AT the beginning of 1914, when travelling westwards on the Orient Express, I had vividly brought home to me the gulf which separated the Balkans from Western Europe.
Emerging from my compartment into the corridor of the sleepingear on the first morning after leaving Constantinople, I found myself faced by a grey-coated Bulgarian soldier with fixed bayonet. Accustomed as I was to travel in Western Europe, I experienced a spasm of youthful excitement at the thought that I was passing through a land in which the train had to carry an armed guard.
The Balkans are perhaps not quite so romantic in 1940 as they were in 1914; but for many generations their physiognomy will bear traces of that Asiatic civilisation under which they have so long lived. Of the three great Asiatic invasions of Europe, the Arab invasion of Spain. the Mongol invasion of Russia, and the Turkish invasion of SouthEastern Europe, the last only attained its widest limits after the others had come to an end.
Europe Led To Catastrophe
When the tide of Ottoman conquest began to recede, it was at first Austria who acted as the champion of the Balkan Christians. Later her place was taken by Russia, who by reason of her profession of the Orthodox Faith was more advantageously placed than Austria for winning their sympathies; but Austria never relaxed her watchful gaze on the lands which lay to the South-East of her Empire. For if St. Petersburg was the successor of Byzantium, Vienna was in a sense the heir of Rome.
It was the rivalry between Austria and Russia which shipwrecked the " Three Emperors " Leagues created by Bismarck in 1872 and 1884. and so prevented Europe from achieving stability. This same rivalry led Europe to catastrophe in 1914. When at last a settlement was reached, there was no Sultan, no Tsar, no Hapsburg Kaiser, and it was humorously said that the Balkans extended to Prague. Two Balkan States, Serbia and Rumania, had been altered out of recognition by enlargement at the expense of Austria and Hungary, and one-Montenegrohad disappeared. Nothing constructive has emerged from the welter of small or middle-sized states into which the South-east corner of Europe is divided. The so-called " Balkan Entente," though it may superficially resemble the old Turkish Empire, or even the Byzantine one, is merely an unstable arrangement for preventing the realisation of Bulgaria's " revisionist " aspirations.
From Where Can Political Salvation Come?
From what quarter can political salvation come to the Balkan peoples? Still oppressed by memories of Turkish rule, they are the backward members of the European family, needing the friendly aid of one of their bigger brothers; while being without a natural leader among themselves, they are in need of leadership from without.
This last statement will be disputed by some, who will maintain that a selfcontained Balkan or Danubian Federation, constituting a sixth Great Power anti taking the place of the old AustroHungarian Empire, is not outside the range of practical politics.
A Danubian Switzerland
Sometimes a confederation of this nature has been conceived of as including Greece and Turkey and thus being pivoted on the narrow straits where Europe and Asia meet; at other times, the form in which it was advocated was more Danubian in character, Czechslovakia and Hungary being thought of SS members, with Greece and Turkey left outside. Some have advocated the creation of a Balkan or Danubian Switzerland; Mazzini did so more than seventy years ago. Others believe that the Hapsburg dynasty may yet play a part in the reconstruction of SouthMestere Europe.
It may be doubted that whether either of these schemes will prove practicable. The Swiss Confederation was a natural growth, formed during the course of centuries. A new Switzerland cannot he called into being by a mere stroke of the pen, and even among those who felt that the break up of the old Austria was a misfortune, there are doubts as to whether the fallen dynasty can be of further service to Europe. Even in the lands over which it once ruled, it can, after a break of more than twenty
would reign in Constantinople or Tsargrud, as the Russians called it. The new Russia lacks these associations. She has no ties with the non-Slavonic Balkan peoples, the Rumanians, Greeks and Albanians, and though as the chief Slav State, she might claim the friendship of the Balkan Slays, this claim is largely offset by her adoption of Communism.
It may indeed be doubted whether Moscow has now any further ambitions in the Balkan region than the recovery of the strip of territory between the Dneister and the Pruth, which was a part of the Russian Empire throughout the greeter part of the 19th century. Even this she has declared herself unwilling to occupy by force.
Italy Has a Part To Play
The Hohenzollern Empire supported Austrian aspirations in the Balkans, though its own interests in that part of Europe were commercial rather than political. Berlin belongs to a different world from the Balkan Peninsula, and the true successor of the Hapsburg Empire is not Germany but Italy. All the countries of the Balkan Peninsula are easily accessible by sea from Italy and although with the exception of Rumania, none of their peoples are of Latin speech, this peninsula. no less than the Iberian one, formed a part of that Roman World, of which the new Italian Empire is the heir. In pursuance of her policy of stabilising this part of Europe, Italy has recently occupied Albania and thus become herself a Balkan Power, as was Austria-Hungary through her possession of Bosnia and the Herzegovina.
The achievement of equilibrium among the mosaic of states constructed from the debris of the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires will best be reached by a federation of the Balkan and Danubian States, looking towards Rome as its centre of politieat gravity.
This federation should include Hungary with Slovakia restored to it, but enjoying local self-government, Rumania, a Yugo-Slavia in which the Croats possess autonomy, Bulgaria and Greece. Turkey, being now mainly an Asiatic power, should remain outside.
The formation of such a union would be a stepping-stone towards a world order more stable than anything known since the days of the Roman Empire.