Balkans are the "Wild East" of Europe. Abode of half-barbarian
peoples fired by crude ambitions and cursed by savage blood feuds,
the Balkans are a permanent political storm-centre lying like a perpetual
thunder-cloud on Europe's southeastern horizon. Here the late war
began, and here new wars may well arise. In fact, the most ominous
feature of the situation is that, as a result of the late war, Europe's
"Wild East" has spread far beyond its former borders. Instead
of being confined to the Balkan Peninsula, as it was before 1914,
it now stretches over most of east Central Europe, which has been
both politically and spiritually "Balkanized."
Balkan Peninsula is the easternmost of the three great projections
which jut out from the continent of Europe southward into the Mediterranean
Sea. Much larger than Italy and somewhat larger than Spain, the Balkan
Peninsula differs from them in both its shape and its internal structure.
To begin with, it is separated from the European land mass, not by
definite mountain chains like the Alps and Pyrenees, but by broad
rivers and marshy plains. Again, the Balkan Peninsula is neither a
plateau like Spain nor a well-defined land like Italy, but is rather
an irregular mass of rugged highlands criss-crossed by short mountain
ranges which run in every direction and break up the land surface
into many disconnected regions.
Lastly, the Balkan Peninsula is closely connected
with both Europe and Asia. Geographically speaking, it is merely the
European section of a Eurasian land bridge, divided from the Asiatic
section (the peninsula of Asia Minor) by a water rift in places only
about a mile wide.
location and internal structure combine to make the Balkan Peninsula
a region of contending forces. A border-land between Europe and Asia,
streams of human migration have poured into the Balkans from both
continents. Indeed, though geographically part of Europe, the Balkan
Peninsula is more open to Asiatic than to European penetration, because
its rivers and valleys run eastward or southward while its mountains
run in ways which hinder communication with the north and west. Thus
turning its back on Europe and looking toward Asia, the Balkan Peninsula
has continually invited settlement from Asia, and it is therefore
only natural that Asiatic races, religions, and cultures should have
invaded the Balkans at various times, while it is equally natural
that Europe should have fiercely resisted these Asiatic invasions.
Thus fated to be the border-land and battle-ground of two continents,
the Balkans have been predestined to chronic turmoil and unrest.
one thing which might have averted these misfortunes would have been
the rise of a strong, stable people which could have welded the Balkans
into a political unity and kept out foreign invaders. But that was
made almost impossible by the peninsula's internal structure. Broken
up by its mountains into many distinct regions more or less isolated
from one another, it was not suited to political unity. The Balkan
peoples have, therefore,
naturally tended to form many separate groups, and
every new stream of invasion has tended to concentrate in some particular
region instead of spreading widely over the peninsula. That has made
the situation steadily more complex by adding new groups sharply marked
off in blood, speech, religion, and culture. In the course of time,
to be sure, these various factors have spread and blended. But they
have done so only partially and very unequally. Strange combinations
have resulted; race, language, religion, and culture have become criss-crossed
in truly extraordinary fashion. Thus a sort of vicious circle has
been set up: instead of evolving toward unity and stability the Balkan
Peninsula has become ever more disunited and unstable -- which has
made it less able to resist foreign invasions -- which have further
increased disunion and instability. The significance of all this can
be grasped by a glance at Balkan history.
earliest inhabitants of the Balkans whom we can identify with reasonable
certainty were of Mediterranean stock. They occupied the southern
part of the peninsula in very early times, though they seem to have
dispossessed still earlier stocks of whom practically nothing is known.
It was these slender, dark-complexioned Mediterraneans who were the
primitive Greeks, and who created the prehistoric civilizations of
Crete and Mycenae. About 3,000 years ago a series of Nordic invasions
occurred which changed the situation. These Nordics conquered the
southern Balkans and settled down as masters. Homer describes the
first results. Homeric Greece was ruled by an upper caste of tall,
blond Nordics, the mass of their subjects being small, dark Mediterraneans.
Later on a
partial fusion of the two races produced the "Hellas"
of classic times, and created the brilliant civilization which is
Hellas' undying glory. However, it is interesting to note how essentially
"Balkan" was the situation. The broken character of the
country prevented political union. Ancient Greece was divided into
many small states inhabited by Mediterraneans and Nordics in varying
proportions and differing markedly from one another in temperament
and culture. Disunion was, in fact, Hellas' undoing. Classic Greece
tore itself to pieces by its domestic quarrels and fell under the
rule of its northern neighbors. These neighbors were vigorous tribes
of Nordic stock, akin to the Nordic invaders of Greece, who had settled
the northern portion of the Balkan Peninsula, and had been welded
into a powerful state (Macedon) by a dynasty of able rulers culminating
in Alexander the Great. Alexander founded a mighty empire stretching
far into Asia, but it broke up with his death, and the Balkans again
fell into confusion until conquered by Rome.
gave the Balkans political unity and peace, but when Rome declined,
the Balkans were overwhelmed by misfortunes which have continued to
the present day. A series of barbarian invasions swept the Balkans
from end to end, destroying classic civilization and wiping out most
of the old population. These barbarian invaders were of various racial
stocks, some being of European and others of Asiatic blood. Alpine
Slavs were the most numerous element, and it is Slav blood which has
ever since been the predominant Balkan strain. However, the Slavs
formed separate groups, mixed with the older populations and with
Asiatic invaders in varying proportions,
and therefore formed no cement of political cohesion.
