Main topic

ESSAYS AND STUDIES

THE PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM ON BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA (1876)

Abstract

The Serbian uprising in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1875) marked the beginning of the chain of uprisings and wars of the Balkan nations against Ottoman rule, and of the conflicts of the Great Powers, which brought Europe to the brink of the Great War (1875‒1878). The crisis was temporarily settled at the Congress of Berlin. However, the national rights of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be atthe centre of the crisis of 1914, which, through the new Great Powers conflict, will erupt into the real Great War.

The members of Parliament of the United Kingdom were very slow and reluctant to realize the importance of the uprising in Herzegovina of 1875. Since the revolt started in July 1875, and Parliament was regularly closed from August to February, it became a topic only during the session of 1876. After the closing of Parliament in August 1876, following the events in the Balkans, public attention gradually moved from Herzegovina, Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro to Bulgaria and Constantinople.

The uprising in Herzegovina and Bosnia caused a very clear division between the Conservatives and Liberals in Parliament. It was a question of the deeply rooted conflict between religion and realpolitik, ethics and politics. This division was obvious when their understanding and interpretations of three main questions were analyzed: the causes of the uprising, the conduct of the subsequent diplomatic negotiations by the Conservative government of Benjamin Disraeli, and the proposals for the settlement of the crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The discord was clearly visible even within the Conservative ranks. However, their leaders looked for the causes of the insurrection in “foreign influences”. They were blaming the Serbs from Serbia and Montenegro for all the troubles. In fact, Russia was considered to be the main culprit, but the criticism of the politics of the Great Powers in Parliament had to be put in milder terms. Conservatives mainly approved the conduct of the diplomatic negotiations by the government, including the refusal of the Berlin Memorandum. According to them, the problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina had to be settled by direct negotiations between the Turks and the insurgents. They were proposing moderate reforms, but within the political and territorial status quo.

Compared to the Conservatives, the Liberals were much more united in assessing these questions. They insisted that the principal causes of the uprising were Turkish misrule, oppression and broken promises. There was collaboration between the insurgents and the Serbs from Serbia and Montenegro as well, but it was rooted in the genuine national feelings of the population of the same origin and religion. According to liberals, the cases of the liberation and unification of Italy and Germany demonstrated that such feelings and movements could not and should not be resisted. Bosnia and Herzegovina were to receive autonomy, defined following the patterns of Serbia or Romania. Together with Montenegro and future autonomous Bulgaria, this “belt” of autonous, self-conscious principalities in the Balkans could serve as a bulwark against Russian penetration into the Mediterranean Sea. It is interesting that in all these debates in the British Parliament in 1876, Austro-Hungarian rule over Bosnia and Herzegovina as a solution was almost not mentioned at all.

Finally, Liberals insisted that the British government’s refusal of the Berlin Memorandum and the sending of the British fleet tothe vicinity of Constantinople were clear signs of support and encouragement for the Turks, at the same time when they committed horrible crimes against civilians in Herzegovina, Bosnia, and Bulgaria.

In the last days of the session of 1876, and especially in the first months after the closing of Parliament, the question of British “moral responsibility” for the events in the East, especially for the “atrocities in Bulgaria”, became the main topic of  British public life.

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PERIODICS Serbian Political Thought 2/2021 2/2021 УДК 342.53(410):94(497.15)"1876" 101-129
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