Georgia, Bulgaria and the Second Balkan War

So, the Second Balkan War.

Unless you’re a history buff, or Bulgarian, you probably don’t know about this. And that’s fine. Unless you’re a history buff, or Bulgarian, there’s no reason to. Still, I think it might have some relevance to recent events.

Short version: back in 1912, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece teamed up to attack Turkey. They won. In fact, they won big, grabbing huge slabs of territory from the hapless Ottomans… but they couldn’t agree on how to divide their spoils. The disagreement got so sharp that just a few months later, the Bulgarians tried to resolve it with a surprise attack on the Serbs and the Greeks.

That didn’t work out so well. Bulgaria’s northern neighbor Romania jumped on Bulgaria’s back taking the opportunity to grab a couple of border provinces. In the south, the Turks counterattacked to recover some of their losses. Meanwhile the Greeks and Serbs rolled the Bulgarians back.

When the dust had settled, Bulgaria had lost some thousands of soldiers and almost all the territory that had been gained in the earlier war. They lost half of Thrace, southern Dobrudja, and almost all of Macedonia. If Balkan geography isn’t your strong point, let’s put it this way: they lost almost everything they had fought for, including stuff that really should have been theirs.

And they never got it back. Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in the First World War, hoping to make good the losses of the Second Balkan War; they were able to grab Macedonia and Dobrudja, but once the war ended they lost all that territory and more. Then in 1940 they joined the Germans again, and once more they got back Macedonia… only to lose it a third time, this time for good, in 1944. They did eventually get back a bit of Dobrudja, but the rest of the lost lands were gone for good.

Bulgaria today is about two thirds the size it would have been if they hadn’t tried that surprise attack in June 1913. Skopje and Adrianople would be Bulgarian, and Lake Ohrid, and much of the northern coastline of the Aegean. If you’re Bulgarian, you’ve probably spent some time in mournful reflection on this.

Of course, lots of countries have lost territory in wars. Germany, Hungary, Turkey and Russia all came out of the First World War a lot smaller than they had been. Then Germany lost more territory in the Second World War, as did Italy and Poland and Romania. In the 1990s, the Russians saw much of historical Russia carved off into Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States. Just a few months ago, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. But most of these were the result of long, protracted, conflicts — World Wars, the Cold War — or of large, long-scale demographic and social trends, like differential birthrates or economic decline. What makes the First Balkan War unusual is that it was the result of a single bad decision… a single stupid, unnecessary bad decision that ended up doing permanent harm to the nation.

So, here’s my take: Georgia has just had a Second Balkan War. They tried a surprise attack to resolve a dispute over land that should “rightfully” be theirs… and they lost. The Bulgarians were shocked when the Romanians betrayed them and the defeated Ottomans turned around and bit back; in retrospect, these things seem obvious, and historians have spent most of a century arguing over how the Bulgarian leadership could have been so goddamn stupid. The Georgians were shocked… oh, you get the idea.

Anyway, here’s the thing: the Second Balkan War poisoned Bulgaria’s history for two generations. It sucked them into two World Wars, caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, destabilized the country and stunted its development. Interwar Bulgaria developed a remarkably evil terrorist organization devoted to regaining the lost territory — and, of course, killing anyone who wasn’t sufficiently dedicated to that cause.

I’m inclined to doubt that Georgia will go the same way; most obviously, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be another World War any time soon. But losses of national territory are hard for any nation to accept. Almost a decade after the 1999 war, Serbia’s politics are still being distorted by the tidal pull of Kosovo — and Serbia has the European Union on its border, pulling it hard in a different direction. Georgia has nothing to keep it from indulging in a protracted spasm of victimized nationalism. We can certainly hope they won’t go that route, but I’m not sure why they wouldn’t.

More informed opinions are, as always, welcome.

This entry was posted in History and tagged , by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

66 thoughts on “Georgia, Bulgaria and the Second Balkan War

  1. Well, I am not a fan of Milosevic, but like I said there was a reason -at least in the minds of the Serbs- for the federal government to intervene, though the nature and extent of intervention was inappropriate, to put it mildly. I guess the analogy would be a US state like New Jersey getting a majority say Italian population and that population getting hold of the government
    and forcing the rest out by beating them up or
    forcing them to speak italian to be employed in the provincial government.
    Beatings are obviously a reason for the federal government to intervene if the local government does nothing or encourages them.
    Of course the Serbs also complain about more than that, and as far back as 1986 the NY times did report of a plan to cleanse Serbs.
    I do not have enough evidence to judge that.
    Concerning the language though it all depends on what the constitution of the federal state says on the issue.

