Peoples, Many Problems
Contrary to a widespread
popular notion, the principal occupation of the Balkan peoples is not Raising
Enough of war,
massacre, intrigue, and general bloodshed has taken place there to give some color
to their reputation for violence, perhaps. But they are really no different from
other people in their dislike of war and their desire to raise their families
and work their land in peace and security. For most of the people who live in
the Balkan Peninsula are farmers—plain and poor and often unlettered small
to be sure, is an important maritime nation—Greek ships and sailors have
held a front rank in ocean commerce. But over 60 per cent of the seven million
people of Greece are small farmers and stock raisers.
are copper and lead and chrome mines in Yugoslavia, but 75 per cent of the sixteen
million Yugoslavs live on the farms.
has cotton mills and tobacco factories, and Romania has oil fields, refineries,
textile mills, and even some steel mills. But 80 per cent of the six and a half
million Bulgarians and the same proportion of the sixteen million Romanians are
the fifth Balkan state, Albania, hardly any industrial development has taken place—perhaps
90 per cent of the one million Albanians are farmers and stock raisers.
Balkan farmer may raise wheat in the fertile valleys of Romania, northeastern
Yugoslavia, and northern Bulgaria; or olives, fruit, and tobacco in peninsular
Greece and the Greek islands; or specialty crops like tobacco and roses for perfume
in southern Bulgaria. Or he may be chiefly engaged in sheep raising in the rugged
mountains of Albania, or pig raising in Yugoslavia. But whatever he raises, the
farmer is in the overwhelming majority throughout the Balkans.
To an American
used to measuring his fields in 40-acre lots or quarter sections or even larger
units, the average Balkan farm would seem incredibly small. It commonly ranges
from 1 or 2 to 10 or 15 acres. Rarely does it exceed the latter figure.
the fields of a Balkan farm seldom lie all together in one place. Usually each
farmer has several widely separated plots—a little good land in a valley,
some thin soil on a slope, or a stony patch up a mountainside. Perhaps one field
is able to produce wheat or corn or tobacco every other year or so, while another
may be good for barley or vetch. A third may be suitable for a vineyard, the fourth,
for a half-dozen or more olive trees, and so on.
American would also note with surprise the almost complete absence of isolated
farmhouses in the country. Balkan farmers regularly live grouped together in small
communities, hamlets, or villages, from which in the early mornings they stream
out in all directions to work their fields.
holding may be small, but the Balkan farmer, at least in Greece, Bulgaria, and
a large part of Yugoslavia, normally owns his land. He takes pride in his possession
of it and clings to it with tenacity. From it he makes his frugal living. Only
in Albania and Romania and parts of Yugoslavia is much of the land still owned
by large landholders. There the small farmers are to a great extent poverty-stricken
Peace: The Balkan Puzzle
the recent past the Balkan farmer has suffered from the effects of overpopulation,
land shortage, and bad communications. He hasn’t had enough capital to develop
the natural resources of his country. He will need long years of uninterrupted
security to solve his problems.
the Balkan farmer can raise his standard of living, or before the basic economic
ills of his region can be cured, there must be peace. Then new industrial establishments
may develop and absorb the excess rural population; and then those left on the
farms, who will still be a large majority, may learn new methods of intensive
may object that there can be no peace unless the economic problems are solved
first. It is true that peace probably will not last unless the agrarian
population is contented. But it is surely a counsel of despair to say that there
can be no hope for peace in the Balkans.
newspapers are full of Balkan news, much of it puzzling.
Mihailovich, who led the first Balkan guerrilla movement against the Axis, has
been crowded off the front page. He is charged with easing up against the Germans,
while a once mysterious figure named Tito is doing the fighting. He is said to
have been fighting Mihailovich too. Why?
King Carol of Romania wants to broadcast to the United States from Mexico City,
but there is a flood of protest and his speech is canceled. Why?
did King Boris of Bulgaria die suddenly in the summer of 1943 and why has his
capital, Sofia, now been partly destroyed? The Greeks are reported opposed to
the return of their king. Why, if that is true, don’t they want him back?
did the first World War start in the Balkans, and why didn’t this one? All
these questions and many others are in the air.
