Written by Vladimir Moss



The Treaty of Berlin (1878) was in general a huge disappointment for the Slav nations. Russia, it seemed, had snatched diplomatic defeat out of the jaws of military victory, while great powers who had played no direct part in the Russo-Turkish war had managed to gain succulent morsels at the expense of the Orthodox. Thus Britain snapped up Cyprus, while Austria-Hungary gained a protectorate in Bosnia and greater influence in the region as a whole, which forced Serbia to seek good relations with that great power at the expense of her relations with Russia.

Nevertheless, the international recognition of the independence of Serbia and Romania, together with the virtual independence of Bulgaria (even if shorn of much of the territory she claimed), was something to rejoice at. The Balkan Orthodox could now look forward to final liberation from the old enemy, Turkey, in the not so distant future. The question was: could they unite into some kind of federation or commonwealth that would bring that joyful event forward, and perhaps also help to reduce the power and influence of Austria-Hungary – the other old enemy, whose power, unlike that of Turkey, was increasing?

There were several possibilities. One was “Yugoslavism”, a federation of Slavic states stretching from the Croats in the West to the Bulgarians in the East, in which Serbia would serve as the geographical core and magnet, “the Piedmont of the South Slavs”. Of course, this presupposed the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which Russia had opposed in 1848 even while rescuing the Habsburg Slavs from the Hungarian counter-revolution.

Surprisingly, perhaps, in view of later, twentieth-century century history, there were many Catholic Croats and Slovenes who were enthusiastic about joining such a federation. The Croats and the Serbs of Croatia, Slavonia and Vojvodina had cooperated well in the revolution of 1848, and the increased power of Serbia after 1878 (King Milan was pouring a lot of money into his army) promised much. Thus the Croat sculptor Ivan Mestrovic was a philo-Serb and pro-Yugoslav whose works included the powerful Milos Obilic and the project for a Kosovo temple.

Yugoslavism in its original form, that is, including Bulgaria, was dealt a blow when the Bulgarian kingdom was reunited with East Rumelia in 1885, making Bulgaria the largest power in the Balkans. War broke out between the two countries in the same year, and Serbia was defeated. Finally, the rivalry over control of Macedonia destroyed any chance of the two Slavic Orthodox nations uniting.

However, a more attenuated form of Yugoslavism without Bulgaria survived. As Tim Judah writes: “In the latter years of the nineteenth century, ideas of Illyrianism or Yugoslavism in the Habsburg lands had undergone something of a decline. It was Hungarian attempts to play off Serbs and Croats, however, and the continued division of Dalmatia from Croatia and Slavonia that helped revive the ideology. The single most important development here was the founding of the Croatian-Serbian Coalition of political parties in Croatia in 1905. Part of the understanding that led to this was that, if the Serbs would support Dalmation unification with Croatia and Slavonai, which were being subjected to increasing Magyarisation, the Croats would support the principle of Serbian political equality within Croatia. In 1906 the Croatian-Serbian Coalition won the elections in Croatia-Slavonia. Central to its ideology was narodno jedinstvo, or Croat-Serb ‘national unity’, which was a precursor to the idea that Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and the other south Slavs were simply different names for parts of the same ‘Yugoslav’ nation.

“The Austrian and Hungarian authorities, who governed according to the principle of divide and rule, took fright at these developments and attempts were made to discredit the Croatian-Serbian Coalition. In 1909, a great treason trial of fifty-three Serbs was held in Zagreb, at which they were accused of having treasonous contacts with Belgrade. Evidence included the singing of Serbian epic poetry and the owning of portraits of King Peter, which were popular among the Serbs of Croatia. Although the trial ended in convictions, the charges were so widely seen as having been trumped up that the emperor was forced to issue pardons. Hard on the heels of this came a case in Vienna against Dr. Heinrich Friedjung. The eminent historian was accused of libel, having written an article claiming that leaders of the Croatian-Serbian Coalition were being funded by the authorities in Belgrade. What Friedjung had not known, however, was that the documents he had been given, which came from the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Ministry, were forgeries. The net result of both these cases was to alienate both Croats and Serbs from the Habsburgs and so to further the Yugoslav cause.

“In Serbia the idea of Yugoslavism was far less attractive than it was in the Habsburg lands. It was seen as one of three political options which governed thoughts about the future. The first and most prevalent was the creation of a Greater Serbia, including Bosnia and perhaps those lands in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia inhabited by large numbers of Serbs. The second was the formation of a somehow united Slav Balkans. This would include the Bulgarians, who were seen as no less south Slav than the Croats or the Slovenes. With the Bulgarian attack on the Serbs in 1913, though, this option was foreclosed. The third idea, that of Yugoslavism, while becoming increasingly prominent in academic circles, remained of little interest among politicians. In 1904, however, intellectuals and students founded Slovenski Jug (Slavonic South), a society which aimed at uniting the south Slavs.

“Over the next few years, there were increasing numbers of Yugoslav congresses and exhibitions held in Belgrade. In September, 1904, King Peter opened the First Yugoslav Art Exhibition. On display were 458 pieces by Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and Bulgarian artists. In 1906, some 800 gathered for a conference of teachers from all of the lands that would later become Yugoslavia…”[1]

In the long term, however, what mattered most was not the precise form of the relationship between the South Slav states as how truly Orthodox the resultant unitary state or confederation of states would be. And here the signs were not encouraging.

First of all, a truly Orthodox state required or a strong “symphony” between King and Church. But this was nowhere to be found in the Balkans, imbued as the region was increasingly becoming with western ideas of democracy and constitutionalism. Moreover, both Romania and Bulgaria were ruled by Catholic Germans imposed on them by the great powers, while the Greek King George was Lutheran – and there could be no symphony between them and the Orthodox Church. Thus Protopriest Benjamin Zhukov writes: “In Austria-Hungary the Orthodox Serbs and Romanians did not pray for their emperor Franz-Joseph, who was not Orthodox. In exactly the same way the names of King George, a Lutheran, and King Ferdinand, a Catholic, were not commemorated in Orthodox Greece and Bulgaria. Instead their Orthodox heirs to the throne were commemorated. This attitude to the authorities sometimes led to conflict with them. Thus in 1888 the Bulgarian Synod was dismissed by Ferdinand of Coburg, and the members of the Synod were expelled by gendarmes from the capital because they refused to offer prayer in the churches for the Catholic prince, who had offended the Orthodox Church by many of his actions. After this the government did not allow the Synod to assemble for six years…”[2]

Serbia was the only Balkan state ruled by native Orthodox kings – but they had the unfortunate habit of being killed by rival dynastic factions… The most shocking example of this was the killing of King Alexander and Queen Draga of Serbia in Belgrade in 1903. This crime had the good side-effect that the pro-Austrian Obrenović dynasty was replaced by the pro-Russian Karadjordjević dynasty. But the long-term effects were evil; for the crime was neither deeply repented of, nor investigated sufficiently so as to bring the killers to justice. For, as Rebecca West writes, the new King Petar “was entirely surrounded by the conspirators whose crime he abhorred, and he could not dismiss them, because… with these fierce critics all about him perfectly capable of doing what they had done before, he had to keep order in a new and expanding country, vexed with innumerable internal and external difficulties.”[3]

West goes on to assert, with pardonable exaggeration, that “when Alexander and Draga fell from that balcony the whole of the modern world fell with them. It took some time to reach the ground and break its neck, but its fall started then…”[4] For the shots in Belgrade in 1903 led to the shots at Sarajevo in 1914, which led to the First World War, which led to the Russian revolution…

For God is not mocked, and He does not allow anyone to touch His anointed kings. And the murder was a symptom of a wider revolutionary malaise, not only in Serbia, but in contemporary Orthodox Christendom as a whole, which took on a predominantly nationalist character in the Balkans and an internationalist character in Russia. Soon it was soon to bring down upon it the wrath of God and the end of the whole “Sardian” period of the Orthodox Christian Empire from St. Constantine the Great to Tsar Nicholas II…

The sad fact was that, while the Balkan states seemed more independent than ever before, the gap in power between them and the major western states – Britain, France, Austria-Hungary and Germany – was increasing at the same time that western interference in the region – partly for commercial reasons, but partly also out of fear of Russia – was also increasing. Logically, therefore, the Balkan Orthodox should have sought, not only some kind of unity amongst themselves and the immediate cessation of their proxy wars over Macedonia (about which more anon), but also closer ties with the only Orthodox great power – Russia. Indeed, now as never before was the time when the idea of “the Third Rome” needed to be put into practice, not for the selfish motive of the aggrandisement of Russian power, but for the sake of the survival of the Orthodox Christian commonwealth as a whole…

