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'Uncivilised Wars in Civilised Europe?' The Perception of War and Warfare in the Balkans by English, German and Irish Newspapers and Journals, 1876-1913

"There has been a state of almost ceaseless warfare", the Daily Telegraph wrote in summer 1913 at the end of the Second Balkan War, referring to almost 40 years of Balkan history. War and warfare in the Balkans during the course of the 19th century, observers of all political convictions could agree, differed widely from that of the western part of the continent. To find an appropriate comparison, as was frequently stated, it seemed necessary to draw upon the savage times of the Thirty Years War.
But what was it that made warfare in the south-eastern corner of Europe such an outstanding event that the unionist Irish Times, among others, characterized the Balkan Wars 1912/13 as "the most horrible wars of modern times"? One answer certainly lies in the way the wars were conducted by all participating parties. "Not only armies", but "whole nations are marching forth to battle", the Times stated at the eve of the First Balkan War in October 1912, "leaving behind them only the women and children and the old men".

The aim of the project is a transnational study of the perception of wars and war-like conditions in the Balkans between the Serbo-Turkish War 1876 and the Balkan Wars 1912/13 by selected newspapers and journals of two of the established European Powers of the time, England and Germany. Additionally, the perception of the wars by the Irish press will add the perspective of a country which itself was struggling against occupation by a foreign power for its national independence.

Locating South-Eastern Europe on a cognitive or mental map of Europe has been of crucial interest for recent Balkan studies. It was especially the work of Maria Todorova [Imagining the Balkans, Oxford 1997] that had a formative influence on the discussion of previous years. Todorova assumes the alleged existence of a pejoratively stamped Balkan-discourse (she names it "balkanism") by 'the West', which - after its continual rise during the18th and especially 19th centuries - finally reached its peak during the Balkan Wars and the First World War. In contrast to Todorova, this study assumes that the journalistic discourse concerning South-Eastern Europe in Western societies during the 19th and early 20th centuries was neither homogenous nor constant, but rather marked by broad-ranging views which primarily depended on the political standpoint of the commentator. This appears to be the case with regard to German and Irish society, but above all with regard to the English public, between the 1870s and the eve of World War I.

War in the Balkans between the 1870s and the eve of World War I attracted significant media coverage. Even the 'small' wars, like the Turkish-Greek war of 1897, were on the agenda of newspapers and journals, which reported and analyzed the conduct of the events in south-eastern Europe. However, it was not just the events of war in the region that the newspapers were interested in, but their bearing on the European dimension of the 'Eastern Question'. Thus the coverage of war in the Balkans by newspapers and journals was always related to the wider context and was therefore a highly political event. A telling example was the pan-English controversial debate on the 'Eastern Question' during 1876 and 1878, which brought into play questions of the future, and even existence, of Britain as an imperial Power, and in which newspapers played a prominent part.

Like the Balkans, Ireland was itself a European 'borderland', caught in a lengthy struggle against foreign occupation and for national independence. Nevertheless, also in the case of the Irish press, the perception of the Balkans varied significantly, depending not only on the great division lines of Irish politics - Nationalism vs. Unionism -, but also within the camp of Irish nationalists itself.

However, lack of information due to strict measures of censorship as well as the often inaccessible nature of the seat of warfare opened up for editorial commentators in all the three countries concerning the opportunity to interpret events in different ways. One such example is the well-known topic of 'Balkan atrocities' which cover the entire period of this study.

Florian Keisinger
University Tuebingen
SFB 437 - War Experiences
Brunnenstrasse 30
72074 Tuebingen

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