Meanwhile, the older population had stood its ground at various points,
especially at Constantinople, which became the seat of the so-called
Byzantine Empire -- Greek in speech and culture though extending into
Asia Minor, and inhabited by a very mixed population. Throughout the
Middle Ages the Balkans were torn by complicated struggles between
the Byzantines and the various Slav peoples. As the Byzantine Empire
declined, the Slav groups built up barbarian "empires" of
their own, though they soon broke down into the chronic Balkan turmoil.
about 500 years ago, Byzantines and Slavs were alike overwhelmed by
a mighty wave of Asiatic conquest -- the Ottoman Turks. For centuries
the Balkan Peninsula lay under Turkish rule. But the Turks never succeeded
in giving the Balkans peace or prosperity. On the contrary, they merely
introduced new complications and sowed the seeds of future troubles.
Turkish domination bore within itself the germs of decay. Most terrible
of conquerors, the Turks were the poorest of assimilators. They remained
a mere Asiatic army camped on European soil, and never succeeded in
impressing either the Mohammedan religion or their Turkish language
upon the mass of their Christian subjects. What the Turks did was
to degrade and brutalize the Balkan peoples. The Turkish conquest
everywhere destroyed the strongest and best elements of the population,
who perished on the battlefield or went into exile. The remnants of
the upper classes embraced Mohammedanism in order to keep their privileges,
and thus became merged with their conquerors.
The mass of the population, deprived of its natural
leaders and reduced almost to slavery, sunk to the level of an oppressed
peasantry significantly called by their Turkish masters "Rayah"
-- "cattle." What civilization they had possessed vanished,
though memories of better days lived on in legends which glorified
the past into a sort of Golden Age and formed the basis of those extravagant
national and imperial claims that have so afflicted the Balkans in
was the situation when Turkish power had so crumbled that the Balkan
peoples began one after another to regain their lost independence.
So artificial had been Ottoman rule that as the Turkish tide receded
the old landmarks reappeared above the flood, muddy and damaged by
long immersion but substantially the same, and the Balkan peoples
resumed their old lives once more.
resumed their old lives. Note that well. It is the key to
the whole story. The Balkan peoples are not "young," as
we are apt to think. They are very old; in fact, so many Rip Van Winkles
aroused from a long sleep with all their mediaeval racial characteristics
and political aspirations practically unchanged. For them the last
five centuries have been a dream -- or a nightmare. One thing only
do they remember -- their "glorious pasts," and they are
each determined that their special past shall live again. But this
made inevitable a resumption of the old quarrels before the Turks
came, when the Balkan peoples had fought each other for centuries,
and during that long period had each gained a short-lived Balkan supremacy.
This shows clearly in the rival claims which are to-day put forward.
Because a province belonged to
a certain mediaeval Balkan Empire, it must go to
the particular state which to-day bears the same name, and since some
districts belonged to all those empires in turn, the rival claims
form a veritable Gordian knot which can be cut only by the sharp sword
of war. Truly, among the Balkan peoples "a thousand years is
but a day!"
this is somewhat hidden from Western eyes by the fact that the Balkan
peoples have acquired a superficial knowledge of Western political
ideas, and have learned to clothe their thoughts in Western phrases
like "nation" and "race." The Balkan peoples,
however, pervert the true meaning of such terms into mere jingo propaganda.
The truth of the matter is that these peoples are not yet "nations"
in the Western sense; they are, rather, groupings of kindred clans
or tribes, with primitive political ideas and with aims handed down
from the crude mediaeval past. What each of the Balkan peoples hopes
in its heart of hearts is to dominate the whole of the Balkans and
eventually to destroy its rivals by "converting" the conquered
peoples to its particular language, church, and way of thinking. That
is what makes Balkan quarrels so ferocious; each people realizes that
its very life may be at stake, and is therefore ready to fight its
opponents' imperialistic aspirations to the death.
primitive character of the Balkan peoples shows not only in their
foreign policies but also in their domestic politics. Despite high-sounding
constitutions and elaborate parliamentary forms copied from Western
models, Balkan politics are crude and backward. Power is usually in
the hands of some masterful individual or dominant group which "makes"
elections and rules by a combina-
tion of "strong-arm" methods and bribery.
As for the "Opposition," it often refuses to play the parliamentary
game, preferring instead to sulk or plot revolution. Under such conditions
neither side hesitates to use violence and assassination to gain their
respective ends. Fortunately, other aspects of Balkan life have improved
faster than its politics. Intellectually and culturally, considerable
progress has been made since emancipation from Turkish rule, and an
upper class has developed, some of whose members are finely educated,
cultured persons with high ideals. As yet, however, such persons are
too few in numbers and too far above the popular level to exercise
much effect upon political life. The masses are still thinly veneered
barbarians, with the virtues and vices common to that stage of human
evolution. These primitive folk are capable of sudden and intense
outbursts of boundless fanaticism and savage cruelty unknown, or at
least very rare, among more developed peoples.
this gives the key to the great Balkan upheaval of 1912-1913, which
was the climax of a century of struggle against Turkish rule. In 1912
the Christian Balkan states at last succeeded in combining against
the hereditary Turkish foe. But no sooner was the Turk defeated than
the victors quarrelled fiercely over the spoils. There followed the
Second Balkan War -- a ferocious death-grapple which ended in the
despoiling and humiliation of Bulgaria, hitherto the leading Balkan
state, by the other Balkan peoples. The Treaty of Bucharest which
closed the war was an attempt permanently to kill Bulgaria's ambitions
by surrounding her with a ring of aggrandized and watchful enemies.