For both religious and historical reasons, Russia could never remain indifferent to, or detached from, events in the Balkans. In the tenth century Russia received her Orthodox faith from the Greeks of the New Rome of Constantinople. For nearly five hundred years, until the council of Florence in 1438-39 and the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the rulers of Russia, although de facto independent of, and much more powerful than, the Byzantine Emperor, considered themselves de jure only junior partners of the Emperor, while the huge Russian Church remained only a single metropolitan district of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. After the fall of Constantinople, the Balkan Slavs and Greeks looked to the Russians as potential liberators from the Turkish yoke, and in 1562 Tsar Ivan IV received a gramota from the Ecumenical Patriarch Joasaph calling him “our Tsar”, ascribing to him authority over “Orthodox Christians in the entire universe”, and applying to him the same epithets, “pious, God-crowned and Christ-loving” as had been applied to the Byzantine Emperors. Moscow “the Third Rome” been born…

The idea of the Third Rome has been subjected to much mockery and revilement as if it were just an excuse for nationalist ambition. But exactly the reverse is true: in acknowledging themselves to be the successors of the Byzantines, “the Second Rome”, the Russians took upon themselves an internationalist obligation: to fight for the protection of all Orthodox Christians throughout the inhabited world. This involved, on the one hand, defensive wars against aggressive powers that invaded her territory from the west, such as the Swedes, the Germans, the Poles and the French. On the other hand, since most non-Russian Orthodox lived within, or within the orbit of, the major Muslim powers of Ottoman Turkey and Persia, it also involved almost continuous war along her southern frontiers and, in some cases – Georgia, for example - the annexation of the threatened Orthodox land. In most cases, it involved the shedding of Russians’ blood for their fellow Orthodox Christians with no territorial or economic gain whatsoever, as in the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turks in 1877. To a large extent the history of Russia from the fifteenth century onwards can be seen as a slow, painful but inexorable advance to the fulfilment of the ideal of Christian Rome: the liberation of all fellow Orthodox Christians living under the yoke of heretical or pagan rulers.

The cost was enormous. It has been calculated that, quite apart from losses in terms of men killed, Russians taken into slavery by the Turks from the 15th to the 18th century inclusive numbered between three and five million, while the population of the whole of Russia in the time of Ivan the Terrible (16th century) numbered less than five million souls.[5] And yet losses of men killed or driven into slavery abroad were only the beginning of the cost. Both the institution of serfdom, which so upset the liberals, and that of military service from youth until (virtually) death, were the results, not of the despotic cruelty of the tsars, but of sheer military necessity...

If the western nations’ cynical attitude to Russian expansion was only to be expected, it was less to be expected, and harder to take, from the very Balkan Orthodox who benefited from this expansion through the gradual weakening of Ottoman power. None of them saw in Russia “the Third Rome”, and so none of them felt obliged to coordinate their political and military initiatives with Russia, as the leader of the Orthodox world. Paradoxically, this was especially the case after the Russian advance to the gates of Constantinople and the Congress of Berlin, whose results, while in general galling to the Orthodox, nevertheless established Serbia, Romania and (almost) Bulgaria as independent states.

To illustrate this point, let us look more closely at the unification of Bulgaria with East Rumelia referred to above. In 1885, a band of rebels seized control of Plovdiv, capital of Eastern Rumelia. Prince Alexander von Battenburg of Bulgaria, who had been threatened with “annihilation” by a Macedonian secret society if he did not support the coup, promptly marched into Plovdiv (Philippopolis), took credit for the coup, and proclaimed himself the ruler of a united North and South Bulgaria.

From a narrowly nationalist point of view, this was a triumph – one of the most galling decisions of the Treaty of Berlin had been reversed, and Bulgaria, though formally still not completely free of Ottoman suzerainty, was now de facto independent and united (if we exclude the disputed territories of Northern Dobrudja and Macedonia). However, from the point of view of the preservation of international peace, and still more of Pan-Orthodox unity, it was a disaster. The Bulgarians’ violation of the Treaty of Berlin gave the Turks – still a formidable military power – a good legal excuse to invade Bulgaria, which would have dragged the Russian armies back into the region only eight years after the huge and costly effort of 1877-78, which in turn may have dragged other great powers into a major European war. So Tsar Alexander III, not undeservedly called “the Peacemaker”, decided not to support his irresponsible nephew, Prince Alexander, and to withdraw the Russian officers from the army of his ungrateful ally. This was undoubtedly the right decision, but it cost him - both in terms of an estrangement between Russia and Bulgaria, and in terms of his discomfiture at the hands of the British, who cynically decided to support the coup…

But this was not the end of the sorry story. The Serbian King Milan now invaded Bulgaria, boasting that he was going “on a stroll to Sofia”.[6] Barbara Jelavich explains why this conflict took place: “Since the unified Bulgarian state would be larger and more populous than Serbia, Milan felt that he was entitled to compensation. He thus launched an attack in November 1885. Despite widely held convictions that the Bulgarian army, deprived of its higher officers by the Russian withdrawal, would be crushed, it in fact defeated the invaders. The Habsburg Empire had to intercede to save Milan. Peace was made on the basis of the maintenance of the former boundaries; Serbia had to accept the Bulgarian unification. The entire episode was an enormous blow to the king’s prestige.”[7]

All this was caused by the Balkan States’ refusal to accept the leadership of Russia. This was, regrettably, to be expected of the Romanians, who resented the Russians’ possession of Southern Bessarabia, and were fearful of a return of the Russian protectorate. And it was to be expected of the Greeks, who accused the Russians of “Pan-Slavism”, and who were dreaming of a resurrection of Byzantium. But it was less expected of the Slavic states, who, proud of their newly acquired independence, decided to have independent – that is, egoistic, shortsighted and foolish - foreign policies that completely ignored the existence of the “batyushka-tsar” to the north, who alone, among Orthodox leaders, had the interests of the Orthodox Christian commonwealth as a whole at heart. Their behaviour confirmed Leontiev’s thesis that there was little to choose between Greek and Slavic nationalism. And their failure to work more than intermittently with Russia was to lead to the most disastrous consequences over the next seventy years…



In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Balkan states faced two intractable problems. The first was that the peasantry, the majority of the population in all countries, being no less oppressed by heavy taxes and indebtedness under the national regimes than it had been under the Turks, was becoming desperately poor. This led to peasant rebellions in several countries: in Serbia in 1883, in Bulgaria in 1899 and, most seriously, in Romania in 1907, where 120,000 troops were called out and 10,000 peasants were killed.[8] There was simply not enough land to support a rising population, and many thousands of able-bodied men – men who were greatly needed at home – were forced to emigrate, especially from Greece and Montenegro.

A second problem was increased nationalist passions throughout the region, and especially in Macedonia…

Now strong national feeling had served the Orthodox Balkan nations well in preserving their integrity during the centuries of the Ottoman yoke; but it served them less well when that yoke was crumbling. Thus in 1889, on the five-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, Serbia’s foreign minister, Cedomil Mijatovic, told the Royal Academy that “an inexhaustible source of national pride was discovered on Kosovo. More important than language and stronger than the Church, this pride unites all Serbs in a single nation…”[9] That national pride should be considered “stronger than the Church” was a danger sign. Nothing on earth is stronger than the Divine-human institution of the Church, which, as the Lord says, “will prevail against the gates of hell”, whereas national pride can be crushed, and nations themselves can disappear completely…

Again, the increase in nationalist feeling among the Orthodox Balkan nations produced an unwelcome reaction from their Muslim enemies by reawakening nationalist passions in them. Thus the winds of Albanian nationalism began to blow in both Albania and Kosovo, which Serbs regarded as their national heritage and which had not hitherto had a strong national movement. Even the Turks, stung by their defeats, began to abandon the ideal of a multi-national and multi-cultural empire and look for a “Turkey for the Turks” ideology.

