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10-08-2015, 15:23

The Ottoman Empire and Nationalism in the Balkans

Like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire was threatened by the rising nationalist aspirations of its subject peoples. Beginning in the fourteenth century, the Ottoman Turks had expanded from their base in the Anatolian peninsula and expanded into the Balkans, southern Russia, and along the northern coast of Africa. Soon they controlled the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea. But by the nineteenth century, corruption and inefficiency had gradually weakened the once powerful empire so that only the interference of the great European powers, who were fearful of each other’s designs in the area, kept it alive. But the emotional appeal of nationhood gradually began to make inroads among the various ethnic and linguistic groups in southeastern Europe. In the course of the nineteenth century, the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire began to gain their freedom, although the intense rivalry in the region between Austria-Hungary and Russia complicated the process. Serbia had already received a large degree of autonomy in 1829, although it remained a province of the Ottoman Empire until 1878. Greece became an independent kingdom in 1830 after a successful revolt. By the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, Russia received a protectorate over the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, but was forced to give them up after the Crimean War. In 1861, they were merged into the state of Romania. Not until Russia’s defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1878, however, was Romania recognized as completely independent, along with Serbia at the same time. Although freed from Turkish rule, Montenegro was placed under an Austrian protectorate, and Bulgaria achieved autonomous status under Russian protection. The other Balkan territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina were placed under Austrian protection; Austria could occupy but not annex them. Despite these gains, the force of Balkan nationalism was by no means stilled. Meanwhile, other parts of the empire began to break away from central control. In Egypt, the ambitious governor Muhammed Ali declared the region’s autonomy from Istanbul and initiated a series of reforms designed to promote economic growth and government efficiency. During the 1830s, he sought to improve agricultural production and reform the educational system, and he imported machinery and technicians from Europe to carry out the first industrial revolution on African soil. In the end, however, the effort failed, partly because Egypt’s manufactures could not compete with those of Europe and also because much of the profit from the export of cash crops went into the hands of conservative landlords. Measures to promote industrialization elsewhere in the empire had even less success. By mid-century, a small industrial sector, built with equipment imported from Europe, took shape, and a modern system of transport and communications began to make its appearance. By the end of the century, however, the results were meager.