The Geopolitics of South-East Europe and the Importance of the Regional Geostrategic Position
A geopolitical issue of South-East Europe became of very importance for the scholars, policymakers, and researchers with the question of the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire as one of the most crucial features of the beginning of the 20th century in European history. A graduate collapsing of the one-time great empire was accelerated and followed by competition and struggling by both, the European Great Powers and the Balkan national states, upon the territorial inheritance of it. While the European Great Powers have the aim to obtain the new spheres of political-economic influence in South-East Europe, followed by the task to establish a new balance of power in the continent, a total collapse of the Ottoman state was seen by small Balkan nations as the unique historical opportunity to enlarge the territories of their national-states by unification of all ethnolinguistic compatriots from the Ottoman Empire with the motherland. A creation of a single national state, composed by all ethnographic and historic “national” lands, was in the eyes of the leading Balkan politicians as a final stage of national awakening, revival and liberation of their nations which started at the turn of the 19th century on the ideological basis of the German romanticist nationalism expressed in a formula: “One Language-One Nation-One State”.
Both the geopolitical and the geostrategic advantages of nation-state enlargement at the expanse of the Ottoman Empire’s territory were tremendously significant besides the wish for the national unification as one of the main driving forces of the Balkan nationalism at the turn of the 20th century. Especially the Kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria were preoccupied with the idea to be “the biggest” in the region as the precondition to control the Balkan affairs in the future. On other hands, taking into consideration the geopolitical and the geostrategic importance of South-East Europe, each member of the European Great Powers’ orchestra sought to obtain its own predominant influence in the region by fostering territorial aspirations of its Balkan favorite-nation(s). At the same time, a part of the Balkan policy of each European Great Power was to obviate other members of the orchestra to dominate over South-East Europe. The usual mean to realize this second task was to oppose territorial claims of those Balkan nations who were under the protection of antagonist political camp. At such a way, the small Balkan nations were mainly the puppets in the hands of their European protectors. In other words, the success of the national struggle of the Balkan states depended primarily on the political strength and diplomatic skills of their European patrons.
The creation of and fight for independent nation-states at the Balkans from 1804 till 1913 had two dimensions:
- The national struggle to create an independent and united national state organization.
- The rivalry between the European Great Powers over the domination upon South-East Europe.
The geostrategic position of the Balkan nations was one of the most incisive reasons for the members of the European Great Powers to support or to oppose an idea of the existence of their smaller or bigger nation-states as it was, for instance, the case of independent Albania announced on November 28th, 1912. A real magnitude of this dilemma can be understood only in the context of the geopolitical and the geostrategic significance of South-East Europe as a region.
A usual, but more populist, description of South-East Europe (or the Balkans) is a “bridge or crossroads between Europe and Asia”, a “mixing point or melting pot of races”, a “powder room or keg of Europe” or the “battlefield of Europe”. However, one of the most important features of the region is the melting pot of cultures and civilizations.
The geophysics and culture
The Balkan Peninsula is bordered by six seas at its three sides: by the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea on the west, by the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Crete on the south and by the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea on the east. The fourth side of the Peninsula, the north one, from the geographical point of view has the border on the River Danube. If the factors of historical and cultural developments have to be taken into consideration, then the Balkan (i.e., South-East Europe’s) northern borders are on the Rivers Prut, Ipoly/Ipel and Szamos (the last two in Hungary). Practically, the first option (Balkans) refers to geography while the second (South-East Europe) refers to the historical and cultural linkage and influences. Correctly speaking, the second option refers to the region of Europe under which should be considered the Balkan Peninsula in the pure geographical terms enlarged by the Romanian and Hungarian lands which are historically and culturally closely linked to the both: the territories of East-Central Europe and the Balkans.
A term Balkans most probably has a Turkish root with the means of a mountain or a mountain chain. For sure, the mountains are the most specific characteristic of the region. Favorable natural conditions of the peninsula attracted throughout the history many different invaders who created multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies and civilizations in this part of Europe. The historical significance of the region enormously increased in the eyes of West European civilization from the time of the Ottoman conquest of the biggest part of South-East Europe (1354–1541) when this portion of the Old Continent was customarily marked as the lands between Europe, Turkey, and Russia. Due to the Ottoman lordship upon the region (till 1913), which significantly changed its image (in the points of customs, culture, ethnography, human behavior, economic development, style of everyday life, appearance of urban settlement, cuisine, music, etc.) many Western authors, especially travelers, considered the Balkans as a part of the Orient or by virtue of geographical remoteness as a part of the Near East. L. S. Stavrianos, a professor of history at Northwestern University (the USA), is quite right to explain heterogeneity of the regional historical and cultural developments essentially by peninsula’s intermediate location between Central and East Europe on one hand and Asia Minor and the Levant on the other.
South-East Europe culturally and historically is an integral part of the European civilization, influenced throughout the centuries by East Mediterranean, Central, West, and East European cultural features. Being at the crossroads of three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe), the Balkans is taken into account as the region of extraordinary geopolitical and geostrategic importance even since the early days of the Antique. The regional geopolitical and geostrategic significance had a crucial impact on its inter-cultural development, mixture, and characteristics. While in physiographic viewpoint the Pyrenees and the Alps separate the Iberian and the Appenninian Peninsulas from the rest of Europe, the Balkan Peninsula is, in contrast, opened to it. The River Danube is more linking than separating this part of Europe with the “outside world” especially with the region of Central Europe. Geographers are willing to see the northern border of the Balkans on the River Danube, but such attitude is not reasonable for historians as it excludes the Trans-Danubian territories of Romania as well as the Sub-Carpathian region and the Great Hungarian Plain (Alföld).