The cauldron into which all these nationalist passions were poured, and from which they began to simmer and boil and spit out in various directions, was Macedonia…

Now Macedonia, according to Stevan K. Pavlowitch, “has always been the centre of the Balkans which neighbouring states, and foreign powers interested in the peninsula, have vied with one another in trying to control. In modern times [the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries], it was the region that remained longest in Turkish hands. Serbs, Bulgars and Greeks had their various aspirations for its largely undifferentiated slavophone population. Out of this rivalry – at once nationalistic, cultural and ecclesiastical, as always in the Balkans – slowly began to emerge a separate Macedonian consciousness, recognised by none of the three contending nation-states, who were busy serbianising, bulgarianising and hellenising their outlying Macedonian territories.”[10]

So who did the inhabitants of Macedonia think they were? Glenny writes: “The question of the origins of the modern Macedonians, who feel themselves categorically to be a Slav people [with a large Albanian minority] distinct from Serbs or Bulgars, provokes more intellectual fanaticism than any other is the southern Balkans. One scholar, let us say from Skopje, will assume that this nation has existed for over a thousand years; the next, perhaps a well-meaning westerner, will claim that Macedonians first developed a separate identity from Bulgaria about one hundred years ago; a third, for the sake of argument a Serb, will swear that the Macedonians only emerged as a nation at the end of the Second World War; and a fourth, probably a Greek or Bulgarian, will maintain doggedly that they do not exist and have never done so...

“… In contested regions like Macedonia, national identity or identities do not remain stable. They change over a few generations; they mutate during the course of a war; they are reinvented following the break-up of a large empire or state; and they emerge anew during the construction of new states. Balkan nationalism evokes such ferocious passions because, paradoxically, it is so labile…”[11]

And yet the great majority of the Macedonians – with the exception of the Jews in Salonika and the Muslims in the west – considered themselves to be Orthodox Christians, members of the Ecumenical Church in which “there is neither Greek nor Jew”. That is why the Macedonian question is first of all an ecclesiastical tragedy…

In the ecclesiastical sphere, an early advantage in the struggle for the hearts of the Macedonians was won by the Bulgars when their independent exarchate was founded in 1870. “It has been argued that if the Serbs, too, like the Bulgars, had separated themselves from the Greek-dominated patriarchate of Constantinople at that time, they could have achieved considerable success in those areas where Macedonian Slavs had not yet taken sides. For it was not all that difficult to give inchoate national traits a definite mould with the systematic action of church and school.

“At first, the authorities of the autonomous principality of Serbia sympathised with Bulgarian aspirations. But they increasingly took fright after 1870 when, according to the statute granted to it, the autonomous Bulgarian Church began to expand. The sultan’s firman established the authority of the Bulgarian exarch over a millet that was both territorial and ethnic. Broadly speaking, the dioceses of northen Bulgaria came within its jurisdiction, but upwards of two-thirds of the Orthodox Christian inhabitants of any other district could vote to join the exarchate. The principle of one territorial bishop thus came to be infringed occasionally, with a patriarchal and an exarchal bishop residing in the same see…

“… [The exarchate] thrived as a legal institution for Bulgarian national aspirations, and it sent out its priests and teachers to proselytise the slavophones of Macedonia. As a result it came to control territories that were to become Serbian in 1878... The reaction to these successes took the form of occasional calls for a separate archbishopric of Ohrid, but especially of Serbian government efforts to join forces with the Greeks. The idea was to convince the patriarchate that it was in its own interest to take into account the feelings of a majority of the faithful in making appointments to European sees, and to appoint ethnic Serbs where appropriate. Such efforts were at first hampered by the Serbo-Turkish wars of 1876-8 and the subsequent unpopularity of the Serbs with the Porte. It was not until the 1880s that Serbia entered the fray in Macedonia, with a proselytising programme of its own.

“By 1885, the ecumenical patriarchate had accepted the principle of sending ethnic Serbs to certain dioceses, provided they were Ottoman citizens, politically loyal to the Porte, and properly qualified canonically. But such candidates were not available at first, and it would take another eleven years before diplomatic pressure got the patriarchate to accept, but also the Porte to agree to, the first such Serbian bishop (Raška-Prizren, 1896), with two more by 1910 (Skopje, Veles-Debar). In these years at the turn of the century, with another set of slavophone bishops and priests who, furthermore, were fully canonical, whole districts chose to return from the exarchate to the patriarchate…”[12]

The whole region could have been spared much bitterness and grief if the patriarchate had agreed to the presence of Slavic bishops serving the liturgy in Slavonic – as they should have done long, long before…

Even as we turn to the more political aspects of the struggle, we note that Church leaders continued to play a large role. Thus the Kresna uprising against the Turks in 1878, which took place on the new frontier between Bulgaria and Macedonia, was led by a Bulgarian or Macedonian priest, Pop Georgievski-Berovski. It was quickly crushed, and for some years the Ottomans were able to restore peace to the region.

However, open warfare was now replaced by the building up of secret societies in both Bulgaria and Greece. At least three different Bulgarian societies fought with each other for leadership of the Macedonian struggle for independence. They also fought with the Bulgarian government, trying to persuade or force it into entering into a war of liberation in Macedonia. The Bulgarian Prime Minister Stambulov tried to resist their influence, but in 1895 he was killed by members of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO). A reign of terror followed in which Macedonian terrorists threatened to overthrow the Bulgarian State…

Meanwhile, in 1895 a Greek secret society called Ethniki Etairia tried to revive the traditions of the Philiki Etairia. “Just as VMRO was preparing to destabilize Bulgaria, so did the Etairia become a virtual state within the Greek state. The Etairia included many Greek Macedonian émigrés in its ranks, but the main focus of its aspirations was Crete…”[13] In 1896 the Cretans, whose slogan was “Freedom or Death!”, rebelled against the Ottomans and called on the Free Greeks on the mainland to support them. They responded by landing an army onto the island.

“The great powers, smelling another Eastern Crisis, attempted to mediate between Turkey and Greece by suggesting that Istanbul offer Crete autonomy. By the middle of 1897, the Greeks were still procrastinating and so the Sultan decided to declare war on Greece. Turkish troops massed in Epirus on Greece’s northern border and soon put the Greeks to flight. Before long the Ottoman troops were marching on an open road to Athens. Once again the great powers stepped into the breach and imposed a peace-deal on the two sides.

“The outcome was at first glance advantageous to the Greeks, as Crete was at last given extensive autonomy. But this apparent victory masked hidden dangers. The Greek army had suffered a great setback at Epirus. The Athenian coffers were empty; and the state had incurred an enormous debt. As part of the peace treaty, Athens was forced to hand over control of its budget to a great-powere commission. Furthermore, its network of agents in Macedonia had been destroyed.

“King George of Greece (1863-1913) had justified the military intervention in Crete by pointing out that ‘Britain… had seized Cyprus; Germany had taken Schleswig-Holstein; Austria had laid claim to Bosnia and Herzegovina; surely Greece had a better right to Crete!’ The argument was not unreasonable, but had the Etairia and King George reasoned more soberly they would have concluded that the Ottoman Empire would be forced to relinquish control of Crete at some future date. By succumbing to the romantic movement for the liberation of Crete and finding itself at war with the Ottoman Empire, Greece was too weak at the end of the nineteenth century to combat the influence of VMRO in Macedonia, and unable to respond when the Ottoman Empire allowed the Bulgarian Exarchate to establish three new bishoprics in Debar, Monastir (Bitola) and Strumitsa. This area extended like a long hand across the middle of Macedonia, marking out the dark shadows of a near future when the Greek Patriarchists and Bulgarian Exarchists would do battle for the souls of the villages…

“Conversions of whole villages were common. Sometimes they took place at the end of a gun barrel, sometimes there were compelling economic reasons, as H.N. Brailsford discovered at the time. ‘I was talking to a wealthy peasant who came in from a neighbouring village to Monastir market. He spoke Greek well, but hardly like a native. ‘Is your village Greek,’ I asked him, ‘or Bulgarian?’ ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘it is Bulgarian now, but four years ago it was Greek.’ The answer seemed to him entirely natural and commonplace. ‘How,’ I asked in some bewilderment, ‘did that miracle come about?’ ‘Why,’ said he, ‘we are all poor men, but we want to have our own school and a priest who will look after us properly. We used to have a Greek teacher. We paid him £5 a year and his bread, while the Greek consul paid him another £5; but we had no priest of our own. We shared a priest with several other villages, but he was very unpunctual and remiss. We went to the Greek Bishop to complain, but he refused to do anything for us. The Bulgarians heard of this and they came and made us an offer. They said they would give us a priest who would live in the village and a teacher to whom we need pay nothing. Well, sirs, ours is a poor village, and so of course we became Bulgarian.’…”[14]

The situation gradually descended into chaos. In March, 1903 the Austrian consul in Monastir reported: “The Committee [VMRO] is extorting money from Bulgarians, Greeks, Vlachs, Christians and Muslims, with indescribable arrogance. Christians who don’t pay are murdered while the Muslim landowners must reckon with arson attacks on all their property…

“The longing for order among these unbearable circumstances and for a new, strong administration is becoming ever more intense… people do not want reforms, autonomy or whatever – the majority of Macedonians want nothing more than… the same fate as Bosnia [i.e. occupation by Austria-Hungary[.

