Berlin Congress

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Berlin Congress (oil painting by Anton von Werner , 1881, 3.60 × 6.15 m for the Red City Hall in Berlin). Pictured (from left to right): von Haymerle , Károlyi , de Launay , Gortschakow (seated), Waddington , Disraeli , von Radowitz , zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst , Corti , Graf de Mouy (half covered), d'Oubril (seated), de Saint- Vallier (covering up), Desprez, Andrássy , Bucher , Otto von Bismarck , von Holstein , Busch, Herbert von Bismarck , Schuwalow , Sadullah Bey , Russell , von Bülow , Salisbury , Carathéodori and Mehmed Ali Pascha

The Berlin Congress was an assembly of representatives of the major European powers German Empire , Austria-Hungary , France , United Kingdom , Italy and Russia as well as the Ottoman Empire , at which the Balkan crisis was ended and a new peace order for Southeast Europe was negotiated. The congress taking place in Berlin began on June 13, 1878 and ended on July 13, 1878 with the signing of the Berlin Treaty.


Revolts of the Orthodox population against the Ottoman rule in Herzegovina and later Bulgaria in 1875/1876 had first led to declarations of war by Serbia and Montenegro against the Ottoman Empire. Both countries suffered a defeat, which is why Russia urged Serbia to make peace as early as the autumn. Shortly afterwards, the Ottoman army also violently put down the Bulgarian April Uprising . Since Russia saw itself as a protective power of the Bulgarians in the course of Pan-Slavism and for reasons of power politics, a Russian-Turkish war threatened. To prevent this, a conference of the ambassadors of the great European powers met in Constantinople from December 1876 to January 1877 , which demanded that the Sublime Porte also make peace with Montenegro and grant the Bulgarians extensive rights of autonomy . The great powers reserved the right to monitor the implementation of this reform ( London Protocol ). Sultan Abdülhamid II refused to accept such a restriction of sovereignty , whereupon Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire in April 1877. In January 1877 Austria-Hungary had already promised the Russians their neutrality in the Budapest Treaty .

In the Russo-Ottoman War , the Ottoman army suffered several heavy defeats. At the end of 1877, the Tsar's army reached the Sea of ​​Marmara in Yeșilköy, a suburb of Constantinople . To prevent an occupation of his capital, the Sultan was forced in March 1878 to sign the peace of San Stefano after the armistice of Edirne . The Ottoman Empire had to recognize the full independence of Romania , Serbia and Montenegro and cede smaller areas to these countries. In addition, as already determined in the Conference of Constantinople, a Greater Bulgarian state was to be created that would stretch across the Balkans from the Black Sea to the Ohrid Sea (today the border between Albania and North Macedonia ) and in the south to the Aegean Sea . This peace meant for the Ottoman Empire the loss of almost all European possessions, for Russia, whose troops under Governor General Alexander Mikhailovich Dondukow-Korsakov held the newly created satellite state , dominance in the Balkan Peninsula and access to the Mediterranean .

The conduct of Russian foreign policy called the other great powers on the scene. Austria-Hungary feared that it would lose its influence in the Balkans, be it through Russian hegemony or through the establishment of a state of all Balkan Slavs. Great Britain feared for its trade relations with the Ottoman Empire and saw the balance of power in the Balkans, which it had guarded since the Crimean War (1853-1856), threatened . Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had 5,000 Gurkhas stationed in Malta , and British frigates entered the Marmara Sea. The government in Vienna took out war loans and put the garrisons on the border with Russia on alert. A war between the great powers seemed imminent. In the meantime armed resistance of the Muslim population against the detachment of their residential areas from the Ottoman Empire was already forming on the Balkan Peninsula . Austria-Hungary did not see itself ready for a war against Russia, which is why Foreign Minister Gyula Andrássy suggested finding a diplomatic solution at a congress of the great powers. The Russian Foreign Minister, Prince Alexander Michailowitsch Gorchakov, agreed and suggested Berlin as the location. The German Reich was the only major power that did not pursue its own interests in the Balkans. Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck said this to the German Reichstag on December 5, 1876, when he said that he saw “no interest in Germany [...] in the whole of the Balkans, which is even worth [...] the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian musketeer would". In February 1878 he stated (also before the Reichstag) that he did not want to be the "arbiter" on the Oriental question, but was ready to take on the role of an "honest broker who really wants to get the deal done". However, he demanded that the three parties in dispute come to an agreement in advance.

