Macedonia: What Went Wrong in the Last 200 Years - Part I - 1800 - 1878
Macedonia: What Went Wrong in the Last 200 Years
Part I - 1800 - 1878
by Risto Stefov email@example.com
click here for a printable version
Even before Alexander's time Macedonia was a single nation. With time she grew and shrunk but always remained a single nation until her partition in 1912-13. Today however, while new nations spring up and flourish, Macedonia is still partitioned and fighting for her identity. Why? What went wrong and who is responsible?
If the Balkan roots lie in antiquity then the first stem that created the modern Balkan countries sprang up in the 19th century. The 19th century is the most important period in modern Balkan history and will be the subject of this and subsequent articles.
I want to apologize in advance for the length and tediousness of this article but please bear with me because I find it necessary to establish a foundation of knowledge on which to base claims and reach conclusions.
Before I start with the main theme of this article I would like to digress for a moment and remark on a couple of personal encounters with some Greek pundits.
One day I received an e-mail full of rude and denigrating remarks from some Greeks who claim to be experts on South Balkan history. Their remarks were condescending and full of spite. They claimed to be intelligent and very knowledgeable about Greek history but their own remarks betrayed their true nature. They told me my efforts to extort Greek history were a waste of time and that Macedonia always belonged to Greece. They also said that they had widely accepted historical proof but quoted me politically motivated Greek propaganda. Most of the verbiage in their essay dealt with issues of Ancient Macedonia and why it belongs to the Greeks and not the Slavs. In spite of their insulting approach, I felt obliged to respond with my own arguments. After producing hundreds of pages of counter arguments the only reward I received for my effort was ridicule and more derogatory comments.
My theory is that Greeks can't be convinced regardless of how much evidence we throw at them. My guess is that it is not in their best interest to argue too far from their "scripted plans" so it is futile to try.
If you run into this situation, my advice is to ignore these deliberate attempts of diversion and carry on with your own agenda.
As for being a "Macedonian Salad", yes the French were right when they said Macedonia was a "salad of nationalities". Not only do we admit to that, but we are also proud of it. Macedonia is the only South Balkan country with "clean hands" and a "clear conscience". Macedonia never waged war, committed genocide, used ethnic cleansing, forced population exchanges, expelled people from their homes, relocated massive populations, changed peoples names, changed toponym names, assimilated people by force, faked history, gave up a "living and vibrant" language for a dead one or stole someone else's culture.
If that's what it takes to become homogeneous we don't want it.
Here is what one author thinks of the Greeks...
... philhellenism is a love affair with a dream, which envisions "Greece and the Greeks" not as an actual place or as real people but as symbols of some imagined perfection.......
This is a direct quote from page 12 in the preface of the book GREECE WITHOUT COLUMNS The Making of the Modern Greeks by David Holden, J.B. Lippincott Company Philadelphia and New York, London, 1971.
One more thing to be mindful of when confronting the Greeks. They may be denigrating and mocking you on the surface but you can bet they will take everything you say seriously. If they run into something new they will take it to their academic colleagues and get answers. They have answers for everything.
The intent of this article (Part I) is to present the reader with a wider perspective of Balkan history from about 1800 to 1878. If you think there is too much outside interference in Macedonia today, or if you think Super Powers are "here to help us", this article is for you.
There is no event in recorded history that unfolded without Super Power intervention and there is no time in recorded history where one nation put another nation's interests ahead of its own.
Before I get into details of the last two hundred years, I want to summarize some events that led up to the 19th century.
Macedonia's problems can be traced back to the 1200s after Tsary Grad (Constantinople) was sacked by the crusaders in 1204. While the Pravoslaven (Byzantine) Empire was recovering from the crusader attack, a Nomad Muslim tribe was entering Anatolia from Central Asia. The tribe was called "Ottoman" named after their first leader Osman. The Ottomans first made their presence and crossed into Europe in 1345 as mercenaries hired by the Byzantines to defend their Empire. As the Ottomans grew in numbers, they settled at Galipoly west of the Macedonian Dardanelles (Endrene) and used the area as a staging ground for conquest.
In 1389 the Ottomans attacked Kosovo and destroyed the Serbian army also killing the Serbian nobility in the process.
In 1392 they attacked and conquered geographical Macedonia including Solun but not Sveta Gora (Holy Mountain).
In 1444 while attempting to drive north through Bulgaria they were met and crushed by Hungarian, Polish, French and German Crusaders at Varna.
Soon after their recovery, they besieged Tsary Grad and took it in 1453, looting all the wealth that was accumulated for over two millennia.
Feeling the sting of 1444, the Ottomans turned northwest and in 1526 they attacked and destroyed the Hungarian army killing 25,000 knights.
After that they unsuccessfully tried twice to take Vienna, once in 1529 and then again in 1683 but failed. Failure to take Vienna halted the Ottoman expansion in Europe.
