Peoples, Many Problems
Long Story of Differences
Albanians sometimes claim to be the oldest people in the peninsula. They have
certainly been there at least since Greek and Roman times. They speak a language
of their own, somewhat related to ancient Latin. It has been put into written
form only in recent times. Inside Albania more than 90 per cent of the population
is Albanian. Many Albanians also live in Yugoslavia, Greece, and even in southern
occupied the southern end of the peninsula since a thousand years before the birth
of Christ. It was here that they created classical civilization and the world’s
everybody agrees that the poets, playwrights, and philosophers, the architects
and the sculptors of ancient Greece were superb in their lines. The many fine
examples of their work that have been preserved to the present day compare favorably
in beauty and soundness with anything the human race has since produced. During
the intervening centuries Greece has absorbed many invaders. These have left their
mark, but in essentials the people and the language of modern Greece are much
the same as those of ancient Greece.
many of our most advanced ideas and practices in modern democracy came from the
ancient Greeks, they, like all later peoples, had difficulty in getting along
with their neighbors. The city-states in which they lived fought constantly with
one another. Partly for this reason the Greeks were conquered in the fourth century
B.C. by their far less advanced and cultivated kinsmen—the Macedonians.
The Macedonian Empire, which Alexander the Great carried all the way to India,
in turn dissolved before the forces of Rome in the second century B.C. And several
hundred years after the Romans had conquered Greece, whose literature and art
they loved and imitated, barbarian Germanic tribes swept down upon the Roman Empire
and contributed to its slow decline during the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.
Rhine-Danube line was essentially the farthest limit of the Roman Empire in Europe.
But for a couple of centuries the Romans held an outpost north of the Danube,
which they called Dacia. Modern Dacia still proudly calls itself “Romania”—land
of the Romans. The modern Romanians claim descent from the Roman soldiers and
colonists of Dacia, a claim disputed by their enemies. It is borne out to some
extent, however, by the fact that the Romanian language is a Latin tongue, based
on the language the Romans spoke. It is related to modern Italian, French, Spanish,
and Portuguese, although full of Slavic and Turkish words.
Rome fell, the Empire had acquired a second center at Byzantium, whose Christian
name was Constantinople. The common name for it was “The City,”
a Greek phrase which the Turks have kept and modified as “Istanbul.”
There, for a thousand years after Rome itself had fallen and its Empire in the
West had disappeared, the Eastern Roman Empire continued to rule. This Eastern
or Byzantine Empire included the Balkan Peninsula. Greek was its language, and
its laws and customs reflected Greek, Roman, and Oriental influences, since Byzantium
was a gateway between East and West.
tribes began to move into the Balkan part of the Byzantine Empire about 570–700
A.D. The Slavs are a people whose original home is now thought to have been in
the region of the Pripet marshes between Russia and Poland. Squeezed between Germanic
peoples pressing from the north and west, and Asiatic peoples pushing from the
east, some of the Slavs flowed southward into the Balkan Peninsula. It was an
infiltrating movement rather than an invasion; its farthest spearheads penetrated
and were absorbed into the Greek population.
Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes are the present-day descendants of these migrant Slavs.
They are collectively known as Yugoslavs, that is, South Slavs.
The northern Slavic groups, also descended from the same original source, include
the Russians, Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks. They all speak related Slavic languages
and are more or less conscious of their common ancestry.
Bulgarians got their name from the Bulgars, an Asiatic Tartar tribe which arrived
in the seventh century. The newcomers were gradually absorbed into the Slavic
population and took over its Slavic language.
during the Middle Ages the Bulgarians founded powerful states which were put down
only at great cost by the Byzantines. Once the Serbs did the same. The important
fact today about these medieval empires is that at different times they controlled
much of the same territory. The modern Serbs and Bulgars (like other Balkan peoples,
and like the Hungarians) have persistently claimed for their present dominion
all the territory ruled over by these remote ancestors of theirs. So they have
often claimed the same areas. It has been said that all Balkan territorial claims
are just—if you go back to the right place in history. Balkan boundary disputes
today would be far less serious were it not for the clashing memories of these
other people, the Vlachs, should be mentioned now to complete the confusing picture.