The seas around the Balkans, likewise the River Danube, became a principal road to the neighborhood. For example, Straight of Otranto (50 miles long) was the closest link between the Balkan and West European civilization and from this point of view, East Italy and the territories of Dalmatia, Montenegro, Albania, Epirus, and Peloponnesus played the role of a bridge which is connecting West Europe with South-East Europe. As a result, Dalmatian and Montenegrin littoral urban settlements, for instance, throughout the history accepted West Adriatic Italian style of life, architecture, municipal and social organization, culture and structure of an economy. It is visible particularly at the Adriatic islands which were in the position of bridging two peninsulas and their cultures – the Balkans and the Appeninians. Probably, the Adriatic islands, considerably influenced by both sides – Italian and Balkan culture and civilization, are the best historical example of the phenomena: the Balkan melting pot of civilizations. The Aegean islands followed by Crete and Cyprus were natural footsteps between the Balkans on one hand and Egypt and Palestine on another. For the Venetian six centuries-long trade links (from 1204 to 1797) between Italy and the Middle East, the Aegean islands, Crete (Candia under the Venetian rule), Rhodes, and Cyprus were of the vital importance for the existence of the Republic of St. Marco. Even today there are numerous remains and examples of the Venetian material and spiritual culture and civilization in these islands that are a constituent element of an inter-cultural feature of the Balkan and East Mediterranean civilizations. Over the centuries they were occupied by the Egyptians, Romans, Byzantines, Knights of St. John, Venice, Ottomans, Italians, and Germans until their ultimate unification with Greece. Nonetheless, thanks to its geophysical characteristics, there was no natural center of the Balkan Peninsula where about a great political unity (state) could be formed.
The crossroads and the “division lines”
An extraordinary historical earmark of the Balkans was the fact that throughout the peninsula ran several political and cultural “division lines” and boundaries as, for instance, between the Latin and the Greek language, East and West Roman Empire, the Byzantine and the Frankish Empire, the Ottoman and the Habsburg lands, the Islam and the Christianity, the Christian Orthodoxy and the Christian Catholicism, and recently between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (the NATO) and the Warsaw Pact (from 1955 to 1991).
The most remarkable examples of living “between division lines” are the Romanians and the Serbs. Being decisively influenced in the Middle Ages by the Byzantine culture and civilization, both of them accepted the Byzantine civilization and the Christian Orthodoxy. However, in the course of following centuries under peculiar historical development of the region and political living conditions, one part of ethnic Romanians and the Serbs became members either of the Uniate (Greek Catholic) Church (under the Pope’s supremacy) or the Roman Catholic Church. For instance, on March 27th, 1697 the union of a part of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Transylvania (a part of historic Kingdom of Hungary) with the Roman Catholic Church was signed, resulting in the creation of the Greek-Catholic or the Uniate Church. The church union with Rome, based on four points of the Union of Florence of 1439, recognized the authority of the Pope, in return receiving recognition of the equality of the Romanian clergy with that of the Roman Catholic Church. Similarly to the Romanians in Transylvania, part of the Serbs settled on the territory of the Habsburg Monarchy (Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Istria, South Hungary) from the mid-16th century converted themselves into the Greek-Catholics and later into the Roman-Catholics. All of them in the 20th century became Croats. Thus, for the matter of illustration, the Serbs who came to live in the Žumberak area (on the very border between Croatia and Slovenia) in the 16th century were the Orthodox believers while in the next century majority of them accepted the Union and finally in the 18th century declared themselves as members of the Roman Catholic Church and today as the Croats. Till the beginning of the 18th century, the national alphabet of the Romanians was and the Cyrillic one while in the subsequent decades it was replaced by the Latin script that is used up to our days by all Romanians. As a result of the fact that throughout the centuries the Serbian nation was influenced by the Byzantine, the Ottoman, the Italian and Central European culture, living five centuries (from the 15th to the 20th) on the territories of the Republic of Venice, the Habsburg Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, contemporary Serbs are using in every-day life a quite equally Cyrillic and Latin scripts, while official national alphabet is only Cyrillic. In addition, the Serbian nationhood is split in a religious point of view into East Orthodox, the Muslim and the Roman Catholic believers, while usual national identity mark created by the foreigners is only East Orthodoxy and the Cyrillic script.
Three thousand years of the Balkan history that was being developed on the crossroads and meeting ground of civilizations resulted in two most important outcomes: 1) The presence of a great number of ethnic minorities; and 2) The existence of numerous different religions and their churches. The present-day Balkan ethnic minorities with their peculiar cultures are distributed in the ensuing way. In Romania, the biggest ethnic minority is Hungarian living in Transylvania, followed by the Serbs in Banat and the Germans in Transylvania. The Macedonian ethnic minority is not officially recognized in Bulgaria as well as in Greece, while a majority of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turks suffered forced assimilation from 1984 to 1989 and many of them finally emigrated to Turkey in 1989. In Greece, the biggest ethnic minority are the Albanians, settled mainly in Epirus, while the biggest ethnic minority in Albania are the Greeks followed by the Serbs and the Montenegrins. The most number of the Balkan ethnic minorities are living in Serbia and Montenegro: the Albanians, the Bulgarians, the Vlahs, the Romanians, the Hungarians, the Ukrainians, the Gypsies (the Roma), the Croats, the Slovaks, and others. Croatia has the Italian, the Serbian and the Hungarian minorities, while in Macedonia the biggest ethnic minority are the Albanians, followed by the Turks, the Muslims, the Gypsies, and the Serbs. Finally, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the biggest minorities are the Czechs, the Poles, and the Montenegrins.