To this end the other important
Balkan states, Serbia, Rumania, and Greece, concluded
an anti-Bulgarian league.
so-called "Peace" of Bucharest was thus no peace. It was
merely a whetting of knives. Anticipating a probable next war, all
parties began to consolidate their territorial gains by the process
known as "extirpation." This process consisted in the rooting
out or forcible conversion of hostile minorities, thus attempting
to make national lines correspond with political frontiers and to
assure the fanatical loyalty of the whole future population within
any given state border. The ruthlessness with which these persecutions
were conducted scandalized the outside world and enormously envenomed
Balkan hatreds. The wretched victims of "extirpation" streamed
into their respective motherlands by the hundred thousand, and there
sowed broadcast the seeds of fury and revenge. Each Balkan people
swore to crush the accursed foe and erect its special greatness upon
was the poison-gas of unslaked hatreds and gnawing ambitions which
inflamed the Balkans at the outbreak of the Great War. In fact, that
war began in an attempt of Austria-Hungary to crush the nationalistic
aspirations of Serbia to annex its kinsmen who lived under Austrian
rule. Once more the Balkans became a battleground, and once more unwise
peace treaties sowed the seeds of future strife. Bulgaria, which had
joined the Central Empires and shared their defeat, was punished even
more severely than she had been after the Balkan Wars. Serbia and
Rumania, which had chosen the winning side, were given large slices
of disrupted Austria-Hungary and thus expanded beyond the Balkans
Central Europe. Greece, which had also joined the
Allies, was rewarded with territories both in the Balkans and in Asia
Minor. Such were the treaty settlements at the close of the Great
War. Yet already the Greek "settlement" has broken down,
and few unbiassed observers believe that the other arrangements will
last. The truth of the matter is that the Balkans are still in flux
and that almost anything may happen. When we come to consider the
Balkan states separately we shall see how profoundly unstable conditions
are at the present time. Before doing so, however, let us pause to
remember that Balkan instability arises, not merely from superficial
matters like badly drawn peace treaties, but even more from fundamental
factors like the lay of the land and the nature of its inhabitants.
Once again, let us remember that the Balkans have always been a border-land
where races, religions, languages, and cultures have met and fought
in endless turmoil. The present Balkan peoples are not yet true nations,
and they are certainly not races, but rather combinations of widely
varied racial elements mixed in different proportions. Alpine Slav
blood is the largest single factor in their racial make-up, but it
is so intermingled with other strains and so cross-cut by nonracial
factors like language, religion, and culture that it forms no real
bond of union between the Balkan peoples. Bearing in mind these underlying
truths, let us now glance at the several Balkan states as they stand
survey had best begin with Jugoslavia, the enlarged successor of Serbia
and to-day the most powerful Balkan state. The name Jugoslavia means
"Land of the South Slavs," and symbolizes the political
union of the various
branches of the south Slav stock. The Jugoslavs are
descended from tribes of Alpine Slav blood which settled the northwestern
Balkans shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire. These tribes were
closely related in blood and speech, but the broken character of the
regions in which they settled marked them off into groups politically
distinct from one another. And presently the physical barriers which
separated them were reinforced by barriers of religion and culture.
The southern tribes (the ancestors of the Serbs) took their Christianity
from Constantinople, and became Greek Orthodox in faith and Byzantine
in culture. The tribes living to the northward or along the coast
of the Adriatic Sea (the ancestors of the Croats and Slovenes) were
converted to Christianity from Rome and took their culture from the
European West. The result was that the Serbs looked east while the
Croats and Slovenes looked west, neither branch of the Jugoslav stock
having much to do with the other.
Croats and Slovenes soon lost their independence. The Slovenes were
subjugated by the Austrian-Germans, the Croats fell under the rule
of the Hungarians, while the tribes of the Adriatic coast came under
Italian influence exercised by the Venetian Republic. The Serbs remained
independent but were divided into several petty states and played
a minor part in Balkan history until the latter part of the Middle
Ages, when an able chieftain named Stephen Dushan united the Serb
states, overran most of the Balkan Peninsula, and built up an "empire."
Dushan's empire was, however, short-lived. It fell to pieces after
his death and the fragments were soon afterward engulfed by the tide
of Turkish conquest.
Dushan's empire is important only as it forms the
basis for modern Serb dreams of Balkan domination. Note that Dushan's
empire never included the Croats and Slovenes. It was thus purely
a Balkan, not a "Jugoslav," state.
Turkish conquest not only destroyed the flower of the Serb stock and
reduced the remainder to an oppressed peasantry, but also caused a
religious split which still exists. In the highlands of Bosnia-Herzegovina,
a mountainous region lying between Serbia proper and the Adriatic,
a large part of the population was converted to Islam, and became
fanatical Moslems who lost all sense of kinship with their Serb brethren.
