The Fate of the Balkans
By Herbert Adams Gibbons
[The Century Magazine, June 1917]
One can scarcely count upon a durable peace unless three conditions are fulfilled: (1) existing causes of international troubles should be eliminated or reduced as much as possible; (2) the aggressive objects and the unscrupulous methods of the Central powers should be discredited in the eyes of their own peoples; (3) above international law, above all the treaties having as object the prevention or hindrance of hostilities, there should be established an international sanction which would stop the most daring aggressors.—FOREIGN SECRETARY BALFOUR in a cablegram to the British ambassador at Washington, January 15, 1917.
Every student of international affairs and the Great War, every thinker who has his mind fixed upon the problem of a durable peace, every lover of humanity, will indorse the three conditions laid down by Mr. Balfour, with one modification. In the second condition, justice as well as common sense leads us to substitute "all the powers" for "the Central powers." Only one who is blinded by passion and prejudice, or who feels that some special interest compels him to keep alive the fiction that all the right is on one side and all the wrong on the other, still allows himself the privilege of an I-am-holier-than-thou attitude. While the fighting is on there is such a thing as a sacred cause. France and Belgium, who took up arms in defense of their soil, have felt and are still feeling the moral force of being in the right. An appeal to fight for a principle brought to the British Government the support of the Anglo-Saxon race in the colonies and in the United States as well as in the mother country. But there never was a quarrel that did not have two sides, and no quarrel was ever mended unless the acknowledgments and concessions were mutual.
We must remember that Mr. Balfour was talking about a world peace, and was commenting upon the reply of ten states to Mr. Wilson's peace overture. He was not speaking for Great Britain alone, nor was he speaking for Great Britain and France. Did he expect to make intelligent men believe that the Entente powers have no "aggressive, objects" and are guilty of no "unscrupulous methods?" If he could assure us that Japan is prepared to hand over the Shan-tung Peninsula to China, that Russia waives her claims to Constantinople and Armenia, that Italy has no territorial ambitions in the Balkan Peninsula and Aegean Islands and Asia Minor, that Serbia had not been plotting against Austria-Hungary for years before the war, that Rumania joined the Entente with no "aggressive objects," and that no members of the Entente coalition had been guilty of "unscrupulous methods,"—that is, massacre and pillage in invaded countries, barbarous treatment of prisoners, ruthless repression of rebellions at home, cruelty on the battle-field, breaking of international law on the high seas,—he would be justified in saying "Central powers" instead of "all the powers" in setting forth the second condition.
Partizanship is natural. No man with red blood in his veins can keep from taking sides and expressing preferences. If neutrality does not mean ignorance, it at least means indifference. But if partizanship is maintained in examining the antebellum period and is carried over to the post-bellum period, it is as harmful to one's friends as it is to one's foes. There must be no pro-Ally or pro-German point of view in writing on the causes of the war or on the reconstruction of the world after the war. Before we can hope for the reconstruction of Europe on just and durable bases there must be a remorseless pointing out of past errors, a frank acknowledgment of each nation's part in the development of general causes for the European War, a mutual willingness to meet on new ground.
The people of France and Great Britain and the British colonies have a belief in the justice of their cause, and a sincere desire to see a new Europe, a new world, come out of the present cataclysm of suffering. Until President Wilson gave Count Bernstorff his passports they were grieved and angry at the people of the United States, and could not understand American neutrality in the face of the crimes of which Germany had been guilty.
