Christian Rakovsky

Towards a Balkan Entente

(November 1908)

Written: 1908
Source: From Revue de la Paix, December 1908. [1]
The following article, together with others involving Bernstein, Kautsky, Wilhelm Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg appears courtesy of the Editorial Board of Revolutionary History from The Balkan Socialist Tradition, Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 no. 3, 2003.
For a full discussion of these articles in their context see the relevant volume of Revolutionary History.
Translated: Harry Ratner
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Ted Crawford and David Walters, September 2006.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

STUDYING the history of the Balkan states, one is struck by the incoherence and contradictory nature of their foreign policies. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say they have none, so unstable and irrelevant are these to the vital and fundamental interests of the peoples.

If there is any observed continuity in their foreign relations, it is often only the result of an abdication of freedom of action. This, for example, is the case with Romania. By adhering to the policies of the Triple Alliance, and in particular, by having concluded a military convention with Austria, Romania was brought to betray its own interests. Protesting platonically, it was forced to tolerate the establishment by Austria and Hungary – in breach of the Berlin Treaty – of a monopoly on navigation on the upper Danube by the imposition of prohibitive taxes on shipping going through the Iron Gates. [2] That is not all. It was forced to conclude trade agreements unfavourable to its agriculture. Moreover, is there any more depressing proof of the lack of any independent policy than that offered by the Romanian delegates at the Hague Conference [3] who voted against compulsory arbitration between nations! If anybody needed the introduction of more equity in international relations, it was the small states, and particularly Romania. It must not be forgotten that between three and four million Romanians live under Austrian, Hungarian and Russian domination, and that any weakening of militarism in these countries results in more freedom for the oppressed.

Even though the national interest of Romania was to vote for compulsory arbitration, its diplomatic obligations tied it to Germany and Austria and forced it to vote against, because the latter declared themselves opposed to it.

The other Balkan countries give the same impression of powerlessness and disarray. It seems that their only ambition, and their only means of salvation, is to become clients of one or the other Great Power, principally Russia and Austria. That is why we saw the following pathetic spectacles during recent events in the East: Bulgaria in the rôle of a blind instrument of Austrian diplomacy [4]; also the Serbs imploring, through noisy demonstrations and special diplomatic missions, the aid of Russia against the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – promised and handed over a long time ago by Russia to Austria [5]; the Constantinople crowd cheering in front of the embassies of the Great Powers, celebrations subsequently regretted when it was learnt that the job of the proposed conference would be to register the faits accomplis; the Greeks expressing their sentiments of solidarity with the Turks while announcing the annexation of Crete by Greece; and finally, the Romanians, somewhat awakened from their torpor by the general upheavals around them, starting to protest at the oppressive tutelage exercised by Austria over them and putting their faith in their ‘Italian Brothers’ to rescue them from this state of affairs.

Moreover, this has been the tactic adopted by all the Balkan peoples. Not only did they not try to lean on each other for support, but on the contrary appealed to strangers for aid in their internal wars. The main traits of their mutual relations have long been mistrust and hate. Their relations are always strained, when they are not in open conflict, as is the case today with Greece against Romania, with diplomatic relations forever being broken off between them, and as was the case at other times between Bulgaria and Romania, and between Bulgaria and Serbia. The cordial assurances that their sovereigns exchange with each other in their speeches from the throne are either sport or empty phrases. In reality, they are jealous of each other and exhaust themselves in sterile and selfish struggles, thereby bringing about their own ruin. Their history is akin to the bloody spectacles of the barbaric Orient, when potentates, in order to punish more cruelly their unfaithful wives, ordered that cats should be put in the sacks in which the wives were to be drowned. When they retrieved this dismal device from the sea bottom it was found that the cats, while drowning, had still managed to tear each other to pieces.


The consequences of such policies can only be disastrous for the Balkan peoples. On the eve of the launching of a loan or some other circumstance, their governments publish laudatory reports on the progress of their countries, but they never mention the distance they must cover to catch up with the modern states. Even less do they speak of the progress that the Balkan peoples would have made if their initiative had not been paralysed by fear and the uncertainties of the morrow, and if their resources had not been sucked dry by an insatiable militarism.

