The Great War In 1914 And The Balkans (I)

The Warmongers

The war, which began in August 1914 – to contemporaries the Great War, to posterity the First World War – marked the end of one period of history and the beginning of another. Starting as a European war, it turned in 1917, with the entrance of the US into a world war. The spark that triggered it off was the assassination of the Austrian heir-presumptive, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1864−1914), by a Bosnian nationalist of Serb origin – Gavrilo Princip[i], a member of the Young Bosnia (Mlada Bosna) movement, in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914 on his official visit to administrative centre of Bosnia-Herzegovina – the province that was illegally annexed by Austria-Hungary in October 1908 by breaking the decisions of the 1878 Berlin Congress. What is today the proponents of revisionist historiography hiding from the discourse is a very fact that the Austrian-Hungarian authorities did everything to directly provoke Serbs in this province for the sake to have formal casus belli for the aggression on neighboring Serbia. Therefore, Vienna organized a massive military exercise on the very border with Serbia to be attended by a warmonger Archduke F. Ferdinand[ii] exactly on the most holiest day of Serbian history – the Kosovo Battle on June 28th (1389).[iii]

Nevertheless, speaking about the July Crisis of 1914, one fact is for sure clear: Serbia did not want the war especially not immediately after two Balkan Wars against the Ottoman Empire (in 1912−1913) and Bulgaria (in 1913).[iv] Based on a fake propaganda that Serbian government in Belgrade organized the assassination in Sarajevo and backed by Berlin, Vienna and Budapest declared the war to Serbia on July 28th, 1914 by a regular telegram.[v] However, who really wanted the world war in summer 1914 was a German Emperor, who was at the same time and a genuine master of Austria-Hungary’s foreign policy. It was exactly Berlin to officially proclaim war to Russia on August 1st, 1914 by sending a telegram to Sankt Petersburg at 5:45 am.[vi]

It is a very fact that the discussions about direct responsibility for the outbreak of the Great War involved many contemporaries from the very beginning of the war. Germany’s government already on August 3rd, 1914, for the sake to whitewash its own responsibility, issued a White Paper – a collection of documents “proving” Germany’s innocence.[vii] However, even many German researchers are considering this compilation as “the biggest lie” about the outbreak of the Great War.[viii] The Austrian-Hungarian officials and press have been all the time putting all responsibility for the war on Serbia and her government accusing them for a direct organization and realization of the Sarajevo’s assassination.[ix] On another side, nonetheless, the voices were much more realistic, as, for instance, by Charles Vopicka:

“The world war began in the Balkans but its real origins should be sought in the intentions of unscrupulous autocrats, whose brutal ambitions recognized no justice and no limits, continuing on submission of free nations only as an initial step in ‘the game’ for achieving economic and political supremacy and, ultimately, domination of the world. Serbs were but ‘the initial spark’ that triggered and had to be used mercilessly, to remove the first obstacle standing in the way of conquering the world”.[x]

The New German Order in Europe

According to German historian Fritz Fischer, one of the crucial far-long designs of Germany’s policy at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century was the creation of Central Europe (Mitteleuropa), as a new economic unit controlled by Germany. How the New German Order in Europe would be organized one can understand from the conception of the Middle European Tariff Union designed in Bethmann- Hollweg’s program in September 1914 which divided Old Continent into two parts:

  • The territories considered as direct members of the system: (France, Luxembourg, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, and Russian part of Poland), followed by Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary.
  • The countries considered as the associates of the system: (Norway, Sweden, and Italy).
WWI. German troops marching through the Serbian town of Paraćin on Belgrade-Nish line.

However, in 1916 the new territories were designated for annexation by Germany: Lithuania with Vilnius and Courland with Mitau. At the same time Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, the Ottoman Empire, and Greece were seen as incorporated lands into the New German Order in Europe under the direct administration by Berlin. Finally, Livonia, Estonia, and Finland were designed for a closer political and economic alliance with Germany after the peace treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Berlin.[xi] At such a way, the Yugoslav territories of Austria-Hungary were intended for a direct membership, while Serbia and Montenegro were considered for the incorporation into the New German Order in Europe as the separate parts from the other Yugoslav territories. Nevertheless, all Yugoslav territories were designed as the parts of German Mitteleuropa – a new unite under German political control and economic exploitation. However, German-dominated Europe, and basically the rest of the world as well, is a geopolitical concept which dates back when Europe discovered, dominated, and exploited the world with the center of such Eurocentric approach of globalization based in Central Europe and Germany. It is clearly presented for the first time on the map of Europe and the world by Gerardus Mercator in Germany in 1569.[xii]