On the other hand, a few Christian Serbs fled to the inaccessible
crags of Montenegro, just south of Bosnia, and there maintained a
wild independence which the Turks were never able to break. It was
the Montenegrins who for centuries kept alive the old Serb traditions.
This was perhaps the chief reason why the Serbs were the first Balkan
people to throw off the Turkish yoke, a little over a century ago.
Modern Serbia started as a small state with a rude peasant population,
but it slowly grew in power and prosperity, although its progress
was hindered by the turbulence of its political life.
Serbia grew, she began to dream of her former greatness and to aspire
to unite all the Serbs in a single national state. As matters then
stood, more than half the Serbs remained under Turkish rule in Bosnia-Herzegovina
to the west and in Macedonia to the south. Also, Montenegro remained
separate and independent. Furthermore, as time went on, Serb ambitions
grew still greater. No longer content with the idea of uniting all
the Serbs, Ser-
bian nationalists began to dream of including the
Croats and Slovenes in a larger south Slav unity. Thus the ideal of
"Jugoslavia" was born. But this naturally alarmed Austria-Hungary,
whose very existence would be threatened by any such development.
Since Serbia was the champion of the Jugoslav idea, Austrian policy
aimed at keeping Serbia down. The quarrel gradually became a deadly
feud which presently got involved in the general tangle of European
politics that preceded the Great War. Serbia was backed by Russia
and openly plotted to disrupt Austria-Hungary, and establish Jugoslav
unity on its ruins. But Austria-Hungary was backed by Germany and
thus felt strong enough to risk crushing Serbia at the first opportunity.
Then came the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. From them Serbia emerged victorious
and confident, while Austria grew more alarmed and implacable. In
this tense atmosphere the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand,
the heir to the Austrian throne, by Serb nationalists in June, 1914,
caused the explosion of the Great War. After a heroic resistance,
Serbia was overrun by the Austro-German armies, aided by the Bulgarians,
who joined the Austro-Germans to revenge themselves upon the Serbs
for Bulgaria's defeat in the Balkan Wars. However, the victory of
Serbia's allies, the Western Powers, not only restored her independence,
but also realized her dream of Jugoslav unity. The peace treaties
of 1919 erected the present "Jugoslavia," a powerful state,
with an area of 96,000 square miles and a population of 12,000,000.
first sight Jugoslavia looks strong and assured of a prosperous future.
In reality, Jugoslavia is rent by grave
internal quarrels and is surrounded by hostile neighbors.
Jugoslavia is to-day a state, but she is as yet very far from being
a nation. Brought suddenly together after ages of separation and divergent
development, the various branches of the south-Slav stock do not fuse.
So long as they were politically divided they could sympathize with
one another. Now that they all live in the same house they see mutual
differences rather than common likenesses. And there are so many varieties
of Jugoslavs! Out of Jugoslavia's 12,000,000 population only about
4,500,000 are true Serbs, who dominate the situation and "run"
Jugoslavia. But all the other Jugoslavs are more or less opposed to
this state of things. The 500,000 Montenegrins object to the way in
which their heroic individuality has been arbitrarily merged with
the Serbs. The 800,000 Mohammedans of Bosnia and adjacent regions,
though Serbs in blood, are sullen and rebellious, their sympathies
being with the Turks rather than with their Slav kinsmen. As for the
5,500,000 Croats, Slovenes, and Dalmatians, Roman Catholic in religion
and West European in culture, they look down on their Balkan relatives
as semi-barbarous heretics and object strenuously to being ruled by
Serbs, whom they consider their inferiors. Lastly, there are nearly
1,000,000 Bulgarians, Magyars, and Rumanians to whom the very word
"Jugoslavia" is anathema.
fact is that, as things now stand, the term "Jugoslavia"
is a misnomer. The new state should be called "Greater Serbia."
It is the Serbs who to-day run the country -- and they run it with
a heavy hand. A rough, primitive folk, the Serbs have got where they
are by fight-
ing, and they think almost solely in terms of force.
By a series of successful wars they have built up a strong, unified
state. However, they know that this means a ring of hostile neighbors.
Accordingly, when the other Jugoslavs talk of turning the new state
into a Federation with wide local rights for the various elements,
the Serbs denounce such talk as treason. Serb leaders will tell you
frankly that they intend to go on governing with the strong hand until
they have "made" the other elements into "good Jugoslavs."
But the other elements promptly answer that this merely means "good
Serbs," and they go on to say that they won't be made into Serbs
and that they do not intend to tolerate the rough, tactless Serb soldiers
and officials who have been set over them. And this is causing grave
difficulties. Already parliamentary government has broken down, the
Serbs ruling by a veiled dictatorship, with the Croats and Slovenes
suddenly rebellious and with Montenegro and Macedonia full of brigandage
and unrest. This cannot go on indefinitely. It seems pretty clear
that Jugoslavia must ultimately become a Federal state if it is to
endure. Unless the Serbs realize this, the other elements will plot
secession -- and Jugoslavia will fly to pieces. Meanwhile, Jugoslavia's
neighbors watch and wait. Hitherto the chief thing that has kept the
Serb-Croat quarrel within bounds has been their common hatred of Italy,
which opposed Jugoslav aspirations. If war had resulted, the Jugoslavs
might have developed a real national consciousness in the struggle
against a foreign foe. But Italy has now compromised her differences
with Jugoslavia, so foreign pressure has been relaxed and domestic
quarrels flare up unchecked.
