Serbia to be by no method a great European power, however, unfolding occasions placed she at the epicentre of european tensions and also the roadway to human being War I.


Sandwiched in between Austria-Hungary, the footrest Empire and also several various other Balkan states, Serbia occupied a position of part strategic importance. The Serbian human being had a long and also rich history but, choose Germany and also Italy, they walk not become an independent nation until the so late 19th century.

For centuries, Serbia’s proximity to both Europe and also Asia made that a target because that invaders. The Romans inhabited the an ar in the second century BC and occupied it for centuries. No less than 17 roman inn emperors, including Constantine the Great, to be born top top Serbian soil.

Slavic Serbs (also known as White Serbs) slowly took manage of the region during the center Ages. The powerful Ottoman realm made inroads into Serbia throughout the 14th century and also eventually dominated it in 1459.

The region remained under Ottoman manage for three and also a fifty percent centuries, until the successful Serbian revolution of the early 1800s. Serbia became a self-governing principality in 1830 and also an independent and also internationally recognised nation-state in 1878.

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An independent Serbia

The freshly independent Serbia was topic to many pressures and also influences. These came from that neighbour Austria, native its Slavic cousins in Russia, from west liberal ideas and also from teams within that taught an intense form of nationalism.

The kingdom’s very first years were also riddled through intrigue, instability, politics rivalry and also a failed war with Bulgaria. Its an initial king, Milan Obrenovic, was pro-Austrian and aligned his country with Vienna, encouraging and facilitating Austrian trade and investment in Serbia.

During Milan’s reign, Austria became the biggest purchaser that Serbian agricultural exports, an especially livestock, wheat and fruit. Serbian are was additionally crisscrossed through Austrian-owned railways, when Austrian banks lent greatly to Serbian businesses.

By the 1880s Serbia had become economically dependent on Austria, while many thought about the Serbian king to be politically obedient, if no a puppet of Vienna. This instance displeased Serbian intellectuals, many of whom were sympathetic to Russia and also fearful the the results of Austrian expansionism.

The Obrenovic monarchs

The ill fated Serbian king Alexander I

At first, the newly independent Serbian nation was ruled by the Obrenovic dynasty. Many Obrenovic kings were politically conniving yet pleasure seeking, lazy and also disinterested in progress.

In the 1880s, King Milan to be plagued by criticism, both around his administration of the country and his an individual life. This criticism added to his abdication in 1889, as soon as Milan handed the throne come his young son Alexander.

Four years later, Alexander, most likely acting on his father’s instructions, dismissed his ministers and asserted autocratic rule over Serbia. Alexander’s erratic behaviour, along with an unpopular marital relationship to a much older woman, soon made the even an ext unpopular 보다 his father.

In may 1903, the 26-year-old king to be captured, shot and also gutted by a clique of military officers, his body thrown top top a compost heap. The military handed the Serbian throne come Peter, a prince indigenous the rival Karageorgevic dynasty.

Serbia under King Peter

King Peter ns of Serbia, crowned in 1903

Educated in Paris and a veteran the the Franco-Prussian War, the recently crowned King Peter was an ext Westernised than his predecessors. He to be also much more practical and also hard-working, an ext interested in modernisation than monarchy.

The brand-new king collection about transforming Serbia into a constitutional, democratic state and also a modern-day economy. Automatically after gift handed power, the new king spreading a liberal structure (1903), happen a political amnesty, relaxed suppressive laws and also abolished push censorship.

This political liberalisation showed enormously popular, not just with indigenous Serbians but with other Slavic peoples in the Balkans. Numerous Slavs concerned see Serbia as a safe harbour because that Slavic identity and also culture.

Rising Serbian nationalism

The better Serbia movement dubbed for the reclamation that Serbian territory from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Pan-Slavism, together the motion was also known, dubbed for the liberation of numerous Slavs tho trapped under Austrian rule. Some even thought Serbia should form the cell core of a future Yugoslavia, a single nation for all the Slavic individuals of southerly Europe.

The transforms in Serbia gift several troubles for Austria-Hungary. The twin Monarchy was provided to steering plan in Serbia however this situation came under threat in the an initial years that the 1900s.

A change in international policy

King Peter relocated to realign Serbia’s foreign policy, steering his country away native Austrian control and also brokering great relations and also trade deals with France, Russia and Bulgaria. After two decades as one Austro-Hungarian satellite, Serbia to trade freely and also with whomever it chose.

