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PATH to the WORLD WAR ONE (1 of 2)

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The Balkans and Path to the Great War

Empire, Big Powers, and the Balkans | Germany Seeks Alliances

In August 1875 in Herzegovina (Hercegovina) an attempt was made to collect taxes from farming people who had been suffering from poor harvests – collections made with force and brutality. A man struck back in rage at a tax collector. The police came. The man's neighbors sided with him. A larger police force came and attacked the entire village. News of this event inspired resistance through Herzegovina and neighboring Bosnia among people who wanted tax relief, and they wanted relief from other grievances: an end to the feudalist obligation of laboring for local lords and an end to the abuse of their women during the women's obligatory labor in the households of the lords. The revolt spread to Bulgaria, also under Turkish rule. In Russia, mass opinion arose in support of their fellow Orthodox Christians and goaded Russia’s tsar, Alexander II, into another war with the Ottoman Empire. Romania, autonomous but not yet officially independent of Turkish rule, joined the Russians, and the Russian and Romanian armies pushed toward Constantinople, with the Russians hoping that they could recapture Constantinople for Christianity.

British liberals and conservatives debated the war in the Balkans. The liberals were outraged by atrocities committed by the Turks against the Bulgarians. Britain's conservative prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who considered himself an expert on the Balkans, opined that the southern (yugo) Slavs were unworthy of self-government. He saw Russian troops moving southward as a threat to Britain's ships passing through the Eastern Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. Britain threatened Russia with war, and Disraeli sent warships into the Black Sea, warning Russia that Britain would not tolerate Russia taking Constantinople. Crowds in Britain loved Disraeli's boldness. British hostility toward the Russians had been reborn. In the streets, British people chanted their support, and a verse arose: "We don't want to fight, but by Jingo if we do, we've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too." The term jingoism was born.

The anti-Russian demonstrations in London were in late February 1878. The war was almost one year old, and tens of thousands of Russians had already died. In early March 1878 the Russians and Turks signed an agreement: the Treaty of San Stefano. The treaty provided for the creation of an autonomous Principality of Bulgaria – the day of the signing to be celebrated in Bulgaria as Liberation Day. Britain, France and Habsburg Austria disliked the treaty – the Austrians because they believed that it encouraged Slav nationalism.

To settle matters, Germany's chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, invited representatives of the European powers to a conference in Berlin – the Berlin Congress – which began on June 13. The Turks were invited but ignored as the conference divided up what had been a part of their empire. Bismarck played the role of "honest broker." On July 13, the European powers signed their agreement. Britain acquired Cyprus, which it was to use as a military base to defend its sea route. France was given permission to expand in Morocco. Romania acquired recognition of its complete independence from Turkish rule. Bulgaria was recognized as having autonomy within the Turkish empire – and the Bulgarians were displeased. Greece was given territory at the expense of the Turks. Serbia won full independence from Ottoman rule. And Austria-Hungary was recognized as having control over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During Russia's war with the Turks the Russians had mollified Habsburg Austria by giving Austria permission to invade Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it was taking months of bloody fighting for the Austrians to conquer the two provinces. Austria's monarch, Franz Joseph, was pleased by gains that compensated for his loss of territory in Italy, but for the sake of appearances he chose to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire.

The Orthodox Serbs looked upon Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of a greater Serbia. They were angered by the invasion there by Roman Catholic armies from Austria. A conflict was in place that would spark the Great War in 1914.

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