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International Intervention in Macedonia, 1903-1909: The Mürzsteg Reforms

March 13, 2006


For the next two weeks, plans to take a step back — one-hundred years back, to be precise — to get a rare and detailed look at the precursor of today’s interventionist program in Kosovo, the less ambitious (but even more dangerous) Mürzsteg Reform Programme (1903-1909) that divided Ottoman-ruled Macedonia into sectors under the influence of the then-Great Powers of Europe.

In the first part tomorrow, “Prologue to the Past: Mürzsteg’s Recurring Intervention,” we take a general look at the reforms, pointing out their stated objectives and their fatal flaws, as well as some of the connections between intervention in the Balkans then and today. The 10-part series has been written by Serbian historian Carl Savich and Director Christopher Deliso.

Part 2 of the series, “The Eastern Question: An Independent Macedonia or the Status Quo?,” appears on Tuesday, March 14 and discusses the effect Turkish massacres had on gaining international attention for an intervention, and explains the geostrategic issues at stake to the Great Powers and Turkey, as they each pursued their own interests in the Balkans. This chapter also gives a short explanation of the terminology and structures of the Ottoman administration and security forces in turn-of-the-century Macedonia.

Part 3 of the series, “Precursors to Mürzsteg: From the Congress of Vienna to Crete’s Liberation,” will appear on Thursday, March 16. It places the Macedonian interventionist experiment squarely in the context of 19th-century political innovations in international relations, such as the 1815 Concert of Europe that prefigured the UN, and the Treaty of Berlin, that set a legal framework for the entire disaster of Balkan intervention up to the Great War. We also discuss the impact that European intervention in the Greek Civil War and Cretan uprising of 1896 would have on crafting the scope and purpose of the Mürzsteg Programme.

Part 4 of the series, “The Role of the Western Media in Prompting Intervention in Macedonia” appears on Saturday, March 18, and takes a look at the effectiveness that emotive and vivid media reports had on galvanizing public opinion towards intervention.

Part 5 of our series, “Intervention Arrives in Macedonia: The Vienna Plan, 1902-1903,” continues on Monday, March 20. It tells the story of how the Great Powers were finally prompted into action, and how they agreed on their first plan for intervention in Macedonia. It covers the limitations and failures of this plan, which indirectly led to more bloodshed and insurgent attacks, leading up to the famous Ilinden Uprising of August 2003 and the development of a more robust reform package, the Mürzsteg Plan.

Part 6 of the series, “The Bloody Road from Krusevo to Mürzsteg,” arrives on Wednesday, March 22. It recounts the failed attempt by the Macedonian revolutionaries to create a republic in the heart of the Balkans during the August 1903 Ilinden Uprising, and gives extensive coverage to the Mürzsteg Reform Programme that followed, noting its weaknesses and the diplomatic power struggles involved.

Part 7 of the series, “Grumbling and Unease: the Reforms Implemented,” will appear on Friday, March 24. It gives a frank appraisal of how the reforms were carried out, the reception that the interventionists got from the various local factions, and the inherent dangers of the mission.

On Monday, March 27, our series returns with Part 8, “Intrigue, Diplomacy and Rivalry: Macedonia Divided by the Great Powers.” This installment provides a detailed account of how and why Macedonia was divided up between the European powers, especially Russia and Austria-Hungary, and the effect that this had on the course of events- both then and now.

The antepenultimate installment of the series, “Simmering Discontent, Evasive Actions: the Mürzsteg Programme through 1904,” will appear on Wednesday, March 29. This ninth part of the series chronicles the implementation of the reforms during the seminal year of 1904, and explains through the words of witnesses why the program was failing.

The tenth and final article in the series, “Massacres and Machinations Continue: 1905 through the Bitter End,” will appear on Friday, March 31. It gives a comprehensive recounting of the final years of the Mürzsteg Programme, including exciting related events such as the arrival of the Young Turks on the scene and the provocative annexation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary. The article concludes with an appraisal of the successes and failures of the intervention, presenting sobering lessons for interventionists and would-be interventionists today.

We hope that readers will enjoy this experimental departure into a little-known but fascinating and very relevant corner of Balkan history.

With so much going on right now in the Balkans, some would wonder why we are devoting over two weeks to a historical subject. It is precisely because that subject is so important to the understanding of our events of today, in the hugely symbolic year of 2006, the five-year anniversary of the Macedonian war, a year that has seen the deaths of three major recent leaders already (Rugova, Babic and Milosevic), and will likely see the independence of Kosovo and maybe Montenegro too.

All that said, we invite readers to take a step back, take a deep breath, and be prepared to see the events unfolding before us now from a new perspective. contemporary news coverage will return on the 1st of April. Until then, enjoy your stay in the Macedonia of 100 years ago.

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