A History of Balkan Cinema (Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia)

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The Balkans in the 20th Century

The Ottoman Empire, founded in 1301 by the Turks who had descended from Central Asia, expanded from Istanbul over the centuries to conquer even the Balkans, subjugating the Slavic peoples who had migrated from the Russian steppes (e.g. the Bulgarians and the Serbs), Hungary, as well as remnants of the Roman Empire, namely the Wallachians and the Moldovans.

Challenged by Austria and Russia in the Balkans and by the Persians in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire began a rapid decline after 1682, when a Hundred Year War began against the Hapsburg monarchy (which ruled over Austria and Spain) began. The Ottomans laid siege to Vienna but were defeated by a much smaller Polish-Lithuanian army. In 1821 Greek rebels began an independence war that ended six years later when combined forces of France, Britain and Russia attacked the Ottomans, sank its navy in the Battle of Navarino and de facto liberated Greece. Russia then supported rebellions by Serbs and Bulgarians and in 1878 again defeated the Ottomans. The Congress of Berlin (1878), architected by German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, dismembered the Ottoman Balkans, granting independence to Serbia and Romania (originally a union of Moldavia and Wallachia), and making Bulgaria an autonomous Christian region within the Ottoman Empire.

In 1903 a group of Serbian army officers led by Dragutin Dimitrijevic assassinated Serbia's Austrian-friendly king Alexander and his wife the queen, and installed a new king, Petar Karadordevic , who pledged constitutional reforms towards a parliament and freedom of the press. More importantly, the new Serbian government was ready to appease the nationalist aspirations of the army. Dimitrijevic was therefore hailed as a hero by the Serbian parliament and was placed in charge of intelligence activities. In 1908 Austria annexed Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire (where the "Young Turk" revolution was underway), but Bosnia had a huge Serbian minority, which caused Bosnian Serbs to aspire to unification with the kingdom of Serbia. Two "secret" Serbian societies supported that aspiration: Crna Ruka (Black Hand), founded in 1911 by Dimitrijevic, and mainly gathering army officers, and Narodna Odbrana (National Defense), formed by ministers and generals. Both aimed to undermine Austrian control of Bosnia and Croatia, and eventually to absorb those regions into a larger Serbian kingdom. Both were inspired by the unification of Italy in 1861 and the unification of Germany in 1871. Black Hand was modeled after the 19th-century Italian secret societies called "Carbonari" that fought to liberate Italy from foreign domination. In 1911 Dimitrijevic's group failed to assassinate Austrian emperor Franz Josef.

Romania was rocked in 1907 by the "Peasants' Revolt". The peasant question became one of the two dominant political issues, the other one being the issue of ethnic Romanians in Transylvania (part of Austria-Hungary).

Bulgaria declared independence in 1908 while the "Young Turk" movement launched and won a revolution to turn the Ottoman Empire into a constitutional state with a parliament.

In 1912 Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Romania attacked and defeated the Ottoman Empire (the first Balkan War), greatly reducing its European possessions. Bulgaria immediately turned against its allies but lost territory to Serbia, Greece and Romania (the second Balkan War). At the end of the Balkan Wars (1912-13) Turkey was left with only a strip of Europe. Albania was independent too. Serbia was the big winner of these Balkan wars, doubling in size and generating a strong nationalist sentiment with the ambition to unite all Slavic people of the Balkans, all the "Yugoslavs".

In 1914 a Bosnian Serb teenager, Gavrilo Princip, assisted by the Black Hand, succeeded in assassinating the heir to the Austrian throne, archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie during their visit to Bosnia. Austria declared war on Serbia, Russia sided with Serbia, Germany sided with Austria, France and Britain allied with Russia (the "Triple Entente") against Germany and Austria, the Ottomans (that hoped to get back some of the lost territories) and Bulgaria (that had lost against Serbia in the second Balkan war) sided with Germany and Austria, and finally Italy (part of which was still occupied by Austria), Romania and Greece (allied with Serbia against Bulgaria) sided with the Entente. Therefore the political instability of the Balkans was a major cause of World War I. (For the record, Dimitrijevic was executed by Serbia in 1917 when the war seemed to be lost and the Black Hand was blamed for starting it).

The "Central Empires" (Austria, Germany and the Turks) were defeated. The Ottoman Empire was dismembered also in the Middle East (Egypt, Iraq and Palestine assigned to Britain, Syria and Lebanon to France). The Austrian Empire lost Hungary and Czechoslovakia. During the war Serbia was occupied by Austria, Bulgaria and Germany, and probably paid the greatest civilian price of any country, but, at the end, it formed a new kingdom (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929) under the Serbian king Petar I by annexing formerly Austrian territories (Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia).

Romania, which previously included only Wallachia and Moldova, acquired Transylvania, becoming a multinational absolutist kingdom.

Bulgaria, which in 1878 had dreamed of expanding all the way to Albania, was a big loser: discontent over territorial losses was rife.

World War I didn't quite end with the surrender of the "Central Powers": in 1919 Greece attacked the Ottoman Empire to regain control of old Greek territories. In the following three years Turkey retaliated by massacring tens of thousands of Greek and Armenian Christians. In 1922 the war ended with Turkey's victory and new borders: more than one million Greeks left Turkey and hundreds of thousands of Turks left Greece. Meanwhile, Mustafa Kemal (later renamed Ataturk) had become president of Turkey and moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara. After the war he also terminated the Ottoman sultanate and declared Turkey a Western-style secular republic.

World War II started far from the Balkans but fascist Italy and nazist Germany desired this region. They occupied Greece and Yugoslavia while Romania and Bulgaria allied with the nazi-fascists. At the end of the war, only Greece and Turkey managed to remain in the "Western block" of Western Europe, while Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia fell to communist regimes supported by the Soviet Union, although later both Josip "Tito" Broz in Yugoslavia (a co-founder of the "non-aligned" movement) and Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania distanced themselves from the Soviet Union. Tiny Albania even became a satellite of Mao's China, isolated from the rest of Europe. For a while both Greece and Turkey were ruled by authoritarian politicians and military elites.

The embryonic and sporadic activity of Balkan cinema did not produce anything significant until the 1970s. Greece was the only country with a significant number of movie theaters.

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History of Yugoslav Cinema


History of Romanian Cinema


History of Bulgarian Cinema


History of Greek Cinema


History of Turkish Cinema

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