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History of Violence in the Balkans Report

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Introduction to Balkan Ethnic Conflict

The culture of violence in the Balkans was caused by nationalism, the rising of nation-states and the territorial claims that were made on ethno linguistic and historical regions. This began at the start of the nineteenth century when the local educated people among the Balkans started embracing the revolutionary nationalism ideology that was practiced by the Europeans and introduced nations in the Balkan setting.

Nations became a widespread concept in the Balkans earning the region the description of an ethnic community that shared similar religion, language and identity entrenched in the historical continuity of the Balkans. Since there were no nations in the history of the Balkans, leaders had to create them first through sensitizing the natives and staging revolutions which gave rise to the politically sovereign nation-states .

This was happening as imperialism continued to decline. The nineteenth century was characterized by the decline of the Russian, Ottoman and Habsburg empires leaving the borderlands in the Balkans to suffer dire consequences. The regions separating the borderlands which had different cultural backgrounds experienced a lot of violence during the ethnic cleansing.

These regions became vulnerable to the violence that took place during modernization due to the fact that there were diversities between ethnic and state frontiers. After the emergence of genocide studies as a result of wars such as the Yugoslavia war, Rwanda genocide and former Soviet Union conflicts, different writings tackling the subject of political violence were produced.

Scholars in various disciplines tried to explain the causes of political violence in different countries with most theories attributing these violent actions to tribal hatreds (Kaplan, 1994).

Scholars of mass political violence tried to explain the concept of political violence in the Balkans by linking it with elites who initiated revolutions and new ideologies. It was also associated with the structural problems that were characteristic of nation-states and the concept of modernization.

The concept of nation states was adopted from the French revolution and involved some states achieving sovereignty while excluding other states. This concept laid emphasis on uniformity though among the Balkans, the nation states were characterized by national and cultural heterogeneousness.

Political violence in the Balkans was therefore associated with the struggle of nations to achieve national coherence. In circumstances where the national minorities were considered by the elites to be a threat to nation state sovereignty, they became targets of violent activities .

Since sovereignty was defined in terms of the people, the composition of the citizens was regarded as an important determinant of the nature of Balkan politics. This proved to be a problem in the Balkans especially in regions where different groups claimed ownership of the territories. The fact that population was being defined in terms of ethnicity formed the basis of exclusion for some communities.

Some of the worst violent cases in the Balkans were reported during transitional periods when political authority was in the hands of authoritarian elites. Mass violence and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans therefore stemmed from issues associated with nationalism, modernity and the emergence of the nation states.

The violence was heightened by increased state control powers, new warfare technology and the ideology of nationalism which drew nations closer .

The Great War was an important turning point during the violence in the Balkans. This war led to the emergence of violent forces with a project of modernity which was based on military actions and mass murder. The forces were against the alternative visions of modernity based on liberal democracy and civil societies.

The Balkans differed in the decades after 1878 concerning the relative strength of the state since the elites did not have infrastructural bases similar to those of developed European countries (Historyworld, n.d).

The Balkan revolutionary tradition which came into existence in 1804 after the Serbians staged uprisings was based on violence. When Balkan national movements initiated violence against the Ottoman rule between 1804 and 1878, much of Europe was dealing with serious effects of violence.

The political elites among the Balkans in nineteenth century were preoccupied with the desire to challenge the imperial masters so they marshaled their people to accomplish the mission.

Their first and most important target was the Ottoman Empire. The need to turn states into institutions and introduce modernism into the society gave rise to policies of ethnic cleansing. Before the Balkan wars of 1912-13, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria were similar in many ways.

The nationalist talks that came after this period led to the abolition of practices and policies that were discriminating the minorities. Local Muslims became the first targets since the Balkans considered them as internal enemies as they were associated with unpleasant memories of imperial subjugation.

As a result, Harsberg and Ottoman empires which were known for their capacity to accommodate people from other ethnicities gave in to the nationalist pressures. Just like the Balkans, these groups resorted to violence during the First World War with the intentions of eliminating their enemies. However, the Muslims in the Balkans were the greatest victims of Balkan national movements.

Balkan Nationalism

Nationalism among the Balkans is one of the factors that contributed towards the outbreak of the First World War. The end of the 19th century was characterized by social disturbances in most of the Balkan states hence becoming a strong concern among many European countries. The Balkan Peninsula was considered important because of its economic significance and territorial vitality.

However, there was richness of ethnic cultures in the Balkan states and any rule by foreigners was not welcome in the states. As other countries were unifying, the Balkans became more patriotic hence their desire to gain sovereignty and punish the Turks for occupying their land increased. The strong sense of nationalism stirred a revolution that resulted in a great world war .

The Balkan states remained under the control of Ottoman Empire till the first few days of 20th century. However, the decline of the powers of the Ottoman Empire gave the Balkan states a chance to gain independence. They were inspired to start a serious revolt after Italy and Germany became unified into independent countries.