    So the question of whether the federal government had a right(or duty) to intervene boils down to whether you accept that the local Albanian government was using or tolerating illegal discriminatory practices against some Yugoslav citizens. The extent of the intervention is certainly open to debate and also depends on the level of cooperation. I don’t think the US government would stand for a defiant New Jersey local government in the above hypothetical scenario, but would use any means necessary to uphold US law.
    As far as I know(please correct me if I am wrong ) there were no forced evictions and house burnings before the KLA started its attacks. Which I do not see as any different from what Turkey did in the fight against the PKK, except that the Kurds never had the chance to have a local government and (blow it by) beat up on Turks.

    On the view of Albanians by Serbs, your comment on Georgia made it look like this was official state position, which you clarify now it was not, but existed on the public opinion level. Maybe so, but conversely were Serbs held in any higher regard by the Albanians?
    Public opinion level is tricky, because you never measure such things. I mean you do not conduct polls like “Do you think ethnic group X is such and such?” Sure, you can find people with such views, but to generalize and say all Serbs or Albanians think so or even that this is the majority view looks a bit far-fetched.
    I have not been able to find the post you mention(not that Doug is the most impartial guy)
    In many cases people take the opinion of some controversial -to put it mildly- guy to be somehow representative if it “proves” their point.

    1.I am not saying Georgia lost the right to Ossetia because it bombed it; all I am saying is we must be consistent. I agree with Merkel who cited international law, but law cannot be applied specifically.

    2. I think that Serbs accepted the fact that Bosnian Serbs would be part of Bosnia, in exchange for Kossovo staying in Yugoslavia. My guess is that this was part of an agreement with Holbrooke; I have no other way to explain that warmongering Milosevic did not fire a single shot when Croatia recaptured Krajna.
    Croatia was not NATO, you know. But it works both ways, i.e. if Kossovo will be independent, so can the Serbs in Kossovo, something many do not want to hear about. All I am saying is one needs to be consistent.
    3. All I am saying is that first you close one front, then (if you really have to) open another. Before closing Afghanistan, the US opens Iraq. Just choose your priorites and act accordingly.

  2. “Of course the Serbs also complain about more than that, and as far back as 1986 the NY times did report of a plan to cleanse Serbs.”

    Tom,
    you made me jump in. That article was written by a Serb stooge, David Binder, and it parrots the SANU lies. It talks about the rapes and “genocide” against Serbs by Albanians. So what was the truth: rape and crime was LOWER in Kosovo than in Serbia.
    From Micheal Sells:

    “These new allegations against NATO are ominously similar to Serb nationalists’ charges in 1986 that Kosovar Albanians were destroying the monasteries. This charge was combined with other inflammatory allegations that Kosovar Albanians were illegal immigrants who should be expelled; that Albanians were using their high birth rate as a tool to commit” demographic genocide” against Kosova’s Serb minority; and that they were carrying out widespread rapes of Serb women. In 1986, Serbian Orthodox bishops repeated these allegations and charged that genocide was being carried out against Serbs in Kosova. The same charges were repeated in the famous “Memorandum” written by Serbian intellectuals attacking the Yugoslav constitution and the autonomy of Kosova. In this inflamed environment, Slobodan Milosevic made his leap to power by promising he would protect the Serb people and their shrines against their enemies.

    What was the truth of these frightening allegations? There were genuine grievances by both Serbs and Albanians in Kosova, and both groups felt threatened. But Serb independent journalists and human rights workers found the more inflammatory charges to be total fabrications. A study of police records in Kosova showed only one rape of an ethnic Serb by an Albanian in an entire year. Similarly, the alleged destruction of Serb shrines turned out to involve isolated cases of vandalism, graffiti, and cutting of trees on church property — hate crimes, perhaps, but surely not the organized, genocidal annihilation that was claimed.”
    http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/Kosovo/Kosovo-Current_News233.htm

    The ‘beatings’ were staged by Slobo’s goons during his visit. They had delivered trucks of stones and his “no one can beat you again” was repeated over and over again and made him the next Lazar (their Church even reburied Lazar and Jasenovac victims to drive up hate and need for revenge). It’s all on tape: video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6980751398015745064&hl=en

    From the minute Serbs got Kosovo (Thank you mother Russia!) they set to exterminate or expel the Albanians just as they had done from Nis in 1878 (Thank you mother Russia again!). They kept the same attitude and used the power of the state to discriminate and surpress Albanians. What happened in 1999 was no big deal to the Serbs, just a continuation of the policy. Now that Albanians are/will be armed and Serbs are broke and losing population faster than Russia, they try to play a “poor me,” while privately plotting revenge at the right moment. They aren’t sorry, they are sorry that they failed. They still feel entitled to having an empire, only because Lazar fought in 1389 (actually surrendered as the other half of the Serbs ran away.) They want Kosovo, Srpska, Vojvodina, Krajina and even Montenegro.