Likewise the ethnic composition of the Balkans, its distribution of religions is very complex too. In present-day Albania there are three biggest denominations: Islam (confessed by 70% of the population), the Roman Catholic (confessed by 10% of Albanians) and the Eastern Orthodox (confessed by 20% of Albania’s inhabitants). Such division is a direct consequence of Albania’s geopolitical position and the course of historical development. For example, Albania’s Orthodox population is located in the southern part of the country where the Greek-Byzantine influences were dominant, while North Albania, as open to the Adriatic Sea and Italy, was for the centuries mainly under the influence of the Roman Catholicism. The presence of a great number of the Muslims is a direct outcome of the Ottoman lordship in Albania (1471–1912). An overwhelming majority of Bulgaria is of East Orthodox faith, while there are 800.000 Muslim Turks, 55.000 Roman Catholics and 15.000 Greek-Catholics (the Uniates) as well. In addition, Bulgaria’s Muslims of the Slavic (Bulgarian) ethnic origin, the Pomaks, do not feel as the Bulgarians and have a closer affinity to the Turks due to a shared religion.
Similarly to the citizens of Bulgaria, a significant majority of Greece’s population is of East Orthodox Church. At the same time, in the mid-1970s there were 120.000 Muslims (in West Thrace), 43.000 Roman Catholics, 3.000 Greek-Catholics and even 640 Armenian-Catholics. On the territory of the former Yugoslavia, there are three major religions: the Roman Catholic (in the western part), the Eastern Orthodox (in the eastern part) and the Muslim (in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo-Metochia and Sanjak (Raška)). In 1990, there were 35 religious communities in Yugoslavia. According to the census of 1953, there was 41.4% the Orthodox population, 31.8% the Catholics, 12.3% the Muslims, and 12.5% non-believers in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the SFRY). Similarly to Albania’s case, such division is a direct product of Yugoslavia’s geopolitical position and different historical, cultural and religious influences on its territory.
A symbiosis between religion and nation is quite visible in this part of Europe. The proper linkage between religious and ethnic identity among the Balkan peoples, especially in ethnically, culturally and religiously mixed areas can be seen from the fact that the Serbian Orthodox Church has been a self-conscious contributor to the development of a national ideology among the Serbs, but particularly among those from Kosovo-Metochia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, situated literally on the crossroads of different cultures and civilizations, became in the 1990s a most referring example of meeting ground of divergent religions, nations, cultures, habits, and civilizations in the Balkans. The linkage between religious and ethnic identity is crucial for the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Serbian Orthodox Church, the Croatian Catholic Church, and the Bosnian Muslim Community were a defining factor in the process of ethnic differentiation, perhaps even the most important factor of the process. The religion became a badge of identity and guardian of traditions for the Croats, the Serbs, and the Muslims from Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Bosniaks), as well as for other peoples in the region, but not for the Albanians, who are the most important exception from this phenomena. This was particularly important for the preservation of identity and culture as various foreign empires dominated the region. In fact, the simultaneous oppression of both religion and nation tended to solidify the connection between the church and the nation as well as religious and ethnic identity. Surely, quite complex Balkan ethnic and religious composition is a pivotal cause for the existence of its different cultures, but also and for ethnic conflicts which are very often in this part of Europe. The Balkan Peninsula is at the same time both: the meeting ground of civilizations and the powder room of Europe.
Balkan geopolitics: Between a bridge and the battlefield
The peculiar geostrategic position of the Balkan Peninsula gives us an answer to the question of why it has been throughout history both a bridge and the battlefield of different civilizations and cultures. Thus, the history of the region was in a great extent determined by the location of the Balkans. Situated at the meeting point of Europe, Africa, and Asia both the Balkans experienced alternate imperial drives, competing ideologies together with conflicting social, political, and economic systems. For the local people in the region, to live in the area of high international tensions meant primarily to find a way out from permanent pressure from abroad. It led to their resistance to any foreign realm and outside attempts to annex or to dominate the region. Accordingly, it was exactly this part of the Old Continent to deserve the label of “Europe’s worst trouble spot”. At the same time, South-East European societies accepted many of foreign institutions, customs, rules, or habits which were in many cases reshaped according to the local traditions and necessities.
Thoroughly high degree of international interest upon the Balkans for the whole time of mankind history comes on the first place for the reason of the geopolitical and the geostrategic value of it. The Balkans was during the entire 19th and 20th centuries a real “laboratory” for expression and investigation of different attributes of the geopolitics.
The region of Balkan Peninsula in geographical terms is straitened between the Mediterranean basin and the Danube watershed what basically means that one great long-time existed state-body could not be established. Moreover, for the reason of the mountain face of the region, broken and interlaced with many smaller and bigger rivers, the local population was “destined” to live within smaller state’s organizations. The ancient Greek city-state (пoλιξ) was a typical product of geographical conditions of the area. When the borders of a newly independent state of Albania were drawn in 1913, they followed in great extent the geographical shape of the area living many ethnic Albanians outside the motherland, a majority of them in Serbia’s province of Kosovo-Metochia but as well as in West Macedonia, South-West Greece, and East Montenegro. In other words, the regional geographical conditions became one of the most decisive hindrances for the Balkan people to realize their maximized territorial aims and requirements. Besides this factor, the long-time intermixture of different ethnic, religious, and cultural groups became the second obstacle which did not allow South-East European nations to effectuate their dreams of national unification within a single national statehood without the conflict with their neighbors or co-dwellers who had similar national visions. South-East European nationalism led by the basic idea that each ethnos has to live in one national state was an essential ideological framework for the constant inter-ethnic collisions. A creation of a single national state-body, composed by all ethnographic and historic “national” lands, was in the eyes of the leading Balkan politicians a final stage of national awakening, revival, and liberation which started at the turn of the 19th century on the ideological basis of the German romanticist nationalism expressed in a formula: “One Language-One Nation-One State”. The struggle upon the same “national” territories which belonged to “everybody” in accordance to historic, ethnic, military or geostrategic principles and reasons resulted with the certitude that in this part of the world there was overmuch blood than land. In other words, there were not enough territories in order to satisfy all national aspirations. Thus, for example, the Serbian, the Greek, the Ottoman, the Montenegrin and the Albanian dispute over the destiny and fixed borders of the independent Albania in 1912–1913, or the Yugoslav civil war in 1991–1995 followed by the Yugoslav-Albanian struggle over Kosovo-Metochia’s province in 1998–1999 are only the episodes of the local nationalism but certainly not an exemption.