A long time ago, von der Goltz [6] called Turkey the most militarist state of the day. With a population of between 12 and 15 million eligible for military service (the Christians are exempt) Turkey’s peacetime strength totals 300,000 men. Out of an average budget of 120 million, Bulgaria spends 30 million, that is, a quarter, on its army. This, of course, does not include the special credits – for updating armaments and maintaining the stock of munitions and equipment – which in some years have amounted to 50 million. Romania spends 40 to 45 million per year on its army. In the space of 23 years, from 1883 to 1906, it has spent a total of 970 million francs, not counting the special credits and the cost of fortifications. To estimate how much the latter have cost the country, it is enough to know that the Bucharest fortifications are valued at 112 million in the balance sheet of national assets. Greece exhausts itself building battleships which in times of war lack coal and munitions.

One can judge the disastrous effect of these policies on the internal situation of these peoples by the deplorable state of their finances. We know that international control commissions, representing their foreign creditors, function in Turkey, Greece (which on several occasions declared itself bankrupt) and partly in Serbia and Bulgaria.

They watch over the regular payment of the interest due to them. Romania – a third of whose budget (80 million francs out of 240) is used to service its public debt – has avoided bankruptcy and international control only by imposing exorbitant taxation on the population; by transforming into state monopolies the production and sale of tobacco, matches, cigarette paper, powder for hunting guns, playing cards, salt and finally books and text books for primary school pupils; and by imposing enormous charges on all staples – petrol, sugar, oils, wines, beer, etc.

Is it surprising that these countries lack schools, passable roads, canals and hospitals? Ignorance, misery and mortality ravage the towns and the countryside.

The pitiful state of Turkey is known to all. Everybody has heard of the repugnant aspects of the towns, including the capital of the empire, the most beautiful city in the world by virtue of its geographical position, and the worst maintained. After 30 years of independence, Bulgaria still does not have a railway line that crosses the Balkan mountain range. Those travelling from north to south who do not want to make the huge detour via Sofia must still cross the Balkans in the ancient way on mule back or in carts painfully pulled along the only national road, laid down at the time of Midhat Pasha. [7] Visiting these countries, you are struck by their absolute isolation from each other. Though Bulgaria and Romania share half their total frontiers, they do not have a single railway line linking them. Furthermore, if the Treaty of Berlin had not required Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey to construct branches of the Paris-Constantinople main line on their territories, they would perhaps have remained to this day without any other means of communication than the Danube and the Black Sea.

The cultural backwardness of all these countries is highlighted by their massive level of illiteracy. From 75 per cent in Bulgaria, it rises to the unbelievable but nevertheless real figure of 86 to 88 per cent in Romania. In that country, out of 2,832,558 children of school age in 1904–05, only 706,508 attended classes, while the rest, 2,126,030, received no instruction. [8] Need we add that among those who do go to school only an insignificant number complete the five classes of primary school? As far as the material and moral misery of the Romanian people is concerned, suffice it to say that, according to the official statistics, the budget of a Romanian peasant family is between 0.45 and 0.5 francs [9], that 48 per cent of the children of low status in the countryside die before the age of seven, and that in the towns 25 per cent of the children are born illegitimate.

It is a well-known fact that all the Balkan countries are at the mercy of droughts and floods, and that a bad harvest means famine and economic and financial crisis. A not insignificant admission was made by the Bulgarian representative in Paris when speaking to a journalist and enumerating all the reasons which made a rapid solution of the Turco-Bulgarian conflict [10] necessary. He put in the first place the collapse of the sales of Bulgarian wheat due to the congestion of the roads and rumours of war. The poor sales of raisins and olive oil in Greece, and of prunes and livestock in Serbia, have the same significance. How disastrous and ridiculous seems this policy which makes grandiose gestures for the conquest of Constantinople and the re-establishment of the empire of the Byzantine emperors or of King Dušan, only later to admit its complete failure and powerlessness! [11]


Yet what a formidable force for political and economic progress would the Balkan states have represented had they had combined their efforts towards a common goal! A confederation, joined by Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro would, as its first consequence, have given all these peoples the confidence in their own existence that they lack today. At much less cost, such a confederation would have ensured the defence of their territories, and encouraged very vigorous economic and commercial activity between them, thus helping the growth of their productive forces. There is no other region in Europe which has natural conditions so favourable for industrial and agricultural development as the Balkan peninsula and Asia Minor.

The rich oil resources of the Carpathians [12], the numerous coal mines in Serbia and Asia Minor, the minerals and marble quarries of the Rhodope [13], the Pindus [14] and the Laurium [15] regions; everything is present to make possible the birth and growth of a national industrial economy.

