|The Balkans in 2015|
The Treaty of Berlin in 1878 followed the Russo Turkish war of 1877 - which highlighted the plight of the Bulgarians under Ottoman rule - and effectively fired the starting gun for a series of negotiations, battles and wars in the Balkans culminating in the complexities of 1915. The Treaty was a classic ‘balance of power’ carve up by the great powers of Europe with the Ottomans. The autonomy of Bulgaria was recognised, as were sovereign states of Serbia, Montenegro and Romania. Turkey kept eastern Bulgaria (Rumelia) and Macedonia.
This was hardly a treaty likely to bring long term stability. Russia was respected by Bulgaria, but feared for her longstanding ambitions re Constantinople. Germany was feared by all for her eastern ambitions. Austria was hated by Serbia, disliked by Romania on account of Transylvania, and alternately wooed and disliked by Bulgaria. Greece was troubled by Russian ambitions for Mediterranean access and distrusted all the other Balkan groups. Finally Macedonia was the multi-ethnic powder keg sitting between the other states and providing the best access to the Aegean sea from the north. The only factor that united these players was their hatred of Turkey.
|The Balkan Patchwork of 1915, caught between the|
Ottoman Empire (Turkey) to the east and Austria-
Hungary to the west and north
(Adapted from The Great War. Vol 2, p743. WS Churchill)
From such a set of tensions arose the 1st Balkan (1912) and 2nd (1913) Balkan wars, and then of course the assassination at Sarajevo in June 1914 that triggered the whole global conflict.
Bulgaria entered formally into the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary on 5th October, following several weeks of increasing tension, denials and brinkmanship. In fact they signed a treaty of alliance and friendship with Germany in Sofia on 6th September, but attempted to conceal this. Further events during September came to the notice of the Allies - a treaty signed between Turkey and Bulgaria; and Bulgarian mobilisation - but they were too willing to accept the Bulgarian line that these were purely defensive moves. Bulgarian forces then began to assemble near to the Serbian border, and it seemed inevitable they would declare war. Serbia appealed to the Allies for support in a pre-emptive strike across the Bulgarian border, but Grey would not agree - a fateful decision. According to Buchan "we crowned our diplomatic error of the summer by a grave error in military judgement". Although there was some belated response, including mobilisation by Greece, and the landing of French and British forces at Salonika, Bulgaria was now in the war, and poised to take part in the annihilation of Serbia.