What is the Balkan Crisis

The Berlin Congress 1878

At the beginning of March 1878, the Ottoman Empire had to sign a hard peace in San Stefano: Serbia, Montenegro and Romania were enlarged and independent through the transfer of Turkish territories; Bulgaria, expanded to include Eastern Rumelia and Macedonia to form a Greater Bulgarian principality, gained access to the Aegean Sea and came under Russian influence. This opened up access to the Mediterranean for Russia.

Great Britain, which feared for the balance of power in Europe, and Austria-Hungary, which viewed with concern the growing Russian influence on its southern flank, protested sharply against the expansion of Russia's power. When British naval units entered the Marmara Sea and a clash with Russia seemed imminent, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Andrássy (1823-1890) proposed a congress to settle all controversial issues in the Balkans. Since the German Empire had no interests in the Balkans and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had declared in February 1878 before the Reichstag to lead a peace congress as an "honest broker", the great powers agreed on Berlin as the conference venue.

On June 13, 1878, Bismarck opened the Berlin Congress. Two leading politicians each from the major European powers and from Turkey traveled to Berlin: Andrássy and Heinrich von Haymerle (1828-1881) for Austria-Hungary, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) and Robert Arthur Salisbury for Great Britain, Alexander Gorchakov (1798- 1883) and Peter Shuwalow (1830-1903) for Russia, William Henry Waddington (1826-1894) and Paul Desprez for France, Alexander Carathéodory and Mehmed Ali for Turkey. The ambassadors of these countries accredited in Berlin took part in the negotiations as further plenipotentiaries. Italy was represented by only two authorized representatives: Luigi Corti (1823-1888) and Eduardo de Launay. In addition to Bismarck, the German delegation included the State Secretary in the Foreign Office, Bernhard Ernst von Bülow (1815-1879), and Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst.

The congress moved the capital of the Reich into the limelight of the international public. With the exception of Disraeli, the congress participants spoke French during the main negotiations. These negotiations took place in the Imperial Chancellor's Palace, the former Radziwill Palace. Smaller rounds of talks were held in the salons of the Reich Chancellery, in the Foreign Office, in the embassies of the powers involved and in well-known Berlin hotels. The result of the negotiations was the Berlin Treaty, signed on July 13, 1878, which revised the peace of San Stefano to the detriment of Russia. "Greater Bulgaria" was divided into the autonomous, but formally under Ottoman rule, the Principality of Bulgaria, the province of Rumelia and the Ottoman Macedonia. The independence of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro was recognized. Austria-Hungary was given the right to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina against the protest of Turkey in order to compensate for the increase in Russian power in the Balkans.

Because Bismarck refrained from gaining advantages for Germany at the congress, he earned the high esteem of the British delegation in particular. Bismarck and Prime Minister Disraeli, who was popular in England, were initially skeptical of each other. The initial rejection soon turned into sympathy: The Illustrated London News spoke of "Dizzy" (Disraeli) and "Bizzy" (Bismarck). The German Chancellor gained a lasting reputation as a trustworthy foreign politician in London. The Russian State Chancellor and Foreign Minister Gorchakov and the Russian public judged differently: They made Bismarck responsible for the abandonment of their "Siegfrieden" of San Stefano. Shuvalov, the Russian ambassador in London and Russia's second plenipotentiary in Berlin, to whom Bismarck shook hands amicably in the painting by Anton von Werner at the closing meeting, was less drastic in his judgment. Gorchakov, who later assessed the results of the Berlin Congress as his greatest diplomatic defeat, was annoyed by Bismarck's good relations with Shuvalov. He torpedoed Shuvalov's further career. German-Russian relations deteriorated noticeably after July 1878.