THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS IMPACT ON THE IDEA OF BALKAN UNION (1918-1933): NATIONAL VS. INTERNATIONAL.

AuthorZecevic, Nikola
  1. Introduction

    The idea of a Balkan federation (confederation) and Balkan union developed simultaneously with the ideas of national unification. They were interwoven in a variety of theoretical considerations, sometimes interdependent with national unification and sometimes in absolute confrontation with it. For some, this idea was an example of an ideal state, so-called concept of a final and lasting peace, in which all Balkan nations would be organized on equal and voluntary basis, in accordance with their wishes and their needs. However, a Balkan union was an unacceptable model for those who aspired towards the realization of ethnocentric archetypal ideas, very often with megalomaniac goals. Thus some viewed the concept of Balkan unity as a perfect temporary 'backyard' for the completion of their expansion plans.

    Towards the end of the nineteenth and in the first half of the twentieth century, the concept of Balkan integration was primary affirmed by the Balkan socialists. This idea has become a sort of trademark of the Leftist movement in the Balkans, because it contained deep anti-war ideas and ideals of national equality and freedom.

    It is important to say that the terms Balkan union, Balkan federation or confederation and Balkan federative republic are usually treated in this paper as synonyms. The reasons for this are multiple. The largest number of propagators of this idea made no essential difference between these terms (with some exceptions like Dimitar Blagoev), which further suggest that this idea has not been thoroughly and carefully elaborated. It was treated more as a kind of ideal or superior model, which would be harmonized and coordinated after. Propagators of this idea primarily insisted on the integration and collaboration of the Balkan nations, and they usually treated the format of that cooperation as a formality. The social networks analyzed here, such as the Balkan Communist Federation or League for Balkan Confederation were dominantly political; at the same time, there were some specific forms of diaspora networks (which comprised e.g. Macedonian club, Macedonian Committee, etc.). This paper will demonstrate that social networks in the Balkans did exist, but they were not sufficiently synchronized, consistent and organized as those in Western Europe. At the same time, they were not clearly structured and they largely relied on internal hierarchy which varies at different levels. Thus, for example the Balkan Communist Federation (BCF) was essentially subordinate to the Comintern, while the Balkan Committee was subordinate to BCF. On the other level, the Balkan Committee was composed of different organizations, which also only formally acknowledged its organizational structure; the aforementioned Committee could not affect their practical activities, though it did control the publishing of La Federation Balkanique journal. To some extent, this type of organization was similar with other networks in the Balkans, which largely explains their short existence.

    The preconception that only the Balkan socialists advocated the idea of Balkan unity in the 20th century has existed for many years as an indisputable historical fact in most countries of the Balkan Peninsula. That view was the result of political and ideological circumstances, but also the need for idealization of socialist movement, as the revolutionary basis for what came later. However, it turned out that thinkers and political figures of various ideological backgrounds promoted this idea.

    On the eve of the First World War, Balkan socialists insisted on authentic antiwar discourse and promotion of the idea of a Balkan (con)federation. Serbian Social Democratic Party openly opposed the war through its newspaper Radnicke novine, as well as the Serbian Chamber of Labor in Paris and its newspaper Buducnost. During 1915, the Second Balkan Social Democratic Conference was held in Bucharest, where the Resolution on the Establishment of a Balkan Democratic Federation was adopted. The Conference unanimously pleaded for the principle of neutrality of the Balkan countries, and condemned every form of war and imperialism. Within this conference, the Balkan Workers' Social-Democratic Federation was formed. It was actually the umbrella organization of the Balkan Socialist Parties, and it was supported by prominent Balkan socialists such as: Geogri Dimitrov, Mikhail Bujor (and his newspaper Lupta Zilnica), Dimitar Blagoev, Dusan Popovic, etc.

    The Greek socialist organization Federatio published a decree in 1917, which underlined its commitment to a unified Balkan democratic federation, as a lasting solution of the Eastern Question (Simovski 1965: 196). In November 1918, at the Athens conference, all Greek socialist organizations were united into a single Socialist Labour Party of Greece. Accordingly, they adopted the Memorandum on External Issues, in which it was announced that "the only way to ensure a lasting peace agreement among the Balkan nations is the establishment of the Balkan Democratic Federation, based on all democratic principles that would guarantee full and true political and national freedom for all nationalities, regardless of their religion or ethnicity" (Nadoveza 1997: 63).

    In the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the idea of the Balkan unity had different perceptions. Official government was too occupied with internal Yugoslav problems, which became increasingly dramatic. Territorial tensions with Italy, Romania and Greece additionally burdened foreign relations of the country. Yugoslav communists, under the influence of the Comintern, denounced the centralist concept that existed in Yugoslavia.

    After becoming the Bulgarian Prime Minister in 1919, Aleksandar Stamboliyski organized a political tour over the country, which lasted one hundred days, where he promoted the thesis of a Balkan union as a vital political interest of Bulgaria. He was a leader of Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union whose program, among other things, said that: "The Agrarian Union favours durable and peaceful relations between Bulgaria and her neighbours (...) It seeks to strengthen these good relations by uniting Bulgaria with other Balkan states on a federative basis" (Hatzopoulos 2008: 137). Although many of these views were perceived as a 'policy of peaceful revisionism', Aleksandar Stamboliyski will be remembered as one of the biggest advocates of inter-state cooperation in the Balkans. After the putsch in 1923, he was overthrown and brutally murdered.

  2. Nation or federation?

    The impact of the Russian Revolution on the idea of a Balkan union is indisputable. The First Balkan Socialist Conference, which was held in Belgrade in 1910, was openly supported by Lenin. In his suggestive letter, he said: "Conscious workers of the Balkan countries were the first to point out the steady solution of the national question in the Balkans. That solution is a Federal Balkan Republic" (Kozic 1964: 195). The second man of the revolution, Leon Trotsky promoted the idea of a Balkan federation (since 1909) in his articles in Kievskaya Mysl and Pravda. In 1915, he stated that "the dissolution of Austro-Hungary would correspond to European interests and the inclusion of Romania in a Balkan federation would be a defensive rampage against Russian imperialism and tsarism" (Nadoveza 2000: 52).

    The Executive Committee of the Comintern, in the year of its establishment (1919), without denying the possibility of dissolution of Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, called for the formation of the Balkan Federal Soviet Republic (Vlajcic 1984: 47).

    At its Second Congress in Vukovar in 1920, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (1) adopted the Program, which states: "The Soviet Republic of Yugoslavia should enter a fraternal alliance with all the neighbouring nations in order to establish the Soviet Federation of the Balkan-Danube States, which will be integral part of the International Federation of Soviet Republics" (Vlajcic 1984: 320). On the basis of this chapter of the program we can conclude that...

To continue reading

Request your trial