Recovering Macedonia 5 - Great Power Influence in the Balkans

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Recovering Macedonia Expiration of the Bucharest Treaty of 1913

Part 5 - Great Power Influence in the Balkans

February, 2006


The Balkans seemed like an unimportant place to the Western Powers until the Russian-Turkish war of 1769 to 1774 took place and Russian forces badly defeated the Ottomans. Russia's victory and the signing of 1774 Kuchuk Kainarji Treaty gave Russian ships access to the Black Sea, the Bosphorus and Endrene (the Dardanelles). Russia became the "protector of Orthodox Christians" inside the Ottoman domain and for the first time, the Ottomans allowed Russian (non-Muslim) consular agents inside their empire.

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.

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, working not for the interests of the Balkan people but for the benefit of Europe's Great Powers.

At about the same time Russia was making its 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 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 the same. Mostly regulated by guilds, Balkan trades could not compete with Western mechanization and went out of business. Without jobs, most city folk became an economic burden on the already strained rural peasant population. The economic situation in the Balkans deteriorated to a point where people could no longer tolerate it and they started to rebel.

Besides the strife it brought to the Balkan people, this Great power Balkan invasion also created competition between the Great Powers. Imperial expansion was running rampant and it was heading for a collision course.

Of all the Great Powers, Russia tended to be the most aggressive and was usually the cause of each new Turkish defeat. 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 Tsari Grad (Constantinople) and Endrene (the Dardanelles) for itself, both of which were unacceptable to the Western Powers.

Great Power aggression and posturing finally peaked when Russia came face to face with Turkey, England and France in the outbreak of the Crimean War (1853 to 1856).

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 Britain to intervene against the Turks in the Morean revolution of the 1820s but went to war against Russia in 1853 (Crimean war) on Turkey's behalf.

Obviously, Russia was not happy about the situation it found itself after the Crimean War which set the stage for the next conflict.

In 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. On 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 burden was too great for the local peasants and it manifested itself in a number of independent uprisings. Discontentment with Turkish rule, economic plight and pure neglect of human life precipitated the "Eastern Crisis".

The growing discontentment of the peasantry in the Balkans disturbed the Great Powers who now had a vested interest in protecting the Ottoman Empire from falling apart. A conference was convened in Tsari Grad in 1876 to discuss strategies on how to deal with the insurrections and the "Eastern Question" in general. Representatives of Russia, Austria-Hungary, Britain, Germany, France and Italy attended and decided to place Macedonia and Bulgaria under the control of the Great Powers. Turkey rejected their demands and soon found herself at odds with Russia. By early 1877, war broke out in Serbia and Montenegro followed by a massive Russian invasion of Bulgaria. The Turkish armies were decimated and Turkey was forced to talk peace. Peace was negotiated between Russia and Turkey on March 3rd, 1878 and the San Stefano Treaty was signed without Western Power consent. Russia, as usual, was concerned more with self interests and less with the interest of the people it was trying to protect, so it sought the opportunity to realize a long held ambition in the Balkans, access to the Mediterranean Sea.

The conclusion of the San Stefano Treaty sent shock waves not only through the Western Powers, who had a lot to lose (financial investments in the Ottoman Empire), but also to states like Greece and Serbia who had territorial ambitions towards Ottoman territories.

Disturbed by the Russian tactics, the Western Powers re-convened the Eastern Question at Berlin in July 1878. At this point the San Stefano agreement was revised and Macedonia was given back to the Ottomans.

On the verge of bankruptcy, Russia could not resist the Western Powers and gave in to their demands.

In the spring of 1878 Macedonia reached the crossroads of its destiny. Macedonia was one step away from overthrowing six hundred years of Ottoman tyranny when Western Powers stepped in and prevented it. Why? Was Macedonia less deserving than Greece, Serbia, or Bulgaria? Were the Macedonians less Christian than the Greeks, Serbians, or Bulgarians? Was the Macedonian struggle to free itself from Turkish tyranny not convincing enough?

The real reason for giving Macedonia back to Turkey had little to do with religion, nationalism, or human rights and a lot to do with greed, profit and imperial expansion.

Russia desperately wanted to access the Mediterranean Sea but the Western Powers desperately wanted to prevent it.

"Canning (a British politician, 1812-1862) had planned to head off Russia's advance, not by direct opposition, but by associating her with England and France in a policy of emancipation, aimed at erecting national States out of the component parts of the Turkish Empire. Such States could be relied upon to withstand Russian encroachment on their independence, if once they were set free from the Turk. The creation of the Kingdom of Greece was the immediate outcome of Canning's policy" (Page 372, Trevelyan, British History in the 19th Century)

The success of the Crimean war (Turkey's victory), convinced the British to slow down their policy of creating new Balkan States and exploiting the lucrative Ottoman markets and collecting returns on their loans made to Turkey.