They believed that American lust for gold and desire for ease have blinded us to the moral issues at stake. This is because they saw only one side of the shield. They thought only of their enemies and the guilt of their enemies. They see peace attainable only through crushing their enemies. They do not realize that Americans know more about the complexity of interests at stake in the war than they do, because we have continually held before our eyes both sides of the shield.* [* Ever since the beginning of the war I have been writing in the American press in defense of the cause of the Entente powers, and have pointed out the wrongs of Belgium, the cruelty of the Germans in invaded regions, and the aspirations of certain subject nationalities. The result has been that I have had communications and a flood of literature from all sorts of "national committees" with headquarters in the United States. There are Irish, Polish, Finnish, Ukrainian (Ruthenian), Lithuanian, Armenian, Arabian, Syrian, Persian, Egyptian, Indian, and Chinese committees, whose charges against Great Britain and Russia and Japan, and whose claims for independence, are in most cases as fully substantiated and as well worth being considered as the claims of nationalities subject to Austria-Hungary. The Iugo-Slavs (whose emancipation the Entente powers' response to President Wilson specified) seem to fear Italy more than their traditional oppressor. Jewish committees and the Ruthenian committee have sent me evidence of cruelties committed by the Russians in Courland and Galicia on a larger scale than those of the Germans in Belgium. American editors and writers will bear me out in the statement that we are constantly confronted with these charges and claims from sources that can in no way be suspected of being subsidize by or sympathetic to Germany.] We are as keenly alive as any Frenchman or Englishman or Canadian or Australian or New-Zealander to the moral issues of the war, but we do not share their illusions about liberal Russia and disinterested Italy. On the other hand, we know that British and French statesmen have been making, and are still making, bribes to Russia and Italy that constitute a flagrant denial of the principles for the championship of which they ask our support and sympathy. Has it never occurred to our French and English friends that we are neither stupid nor credulous, and that we are not to be carried off our feet by the proclamation of the principle of defense of small nationalities in a document which specifies the application of the principle only in cases where the emancipation of subject races would impair the political unity of hostile powers?
Then if we might read, "The aggressive objects and unscrupulous methods of all the powers should be discredited in the eyes of their own peoples," we could say Amen to Mr. Balfour. And let us begin in the Balkans. And let us begin by his statement to the American people:
It may be argued, it is true, that the expulsion of the Turks from Europe is neither a logical nor natural part of this general 'plan [to establish a durable peace]. The maintenance of the Turkish Empire was for generations considered essential by the world's statesmen for the maintenance of European peace. Why, one may ask, is the cause of peace now associated with the complete overthrowal of this political tradition? The reply is that circumstances have entirely changed.
Mr. Balfour does not tell us how or why circumstances have changed. The Turks are no more cruel and hopeless of reform to-day than they were in 1878, when the British Government, after trying to hush up in England the story of the Bulgarian massacres, threatened Russia with war in order to keep Russia from getting Constantinople.
From the Turkish and Balkan point of view circumstances have not changed at all. They have changed only from the point of view of British diplomacy. Here we have the secret of the evil from, which the world is suffering. The statesmen of the great powers, without the knowledge of their electorates, make diplomatic combinations that plunge their own countries into wars and sacrifice weak nations and races. There is no hesitation, no compunction. When a policy inconsistent with a former policy is adopted the public is told that ('circumstances have entirely changed."). The public accepts, and the best blood of the nation goes to death without knowing why. Clever cauist as Mr. Balfour is, he could explain only by telling the truth. For reasons that have nothing whatever to do with Constantinople and the Balkans a few men decided that Russia and Great Britain should be allies. What Great Britain fought one terrible war, and was ready to fight another, to prevent, she is to-day fighting to achieve. The men who fell in the Crimea and on Gallipoli, two generations apart, cannot both have died in a righteous cause.
In the Congress of Berlin, which attempted to decide the destinies of the Balkan nations, Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia were not allowed a voice. The great powers, showed an utter disregard for the interests and rights of the Balkan nations. From 1878 to 1914 the Balkan diplomacy of the great powers followed faithfully the policy that guided Beaconsfield and his fellow-conspirators at Berlin. For what were conceived, often wrongly, to be the interests of the British Empire and of other empires that were being built up or projected, European statesmen showed invariably a willingness to sacrifice the interests of the Balkan nations, repress their logical national development, and use their national aspirations to pit one against the other. Russia and Austria-Hungary and Italy, having conflicting imperial programs that foreshadowed political control of the Balkans, were most guilty. But Great Britain, Germany, and France had their share of blame also. To curry favor with Constantinople and to gain commercial concessions, as well as to give proof of loyalty to alliances that were forming and strengthening, the three Occidental powers made a show of defending Turkey while secretly countenancing the aggressive conspiracies of their actual or potential allies. This is no sweeping assertion, nor is it raking up forgotten and abandoned policies. We need to go back no further than the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. We can limit ourselves to citing events in which the responsibility of statesmen who are still in office was engaged. Any one who looks into the diplomacy of the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Tripoli grabs, the bullying of M. Venizelos and Greece over the Cretan question, and the London ambassadorial conference of 1913, cannot fail to be convinced that in so far as the Balkans are concerned the diplomacy of all the European chancelleries is tarred with the same brush.