The British government was happy to take up this approach because it hoped to be able to assert its interests better in bilateral negotiations than in multilateral congressional diplomacy . It therefore concluded three separate preliminary agreements. During the discussions between Foreign Minister Lord Salisbury and the Russian Ambassador Pyotr Andreevich Shuvalov on May 30, 1878, it was agreed that there should be no Bulgarian Empire . Gorchakov asked for the result of the preliminary negotiations to be ratified only in Berlin, because he hoped that the German side would support the Russian position. Salisbury also admitted that decisions in Berlin should only be taken unanimously, leaving Russia with a veto . Salisbury reached an agreement with Austria-Hungary on June 6, also in London, that the new Bulgaria would have its southern border on the Balkan Mountains and that the Austrians should occupy Bosnia-Herzegovina, which Russia had already agreed to in January 1877. The Ottomans were also ready to make a preliminary arrangement with the British. They feared that the unification of the warring great powers would be at their expense. Therefore, on June 4, 1878, in Constantinople, they signed a secret agreement with the British, which guaranteed them their Asian possessions and promised to prevent Russian access to the straits. In return, Great Britain was given the right to occupy and administer the island of Cyprus . The island formally remained under Ottoman sovereignty. To compensate for this, Great Britain agreed to recognize a French takeover of Tunisia ; this idea was also supported by Bismarck.

The French Prime Minister Jules Ferry sent troops to Tunisia in April 1881; these conquered the country. On May 12, 1881, Bey Muhammad III. al-Husain forced to sign the Bardo Treaty .

Course and results

The newly drawn borders on the Balkans in Berlin in 1878
The borders in Transcaucasia after the
Peace of Adrianople (1829) ( 1. ),
Peace of San Stefano (1878) ( 2. )
and the Berlin Congress (1878) ( 3. )

At the invitation of Bismarck, the European diplomats met in Berlin on June 13, 1878. They met in the Reich Chancellery for a month . In addition to the representatives of the great powers and the Ottoman Empire, there were also representatives from Greece , Romania and Serbia who, although they had no voting rights, could, depending on their skills, achieve some advantages for their states in informal discussions. The Bulgarians, whose state was not yet internationally recognized and who also did not have a government at the time of the congress, were not represented in Berlin. It was the last congress to settle international disputes in which exclusively European powers took part.

Under Bismarck's chairmanship, the congress held twenty full sessions, countless committee discussions, internal discussions and working lunches, for which the hotelier August FW Borchardt prepared sumptuous buffets. The Reich Treasury paid him 500 marks per day for this , which, according to his own statements, did not cover his expenses. The congress language was French, only British Prime Minister Disraeli insisted on speaking in English. Bismarck drafted the tightly packed agendas for the meetings and urged them to be dealt with quickly, since his poor health forced him to leave for Bad Kissingen for a cure as soon as possible . If negotiations stalled on points that had not been adequately discussed in London, he looked for compromises or threatened more or less openly: for example, he received the Ottoman embassy, ​​with which he was rude, once in full uniform including a pimple hood .