The most important feature of the Balkan geopolitics is peninsula’s geographical, historical, political, military-strategic and economic connections with the Mediterranean Sea and basin. The most convenient geographical definition of the Balkans is a “Peninsula of the Mediterranean”. Almost all Balkan states are the Mediterranean ones. The seas which belong to them are parts of a greater Mediterranean Sea. For instance, due to the fact that the Adriatic and the Ionian seacoasts are integral parts of the Mediterranean shore, located near Italy, the strategic importance of them attracted very often in history many foreign powers to occupy and possess them like the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Normans, the Hungarians, the Venetians, the Serbs, the Ottomans or modern Italians.
Historically, the notion of the Balkans was in conjunction with the Oriental Ottoman Turks who gradually spread their lordship over the peninsula from 1354 keeping it under their sway till 1913. However, certain European Great Powers saw the Balkan seaside either as their legitimate historic possession or the sphere of influence, endeavoring to keep back the Ottoman Empire from the Balkan littoral. From the cause of historic-cultural factors, the continental parts of the Balkans were related to the Orient, while the littoral parts of the Balkans were cognate to the Occident. The crucial reason for the Russian interest in the Balkans was an aspiration to possess the exit to the “warm seas”. For the German Second Reich’s diplomats (1871–1918) and the Nazi politicians (1933–1945), South-East Europe became attractive as the “transversal corridor” which was connecting the Middle East and Asia with the German European possessions; in other words, a corridor very suitably located for Berlin’s policy of Drang nach Osten. In the eyes of Austro-Hungarian foreign policy creators, the region was of pivotal prominence as the only overland way to Vienna’s final goal – to have control over the Aegean seaport of Salonika (Thessaloniki) in Aegean Macedonia. An especial point of interest in the Balkans by the European Great Powers at the turn of the 20th century became the entrance (gate) to the Adriatic Sea bordered by Italy’s and Albania’s littorals. From this point of view, for Viennese politicians, Albania’s territory, especially its seacoast, should play a role of the pivotal obstacle against the Italian penetration in the Balkans, especially towards the Salonika seaport which should be transformed into the principal Austro-Hungarian commercial export-import point in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Adriatic and the Ionian littorals became from the 1860s extremely attractive for the Kingdom of Serbia as one of the possible strips of the Balkan territory where Serbia could find the exit to the sea for the commercial reasons. The Montenegrin Principality (from 1910 the Kingdom of Montenegro) was infatuated only by the ultimate north-western portion of present-day Albania – the area around the city of Scodra for historical reasons as Scodra was capital of Montenegro in early Middle Ages. The Kingdom of Bulgaria from its de iure acquainted independence in 1878 expressed its thirstiness for the Aegean littoral as well. The Greek pretensions for the same territory led finally Sofia and Athens to the war in 1913 (the Second Balkan War). In the Balkan politics of Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria in turn of the 20th century, the Albanians and Albania were the wedges against the others. For instance, for Bulgaria, the Bulgarian-Albanian axis was imagined as the best impediment against the Serbian-Greek teamwork and joint political actions. Finally, the Ottoman Empire had its own political-economic interest to keep Ionian littoral as its own possession. For this purpose, for Istanbul’s diplomats, the eastern entrance to the Adriatic Sea (Albania) should be under the Ottoman control.
The Ionian littoral with its hinterland played a significant role for the Ottoman sultans at the time of the Ottoman wars for South-East Europe. For instance, the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror (1451–1481) established on the hinterland of the Ionian seacoast two the most important Ottoman footholds at the Balkans for the further intended military actions across the Adriatic Sea. These two military fortresses were built at Akçahisar (Kruja) and Avlonya (Valona). The Ottoman commanders (beys) on the north-east Ionian littoral were allowed by the sultan to increase their raiding expeditions into Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dalmatia, respectively.
The military-strategic factors of the Balkan geopolitics
In the 19th and the 20th centuries the eastern portion of South-East Europe was under the Russian sphere of influence because it was closer to the main Russian objects of acquisition – Constantinople (Istanbul), the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Beginning with the time of the Empress Catherine the Great (1762–1796) the conquering of Constantinople was put on the pedestal of the Russian Balkan policy. On other hands, the western piece of South-East Europe was considered as the Austro-Hungarian (the Habsburg) sphere of influence. Consequently, the Russian-Austro-Hungarian spheres of influence were overlapped on the territories of Serbia and Montenegro, while the territory of Albania experienced similar overlapping of the Italian-Austro-Hungarian spheres of influence. Taking this in mind, it was quite natural that the members of the European Great Powers supported different Balkan states during the Balkan Wars in 1912–1913 and the First World War in 1914–1918.
The military-strategic factors of South-East Europe have five delicate points:
- The “Ljubljana Door”, adjoining Central Europe and North Adriatic.
- The Morava-Vardar valley, bounding Central Europe with North Aegean Sea.
- The Pannonian Plain, on the confines of the southern part of Central Europe and North Balkans.
- The River Danube as the main bridge of South-East Europe with Central and West
- The Black Sea’s seashore.
