It was a diplomatic meeting of European powers held in the German city of Berlin between June and July 1878. It was called and chaired by Otto Von Bismarck who was the Chancellor of the new German Empire which had emerged on the political map of Europe in 1871 after defeating France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. The congress was attended by Britain, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France, Turkey and Italy.
It followed the worsening diplomatic relations between Russia and the other European powers like Britain, Austria – Hungary and Germany. It was a reaction against Russia’s dictated treaty of San Stefano unto Turkey that led to the creation of the Big Bulgaria which was largely regarded as a puppet of Russia.
REASONS WHY THE BERLIN CONGRESS OF 1878 WAS HELD
Although the desire to revise the treaty of San Stefano of March 1878 led to the calling of the Berlin congress of 1878, there were more reasons or events that made the summoning of the Berlin Congress of 1878 inevitable and these included;
The Crimean War of 1854-1856 and the subsequent Paris Peace Treaty of 1856 led to the calling of the Berlin Congress of 1878. These two events dismissed or cancelled the Russian claims and gains in the Balkans. For example, Russia was restrained from protecting the holy places and the Christians living in the Ottoman Empire which greatly annoyed her. Therefore, since 1856 Russia always remained on the lookout for an opportunity to re-establish or re-assert her influence in the Ottoman Empire. Russia’s long awaited opportunity emerged in 1875 when a number of nationalistic revolts broke out across the Balkan Peninsular which she supported to get independence from Turkey. This led to conflicts between Russia and countries like Britain, Austria-Hungary and Turkey, thus leading to the calling of the Berlin congress of 1878 so as to solve the above conflicts over the Balkans other than going to war.
The mistreatment of the Christians by the Sultan of Turkey was another event that led to the calling the Berlin congress of 1878. The sultan of turkey had promised fair or humane treatment of the Christian subjects by the Paris treaty of 1856. However, in the 1870s the Muslims of Turkey under Sultan Abdul Hamid II killed many Christians who were living in the Ottoman Empire. This prompted Russia to intervene in the Balkan affairs so as to save the Christians from further persecution by the Muslims. This Russian intervention threatened the commercial interests of Britain in the Mediterranean region. There was now a conflict between Britain and Russia that had to be resolved at a European congress, thus leading to the calling of the Berlin Congress of 1878.
The continuous decline or sickness of the Turkish Empire led to the calling of the Berlin congress of 1878. The empire that lay on the African, Asian and European continents was too large to be effectively administered by the Sultan of Turkey. This weakness encouraged Russian imperialism to the extent that Russia suggested to the Western powers the idea of dividing up the empire amongst themselves. The Western powers conflicted with Russia over this issue as Britain and Austria in particular wanted to preserve the Ottoman Empire because it served as a bulwark to the ambitious Russian designs in Eastern Europe. Therefore, this conflict had to be solved at Berlin in 1878 so as and also prevent the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.
The nationalistic struggles within the Ottoman Empire led to the calling of the Berlin congress of 1878. In 1875, nationalistic revolts broke out across the Balkan Peninsular in the Turkish provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina as they were fighting for independence from the Turkish rule. These were followed by similar revolts in Serbia, and Montenegro in 1876. Russia supported the revolutionaries in these Balkan states and declared war on Turkey in 1877. Britain rejected this Russian influence in the Balkan states because it threatened her commercial interests in the region. As a result, their conflict needed to be settled at a congress, thus leading to the calling of the Berlin Congress of 1878.
The declaration of Serbian independence contributed to the calling of the Berlin congress of 1878. Russia influenced other powers to grant semi – independence to Serbia in 1856 after the Crimean War and later full independence was granted in March 1878 through the San Stefano treaty of 1878. However, although Serbia was to enjoy independence, Russia was to take advantage of the assistance to Serbia to have the main influence in Serbia which threatened the economic and political interests of other countries especially Austria- Hungary which wanted to weaken Serbia. Therefore, the conflict between Russia and Austria – Hungary over Serbia’s independence led to calling of the Berlin Congress of 1878.
