Bryan Caplan  

What Was Balkanization?

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Here's how Dominic Lieven's The End of Tsarist Russia dissects Balkan politics in the years right before World War I:
Here Macedonia remained the key focus of instability.  The commitment of the new regime in Constantinople to centralization and Turkish nationalism made conflict in the province even sharper than before 1908... Within Macedonia, Muslims (mostly but by no means only Albanians), Greeks, and Slavs were often in conflict.  Grigorii Trubetskoy wrote that the great majority of Macedonian Slavs were currently neither truly Bulgarian nor truly Serbian.  Which direction their identity took would depend on whether the Bulgarian or Serbian government and intelligentsia came to control the region.  This gave an added twist to the rivalry of the regimes in Sofia and Belgrade.  All the governments in the region were nationalist through and through.  This was the source of their legitimacy and of most local politicians' sense of their own personal identity.  Where governments did try to show statesmanship and moderation, however, they could rely on being denounced by wide sections of their country's intelligentsia.  Worst of all, the officer corps of all states in the region were shot through with extreme and aggressive nationalist assumptions and loyalties.
On the surface, Lieven is solidly in the "realist" camp that traces war to conflicts of national self-interest.  (See also here and here).  Read closely, however, Lieven's definition of "national self-interest" is so psychological - so intertwined with being a people - that objective interests count for almost nothing.  Russians didn't fight World War I for Russia.  They fought World War I for Russianness




COMMENTS (7 to date)
Richard writes:

Yes, scratch a little below the surface, and realists' conception of self-interest is nearly always rooted in psychology. That being the case, there is no reason why people can't be made to care about something other than their nationstate.

mico writes:

Germany, France and Britain were realist states at this time; Russia and Serbia were romantic nationalist states. Austria-Hungary was a borderline case. Although their response to the assassination of their heir apparent appears symbolic and emotional, it should be remembered that Austria-Hungary wasn't a nation and the survival of the individuals in the ruling dynasty was therefore much more important to the survival of the state than in Britain, Germany, or even Russia.

Serbia and Russia started a Balkan war for romantic nationalist reasons. Germany turned it into a European war for realist reasons. Britain turned it into a world war for realist reasons.

Jim Glass writes:

Lieven's definition of "national self-interest" is so psychological - so intertwined with being a people - that objective interests count for almost nothing

We're talking about the Balkans. I don't really understand your point, or see any alternatives to what was. So maybe I'm missing something?

There are intermixed peoples of different ethnicities, languages and religions. When one is with people not like oneself, one likely can't even talk to them, certainly can't do commerce or share social relations, and really is quite likely to be assaulted, robbed, killed. And it doesn't get better over time (because as you wrote in one of your posts on realist politics about why the Israelis and Palestinians have never worked things out, "Face it, they hate each other.")

OTOH when one is with others who are are just like oneself, you do get all these things: physical safety, a civil society, and increased commerce/wealth. So to secure these things for yourselves and your families you all band together strongly as "a people".

What I don't get is the implication that physical safety, a civil society, and commercial welfare not "objective interests". How is being driven together to secure them as "a people" mere psychology? What were the other 'objective interests' that should have counted for more but were so neglected?

Tribal, clan-based organization of society is not modern, but is it not rational?

Or am I misreading things?

Jim Glass writes:

As to"Balkanization" as a larger subject, perhaps relevant...

The historian Margaret MacMillan points out that for all the efforts of the Paris Peace conference to draw up coherent ethnic-based nation states, post-WWI fully 33% of the population of central Europe wound up "on the wrong side of the border" due to the unsolvable geographic problem of ethnic minorities nested within one another. The result was unrelenting people-on-people violence. People don't need states to be violent - though they will quickly organize/take over/break away states (or other organizations) to better organize violence for them.

Today this violence is almost all gone, but, she points out, not because people learned tolerance and society matured. Rather because today only 3% of the population of the area is wrong-side-of-the-border minority, because in the 1920s the League of Nations and the major nations organized forced migrations of minorities as a "humanitarian measure" (which it was as it prevented large-scale killing, though today we call it "ethnic cleansing") ... those who didn't migrate that way were forced by violence to do so or killed ... after which Hitler and Stalin took care of the rest. Even so we still got the Yugoslavian-breakup wars, massacres and ethnic cleansings of the 1990s.