Many invaders throughout the history used these five points as the roads in order to cross from Central Europe to the Balkans or vice versa (for example, the Crusaders and the Ottomans). The Sub-Danubian region of South-East Europe played a significant role in the German-Austrian foreign policy course of Drang nach Osten in the years from 1871 to 1918. Under this course should be grasped the German military-political-economic penetration into Asia Minor and when the Suez Canal was opened further into India (the German plans concerning the Baghdad and Anatolian railways). The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary became the locomotive of this course after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, interested in the first place to drive towards the Aegean Sea through the Sanjak of Novi Pazar (after 1913 divided between Serbia and Montenegro) and the valley of the River Vardar. At the time of the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I (1848–1916), a synonym for his country was a “Sub-Danubian Monarchy” referring to the importance of the River Danube for the very existence of Austria-Hungary which was composed by the Balkan and Central-European provinces.
The Black Sea’s seashore became the principal battlefield area between imperial Russia and the Ottoman Empire from the time of the Russian Empress Catherine II throughout the whole 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Both belligerent sides tried to increase their political influence in South-East Europe in order to provide its own hegemony in the area of the Black Sea’s maritime. Nevertheless, the other European Great Powers had as well as their own particular interests in the sector of the European part of the Black Sea’s shore and its waters like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and even Italy. The struggle of the European Great Powers upon mastering the Black Sea’s trade and military directly or indirectly affected domestic affairs of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece. It was true particularly from the time of the Crimean War (1854–1856) to the time of the Great War (1914–1918) when the fight of the small Balkan nations for their national liberation and unification depended to a large extent on the result of the Russian-Ottoman wars and the Russian diplomatic support for the Balkan Christian Orthodox states. For instance, after the Russian military and diplomatic defeat during the Crimean War and the Paris Peace Conference in 1856, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece could not expect any territorial achievement until the next Russian-Ottoman War of 1877–1878 in which the Ottoman Empire was defeated. Therefore, due to the Russian victory and the San Stefano Peace Treaty in 1878, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia became independent states according to the Berlin Congress’ decisions in July 1878 and at the same time enlarged their state’s territories at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. At that time, the Russian principal protégé in the Balkans was Bulgaria what was the prime reason for Serbia to turn her eyes towards Vienna and Pest after 1878. The Russian pro-Bulgarian Balkan policy during the war against the Ottoman Empire in 1877–1878 had its foundations in the Russian efforts to establish a firm foothold on the Black Sea’s littoral in order to easily acquire control over Istanbul and the Straits. For that purpose, Bulgaria was the most appropriate Balkan state as being a vanguard of the Russian Euro-Balkan policy and the main forerunner of St. Petersburg’s interests in the region.
Possible political axis-alliances
South-East European geostrategic importance can be sublimated in the next three points:
- The region is a significant overland tie between Europe and the Middle East.
- The region has important reserves of natural wealth in raw materials, energy, etc.
- The region located between Central Europe, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea was and is an important point of the European and even global system of security and strategy of imperialistic powers.
South-East Europe has its highest geostrategic importance in international relations accurately at the beginning of the 20th century when the region became a notable link in the chain of the European system of balancing powers. For that reason, both the Central Powers and the Entente made considerable efforts in order to obtain as better as military, strategic, political, and economic positions in the region before the outbreak of the First World War.
Taking into account historical, cultural, national, and religious aspects of the development of the Balkan civilization, there were and are three possible main political axis-alliances to function in this European region:
- An Islamic axis: The Turks, the Muslims from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sanjak, Albania, West Macedonia, East Montenegro, East Bulgaria, and Kosovo-Metochia.
- The Orthodox alliance: Russia, Serbia, Serbian portion of Montenegro, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbs from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo-Metochia, and the eastern regions of the Republic of North Macedonia.
- The Roman Catholic bloc: Croats, Slovenians, Central European German Catholics, Hungarians, Vatican, and Bosnian-Herzegovinian Roman Catholics).
During the WWII, South-East Europe became the battlefield of three opposite political-ideological forces: 1) the Nazis and Fascists; 2) the Communists; and 3) the Parliamentary Democrats. After 1945 the region was sharply divided between the members of the NATO Pact (est. 1949) and the Warsaw Pact (est. 1955) while Socialist Yugoslavia as a member of the Non-Alignment Movement was in a certain extent a Balkan political mediator. Finally, the Balkans became once again in the 20th century in the very focus of the world’s attention during the process of bloody disintegration and destruction of Yugoslavia (1991–1995) and the Kosovo War (1998−1999) followed by the NATO’s military intervention in the Balkans (against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) in 1999 (March−June).
In conclusion, South-East Europe is a geopolitical term which is connoting peoples, cultures, and states that make up a region between the Black, Adriatic, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. There are three crucial points of the regional significance in the geostrategic point of view:
- The territory of South-East Europe is an extremely important connection between West and Central Europe and the Near and Middle East.
- A wealthy of region’s natural resources.
- The region is a very important part of the Great Powers’ political-military-economic strategy.
Located on the crossroads of different civilizations, South-East Europe during its 3.000 years of historical and cultural development preserved many materials remains from different civilizations and was under strong spiritual influence from West European, East European, Central European, Mediterranean, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and many other cultures. If some part of Europe really deserved the name of “melting pot of civilizations” it is the case with its south-eastern part for sure.
© Vladislav B. Sotirović 2019
 The language-criteria as the crucial factor of national determination was established by the German romanticist from the end of the 18th century – Herder, who understood the linguistic borders as the national borders. Herder’s model of “linguistic nationalism” was further ideologically developed at the beginning of the 19th century especially by the Germans Humboldt and Fichte. It was Fichte who put on the paper the most influential interpretation of the relationship between the language and the national appertaining by writing his famous Reden an die deutsche Nation in 1808. According to him, only the Germans succeeded to preserve original (ursprünglich) Teutonic language in its purest form. It was the reason for Fichte to claim that only the nation who conserved the old Teutonic language has the right to call itself as the Germans, i.e. the Teutons. Fichte further claimed that the power and greatness of the Germans were based exactly on the fact that only they spoke the original „national“ language. Fichte concluded that the language influences the people’s identity much stronger than the people influence the language-shaping [Fichte G. J., Reden an die deutsche Nation, Berlin, 1808, 44]. The practical value of this work was the fact that Fichte, „an ideological creator of the German linguistic nationalism“, urged the German national-political unification taking into consideration the most decisive national determinator – the language. One of the oldest examples of the language-nation relationship was pointed out in the book [Mielcke C., Litauisch-Deutsches und Deutsch-Litauisches Wörter-Buch, Königsberg, 1800].