The astonishing fertility of the soil of the Danubian plains, of Thrace, of Macedonia ‘which surpass in goodness the plains of Sicily’, and of Thessaly, make this area a veritable granary for Europe. In addition to cereals, these countries lend themselves to the culture of all industrial plants; rape and flax in Romania, roses in South Bulgaria and Asia Minor, rice, cotton and tobacco in South Bulgaria and Macedonia, and vines and olive trees in Greece. The lush pastures at the foot of the mountains make possible the breeding of innumerable flocks and herds of animals, large and small. The Danube, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean [16] which bathe all these countries permit easy and permanent communications with the three great continents.

In addition, the Balkan Peninsula, with Asia Minor and the Arabian peninsula, form a knot, as it were, tying together Europe, Asia and Africa. How different would all these countries, once the cradle of several civilisations and now desolate and impoverished, look if a regime of peace and liberty allowed their inhabitants to apply their skills to running their internal political and economic affairs. And all this depends purely on the Balkan peoples, on their understanding their interests and the degree of their political wisdom.

In such a commonwealth as the Balkan confederation, there would be room and liberty for allÉ But in that case we must ask ourselves: what could have prevented until now the realisation of such an idea?

It would be childish to explain this attitude of the Balkan peoples as a simple misunderstanding which only had to be cleared up for everything to fall into place. The life of humankind is determined by inescapable forces that destroy or consolidate states and peoples without being guided by our humanitarian considerations. But it is by studying the play of these forces on the Balkan peninsula that we believe ourselves justified in affirming the early possibility of a Balkan confederation. Some time ago, such optimism was not justified. The conditions then were not favourable for the realisation of such an idea; one could treat it as a fantasy. Today, that is no longer the case. We do not say that it will be realised tomorrow, but that the time has arrived when it ceases to be an ideological wish and becomes a slogan of political groups and parties. This constitutes a considerable step forward. This will become clear after the analysis we shall make of the historical causes which have up till now kept this idea of a Balkan confederation in abeyance.


The first and main source of struggle in the Balkans was the desire of the oppressed peoples to regain their freedom and independence. To do this, they had to fight not only the domination of the Sultans, but also that of the Greek clergy.

An important event, ignorance of which makes incomprehensible the bloody conflicts between Bulgarian, Greek and other bands in Macedonia, took place after the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks. We refer to the extension, nominal until then, of the power of the Greek Patriarchate over all the Orthodox lands of the East. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, we were faced by a greedy and corrupt Byzantine oligarchy whose seat was at Phanar, in Constantinople, by the side of the Patriarch. Consisting of old Byzantine families and upstarts brought to prominence by services rendered to the Turkish pashas, this greedy and corrupt oligarchy had become the master of all Christianity in the Balkan peninsula. It had extended its power as far as Bukovina [17], Transylvania and southern Russia. Everything, churches and monasteries, was in its hands. The offices of priest in the smallest village as of bishop were put up for auction and sold to the highest bidder. A swarm of Greek monks, whose principal nursery was Mount Athos [18], invaded the towns and villages, submitting the unhappy populations to a strict regime. The religious services were in Greek; in the schools, insofar as there were any, instruction was in Greek. Serb, Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian names disappeared from the vocabulary: Turkey recognised only one people, the ‘roummileti’ (the Roman people) [19], and only one power to represent them; the Patriarch and the oligarchy of Phanar.

One understands why the national renaissance of the Balkan peoples showed itself first in a bitter struggle against the Phanariot clergy. Chased out of southern Russia, Transylvania and Bukovina, it was later chased out of Serbia and Romania, which in 1864 confiscated the immense estates in mortmain which the Greek monasteries had managed to acquire. Finally, in 1871, the Turkish government was forced to recognise the autonomy of the Bulgarian Church. As a result, the Greek clergy lost its hold over the great majority of Bulgarians. But it maintained it in Macedonia where struggles between Exarchists and Patriarchists continued, that is, between Bulgarians belonging to the Bulgarian church – which the Patriarch had solemnly declared schismatic – and the Patriarchists, Bulgarians recognising the authority of the Patriarch and attending churches and schools in which the services and instruction were in Greek.

It is interesting to note the attitude of Greece itself to the Patriarch. There was a time when the kingdom of the Hellenes had to conduct a fierce struggle against Phanar, a vile instrument in the hands of the Turkish government, which, pursuing only its own interests, placed obstacles in the way of the building and developing a free Greece. Having made ancient Greek – inaccessible to the masses – a tool for its domination, Phanar persecuted the Greek patriots who wanted to use modern Greek as the written language – disdainfully described by the Phanariots as ‘the language of the grocers of Zagora’ (a town in Thessaly).

