The undiminished desire for territorial expansion by the regional powers ensured that the Balkan crisis was an ever-present constant in Europe’s political affairs.
The Congress of Berlin failed to bring about a lasting solution in the Balkans. Behind the façade of a laboriously maintained peace, the old conflicts continued to simmer. Austria-Hungary’s ambitions as a major power were also focused on the Balkans as a means of pasting over the problems at home with a demonstration of strength abroad.
The Congress of Berlin in 1878 was a textbook example of two-tier diplomacy characterized by the arrogance of the major powers with regard to the smaller nations and decisions being made over their heads that were to have fateful consequences.
The government in Vienna sought to prevent Russia from establishing itself as the protector of the orthodox Balkan Slavs. The Habsburg Balkan policy therefore aimed at strengthening the Austrian presence in the Balkan ‘powder keg’. It was thwarted in doing so by the rise of Serbia as a regional power.
In the nineteenth century, the Balkans were the setting for the growing emancipation endeavours of the various peoples in the region, where the seeds of the French Enlightenment and the nationalist ideology, as everywhere in Europe, fell on fertile ground.
In view of its internal fragility, the Ottoman Empire, once a feared conqueror, was now the target of imperialist ambitions by the European colonial powers.
In the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire had difficulty in maintaining its status as a major power. The need to modernize the huge empire became increasingly pressing, as the backwardness in many areas compared with the European powers revealed itself.
The last decades of Emperor Franz Joseph’s rule were marked by conflicts between the various nationalities within the Habsburg Monarchy. The competing national demands were increasingly incompatible with the idea of a supranational Austria-Hungary.
In view of the high level of illiteracy within the population as a whole, the Habsburg Monarchy lagged behind other western European states. The vast regional differences in literacy was a characteristic feature.
The Habsburg Monarchy incorporated territories with very different cultural, social and economic development. This variety, which was extremely fecund at the cultural level, proved to be an obstacle to the modernization of the state as a whole.