 Петер Бартл, Албанци од средњег века до данас, Београд: CLIO, 2001, 139.
 Castellan G., History of the Balkans: From Mohammed the Conqueror to Stalin, New York: Colombia University Press, East European Monographs, Boulder, 1992, 1.
 About the problem of the sociogenesis of the concepts of “civilization” and “culture”, see in [Elias N., The Civilizing Process. Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, Cornwall, 2000, 3–45].
 About the concept of Central Europe from a historical perspective, see in [Magocsi R. P., Historical Atlas of Central Europe. Revised and Expanded Edition, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002].
 An option that the Romanian and Hungarian lands belong to the Balkans is advocated, for instance, by The National Geographic Society which printed Supplement “The Balkans” in February 2000’s issue of its Magazine. Further, according to Gazetter. Atlas of Eastern Europe the whole area from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea belongs to East Europe. Poulton Hugh is sure that Hungary and Romania do not belong to the Balkans [Poulton H., The Balkans. Minorities and States in Conflict, London: Minority Rights Publications, 1994, 12]. Finally, the authors of the famous Westermann Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte, published annually, are not quite sure where are the exact historical northern borders of the Balkans.
 Stavrianos L. S., The Balkans since 1453, New York: Rinehart & Company, Inc., 1958, 1–33.
 For example, close historical, economic, cultural and political connections between the Balkans, Transdanubia, and a Great Hungarian Plain are indicated in many places in the book [Kontler L., Millenium in Central Europe. A History of Hungary, Budapest: Atlantisz Publishing House, 1999]. As a matter of example, about confessional relations and influences between the Central European Hungary and the Balkan Byzantine Empire, see in [Moravcsik Gy., “The Role of the Byzantine Church in Medieval Hungary”, The American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. VI, № 18019, 1947, 134–151].
 About the relations of the Balkan geophysical conditions and the creation of the Balkan states, see in [Cvijić J., La Péninsule Balkanique, Paris, 1918].
 The Uniates or Greek Catholics were former Christian Orthodox who accepted the church union with the Vatican but continued to follow Byzantine liturgical rites. The Vatican did not require complete conversion to the Roman Catholicism, only the acceptance of the four essential points that were the foundation for the Union of the Orthodox and Catholic churches proclaimed by the Council of Florence on July 6th, 1439: 1) The recognition of Pope’s supremacy; 2) The “filioque” in the profession of faith (Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son); 3) The recognition of the existence of purgatory; and 4) The use of unleavened bread in the mass. The Uniates preserved all of their other traditions and rights. In exchange for accepting the union with Rome, the clergy, which up to then was Orthodox, had been accorded the same privileges as their Roman Catholic counterparts [Bolovan I. et al, A History of Romania, The Center for Romanian Studies, The Romanian Cultural Foundation, Iaşi, 1996, 185–190.]. About the Union of Florence in 1439 more details can be obtained in [Hofmann G., “Die Konzilsarbeit in Florenz”, Orient. Christ. Period., № 4, 1938, 157–188, 373–422; Hofmann G., Epistolae pontificiae ad Concilium Florentinium spectantes, Vol. I–III, Roma, 1940−1946; Gill J., The Council of Florence, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959; Gill J., Personalities of the Council of Florence, Oxford, 1964; Ostroumoff N. I., The History of The Council of Florence, Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1971]. About the Uniate Church, see in [Fortescue A., The Uniate Eastern Churches, Gorgias Press, 2001].
 On the Romanian case of relations between confession and ethnicity in Transylvania, see in [Oldson O. W., The Politics of Rite: Jesuit, Uniate, and Romanian Ethnicity in 18th-Century, New York: Colombia University Press, East European Monographs, Boulder, 2005].
 About the history of the Serbs in the New Age, see in [Екмечић М., Дуго кретање између клања и орања. Историја Срба у Новом веку (1492−1992), Треће, допуњено издање, Београд: Evro-Guinti, 2010].
 TANJUG, March 28th, 1985, in the BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Eastern Europe / 7914 B/ 1, April 1985; Bulgaria: Continuing Human Rights Abuses against Ethnic Turks, Amnesty International, EUR/15/01/87, 5; Amnesty International, “Bulgaria: Imprisonment of Ethnic Turks and Human Rights Activists”, EUR 15/01/89.
 The total population of Macedonia according to the 1981 census was 1.912.257 of which there were 1.281.195 Macedonians, 377.726 Albanians, 44.613 Serbs, 39.555 Muslims, 47.223 Gypsies, 86.691 Turks, 7.190 Vlahs and 1984 Bulgarians [Poulton H., The Balkans. Minorities and States in Conflict, London: Minority Rights Publications, 1994, 47].
 Sellier A., Sellier J., Atlas des peuples d’Europe centrale, Paris, 1991, 143−166; Петковић Р., XX век на Балкану. Версај, Јалта, Дејтон, Београд: Службени лист СРЈ, 53–55; Statistical Pocket Book: Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Belgrade, 1993. In order to illustrate the whole complexity of the ethnic minority phenomena on the Balkans, the best example is Bosnia-Herzegovina where alongside with the three recognised nations (according to the Dayton Accords in November 1995, the Bosniaks, the Serbs and the Croats) the following national groups as the ethnic minorities are living too: the Montenegrins, the Gypsies, the Ukrainians, the Albanians, the Slovenians, the Macedonians, the Hungarians, the Czechs, the Poles, the Italians, the Germans, the Jews, the Slovaks, the Romanians, the Russians, the Turks, the Ruthenians (the Russyns), and the “Yugoslavs”. This information is based on data supplied by the “International Police Task Force” (IPTF) on January 17th, 1999.