This antagonism did not last long. In its quest to expand to the north, the newly-constituted kingdom, found in the Patriarchate an ally and a pioneer of panhellenism.

Side by side with the Greek propaganda in Macedonia, there also appeared Serb propaganda. Having lost the hope of expanding in the direction of Bosnia after the Treaty of Berlin, Serbia was reduced to seeking an outlet to the sea across Macedonia and Old Serbia. [20] Hence the need to prove that Macedonia is Serbian.

The struggle of the Bulgarians gradually took on the same nationalist character. It had long ceased to have as its objective the true interests of the Bulgarian population of Macedonia, and had transformed itself into an open struggle to annex this province to Bulgaria.

The prospect of an imminent carve-up of Turkey brought about the mentality of electoral agents among the leaders of all these peoples, who, on the eve of a decisive contest, try to win the maximum of votes for their candidate. So Bulgarians, Greeks, Romanians or Serbs had only one aim: to prove that the majority of the population was with them so that Macedonia would be given them when the carve-up took place. As this carve-up was thought imminent, there was no time to be lost. It was essential to force every Macedonian to declare himself a Bulgarian or a Greek by any means: by persuasion, money or the dagger. And finally, statistics were presented that were pure fantasy in order to convince the outside world.


It can be seen how much the change of regime in Turkey could transform the situation. It will bring everyone to his senses. The race to annex Macedonia, which was nothing but a race towards the abyss, will lose much of its interest, and the different nations will come to a saner appreciation of reality.

It is right to say that such a transformation will not happen in one day. Various hatreds, jealousies and resentments will continue for some time to exert a paralysing influence on the peoples, but the conflicts between them will lose much of their sharpness, as have the struggles between the different religions with the declaration of freedom of worship. In countries where religious equality is a reality, the parties have long ago ceased to identify themselves with religious loyalties, and now take heed only of economic and political interests. In the same way, the new Turkey will succeed, through complete equality between the nations, in fusing them into one common nation, in the bosom of which new struggles will arise – the kind that exist within homogeneous nations.

A big step towards this would have been the reform of education. In the old Turkey, this was left to the religious communities. Each nationality saw to its primary, secondary and higher schools through voluntary contributions and through subsidies provided secretly or openly by the Balkan states. The same applied to the financing of religion. There is no need to emphasise how much this state of affairs encouraged the separatist politics of the national blocs.

We cannot now go into the details of the reform required, but its objective should be to create national schools, that is, schools maintained by the state or the municipalities, while ensuring that instruction is given in the language of each nationality.

So long as the Turkish government is not in a position to realise such a reform, all attempts to destroy the existing national blocs will be useless violence. This is a tactic the Young Turks must avoid at all cost. It must be admitted that, unfortunately, they are beginning to allow themselves to be drawn down this slope common to all weak governments. In the parliamentary elections, in Macedonia as well as in Constantinople, it seems they have employed not very commendable methods – against the Greeks here, against the Bulgarians there – in order to create artificial majorities. Moreover, we are under no illusion: the new regime in Turkey would soon be in danger if its existence depended only on the goodwill of this or that political grouping, especially Turkish ones naturally drawn to an excessive centralism and authoritarianism. This in no way permits Christian democracy to play the game of Young Turk nationalism by itself continuing the old errors.

This is how the internal evolution of Turkey, by removing one of the causes – the main one – of the quarrels between the Balkan states – over the Ottoman legacy – clears the way for their confederation. The latter appears as an inevitable consequence of historical progress. By revealing to them their new destiny, the propaganda in favour of this idea will accustom the nationalists in Turkey and the Turkish nation itself to conducting themselves more confidently and with greater tolerance in their mutual relations.


The intervention of the interested Great Powers, inflaming the Balkan peoples against each other by dangling in front of their eyes the possibility of territorial expansion, either at the expense of Turkey or of each other, has complicated and exacerbated the national struggles in the East.

In this respect, it is Russia which has played the most harmful rôle. It is true, as we remarked in our last article [21], that Austria is trying to usurp this rôle of trouble-maker. But if it has succeeded, it is partly thanks to Russian support.