Of course, the Jugoslavs may come to an understanding
with one another and become a true nation. At present, however, the
prospects look rather dubious.
Jugoslavia let us turn to Bulgaria. Here we find a very different
situation. If Jugoslavia is suffering from victory, Bulgaria is suffering
from defeat. Yet defeat has not quenched hope. Toughest and stubbornest
of all the Balkan peoples, the Bulgars nurse their wounds and await
attitude springs from their inheritance. Racially the Bulgars are
Alpine Slavs crossed with Asiatic Finnish or Turkish blood. That cross
has produced a stock noted for patient determination and dogged energy.
The Bulgars are great workers -- and they can work together. This
capacity for "team-play" is a great advantage to the Bulgars,
because the other Balkan peoples are so much more prone to internal
quarrels. Despite their recent defeats and present misfortunes, the
Bulgars may yet outstrip their rivals. It is well to remember their
favorite proverb: "The Bulgar on his ox-cart pursues the hare
-- and overtakes it !"
has had a checkered past. During the Middle Ages the Bulgars played
a leading role in the Balkans. For centuries they and the Byzantine
Greeks fought fiercely for Balkan supremacy. Twice the Bulgars built
up powerful "empires," though these presently collapsed
into the chronic Balkan turmoil. The Turkish conquest bore harder
upon the Bulgars than upon any other Balkan people. So thoroughly
were they crushed that less than fifty years ago the Bulgars were
an obscure popula-
tion of wretched serfs, exploited to the limit of
human endurance, whom the world had so completely forgotten that many
Western travellers passed through their land without becoming aware
of their existence.
victorious war which Russia waged against Turkey in 1877 freed most
of the Bulgars from the Turkish yoke and set up a Bulgarian state.
This new state developed with extraordinary rapidity. Although the
Serbs and Greeks had been liberated much earlier, Bulgaria soon passed
them both in national progress and became the leading Balkan state.
Awakening from their long slumber, the Bulgars recalled their past
and determined on a yet greater future. The first step in their programme
was the political unity of the whole Bulgarian stock. A large fraction
of the Bulgarian people remained under Turkish rule in Macedonia,
the central region of the Balkans. Once possessed of Macedonia, the
resulting Big Bulgaria would be far and away the most powerful Balkan
state. Thereafter Bulgaria might hope to subjugate the other Balkan
peoples and expel the Turks from Constantinople, founding a true Bulgarian
Empire which would dominate the Near East.
was Bulgaria's ideal, evolved in the very first years of its political
life. Such an ideal appeared absurd for a little peasant state just
freed from Turkish servitude. But, if Bulgaria's dreams were great,
her waking hours were long, and they were all given up to strenuous
endeavor and rigid self-denial. These high hopes became part of the
developing national consciousness. They braced every Bulgar to gigantic
efforts. The way Bulgaria pinched and taxed herself for nearly forty
to create proportionately the greatest war machine
in the world showed this folk to be possessed of a sombre power and
ferocious energy which made the goal seem less impracticable.
last Bulgarla's hour seemed to have come. In the year 1912 Bulgaria,
Serbia, and Greece combined against the Turks, who were defeated and
driven to the walls of Constantinople. The Balkans were free from
Turkish rule. Unhappily, this was merely the beginning of fresh troubles.
The victors promptly quarrelled over the spoils -- particularly over
Macedonia. Bulgaria had gone to war with Turkey for Macedonia and
claimed the greater part of it as her reward. But this Greece and
Serbia refused. Macedonia has, in fact, been for ages an apple of
discord. In the first place, it is the geographical and strategical
heart of the Balkans, so that whoever possesses it automatically gains
something like Balkan supremacy. In the second place, it is a racial
crossroads where all the Balkan stocks meet. The Macedonians are an
extraordinarily mixed population, race lines being blurred even more
than in other parts of the Balkans. Yet this does not prevent the
various Balkan peoples from concocting elaborate "statistics"
and other propagandist arguments "proving" the Macedonians
to be the blood-brothers of each and every one of them. The tangle
of rival claims is thus inextricable. As for the Macedonians themselves,
the majority seem to feel themselves Bulgarians, though there are
strong Serb- and Greek-feeling minorities, not to mention minor elements
like Albanians, Rumanians, Turks, Jews, and Gypsies. The fierce wrangle
which broke out among the Balkan states after their victory over
Turkey culminated in a ferocious war in which Bulgaria
was defeated. Serbia and Greece divided Macedonia between them and
promptly proceeded to expel or forcibly convert the Bulgar-feeling
inhabitants. Bulgaria sat by in helpless rage until the Great War
gave her a chance for revenge. But Bulgaria again lost, and by the
peace treaties was left disarmed before her fully armed neighbors.
to these misfortunes Bulgaria has sunk from her former position of
the most powerful Balkan state to a place far below Serbia, Greece,
and Rumania -- all of whom to-day vastly outstrip Bulgaria in area
and population. Bulgaria now possesses only 40,000 square miles of
territory and less than 5,000,000 inhabitants. Yet Bulgaria remains
a factor to be reckoned with. Certainly, Bulgaria seems to-day to
be the most solid of the Balkan states. Her very defeats have left
her with a thoroughly Bulgarian population, free from those rebellious
minorities which are such dangerous internal weaknesses to her swollen
neighbors. Meanwhile the Bulgarian peasant works as hard as ever,
and the war losses are being repaired. Who can tell what opportunity
may come to Bulgaria through some sudden shift in the strange kaleidoscope
of Balkan politics? For, in the Balkans, the one thing certain is
story of Greece is perhaps the most dramatic in world history. No
other people has probably ever passed through such extremes of glory
and decline. Grave though Greece's situation is to-day, it should
not be forgotten that the Greek people has endured even greater disasters
in the past -- yet has survived. And it is this which
lends the Greeks faith in their future.