Gorchakov's hope that Bismarck would help Russian aspirations to overcome British concerns to a greater extent did not come true. At best, the Chancellor gave moral support to the Russian position, which was mainly represented by Ambassador Shuvalov because of Gorchakov's health problems. In its first seven full sessions up to June 26th, the congress largely confirmed the results of the preliminary discussions in London: The Peace of San Stefano was almost completely dismantled: Instead of a Greater Bulgaria (164,000 km²) under Russian influence, it was now a self-governed, under Ottoman suzerainty permanent Principality of Bulgaria (64,000 km²) established, the area of ​​which was limited to the territory of the former Ottoman Danube Province (the area between the lower Danube and the Balkan Mountains ) and in the southwest the basin from Sofia to the Rila Mountains . The Upper Thracian Plain and the Rhodope Mountains south of the Balkans remained as an autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia (Art. 13-22) within the Ottoman Empire. The Governor General of the Province was appointed by the Sublime Porte with the consent of the Powers for a period of five years (Art. 17). Macedonia was again placed under the Sublime Porte and remained the central province of Rumelia until 1912 . The duration of the Russian occupation of the area was shortened from two years to nine months (Art. 22).

The sovereignty of Montenegro (Articles 26–33), Serbia (Articles 34–44) and Romania (Articles 43–51), however, was fully confirmed. The latter had to cede areas in southern Bessarabia to compensate for Russia's loss of power and was compensated with the northern part of Dobruja, including the important Black Sea port of Constanța .

From June 26th, the European statesmen dealt in several meetings with the new borders of the other south-east European states. Serbia received territorial expansions on its southern border: In addition to the area around Niš already gained in San Stefano, Pirot and Vranje now also became Serbian. Montenegro was enlarged by more than a third of its area and was given a port for the first time with Bar ; all of this was at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. The Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Deligiannis was able to win the approval of the great powers for territorial expansion on the Greek northern border in Epirus and Thessaly . The exact demarcation was later to negotiate between Greece and the Ottoman Empire bilaterally. In 1881, Thessaly was transferred to Greece. For its approval of the Berlin Treaty, France was offered the prospect of annexing the Ottoman vassal state Tunis , which also took place in 1881.

As provided for in the Budapest Treaty of January 1877, Austria-Hungary received the right to occupy Bosnia-Herzegovina , which had a mixed population of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslims . Also in the Sanjak of Novi Pazar he was allowed to maintain troops, which otherwise remained with the Ottoman Empire. This served the purpose of preventing a South Slav and thus pro-Russian power formation in the Balkans if, for example, Serbia and Montenegro unified. The Serbs were outraged accordingly. The Ottomans also protested, but were assured by Andrássy in a secret agreement that the government in Vienna was ready to “view this occupation as provisional”.

Towards the end of the congress, the financial consequences of the war (compensation, Ottoman national debt) were discussed and the Russian territorial gains in Transcaucasia ( Ardahan , Batumi and Kars ) were confirmed. As a result of the latter, Muslims, namely Circassians , had fled to Eastern Anatolia from these areas , which put the majority of the Christian Armenians living there under pressure. In Article 61 of the Berlin Treaty, the Hohe Pforte was therefore obliged to implement reforms to improve the situation of the Armenians immediately and to guarantee their security against attacks by Kurds and Circassians. The Ottomans consented, but subsequently refused to implement these provisions, which were perceived as interference in internal affairs. On July 13, 1878, the results achieved were recorded in the Berlin Treaty signed by the great powers and the Ottoman Empire.


Although the Russians, when looking at the situation soberly, had achieved the maximum that was achievable without war, they perceived the Berlin Treaty as a defeat: Their ideas of order for south-eastern Europe could not be implemented, and the longed-for direct access to the Mediterranean was denied them. The rivalry between Austria and Russia in the Balkans deepened and became a constant in European politics until the outbreak of the First World War . The press, under the influence of the Pan-Slavic journalist Mikhail Nikiforowitsch Katkow, foamed, Cossacks demonstrated, and generally either the ambassador in London Pyotr Shuvalov or Bismarck was blamed.