    They still can lose Sandzak, Vojvodina and Presevo Valley so let them try. Armed men vs armed men this time.

    Read this first http://www.seep.ceu.hu/archives/issue61/herbert.pdf it explains the entire history and why Albanians need their own army and independence.

  3. I agree with the comparison to the extent that both cases illustrate stupid millitary decisions, but there is a significant difference as well – Bulgarians couldn’t afford to stop fighting over those territories. Most of them were populated by majority of Bulgarians who were fighting themselves against the occupation of the respective states. No kin state could say ‘we don’t care about you’. Georgia should be able somehow to face the fact that the majority of the population in these regions is not Georgian and let go.

  4. Albanian, thanks for the info. Like I said I’m sure that the people who actually lived/live there know much better what really happened then and now. I’m not sure I agree with everything the last report you mention says(for instance it is not true that Serbia ruled Kossovo from 1912 till 99-there were things like WWII in between and
    again different sides have different history versions of what happened during this period and how Albanians got to be a majority. I’m not convinced by the Serb arguments, I just don’t know. However they are relevant in a “who deserves” discussion, I just note them, even if they are), but an interetsing report nevertheless.

    Alina, I really doubt these non-bulgarian territories had a majority bulgarian population.
    Among other things there were population exchanges after the Balkan wars which means serbs and greeks left bulgaria and bulgarians left greece and serbia. So there was not that much left to fight for. And what exactly do you mean that bulgarian majorities(actually minorities) were fighting against the occupation? When did that happen?
    I guess in Bulgaria’s case the worst thing was that even people who are ethnically mostly Bulgarian chose to have their own state and identify themselves as distinct from Bulgarians when Yugoslavia broke up.

  5. Tom, I agree that ethnic majorities at some point became ethnic minorities (not on all places as you yourself note), but that didn’t happen in 1913 and you can very easily check that population exchanges took place definitely later. You can also check the numbers of the exchanges and you’ll see who took more of their own people back. It was Bulgaria indeed. As the article notes, Bulgaria lost all wars after 1912 and after each war there was a refugee wave to Bulgaria, which is not included in the population exchange. So, as you can see, that increases the numbers even more. The last waves of refugies took place after the civil war in Greece. Therefore, this is a gradual process and depending on which town, village, valley, etc. and which year we talk about, the majority/minority ratio would be different. You are free to doubt my word, but you can always check the records and maps of different years and you would see how the picture changes.
    About the worst thing you mention, if you examine even just a bit more profoundly the issue, you would see that the word ‘chose’ is completely inappropriate. This is not to say that I don’t respect people’s choices, but as much as we should respect the present realities, we should also be fair to history. We should also make a distinction between both and I think that failing to that could be even more dangerous than misrepresenting history!

  6. and how Albanians got to be a majority

    Albanians were a majority when Serbia was awarded Kosovo in 1912 (for having ruled it once, ‘churches,’ and for being more civilized. Ha!) Albanians made at least 75% of the population. On the last link I posted it includes Serb sources quoted in at least three books written by scholars. You may also look at this late 1800’s ethnicity/language map: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Balkans-ethnique.JPG

    This, http://www.seep.ceu.hu/archives/issue61/herbert.pdf , also includes the Serb massacres of 1878-1912, and the 1920’s colonization program which sought to starve out the Albanians who would then immigrate to Europe or Turkey and Serb settlers would take their place. Those recently settlers were brutally thrown out during WWII (about 70,000-100,000), even before that Serbs never made more than ~30% and that’s what prompted a Serb statesman and later minister to write the “Expulsion of Albanians” in 1937(meaning that colonization had failed so we need to remove them forcibly. Google it). You do not have to agree with me, facts are facts and numbers are hard to spin.

    Now on whether it’s fair that Albanians became a majority in the 17th century or not: how did Serbs become a majority in Kosovo? By coming sword in hand and throwing out the natives in 1180-1300’s. Read Dusan’s code:
    “When a Vlach or Albanian stays in a village, other herdsmen who come after them may not stay in the same village.'” and how Albanian land was taken and made ‘his.’ If you have Jstor this explains it best: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1478-4017(1955)1%3A21%3C171%3AJKTEOA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-9

    If they think that it’s still unfair that someone else is a majority in a region that Serbs were once, great: we’ll move out when all Serbs move out of Vojvodina, Croatia and Bosnia. They migrated there too, and we’re willing to forget the fact that we moved back in and didn’t come from Russia. They can’t have it both ways, especially since they started quite a few (‘liberation’) wars to add that land to Serbia in 1990’s.