The Vlachs are wandering herdsmen or nomads who live in the mountainous regions
of the peninsula and form a more or less important minority in all the Balkan
countries except Albania. Their language is a dialect of Romanian and they are
closely akin to the Romanians. Their name survives in the Romanian province of
Wallachia, where Bucharest is located.
Christians of Two Churches
Greeks belonged to the Mediterranean world, and thus were Christianized within
the first few centuries after Christ. The rest of the Balkan peoples remained
pagans of various sorts until Christian missionaries were sent to convert them
during the Middle Ages.
the Byzantine or Orthodox Christian church quarreled with and split from the Roman
or Catholic church in 1054, most of the Balkan peoples followed Byzantium and
remained Orthodox. Only in the west of the peninsula, the Croat and Slovene peoples
and a few Albanians were near enough to Italy to fall under Western influence
and follow Rome. Thus, the Greeks, the Bulgars, the Romanians, the Serbs, and
some Albanians are today Orthodox, while some Albanians, the Croats, and Slovenes
are Roman Catholic. Orthodox priests may marry, while Catholic priests may not,,
and there are many other differences between the faiths.
Catholic-Orthodox split is most important in modern Yugoslavia, where there has
often been bad feeling between the Orthodox Serbs and the Roman Catholic Croats.
Although the Serbs and Croats speak the same language, the Serbs write it in an
alphabet like the Russian, called Cyrillic, while the Croats use the Latin alphabet,
like ours. The Slovene language is much like Serbo-Croatian and is also written
in Latin script.
many centuries Byzantium stood as a buffer for Europe against the East. It held
off the Persians and the Arabs. Later, when the Turks appeared from central Asia,
it held them off too, for a time. But in 1453 the Turks took Constantinople (Byzantium)
and went on to conquer nearly all the Balkans, which they had begun to penetrate
Turks were—and are—Moslems, followers of the prophet Mohammed and
believers in the religion known as Islam. They were a curious mixture of cruel
conquerors and tolerant rulers. They permitted their Christian subjects to worship
as they wished, but to a great extent denied them economic, social, and political
opportunities. The only sure way to obtain political power and other privileges
was to become a Moslem.
of the people in the Balkans stayed Christian; a great many Albanians, however,
became Moslems, and today 70 per cent of the population of Albania is of that
faith. In a part of Yugoslavia too—the provinces called Bosnia and Herzegovina—some
of the native Serb population became Moslems. So today in the heart of the Orthodox
regions of Yugoslavia there is a sizable Moslem population of Serbian blood. There
are also some Turkish Moslems in Yugoslavia. Bulgaria too has both Slavic and
Turkish Moslems. The Turks who used to live in Greece were almost all exchanged
after 1923 for Greeks living in Turkey.
Turkish conquest took place gradually. The Christian populations fought it, and
the national heroes of the Balkan peoples were all fighters against the Turks.
The anniversary of the great Serb defeat at Kossovo in 1389 is still the national
holiday, and Kossovo is the Serb historic shrine. Skanderbeg, who battled the
Turks a century later, has become the great hero of the Albanians. The infant
son of the present exiled King Zog is named for him.
past and the fight against the Turks seem very close everywhere in the Balkans,
but nowhere more so than in Montenegro, now part of Yugoslavia, but for five hundred
years a tiny independent state. On their rocky highlands the Serb Orthodox inhabitants
of Montenegro fought for centuries against the Turk and kept their freedom.
of the Balkans began with the conquest of Macedonia and Thessaly shortly before
1400. Thereafter for a little more than five hundred years the Turks dominated
the Balkan Peninsula in whole or in part. A small corner of it is still Turkish.
