1. Nationalism through modern balkan history


In the dawn of 19th century the Balkans are, mainly, part of the Ottoman Empire1. A multinational and multicultural empire in which more than 30 modern nationalities or ethnic groups were living with a rich linguistic, religious and cultural differentiation that is difficult to quantify with today’s criteria. It is estimated that until the end of 18th century the Balkans had become Turkish, as far as their cultural or linguistic fields are concerned, in a proportion that reached even 50 per cent in some areas (mostly in the central and eastern areas that were close to Istanbul), which differed, not only from province to province but inside the same province as well. That was because the Turks were living mostly in the cities. The Slav character of the western grounds and the respective Latin of the eastern areas upper of Danube was affirmed. The Hellenism of the southern marine zone was not disputed until the Albanian descents2. However, the southern and eastern areas in the midland were transformed into an amalgam –Greek, Slav, Latin, Turkish, Albanian- with people of unspecific identity and a fluid consciousness.

Were all these people aware of their “national” hypostasis the first three to four centuries of the ottoman conquest? The answer is no. It was only in the 19th century when the concept of nation entered into the lives of the peninsula’s inhabitants and surely it does not bear the same advantages for all. Who are the ones that profited by the construction of the national myth? Who are the ones that played the leading part in the revolutionary activity that led to the creation of national states? How did the national ideology operated during that period? How does nationalism affect the raising social antagonism and the resolution of pre-capitalist structures? These are some of the questions that will engage us further on.

More specifically, we will attempt a comparative study of the three national states that were formed during that period, the ones of Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria3. The existing similarities show that in all three nationalisms the merchant class and the ethnic communities of diaspora played a protagonist role during the revolutionary period. In all three cases the national independence was not a result of domestic movements and policies, but is associated in a high degree with the interests and the antagonisms of the Great Forces4. It is not accidental that in all three countries the political system established is only nominally liberal, while, in reality, serves the oligarchic interests of the elite that was formed during the revolutionary period. The nationalist ideology is only a medium for the mobilization of the popular masses of Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria, not for the profit of the former but for the protection of the position and power of the respective elite. We will start our reasoning with the description of the framework in which all these take place.

The Ottoman Empire was not a typical ethnic state. It is true that the founders of the ottoman state and dynasty were of Turkish nascence, but with its conquests the ottoman state finally encompassed a large number of people speaking different languages and believing in different religions. In the greater part of its history, the national composition of the ruling ottoman class was exceptionally multipartite. In reality, the ottoman government contributed to the survival of the different ethnic groups through the non- ethnic character of its elite5. The dignitaries were of course Muslims but this was just a merit for the dignity. The recantation was a mechanism for social unreel or for the preservation of land ownership and of other privileges for the local aristocracies.

The population transfers, in terms of the ottoman dominion but also of the Austrian- Hungarian grounds6, resulted in a continuous alteration of the Balkan national mosaic. A great part of the population went to the mountains (these voids were mostly covered in the 18th century by the Albanian transfers). In these areas they did not suffer the control and they preserved or returned to semi-nomadic types of organization in terms of stock-raising economy or self-sufficient and communal organization economy. In Serbia the organization in zantrougs resulted in the creation of a traditional patriarchic system. The zantroug (задруга)7 is ideal for an economy in which the market and money do not have central importance. The development of transportation, the rise of exchange and the money oriented economy led to its gradual disappearance during 19th century. The creation of phatries and the system of political and financial patronage that followed them is the same tactic used in Greece. The ottoman system enforced neither political embodiment, nor a new culture. The development of the countryside was indeed deterred, but survived by preserving its old values. Atomism was absent. Basic elements of the communal organization were also the notables, the intermediaries between the ottoman administration and the people.

The appearance of the national emancipation in the start of 19th century is connected to the collapse of the traditional ottoman structure in the end of 18th century. The replacement of the timars8 by the tsiflics, as well as the general alteration of the financial and the social structure of the empire, images firstly the decay of the central administration that is accompanied by the chartering of taxes and social services and secondly the new conditions that were created in the international economy by the capitalist system. The necessity of the international market for raw materials and goods of primary need has grown the interest of the great landowners for agricultural production. Therefore, an intensification in land exploitation is observed everywhere and a support of the large ownership, wherever the policies and the socio-economic conditions allowed it to happen. This new form of landownership was expanded significantly and the small independent landownerships of the slaves were gradually absorbed. The tsiflics led the farmers into a status of partial serfdom9. Christian villagers became slaves and had no more the protection of the local ottoman authorities against the peremptoriness of their master. The new land regime kept pace with the greater local autonomy of the provinces and the development of Christian bourgeois classes. It is worth noting that the notables of the countryside were producers but simultaneously were tax collectors in the interior of the community, merchants of agricultural products, shopkeepers and moneylenders. These, together with the arising merchants and bourgeois, will be the protagonists of the following revolutions.



1 The remaining part was under the Austrian- Hungarian Empire, which included 51.000.000 inhabitants (in the early 1900s), two states, ten “historic” nations and more than twenty ethnic groups (Mazower, 2004). Back

2 These raids took place during the Middle Ages, and especially between the 13th and 16th centuries. Have continued and during the Ottoman rule. Back

3 We will not be engaged with the case of Romania and Albania. Back

4 Without the substantial diplomatic and military intervention of the Great Forces (Great Britain, France, Russia) the 15th February in Serbia and the 25th March in Greece would not comprise national fiesta and holiday. Back

5 The first 170 years from the 50 great viziers only 5 were Turks, 11 islamised Albanians, 11 Southern Slavs and 6 Greeks (Νυσταζοπούλου – Πελεκίδου, 1987). Back

6 Either due to the colonizing policy of the Gate (that entails the transfer of Turkish populations from the “lost” grounds of Caucasus and Crimea) or due to the commercial or financial interests, or as a result of an unsuccessful local uprising (characteristic example is the Great Exit of the Serbians in 1690 to Hungary). Back

7 Zantroug: A wide family that is comprised of two or more biological families and owns in common land, animals and tools and whose members share the same resources. Back

8 Land that had been given to officials or heads of military units of the Ottoman Empire in return for military service. Back

9 The tsiflic produces for the market but the relationships inside it are rather of seigniorial type. service. Back

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