    You can make very good arguments pro and con for independence, but please don’t try to confuse people with the Serbian version of the ‘facts.’ I am done on this topic 🙂

    Now on topic: The Greek population exchange was based on religion alone, not ethnicity (blood lines), and we’re probably going to see another war over FYROM if NATO /EU break down. Bulgaria still wants those ‘lost Bulgars’

  7. and how Albanians got to be a majority

    Albanians were a majority when Serbia was awarded Kosovo in 1912 (for having ruled it once, ‘churches,’ and for being more civilized. Ha!) Albanians made at least 75% of the population. On the last link I posted it includes Serb sources quoted in at least three books written by scholars. You may also look at this late 1800’s ethnicity/language map: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Balkans-ethnique.JPG

    This, http://www.seep.ceu.hu/archives/issue61/herbert.pdf , also includes the Serb massacres of 1878-1912, and the 1920’s colonization program which sought to starve out the Albanians who would then immigrate to Europe or Turkey and Serb settlers would take their place. Those recently settlers were brutally thrown out during WWII (about 70,000-100,000), even before that Serbs never made more than ~30% and that’s what prompted a Serb statesman and later minister to write the “Expulsion of Albanians” in 1937(meaning that colonization had failed so we need to remove them forcibly. Google it). You do not have to agree with me, facts are facts and numbers are hard to spin.

    Now on whether it’s fair that Albanians became a majority in the 17th century or not: how did Serbs become a majority in Kosovo? By coming sword in hand and throwing out the natives in 1180-1300’s. Read Dusan’s code:
    “When a Vlach or Albanian stays in a village, other herdsmen who come after them may not stay in the same village.'” and how Albanian land was taken and made ‘his.’ If you have Jstor this explains it best: links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1478-4017(1955)1%3A21%3C171%3AJKTEOA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-9

    If they think that it’s still unfair that someone else is a majority in a region that Serbs were once, great: we’ll move out when all Serbs move out of Vojvodina, Croatia and Bosnia. They migrated there too, and we’re willing to forget the fact that we moved back in and didn’t come from Russia. They can’t have it both ways, especially since they started quite a few (‘liberation’) wars to add that land to Serbia in 1990’s.

    You can make very good arguments pro and con for independence, but please don’t try to confuse people with the Serbian version of the ‘facts.’ I am done on this topic 🙂

    Now on topic: The Greek population exchange was based on religion alone, not ethnicity (blood lines), and we’re probably going to see another war over FYROM if NATO /EU break down. Bulgaria still wants those ‘lost Bulgars.’

    The problem with Abkhazia is that 150,000 people have taken a lot of land by seizing village after village. Over 150 miles f coastline IIRC, so any border would have to be set to a previous date, not now. Looking at the map Georgia is screwed land wise when compared to the population.

  8. Alina, we seem to agree;
    I was mostly replying to your “Most of them were populated by majority of Bulgarians who were fighting themselves against the occupation of the respective states” -which I took to mean that the bulgarians in other countries were involved in some kind of armed fight.
    Of course villages cannot separate from a country because their population is different.

    About ‘choice’, I take this to refer to brainwashing by Yugoslav propaganda/education,
    an allegation which is cerainly valid and has led to claiming heroes like Bulgaria’s Goce Delchev and Greece’s Alexander as their own. However, the sad
    reality is what people think now. Many turks actually may have bulgarian, albanian, serb or greek blood(given the practice of jenniseries),
    but what matters is how they see themselves.

    Albanian, thanks again for the info. Pretty forceful.
    On topic I am not sure what you are saying. Aren’t they all(serbs, bulgarians, greeks) christian orthodox? So what does religion have to do with that? I do not see Bulgaria starting another war. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

