Pan-Slavism: the Cause of Wwi

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Nationalism inspires a pride within a group of people that ignites change and strengthens unity. It is what keeps heritages and cultures of nations alive. But what happens when the people advocating Nationalism are trapped within a nation in which they do not desire to be? The Pan-Slavic movement in Eastern Europe in the early 20th Century created a tension between Austria-Hungary and Serbia that culminated in WWI. This tension was caused by the threat Pan-Slavism posed on Austria-Hungary due to its high Slavic population and its recent annexation of Bosnia Herzegovina. Another tension-builder was that Russia, a Slavic nation and a super-power at the time, was fully supporting this movement, thereby indirectly challenging Austria-Hungary to control of its own people. The tension had been mounting long before WWI began, but it was the breaking of this tension through the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered the War. Serbia wanted unification of all Slavs, most of which were under Austro-Hungarian rule, and the tension this created resulted in one of the worst wars the world has ever seen.

The bulk of the tension was created between Serbia and Austria-Hungary through the spread of Pan-Slavism. Pan-Slavism is a term used to refer to the advocation of the unification of all Slavic people throughout Eastern Europe (Kohn 9). A person is considered Slavic if they belong to one of the many people groups in Eastern Europe (modern day Poland and Ukraine), Western Russia, and the Balkans (Coetzee 124). Pan-Slavism sought to unite the Slavic peoples that had been oppressed for centuries by the Austro-Hungarians and the Ottoman Turks. Serbia was the main proponent of Pan-Slavism in the Balkans as it sought to unite the Slavs in the area after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina to Austria-Hungary in 1908, and with it, half a million Slavs (Cirkovic 243). The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was violently opposed by the Slavs in Serbia who believed they “deserved to be with their Slavic brothers” (Brook-Shepherd 181). Bosnia-Herzegovina became the focal point of all Pan-Slavic ambitions. The annexation provoked an intense upsurge in Serbian lands to protect Serbian interests in the annexed areas. This led to the creation of a secret patriotic organization, “Unification or Death!” or otherwise known as “The Black Hand,” (MacKenzie 61) in order to achieve the unification of all Serbs - by force if necessary. Tension was heightened by the actions of The Black Hand that tried to stir up revolts within Austria-Hungary via propaganda and the spread of anti-Austrian mentalities. (Cirkovic 246). A revolt was a scary thought for Austria-Hungary as 28 of their 49 million people were Slavs (Habib). With such a high population being Slavic, the spread of Pan-Slavism presented a real threat to Austria-Hungary if its Slavs were allowed to separate. The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina enhanced the tension through its causing of an increase in Pan-Slavism which ultimately led to the catastrophe of WWI. The backbone of this increase derived from Russia and their ties to the Slavic movement.

Russia’s support of Pan-Slavism in the Balkans threatened Austria-Hungary in a way that Serbia could not. Russia represented a nation that could get what it wanted, when it wanted and posed a greater military threat than that of small Serbia. Russia’s allegiance to Serbia stemmed from their shared Slavic ethnicity. The cultural links between the Balkan and Russian Slavs had developed over time into a program for political unification. From the first conference of Slavic peoples in Moscow in 1867 (Keylor 7), Russians advocating Pan-Slavism envisioned the creation of a vast Slavic empire united under the Russian Czars (MacKenzie 60). Russia’s support of this movement gave the Slavs in the Balkans, more specifically, Serbia, fervor in the face of the Austro-Hungarians, causing them to aggressively seek national unity at any...
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