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.