ALREADY HEMMED in on two sides by France and Russia, the Germans were dismayed to see Great Britain join their rivals. They feared that they would be surrounded by unfriendly powers and they decided to test the Entente Cordiale. They were anxious to find out how strong it was and how far Great Britain would go in backing up its new ally. The place they chose for the showdown was Morocco, where the French, now with the approval of the British, were policing large areas and taking over territory and rights. So, in March of 1905, a German warship suddenly appeared off the Moroccan port of Tangier. Kaiser Wilhelm came ashore and made a speech. He startled his listeners by declaring that Morocco ought to be an independent country.
When the diplomats of the world heard of this speech they guessed what the kaiser was up to. He did not really care whether or not the French stayed in Morocco. He was simply trying to break up the new understanding between France and Great Britain. Events soon showed that the diplomats were right. Germany summoned the European powers and the United States to a conference, to discuss Morocco’s future. The conference met in 1906, in the Spanish city of Algeciras, but instead of supporting Germany‚ all the powers except Austria-Hungary sided with France. In the end, Germany’s attempts break the Entente only made it stronger. Even before the Algeciras conference was over, French and British Generals and admirals were planning the joint defense of their countries.
In 1911 came a second Moroccan crisis, when the German gunboat Panther anchored in the port of Agadir. The Germans said they were merely protecting their interests, but it was soon clear that they intended a kind of international blackmail. They said they would make no more trouble in Morocco if they could have the French Congo, France agreed to give Germany a slice of its huge equatorial colony and the Panther sailed away.
Meanwhile, a series of minor crises had broken out in the Balkans. The Balkan Peninsula, at the southeastern corner of Europe, was mountainous and wild. Its rugged people, mostly poor peasants, yearned to be free and their struggles against their Austro-Hungarian and Turkish overlords kept the region in a turmoil. The situation in the Balkans at the start of the twentieth century was extremely confused. Although the Ottoman Empire was steadily becoming weaker, it still held a band of territory from Constantinople westward to the Adriatic Sea. South of this band was independent Greece. North of it were Bulgaria — Ottoman in name, but self – governing and independent Rumania. West of Bulgaria was the landlocked kingdom of Serbia, and west of Serbia the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
This territory, usually called simply Bosnia, supposedly belonged to Turkey, but had been occupied by Austria-Hungary since 1878. North of Bosnia, within the Austro-Hungarian empire, lay Croatia and Slovenia. The Serbs, Bosnians, Croats and Slovenes were all Slavs. They spoke one language, with slight differences, although the Serbs and Bosnians used the same written alphabet as the Russians while the Croats and Slovenes used the Roman alphabet of western Europe. With the spread of Pan-Slavism and the growth of national feeling, the four peoples came to think of themselves as one. They called themselves South Slavs, or Yugoslavs.
By 1900, Yugoslav nationalists were convinced that the Austro-Hungarian government would never let them manage their own affairs and Serbia, which was already independent, became the center of South Slav agitation. Bosnians, Croats and Slovenes resolved to take their lands out of the empire and join them to Serbia in a large Yugoslav nation and the whole South Slav region seethed with discontent. Then, in 1908, several important things happened. In Constantinople, the Turkish reformers, called Young Turks, finally broke Abdul Hamid’s stranglehold on the Ottoman government. In St. Petersburg, the Czar’s government, its hopes in the Far East ruined by its defeat in the Russo-Japanese war, turned its full attention to Turkey and the Balkans.
On seizing power, the Young Turks forced the aged sultan to call a parliament. Determined to keep the Ottoman Empire from crumbling any further, they made sure that delegates from Bosnia and Bulgaria would sit in the new assembly. This worried both the Russians and the Austro-Hungarians. The Russians, as always, wanted Constantinople. The Austro-Hungarians wanted to annex Bosnia outright and thereby smash the Yugoslavs’ hopes for independence. If the Young Turks succeeded in strengthening the Ottoman Empire, it was plain that Russia would never get Constantinople and Austria-Hungary would never get Bosnia.
So its two enemies, Russia and Austria-Hungary, secretly plotted to act together against their common enemy, Turkey. They agreed to call a conference of the powers. At the conference, Russia would support Austria-Hungary’s grab of Bosnia. In return Austria-Hungary would support Russia’s demand that Turkey allow Russian warships to pass freely through the Straits — the Bosporus and the Dardanelles — to the Mediterranean but, before the conference was called Austria-Hungary acted on its own and annexed Bosnia. This infuriated the Serbs. It also infuriated the Russian people, who knew nothing of their diplomats’ secret deal. All they knew was that their brother Slavs in Bosnia and Serbia had been badly treated by the Austro-Hungarians.
Also in 1908, Bulgaria became fully independent and the island of Crete, in the Mediterranean, broke away from the Ottoman Empire to join Greece. Russia failed to achieve its aims in Constantinople and the Straits. Its Triple Entente partners, France and Great Britain, refused their support and the international conference was never called.
So passed the first major Balkan crisis and it left much bitterness behind it. The Turks were embittered by the loss of still more territory. The Russians were embittered by their own failure and the success of their Austro-Hungarian rivals. The Serbs were embittered by the annexation of Bosnia and South Slav agitation against Austria-Hungary became even more feverish.
In 1911, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire and quickly seized Tripoli, in North Africa and the Dodecanese Islands, off Turkey itself. Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece soon joined forces in their own war against Turkey. The Turks were soon defeated, but the Bulgarians demanded more territory than the Serbs would let them have. As a result, the first Balkan War of 1912 was followed by a second one in 1913 when Serbia, Greece, Rumania and Turkey defeated Bulgaria.
Another source of trouble was Albania, a wild mountainous region on the Adriatic whose people were Moslems. It was a Turkish province, but the Serbs occupied parts of it during both Balkan Wars and the Greeks also claimed a part of it. Moreover, it had been vaguely promised to Italy in 1878, when the powers had met in Berlin to carve up the Ottoman Empire.
The landlocked Serbs were determined to get Albania because it would give them a seacoast; the Austro-Hungarians were just as determined not to let them have it. The Russians supported the Serbs in their claim. The great powers, however, agreed to set up Albania as an independent kingdom. This kept the Serbs from the sea and angered both the Serbs and the Russians.
Thus ended the second Balkan crisis. It left the Austro-Hungarians exasperated, the Russians humiliated and the Serbs desperate. The third Balkan crisis would destroy the peace of Europe.