To show how recent is the conversion of the British Foreign Office to the belief that "circumstances have entirely changed" in the Balkans and necessitate the expulsion of Turkey from Europe in order to assure peace, let me quote the famous note of October 8, 1912, which the great powers delivered to the Balkan States to intimidate them from taking the step Mr. Balfour now believes essential to the peace of Europe. In diplomatic circles it was currently reported at the time that this chef-d'oeuvre emanated from Downing Street. At any rate, four years ago Great Britain put her signature to a document which said:
The powers condemn energetically every measure capable of leading to a rupture of peace. Supporting themselves on Article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin, they will take in hand, in the interest of the population, the realization of the reforms of the administration of European Turkey, on the understanding that these reforms will not diminish the sovereignty of his Imperial Majesty the Sultan and the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. If, in spite of this note, war does break out between the Balkan States and the Ottoman Empire, the powers will not admit, at the end of the conflict, any modification in the territorial status quo in European Turkey.
The Balkan States, which had waited in vain during thirty-four years of oppression and suffering for the application of Article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin, knew that no faith could be put in promises of the great powers. They knew, too, that suspicion of bad faith of each power toward each other power made the last statement of the note ridiculous and meaningless. Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro, united for the first time in their history," went ahead, and accomplished the work of emancipation in defiance of the will of the great powers. They would probably have divided the territories wrested from Turkey without serious friction had not the ambassadorial conference of London and the underhand intrigues of at least four of the six powers forbidden Serbia the access to the Adriatic that she had won by her arms. Sir Edward Grey afterward said that his part in this disgraceful and disastrous decision was justified by his desire to avoid a European war. By implication at least British-writers have since tried to establish the fact that Austria-Hungary was directly responsible for barring Serbia from the sea, and that Germany was the real culprit. Wilhelmstrasse, so we are told, was instigating and backing up Ballplatz. This is true; but it is only half the truth. Italy was equally responsible, and Russia played an ignoble role in the affair.
The world has moved too fast during the last three years to waste time and energy in lamenting what might have happened and didn't. But the duty is none the less incumbent upon us to keep in mind the Balkan tragedy of 1913 in order that a repetition of it may be avoided. For none of the participants in the European interference of that year has abandoned the great-power attitude toward the Balkans. One can see in the Balkan events since the outbreak of the present war no desire in any European foreign office to forsake the deplorable diplomacy that has soaked Europe in blood. Where is the statesman in any belligerent country who dares to come out openly and call a spade a spade?
The facts are painful. At the beginning Serbia was the only Balkan country involved in the European War. It was the desire of the other Balkan States to remain neutral. All of them, with the exception of Rumania, had suffered heavily in the two preceding wars and needed a long period of peace for recuperation. None had the equipment in heavy artillery, ammunition, and aeroplanes to engage in war against a great power.
Serbia resisted with admirable skill and courage the first Austro-Hungarian invasion. Her armies routed the invaders completely. But the victory had been dearly purchased, and precious stores of ammunition expended. Serbia's powerful allies were in honor bound to take steps to protect her against a second invasion. Since Turkey had entered the war, interest also dictated the necessity of reprovisioning in war material, and reinforcing the armies of the country that stood between the Central powers and their Ottoman ally. But the Entente powers were thinking of themselves and their own territorial ambitions. They hoped to force Turkey into a separate peace very speedily, and when that moment arrived they planned to have in their possession the portions of Turkey they wanted to keep. Until the critical days came, no attention was paid to Serbia and Montenegro. Then the Entente powers, who had some months previously showed their unwillingness to accept Greek advice and aid in the campaign against Turkey or to promise to protect Greece against Bulgarian aggression, suddenly called on Greece to go to the aid of Serbia. At the same time negotiations were carried on with Bulgaria and Rumania. In all the Balkan capitals, including that of their faithful little ally, the ministers of the Entente powers bullied and blundered and bluffed without being able to offer any tangible reward for Balkan aid. The Balkan States knew well what rewards France and Great Britain had guaranteed to Russia and Italy. What was left for them? Russia balked at giving Rumania even as much as Bukowina, let alone Bessarabia and Transylvania. Italy refused to yield one iota of her imperial ambitions, which could be realized only at the expense of Greece and Serbia. Bulgaria could not be promised the return of her Macedonia irredenta, because the veto of Italy prevented the Entente powers from promising Serbia compensation on the Adriatic for giving up Macedonia to Bulgaria. Great Britain and France could not assure to Greece effective protection against an invasion of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Turkish armies. It was diplomatic incoherence and military impotence.