The German geopolitical imperial plans in Europe became very popularized in German-speaking territories during the Great War when Friedrich Naumann published the book Mitteleuropa. The author basically drew up a plan for a federal union in Central Europe that aimed at incorporating West Russia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In practice, this plan was realized by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3rd, 1918). Formally, such geopolitical designs were inspired by the conviction that political-economic rivalry with the US, the UK, and Russia required Germany to enlarge the space under its own geopolitical control as a fourth global state by the establishment of close links with Central and East Europe (enlarged Mitteleuropa).[xiii] It was explained that such design would create a flexible international political order, marked by a spirit of political compromise, in which different nations would be able to coexist in peace. However, in practice, this was crass imperialism designed with the geopolitical purpose to cement German power in Europe.[xiv] The authorities of Austrian-Hungarian Danube Monarchy (both in Vienna and Budapest) accepted participation in Germany’s schemes for the creation of German-controlled Central Europe (Mitteleuropa) – the Central European Customs Union.[xv]

The Balkans and Mitteleuropa

What both Germany’s and Austro–Hungarian governments understood, what concerns the question of the Balkan incorporation into the Central European Customs Union and a geopolitical space of Mitteleuropa, was that in this part of Europe their crucial enemy was the Kingdom of Serbia, which sought to be united with its ethnolinguistic compatriots from the oppressive Austro–Hungarian Empire, what practically meant a dissolution of Austria-Hungary. Serbia was, at the same time, seen as the main obstacle against the Austrian and German (a pan-Germanic) political-economic penetration towards the Aegean Sea (Thessaloniki), and even further towards the Middle East (the so-called project of Drang nacht Osten or Berlin-Baghdad connection).[xvi]

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie
(Original Caption) Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, walked down steps to enter car on June 28, 1914. Five minutes later, they were shot fatally at close range by Gavrile Princip, shown on bottom second right. The assassination triggered World War I, which ended just 60 years ago to this date.

Among all European crises and conflicts at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century the rivalry between the Kingdom of Serbia and the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was a unique one. According to Joachim Remak, “the concept of a Greater South Slav State was fully as defensible as was Austria-Hungary’s right to survival”.[xvii] Further, according to the same author, the Austro–Serbian struggle originally (as it was imagined in Vienna and Berlin) had to be finished in the form of the third Balkan war, as the war between “the two nations directly affected…”[xviii] From Germany’s perspective, the Austro–Serbian military clash had to be isolated from the influences from the rest of the European powers.[xix] From the Habsburg perspective, the Austro–Hungarian declaration of the war against Serbia (July 28th, 1914) was intended to reassert the position of Austria-Hungary as an independent European Great Power.[xx] According to Joachim Remak, “Berchtold and Conrad had very much of a premeditated desire for a simple Balkan war to recover some of the monarchy’s lost prestige”.[xxi] In other words, the realization of Germany’s geopolitical concept of Mitteleuropa in the Balkans would regain a status of Great Power to the Danube Monarchy at the European scene. However, after the Balkan Wars, enlarged Serbia became the crucial obstacle for the realization of such aims while Bulgaria was seen in both Berlin and Vienna as the fundamental ally.

Bulgaria’s war aims

Bulgaria’s policy of a hegemony in the Balkan Peninsula since 1885 dovetailed with the political and military aims designed by the Central Powers, particularly with an intention to eliminate Serbia as a political factor in the Balkans. After the failure of Bulgarian aims in the Second Balkan War (1913), Sofia found a support from the Central Powers for its aim to incorporate both Vardar (Serbian) and Aegean (Greek) Macedonia.[xxii] Therefore, following the outbreak of the WWI, on August 2nd, 1914 Bulgaria’s Radoslavov’s government offered to the Central Powers a political-military alliance in return for Bulgarian participation in the war against Serbia with the intention to gain territorial concessions (similarly what later Italy offered to the Entente in 1915 – to fight on the side of the Entente for the territorial concessions in the Balkans and South Tyrol). The government in Sofia insisted that Bulgaria had to annex all territories on which Bulgaria put claims based on the “ethnic and historical rights” of Bulgarians.[xxiii] Bulgarian western territorial pretensions were not in opposition to the Austro–Hungarian plans with regard to the territorial concessions at the expense of the Kingdom of Serbia. Rather, the plans about the creation of a Greater (San Stefano) Bulgaria (from March 1878) were fully in accord with the Balkan policy of the Danube Monarchy. The Austro–Hungarian ruling circles agreed that the Kingdom of Serbia has to be territorially reduced to the extent which would no longer be dangerous for the Danube Monarchy, but at the same time opposed the annexation of larger territories populated by the Serbs in order not to have so huge number of the South Slavs (and the Slavs in general) within the Dual Monarchy. That was a crucial reason for the Central Powers to accept the Bulgarian territorial aspirations at the expense of Serbia.