“Punitive executions continue to comprise standard fare of the guerrilla band activities. In the last 14 days alone, there has been a revenge murder of the Greek priest in Zelenie, the death of the teacher from Strebeno, and of a Patriarch supporter from Ajtos… [then] the Serbian priest from Vrbjani and an Albanian landowner from Lenista… whose throat was slit.”[15]

During the spring of 1903 the village of Kruševo, whose 10,000 inhabitants were almost all Orthodox – Vlach, Greek and Slav, anticipating an attack by VMRO, approached the Ottoman authorities and requested that they strengthen their garrison. Sure enough, on August 2, “Ilinden” (St. Elijah’s day), 300 guerillas assaulted Kruševo. Having killed the whole garrison, they occupied the town and proclaimed it a republic… The revenge of the Turks was terrible. The town was bombed and gutted. Irregulars and bashi-bazooks then went on a spree. “In addition to the thousands of murdered civilians and rape victims, 119 villages were burnt to the ground, 8,400 houses were destroyed, forcing 50,000 refugees to flee into the mountains, where many more died during the bitter winter that followed. Both the IO and the EO [other Macedonian revolutionary organizations] were almost obliterated and, after watching the Slav četas intimidate Greek villages, the Greek andartes swept through western Macedonia forcing the reconversion of Exarchate communities to the Patriarchate.

“The andartes now administered solace to those Patriarchate villages which had courageously resisted VMRO during the uprising. However, in the villages genuinely committed to the Exarchate or VMRO, the Greeks behaved like vengeful bullies, executing suspected renegades and holding the Patriarchate version of the Mass [Divine Liturgy] at gunpoint if the priest or townspeople were unwilling to perform the service. This Greek backlash was orchestrated by the gun-toting bishop of Kastoria, Germanos Karavangelis. This extraordinary figure, who roamed the countryside in a dark English raincoat with a black scarf wrapped around his priest’s hat, ‘had a Männlicher slung over one shoulder, a bandolier over the other, a belt round the middle from which hung his holster carrying a large pistol and a knife.’ Karavangelis appeared consciously to cultivate an image of threatening romanticism. The bishop considered Bulgarian influence in the region to be the greatest threat to Greek national interests. He therefore advocated close friendship and cooperation between the Greeks and Turks of Macedonia, but only as an expedient. Karavangelis… admitted openly that the only issue in Macedonia was the future contours of the Balkan states once the Turks had been thrown out.

“As VMRO’s influence shrivelled and almost died, Karavangelis and his colleagues began to receive more money, weapons and men from the Greek Kingdom. This renewed Greek activity and the retreat of Bulgarian aspirations hastened a change in Serbian policy, too. Nikola Pašić, the old Radical leader and now Prime Minister, had long given up hope that his ideal of a federal solution for the Macedonian Question might be realized. Serbia would now be fighting for clerical and territorial influence not just against Greeks and Bulgarians, but also against the Turks and Albanians. Demonstrating again that neither Greeks, Serbs nor Bulgarians have natural allies, Pašić issued an order to Serbia’s diplomatic representative: ‘to protect our compatriots from the damaging consequences of the monopoly of Patriarchate organs which have placed themselves in the service of Hellenism to the detriment of the non-Greek adherents to the Patriarchate church; and to counter the activity of Exarchate agents whose Committees are appearing with weapons in those areas of eminent interest to us: Poreč, Kičevo, Drimkol, Dibra, Kőprűlű.’ The suppression of Ilinden had therefore failed to crush the nationalist struggle. On the contrary, it had made it worse. The struggle was spreading, but the balance of forces had changed. Like Bishop Karavangelis, the government of Istanbul considered the Bulgarian insurgency the most threatening. The Greek and Serbian guerrillas concentrated their efforts on expunging Bulgarian or Albanian influence on each other’s – they proved less of a nuisance for the Ottoman forces. Indeed, the Christian guerrillas had to an extent assumed the state’s role of policing the territory…”[16]



At this point, a new ingredient was cast into the Macedonian cauldron: revolutionary Turks…

In Turkey during the nineteenth century, the traditional system of Islamic Sharia law combined with the Sultan’s personal decrees was being undermined by a new liberal legal system imposed bythe Western powers, whose main idea was the equality of all citizens, both Muslim and Christian. The liberal legislation, which was incorporated into the Constitution in 1876, was displeasing to Muslims and Christians alike. For, on the one hand, the Muslims felt that they were losing their superiority to the “infidel”. And on the other hand, the Christians were worried about losing some of the exemptions they enjoyed under the old “millet” system. For “in some ways,” as Taner Akçam writes, “Christians were better off than the average Turkish peasant, given their exemption from military service, and often the support of a foreign consulate, which excluded them from Ottoman courts, protected their homes from being searched by the authorities and freed them from Ottoman taxes. ‘The maligned Turkish peasant, at the other end of the social scale, was generally no better off than the ordinary non-Muslim and as much oppressed by maladministration…’”[17]

However, as the empire continued to decline in power, becoming controlled by its western creditors, the educated Turkish elites became increasingly cosmopolitan, liberal and ecumenist, at least in the capital. An important role in this development was played by Freemasonry. Thus Philip Mansel writes: “From 1884 the Cercle d’Orient, one of the main centres of news and gambling in the city, was housed in a magnificent building on the Grande Rue de Pera. It was open to men of every race and religion, and viziers were members ex officio. Freemasons had existed in Constantinople since the eighteenth century; the Bektashki order had remarkable, and remarked on, similarities with the Masons, perhaps due to contacts with France through Bonneval Pasha. The masonic message of universal fraternity and abolition of religious and national differences seemed especially appropriate to the Ottoman Empire. The lodge Le Progrès, founded in 1868, held meetings in Ottoman and Greek. It was joined by men of different religions… In another lodge called the Union d’Orient, in 1866, a French atheist cried, perhaps for the first time in Constantinople: ‘God does not exist! He has never existed.’”[18]

An important member of Le Progrès was the wealthy Greek banker and believer in the Ottoman Empire Cleanti Scalieris (Kleanti Skalyeri in Turkish), who was born into a noble family in Constantinople in 1833. According to Jasper Ridley, he was “initiated in 1863 into a lodge which had been established in Constantinople by the French Grand Orient. He was friendly with Midhat Pasha, a high official in the Sultan’s government who was secretly the leader of the Young Turks. Midhat Pasha had been initiated as a Freemason while he was a student in England. After he returned to Turkey he was appointed Governor of the Danube region, and established a regime in which there was no religious persecution. In 1872 he was for a short time Grand Vizier, the head of the Turkish government.

“Scalieris and Midhat Pasha were able to exercise their influence on Prince Murad, the nephew of the Sultan Abd-Ul Aziz and the heir to the throne. Murad listened with sympathy to their progressive liberal views, and at their suggestion became a Freemason in 1872, joining a Greek-speaking lodge in Constantinople under the authority of the French Grand Orient. In 1876, while the Bulgarian revolt against Turkish rule was taking place and Russia was preparing to go to war with Turkey in support of the Bulgarians, Midhat Pasha carried out a coup, deposed Abd-Ul Aziz, and proclaimed Murad as the Sultan Murad V.

“A liberal-minded Freemason was now Sultan of Turkey; but within a few months he was deposed after another coup which placed the tyrannical Abd-Ul Hamid II on the throne. During his thirty-three-year reign he acquired international notoriety both by his despotic government and by the sexual excesses of his private life. At first he maintained Midhat Pasha as Grand Vizier, but then arranged for him to be assassinated. He kept Murad imprisoned in the palace. Scalieris tried to arrange for Murad to escape, but the rescue attempt failed. Murad died in 1904, having been kept as a prisoner in the palace for 28 years.”[19]

In 1876, Sultan Abdulhamid suspended the liberal Midhat constitution imposed on Turkey by the Europeans. But then defeat at the hands of Russia in 1877-78, and the gradual liberation of the Christians in European Turkey, increased the sense of grievance and frustration among the Turks. Exiles in Paris began to work out a new nationalist ideology on the basis of the empire’s Muslim Turks being the “millet-i Hakime”, or “ruling nation”.

