The Balkins

 ‘It is an intolerable affront to human and political nature that these wretched and unhappy little countries in the Balkans peninsula can, and do, have quarrels that cause world wars. Some hundred and fifty thousand young Americans died because of an event in 1914 in a mud-caked primitive village, Sarajevo. Loathsome and almost obscene snarls in Balkans politics, hardly intelligible to a western reader are still vital to the peace of Europe, and perhaps the world’. (John Gunther, 1940) Discuss.


By discussing this statement we are assuming that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was the only factor which stated WW1. There are of course many arguments that suggest that WW1 would have taken place regardless of the incident in Sarajevo. The major European powers such France, Germany and Great Britain had been engaged in an arms race since the late 19th century. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 failed to recognize the influence nationalism played in forging foreign policies. This was an important influence as France was left seething over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. Furthermore economic and imperialistic factors all contributed to the outbreak of WW1. However the most prominent reason for the eventual outbreak of WW1 was none other than the entangling alliances that the major powers created. While the assassination in Sarajevo was not the raison d’être’ for the out-break of WW1 it certainly was the spark. I suppose that the real question here is, why were, and why even today the Balkans vital to the peace of Europe?

After the Greco-Turk war of 1897, the ethnic fighting in Macedonia, the two Balkan Wars, and the Italian war with Turkey in 1911, war in the Balkans was not unusual.  A little warfare had become commonplace, war was seen as a normal aspect of foreign relations.  No one foresaw what the World War would mean. The potential collapse of Austria-Hungary was important not only for the Vienna government, but for Austria’s German ally, for the other Great Powers, and for the balance of power system.  Because the clash with Serbia in 1914 affected an issue of such magnitude, it is not surprising that all the Powers soon became involved: all of them had interests at stake.  The specific steps to the World War, and the division into two sides, reflected local considerations from Poland to Belgium: but the risk of world war, entered the equation because of the ethnic issues behind the Sarajevo crisis of 1914. We can see here that the various different powers had their own interests in mind with regards to the potential collapse of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. One could suggest that it is due to natural human insecurities and greed which created a need for the alliance system, which later culminated in war.

Globalization had been under way for centuries. France and Britain were the established old powers of Europe. Now Germany the rising power with no colonies to speak of wanted to ‘its place in the sun’. When it came to gaining new territory supply was fixed, there was only so much to go around.  During the cold war the bi-polar powers fought out their differences in third world areas. In the 1960’s the United States of America got involved in a guerilla war in Vietnam. They undertook this aggressive action all because they believed in the Domino effect. They believed that if North Vietnam fell to communism the south along with Laos and Cambodia would soon follow. The economics of the war could not be justified and neither could the enormous loss of life. However the territory of Europe was more a less locked up. The U.S tried to use Vietnam to gain prestige. Much in the same way as the Americans made Vietnam important to them, fifty years earlier the Germans, French and the British had made the Balkans just as vital.

Kosovo is on the doorstep of Europe. It’s geographical location is such that it cannot be ignored. For Germany Austria Hungary broke the rings of seeemingly hostile powers but more importantly Austria Hungary provided a land bridge not only to the Balkinss but to Asia minor. Harold Mackinder pioneered the idea that the Central-East European heartland is the vital springboard for the attainment of continental domination in Eurasia. The new geopolitical realities, the emerging states in the Balkans have signed over 60 military agreements on defense cooperation with neighboring states and with various state actors outside of this geographic region in Europe. Thus, the Balkan region has become the only region in the world where so many military agreements on defense cooperation have been consummated in such a short time period. So much so that the Balkan region became known as the power keg of Europe, this phrase is just as relevant today in contemporary European politics than ever.

Today the Balkans remains the most volatile area in Europe. The Revolutions of 1989 that ended Soviet-style Communism in the East European socialist states from the Baltic to the Balkans, are examples of the explosive nature of the area which still remain fresh in the European memory. Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany experienced rapid, non-violent revolutions in which an orientation to the West played a key role. However during 1989 when Germany and indeed Europe experienced an almost instantaneous shift to the left, the Balkan states stand in stark contrast the “revolutions” there were much slower to unfold, one might question whether “revolutions” even took place.  Furthermore, events in the Balkans involved substantially greater levels of violence[5].


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