Thus, she observes, the historical record unhappily gives little reason to be optimistic that the "Balkanization" problems elsewhere in the world today will anytime soon be fundamentally remedied by enlightened increase of tolerance, rather than by homogenization of populations, one way or another.

FWIW.

mico writes:

"What I don't get is the implication that physical safety, a civil society, and commercial welfare not "objective interests". How is being driven together to secure them as "a people" mere psychology? What were the other 'objective interests' that should have counted for more but were so neglected?"

Russia didn't need to prop up Serbia to build or remain a nation, but propping up Serbia was stupendously costly for them, and would have been even if they had won the war and not suffered a communist revolution, with very little pay-off. Russia probably wasn't weighing the value of a Yugoslav ally against the cost of the war.

Serbia on the other hand could be regarded as a hard realist power having apparently manipulated all the great powers - including the US - into fighting an insanely large war for it in which it got everything it wanted politically, succeeding in forming the fictional nation of Yugoslavia which endured for a bit more than 70 years.

But looking at the motivations and statements of the people involved I find it more likely they were just lucky idiots. The war also killed more than half of its male population and saw it temporarily expelled from all its territory.

Jim Glass writes:

Russia didn't need to prop up Serbia...

I was referring to the described situation in the Balkans (then and on into the 1990s post-Yugoslav internecine conflicts) not the Russian reaction to it.

Serbia on the other hand could be regarded as a hard realist power having apparently manipulated all the great powers - including the US - into fighting an insanely large war for it in which it got everything it wanted politically..

Except the Serbian government was strongly opposed to -- terrified of -- the war, knowing that when the elephants started dancing it was going to get crushed under the hooves, as indeed it was. That's why it immediately agreed to every condition of the ultimatum it received that it could, and desperately sought foreign mediation on the rest. Serbia was small to begin with and exhausted by two recent wars, not ready to fight again even by its own standards

When the government got wind of the Black Hand plot against the Archduke it ordered the plotters to be stopped at the border and sent a warning to the Austrians. Of course, this being the Balkans, there were loose-cannon radical pro-warers especially in the army but throughout the government. They delayed the order to the border crossings until it was too late, and saw to it that the warning message was misdirected and garbled.

But as push came to shove, even the army radicals who funded and supplied the Black Hand sent orders to the plotters to "stop!". Pincip & Co ignored them and went on anyhow because they sought the personal satisfaction of doing.

One of the problems with "realist" international political analysis is that it often treats actions as being the result of the rational calculations of some sort of one artificial single national mind -- it lacks microfoundations.

Serbia was utterly crushed during the war. It's casualties as a ratio of both its military and its total population dwarfed those of France, Germany, Russia, Britain, etc, including an absolute majority of its male population.

It's hard for me to believe that even the most-radical Serbian pro-warers of 1914 would have counted such ruin as a success -- much less as everything they wanted. They sure never considered such costs in their plans and calculations.

mico writes:

"I was referring to the described situation in the Balkans (then and on into the 1990s post-Yugoslav internecine conflicts) not the Russian reaction to it."

Fine but it is Russia's decision to go to war over Serbia that turned WWI into a war involving the major powers, rather than a brief stomping of Serbia by Austria-Hungary. So even if you are right about Serbia Bryan is still right to point out that WWI was caused in part by romantic nationalism, not all by realist considerations.

"Of course, this being the Balkans, there were loose-cannon radical pro-warers especially in the army but throughout the government."

Which is why I think you are not right about Serbia. Clearly there were some people in Serbia thinking rationally but the entire state apparatus including the army was riddled with romantic nationalists who wanted war to expand Serbia and stop Austria-Hungary from painting itself as the champion of the South Slavs, and those people were strong enough to succeed in their goals, even if what they were doing was technically unauthorised.

"It's hard for me to believe that even the most-radical Serbian pro-warers of 1914 would have counted such ruin as a success -- much less as everything they wanted. They sure never considered such costs in their plans and calculations."

On paper they achieved their objectives, even annexing all the bits of Austria-Hungary they wanted. Consider that for a moment. Serbia began WWI trying to surrender to Austria-Hungary and failing, and ended it picking what it wanted from Austria-Hungary's corpse. If realists had been in charge in Serbia they couldn't have played a weak hand any better.

Now I don't think they were realists. As I said I think they were just lucky idiots, and that achieving their paper goals wasn't worth the human cost. They did achieve them though.

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