Thus the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), otherwise known as the Young Turks, declared: “We can compromise with the Christians only when they accept our position of dominance.” One of their leaders, Namik Kemal, spoke of the Turks as “occupying the pre-eminent position in the Ottoman collective… on account of their great numbers and abilities, excellent and meritorious qualities such as ‘breadth of intelligence’, ‘cool-headedness’, ‘tolerance and repose’”. Another leader, Ali Suavi, declared that “the Turkish race [is] older and superior… on account of its military, civilizing and political roles”.[20] The nationalists were strongly influenced by western ideas, such as Social Darwinism and the German concept of the nation as defined essentially by race, blood and culture. Also typically western was their enthusiasm for science – it was Ottoman backwardness in science that explained its weakness in relation to the West, - and their characterization of their struggle as one of “freedom” against the oppression of the backward and tyrannical regime of Sultan Abdulhamid.

“The Young Turks,” writes Dominic Lieven, “were the products of the Western-style schools and colleges created by the Ottoman regime from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. The movement’s core often consisted of army officers but included many civilian professionals as well. They had many similarities with Russian revolutionaries of their time and with later Third World radicalism. Their great enemy was their country’s backwardness, which they blamed on the Ottoman regime and, usually, on religion, which they saw as the main cause of the people’s ignorance, sloth and conservatism. Their own creed was a rather crude belief in science and materialism, combined with a linguistic and ethnic Turkish nationalism based on European models. They were populists but also great Jacobin elitists, convinced that it was the new Westernized elite’s duty to lead the nation to prosperity and power. They were seldom themselves of traditional upper-class origin, and their radicalism owed much to the sense that their own professional merit went unnoticed by a regime whose rulers promoted clients on the basis of personal connection and political loyalty.”[21]

“In 1906,” writes Glenny, “small conspiracies arose inside the Empire. Cells loyal to the subversive project began to form inside the army in Salonika and Damascus. These then multiplied, escaping the body of the armed forces to infect parts of the Ottoman administration – officials in the post and telegraph office, in the schools and in the judicial system. In Salonika, many Jews, and a few Armenians, Greeks and Bulgarians were also recruited into this embryonic resistance. The organization in Damascus, Vatan (Fatherland), was not remotely as influential as its counterpart in Salonika. But it is worth nothing that one of the co-founders of the Damascus conspiracy was Mustafa Kemal, a young, strong-mided officer from Salonika.”[22]

The CUP’s stronghold was the Army in Macedonia, which had learned much from the discipline and conspiratorial techniques of the Bulgarian and Macedonian guerrillas. In fact, some of the rebel soldiers in Macedonia formed pacts with the Albanians, and with the Bulgarian and Serbian guerrillas they were supposed to be fighting.[23] The result was a stunning victory for the revolution: the Sultan was deposed in 1909, and by 1913 the CUP was in complete control of the empire.

The Young Turks at first renounced nationalism so as to bring as many members of other nationalities of the multi-national empire onto its side. And so in Constantinople Muslims joined with Armenians in requiem services for the massacres of 1896. Again, on July 23, 1908, “Salonika’s gendarmerie commander observed how ‘[o]n the balcony of the Konak [town hall], Greek and Bulgarian bishops and the mufti shook hands and then in the name of fraternity, they invited their co-religionists to follow suit… A cry of joy burst from every lung in the crowd and you could see Muslims, Greeks and Bulgarians, the old mortal enemies, falling into one another’s arms. An indescribable delirium ensued as the reconciliation of the races and religions was consecrated underneath an immense flag emblazoned with the words ‘Long Live the Constitution’…”[24]

It was indeed an extraordinary moment, comparable only to the frenzied joy that accompanied the overthrow of the Tsar only nine years later in Petrograd. Like Herod and Pilate, bitter rivals abandoned their enmity in joy at the overthrow of their common enemy – one-man-rule that recognized its authority as coming, not from men, but from the One God. Instead a new god, “the Constitution”, was erected and worshipped by all. Meanwhile, the priests of the new religion, the Masons, took over the reins of government – men such as Mehment Talaat Pasha, Grand Master of the Turkish Grand Orient, and Kemal Ataturk, who had been initiated into an Italian lodge in Macedonia. On July 23, 1908, the same day as the celebrations in Salonika, they restored the Midhat constitution on the empire…

However, it was not long before the new government cast off its liberal and cosmopolitan mask. “Over three years of counterrevolution and restoration, revolutionary idealism turned into a regime whose brutality surpassed that of Abdulhamid. ‘The old espionage had returned, the extortion had never ceased, the oppression against non-Moslems had now acquired a fresher and more sinister vigour, for the measure of freedom that each nationality had once enjoyed was now being ruthlessly crushed by a heretofore unknown chauvinism.’”[25]

As for the goodwill that the Young Turks offered to the Orthodox Christians, this “had been offered subject to extremely onerous conditions. While the Young Turk revolution had temporarily spread the gospel of harmony among the Empire’s constituent peoples, it had had no such effect on Macedonia’s neighbours in the Balkans – Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. On the contrary, they saw the success of the revolution as a sign of the Empire’s extreme weakness and it galvanized their expansionist ambitions.

“The most immediate blow to the movement for reconciliation in the Ottoman Empire was delivered by Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and Greece. In October, Prince Ferdinand exploited the political chaos in the Ottoman Empire by declaring Bulgaria fully independent – until then it had been nominally under the suzerainty of the Empire. Within days, Austria-Hungary followed suit by announcing the full annexation of the occupied territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina and before long Greece proclaimed enosis with Crete. These events, in particular Vienna’s annexation of Bosnia, set alarm bells ringing in the Ottoman military barracks, the real power behind the CUP. Henceforth, any Christian demands which smacked of secessionism would be rejected. In response, the guerrillas in Macedonia – Serb, Bulgarian, Greek and, significantly, Albanian – took to the hills once more. The military establishments of Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire had taken their first steps along the road that ended with the First and Second Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913.”[26]

Tsar Nicholas II knew better than any Balkan Christian the true significance of the events of 1908, and the great danger they posed for the whole of Orthodoxy. Basically, the whole vast region of the Ottoman Empire had fallen under the power of Orthodoxy’s greatest enemy, the revolution. And the Serbs, Bulgarians and Greeks, in spite of their recent rejoicing with the Turks over their revolution, were now gripped by a mad enthusiasm for war against Turkey that might well trigger a far wider war between the great powers.

All three states were rapidly rearming themselves. As a result, all were deeply in debt to western arms manufacturers (the Serbs to French ones, the Bulgarians to German ones). And, in spite of their rivalries over Macedonia, all were more ready to enter into commercial agreements with each other than turn for help to any great power, including Russia. But they failed to realize – or did not want to take into account – the fact that any war with Turkey would inevitably draw Austria into the conflict in some way or other, since Austria now owned Bosnia - which had to pose a threat at any rate to Serbia’s expansionist plans. Moreover, in alliance with Austria was a new and very powerful enemy – Germany, which had been making significant inroads into the Ottoman Empire through its railway projects, and which was reorganizing the Ottoman Army under the leadership of German generals.

In 1894, in order to counter the increasing economic and military power of the German empire, and the threat posed to the Balkan Slavs by the German-Austrian alliance, Russia had formed an alliance with France; and in 1907 these Russia and France were joined by Britain – a remarkable turn-round in view of Britain’s long-standing hostility to Russia.

“The division of Europe into two military alliances,” writes Dominic Lieven, “made it almost certain that any conflict between great powers [for example, over the Balkans] would engulf the entire continent. Nevertheless, in the first decade of Nicholas’s reign Russia’s relations with Berlin and Vienna were friendly. This was in part because much of Petersburg’s attention was devoted to the Far East, which in turn made it easier to agree with Austria on a policy of supporting the status quo in the Balkans.