At the stroke of a pen Bulgaria was freed (autonomous) while Macedonia was sentenced to suffer further indignity and humiliation. Back in the hands of the Ottomans and the Greek clergy, Macedonia entered a new era of suffering and cruelty, destined to pay for the sins of all the other nations that rose up against the Ottomans.

Between the spring and summer of 1878, Macedonia's fate was decided not by Russia or the Western Powers, but by Britain alone. Britain who created Greece and introduced the curse of Hellenism, was now prepared to fight Russia, by military means if necessary, to keep her out of the Mediterranean Sea.

To avoid war a compromise was reached. "The essentials of this compromise were agreed upon between England and Russia before the meeting of the European Congress, which took place at Berlin under the chairmanship of Bismarck, and formally substituted the Treaty of Berlin for the terms of San Stefano" (Page 377, Trevelyan, British History in the 19th Century)

"To our (British) eyes the real objection to the San Stefano lies not in its alleged increase in Russian power, but in the sacrifice of the fair claims of Greeks and Serbians, who would not have remained long quiet under the arrangements which ignored their racial rights and gave all the points to Bulgaria. Lord Salisbury felt this strongly, especially on behalf of Greece."

"Beaconsfield's success, as he himself saw it, consisted in restoring the European power of Turkey. It was done by handing back Macedonia to the Port (Turks), without guarantees for better government. This was the essence of the Treaty of Berlin as distinct from the Treaty of San Stefano. 'There is again a Turkey in Europe' Bismarck said. He congratulated the British Prime Minister - 'You have made a present to the Sultan of the richest province in the world; 4,000 square miles of the richest soil.' Unfortunately for themselves, the inhabitants went with the soil. Since Beaconsfield decided, perhaps rightly, that Macedonia should not be Bulgarian, some arrangements ought to have been made for its proper administration under a Christian governor. Apart of all questions of massacres, the deadening character of the Turkish rule is well known. Lord Salisbury seems to have wished for a Christian governor, but nothing was done in that direction. A golden opportunity was thus let slip." (Page 378, Trevelyan, British History in the 19th Century)

The Macedonian people were not at all happy about what went on in the Berlin Congress and showed their discontentment by demonstrating first in Kresna then in Razlog, but as usual their pleas were ignored. The Turkish army was dispatched and the demonstrations were violently put down.

Facing the possibility of becoming extinct in Europe, the Ottoman Empire began to re-organize and take demonstrations and rebellions seriously. After the Greek uprising the Sultan became distrustful of the Phanariots and expelled most of them from his services. He came close to ousting the Patriarch and his tyrannical Bishops but Russia stepped in and prevented it. Many of the Slav people were not happy with being ruled by a Greek Patriarch and after Russia's show of solidarity to the Greeks and the Patriarch, they threatened to convert to Catholicism. This created a real concern for Russia. "In the days when Panslavism was a force in Russia and General Ignatieff ruled Constatinople. Russia naturally feared that if the Southern Slavs became Catholics she would lose her ascendancy over them." (Page 73, Brailsford, Macedonia)

In 1870 Russia convinced the Sultan to allow a new millet to be formed, thus creating the Exarchate Church which was immediately excommunicated by the Patriarch. Fracturing the Rum (Romeos) Millet into two opposing factions suited the Ottoman authorities perfectly because now Christians, instead of rebelling against the Turks, would fight one another. Now, in addition to the Ottoman and Greek, a third government was created that would rule the same people in three conflicting ways.

From the day they were liberated, both Serbia and Greece began strengthening their economies and poisoning their people with nationalist propaganda. Serbia introduced education for the masses and was teaching her youth about her ancient exploits and past empires that ruled Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia. Children were taught that all Slavs (except for the Bulgarians who were Serbia's enemies) were truly Serbs.

Modern Greeks on the other hand, infatuated with the discovery of the Ancient City States, were going overboard promoting "Hellenism" and making territorial claims on Macedonia based on ancient rites. At the same time, the Greeks were making wild claims, claiming that all Orthodox Christians were Greeks. Here is what Brailsford has to say about that. "Hellenism claims these peoples because they were civilized by the Greek Orthodox Church. That is a conception which the Western mind grasps with difficulty. It is much as though the Roman Catholic Church should claim the greater part of Europe as the inheritance of Italy. To make the parallel complete we should have to imagine not only an Italian Pope and a College of Cardinals which Italians predominate, but a complete Italian hierarchy. If every Bishop in France and Germany were an Italian, if the official language of the church were not Latin but Italian and if every priest were a political agent working for the annexation of France and Germany to Italy, we should have some analogy to the state of things which actually exist in Turkey." (Page 195, Brailsford, Macedonia)

