The Balkans - 1878 to 1894
Stefan Stojakovic; Europe's Bloody Borderlands - A History of the Balkans: Routledge
Ottoman Bulgaria after the War of 1877
Following the victory of the Ottoman army in 1877, many in the Ottoman Empire and beyond expected that tensions Balkans would dampen, at least for the time being. These expectations would prove to be erroneous, however. Certainly in the first few years following the shock of the Russian defeat, nationalist movements had been dealt a blow, but most chose to see this as a temporary setback rather than a permanent change in the situation. In Bulgaria, where an uprising had precipitated the events which led to war in the first place, the secret societies and nationalist movements which had headed the uprisings still plotted against the Ottoman government. Stefan Stambolov, a Bulgarian revolutionary and poet, as well as the new head of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, told his followers that “the hour of our liberation will come, perhaps later than we may have hoped, but it will come”. Although in the wake of the catastrophe of 1877 this appeared to be little more than wishful thinking, by the middle of the 1880s the BRCC and other organizations opposed to the continued Ottoman rule in Bulgaria were increasingly active once again.
If the existence of anti-Ottoman agitation in Bulgaria had not changed in the wake of the War of 1877, then its nature did. The Bulgarians had seen some victories prior to 1877, with the most notable one being the creation of a separate Bulgarian Exarchate, which was a significant recognition of the unique position of Bulgarians in the Empire and turned the main antagonist of Bulgarian Nationalism from the Greeks to the Turks. This had turned into an armed uprising in 1876, following the example of peasants in Herzegovina who had revolted against the Ottoman authorities the year before. However, the Turks were able to crush the poorly prepared April Uprising with ease, with the brutal suppression of the rebellion leading to the war of 1877 itself. For the duration of this war, the influence of Bulgarian revolutionaries was minimal, with much of the fighting being done by Russian soldiers. The subsequent failure of the Russian invasion of Bulgaria was sobering to the Bulgarian revolutionaries, who saw that even great power intervention was not sufficient to push the Ottomans out of Bulgaria. Therefore, in the aftermath of the war, the revolutionaries began to explore different ideas about how best to achieve an independent Bulgaria.
By the mid-1880s, a revised national program had been articulated by the BRCC and many of the other revolutionary organizations. This program was expressed in the slogan Svoboda, Zemya, Mir, or Freedom, Land, Peace. The BRCC expressed the view that liberation from the Ottoman Empire would also have to be accompanied by liberal reforms, land redistribution, and efforts to ensure the safety of the countryside, threatened as it was by Muslim and Christian bandits alike. The BRCC had also begun to change its tactics when it came to armed conflict with the Ottoman authorities. Instead of the April Uprising, in which Bulgarian revolutionaries had revolted in the hope that other sympathetic Bulgarians would join them, they would instead aim to build a more substantial movement before any uprising . In the meantime, the BRCC attempted a campaign of assassinations and ambushes against Ottoman officials and troops. Although these activities tended to be limited in the 1880s, by the 1890s the campaign had intensified. Even the Danube Vilayet, which had been considered a “model” province following reforms by Midhat Paşa, became notorious as a dangerous posting for civil servants.
The Ottoman response to this campaign was characteristically clumsy. Sultan Abdülhamid fulminated against the “vermin” who were undermining his government in Bulgaria, but there were few effective options to counter the revolutionaries. The Ottoman Army proved to be ineffectual at counter-insurgency work, often creating more sympathy for the Bulgarian Revolutionaries with their heavy-handed responses to revolutionary activity. The Ottoman secret police saw somewhat more success, at one point almost capturing Stambolov (who subsequently fled to Romania), though even they could only do so much to suppress the revolutionaries, nor did they ever seem to fully comprehend just how much the Bulgarian revolutionary movement grew in the 1880s/90s. Although the Ottomans were able to create some semblance of order within Bulgaria, there was nevertheless the feeling amongst both the Ottomans themselves as well as foreign observers that the hope of turning Bulgaria into a loyal and quiet part of the empire was a futile one. British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury lamented that “the death of the Turkish Empire in Europe was merely postponed by her previous victory…the rot has set in so deeply in all levels of the Turkish administration that we shall one day have to prepare for the day when it collapses under its own weight”. Bulgarians such as Stambolov looked eagerly to this day.
The Independent Balkan States
The one achievement of Serbia and Romania during the War of 1877 had been the attainment of formal independence. Although both had seen their ties with the Porte weaken for decades prior to the war, this formal separation was nevertheless an important step in the establishment of both nation-states. However, besides this gain, both countries had little to show for their considerable efforts. Serbia had launched two wars against the Ottomans prior to the War of 1877 and had received only two stinging defeats. Wisely she had stayed out of the Russian invasion of Bulgaria, though much of the damage had already been done. For the time being it appeared as though expansion at the cost of the Ottomans was unrealistic in light of their surprisingly good performance in 1877. Despite this, many in Serbia, particularly the Radicals, still saw territorial expansion as both desirable and inevitable to fulfill Serbia’s national destiny.
