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See also Berlin Conference (1884-85, re Africa) and Berlin Conference of 1954 (Cold War).
Anton von Werner. Congress of Berlin.

The Congress of Berlin (13 June - 13 July 1878) was a meeting of the European Great Powers' and the Ottoman Empire's leading statesmen in Berlin in 1878. In the wake of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, the meeting's aim was to reorganize the countries of the Balkans. Otto von Bismarck, who led the Congress, undertook to balance the distinct interests of the United Kingdom, Russia and Austria-Hungary. As a consequence, however, differences between Russia and Austria-Hungary intensified, as did the nationality question in the Balkans. The congress was aimed at the revision of the Treaty of San Stefano and at keeping Constantinople in Ottoman hands. It effectively disavowed Russia's victory over the decaying Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War. The Congress of Berlin returned to the Ottoman Empire territories that the previous treaty had given to the Principality of Bulgaria, most notably Macedonia. The congress formally recognized the independence of the de facto sovereign states of Montenegro, Serbia and Romania, as the 27th-29th free states of the world.



Ethnic composition map of the Balkans in 1878 by the pro-Greek[1] English cartographer E. Stanford, which was championed by the Greek delegation at the Congress.

The Congress was attended by the British Empire, Austria-Hungary, France, the German Empire, Italy, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Delegates from Greece, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro attended the sessions concerning their states, but were not members of the congress. The congress was solicited by the rivals of the Russian Empire, particularly by Austria-Hungary and Britain, and hosted in 1878 by Otto von Bismarck. The Congress of Berlin proposed and ratified the Treaty of Berlin. The meetings were held at Bismarck’s chancellory, the former Radziwill Palace, from 13 June 1878 until 13 July 1878. The congress revised or eliminated 18 of the 29 articles in the Treaty of San Stefano. Furthermore, using as a foundation the treaties of Paris (1856) and Washington (1871), the treaty effected a rearrangement of the Eastern situation.

Main issues

Ethnic composition map of the Balkans by the German-English cartographer E. G. Ravenstein of 1870.

The principal mission of the World Powers at the congress was to deal a fatal blow to the burgeoning movement of pan-Slavism. The movement caused serious concern in Berlin, and even more so in Vienna, which was afraid that the repressed Slavic nationalities would revolt against the Habsburgs. London and Paris were nervous about the diminishing influence of the Ottoman Empire and about Russian cultural expansion to the south, where both Britain and France were poised to colonize Egypt and Palestine. Through the Treaty of San Stefano, the Russians, led by chancellor Alexander Gorchakov, had managed to create a Bulgarian autonomous principality under the nominal rule of the Ottoman Empire, thus sparking British well-entrenched fears of growing Russian influence in the East. The new principality, including a very large portion of Macedonia and with access to the Aegean Sea, could easily threaten the Straits that separate the Black Sea from the Mediterranean. This arrangement was not acceptable to the British Empire, which considered the entire Mediterranean to be a British sphere of influence, and saw any Russian attempt to gain access there as a grave threat to its power. Just a week before the Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had concluded a secret alliance with the Ottomans against Russia, whereby Britain was allowed to occupy the strategically placed island of Cyprus. This agreement predetermined Disraeli's position during the Congress and led him to issue threats to unleash a war against Russia if she did not comply with Turkish demands.

Ethnic composition map of the Balkans by the pro-Greek [2] A. Synvet of 1877, a known French professor of the Ottoman Lyceum of Constantinople.

Bowing to Russia's pressure, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro were declared independent principalities. The full independence of Bulgaria, however, was denied. It was promised autonomy, and guarantees were made against Turkish interference, but these were largely ignored. Romania received the Dobruja. Montenegro obtained Nikšić, Podgorica, Bar, known as Tivar (in the Albanian language, since it was an Albanian territory) and Plav-Gusinje, known as Plave and Guci, both Albanian territories. The Turkish government, or Porte, agreed to obey the specifications contained in the Organic Law of 1868, and to guarantee the civil rights of non-Muslim subjects. Bosnia and Herzegovina were placed under the administration of Austria-Hungary. Russia agreed that Macedonia was too multinational to be part of Bulgaria, and permitted it to remain under the Ottomans. Eastern Rumelia, which had its own large Turkish and Greek minorities, became an autonomous province under a Christian ruler, with its capital at Philippopolis. The remaining portions of the original "Greater Bulgaria" became the new state of Bulgaria. Russia retained southern Bessarabia, while Austria received the right to "occupy and administer" Bosnia and Herzegovina, a controversial clause which eventually precipitated the Bosnian crisis of 1908.