The events in the Balkans of the second and third years of the war have saved the Central powers from a humiliating defeat and Turkey from dismemberment. If public opinion in France and Great Britain persists in believing that the debacle of the Entente cause is due to the stubbornness of Serbia, the pro-German sentiment of King Constantine and his general staff, the cowardice of the Greeks, the treason of Bulgaria, and the foolhardiness and lack of military virtues of Rumania, the Central powers will have won definitely the war in the East, no matter what happens on the Western front, and the Berlin-Bagdad dream will be as much of a reality as Mitteleuropa. German domination in the Balkans may be a justifiable ambition from the German point of view, but not from the point of view of the Balkan races. No races have ever been happy under German control, and the events of this war have not given the world reason for believing in a change in the selfish and barbarous attitude of Germans toward other nations, especially when those other nations are weaker. We know the German theory of national expansion. It has been set forth over and over again by the ablest German scientists and historians, especially in relation to the Drang nach Osten: the weak in the path of the strong must be exterminated or amalgamated.
Without ignoring or denying the existence of a number of contributory factors, we can get to the very heart of the Balkan problem when we are willing to see and set forth the most important reason of Balkan lukewarmness for the cause of the Entente powers. While recognizing the Teuton menace, because fully aware of Teuton aspirations, Balkan nations attribute the same conception of national expansion to Russia and Italy. The statesmen of Rumania and Serbia and Montenegro, and the leaders of thought in these three Balkan countries allied to the Entente powers, think on this point exactly as do the statesmen and leaders of Bulgaria and Greece. So does M. Venizelos, head of the Greek revolutionary government at Saloniki. Before the conquest of Serbia, M. Pachitch was unable to prevent embarrassing interpellations concerning Italy's intentions in the Nish Skupshtina. In fact, the premier of Serbia has not had a happy moment since Italy joined the Entente. The statesmen of broad vision in Rumania fought bitterly to the very last hour the irresponsible forces at Bukharest that were bent upon the destruction of their country through following blindly the Transylvanian will-o'-the-wisp. When M. Venizelos, humiliated and discredited, feels that it is time to speak out the truth, he will have a sad story of betrayal to tell. On the platform of the station at Lyons, King Nicholas, coming to France for the exile that may have no end, declared, "Francis Joseph struck me on the head, but Victor Emmanuel has struck me in the heart." The King of Montenegro has no illusions about the part his son-in-law's government played by abstention in the crushing of his kingdom.
Russia's pretensions to Constantinople, and the general opposition of the Balkan races to Russian ambitions, have been dealt with in an earlier article. In exposing to President Wilson their aims in the war and their ideas of the bases of a durable peace, the Entente powers evaded a definite statement on this important question. They spoke only of driving the Turks from Europe. None denies the justice of assuring Russia's passage to the open sea, but it is difficult to reconcile Russian control of Constantinople with the principle of the rights of small nations to self-government. Russia is ruled by a cruel, despotic, and irresponsible bureaucracy. Even the Liberal Nationalists in Russia have proved themselves as intolerant of the rights of subject nationalities as have the Young Turks. From the Balkan point of view, Russia at Constantinople and the straits (which would mean also a large portion of Thrace) would bring into the peninsula a powerful country who is hated because she is feared by all the Balkan nations.
Five years ago much was written by Occidental observers on the subject of Italian imperialism; but when the present war broke out, the criticism of Italy ceased. Berlin hoped to keep Italy neutral. Paris and London wanted to detach Italy from her former allies, and get her to enter the war on the side of the Entente. The result was disastrous for Italy, who began to feel that destiny was calling upon her to play the decisive rôle in European history. The hope of extending her sovereignty over the Trentino and Triest, and the making of the Adriatic an Italian sea, could be realized only by intervening on the side of the Entente. But the price of intervention mounted at Rome each month as the importunity of the Entente increased. Italy wanted her full share in the partition of the Ottoman Empire. After the failure of the Dardanelles and the Saloniki expeditions, the appetite of Italian imperialism was whetted. One does not know how much Italy has been promised in the event of an Entente victory; but one does know that the French and English statesmen who promised anything at all to Italy beyond the Trentino and possibly Triest did so in wilful disregard of the ideals they had set before them, and for the triumph of which they had solemnly proclaimed to the world that the sword of justice and liberty was drawn.