After sacking Tsary Grad the Ottoman nomads adapted much of the Pravoslaven administration and feudal practices and began to settle the Balkans. The conquered people of the new Ottoman territories became subjects of the Empire to be ruled according to Muslim law.
At the head of the Ottoman Empire sat the Sultan who was God's representative on earth. The Sultan owned everything and everyone in the empire. Below the Sultan sat the ruling class and the Pashas (generals) and below them sat the Raya (protected flock). Everyone worked for the Sultan and the Sultan in turn provided his subjects with all of life's necessities.
In the beginning Ottoman lands were divided into four categories. The "meri" lands such as valleys, forests, mountains, rivers, roads, etc., belonged exclusively to the Sultan.
The "temar" lands were meri lands loaned or granted to Ottoman civil and military officials. Years later as the Empire introduced land reforms temar estates converted to private property and became known as "chifliks".
The "vakof" lands were tax-exempt lands dedicated for pious purposes and to support public services such as fire fighting, etc.
Finally, the "molk" lands were private lands occupied by peoples' houses, gardens, vineyards, orchards, etc.
The Islamic Ottomans belonged to the Sunni sect of the Muslim religion. The Empire's subjects belonged to one of two religiously (not nationally) divided Millets. The Islam Millet was exclusively for Muslims and the non-Islam or Roum Millet grouped all other religions together.
The reasons for separating Muslims from others had to do with how Islamic law was applied. Unlike our laws today, Ottoman Muslim law had nothing to do with civil rights and everything to do with religious rights. Muslim courts were appointed for the sole purpose of interpreting the Koran and very little else. The Koran dictated Muslim conduct and behaviour including punishment for crimes.
In the Ottoman mind only religion and the word of God had sole authority over peoples' lives. Religion was the official government of the Ottoman state. Islam was the only recognized form of rule that suited Muslims but could not be directly applied to non-Muslims. So the next best thing was to allow another religion to rule the non-Muslims. The obvious choice of course was the Pravoslaven Christian religion, which was the foundation of the Pravoslaven (Byzantine) Empire.
There was a catch however. The official Muslim documents that would allow the "transfer of rule" were based on an ancient Islamic model which denounced all Christianity as a corrupt invention of the "Evil one". The conservative Turks regarded the Christians as no more than unclean and perverted animals. Also, the ancient documents called for sacrifices to be made. A Christian religious leader for being granted leadership by the Muslims, was expected to sacrifice his own flock on demand, to prove his loyalty to the Sultan. It was under these conditions that the Greek Patriarch accepted his installment as sole ruler of the Christian Orthodox faith and of the non-Muslim Millet.
While the first Sultans destroyed Tsary Grad, they tolerated Christianity as the Government of the non-Muslim Millet and sold the Patriarchate to Greek adventurers who could buy (bribe) his nomination. Once nominated, the Patriarch in turn sold consecration rights to Bishops, who in turn regarded their gain as a "legitimate investment" of capital and proceeded to "farm their diocese". This was the first time Orthodoxy overstepped Pravoslavism and began to overtake the Macedonian dominated Eastern Christian Churches. This was also the beginning of the end for the Slavonic(Macedonian) Churches in the Ottoman Empire.
In addition to being a religious ruler, the Patriarch and his appointed Bishops became civil administrators of the Christian and non-Muslim people. Their authority included mediating with the Turks, administering Christian law (marriages, inheritance, divorce, etc.), running schools and hospitals, and dealing with the large and small issues of life. There were no prescribed provisions however, on how to deal with criminal matters or the limit of authority on the part of the Bishops. In other words there was no uniform way in which Christian criminals could be punished or how far a Bishop could exercise his authority. This opened the way for interpretation, neglect, abuse and activities of corruption such as favouritism and bribery.
For the purposes of administration, the Ottoman territory was divided into provinces called "Vilayets". Each province was governed by a "Vali" who was equal in rank to a "Pasha" (military general). There were six Vilayets in European Turkey, Albania, Jannina, Scutari, Solun, Monastir and Ushkab. To the east were Andreonople and Istambul (Tsary Grad). The larger Vilayets were sub-divided into two or more "Sandjaks" each governed by a "Mutesharif" who also ranked as a Pasha. Kazas (departments) were in turn governed by Kamakams (prefects) whose rank was that of "Begs" (military colonel). After that came the "Nahieis" (districts) governed by Mudirs (sub-prefects).
Muslim Turks always administered the Ottoman government and the Military. However, due to lack of manpower to rule an expanding empire, the Ottomans in the 1300's adopted the "devshirme" or child contribution program. Young Christian boys were abducted by force and converted to Islam. After being educated, the bright ones were given administrative roles and the rest, the "Janissary", were given military responsibilities. The devshirme was abolished in 1637when the Janissary became a problem for the Sultan.
