The Albanian Question in the Balkan Crisis of 1913.


When the Balkan Alliance began war with Turkey in 1912 Austria-Hungary considered herself directly and vitally affected. Not only did she see danger to her ambition to reach the Aegean, but she considered that a powerful Serbian state might be dangerous if it reached the sea and developed a navy, since under the influence of Russia it might be able to close altogether Austria's only outlet, the Adriatic. Therefore some of the bolder statesmen of the Dual Monarchy desired to keep Serbia always dependent; but Count Berchtold, with the support of the Emperor, preferred the scheme of erecting between Serbia and the sea a buffer state, Albania, whose ports might be used by Serbia for commerce, but not for developing naval power. It is possible also that Austria desired to postpone settlement for the present, until a later and more favorable opportunity came for acquiring this country for herself. At the beginning of 1913 the situation was very threatening, since Russia, supporting Serbia, had large forces mobilized along the Galician frontier, while all Austrian army was watching them.


In the last month of 1912, the matter had been brought to issue. December 16 a conference of delegates from the Balkan States assembled in London, and at the same time a gathering of the ambassadors of the powers. December 20 the powers had agreed, in order to avert a European war, that there should be an autonomous Albania. The danger of such a conflict sprang chiefly from the fact that two of the great powers were determined that Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro should not be permitted to divide Albania between them, as they desired and as undoubtedly they would have done if not prevented. Austria-Hungary led the opposition. Its reasons for pursuing that course have already been indicated. Italy supported Austria-Hungary because of Italian ambitions in Albania and in order to prevent the coast opposite Italy from falling under the control of States which in the future might become dependencies of Russia, or possibly of Austria-Hungary.

A month earlier the factions of this mountain country had laid aside their differences and, assembling at Avlona, proclaimed their independence and neutrality. Under strong pressure from the powers, on January 21 the Serbian delegates to the London Peace conference presented a memorandum declaring that they would conform their conduct to the interests and desires of the great powers, and that they would not object to an Albanian State. But they desired to have Skutari and other places. Meanwhile Franz Josef had sent an emissary to the Czar to open negotiations on the subject, and in March an agreement was made by which Serbia was to have the Albanian towns of Ipek, Prizrend, Dibra, and Diakova, while Skutari, even if captured by the Montenegrins, was to be a part of the new State.

During this time the forces of Montenegro were making heroic efforts to capture Skutari, and declared that they sought it to satisfy their political aspirations. April 21 the other allied states accepted the mediation of the powers, on the basis that the powers were to delimit an autonomous Albania, among other things, but the Montenegrins, refusing to accede, continued the siege until Skutari was yielded to them. Peremptory demand was now made by the powers that Montenegro withdraw from the fortress. Yielding to this pressure, to the threats of Austria, and to the advice of Russia, King Nicholas finally placed Skutari in the hands of the powers May 5. May 30 a treaty of peace was made at London between the Balkan allies and Turkey. In the third article of this treaty the frontiers of Albania were marked off as the powers had decided.


The settlement, from the standpoint of the powers, was explained to the House of Commons by Sir Edward Grey, who more than anyone else during this crisis assisted in preventing a war:

This agreement is that there should be an autonomous Albania. We willingly became a party to this, for the Albanians are separate in race, in language and, to a great extent, in religion. . . . It was decided that the littoral and Skutari should be Albanian, while Ipek, Prizrend Dibra, and (after much negotiation) Djakova should be excluded from Albania.

The arrangement was very unsatisfactory to the Albanians, for many of the mountaineers were in this manner cut off from the only market towns to which they had access. There was much fighting between Serbians and Albanians, and several raids later in the year which finally brought stern summons to Serbia from Austria-Hungary.

The action of the powers in regard to Albania became a powerful factor in bringing about the Second Balkan War. By the creation of an independent Albania, Serbia was deprived of expected advantages to which she believed herself fairly entitled by her sacrifices and success in the First Balkan War. She, therefore, demanded that Bulgaria, whose gains by that war had been very large, should consent to a revision of the territorial arrangement contained in the Serbo-Bulgar treaty of March 13, 1912. Bulgaria refused to consent to any revision. Out of the resulting controversy came the Second Balkan War.

Source: Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey, Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870-1914. Prepared for the National Board for Historical Service. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1918.

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