“Russia’s defeat by Japan in 1904-05 and the subsequent Russian revolution of 1905-06 changed matters very much for the worse. Awareness of Russian impotence encouraged first Germany and then Austria to defend their interests in the Moroccan Crisis of 1905-06 and in the 1908-09 Bosnian crisis [when Austria annexed Bosnia and Russia was powerless to do anything about it] in a more aggressive manner than would otherwise have been the case…”[27]

The situation was made more difficult for the Tsar by the rise, within Russia, of a powerful coalition of liberals and nationalists who wanted a more aggressive policy in the Balkans. “Between 1907 and 1914 the outlines of a coalition between sections of Russia’s economic, political and intellectual élites based on a combination of liberal and nationalist ideas began to emerge. It encompassed a number of leading Moscow industrialists, some of Russia’s greatest liberal intellectuals and many Duma leaders. By 1914 this shadowy coalition had important friends in both the army and the bureaucracy. Prince Grigori Trubetskoy, who ran the Foreign Ministry’s department of Near Eastern and Balkan affairs, was closely linked to the Moscow industrialists and to Peter Struve, the leading intellectual spokesman for the coalition of the liberal-conservative and nationalist elites. Even Alexander Krivoshein, the Minister of Agriculture, was a potential ally of this coalition. His ministry, and indeed he himself, maintained cordial relations with the Duma and the zemstva. On the whole, they enjoyed a good press. And Krivoshein was not merely inclined towards pro-Slav nationalist sympathies, he had also married a daughter of one of Moscow’s leading industrialist families. It needs to be stressed that this coalition was still in embryo in 1907-9 and that Germany’s own aggressive policies played a role in bringing it to life in later years. Nevertheless the Germans were not wrong to watch Russian domestic developments with great concern in the pre-war era. The idea that the liberal-nationalist, anti-German and pro-Slav coalition represented the wave of the future was not unreasonable and was widely believed both in Russia and abroad…”[28]

But the Tsar had to resist the liberal-nationalist wave; for he knew that Russia was not ready for war – in fact, foreign war might well trigger internal revolution. For that reason he wanted to restrain the hotheads in the Balkans. But the problem was: the Balkan hotheads did not see it that way. As one Bulgarian statesman, interviewed by the journalist Leon Trotsky, said soon after the First Balkan War: “We must, of course, say this all politeness, to all the other diplomats from Europe, as they labour in the sweat of their brows for our happiness. ‘Neither honey nor thorns,’ dear sirs! We ourselves will settle with Turkey, without any interference from Europe, and all the more firmly and satisfactorily. Europe puts on an air of being afraid that we shall be excessively demanding. And this from Europe – that is to say, from Austria-Hungary, who annexed Bosnia; from Italy, who seized Tripolitania; from Russia, who never takes her eyes off Constantinople… This is the Europe that comes to us preaching moderation and restraint. Truly, a sight for the gods on Olympus!... Your diplomats are sulking. They would not be averse to freezing the Balkans for another ten years, in expectation of better days sometime. How is it that they cannot understand that less and less is it possible in our epoch to direct the destinies of the Balkans from the outside? We are growing up, gaining confidence, and becoming independent… In the very first years of our present phase of existence as a state, we told our would-be guardians: ‘Bulgaria will follow her own line.’… And so Messrs. Privy Councillors of all the diplomatic chanceries would do well to get used to the idea that the Balkan Peninusla ‘will follow its own line’…”[29]



One result of the Young Turk revolution, and the rearming of the Balkan Orthodox, was the stirring of unrest in Albania: what was going to happen to them in the rapidly changing political climate?

Now, as Jason Tomes writes, “it was easy for the rest of the world to overlook the Albanians, given that the Ottoman Empire categorised subjects by religion only. Muslim Albanian were labelled Turks and Orthodox Albanians assumed to be Greeks. At the Congress of Berlin (1878), Bismarck insisted: ‘There is no Albanian nationality.’ Partisans of Serbia and Bulgaria emphasised that Albanians volunteered to fight on the Turkish side in Balkan wars. What sort of oppressed nationality assisted its oppressors?

“Albanians believed themselves to be the aborigines of the Balkans, beside whom all other Europeans were newcomers. Their ancestors do appear to have occupied the same mountain valleys throughout recorded history. They were sometimes identified with the semi-mythical Pelasgians (mentioned by Homer) or the ancient Illyrians. Whatever their origins, Albanians had never paid much heed to those who successively claimed to rule over them: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Serbs, Bulgars, Venetians, and then Turks. In places where the state meant nothing, who cared if the state were foreign?”

In fact, the Albanians were in general quite content with Turkish rule, because, being mainly Muslims, they were given leading posts in the Empire, and could lord it over the Serbs in Kosovo and the Bulgarians in Macedonia. This “helps to explain why Albania was apparently unmoved by the tide of Balkan nationalism. The nineteenth century had transformed south-eastern Europe with the creation of Greece, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria as modern states, but the majority of Albanians seemed as content (or discontent) with Turkish rule in 1900 as they had been a hundred years earlier. The handful of brave intellectuals who wanted to teach in the Albanian language were clearly cultural nationalists, yet even they eschewed early independence, knowing that the fall of the Ottoman Empire would probably entail their ‘liberation’ by the Slavs.”[30]

But the winds of nationalism began to blow even among the Albanians. One such nationalist was the future King Zog - Ahmed Bey Zogolli, a clan leader from the Mati region of central Albania. Sent by his mother to Istanbul, he became an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte and involved in student politics at about the time of the Young Turk revolution in July, 1908. This “galvanized those with any interest in politics, as prisons were thrown open, women tore off their veils, and banners extolled ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Justice’. A new parliament was elected (including Albanian deputies) with the aim of radical reform. When the Sultan obstructed it, he was swept aside. Zogolli, with his head full of Napoleonic France, shared in the euphoria. Everything that he had learnt convinced him of the merits of modernisation, and even his countrymen back home assumed that change could only be for the better. Like them, he did not appreciate that ‘Union and Progress’ (as defined by Young Turks) would be far from congenial to Albanians.

“The new regime set out to revive the Ottoman Empire by imposing uniformity. Turkish law, regular taxation, military service, and the Arabic alphabet would be enforced from Baghdad to Shkodra. Faced with the threat of effective Ottoman rule, the Albanians predictably revolted, demanding the right to remain a law unto themselves. Every spring, four years running, a major clan or region rebelled and suffered violent reprisals (including Mati in 1909). It was not until 1911, however, that the Albanians scented success, as the Italo-Turkish War weakened their opponents.

“Despite his sympathy for some Young Turk ideas, Ahmed never doubted where his loyalties lay. He had kept himself informed of events, not from the newspapers (which were censored), but from speaking to Albanians newly arrived in the city. In late 1911 or 1912, he abandoned his studies, slipped away to Salonika, and met up with a cousin at school there. Together they made for Mati to play their part in the imminent historic developments. Recalling this reunion with his mother over twenty years later, King Zog came close to tears. In a few days, he ceased to be a schoolboy and became a chieftain. Ahmed Bey Zogolli, in his native valley, passed for a man of the world at sixteen. Battle-scarred warriors bowed before him and elders deferred to his learning. But there was only one place where he could really prove his worth: on the field of battle. When the northern clans launched a fresh revolt in April 1912, it swept the land as never before and Mati joined in the conflict. This time the Albanians were victorious. The Turks, tired of conflict, conceded autonomy. Ahmed had fought in no more than a skirmish, but, if he wanted to see serious action, he had not long to wait. The First Balkan War broke out on 8 October, 1912, his seventeenth birthday [when the Montenegrins attacked the Turks]. The Balkan League of Montenegro Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria turned on the Ottoman Empire with the goal of driving the Turks from Europe once and for all.

“Most Albanians reacted to this with a dramatic turn about face. They had just been fighting the Turks themselves to block unwelcome reforms. Now they had to fight ‘liberation’ by Greeks and Slavs. Serbia was demanding access to the sea, which could only mean part of Albania. Greece said that the south was ‘Northern Epirus’ and claimed all its Christians as Greeks.[31] King Nicholas of Montenegro swore that Shkodra was the sacred burial place of his forefathers. Under simultaneous attack from north, south and east, Albanians could scarcely stay neutral. Zogolli sent a request to the Prefect of Dibra for arms and ammunition. In return, he rallied Mati in defence of the Ottoman Empire… ”[32]

The union of the Balkan Orthodox against the Ottomans and Albania was opposed by Orthodox Russia. Edvard Radzinsky writes: “The tsar understood how that impudent disruption of the status quo in the Balkans would ignite an explosion of indignation among the great powers. The minister of foreign affairs was instructed to persuade Montenegro to end its occupation of the fortress [of Shkodra or Scutari]. But [King Nikolai] knew of the bellicose mood in Petersburg and of the support of Grand Duke Nikolai, the ‘dread uncle’, and he callously continued the siege of Scutari.

“And then more threatening news came from the dangerous Balkans. On 5 (18 NS) October Serbia and Bulgaria entered the war against Turkey, followed by Greece the day after. And the Turkish army sustained defeat after defeat. News of the successes of the Balkan alliance – of their brothers in the faith – against the Turkish Moslems gave rise to an outpouring of joyous nationalism in Russia. There were continual demonstrations in Petersburg bearing the slogan, ‘A Cross of Holy Sophia’… Everyone was again caught up in the old dream of the Russian tsars: of taking Constantinople back by force from Turkey – Constantinople, the ancient capital of Byzantium, from which Rus had adopted its Christian faith.

“The response was immediate. The Austrians and Germans threatened war.

“And again the Balkan boiler was about to blow up the whole world.