Here is what Brailsford has to say about how the Greeks received title to the Orthodox Church. "The Slavonic (Macedonian) Churches had disappeared from Macedonia, and everywhere the Greek Bishops, as intolerant as they were corrupt-'Blind mouths that scarce themselves know how to hold a sheephook'-crushed out the national consciousness, the language, and the intellectual life of their Slav (Macedonian) flocks. It is as a result of this process that the Eastern Church is a Greek Church. The sanctions of 'Hellenism' so far as they rest on the Church, are the wealth of the Phanariots and the venality of the Turks....the Slav libraries in the old monasteries were burned by the Greek Bishops." (Page 196, Brailsford, Macedonia)

After 1878, for a Macedonian to be Hellenized meant that he or she had to give up his or her own name, language, culture, history, folklore and heritage for something issued by the Greek State.

Here is what Karakasidou has to say. "...The ideological content of notions of the Hellenic nation, which far from being ecumenical has shown itself to be intolerant of cultural or ethnic pluralism, has lead many inhabitants of Greek Macedonia to deny or hide those aspects of their own personal or family pasts..." (Page 125, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood)

Hellenization was never made by choice, only by brute force. One was made to "feel Greek" when it suited the Greek State. The moment one wanted something from the Greek State or one strayed from Greek policy, they were quickly reminded of their "true identity" in a derogatory fashion and quickly "put in their place". To be Hellenized meant to lose dignity and to suffer constant and unwarranted humiliation because no matter how hard one tried to be a Hellene, one could never measure up. A Hellenized person was/is neither Greek nor Macedonian but a soul in limbo.

To quote David Holden "To me, 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." (Page 12, Greece without Columns)

"Further back still beyond the War of Independence, when the modern nation-state of Greece came into being for the first time, the whole concept of Greece as a geographical entity that begins to blur before our eyes, so many and various were its shapes and meanings. But if geography can offer us no stable idea of Greece, what can? Not race, certainly; for whatever the Greeks may once have been,..., they can hardly have had much blood-relationship with the Greeks of the peninsula of today, Serbs and Bulgars, Romans, Franks and Venetians, Turks, Albanians,...,in one invasion after another have made the modern Greeks a decidedly mongrel race. Not politics either; for in spite of that tenacious western legend about Greece as the birthplace and natural home of democracy, the political record of the Greeks is one of a singular instability and confusion in which, throughout history, the poles of anarchy modulated freedom has very rarely appeared. Not religion; for while Byzantium was Christian, ancient Hellas was pagan." (Page 23, Greece without Columns)

Unlike Macedonia and other Balkan nations who have natural and vibrant languages, Greece artificially created and used (up until the 1970's) an imposed adaptation of the classical language called the Katharevoussa. "Hellenizing" under these conditions not only rendered the Hellenized races mute but also imposed a meaningless and emotionless language on those doing the Hellenization. (If you want to learn more about the Greek language controversy read Peter Mackridge's book "The Modern Greek Language".)

When Greece was born for the first time in 1832 it was unclear what her national character was. To quote David Holden, "the Greek nation-state was a product of western political intervention-'the fatal idea' as Arnold Toynbee once called it, of exclusive western nationalism impinging upon the multi-national traditions of the eastern world. By extension, therefore, at any rate in theory, it was a child of the Renaissance and of western rationalism. (Page 28, Greece without Columns)

Officially, Greeks call their modern state Hellas, and are officially known as Hellenes, but at the same time they call themselves Romios (from the Turkish Rum millet) implying that they are descendents of the Romans. Greece, however, is a derivation of the Latin "Graecea" (Page 29, Holden, Greece without Columns) the province of the Western Roman Empire which extended from Mount Olympus to the Peloponnesus. Again, to quote David Holden, "its international use to describe the sovereign state that currently occupies that territory is merely a reflection of the fact that 'Greece' in this modern sense is literally a western invention. (Page 29, Greece without Columns)

If philhellenism is a love affair with a dream, then Hellenism is a dream of a few "evil geniuses" who sought to destroy what was real in favour of creating something artificial, like a Frankenstein's Monster. Hellenism may be a dream for a few (mad men) but it has been a nightmare for the Macedonian people. Here is what Karakasidou has to say. "Greek natural identity was not a 'natural development' or the extension of a 'high culture' over the region of Macedonia, although now it is frequently portrayed as so. The ideology of Hellenism imposed a homogeneity on the Macedonian region and its inhabitants." (Page 94, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood)

To be continued...


Stefou, Chris. History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present. Toronto: Risto Stefov publications, 2005

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