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See also: Slavophiles.
See also: Causes of World War I.

Pan-Slavism was a movement which aimed at a loose unity of all the Slavic peoples. The main impetus came from Russia whose focus was in the Balkans where the South Slavs had been ruled for centuries by other empires: the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, etc. Russia saw itself as the "guarantor" and "protector" of all Slavs and played a major role in the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turks.[1]

The first half of the 19th century saw the foundations of the Pan-Slav Movement of Slavic solidarity, "started by Kollar, the Slovak poet, in 1824, it swiftly spread to Bohemia where it was taken up by Czech philologists and men of letters out of a feeling for the common inheritance of Slavonic culture.....and so that the humblest peasant, wherever he toiled in Europe, might feel himself to belong to a great common brotherhood. As a result Pan-Slavism played a part in the Bohemian revolution of 1848."[2] In Russia this movement commenced with the Slavic Benevolent Committees at their meetings and in their newspapers[3], and general Slavophilism in Russia and this spread into eastern and south-eastern Europe. "By the reign of Tsar Alexander III Pan-Slavic ideas entered as a directing influence into Russian policy and became a force of the first magnitude, challenging the whole authority of the Ottoman Porte in the Balkans, and spreading new restlessness among the many millions of Slavs who were living in the Habsburg monarchy."[4][5] "Russian policy was deeply affected by Pan-Slavism which had swept Russian thought since 1855. This mixture of western nationalism and Orthodox mysticism varied in practice from vague Slav sympathy to grandiose plans for a united Slav empire under Tsarist rule; the sentiment, not the programme, was the important thing. Alexander II was in no position to stand out against Pan-Slav sentiment. Some of his advisers, and in particular Ignatiev, Ambassador at Constantinople, were themselves Pan-Slavists and eager to exploit it."[6] This firstly led to the liberation of Bulgaria and Serbia, who both shared similarities in language and religion with Russia, and to the subsequent Balkan wars by the so-called Balkan League against the Ottoman Empire, when the latter were driven back to a small toehold in Europe, creating wild demonstrations in St. Petersburg in favour of the Bulgarians and Serbians.[7] This now created further unrest amongst Slav nationalists in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and German Empire, and Bismarck, in his final years of office, said they must resolutely oppose it.[8]

Any study of Russia's path to The Great War has to take this movement into full account.[9] The Slavs living on what Vienna perceived as its semi-colonial periphery, felt that in Russia they had a great Slav power as 'protector'.[10]. Although Austria had occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina since the Treaty of Berlin in 1878[11], its announcement of formal annexation of the province in 1908 (seen in western circles as a mere formality after such a long period of occupation), along with the further announcement of a new railway building programme in the province, caused outrage in the Pan-Slav and 'Greater Serbia' circles, who saw this as an expansion of Teutonic territory "at Slav expense". The Russians also expressed concern about Galicia, and constantly accused the Austrians of encouraging Ukrainian nationalist sympathies. In addition, with the bulk of Poland now a Russian Kingdom, Polish nationalists in St. Petersburg placed pressure upon the Russians over Galicia, where the largest estates had remained in the hands of Polish landowners. This pressure increased with the coming of the Russian Dumas. The gradual obsession of the Pan-Slav movement with the two great Teutonic empires[12][13] became entwined with Russian government policies which would culminate in The Great War.[14][15] Nitti, Prime Minister of Italy, who took part in the subsequent Versailles treaty deliberations, wrote: "Russia was the real and underlying cause of the world-conflict. She alone promoted and kept alive the agitations in Serbia and of the Slavs in Austria."[16][17]

Following World War II the Soviet Union conquered almost all of central and eastern Europe's Slav countries, with the exception of Yugoslavia, and therefore gained political influence and military control over all those countries until the early 1990s


  1. It is argued, however, that the Bulgarians are a Turanian people, who later on adopted the Slavic alphabet.
  2. A History of Europe by H.A.L. Fisher, London, 1949 edition, p.1038.
  3. Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution 1881-1917 by Professor Hans Rogger, London, 1983, p.166
  4. Fisher, 1949, p.1038.
  5. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918 by A. J. P. Taylor, Clarendon Press, Oxford (UK), 1969, p.191.
  6. Taylor, 1969, p.229.
  7. Montgelas, 1925, p.73.
  8. Taylor, 1969, p.278.
  9. The Russian Imperial Conspiracy 1892 - 1914 by USA Senator Robert L. Owen, New York, 1927.
  10. Leiven, Dominic, The End of Tsarist Russia, New York, 2015, pps:8, 38, 72 and in general. ISBN 978-0-670-02558-9
  11. Baedeker, Karl, Austria-Hungary, Leipzig, 1905, p.427-8 for an excellent essay on the history and inhabitants of these provinces.
  12. Austria's Kaiser Franz Josef had insisted he was "a German Prince" in his objections to being crowned King of Croatia in 1868. Taylor, 1969, p.196.
  13. London Daily Chronicle newspaper 29 July 1914, article by Sir Harry Johnston, G.C.M.G.
  14. Leiven, 2015, p.175.
  15. Owen, 1927.
  16. Peaceless Europe, Francesco Nitti, 1922, pps:9-12.
  17. Owen, 1927, supports this position and provides copious evidences.