Bismarck as host

The Congress of Berlin is frequently viewed as the culmination of the "Battle of Chancellors" involving Alexander Gorchakov of Russia and Otto von Bismarck of Germany. They were able to effectively persuade other European leaders that a free and independent Bulgaria would greatly improve the security risks posed by a disintegrating Ottoman Empire. According to German historian Erich Eyck, Bismarck supported Russia's persuasion that "Turkish rule over a Christian community (Bulgaria) was an anachronism which undoubtedly gave rise to insurrection and bloodshed and should therefore be ended."[3] He used the Great Eastern Crisis of 1875 as proof of growing animosity in the region.

Borders of Bulgaria according to the Preliminary Treaty of San Stefano and the Treaty of Berlin.

Bismarck's ultimate goal during the Congress of Berlin was not to upset Germany's status on the international platform. He did not wish to disrupt the Three Emperor's League by choosing between Russia and Austria as an ally.[3] In order to maintain peace in Europe, Bismarck sought to convince other European diplomats on dividing up the Balkans so as to foster greater stability. During the process of division, Russia began to feel short-changed even though she eventually gained independence for Bulgaria. One can therefore see the underpinnings of the alliance problems in Europe prior to the First World War. One reason why Bismarck was able to mediate the various tensions present at the Congress of Berlin stemmed from his diplomatic persona. He was an ardent pacifist when international affairs did not pertain to Germany directly. On the other hand, Bismarck seethed with aggression[citation needed] whenever Germany's national interest was on the line. And at the Congress of Berlin, "Germany could not look for any advantage from the crisis" that had occurred in the Balkans back in 1875.[3] As a result, Bismarck claimed impartiality on behalf of Germany at the Congress. This claim enabled him to preside over the negotiations with a keen eye for foul play.

According to Henry Kissinger[4], the congress saw a shift in Bismarck's Realpolitik. Until then, as Germany had become too powerful for isolation, his policy was to maintain the Three Emperors League. Now that he could no longer rely on Russia's alliance, he began to form relations with as many potential enemies as possible.


Allegorical depiction of Bulgarian autonomy after the Treaty of Berlin.

Italy was dissatisfied with the results of the Congress, and the tensions between Greece and the Ottoman Empire were left unresolved. The Bosnians and Herzegovinans would also prove to be a problem to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in later decades. The League of Three Emperors, established in 1873, was destroyed, as Russia saw lack of German support on the issue of Bulgaria's full independence as a breach of loyalty and alliance. The border between Greece and Turkey was not resolved. In 1881, after protracted negotiations, a compromise border was accepted after a naval demonstration of the Powers. Thus, the congress sowed the seeds of further conflicts, including the Balkan Wars, and ultimately the First World War. Interestingly, the Marquess of Salisbury, the British Foreign Secretary at the Congress, had originally supported the Russian position and the Treaty of San Stefano. After returning from the Congress, Salisbury confessed that — in supporting Austria-Hungary instead of Russia — the British had "backed the wrong horse." According to A. J. P. Taylor, writing in 1954: "If the treaty of San Stefano had been maintained, both the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary might have survived to the present day. The British, except for Beaconsfield in his wilder moments, had expected less and were therefore less disappointed. Salisbury wrote at the end of 1878: We shall set up a rickety sort of Turkish rule again south of the Balkans. But it is a mere respite. There is no vitality left in them."[5]


United Kingdom

Russian Empire

German Empire


French Third Republic

Kingdom of Italy

Ottoman Empire




Montenegro also sent delegates.


  1. ^ Castellan, Georges, 1999, Histoire des Balkans, XIVe–XXe siècle. transl. Lilyana Tsaneva (Bulgarian translation ed.). Paris: Fayard. p. 358. ISBN 2213605262
  2. ^ Robert Shannan Peckham, Map mania: nationalism and the politics of place in Greece, 1870–1922, Political Geography, 2000, p.4: [1] "Other maps by amongst others the Frenchman F. Bianconi [1877], who was the chief architect and engineer of the Ottoman railways, A. Synvet [1877] and Karl Sax [1878], a former Austrian consul in Andrianople, were similarly favourable to the Greek cause."
  3. ^ a b c Erich Eyck, Bismarck and the German Empire (New York: W.W. Norton, 1964), 245-46.
  4. ^ Kissinger, Henry (1995-04-04). Diplomacy. Simon & Schuster. pp. 912. ISBN 0671510991. p139-143
  5. ^ A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1914–1918, Oxford University Press (1954) p. 253


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