the first half of this period the Turkish sultans were mostly vigorous and able
men. They fought war after war and spent most of their time extending the Ottoman
Empire in all directions. Their armies overran the plains of Hungary and even
reached the gates of Vienna. Their navies sailed the Mediterranean as far west
peoples in the Balkans were harshly treated. The upper classes and the leaders
among the subject peoples were systematically killed off. Good lands were confiscated
by the sultan and distributed among his faithful officers. The small farmers were
reduced to impoverished peasant-laborers and serfs, obliged to contribute personal
service to the landholders.
non-Moslems had to pay a special head tax, and once every four years the sultan’s
agents went through the Christian villages seizing one-fifth of all boys between
the ages of six and nine. The strongest and most intelligent were chosen. They
were taken into the corps of Janissaries—the standing army. For two hundred
years, until it was abolished in 1676, this practice was one of the chief hardships
inflicted on the Christians. Under such oppressive measures as these the subject
races were almost destroyed.
The Turkish Grip Loosens
the second half of the period of Turkish domination, however, the lot of the Christians
in the Balkans gradually improved. Turkish power, especially after the failure
to capture Vienna in 1683, began to decline. The sultans were frequently weaklings
who devoted themselves to oriental luxury and extravagance, neglecting their armies
by little the outlying provinces of the empire were whittled away. Strong competition
made itself felt even in the eastern Mediterranean and by 1700 the Venetians succeeded
in establishing a firm foothold in southern Greece and the Aegean Islands.
the central government was beginning to break down. As a result, some local self-government,
within certain limitations, again developed in the Christian towns and villages
and was not put down by the Turks. A few communities, by paying fixed tributes,
got some advantages and liberties for themselves.
Turks pulled out more and more from active participation in administrative work.
They regarded it as they did commerce and other business—something unworthy
of Moslems. Cash payments took the place of personal service and the sale of offices
Christians, especially the Greeks, took advantage of the opportunities offered
them. They entered increasingly into the administrative and commercial careers
now opening to them. This led in time to a lightening of the crushing conditions
of living. A gradual revival of education brought with it a growth of national
feeling. Contacts with Western civilization and liberal ideas also helped to stimulate
a desire for political liberty in the Balkan peoples.
Most of the fighting
that gave the Balkans their reputation for disorder really goes back to the struggles
of the various peoples for freedom from the Turks. Those struggles occupied the
whole of the nineteenth century and were not finally won until 1913. One by one
the Balkan countries began to emerge as separate states; weak, at first, and with
only a small part of the territory they aimed to liberate.
Montenegrins, who never submitted to the Turks, had always managed to keep at
least a tiny part of their almost inaccessible mountains free. In 1918 they joined
with their Slavic kinsmen as part of Yugoslavia, but they still cherish proud
memories of their record in resisting Moslem conquest.
The first of the subject peoples to
break away from Turkish misrule were the Serbs. The laxity of Turkish administration
had enabled many of the Serbian peasants to acquire considerable property. Though
illiterate and uneducated they formed a substantial class of well-to-do farmers.
But Turkish troops that the central government could not control carried out organized
robbery, massacre, and oppression. They made living conditions so intolerable
that all who could find arms joined in the fight for liberation.
revolt began in 1804 under the leadership of George Petrovich known as Karageorge,
or Black George, a sturdy, wealthy farmer and pig raiser who became a national
hero. He was the direct ancestor of the present King Peter of Yugoslavia who still
bears the family name, Karageorgevich. Karageorge, after ten years and more of
fighting, was himself slain by treachery, and Milosh Obrenovich, member of a rival
Serbian dynasty, became hereditary prince.
new state of Serbia was small and backward. The government was autocratic and
far from perfect. But it was better than Turkish rule and it set about providing
education for some of the people at least. The Serbs slowly increased their power
and the size of their country as the Turkish Empire continued to crumble.