By signing the Secret Convention on September 6th, 1915 with Bulgaria, the Central Powers guaranteed to Bulgaria an annexation of the whole territory of East Serbia as far as the Morava River and the whole portion of Serbia’s Vardar Macedonia.[xxiv] According to this convention, Bulgaria gained the territories of the Kingdom of Serbia as far as the demarcation line between Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary, which was stretching from Smederevo, between Kruševac and Stalać, before Vučitrn and Prizren, including the Šara Mt., Lakes of Ohrid and Prespa and the town of Gevgelia on the south.[xxv] According to the first article of the Secret Convention, Bulgaria should be enlarged with the new 51.425 square km. and 2.648.168 inhabitants.[xxvi]  Finally, according to the same convention, Bulgaria should achieve from the Ottoman Empire the territory of the lower Maritza River in front of the city of Edirne.

The main dispute between Serbia and Bulgaria during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was about the question of Macedonia. The problem was so complex that even Russian ambassador in Belgrade during the WWI (1914–1917), Count Grigorie N. Trubecki, admitted that he never could reach a right conclusion on Macedonia, although he studied this question for the long period of time.[xxvii] The Russian diplomacy was, in general, indulgent towards the Bulgarian territorial requirements. For instance, during a meeting with the Bulgarian ambassador in Serbia, Tchaprashnikov, in November 1914 in the city of Niš in Serbia, Count Trubecki informed him that “Bulgaria may achieve Macedonia”, but regarding the Balkan territories annexed by Romania and Greece after the First Balkan War “we can only promise that You will be supported by us”.[xxviii] G. N. Trubecki, as well as, indicated that Bulgaria might annex the territory of Thrace as far as the line Enos-Midia. However, the Russian ambassador in Serbia at the same time noticed that Bulgaria would gain these promised territories only in the case if Sofia will enter the war on the Entente side.[xxix] The Russian diplomacy, likewise the diplomacies of other member states of the Entente, from the very beginning of the war, pressed Serbia to revive the Balkan political-military bloc of 1912 and to make a final bilateral settlement with Bulgaria upon a territorial division of Vardar Macedonia.[xxx] As a territorial compensation for Serbia’s lands handed over to Bulgaria, Russia offered to Serbia doubtful territorial concessions: “…except pure Serbian lands and concessions on the other side”.[xxxi] However, Serbian answer always had been that the bloc could be recreated again, but with a remark – the required territorial concessions had to be given to Bulgaria by Greece and Romania, but not by Serbia. At the same time, Serbia claimed that the question of the South Slavs had to be resolved by their union into one common national state and that Vardar Macedonia had to be included into Yugoslavia too.[xxxii] It is obvious that from the very beginning of the war, the crucial war aim of Serbia was a creation of a large South Slavic state in the Balkans. The question of inclusion of Bulgaria into Yugoslavia primarily depended on the Bulgarian diplomatic decision which military bloc (the Central Powers or the Entente) Sofia will join.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.


[i] The ethnic origin of Gavrilo Princip is to a certain extent problematic at least from the very fact that he is coming from the mixed Croat-Serb-Bosniak area of West Bosnia. Nevertheless, a surname Princip is of a Latin (Catholic) origin and never in history existed in Serbia.

[ii] British historian Mark Cornwall published several talks by British and Belgian diplomats about F. Ferdinand’s warmongering policy in the Balkans [Mark Cornwall, Serbia, Keith Wilson (ed.), Decision for War 1914, New York: St. Martin Press, 1995, 55−96. Especially page 61].

[iii] On the Kosovo Battle, see in [Rade Mihaljčić, The Battle of Kosovo in History and in Popular Tradition, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1989].

[iv] Миле Бјелајац, 1914−2014: Зашто ревизија? Старе и нове контроверзе о узроцима Првог светског рата, Београд: Медија центар Одбрана, 2014, 27−45.

[v] Paul Robert Magocsi, Historical Atlas of Central Europe, Revised and Expanded Edition, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003, 121.

[vi] Arūnas Gumuliauskas, Lietuvos istorija (1795−2009 m.). Studijų knyga, Šiauliai: K. J. Vasiliausko leidykla Lucilijus, 2010, 80.

[vii] The headline of the Paper was: “How Russia and its Ruler Betrayed German Confidence, thus Causing a European War”.

[viii] Mira Radojević, Ljubodrag Dimić, Serbia in the Great War 1914−1918. A Short History, Belgrade: Srpska književna zadruga−Belgrade Forum for the World of Equals, 2014, 115.

[ix] Such accusations were never proved being, therefore, a pure propaganda work by the Austro-Hungarian warmongers [Владимир Ћоровић, Односи између Србије и Аустро-Угарске у XX веку, Београд: Библиотека града Београда, 1992, 699].

[x] Quoted according to [Mira Radojević, Ljubodrag Dimić, Serbia in the Great War 1914−1918. A Short History, Belgrade: Srpska književna zadruga−Belgrade Forum for the World of Equals, 2014, 116].