In order to continue its irresistible push towards the south – the Mediterranean – Russia would have to conquer Turkey. I won’t speak here of the innumerable projects to divide up the Ottoman Empire that Russia has wanted to agree, or has agreed, with Austria, France or England. These projects could not come to fruition because of the impossibility of sharing out Constantinople and its straits – if there had been two Constantinoples, said Wellington, Turkey would have disappeared long ago. Also, as it was unable to undertake a direct war of conquest, Russia had to limit itself to the only possible policy, that of constant intervention in Turkey aimed at the protection of the Christians. The hoped-for result would be the weakening and disintegration of Turkey.

In the light of this policy it was essential, firstly, to prevent Turkey from consolidating itself by internal reform; this would take away Russia’s pretext for intervention, and secondly, to prevent the Balkan states – whose creation was to be but a stage towards their final conquest by Russia – from strengthening themselves by their union. This would take away from Russia the right to protect them.

Today, after the recent publication by his son of Midhat Pasha’s correspondence, we know of the intrigues of General Ignatiev [22], the then Russian ambassador in Constantinople, to sabotage the constitutional reform of 1876. He appointed himself the ally and most enthusiastic adviser of the Old Turks. He did not conceal this. ‘Russia considers the granting of a parliament and a constitution to Turkey as an insult and act of defiance towards herself. The existence of a Turkish constitution is in itself a sufficient cause for us to declare war. We shall never consent to remain the only European power without constitutional government’, he told the English ambassador, Sir Layard [23], who hastened to inform his government in a letter dated 30 May 1876.

Twenty years later, when others besides Russia wanted to protest against the massacres of Christians in Turkey – the massacres of the Armenians in Asia Minor – and favoured reforms, Prince Lobanov [24] replied that the massacres were regrettable ‘incidents’, and that as for serious reforms, particularly autonomy for Armenia, Russia wanted to hear none of them. He told Sir Frank Lascelles [25], the English ambassador in St Petersburg: ‘We will not agree to the creation of a second Bulgaria on the Russo-Turkish frontier in Asia Minor.’ Finally, a year later, when new massacres – probably the most horrible history has known, those of Constantinople in 1896 – impelled England to propose an armed intervention against Turkey, the Russian minister Shishvin replied that one could not hold the Sultan responsible for the massacres and that ‘all methods of coercion against him were repugnant to his Majesty the Tsar’.

And if today Russia shows itself favourable to the new regime, it is doing so reluctantly, seeing in it, for the moment, the only means of conserving the territorial status quo in the East, until such time as it can profitably change it. One suspects that Russian diplomacy has always been resolutely opposed to a Balkan confederation. Its representatives have said so publicly in certain moments of frankness. Mr Tatishtev [26] wrote in his book Du Passé de la Diplomatie Russe: ‘The formation of a federation of the three states, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, would have definitely blocked our road to the Straits and would have been much more dangerous to us. It would have served as a powerful weapon in the hands of our adversaries.’

In fact, the whole of Russian policy has been, as it were, haunted by this fear. In order to prevent any understanding between the peoples, it sowed dissension. During the period when its influence in Bulgaria was all-powerful, it tried to push Bulgaria into war on two occasions; against Serbia in 1883 and against Romania in 1885. On both occasions, it was over a miserable question of frontier demarcation (the frontier at Bregovo with Serbia and at Arab-Tabia with Romania). Domestic events and – in the conflict with Romania – the revolution in Eastern Rumelia [27] – prevented these quarrels from taking a bloody turn. However, a few months later, the rôles had been reversed; Bulgaria had broken away from Russia, and Serbia had moved closer to Bulgaria. And it was Serbia that Russia, in collusion with Austria, pushed into war against Bulgaria. In our recent article, we had already alluded to the responsibility of these two powers in the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885.

Here is the proof. At the Conference of Constantinople which convened after the revolution in Rumelia, the representatives of the Great Powers – their ambassadors in the Turkish capital – drew up a declaration of principles. On the demand of Austria, supported by Russia, any statement which could be interpreted as a criticism of Serbia for its military preparations was omitted. The following sentence, among others, was suppressed: ‘It is the unanimous wish of the Great Powers that peace be maintained in the whole of the Balkan Peninsula.’

Another fact: on the eve of the war, the French government proposed to the powers an action which could have prevented hostilities: a collective approach to Belgrade to inform the Serbian government that in the event of an attack by Serbia: ‘Europe would not prevent the Sultan from going to the aid of his vassal, the Prince of Bulgaria.’ Replying to this proposal, Mr Giers [28], the Russian Foreign Minister, told the French ambassador to St Petersburg: ‘Above all Europe must advise Prince Alexander [29] to return to Sofia, after which King Milan [30], having no longer cause for anger, will calm down.’