This revolt moved very fast and with the assistance of Russian forces, Turkey succumbed to the war. Victory in the war gave the Balkan states the opportunity to occupy the land of the defeated countries. As a result, the Balkans felt more proud about their patriotism.

Turkey remained in control of some of its parts, something that the Balkans could not tolerate because they thought they had the capacity of running their affairs independently.

In 1885, the Bulgarians who were occupying the Eastern part of Rumelia staged a revolt since they did not want to remain under the rule of the Turkish. This act caused the Serbians to start war because they considered it a serious threat. The joining of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia was supported by Britain and this gave the Balkan states increased power as a result of their ideologies of nationalism.

Religious unrest in the island of Crete increased the chances of war as it was witnessed in 1897 when Turkey was attacked. Greece and Crete announced their war against Turkey after attacks were perpetrated on Christians and Muslims.

The war did not last long since they faced a quick defeat. However, European powers intervened, forcing Turkey to move out of the mainland. This revolt by the island of Crete increased the nationalism of the Balkans and inspired the birth of Balkan League (Historyworld, n.d).

Montenegro, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria came up with the Balkan League in order to drive the Turks away from the Balkan Peninsula. The increasing nationalism caused the Balkan countries to seek their power and fame by conquering their old rulers.

The Turks faced difficulties due to the Turkish revolution between 1908 and 1909 and the war of Turkey and Italy between 1911 and 1912 enabling the Balkans to regain their independence. The Turks were attacked by the Balkan League in 1912 starting a series of attacks referred to as the Balkan wars. This made the European powers get concerned since the Balkans seemed to succeed in the war.

There growing nationalism was considered to be a threat to large and powerful countries. The Balkans were later convinced to sign the treaty of London after which they felt it was unwise since it created divisions with their allies.

The Bulgarians considered the move as one of the most technical ways that was used to deceive them and announced war on Serbia and Greece. They were however defeated in the war causing numerous problems in the following days.

The disappearance of Turkey and Bulgaria among the Balkans gave the Serbs an opportunity to achieve immense power in the region. As a result, the power gained by the Serbs was considered a serious threat by Austria-Hungary causing them to start planning on how to crush the Serbs before they took over the entire area. The pride of the Serbs continued increasing and they were working for the unification of all the Slavs.

Bosnians shared the same race with the Serbs and were willing to join Serbia. However, the Austria-Hungary Empire was in control of them. The nationalism that was growing among the Serbs caused them to decide on freeing Bosnia. When a probable inheritor of the Austrian Empire was killed by a Serbian in 1914, a war was in the offing (Kaplan, 1994).

The great sense of nationalism that was evident among the Balkans led to many wars which caused the First World War. Despite the fact that the Balkans was not as prominent as other powerful nations during this period, their determination made an important contribution in European history.

The nationalism that characterized the Balkans in the nineteenth century gave rise to strong patriotism. Their wishes compelled them to fight for sovereignty although the achievement of independence came with power greed.

Emergence of Revolutionary Tradition in the Balkans

The process of overcoming the disparities existing between intellectualism and revolutionary actions did not require a long struggle.

A Greek group referred to as the ‘society of friends’ came into existence in 1814. This group had outlined that its purpose was to promote the Hellenic culture but the truth was that the intentions of the group were to create a Greek state. This was to be achieved through the Balkans rising against the Ottoman Empire.

The ‘society of friends’ was responsible for the start of the Greek war of independence which gave rise to the modern eastern question. The great powers and the Constantinople ecumenical patriarch did not support the revolution hence it broke into two centers. One center was in Moldavia where Ypsilantis moved from Russia with a small army and started a war of liberating the Balkans.

This army was determined to destroy the crescent for them to lift the flag that always gave them victory. They also wanted to launch revenge for their territory and preserve their orthodox faith. The revolt that was launched by the army did not succeed and this was an indication that the unity of orthodox faith could not survive (Historyworld, n.d).


Since 1878, the political history in the Balkans was characterized by democratization and modernization of nation states. This led to a period of interwar and dictatorship in the regions.

During these periods of strife, the Balkan supporters of civil societies, democratic governance, and multiculturalism continued to be marginalized. The history of political violence, war, ethnic cleansing and revolution can therefore be described as a tale of the effects of the marginalization.


Historyworld. (n.d). . Web.

Kaplan, R. (1994). Balkan ghosts:A Journey Through History. Toronto: Vintage books.

Malcolm, N. (2002). Kosovo:a short history. New York: Pan Macmillan.

Mazower, M. (2002). The Balkans: A Short Story. New York: Random House Publishing Group.

Schevil, F. (1971). The History of the Balkan Peninsula. New York: Ayer Publishing.

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