Failure to seize Vienna in 1683 weakened the Ottoman Empire and brought it into constant conflict with Austria and Russia. One such conflict ended in 1699 with the Treaty of Karlwitz. By this Treaty, the Ottoman Empire lost Hungary to the Habsburgs (Austria) and part of the Ukraine to Russia.
After annexing Hungary the Habsburg Empire (1200-1900) became ruler of the Catholic part of Eastern Europe while the Ottoman ruled the Orthodox Balkans. The Habsburg Empire, in 1867 (after losing the war with Germany in 1860), became known as the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
Another minor but crucial event for the south Balkans took place in 1711 when one of the Moldovian gospodars (prince) was accused of collaborating with the Russian army and was held responsible for the Russian invasion of Romania. As punishment the Ottomans replaced all Romanian and Moldovian gospodars with Phanariots from Istanbul.
The Phanariots were a group of wealthy, "Greek educated" (not all Greek), Christian class of people that lived in the "Phanar" or lighthouse district of Istanbul (Tsary Grad). After the Sultan installed the Greek Patriarch in Istanbul, the Phanar became a thriving Christian "Greek inclined" culture. As I mentioned earlier, the Sultan placed the Patriarch in charge of the Christian (Roum) millet because he found him more agreeable than his Christian counterparts. The Patriarchy functioned like a state within a state with its own administration and services. Having the Sultan's favour, the Greek Patriarch sought the chance to expand his dominion over the entire Eastern Christian Church by replacing whatever non-Greek bishoprics he could with Greek bishoprics.
For example, the Serbian bishoprics were abolished as punishment for helping the Habsburgs. At about the same time, the Macedonian including the powerful Ohrid bishopric were also abolished followed by the Romanian bishoprics.
After becoming gospodars in Romania, the Phanariots abolished Church Slavonic (Macedonian) liturgy and replaced it with a form of Greek liturgy. Unfortunately, the Phanariots didn't have enough Greek-speaking clergy so Romanian-speakers were chosen to replace the Macedonian clergy. The Romanians however, didn't care much for the Greek language or the Greek culture and switched to Romanian (a form of Latin).
Eventually, as more and more bishoprics were shut down the Phanariots became the sole representatives of the Orthodox culture, Christian faith and Christian education.
The Ottomans trusted the Phanariots well enough to give them a role in the central Ottoman administration. This included the office of the "Dragoman", the head of the Sultan's interpreters' service (Muslims were discouraged from learning foreign languages). Phanariots participated in diplomatic negotiations and some even became ambassadors for the Ottoman Empire. Phanariots were put in charge of collecting taxes from the Christian Millet for the Ottomans and whatever they could pilfer from the peasants they kept for themselves. Many scholars believe that Romania's peasants never suffered more than they did during the Phanariot period.
Phanariots also secured food and other services for the Ottoman court.
The Phanariots through the Dragoman were largely responsible for providing "all kinds" of information to the outside world about the Ottoman Empire including their own desires to rule it. Despite what modern Greeks claim, the Phanariot dream was to replace the Ottoman Empire with a Christian Empire like the Russian model. In theory, they wanted to re-create a multi-cultural Byzantine type Empire but with a Greek Orthodox Patriarch in charge. In other words, the "Megaly Idea" which to this day dominates Greek expansionist desires.
The Phanariots believed that with Russian or German help it was possible to achieve the Magaly Idea. Unfortunately for the Greeks, the Great Powers had different plans for the Balkans.
The next turning point for the Ottoman Empire came during the Russian-Turkish war of 1769 to 1774. After Russian forces occupied Romanian principalities, Turkey was defeated and the 1774 Kuchuk Kainarji Treaty gave Russian ships access to the Black Sea, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Russia became the "protector of Orthodox Christians" inside the Ottoman domain including Wallachia (Romania) and Moldavia. Also, for the first time, the Ottomans allowed Russian consular agents inside their empire.
Russia at the time did not have enough ships to fill the shipping demands so many of the shipping contracts went to Phanariot and Greek captains who were on friendly terms with both the Russians and the Ottomans.
The Kuchuk Kainarji Treaty bolstered Russian expansionism in the Balkans, which alarmed the Western Powers and initiated the "Eastern Question" of "what will happen to the Balkans when the Ottoman Empire disappears"?
The Eastern Question of the 1800's later became the Macedonian Question of the 1900's.
At about the same time as Russia was making her way into the Balkans, the West was experiencing changes of its own. The industrial revolution was in full swing coming out of England and progressing towards the rest of the world. France was the economic super power but was quickly losing ground to England. The French Revolution (1789) gave birth not only to new ideas and nationalism but also to Napoleon Bonaparte. As Napoleon waged war in Europe and the Middle East, French shipping in the Mediterranean subsided only to be replaced by the Greek, Phanariot and British traders. French trade inside the Ottoman territory also declined and never fully recovered. By land, due to the long border, Austria dominated trade with the Ottoman Empire exercising its own brand of influence on the Balkans especially on the Serbian people.