“On 10 and 29 November and on 5 December 1912, the Council of Ministers met in Petersburg. And the situation of a few years before was repeated. Russian society wanted to fight: the demands for military assistance to its ‘Balkan brothers’ were unanimous, and the registering of volunteers began. Even Rasputin’s friend Filippov was for war at the time. And there was no Stolypin powerful enough to overcome public opinion (or, more accurately, public insanity). War was again at the very threshold. And once again it would be a world war. The Austrian fleet and the ships of the great powers had already blockaded the Montenegrin coast. General mobilization was anticipated in Russia. Speaker of the State Duma Rodzyanko counselled the tsar to fight.

“And then the tsar suddenly demonstrated character: he resolutely moved against public opinion. He demanded that the minister of foreign affairs put pressure on Montenegro. And on 21 April 1913 the Montenegrin king, after many hours of persuasion, consented to withdraw from Scutari in return for monetary indemnification. And the Russian foreign minister, Sergius Sazonov, announced with relief, ‘King Nikola was going to set the world on fire to cook his own little omelette.’ This was in reply to the constant reproaches that Russia had once again betrayed its Balkan brothers.”[33]

Radzinsky attributes the tsar’s sudden firmness to the fact that Rasputin and the Empress were against the war. “And the tsar was forced to submit.” But this is to ignore the fact that the tsar had already shown similar firmness during the Bosnian annexation crisis of 1908, and that his behaviour was perfectly consistent with his beliefs – that it was not in Russia’s interests to go to war to defend the territorial ambitions of the Balkan Slavs. Only in 1914 would he be forced to submit to the call for war. But the situation then, as we shall see, was different: Russia was not called to help the Serbs in some madcap aggression, but to defend them from annihilation in a just war…

The First Balkan War ended in victory and substantial territorial gains for the Balkan Orthodox, leaving the Turks control of only a small corner of Europe close to Constantinople. As for the other losers, the Albanians, on December 20, 1912 the Great Powers, under Austrian pressure, agreed to create an independent principality of Albania. The Russians accepted only reluctantly, and secured most ofKosovo and its mixed Serb and Albanian population for Serbia. From January to March, 1915 the government of Albania was entrusted to an International Commission of Control. They appointed the German Prince Wilhelm of Wied as ruler. But an uprising by the Muslims of Central Albania drove him out in September…[34]

But the Bulgarian King Ferdinand was unhappy with the distribution of the spoils of victory, especially in Macedonia, and attacked Greece and Serbia. This led to the outbreak of the Second Balkan War in 1913, which ended with the victory of Greece, Serbia, Romania and Turkey over Bulgaria. In ten weeks’ fighting during the two wars about 200,000 soldiers were killed. The money that Bulgaria and Serbia had been pouring into their armed forces since the 1880s finally paid off in a series of brilliant victories using all the means of modern technology – and the western powers were impressed.

Less impressive, however, were the atrocities committed. Thus “as the Serb soldiery moved to Skopje and beyond, they visited destruction and murder on the local Albanian population. Fired by tales of atrocities committed on Christian peasants during the unrest in the Albanian territories, the Serbs unleashed the full force of nationalist hatred against defenceless villages. A Serb Social Democrat, serving as a reservist, described how ‘the horrors actually began as soon as we crossed the old frontier. By five p.m. we were approaching Kumanovo. The sun had set, it was starting to get dark. But the darker the sky became, the more brightly the fearful illumination of the fires stood out against it. Burning was going on all around us. Entire Albanian villages had been turned into pillars of fire… In all its fiery monotony this picture was repeated the whole way to Skopje… For two days before my arrival in Skopje the inhabitants had woken up in the morning to the sight, under the principal bridge over the Vardar – that is, in the very centre of the town – of heaps of Albanian corpses with severed heads. Some said that these were local Albanians, killed by the komitadjis [četniks], others that the corpses had been brought down to the bridge by the waters of the Vardar. What was clear was that these headless men had not been killed in battle.’ In Skopje, the chief instigator of the massacres was the Black Hand, which set up its headquarters close to the Russian consulate in a building soon known as the Black House. The Black Hand, with its network of agents, had escaped the control of the military authorities and was increasingly assuming the role of an informal government of ‘liberated Old Serbia’. After several weeks, the government in Belgrade started to appoint civilian administrators to these territories, but those who refused to submit to the demands of the Black Hand and the četniks were scared. Branislav Nušić, the writer who had welcomed the war with such enthusiasm, resigned as governor of Bitola in fear and disgust at the activities of these units.”[35]

Thus, as Tim Judah, writes, “ethnic cleansing” - unfortunately very common before the Balkan Wars – revived during them: “The Carnegie Endowment’s account of the crushing of the Albanian revolt in Kosovo is also important because in 1913 as in 1941 or the 1990s it was quite clear to all involved what the purpose of ethnic cleansing was:

“’Houses and whole villages are reduced to ashes, unarmed and innocent populations massacred en masse, incredible acts of violence, pillage and brutality of every kind – such were the means which were employed by the Serbo-Montenegrin soldiery, with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of regions inhabited exclusively by Albanians.

“’We thus arrive at the second characteristic feature of the Balkan wars, a feature which is the necessary correlative of the first. Since the population of the countries about to be occupied knew, by tradition, instinct and experience, what they had to expect from the armies of the enemy and from the neighbouring countries to which these armies belonged, they did not await their arrival, but fled. Thus generally speaking, the army of the enemy found on its way nothing but villages which were either half deserted or entirely abandoned. To execute the orders for extermination, it was only necessary to set fire to them. The population, warned by the glow from these fires, fled all in haste. There followed a veritable migration of peoples, for in Macedonia, as in Thrace, there was hardly a spot which was not, at a given moment, on the line of march of some army or other. The Commission everywhere encountered this second fact. All along the railways interminable trains of carts drawn by oxen followed one another; behind them came emigrant families and, in the neighbourhood of the big towns, bodies of refugees were found encamped.’

“Just as conversion had been accepted as a means to escape death in earlier times, in some places it once again became an issue. When the Montenegrins captured the village of Plav, Rebecca West, whose pro-Serbian bent somewhat undermines her otherwise masterly account of Yugoslavia in the 1930s, characteristically dismisses a major massacre as an ‘unfortunate contretemps’. During this little misunderstanding a former Muslim cleric, now converted to Orthodoxy and a major in the Montenegrin Army, demanded that his former congregation convert. They refused and so 500 of them were shot. In another incident, some Macedonian villagers had their church surrounded by Serbian soldiers during the Sunday service. On emerging they found that a table had been set up on which was a piece of paper and a revolver. Either they could sign that they were Serbs rather than Bulgarians – or they could die. They chose the former option.”[36]

This latter incident shows that rivalry and hatred among the Orthodox, especially in Macedonia, had by no means been removed by their alliances against the Turks. It was especially fierce between the Greeks and the Bulgarians. The Greek army had reached the great prize of Salonika only a few hours before the Bulgarians, which upset the Bulgarians. Then, only a few months later, the former allies turned against each other in the Second Balkan War.

A Carnegie Endowment report describes some of the hatred between the Greeks and Bulgarians at this time:- “Day after day the Bulgarians were represented as a race of monsters, and public feeling was roused to a pitch of chauvinism which made it inevitable that war, when it should come, should be ruthless. In talk and in print one phrase summed up the general feeling of the Greeks towards the Bulgarians. ‘Dhen einai anthropoi!’ (They are not human beings). In their excitement and indignation the Greeks came to think of themselves as the appointed avengers of civilization against a race which stood outside the pale of humanity.

“… Deny that your enemies are men, and presently you will treat them as vermin. Only half realizing the full meaning of what he said, a Greek officer remarked to the writer, ‘When you have to deal with barbarians, you must behave like a barbarian yourself. It is the only thing they understand.’ The Greek army went to war, its mind inflamed with anger and contempt. A gaudily coloured print, which we saw in the streets of Salonika and the Piraeus, eagerly bought by the Greek soldiers returning to their homes, reveals the depth of the brutality to which this race hatred had sunk them. It shows a Greek evzone (highlander) holding a living Bulgarian soldier with both hands, while he gnaws the face of the victim with his teeth, like some beast of prey. It is entitled Bulgarophagos (Bulgar-eater), and is adorned with the following verses:

The sea of fire which boils in my breast

And calls for vengeance with the savage waves of my soul,

Will be quenched when the monster of Sofia is still,

And thy life blood extinguishes my hate.”[37]

It is sometimes asserted that the Christian commandment to love our enemies cannot be applied in a war situation. For it is necessary to obey lawful authorities and fight the enemies of the State. However, personal hatred and unnecessary cruelty are forbidden both in war and peace. Even in the Old Testament, and even in relation to non-Jews, cruelty was forbidden: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry, and My wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows, and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22.21-24).