 Europa Yearbook 1975, London, 1976. For the matter of illustration, the following ethnic and religious groups lived in Aegean Macedonia in 1912: the Macedonians, the Muslim Macedonians (the Pomaks), the Turks, the Christian Turks, the Cherkez (the Mongols), the Greeks, the Muslim Greeks, the Muslim Albanians, the Christian Albanians, the Vlahs, the Muslim Vlahs, the Jews, the Gypsies, and others. All of them made a total of 1.073.549 inhabitants of this part of the Balkans.
 Jugoslovenski pregled, № 3, 1977.
 Steele D., “Religion as a Fount of Ethnic Hostility or an Agent of Reconciliation?”, Janjić D. (ed.), Religion & War, Belgrade, 1994, 163–184.
 Ramet P., “Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslavia”, Ramet P. (ed.), Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics, Durham, 1989, 299–311.
 Marković I., Srpsko pravoslavlje i Srpska pravoslavna crkva, Zagreb, 1993, 3–4.
 Jelavich B., History of the Balkans. Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, ix–xi.
 Berend I., T., Ránki G., East Central Europe in the 19th and 20 centuries, Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1977, 41.
 Among selected bibliography of South-East European cultural, political, historical and social developments the following works deserve to be mentioned [Cvijić J., Balkansko Poluostrvo i južnoslovenske zemlje. Osnove antropogeografije, I, Zagreb, 1922; Stavrianos, L. S., The Balkans, 1815–1914, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963; Jelavich B. and Ch., The Balkans, Prentice-Hall: New Jersey, 1965; Stoianovich T., A Study in Balkan Civilization, New York: Knopf, 1967; Jelavich Ch., (ed.), Language and Area Studies: East Central and Southeastern Europe, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969; Edgar H., The Balkans: A Short History from Greek Times to the Present Day, New York: Crane, Russak, 1972; Jelavich B. and Ch., The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804–1920, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977; Sugar P. E., Southeastern Europe under Ottoman Rule, 1354–1804, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977; Castellan G., History of the Balkans: From Mohammed the Conqueror to Stalin, New York: Columbia University Press, East European Monographs, Boulder, 1992; Stojanović T., Balkanski svetovi. Prva i poslednja Evropa, Beograd: Equilibrium, 1997; Bideleux R., Jeffries I., A History of Eastern Europe. Crisis and Change, London−New York: Routledge, 1999; Mazower M., The Balkans. A Short History, Random House, Inc., 2002; Kaplan D. R., Balkan Ghosts. A Journey Through History, New York: Picador, St. Martin’s Press, 2005; Wachtel B. A., The Balkans in World History, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2008; Gleny M., The Balkans. Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804–2012, Granta Books, 2012]. One of the most useful guides of selected bibliography of our interest up to the 1970s is [Horecky, P. L., (ed.), Southeastern Europe: A Guide to Basic Publications, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969].
 Even today, there are suspicious scientists and researchers who are following before 19th-century attitude towards geopolitics as not scientific area or simply as the pseudo-science. It should be said that from the time of the mid-19th century the geopolitics was accepted more and more like a field to be equal with other academic disciplines primarily due to the works of the American Admiral Mahan A. T. (1840–1914) connected with the role of the navy in the ruling the world, then the works of the German geographer Ratzel F. (1844–1904) concerning the relations between geography and the living space (Lebensraum), the Swedish university professor of the political sciences Kjellén J. R. (1864–1922) about the state as an organism and the superiority of the German race, the British scientist Mac Kinder Halford John (1861–1947) with regard to the importance of the heartland and finally but at the same time mostly due to the German General and geographer Haushofer K. (1869–1946) who was writing primarily upon the geopolitical reasons of Hitler’s wars of territorial expansion of the Third Reich. However, a Greek historian Herodotus (B.C. 484–424), a “father of history” and the author of the famous History of the Greek-Persian Wars, should be considered as one of the early founders of the geopolitics as the science. In sum, the geopolitics was primarily discredited as an academic field of research and investigation since it was seen only as a justification and projection of the German expansionism in the 19th and the 20th centuries. Subsequently, the negative synonyms for the geopolitics were the doctrines of the “Blood and Soil” (Blut und Boden), the “Living Space” (Lebensraum), the “Will for Power” (Wile zum Macht) and the “Lord-Nation” (Herren Volk). On geopolitics, see in [Dodds K., Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 2007; Black J., Geopolitics, London: The Social Affairs Unit, 2009; Cohen B. S., Geopolitics: The Geography of International Relations, Lanham, Maryland: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2009; Walberg E., Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games, Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, 2011; Flint C., Introduction to Geopolitics, New York: Routledge, 2012; Starr H., On Geopolitics: Space, Place, and International Relations, Paradigm Publishers, 2014].
 Петковић Р., XX век на Балкану. Версај, Јалта, Дејтон, Службени лист СРЈ, Београд, 10. On the „Balkan geopolitics of nightmare“, see in [Славољуб Б. Шушић, Геополитички кошмар Балкана, Београд: Војноиздавачки завод, 2004].
 On ancient Greek city-state, see in [Adkins H. W., White P., University of Chicago Readings in Western Civilization, 1 The Greek Polis, Chicago−London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986; Hansen H. M., Polis. An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State, New York−Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006].
