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11-08-2015, 16:01

Tensions in Eastern Europe

The Europe of the early twentieth century was marked by instability and unresolved conflicts. In the Balkans, the southeastern portion of the continent, three facts defined the overall situation. The Ottoman Empire's grip over this region, stretching back for five hundred years and slipping for the past century, now disappeared. The peoples of the region had won increased freedom from Turkish rule in the nineteenth century. The Balkan Wars of 1912-191*3 virtually eliminated the Turkish presence in Europe. Thus, the old order, long tottering, suddenly vanished. The second element was the historical tendency of Russia and Austria- Hungary (the Habsburg or Dual Empire) to compete for power and influence in the Balkans as Ottoman weakness presented the opportunity to do so. As Turkish power faded, Russian and Austrian ambitions collided over who would control, influence, or win over the newly independent or newly expanded nations of the Balkans: Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Rumania. A third element was the ethnic tensions of the region, which reached over international borders in the relationship between the small nation of Serbia and its giant neighbor to the north. Austria-Hungary at the start of the century included a collection of Slavic peoples, increasingly restless under the control of Germans in Vienna and Hungarians in Budapest. The existence of large numbers of ethnic Serbs within the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the ambitions of the Serbian government to bring these ethnic brothers "home" to the Serbian nation threatened to create an ethnic landslide. Viewing the prospect that the Dual Empire faced total destruction, Austrian leaders like Field Marshal Conrad von Hotzendorf, chief of the general staff, saw Serbia as a deadly enemy that somehow had to be erased from the map.