  9. Tom,
    About the ‘choice’ – yes, this is precisely my point. I would say that it goes even much further than propaganda/education. There are was a consistent policy of extreme violance and intimidation. But as much as history should be respected, we also should not ‘re-violate’ these people. It’s their right to choose what they want to call themselves and how they see themselves.
    About the struggles – here we seem to fail to understand each other. yes, there was armed fight and actually the origins of VMRO are precisely in this fight. Initially it was even called VMORO and the additional ‘O’ stands for Odrin/Edirne/Adrianopoulis or however different people call it. This organization was a direct decendent (and even the actual people-members are the proof of that) of the previous freedom-fighter Bulgarian organizations. It was aiming at liberation of Bulgarians outside of Bulgaria – the biggest compact groups being in the geographical region called Macedonia and geographical region called Odrin’s Thrace (that’s the way it’s called in Bulgarian) and therefore the name of the organization and the ‘strange’ geographical spread of it. Later on, of course the organization changed, split many times (it even continues to do so now) and it becomes a veeery long story. So, to conclude: yes, there was armed fight of the absolutely the same nature as the freedom fighting against the Ottoman empire and yes, there were huge (well, huge in Balkan terms; any Russian will laugh at this word) regions with compact population of majority Bulgarians.

  10. Alina, ok, it is now clear what you are saying.
    By armed struggle I was referring to armed struggle of Bulgarian population against
    Serbia or Greece, which I am not aware of, (some minor Nazi collaborators cannot qualify since these countries were occupied by the germans at the time).
    From your clarification I understand you are talking about the pre-Balkan war period.
    As far as I know this was not only a fight for liberation against the ottomans, who were by any standard the occupiers, but also(perhaps primarily so) against fellow occupied people of different nationalities. This is where this got messy;
    fortunately as far as I can tell all sides involved(Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece) have moved ahead and do not want the past of their grandfathers to continue shaping their
    future.

  11. Looked from a distance the things are really about that – just one stupid decision – declaration of a war.
    The details are more complex.
    In 1913 Bulgarians had to foresee the Rumanian involvement. They did not. But that was really difficult. The military chances were in favor of the Bulgarians against the Greeks and Serbs and the resurgent Turks… but the Romanians were really out of site.
    The 1913 events reflected the entire European history… in WWW1 the Bulgarians sided with the Turks… without the Salonika front The Gallipoli battle would have different outcome.
    The Turkey we know nowadays would not exist… it would be torn to pieces by the Christian empires.
    but it survived because the Bulgarians protected Istanbul.
    If you are history buff you must know the developments of the WW1.
    So Bulgarians sided with the Muslims…because of 1913..

    Later in 1920 the Bulgarians watched indifferently how the Turks tormented 2 million Greeks on the Asiatic cost, where Greeks do not live now. Even signed a small treaty with the Turks to assure them that the Greeks are alone.
    That was the punishment for Greeks.
    Even now in 1999 the Bulgarians opened their airspace for USA’s and Turkish planes to bombard Serbia and closed it for the Russian planes, which would airlift Russian troops to Prishtina..

    The old wounds are alive and well. Just watch how the Greeks brocaded the Bulgarian border this year causing harm to the Bulgarian economy. You would not want to be a Bulgarian going on summer vocation in Greece – bad treatment and lots of trouble with the road police.
    But why Bulgarians attacked in 1913 – because the Greeks were making ethnic cleansing in the occupied territory.. If you army is stronger and you see that happening it would be different to resist.
    There is a Carnegie report for the reasons of the Balkan wars…. It is in the US libraries.
    And the Georgians…. No human can be so stupid unless is deceived…
    In my opinion in this case the Georgians were expecting USA to start nuclear exchange with Russia for some Osetinian villages….
    Those who made them believe, so are in USA and they are solely responsible….They said they are allies..Also may be the Turks managed to speaks to the Georgians through the mouths of the Americans…
    They use NATO for that and are really capable in these things…
    Like in 1913…
    the ones that profited from the Georgian stupidity are the Turks… The mollas may be right, when they say that the Islam will win and that the victory will come from the hands of USA..

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  15. I think that this quote summarizes all:

    “War is the greatest plague that can affect humanity;
    it destroys religion, it destroys states, it destroys families.
    Every scourge is preferable to it ”

    Martin Luther

  16. Just a quick response to the flood of Albanian non-sense in the comments section….Kosovo wasn’t ‘awarded’ to Serbia but it was it’s integral part since the middle ages. The fact is it will only remain in Albanian hands as long as there are foreign powers to protect it. It will change ownership at the first available opportunity.

    And yes, there was an Albanian campaign to separate Kosovo since the death of Tito in the 1980’s (they couldn’t while he was alive), involving systematic maltreatment of Serbs and others, strikes, fake incidents (well known mass poisoning) to draw media attention and so on…

    Basically the Albanians are a foreign element in Balkans, pretty much despised by all their neighbours (not just Serbs but Macedonians, Bulgarians and Greeks) but they are useful to any foreign invader looking to create chaos in the area. Starting with the Ottomans, followed by the Austrains, Nazis and now Nato.

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