The next people to shake off Turkish
domination were the Greeks. They too had already, in fairly large numbers, improved
their economic lot and obtained a good deal of influence and power. As they prospered
in shipping and trade they had become known throughout the Mediterranean and were
being employed more and more by the Turks in important administrative and political
offices. Through the Patriarchate in Constantinople they had supreme jurisdiction
over the Christian church not only in the Balkans but in all Turkish territory.
They were also able to maintain schools in some places and the educated elements
kept national consciousness alive.
majority of the people were small farmers many of whom had in effect acquired
ownership of their lands. Although their towns and villages were allowed some
degree of local self-government, the general conditions of life under Turkish
maladministration were still unbearable to free-minded men.
Greeks therefore revolted in 1821. After eight years of war with many ups and
downs, and with some useful help from England, France, and Russia, they won their
independence. Lord Byron, one of England’s great romantic poets, died in
Greece in 1824 while helping the Greeks in their struggle. Many other friends
of Greece from the liberal Western countries also gave valuable help.
new state, organized as a kingdom, was first allowed to hold only a small part
of the territory inhabited by Greeks; but like Serbia, it grew in strength and
size during the nineteenth century.
The successful outcome of the Greek Revolution led to a considerable improvement
of living conditions in Romania—where indeed the first Greek revolt had
started in 1821 only to be speedily crushed. Harsh treatment of the Romanian peasants
was somewhat eased and more local self-rule was permitted. The two provinces of
Moldavia and Wallachia were put under the authority of governors chosen from the
Romanian aristocracy which still survived. These “princes” often purchased
their appointments and usually looked out for themselves first and then for the
interests of the sultan or of the Russian or Austrian emperors. They gave little
attention to the needs and wishes of the common people.
sovereignty lasted in Romania until 1856, when the two principalities united and
asserted their independence. In 1881 Romania became a kingdom, and its German
prince, related to the German imperial family, was established on the throne as
Charles I. The exiled King Carol and his son, the present King Michael, are descendants
of that first king. In the course of the years Romania, too, consolidated her
position, and added a substantial amount of neighboring territory to the lands
she originally possessed.
Bulgaria. The Bulgarians were slow to express
and to achieve a national desire for liberty. The success of the neighboring states
in winning independence did not leave them unaffected, however. Some stirrings
of national feeling had already appeared, before the first important gain came
in 1870. The Turkish sultan, pleased with the chance to split his Orthodox subjects,
authorized the Bulgarians to secede from the Patriarchate in Constantinople and
to establish their own church under a Bulgarian primate called the Exarch. The
new church became an important factor in the growth of nationalism.
revolt against the Turks flared up in 187 and ultimately led to sympathetic Russian
intervention and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. When peace was made in 1878 almost
complete self-rule was allowed in two Bulgarian principalities. Through British
and Austrian influence they were much reduced in size as compared with the Russian
plan for a “‘Greater Bulgaria.” In 1886 real independence was
won when the two principalities were united into a single kingdom under a German
prince who took the throne as King Ferdinand. The late King Boris was his son,
and the present regency governs in the name of his infant grandson, Prince Simeon.
Albania. The Albanians were the last of the
Balkan peoples to be freed from Turkish sovereignty. They were famous for their
bravery as officers and soldiers in the sultan’s armies and as guerrilla
fighters, and they were noted for their individualism and their resistance to
authority. But they were so split up at home by internal feuds, by religious and
other differences, that they were unable to unite in a movement for
liberty. Their number was also far too small to give them any real prospect of
success against the Turkish Empire.
landowning Moslems were well to do and arrogant, while the masses of the Albanian
people were mere unlettered tillers of the soil, little better than serfs. Finally,
in 1913 after the Balkan Wars, independence came as a gift from the European powers.
In a compromise settlement of their own rivalries they set up the tiny state
of Albania as a monarchy under a German princeling who took the title Bret
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