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Developments In The Balkans Leading To The Outbreak Of World War I

3457 words - 14 pages

The Balkans is a strategically important region of South Eastern Europe. It has been a source of conflict for hundreds of years because of its’ critical geopolitical significance. Not only it serves as a gateway between Europe and the Near East but is also a melting pot of different cultures; a place where East meets the West. In the period preceding the First World War, this region was undergoing dramatic changes that eventually went on to impact not just the rest of Europe but the entire world. These developments manifested in the form of the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Nationalism in the region. The political landscape was further transformed through Austria’s attempts ...view middle of the document...

However, the Ottomans were exhausted by perpetual warfare and were unable to modernise because of internal disputes between theocratic forces and reformers. This led to the gradual decline of the Empire which expedited after the disastrous Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774.4 The Ottomans were eventually labelled as being the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ by the Tsar Nicholas I of Russia in the 1850s.5 The downfall of the Ottoman’s raised the prospect of the ‘Eastern Question.’6
Yet despite their shortcomings, the Ottomans managed to linger and survive due to French and British attempts at maintaining the ‘Balance of Power.’ Previous wars in Europe, such as the Thirty Years War or the Napoleonic Wars, had shown that no one state should be allowed to try and control the continent. It was imperative to maintain a balance that must always be strictly reinforced. Thus it was unacceptable for the French and British to allow a shift of power balance in Europe that had been maintained since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The demise or disintegration of the Ottoman Empire would mean the strengthening of their neighbour states, such as Austria and Russia, who would ultimately capitalise upon Ottoman shortcomings and annex their former lands. To foil such eventualities, the Ottomans were aided in conflicts, such as the Crimean War in the 1850s against Russia, by both the British and the French.
Role of Serbia, Russia and Austria
The diminishing Ottoman influence and the rise of Nationalism in the Balkans allowed for cracks to develop domestically within the Empire that external powers like Britain and France could not prevent. The Balkans comprised of different ethnic races of multifarious faiths that had been continually suppressed by the Sultans. These culturally diverse factions wished to be free of the imperial yoke and instead self-determinate by establishing their own rule. The idea of Nationalism had its roots in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which established the principles of sovereignty.7 Subsequent events such as the 1848 Revolutions in Europe and the later the birth of the German and Italian nations in the 1870s, augmented and reinvigorated the Nationalistic sentiment. Several movements for liberation sprang up in the Balkans in the nineteenth century that sensed the weakening of the Ottomans and challenged the rule of the Sultan, demanding more autonomy.8 Initially countries under the imperial yoke were uncertain of full independence and more in favour of an autonomous status. These initiatives led to the creation of an autonomous Serbia in 1817 and the independent state of Greece in 1821.9
The various movements for independence were often diplomatically backed by the Russian Empire. A large majority of the Balkan population were ethnically Slavic peoples, the most prominent of whom were Serbs. The Serbs envisioned a Yugoslavia; a country that would include all the south Slavic people of the Balkans.10 However, Russia believed itself to be the...

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