Serbia was ruled by Prince Milan, an exceptionally unpopular ruler who was infamous for many qualities including his philandering, corruption, and fecklessness. His promotion to king in 1882 changed little about his internal position, which now saw itself challenged by the newly formed Radical Party under Nikola Pašić. The Radicals condemned the ineptness of Milan’s rule and called for reforms within Serbia to strengthen the state and increase the representation of the peasantry (who made up most of Serbia’s population) in Serbian politics. Milan’s unpopularity and weakening position eventually led to him promulgating the constitution of 1888, which established a real parliamentary system for the first time and saw the Radicals sweep to power. Despite the setback, Milan still intended to rule. He was supported by the Austrians, but his position was made difficult by the disregard shown by the Austrians toward Serbia, as well as the natural Russophile tendencies of most Serbs. Dismissing the country as a land of “illiterate pig farmers”, the Austrians imposed high tariffs on Serbian products entering Austria, preventing any impulses toward industrialization in the already backward country, though this Austrian support did sometimes have its advantages. It was Austrian aid that had prevented Serbian financial collapse following the Bontoux affair. Milan’s authoritarianism caused conflict with the Radicals, who wanted to further involve the peasantry in the politics of Serbia, and who also wanted to avoid aligning too closely with the Habsburgs, who ruled millions of Serbian and South Slavic subjects.
If Serbia’s position following the War of 1877 can be described as “difficult”, then Romania was in an even worse position. As a reward for allowing her country to be used as a road for the Russian army to outflank Ottoman fortresses in Dobruja, Romania had southern Bessarabia stripped from her by the great powers to placate Russia in the wake of her defeat. To say that this infuriated Romanians would be something of an understatement. Although Prince Charles of Romania had finally thrown off the shackles of vassal status to the Ottomans, 1877 was seen as a disaster by most Romanians, who saw Russia’s actions as nothing less than a betrayal. In 1881 the Romanians aligned themselves with Austria-Hungary after similar overtures to Germany had been rebuffed, signing a secret alliance with them. However, this was mainly in order to gain some measure of protection, as any hopes of recovering the territory that had been lost to Russia seemed slim in light of official Austro-Russian cooperation in the Dreikaiserbund formed by Bismarck.
Likewise, Greece found herself in an undesirable position. Greece had grand ambitions, seeking to create a state that encompassed all Greeks (millions of whom still lived within the Ottoman Empire) but Greece was devoid of the resources necessary to sustain such an ambitious program of expansion. Greece’s agricultural sector was backward and there was little industry to speak of. She had owed enormous debts to the Western powers since her birth, and indeed by 1891, Greece was bankrupt due to this burden. Only remittances from Greek emigrants in America kept her balance of payments in a satisfactory position. Much more has been written about the state of the Greek economy elsewhere, but to say that her position may have been the worst amongst the Balkan states doesn’t appear to be an overstatement.
This national malaise was felt by those in positions of power. Greece’s dominant political figure of the era was Charilaos Trikoupis, who was prime minister six times between 1875 and 1897, Trikoupis believed that a system of ambitious reforms to transform all aspects of Greece and its society was required to secure what was seen as Greece’s rightful place. His administration aimed to improve Greece’s infrastructure first and foremost, and he encouraged the building of roads and railways to modernize the country. These expenditures did little to help the financial situation of the Greek government however, borrowing even greater sums of money and doubling taxes, both of which were not able to save Greece from bankruptcy. With such a perilous financial situation, it was imprudent for Greece to engage in adventurism, though the consideration of internal politics meant that the Greek government had to pay attention to events within the Ottoman Empire. On the island of Crete, unrest amongst the Greek population of the island had become an important cause for many Greeks following the Cretan revolt of 1866. There had also been the long-standing concept of the “Megali Idea”, or a Greek State which encompassed all Greek people, including those who lived in Anatolia.
 - As I understand it, there is some controversy over the thesis that uprisings on the parts of the Christians of the empire committed to uprisings to gain the attention of the foreign powers.
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Author's notes - The most significant effect of the POD so far for the Balkans is that the existing Balkan nations have not been able to seize territories needed in their programs of national "revival". This is especially bad for Greece as in OTL, some of her best territories were in Thessaly. In Bulgaria, things would get interesting. In my previous timeline, the Bulgarians just kind of sat down and shut up, which in retrospect doesn't seem too likely. The direction of the Bulgarian Nationalists after 1877 has taken some inspiration from the IMRO of OTL. So let's see what happens in the future.