This angry Austrian ministers, that in 1906 initiated profession sanctions, banning future purchases of Serbian pork (one that its main exports). The ‘Pig War’, as it came to be known, lasted 3 years yet was a success for Serbia, whose economic situation diversified and also grew rapidly throughout this time.

With economic independence from Austria-Hungary came a mood for greater political independence. Serbian nationalism intensified and also calls for Slavic liberation and unity increased. Also Serbia’s King Peter expressed rather support for a Slavic at sight state in the Balkans, with Serbia as its beating heart.

The Balkan Wars

A French photo from 1908 illustrating territorial cases in the Balkans

Tensions in between Vienna and Belgrade were further poisoned through the Bosnian dilemm (1908-9) and the Balkan wars (1912-13).

The Balkan districts of Bosnia and also Herzegovina were nominally component of the footrest Empire yet under the de facto control of Austria. In October 1908, Vienna moved to absorb them right into the empire, announcing the annexation of Bosnia and also Herzegovina.

This move outraged Serbia, that saw the addition as both an growth of Austrian power and a threat to Slavic self-reliance in the Balkans. Serbia mobilised its military in an answer to the annexation, however, they later on backed down after failing come secure Russian backing.

Serbia’s military victories in the Balkan wars – first over the footrest Empire, then versus its previous ally Bulgaria – resulted in the balance of strength to transition again. The contract of London and also Bucharest experienced Serbia obtain a substantial amount of territory and people, virtually doubling in size (from 48,300 to 87,000 square kilometres) and growing by 1.6 million people.

This development made Serbia among the largest states in southerly Europe, as well as the many militarily powerful nation in the Balkans.

Tensions increase

By now, Serbian and Austro-Hungarian relations were at a dangerously short ebb. The Austrians viewed Serbia together a country of troublemakers whose actions could destabilise its vulnerable empire.

Military planners in Vienna spoke openly around crushing the insolent neighbour. For hardliners, the just task was to uncover a pretext because that war versus Serbia, so the it might be lugged to heel.

In Serbia, many thought their nation’s interests, and also the welfare of Slavic human being in southerly Europe, to be being threatened by an expansionist, imperialist power.

The ‘Black Hand’

Within Serbia, pan-Slavic nationalist groups started to kind and flourish. These teams had 2 aims: to safeguard the civil liberties of Slavic human being in the an ar and, in the longer term, to drive Austria-Hungary the end of the Balkans.

These teams used propaganda and also agitation to promote pan-Slavism and condemn its opponents – not simply Austria-Hungary but additionally moderate Serbian politicians who they believe had failed to stand approximately Vienna.

Groups choose the People’s Defence (Narodna Odbrana), the black color Hand (Crna Ruka) and also Young Bosna (Mlada Bosna) embraced a more violent approach. Though made up mostly the students and also young radicals, these militant groups delighted in some support from Serbian bureaucrats, army officers and also even members that the royal family.

In June 1914, a handful of black Hand members assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. It was this occasion that tipped Europe into a catastrophic war.

A historian’s view:“So lengthy as Bosnia and also Herzegovina had actually remained under supposedly ‘temporary’ army occupation by Austria-Hungary, Serb nationalists might still entertain serious wishes a ‘Greater Serbia’, encompassing Bosnia and Herzegovina and also Macedonia, Kosovo and also possibly Dalmatia, offering them unimpeded accessibility to the sea. The formal addition of Bosnia and also Herzegovina was intended to extinguish together hopes and also to force Serbia to expropriate a permanently landlocked and semi-dependent status.”Robert Bideleux


1. Serbia was a Balkan nation sandwiched between Austria-Hungary and other states previously controlled by the footrest Empire.

2. It gained national freedom from the Ottomans in the 1800s yet came under the political and also economic manage of Austria.

3. Under King Peter I, that took the throne 1903, the Serbian nation modernised and also liberalised, underwent economic growth and also started to shed itself of Austrian control.

4. Serbia additionally became a harbour for nationalism and pan-Slavism, a movement that antagonised Austro-Hungarian leaders.

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5. Tensions v Austria-Hungary contributed to the rise of number of Serbian conference groups. These teams aimed to defend Serbia native Austrian encroachment and protect the rights of Slavic people.