Since 1466 the Balkans had been under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. As the Turkish Empire grew weaker, the subject people began to seek independence. The Greeks came first in the early 1800s, followed by partial independence of Serbia and later Rumania. Bulgaria also revolted, but was defeated. Because of Russian ambitions to absorb the Bulgarians within their own spear of influence, the defeat brought about the Russian/Turkish war of 1877. The western powers (France, Britain, Germany, Austria, etc.), fearful of Russian expansion and the loss of their huge investments in the area, attempted to stabilize the Balkans. New borders were decided on in Berlin the following year, but they left nearly every "race" question unsettled. To one degree or another, minority groups remained within the borders of stronger nationalities.
From that time on, quarrel after quarrel made up the history of the Balkan peoples. Their squabbling was continuous and they murdered one another with a fierce dedication. Each of the nations sought the assistance and support of one of the great powers to further their ambitions. Since Russia and Austria bordered the area, they were constantly intriguing with the new states. Russia was determined to rid the Balkans of Austrian and Turkish domination and find an outlet to the Mediterranean. Austria was equally determined to stop her. They both attempted to extend their influence and domain in the direction of Constantinople (Istanbul) where the strait separated Europe from Asia.
In 1908 Austria, pushing southward, annexed some heavily populated Serbian areas. A violent reaction occurred in Serbia and Russia. To aggravate Russia further, Austria also came to the aid of Bulgaria which declared its independence from Turkey and further threatened Russian ambitions. Russia appeared ready to take drastic steps. Fearful of facing Russia alone, Austria looked to Germany for support. Against the advice of the German Emperor, the German government offered Austria a "blank check" by noting that Germany would "regard the decision which you may ultimately come to as one demanded by circumstances." Russia had recently lost a war to Japan which had revealed her weaknesses and instigated revolts among her independent minded Poles, Ukrainians, Armenians and other nationalities. Because of internal problems and lack of military preparedness, Russia had to humble herself and take no action against Austria. Determined not to be humbled again, she intensified war preparations.
For the next five years conflicts in the Balkans rarely ceased. Serbia had expanded her domain which only wet her appetite. She now turned her attention to the Serbs and other Slavs living under the rule of Austria. A nationalistic Pan-Serb movement was intensified which called for all the Serbs to be united into one country. In support of their fellow Slavs, the movement was vigorously supported by Russian fractions who now felt their country was ready for war.
The unrest among the Serbs living under Austrian control had reached a boiling point when Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife made their untimely visit. That the assassin was able to hop onto the car and take "close aim first at the Archduke, and then at the Duchess," and no one stopped him, "indicate that the conspiracy was carefully planned and that the Archduke fell a victim to a political plot."1 Hitler would later write that a "stone had been set rolling on a course that could no longer be checked."2
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1 NY Times June 29, 1914
2 Hitler Mein Kampf Reynal & Hitchcock 206