their trial, the killing seems to have been a symbolic act of protest. Certainly they did not expect it
to cause a war between Austria and Serbia.

A closer look at the victims also supports this view: that symbolic, not real, power was at stake.
Assassination attempts were not unusual in Bosnia. Some of the plotters originally planned to kill
Governor Potiorek, and only switched to the royal couple at the last minute. Franz Ferdinand had
limited political influence. He was Emperor Franz Joseph's nephew, and became the heir when Franz
Joseph's son killed himself in 1889 (his sisters could not take the throne).

This position conferred less power than one might think. Franz Ferdinand's wife, Sophie Chotek, was
a Bohemian noblewoman, but not noble enough to be royal. She was scorned by many at court, and
their children were out of the line of succession (Franz Ferdinand's brother Otto was next). Franz
Ferdinand had strong opinions, a sharp tongue and many political enemies. He favored "trialism,"
adding a third Slavic component to the Dual Monarchy, in part to reduce the influence of the
Hungarians. His relations with Budapest were so bad that gossips blamed the killing on Magyar
politicians. There have been efforts to say that Serbian politicians had him killed to block his pro-
Slav reform plans, but the evidence for this is thin.
Serbian blame: the Black Hand

The assassins did not act alone. Who was involved within Serbia, and why? To understand Serbian
actions accurately, we must distinguish between the Radical Party led by Prime Minister Pasic, and
the circle of radicals in the army around Apis, the man who led the murders of the Serbian royal
couple in 1903.

The role of Apis in 1914 is a matter of guesswork, despite many investigations. The planning was
secret, and most of the participants died without making reliable statements . Student groups like
Mlada Bosna were capable of hatching murder plots on their own. During 1913 several of the
eventual participants talked about murdering General Oskar Potiorek, the provincial Governor or
even Emperor Franz Joseph.

Once identified as would-be assassins, however, the Bosnian students seem to have been directed
toward Franz Ferdinand by Dimitrijevic-Apis, by now a colonel in charge of Serbian intelligence.
Princip returned from a trip to Belgrade early in 1914 with a plan to kill Franz Ferdinand, contacts in
the Black Hand who later supplied the guns and bombs, and information about the planned June
visit by the heir, which Princip would not have known without a leak or tip from within Serbian
intelligence. In 1917, Apis took credit for planning the killing, but his motives can be questioned: at
the time, he was being tried for treason against the Serbian king, and mistakenly believed that his
role in the plot would lead to leniency. In fact, the Radical Party and the king were afraid of Apis
and had him shot.

Those who believe Apis was at work point to "trialism" as his motive. Apis is supposed to have seen
the heir as the only man capable of reviving Austria-Hungary. If Franz Ferdinand had reorganized
the Habsburg Empire on a trialist basis, satisfying the Habsburg South Slavs, Serbian hopes to
expand into Bosnia and Croatia would have been blocked. In early June 1914, Apis is said to have
decided to give guns and bombs to Princip and his accomplices, and arranged to get the students
back over the border into Bosnia without passing through the border checkpoints. Later in the
month, other members of the Black Hand ruling council voted to cancel the plan, but by then it was
too late to call back the assassins.

Serbian blame: Pasic and the state

While Apis may or may not have been guilty of planning the murder, the murder did not necessarily
mean war. There was no irresistable outburst of popular anger after the assassination: Austria-
Hungary did not take revenge in hot blood, but waited almost two months. When the Habsburg
state did react against Serbia, it was in a calculated manner as we will see in a moment. For now,
suffice it to say that the Austrians chose to blame the Pasic government for the crime. How culpable
was the Serbian regime?

There is no evidence to suggest that Pasic planned the crime. It is unlikely that the Black Hand
officers were acting on behalf of the government, because the military and the Radical Party in fact
were engaged in a bitter competition to control the state. After the Balkan Wars, both military and
civilian figures claimed the right to administer the newly liberated lands (the so-called Priority
Question). After 1903, Pasic knew that Apis' clique would kill to get their way.

Pasic's responsibility revolves around reports that he was warned of the intended crime, and took
inadequate steps to warn Austrian authorities. Despite Pasic's denials, there is substantial testimony
that someone alerted him to the plot, and that Pasic ordered the Serbian ambassador in Vienna to
tell the Austrians that an attempt would be made on the life of the heir during his visit to Bosnia.

However, when the Serbian ambassador passed on the warning, he appears to have been too
discreet. Instead of saying that he knew of an actual plot, he spoke in terms of a hypothetical
assassination attempt, and suggested that a state visit by Franz Ferdinand on the day of Kosovo
(June 28) was too provocative. Austrian diplomats failed to read between the lines of this vague
comment. By the time the warning reached the Habsburg joint finance minister (the man in charge
of Bosnian affairs) any sense of urgency had been lost, and he did nothing to increase security or
cancel the heir's planned visit. After the murders, the Serbian government was even more reluctant
to compromise itself by admitting any prior knowledge, hence Pasic's later denials.

If we agree that the Pasic government did not plan the killings, what can we say about their
response to the crisis that followed? War in 1914 was not inevitable: did the Serbs work hard
enough to avoid it?

Blame in Austria-Hungary

Before we can answer that question, we must look at the official Austrian reaction to the killing. This
took two forms. First, the police and the courts undertook a wide-ranging series of arrests and
investigations. Hundreds of people were arrested or questioned, sometimes violently. Twenty-five
people were finally tried and convicted, though only a few were executed, because so many of the
defendants were minors.

Second, the Austrian foreign ministry and the emperor's closest advisors considered what to do
about Serbia's role in the plot. Investigators quickly learned that the murder weapons came from
Serbian sources, but Austrian intelligence failed to distinguish between the roles of the Pasic
administration and the unofficial nationalist groups: for that matter, they blamed Narodna Odbrana
for the crime, apparently unaware of the Black Hand.

Austria's blame for the war attaches to its calculated response to the murders. Early councils were
divided. The chief of staff, General Franz Baron Conrad von Hoetzendorf, wanted a military response
from the beginning. Conrad had previously argued that the Monarchy was surrounded by enemies
who needed to be defeated individually, before they could combine. In other words, he wanted a
war against the Serbs and Russians, followed later by a confrontation with Italy. Leopold Count von
Berchtold, the Habsburg foreign minister, generally agreed with Conrad's analysis. Berchtold took
no strong position in the crisis: he was apparently convinced by Conrad, and his only hesitation
involved the need to prepare public opinion for war.

The only real opposition to a policy of confrontation and war came from the Hungarian Prime
Minister, Count Stephan Tisza. Tisza was personally opposed to militarism and took the risks of war
more seriously than Conrad. Also, as a Magyar, Tisza realized that a Habsburg victory would be a
domestic defeat for Hungarians: if Austria annexed Serbia, the delicate ethnic balance in the Dual
Monarchy would be lost. Either the Slavic population of Hungary would increase, leaving the
Magyars as a minority in their own country, or trialism would replace the dualist system, again
discounting Magyar influence.

The early Austrian deliberations included another, calculated element that shows their limited
interest in peace: in weighing the merits of a military response, Vienna first sought the reaction of
her German ally. The Austrian ambassador in Berlin found that the Germans, especially Kaiser
Wilhelm, supported a war to punish Serbia and offered their full support. This was in clear contrast
to events during the Balkan War of 1912, when Berlin refused to back Vienna in any intervention.
Like the Austrians, the Germans feared a future war with Russia, and preferred to fight soon, before
their enemies grew stronger.

When the Austrian Council of Ministers met again on July 7, the majority favored war. To satisfy
Tisza, the council agreed to present demands to Serbia, rather than declare war at once. In the
belief that a diplomatic victory alone would not be enough to destroy Serbia as a threat, the
demands were deliberately to be written in such extreme terms that Serbia could not accept them.
Serbia's refusal to comply would then become the excuse for war. Within a week, Tisza himself
consented to this plan: his only reservation was insistence that no Serbian territory be annexed
after the war.

The final 10-point ultimatum demanded the suppression of anti-Austrian newspapers and
organizations (including Narodna Odbrana), a purge of anti-Austrian teachers and officers, and the
arrest of certain named offenders. Two points seriously interfered in Serbian sovereignty:

• Austrian police would help suppress subversives on Serbian territory, and

• Austrian courts would help prosecute accused conspirators inside Serbia.

The document had a 48-hour deadline. The council finalized the demands on July 19th and sent
them to Belgrade on the 23rd. The war party in Vienna hoped that the Serbs would fail to agree,
and that this could be an excuse for war. The 48-hour time limit is further evidence that the
document was not meant as a negotiating proposal, but as an ultimatum.

We can say three things about how the Austrian process of decision bears on Austria's

• First, the majority in the Council of Ministers assumed from the first that war was the
appropriate response. Only Count Tisza opposed it, and he did so largely for reasons of
domestic politics. His objections were overcome by the promise to seek no annexation of
Serbia. The negotiations with Serbia were really a sham, to create a good impression: even
the 48-hour ultimatum shows that crisis, not compromise, was the intent.
• A second clue to Austria's intent is Vienna's approach to Berlin for Germany support in case
of war. After the Berlin government responded with the so-called "blank check," the war
party saw no further reason to seek peace.
• Third, the terms of the ultimatum show that the Austrians came to a decision even though
they were acting on incomplete information. The ultimatum was issued well before the trial
of the assassins could establish the facts of the crime. Vienna knew nothing about the Black
Hand or its role, but it made no difference: the decision for war was based on expediency,
not justice or facts.

The Serb reply

The Serbs in turn failed to do their utmost to defuse the crisis. When Serbia first received the
ultimatum, Pasic indicated that he could accept its terms, with a few reservations and requests for
clarification. As time passed, however, it became clear that Russia would support Serbia regardless
of the situation. After that, Pasic gave up seeking peace. While a long reply was written and sent,
Serbia rejected the key points about Austrian interference in domestic judicial and police work. Pasic
knew that this meant war, and the Serbian army began to mobilize even before the reply was
complete. While mobilization was prudent, it did not imply a strong commitment to peace. Because
the Serbian reply did not accept every point, Austria broke off relations on July 25.

The tough positions taken by both Austria and Serbia brought the situation too close to the brink to
step back, and in a few days matters were out of control. Again, the specific arguments raised by
each side matter less than their mutual willingness to take risks. This policy of brinkmanship made
war more likely than negotiation.

Why a Balkan war?

This leads us to the last question: why did the Balkan crisis of 1914 lead to World War I, when
many other crises were resolved without a general war in Europe?

This is really two questions:

• First, why did the crisis led to a war between Austria and Serbia? and
• Second, why did that conflict soon involve the rest of the Great Powers?

From what we have seen about risktaking by the Austro-Hungarians and the Serbs, we can say
something about why those two states went to war in 1914.

In the first place, both governments believed that their prestige and credibility were on the line, not
only in the international community, but at home.
For the Austrians, a personal attack on the royal family required a strong response, especially if the
assassins were Serbs, who had defied the Dual Monarchy during the Pig War, been labelled as
traitors during the Friedjung Trial, and recently destroyed southeastern Europe's other dynastic
empire (the Ottomans). Failure to act in the summer of 1914 invited greater turmoil later.

For the Serbian regime, the humiliating Austrian terms would have undone all the progress made
since 1903 in achieving independence from Habsburg meddling. The economic Pig War, Austria's
annexation of Bosnia in 1908, and now the demand to send police into Serbia, all implied renewed
Austrian control. In addition, Pasic and his ministers faced a real risk that right-wing extremists
would kill them if they backed down.

On the international stage, both sides were one defeat away from being marginalized: Austria-
Hungary had no intention of replacing the Ottoman Empire as the "Sick Man of Europe" and Serbia
refused to be treated as a protectorate.

Second, in 1914 both sides believed that they were in a strong position to win if war came. The
Austrians had German backing; the Serbs had promises from Russia. Neither side considered the
chance that the war would spread across Europe.

Third, neither side really believed that their differences could be settled by negotiation. Only one
regime could rule the South Slavs in Bosnia.

Fourth, both sides focussed on the fruits of victory and ignored the costs of defeat. We have already
discussed the Great Serb ideas that became Belgrade's war aims: annexation of Bosnia, Croatia,
Vojvodina and so forth. Despite promises to Tisza that the war would bring no annexation of
unwelcome Slavs, by 1916 the Vienna government drew up plans for the annexation of Serbia and
Montenegro, as well as border districts in Russia and Italy, and an economic plan to make Albania
and Romania into economic dependencies.

Fifth, there was too little fear of war. After the Greco-Turk war of 1897, the ethnic fighting in
Macedonia, the two Balkan Wars, and the Italian war with Turkey in 1911, war in the Balkans was
not unusual. A little warfare had become commonplace, a normal aspect of foreign relations. No one
foresaw what the World War would mean.

In sum, too many leaders on both sides in 1914 deliberately decided to risk crisis and war, and the
initial Austro-Serb combat was the result.

Finally, why was the local war between Austria and Serbia so significant that it grew into a World
War? Here, we can draw inferences from what we know of the Eastern Question and past Balkan
politics. An essential element of Greek, Serb and Bulgarian nationalism had always been the
destruction of the Ottoman Empire: the achievement of national unity necessarily meant the
achievement of Ottoman collapse.

The same choice pertained to Austria-Hungary. Concessions to Serbian nationalism could only make
Vienna's problems worse, not solve them. After the South Slavs would come the Romanians, the
Italians, the Czechs and the Slovaks, each with their demands. Once the Habsburg Monarchy
started down that road, it would inevitably disappear as a Great Power.

The potential collapse of Austria-Hungary was important not only for the Vienna government, but
for Austria's German ally, for the other Great Powers and for the balance of power system. Because
the clash with Serbia in 1914 affected an issue of such magnitude, it is not surprising that all the
Powers soon became involved: all of them had interests at stake. The specific steps to the World
War, and the division into two sides, reflected local considerations from Poland to Belgium: but the
risk of world war, and not just war, entered the equation because of the larger ethnic issues behind
the Sarajevo crisis of 1914.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 16: The legacies of 1917 and 1919

Balkan nationalism and Balkan politics were neither created nor defined by World War I. As argued
previously in Lectures 13 and 14, the events of 1914-1918 expressed a continuation of trends,
some of long standing, others as recent as the Balkan Wars. Nevertheless, the war and the postwar
settlements had enormous impact for the Balkan peoples.

In social and economic terms, wartime losses and the radical redrawing of national borders at the
end of the war created dislocations that remain troublesome even today after generations of
adjustment. In political terms, the Balkan Wars and World War I also completed the process that
replaced the old multi-national, dynastic empires with smaller states. Greek, Serb, Romanian or
Bulgarian leaders could no longer follow simple national policies based on territorial expansion at
the expense of the Ottomans or Habsburgs.

Combined with the stunning cost of the war, this new political landscape made the region ripe for
new views of national life and new solutions to lingering problems. Into this fertile situation came
two new ideas.

The first was Soviet Communism. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 replaced Eastern Europe's most
reactionary regime with a new radical state. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's interpretation of Marx and
Communism addressed the area's most pressing social, economic and political problems from novel

The second concept was national self-determination, as articulated and championed by President
Woodrow Wilson when the United States entered World War I. Wilson's reinterpretation of
nationalism had a special appeal, coming as it did when old Ottoman and Habsburg foes no longer
defined longterm political strategies.

In the nineteenth century, the Great Powers consistently regarded the young Balkan states, with
their commitment to nationalism and change, with suspicious conservatism. Lenin and Wilson, on
the other hand, could accept revolutionary nationalist ideology because they spoke as world leaders
whose own countries had been defined by revolutionary change. Both men also accepted the
importance of popular political expression even if they held markedly different views about what
constituted "democratic" forces.

Lenin's ideas

For several reasons, it makes sense to deal with Lenin first. Russia was a belligerent before the
United States. Lenin's pronouncements were influential before Wilson's, mostly affecting events
during the war. Wilson's greatest influence came during the drafting of the peace treaties.

The Russian Revolutions of 1917 were the most important achievements of Europe's long-suffering
revolutionary socialist movement. First, the March revolution brought down the last of Europe's
absolutist regimes and replaced it with a parliamentary system. In November (October by the
unreformed Russian calendar), the Bolshevik revolution put St. Petersburg and the Russian
heartland into the hands of radical socialists. The radical Bolshevik wing of Russia's Social
Democratic Party applied new theories to the Russian state. Instead of fearing "the people," the
Bolsheviks invoked them as the source of valid political power so that national populations, not
kings and aristocrats, would make decisions (albeit through the Party). The assumptions behind
such a position contradicted everything expressed by an event like the 1878 Congress of Berlin, for
example, with its high-handed treatment of local wishes and needs.

If Bolshevism meant an attack on traditional elites, it also meant a critique of nationalism as the
traditional leading political philosophy invoked for attacking those elites. While "the people" were
not to be subject to kings or capitalists, neither was nationalism to be the first principle of politics.
Instead, class differences were paramount. The working class (through the supreme power of
revolutionary socialist parties), not ethnic nationalist revolutionaries, laid claim to political power on
behalf of the population at large.
This concept had profound implications for Balkan affairs because it both embraced and side-
stepped the tradition of nationalist revolution. Communism could support the expulsion of foreign
rulers like the Ottomans and Habsburgs. It could also propose an end to inter-ethnic quarrels like
the one in Macedonia, because under Communism, ethnic rivalries were irrelevant to the pursuit of
class objectives and a better life for people of all nationalities.

Lenin's ideas gained appeal from his charisma and because they followed paths already established
by socialists and other thinkers (Wilson was encountering similar ideas in his own development).
Lenin's call for an end to secret treaties and high-handed diplomacy owed much to the British Union
of Democratic Control. This joint committee of anti-war Liberals and Labour Party supporters called
for a "New Diplomacy" as early as November 1914. Their ideas included consent of the governed
before any territory was transferred from one state to another, an end to secret agreements
concluded without the approval of parliaments, an international mutual security system to replace
the old "balance of power" system, and post-war disarmament as a way to prevent future wars.
Socialists pursued ideas like self-determination and the need for a "league of nations" well before
Lenin or Wilson made them better known.

Lenin's interpretation of a "new diplomacy" was widely publicized in 1917 when Bolsheviks and the
Petrograd Soviet competed with Kerensky's Provisional Government for support in Russia. Lenin
proposed to publish and disavow the secret tsarist treaties with their territorial claims, called for an
armistice, and proposed "the liberation of all colonies, ... dependent, oppressed and non-sovereign
peoples." This forced the Kerensky cabinet to declare its own support of "self-determination of
peoples" and a peace settlement without territorial claims. The Petrograd Soviet appealed to
socialists in the Allied nations to demand peace platforms "without annexations or indemnities, on
the basis of self-determination of peoples" and called on German socialists to sabotage the German
war effort.

When the Bolsheviks ousted Kerensky in November 1917, one of their first acts was a Peace Decree
repeating these formulas: an immediate armistice and peace talks, ratification of any peace terms
by national assemblies, annulment of secret treaties and self-determination "even to the point of
separating and forming independent states."

The Peace Decree had two audiences. The first was war-weary Russia. The Soviets promptly began
peace talks (something the Provisional Government had never done), signed the Treaty of Brest-
Litovsk and ended the war on the Eastern Front. The second audience was international. Trotsky
addressed formal notes based on the Peace Decree to all the belligerent states, and backed these
up by publishing all of Russia's secret treaties. The se Soviet actions were an embarassment for the
Allied powers.

At the peace talks at Brest-Litovsk the Soviets repeated their peace platform: no annexation,
plebiscites to determine whether dependent minorities wanted independence, no war indemnities,
no coercive blockades. These ideas were important as abstractions, but could not be enforced as
pragmatic policies. In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918, the victorious Germans took the
opposite tack on every point. Russian territory was annexed, there were no plebiscites, and Russia
was forced to contribute goods to the German war effort. Nevertheless, these Soviet declarations
helped prepare a favorable climate for Woodrow Wilson's ideas about ending the war and creating a
stable peace.

Wilson's ideas

Wilson was no socialist but he was a progressive. He differed from figures like Theodore Roosevelt
and other advocates of the "Old " Diplomacy, imperialism and the use of force in the national self-
interest. In his 1916 re-election campaign, Wilson talked about a role for America as a mediator in
Europe, and about basic principles for peace. His so-called "creed" included the right of "every
people ... to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live," territorial integrity for both large
and small states, and a "universal association of nations" to deter aggression.

Because they hoped to bring the United States into the war, the Allies paid attention to Wilson's
ideas. At an Allied conference of January 1917, the British made the Entente Powers restate their
war aims in terms corresponding to Wilson's creed. Plans for annexation became calls for the
liberation of oppressed minorities, including the French in German-ruled Alsace-Lorraine and the
Poles, Italians, Czechoslovaks, South Slavs and Romanians under Habsburg rule. The post-
conference communique was silent about plans to divide up German colonies, the Turkish heartland
and the Arab world.

Such a restatement appears cosmetic but had serious consequences. For the first time, the Allies
formally agreed to independence demands by Czech leaders. That step, in turn, implied the
destruction of Austria-Hungary and with it the liberation of Italian, South Slav and Romanian
minorities, reducing a post-war Dual Monarchy to the German-speaking part of Austria and the
central parts of Hungary. Thus even vague calls for national self-determination made the future
map of the Balkans dependent on the outcome of the war. If the Central Powers won, Austria-
Hungary would survive and grow at the expense of Serbia and Romania. If the Allies won, the Dual
Monarchy would be replaced by small national states. Wilson could speak all he wished about "Peace
without Victory," as he did in his state of the union address in January 1917, but in fact his ideas
were already shaping a potential redistribution of Balkan territories in which there were clear
winners and losers.

When the United Stated declared war on Germany in April 1917, Wilson targetted the militaristic
German government but absolved the German people of responsibility, calling for joint peace efforts
and the liberation of all nations from tyrants. The United States did not declare war on Austria-
Hungary or Bulgaria. However, Wilson's talk of liberation and national self-determination once again
had Balkan and East European implications that went far beyond his ambiguous rhetoric. Peace on
Wilson's terms was inconsistent with the preservation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

If Wilson himself apparently was blind to the implications of his statements, the U. S. State
Department was not. An internal memorandum of June 1917 supports an independent Poland, an
independent Serbo-Croatian state and an independent Czech state in Bohemia. It was nearly a year
before Wilson came to these conclusions, but those around him were already seeing the future.

So were Europeans. When Nikola Pasic appealed to the State Department in September 1917 for an
independent Yugoslavia, he specifically cited Wilson's views on self-determination. The Romanian
government made a similar pitch in August, worried because Wilson had never mentioned the
Romanian irredenta in Tranyslvania in any of his addresses. In fact, Wilson and the State
Department knew little about Transylvania: one visit by the Romanians was followed by hasty
American efforts to find some facts.

By the end of 1917, Wilson no longer distinguished between Prussian militarists and the actual
united forces of the Central Powers as the enemy. In December 1917 Wilson asked Congress to
declare war on Austria-Hungary. His intentions remained ambiguous: there was still no declaration
of war against Bulgaria or Turkey. Wilson also explicitly stated that he had no wish to interfere in
Austro-Hungarian internal affairs. In other words, he cautioned against revolutions inside the
Monarchy, despite his own talk of national self-determination.

The Fourteen Points

Wilson also responded to the Soviet Peace Decree and similar Russian proclamations. Wilson wanted
to offer a competing moral program to justify his actions and those of the Allies, and to rally the
people of Europe behind the Allied cause. The result was the Fourteen Points speech of January
1918. The speech mixes high principles for the reform of international relations, with practical
suggestions for territorial changes that Wilson believed necessary for a stable, fair peace. The high
principles influenced future diplomatic practice. The practical suggestions suffered from Wilson's
usual ambiguity, inconsistency and ignorance about Eastern Europe.

Wilson's prescription for international relations replaced the Old Diplomacy with "open covenants ...
openly arrived at," freedom of the seas, fair trade, disarmament measures, and a League of Nations
to guarantee the peace. He also called for certain territorial arrangements in regions outside the
Balkans: Belgium, Poland, Alsace-Lorraine and colonial claims.
The inconsistencies in dealing with Balkan measures concern us here, and can be found in four of
the Fourteen Points.

Point IX called for changes in Italy's borders "along clearly recognizable lines of nationality." Wilson
failed to say whether this meant only Italy's border with German Austria, or also the Dalmatian
coast, which was claimed by Serbia too and had no "clearly recognizable" ethnic borders.

Point X called for "the freest opportunity of autonomous development" for the peoples of Austria-
Hungary. But the same point called for Austria-Hungary to retain its "place among the nations."
Wilson failed to say how he hoped to fulfill the first part of the point without giving up on the

Point XI called for evacuation of conquered Montenegrin, Serbian and Romanian lands and a future
in which Balkan relations were ordered "along historically established lines of allegiance and
nationality." Such a statement merely opened the door for the repetition of old regional claims
before a new international audience.

Finally, Point XII proposed neutralization and internationalization of the Turkish Straits and the
"absolutely unmolested opportunity for autonomous development" in all former Ottoman lands.
There was no indication how competing development among different autonomous states might be

Italy was unhappy with the speech because it undercut Italian territorial claims in Trentino, South
Tyrol, Trieste, Fiume and Dalmatia, which were areas of mixed ethnicity. Serbia was also
disappointed. Point X contradicted Serbian plans to unite with Croatia and Slovenia. The Serbian
government also had strategic and economic claims on the Dalmatian coast, not merely ethnic ones.
An appeal by Pasic persuaded the President to reserve judgement on the future of Bosnia, Croatia
and the other Habsburg South Slav lands.

Romania gained no reassurance about her claims on Habsburg Transylvania. Hard-pressed and
having heard no promises, Romania left the war in March 1918. When the Romanian regime took up
arms again in the fall, it felt no obligation to Wilson.

Bulgaria read Wilson's prose and hoped for revision of her recent losses in the Balkan Wars. Only at
the end of the war did Bulgarians find that the claims of America's Greek and Serbian allies would
overrule the Fourteen Points when it came to Macedonia.

In Spring 1918 it became clear that Austria-Hungary would never break with Germany and sign a
separate peace. Wilson now endorsed the Czechoslovak, Polish and Yugoslav separatist movements:
concerns for stability and the preservation of the Dual Monarchy were sacrificed to total victory.
Military matters took center stage until the collapse of the Central Powers in November. The fate of
the Balkans then moved to the conference table.

November 1918

Inside the Habsburg Empire, local national independence movements proceeded on their own,
without obligation to Wilson or the Allies. Czech, Polish and Croatian National Councils organized
new state structures. New regimes had to be built from scratch in Czechoslovakia and Poland, but in
the Balkans the existing Romanian and Serbian governments soon stepped in. After Romania
reentered the war and occupied Transylvania, local leaders there arranged union with Romania.
Something similar happened in Bessarabia.

A National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs met in Zagreb and called for the unification of all
the South Slavs in the Habsburg lands. The Croatian Sabor merged with this National Council.
Fearful of Italy, the National Council then pledged allegiance to Serbia. In this manner a unified
Yugoslav state came into existence before the formal peace talks began.
The peace conference itself became an arena for competing forces: Leninism, Wilson's Fourteen
Points, the old-style diplomatic demands of the European allies, and the new national regimes that
had been created on the ground.

The Paris Peace Conference

The Paris Peace Conference began in January 1919 and dragged on for more than a year. Each of
the defeated states was dealt with in a separate treaty: Versailles for Germany, Trianon for
Hungary, Saint-Germain for Austria, Neuilly for Bulgaria, and Sevres for Turkey (altered in 1923 by
the Lausanne Treaty). The defeated states were not allowed to negotiate. The minor Allied states,
including Greece, Serbia and Romania took part in some sessions; Russia was absent. The major
decisions were made by the Big Four (Britain, France, Italy and the United States) under the
personal leadership of their heads of state, including Wilson, who encountered substantial
challenges from his own allies.

First among the complicating factors were the pre-existing secret treaties. Britain, France, Italy and
the other signatories considered them binding (Russia forfeited its treaty rights). The United States
on the other hand was not a signatory and Wilson abhorred the treaties. As a result, Wilson
sometimes was able to overturn prior commitments. For example, Dalmatia was awarded to
Yugoslavia, not Italy, thanks to his notion of national self-determination and despite the Treaty of
London. However, absolute principles had to compromise with political horse-trading: in this case,
the city of Fiume was internationalized and ultimately fell into Italian hands despite Yugoslav claims.

A second factor was public opinion. The Old Diplomacy allowed negotiators to act without public
pressure: the results were not always moral, but neither were they the results of negotiations
accompanied by popular demonstrations and newspaper editorials. Wilson mistakenly expected that
popular opinion would be progressive. For example, Wilson appealed to the Italian people for
moderation during the Fiume dispute, only to encounter unyielding Italian nationalism.

A third factor was the Bolshevik menace. If the losses forced on the defeated states became
excessive, radical political forces there would capitalize on popular resentment. In the Balkans, the
clearest example of this was Hungary (about which more later).

Fourth, accomplished fact sometimes anticipated, ignored or contradicted the plans of the Great
Powers. Where national councils had already come to power, the Balkan states were loathe to give
up new territories unless forced to do so.