The contemporary school of Italian imperialists have lost their heads entirely. If the statesmen of the Entente powers had studied closely the literature and the programs of the Dante Alighieri Society and the Dalmatian League, and followed the development of the colonial and irredentist propagandas during the last decade, they would have supported with all their power Signor Giolitti and the non-intervention elements in the spring of 1915. Italy's neutrality was a valuable asset to the Entente. Italy's refusal to march with her central European allies, and the assurance to France that there was nothing to fear on the Alpine frontier, helped incalculably the Entente cause, and was for Italy herself the course dictated by national interest. But active participation in the war on the side of the Entente has been beneficial neither to the Entente nor to Italy. The statesmen of France, Great Britain, and Russia have come to realize that Italian irredentists and imperialists are without shame or limit in their ambitions, and are incapable of constructive political vision. They have had to yield to Italian demands, though, in order to keep the coalition intact. The result has been the sacrifice of the Serbians and the loss of Greek aid. Inside the Austro-Hungarian Empire the increased military handicap from taking on a new enemy has been offset by the strengthening of the loyalty of Iugo-Slavs to the Hapsburg crown. Italy, who needed all her resources for internal development and for the completion of the conquest of Tripoli, is spending herself in the pursuit of illegitimate aspirations.
The men who are controlling Italian policy could not subscribe to Mr. Balfour's conditions for a durable peace any more than the men who are controlling the policy of Germany. Italy wants to make the Adriatic an Italian sea, to retain the Greek islands she has occupied since the Treaty of Ouchy and get more Greek islands, and to win a generous slice of Turkey by extending her sovereignty over the whole Mediterranean littoral of Asia Minor from the corner of the Aegean Sea to the Bay of Alexandretta. It is a far cry from the natural and just demand of sober-minded patriots for the Italian Tyrol and the rectification of the disadvantageous Austrian frontier to this program of spoliation. The realization of Italian aspirations in the Adriatic would enslave Slovenes, Croatians, Dalmatians, Montenegrins, Albanians, and Greeks, and would deprive central Europe of its only outlet to the Mediterranean. The realization of Italian aspirations in the Aegean and Asia Minor would enslave Greeks, Turks, and Armenians. Thus would disappear all that the Serbians have been fighting for and suffering for, and the dreams of Pachitch and Venizelos, loyal friends of France and Great Britain, who have risked everything for the Entente cause.
When one talks about the Balkans, just as when one talks about the Poles and Armenians and Irish, the common answer is, "They are a bad lot, hopeless, don't you know; would always be cutting one another's throats; never could govern themselves even if they were let alone." This wide-spread impression is the result of "giving a dog a bad name." No proof of the assertions and charges is possible, because the experiment of letting these nations work out their own salvation has not been tried. How dare we, then, say that it would fail? Exactly the same attitude was taken by the rest of Europe during the decades of the slow process of Italian and German unification. Everything that is being said so glibly about the unfitness for self-government of subject and divided nationalities was said seventy-five years ago about Italians, to whose unification the chancelleries of the powers were bitterly opposed. Italy was unified, and peace and prosperity reigned in the Italian peninsula only when the Italians were freed from foreign masters, foreign intrigues, foreign internal interference.
Germany is not going to be put hors de combat in the duel by the weapon she herself chose. She cannot be forced into submission or repentance by the armies of her enemies. Germany does not admit that she is in the wrong, and the Government 'is supported in all sincerity by intelligent public opinion. Germany is gaining ground rapidly in Balkan public opinion, for nothing succeeds like success. The Entente powers must remember that Germany is in possession. They have one chance left to turn the tide in the Balkans, and that chance is not by reinforcing General Sarrail's army at Saloniki. The fortune of arms has failed them in the Balkans, insincere and secret diplomacy has also failed them; but they can still put in specific terms, applied to the Balkans, what they have stated in general terms to be their aims in the war. They can send a joint note to friends and foes, Montenegro, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece, the Venizelos government, and the Albanian tribes, declaring that the Entente powers are willing to guarantee the Balkan Peninsula to the Balkan peoples, and promising unequivocally that, if they are successful in expelling Turks and Austro-Hungarians and Germans, they do not intend to introduce any other foreign element. They can promise to work jointly for the establishment of a just Balkan balance of power, by waiving their own territorial ambitions to make possible a durable peace and the triumph of the high principles for which they are now valiantly fighting.