In the period that followed, the German-Russian relationship also deteriorated, because Foreign Minister Gorchakov and his supporters blamed the outcome of the negotiations on Bismarck's work. Tsar Alexander II complained bitterly to his uncle Kaiser Wilhelm I about Bismarck's behavior in a so-called slap letter from August 1879 . Russia has now canceled the three-emperor agreement , which was re-established in June 1881 as the three-emperor union . As a result of the Bulgarian crisis in 1885, which led to Bulgarian unification , the alliances between the three European empires finally dissolved. At the center of German alliance policy was the dual alliance concluded with Austria-Hungary in 1879 , while Russia was drawing closer to France.

Overall, however, the congress was a great success for the German Empire, as the powers recognized the factual position of the new European great power by visiting Berlin. Bismarck was also able to demonstrate that he did not intend to use the German position of power for further national expansion: the Reich was demonstratively saturated . Theodor Schieder sees in the Bismarckian congress diplomacy a successful realization of the ideal sketched out in the Kissinger Diktat of June 1877 “not ... any acquisition of a country, but that of an overall political situation in which all powers except France need us, and of coalitions against us through their relationships with one another Possibility to be held. "

For Austria-Hungary, the Berlin Congress was only superficially a success. In addition to deteriorating relations with Russia, this resulted in major domestic political problems with regard to the state integration of Bosnia. In the long run, Serbia's displeasure, whose government had hoped for territorial gains in Bosnia, also became noticeable. Immediately after 1878, however, the anger against Russia was greater in Serbia, because people felt they had been abandoned by their great Slavic ally in favor of Bulgaria.

Appeal of the Macedonian Bulgarians to the great powers against the decisions of the Berlin Congress

In the Balkans this led to a sharp Serbian-Bulgarian antagonism. In three wars ( Serbian-Bulgarian War 1885/1886, Second Balkan War 1913, First World War ) both countries faced each other as enemies and fought for possession of Macedonia. The Berlin peace treaty was a great disappointment for the Bulgarians. As expected, they were dissatisfied with the narrow limits they had drawn. As a reaction to the decisions of the Berlin Congress, the Kresna Raslog uprising broke out in northeast Macedonia in the autumn of 1878 , although it was able to be suppressed by regular Ottoman troops. Up until World War I, Bulgarian foreign policy was constantly aimed at gaining those territories that Russia had promised the Bulgarians in San Stefano.

For the Ottoman Empire, the result of the Berlin Congress was ambivalent. On the one hand, things were far better off than would have been the case if the peace treaty of San Stefano had been implemented. The great powers had also recognized the representatives of the Sublime Porte in Berlin as participants in the “European public law and concert”, as they had promised in 1856 in the Third Peace of Paris . Nonetheless, the losses compared to the situation before the outbreak of the Oriental crisis were grave, and it was clear that the Ottoman Empire was only an object of negotiations, but hardly a responsible participant. The Berlin Congress and the foreign administration of its national debts , which the bankrupt Ottoman Empire had to admit in 1881, showed that the once powerful empire had become a sick man on the Bosphorus : a plaything of the great powers that did not completely lose its territories only because Great Britain, Russia and Austria-Hungary could not agree on the distribution. Added to this was the problem of the nationalism of the Balkan peoples, to which Berlin had at least partially given in. It erupted in several anti-Turkish uprisings at the beginning of the 20th century and led to the loss of all European provinces of the empire in the First Balkan War .

The British government was completely satisfied with the results of the Berlin Congress, because Russia had been successfully kept out of the Mediterranean and Cyprus had also been won as a naval base. Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury was awarded the Order of the Garter for his negotiating success . Prime Minister Disraeli was therefore very satisfied with Bismarck's conduct of the negotiations. For a long time afterwards, German-British relations were characterized by a mutually benevolent neutrality.


