The Future of the Balkans

Spanish UN soldier, Mostar. Bosnian civil war, undated (1992-1994).

The Balkan wars have been bloody and costly. We shall never know of the thousands of men, women, and children who died from privation, disease, and massacre. But the losses of the dead and wounded in the armies were for Montenegro 11,200, for Greece 68,000, for Serbia 71,000, for Bulgaria 156,000, and for Turkey about the same as for Bulgaria.

The losses in treasure were as colossal as in blood. Only rough computations are possible. But the direct military expenditures are estimated at figures varying from a billion and a quarter to a billion and a half of dollars.

This, of course, takes no account of the paralysis of productive industry, trade, and commerce or of the destruction of existing economic values.

Yet great and momentous results have been achieved. Although seated again in his ancient capital of Adrianople, the Moslem has been expelled from Europe, or at any rate is no longer a European power. For the first time in more than five centuries, therefore, conditions of stable equilibrium are now possible for the Christian nations of the Balkans. Whether the present alignment of those states toward one another and towards the Great Powers is destined to continue, it would be foolhardy to attempt to predict.

But without pretending to cast a horoscope, certain significant facts may be mentioned in a concluding word. If the Balkan states are left to themselves, if they are permitted to settle their own affairs without the intervention of the Great Powers, there is no reason why the existing relations between Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania, founded as they are on mutual interest, should not continue; and if they continue, peace will be assured in spite of Bulgaria’s cry for revenge and readjustment. The danger lies in the influence of the Great Powers with their varying attractions and repulsions.

France, Germany, and Great Britain, disconnected with the Balkans and remote from them, are not likely to exert much direct individual influence. But their connections with the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente would not leave them altogether free to take isolated action. And two other members of those European groups—Russia and Austria-Hungary—have long been vitally interested in the Balkan question; while the opposition to Serbian annexation on the Adriatic littoral and of Greek annexation in Epirus now for the first time reveals the deep concern of Italy in the same question.

Bobana Latincic lost her hands to a grenade explosion during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bobana Latincic lost her hands during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Serbs are Slavs. And the unhappy relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary have always intensified their pro-Russian proclivities. The Romanians are a Romance people, like the French and Italians, and they have hitherto been regarded as a Balkan extension of the Triple Alliance. The attitude of Austria-Hungary, however, during the Balkan wars has caused a cooling of Romanian friendship, so that its transference to Russia is no longer inconceivable or even improbable.

Greece desires to be independent of both groups of the European system, but the action of Italy in regard to Northern Epirus and in regard to Rhodes and the Dodecanese has produced a feeling of irritation and resentment among the Greeks which nothing is likely to allay or even greatly alleviate. Bulgaria, in the past, has carried her desire to live an independent national life to the point of hostility to Russia, but since Stambuloff’s time she has shown more natural sentiments towards her great Slav sister and liberator. Whether the desire for revenge against Serbia (and Greece) will once more draw her toward Austria-Hungary, only time can disclose.

In any event, it will take a long time for all the Balkan states to recover from the terrible exhaustion of the two wars of 1912 and 1913. Their financial resources have been depleted; their male population has been decimated. Necessity, therefore, is likely to co-operate with the community of interest established by the Treaty of Bucharest in the maintenance of conditions of stable equilibrium in the Balkans.

Of course, the peace-compelling forces operative in the Balkan states themselves might be counter-acted by hostile activities on the part of some of the Great Powers. And there is one danger-point for which the Great Powers themselves are solely responsible.

War Tunnel (Tunnel of Hope) Museum. Sarajevo, 2011.
War Tunnel (Tunnel of Hope) museum. Sarajevo, 2011.

This, as I have already explained, is Albania. An artificial creation with unnatural boundaries, it is a grave question whether this so-called state can either manage its own affairs or live in peace with its Serb and Greek neighbours. At this moment the Greeks of Epirus (whom the Great Powers have transferred to Albania) are resisting to the death incorporation in a state which outrages their deepest and holiest sentiments of religion, race, nationality, and humane civilization.

On the other hand, the Hoti and Gruda tribes on the north fiercely resent annexation to Montenegro (which the Great Powers have decreed) and threaten to summon to their support other Malissori tribes with whom they have had a defensive alliance for several centuries. If Prince William of Wied is unable to cope with these difficulties, Italy and Austria-Hungary may think it necessary to intervene in Albania. But the intervention of either would almost certainly provoke compensatory action on the part of other European Powers, especially Russia.

One can only hope that the Great Powers may have wisdom granted to them to find a peaceful solution of the embarrassing problem which they have created in setting up the new state of Albania. That the Albanians themselves will have an opportunity to develop their own national independence I find it impossible to believe. Yet I heard in the summer of 1913 at Valona from the lips of Ismail Kemal Bey, the head of the provisional government, a most impressive statement of his hopes and aspirations for an independent Albania and his faith and confidence in its future, in which he claimed to voice the sentiments of the Albanian people.

But, as I have already explained, I think it doubtful whether under the most favourable external circumstances the Albanians are at present qualified to establish and maintain an independent state. And their destiny is so inextricably entangled with the ambitions of some of the Great Powers that the experiment stands no chance of getting a fair trial.

I heartily wish the circumstances were other than they are. For as an American I sympathize with the aspirations of all struggling nationalities to be free and independent. And my interest in Albania is deepened, as the interest of all Americans must be deepened, by the fact that a large number of Albanians have now found a home in the United States.

Adapted from The Balkan Wars 1912-1913, by Jacob Gould Schurman. Photographs courtesy of legio09, Survivorcorps, and Jennifer Boyer. Published under a Creative Commons license.