According to Niall Ferguson, the Balkan Wars “had revealed both the strengths and the limits of Balkan nationalism. Its strength lay in its ferocity. Its weakness was its disunity. The violence of the fighting much impressed the young Trotsky, who witnessed it as a correspondent for the newspaper Kievskaia mysl. Even the peace that followed the Balkan Wars was cruel, in a novel manner that would become a recurrent feature of the twentieth century. It no longer sufficed, in the eyes of nationalists, to acquire foreign territory. Now it was peoples as well as borders that had to move. Sometimes these movements were spontaneous. Muslims fled in the direction of Salonika as the Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians advanced in 1912; Bulgarians fled Macedonia to escape from invading Greek troops in 1913; Greeks chose to leave the Macedonian districts ceded to Bulgaria and Serbia by the Treaty of Bucharest. Sometimes populations were deliberately expelled, as the Greeks were from Western Thrace in 1913 and from parts of Eastern Thrace and Anatolia in 1914. In the wake of the Turkish defeat, there was an agreed population exchange: 48,570 Turks moved one way and 46,764 Bulgarians the other across the new Turkish-Bulgarian border. Such exchanges were designed to transform regions of ethnically mixed settlement into the homogeneous societies that so appealed to the nationalist imagination. The effects on some regions were dramatic. Between 1912 and 1915, the Greek population of (Greek) Macedonia increased by around a third; the Muslim and Bulgarian population declined by 26 and 13 per cent respectively. The Greek population of Western Thrace fell by 80 per cent; the Muslim population of Eastern Thrace rose by a third. The implications were distinctly ominous for the many multi-ethnic communities elsewhere in Europe…

“The alternative to outright war was to create a new South Slav state through terrorism. In the wake of the annexation of Bosnia, a rash of new organizations sprang up, pledged to resisting Austrian imperialism in the Balkans and to liberate Bosnia by fair means or foul…”[38]

The Balkan Wars of 1912-13 constituted a political and military victory for the Balkan Orthodox (except Bulgaria), but a major spiritual defeat for Orthodoxy. Russia had managed to avoid a world war while not betraying her co-religionists. But internal as well as external factors made it increasingly difficult for the Tsar to hold the twin monsters of revolutionary nationalism and internationalist revolution at bay. Moreover, it was now clear that the Balkan Orthodox not only considered themselves as completely independent of any “Third Rome”, but were determined to go their own, egotistical ways regardless of the consequences for world peace and the interests of the Orthodox commonwealth as a whole. Judgement was about to descend upon the world, and it would begin at the House of God (I Peter 4.17)…


Vladimir Moss.

April 28 / May 10, 2012.


[1] Judah, The Serbs, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009, third edition, pp. 93-94.

[2] Zhukov, Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov’ na Rodine i za Rubezhom (The Russian Orthodox Church in the Homeland and Abroad), Paris, 2005, pp. 18-19.

[3] West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2006, p. 12.

[4] Ibid.

[5] I.L. Solonevich, Narodnaia Monarkhia (The People’s Monarchy), Minsk, 1998, pp. 403-404. The slaves included some who have been numbered among the saints, such as St. John the Russian.

[6] Misha Glenny, The Balkans, 1804-1999, London: Granta Books, 2000, p. 175.

[7] Jelavich, History of the Balkans, Cambridge University Press, 1983, vol. 2, p. 31.

[8] Jelavich, op. cit., p. 21.

[9] Judah, op. cit., p. 68.

[10] Pavlowitch, “The Church of Macedonia: ‘limited autocephaly’ or schism?”, Sobornost, 9:1, 1987, p. 42.

[11] Glenny, op. cit., p. 158.

[12] Pavlowitch, op. cit., pp. 43-44.

[13] Glenny, op. cit., p. 193.

[14] Glenny, op. cit., pp. 194-195, 199.

[15] Glenny, op. cit., pp. 201-202.

[16] Glenny, op. cit., pp. 205-207.

[17] Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, London: Constable, 2007, p. 19.

[18] Mansel, Constantinople, London: Penguin, 1995, p. 293.

[19] Ridley, The Freemasons, London: Constable, 1999, pp. 216-217.

[20] Akçam, op. cit., p. 39.

[21] Lieven, op. cit., p. 134.

[22] Glenny, op. cit., p. 212. The aim of Ataturk’s Fatherland Society, which was later merged with the CUP, was, as he told his friends, nothing less than to liberate the Homeland from tyranny and enable the Turks to rule themselves: “Today, they wish to separate the Rumelia region in Macedonia from the homeland. Foreigners are now exercising their partial and actual influence and control over parts of the country, The Padishah [Sultan] is capable of committing all evils, who thinks of nothing but his pleasures and the sultanate. The people are being crushed under tyranny and oppression. There is death and collapse in a country in which there is no freedom. The reason for all advancement and formation is liberty. Today history is burdening us, her sons, with some major tasks. I have established a society in Syria. We have started the struggle against tyranny and oppression. I came to set up the foundations of this society here as well. It is imperative to work in secrecy and awaken the organization. I expect self-sacrifice from all of you. I invite you to the task of rebelling against this damned oppression, tearing down this rotten, worn-out administration, so that the people can rule themselves – in short, to save the motherland.” (Ilhan Akşit, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Istanbul, 1998, pp. 22-23)

[23] Glenny, op, cit., p. 215.

[24] Glenny, op. cit., p. 216.

[25] Glenny, op. cit., p. 218.

[26] Glenny, op. cit., pp. 218-219.

[27] Lieven, “Russia, Europe and World War I”, in Edward Acton, Vladimir Cherniaev, William Rosenberg (eds.), A Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997, pp. 41-42.

[28] Lieven, Nicholas II, London: Pimlico, 1993, pp. 191-192

[29] Glenny, op. cit., pp. 225-226.

[30] Tomes, King Zog: Self-Made Monarch of Albania, Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2007, p. 13.

[31] The Greeks claimed southern Albania, or northern Epirus, as they called it, for themselves, on the basis that it had been within the ancient Greek and Byzantine cultural sphere, and bishops from Epirus (northern and southern) had taken part in the First and Fourth Ecumenical Councils. (V.M.)

[33] Radzinsky, The Last Tsar, pp. 188-189.

[34] Meanwhile, on May 4, 1914 there took place, as N.Yu. Selischev writes, “the signing of the document widely known in Greece as ‘the Corfu protocol’. The Corfu protocol gave the Orthodox Greeks a broad autonomy and sealed their religious, civil and social rights. The international control commission of the great powers (Russia was represented by the consul-general M. Petriaev) acted as a mediator in the quarrel and became the trustee of the fulfilment of the Corfu accord. In Russia the Corfu protocol… was known as the ‘Epirot-Albanian accord’. That is, the question of Epirus was not reduced to the level of an ‘internal affair’ of the newly created Albania, but was raised to the significance of an international agreement when the Orthodox Greek Epirots and the Mohammedan Albanians were recognized as parties to the agreement having equal rights. Our [Russian] press at that time – Pravitel’stvennij Vestnik, Sankt-Peterburgskia Vedomosti and the conservative Novoe Vremia – looked at the events in Epirus in precisely this way.

“Unfortunately, to this day the protocol of Corfu has not been fulfilled and is not being fulfilled by the Albanian side, neither in the part relating to the religious, nor in the part relating to the civil and educational rights of the Greek Epirots. In this sense the unchanging character of Albanian hostility is indicative. In 1914 the Albanian prime-minister Turkhan Pasha declared to the Rome correspondent of Berliner Tageblatt that ‘there can be no discussion’ of the autonomy of Epirus, and ‘for us there are no longer any “Epirots”, but there are only the inhabitants of provinces united to us by the London conference.’ Decades later, in 1967, another Albanian tyrant, Enver Khodja, proclaimed Albania to be the first officially atheist country in the world, where the Orthodox Church was banned and destroyed. The Serbs talk about the destruction of 2000 Orthodox churches.” (“Chto neset Pravoslaviu proekt ‘Velikoj Albanii’?”, Pravoslavnaia Rus’, 2 (1787), January 15/28, 2005, p. 11).

[35] Glenny, op. cit., pp. 233-234.

[36] Judah, op. cit., pp. 85-86.

[37] Judah, op. cit., pp. 84-85.

[38] Ferguson, The War of the World, London: Penguin, 2007, pp. 76-77.

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