The evaluation of the Berlin Congress and its results is controversial in historical research. Because of the openly imperialist haggling over territories without any consideration of the national rights of the resident population and because of the short-term and short-sighted policies that emerged, it has been heavily criticized in some cases. The British historian AJP Taylor ruled that the Peace of San Stefano would have brought greater stability to Southeast Europe; the Berlin treaty, however, had only brought about a shaky and unstable restoration of Ottoman rule over the Balkan peoples, which could not have lasted long. This is contrasted with the maintenance of peace in Europe, even if this only applied to the relations between the major European powers and the situation in the Balkans remained crisis-ridden and endangering peace in the period that followed.


German Empire
Great Britain
Ottoman Empire
Russian Empire


  • Imanuel Geiss (Ed.): The Berlin Congress 1878. Protocols and materials. Boldt, Boppard am Rhein 1978, ISBN 3-7646-1729-2 (Writings of the Federal Archives 27), (German sources).
  • Affaires d'Orient. Congres de Berlin 1878. Documents diplomatiques. Ministère des Affaires Étrangères de France, Paris 1878 (French sources).
  • Correspondence relating to the Congress of Berlin, with the protocols of the Congress. London 1878 ( Accounts and Papers 1878, vol. 83), (British sources).
  • Austria and the Congress. From a German-Austrian. Wigand, Leipzig 1878.
  • Peace of Berlin in: Conferences and Treaties. Contract Ploetz. Handbook of Historically Significant Meetings and Agreements. Part II. 1493 - 1952 . Edited by Helmuth Rönnefahrt. AG Ploetz, Bielefeld 1953, pp. 353f
General representations
  • Friedrich Benninghoven, Iselin Gundermann a. a. (Ed.): The Berlin Congress 1878. Exhibition of the Secret State Archives of Prussian Cultural Heritage on the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Congress on June 13, 1978. Secret State Archive of Prussian Cultural Heritage, Berlin-Dahlem 1978 (catalog with time table and image sources)
  • Nathan Michael Gelber Jewish problems at the Berlin Congress in 1878, in Robert Weltsch Ed .: German Judaism, Rise and Crisis. Design, ideas, works. Fourteen monographs. Publication by the Leo Baeck Institute . Deutsche Verlagsanstalt , Stuttgart 1963, pp. 216-252
  • Walther Hubatsch : The Berlin Congress 1878. Causes, consequences and judgments a hundred years later. In: Gerd Kleinheyer, Paul Mikat (Hrsg.): Contributions to legal history. Commemorative writing for Hermann Conrad . Schöningh, Paderborn 1979, ISBN 3-506-73334-6 , pp. 307-328 ( legal and political science publications of the Görres Society NF 34).
  • Serge Maiwald : The Berlin Congress 1878 and international law. The solution to the Balkans problem in the 19th century. Scientific publishing company, Stuttgart 1948
  • William Norton Medlicott: The Congress of Berlin and after. A diplomatic history of the Near Eastern settlement. 1878-1880. 2nd edition. Cass, London 1963.
  • Ralph Melville, Hans-Jürgen Schröder (Ed.): The Berlin Congress of 1878. The politics of the great powers and the problems of modernization in Southeastern Europe in the second half of the 19th century. Steiner, Wiesbaden 1982, ISBN 3-515-02939-7 ( publications of the Institute for European History Mainz. Supplement 7).
  • Alexander Novotny: Sources and studies on the history of the Berlin Congress in 1878. Böhlau, Graz a. a. 1957 ( Publications of the Commission for Modern History of Austria 44).
  • Bruce Waller: Bismarck at the crossroads. The reorientation of German foreign policy after the Congress of Berlin 1878-1880. University of London - The Athlone Press, London 1974, ISBN 0-485-13135-8 ( University of London historical studies 35).
  • FAK Yasamee: Ottoman Diplomacy. Abdülhamid II and the Great Powers 1878-1888. Isis Press, Istanbul 1996, ISBN 975-428-088-6 ( Studies on Ottoman Diplomatic History 8), (Also: London, Univ., Diss.).
Individual questions
  • Iselin Gundermann: Berlin as a congress city 1878. Haude & Spener, Berlin 1978, ISBN 3-7759-0196-5 ( Berlinische Reminiscences 49).
Bulgarian point of view:
  • Sava Penkov: Berlinskijat dogovor i Balkanite. Nauka i Izkustvo, Sofia 1985.
Serbian view:
  • Slobodanka Stojičić (ed.): Berlinski kongres i srpsko pitanje 1878–1908. Studentski Kulturni Centar, Niš 1998.
  • Lothar Classen: The status of Bosnia-Herzegovina under international law according to the Berlin Treaty of July 13, 1878. Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2004, ISBN 3-631-52344-0 ( Law and Social Science Series 32), (also: Hamburg, Univ., Diss., 2003).
  • Jakob Samuel Fischler: The border delimitation of Montenegro after the Berlin Congress from August 1878 to October 1887. Diss. Vienna 1924.

