Published Date

September 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 43: The Balkans—Many Peoples, Many Problems (1944)

Few Americans understand the problems of the Balkans. It seems as if we were always hearing about Balkan assassinations, Balkan minorities, Balkan boundary disputes, and the rivalries of political, religious, and social groups in the Balkans. The whole peninsula seems to present such a crazy quilt of conflict that many of us may be inclined to give up in confusion. Yet, it is important that we should understand.

This pamphlet simplifies about as far as simplification is possible the complicated history of the Balkan peoples. It raises most of the basic Balkan questions which will cry for answers after the war.

A study of the pamphlet will reveal that you can use it as source material for several forum—lectures, panel discussions, or informal discussions, There are so many peoples, so much history, and so many problems involved that you would d0 well if possible to plan two or three meetings rather than just one. The following plans are suggested:

Three meetings. In the first meeting discuss the geographical and historical backgrounds which are outlined in Chapters I and II. These chapters make clear why so many different racial stocks, religious beliefs, language groups, and national rivalries are now to be found in Balkan nations and how the geographical position of these states has served to encourage conflict rather than peace between them. Devote the second meeting to Chapter III, “Other People’s Business.” This chapter tells the story of the breakup of the Turkish Empire and of the Balkan rivalries between the great powers of Europe. It describes the two Balkan Wars of this century and the World War I results in the Balkan Peninsula. For your third meeting use the material on World War II events (Chapter IV) and discuss the problems raised in Chapter V, “Looking to the Future.”

Two meetings. If you use this plan, you are advised to have one meeting that stresses the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and the results of World War I as discussed in Chapter III. In this meeting you would be obliged to omit all but the most cursory mention of the variety of peoples, religions, languages, and geography to be found in the peninsula. For the second meeting you would discuss events since 1940 and the problems of the future (Chapters IV and V).

One meeting. Study the ten questions for discussion given below. Make a selection of those that seem likely to be most interesting to your group. If there arc other questions that have occurred to you during your study of the pamphlet, add them to your list. It is obvious, however, that none of these questions can be discussed intelligently by persons without knowledge of background facts. Your next step in preparation then should be to ask three or four members of your group to read this pamphlet and be ready to give the necessary factual background for specific questions. The most practical and efficient way to organize a meeting such as this is to use the panel discussion method. Panel members serve as experts and carry on much of the discussion, but other persons at the meeting have their chance to ask questions and express opinions.

There are other ways of presenting Balkan problems to your group. You may prefer to study each country and its problems separately. You may like the idea of two or three meetings planned according to the one meeting plan suggested above.

Maps. No matter how you organize the subject matter or whether you use forum, panel, or informal discussion technique, be sure to use maps and charts. A roughly drawn, large copy of one map in the pamphlet will enable you to make clear easily and quickly the problems of Balkan geography, for example. (See page 5.) Wall maps, if available, are ideal of course.

Reading. If possible, make copies of this pamphlet available for preliminary reading by personnel who will attend your meeting. Place the copies in library, service club, day room, or other central spot for reading, and announce publicly when and where they may be found.

Discussion techniques. For techniques of organizing discussion groups and of conducting forums, panel discussions, etc., refer to EM 1, G. I. Roundtable: Guide for Discussion Leaders.


Questions for Discussion

  1. Will Balkan problems be solved by the defeat of the Axis and the elimination of German armies from the peninsula? Is it likely that wartime events and alignments will make for more trouble—or less trouble—in the Balkans after the war than before?
  2. What are the advantages offered by a confederation of Balkan nations? Do they outweigh the obstacles enough to make federation a practicable or probable solution?
  3. Is it possible to draw Balkan boundaries on the basis of self-determination. On linguistic, on historic, or on strategic lines? If there is no suitable and satisfactory way to draw boundaries, can their importance be minimized?
  4. What can be said for and against the resistance groups and their leaders in the various Balkan countries? Where do the farmers stand? Would solution of Balkan problems be helped if the people were better educated?
  5. Do you think the internal divisions between the rising popular movements and the old ruling cliques are likely to be healed or liquidated short of revolution?
  6. Is it reasonable to ask for peace in the Balkans unless there is peace among the greater nations? Do the strong nationalism of the Balkan peoples and their insistence on absolute sovereignty for each little nation make for peace or war?
  7. Is international cooperation any more or less important for solving Balkan problems than world problems? Should the Balkan countries lower their tariff walls and encourage freer trade among themselves? Why don’t they?
  8. To what extent are Balkan peoples dependent on each other and on larger nations for economic security? What are Soviet Russia’s interests and policies in the Balkans?
  9. How is the United States concerned in Balkan problems? How does the Atlantic Charter apply to the Balkans? What chance is there that the Four Freedoms can be realized in the Balkans?
  10. If the Balkan peoples were to be left entirely to themselves to find solutions of their problems, would they probably reach peaceful solutions or would they probably fall to fighting? Can they and should they be left entirely to themselves?