Russia’s attitude during the Turkish-Greek war of 1897 and the struggle between the nationalities in Macedonia was just as typical. An incident reported by Mr Naumann, the Athens correspondent of the Daily Chronicle [31], and taken up by all the press was the intervention of Mr Nelidov [32], the Russian ambassador in Constantinople, aimed at sabotaging the direct negotiations that had begun between Greece and Turkey. Russian diplomacy was pushing openly for war, and all the official press, with Novoe Vremya [33] at its head, was jubilant at the idea that ‘the Athenian demagogy’ would suffer the punishment it deserved. This paper wrote in its issue of 29 March 1897: ‘The defeat of revolution and anarchy can only reinforce monarchy and order.’

Furthermore, those familiar with Macedonian affairs are aware of the active rôle played by the Russian consuls in the local conflicts. At first sympathetic to the Bulgarians, they later openly sided with the Serbs. Mr Yastrebov, the Russian consul in Salonika, was particularly noted for his proselytising.


‘Russia uses the subject peoples as petty cash which it throws as tips to its allies.’ These words by a Serb historian are plainly justified when one recalls the history of the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria.

We have already noted that these two provinces were promised by Russia to Austria in 1876, at the forthcoming dismemberment of Turkey, and that this fact which remained long secret, was exposed for the first time by Bismarck’s organ, the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung in 1887 (the 27 April issue). A few days later, the Moscovskja Wiedomoski [34] (of 29 April-11 May) published an article by Mr Tatishtev who had been present at the conclusion of this secret agreement as secretary at the Russian embassy in Vienna. He confirmed the facts, making the following admission: I will be betraying neither my oath nor diplomatic discretion by saying with confidence that if this convention had been completely carried out, the Balkan peninsula would not today be the sorry spectacle of interminable disagreements, bloody conflicts and submission to foreign influences: on the contrary, the influence of Russia in the bosom of its populations would have been permanently established on large and solid foundations .

The reader will understand that this is an allusion to the carve-up, either of a part, or of the whole of Turkey between Russia and Austria.

Polemicising against Messrs Martens and Komarowski, who expressed the wish that Bosnia and Herzegovina be given to Serbia and Montenegro, another Russian writer, Mr Skalkovsky [35], remarked: ‘These wise men pretend to ignore that, independently of the Treaty of Berlin, Russia had pledged itself not only never to demand of Austria-Hungary the return of the occupied provinces, but, in addition, not to put obstacles in the way of the occupation of old Serbia.’

If we have made this long digression into the diplomatic history of the East, it is to demonstrate that today the formation of a Balkan confederation will not meet any more adversaries as powerful and implacable as those in the past. Russia, weakened after its defeat in the Far East [36] and having entered into a period of soul-searching, as after the Crimean War, is incapable, at least for some time, of carrying on an aggressive policy in the Balkans. Maybe it might even resign itself to seeing a new power blossom around the Black Sea in order to curb the progress of Austria. At the same time, despite the retreat of the revolutionary movement, Russian public opinion, which is sympathetic to the Balkan peoples, is not as inactive as before.

As for the designs of Austria, they can easily be paralysed by the united action of the Balkan peoples. They will find powerful defenders within the Habs-burg Empire itself, as much among the nationalities as amongst the social democratic forces.


Over a century ago when Mr Vanderk senior, speaking of merchants, declares in Philosophe sans le Savoir (Philosopher Without Knowing It) [37]: ‘We are, on the surface of the earth, so many silk threads which link the nations together and bring them back to peace through the necessity of trade’, he pointed out the main means for international rapprochement in our epoch. Having remained economically backward, the Balkan countries, as producers of cereals and raw materials, have many links with the great industrial countries, but few between themselves. This has without doubt greatly retarded their entente. An exception is the trade between Turkey and Bulgaria. The latter sells not only its agricultural produce and its livestock, but also some of its industrial products in the Turkish and, particularly, the Constantinople markets. And we think that it is to this, namely, to the fear of a commercial crisis that would follow a war, that we owe the peaceful resolution of the Turkish-Bulgarian conflict. And it is the strong and permanent development of trading relationships between all the Balkan states which will provide the most efficacious means for their political and cultural rapprochement.