Greece draws its inspiration from two main sources: Ancient Hellas
and the Mediaeval Byzantine Empire. This latter source is often overlooked
by Western observers, but to Greek minds it is the more important.
The ties between Modern Greece and Ancient Hellas are dim and remote.
The ties with Mediaeval Byzantium, on the contrary, are close and
unbroken. Modern Greece may feel itself to be the spiritual heir of
Hellas, but it knows itself to be the political heir of Byzantium,
and a restoration of the Byzantine Empire is at once the keynote of
Greek patriotism and the basis of Greek politics. Greece's political
goal is expressed in a phrase: "The Great Idea." Herein
Greek aims differ markedly from those of the other Balkan peoples.
The aspirations of the other Balkan peoples never stray much beyond
the boundaries of the peninsula. The Greek dream, however, is truly
imperial in its far-flung horizons. The Great Idea is a revival of
Mediaeval Byzantium, incarnated in a new Greek Empire seated at Constantinople,
which shall embrace both the Balkans and Asia Minor and shall win
back the whole Near East to Hellenism.
first sight the Great Idea may seem mere wild fancy, but when we look
closer we see that it is a logical outgrowth of Greece's historic
past. When Ancient Hellas declined and finally fell under Roman rule,
it did not lose its identity. The Hellenic stock, to be sure, greatly
altered, most of the Nordic strains that had formed the ruling class
during Hellas' great days dying out, while the Mediterranean strains
which survived became considerably
mixed with other racial elements. Nevertheless, the
Greek language and Greek culture not only maintained themselves in
Greece itself but also spread over both the Balkans and Asia Minor,
so that when the Roman Empire collapsed in Western Europe and transferred
its capital to "Constantinople" (the new name given by the
Roman Emperor Constantine to the Greek city of Byzantium) it came
into a Greek atmosphere, lost its Latin character, and was transformed
into the Greek "Byzantine Empire." With Western Europe sunk
in the turmoil of the Dark Ages, the Byzantine Empire became the centre
of European civilization. It also became the seat of Eastern Christendom,
for about this time Christianity split in twain, the West following
Rome while the East adhered to the "Orthodox" Church, which
was thoroughly Greek in character. It was the Orthodox Church which
converted the Slav invaders of the Balkans, and however bitterly the
Slavs fought the Byzantine Empire they nevertheless acquired a Byzantine
Greek religious and cultural stamp which could not be effaced. Indeed,
this Greek stamp became even more pronounced after the Turkish conquest.
To the Turks all their Christian subjects looked very much alike.
They therefore considered the Byzantine Greeks as the natural spokesmen
for the Christian elements, and the Balkan Slavs welcomed this arrangement
since the Greeks were best fitted to stand between them and their
Turkish masters. Down to the reawakening of the Balkan peoples about
a century ago, religion rather than nationality was the test of men's
allegiance, so the Balkan peoples thought of themselves as "Greek
Orthodox" and very little else.
are now in a position to understand the peculiar nature of the Greek
"Great Idea," and to realize how it differs from the aspirations
of the other Balkan peoples. Those aspirations are all founded on
a more or less tribal nationalism. The Great Idea, on the other hand,
is based on a religious imperialism. In fact, the Great Idea is essentially
cosmopolitan, and is fundamentally opposed to the ideas of both nationality
and race. The Greeks have never been able really to adjust themselves
to the modem nationalist philosophy. In their heart of hearts they
still believe that the Christian inhabitants of both the Balkans and
Asia Minor should be one people, spiritually united in the Greek Orthodox
Church and politically united in a Greek Empire. Certainly the Greek
ideal has succeeded in binding together very different racial elements.
The present "Greek" populations scattered so widely over
the Balkans and Asia Minor are of many different stocks. Yet they
are all ardent supporters of the Great Idea.
the Greeks revolted against the Turks a century ago they hoped for
a general rising of all the Christian elements. In fact, the first
outbreak took place, not in Greece itself, but far to the northward
in what is now Rumania, which had long been governed by Byzantine
Greeks appointed by the Turkish Sultans, and where the educated upper
class was then strongly Greek in feeling. However, the revolutionists
were quickly disillusioned. The other Balkan peoples, already obscurely
stirring to nationalist ideas, refused to move, and the Turks were
thus able to concentrate against the Greeks, who were massacred wholesale,
and deprived of the privileged posi-
tion that they had heretofore enjoyed. After years
of bloody fighting, Western Europe intervened and set up an independent
Greek state, but this state was so small and weak that in Greek eyes
it was little more than a mockery of their hopes. The majority of
the Greeks were left outside its frontiers, mainly under Turkish rule.
these circumstances the larger aspects of the Great Idea fell into
the background. The Greeks had to confine their efforts mainly to
building up their new state as a nucleus for later efforts. This was
a slow and difficult task. Until the beginning of the present century
Greece played a minor role in Balkan affairs. Her first real chance
came when the Balkan states made their alliance against the Turk in
the year 1912. From both the Balkan Wars which ensued Greece came
out the big winner. With a minimum of loss she doubled her territory
and population, her chief conquest being southern Macedonia with its
great port-city of Salonika -- next to Constantinople the richest
prize in the Balkans. These remarkable successes fired the Greeks
with wild enthusiasm and brought the Great Idea once more to the front.
Then came the Great War, which brought to Greece an extraordinary
series of successes and failures. For a moment it looked as though
the Great Idea was to be realized. The Peace Conference seriously
considered giving Greece Constantinople, and, though this was finally
denied her, Greece was given a large slice of Asia Minor including
the great port-city of Smyrna. At that dramatic hour Greece appeared
to have become the leading state not only of the Balkans but of the
whole Near East. The peace treaties had virtually condemned Turkey
to death and, with the
destruction of her arch-enemy, Greece might well
hope to establish something very like the empire of her dreams.
almost without warning, Greece was plunged from her pinnacle of triumph
to the depths of defeat. A shift of European politics left her unsupported,
the Turks made a desperate rally, and the Greek armies in Asia Minor
were broken. The Greek cause suffered the most terrible disaster that
had befallen it since the Turks wiped out the Byzantine Empire 500
years before. The very foundations of Hellenism in Asia Minor were
destroyed, for the Turks, determined to make any fresh attack impossible,
proceeded to root out the whole Greek population. Fully 2,000,000
Asiatic Greeks were either massacred or driven as starving, diseased
refugees to their distracted motherland. The situation was made still
worse by the political disturbances which broke out in Greece itself.
Filled with fury and despair, the Greeks vented their rage upon one
another. Greek politics are habitually turbulent, and Greece is to-day
rent by bitter factional disputes.
Greece speedily pulls herself together she may suffer still further
losses. The Balkans are a primitive land where the weak usually get
short shrift. Greece still has things worth taking, and there are
those quite ready to take them. Not only would Bulgaria jump at the
chance to seize the tongue of Greek territory (taken from Bulgaria
by the peace treaties) which bars Bulgaria from the Mediterranean,
but Jugoslavia is also to be feared. Though technically Greece's friend,
Jugoslavia looks longingly at southern Macedonia and Salonika, possession
of which would give Jugoslavia a Mediterra-
nean outlet and clinch its Balkan supremacy at one
and the same time. When I was last in Belgrade, the Jugoslav capital,
I heard much talk about Salonika, and some Serbs made no bones of
stating that they would seize it if a good opportunity offered.
thus stands to-day in a very dangerous situation. In many ways she
is worse off than Bulgaria. Yet, here again, no one can predict with
certainty what the morrow may bring. In the Balkans fortune's wheel
turns swiftly, political combinations shift with amazing suddenness
and startling surprises may be in store.
let us consider Rumania, the fourth important Balkan state. Rumania
is the link between the Balkans and both Central and Eastern Europe.
Geographically she lies mainly outside the Balkans, but historically
she has been so closely connected with Balkan affairs that she forms
a logical part of the Balkan area.
all the Balkan states Rumania gained most by the Great War. The peace
treaties more than doubled her pre-war territory and population, so
that to-day she exceeds even Jugoslavia in size and wealth. With her
present area of 122,000 square miles (larger than Italy), her population
of over 17,000,000, and her rich agricultural and mineral resources,
Rumania looks almost like a first-class Power. However, as so often
happens in the Balkans, appearances are deceptive. In reality, Rumania's
very gains have produced such grave internal problems, and made such
bitter foreign foes that Rumania's future is extremely troubled and
Rumanians themselves are a curious folk. They
illustrate the power of language and culture to form
a national consciousness out of varied racial elements. The Rumanians
are obviously of extremely mixed racial origin. Alpine Slav blood
seems to be the largest element in their make-up, though there is
also a considerable infusion of Mediterranean blood, together with
diverse Asiatic strains. Nevertheless, the Rumanians speak a Latin
language and proudly consider themselves full-fledged members of the
"Latin Race" (there being, of course, no such thing).