Fifth and finally, there were sometimes valid reasons to violate the Wilsonian principles of national
self-determination and autonomy. The larger goal of international stability required that the new
successor states be economically viable and militarily defensible. The trick was in deciding when
valid strategic concerns deserved to override ethnic principles. For example, Romania demanded
control of certain cities in northern and western Transylvania in order to possess key railroad lines.
The result was better military and economic communication within Romanian territory, but
subjugation of additional Magyars to Romanian rule. Might stability have been better served by
reducing Hungarian losses and the attractions of rejectionism in Budapest? Similar questions arose
along the Serb-Bulgarian border. The Serbs insisted on drawing the border along a defensible
mountain crest, but doing so separated 100,000 ethnic Bulgarians from their country.

Communist Hungary

No situation better illustrates the contrasting appeal of Wilson's and Lenin's ideas than the history of
Hungary at the end of the war. When the Trianon Treaty was presented to Hungarians in March
1919, past Magyar mistreatment of their minorities came home with a vengeance. Each ethnic
group carved off a piece of historic Hungary. The Croatians took Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia.
The Serbs took Voyvodina and Banat for Yugoslavia. Romanian troops seized Transylvania. 71
percent of Hungary's land and 63 percent of its population were lost, including 3 million out of 11
million ethnic Magyars.
When the war was ending, a liberal government under Count Mihaly Karolyi came to power. Karolyi
hoped to use Wilson's principles to reform Hungary. When the Trianon Treaty showed that national
self-determination would be applied in Hungary only for the benefit of the victors, not the
vanquished, he resigned rather than sign the treaty. By analogy with Russia, Karolyi was Hungary's
Kerensky. His new republic promised ethnic autonomy, universal suffrage, civil liberties, the 8-hour
day and land reform. But Karolyi was unable to revive the economy or save Hungary at the peace
conference after military defeat.

No traditional party would take power because doing so meant either accepting or resisting the
treaty. Instead the Hungarian Communist Party came to power: when Wilson's ideas failed, those of
Lenin remained.

The party's leader was Bela Kun, a minor official and journalist in the pre-war socialist party. After
the Russian Revolution, he worked in Moscow as head of the "Federation of Foreign Groups" for the

In November 1918 Kun returned to Hungary to create a Bolshevik movement. His new Communist
Party attracted radical prisoners-of-war returning from Soviet Russia, left-wing Social Democrats,
dissatisfied intellectuals, landless peasants and unemployed workers, and also soldiers and patriots
who hoped to resist the terms of the Trianon Treaty. In March 1919 Kun declared Hungary to be a
Soviet Republic. Kun's program combined Communism and nationalism. He organized idle factory
workers into a Red Army that expelled Slovak forces from northern Hungary. A rubber-stamp
assembly of workers', soldiers' and peasants' councils (on the Soviet model) replaced the Diet.
Banks, companies with more than twenty employees, large estates and even personal residences
became the property of the state. Education and marriage were removed from the control of the
Catholic Church and secularized. Revolutionary tribunals replaced the old court system.

Most Hungarians put up with these radical measures as long as Kun's armed forces held off the
Slovaks and Romanians. When the outnumbered Red Army retreated in June 1919, the opponents
of Bolshevism returned to power. Royalist army officers in exile made deals with the Romanian
army to set up a rival cabinet, while the traditional trade unions confronted the workers' councils.
Kun fled the country ahead of Romanian forces that occupied Budapest and ended the Soviet
Republic after 133 days. A reactionary "White" government supported by the Allies took over. 5,000
people were killed during the ensuing "White Terror." Another 70,000 suspected Communists,
activist workers and Jews were arrested (a high proportion of the Communist leadership was
Jewish, fueling popular prejudice). This episode set the stage for military rule in various forms
during Hungary's interwar period.

After 1919, no government based on Leninist principles operated in the Balkans until the end of
World War II. However, the application of Wilsonian and Western European ideas proved difficult to
carry out, often impossible. The next lecture looks at some of the issues involved.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 17: Nation without a state: The Balkan Jews

Victory for the Allied military in 1918 meant victory as well for Western European and Anglo-
American models for society. The post-war successor states of Central and Eastern Europe adopted
parliamentary government, capitalism, and the nation-state in the expectation that prosperity and
stability would result. In fact, all of these concepts experienced problems when translated from
Western Europe to Eastern Europe. Lecture 18 will deal with shortfalls in Balkan socio-economic
progress, and how those failures contributed to the collapse of representative governments in the
1920s and 1930s. The present lecture will examine the problem of the nation-state in the Balkan
context of the interwar years.

Ethnicity, nationalist rivalry and their expression in politics continued to characterize Balkan history.
Despite Woodrow Wilson's hopes, the idea of "national self-determination" was unable to create
post-1918 Balkan borders that served the needs of all ethnic groups. Members of ethnic minorities
were denied autonomy: examples include Magyars placed under foreign rule or Croats who wanted
federalism within the new Yugoslavia. Some groups struggled simply to gain recognition of their
ethnic identities: we can point to the Slavic-speaking Macedonians and the Bosnian Muslims.

Other groups were recognized as separate populations but were denied autonomy by the same
Balkan countries that had fought to achieve self-rule for themselves. Examples include the Vlachs,
the Gypsies (or Roma) and the Jews. In an age of nation-states, these were nations without states,
and all suffered because their cultures and societies lacked the protections made possible by
political self-rule.

Why was there no Balkan Jewish state?

If 1918 saw nationalism triumph over the multi-national model, why was there no Jewish national
state in the Balkans? At the turn of the century there were more Balkan Jews (some two million)
than either Slovenes and Albanians (each with perhaps one and a quarter million people) --
nevertheless, Slovene and Albanian states later came into being. The answer is three-fold.

First, the Jews were late in coming to Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and arrived everywhere as
foreigners entering existing societies with strong claims on various territories. Simply stated, the
land was taken.

Second, the Jews were late in coming to the concept of nationalism. Most of the modern Balkan
states derive in part from "historic" nations that were independent in the classical or medieval past.
By the time the Balkan Jews turned to nationalism, the land again had been claimed by other
groups citing such historical precedents. Other "non-historic" peoples have suffered from this same
handicap, including the Bosnians and the Macedonians.

Third, there was no Balkan Jewish state because Balkan Jewish nationalism aimed at a state outside
the Balkans and achieved it. Balkan Jewish nationalism was part of the story of Zionism and the
founding of the state of Israel, and never aimed at creating a Balkan nation-state.

Origin of the Balkan Jews

Why did the Balkan Jews come to the area under such disadvantageous circumstances? A small
number of Jews lived in the Balkans since antiquity, but most arrived much later and came by way
of Western Europe. During the Middle Ages, the European Jewish community became divided,
physically and into two different cultural traditions: the Spanish (or Sephardic) Jews and the
German (or Ashkenazic) Jews.

The Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s after Ferdinand and
Isabella defeated the Muslim Moors and established Spain as a militantly Catholic country, intolerant
of religious minorities. The Ottoman Muslims regarded the Jews with favor as "people of the book,"
part of the monotheistic tradition that led eventually to Islam. Ottoman rule offered a degree of
religious freedom at this time while it was lacking in Christian Europe, so many of the expelled
Sephardic Jews migrated to the Ottoman Empire, especially to Constantinople and other large port
cities like Salonika. There was a separate Jewish millet in the Ottoman system, through which Jews
enjoyed some measure of self-government. Some Jews became influential advisors of the sultans.
When the Turks completed their conquest of the Balkans in the 1500s, Sephardic Jews followed
them into the interior, settling in the larger towns. Jews eventually became the majority in Salonika
(in today's northern Greece). The Greek Jewish community survived there until World War II,
speaking Ladino, a Spanish dialect.

The Ashkenazi Jews also came to Eastern Europe because of persecution. Many Jews who entered
the Balkans from the north and northwest were the descendants of refugees expelled from England,
France and the German states during the 1200s and 1300s. They moved east into Poland and
Lithuania (which combined to form a federation in the early modern period, and a place with greater
religious tolerance). Between 1772 and 1795 Poland-Lithuania was partitioned by Russia, Prussia
and Austria, and many Polish Jews found themselves under less tolerant Russian rulers. Under the
tsars, Jews were permitted to live only in certain provinces (the Vale of Settlement) and suffered
legal and personal harassment.
A small number of Ashkenazi Jews had lived in the Balkans since the 1400s, and their reports of
good conditions led others to follow. Beginning in the late 1700s and continuing in the 1800s, many
Ashkenazi moved south into Austria, Hungary and the Romanian principalities. The Enlightenment
ideals and toleration decrees of Joseph II made the Habsburg Empire an attractive place to live.
Romania was of course still an Ottoman vassal state, and Jews there enjoyed some benefits from
the millet system.

Balkan Jewish life before World War I

Traditional Jewish Balkan life was defined by religion, by family ties and by local communities. In
this regard, it was not very different from the Orthodox communities of the area, but Jews
experienced very different treatment from their neighbors in different parts of the region.


The lands that became Romania had the largest Jewish population in the Balkans. Jews were seen
by Romanians as an alien element that could not be assimilated, and this prejudice was exploited by
ethnic nationalist leaders.

Romania's Jewish population entered the Principalities in the 1800s, moving south out of the
Russian Empire: for that reason the northern province of Moldavia was the center of Jewish life. In
1803 there were only 15,000 Jews in Moldavia, but by 1859 there were 118,000; and in 1899 there
were 197,000. Fewer Jews lived in Wallachia: 4,000 in 1831; in 1859 the figure was 9,000; and in
1899, the total reached 61,000. Another 75,000 Romanian Jews emigrated in the period 1881-
1914, mostly to the United States.

When Romanian self-rule replaced Turkish and Phanariot Greek rule in the nineteenth century, the
legacy of foreign exploitation remained, so that residents belonging to other ethnicities were not
welcome. In the Romanian Constitution of 1866, naturalized citizenship was restricted to foreigners
who were Christians. When Romania became independent in 1878, the Great Powers forced the
state to revise this disability, but the divan (assembly) imposed stiff requirements: to be
naturalized, applicants had to wait ten years, and then a special act of parliament was required for
each individual. As a result, by 1899 only 4,000 of Romania's 250,000 Jews had become citizens.

As non-citizens, Jews could hold no public office, could not vote and could not own land. As a result,
Jews were forced to pursue social and economic lives that further distinguished them from the mass
of Romanians. This fact added socio-economic tensions to the obvious religious and linguistic

Unable to own farms, most Jews lived in Romania's cities: 40 percent of urban dwellers were Jewish
in 1899. Those who did live in the countryside worked as estate managers for landlords or as
merchants: those merchants also functioned as money lenders in the absence of banks or other
sources of credit. Both of these careers led to friction between Romanian peasants and their Jewish
neighbors. During the peasant revolt of 1907, rural rioters made a special point of attacking Jews
because they were seen as symbols of economic repression. Although Jews in Romania had little
political or economic power, they suffered from prejudice based on both political and economic


A few Jews had lived in Hungary since medieval times. The population began to rise during the
1700s, and Hungary eventually had the second largest Jewish population among the Balkan

The reconquest of Hungary from Turkey in 1711 opened the country to immigrants of all kinds.
After the Habsburg annexation of Galicia from Poland in 1772, many formerly Polish Jews became
residents of the Austrian Empire, and this made it easier to move to Hungary. There were only
12,000 Jews in Hungary in 1720 but 83,000 in 1787, making up a full 1 percent of the population.
60 percent of these Jews lived in rural villages, often working as estate managers or merchants. In
the 1800s, more Jews arrived: by 1850 some 4 percent of the population was Jewish, and at the
turn of the century the proportion exceeded 8 percent, amounting to over 800,000 people.

Various legal, social and economic pressures concentrated Hungary's Jews in larger towns and
especially in Budapest. In 1890, about a quarter of the Hungarian capital was Jewish. Jews made up
60 percent of the city's merchants, 51 percent of its lawyers and 63 percent of its medical doctors.
At the same time, only 4 percent of municipal and government employees were Jews.

Despite some prejudice, Jews tended to assimilate into Magyar society. Many welcomed
Magyarization, in part as protective coloring to ward off anti-Semitism, and also to avoid
accusations of being unpatriotic. Many Hungarian Jews were active in the Magyar nationalist
movement: there were Jews among Kossuth's aides in 1848. Because even poor immigrants often
had commercial skills, Jews were able to become owners, managers or employees in Hungary's
expanding worlds of commerce, finance and industry. Jews were active in trade unions, the theatre,
newspapers and publishing.

In Eastern Europe, resentment of Jews has often increased when they become prominent in national
life. The success enjoyed by some Jews ironically increased anti-Semitism in Hungary, fueled by a
myth that most Jews were wealthy. Because most Jews lived in urban areas, successful Jews were
highly visible members of their communities, and this partially explains the mistaken belief. In fact,
most Jews worked in low-paying jobs as salesmen, clerks or industrial hands.

There is a similar myth that most Jews were professionals, like doctors and lawyers. Because Jews
were socially (and sometimes legally) barred from careers in the civil service, the military or the
Catholic-run school system, some Jews did become professionals. In 1910, 55 percent of Hungary's
merchants, 42 percent of the journalists, 45 percent of the lawyers and 49 percent of the physicians
were Jews. However, this says more about the sociology of the medical profession than about the
social status of Hungary's Jewish population at large. Such figures can mislead. It is true that 2,300
out of the country's 4,800 doctors were Jewish in 1900; but only 2,300 out of 800,000 Jews were
doctors. Census figures also show large numbers of Jewish businessmen, but those figures don't
distinguish between wealthy businessmen who owned big factories and poor businessmen who
owned village stores.

The Yugoslav Lands

The districts that became Yugoslavia had a much smaller Jewish population than either Hungary or
Romania, slightly less than 70,000 people in the early 1900s. There had been Sephardic
communities in the South Slav areas since the Ottoman conquest. Ashkenazi Jews arrived in Croatia
in the 1800s, at the same time as they moved to Hungary. Croatia's Jews resembled their
Hungarian counterparts and were more assimilated than the Serbian Jews. In Serbia, the population
was descended from medieval communities who were joined by Sephardic migrants during the
Ottoman regime.


Bulgaria had an even smaller Jewish population. Jews lived there since medieval times and were not
treated badly: one of the tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 1300s married a Jewish
woman. When Sephardic Jews came to the Balkans, the newcomers absorbed the older Bulgarian
communities. Jews were not active among Bulgarian nationalists in the 1800s because of their
relatively favorable situation under Ottoman rule: there was fear that their position would worsen in
a state that was Bulgarian in ethnicity and Orthodox in faith.

When Bulgaria gained autonomy, the Jewish community retained a special status with substantial
self-administration under a chief rabbi. In the census of 1881 (which omitted the population of
Eastern Rumelia), 14,000 Jews are listed. The 1893 census shows some 28,000 Spanish-speaking
(Sephardic) Jews out of 3.5 million people. The number of Jews rose at the same rate as the overall
population, remaining just under 1 percent. In 1910, there were 40,000 Jews, out of a population of
4.4 million. Most lived in cities, especially Sofia.

As in Bulgaria, Jews lived in the Greek lands since medieval times. After their expulsion from Spain
in 1492, a Sephardic community came to Salonika and this city had the most important
concentration of Greek Jews. Under the Ottomans, they made up a majority of the city's population.
Unlike most parts of the Balkans, Salonika's Jews were not only traders but filled all parts of the
economic structure from laborers to officials, bankers and industrialists. The Greek Jews were not
active in the Greek national revival, and the intense ethnic basis of the Greek state led to later
problems for them.

The Jewish response to nationalism

Balkan Jews were not deaf to the appeal of nineteenth century liberalism and nationalism. The
Jewish national revival reached its goal with the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, but the
Zionist movement developed slowly at first. Balkan Jews were important participants in that
development. Much of Zionism was primarily a product of the wider European Jewish community,
but it is important to note its Balkan elements and also to place Balkan Zionism in the context of
Balkan nationalism.

Balkan Jews were subject to the same Western influences that shaped new thinking in Greece,
Serbia and other Balkan countries. As in other national revivals, Balkan Jews encountering the idea
of nationalism went through three stages:

1. a transition from identifying only with a local community, to awareness of membership in a

broader national community;
2. a transition from a pre-modern sense of ethnic identity (typically based on religion) to a
modern secular identity based on Enlightenment ideas, a national language and a secular
literature; and
3. a commitment to self-rule by the national community itself, in other words, political

National community

The earliest phase of Zionism was spiritual: long before imagining a Jewish political state, religious
leaders saw settlement in Eretz Israel (the land of Israel, or Palestine) as a focal point for a spiritual
revival of the Jewish nation.

Two Balkan rabbis were influential in this thinking: Judah Bibas (1780-1852) and Judah Alkalai
(1798-1878). Bibas was educated in Italy. In 1832 he became rabbi of Corfu, where he initiated
educational reforms. In the Napoleonic era, Corfu had been ruled by France and then by Britain; it
had been a place where Western ideas reached Greece, and it is not surprising that new ideas
reached the Balkan Jewish world from the same source. Widely travelled, Bibas could see the Jews
as a nation in a way that village-bound Jews could not.

In 1839, Bibas met Rabbi Alkalai of Zemun, a Serbian town in Vojvodina across the Danube from
Belgrade. Like Corfu, Zemun lay on the frontier between the Balkans and the Western world and
was a logical place from which new ideas could reach the people of the Balkans, whether Serbs or
Jews. In his writings, Alkalai reinterpreted the religious concept of "teshuvah" (repentance) from its
root "shivah" (return), and argued for a physical return to Eretz Israel by individual Jews. He saw a
Jewish presence in Palestine as primarily spiritual, but discussed practical matters such as how to
pay for settlements and the value of self-sustaining farms. By 1840, then, the notion of a Jewish
return to the Holy Land was available for the Balkan Jews to consider.

Growth of secularism

Secular elements in the Jewish community had to grow stronger before practical steps could take
place. At this time, there was a split between the religious Jews of Eastern Europe, who rejected
secular expressions of their ethnicity, and progressive Jews in places like Vienna and Germany, who
expected an end to anti-Semitism through a combination of Enlightenment toleration by Gentiles
and Jewish assimilation. A younger generation of Russian Jews now reconciled the two positions and
laid the foundation for subsequent actions by ordinary Balkan Jews.

Moses Lilienblum (1843-1910) combined his religious studies with secular learning. He believed that
agricultural skills, craftsmanship and economic self-help would be necessary to end the
marginalization of Jews and their communities.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) was convinced that a living Hebrew language was essential to
building a Jewish nation. He moved to Jerusalem, learned the language and wrote the first modern
Hebrew dictionary, laying the foundation for modern spoken and written Hebrew. Given the
importance of language as a factor in modern national identity, his work was crucial.

Like Ben-Yehuda, Peretz Smolenskim (1840-85) believed that a revived Hebrew literature, not
assimilation, was the key to Jewish survival. Such a literature could retain the spiritual values that
defined Jewry. Smolenskim wrote novels and published magazines to promote his ideas.

Self-rule and Eretz Israel

Two political trends inspired many of these same thinkers to move from cultural to practical

One was political nationalism in southern Europe. After the Italian unification and the Balkan
national revolts of 1876-78, Ben-Yehuda concluded that the Jews too should build a nation on their
ancestral lands in Palestine. His intent still was to create a "spiritual" focal point, but in 1879 he
speculated on political aspects of the project in the pages of Smolenskim's magazine, Ha-Shahar.

The second trend was the rise in anti-Semitic violence. In 1881, terrible pogroms in Russia followed
the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, and the new Russian government imposed ever harsher anti-
Semitic laws. Similar persecution was common in Romania.

After the events of 1881, Lilienblum concluded that legal equality could not guarantee social
equality. He argued for a concentration of Jewish population to create a homeland. Such a place
could not be merely spiritual, but had to sustain itself through agriculture and industry. To end the
alienation of Jews from their surroundings, the homeland had to be in Eretz Israel, that is, in

Leon (or Lev) Pinsker (1821-91) was another former advocate of assimilation who lost faith in
legalistic antidotes to anti-Semitism. In 1882, Pinsker published Auto-emancipation, a pamphlet
calling for creating a Jewish nation like any other. Pinsker's writings strongly influenced the
"Hovevei Zion" (Lovers of Zion) and "Hibbat Zion" (Love of Zion) movements, which animated large
numbers of Balkan Jews in the 1880s, especially in Romania.

Both groups were loosely organized, grass-roots, practical movements that recruited settlers to
make the trip to Eretz Israel. By the end of 1881, there were 30 Hibbat Zion societies in Romania
(and many more in Russia), which sent settlers to Palestine beginning in 1882 and lasting through
the 1880s (although far more Balkan Jews emigrated to the United States). In 1882, there were
480 rural Jewish settlers in Palestine (not counting the long-standing local Orthodox Jewish
communities). By 1890 that number reached almost 3,000, and passed 5,000 by 1900. Hibbat Zion
organized Romanian Jews in a public effort that transcended their local communities: in other
words, they acted as an ethnic national community.

Without such steps, there could have been no "political Zionism," the movement toward a state that
began with the pubication of The Jewish State in 1896 by Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), a Viennese
Jew. That effort finally created the Israeli state after World War II. Meanwhile, most Balkan Jews
remained in their homes.

The Balkan Jews after World War I


After World War I, Romania's Jews continued to experience prejudice. Foreign pressure forced
Romania to grant its Jewish residents full citizenship and civil rights when the Constitution was
rewritten in 1923. The Great Powers thereafter exhibited lessening concern for them, while ethnic
Romanians resented outside intervention on behalf of an element already seen as foreign.

When Bessarabia and Bukovina were transferred to Romania from Russia, additional Jews entered
the population. These former Russian subjects were accused unjustly of Bolshevik sympathies. In
1930, Romania had about 800,000 Jewish citizens. There was still little assimilation: in a country
where 70 percent of the overall population was rural, 70 percent of Jews lived in cities. Anti-
Semitism was a major feature of Romanian fascism. When the Second World War engulfed the
Balkans in 1941, it was a disaster for the Jews in Romania (see Lecture 19).


In Hungary, life grew worse for the Jews after the defeat of 1918. In the smaller post-war Hungary,
there were about 400,000 Jews, who made up 6 percent of the total population. Before the war,
assimilated Jews were important political partners for Magyar politicians who needed their votes to
retain a bare majority in the total population. But post-war Hungary had almost no minorities
except the Jews.

Jewish socialists were prominent in the Bela Kun regime of 1919, and there was a backlash of anti-
Semitism during the White Terror after Kun's fall. In 1920, new anti-Semitic laws limited the
number of places in the universities that could be taken by Jewish students. As a result, almost two-
thirds of enrolled Jewish students had to leave school. Hungary had its own fascist organizations in
the interwar period and their ideology included anti-Semitism. However, it was the Second World
War and the Holocaust that did real damage to Hungarian Jews.


Post-war Yugoslavia encompassed both Sephardic communities in the south and Ashkenazi in the
north. The 1931 census counted 26,000 Sephardic, 39,000 Ashkenazi and 3,000 Orthodox Jews (a
total of 68,000). Most Yugoslav Jews lived in cities and made a living in business and commerce.
Some Croatian Jews were prominent lawyers, doctors and bankers.

There was some anti-Semitism in areas near the Austrian border but Jews had always been on good
terms with the Serbian state and this continued under the interwar Yugoslav kingdom. The 1929
"Law on the Religious Community of Jews" guaranteed Jewish communities separate development
and state subsidies, at a time when other minorities were regarded with suspicion. In 1938 there
were about 71,000 Jews out of 15 million Yugoslavs. As Nazi influence in the Balkans increased in
1940, the state passed quota laws, limiting the number of Jews in higher education. In October
1940, Jews lost their co-equal status under the law. However, physical threats did not occur until
after the Nazi invasion of 1941.


In 1934 there were 48,000 Jews among 6 million Bulgarians. 95 percent of Bulgarian Jews lived in
urban areas and half of the total lived in Sofia, the capital and largest city. Jews were not fully
integrated into national life but they were successful in business. On the other hand, Jews
dominated no one area of the economy and there was little resentment of Jews. By and large,
Bulgaria's Jews lived separate lives but without prejudice. Local Zionist groups were active and
created a good alternative educational system, which was paid for mostly by the Jewish community.

When anti-Semitism occured in Bulgaria, it did so in imitation of "advanced" Western societies. Until
the 1930s this had little impact, but the influence of Nazi Germany introduced a real pressure.
There was a slow growth of anti-Semitic groups in the 1930s but it was not until the war that
serious threats arose.

When Salonika was annexed to Greece in 1912, the Jewish community began to decline. Cut off
from the Macedonian interior, the city saw its commerce eclipsed by Athens. Much of the city was
destroyed by fire in 1917 and the Greek authorities deliberately stalled much rebuilding of Jewish
establishments. The climate of Greek national chauvinism was a problem in the interwar years.
Resentment of Jewish prosperity led to boycotts of stores and several pogroms: a Jewish district of
the city was burned in 1931. The Metaxas dictatorship curbed this kind of unrest by suppressing all
popular expressions, but could not end resentment. When war came in 1939 there were 75,000
Greek Jews. 50,000 of them lived in Salonika, where they made up a major part of the city. As with
the other Balkan Jews, the war brought more trouble than any past time.


Although the worst was still ahead for the Balkan Jews (see Lecture 19), their experience in the
interwar period showed that nationalism, even Wilson's brand of "national self-determination", could
not satisfy the contradictory needs of all the Balkan peoples at the same time. The Jews faced some
of the worst conditions, but many ethnic minorities suffered under the nation-state model, with its
assumption that each state would encompass a single national group. In the nineteenth century,
political events showed that multi-national systems of governing could not control friction between
ethnic groups. In the twentieth century, political nationalism in turn proved itself unable to solve
inter-ethnic problems or bring stability to the region.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 18: Balkan politics drifts to the Right


Ethnic minorities remained an insoluble problem for the interwar Balkans, in part because imported
Western European and American ideas about ethnically homogeneous nation-states were poorly
suited to deal with Balkan conditions. Balkan efforts to imitate Western-style parliamentary
governments and capitalist economies also failed during the interwar period, again because of the
discrepancy between assumptions and realities.

As influential elements in Balkan societies grew impatient with moderate ideologies, the Balkan
states experienced a political drift to the Right. Authoritarian regimes came to power because liberal
and parliamentary approaches failed to solve the problems of national minorities and economic
backwardness. Of course, authoritarian regimes did no better in the long run, but this was not
immediately apparent.

Economic weakness

Knowledge of the region's economic ills helps explain political events.We can point to eight areas in
which the interwar states faced intertwined social and economic problems.

First, wartime damage and losses were enormous and left the Balkan economies hurting. In
Western Europe, most of the terrible losses were confined to men in uniform and the narrow strip of
land involved in trench warfare. Fighting and damage covered much more of the Balkan landscape,
and more civilians were among the casualties.

Bulgaria lost 110,000 soldiers killed in a population of 5 million, after having had 50,000 men killed
during the Balkan Wars. For each battlefield death, typically another three men were wounded.
275,000 Bulgarian civilians died of disease and malnutrition during the war.

Serbia and Montenegro had a combined population of 5 million and suffered 300,000 soldiers killed.
500,000 civilians died. Another 150,000 South Slav soldiers (including Croats and Slovenes) were
killed fighting for Austria-Hungary.
23,000 Greek soldiers died as well as 130,000 civilians, some of whom starved during the Allied
blockade against the royalist regime. Hundreds of Greek merchant ships were lost to German
submarine attacks.

Romania lost 336,000 soldiers to combat and disease, along with another 275,000 Romanian

Economic resources were destroyed, including livestock that was a key resource for transportation,
plowing, fertilizer and meat, dairy, wool and leather products. In Yugoslavia, the number of cattle
fell by a quarter, horses were reduced by a third, and pigs, goats and sheep by about half. Romania
lost a third of its livestock and agricultural equipment: Romanian grain exports in 1919 were half of
prewar levels. Some rural Balkan areas were still recovering from World War I when World War II
began twenty years later.

Second, the centralization of the wartime economies fostered bad habits and bureaucratic structures
that interfered with market forces. The revolutions of the 1800s had removed some old-fashioned --
even medieval -- obstacles to economic growth, such as excessive taxation, peasant dependency
and inefficient official monopolies. The war undid many of these achievements. During the war
economic activities again were directed from the top with little reference to local needs. Military
authorities took control of investment and production decisions in factories, farms and mines, a
system that David Mitrany called "military state socialism." Captured enemy assets were
expropriated or even physically removed. In their own countries, the demands of the military led to
shortages for civilians. For example, landowners were forced to grow specific crops to counter the
shortage of vegetable oils, and farm machinery and labor were transferred from district to district,
leaving some regions without the resources they needed to run farms. Crop production in those
districts fell: for example, Bulgarian grain production in 1918 had fallen 60 percent from 1914

Third, this kind of command economy undercut newly-won civil and political rights. Rural dwellers
found themselves forced to donate unpaid labor to local authorities. Steel, chemical and oil cartels
exercised similar arbitrary control in urban areas. Such acts eroded trust in the state administration,
while citizens had few remedies, thanks to martial law and wartime censorship.