As the turn of the 19th century brought economic change to Europe, the Balkans became the last frontier for capitalist expansion. By the 1800's Europe's political, economic and military institutions were rapidly changing. Western governments and Western exporters were aggressively pursuing Balkan markets on behalf of their Western manufacturers. This aggressive pursuit smothered Balkan industries before they had a chance to develop and compete. As a result, Balkan economies began to decline causing civil unrest and nationalist uprisings. While Western countries were left undisturbed to develop economically and socially, external forces prevented Balkan societies from achieving similar progress. Mostly regulated by guilds, Balkan trades could not compete with Western mechanization and went out of business. Without jobs, most city folk became a burden on the already economically strained rural peasants for support. The economic situation in the Balkans deteriorated to a point where people could no longer tolerate it and they started to rebel against their oppressors.
From the modern Balkan states, Serbia was the first to rebel. The first revolt took place in Belgrade in 1804, the same year that Napoleon became Emperor. The immediate causes of the armed uprising were oppression and a further deterioration of the Ottoman system. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798 the Sultan took troops from the Balkans and sent them to fight the French in Egypt. Leaving the region unguarded in 1801Belgrade became a sanctuary for bandits and unruly Janissaries. Robbery and murder became commonplace. Then in February of 1804 some bands of killers murdered seventy prominent village leaders and priests. They did this to frighten the population and to stop their Serb leaders from complaining to the Sultan. To save themselves, some of the Serb leaders fled to the forests and organized the villagers into armed units. They attacked the Janissary in the countryside and fought them until they were pushed back into Belgrade. The war ended in a stalemate.
The stalemate was broken in 1806 when the Serbs decided to no longer expect help from the Sultan and took matters into their own hands. At about the same time the French and the Turks became allies. Since France was already an enemy of Russia this alliance made Turkey also an enemy. Now being enemies of the Turks, the Russians intervened on behalf of the Serbs and in 1807 helped them take back Belgrade. The Sultan offered the Serbs full autonomy, but the Russians advised against it. They insisted on negotiating for full independence instead. Unfortunately, when the war between Russia and France ended, Russia in 1807 made peace with Napoleon and became allied with both France and Turkey. For selfish interests on Russia's part the Serbs were left on their own. The Serbs lost Belgrade to a Turkish army attack in 1808 and many Serbs fled into exile while the rest continued the guerilla warfare from the forests.
The revolt began again in 1809 when Russia renewed its campaign with Turkey, and ended in 1813 with a Serb defeat. The Serbs failed to win because Russia was unsure about its commitment to Serbia. Russia had a lot more to gain by appeasing Turkey especially when war with France became imminent. When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, the Russians abandoned the Serbs and in 1813 an Ottoman army invaded Serbia forcing many of her people to flee as refugees into the Austrian Empire.
Relations between Serbs and Turks turned from bad to worse when the Turks extorted provisions from the Serbs by force, tortured villagers in search of hidden weapons, and started raising taxes. A riot broke out at a Turkish estate in 1814 and the Turks massacred the local population and publicly impaled two hundred prisoners inside Belgrade. The Serbian leaders decided to revolt again and fighting resumed on Easter in 1815. This time Serb leaders made sure captured Turk soldiers were not killed and civilians were released unharmed. To ease Turkish fears, the Serbs also announced that this was a revolt to end abuses and not to gain independence.
After the Russians defeated Napoleon in 1815, Turkish fears were raised that Russia would again intervene on Serbia's behalf. To avoid this the Sultan gave Serbia autonomy.
After the Russian-Turkish War of 1829-30, a new treaty was signed which put an end to most abuses in Serbia. All Muslims except for a small garrison left Serbian territory. Serbs took control of the internal administration, the postal system, and the courts. Individual taxes and dues paid directly to the Sultan were replaced by a single annual tribute payment from the Serbian State to the Sultan. Serbia remained autonomous until 1878 when she was granted independence.
Second to rebel against Ottoman rule was Greece. The Greek uprising was not a true rebellion like the one in Serbia. Unlike the Serbs, most Greeks were wealthy and as I mentioned earlier, already enjoyed substantial privileges in Ottoman society. To revolt was a poor choice for them because they had a lot to lose and little to gain.
When the Ottomans imposed the millet system the Greeks began to gain advantages over the other Balkan Christians. In time, Greek Orthodox clergy took control of administering the entire Orthodox millet. Greek clergy had religious, educational, administrative, and legal power in the Ottoman Balkans. In other words, Greeks were more or less running all political, civil and religious affairs in the Christian Millet.