We believe we have enumerated the main factors that have held back a Balkan entente. They were the need to create for themselves a national identity, now achieved; the chauvinism which was grafted on to these legitimate struggles, a chauvinism already declining; and the intrigues of the Great Powers which unexpected events have rendered inoffensive. Beside these main factors, the ambitions of the heads of state to present themselves in the rôle of a Louis XIV, the incapability of the politicians and their parties, whose activity is insufficient without the direct control of the people, are relatively unimportant. Kings and governments will be forced to bend before the needs of their time and the will of their nations. This is all the more so since the new external conditions will no longer allow such latitude for obscure conspiracies in which, often under the pretext of defending the independence of their country, the holders of power defended their dynastic or party interests.

Needless to say, a Balkan confederation can only be based on a policy of defence. Its main aim is the defence of the territorial integrity and political independence of the peoples that make it up. During the period when the Hamidian absolutism reigned in Turkey, it would have had to be excluded from such a political constellation. To have admitted it would have been to give its Sultan and his camarilla power and impunity. And even today for Turkey to rise to the level of its great rôle, a democratic revision of its Constitution of 1876 is called for. It is a constitution which, with its restricted franchise and Senate – half of which is appointed by the Sultan – takes little account of the popular will.

We do not want to close this essay without a few words about the attempts made so far to bring about a Balkan entente . Apart from the efforts of the socialists who in all the countries have been its most faithful and constant supporters, we must note some private and governmental initiatives. Among the latter, we first note the approaches of Trikoupis [38], a former Greek minister, who, during a voyage to Bulgaria in 1887, proposed to Stambolov [39] that they work together towards the realisation of a Balkan confederation. But we are told that the Bulgarian dictator reported this conversation to the Turkish government, in exchange for which he obtained the appointment of two Bulgarian bishops in Macedonia. In 1897, there was an attempt for an entente between Bulgaria and Serbia. During a visit to Sofia, King Alexander discussed with Prince Ferdinand the partition of Macedonia, taking as a demarcation line the river Vardar. [40] Fortunately, this project had no future. But we must regret the failure of a project for a Serb-Bulgarian customs union in 1906. We know that Austria opposed it.

After the departure of Prince Battenberg, the Bulgarians offered the King of Romania the Bulgarian crown. He refused it. In any case, it is unlikely that Russia, at that time, would have consented to the creation of a Romano-Bulgarian kingdom.

Up till now, there have been no serious private initiatives in this direction. A committee of Turco-Bulgarian entente presided over by the former minister, Mr Nachovich [41], was formed in Sofia only after the Turkish revolution. We know that during the crisis this committee worked with the delegates of the Young Turks, who had arrived in Sofia, with the aim of calming the conflict.

Let us hope that these initiatives will become frequent, and that in all the Balkan countries committees will be formed to work for this so necessary and so useful Balkan entente.


1. From Revue de la Paix (The Peace Journal, Organ of the French Society for Arbitration between Nations, 1902–1909), December 1908. Translated from the French by Harry Ratner.

2. Iron Gates is the name given to a 60-mile chain of spectacular gorges running from Serbia to Romania, where the River Danube cuts through the Carpathian Mountains on its way to the Black Sea.

3. Following the intervention of the Russian Tsar, two peace conferences were held in The Hague in 1899 and 1907 to discuss disarmament, the arbitration of international disputes and the rules of land warfare. The resulting International Court of Justice in 1900 and the Hague Convention of 1907 were completely ignored by the Great Powers in the build-up to and during the First World War.

4. Encouraged by Austria, which was about to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, Prince Ferdinand also took advantage of the Young Turk revolution to declare independence. Austria thus hoped to throttle Serbia, pull Bulgaria into her orbit, and score a victory against Russia.

5. At the Convention of Reichenstadt of 1876, Russia promised Austria part of Bosnia in the event ... of a Serbian-Montenegrin victory in their war with Turkey of that year.

6.Colmar Friedrich von der Goltz (1843–1916), the German officer who as ‘Goltz-Pasha’ undertook from 1885 the modernisation of the Ottoman army and officer corps in line with German military doctrine.

7. Ahmet Şefik Mithat Pasha, before winning fame as the author of the constitutional experiment of 1876, had been a progressive and efficient provincial administrator in the Danubian vilayet (including modern Bulgaria) in the 1860s.

8. There seems to be a misprint here as these figures do not add up.

9. The text does not tell us whether this is per week/month/year.

10. In October 1908, Bulgaria declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Wrangling then ensued over the level of ‘just compensation’ to be paid by Bulgaria to Turkey.