Web links

Commons : Berlin Congress  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Note: First Secretary of the French Embassy in Berlin, the only non-German among the six secretaries of the Congress
  2. Josef Matuz: The Ottoman Empire. Baseline of its history . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1985, p. 238
  3. a b Michael Stürmer : The restless realm. Germany 1866-1918 . Siedler, Berlin 1994, p. 197
  4. Bismarck's speeches and letters: In addition to a representation of the life and language of Bismarck . Edited in 1895 by BG Teubner, Volltext (on ), p. 69 (see also p. 139 ff.) The formulation became quite well known and frequently cited; z. B. Gregor Schöllgen : Imperialism and balance. Germany, England and the Oriental Question 1871–1914 . Oldenbourg, Munich 2000, p. 16
  5. From Prince Bismarck's speech on the oriental question . In: Hottinger's Volksblatt , on Bismarck's speech of February 19, 1878 ( Wikisource )
  6. ^ Theodor Schieder : Europe in the Age of Nation-States and European World Politics up to World War I (1870-1918) . In: ders. (Ed.): Handbook of European History . Union Verlag, Stuttgart 1968, p. 65
  7. February 21, 1874–2. April 1878 Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Dosraeli ; see list of British Foreign Ministers
  8. a b Theodor Schieder: Europe in the Age of Nation States and European World Politics up to World War I (1870-1918) . In: ders. (Ed.): Handbook of European History . Union Verlag, Stuttgart 1968, p. 66
  9. Otto Plant: Bismarck. The Chancellor . Beck, Munich 1998, pp. 165-168
  10. Annette Schaefgen: From the faithful millet to the scapegoat or The legend of the Armenian stab in the back. The genocide of the Armenians in the First World War . In: Wolfgang Benz (Ed.): Prejudice and Genocide. Ideological premises of the Böhlau genocide . Vienna 2010, p. 39 f. (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  11. so the assessment of George F. Kennan : The Decline of Bismarck's European Order. Franco-Russian Relations, 1875-1890 . Princeton 1979
  12. Michael Stürmer: The restless realm. Germany 1866-1918 . Siedler, Berlin 1994, pp. 198f
  13. a b Mehmet Hacisalihoglu: The Young Turks and the Macedonian Question (1890-1918) . R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-486-56745-4 , p. 48
  14. Gotthard Jäschke: The Ottoman Empire from the Berlin Congress to its end . In: Theodor Schieder (ed.): Handbook of European history . Union Verlag, Stuttgart 1968, p. 539
  15. Josef Matuz: The Ottoman Empire. Baseline of its history . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1985, p. 240
  16. ^ William Norton Medlicott: The Congress of Berlin and After. A Diplomatic History of the Near Eastern Settlement 1878-1880 . 2nd Edition. Routledge, London 1963
  17. ^ AJP Taylor: The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918 . Oxford University Press, Oxford 1954, p. 253
  18. ^ Theodor Schieder: Europe in the Age of Nation-States and European World Politics up to World War I (1870-1918) . In: ders. (Ed.): Handbook of European History . Union Verlag, Stuttgart 1968, p. 67