The Pan-Slavism and Tsarist Russia’s Balkan policy

The Balkan Peninsula together with the region of South-East Europe historically has been one of the most important focal points of the Russian foreign policy, cultural influences and attempts to spread an ideology of the Orthodox solidarity and the Slavic reciprocity.[1] These ideas are common to almost all trends of the Russian public life in the past and today.

After Russia lost the Great Crimean War of 1853–1856 she intensified its cultural influence in the region of the South-East Europe for the purposes of beating the Habsburg (the Roman-Catholic) rivalry and to spread an idea of the Pan-Slavism in this part of Europe.[2] However, the Great Crimean War was in essence the British war against Russia (Figes, 2010; Lambert, 2011; Small, 2014) in order to stop further Russian victories against the Ottoman Empire (Isaacs, 2001, 156; Anisimov, 298−299). After this war it became obvious for Russia that the West European great powers[3] are her enemies, especially the United Kingdom. It will take even 50 years for Russia to sign a military-political agreement with the United Kingdom (in 1907) only after a final sharing the spheres of influence in Persia (Hans-Erich, 1985, 134).[4]

The political and economic rivalry between Russia, on one hand, and the Habsburg Monarchy (Austria-Hungary from 1867) and the German Empire (from 1871), on other, over the dominance at the Balkans was strongly affected in Russia by the growth of the Pan-Slavic sentiment, based on the common Slavic origin, mutual Paleoslavonic language, and above all it was grounded on emotional sentiment to liberate those South Slavs who were under the Ottoman yoke (Jelavich, 1991).[5] Historically, Russia had three pivotal interests in both regions the Balkans and the South-East Europe: 1) strategic, 2) cultural, and 3) religious (Castellan, 1992). It is important to stress a fact that Russia, together with the West European states, participated in the process of modernization of the eastern Balkan nations and states (Black, 1974).[6]

From a strategic point of view, the Russian diplomacy concerned the Balkans and the South-East Europe as essential for the Russian state security and above all for the stability of the Russian state frontiers.[7] Russia’s intention was to obtain a favorable frontier in Bessarabia (today an independent Republic of Moldova) and to have control over the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, which became very important to the Russian commercial and economic development and geopolitical projects; in particular for the shipment of surplus grain from today Ukraine or known also as a Little Russia (Прыжов, 1869; Соловьев, 1947)[8] to the world markets.

The Bosporus and the Dardanelles became a part of Russia’s “security zone” in both economic and political terms. The Russian main concern was to safeguard free passage through the Bosporus Straits to the Mediterranean Sea (Jelavich, 1973). Simultaneously, Russia intended to block the expansion of the other European great powers, particularly of Austria-Hungary and Germany, into the region.[9]

Taking religious and cultural aspects of the Russian interests in the Balkans and the South-East Europe, largely due to the Russian Pan-Slavic agitation, Russia succeeded to develop from 1870 a strong interest in the fate of the Balkan Slavs and the South-East European Orthodox Christians. The Pan-Slavism, based on the myth of the Slavic solidarity and primarily on the Orthodox Slavic reciprocity, which created strong ethnic, religious and cultural sentiments among the Slavic Orthodox population (but not among the Roman Catholic Slavs), became at the end of the 19th century one of the dominant driving forces behind the Russian policy in the Balkans and the South-East Europe. The myth of the Slavic solidarity and brotherhood exerted a considerable influence on many intellectuals and found support in official circles in Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.[10]

The Tsarist Russia was sincerely trying all the time to reconcile the Slavic nations in conflict, especially those of the Christian Orthodox faith for the sake of the Pan-Slavic ideals of intra-Slavic solidarity, reciprocity and brotherhood. Probably the case of the Serbian-Bulgarian conflict in 1912−1915 over the Macedonian Question is the best example of such Russian policy of Panslavism. In the other words, Russia became the creator of the 1912 Serbian−Bulgarian treaty and recognized arbiter in 1912−1913 diplomatic conflict between Serbia and Bulgaria over the destiny of Macedonia after the Balkan Wars (Ћоровић, 1990а, 20−24). The Russian Balkan policy in this case was a real Panslavonic one as St. Petersburg wanted to satisfy territorial claims of both sides by negotiations and diplomatic agreement between Sofia and Belgrade. When Austria-Hungary declared war to Serbia on July 23rd, 1914 all Entente member states, including and Russia, were making pressure on Serbia to give territorial compensation (the Vardar Macedonia) to Bulgaria for the Bulgarian participation in the war against the Central Powers. Serbia was promised, like in the secret 1915 London Treaty, territorial concessions in the Western Balkans populated by the ethnic Serbs living in the Dual Monarchy. For instance, a Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sazonov, on August 5th, 1914 urged the Serbian Government to give to Bulgaria Macedonian territories up to the line Kriva Palanka−Ohrid with Struga for Bulgarian active participation in the war against Austria-Hungary and towns of Shtip, Radovishte and the lands up to Vardar river for Bulgarian “friendly neutrality”. For such Serbia’s sacrifice, Russia promised to Belgrade to support Serbia at the end of the war in realization of her “national ideals”. However, Sazonov was clear in this case that Serbia by giving such territorial sacrifice is going to very contribute to the Russian “life wish” to establish the Panslavonic fraternity and eternal friendship between the Serbs and Bulgarians (Радојевић, Димић, 2014, 138). The same territorial requirements to Serbia were vainly repeated once again by the Entente member states in 1915 before Bulgaria finally joined the war on the side of the Central Powers in October of the same year (Avramovski, 1985, 55−172; Трубецки, 1994, 21−158).