then, do we find a Latin-speaking folk living along the lower Danube
in the southeastern comer of Europe, hundreds of miles from the other
Latin-speaking peoples? The Rumanians themselves explain the mystery
by claiming to be the descendants of Roman colonists planted north
of the Danube by the Emperor Trajan after his conquest of that region
in the second century A.D. Racially this does not mean much, because
Trajan's colonists were undoubtedly a miscellaneous lot of provincials
with very little "Roman" blood. But culturally the picturesque
legend probably does give the reason for the persistence of Latin
speech along the lower Danube. Flooded though these regions were by
all sorts of barbarian hordes for centuries after the fall of Rome,
the Latin-speaking population possessed cultural traditions superior
to their conquerors and, as so often occurs in such cases, converted
the conquerors to their speech and customs. Precisely what happened
we do not know, for the Rumanians do not appear as a distinct people
until well into the Middle Ages, when we find them settled both in
the fertile plains north of the Danube and in the
adjacent highlands of Transylvania. They were not
a warlike folk and were mostly subject to foreign masters, but they
were extremely persistent and prolific, and they took advantage of
the devasting wars which raged about them to spread steadily east,
north, and west, settling large sections of Hungary and of Southern
Russia -- especially the province known as Bessarabia. The Turks conquered
the Rumanians as they did the other Balkan peoples, but the Rumanians
were so far from the seat of Turkish Power that they were governed
indirectly by Byzantine Greek viceroys appointed by the Sultans. These
tributary provinces, lying north of the Danube, formed the nucleus
for the later Kingdom of Rumania. As Turkish Power declined it seemed
for a while that the Rumanians of the Danube plains would be annexed
to Russia, which did succeed in getting Bessarabia early in the nineteenth
century. But the Rumanians, like the other Balkan peoples, were now
awakening to national consciousness, and after many difficulties the
people of the Danubian plains (excepting Bessarabia) succeeded in
escaping Russian annexation, threw off their vassalage to Turkey,
and established an independent Kingdom of Rumania.
Rumanian state was not very large, but so fertile was its soil and
so dense its population that it rapidly grew in importance and prosperity.
Like the other Balkan peoples, the Rumanians began dreaming of a great
future and eyed with increasing impatience the sight of millions of
their kinsmen under Russian and Hungarian rule. Until the outbreak
of the Great War, however, such dreams of a "Greater Rumania"
had little chance
of coming true. Rumania's "unredeemed"
kinsfolk were subjects of first-class European Powers -- Austria-Hungary
and Russia. Furthermore, these Rumanians lived intermixed with other
populations, which added grave difficulties to Rumanian annexation
even had this been politically possible. Rumania therefore contented
herself with encouraging nationalistic movements among the Rumanians
of Hungary and Bessarabia, her active foreign policy being mainly
directed to Balkan affairs, where she was dealing with nations of
her own size. In fact, Rumania's sole accession of territory before
1914 was her annexation of the Bulgarian district known as the Dobrudja
when Rumania joined Greece and Serbia, and shared in the despoiling
of Bulgaria after the Second Balkan War. Rumania thus gained a province
with no Rumanian inhabitants. It rounded out her Black Sea frontage
very nicely, but it made Bulgaria her bitter enemy.
the Great War began Rumania adopted an attitude of canny neutrality.
By the year 1916 Rumania made an excellent bargain with the Allies,
obtaining their promise of Austria-Hungary's Ruman-inhabited territories,
and entered the war on the Allied side. At first it looked as though
Rumania had made a bad bet. The Rumanian armies were quickly beaten
and the Kingdom of Rumania was overrun by Austro-German, Bulgarian,
and Turkish forces. Then occurred an event which, for Rumania, turned
out to be a great piece of luck -- the Russian Revolution. Bolshevik
Russia became the enemy of the Allies. Therefore, when the Allies
won the war, Rumania claimed not only the Austro-Hungarian provinces
that had been promised her but Russia's province
of Bessarabia as well. The Allies finally agreed,
and Rumania thus fulfilled her wildest dreams.
Rumania's gains contained germs of trouble. Even the pre-war Rumania
had been none too stable, her social system suffering from grave defects.
The chief element of stability had been the fact that the great bulk
of the population was Rumanian. Such was the country which suddenly
swelled to more than twice its pre-war size, annexing a whole series
of powerful, rebellious minorities, and thereby making powerful embittered
foreign enemies who would be almost certain ultimately to make trouble.
Of post-war Rumania's 17,500,000 inhabitants only about 11,500,000
are Rumanians. Furthermore, it must be remembered that of these 11,500,000
Rumanians, only 6,500,000 live in pre-war Rumania, the balance being
"redeemed" Rumanians formerly subjects of Austria-Hungary
and Russia. This is important, because the "redeemed" Rumanians
differ in many ways from those of the former kingdom, and have already
had some lively political tiffs with their kinsmen. It is this none
too stable Rumanian bloc which has to hold down nearly 2,000,000 Magyars
(Hungarians), over 1,000,000 Russians, nearly 1,000,000 Jews, 500,000
Serbs, 500,000 Germans, and fully 1,000,000 of lesser national groups
such as Bulgars, Turks, Greeks, Armenians, and Gypsies. Thus far Rumania's
handling of her minorities has been characterized by brutality tempered
by bribery. Rumanian politics have always been corrupt, and official
corruption seems to have increased rather than diminished since the
war. These things not only weaken the government but give encouragement
to foreign enemies. And Rumania
certainly has dangerous foreign foes. First and foremost
stands Russia, which has never forgiven what it considers to be Rumania's
"robbery" of Bessarabia, and which will certainly try to
get it back again -- perhaps with interest. Then there is Hungary,
stricken to her very heart by Rumania's new frontiers. Again there
is Bulgaria, which has not forgotten Dobrudja. Lastly, there is Serbia,
today allied to Rumania through common dislike of Hungary, but dissatisfied
over its boundary with Rumania, which leaves so many Serbs inside
Rumania's frontiers. Nowhere in Eastern Europe has Rumania a real
friend. The Rumanians often call themselves "the Latin islet
in the Slav ocean." They instinctively distrust all Slavs --
and the Slavs have no love for them.