Religion, not ethnicity or language, was the first criterion for identifying individuals within the millet system. Religion, not language or place of residence, distinguished wealthy Orthodox Christians from wealthy Ottoman Muslims. There was no definable place called "Greece" other than the one-time Roman province of antiquity called "Gracea". Peloponesus was about the only inland region that resembled anything that could be considered Greek.
Because the Morea (Peloponesus) was poor, most of the countryside had no Turkish presence and Christian primates or "kodjabashii" virtually ruled themselves. Christian militia or "armatoli" kept the peace, while "klefts" or bandits roamed the hillsides robbing and pillaging their neighbours.
By the 1700s, Greek ship owners in the islands dominated Balkan commerce. As Christians, Greek traders were exempt from Muslim ethical and legal restraints (especially when dealing with money) and were permitted to make commercial contacts with non-Muslims. Westerners who did business in the region used local Jews, Armenians and Greeks as agents. Different branches of the same Greek family often operated in different cities, ties of kinship reducing the risks of trade.
Between 1529 and 1774 only Ottoman ships were allowed to navigate the isolated waters of the Black Sea. Greek trade grew without competition from the Venetians or other Western traders. As I mentioned earlier, the 1774 Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji opened the Turkish straits to Russian commerce. There were not enough Russian ships to meet all shipping demands so Ottoman Greeks filled the void. Also, the Napoleonic conflicts between England and France created new opportunities for the neutral Greek ships and by 1810 there were 600 Greek trading vessels conducting commerce.
For the Greeks, especially the well to do, Ottoman rule provided many advantages in comparison to other Balkan groups. Rich ship owners, agents, prosperous merchants, high officials in the Orthodox Church, tax collectors, Phanariot gospodars in Romania, primates in the Morea, and members of the interpreters' service all had much to lose and little to gain by rebelling.
How then can one explain the movement that led to the revolution in 1821?
Poor peasants, poor village priests, poor sailors, etc. who lived in the Morea had no investment in the Ottoman status quo. Without ideas or leadership, these people lived miserable lives and preyed on each other to survive. Outside interference started the rebellion.
The original instigators were members of the "Filiki Eteria" a secret society founded in 1814 in the Russian port of Odessa. The Filiki Eteria sent representatives into the Morea to recruit fighters. A number of important klefts and district notables answered their call by organizing peasants and forming armed bands.
The 1821revolution began as a planned conspiracy involving only selected elements of the population. At that time the idea of "nationality" remained very elusive, even for the most enlightened revolutionaries. The intent of the uprising was to liberate all of the Balkan people from Turkish tyranny and unite them in one Christian State.
The Filiki Eteria planned to start the uprising in three places. The first was the Morea where a core group of klefts and primates supported the idea. Second was Istanbul, where the Greek Phanariot community was expected to riot. Third, Greek forces were expected to cross the Russian border from Odessa to invade Moldavia and Romania. Plans however, did not go as expected. When 4500 men of the "Sacred Battalion" entered Moldavia in March, 1821the Romanian peasants ignored the Turks and instead attacked the Greeks. The Greek invasion of Romania was a complete failure. At the same time, "class divisions" in Phanariot society hampered the uprising in Istanbul. The Turks reacted by hanging the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and appointing a new Patriarch who condemned the uprising.
The only success was in the Morea and only because the primates feared the Turkish Pasha's retribution. Fearing arrest or even execution the primates joined the klefts and massacred the Turkish population of Morea. Turkey was unable to squelch the uprising and the conflict remained in stalemate until 1825. The stalemate in part was due to internal problems among the Greeks reflecting pre-existing class differences i.e. the armed peasants and Klefts in the Morea were loyal to Theodoros Kolokotronis, a kleft. Opposing them were the civilian leaders in the National Assembly which were made up mostly of primates and well-connected Phanariots. By 1823 the two sides were locked in a civil war. The stalemate was also due in part to interventions from Britain, France and Russia. Each of these states had strategic political and economic interests in Turkey, and each wanted to make sure that the results of the war in Greece would be in their best interest. The British were sympathetic to the Greek cause (in part due to Phil-Hellenism) but at the same time they wanted a strong Turkey to counter Russia. Initially, the British were prepared to support Turkey to prevent Russia from gaining control of the Turkish Straits and threatening the Mediterranean trade routes. Later as Britain gained control of Cyprus her plans changed (more on this later). The Russian Czars in turn had sympathy for the Orthodox Christians but feared the possibility of a Greek state becoming a British ally. French investors held large numbers of Turkish State bonds, which would be worthless if Turkey fell apart. France was also anxious to re-enter world politics after her defeat by Russia in 1815.
