In such an environment, where potentially hostile countries are locked in an awkward balance of power, it often takes only a spark to set off a firestorm. Such was the case in 1908, when a major European crisis began to emerge in the Balkans, where the decline of Ottoman power had turned the region into a tinderbox of ethnic and religious tensions. The Bosnian crisis of 1908–1909 began a chain of events that eventually spun out of control. Since 1878, Bosnia and Herzegovina had been under the protection of Austria, but in 1908, Austria took the drastic step of annexing the two Slavic-speaking territories. Serbia was outraged at this action because it dashed the Serbs’ hopes of creating a large Serbian kingdom that would include most of the southern Slavs. But this possibility was precisely why the Austrians had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. The creation of a large Serbia would be a threat to the unity of their empire, with its large Slavic population. The Russians, desiring to increase their own authority in the Balkans, supported the Serbs, who then prepared for war against Austria. At this point, William II demanded that the Russians accept Austria’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina or face war with Germany. Weakened from their defeat in the Russo-JapaneseWar in 1904 –1905, the Russians backed down but privately vowed revenge. The crisis intensified in 1912 when Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece organized the Balkan League and defeated the Turks in the First Balkan War. When the victorious allies were unable to agree on how to divide the conquered Turkish provinces of Macedonia and Albania, a second conflict erupted in 1913. Greece, Serbia, Romania, and the Ottoman Empire attacked and defeated Bulgaria, which was left with only a small part of Macedonia. Most of the rest was divided between Serbia and Greece. Yet Serbia’s aspirations remained unfulfilled. The two Balkan wars left the inhabitants embittered and created more tensions among the great powers. By now Austria-Hungary was convinced that Serbia was a mortal threat to its empire and must at some point be crushed. Meanwhile, the French and Russian governments renewed their alliance and promised each other that they would not back down at the next crisis. Britain drew closer to France. By the beginning of 1914, two armed camps viewed each other with suspicion. The European “age of progress” was about to come to an inglorious and bloody end (see Map 4.1 on page 66).