The Mountains and
The peoples of
the Balkans, being close to the land, have been molded by the character of the
region they live in. Perhaps we can better understand them, then, if we begin
by looking at the lay of the land.
of the Mediterranean peninsulas of Europe are cut off from the continent by lofty
mountain ranges: Spain by the Pyrenees and Italy by the Alps. Although no equally
high mountain range cuts off the third and most easterly peninsula, the Balkan,
it is largely composed of rugged mountains.
Danube River, which is sometimes thought of as the northern geographical boundary,
actually seems to link the Balkans with central Europe via the Hungarian plain.
Romania, which lies almost wholly north of the Danube, is regularly included among
the Balkan countries. And Hungary, because it is a Danubian country, and because
it has controlled and asserts claims to territories inhabited by Yugoslavs and
Romanians, is sometimes considered Balkan too.
you look at a map of Europe, you can see that the Balkan Peninsula really consists
of a broad northern section and the narrower southern peninsula of Greece, thrusting
its irregular coast line into the Mediterranean. Despite its long seacoasts, washed
by the Adriatic on the west and the Black Sea on the east, the wide northern portion
of the Balkans is in general not maritime—partly because in the west the
mountains run along the coast, with few seaports and few passages inland.
on the other hand, is essentially a Mediterranean country, and depends for its
very existence on shipping and sea-borne commerce. This difference between the
two parts of the peninsula helps set Greece somewhat apart from her neighbors.
word “Balkan” means “mountain” in Turkish, and the mountains
are perhaps the most distinctive physical feature of the region. In Romania; the
Carpathians bend west and become the Transylvanian Alps. The same mountain fold
then swings around a great reverse curve like a backward “S” and runs
east all the way to the Black Sea. This last range is the Balkan Mountains.
At the curve, where the Balkan range begins, the Danube flows through a gap in
the mountain wall at the bottom of a famous and picturesque gorge called the “Iron
Adriatic side of the peninsula a series of mountain ranges parallels the coast,
from the Julian Alps in the far northwestern corner down through the Dinaric Alps
in Yugoslavia and the Pindus Mountains in Greece. Between these two main ranges
on the west and in the east there is a large central highland, also very mountainous,
that covers southern Yugoslavia and almost all of southern Bulgaria.
mountain chains and their many spurs cut the peninsula up into more or less isolated
regions. Partly because of the difficulties of getting from valley to valley,
many differences have developed between the various Balkan peoples, even within
the populations of each of the states.
The Balkan Bridge
they cut up the area into isolated sections, the mountains of the Balkans provide
no great barrier to through traffic. Two main avenues of passage, furrows between
the mountain chains, make the peninsula a sort of bridge between Europe and Asia,
over which, since time began, forces of conquest have streamed in both directions.
Armies have marched, fought, and disappeared—Romans, Byzantine Greeks, Goths,
Huns, Slavs, Crusaders, Turks, Venetians, the French, Austrians, Russians, Italians,
railroads follow these two historic passageways. One avenue runs north and south.
The Allied armies in World. War I produced a major German defeat by marching north
along this route from Salonika, up the Vardar River Valley across the watershed
and down the Morava River Valley to Nish and Belgrade. In the present war, the
Germans have sadly admitted that they lost the North African campaign partly because
Yugoslav guerrillas so often cut the Belgrade-Nish-Salonika railroad, which was
carrying supplies to be shipped across the Mediterranean to Rommel’s army.
other avenue runs east and west—between Nish and Istanbul via Sofia and
Adrianople (Edirne). Nish, which is on both roads, is a vital junction. It has
often been a target for Allied bombers.
their passage across the Balkans, conquering armies have left the debris of many
civilizations and different cultures. But the Balkan Peninsula can be thought
of as more than a physical and military bridge between Europe and the Near East.
It has also been a battleground of rival cultures, political systems, religions,
and imperial powers. The peoples who live in the Balkans have inherited the experience
of many centuries of war and oppression.
The Long Story of Differences