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Congress of Berlin (1878)

Raj Singh is an educator and freelance writer interested in world history and governance.

Congress of Berlin 1878

Congress of Berlin 1878

A Momentous Gathering

Congress of Berlin was held in the city of Berlin from 13th June to 13th July of 1878. It was a meeting to rectify the Treaty of San Stefano (1878) and to settle peace between the Ottoman Empire of Turkey and the Empire of Russia. It is about to settle the future of the Balkan region of East Europe.

The Treaty of Berlin was a very important event in the history of Europe, and it shaped the future of the continent for the last part of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th. Though the congress achieved peace in Europe for three decades, the seeds of future major conflicts were hidden in it.

Background

The Balkan area of Eastern Europe and neighboring Greece was under Ottoman control for a long time. Due to the rise of nationalism in West Europe and the unification of Germany and Italy, there arose a desire for a united Slavic nation in the Balkan. That movement is known as Pan-Slavism.

The Greeks initially supported the movement. The Ottomans created the Exarchate (Orthodox Church) of Bulgaria to divide them in 1870. It separated the Slavs from the Greek Patriarchate. The creation of Bulgaria led to a religious division between the Greeks and Slavs. Despite that, there were many Slav rebellions in the Balkan in 1875.

The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78

The Ottomans ruthlessly suppressed the rebellion and massacred thousands of innocent people, including children and women. That atrocity of the Ottomans created great resentment in Europe and especially in Russia. Russia wanted to control the Balkans because of cultural and Geo-political reasons. It wanted to recover the losses of the Crimean War. After the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, the Ottomans were defeated.

The Treaty of San Stefano (1878)

The Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and Turkey ended Ottoman control in the Balkan region. It created an independent Bulgarian Principality controlled by Russia. It also recognized the full independence of Serbia, Romania, and Montenegro. Bosnia-Herzegovina was made an autonomous region. Russia also gained some important strategic land mass.

Russian gain in the Treaty of San Stefano alarmed the other great European powers. Especially, England and the Empire of Austria- Hungary became afraid that the Treaty would make Russia stronger, making them weaker. So, England and Austria opposed the treaty. The British also send a naval fleet to the Sea of Marmara to prevent the Russian occupation of Constantinople.

Roll of Bismarck

The German Chancellor Bismarck was interested in keeping Europe peaceful. He knew that a peaceful Europe is better for Germany. He formed "Dreikaiserbund" - the alliance of three emperors of Germany, Russia, and Austria- Hungary for that purpose. The Balkan crisis deteriorated the relationship between Russia and Austria. Bismarck became worried and so arranged for the Congress of Berlin to review the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878.

Satirical map of Europe 1877

Satirical map of Europe 1877

The Participants of the Congress of Berlin

The Congress of Berlin of 1878 was a meeting between the greatest powers of the time. The delegates came from England, France, Germany, Austria- Hungary, Russia, and Turkey. The most important plenipotentiaries were Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Germany, Prince Alexander Gorchakov, the Chancellor of Russia, and Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Beaconsfield. There were also delegates from the Balkan states of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Greece. But these states were not members of the Congress.

List of Notable Delegates of Berlin Congress of 1878

CountryNameDesignation

Great Britain

Benjamin Disraeli

Prime Minister

Russia

Prince Gorchakov

Foreign Minister

Germany

Otto von Bismarck

Chancellor

France

Monsieur Waddington

Foreign Minister

Map of the Balkan Peninsula 1878

Map of the Balkan Peninsula 1878

The Conflict of Interests

The participating powers in the Congress of Berlin had conflicting interests. It was essential to deal with these issues to secure peace in Europe.

Russia wanted to keep the Balkan region under its influence. It had an ethnic and cultural tie with that area. They considered themselves the natural leader of the Slavs. The Russians also wanted to regain the territories lost after the Crimean war. The control of the Balkan region was important because it would help Russia to gain full control of the Black Sea by securing the narrow Dardanelles and Bosphorus channel and the Sea of Marmara.

The Ottoman Empire of Turkey wanted to save its rapid disintegration. It also wanted to keep as much control in the Balkans as possible.

The Austria-Hungarian empire was interested in keeping the Balkan area under its control. It also wanted to free that region from the ideas of growing nationalism to conserve its own multi-ethnic empire.

The British did not want to give Russia a free hand in the Balkans. It knew that if that area comes under Russian influence, the Black Sea and the also the Mediterranean will be dominated by the Russian fleets. They were not ready to lose their naval supremacy. They also wanted to keep the Ottoman empire strong to check the future Russian advancements in that area.

The Germans wanted to keep the balance of power in Europe as stable as possible. The aim of Bismarck was to secure peace. He also wanted to check the Pan-Slavic nationalism, which he regarded as a threat to the aristocratic kingdoms of Europe.

The Slavic states wanted a united and powerful nation-state. They also wanted full freedom from Turkey, Russia, or Austria.

Balkan in 1878

Balkan in 1878

Treaty of Berlin

After a meeting of one month from 13th June to 13th July, the delegates signed the Treaty of Berlin. Among the articles of the Treaty of San Stefano, only 11 of 29 were accepted without deletion or change by Congress. The result of it was as follows:-

1) The full independence of three Balkan states, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro.

2) Bulgaria is split into three parts: The Principality of Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia, and Macedonia. The latter two states were given back to Turkey.

3) Other member states confirmed the Ottoman territories given to Russia by the Treaty of San Stefano, but the valley of Alashkerd and the town of Bayazid were returned to the Turks.

4) The Ottoman vilayet of Bosnia came under the control of the Austria- Hungarian empire. They also had a military station in Sanjak of Novi Pazar.

The Impact of the Treaty

The Treaty of Berlin was successful in avoiding immediate conflict between the great powers of Europe regarding the Balkan issue. But the treaty did not solve the problems. It just delayed the conflicts but was not able to solve the issues.

The Ottoman control of the Balkan region became almost nonexistent after it. The weakness of the empire became too clear to everybody. So, the great European powers became anxious to annex the older Ottoman regions. The British effort was not enough to keep that empire strong.

The Russians lost most of the advantages they gained from the previous Treaty of San Stefano. So, there was growing resentment against it in Russia. Bismarck became very unpopular there. The Russo-German relationship also began to deteriorate.

Austria-Hungary gained control of Bosnia. It was given that area to check Russian ambitions in the Balkan; the Russians did not like it. So, Bismarck's endeavor to unite the three empires failed.

The Treaty was a great blow to the Pan-Slavic movement. It completely ignored the nationalist demands of the Slavic people of the region.

Legacy

The 1878 Berlin peace conference was not a complete success, but it keep peace in Europe for three decades. The seeds of resentment remain hidden under the apparent calmness. The Treaty was not liked by the people of Russia and the Slavs of the Balkan region. All these factors led to World War I in 1914, destroying millions of lives and a huge amount of wealth in the world.

Further reading

© 2016 Raj Singh

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