Unfortunately, Serbia rejected such friendly Russia’s proposals and as a consequence lost 25% of its population during the WWI, 50% of industry and the most important its statehood. Instead of a strong and efficient United Serbia it was created loose, destructive and above all anti-Serbian Yugoslavia with the Roman Catholic Croats and Slovenes as the clients of Vatican.

Bibliography

Anisimov, J. (2014). Rusijos istorija nuo Riuriko iki Putino: Žmonės. Įvykiai. Datos. Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos centras.

Avramovski, Ž. (1985). Ratni ciljevi Bugarske i Centralne sile 1914−1918. Beograd: Institut za savremenu istoriju.

Black, E. C. (1974). “Russia and the Modernization of the Balkans”. Jelavich, Ch. & Jelavich, B. (eds.). The Balkans in Transition: Essays on the Development of Balkan Life and Politics since the Eighteenth century, Archon Books.

Castellan, G. (1992). History of the Balkans: From Mohammed the Conqueror to Stalin. New York: Columbia University Press, East European Monographs, Boulder.

Cooper, F. A., Heine, J., Thakur, R. (eds.) (2015). The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy. Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press.

Figes, O. (2010). The Crimean War: A History. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Gvosdev, K. N., & Marsh, Ch. (2014). Russian Foreign Policy: Interests, Vectors, and Sectors. Thousand Oaks: CoPress.

Hans-Erich, S., & et al (eds.) (1985). Westerman Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte. Braunsschweig: C. A. Koch’s Verlag Nachf.

Isaacs, A., Alexander, F., Law, J., Martin, E. (eds.) (2001). Oxford Dictionary of World History. Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press.

Jelavich, B. (1973). The Ottoman Empire, the Great Powers, and the Straits Question, 1870−1887, Indiana University Press.

Jelavich, B. (1991). Russia’s Balkan Entanglements, 1806−1914. Bloomington.

Kohn, H. (1960). Pan-Slavism: Its History and Ideology. Vintage.

Lambert, A. (2011). The Crimean War: British Grand Strategy Against Russia, 1853−56. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Mansbach, W. R., Taylor, L. K. (2012). Introduction to Global Politics. London−New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Narochnitskaya, A. N. (1998). “Spiritual and geopolitical rivalry in the Balkans at the brink of the XXI century”. Eurobalkans, autumn. 18–23.

Palmowski, J. (2004). A Dictionary of Contemporary World History from 1900 to the Present Day. Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press.

Plokhy, S. (2008). Ukraine & Russia: Representations of the Past. Toronto−Buffalo−London: University of Toronto Press Incorporated.

Plokhy, S. (2010). The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Riasanovsky, V. N. (2006). A History of Russia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Small, H. (2014). The Crimean War: Queen Victoria’s War with the Russian Tsars. London: Tempus Publishing.

Tsygankov, P. A. (2013). Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity. Lanham, Mar.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Попов, Н. (1870). Србија и Русија: Од Кочине крајине до Св. Андрејевске скупштине. Београд: Државна штампарија.

Прыжов, И. Г. (1869). Малороссия (Южная Русь) в истории ее литературы с XI по XVIII век., Воронеж.

Поповић, В. (1940). Европа и српско питање. Београд.

Радојевић, М., Димић, Љ. (2014). Србија у Великом рату 1914−1918. Кратка историја. Београд: Српска књижевна задруга−Београдски форум за свет равноправних.

Соловьев, А. В. (1947). „Великая, Малая и Белая Русь“. Вопросы истории. Москва: Академия наук СССР. 7. 24−38.

Трубецки, Н. Г. (1994). Рат на Балкану 1914−1917. и руска дипломатија. Београд: Просвета.

Prof. Dr Vladislav B. Sotirovic

www.global-politics.eu/sotirovic

sotirovic@global-politics.eu

© Vladislav B. Sotirovic 2016

Endnotes:

[1] The Balkans is a peninsula in the South-East Europe that today includes Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, Albania, Macedonia (the FYROM), Bulgaria and the European portion of Turkey. The South-East Europe is enlarged Balkans with Romania and Moldova.

[2] The Balkans was all the time a peninsula of a clash of civilizations. According to Samuel P. Huntington, a civilization is a cultural entity and he identified eight such civilizations. One of them was the Slavic-Orthodox. Civilizations differ in terms of history, language, culture, tradition but above all religion. Huntington argued that every civilization had and has a protector core state as, for instance, Russia historically was and today is a protector of the Slavic-Orthodox civilization (Mansbach, Taylor, 2012, 447).

[3] Great power was originally in the 18th century the term for a European state which could not be conquered by any other state or even by several of them. After the WWII this term is applied to a country that is regarded as among the most powerful in the global system and global politics (Mansbach, Taylor, 2012, 578).

[4] The British-Russian convention over Persia in 1907 divided the country into a northern section under the Russian influence, a neutral part in the middle, and a southern zone under the UK’s influence (Palmowski, 2004, 304).

[5] About the Pan-Slavism, see in (Kohn, 1960).

[6] About the Russian history, see in (Riasanovsky, 2006).

[7] About Russia’s foreign policy interests, see in (Tsygankov, 2013; Gvosdev, 2014).

[8] About Ukraine-Russian identity relations, see in (Plokhy, 2008; Plokhy, 2010).

[9] About the spiritual and geopolitical rivalry in the Balkans by the great European powers, see in (Поповић, 1940; Narochnitskaya, 1998). According to Lord Palmerston, the nations (states) have no permanent enemies and allies; they have only permanent interests (Cooper, Heine, Thakur, 2015, 72).

[10] For instance, about Russia’s influence in Serbia from the end of the 18th century to the mid-19th century, see in (Попов, 1870).


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