We have had a hundred years of "practical" diplomacy in the Balkans. Ever since Greece and Serbia began the struggle to shake off the Ottoman yoke European statesmen have been "practical." They have viewed Balkan conditions not as men with a conscience knew they ought to be, but as men playing a game thought they were. They are doing the same today. If they deny the possibility of an altruistic attitude in dealing with Balkan affairs, are not the Entente statesmen, who are said to have arrived at a secret agreement on the future of the Balkans,—an agreement the terms of which are unknown alike to their own people and to the people of the Balkans—playing Germany's game? The formula of putting might before right is popularly supposed to be German; and in the Balkans at least the might is on Germany's side. It is perfectly plain, then, that the Entente powers must put right before might in their Balkan diplomacy, and must say to the Balkan nations, "We are fighting to protect you from Teutonic overlords for your own sakes, and not in order that we may be your overlords." No other argument will convince the Balkan races that it is to their interest to risk now—and in the future also, opposing the Drang nach Osten by coöperating with the enemies of Germany. Having revealed in the Balkans their inferiority in military strength to Germany, the alternative to defeat for the Entente powers is renunciation of ambitions and methods similar to those of Germany.
If the natural expansion of each Balkan State along ethnographic and economic lines were allowed to develop freely, causes for antagonism and conflict could be removed, and there would be a possibility of peaceful national development and of federation in treating foreign affairs.
Throughout the period of nearly a hundred years, during which the Osmanlis were gradually losing the Balkan Peninsula, there has never been a time that European diplomacy has not been active in repressing the natural expansion of the emancipated races. Every rebellion against the Ottoman yoke, up to and including, as we have seen above, the 1912 war of liberation, has been viewed with alarm by the European powers. In the guise of aiding and protecting the Balkan nations, the powers have interfered to frustrate every effort to win independence and national unity. One cannot insist too strongly on the point that the antagonisms between the Balkan States are not primarily due to conflicting aspirations inherited from ante-Ottoman days. In reviving fourteenth-century conflicts and historic counter-claims and traditions, Greece and Serbia and Bulgaria and Rumania are victims of thwarted natural expansion. European diplomacy, imposing a veto upon natural expansion, caused history to be denatured by translating ancient dynastic rivalries into modern national aspirations.
he Balkan States, in their natural development, need not have turned against one another. There was no necessity for the Macedonian question. If Greece had been allowed to expand into Epirus and to follow her maritime bent by forming an island empire out of Greek islands, Greece would hardly have come into conflict with Bulgaria in Macedonia. If Serbia had been allowed to expand to the Adriatic, through Bosnia and Herzegovina and Dalmatia, historic Serbian lands inhabited by Serbian-speaking faces, she would not have been induced alternately by Austria and Russia to make a propaganda against Greeks and Bulgarians in Macedonia. If the Treaty of Berlin had not given Rumanian Bessarabia to Russia and "compensated" Rumania south of the Danube with Bulgarian Dobrudja, there need not have been an Alsace-Lorraine question between Rumania and Bulgaria. These hypotheses are not fanciful, or to be rejected without careful examination; for they represent the intimate conviction of eminent Balkan patriots, who have devoted their lives to a struggle against the limitations imposed upon them by the rivalry and jealousy of the great powers. Aspirations as noble, as just, as sacred as those of Belgium and France have been disregarded and sacrificed, and are still being disregarded and sacrificed, by European diplomacy in the Balkans. And the blame and shame of European diplomacy is all the greater when we have many indubitable proofs, in studying the negotiations between the powers and the Sublime Porte, that considerations wholly outside of anything affecting the Balkan Peninsula and its inhabitants most often inspired the efforts of the powers to keep the Balkans in slavery to the Turks.
Balkan antagonisms can be healed, conflicting Balkan aspirations can be reconciled, a just and permanent balance of power can be established in the Balkans. What is needed is not a victorious group of powers imposing their will upon the Balkan nations, but the sincere application of Mr. Balfour's three conditions for a durable peace. One can suggest the outstanding lines of a settlement that is based upon the interests of the nations concerned and not the ambitions of outside powers.
1. Rumania. Whatever inspired and interested "authorities" may write, there can be no doubt that the terre irredente of Rumania, Transylvania, and Bukowina, if a plebiscite were taken, would vote to remain with the Austro-Hungarian Empire: so Rumania should renounce solemnly her aspirations in connection with these provinces in return for evacuation of her territory by the Central powers, Russia should restore a portion at least of Bessarabia to Rumania, and Rumania should cede back to Bulgaria the part of the Dobrudja she stole from Bulgaria in 1913. The Danube states, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria should be guaranteed unobstructed passage on the Danube through Rumanian waters even in time of war.
