Berlin Congress of 1878

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Berlin Congress of 1878


from June 1 (13) to July 1 (13), an international congress called to revise the conditions of the San Stefano Peace Treaty of 1878, which had ended the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–78.

Representatives of Russia, Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Germany took part in the work of the Congress of Berlin. Delegations from France, Italy, and Turkey were also present. Representatives of Greece, Iran, Rumania, Montenegro, and Serbia were invited to the congress. The initiators of the congress were Austria-Hungary and Britain, who opposed the strengthening of Russian positions in the Balkans and the national liberation of the Slavic peoples of the Balkan Peninsula. Austria-Hungary and Britain were particularly opposed to the formation of a large Slavic state, Bulgaria, in the Balkans. Threatened by war with Britain and Austria-Hungary, weakened by the war with Turkey that had just ended, and not supported by Germany, Russia was compelled to agree to the convocation of the congress.

The Congress of Berlin was preceded by several agreements. A secret Anglo-Russian agreement was signed on May 18 (30), 1878. This agreement roughly predetermined the conditions for the revisions of the Treaty of San Stefano. On May 23 (June 4), Britain and Turkey signed a secret convention under which Turkey gave Britain the island of Cyprus, which was an important strategic point, and Britain promised to defend Turkish possessions in Asia. The Anglo-Austrian agreement of May 25 (June 6) determined the general line of behavior of the two powers at the Congress of Berlin.

The German chancellor Bismarck presided over the Congress of Berlin. The most important questions were usually decided beforehand at private conferences of the representatives of Germany, Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, whose delegations were headed by Bismarck, Prime Minister B. Beaconsfield (Disraeli), Minister of Foreign Affairs G. Andrássy, and Chancellor A. M. Gorchakov, respectively. The disputes concerned mainly Bulgaria, whose territory (which had been defined by the Treaty of San Stefano) Austria-Hungary and Britain wanted to cut down to a minimum; Bosnia and Hercegovina, which Austria-Hungary claimed; and the cession of territory in Transcaucasia to Russia by Turkey, which England protested. Bismarck proclaimed himself a neutral intermediary, but in fact he supported the demands of Austria-Hungary and Britain and forced Russia to accept most of them.

On July 1 (13) the Treaty of Berlin was signed. The treaty changed the conditions of the Treaty of San Stefano to the detriment of Russia and the Slavic peoples of the Balkan Peninsula. It pushed the southern border of Bulgaria back beyond the Balkan Mountains. Bulgaria was declared an autonomous principality whose elected chief was to be confirmed by the sultan with the consent of the great powers. The government of Bulgaria was to be retained temporarily by a Russian commissar until the introduction of a constitution there. However, the length of stay of the Russian troops in Bulgaria was limited to nine months. Turkish troops had no right to be in the principality, but the principality was obliged to pay an annual tribute to Turkey.

The Bulgarian provinces south of the Balkan Mountains constituted the Turkish province of Eastern Rumelia, which remained under the direct political and military rule of the sultan. The governor of Eastern Rumelia was to be appointed for five years by the sultan with the consent of the great powers. Turkey obtained the right to protect the borders of Eastern Rumelia with only the forces of regular troops stationed in border garrisons.

Thrace, Macedonia, and Albania remained part of Turkey. In these provinces, as well as on Crete and in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, Turkey promised to carry out a reform of the local administration and to give Christians equal rights with Muslims. The independence of Montenegro, Serbia, and Rumania was recognized. However, the territory that had been ceded to Montenegro under the Treaty of San Stefano was greatly reduced. Montenegro’s access to the sea (through the port of Bar), which had been granted by the Treaty of San Stefano, was retained, but Montenegro lost the right to keep a navy. Control over the coast of Montenegro was given to Austria-Hungary. Serbia’s territory was slightly increased, not at the expense of Bosnia but with lands claimed by Bulgaria. Austria-Hungary obtained the right to occupy Bosnia and Hercegovina, as well as the right to keep its garrisons in the sanjak of Novi Pazar, which was retained by Turkey. Rumania received northern Dobruja in exchange for the section of Bessarabia northeast of the Danube, which was returned to Russia, and the Danube Delta.

A final solution to the problem of the enlargement of Greek territory was left to further negotiations, which ended in 1880 with the transfer of Thessaly and parts of Epirus to Greece. Freedom of navigation on the Danube was guaranteed. In Transcaucasia, Russia retained Kars, Ardahan, Batum, and the surrounding areas. Bayazit and the Alas, kirt Valley were returned to Turkey. Batum was proclaimed a free port (porto franco), essentially commercial.

The Treaty of Berlin remained in force until the Balkan Wars of 1912–13, but some of its provisions were not implemented or were changed later. Thus, the reforms of local self-government that Turkey had promised in the regions inhabited by Christians were not carried out. Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia merged into a single principality in 1885. In 1886, Russia abolished the free port provisions in Batum. In 1908, Bulgaria declared itself a kingdom independent of Turkey, and Austria-Hungary transformed the occupation of Bosnia and Hercegovina into an annexation.


Sbornik dogovorov Rossii s drugimi gosudarstvami, 1856–1917. Moscow, 1952.


Istoriia diplomatii, 2nd ed., vol. 2. Moscow, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The paper has interviewed historian Nikola Zezov with the aim of shedding light to the goals of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) established as a reaction to the outcome of the Berlin Congress of 1878. The organization fought for an independent Macedonian state and its programs, he says, never foresaw annexing Macedonia to any other Balkan country.

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