 The pivotal nationality principle in Europe is: A nation is a people in possession of or striving for its own state. The relationship between state and nation in Europe was gradually transformed from the model of the Augsburg religious peace settlement of 1555 – “Cuius regio, eius religio” to the modern model of Switzerland, Belgium, Quebec or Bosnia-Herzegovina – “Cuius regio, eius lingua”. On ethnicity, national identity and nationalism, see in [Smith A., The Ethnic Origins of Nations, Oxford, 1986; Gellner E., Nations and Nationalism, Paris, 1989; Miller D., On Nationality, Oxford, 1995; Guibernau M., Rex J. (eds.), The Ethnicity: Nationalism, Multiculturalism and Migration. Reader, Cornwall: Polity Press, 1997; Jenkins R., Rethinking Ethnicity, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2008].
 The cult of war is present in every Balkan nationalism. For example, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović stated on the day of the proclamation of the beginning of the First Balkan War in 1912 in his oration about “Young Serbia” that the “Lord is a great warrior” [Велимировић Н., Изнад греха и смрти. Беседе и мисли, Београд, 1914, 12]. On the Kosovo War in 1998−1999, see in [Hadjimichalis C., “Kosovo, 82 Days of an Undeclared and Unjust War: A Geopolitical Comment”, European Urban and Regional Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2000, 175-180; Henrikson D., NATO’s Gamble: Combining Diplomacy and Airpower in the Kosovo Crisis 1998–1999, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2007].
 On the German Drang nach Osten, see in [Meyer C. H., Drang Nach Osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-Concept in German-Slavic Relations, 1848−1990, Peter Lang AG, 1996; Lewin E., The German Road to the East: An Account of the ‘Drang Nach Osten’ and of Teutonic Aims in the Near and Middle East…, Nabu Press, 2012].
 The center of the Ottoman government in Albania was set up at Gjirokastra following the annexation of all the property of the nobility in Central Albania. Among the expropriated Albanian noblemen was and John Kastriota the father of George Kastriota Skanderbeg (1405–1468). The latter succeeded to liberate Albania from the Ottoman sway and ruled an independent Albania from 1443 to 1468. The day when Skanderbeg raised a flag bearing his family’s arms on the citadel of Kruja (November, 28th) 1443 became a national holiday for Albanians (the “Flag’s Day”). Knowing that it is not surpassingly that a restoration of the Albanian independent statehood in 1912 was announced exactly on the day of November 28th. A Skanderbeg flag became a national emblem of an independent Albania. The day of November 28th remained as the national feast day. However, the Ottomans finally subjugated Albania in 1479 taking control over the fortress of Scutari (Shkodër/Skadar) from the hands of Venice (according to the peace agreement signed between the Ottoman Empire and Venice in Constantinople/Istanbul on June 25th, 1479. The capture of Scutari in 1479 became a part of principal anti-Ottoman propaganda among the Italians, the Albanians and the Montenegrins in their struggle against the Ottoman lordship in present-day North Albania. All of them claimed that the Ottomans captured “their” historical city of Scutari and a policy of liberation of the city from the Ottoman possession became a driving force of their national duty and prudence in the 19th and 20th centuries.
 Радовановић Љ., “Балкан и Средоземље”, Међународна политика, Београд, № 484, 1970.
 Радовановић Љ., “Санстефански и Берлински уговор”, Међународна политика, Београд, № 498, 1971.
 About the River Danube, see in [Ристић А. М., Геополитички положај Дунава, Београд, 1940; Wechsberg J., The Danube, The Book Service Ltd, 1980; Meszaros L., The Danube, John Beaufoy Publishing, 2009; Beattie A., The Danube. A Cultural History, New York−Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010].
 About the Balkan military-strategic features during the Cold War, see in [Габелић А., “Гарантије”, Међународна политика, Београд, № 448, 1968; Mates L., Međunarodni odnosi socijalističke Jugoslavije, Beograd: Nolit, 1976].
 On the history of the region of Sanjak (Sandžak), see in [Morrison K., Roberts E., The Sanžak: A History, London: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 2013].
 See more in [Kann R. A., The Habsburg Empire: A Study in Integration and Disintegration, New York, 1973; Bérenger J., A History of the Habsburg Empire 1273–1700, London−New York, 1997; Bérenger J., A History of the Habsburg Empire 1700–1918, London−New York, 2000].
 On the issue regarding the war and diplomacy in 1877−1878, see in [Sluglett P., Yavuz M. H. (eds.), War and Diplomacy: The Russo-Turkish War of 1877−1878 and the Treaty of Berlin, University of Utah Press, 2011; Druri I., The Russo-Turkish War 1877, Men-at-Arms, Osprey Publishing, 2012].
 About general problems of the geostrategic importance and security of South-Eastern Europe, see in [Castellan G., Le monde des Balkans: poudriere ou zone de paix?, Paris: Voubert, 1994; Yazakova A. Shmelyov B., Selivanova I, Kolikov N. (eds.), The Balkans: Between the Past and the Future, Moscow, 1995; Lukić R., Lynch A., Europe from the Balkans to the Urals, Oxford: SIPRI−Oxford University Press, 1996].
 In regard to the problem of a religious ground of national determination and making political alliances in the Balkans, see in [Пашић Н., Национално питање у савременој епохи, Београд, 1973; Janjić D. (ed.), Religion and War, Belgrade, 1994].
 On this issue, see in [Woodward L. S., Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War, Washington D.C.: Brooking Institution Press, 1995; Guskova J., Istorija jugoslovenske krize (1990−2000), I−II, Beograd: Izdavački grafički atelje „M“, 2003; Finlan A., Essential Histories: The Collapse of Yugoslavia 1991−1999, Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2004].
 On the intervention, see in [Parenti M., To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, London−New York: Verso, 2000; Gibbs N. D., First Do Not Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009].
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