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Bosnia Uprising - 1875-1877

From Montenegro, from Serbia, from Austria, all of which states bordered on Bosnia and Herzegovina, streams of modern influence, communicating to the peasants a spirit of resistance, had for some time been making their way up the narrow valleys. When therefore in the spring of 1875, in spite of an almost complete failure of the crops, the tax-farmers went from house to house coolly conducting the usual extortions, the indignation knew no bounds.

On 01 July 1875, the inhabitants of the village of Nevesinje, on a stony plateau not far from the Herzegovinian city of Mostar, raised the banner of rebellion. Immediately other villages fell into line until the conflagration embraced a considerable area. Then the fire leaped north to Bosnia and, appearing erratically here and there, threatened to envelop the whole land. The small garrisons maintained by the sultan were completely inadequate to cope with the insurgents, especially as the rebel bands were strengthened by volunteers from neighboring Serb areas and were equipped with rifles and ammunition which filtered across the border. Evidently the Serbs outside Bosnia, seized with a tremendous excitement at this rebellion of their kinsmen, were resolved to sustain them at every cost. Here lay the real peril of the situation. If the sultan did not soon succeed in crushing the uprising, public opinion in Montenegro and Serbia would oblige the rulers of these states to make common cause with the down-trodden peasants of Bosnia and a Balkan war would result, which, like all Balkan wars, might easily develop into a general conflict.

The cabinets of the great powers did not fail to see the dangerous implications of the Bosnian rising. They negotiated busily among themselves to the end of agreeing on a program of reforms, which, forced on the sultan and offered by him as a concession to the rebels, might serve as the basis of a truce. But, as usual, they harmonized none too well among themselves, and the Porte, aware of the secret divisions, managed to wriggle out of the acceptance of even such moderate suggestions as those of the Andrassy note (Dec., 1875) and the Berlin memorandum (May, 1876).

Up to this point Nicholas of Montenegro and Milan of Serbia had managed to restrain their respective peoples. But in the face of the inextinguishable insurrection, which, even when suppressed at one point, straightway flared up at another, and of the stupid obstinacy of the sultan, their resistance broke down, and on 01 July 1876, Milan, and on the following day, Nicholas, to the delighted plaudits of their subjects, declared war on their hereditary foe. In their own minds they were about to strike a blow not only in behalf of their Serb countrymen still in Turkish bondage, but also for that ultimate goal of extreme Serb nationalism, the restoration by conquest of the wide empire of Tsar Stephen Dushan.

It was the Serbs only with whom the sultan had to deal in the summer of 1876. Under the anything but fortunate leadership of a Russian general the Serbs adopted a plan of invasion for which they lacked the necessary means. After a few trivial successes they were badly beaten and fell back in such confusion that the Turks had only to move upon Belgrad and the war would be over. However, before the Ottoman army had gone far on its journey, it was met by an ultimatum from Russia. On November 1, it agreed to sign an armistice with its opponents. Four months later negotiations at Constantinople led to a peace by which Serbia retired unscathed from the war.

The smaller Serb state, Montenegro, conducted its war far more creditably than its larger neighbor. After winning several minor combats the Montenegrins penetrated into Turkish territory and did not sign a truce till they were well entrenched within the Ottoman border. The diplomatic negotiations which followed failed to reach a conclusion because Prince Nicholas boldly asked for more territory than the Porte was ready to grant. Accordingly, the prince made ready for a new campaign in the spring of 1877. Without doubt his decision to continue the war was aided by the conviction that he would be relieved of all further anxiety by the appearance of a champion prepared to draw the Ottoman fire. For by the time the March winds blew, events on the European stage had taken a turn which made it safe to predict that another Turco-Russian war was unavoidable.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:26:59 ZULU