The Great Powers, from the stalemate could see that the Greek revolution would not go away and were prepared to intervene and make sure the final result was acceptable to their own interests. Foreign interference ran from 1825 until 1827. It began with the intervention to block the Egyptian navy from invading Greece in 1825 (Mehmet Ali's capture of the port of Navarino) and ended in 1827 when the British, French and Russians sank the Egyptian navy. The European Powers sent a combined fleet of 27 ships to Navarino Bay to observe the Egyptian navy but things got out of hand when musket shots were fired and the observation escalated into a battle. When it was over the European fleet had sunk 60 of the 89 Egyptian ships. The loss of the Egyptian navy left the Sultan without armed forces and the inability to reclaim the Morea or resist the Great Powers. Turkey was squeezed into providing concessions for Greece but the Ottomans kept stalling.
To end the stalling the Russians invaded Turkey in 1828 (Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1830) and almost reached Istanbul by 1829. The Sultan gave in to Russian demands. Russia too gave in to Western Power demands and agreed to British and French participation in the peace settlement of the London Protocol of 1830 which gave birth to a small, independent Greek kingdom. Prince Otto of Bavaria a German prince and a German administration were chosen by the Super Powers to rule the new Greek Kingdom. The choice was a compromise but acceptable to all three powers.
Two overwhelming "forces" came into being in the 19th century which transformed the Balkans. The first was the 1848 "Western economic revolution" which thrust the Balkans into social and economic upheaval. The second was "increased intervention" from non-Balkan political forces. As the century advanced, these developments merged, and worked not for the interests of the Balkan people but for the benefit of Europe's Great Powers.
Before I continue with internal Balkan developments I want to digress a little and explore the "external forces" and their "political desires" in Balkan affairs.
Besides Turkey, there were six Great Powers during the nineteenth century. They were Russia, Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany. From time to time the Great Powers expressed interest in the Balkan population, but in crisis situations, each followed its own interests. When the Great Powers made compromises, they did so to avoid war with each other and often failed to address the real issues that caused the crisis in the first place. This is similar to what the Great Powers are doing in the Balkans today.
Russia tended to be the most aggressive and was usually the cause of each new Turkish defeat. The 1774 Kuchuk Kainarji Treaty, in addition to allowing Russia access to the north shore of the Black Sea, gave her "power to act" on behalf of the Orthodox millet and to conduct commerce within the Ottoman Empire.
Russia's goals in the Balkans were (1) to gain exclusive navigation rights from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea for both merchant and military ships and (2) to annex Istanbul and the Macedonian Dardanelles for herself, both of which were unacceptable to the Western Powers.
After the end of the Crimean war in 1856, by the Treaty of Paris, the Western Powers made sure Russia's desires for expansion were curbed. First, all Russian warships were barred from the Black Sea and second, the Black Sea was opened to merchant ships from all the states. After that all the Great Powers, not just Russia, became the guarantors of the Balkan states.
From 1815 to 1878 Great Britain was Russia's strongest rival for Balkan influence. British interests led her to intervene against the Turks in the Greek revolution of the 1820s, but went to war against Russia in 1853 (Crimean war) on Turkey's behalf.
The British goals in the Balkans were to maintain access to the Eastern Mediterranean and to secure shipping lanes to India. Most of the trade routes passed through Turkish controlled waters and Turkey was too weak to be a threat, so Britain was inclined to oppose France, Russia and Germany, when they became a threat to Turkey.
To bolster its claim to the Eastern waterways in 1878 Britain took control of the island of Cyprus, and in 1883 occupied Egypt and the Suez Canal. After that Britain kept a close watch on Greek and Russian access to the Straits interfering less in Ottoman affairs.
Britain also had important commercial interests inside the Ottoman Empire, and later in the successor states. Investors in railroads and state bonds took as much profit as they could, as soon as they could, which in the long term contributed to the Ottoman Empire's instability.
France, like Britain, had both political and economic interests in the Balkans. During the Napoleonic wars, France was a direct threat to Ottoman rule (Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798) but after her 1815 defeat she lost military and political clout.
France had commercial rights in Turkey dating back to the Capitulation Treaties of the 1600s and relied heavily on trade with the Ottoman Empire.
In the 1820s, France joined British and Russian intervention on behalf of the Greeks. France did this mostly to protect her commercial interests but also to counter-balance Russian-British domination in the region. Also, let's not forget the "Philhellenic sympathy" the French had for the Greeks.
More so than the British, French investors played a key role in Balkan policy. During the Eastern Crisis and the war of 1875-78, the Turkish State went bankrupt and French bondholders were the biggest potential losers in case of default. So when the Ottoman Public Debt Administration was created to monitor Turkish State finances, French directors were right in the middle of managing Ottoman State finances. Like the British investors, French investors forced Turkey to maximize their returns and ignored the needs of the Ottoman people. (More about this later).
Austria had been the main threat to Ottoman rule at one time, but after 1699 Russia replaced her in that department. Austria retained a major interest in the Ottoman Empire mainly because it was neighbouring Hungary. In other words, Vienna had no desire to replace a weak Ottoman neighbour with a strong Russia or Russian allies like Serbia or Bulgaria.