The completion of the unification of Germany in 1871 influenced the summoning of the Berlin congress of 1878. Prussia had defeated France at the end of the Franco – Prussian war and Bismarck who was the Chancellor of the new German empire had fears of the French taking revenge on Germany. This would have happened if France got friendship with any one of the conflicting countries in the Ottoman Empire especially if France gave military support to that country and in turn France would ask for the same. Bismarck therefore wanted to isolate France so as to maintain peace in Europe using the Berlin congress of 1878.
The collapse of the Austrian power in Europe was another factor for the calling of the Berlin congress of 1878. Austria had lost provinces in Italy and the German Confederation when Italy and Germany unified in 1870 and 1871 respectively. This forced her to turn to the Ottoman Empire especially to the Balkan Peninsula to get more territories. This led to a conflict between Austria-Hungry and Russia over Bosnia and Herzegovina because Russia wanted these Slav states to remain independent. Bismarck wanted this conflict to be resolved since he needed both as powers allies against France which he had defeated in 1871, hence the calling of the Berlin congress in 1878.
The Bulgarian Massacres of 1876 led to the calling of the Berlin Congress of 1878. In 1876, the Bulgarians staged a nationalist revolt against the Turkish bad rule. When this revolt broke out the Turkish Muslims under Sultan Abdul Hamid II entered Bulgaria and retaliated by killing thousands of Bulgarians in what came to be known as the Bulgarian massacres of 1876. Russia sympathized with the Bulgarians and therefore she intervened to save further massacres in the empire. This intervention attracted other powers like Britain who felt that their commercial interests were threatened. The conflict therefore had to be resolved in 1878.
The refusal by the Sultan of Turkey to implement reforms led to the summoning of Berlin congress of 1878. He for example refused to grant independence to the Balkan states of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also failed to stop the persecution of the Christians by the Muslims in the empire. This created an opportunity for Russia to intervene under the excuse of helping fellow Slav states and Orthodox Christians yet her intervention always caused a conflict between her and other countries like Britain and Austria – Hungary. Therefore, the Berlin Congress of 1878 was aimed at compelling the Sultan to make the required reforms in the administration in the administration and grant religious freedom to all especially the Christian subjects.
The Russo – Turkish war of 1877 also partly led to the calling of the Berlin Congress of 1878. Russia attacked Turkey because of the latter’s mistreatment of the Christians. By the end of 1877, she had nearly defeated Turkey and occupied Adrianople and there was almost no obstacle hindering her advance to Constantinople, the heart of the empire. This alarmed Britain and Austria and they urged Russia to enter into an armistice with Turkey. This resulted into the San Stefano treaty of March 1878 which further escalated the conflicts between Russia and the Western Powers of Britain and Austria-Hungary especially after the creation of the state of Big Bulgaria under Russian influence. This subsequently led to the calling of an international congress at Berlin in 1878 so as to resolve the resolve the Balkan crisis.
The Treaty of San Stefano of March 1878 set grounds for the calling of the Berlin congress of 1878. At the height of the tension between the Balkan states of Montenegro, Serbia and Bulgaria and their master, the Ottoman sultan in 1877, Russia intervened by supporting the Balkan nationalities to break away from the Ottoman Empire. By January 1878, Russia was about to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. This alarmed both Austria and Britain and they demanded that the Russia should stop their advance and sign a peace treaty with Turkey. this resulted into the San Stefano of March 1878 . This treaty increased the Russian influence on the Balkan Peninsula because it gave Russia the control of the state of “Big Bulgaria” which angered Britain. It also allowed the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina to administer their own affairs yet Austria-Hungary wanted to annex them thus annoying her. Therefore, the Berlin congress was summoned by Bismarck to revise the treaty of San Stefano and resolve the crisis.