Fourth, even the fruits of victory caused economic dislocations, when the winners had to assimilate
whole new provinces and millions of new citizens. Small state bureaucracies were overwhelmed.
Yugoslavia was now three times the size of Serbia, with a population that more than doubled.
Romania experienced similar growth. The new borders in the region distorted pre-war trading
patterns and transportation systems. The breakup of Austria-Hungary, for example, separated
industries and resources that had prospered together in a large country without customs barriers.
Central factory cities like Budapest lost access to mines and agricultural products. Factories closed,
while miners and peasants had trouble finding new factories to accept their produce. Both the
absolute decrease in production and the new borders curtailed international trade. In 1921, Hungary
exported flour at a third of the pre-war level, livestock at a fifth, industrial goods at about half.
Romanian postwar imports were a third of old levels, and exports only 3 percent. In Bulgaria in
1920, imports had fallen by two-thirds, exports by half.

Fifth, the war caused inflation thanks to excess printing of banknotes to cover wartime costs,
reduced confidence in the postwar Balkan economy and wartime borrowing that doubled or tripled
state debts. Hungarian money was worth 40 percent of its pre-war value in 1918, and only 15
percent in 1919. This was followed by hyper-inflation: a Swiss franc, worth 2 and a quarter florints
in 1914, bought 18,000 florints in 1924. In Romania, the lei stabilized in the middle 1920s at 2
percent of its pre-war value. Before the war, the Bulgarian leva was traded at par with the Swiss
franc; in 1924 one franc bought 2,500 levas. As a result, banks and individuals lost their savings.

Sixth, when wartime sacrifices by peasants forced postwar regimes to institute land reforms, the
common result was reduced agricultural productivity. In the interwar period, the population of the
Balkans rose because of reduced infant mortality rates and new American legal restrictions halting
immigration, which had functioned as an escape valve. Balkan industry was still too weak to absorb
surplus rural residents. By the 1930s, an estimated 61 percent of the Yugoslav rural population was
superfluous: that is, the same amount of work could have been accomplished if they had not
existed. For Bulgaria, the figure was 53 percent; for Romania, it was 52 percent.

Despite the low productivity of small farms run by peasant families, some Balkan regimes supported
them for political reasons and applied land reform measures to break up large estates expropriated
after the war, in areas like Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia. The average size of a Yugoslav farm
was barely 5 hectares (12-13 acres), the minimum viable size. Macedonian, Bosnian and Dalmatian
farms were even smaller. Subsistence farming remained the rule on these tiny farms, with few
crops produced for export or sale to industry. Farmers were too poor to afford tractors, metal plows
or chemical fertilizer, and this kept the agricultural yield low. Internal commerce also suffered: most
peasants were too poor to buy consumer goods. Post-war land reform created similar conditions for
Romanian peasants.

Seventh, the proportion of population employed in industry remained small. In Britain, 37 percent
of the population worked in industry on the eve of World War II. Hungary had the highest Balkan
proportion at 23 percent; the figure was 11 percent in Yugoslavia, 8 percent in Bulgaria, and 7
percent in Romania. While there was some industrial expansion, too much involved light industries
like food processing and textiles. Income from light industrial goods was low, depressing the value
of industrial output per capita. This figure was $140 per capita in 1938 in Great Britain; in the
Balkans, Hungary had the highest figure at $26 per capita, Romania the lowest at $12 per capita.
Figures for national income were comparable: $440 per capita for Britain, $120 in Hungary, and
between $75 and $81 elsewhere in southeastern Europe.

Eighth and finally, the Great Depression made matters worse. As nations tried to protect domestic
industries from foreign competitors, protectionist policies spread but backfired. Higher tariffs and
higher prices reduced foreign demand for Balkan agricultural exports. Romanian grain exports fell
by 73 percent from 1929 to 1934; across the Balkans, total export levels fell to 40 percent of their
1929 level.

With the drop in revenue, the Balkan states found themselves hard pressed to repay foreign loans
incurred in the 1920s. Borrowed money generally had been wasted on government office buildings
and armaments: only 20 percent went to build up industry. Debt now opened the Balkan states to
foreign control. Nazi Germany was the big winner. As one example, in 1934 Germany agreed to buy
Hungarian agricultural goods at an attractive subsidized rate, but in return Hungary had to open its
border to German industrial goods. Similiar treaties followed with other states. Such arrangements
made the Balkan states into economic colonies and gave Germany tremendous leverage. In 1929
Germany took in 30 percent of Bulgaria's exports and accounted for 22 percent of Bulgarian
imports. By 1939 those figures were 71 percent and 69 percent. Such conditions made it hard for
the Balkan states to avoid becoming German satellites during the war.

Rise of authoritarian regimes

These economic hardships would have taxed the most unified of states. The Balkan states also faced
ethnic divisions. Lacking deep parliamentary traditions and experience with political compromise,
Balkan authorities often reacted to instability and differences of opinion by retreating into
authoritarianism. Traditional political and economic elites supported this trend, never having liked
sharing power under democratic experiments.

Lectures 13 and 14 introduced the way in which Serbian and Greek nationalism affected interwar
politics. In Yugoslavia, the Croatian wish for federalism was never reconciled with Great Serbian
nationalism. After the assassination of Croatia's leading politician in 1929, King Alexander gave up
trying to rule by consensus and imposed a royal dictatorship that lasted until World War II.

In Greece, the tension between Royalists and Venizelists destroyed the political process. Elections
were rigged, and the Constitution repeatedly rewritten to serve the party in power. In 1936,
General Metaxas and the army ended political turmil by imposing a military dictatorship with the
backing of King George II.
Similar trends were at work in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Two of those states developed
domestic versions of fascism, the most extreme expression of the political drift to the Right.


After the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the former Austro-Hungarian Admiral Miklos Horthy
became Regent, a convenient device that left him free of superior authority since neither the Allies
nor the Magyars would accept a return of the Habsburg royal family. Hungary managed to combined
royal authority with military power-brokering. Hungary had lost its ethnic minorities and the Left
was destroyed after the Kun regime: after 1919 the Right faced few challengers. In the 1920s, a
conservative coalition combined "revisionism" in foreign policy (the return of lost lands) with
domestic measures that favored the rich. Most large estates were unaffected by a sham land reform
in 1920. In 1922 a quarter of the voters lost their right to vote and secret ballots were abolished. By
intimidating rural voters, the so-called Government Party won consistent victories after that. The old
Magyar elites retained power by these devices until 1944.


Bulgaria might have escaped the usual turmoil, thanks to its stable peasant economy and the
absence of large ethnic minorities. However, two elements led to crises and authoritarianism: rural-
urban tensions and terrorism among Macedonian refugees.

After World War I, a reform-oriented party called the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union (B.A.N.U.)
came to power. Agrarianism was a Balkan offshoot of socialism, adjusted to accomodate the
primacy of peasant agriculture in countries that lacked an industrial working class. Under prime
minister Alexander Stamboliski, BANU was in power from 1919-1923. BANU favored land reform,
rural tax relief, public works and farm cooperatives.

However, Stamboliski combined these economic goals with a so-called "estatist" political philosophy
that verged on a one-party dictatorship and frightened powerful social and political forces, especially
in the cities. Land and tax reforms antagonized the rich. Court reforms reduced the income of
attorneys. Military officers feared plans for disarmament and a scheme to replace the army with
BANU's paramilitary "Orange Guard" militia and a labor draft.

Like many peasants, Stamboliski despised urban life and politicians, lawyers, journalists and
merchants, whom he called social "parasites." Stamboliski harassed and arrested rival politicians to
get his way. He closed the university, curtailed freedom of the press and let Orange Guard thugs
beat up his rivals. In the 1923 election, BANU won 212 out of 245 assembly seats. Fearing a real
dictatorship, a conspiracy of army officers, right-wing intellectuals and Macedonian nationalists
seized the capital, murdered Stamboliski and put an end to significant Agrarian influence.

Macedonian refugees were the other destabilizing force in Bulgarian politics thanks to IMRO, the
terrorist arm of the Macedonian revolutionary movement. Bulgaria emerged from defeat in the
Balkan Wars with only 10 percent of Macedonia, but embittered refugees made up half the
population of Sofia. From bases in Bulgaria, IMRO comitadjis raided the Yugoslav parts of
Macedonia. IMRO was too weak to defeat Yugoslavia, but too strong to be controlled by Bulgaria.
When Stamboliski tried to curtail raids, IMRO thugs joined the military coup of 1923, beheaded the
prime minister and killed thousands of his supporters. Later right-wing governments tolerated IMRO
until it degenerated into a criminal gang that supported itself through contract murders and drug
smuggling. In 1934, reformist army officers suppressed IMRO. However, there was no return to
parliamentary rule: in 1935 King Boris suspended the constitution and set up a royal dictatorship
which lasted until WWII.


Unlike Hungary and Bulgaria, Romania was a victor in 1918: there was no revolution to dislodge
traditional authorities and the peasant masses remained without access to power. Belated land
reforms in 1918 and 1921 distributed 9 million acres to one and a half million peasant families. This
was a political success for the ruling Liberal party, but an economic mistake. Most peasant farms
were still too small to be profitable or efficient. In the 1930s, the National Peasant Party emerged as
a rival of the Liberals, but the Great Depression left the state with too few resources for meaningful
economic action. King Carol II was able to exploit splits within the parties and dominated politics in
the 1930s by coopting key leaders; for all practical purposes, the king ruled.

Fascism in the Balkans

The authoritarian governments of the interwar Balkans had clear roots in nineteenth century
political groups but there was also a new, radical right wing in the Balkans. Discussions of Fascism
in Europe often ignore its development in Hungary and Romania: by leaving out those movements,
such discussions overlook not only crucial aspects of Balkan history, but facts that enrich and
complicate our analysis of Fascism in general.

Most definitions of Fascism include these elements:

• Fascism is a mass movement.

• Fascism is nationalist and patriotic: it subordinates the needs of the individual to the needs
of the national community.
• Despite its character as a movement of mass participation, control flows from the top down
in Fascism, usually from a charismatic figure.
• Fascism is anti-parliamentary, anti-democratic and even anti-political, because Fascism
depicts a world of absolute values in which debate and compromise lose their validity as
political tools.
• Fascism replaces compromise with violence and "final solutions" for difficult issues.

In addition, fascism is generally described as a movement that has specific enemies:

• Fascism is anti-Communist, a response to perceived threats from working-class socialism.

• Fascism is also anti-capitalist, a response to fear of big banks, department stores and
factory-produced goods. For both of these reasons, fascism is rooted in the lower middle
class, which suffers threats from both socialism and capitalism.
• Fascism is racist and often anti-Semitic. Ethnic nationalism rejects minority groups. The
Jews in particular also suffer from their mythical identification with both Bolshevism and

Balkan fascism forces serious reexamination of one common assertion: the middle-class nature of


Fascism in Hungary begins with the end of World War I. The lower middle-class was not the core of
Hungarian ultra-nationalism: many middle-class Hungarians were not ethnic Magyars. Instead,
army officers, civil servants and the landed gentry supported fascism. After the defeat of 1918,
these groups were poorer and less important. Bela Kun's Soviet Republic also threatened to take
away their property and their jobs. After lives of privilege, such men lacked the inclination or skills
to assume new jobs in business. In 1919, they led the "White Terror" that suppressed the Left.
When political reaction failed to restore their careers, they blamed bankers, industrialists, large
landowners and Jews. Most were also "revisionists:" they sought a restoration of Hungary's lost

The Great Depression increased the appeal of fascism by increasing social and economic dislocation
among the unemployed, including university graduates. In 1931, a fascist became Premier. Gyula
(Julius) Gombos was a former army officer, a leader in the White Terror, founder in 1923 of the so-
called Race-Protecting Party and an admirer of Mussolini and Hitler. From 1931-1935, Gombos
sought the support of racist secret societies, unemployed youths, ex-officers and revisionists,
meanwhile accepting political donations from Jewish industrialists if they were Magyarized and
patriotic. Gombos died in 1935. Despite his fascist rhetoric, his actual political course was that of an
Even more radical forces then emerged. The Arrow Cross movement was led by Ferenc (Francis)
Szalasi, a Magyarized Ruthenian-Armenian and former army officer. He espoused "Hungarism," a
plan for a national socialist welfare state and a Balkan federation under Magyar leadership. Arrow
Cross rhetoric involved revisionism and anti-Semitism. Political, not economic, dissatisfaction drove
Hungarian fascism, which grew stronger even as the Depression waned. Party power peaked in
1939: although the electoral system awarded Arrow Cross only 10 percent of the seats in
Parliament, the party and its allies got three-eighths of the popular vote.

The aristocrats of the Horthy regime rejected Arrow Cross's truly radical proposals for land reform
and better working-class conditions. From 1938-1940, Szalasi was in prison for subversive activity.
While the rise of Hitler made fascism more acceptable to influential Hungarians, Arrow Cross was
unable to achieve power. When Hungary became a German ally, Hitler chose to work with the
traditional elite, rather than the unstable and inexperienced radicals. When Hungary tried to leave
the war in 1944, Hitler installed an Arrow Cross puppet dictatorship but the country was soon
overrun by the Russians. It took the power of the Red Army to finally break the conservative hold
on power in Hungary, a conservatism built on access to official privilege rather than property.


Romanian fascism was anti-urban, anti-capitalist, anti-Russian and anti-Semitic. Starting in rural
areas, it grew thanks to support from the same kind of displaced elements at work in Hungary, and
support from the King, who needed allies to support his dictatorship, even if they were unsavory
and violent.

Romanian fascism was rooted in peasant misery. 70 percent of the interwar population still lived by
peasant agriculture. Post-war land reforms left three-fourths of Romanian farms too small to
support their owners. Romania had Europe's highest death rate, highest infant mortality rate and
second highest incidence of tuberculosis. Half the population was illiterate.

Peasants mistrusted banks, merchants, bureaucrats, foreigners and cities. As a foreign, urban and
commercial class, Jews epitomized everything peasants feared, and Romanian facism was virulently
anti-Semitic. After centuries of foreign rule, Romanian fascism was also xenophobic: old fears of
Russia easily combined with new fears of Russian Communism after 1917.

The largest fascist group was the Legion of the Archangel Michael, also called the Iron Guard. The
Legion was founded in 1927 in Jassy, a Moldavian city near Bolshevik Russia and in the heart of
Romania's Jewish districts. The founder, Corneliu Codreanu, began his political career in the
Association of Christian Students, a group that embraced totalitarian, reformist, nationalist, anti-
Semitic and mystic religious ideas. In 1923 he founded the League of National Christian Defence,
then was briefly jailed for his role in the murder of a fellow-student. In jail he had a vision of the
Archangel Michael, an important element in the Iron Guard's messianic tone. In 1926 Codreanu
murdered a prefect of police, but was acquitted thanks to a climate of nationalist excess that winked
at offenses committed by "patriots."

Like his supporters among the peasants and village priests, the charismatic Codreanu mistrusted
political parties and written programs. Young legionnaires engaged in an active "propaganda of work
and deed," bringing in the harvest, building dams and murdering suspicious Jews and bureaucrats.
Until the Great Depression the Legion was a minor party, but grew until it took 16 percent of the
vote in the 1937 elections.

This unexpected success led to the Legion's downfall. King Carol II had tolerated a weak Legion as a
potential tool against his enemies, but suppressed it as soon as its strength made the Legion into a
potential rival. The leaders including Codreanu were arrested and then mysteriously died in jail,
"shot while attempting to escape." After this, the Iron Guard wasted its assets in violent street
fighting against the government, as singing legionnaires marched arm in arm into the face of
machine-gun fire. After 1938, the Legion ceased to be a major factor, never having come fully to
terms with the modern society so mistrusted by its rural backers.

Social dislocations, economic hard times and a lack of commitment to parliamentary rule all
promoted the drift to the Right among the Balkan states during the interwar period. Reformers were
unable to muster the resources to overcome entrenched elites, and often lacked political skills or
sound plans. Change too often led to conflict, and Balkan authorities viewed conflict with deep
mistrust. On the eve of World War II, every country had retreated into authoritarianism, leaving
deep problems unsolved at a time of coming crisis.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 19: The traditional regimes and the challenge of Nazism: Collaboration vs.

The Balkan countries faced their most serious challenge during World War II. Governments and
individuals had to make hard choices about how to respond to German Nazism and Soviet-style
Communism. In many cases there were no good choices available.

World War II brought death, damage and dislocation to more of the Balkans than did World War I.
The total nature of the war, and the unprecedented military power brought to bear by Germany, the
Allies and the Russians, made it impossible for the Balkan states to follow a course of their own
choosing or to act on the basis of their own local needs. National institutions laboriously constructed
during the preceding century were destroyed as wartime demands turned local regimes into willing
or unwilling satellites of larger powers. Some scholars regard 1938, not 1945, as the year in which
the East European countries lost their freedom: these historians regard the transition from Nazi
Germany to Soviet Russia as less significant than the fundamental loss of national independence
that began with Hitler and continued under Stalin.

From 1939 to 1941, the Balkans largely escaped the direct effects of World War II. Greece and Italy
fought a war along the Albanian border in the winter of 1940-41 but the fighting was confined to a
remote region. In the Spring of 1941, however, Hitler decided to secure all of the Balkans before
launching his invasion of Russia. In a matter of weeks, German armies defeated and occupied every
Balkan state that declined to join the Axis alliance. The Balkan peoples and their governments were
forced to choose between joining the Nazis and resisting them. Neither was an attractive choice.

The wartime Balkan regimes can be divided into

• states allied with Germany,

• puppet regimes under German sponsorship, and
• defeated governments that had to flee the occupation and serve their national interest as
best they could in exile.

Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria were allies. Croatia (newly carved out of the wreckage of
Yugoslavia) was the most important puppet state. The Greek and Royal Yugoslav governments went
into exile when those countries fell under German and Italian occupation.

Loss of life and physical destruction were not the only adverse results of the war. Balkan regimes
and Balkan royal families lost substantial credibility for a variety of reasons. Some grew isolated
from popular concerns. Others were fatally compromised by collaboration with the Nazis. In
particular, several Balkan states have been criticized for their role in the anti-Jewish Holocaust, an
issue we will examine later in this lecture.

Axis allies: Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania

It is easy to see why Bulgaria and Hungary joined Germany. The three countries had been allies in
defeat in World War I, and all three pursued revisionist interwar foreign policies. Hitler's success in
overturning the Versailles Treaty, followed by his annexation of German national irredenta in
Czechoslovakia and Austria, made him an attractive figure. Germany also controlled much of the
foreign trade of these states; combined with their geographic isolation from the West, this left
Bulgaria and Hungary with few resources for an alternative policy.
As German power increased, both states recovered some of their lost lands. During the partition of
Czechoslovakia, Hungary regained some of Slovakia. Recovering Transylvania from Romania was a
major goal, and Romania became isolated and vulnerable after the collapse of her interwar allies,
Czechoslovakia and France. In June 1940, the Russians forced the return of Bessarabia (taken by
Romania at the end of World War I). In August 1940, Hitler forced Romania to return the northern
half of Transylvania to Hungary, and to transfer southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria. After the defeat of
Yugoslavia and Greece in Spring 1941, Hungary reoccupied the Backa district, and Bulgaria took
Macedonia and Thrace.

These transfers satisfied most revisionist claims in Hungary and Bulgaria, but neither state could
escape the continuing war. Hitler forced Hungary to send troops into Russia: most were killed in the
Stalingrad disaster. With the Russian army approaching in 1944, Hitler stopped treating Hungary as
an ally and converted it into a satellite: German forces occupied the country and installed a fascist
puppet regime. Hungarians paid a heavy price for their ties to Hitler. Jewish citizens were of course
murdered. The Allies bombed Budapest. Hungary emerged from World War II reduced to the
borders of 1919, and under Russian occupation.

Bulgaria managed to avoid the worst of the war thanks to its geographic remoteness. Bulgaria
never declared war on the Soviet Union and was largely ignored by the Allies. In 1944, with the
Russian army on its border, Bulgaria signed an armistice. While Macedonia and Thrace were lost,
ethnically Bulgarian southern Dobrudja remained in Bulgarian hands.

Romania became a German ally late and reluctantly. By 1938, Romania was caught between Hitler
and Stalin. In 1940, she lost lands in Bessarabia, Transylvania and Dobrudja. This insult brought
down King Carol's regime: a military government under General Ion Antonescu came to power. He
set out to prove to Hitler that Romania was more faithful than Hungary, in hopes of recovering
some of the land lost in Transylvania. 300,000 Romanian soldiers died fighting in Russia. Romania's
domestic Holocaust has been mentioned and will be described fully later. Anti-German elements
including young King Michael kept quiet, but when the Russian army reached the border in August
1944, these elements overthrew Antonescu and switched sides. For the next nine months, Romania
fought on the Allied side, losing another 110,000 men. The change in allegiance paid off however: in
1945 Transylvania was returned to Romanian control.

It is hard to say what these Balkan states should or could have done differently: they were caught
in an impossible position by reason of geography. Their territorial claims were rooted in traditional
politics. Stalin was not a more attractive ally than Hitler. And neutrality was not an option, as the
Yugoslav case makes clear.

Exiles and resistors: Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia, like Romania, was surrounded in 1941 by hostile states with a long list of territorial
claims. Interwar alliances with France and Czechoslovakia had proved useless. The Regent Prince
Paul signed an alliance with Hitler in March 1941, but within a few days was overthrown by the
Serbian-run army, which mistrusted Hitler and feared potential concessions to Croatia.

In response the Germans invaded and partitioned Yugoslavia in April 1941: there was little military
resistance except by Serbs. Slovenia was divided between Germany and Italy. Croatia became an
independent puppet state with a fascist "Ustashe" administration and an Italian monarch who chose
to stay in Rome. This "Independent State of Croatia" included Bosnia, but lost the Dalmatian coast
to Italy. Serbia itself fell under German military rule. Macedonia was ceded to Bulgaria.

King Peter and the remnants of the royal government went into exile in Palestine (later London),
and into political limbo. Army generals left behind had been empowered to sign an armistice to end
the fighting, but exceeded their authority and signed an unconditional surrender. That document
was rejected by the exile cabinet and was not legally binding: however, the Germans used it to
excuse an occupation policy in which all resistance was treated as criminal activity under martial
The German authorities pursued policies that were specifically anti-Serbian: for example, Croatian
prisoners-of-war were sent home, but not Serbs. Guerilla activity was brutally suppressed: under
one formula, 100 hostages were to be executed for each German killed, 50 for each German
wounded. This approach backfired: Serbians fled to the hills to begin armed resistance not only out
of national pride, but also out of fear that they would be slaughtered in their homes. Ustashe
massacres of Serbs in independent Croatia also led to spontaneous acts of resistance.

In the summer of 1941, the exile government heard rumors of armed resistance and in the fall
made contact with organized remnants of the royal army under Colonel Draza Mihailovic. Mihailovic
was a 48-year old Serb, a decorated veteran of the Balkan Wars and World War I. In the interwar
period he served in various posts and was an unremarkable figure: however, he was loyal to
Serbian and royalist interests. His so-called "Chetnik" resistance faced a hard choice: whether or not
to fight the Germans, at the risk of decimating the Serbian population because of reprisals. In a
single reprisal action in October 1941, 5,000 Serbian villagers were murdered. Under these
circumstances, both Mihailovic and the exiles decided to stop fighting, preserve their forces (and
Serbian civilian lives) and prepare for a later uprising during an Allied invasion. This decision placed
the royalists in conflict with the active Communist guerillas, whose actions will be covered in Lecture

Exiles and resistors: Greece

The Greek government faced a similar situation: Greeks had to decide how far they were willing to
go to fight the Germans, and at what price. Greeks had been unified in the face of Italian attacks
from Albania, and were in a military alliance with the British. However, just as had been the case
during World War I, Greeks were divided in their attitude toward the Germans. Some Greeks
believed resistance was futile. Others had pro-Fascist sympathies and hoped to make Greece into a
German ally. Some Greek generals committed treason during the invasion, surrendering and then
helping to set up a quisling regime in Athens that agreed to cede northern parts of the country to
Bulgaria and Italian-held Albania. The Greek royal government fled into exile in Egypt with a few
evacuated troops. A few other soldiers escaped into the hills to fight as guerillas.

As they had in Yugoslavia, the Germans pursued a ruthless reprisal policy in Greece. During three
and a half years of occupation, 20,000 Greeks were shot as hostages. Typically, several hundred
men would be shot in a village close to a guerilla attack on German forces. Greeks also suffered
from deprivation, because the Germans shared few resources: as a result, 500,000 out of seven
million Greeks died from hunger, disease and neglect.

As it had in Yugoslavia, desperation led to armed resistance. Although it remained a combatant

state in a legal sense, the Greek government commanded no important forces inside Greece, and
could only cooperate with British commandos. When the British made contact with guerillas inside
the country, most were found to be controlled by the Communist Party (about whom more will be
said in Lecture 20).

Others, like the EDES of Napoleon Zervas, were Venizelist republicans who rejected the royal
government. In the waning days of the war, anti-monarchist elements forced King George to agree
to remain abroad until a national assembly voted on the status of the monarchy. Even though the
Greek pre-war government opposed the Nazis and had British backing, the stress of war and
occupation placed it in jeopardy.

A puppet state: Croatia

Germany created an additional satellite country in the Balkans during the war: the "Independent
State of Croatia" set up as a puppet after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Its head was Ante Pavelic,
leader of the pre-war fascist Ustashe movement that was responsible for the assassination of King
Alexander in 1934.

The Ustashe expressed their Croatian patriotism in terms of anti-Serb and anti-Orthodox activity.
Orthodox schools and churches were closed, the Cyrillic script was banned, and Serbs were forced
to wear identifying badges. Assisted by priests, Ustashe units carried out mass conversions to
Catholicism at gun point in Serb villages. Orthodox priests, Serbian teachers and those who resisted
were murdered, often after torture. The Ustashe have been credited with coining the term
"cleansing" to describe these ethnic persecutions.

Other Serbs, Jews and Communists went to death camps patterned on the German model, the
largest of which was Jasenovac. The number of victims has become a matter of political acrimony as
much as scholarly investigation. Croatian apologists state that only 60,000 persons died in these
camps. Serbian detractors claim as many as a million. The figure of 600,000 is accepted by many

Oddly, the Ustashe regarded the Bosnian Muslims as fellow Croats of a different faith, and left them
alone. Some Muslims joined Ustashe units and participated in massacres of Serbs: Serb Chetniks
responded with massacres of Bosnian Muslim villagers. Many German and Italian officers in the area
regarded the Croatian fascist state and its activities with distaste: refugees who reached the Italian-
occupied coast generally escaped further persecution.

At the end of the war, Ustashe leaders who could do so fled to South America. Those who remained
behind were executed by the Communists. Because of the regime's Catholic connections,
punishment of the Ustashe led to post-war persecution of Catholics as well. The Ustashe episode left
a legacy of friction between Catholics and Orthodox, Croats and Serbs, Serbs and Muslims, and
Croats and the Communist regime, tensions that contributed to a climate of mistrust in the post-
1945 Yugoslav state.

The Holocaust in the Balkans

The topic of the Croatian death camps leads to another important issue in any judgement of the
Balkan nations' response to the Nazis during World War II: their role in the Holocaust. Before the
Second World War, between 1,400,000 and 1,800,000 Jews lived in the Balkan states. During the
wartime period of Nazi German control, between 750,000 and 950,000 of these people were killed.
The precise numbers are elusive: census figures can be incomplete or unreliable, and certain
categories of people were not uniformly considered to be Jewish. For example, until the Nazis
imposed the Nuremberg Law categories, converts to Christianity and the children of mixed
marriages often were not regarded as Jewish in the Balkans.

While the murder of Jews was a feature of Nazi occupation policy all over Europe, we will not fully
understand how the Holocaust unfolded in southeastern Europe unless we set it into a local context.
The fate of the Balkan Jews differed dramatically from place to place, and sometimes from year to
year. Some of this variation reflected local differences in the historic situation of Jews; some of it
reflected variations in German policy; and some of it reflected decisions by Jews' fellow citizens of
other faiths, and by the Balkan governments. There are some satisfying cases of resistance, and
also some discouraging cases of collaboration in the Holocaust.

The Jews during the war

Even when compared to their position in other occupied countries, Balkan Jews were at special risk
when World War II brought German domination to the region, due to several factors. The Balkan
states were by definition national states, in which the ethnicity of individuals was a public matter.
Ethnic minorities like Jews usually were easy to identify, often regarded as outsiders, and frequently
treated with suspicion or hostility. This played into the hands of the German architects of the

Raul Hilberg, a leading scholar of the Holocaust, has noted a recurring pattern in which the
destruction of Jews in the various European countries followed four stages:

• First, identification of Jews, often on the basis of racial laws which defined people's ethnicity
by "blood" and descent;
• Second, expropriation of Jewish property, including the right to hold certain professional
jobs, a step that impoverished the Jewish community and left its members without the
financial resources needed to escape;
• Third, physical concentration of these identified Jews in ghettos or camps, a step that
increased their vulnerability and isolated them from other citizens who might have helped
them or objected to their murder; and
• Finally, annihilation, either in local facilities or at the specialized death camps in Poland.

In the Balkans, Jews were already a distinct and identifiable minority when the war came. Stage
One (identification) was thus an accomplished fact even before German intervention.

Second, anti-Semitic legislation, whether of long-standing or recently passed to satisfy local fascists
or Nazi German diplomats, had often inititiated the work of Stage Two (expropriation). Many Jews
were already too poor to escape persecution.

Third, historic legal or social pressures often meant that Jews resided together in concentrated
groups, especially in urban areas. Something like Stage Three (concentration) was a fact, for
example, in Romanian cities.

Fourth, local anti-Semites already had a tradition of killing Jews. For Romanians in the Iron Guard,
the step from past crimes to the Nazi policy of mass extermination was not a large one (Stage

The fate of the Balkan Jews varied widely. Some populations were exterminated while others
survived nearly intact, as this brief survey will show.

The Holocaust in Hungary

A traditional, conservative, right-wing regime remained in power in Hungary until 1944, almost until
the war's end. As a German ally, Hungary passed discriminatory laws beginning in 1938. The First
Anti-Jewish Law of that year reduced the number of Jews in some professions by 20 percent: about
50,000 people lost their jobs. The Second and Third Anti-Jewish Laws (1939 and 1941) further
restricted the careers and positions available to Jews, and persons of mixed descent and Jewish
converts to Catholicism were now classified as Jewish.

When Hungary entered the war in 1941, many Hungarian Jews were drafted into labor battalions
and sent to the Russian Front, where 42,000 of these laborers were killed. Some Jews who lacked
Hungarian citizenship were murdered by Nazi execution teams. However, the Kallay regime refused
to deport Jews from Hungary proper during its tenure, which lasted until 1944.

In May 1944 the Nazis imposed a change of cabinet and Hungary became a mere satellite instead of
an ally. The Jewish population numbered about 825,000. This included 300,000 Jews living in lands
like Transylvania, areas restored to Hungarian rule during Hitler's adjustment of Balkan borders.
The Germans now transported 450,000 Jews to Auschwitz. Admiral Horthy (the Regent) suspended
deportations from July until October 1944, when he was thrown out of office and a puppet Arrow
Cross government was installed. During the period from October 1944 to April 1945 another 85,000
Jews were deported. In all only 255,000 Jews survived out of 825,000.

The Holocaust in Romania

In Romania, Jews lost their citizenship in 1937, and with it certain legal protections. The Germans
never thought the fascist Iron Guard was efficient enough to run the country, so the less extreme
military-royal dictatorship remained in charge. Events in Romania proceeded along lines consistent
with Hilberg's model: Jews were first identified and then had their property expropriated.

When the war with Russia began in 1941, Romania initiated an extermination program of its own in
liberated Bessarabia. Jews from Bessarabia and from Romania proper were assembled there and
murdered: the Romanians proceeded with such single-mindedness that some German authorities
criticized their activity, because the use of rail cars was interfering with the military effort.

The period of Romanian-sponsored massacres was intense but short: by 1942 Romania's leaders
guessed that Germany would lose the war, and abruptly stopped the killings. As a result about
550,000 Romanian Jews survived the war. 120,000 Romanian Jews were killed in Bessarabia.
Another 150,000 from Transylvania died after falling under Hungarian control, then being deported
from Hungary in 1944.

The Holocaust in Yugoslavia

In Yugoslavia, the complete collapse of the state after the Nazi invasion of 1941 left Jews exposed
to Nazi and Croatian Ustashe plans. The 16,000 Serbian Jews immediately lost their jobs and civil
rights. Many Jews were among hostages shot there in the summer of 1941. In October 1941,
Serbia's remaining 5,000 adult male Jews were taken to local concentration camps run by German
units and killed. In early 1942, the remaining population of women and children was killed at the
Semlin camp, across the Danube from Belgrade. Very few Serbian Jews survived the war.

Fascist Croatia had a population of about 35,000 Jews. This puppet state rapidly issued
discriminatory laws based on German models, stripping Jews of their citizenship. Between 1941 and
1944, some 20,000 died in local camps (over half at Jasenovac) and another 8,000 were shipped to
death camps like Auschwitz and murdered there. The Zagreb government paid Germany 30
Reichsmarks a head to defray the costs of this "service." Perhaps 7,000 Croatian Jews survived in
zones controlled by the Italians and later by the Partisan resistance.

Another 16,000 Yugoslav Jews survived because they lived in the Italian coastal zone of occupation,
or fled there. 8,000 Jews were living in Macedonia when that province was transferred to Bulgarian
rule. The Bulgarian government agreed to let the Germans send them to Treblinka in 1943. In all,
by the end of the war 80 percent of Yugoslavian Jews were dead.

The Holocaust in Greece

There were some 72,000 Jews in Greece when it fell under Nazi control. Because it was an occupied
state, there were no local Greek authorities who could interfere in German plans. Some 6,000 Jews
lived in Thrace when it fell under Bulgarian rule: most were sent to death camps. 13,000 Jews lived
in areas under Italian occupation and most of them survived. The remaining 53,000 lived in
German-administered areas, most of them in Salonika. During a four month period in 1943 the
Jewish population of that city was registered, concentrated in ghettos, and then sent to Auschwitz.
Virtually none survived.

The Holocaust in Bulgaria

Bulgaria's experience is the most unusual and complex in the Balkans. To comply with the wishes of
their German allies, the Bulgarians limited the civil rights of Jews in 1940 (although not without
some objections). In 1942 a Commissariat for Jewish Affairs was set up, despite objections from the
parliament. Jews were now registered. In 1943 German SS forces arrived to begin a deportation

Bulgaria had annexed Macedonia and Thrace as war spoils. The 14,000 Jews in those regions fell
under Bulgarian control, but were not considered to have become Bulgarian citizens (unlike Slavs in
these areas). These Jews were the first under Bulgarian authority to be sent to death camps, and
there was little protest.

However, when the SS next threatened Jewish citizens of pre-war Bulgaria with deportation and
death, political leaders and the Orthodox Church objected. Plans to deliver Bulgarian Jews into
German hands stalled: instead many Jews were deported to rural areas as forced laborers. While
this measure exposed them to harsh conditions, it also shielded the Jews from further German
activity. Once these people were scattered across the country, it became impossible for the Nazis to
proceed: in the absence of Stage Three (concentration, in Hilberg's model) it was impossible to
move on to Stage Four (extermination).

In 1944 it became clear that Germany was losing the war, and a new Bulgarian regime nullified the
anti-Jewish legislation. In August 1944, the arrival of the Red Army ended fascist influence. In this
manner, nearly all the Jews of Old Bulgaria survived. On the other hand, the Bulgarian authorities
had permitted the Jews of Macedonia and Thrace to be killed by the Germans.

Degrees of guilt

How guilty of the Holocaust were the Balkan nations?

To answer this, we have to distinguish between the Germans, the local Balkan regimes, and local
fascists. Hilberg, and also Lucy Dawidowicz, made efforts to explain why some Balkan Jewish
populations fared better during the war than others, and came to the following conclusions.

First, the degree of assimilation by a Jewish community had no significant bearing on its fate. The
well-integrated Hungarian Jews suffered badly, while the unassimilated Bulgarian Jews nearly all

The presence or absence of local anti-Semitic traditions made little difference. Yugoslav Jews
experienced very little pre-war persecution, but nearly all of them died, while half the Romanian
Jews survived the war even though Romania had a tradition of violent anti-Jewish prejudice.

The key variable appears to be the degree of direct German control exercised over a territory during
the war, and with it the presence or absence of indigenous political authorities, who tended to act as
buffers between Nazi leaders and the local populations. This was true even if local regimes were
indifferent to Jewish problems. Except in cases when local fascist groups were in power (the
Croatian Ustashe, and the short periods when fascist puppet governments were in charge of
Romania and Hungary), local Balkan regimes simply failed to pursue the killing of Jews with the
same zeal that animated the Germans.

From a moral point of view, many Balkan governments committed sins of omission, but few
committed sins of commission. The guilt of the Balkan population cannot be assessed en masse: the
activity of their governments is hardly a reliable index, because none of these governments were
representative or even responsive to most of their citizens. Some individuals committed heinous
crimes, and others took personal risks to achieve heroic rescues. Many residents of the Balkans
were anti-Semitic to one degree or another, but without the Nazi German role, the Holocaust would
not have happened.


Facing the challenge on the Right from Nazi Germany, the Balkan countries often had to choose
among evils. The dilemmas faced by national governments were not lessened by the challenge on
the Left from Communism, as examined in Lecture 20.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 20: The traditional regimes and the challenge of Communism: Patriotism vs.

We have paid relatively little attention so far to Communism in the Balkans. Balkan Communism
was weak and ineffective before World War II. It required the chaos of the war to overturn
traditional anti-leftist institutions and open the door for the Communist regimes that were in power
from 1945 to 1989.

Communism made little headway in the Balkans before World War II for a variety of reasons.
Marxist ideology was not well-suited to Balkan conditions. Discussions of the industrial proletariat
were meaningless in countries with so few industries. Nor did Marxist class analysis appeal to
people, even revolutionaries, who were still thinking in terms of ethnic national goals.

When Communists in Moscow talked about nationalism in negative terms, it created more problems
for local Balkan Communists. The Communist International (the "Comintern") wanted to create a
Balkan federation to replace the existing national states, which were regarded as puppets of the
Western imperialist Powers and tools aimed at the Soviet Union. The Comintern denounced the
post-World War annexations that subordinated ethnic minorities.

Citing national self-determination, the Comintern demanded the liberation of "oppressed peoples" in
Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Transylvania and Bessarabia, and offered specific suggestions for
border revisions. In other words, it was plain to people in the Balkan states that the Communists
meant to reverse the territorial settlements of World War I and the Balkan Wars. Thanks to such
rhetoric, Balkan patriots regarded Communists as traitors. The absurdity of the plan was obvious to
anyone on the spot, but the rigid Communist structure forced everyone to parrot back Moscow's
nonsense. If the local parties objected, they lost financial support and in the 1930s were liable to be
purged by Stalin.

Communist social doctrine was also out of step with local mores, especially in the area of women's
rights. We'll return to this topic in Lecture 23 in discussing the postwar changes in Balkan society.
Balkan society was still patriarchal in a very literal sense. Progressive rhetoric about the equality of
the sexes offended non-Communist and Communist men alike: Tito, the Communist party boss, at
one time had to make a formal speech instructing upper level Party leaders not to beat their wives.

All of these factors reduced the potential popular appeal of Communism. At the same time, every
traditional vested interest, from the military to landlords to political parties, opposed Communism
and worked to stamp it out. In most of the Balkan states, during most of the interwar period,
membership in the Communisty Party was illegal. We can get some idea of the difficulties the party
faced by looking at two examples: the careers of one party, the Hungarians, and of one man, the
Yugoslav leader Tito, perhaps the region's most successful Communist.


The example of the Hungarian Communist Party illustrates the difficulties faced by all the Balkan
Communist parties in the interwar period. Hungary had the region's largest industrial working class,
but Communists were at a severe disadvantage after the defeat of the Bela Kun Soviet Republic in
1919. During the subsequent "White Terror," thousands of leftists were executed and many others
fled to the Soviet Union. The HCP became an illegal organization until 1944. The next Hungarian
Party Congress after 1919 did not take place until 1925 and had to be held outside the country, in
Vienna, Austria.

About a thousand Communists remained active in Hungary. In the 1920s, they created a new
Socialist Workers' Party as a front organization, conducted propaganda among trade unions and in
favor of land reform, and set up a secret network to communicate with the Communist International
in Moscow. As Hungarian politics drifted to the Right, conditions got worse. Police raids were so
severe that in 1936 more Communists in Hungary were in jail (500) than were free (400). In this
period, convicted Communists were sometimes executed, not just imprisoned.

Contacts with Moscow often made matters worse for the Hungarian party. Pragmatic estimates of
the situation drawn up by men on the spot were rejected as pessimistic "deviations" by dogmatists
in the USSR, and party activists were never allowed the freedom to pursue realistic goals. The mass
arrests of the 1930s were interpreted in Moscow as signs of local incompetence, not evidence that
direction from the top was faulty. In 1936 Moscow dissolved the existing HCP apparatus and
replaced it with a new Central Committee operating from Czechoslovakia. At the same time, the
Comintern abandoned the 900 surviving members of the original party, cutting off the stipends that
supported the families of jailed activists. Other loyal Hungarian Communists were unlucky enough
to be in exile in Russia during the Stalin purges of the late 1930s: many there were imprisoned or
The Moscow party line also made it hard for Hungarian Communists to find or keep allies. In the
1920s, the HCP dutifully denounced the Socialist Party as "social fascists." In 1935 Moscow shifted
to a new "Popular Front" model that called for alliance with moderate socialists, but by that time
Hungary's socialists and trade unionists deeply mistrusted the HCP. The Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939
also complicated Communist recruiting: left-leaning Hungarians were offended when Stalin cut a
deal with Hitler, after years of denouncing the Nazis as the ultimate evil. These kinds of unrealistic
directives from the top made a difficult task almost impossible.

Life as a Communist: Tito

In Yugoslavia, the Party was illegal after 1921. From a legal membership of 60,000, the number of
underground activists fell to 1,000 by the 1930s, and many members went to jail. These losses
opened a door for new leaders.

One of these was Josip Broz, who took the nom-de-guerre Tito in 1934. Tito was born in 1892 in
Habsburg Croatia: his parents were a Dalmatian Croat and a Slovene. He became a mechanic and
locksmith. Serving in the Austrian army in World War I, he was captured and spent from 1915 to
1920 in Russia, first as a prisoner of war and then as a witness to the Russian Revolution. He
returned to the new Yugoslavia as a Communist and combined his work as a mechanic with labor
organizing, so that he was fired from several jobs. Arrested for subversive activity, he spent the
years from 1928 to 1934 in jail; his early arrest may have saved his life, because in the early 1930s
the secret police summarily shot many underground Communists. In prison he read Marxist
literature and met many of his later closest advisors.

Upon his release, Tito was ordered to Moscow to work in the Comintern offices: he made his way
out of the country in disguise and then stayed in Russia off and on until 1940. By keeping to himself
and keeping his mouth shut, he stayed alive during the most dangerous years of the Stalin purges,
while hundreds of other Yugoslav Communist exiles were executed. In 1937 he became secretary of
the Yugoslav Communist Party, which he reorganized around his prison friends.

Tito was back in Zagreb living under an assumed name when the Germans invaded Yugoslavia in
1941. A few months later he moved to Belgrade, correctly believing that the Serbs would begin to
resist the Germans and hoping to capitalize on any fighting. From there, he directed a Communist-
led uprising in Montenegro. Although that revolt was not a great success, Tito left Belgrade in the
Fall and joined the armed Partisans there.

Tito's life indicates some of the habits of the professional Communist of the time, although he went
on to bigger things later. He led an isolated, almost monastic existence, in which the Party took first
place over family or friends. He did as he was told and kept silent even when he believed the orders
of his superiors were mistaken. In turn, he expected discipline and obedience from his subordinates.
He was brave and resourceful, but his talents were confined to political problems and staying alive,
not science or applied economics. Most noticeable of all, perhaps, he lacked the ethnic nationalist
loyalty that animated most traditional political figures outside the Communist left.

The Communist wartime resistance

Communism required powerful new forces before it could come to power. In Hungary, Romania and
Bulgaria the impetus was occupation by the Red Army after the war. In Yugoslavia, Albania and
very nearly Greece, it was the power of indigenous wartime resistance groups.

Lecture 19 described the defeat and occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece, and some of the
problems faced by their royal governments as they decided how to resist the Germans. These
countries also had large Communist-controlled resistance movements. These groups were the
enemies not only of the Germans, but also of the pre-war regimes that had suppressed them during
the interwar period. Aspects of the Cold War are foreshadowed in the story of the wartime Balkan
resistance movements.

We should keep two questions in mind as we study the resistance.

• First, to what extent were the wartime struggles actually civil wars based on pre-war
politics, as opposed to wars of liberation against the Nazi occupation?
• Second, is the story of the Balkan resistance movements one of significant contributions to
the Allied war effort, or only of myths and propaganda devices exploited after the war by
the Communists?

As we have seen, Yugoslavia and Greece were the only two Balkan states to reject German
alliances: for this they experienced harsh Axis occupation. Both states were partitioned, placed
under military rule and subjected to a policy of harsh reprisals. Far from ending resistance, those
reprisals increased it.

Resistance to German rule occurred all over occupied Europe, but the expression of that resistance
varied from place to place, depending on factors such as the degree of outside support (chiefly from
the British Special Operations Executive, or SOE), the local strength of the Germans, and the
terrain. The Germans were able to control urban areas, but not the countryside: mountainous and
wooded areas like the Balkans offered particularly good bases for resistance groups.

Resistance ranged from low-intensity actions like strikes, work slowdowns, spontaneous acts of
sabotage, and general disobedience; through cooperation with the Allied forces in gathering
intelligence and helping downed flyers; up to armed attacks, including assassination and guerilla
warfare. Even low-level acts affected the Axis war effort, forcing the Germans to dilute their forces
as garrisons. Balkan geographic and political conditions favored full-scale guerilla warfare.

Conditions were similar in Greece and Yugoslavia. Both countries were of strategic importance. Both
were accessible by sea and air from Western bases, opening up opportunities for SOE to gather
intelligence and harass the Germans. Thanks to mountainous terrain, both were suitable for
widespread partisan warfare: resistance groups could organize secret governments in large areas
under their control, and tie down large numbers of German troops. Both states had exile royalist
regimes that were recognized as partners by the Allies, including the Russians. In both, the war also
created opportunities for Communist parties that had been too weak to play a major role in national
politics before the war. As a result, both countries saw fighting between rival royalist and
Communist resistance movements.

In each country, one wing of the resistance derived from the pre-war military. These groups had the
advantage of military training, some access to equipment saved during the defeats of 1941, and
support from outside the country: the exile regimes enjoyed the backing of Great Britain in
particular. On the other hand, traditional officers were not always imaginative enough to make the
transition to guerilla war. They also lacked political insight and the ability to gauge the impact of
immediate actions on later political positions.

The other wing of the resistance was run by the Communist Parties. The Communists lacked formal
military training and had to capture or steal weapons as the first step in their campaigns of
resistance. The Soviet Union was unable to give them concrete support until very late in the war.
On the other hand, Balkan Communists had substantial experience with secret activity, and their
whole ideology and training prepared them to make the most of the disordered situation in the
occupied Balkans.

EDES vs. ELAS in Greece

In Greece, the resistance forces of Col. Napoleon Zervas, a retired officer, were based on the pre-
war army. His forces went by the name EDES (Greek Democratic National League) and began with
remnants of Greek units in the mountains of Epirus along the Albanian border. EDES was in contact
with the British, but was not on good terms with the royalist exiles, because Zervas was a Venizelist
and a republican.

EDES lacked the leadership and resources to build widespread support. EDES had about 7,000 men
under arms in 1943, and twice that many at the end of the occupation in late 1944. It never
controlled an area larger than about 25 by 35 miles in Epirus, and undertook mostly defensive
operations. When Italy surrendered in the fall of 1943, German forces replaced the Italiansand
began serious attacks on EDES. There is evidence that Zervas then struck a deal with the German
army. The two sides agreed not to attack each other: this truce left the Germans free of sabotage
and allowed EDES to suppress local Communist rivals. The EDES-German truce ended in 1944,
when the Germans began evacuating Greece.

The larger, Communist-backed resistance army was known as ELAS (Greek People's Liberation
Army). It dominated the rest of rural mainland Greece. Its military leader was General Stephanos
Sarafis, a regular army officer forced to retire in 1935 because of his political views. ELAS had about
12,000 men under arms in 1942, perhaps 50,000 in 1944.

ELAS derived it real power from its connection to the EAM (National Liberation Front) organization,
which in turn was run by the Communist Party. EAM ran a variety of auxiliary organizations, not
only to support ELAS but to set up local governments, communications, hospitals, and the trappings
of a secret state so far as possible. Depending on how one defines EAM membership, between
500,000 and 2 million Greeks (out of 7 million) took some part in EAM activity. EAM's popularity in
part derived from hatred of the occupation, and from wartime hardships that killed 500,000 people.
EAM was often the only help for Greeks suffering from German confiscations, fuel and food
shortages, cold, starvation and disease.

Beginning in 1940, the British SOE worked with the exile Greek regime and contacted the
resistance. Intelligence-gathering soon made it clear that EAM had more influence than the exile
regime. The British policy would have preferred to work with groups that backed the exile
government, but Churchill also believed that military operational needs had to override political
needs during the war. When efforts by British Military Missions failed to mediate between the rivals
in 1943, Churchill threw his support to the ELAS groups that were contributing the most to the war

Between 1942 and the end of the German occupation in the fall of 1944, the British inserted 1,073
agents, and sent 5,800 tons of supplies. Of this, only 975 tons were arms; the rest was urgently
needed food and clothing, especially boots. In return, EAM mounted important diversionary attacks
at two points in the war: during the invasion of Sicily in 1943 and during the German evacuation of
Greece in fall 1944. In total, Greek saboteurs destroyed 209 railroad locomotives and 1,540 other
railroad cars; derailed 117 trains; and destroyed 67 railroad bridges and 5 tunnels. Such acts
hampered the transfer of German troops from Greece to other fronts where they were badly

At the same time, Britain retained close ties to the exile regime and made plans to block Communist
influence in Greece after liberation. Political tensions between EAM and the British-backed royal
government could not be resolved. In 1943, EAM demanded that the king stay out of liberated
Greece until a national assembly decided his role in a postwar regime. When the British and the
exile regime refused these terms, EAM took steps to eliminate its rivals: in the winter of 1943-44,
ELAS troops attacked EDES but failed to destroy it. In April 1944 anti-royalist Greek units in Egypt
refused orders from the royal government, mutinied, and had to be disarmed by the British. In June
1944 a Russian mission joined EAM for the first time: at Russian insistence, attacks on EDES
stopped and EAM downplayed its revolutionary agenda.

When the Germans evacuated Greece in September 1944, Athens was occupied by both British and
ELAS forces. The relationship between the two sides remained unresolved and eventually led to
conflict. What happened next relates to the origin of the Cold War as well as World War II and will
be covered in Lecture 21, but a short summary is needed now.

Both ELAS and the exile regime wanted to control the reconstituted postwar Greek army. Long
negotiations failed to reach a compromise. On December 1, 1944, the British ordered all guerilla
forces to disband, a move that would have left the conventional royalist units with a monopoly on
armed force. EAM called for a mass demonstration in Athens the next day over the objections of the
regime. During the rally, government police fired on the crowd: the police claimed to have been
fired on but Western observers reported only police shooting at unarmed civilians. For a month,
British troops in Athens fought with ELAS guerillas and gradually took control of the city. The two
sides signed an armistice in February 1945, but the stage was set for later trouble. The end of
World War II in Europe remained more than two months away.
The Yugoslav Partisans vs. the Chetniks

Yugoslavia also had rival resistance movements. One group was loyal to the exile government,
made up of soldiers who refused to surrender in 1941. They were led by Colonel Draza Mihailovic, a
Yugoslav Army officer who organized armed forces in Serbia and later was named minister of
defence for the exile state. These soldiers were joined by (and took the name of) Chetniks, from the
word "Cheta" or "committee" and meaning an armed nationalist band. Serbian "chetniks" fought as
guerillas in Macedonia in 1906 and in the Balkan Wars. Between the wars the "Chetnik Association
for Freedom and Honor of the Fatherland" was a leading Great Serb nationalist organization. A
Chetnik killed the Croatian politician Stjepan Radic in 1928. Most Chetnik units were local: they had
few resources and were in sporadic contact with any central authority, even Mihailovic.

From the first days of the German occupation, there was spontaneous resistance in Serbia. This led
to reprisals in which the Germans killed 100 Serbs for every German killed and 50 for each one
wounded. In a single action late in October 1941 between 5,000 and 10,000 hostages were
executed in two Serbian towns. The harsh German occupation left Serbs in a dilemma. Some
wanted a temporary armistice with Germany to end the reprisal massacres of Serbs. Some wanted
to keep fighting, which was the the course preferred by the British.

Mihailovic feared that the country would be bled white for no reason and preferred to keep his
forces intact while waiting for an Allied landing. Mihailovic was in contact with the exiles and the
British after the autumn of 1941. Thanks to their help, he had about 12,000 to 15,000 men under
arms by 1943. However, as evidence grew that the Chetniks were not pursuing an aggressive
campaign, British aid began to shift to the other branch of the Yugoslav resistance, the Communist-
led Partisans.

When the country fell apart in 1941, Tito and other leaders of the interwar Party saw an opportunity
to seize power. The Communists were already used to secret action. There was little or no Partisan
activity between the fall of Yugoslavia in April 1941 and the surprise German attack on the USSR in
June 1941. Partisan supporters have blamed this on a lack of supplies, but there is evidence that
the Yugoslav Communists merely gathered their strength and organized local Communist cells, until
the USSR was placed in danger.

Partisan activity began in northwest Serbia with acts of sabotage against bridges, telephone lines
and mines, attacks on convoys or isolated posts, and raids on police stations and banks to obtain
arms and money. The Germans treated the Partisans as criminals not legitimate belligerents: they
took no prisoners and punished civilian populations suspected of helping Partisans. The Partisans
also disregarded the laws of war: they attacked German hospitals and ambulance convoys, stole
medical supplies after killing wounded Germans, and rarely took prisoners.

The Partisans and Chetniks were soon on bad terms. As the War Minister of the exile cabinet,
Mihailovic claimed the right to give orders to the Partisans and told them to stop fighting so as to
halt German reprisals. In October 1941, he and Tito met but failed to resolve the issue of authority.
Mihailovic and other Chetniks also made clear their Great Serbian politics and their anti-
Communism. Tito rejected obedience to policies and institutions that had opposed and suppressed
the Communists before the war.

Mihailovic concluded that Tito was a traitor and a threat to the Serbian-run Yugoslav kingdom, and
that his immediate duty was to crush Tito. To do so, he made a deal with the German-controlled
Serbian puppet state, offering a truce in return for arms and a free hand versus Tito's forces.
However, local Chetnik and Partisan units were fighting each other even before this decision. The
Partisans soon moved out of Serbia, and their main bases were in the high mountains of Bosnia
during most of the war. The Chetniks remained in Serbia. During the rest of the occupation, Chetnik
units continued to make truces with German, Italian and Croatian Ustashe forces, and sometimes
assisted in attacks on the Partisans.

The role played by Mihailovic is very controversial. Many collaborating Chetnik units acted on their
own. However, the British finally decided that Mihailovic had been compromised, and in any event
his forces had stopped contributing to the war effort. As a result they diverted the bulk of their aid
to the Partisans.

When the fighting began, local Partisan leaders often displayed more interest in pursuing a
Communist seizure of power than in fighting the Germans. In some parts of Montenegro, Partisan
groups instituted a reign of terror to seize control. This approach alienated potential popular support
and was criticized by the Comintern in Moscow, for whom defeat of Hitler was now the first priority.
In April 1942 Tito's leadership dropped the "class war" model in favor of a "national liberation"

In the fall of 1942 the Partisans withdrew into the mountains of western Bosnia. Thanks to the
brutality of the Croatian Ustashe, villagers there were willing to join the Partisan army to defend
themselves. At Bihac in November 1942, Tito organized the Anti-Fascist Council of People's
Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) as a patriotic organization: its Communist tone was muted for
now. By 1943 the Partisans had 50,000 to 60,000 men in the field. When Italy left the war, Tito's
forces seized the weapons of six Italian divisions, and two other divisions went over to the Partisans
intact. Partisan armed strength soon rose to 200,000.

The first British mission to Yugoslavia landed in 1941, but the total supplies sent by the middle of
1943 amounted to only 30 tons. Once Churchill decided to back Tito instead of Mihailovic, the British
presence increased. A British general was attached to Tito's headquarters as a liaison. Allied
victories in North Africa made it possible to send substantially more supplies to Tito: 2,200 tons
during the rest of 1943, and 8,000 tons per quarter during 1944. 400 aircraft brought 47,000
wounded Partisans and refugees to bases in Italy, and carried back 150,000 rifles and machine
guns, and clothing for 175,000 men. These supplies let Partisan strength grow to 300,000 by the
end of 1944.

Military success also brought Tito closer to political power. In the fall of 1943, AVNOJ proclaimed
itself to be the provisional goverment of Yugoslavia. The king was asked not to return, pending a
decision about his role in a federal postwar state. The British went along. With the help of Red Army
units, the Partisans cleared the country of Germans in 1944. When the Russian troops moved north,
the Communist party was left as the only effective force in Yugoslavia.


Were these civil wars or wars of liberation?

It is fair to say that both were taking place. What Tito in particular recognized was that in the civil
war between Communist and non-Communist forces, political elements were as crucial as military
ones. The Partisans gained important political credibility in the eyes of the mass of Yugoslavs and
the British by their prolonged warfare against the Germans. In contrast, EAM-ELAS in Greece
devoted more attention to a future seizure of power and less to attacks on the Germans, yet EAM-
ELAS had a weaker grip on power at the end of 1944. The war of national liberation proved to be an
important factor in the underlying civil war between Communist and non-Communist forces.

Was the resistance merely a myth, or an actual asset for the Allied war effort?

Resistance forces alone never expelled German forces from the Balkans: German withdrawals were
always due to wider strategic concerns. The Germans themselves held the resistance in contempt,
but they also underestimated its effect. Resistance forces provided useful and unique intelligence,
and rescued stranded Allied air crews. More important, resistance forces tied down significant
numbers of German and Axis troops. In the Fall of 1943, there were 380,000 Italian troops (31
divisions) and 600,000 Germans in the Balkans (14 divisions plus auxiliary units and police). After
Italy left the war, the German commitment rose to 700,000 men (20 divisions).

This was a force comparable in numbers to the German army fighting in Italy, or to the forces lost
at Stalingrad or in North Africa. These men were sorely needed elsewhere, but had to remain in the
Balkans to guard sources of oil, chrome and bauxite. There is no doubt that the resistance provided
a major aid to the Allied cause.
Looking ahead, one has to say as well that the Communist interwar and wartime experience created
party organizations in the Balkans that were well-equipped for the resistance struggle, but poorly
prepared to exercise real political power after 1945.

Communists who had survived decades of police raids, betrayal by informers, purges by the Party
itself and wartime attack from anti-Communists became cautious -- even paranoid -- in their world
view. Persecution instilled in them habits of secrecy and isolation, fierce loyalty to a small group of
close colleagues, and a willingness to obey orders without demanding a role in decision-making. In
place of practical administrative experience, the Communists became masters of propaganda and
the infiltration of other kinds of organizations. They never had to modify old-fashioned beliefs about
the world and about politics, beliefs that remained largely unchanged since 1917. The life of the
illegal Communist was a poor school for coalition politics, consensus-building, creativity, flexibility
and practical economic or administrative experience. Before World War II, no one expected
Communists to be running the Balkans states a few years later. When they came to power after
1945, these flaws became obvious.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 21: Forging the Iron Curtain in the Balkans, 1944-1956

Winston Churchill was talking about the Cold War in Eastern Europe when he referred to the "Iron
Curtain" in a well-known speech of 1946. The end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold
War are intertwined. Stereotypical views of the origin of the Cold War either blame it on Stalinist
aggression or take the "revisionist" view and blame it on aggressive American actions that led to
Soviet responses. These views share two failings:

• They reduce the roles of the Balkan states, their leaders and their populations to that of
pawns; and
• They gloss over the significant differences in local events in the various Balkan states.

An approach to the early Cold War based on Balkan histories would look at the important decisions
made by Balkan figures, and distinguish between events in the Balkan states, including those that
did not become Soviet satellites. Questions like these help frame such an analysis:

• First, when does the Cold War begin?

• Second, are the events that make up the Cold War best viewed as aspects of global politics,
or a collection of local and particular events?
• Third, to what extent could Balkan leaders retain their freedom of action and influence the
• Fourth, can we assign blame for the Cold War to one side alone?

Looking at four episodes will help answer these questions:

• The Allied intervention in Greece (1944 to 1949);

• The imposition of Communism in Hungary (1944 to 1948);
• The Tito-Stalin split of 1948; and
• The Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Events like these established the limits within which the Balkan peoples would live during decades of
Soviet-American confrontation.

When does the Cold War begin?

Hidden behind our first question is another: should we research the history of the Cold War from the
top down, or the bottom up? Some historians say the Cold War began in 1917: in other words, that
the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia made global conflict with the West inevitable. If so, events
in the Balkans merely reflect decisions made in Moscow and Washington. Such a view removes all
responsibility from the Balkan peoples themselves. This approach is useless for Balkan studies,
because it ignores important Balkan events and important local causes for events.

In a similar vein, when Cold War analysts lump together the Communist Balkan states as "satellites"
they ignore striking local differences in domestic and foreign policies. This helps answer the second
question: knowledge of local Balkan decisions fleshes out a definition of what the Cold War was, in a
way that top-down generalizations cannot. For example, Tito's success in defying Stalin sheds light
on the failure of other leaders to escape Russian control. Another example: the events that kept
Greece out of the Communist Bloc shed light on the reasons why other states were pulled in.

With this in mind, let's look at some characteristic events in the early history of the Cold War.

Events in Greece, 1944-1949

Beginning in 1942, the Allied Big Three (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) met to shape a secure
post-war world. Their plans centered on Germany and made few references to the Balkans. As a
result, later decisions about the Balkans were made on the basis of immediate operational situations
instead of long-term strategic plans, and this ad hoc approach led to misunderstandings.

During 1943, the Big Three made plans for a coordinated post-war security system and agreed that
an important element was installing "democratic" governments in the defeated states. The Western
powers had in mind Western-style parliamentary states protected by the United Nations. Stalin on
the other hand interpreted "democratic" to mean "anti-fascist" and believed that Soviet security
required Russian approval of any post-war governments in Eastern Europe. This basic disagreement
was never resolved.

Lecture 20 has described the rival forces at work in Greece. With the end of the war in sight,
disputes between left and right soon revolved around three issues: control of the post-war military,
the role of the king, and EAM/ELAS' access to cabinet appointments in any post-occupation
government .

The clash over armed forces came to a head first. In 1943, the British tried to impose royalist
control over the ELAS guerillas as a condition of further arms shipments. EAM (ELAS's Communist-
dominated political arm) refused and demanded that King George stay in exile, pending a plebiscite
on the monarchy: in turn, the British refused. After this exchange, Churchill and EAM prepared for a

ELAS conducted attacks on non-Communist EDES guerilla units and stirred up mutinies among
Greek forces in Egypt in April 1944. Churchill backed Greece's King George: British army units put
down the mutinies by a show of force and organized right-wing officers into a royalist "Mountain

Churchill also sought a diplomatic free hand. When Russian armies entered Eastern Europe in 1944,
the lack of Big Three planning for the Balkans became urgent and apparent. To prevent accidental
clashes between British and Russian forces, Churchill and Stalin agreed to divide the Balkans into
"wartime" spheres of responsibility, first by telegram in May and June 1944, and fact-to-face in
October 1944 in the famous "percentages" agreement. On the basis of informal but written notes,
Greece and Yugoslavia would fall in a predominantly British sphere, Romania and Bulgaria in one of
mainly Russian influence.

Churchill meant for these decisions to expire with the end of the war, but once stated the division of
responsibility proved hard to set aside. Stalin's behavior indicates that he made important post-war
decisions on the basis of the deal's terms. Stalin forced EAM into a Greek national unity cabinet with
a pro-British premier, George Papandreou. EAM/ELAS originally planned to fight returning royalist
troops and the British when the Germans evacuated the country; instructions from Moscow vetoed
such plans, so that the Greek Left confined itself to occupying major towns and executing
The climax of the British-ELAS clash took place in December 1944 against this background: only two
months earlier, Stalin had conceded primary responsibility for affairs in Greece to Churchill. It is
otherwise hard to explain why the Russians were silent when the British used force against the pro-
Communist ELAS.

The German evacuation of Greece in September 1944 set the stage for confrontation. ELAS forces,
the British army and the royalist Mountain Brigade all entered Athens. The British-backed
Papandreou government proposed to disarm all guerilla units. EAM rejected this plan which would
have left the Mountain Brigade with a monopoly on Greek armed force. EAM proposed instead to
create a new army made up of equal numbers of royalists and ELAS veterans. On November 28,
1944, Papandreou proposed instead shares for ELAS, the Mountain Brigade and the anti-Communist
EDES, and the British set a December 10 deadline for compliance. Unwilling to settle for a one-third
share, the Communists and Socialists resigned from Papandreou's cabinet in protest.

A street demonstration the next day led to shooting between royalist police and Communists. EAM
declared itself to be the government of Greece; Churchill on the other hand used the British army to
back the royalists. The Soviet Union stood by and did nothing. Before an armistice was negotiated in
February 1945, 11,000 people had been killed as the British defeated the weaker guerillas. At the
February 1945 Yalta Conference, Stalin raised no objections to Churchill's deeds.

After the shooting stopped in Greece, compromise proposals and Yalta pledges were forgotten as
familiar Balkan political techniques came into play. A promised plebiscite on the monarchy was
postponed; by the time it took place in 1946, royalist forces were firmly in control and the King
predictably secured almost 70 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the Greek Right took control of the
police, shot 500 suspected Leftists, and jailed 20,000 more. The Left parties boycotted the 1946
elections to protest official intimidation. Between 1947 and 1949, ELAS veterans even returned to a
guerilla war in the hills of northern Greece, only to be defeated once more, this time with American
aid replacing that of Britain.

Cold War scenarios commonly describe a pattern of Russian military occupation, installation of
Communists in the police, unfair elections and official intimidation of opponents. What is striking
about events in Greece is the similar behavior of the British and their royalist allies. It is also hard
to ignore Stalin's apparent adherence to the wartime division of the region between East and West,
and its implications for explaining Russian behavior later in Bulgaria and Romania.

The Big Three never did address a Balkan settlement. At the Yalta meeting, a "Declaration on
Liberated Europe" called for participation by all "democratic" parties in interim governments in all
liberated states, followed by free elections. Terms like "democratic" again were not defined. At
Potsdam in August 1945, decisions were deferred to a eventual Balkan peace conference. Such a
conference never took place, a casualty of Cold War tensions.

Unlike the other Balkan states, postwar Greece became part of the Free World. Explanations for this
exceptional result are incomplete and unconvincing, unless they include substantial analysis of local
events and decisions.

The Soviet seizure of power: Hungary

The story of the Communist seizure of power in Hungary closely matches traditional views of the
origin of the Cold War. However, a closer look also shows why it is a mistake to view Communism
as monolithic. The events of 1944-48 indicate deep divisions within the local Communist party,
radical shifts in policy and the significant role played by individual decision-makers who were
operating without the benefit of foresight or hindsight. The same factors were at work during the
Hungarian Revolution in 1956: while the uprising failed, it showed the tentative state of Communist
control even at that late date.

By looking at events across Eastern Europe, scholars have analyzed eight stages in the Communist
seizure of power and we can see all of them illustrated by Hungarian developments:
• In Stage One, wartime regimes were discredited by Nazi collaboration and military defeat.
In Hungary, this meant the fall from power of the Horthy Regency.
• Occupation by the Red Army initiated Stage Two. The Russians rarely had to use force
themselves, but the presence of overwhelming Russian power protected local Communists
from prosecution and harassment of the pre-war kind, and intimidated other elements.
• Stage Three involved coalition between the Communist Party and other leftist parties.
Cooperation appealed to both sides. Non-Communists hoped for Russian favors; the small
Communist Parties gained a governing role even if they did poorly in elections.
• In Stage Four, the Communists demanded key cabinet posts in coalition cabinets.
Ministerial control of the police, for example, let Communists harass potential rivals.
• In Stage Five, moderate elements in the coalition were isolated and neutralized by so-called
"salami tactics." Rightist parties had already been barred from political activity on the
grounds of collaboration with the Nazis: "salami tactics" singled out factions or leaders on
the right wing of the coalition, accused them of fascist sympathies and sliced them off.
Eventually, most groups to the right of the Communists lost access to power, leaving the
Communists in control of a severely shortened political spectrum.
• Once their rivals were weakened, the Communists eliminated them in Stage Six. Most other
parties were banned outright or forced to merge with the Communist Party.
• In Stage Seven, the Communists neutralized non-political alternative organizations like
labor unions and the Catholic Church. Key leaders were arrested or murdered, and
independent activity by many groups became illegal.
• In Stage Eight, a few Party leaders achieved dictatorial control by purging the Communist
Party itself of rivals, critics and advocates of alternative positions.

To carry out such a program, it was not necessary for the Communists to invent new means of
political intimidation or control. Authoritarianism was not a novelty in the Balkan states. Mayors,
teachers and policemen were typically appointed from the top and kept their jobs by obeying
orders. Thanks to Russian influence, traditional tools of the state that had for so long been used
against Communists could now work for them. Electoral fraud was also habitual: without secret
ballots, voters could be intimidated, results manufactured and potential rivals blacklisted. As in the
past, opposition newspapers were censored or shut down. The familiarity of such acts of political
repression lessened resistance among a population with low expectations.

It is possible to see all eight stages as we look at Hungary, but keep in mind that this eight-stage
process is a construction of later analysts. Processes of this kind were going on simultaneously all
over the Balkans: similar conditions led to similar results. They are not necessarily signs that
Hungarian Communists followed a blueprint, or knew what they would do next: in fact, closer
examination of each stage shows much tentative action and frequent mistakes.

Stages One and Two took place in 1944, when Hungary was overrun by the Red Army. There was
no immediate move toward a Communist monopoly in domestic politics. Civil servants remained in
office and parties that had not collaborated with the Nazis remained active. The Communists joined
a broad front coalition (Stage Three). Overestimating their appeal, the Communists ran in the Fall
1945 elections on a platform of free elections, free enterprise and free speech. In free, fair elections
voters gave 57 percent of the vote to the Smallholders Party, and only 17 percent to the
Communists. The Communists secured some cabinet seats only because they belonged to the multi-
party National Independence Front.

After this rebuff the party pursued a more aggressive course. The Russians demanded that the new
coalition government give the Communists control of the Interior Ministry with its crucial control of
the police (Stage Four). This step allowed arrests of moderate politicians to begin (Stage Five).
Hungary meanwhile declined an invitation to join the Marshall Plan, in favor of a Soviet-style Three
Year Plan. There was another round of elections in 1947: the Communists again received an
embarassingly low 22 percent of the vote despite official harassment of other parties. Under
Communist pressure, the parliament then suspended itself for a year while granting full executive
freedom to the state apparatus. The Social Democratic Party was dissolved into the Communist
Party (Stage Six). When more elections too place in 1949, 96 percent of the voters dutifully voted
for the Communists. The regime then moved to a full command economy with collectivization of
farms and central planning for all economic decisions, and the state displaced the Catholic Church in
running the schools (Stage Seven).
Once in power, the Hungarian Communist Party experienced a round of purges in the late 1940s,
mimicking similar purges in the USSR and other Eastern European countries. In Hungary, the
victorious faction (led by Matyas Rakosi) consisted of Communists with ties to Moscow who had
spent the war years in exile. The losers, on the other hand, typically had spent the war years
underground in Hungary. 150,000 people went to jail and 2,000 were executed. The victors were
taking their cues from Stalin; the losers were paying more attention to local conditions, even if they
applied hard-line Communist principles to solutions. The latter group was more concerned with the
economic and social costs of rapid collectivization, for example, and more likely as a result to argue
for local decision-making.

The purges themselves show that authoritarian control was far advanced, but a closer look at the
situation also illuminates the significant divisions to be found within the Communist ranks. While
Stalin's hand determined the outcome, the specific details of Hungarian history in the late 1940s
reflected local conditions and actions by local leaders.

The Tito-Stalin split of 1948

In the clash between orthodox Stalinists and heterodox "deviationists," the archetypal "deviationist"
was the Yugoslav leader Tito. His path to power was rooted in local loyalties, his use of federalism
reflected sensitivity to past problems and he believed himself more qualified than anyone in Moscow
to direct the destiny of Communist Yugoslavia. It is not surprising that Tito was soon targeted for
elimination by Stalin; it is surprising to learn that he survived. In examining Yugoslavia, it is harder
to pick out the eight stages in the traditional model: Tito's route to power followed a different

Post-war conditions in Yugoslavia (and also in Albania) departed from the East European norm in
some crucial ways. The Yugoslav Partisans took power on the basis of their own wartime strength:
they had no need for direct Soviet assistance. By 1945 the Partisans had 300,000 men and women
under arms and enjoyed significant popular support. They had united much of the population
against fascism, addressed issues of national self-determination by espousing an ideology of
federalism, and demonstrated their effectiveness through a network of local committees all over the

By administering areas under their control, the Partisans had gone a long way toward building a
Communist state even before the end of the war. In November 1943 the Partisan central committee
declared itself to be the new government of Yugoslavia. The royal family was far away. The anti-
Communist Chetnik forces were discredited by collaboration, defeated in the field and disarmed in
1945; many were imprisoned or killed, others went into exile.

In the first years of the post-war era, Yugoslavia followed a hard line against the Western
democracies. Force was required to push Yugoslav troops out of the Italian city of Trieste, Yugoslav
forces shot down several American airplanes and Tito supplied arms to the Greek insurgents in the
late 1940s. The Cominform, a revived version of the old Comintern, established its headquarters in
Belgrade: this decision by Stalin was both a sign of honor and a device to place Russian agents
inside Yugoslavia.

Yugoslav-Russian mistrust was present from the beginning. Russia was unable to give material aid
to the Partisans until the last days of the war when Russian units briefly entered Serbia to drive the
Germans out of Belgrade. Tito came to power on his own with no debt to Stalin or and no Russian
troops on hand. The brief passage of the Red Army through the country created tension because of
numerous thefts and rapes. When Russian political and economic experts arrrived to set up joint
enterprises (a device by which Russian participation in local industries usually led to Russian control
of the product) Yugoslavs criticized the results as economic exploitation and political meddling. Tito
also had an ego to match Stalin's.

Stalin had no wish to treat Tito as his equal or allow him to become the leader of a Communist
Balkan federation, a plan advanced by Tito. In February 1948, Stalin proposed his own plan for a
federation joining Bulgaria and Yugoslavia: he insisted that both states submit future foreign policy
initiatives for Russian approval. When Tito responded with complaints about Russian activity, Stalin
recalled all Russian advisors in March 1948. Critical comments by Stalin were a clear invitation to
opportunists in the Yugoslav Communist Party to overthrow Tito, but nothing of the sort happened.
The strength of "deviationists" like Tito was their knowledge of local conditions and how to reap the
benefits. Tito had a sure grip on his own party and Stalin's critique fell on deaf ears.

Yugoslavia presented unique obstacles for any Russian intervention. Thanks to Yugoslavia's
geographic remoteness, Moscow never planned an invasion. The adjacent Western world could
contribute aid in ways that were not possible for states like Romania or even Hungary, which shared
no borders with Free World nations (Austria being neutral and under partial Russian occupation at
this time). By combining ongoing criticism of Stalin with an effective search for Western economic
and political support, Tito found enough Western loans and contracts to escape Russian control.

Yugoslavia thus emerged from the crisis of 1948 in a favorable position, balanced between East and
West and wooed by both. Tito's regime was clearly a Communist one but it was also clearly not a
Soviet satellite in the simplistic sense. The Yugoslav case presents some of the strongest evidence
about what was required for Balkan states to escape Russian control, and in doing so, sheds light on
which factors were most important in states that did become satellites.

The Hungarian Revolution, 1956

By 1948, the main outlines of Balkan Cold War geography were in place. Greece was solidly in the
Western camp and joined NATO in 1952 (as did Turkey, a war-time neutral). Yugoslavia was
Communist but resisting Russian control. So was Albania thanks to its geographic remoteness (by
1961 the Albanians formally split with the USSR and allied with Communist China). Local
Communists ran Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, backed up by Russian troops.

Outside the Balkan region, the USSR and the US were building opposing economic and political
structures. In 1947, the Western Europe states, Greece, and Turkey accepted American economic
aid under the Marshall Plan. The United States established the NATO alliance in 1949: Greece and
Turkey became members in 1952. The Soviet Union in turn created the Council for Mutual Economic
Assistance (known as CEMA or Comecon) in 1949, and the military Warsaw Pact or Warsaw Treaty
Organization in 1955. All of the Balkan states were members, except for Greece and Turkey, and
outcast Yugoslavia (while Albania gradually ceased to be an active member).

Despite the hardening division into Cold War camps, the example of Yugoslavia implied that some
possibility for disengagement or neutrality might remain. The death of Stalin in 1953 brought Nikita
Khrushchev to power in Russia, and with him a policy of de-Stalinization. In February 1956,
Khrushchev denounced Stalin at the Twentieth Party Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, and
then made overtures to Tito. In the interest of domestic stability and improved economic
performance, the Russians promoted a climate of experimentation, reform and change. However,
there were in fact limits beyond which no East European Communist state would be allowed to go:
those limits were made clear by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

After 1948, Matyas Rakosi held the top posts in both the Hungarian Communist Party and the state.
An orthodox Stalinist, Rakosi imposed collectivized agriculture and a program of heavy industry: his
dictatorship combined personal repression with economic misery. Following Khrushchev's lead,
Rakosi gave up his political office as premier in 1953: he was replaced by Imre Nagy, a moderate
who had been purged but not executed in the late '40s for opposing the rapid pace of

Nagy's "New Course" aimed to reverse some collectivization, increase the flow of consumer goods,
reduce centralization in the economy and permit a few personal liberties, including religious
toleration and amnesty for survivors of past purges. Rakosi was able to block most of the reforms;
by 1955, Nagy was forced from office and thrown out of the Communist Party.

Rakosi's reimposition of orthodox Stalinism was heavily criticized by intellectuals. In the belief that
Rakosi and not his policies was the cause of discontent, the Soviets forced Rakosi to retire as party
chief in July 1956 and replaced him with another Stalinist, Ernst Gero. The change backfired:
instead of quieting complaints by Hungarians, it encouraged them to even more criticism. By
October 1956, workers were joining students in demonstrations for the return of Nagy, economic
reforms, freedom of the press, the right to strike, multi-party elections and the departure of Russian
occupation forces. When the Hungarian army refused to back the police against the demonstrators,
the Party leadership tried to retain control by bringing back Nagy as premier and replacing Gero as
party chief with Janos Kadar.

There was no immediate Soviet condemnation of these reformist steps, and this fact fooled many
into believing that Hungary could go farther and break its ties with the Warsaw Pact. Kadar and
Nagy soon were caught between popular demands and Russian security concerns. Nagy finally
opted for revolution, in search of a multi-party state and neutrality (more or less the situation
recently achieved by Austria). Kadar on the other hand asked for Russian intervention. In early
November Russian tanks reimposed Communist rule with brutal force. Nagy was executed in 1958
and many Hungarians fled to the West.

After 1956, there were no major changes in the Cold War division of the region or in the political
options available to the Balkan peoples for more than 30 years. Events in Hungary showed that
Communism was not always monolithic, that wide differences were possible in domestic policy. On
the other hand, 1956 also established two clear limits on reform: no challenge to monopoly
Communist Party control at home, and no challenge to Soviet military security on the world stage.
Tito's escape proved to be an exception based on Yugoslavia's unique history and geography.


Can we answer our four questions on the basis of these episodes?

1. When does the Cold War begin?

2. Are the events of the Cold War best viewed from a global or a local perspective?
3. Did Balkan leaders retain any significant freedom of action?
4. Can we assign blame for the Cold War to one side or the other, East or West?

First, evidence from the Balkans shows that the Cold War "began" over an extended period, as local
and global governments came to terms with evolving conditions. There was no blueprint drawn up
in 1917 or even in 1945, and Cold War clashes took place at different times in different states.

Second, Balkan events support analyses of the Cold War that start with specific, unique, local
events that took place across the Balkan region (or for that matter, across the world in other Cold
War arenas). Too much is overlooked by the traditional, simplified view that begins at the top by
examining events in Moscow and Washington, then selectively samples historic events and
emphasize those that agree with sweeping generalizations. Such an approach is apt to ignore
awkward discrepancies such as British activity in Greece or Tito's successful deviation, because
those developments undercut the conclusions.

Third, were the Balkan states doomed to fall under Russian control? Once we know something about
the actual events, the question itself has to be substantially revised, because only three of six
Balkan states became Russian "satellites" in the traditional sense. A closer examination of Cold War-
era politics in most of the Balkan states makes it even harder to accept such generalizations, as
Lectures 22 and 23 will show. Nothing in history is fore-ordained. On the other hand, the same
forces that put the Balkan states under the influence of larger powers in the nineteenth century
were at work in the middle of the twentieth, so that Russian control was hardly surprising.

Fourth, can we assign "blame" for the Cold War? Anyone studying Communist tactics in the period
1944-48 will find plenty of blameworthy behavior. On the other hand, there is scope to criticize the
actions of Great Britain (and later the United States) as well: as is usually the case with Great
Powers, the Cold War rivals pursued their own interests first and foremost while local states paid
the price. In any case, assigning blame is more of a parlor game than a historical exercise: the
historian is better off trying to explain the factors responsible for decisions on both sides.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 22: Balkan politics in the Cold War years

Lecture 21 criticized conventional, stereotypical views of the origin of the Cold War on two grounds.
First: that those views substitute conclusions for questions, then tend to overlook important facts
that don't support those conclusions. Second: that those views trivialize or ignore Balkan historical
events by subordinating them to studies of decisions made in Moscow and Washington.

One can make a similar critique of conventional histories of the Cold War era as a whole. It is not
that these books say something incorrect about the Balkans, but rather that they say nothing at all.
Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary vanish into the Russian maw in 1945 or perhaps 1948 never to be
seen again (except in the pages of some very recent books, which see them reemerge in 1989
apparently untouched). Colorful Bulgarians occasionally pass across the stage on their way to
assassinate the Pope or murder some dissidents using poisoned umbrellas. For the rest, silence.

Whatever their value as histories of the Cold War of the Super-Powers, such books obviously are
useless as histories of the Balkans during the last fifty years: they ignore too much. Despite "free
world" concerns about "captive nations," much of Western scholarship exhibits a massive
indifference to the lives of the inhabitants of the Balkans. By placing full blame for the Cold War on
the Russians, Western writers also condescend to Balkan leaders, absolving them from both
responsibility and authority for events from 1945 to the present. These views have been blind as
well to profound variations in Balkan political and economic life, and have created inaccurate
impressions of bland uniformity. We snicker at the image of Woodrow Wilson fumbling to find
Romania on a map in 1918, but it should come as no surprise that too many leaders today are still
clueless about the Balkans and how to solve problems there.

Greece suffers a curious and related fate. Having escaped from Communist control, Greece next
escapes from geography as well and ceases to be a part of the Balkans at all. In too many texts on
"Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century," after World War II the region ends at Greece's northern
border despite the historic roots shared by all the Balkan states from 1453 to 1945. Conventional
histories of the Cold War find Greek affairs too complicated and complicating to digest and instead
ignore them, apparently on the grounds that Greece joined NATO.

In fact, this approach reflects the deeply subjective nature of too much Balkan history, and the
continued influence of "Balkanism" in historical writing. If our comprehension of the Balkans derives
primarily from self-referential "dualisms" (West = good / East = bad) then a free, pro-American,
capitalist Greece can no longer fit into our concept of a backward Balkan region; and this is only one

This lecture goes out of its way to counteract such impressions, by stating or even overstating a
contrary analysis of Balkan history during the bi-polar era of the Cold War. In other words, it
highlights those developments that most obviously fly in the face of conventional, shallow
impressions about the Balkans since World War II. For illustrative examples, we can look to Greece,
Yugoslavia and Romania.


Beginning with the history of Greece, we find a revival of traditional political patterns after the war.
Many post-1945 events might well have taken place with or without the backdrop of the global
Western clash with Communism.

American leaders hoped and expected that Greek history in the Cold War years would follow a
simple script like this: parliamentary democracy at home, economic development based on Marshall
Plan aid, solidarity with NATO partners in foreign policy. Such an approach focussed too much on
the distant enemy in Moscow and concerned itself too little with local and persistent Greek
concerns. By ignoring old patterns of Greek political behavior, such a stance allowed them to
become important even though such trends threatened to interfere with the preferred scenario.

Until 1949, it was easy for Greece's non-Communist political leaders to work together in the
domestic political arena. Until the defeat of the Communist insurgents in the Greek Civil War of
1947-49, the King and the army shared a common enemy: the same Leftist elements against whom
they had been fighting since their wartime confrontations with EAM-ELAS, or even earlier. Greek
anti-Communist politics in the 1940s were easily reconciled with American interests in the region.

However, after the Communist threat waned, so too did unity of purpose. In domestic politics,
longstanding tensions between republicans in the army and the royal family reemerged. This is a
theme not explained easily by an analysis based in a simple bi-polar view of Cold War Balkan
affairs. In foreign affairs, Greece had its most serious conflicts after 1949 not with its Communist
neighbors, but with its nominal NATO ally, Turkey. Again, this was a trend easily explained by
reference to history, but hard to reconcile with Cold War assumptions.

The united front with Turkey was one of the first casualties of the reemergence of pre-Cold War
themes. To understand Greece's relations with Turkey, we have to spend a few moments looking at
the island of Cyprus. Cyprus is not part of the Balkans, but its history has often followed parallel
paths. The island was part of the Byzantine Empire, then fell under the control of the Franks, the
Venetians and finally the Ottoman Turks. In 1878 it was annexed by Great Britain. In the 1950s, the
island had a Greek population of 430,000, who made up the last concentrated body of Greeks living
outside of Greece. The island also had a Turkish population of 95,000.

In 1954, Greece proposed the union ("enosis") of the island with the Greek state but the British
refused to allow it. A guerilla group called EOKA (the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters) then
began a campaign of civil disobedience and political violence on the island in an effort to drive out
the British. EOKA was led by George Grivas, a Cypriot-born former Greek army general identified
with the anti-Communist forces in Greece during and after World War II. In 1955 a bomb exploded
at the Turkish consulate in Salonika. This sparked anti-Greek riots in Istanbul and Izmir, and Turkey
called for partitioning the island to safeguard the rights of the Turkish minority there. Instead
,Britain granted the island its independence in 1959.

An independent Cyprus was acceptable to Archbishop Makarios III, an Orthodox cleric who was the
leader of the Greek community, but not to Grivas or to nationalists in Athens. In 1963, a crisis
broke out over the proportion of Greeks and Turks in the Cypriot parliament, in the police and in the
bureaucracy, and led to inter-ethnic violence. A United Nations peace-keeping force was inserted to
forestall a Turkish invasion. Both Greece and Turkey resorted to military threats, but neither side
was willing to engage in an actual war.

In the 1960s, tensions over Cyprus dove-tailed with Greek domestic political problems. Post-war
politics had become a complicated three-way affair, in which George Papandreou's Center Union
party balanced between the pro-Communist United Democratic Left and Konstantin Karamanlis'
right-wing National Radical Union. When Papandreou and the center regime failed to pursue
"enosis" with Cyprus, a group of middle-level Army officers (known as "the Colonels") seized power
in a coup in April 1967. When the king attempted a counter-coup in December he was driven into
exile by the junta.

The military regime of Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos claimed to be inspired by anti-Communism,

but three mainstays of traditional Greek politics were clearly more important: irredentism and the
Megale Idea (this time aimed at Cyprus); anti-royalist sentiments among rising elements of society
(in which we see the legacy of Venizelism); and intervention by the military in civilian politics (a
theme since the 1909 coup).

The dictatorship of the colonels lasted until 1973 when the OPEC oil embargo led to an economic
crisis. Papadopoulos responded to unrest among students and in the navy by proclaiming a republic,
but was soon displaced himself by other officers. At the same time, the junta tried to shift the focus
of popular discontent away from its own domestic situation by inciting international frictions over
Cyprus. In July 1974, the Athens regime, EOKA and Greek officers acting inside the Cypriot military
engineered a coup against Makarios, who was now President of Cyprus. The coup backfired: instead
of enosis, the crisis led to a Turkish invasion of the island. Throughout the previous twenty years,
the two sides had been too evenly matched for either to take such a risk, but at this time the Turks
gauged Greek weakness and division accurately.
The Turkish invasion completely discredited the Athens military regime. The army repudiated the
junta and civilian rule was restored. This did not lead to a restoration of the status quo on Cyprus,
however. Following a de facto partition, the Turkish zone along the north coast constituted itself as
a separate state. The "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus" (with 37% of the island's area and 18%
of the population) remains a source of friction between Greece and Turkey.

The Greek political landscape after 1974 continued to move along paths unconnected to bi-polar
Cold War patterns. Greek voters refused to return to political models based on the 1940s. A
plebiscite rejected a restoration of the monarchy. In place of the old three-sided political party
landscape, elections after 1974 revolved around the rise to power of PASOK, the "Panhellenic
Socialist Movement" led by Andreas Papandreou (son of the long-time Liberal and Venizelist figure
Georgios Papandreou).

Based in elements that had resisted the junta, PASOK combined socialist rhetoric and populist
economic promises with an anti-Turkish nationalism. Because the United States failed to support
Greece during the Cyprus affair, PASOK was anti-American as well. In the 1981 elections, PASOK
became the largest Greek party and Papandreou became Prime Minister, a post he held until 1989.
While PASOK did not follow through on threats to leave NATO, Greece did stop participating in NATO
planning and there were frequent border clashes with Turkish forces. Papandreou also broke with
the Western bloc by supporting General Wojciech Jaruzelski's military government in Poland (which
repressed the Solidarity union in the early '80s) and in general sought international neutrality.

These examples show why it is hard to explain Greek politics in the Cold War era in terms of the
Soviet-American confrontation. Traditional issues -- irredenta, the role of the monarchy, economic
development -- remained important. At the same time, Greece's independent course is the best
evidence of Greece's secure position among the nations of the "Free World."

Soviet satellites

Many conventional views of post-war Balkan history omit Greece, precisely because it's "Free World"
status allowed Greece to pursue policies that defied American preferences. By extension,
conventional treatments of the Soviet "satellites" assume that the Socialist states of Eastern Europe
and the Balkans acted within the most limited confines in their domestic and international policies.
Certainly the events of 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia show how far the Russians
were willing to go to retain their dominant position in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, Balkan leaders
often managed to pursue local and national interests, and the resulting variety of policies and
trends is overlooked in stereotypical histories.

"Ideal" Communist satellites would have trimmed their domestic and international politics to suit
Russian needs and wishes. In reality, the Russians constantly struggled to keep the Balkan states in
line. The Russian achievement is better described as preventing Balkan disobedience, than
achieving real unity of purpose.

Soviet Russia had far greater economic and military resources than did the satellites, but this did
not guarantee complete control by Moscow. The Russian economy often needed help from its
partners: one can point to Russian confiscation of machinery and rail stock in 1945, and the
numerous joint enterprises that funneled needed resources from the Balkans to Soviet factories.

In the immediate post-war years, it was Russia's military presence that guaranteed "loyalty."
However, military influence had its limits: for example, nuclear weapons were useless as practical
tools to control unruly allies. To police the Eastern Bloc, Moscow tried to use the forces of the Bloc
itself, harnessed through the Warsaw Pact. Nominally an alliance against Western enemies, its two
most important campaigns were aimed against dissidents inside the Pact itself. Even in these cases,
Moscow placed little trust in satellite troops: Russian troops did the hard work. Only Russian forces
took part in the invasion of Hungary in 1956. During the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in
1968, Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria sent token forces, perhaps five divisions in all:
the lion's share fell to 23 Russian divisions. Romania not only refused to take part in the 1968
invasion, but denounced what the Russians were doing; so did Yugoslavia and Albania.
The Balkan states got away with a great deal of disobedience because the Russians simply lacked
the economic resources, military strength and will power to keep a constant tight grip on the Balkan
states. Compared to Poland and East Germany, the Balkan region was less likely to be a decisive
theater in any confrontation with NATO. Thus the Russian military presence in the area was lighter
than casual observers might suppose.

In some parts of the Balkans, overt Russian occupation ended early in the Cold War. Red Army units
never reached Albania, and the Red Army merely passed through Yugoslavia in 1944, never to
return. The Red Army left Bulgaria in 1947. By 1949, there were only 6 Russian divisions in all of
Hungary, Romania and Austria. Russian troops left Austria after it became a neutral state in 1955,
and left Romania in 1958. Thereafter, Hungary was the only Balkan state with a Russian garrison:
having arrived in force in 1956, Russian troops remained there until 1991.

The Balkan problem for the Russians can be summed up in this phrase: "national roads to
Communism." Russia could help Communist Parties seize power during the 1940s, and keep them in
power under the "Brezhnev Doctrine" in the 1960s, but it could not eliminate the impact of local
national interests on those socialist regimes.

Disputes over "national roads to Communism" began as soon as the post-war Communist regimes
were established. Communist ideas had contradictory implications when applied to so many new
states. Communism was always willing to claim ties with "the people" and exploit nationalism:
during World War II, loyalty to the Soviet Union and Russian patriotism were combined to great
practical effect. So long as Russia was the world's only Communist state, there was little friction
between Communist and nationalist priorities. The addition of half-a-dozen new "people's
democracies" by 1948 created new problems. These Communist regimes had competing claims to
ideological correctness, spoke on behalf of separate popular interests, and fought among
themselves over policies that reflected inescapable national priorities.


This problem of "national communism" came into play in 1948 when Yugoslavia became the first
Communist state to break with Russia. In the immediate post-war years Tito had followed
exuberant policies of his own making. He confronted the Western powers over claims to the port
city of Trieste and border regions on the Slovene-Austrian border; tried to build a Yugoslav-led
Balkan federation through a system of bi-lateral treaties with neighboring states; planned a virtual
protectorate over Albania by means of a common currency and joint economic enterprises; and
asked the Russians to pay for rapid industrial expansion and agricultural improvements for

Stalin blocked Tito's plans, citing the need for a post-war period of recovery, but in fact Stalin
expected Communist Yugoslavia to subordinate itself completely to the needs of the Soviet Union.
Tito on the other hand placed Yugoslav needs first (at least those needs expressed by the Yugoslav
Communist Party). Having survived the Germans and defeated the Chetniks, the Yugoslav
Communists had no intention of subordinating themselves to the Russians. Tito saw himself as
Stalin's equal: he headed a self-confident party that had won a war, and he expected to be treated
as a partner and not a puppet.

Stalin tried and failed to recapture the Yugoslav Party through an anti-Tito purge: thereafter Tito
took Yugoslavia on its own course. To silence internal critics, Tito pursued orthodox Stalinist policies
for several years: aggressive collectivization of farms, heavy industry and a command economy,
tightened control over Party members. However, by 1952 imaginative and unprecedented
experiments replaced these doctrinaire policies.

Communist ideology said that the state would some day wither away. In 1952 Tito predicted that
the Communist Party of Yugoslavia would itself "wither away" and took a first step by changing the
name of the party to the League of Communists, barring party secretaries from political
appointments, and reducing control from the top. Related measures followed in the economy. The
central planned economy was replaced by "workers' management councils" that gave groups of
employees the authority to make economic decisions for their own enterprises. Each factory or farm
set its own production targets and decided how to invest for future growth: wages were tied to
factory profits and some unprofitable enterprises were allowed to fail.

Limits remained on political expression: Tito's wartime associate Milovan Djilas was expelled from
the party in 1954 and jailed for going too far in his book The New Class, his critique of Communism.
Nevertheless, the Yugoslav "road to socialism" was nothing like that proposed by the Soviet Union.

Yugoslav development was assisted by Western aid from the United States and the World Bank. In
1954 Yugoslavia signed a Balkan Pact for mutual self-defense with Greece and Turkey (both by then
members of NATO).

Yet Yugoslavia avoided sliding into the Western camp. At first, Tito kept his independence by
maintaining ties with both the West and Khrushchev's de-Stalinized Russia. Beginning in the middle
1950s Tito used his so-called "Policy of Nonalignment" to find support outside either Cold War camp.
Visiting nations from Egypt to Indonesia, Tito assembled a "third force" made up of neutral states
that shared fears of Cold War threats to peace and Super-Power domination. The idea of collective
small state influence attracted important supporters such as Nasser of Egypt and Nehru of India,
and 23 countries attended the First Conference of Nonaligned Nations in Belgrade in 1961. The
expansion of trade among the nonaligned states added economic support to political mutual aid.

The result was a Yugoslav state that had a Communist regime but was not a Soviet satellite; a
socialist economy but not a command economy; and a distinctive but influential foreign policy of
neutrality, in which the Cold War itself rather than either Super-Power was defined as the enemy.


Romania offers a contrasting example of a "national Communism" that resisted Russian influence.
The Soviet Union was firmly in control of the country at the end of the war. By the end of 1947 the
Communist Party had eliminated its rivals, including the King (sent into exile). At the same time,
Romania retained its traditional mistrust of foreign influences and of Russian power in particular.

The first steps in Romania's move away from Soviet domination ironically derived from the Tito-
Stalin split of 1948. Party leader Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej used the crisis to purge all potential
opponents out of the renamed "Romanian Workers Party." Even as Gheorgiu-Dej joined Russian
attacks on the Yugoslav "national road to socialism," he was positioning Romania to take its own
road while Russia was distracted by Tito.

Where Tito defined himself by being more flexible than the Soviets, Gheorgiu-Dej took the opposite
tack. During the 1950s Romanian national identity was submerged under a cult of things Russian.
The leading figures of Romanian literature, history and culture were censored and suppressed, and
Russian language and literature studies flourished under state sponsorship. Romanian history books
were rewritten to emphasize Slavic influences and Romanian scientists credited Russians with
extravagant claims. Russian became a required course in all schools in 1948, and in 1953 a spelling
reform removed elements from the language that were too clearly Roman or Latin in origin.

The death of Stalin introduced strains in the Russian-Romanian relationship. Gheorgiu-Dej rejected
Khrushchev's de-Stalinization policies, in part to prevent Khrushchev from installing his own allies in
positions of power in Romania. At a time when Russian leaders were being required to choose
between party and government posts, Gheorgiu-Dej designated himself as prime minister as well as
party first secretary. As early as 1955, Romanian Communists were speaking of a separate
Romanian road to socialism, code words for reduced Soviet Russian influence. At the same time,
Gheorgiu-Dej supported Russian intervention in Hungary and Poland in 1956, and his superficial
loyalty led to the departure of the last Russian troops in 1958.

No sooner had the Red Army left the country than Romania approached the West for new economic
supports. Krushchev's reorganization of Comecon in 1955 had already created friction: under that
plan, each country would devote its economy to what it did best, and Romania was identified as a
source of cereal grains. Romanian leaders rejected becoming an agricultural breadbasket whose
output would feed workers in industrializing Communist states like Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Romania preferred to pursue economic self-sufficiency. In 1956 the last joint Russian-Romanian
enterprise closed, and by 1957 other socialist states were complaining about Romanian

Western loans and contracts helped neutralize Russian influence. The Western share of goods
entering Romania doubled, from 21 percent in 1958 to 40 percent in 1965; Russia's share fell from
53 percent to 38 percent in the same period. Russian cultural centers closed, and streets and
institutions named for Russian heroes were renamed. The Soviet-Chinese split of 1960 created
another opportunity to widen the gulf between Moscow and Bucharest. By criticizing Khrushchev's
interpretation of the dispute, Gheorgiu-Dej achieved three things. Abroad, he attracted support
from Russia's rivals, both the West and Communist China. At home, he could portray himself as the
advocate of a Romanian national Communism that kept the Russians at arms length. Finally, his
popularity reduced the scope for objections from his allies both at home and abroad, while he
retained a Stalinist grip over the country's society and economy.

Gheorgiu-Dej died in 1965 and was succeeded by his protege Nicola Ceausescu, who continued his
policies. In 1971 Ceausescu visited China, where he was deeply impressed by Mao Tse-tung's
personal prominence in national life and his harsh treatment of dissidents. Back in Romania,
Ceausescu soon attacked potential sources of opposition. An autonomous region for the Hungarian
minority in Transylvania was abolished in 1968. In 1974 Ceausescu assumed the office of President
as well as party chief. Rivals in the party were replaced, often with members of Ceausescu's family.
This "dynastic socialism" included government appointments for his wife Elena, his son, his three
brothers and his brother-in-law. Ceausescu also fostered a "cult of personality" around himself. His
birthday became a national holiday and pilgrims visited his boyhood home. He was credited with
mastery of all fields of learning, from philosophy to physics.

Despite economic problems and human rights abuses, Ceausescu remained the darling of the West
because of his defiance of Moscow. In 1967, Romania broke ranks with the Warsaw Pact and
recognized West Germany, and refused to sever relations with Israel after the Six-Day War. In 1968
Ceausescu praised Aleksandr Dubcek's reformed Czechoslovakia, and refused to join the Russian-
led invasion that ended the Prague Spring. State visits by Charles de Gaulle and Richard Nixon
signalled Western appreciation.

Important economic aid soon followed. Romania joined the World Bank and the General Agreement
on Tariffs and Trade in 1971, and the International Monetary Fund in 1972. The United States
granted "most favored nation" trade rights in 1972, and the Common Market opened special ties
with Romania in 1973. Russia's share of Romania's foreign trade fell from 39 percent in 1965 to 16
percent in 1974.

Ceausescu excelled at superficial, symbolic acts of independence. He criticized the 1979 Russian
invasion of Afghanistan, and Romania was the only East Bloc state to participate in the 1984 Los
Angeles Olympics. However, these acts could not mask growing problems in Romanian society. In
the 1980s, the West began to criticize the regime's human rights abuses and the economy began to
collapse, a trend that culminated in the 1989 Revolution examined in Lecture 24.

In the 1970s, however, Romania's future options looked bright. The regime exercised significant
options outside Russian control and often in opposition to Russian wishes. This achievement is all
the more remarkable given the country's position adjacent to the USSR, a disadvantage not
suffered by Yugoslavia. Once more, views of the Balkan states as mere clients in a bi-polar Cold
War environment fail to explain observed facts. Traditional Romanian themes, including both
authoritarianism in government and resistance to Russian influence, were clearly at work.


The global Cold War brought new factors into play for the Balkan nations but could not make local
problems, traditions and rivalries disappear. Just as nationalism and modernization took on specific
Balkan attributes determined by local conditions in the nineteenth century, so too was Communism
affected by underlying Balkan factors after 1945. Events since 1989 offer further evidence that
Communism could not expunge competing traditions in the region. It is possible in retrospect to see
revealing signs of continuity in Balkan political life before, during and after the Cold War era. For an
understanding of the Balkans, analyses based on local events are both more informative and more
interesting than sweeping generalizations about the Cold War.
Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 23: Social and economic change in the Balkans

Significant changes from longstanding norms are easier to find in the area of Balkan socio-economic
development than in the world of politics. No matter how discouraging the repetition of Balkan
crises and nationalist enthusiasms appears, one must remember that the inhabitants of the Balkans
today [in 1995] have access to better food, transportation, industries, health and personal goods
than at any time in their history. There is room to hope that the satisfaction of basic human needs
and wants can help blunt political discord.

We can measure socio-economic progress in several ways. One is to compare contemporary

achievements against historical statistics. Another is to compare production figures among the
Balkan states themselves: when we do so, we can cautiously draw comparisons between change in
the various socialist states and change in Greece, which went through a totally different "Free
World" experience during the forty years of the Cold War. Finally, we can look for signs of
fundamental change in social structures and practices. There are few more striking measures of
social change in the Balkans than changes in the status of women. This lecture will spend some time
on each of these three topics.

Two questions can help us assess the degree of social and economic change in the Balkans since

• First, have changes in industry and agriculture had a real effect on persistent problems:
rural poverty, poor health, industrial weakness and economic dependency?
• Second, did the socialist states achieve more or less than Free World Greece during the era
of the Cold War?

Scholars' observations and statistical comparisons can help us decide.

Socialist industrical development

World War II in the Balkans left 3.5 million people dead and destroyed perhaps half of all farms and
industries. In the Soviet states, national economic recovery was guided by Communist ideological
preferences for heavy industry, and by Russian efforts to build a unified regional economy to
support socialism but especially to support the needs of the post-war Russian economy. With the
coming of Communism, each state followed the Soviet pattern: nationalization of major enterprises,
state direction of investment and production through a series of Five-Year Plans, emphasis on heavy
industry and collectivization of agriculture. Pre-Communist trends often paved the way for these

In Bulgaria, financial institutions had already been nationalized during the war: this step made it
easy for the new Communist regime to take control of banking and credit. In December 1947
Communist Party operatives entered 6,000 private businesses simultaneously and announced their
nationalization. Even small firms were included: the average plant had only 23 employees. Most
available capital and labor was directed to electric power stations and steel, cement and chemical
plants. In the decade 1948-58 Bulgaria's economy was transformed: the industrial labor force more
than doubled in size with most of the growth occuring in heavy industry.

De-Stalinization and awareness of economic problems led to modifications in Bulgaria after the
middle '50s. The Third Five-Year Plan (which actually lasted from 1958-60) addressed shortfalls in
production and high rates of urban unemployment among rural workers who hd been displaced by
collectivization of agriculture. Compared to 1948, industry's share in the economy had risen from 23
percent to 48 percent by 1960; the role of farming was reduced by half.
In Hungary, state control became state ownership as mines, then steel works, and then power
plants were nationalized. By the end of 1946, 46 percent of labor worked in state-run plants. The
major banks followed in 1947. In 1948 all enterprises with more than 100 employees were
nationalized, amounting to 83 percent of all industrial jobs. After 1947, heavy industry got the
greatest attention under joint enterprises suiting Russian needs. Excess demands on the workforce
and shortfalls of needed goods were one cause of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

After 1956, the restored Hungarian Communist government tried to use exports within Comecon
(the East Bloc economic community) to improve its economic situation. When this proved
insufficient, the Party leadership introduced a sweeping reform in the 1960s, known as the New
Economic Mechanism. In 1968, central planning was replaced by limited autonomy for enterprises
and recognition of market forces in setting prices. To bring in hard currency, the state invested in
higher quality exports such as clothing, furniture and microelectronics. Half of Hungary's trade came
to be with the West. The state also permitted an increased role for private firms. By 1986, officially
sanctioned private firms accounted for 7 percent of national production, and the unofficial "Third
Economy" was estimated to account for 16 percent of production.

Romania, on the other hand, continued to embrace central planning. By 1965 production of metals
was five times its 1948 level, and tripled again between 1965 and 1980. The urban population, only
23 percent of the total in 1948, rose to 41 percent in 1970 and 51 percent in 1987. To extend
modernization, an unpopular program began building new cities in selected rural areas in 1974: this
involved the destruction of thousands of villages and resettlement of their inhabitants in sterile new
industrial towns. In the 1960s Romania tried to build economic bridges to the West and borrowed
heavily from Western banks. To repay a massive $13 billion debt, most of Romania's consumer
goods and foodstuffs had to be exported after 1976, placing terrible burdens on the population.

Yugoslavia followed its own path. In the middle '50s, worker self-management teams began setting
their own investment and production goals. To pursue economic self-sufficiency and Western trade,
Tito built a diversified economy producing fertilizer, petroleum, plastics, food processing, textiles
and similar light industrial goods. The absence of central planning also led to uneven industrial
growth from region to region. The northern and western republics, Croatia and Slovenia, ended up
with superior industrial resources and this created disparities in wealth. In 1986, real income for
Slovenes was 124 percent of the national average; that of Macedonians was 80 percent.
Unemployment was 2 percent in Slovenia and 8 percent in Croatia, but 18 percent in Serbia and 27
percent in Macedonia. Residents of the southern regions resented the wealth of those in the north;
residents in the north resented paying taxes to subsidize social assistance programs in the south.

Industry in Greece

Greece of course followed a very different course. Through the Civil War years of 1947-49,
resources flowed to the military. After 1950, Marshall Plan aid allowed industrial output to double by
1955. Without any central direction pushing for heavy industry, light industry continued to
dominate. In 1953 industries like food processing and clothing were accounting for over 61 percent
of industrial output; in 1979 their share was still 46 percent. Large steel, chemical and petroleum
plants accounted for only 6 percent of Greek industrial output and most were controlled by foreign
firms. Economists described Greece's industrial growth as a failed "take-off" in which industries
remained small, weak and dependent on protectionist policies.

Socialist agriculture

In the socialist states, agricultural collectivization as a remedy for dwarf farms and rural
backwardness was one of the first steps taken by the post-war socialist governments.

In Bulgaria, the Communist regime began to collectivize agriculture in 1946 using existing state
controls and the old cooperative system. By 1959, 98 percent of the country's farmland was
involved. Because so many workers had been shifted to industrial work, the country's 800 collective
farms were reorganized into 161 "agro-industrial complexes" in the early 1970s, as a way to share
scarce rural labor. Each complex comprised some 60,000 acres and 6,500 members.
Collectivization increased production of crops like grain that could be handled with machinery, but
didn't work well for vegetables and other labor intensive crops. Without profit incentives, peasant
production of these crops fell. As a result, starting in 1957 peasants were permitted to lease land
from their collective farms for private production. About 10 percent of available land eventually
came into private use (not ownership), but produced 30 percent of the country's milk supply, 40
percent of its vegetables, fruit and meat, and 50 percent of its potatoes and eggs. For obvious
reasons, the government could not cut off this source of production and it endured until the end of
the Communist regime.

Hungary, unlike the other Balkan states, still had large private estates at the end of World War II
and the first actions of the Communist regime were intended to rid the country of these feudal
remnants. For the first time, Hungary had a real land reform which distributed 5 million acres to
640,000 families. But in a sign of things to come, another 2.5 million acres were allotted to model
state farms. Once the Communists were firmly in power in 1949, the effects of this land reform
were abruptly reversed by collectivization. The result was a drop in agricultural production due to
peasant dissatisfaction and insufficient investment in agriculture by the state. Collectivization had to
be suspended in 1953: when given the chance, half the peasants on the collective farms chose to

After the 1956 Revolution, there was a second collectivization drive. The state offered better
support this time and members of collectives gained a voice in decision-making. 90 percent of the
nation's farmland went to cooperative farms, of about 7,000 to 8,000 acres each. Under the New
Economic Mechanism of 1968, residents of each farm gained real autonomy to decide what to grow
and how to invest proceeds of sales, and it became legal for private individuals to lease land on
which they could grow crops for sale. Most such private plots were managed on the side by farmers,
but they soon produced about 30 percent of overall farm output, making them an essential part of
the national economy.

In Romania, the first round of collectivization began in 1949 and was an obvious failure by 1951.
Only 17 percent of farmland had been collectivized and 80,000 resisting peasants had been
arrested. The country had too few tractors to equip the large new farms, and production fell. The
state then tried a different tactic. Peasants were allowed to keep their land, but had to sell their
produce to the state at unattractively low prices. This slow squeeze gradually drove peasants off the
land and into industrial jobs, while their land was transferred to cooperative farms. By 1962, 77
percent of arable land and 90 percent of farm output was in state hands; by the 1980s, 90 percent
of land was under state control. Grain production rose dramatically, now that tractors and modern
methods could be used efficiently on the larger consolidated parcels of land. The annual grain crop
had been only 5 million tons in 1950, but reached 30 million tons in the 1980s.

Romania never supported the idea of private plots. Little land became available for private lease,
and the state required one third of any private plots to be planted in wheat. Such rules defeated the
market mechanism and kept private farmers from producing as much as they could have. Even so,
half the mutton, 40 percent of the beef, 28 percent of the pork and 63 percent of the fruit in
Romania came from privately managed land in 1987, grown not only in rural areas but also urban
parks, which became vegetable patches as city dwellers engaged in a daily struggle to find adequate
food. Despite obvious problems, Ceausescu planned further reductions in private farming and the
creation of enormous farm-factories. The failure of agriculture was a leading cause of discontent
with the Ceausescu regime on the eve of 1989.

In Yugoslavia, 2 million peasants were forced into collective farms in the 1940s, but the program
was cancelled in 1952 because of low output. In the 1980s, 82 percent of farmland was still owned
by 2.6 million peasant families on farms averaging about 9 acres in size. Rural productivity
remained low but the problem of rural overpopulation was solved by industrialization. In 1948, 67
percent of the population was still engaged in agriculture; this figure fell to 17 percent by 1984.

Agriculture in Greece

In Greece, state action focused on assistance to small farmers. The average size of Greek farms
remained around 9 acres, typically in several scattered plots. Successful inter-war programs
continued after World War II, such as price supports for wheat.
Greece prefers to be self-sufficient in wheat: to boost acreage devoted to that crop, the state has
paid a guaranteed price for wheat since 1927. By the 1950s, domestic farmers were growing 100
percent of what the country needed. Another holdover program was the Agricultural Bank of
Greece, running cooperatives and offering loans for equipment. After Greece joined the European
Economic Community in 1981, weaknesses in Greek agriculture became apparent. Greek farm
productivity is about half that of West European farmers, implying a reduction in agriculture's role in
the nation's economy. However, subsidies that shore up inefficient farms are common in many EEC
states for political reasons: there is no reason to think that Greece will depart from the pattern.

Comparing progress

Can we compare the success of the Communist and capitalist systems? Statistics are deceptive.
These average household income figures for five Balkan states (and the United States for
comparison) for the early 1980s ...
Bulgaria $8,410
Yugoslavia $4,300
Hungary $4,200
Greece $3,777
Romania $3,500
United States $30,000

... imply that Bulgarians were twice as well off as Greeks. However, the events of 1989 showed that
popular satisfaction is often a matter of what consumer goods one can buy with one's money, to say
nothing of political and social freedoms. By those measures, the Communist states certainly finished
the development race far behind Greece and the West: they lost the Cold War.

Women and Marxism

This is a good time for some comments about the position of women in the Balkans. Under both
socialism and capitalism alike, modernization, industrialization and urbanization have vastly
changed the status of women. Communist doctrine included special claims regarding women but it
is not clear whether women really gained more social, economic or political power in the
Communist states.

Traditional Balkan life was patriarchal in the simple and literal sense. Women played a subordinate
role with few opportunities in the economic realm and virtually none in the political. Liberal ideas
and economic modernization in the nineteenth century did not necessarily help women. While
traditional Balkan women were confined to certain roles in their families and villages, their position
was at the same time secure, stable and respected. Women controlled certain traditional village
guilds such as cloth-making, and in the south Slav zadruga (or commune) women were in charge of
the domestic economy of their multi-generational household. These conditions did not confine
women to their own regions: for example, Bulgarian women travelled substantial distances in
organized work groups during the harvest season.

Guilds and zadrugi broke up in the face of modern economic forces and imports. Modern law codes
imitated Western models in which women were legally disenfranchised and thus deprived women of
their traditional rights to own or inherit property without introducing compensating rights.

Many of the new jobs in factories went to women, but these jobs had low prestige and low pay,
offered no chance for advancement or ownership, and disrupted domestic life by attracting women
to distant towns where they lived in dormitories. In Bulgaria, a third of the industrial workers in
1911 were women: women workers were concentrated in textiles and tobacco processing, where
over 70 percent of the workers were female. Their wages were only about 40 percent of wages
earned by male industrial workers. Existing trade unions did not organize labor in the industries
where women worked, a decision that later created opportunities for the Communist Party.
Not all new jobs were industrial: the rise of the urban middle class created a demand for domestic
servants. In late nineteenth century Hungary, the typical servant girl was a rural migrant who came
to the city in her late teens, worked for 5-10 years to build a dowry and then returned to her
village. Such jobs offered women alternatives to village life but kept them in marginal, subordinate
roles in the modern economy.

World War I briefly permitted women to step into better jobs vacated by men gone to war and to
organize complicated relief organizations. The end of the war cut short these advances. In the
interwar period, women returned to factory work but still earned rates of pay that were only a
fraction of what was paid to men.

Karl Marx and other Communist theorists treated the economic subordination of women as an
aspect of class oppression that would be eliminated by socialism. In The Origins of the Family,
Private Property and the State (1884), Friedrich Engels postulated a primeval classless society in
which women had enjoyed a position of equality with men. The goal of socialism was to restore
women to an equal role in public life and to end the capitalist situation in which they were confined
to private and domestic functions. To free women from household obligations, socialism was
expected to provide not only education and jobs, but also child-care centers, communal kitchens
and household conveniences. The Left also consistently demanded women's suffrage and liberalized
access to divorce, contraception and abortion as women's issues.

The actual interwar record of Communism was mixed. For example, the Yugoslav Communist Party
catered to women by sponsoring magazines and organizations, and used women as underground
couriers and as political organizers in the universities. Communist practice fell short of its rhetoric,
however. The official membership of the Yugoslav Communist Party remained 99 percent male; in
Bulgaria in the '30s, perhaps a quarter of the official Communist membership were women. In no
Party organizations were women found in positions of authority. It also was difficult to overcome the
traditional mindset of male Communists, who found it personally difficult to overcome Balkan social
habits. After an early flirtation with a "free love" plank, the Yugoslav Party platform moved back to
official puritanism and an unofficial double standard about sexual behavior. In 1940, Tito felt it
necessary to deliver a speech in which he advised Party members that it was politically incorrect to
beat their wives.

During World War II, economic niches for women opened up again due to wartime shortages of
labor. In the Yugoslav Partisan movement, the Yugoslav Anti-Fascist Front of Women (AFZ) was
especially successful in coordinating women's contributions. Some 2 million Yugoslav women took
part, 100,000 of them as combatants and the others as nurses and auxiliaries in charge of supplies,
communications, education and hospital care. Over 250,000 women Partisans died during the war,
including 25,000 guerilla soldiers. For the first time, women began to hold positions of authority in
the YCP but the rate of participation among women was still disproportionately low, especially in the
higher ranks. At the end of the war much of the progress ended as the AFZ was pushed aside by
other, male-dominated Party organizations.

Cold War comparisons: Women

During the Cold War period, women under socialism made some gains but fell short in other areas.
It is not clear that they did better than women in Greece with its Western-style economy and
political system. To make comparisons, we can look at four areas:

• political rights,
• access to education,
• access to employment, and
• access to health care including birth control and abortion.

Politics: Women got the vote in most of the Balkan states in 1945 or 1946 (as early as 1938 in
Bulgaria, as late as 1958 in Albania); Greece enacted women's suffrage in 1952. The proportion of
women in parliamentary bodies was higher in the socialist states than in Greece: 40 percent in
Hungary in 1970 (101 of 251 legislators), 24 percent in Bulgaria and Romania (78 of 322 and 66 of
275 respectively), and 15 percent in Yugoslavia (13 of 86). These levels tended to fall after the
1989 revolution. Between 2 and 4 percent of Greek legislators were women (7 of 293 in 1970; 12 of
300 in 1987). In 1990, only 8 out of 352 Greek mayors were women, and only 1 of the country's
117 ambassadors (I have not seen comparable figures for the socialist states). On paper, then,
women played a larger role in governing the socialist states, but voting and political life of course
was constrained or even meaningless under Communism.

Education: Across all the Balkan states, women made up between 45 and 51 percent of university
students, a clear departure from traditional discrimination and under-representation. Greek figures
are little different from those of the states under socialism. Women students were concentrated in
certain fields. In Hungary in 1987, women made up three quarters of the university students in
education (that is, teacher preparation) but only 33 percent in the sciences and 10 percent in
engineering. Figures for Greece were comparable: women made up 75 percent of university
students in education, 41 percent in the sciences and 18 percent in engineering. In general, women
in all the Balkan states had equivalent (and improved) access to education, which did not always
translate into jobs.

Employment: The number of employed women went up all over the Balkans during the Cold War
era, but this did not mean that women held jobs with high pay and prestige. Looking first at the
socialist states, we find that men held most of the jobs in the heavy industries that enjoyed official
Party favor. In Yugoslavia, women were filling 47 percent of industrial jobs in 1948 when labor was
in short supply, but this figure fell to 25 percent by 1954 after decentralization replaced intense
development. Women instead made up the majority of workers in service sectors like education and
health. A higher proportion of women worked in all the Bloc states (except Yugoslavia) than they did
in Western Europe; Yugoslavia had a rate of 37 percent, comparable to the level in France. The
number of working women rose during the Cold War years: it was 48 percent in Romania in the
'60s, and reached 74 percent in Hungary in 1986.

We should not assume that women's access to work always translated into personal advantage:
many women in the Bloc states had to participate in the pseudo-private "second economy" just to
make ends meet. In 1986, a Hungarian survey found that in 75 percent of families, one parent held
a second job of up to 12 hours/week, and 12 percent of working women said they had no "free
time" except for sleeping. Women under socialism still had second-class economic status. They were
concentrated in clerical jobs, health care and elementary education. Women also performed a
disproportionate share of agricultural laborers' jobs. Even professional women earned less than their
male counterparts: in Hungary in the 1980s, women earned from 65-80 percent of wages paid to
men; in Yugoslavia, from 85-95 percent.

In Greece, by comparison, fewer women worked outside the home. About 34 percent were
members of the workforce in 1987 (comparable to Western European levels). Greek women too
were concentrated in agriculture and in service jobs (each with about 40 percent of employed
women) rather than industry (18 percent). Greek women too were underpaid, earning at an
average rate only about 60-85 percent of pay levels for men. More Greek women than men were
unemployed (in other words, many women wanted work and couldn't find it, and many others
settled for part-time jobs). Unemployed village women who followed their husbands to big cities like
Athens often found themselves isolated in their apartments and cut off from informal but
meaningful public activities that were traditional in villages, such as helping with farming or small

Some aspects of the employment picture for women were fairly uniform on both sides of the Iron
Curtain: women's wages and access to specific careers. More women in the true Bloc states found
work (since under socialism, employment was usually guaranteed) than in the market-oriented
economies of Greece or Yugoslavia.

Health care: health care became dramatically better for women (and everyone else) in the Balkans
after World War II. The Bloc states offered free state health care and Greece moved from private
insurers to a state medical system in 1983. All the Balkan states offered full paid maternity leaves.

The infant mortality rate is one measure of the positive results for women and their families. In the
socialist states, rates of infant mortality in the 1930s averaged 150 per 1000. During the Cold War
era, this figure fell, to a level between 16 and 24 by the 1980s in most countries but remained as
high as 39 in Albania and 52 in Macedonia, compared to 10 in Slovenia. Before World War II, rates
in Greece were better than in the other states and remained better after 1945. The rate was 99 out
of 1000 in 1930; in the 1980s, this figure fell to 11 per 1000, the same low level found across
Western Europe.

Access to contraception is another measure of women's status. In most of the Communist states,
women's health care included access to both contraceptives and abortions: because of consumer
shortages of contraceptives, abortion rates were sometimes high. The Bloc states reported figures
ranging between 734 and 1,015 abortions per 1,000 live births in the 1980s (the U.S. rate was
about 440). In Greece, contraception is legal. Abortion became legal there in 1986: the reported
rate is low, about 96 per 1,000 live births.

Romania pursued a contrasting policy on reproductive rights. In the early 1960s, Romanian families
reacted to shortages of housing and consumer goods by having fewer children. After state planners
predicted a future labor shortage, Romania banned both abortion and contraception in 1966. The
birth rate doubled in 1967, then gradually returned to low levels by 1983 as women turned to illegal
abortions. Romania's officially reported abortion rate in the 1980s was only half of the figure for
Yugoslavia (522 versus 1,015 per 1,000 live births), but Romania's maternal death rate was almost
10 times higher, reflecting the dangers involved in illegal abortions.

Health care is tied to general levels of modernization. Variations in the Balkans seem to reflect
general development more than political systems: thus Greece has retained its lead, despite
occasionally adopting health measures a little later.


All of the Balkan states made significant economic progress after World War II. Damaging interwar
problems associated with underdevelopment were much curtailed, except in a few regions like
Albania and Macedonia.

Can we say that people in the socialist states did better or worse by comparison with Greece, or
with the unconventional socialist state, Yugoslavia? Measuring popular satisfaction on the basis of
economic statistics is questionable, especially given the events of 1989. Consumer discontent
(measured against the standard of the West) played a visible role in the 1989 revolutions in the
northern parts of Eastern Europe and even in Hungary; in the Balkans only Greece, with its Western
ties, escaped revolution in that year. But as we will see in subsequent lectures, other issues (based
on political rather than merely economic content) were just as important in most of the Balkan
revolutions. Economic change alone did not avert unrest in the 1980s any more than it did during
periods of reform activity in the nineteenth century. Differences in political systems in the Balkans
rarely seem to translate into socio-economic differences that stand in sharp contrast to conditions in
neighboring states, at least in the short run.

We might say the same about the status of women. Greece shows few strong contrasts with its
socialist neighbors, despite contrasting views about the role of women found in Marxist as opposed
to Western thought. Modernization and general prosperity seem to be the keys to breaking down
traditional limits on women, whether under socialism or capitalism.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 24: The failure of Balkan Communism and the causes of the Revolutions of 1989

[This lecture was written in August 1995. It is clear after the passage of time that some sections
would be written differently today. However, I have elected to keep the original text here as written
with only minor editing: interested readers should pursue newer information and interpretations in
their libraries.]

The Revolutions of 1989 that ended Soviet-style Communism in the East European socialist states
from the Baltic to the Balkans, were both dramatic and largely unexpected. It will be many years
before a full documentary record is available, or the evidence that is required for a complete,
reliable picture of what happened. However, one can discuss the causes of 1989, and explore some
interpretations. This lecture discusses four explanations. Many of the key events in those
explanations are interrelated, and it makes some sense to treat them as four stages in a lengthy

Briefly, these four explanations are:

1. Collapse due to economic failure: The Revolutions of 1989 and the general unrest which
preceded them during the 1980s have been interpreted as outgrowths of the economic
failure of Communism. During the 1970s, the Eastern European Communist states pursued
high-risk development strategies that relied on foreign loans to pay for construction of
modernized economies. When oil prices rose in 1973 and 1979 and slowed the world
economy, the Communist Bloc states could no longer make payments on their debts, and
this led to a loss of credit and internal economic problems from which they never
2. Collapse due to the arms race: The end of Soviet Communism has also been explained as a
result of an economic crisis in which American military pressure and the costs of the arms
race were the most important causes. Under Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush the
United States forced the Soviets to spend so much money on high-tech weapons that the
Communist economy was bankrupted when too many resources had to be diverted away
from productive investments and consumer needs.
3. Collapse due to "perestroika" in the Soviet Union: Another explanation points to the Soviet
Union and emphasizes the "perestroika" politics of Mikhail Gorbachev, without which
revolutionary change in Eastern Europe would have remained impossible. Gorbachev did
two things: he sanctioned an unprecedented degree of change in the Communist world and
he made it clear that the Brezhnev Doctrine of 1968 was no longer in force. Once it was
clear that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene in the affairs of its neighbors, Eastern
Europeans were able to address their own local needs in their own way.
4. Collapse due to the rise of alternatives to Communism: An approach that looks for
explanations within Eastern Europe, rather than from the outside, argues that economic
failure and the loss of Russian Communist pressure still do not explain the specific events
and outcomes of the East European and Balkan Revolutions of 1989. The entrenched
Communist leadership might have retained power on their own, except for the growth of
alternatives to which the various nations could turn to redefine their societies. Because this
view uncovers very different developments in the various states, therefore it also explains
why the revolutions had such very different outcomes in various parts of the Bloc. In
Poland and Czechoslovakia, for example, alternatives included the so-called "civil society"
movement and created local leaders like Poland's Lech Walesa and Czechoslovakia's Vaclav
Havel, who stood up to authoritarian rule in the late '70s and early '80s to demand political
pluralism and individual freedom. At the same time, states like the former Yugoslav
republics followed a contrasting path in which the most successful alternatives involved
nationalist figures who reintroduced familiar Balkan political themes.

The interaction of these explanations,and of critical events outside Eastern Europe, is apparent in
following the development of Eastern European Communism in the two decades preceding 1989.

Step One: Economic failure

Eastern European Communism reached its political and economic high point in the late 1960s and
early 1970s. The Soviet Union had become a scientific and military superpower comparable to the
United States. Thanks to limited economic reforms like the New Economic Mechanism in Hungary
and acceptance of a semi-private "second economy," the Communist states achieved striking
economic growth. This economic success made it hard to dismiss claims that socialism was a valid
alternative to capitalism, especially for developing nations.

Between 1965 and 1970, gross national product (GNP) per capita in the six Comecon states (East
Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) grew annually by between 2.7
and 4.0 percent, compared to 2.5 percent for the United States. From 1970-75, GNP per capita rose
in the same six states by 2.7 to 5.7 percent (an average of 4.2 percent), compared to a mere 1.2
percent in the U.S. and 1.3 percent in West Germany. In Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia, GNP
per capita doubled between 1960 and 1975, and new production began to include a higher
proportion of consumer goods. GNP per capita was still only half of the American level, but the
Communist states seemed to be catching up while offering universal health care, access to
education, and full employment.

These growth figures were in some ways misleading. The Bloc countries began with such low levels
of economic productivity that small increases translated into large percentage rates. Non-
Communist Greece had rates of GNP growth for 1967-70 and 1970-75 that were even higher than
those for the Comecon states (6.6 percent for Greece, 4.9 percent for the Bloc) and for the same

Three traps were ahead for the East European economies.

First, growth on the cheap was about to end. Opportunities to build on previously untapped natural
resources were exhausted: no more new hydroelectric dams in simple locations or mines exploiting
high quality surface ores. The pool of underemployed rural labor -- an asset when new factories
opened -- also had now been committed. The Soviet Union had subsidized growth in the region by
offering economic aid, petroleum and natural gas supplies, and expertise at low costs; world events
would soon force Moscow to curtail these resources or demand payment at market value. East Bloc
labor had worked hard for minimal rewards, and by doing so, those workers had been subsidizing
socialism: when workers began to demand more consumer goods and improved housing, overall
costs rose within the system. After 1970 these old advantages vanished.

Second, economic reform introduced new expectations. When the Bloc regimes accepted limited
levels of Western profit incentives (through reforms like the New Economic Mechanism), they
fostered popular demands for better conditions. The Solidarity union movement in Poland was the
unintended result of such a reform. When the Polish state stopped subsidizing low food prices in
1970, consumers experienced reduced access to goods: the resulting dissatisfaction caused the
Gdansk shipyard strike, which in turn began a process that created an independent trade union
movement ten years later.

Third, contact with Western economic forces exposed the Communist economies to the risks, as well
as the benefits, of free enterprise and modern economic structures. Access to Western loans is an
example. The Communist states lacked hard currency to invest in modern industries that could
compete with the West in advanced technologies and consumer goods. To pay for imported Western
machines and services, the East European states borrowed from Western banks. By 1980 Hungary
owed $9 billion to Western lenders; Romania owed $10 billion. The new East Bloc industries planned
to sell the output of the new industries on the world market, and so raise the cash to repay the
loans. Two things undercut this plan.

First, too much loan money was spent unproductively, subsidizing short-term consumer needs, lost
to corruption, or wasted on bad investments like the $2 billion Smederovo steel works in Serbia, a
factory that never turned a profit.

Second, the Comecon states became economic hostages to Western business cycles. They were
among the victims of the 1973 world oil price crisis when the OPEC states drove up the cost of
energy from an index level of 80 in 1973, to 138 in 1975. The Iranian revolution of 1979 caused
another increase in energy costs, to an index level of 238 in 1980 and 276 in 1982. Even after the
crises ended, typical index levels remained remained around 125 or 130.

As a result, the debt-laden Bloc states could no longer stretch their financial resources far enough to
buy energy to produce new goods, repay old loans, and meet domestic consumer demand at the
same time. Without hard currency for debt repayment, vital Western investments would dry up: to
pay back the loans, the Bloc states cut back on consumer goods and this created lines at stores,
general misery and a loss of confidence in local economies and currencies (in the 1980s, cartons of
Kent cigarettes had replaced currency as the preferred medium of exchange in Romania). Per capita
GNP stopped rising in the 1980s; in Poland GNP figures actually began to go down.
Step Two: Cold War pressures

At the same time that the oil crises were straining Comecon finances by raising the price of energy,
increased East-West tensions added burdensome military expenses.

When the period of "detente" ended in the late 1970s, the USSR and the US resumed a high-tech,
high-cost strategic arms race. The Carter administration began work on neutron bombs and missile
systems like the mobile MX and the cruise missile, which were deployed under Reagan in the 1980s.
The USSR's 1979 intervention in Afghanistan to preserve a communist regime led to a lengthy,
costly war. In 1970, the military share of the Soviet GNP was estimated to be about 13 percent of
total GNP. By 1988 this had grown to 16 percent. These military costs went up when the USSR
could least afford it.

While the East European and Balkan socialist states were not directly affected by these costs, they
soon faced reduced Soviet aid as an indirect result. The USSR began to demand market prices for
its products, especially oil and gas. Thus the arms race compounded the effects of other economic
problems in the Balkans. Economic hard times were not new in the Bloc, but in the 1980s they
combined with new political phenomena to set the stage for 1989.

Step Three: Perestroika

The revolutionary events of 1989 differed widely from place to place. This suggests that the
decisions of East European and Balkan leaders determined the nature of specific events during the
transition from socialism. Aging leaders remained in control of the Communist states except in
Yugoslavia, where Tito's death in 1981 ushered in an awkward system of short-term presidents
drawn in rotation from all the consitutent republics. While states like Hungary allowed
experimentation in their economies in the '80s, tolerance for change did not extend to political
pluralism: the rationale for innovation remained pragmatic economic development.

The rise of Mikhail Gorbachev to power during this same period signaled that the Soviet Union was
open not only to economic pragmatism, but a willingness to experiment in politics too. "Perestroika"
(new thinking) in Russia began with economic reforms and a role for criticism under the concept of
"glasnost" (openness). At the 1988 Party Congress speakers made real critiques of state policy.
Combined with moves toward secret ballots and real elections, tolerance of such dissent implied a
shift away from monolith Communist power in the state, and toward multi-party pluralism.

More important for the Balkan states, Gorbachev abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine, the USSR's
commitment to use force to block any shift away from Russian-style Communism. Soviet occupation
forces left Afghanistan and then Hungary. Speaking at the United Nations in December 1988,
Gorbachev renounced the use of force in foreign policy. Clearly Russia was no longer going to block
political experimentation in Eastern Europe. The transformation of Soviet foreign policy was a
fundamental factor at work in the background of Balkan events: it was a major impetus for change
that originated outside the Balkans.

Step Four: Alternatives to socialism

During the 1980s, oil prices and foreign debts discredited socialist economics and gave Eastern
Europeans a pocketbook reason to seek radical change, while Gorbachev's new policies removed
potential Russian intervention as an obstacle. However, to understand the actual events that took
place before and after the 1989 revolutions, we must look at domestic developments inside the Bloc

Just as trends in these states during the Cold War exhibited a strong degree of local variety, so did
events at the end of the Cold War. There had been no uniform or "monolithic" Communism: neither
was there any uniform shift to post-Communist societies and political systems. In some states, so-
called "civil society" movements led toward Western-style pluralism; in others, authoritarian
regimes (often tapping traditional nationalism) came to power. In some states, the revolution was
bloodless; in others (like Romania) it led to civil strife, and in Yugoslavia, to extended open war.
The presence (or absence) of specific alternative movements, ideologies and institutions correlates
with the specific paths taken by the various Balkan states as the Communist era ended. In other
words, while forces outside the region played a role, local influences and decisions were important

The varieties of Balkan experience

By looking back twenty (or more) years before the events of 1989, we can discern trends that
illuminate what happened when change came. It is helpful also to look widely at events across all of
Eastern Europe, because the steps that led to the 1989 revolutions show strong interconnections
across the region.

We can see the roots of diversification in the Balkan and East European socialist experience as far
back as the Tito-Stalin split, in Romania's pursuit of a "national road to Communism," and in the
1968 Prague Spring movement for "Communism with a human face" and its aftermath. While the
1968 Czech movement was suppressed, it produced echoes in other places that had profound
consequences in years to come.

In Croatia, for example, demonstrations in 1968 by pro-Czech student sympathizers led to the
creation of new student groups that functioned outside the control of the Party. Under their
leadership, interest in Croatian history and culture revived. This reawakened ethnic pride soon
combined with economic resentments that had an ethnic twist, as Croats watched money flow from
Yugoslavia's rich north to the poor south.

The result was a growing Croatian separatist movement, based in revival of a cultural organization
from the nineteenth century, Matica Hrvatska (Matica means "queen bee"). In 1971, students sang
banned patriotic songs in defiance of the authorities, while Matica Hrvatska proposed a new
Croatian constitution under which Croatia would have the right to secede from Yugoslavia, and
"Croatian" would become the state language instead of Serbo-Croatian. At the same time, Catholics
criticised the Serbian Orthodox Church and there was an effort to end the right of Serbs in Croatia
to education in Cyrillic. In the ensuing crackdown, numerous leaders were arrested. One of them
was Franjo Tudjman, the future President of Croatia. In 1971 he was 49 years old, a former
partisan and Communist general with academic interests, who had resigned his state posts in 1967
to take up the cause of Croatian nationalism.

The period of East-West detente in the middle 1970s injected additional factors. The 1975 Helsinki
Agreements between the USSR and the United States included a pledge by the Soviets to permit the
exercise of "human rights." While the concept was vaguely defined, the agreement nevertheless
offered important leverage for reformers.

When members of an irreverent rock band called the "Plastic People of the Universe" were arrested
in Czechoslovakia in 1977, 243 Czech writers, intellectuals and reform-minded Communists
organized an informal group called "Charter 77" to protest the arrests. Charter 77 issued a public
letter calling on dissidents to live "as if" they were living in a "civil society," one in which basic
human rights such as freedom of expression were allowed. Their most important leader was the
playwright Vaclav Havel, later the first President of the post-Communist Czech Republic. Under
Stalin (or Romania's Ceausescu), these kinds of dissenters probably would have been shot, but
increased Bloc reliance on Western good will meant that the protesters simply were harassed, while
their message of disobedience persisted, laying the framework for an alternative system.

In Poland, the impetus for an alternative society came from other directions. The 1978 election of
the Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II fostered Polish activism that included a
rediscovered awareness of Polish Catholicism (in which nationalism was not far from the surface). In
1980, another economic downturn led to more strikes in Polish shipyards and the emergence of
Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc (Solidarity), the Bloc's first independent trade union, that is, one
outside Communist Party control. Solidarity offered an alternative model for labor in a "workers'
state" despite being suppressed in 1981 by the martial law regime of Prime Minister (and former
General) Wojciech Jaruzelski. Ironically, even Jaruzelski can be viewed as a figure opposed to
external Soviet Russian influence. The prevention of an armed Russian intervention was one of the
key factors behind the imposition of martial law, as much as opposition to reform currents from
within the Polish socialist state.

Alternatives in Hungary

Events in Prague and Gdansk foreshadowed the course of the eventual revolutions and issues
defining the post-Communist societies in Czechoslovakia and Poland. So did events in the Balkans.
In retrospect, it is possible to find hints in the 1980s which point to emerging forces, forces that
took center stage after Soviet control was removed.

In Hungary, the "alternative" to Communism largely sprang from inside the Party itself: for that
reason the "Revolution" of 1989 was more of an "Evolution." Hungarian Communism in the 1980s
tolerated strong elements of economic reform, and a good deal of decision making took place at the
lower levels of the economy even if prohibitions on political democracy remained in place. The
private "second economy" was legalized in 1982. Such conditions encouraged critics of the system.

Until the middle 1980s the Hungarian opposition remained small and was principally a matter for
intellectuals. After 1985, however, other groups capitalized on new rights to freedom of expression
won by this vanguard, and for the first time since the 1940s created mass movements outside the
Party. For example, environmentalists opposed Czechoslovak projects for new dams on the Danube,
and demonstrators promoted aid to the persecuted Hungarian minority under Romanian rule in
Transylvania. Neither group could be accused of anti-Communist views; both tapped into nationalist
feelings as well.

In 1988, the senile Janos Kadar was removed from power by younger elements in the Party. By
then, both pro-reform Communists and the new movements were comfortable with a situation in
which certain organizations functioned outside Party control. After Gorbachev withdrew the threat of
Soviet intervention, which had been a prop for traditionalists in the Party, the reform faction was
able to gain control. Party reformers were willing to accept political as well as economic and
organizational pluralism. In the spring of 1989, the Hungarian reformers declared the March
anniversary of the 1848 revolution as a holiday, and scheduled free elections for 1990. Unwilling
any longer to enforce a closed frontier, they opened the border to permit Hungarians to visit Austria
freely for the first time in a generation. The results were spectacular.

The events of 1989

Hungary's decision to open its borders set off a chain reaction that involved all the East European
socialist states. In August 1989, a stream of East Germans began to appear at the West German
embassy in Budapest, seeking asylum and permission to move to West Germany. When the growing
throng overflowed the embassy grounds, the Hungarians simply opened the border and thousands
of East Germans streamed into Austria. A similar cycle of events began at the West German
embassy in Prague. The excitement was catching. Czechoslovakia and East Germany (whose
Communist regimes remained traditional and authoritarian) now experienced massive street
demonstrations, which went unchecked after police refused government orders to fire on the

By November 1989, a new East German reform cabinet entertained secret discussions about
relaxation of the rules against emigration: as a result, a rumor swept East Berlin that the Berlin Wall
was being opened. Crowds filled the streets and demoralized border guards simply let citizens cross
into West Berlin. After that, the East German regime unravelled in a few days. In Czechoslovakia, a
week of mass demonstrations ended the Communist monopoly on power when Czech party
reformers refused to use force to regain control. Vaclav Havel began the year in jail; by December
he was the new President of Czechoslovakia.

Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany experienced rapid, non-violent revolutions in which an
orientation to the West and the preexistence of progressive "alternative" structures played key
roles. Events in the Balkan states stand in stark contrast. The "revolutions" there were slower to
begin, slower to unfold and slower to lead to dramatic changes: in fact, to the extent that former
Communists retained an uninterrupted grip on state power, one might question whether
"revolutions" even took place. Furthermore, events in the Balkans involved substantially greater
levels of violence, iuncluding the resurrection of inter-ethnic strife, so that it was unclear whether
the collapse of Communism looked forward to new 21st century visions, or backward to the
traditions of the 19th century.


Bulgaria experienced a rather quiet "revolution" in 1989. It is perhaps easier to say that the Party,
like it's leader Todor Zhivkov, simply grew old and exhausted. As hasd been true in Hungary, the
limited instances of opposition to the Party in the 1980s revolved around issues that were relatively
harmless from a political perspective. One center of dissent was an environmental movement, which
focussed on air pollution from badly run factories in neighboring Romania. Another was made up of
Bulgarian intellectuals who were opposed to anti-Turkish measures. Neither movement implied
fundamental criticism of the Bulgarian socialist regime.

In 1984, for reasons that are still obscure, the state decided to Bulgaricize the country's 10 percent
Turkish minority, which lived quietly and productively in traditional rural districts. For the first time,
Islamic religious observances were harassed and Moslem families were forced to change their
names to "Bulgarian" sounding names. Perhaps a hundred people were killed in small-scale riots.
Dissent remained private until 1989 when Turkish leaders organized protests. The state responded
by expelling 300,000 Turks from the country, a move that disrupted the economy and attracted
criticism from Bulgarian intellectuals.

However, the more important forces for change came from within the party. Reformers publicized
corruption among Todor Zhivkov's entourage in part to put pressure on the Party to embrace
needed economic reforms. Zhivkov resigned in November 1989 at the age of 78, and in December
the Party gave up its monopoly on power. Like their Hungarian counterparts, reformers in the
Bulgarian party overcame fears about pluralism and in fact the renamed Bulgarian Socialist Party
won the free 1990 elections. In other words, the result of the 1989 "revolution" was to return
reform-minded ex-Communists to power, which casts some doubt on the use of the word
"revolution" in this case.


In Romania too, Party insiders were important figures in offering "alternatives" to the existing,
traditional Communist regime. Unlike Hungary and Bulgaria, however, their influence was far less
progressive, largely because Ceausescu's brand of Stalinism had suppressed imaginative thinking
for so long, along with real dissent. Romania tolerated no movements like Charter 77 or Solidarity:
the leaders of even minor strikes routinely disappeared.

Ceausescu's brother Nicu has called the events of December 1989 in Romania "a coup d'etat that
took place against the background of a popular revolt." If levels of violence are any gauge, the
revolution tapped deep wellsprings of discontent. The entire population had suffered under
miserable conditions all through the 1980s, denied basic consumer goods while the foreign debt was

At the same time, ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania were singled out for second-class treatment. It
was no coincidence that when the crisis broke in December 1989, it began with state efforts to
arrest a Magyar priest in Transylvania. In that episode, several people were killed by the Securitate
secret police, but inaccurate rumors abut the massacre of thousands led to a nation-wide wave of
unrest. Ceausescu's efforts to overawe his critics backfired when he was booed at a mass rally in
Bucharest. Fighting then broke out between street crowds and the Securitate, in which some 5,000
people were killed and parts of the city destroyed.

However, the absence of organized, well-known or credible alternative forces in Romanian society
left this popular revolution without leaders or a clear ideological direction. Instead, rivals of
Ceausescu within the Party itself appear to have used these genuine demonstrations as a cover,
under which they carried out long-standing plans for a coup. Army and Party leaders jealous or
afraid of the Ceausescu clan took advantage of the disorder to arrest, execute and belatedly try
Ceausescu and his wife. Analysts have pointed to the rapid appearance of the National Salvation
Front (NSF or FSN) as a sign of conspiracy: a previously unknown political organization, it rapidly
took over the government.

Subsequent to 1989, the NSF proved to be a political tool of longtime Communist leaders including
Securitate figures, and not an expression of real dissent or opposition. While some alternative
political groups and media have appeared, [up to 1995] the NSF has dominated power as a new
political monopoly. Ion Iliescu, a former Communist, secured 85% of the vote for president in 1990.
When student demonstrators challenged NSF policies, the state brought 10,000 miners armed with
clubs to Bucharest from the provinces, then used them to break up opposition gatherings and
smash the offices of rival parties. Romanian politics in the period after 1989 showed few signs of
real pluralism or reforms that might break up old corrupt centers of power.


Events in Yugoslavia displayed the resurgence of nationalism at their most extreme. Lecture 25
deals with events there. Suffice it to say for now that the alternative centers of social and political
organization there were based strongly in traditional nationalism, and this accounted for the ethnic
warfare that lasted four years. The aftershocks of the Prague spring fell on fertile ground laced with
mistrust when it came to Serbs and Croats.


If we analyze the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 through the presence or absence of local
alternatives to Communism, Albania presents an extreme case. Because Albania had the fewest
alternatives to the Party structure, Albania experienced the least apparent changes in 1989.
Instead, change began with the death of Enver Hoxha in 1985, the World War II guerilla leader who
led the Party and the state all through the Cold War.

By the time Hoxha died at age 77, Albanian Communism was exhausted. Forty years of Stalinist
domestic policies (periodic purges, repression of dissent and criticism, central economic planning
and collectivization) had produced Europe's lowest standard of living, combined with a sterile culture
offering no alternative ideas. Even Albania's celebrated independence in foreign affairs reached a
dead end, when Hoxha broke with Communist Chinese modernizers after Mao's death in 1976. The
country was self-sufficient but isolated.

Hoxha's successor was Ramiz Alia, a Communist since age 18, who rose rapidly in the Party-state
apparatus. Despite his loyalty to Hoxha, Alia recognized in 1985 that the country needed
international aid and economic reforms. Between 1985 and 1989 he introduced wage incentives,
plant autonomy, consumer goods and toleration of criticism by the nation's writers, while the Party
retained a monopoly on political power.

Alia experienced no serious challenge during the Revolutions of 1989. The Party accelerated plans
for economic reforms, but made no move toward political pluralism until December 1990, more than
a year after events elsewhere. In apparently free elections in 1991, the Communist Party took 56
percent of the vote, and Alia was elected President. In other words, there were so few alternatives
in Albania that the party and its leading personalities still dominated the landscape. If there is to be
"revolution" in Albania, its crucial aspects are a matter of economic modernization, not politics.


We can make two summary observations, comparing Balkan events with those to the north, and
even to those in Hungary.

First, only in the Balkans did former Communists retain a grip on political power in the period
immediately after the revolution. Elements rooted in Solidarity and the Catholic Church routed the
Polish Communists. Charter 77 created an alternative in Czechoslovakia. East Germany looked to
Bonn, and former Party leaders were tried for treason. But in the Balkan states, ex-Communists
remain major players in national politics, even if many chose to redefine themselves as nationalists.

Second, extensive violence during the 1989 revolutions was confined to two Balkan states: Romania
and Yugoslavia. The northern revolutions involved peaceful demonstrators, who established pluralist
regimes. In the Balkans, tolerance and pluralism remained in short supply. This led to violent
responses to dissent and to ethnic conflict. Both seem more like echoes of the Balkan past, than
signs of progress toward a brighter future.

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Lecture 24: The failure of Balkan Communism and the causes of the Revolutions of 1989

[This lecture was written in August 1995. It is clear after the passage of time that some sections
would be written differently today. However, I have elected to keep the original text here as written
with only minor editing: interested readers should pursue newer information and interpretations in
their libraries.]

The Revolutions of 1989 that ended Soviet-style Communism in the East European socialist states
from the Baltic to the Balkans, were both dramatic and largely unexpected. It will be many years
before a full documentary record is available, or the evidence that is required for a complete,
reliable picture of what happened. However, one can discuss the causes of 1989, and explore some
interpretations. This lecture discusses four explanations. Many of the key events in those
explanations are interrelated, and it makes some sense to treat them as four stages in a lengthy

Briefly, these four explanations are:

1. Collapse due to economic failure: The Revolutions of 1989 and the general unrest which
preceded them during the 1980s have been interpreted as outgrowths of the economic
failure of Communism. During the 1970s, the Eastern European Communist states pursued
high-risk development strategies that relied on foreign loans to pay for construction of
modernized economies. When oil prices rose in 1973 and 1979 and slowed the world
economy, the Communist Bloc states could no longer make payments on their debts, and
this led to a loss of credit and internal economic problems from which they never
2. Collapse due to the arms race: The end of Soviet Communism has also been explained as a
result of an economic crisis in which American military pressure and the costs of the arms
race were the most important causes. Under Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush the
United States forced the Soviets to spend so much money on high-tech weapons that the
Communist economy was bankrupted when too many resources had to be diverted away
from productive investments and consumer needs.
3. Collapse due to "perestroika" in the Soviet Union: Another explanation points to the Soviet
Union and emphasizes the "perestroika" politics of Mikhail Gorbachev, without which
revolutionary change in Eastern Europe would have remained impossible. Gorbachev did
two things: he sanctioned an unprecedented degree of change in the Communist world and
he made it clear that the Brezhnev Doctrine of 1968 was no longer in force. Once it was
clear that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene in the affairs of its neighbors, Eastern
Europeans were able to address their own local needs in their own way.
4. Collapse due to the rise of alternatives to Communism: An approach that looks for
explanations within Eastern Europe, rather than from the outside, argues that economic
failure and the loss of Russian Communist pressure still do not explain the specific events
and outcomes of the East European and Balkan Revolutions of 1989. The entrenched
Communist leadership might have retained power on their own, except for the growth of
alternatives to which the various nations could turn to redefine their societies. Because this
view uncovers very different developments in the various states, therefore it also explains
why the revolutions had such very different outcomes in various parts of the Bloc. In
Poland and Czechoslovakia, for example, alternatives included the so-called "civil society"
movement and created local leaders like Poland's Lech Walesa and Czechoslovakia's Vaclav
Havel, who stood up to authoritarian rule in the late '70s and early '80s to demand political
pluralism and individual freedom. At the same time, states like the former Yugoslav
republics followed a contrasting path in which the most successful alternatives involved
nationalist figures who reintroduced familiar Balkan political themes.

The interaction of these explanations,and of critical events outside Eastern Europe, is apparent in
following the development of Eastern European Communism in the two decades preceding 1989.

Step One: Economic failure

Eastern European Communism reached its political and economic high point in the late 1960s and
early 1970s. The Soviet Union had become a scientific and military superpower comparable to the
United States. Thanks to limited economic reforms like the New Economic Mechanism in Hungary
and acceptance of a semi-private "second economy," the Communist states achieved striking
economic growth. This economic success made it hard to dismiss claims that socialism was a valid
alternative to capitalism, especially for developing nations.

Between 1965 and 1970, gross national product (GNP) per capita in the six Comecon states (East
Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) grew annually by between 2.7
and 4.0 percent, compared to 2.5 percent for the United States. From 1970-75, GNP per capita rose
in the same six states by 2.7 to 5.7 percent (an average of 4.2 percent), compared to a mere 1.2
percent in the U.S. and 1.3 percent in West Germany. In Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia, GNP
per capita doubled between 1960 and 1975, and new production began to include a higher
proportion of consumer goods. GNP per capita was still only half of the American level, but the
Communist states seemed to be catching up while offering universal health care, access to
education, and full employment.

These growth figures were in some ways misleading. The Bloc countries began with such low levels
of economic productivity that small increases translated into large percentage rates. Non-
Communist Greece had rates of GNP growth for 1967-70 and 1970-75 that were even higher than
those for the Comecon states (6.6 percent for Greece, 4.9 percent for the Bloc) and for the same

Three traps were ahead for the East European economies.

First, growth on the cheap was about to end. Opportunities to build on previously untapped natural
resources were exhausted: no more new hydroelectric dams in simple locations or mines exploiting
high quality surface ores. The pool of underemployed rural labor -- an asset when new factories
opened -- also had now been committed. The Soviet Union had subsidized growth in the region by
offering economic aid, petroleum and natural gas supplies, and expertise at low costs; world events
would soon force Moscow to curtail these resources or demand payment at market value. East Bloc
labor had worked hard for minimal rewards, and by doing so, those workers had been subsidizing
socialism: when workers began to demand more consumer goods and improved housing, overall
costs rose within the system. After 1970 these old advantages vanished.

Second, economic reform introduced new expectations. When the Bloc regimes accepted limited
levels of Western profit incentives (through reforms like the New Economic Mechanism), they
fostered popular demands for better conditions. The Solidarity union movement in Poland was the
unintended result of such a reform. When the Polish state stopped subsidizing low food prices in
1970, consumers experienced reduced access to goods: the resulting dissatisfaction caused the
Gdansk shipyard strike, which in turn began a process that created an independent trade union
movement ten years later.

Third, contact with Western economic forces exposed the Communist economies to the risks, as well
as the benefits, of free enterprise and modern economic structures. Access to Western loans is an
example. The Communist states lacked hard currency to invest in modern industries that could
compete with the West in advanced technologies and consumer goods. To pay for imported Western
machines and services, the East European states borrowed from Western banks. By 1980 Hungary
owed $9 billion to Western lenders; Romania owed $10 billion. The new East Bloc industries planned
to sell the output of the new industries on the world market, and so raise the cash to repay the
loans. Two things undercut this plan.

First, too much loan money was spent unproductively, subsidizing short-term consumer needs, lost
to corruption, or wasted on bad investments like the $2 billion Smederovo steel works in Serbia, a
factory that never turned a profit.

Second, the Comecon states became economic hostages to Western business cycles. They were
among the victims of the 1973 world oil price crisis when the OPEC states drove up the cost of
energy from an index level of 80 in 1973, to 138 in 1975. The Iranian revolution of 1979 caused
another increase in energy costs, to an index level of 238 in 1980 and 276 in 1982. Even after the
crises ended, typical index levels remained remained around 125 or 130.

As a result, the debt-laden Bloc states could no longer stretch their financial resources far enough to
buy energy to produce new goods, repay old loans, and meet domestic consumer demand at the
same time. Without hard currency for debt repayment, vital Western investments would dry up: to
pay back the loans, the Bloc states cut back on consumer goods and this created lines at stores,
general misery and a loss of confidence in local economies and currencies (in the 1980s, cartons of
Kent cigarettes had replaced currency as the preferred medium of exchange in Romania). Per capita
GNP stopped rising in the 1980s; in Poland GNP figures actually began to go down.

Step Two: Cold War pressures

At the same time that the oil crises were straining Comecon finances by raising the price of energy,
increased East-West tensions added burdensome military expenses.

When the period of "detente" ended in the late 1970s, the USSR and the US resumed a high-tech,
high-cost strategic arms race. The Carter administration began work on neutron bombs and missile
systems like the mobile MX and the cruise missile, which were deployed under Reagan in the 1980s.
The USSR's 1979 intervention in Afghanistan to preserve a communist regime led to a lengthy,
costly war. In 1970, the military share of the Soviet GNP was estimated to be about 13 percent of
total GNP. By 1988 this had grown to 16 percent. These military costs went up when the USSR
could least afford it.

While the East European and Balkan socialist states were not directly affected by these costs, they
soon faced reduced Soviet aid as an indirect result. The USSR began to demand market prices for
its products, especially oil and gas. Thus the arms race compounded the effects of other economic
problems in the Balkans. Economic hard times were not new in the Bloc, but in the 1980s they
combined with new political phenomena to set the stage for 1989.

Step Three: Perestroika

The revolutionary events of 1989 differed widely from place to place. This suggests that the
decisions of East European and Balkan leaders determined the nature of specific events during the
transition from socialism. Aging leaders remained in control of the Communist states except in
Yugoslavia, where Tito's death in 1981 ushered in an awkward system of short-term presidents
drawn in rotation from all the consitutent republics. While states like Hungary allowed
experimentation in their economies in the '80s, tolerance for change did not extend to political
pluralism: the rationale for innovation remained pragmatic economic development.

The rise of Mikhail Gorbachev to power during this same period signaled that the Soviet Union was
open not only to economic pragmatism, but a willingness to experiment in politics too. "Perestroika"
(new thinking) in Russia began with economic reforms and a role for criticism under the concept of
"glasnost" (openness). At the 1988 Party Congress speakers made real critiques of state policy.
Combined with moves toward secret ballots and real elections, tolerance of such dissent implied a
shift away from monolith Communist power in the state, and toward multi-party pluralism.
More important for the Balkan states, Gorbachev abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine, the USSR's
commitment to use force to block any shift away from Russian-style Communism. Soviet occupation
forces left Afghanistan and then Hungary. Speaking at the United Nations in December 1988,
Gorbachev renounced the use of force in foreign policy. Clearly Russia was no longer going to block
political experimentation in Eastern Europe. The transformation of Soviet foreign policy was a
fundamental factor at work in the background of Balkan events: it was a major impetus for change
that originated outside the Balkans.

Step Four: Alternatives to socialism

During the 1980s, oil prices and foreign debts discredited socialist economics and gave Eastern
Europeans a pocketbook reason to seek radical change, while Gorbachev's new policies removed
potential Russian intervention as an obstacle. However, to understand the actual events that took
place before and after the 1989 revolutions, we must look at domestic developments inside the Bloc

Just as trends in these states during the Cold War exhibited a strong degree of local variety, so did
events at the end of the Cold War. There had been no uniform or "monolithic" Communism: neither
was there any uniform shift to post-Communist societies and political systems. In some states, so-
called "civil society" movements led toward Western-style pluralism; in others, authoritarian
regimes (often tapping traditional nationalism) came to power. In some states, the revolution was
bloodless; in others (like Romania) it led to civil strife, and in Yugoslavia, to extended open war.
The presence (or absence) of specific alternative movements, ideologies and institutions correlates
with the specific paths taken by the various Balkan states as the Communist era ended. In other
words, while forces outside the region played a role, local influences and decisions were important

The varieties of Balkan experience

By looking back twenty (or more) years before the events of 1989, we can discern trends that
illuminate what happened when change came. It is helpful also to look widely at events across all of
Eastern Europe, because the steps that led to the 1989 revolutions show strong interconnections
across the region.

We can see the roots of diversification in the Balkan and East European socialist experience as far
back as the Tito-Stalin split, in Romania's pursuit of a "national road to Communism," and in the
1968 Prague Spring movement for "Communism with a human face" and its aftermath. While the
1968 Czech movement was suppressed, it produced echoes in other places that had profound
consequences in years to come.

In Croatia, for example, demonstrations in 1968 by pro-Czech student sympathizers led to the
creation of new student groups that functioned outside the control of the Party. Under their
leadership, interest in Croatian history and culture revived. This reawakened ethnic pride soon
combined with economic resentments that had an ethnic twist, as Croats watched money flow from
Yugoslavia's rich north to the poor south.

The result was a growing Croatian separatist movement, based in revival of a cultural organization
from the nineteenth century, Matica Hrvatska (Matica means "queen bee"). In 1971, students sang
banned patriotic songs in defiance of the authorities, while Matica Hrvatska proposed a new
Croatian constitution under which Croatia would have the right to secede from Yugoslavia, and
"Croatian" would become the state language instead of Serbo-Croatian. At the same time, Catholics
criticised the Serbian Orthodox Church and there was an effort to end the right of Serbs in Croatia
to education in Cyrillic. In the ensuing crackdown, numerous leaders were arrested. One of them
was Franjo Tudjman, the future President of Croatia. In 1971 he was 49 years old, a former
partisan and Communist general with academic interests, who had resigned his state posts in 1967
to take up the cause of Croatian nationalism.

The period of East-West detente in the middle 1970s injected additional factors. The 1975 Helsinki
Agreements between the USSR and the United States included a pledge by the Soviets to permit the
exercise of "human rights." While the concept was vaguely defined, the agreement nevertheless
offered important leverage for reformers.

When members of an irreverent rock band called the "Plastic People of the Universe" were arrested
in Czechoslovakia in 1977, 243 Czech writers, intellectuals and reform-minded Communists
organized an informal group called "Charter 77" to protest the arrests. Charter 77 issued a public
letter calling on dissidents to live "as if" they were living in a "civil society," one in which basic
human rights such as freedom of expression were allowed. Their most important leader was the
playwright Vaclav Havel, later the first President of the post-Communist Czech Republic. Under
Stalin (or Romania's Ceausescu), these kinds of dissenters probably would have been shot, but
increased Bloc reliance on Western good will meant that the protesters simply were harassed, while
their message of disobedience persisted, laying the framework for an alternative system.

In Poland, the impetus for an alternative society came from other directions. The 1978 election of
the Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II fostered Polish activism that included a
rediscovered awareness of Polish Catholicism (in which nationalism was not far from the surface). In
1980, another economic downturn led to more strikes in Polish shipyards and the emergence of
Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc (Solidarity), the Bloc's first independent trade union, that is, one
outside Communist Party control. Solidarity offered an alternative model for labor in a "workers'
state" despite being suppressed in 1981 by the martial law regime of Prime Minister (and former
General) Wojciech Jaruzelski. Ironically, even Jaruzelski can be viewed as a figure opposed to
external Soviet Russian influence. The prevention of an armed Russian intervention was one of the
key factors behind the imposition of martial law, as much as opposition to reform currents from
within the Polish socialist state.

Alternatives in Hungary

Events in Prague and Gdansk foreshadowed the course of the eventual revolutions and issues
defining the post-Communist societies in Czechoslovakia and Poland. So did events in the Balkans.
In retrospect, it is possible to find hints in the 1980s which point to emerging forces, forces that
took center stage after Soviet control was removed.

In Hungary, the "alternative" to Communism largely sprang from inside the Party itself: for that
reason the "Revolution" of 1989 was more of an "Evolution." Hungarian Communism in the 1980s
tolerated strong elements of economic reform, and a good deal of decision making took place at the
lower levels of the economy even if prohibitions on political democracy remained in place. The
private "second economy" was legalized in 1982. Such conditions encouraged critics of the system.

Until the middle 1980s the Hungarian opposition remained small and was principally a matter for
intellectuals. After 1985, however, other groups capitalized on new rights to freedom of expression
won by this vanguard, and for the first time since the 1940s created mass movements outside the
Party. For example, environmentalists opposed Czechoslovak projects for new dams on the Danube,
and demonstrators promoted aid to the persecuted Hungarian minority under Romanian rule in
Transylvania. Neither group could be accused of anti-Communist views; both tapped into nationalist
feelings as well.

In 1988, the senile Janos Kadar was removed from power by younger elements in the Party. By
then, both pro-reform Communists and the new movements were comfortable with a situation in
which certain organizations functioned outside Party control. After Gorbachev withdrew the threat of
Soviet intervention, which had been a prop for traditionalists in the Party, the reform faction was
able to gain control. Party reformers were willing to accept political as well as economic and
organizational pluralism. In the spring of 1989, the Hungarian reformers declared the March
anniversary of the 1848 revolution as a holiday, and scheduled free elections for 1990. Unwilling
any longer to enforce a closed frontier, they opened the border to permit Hungarians to visit Austria
freely for the first time in a generation. The results were spectacular.

The events of 1989

Hungary's decision to open its borders set off a chain reaction that involved all the East European
socialist states. In August 1989, a stream of East Germans began to appear at the West German
embassy in Budapest, seeking asylum and permission to move to West Germany. When the growing
throng overflowed the embassy grounds, the Hungarians simply opened the border and thousands
of East Germans streamed into Austria. A similar cycle of events began at the West German
embassy in Prague. The excitement was catching. Czechoslovakia and East Germany (whose
Communist regimes remained traditional and authoritarian) now experienced massive street
demonstrations, which went unchecked after police refused government orders to fire on the

By November 1989, a new East German reform cabinet entertained secret discussions about
relaxation of the rules against emigration: as a result, a rumor swept East Berlin that the Berlin Wall
was being opened. Crowds filled the streets and demoralized border guards simply let citizens cross
into West Berlin. After that, the East German regime unravelled in a few days. In Czechoslovakia, a
week of mass demonstrations ended the Communist monopoly on power when Czech party
reformers refused to use force to regain control. Vaclav Havel began the year in jail; by December
he was the new President of Czechoslovakia.

Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany experienced rapid, non-violent revolutions in which an
orientation to the West and the preexistence of progressive "alternative" structures played key
roles. Events in the Balkan states stand in stark contrast. The "revolutions" there were slower to
begin, slower to unfold and slower to lead to dramatic changes: in fact, to the extent that former
Communists retained an uninterrupted grip on state power, one might question whether
"revolutions" even took place. Furthermore, events in the Balkans involved substantially greater
levels of violence, iuncluding the resurrection of inter-ethnic strife, so that it was unclear whether
the collapse of Communism looked forward to new 21st century visions, or backward to the
traditions of the 19th century.


Bulgaria experienced a rather quiet "revolution" in 1989. It is perhaps easier to say that the Party,
like it's leader Todor Zhivkov, simply grew old and exhausted. As hasd been true in Hungary, the
limited instances of opposition to the Party in the 1980s revolved around issues that were relatively
harmless from a political perspective. One center of dissent was an environmental movement, which
focussed on air pollution from badly run factories in neighboring Romania. Another was made up of
Bulgarian intellectuals who were opposed to anti-Turkish measures. Neither movement implied
fundamental criticism of the Bulgarian socialist regime.

In 1984, for reasons that are still obscure, the state decided to Bulgaricize the country's 10 percent
Turkish minority, which lived quietly and productively in traditional rural districts. For the first time,
Islamic religious observances were harassed and Moslem families were forced to change their
names to "Bulgarian" sounding names. Perhaps a hundred people were killed in small-scale riots.
Dissent remained private until 1989 when Turkish leaders organized protests. The state responded
by expelling 300,000 Turks from the country, a move that disrupted the economy and attracted
criticism from Bulgarian intellectuals.

However, the more important forces for change came from within the party. Reformers publicized
corruption among Todor Zhivkov's entourage in part to put pressure on the Party to embrace
needed economic reforms. Zhivkov resigned in November 1989 at the age of 78, and in December
the Party gave up its monopoly on power. Like their Hungarian counterparts, reformers in the
Bulgarian party overcame fears about pluralism and in fact the renamed Bulgarian Socialist Party
won the free 1990 elections. In other words, the result of the 1989 "revolution" was to return
reform-minded ex-Communists to power, which casts some doubt on the use of the word
"revolution" in this case.


In Romania too, Party insiders were important figures in offering "alternatives" to the existing,
traditional Communist regime. Unlike Hungary and Bulgaria, however, their influence was far less
progressive, largely because Ceausescu's brand of Stalinism had suppressed imaginative thinking
for so long, along with real dissent. Romania tolerated no movements like Charter 77 or Solidarity:
the leaders of even minor strikes routinely disappeared.

Ceausescu's brother Nicu has called the events of December 1989 in Romania "a coup d'etat that
took place against the background of a popular revolt." If levels of violence are any gauge, the
revolution tapped deep wellsprings of discontent. The entire population had suffered under
miserable conditions all through the 1980s, denied basic consumer goods while the foreign debt was

At the same time, ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania were singled out for second-class treatment. It
was no coincidence that when the crisis broke in December 1989, it began with state efforts to
arrest a Magyar priest in Transylvania. In that episode, several people were killed by the Securitate
secret police, but inaccurate rumors abut the massacre of thousands led to a nation-wide wave of
unrest. Ceausescu's efforts to overawe his critics backfired when he was booed at a mass rally in
Bucharest. Fighting then broke out between street crowds and the Securitate, in which some 5,000
people were killed and parts of the city destroyed.

However, the absence of organized, well-known or credible alternative forces in Romanian society
left this popular revolution without leaders or a clear ideological direction. Instead, rivals of
Ceausescu within the Party itself appear to have used these genuine demonstrations as a cover,
under which they carried out long-standing plans for a coup. Army and Party leaders jealous or
afraid of the Ceausescu clan took advantage of the disorder to arrest, execute and belatedly try
Ceausescu and his wife. Analysts have pointed to the rapid appearance of the National Salvation
Front (NSF or FSN) as a sign of conspiracy: a previously unknown political organization, it rapidly
took over the government.

Subsequent to 1989, the NSF proved to be a political tool of longtime Communist leaders including
Securitate figures, and not an expression of real dissent or opposition. While some alternative
political groups and media have appeared, [up to 1995] the NSF has dominated power as a new
political monopoly. Ion Iliescu, a former Communist, secured 85% of the vote for president in 1990.
When student demonstrators challenged NSF policies, the state brought 10,000 miners armed with
clubs to Bucharest from the provinces, then used them to break up opposition gatherings and
smash the offices of rival parties. Romanian politics in the period after 1989 showed few signs of
real pluralism or reforms that might break up old corrupt centers of power.


Events in Yugoslavia displayed the resurgence of nationalism at their most extreme. Lecture 25
deals with events there. Suffice it to say for now that the alternative centers of social and political
organization there were based strongly in traditional nationalism, and this accounted for the ethnic
warfare that lasted four years. The aftershocks of the Prague spring fell on fertile ground laced with
mistrust when it came to Serbs and Croats.


If we analyze the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 through the presence or absence of local
alternatives to Communism, Albania presents an extreme case. Because Albania had the fewest
alternatives to the Party structure, Albania experienced the least apparent changes in 1989.
Instead, change began with the death of Enver Hoxha in 1985, the World War II guerilla leader who
led the Party and the state all through the Cold War.

By the time Hoxha died at age 77, Albanian Communism was exhausted. Forty years of Stalinist
domestic policies (periodic purges, repression of dissent and criticism, central economic planning
and collectivization) had produced Europe's lowest standard of living, combined with a sterile culture
offering no alternative ideas. Even Albania's celebrated independence in foreign affairs reached a
dead end, when Hoxha broke with Communist Chinese modernizers after Mao's death in 1976. The
country was self-sufficient but isolated.
Hoxha's successor was Ramiz Alia, a Communist since age 18, who rose rapidly in the Party-state
apparatus. Despite his loyalty to Hoxha, Alia recognized in 1985 that the country needed
international aid and economic reforms. Between 1985 and 1989 he introduced wage incentives,
plant autonomy, consumer goods and toleration of criticism by the nation's writers, while the Party
retained a monopoly on political power.

Alia experienced no serious challenge during the Revolutions of 1989. The Party accelerated plans
for economic reforms, but made no move toward political pluralism until December 1990, more than
a year after events elsewhere. In apparently free elections in 1991, the Communist Party took 56
percent of the vote, and Alia was elected President. In other words, there were so few alternatives
in Albania that the party and its leading personalities still dominated the landscape. If there is to be
"revolution" in Albania, its crucial aspects are a matter of economic modernization, not politics.


We can make two summary observations, comparing Balkan events with those to the north, and
even to those in Hungary.

First, only in the Balkans did former Communists retain a grip on political power in the period
immediately after the revolution. Elements rooted in Solidarity and the Catholic Church routed the
Polish Communists. Charter 77 created an alternative in Czechoslovakia. East Germany looked to
Bonn, and former Party leaders were tried for treason. But in the Balkan states, ex-Communists
remain major players in national politics, even if many chose to redefine themselves as nationalists.

Second, extensive violence during the 1989 revolutions was confined to two Balkan states: Romania
and Yugoslavia. The northern revolutions involved peaceful demonstrators, who established pluralist
regimes. In the Balkans, tolerance and pluralism remained in short supply. This led to violent
responses to dissent and to ethnic conflict. Both seem more like echoes of the Balkan past, than
signs of progress toward a brighter future.

Copyright 1996 by Steven W. Sowards