The Balkan Wars: Reshaping the Map of South-Eastern Europe
ONE hundred years ago war was raging in Europe but almost everyone seems to have forgotten this. After the Ottoman defeat by the Italians in Libya, in autumn 1912 the Montenegrins, Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians allied to drive the Turks out of their remaining possessions in Europe. In the second Balkan war, in 1913, the Bulgarians, feeling cheated, fought the Serbs and the Greeks. The Romanians joined in, and the Ottomans got some territory back.
The wars cost perhaps 200,000 lives and reshaped the map of south-eastern Europe. They ushered in an era of ethnic cleansing and population exchanges, which saw millions lose their homes and ancient communities uprooted and dispersed. The two Balkan wars were also the overture of the first world war. The final spark that set the powder keg alight was the assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian imperial throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914.
Commemorations of the centenary in the region have been surprisingly low-key. In some places it did not occur to anyone to do anything, in others, such as Greece, which has had a few events, it is perhaps because there is not much money to do anything, although the Greeks are issuing two commemorative €100 gold coins.
The most high-profile event so far was a commemoration of the Battle of Kumanovo held on October 28th at Zebrnjak Hill. For the Serbs, the battle was pivotal. The Ottoman army was defeated and Serbia took what is today the modern state of Macedonia and Kosovo. By the ossuary of Serb soldiers who died there, a mass was served. Tomislav Nikolic, the Serbian president made, by his standards, a rather measured speech. He was flanked by Milorad Dodik, the president of the Serb half of Bosnia and the leader of a Serbian party from Montenegro.
“We are bringing back to our people the disputed legacy of our glorious past,” Mr Nikolic said, “We do not offend others, we are only restoring our self-esteem by insisting on the historical facts, defending their authentic idea of liberation.”
One man’s liberation is another man’s conquest. Many Macedonians saw the arrival of the Serbian Army as a new conquest and many Albanians were ethnically cleansed as the Serbian troops arrived.