2. Serbia. Evacuation and restoration of independence upon the following basis: the Central powers to agree to reconstitute the kingdom as it existed before the Treaty of Bukharest, with the exception of the Pirot district, which should be retained by Bulgaria; to give Serbia northern Macedonia up to the minimum line established in the Serbo-Bulgarian treaty of 1912; to cede to Serbia Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Dalmatia from the Narenta River to the Bay of Cattaro; not to oppose any future political union between Serbia and Montenegro; not to oppose a possible future division of Albania between Serbia and Greece. Serbia to agree to restore the Pirot district to Bulgaria; to waive all claims to Macedonia south of the line established as the minimum of her pretensions in the Serbo-Bulgarian treaty of 1912; to bind herself not to make a propaganda officially, or to permit the Narodna Obrana or any other irredentist organization to make a propaganda among the southern Slavs of Croatia and other portions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; not to fortify the Bay of Cattaro; not to make an offensive and defensive alliance with Italy or with Austria-Hungary.
3. Montenegro. The Central powers to restore Montenegro to its territories as they were at the outbreak of the present war, and Austria to cede the lower end of Dalmatia from the Bay of Cattaro to the present Montenegrin frontier. In return, Montenegro to assume the same obligations as Serbia concerning the fortification of the Bay of Cattaro and the formation of offensive and defensive alliances with the two great Adriatic powers, and to promise to submit to a plebiscite the question of political fusion with Serbia.
4. Bulgaria. Evacuation of Rumania against the cession of the Dobrudja district which Bulgaria lost in the Treaty of Bukharest, and evacuation of Serbia against cession of the Pirot district and all of Macedonia below the minimum Serbian line of the Serbo-Bulgarian treaty of 1912. Evacuation of Greek Macedonia against the cession by Greece of Macedonia east of a line drawn from the Mesta River, where it crosses the present Greco-Bulgarian frontier, south between Serres and Drama to the Gulf of Rendina, thus giving Kavala to Bulgaria; the recognition by Greece of Bulgaria's rights to Macedonia west of the Vardar from the present Greek frontier to the minimum Serbian line of the Serbo-Bulgarian treaty of 1912; and the cession by Greece of Thasos and Samothrace to Bulgaria.
5. Greece. Extension northwest to include Epirus south of a line, drawn from the southern end of Lake Ochrida to Khimara (north of Santi Quaranta) on the Ionian Sea. Cession to Bulgaria of eastern end of Macedonia, as outlined above. All the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea (except Thasos and Samothrace, which are essential for the protection of the Bulgarian coast, and Tenedos and Imbros, which control the Dardanelles) to be handed over to Greece. This means that Italy evacuate the Dodecanese, and Great Britain Cyprus. Greece must undertake not to fortify Mudros or any other part of the island of Lemnos.
6. Albania. Albania will have to remain temporarily as at present constituted, with the exception of the southern Epirote portion, which ought to be allotted immediately to Greece. Albania presents the most perplexing problem of Balkan readjustment, and will have to be kept, under international or pan-Balkan control, as an autonomous region for a period of trial years. If Albanians are able to fuse into a nation, disinterested international control, from which both Austria-Hungary and Italy must be rigorously excluded, will establish the contentions of Albanian nationalists. If the experiment does not succeed, Albania should eventually be divided between Serbia and Greece.
7. Constantinople and the straits. The reasons against Russian occupation have already been set forth in an earlier article. If the Turks are driven out of Europe, this region ought to be internationalized, with the Enos-Midia line as the Bulgarian frontier. But as internationalization presents insurmountable difficulties, unless the peace conference establishes a similar regime for the other great international waterways, the Balkan balance of power, as well as the general world equilibrium, is best secured by leaving Constantinople and the straits to the Ottoman Empire, with the stipulations that all fortifications be destroyed, free passage be assured to merchant vessels of all nations and to war-vessels of the countries bordering on the Black Sea.
I realize fully that these suggestions are open to objection on many points, but in their ensemble they represent the application of the principle that nations have a right to decide their own destinies, no nation being subjected to another nation by force. I submit that they are practical suggestions, too, for those who are opposed to German political expansion in the near East. For if the conscience of the world is not alive to the necessity and the justice of leaving the Balkan Peninsula to the Balkan races, Germany will keep the hegemony in the Balkans that she has already won.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald