Why Was There Relative Stability In The

Balkans, In The Period 1890-1908? Essay, Research Paper

Between the years of 1890 and 1908 there was a period of relative stability in the Balkan area. Whilst, in this essay, it is my primary objective to look at what factors caused this, it is first important to understand that the climate was only stable in comparison to the years before it ? when there was great tension, argument and conflict.

It would be na?ve to assume that after 1890 there was none of the aforementioned; the importance of the word ?relative? should not be overlooked. Take, for example, the infamous Armenian massacres of 1894 and 1896. At that time there were about a million Armenians under Turkish rule. They were a badly oppressed minority, discriminated against in just about every conceivable way. When the Armenian people began to press for improved rights and independence, the Turkish reaction was to silence them through acts of murder. This is clearly not an act usually associated with stability.

Another prime example that the stability in the Balkans was only ever relative is the crisis of 1903. The Serbian King was assassinated in a military coup and replaced by King Peter, who belonged to a different dynasty. He was pro-Russian which angered Austria-Hungary, who had been allied with Serbia. Austria-Hungary placed economic sanctions on the Serbs in the hope of forcing them back into an alliance, but this only succeeded in worsening relations between the two and pushing Serbia into Russian hands.

That said, there is no doubt that the climate surrounding the Balkans was far more relaxed and stable between 1890 and 1908 than it had been for many decades beforehand. There were several factors that contributed to this, the primary reason being (in my opinion) the change in Russian foreign policy.

Before 1890, Russian was often the root cause of tension and conflict, because of her foreign policy objectives ? she had two principle objectives: to unite the Slav people of the Balkans, in order to create a ?Greater Motherland?, and also to gain greater access to The Straits. This was most evident in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877, where Russia had emerged victorious, and attempted to create a ?Bigger Bulgaria? of Slav people in the (eventually) abortive treaty of San Stefano.

After 1890 Russia felt that if they continued to pursue their interests in the Balkans, it was a lot of trouble for possibly no gain, so instead she began looking to the East and the far greater opportunities for expansion in China, Japan and Manchuria. There was also a fear of a possible conflict with one or more of the other European major powers if they continued as they had been doing in the previous years. Thus, Russia stayed out of Balkan affairs after 1890.

This new Russian attitude was made crystal-clear in the 1897 Russia/Austria-Hungary agreement. Both Russia and Austria-Hungary agreed it was in both of their interests to leave the Balkans alone, as they both came to the conclusion that, if they continued as they had been doing, war was almost inevitable. They also agreed to prevent other powers altering the Balkan status quo. This agreement became known as ?Balkans on Ice? because if something is put on ice, it is kept as it is, and similarly Austria-Hungary and Russia agreed to leave the Balkans as they were. This was a very important contribution to stability, because it meant that Russia and Austria-Hungary, two powers who had previously been regularly involved in conflicts in the Balkans, would now back off and allow the climate to stabilise.

This agreement can be mainly attributed to Galvchowski, the Austrian foreign minister. When he was eventually succeeded, this agreement began to break down, a sign of tensions escalating and re-emerging.

The Austria-Serbia alliance, which existed through most of the period in question, acted as a force for stability, as it succeeded in keeping Slav nationalism at bay. In the previous years, the social unrest in the Balkan States had become the focal point of many European powers. The Balkan Peninsula was that of great importance due to its territorial and economic significance; however, the Balkan States consisted of many proud ethnic cultures, which did not wish to be ruled by any authority other than themselves. The unification of other countries and strong patriotism fuelled the desires of the Slavs, Greeks, Montenegrins, Rumanians, and Bulgarians to gain independence and revenge for the occupation of their lands by the Turks. By uniting Austria-Hungary and Serbia, these nationalist desires were quelled.

However, it should be noted that Austria-Hungary felt that it was an alliance they had entered in because they had no other choice, as their main ally Great Britain lost interest in the Balkans and began looking to expand its empire elsewhere, especially in Africa, and thus Austria-Hungary was isolated and vulnerable. This is an indication that the alliance was never really a stable one, and its breakdown was inevitable.

When the alliance did eventually fall apart in 1903 due to a change of royal dynasty in Serbia, Austria-Hungary placed economic pressure on Serbia in an attempt to force them back into an alliance, but this only worked to worsen things between the two states. This breakdown in relations led to an upsurge in Balkan nationalism which had not been seen post-1890.

An important factor that should not be overlooked is the simple reason that none of the powers wanted a war. They all understood that if the situation in the Balkans did not change, battle was inevitable, so they all took some kind of measures to prevent it. The legacy of the Treaty of Berlin (1978), which had dealt exclusively with the great powers and their problems, meant there was no lasting animosity between the major European powers.

In 1890, the year ear-marked as the start of the period of stability, the German minister Bismarck was replaced, which ended the era of what became known as the ?Bismarckian System? of foreign politics.

The importance of the end of Bismarck?s political career should not be underestimated ? for years he had deliberately played off the other European powers against each other to prevent coalitions forming against, and isolating, Germany. Because of this policy, there was a lot of animosity between the powers. Bismarck?s succession brought about a calmer European mood.

As I stated earlier, to call the climate in the Balkans during the period 1890-1908 ?stable? is when compared to the years which came before and after it.

There was still tension, still argument, and still violence, but the volatile period before was far worse in comparison.

In 1908 the Bosnia crisis acted as a proof that any kind of stability was long over. Austria-Hungary showed the ?Balkans on Ice? idea was long-forgotten as Russian and Austrian foreign ministers Izvolsky and Aehrenthal met to draw up plans of an Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This ignited Slav nationalism tremendously, and was to set Europe on the road to war.

Bibliography”Rivalry & Accord ; International Relations 1870-1914″ by John Lowe [1988]


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