Austria's goals were aimed at creating a Western Balkan economic resource and a potential market. Control of the Adriatic coast was key to Austria's foreign trade through the Adriatic Sea. Austria made sure she exerted enough influence to keep the hostile Great Powers away and to prevent the growing new Balkan nations from annexing it. Austria had no desire to annex the Western Balkans for herself. The ruling German Austrians, or the Hungarians had no ethnic or religious ties to the Slavs in the region.
After 1866 Germany (not Austria) became the leader in Central Europe. Austria now had only southeastern Europe where she could exert influence. Austria was too weak to absorb the Balkans by herself so she preferred to sustain a weak Ottoman Empire instead of "Russian controlled" states. This explains why Vienna took an anti-Russian position during the Crimean War, and why she became allied with Germany later. Germany was an ally of both Russia and Austria, but Austria turned on Russia so Germany had to abandon the Russian-German alliance to please Austria (more about this and the Crimean war later).
Serbia and Romania created problems for Vienna which she unsuccessfully tried to manage through political alliances and economic treaties. Romania feared Russian occupation and Bucharest generally accepted alliances with Austria. Serbia however, had fewer enemies and less incentive to bend to Austrian wishes. The two states (Austria and Serbia) found themselves on a collision course that resulted in the war of 1914 (World War I).
Italy became a state in 1859 after fighting a successful war against Austria. In 1866, the Kingdom of Piedmont united the Italian peninsula and took its position as a new Great Power. Italy lacked economic and military might in comparison to the other Powers but made up for it in influence at the expense of the weaker Ottoman Empire.
Italy viewed the Western Balkans, especially Albania, as her "natural zone of influence" and her leaders watched for opportunities to take the area away from the Turks.
Italy's Balkan goals were not only a threat to Turkey but also to Serbia and Greece who both had aims at seizing the Adriatic.
Italy was too weak to seize Balkan territory so she followed a policy of "lay and wait" until 1911 and 1912 when she took the Dodecanese Islands and Tripoli (Libya) from the Ottomans.
Germany, like Italy, became a Great Power at a later time after the German State unification of 1862 to 1870.
Due to her strong military and economic might, Germany had more influence in Europe than Italy, but no direct interest in Balkan affairs. For the new German Empire the Balkans were only economic outlets.
After defeating Austria in 1866, Germany made Austria-Hungary an ally and to retain loyalty, Germany had to support Austria in Balkan matters. After 1878 Germany could no longer reconcile Russian and Austrian differences over the Balkans and by 1890 Germany and Austria strengthened their alliance and pushed Tsarist Russia into a conflicting partnership with republican France. After that, German policies in the Balkans supported economic and military investments in Turkey. This made Germany a rival not only of Russia but also of Britain. The Great Power alignments of 1890-1914 established a pattern that dominated the two world wars.
Germany had no stake in the development of any of the successor states which left her free to support the Sultan (and later the Young Turk regime). German officers trained Turkish troops and German Marks built Turkish railways.
The Ottoman Empire of the 19th century was the weakest of the Great Powers, especially after the Crimean war. At the 1856 Treaty of Paris, Britain and France granted Turkey "legal status" in the Balkans that was far beyond her control. The Western Powers desperately wanted the Ottoman Empire stable and intact.
The Ottomans on the other hand, mistrusted the other Powers, partly because they were infidels and partly because of bad past experiences. Russia was clearly Turkey's greatest enemy, bent on dismantling her empire. To keep Russia at bay, Turkey cooperated with the other Powers but was always wary of falling under the influence of any single Power. From the 1820's to the 1870s, Britain was Turkey's guardian. After 1878 Germany replaced Britain as economic and military sponsor. Turkish relations with the new Balkan states were poor at best. Any gains for them usually meant losses for Turkey.
The Western Great Powers believed that if corruption, crime and poverty could be eliminated, Balkan unrest would end and the Ottoman Empire could remain intact. After all, they didn't want anything to happen to their goose that laid golden eggs. So instead of kicking the "sick man" out of Europe, they pushed for reforms.
However, it was one thing to draw up reforms and another to make them work. By examining Ottoman efforts in Macedonia it was obvious that the Turks lacked the resources and the will to carry out reforms. Also, Europeans failed to grasp that suggestions and wishes alone could not replace six hundred years of Ottoman rule. The Ottomans believed their way of life was justified (More on this in Part II).
In 1865, a group of educated Turks formed the secret Young Ottoman Society. Their aim was to revitalize old Islamic concepts and unite all the ethnic groups under Islamic law. Threatened with arrest, the Young Ottoman leaders went into exile in Paris.
In 1889, a group of four medical students formed another secret Young Turk Society. They rejected the "old Islamic aims" and embraced a new idea, "Turkish nationalism". Turkish nationalism became the foundation for a secular Turkey in 1908 after the Young Turks came to power and again in 1920 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey proper.
