Nationalism in the Balkans helped contribute to the outbreak of WWI. Beginning in the late 19th century, the social unrest in the Balkan States became 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 who did not wish to be ruled by any authority other than themselves.
The unification of other countries and strong patriotism fueled the desires of the Slavs, Greeks, Montenegrins, Rumanians, and Bulgarians to gain independence and revenge for the occupation of their lands by the Turks. This revolution sparked by strong nationalistic views led to the second-largest war in human existence.
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Up until the early 20th century, the Balkan States were controlled by the Ottoman Empire; however, due to the decline of their power and prestige, the Balkan States found an opportunity to gain independence. The unification and formation of Italy and Germany as countries encouraged the Balkan revolt of 1875-8. The revolt spread like wildfire through the Balkan peninsula and with the aid of Russia, Turkey was defeated. Through this, the Balkan States: Serbia, Montenegro, and Rumania, gained increases in their land; thus, resulting in a stronger patriotic pride. Turkey, however, still controlled parts of the Balkans and this angered Balkan nationalism because they now felt capable of governing themselves.
In 1885, the Bulgarian population of Eastern Rumelia revolted against Turkish rule and declared its union with Bulgaria. The Serbs became furious and proclaimed war because they felt threatened by this act. Surprisingly the Bulgarians proved to be a greater match for the Serbs and in the battle of Slivnitza, they were defeated. Britain agreed to the unification of Eastern Rumelia and Bulgaria and the Balkan States again gained more power through their nationalistic ideologies.
Religious tensions in Crete added to the possibility of war with a revolt in 1897 against Turkey. Due to the murders of both Muslims and Christians on the island, Crete and Greece declared war on Turkey. They were swiftly defeated within two weeks; however, because of the intervention of European powers, Turkey was forced to give up its possessions on the mainland. The Cretan revolt added to Balkan nationalism in this era and led the way for the formation of the Balkan League.
The Balkan League was formed in 1912 by Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro. Their goal was the expulsion of the Turks from the Balkan peninsula. Due to the growing nationalism among these four countries, they sought power and prestige through the defeat of their old master. Turkey\’s difficulties with the Turkish revolution (1908-1909) and the Turko-Italian War(1911 – 1912), gave the Balkans a chance for both retaliation and sovereignty. In October 1912, the Balkan League attacked the Turks and began what was to be known as the Balkan Wars(1912-13).
The European Powers became alarmed with the success of the Balkan States in the war. This was due to a rapid growth of intense nationalism which made them a threat to larger countries. The major powers\’ fears were appeased with the Treaty of London. The Balkan States felt cheated through the treaty which created friction among the Balkan allies. The Bulgarians, who felt cheated the most, declared war on both Greece and Serbia. In a rage of enormous pride, the Bulgarians had sealed their doom and were defeated by Serbia, Greece, Turkey, and Rumania. The dismantling of Bulgaria led to significant problems in the months to come.
With the decline of Bulgaria and Turkey in the Balkans, the Serbs were able to gain a great deal of power in the area. Austria-Hungary felt threatened by a Serbia growing in power and wished to crush it before it was too late. The Serbs were now a very proud people who wished to see the unification of all Slavs.
The people of Bosnia belonged to the same Slavic race as the Serbs and wished to join Serbia; however, they were controlled by the Austria-Hungary Empire. Serbian nationalists were angered with Austria-Hungary\’s control and wished to see Bosnia free. On June 24th, 1914, a young Serbian nationalist killed Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne. The fuse was lit and the war was imminent.
Through the strong patriotism in the Balkan peninsula, wars were fought and lost which resulted in WWI. Although the Balkans were somewhat unimportant in relation to more powerful countries of the time, they managed to play an important part in the history of Europe through their determination. Within the tiny Balkan States, the nationalism of the early 19th century erupted into an ocean of patriotic fervour. Their desire helped bring them towards freedom; however, with independence came a lust for power and excess of patriotism.
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