[xi] Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, New York: Basic Books, 1967, see the map on page 107. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3rd, 1918) was the first peace treaty signed during the WWI. It was concluded by illegal and not-legitimate anti-Russian Bolshevik government in occupied Moscow on one hand and Germany and Austria-Hungary on another. According to the treaty, “in return for peace on the Eastern Front, Russia lost Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, west Belorussia (Belarus), Poland, the Ukraine, and parts of the Caucasus. It thus lost almost half of its European territories, with around 75 per cent of its heavy industries. Russia was also obliged to pay 6 billion gold marks in reparations” [Jan Palmowski, A Dictionary of Contemporary World History from 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: 2004, 82].

[xii] Peter J. Katzenstein (ed.), Mitteleuropa Between Europe and Germany, Providence−Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1997, 3.

[xiii] Rainer Eisfeld, “Mitteleuropa in Historical and Contemporary Perspective”, German Politics and Society, No. 28, 1993, 39.

[xiv] By academic definition, “Imperialism: refers to interlinked – political, social and economic – forces including nationalism and religion, which significantly shaped international relations from the early nineteenth century until after the Second World War” [Jeffrey Haynes et al, World Politics, New York: Routledge Taylor & Frances Group, 2011, 708].

[xv] Alan Sked, The Decline & Fall of the Habsburg Empire 1815–1918, London−New York: Routledge Taylor & Frances Group, 1990, 259.

[xvi] About German imperial policy and geopolitical designs, see in [Henry Cord Meyer, Mitteleuropa in German Thought and Action 1815−1945, The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1955; Peter Stirk (ed.), Mitteleuropa: History and Prospects, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994; Peter J. Katzenstein (ed.), Tamed Power: Germany in Europe, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997].

[xvii] Joachim Remak, “1914–The Third Balkan War. Origins Reconsidered”, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 43, No. 3, 1971.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid. Also, according to Joachim Remark, “…the most basic decisions affecting peace or war were made by Berthold rather than Bethmann, and Pašić rather than Sazonov” [Ibid.].

[xx] A. J. P. Taylor, The Habsburg Monarchy 1809−1918: A History of the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary, London: Penguin Books, 1990, 250.

[xxi] Joachim Remark, “1914–The Balkan War. Origins Reconsidered”, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 43, No. 3, 1971.

[xxii] Živko Avramovski, Ratni ciljevi Bugarske i Centralne sile 1914–1918, Beograd: Institut za savremenu istoriju, 1985, 315.

[xxiii] Haus-Hoff und Staatsarchiv, Viena, telegram No. 213.

[xxiv] Živko Avramovski, Ratni ciljevi Bugarske i Centralne sile 1914–1918, Beograd: Institut za savremenu istoriju, 1985, 150–173.

[xxv] Ibid., see the map on page 225.

[xxvi] Ibid., 170.

[xxvii] Кнез Григорије Николајевич Трубецки, Рат на Балкану 1914–1917 и руска дипломатија, Београд: Просвета, 1994, 30.

[xxviii] Ibid., 71−72.

[xxix] Ibid., 71–72; Archives of Serbia (Arhiv Srbije), Beograd, Ministarstvo inostranih dela (MID), Političko odeljenje, 1918, X-323, “Pašić to Vesnić”, January 18th, 1918; Dragoslav Janković, Bogdan Krizman, Građa o stvaranju jugoslovenske države, knjiga I, Beograd: Institut društvenih nauka, 1964, 45.

[xxx] Милорад Екмечић, Ратни циљеви Србије 1914–1918, Београд: Политика−БМГ, 1992, 8–9.

[xxxi] “Spalajković-Ministry of Foreign Affairs” (Ministarstvo inostranih dela – MID), St. Petersburg, November 1/14th, 1914, Diplomatic Archives of Yugoslavia (Diplomatski arhiv Jugoslavije – DAJ), Beograd, secret, No. 10166.

[xxxii] Милорад Екмечић, Ратни циљеви Србије 1914–1918, Београд: Политика−БМГ, 1992, 11.

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  1. Alfred (Cairns)

    This article is total nonsense. The archives of the German Foreign Ministry were removed to the USA shortly after the end of hostilities and never revealed to researchers. That is the ultimate proof that the “German Guilt” story is one concocted by the British and their allies.

    For an honest explanation of how the British elite planned this war long in advance and how the British made it come about, read this book:

    “Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War” – by Gerry Docherty and Jim MacGregor

  2. To Alfred

    Your comment is total nonsense pro-German propaganda with a clear political purpose to whitewash and revise the truth on WWI history. Read German author Fritz Fisher instead of your fake news books.

  3. Carnex is right. Fritz Fisher explained the origins of and responsibility for both world wars. Just read the book that is translated from German in several languages

  4. BU Student

    Prof. Sotirovic is right

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