The next important event in Balkan history was the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856, which pitted Russia against Turkey, England and France.
The crisis ignited over the issue of who was in control of Christian Holy Places in Turkish-ruled Jerusalem. Orthodox and Catholic monks quarreled over insignificant issues like who should possess the keys to locked shrines. By old treaties Russia and France were the international guarantors of Orthodox and Catholic rights respectively, but in 1852 Napoleon III tried to undo that. He needed to distract French Catholic public opinion away from his authoritarian government so he instigated the problem.
Because the issues of dispute involved the highest levels of the Turkish government, to the nations involved it became a symbolic struggle for influence. The Russians badly misjudged the other Powers and failed to see that Britain could not accept a Russian victory. Tensions rose as all sides prepared for conflict. A Russian army occupied two Romanian Principalities failing to see that this threatened Austria's Balkan interests. Russia expected gratitude from Vienna for her help against Hungary in 1849 but Austria refused her. With support from the Western powers, the Turks refused to negotiate and in 1853declared war on Russia.
The Crimean War pulled in the Great Powers even though none of them wanted to go to war. In 1854 Austria forced the Russians to evacuate the Principalities and Austria took Russia's place as a neutral power. In 1856 the Allied Western Powers took Sevastopol, the chief Russian port on the Black Sea, by force. After that Russia agreed to their terms at the Treaty of Paris.
As a result of the Treaty of Paris, the Danube River was opened to shipping for all nations. Russia lost southern Bessarabia to Moldavia. She also lost her unilateral status as protector of Romanian rights. The two Romanian principalities remained under nominal Ottoman rule. However, a European commission was appointed and, together with elected assembly representatives from each province, was responsible for determining "the basis for administration" of the two Principalities. Also, all the European powers now shared responsibility as guarantors of the treaty.
On the surface it appears that Turkey won and Russia lost the Crimean war. In reality however, both Russia and Turkey lost immensely. The Crimean War financially bankrupted Turkey. As for Russia, she lost her shipping monopoly on the Black Sea and allowed capitalism to enter into Eastern Europe. Russia did not only lose influence in Romania and Moldavia but she was also humiliated in front of the entire world. This set the stage for future conflicts including the most recent "cold war".
As I mentioned earlier Turkey's financial collapse opened the door for Western Governments to manipulate internal Ottoman policies as well as divert needed revenues to pay foreign debts. On top of that the Ottoman Empire was forced into becoming a consumer of Western European commodities. While Western Europe prospered from these ventures, Ottoman trades and guilds paid the ultimate price of bankruptcy. Lack of work in the cities bore more pressure on the village peasants who were now being taxed to starvation to feed unemployed city dwellers, as well as maintaining the status quo for the rich. The Ottoman Empire became totally dependent on European capital for survival, which put the state past the financial halfway point of no return and marked the beginning of the end of Ottoman rule in Europe.
By 1875 the Ottomans entered a crisis situation owing 200 million pounds sterling to foreign investors with an annual interest payment of 12 million pounds a year. The interest payments alone amounted to approximately half the state's annual revenues. In 1874, due to some agricultural failures, military expenses, and worldwide economic depression, the Turkish government could not even pay the interest due on the loans. At the brink of bankruptcy, to preserve Ottoman stability and to make sure Turkey paid up Western European debts, the Great Powers in 1875 took over the management of Turkish revenues. This was done through an international agency, called the Ottoman Public Debt Administration (OPDA). To continue to receive credit, the Sultan had to grant the OPDA control over state income. Therefore, control of the state budget and internal policies fell into foreign hands. The agents in control were representatives of the rich capitalists and were only interested in profit, and very little else. This was definitely not to the advantage of the local people.
To be continued...
You can contact the author via his e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. A. Michael Radin
2. IMRO and the Macedonian Question, Kultura
3. The University of Cyril and Methodius
4. DOCUMENTS of the Struggle of the Macedonian People for Independence and a Nation-State Volumes I & II
5. The Wold Book Encyclopedia
6. Vasil Bogov
7. Macedonian Revelation
8. Historical Documents rock and shatter Modern Political Ideology
9. H. N. Brailsford
10. Macedonia Its Races and their Future, Arno Press, New York 1971
11. David Holden
12. Greece Without Columns, The Making of Modern Greeks
13. J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia & New York
14. Douglas Dakin, M.A., Ph.D.
15. The Greek Struggle in Macedonia 1897 - 1913, Institute for Balkan Studies, Salonika 1966
16. Arnold J. Toynbee
17. A Study of History, Oxford 1975
18. David Thomson
19. Europe Since Napoleon, Pelican
20. George Macaulay Trevelyan
21. British History in the Nineteenth Century (1782 - 1901), Longmans 1927
22. Richard Clogg
23. The Struggle for Greek Independence
24. Essays to mark 150th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence, Archon 1973