11. The greater nationalisms of Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece all looked back to medieval periods of greatness; respectively, the Bulgarian emperors who were stopped at the gates of Constantinople; the Serbian empire of Tsar Dušan Nemanja (1331–1355); and the Byzantine Empire itself.

12. A mountain range that curves in a great arc from the region around Vienna, and then horizontally across Czechoslovakia, bending across the entire north-south axis of Romania to end in eastern Serbia.

13. A mountain range running south-east from the region of Sofia to the Aegean.

14. A mountain range running the length of the Greek mainland from the southern Albanian border to the Aegean, and emerging again on the island of Crete.

15. A region of Attica, south of Athens, bordering the Aegean.

16. Rakovsky sees the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire (including the Near East) as a geo-political whole.

17. From 1775 to 1918, this former Ottoman province became the easternmost crown land of the Austrian Empire and one of the most ethnically mixed. It is now divided between Romania and Ukraine.

18. Mount Athos lies at the south-easternmost tip of the Thessaloniki Peninsula overlooking the Aegean.

19. The non-Ottoman empire was organised into religious communities (millets or ‘nations’). The Orthodox were known as Roumiaioi (Romans) because Orthodoxy had been the state religion of the Byzantine Roman Empire.

20. Today the area covering Novi Pazar in southern Serbia, Kosovo and the north-west of the Republic of Macedonia. Its name derived from the fact that it was formerly part of the medieval Serbian Empire.

21. C. Rakovsky, La Question d’Orient et les Puissances (The Eastern Question and the Powers), Revue de la Paix, November 1908 [Author’s note].

22. Count Nikolai Pavlovich Ignatiev (1832–1908) was a pan-Slavist diplomat and statesman who, as Russian ambassador to Constantinople (1864–77), promoted pan-Slav revolt during the Eastern Crisis of 1875–78 to advance Russian goals at the expense of Turkey and Austria-Hungary.

23. Sir Austen Henry Layard (1817–1894) was an archaeologist, diplomat and politician.

24.Prince Aleksei Borisovich Lobanov-Rostovsky (1824–1896) was a Russian diplomat and statesman, and foreign minister during 1895–96.

25. Sir Frank Cavendish Lascelles (1841–1920).

26. Sergei Spiridonovich Tatishtev (1846–1906) was a Russian historian and diplomat. See Iz proshlogo russkoi diplomatii. Istoriya, St Petersburg, 1890.

27. The Treaty of Berlin, together with an autonomous Bulgarian state, created from the Ottoman Empire the semi-autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia (today roughly the southern half of Bulgaria). A revolution in the province in 1885 led to its unification with Bulgaria.

28. Nikolai Karlovich Giers (1820–1895) was the Russian foreign minister during the reign of Alexander III (1881-94).

29. Alexander of Battenberg (1857–1893) was Prince of Bulgaria (1879–86). His opposition to Russian domination led to his kidnapping by pro-Russian Bulgarians and eventually his abdication.

30. Milan Obrenović was King of Serbia during 1868–89.

31. The Daily Chronicle was published in London during 1872–1930.

32. Alexander Ivanovich Nelidov (1835–1912) was the Russian ambassador to Bulgaria at the time of the Russian-inspired kidnapping of Prince Alexander.

33. New Times (St Petersburg, 1868–1917) was a right-wing daily with the largest circulation in Russia.

34. The Moscow Gazette, established 1756, was controlled during 1863–87 by the Russia pan-Slavist Mikhail Katkov (1818–1887).

35. Konstantin Apolonovich Skalkovsky (1843–1906) was an engineer, publicist and historian.

36. The Russo-Japanese war of 1904–05 was fought to carve out spheres of influence in the Far East, mainly at the expense of China. Russia’s defeat led directly to the First Russian Revolution of 1905.

37. Le Philosophe sans le savoir (1766) was a comedy by Michel Jean Sedaine (1719–1797).

38. Harilaos Trikoupis (1832–1897) was a Greek statesman and reformer who dominated Greek political life in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He was a proponent of various nationalist schemes for a ‘Balkan union’ in the course of his political career, including one in 1891 for an anti-Turkish Balkan union.

39. Stefan Stambolov (1854–1895) was the Regent and Prime Minister of Bulgaria (1886–94) who freed the country from Russian ‘protection’.

40. The Vardar river bisects the present Republic of Macedonia, then passes into Greece and eventually flows into the Gulf of Salonika.

41. Grigor Nachovich (1845–1920) was a leading Bulgarian conservative politician, cabinet minister and diplomat.

Last updated on 26 May 2021