Humanitarian intervention on the Balkans in the long 19th century

Date: 1 September 2017, 01:30–03:30

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 399



Humanitarian intervention policy of the empires has recently been given increasing attention not only by scholars from the field of political sciences, international law and philosophy but also by historians.

In recent years historians have devoted a solid number of monographs and readers to the topic of humanitarian intervention calling attention to the fact that the phenomenon looks back on a rich past in the 19th century. When scrutinizing the evolution of such interventions, researchers pointed out that in this earlier era the leading empires of the world already faced many of the challenges similar to which emerged after 1990. The contributions of international law experts and political scientists to the research and interpretation of the 19th century humanitarian interventions of the empires greatly expanded our knowledge on the subject and provided invaluable insights, which, in turn, offered an alternative toolkit for today’s policy and decision makers.

The interdisciplinary panel seeks to call attention to a number of significant issues:

1. Researching the history of humanitarian interventions, as transnational and entangled history, is highly necessary.

2. Researches on humanitarian intervention basically represent one-sided perspectives. Be it international law, philosophy or history, the researches primarily approach the subject from an Anglo-Saxon or Transatlantic perspective. What constitutes the major disadvantage of these unilateral analyses is that they mainly investigate the humanitarian interventions conducted by West-European countries only, with a horizon that never seems to go beyond the Oder. Although until 1918 the Russian Empire and Austria–Hungary pursued independent interventional practices and policies in the East, Eastern Europe has so far been neglected in the relevant studies. Consequently, the interventional policies of these two great powers have remained largely unknown to West-European and American experts.

3. In the last two hundred years the Balkan peninsula has been a very important target zone of humanitarian interventions. Due to the abundant sources at our disposal, historical sciences allow a complex investigation of the history of interventions in the longue durée. An analysis of the Balkan interventions utilizing Austro–Hungarian and Russian sources promises to bring new horizons in the research of humanitarian interventions. Not the least because it would draw attention to new points of view that could be investigated in detail. One of these, beyond doubt, is that the above mentioned two East-European great powers regarded state-building as a humanitarian interventional tool on the peninsula.

Convenor / Chair

Krisztián Csaplár-Degovics (Hungarian Academy of Sciences)


Alexis Heraclides (Panteion University Athens)

Ada Dialla (Athens School of Fine Arts)

Krisztián Csaplár-Degovics (Hungarian Academy of Sciences)

Leonidas Karakatsanis (The British Institute at Ankara)



Alexis Heraclides: Humanitarian intervention in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire: International law meets international history

The intervention of the Russian Empire, Britain and France in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire is regarded as the first armed intervention on humanitarian grounds in world history (as humanitarian intervention is understood from the 19th century until today).

In fact the intervention in question took place prior to the development of the modern Western doctrine of humanitarian intervention and as such it was pace-setting but also controversial.

The paper us divided into three parts (1) the views of publicists from the aftermath of intervention in the Greek case, divided into advocates (the majority view) and rejectionists (the minority view), with a summary of their respective arguments for or against intervening for humanitarian reasons; (2) the motives of the interventions by the powers in the Greek case (1824-30), divided into humanitarian or other affective motives, and instrumental motives, as well as the grounds of the strong opposition to these interventions by the Austrian Empire under Metternich; and (3) the views regarding this intervention and its motives by publicists (from the 1830s until today), with greater emphasis on the period prior to 1939 where the boundaries between international history (diplomatic history as it was then called) and international law were less clear especially within the emerging field of international relations.

Ada Dialla: Humanitarian intervention: A Russian perspective

As it has been pointed out by most students of humanitarian intervention, the public, (whose views are shaped by the use of new technologies of communication and information), have come up with the idea of the legitimacy and morality of intervention, and this is part and parcel of the problematique of humanitarian intervention. From this perspective this paper will focus on Russian public opinion towards the policies of the great powers, and of Russia in particular, which has not been adequately examined until today, contrary to the case of Britain and France, the other two states, which together with Russia had showed an intervention proclivity for humanitarian and other reasons in the course of the nineteenth century. The British and French cases were studied under the rationale that their liberalism – as distinct from the Russian case – warrants such a study. However, liberalism, as with all kinds of ‘isms’, and likewise in the humanitarian intervention discourse, is a transnational phenomenon and in this sense the study of the Russian case shows a multitude of variants of identification with the suffering of others which circulated during the long 19th century in the European environment.

This presentation will focus (a) on the artistic depictions of wars/interventions as crucial factor in creating communities of empathy with ‘suffering humanity’; b) trace the ways in which Russian artists in the course of the second half of the nineteenth century, contributed to the appearance of new social sensitivities, such as the awareness of human suffering abroad; and c) to explore the extent to which artistic images of war(s) were in accord with verbal representations of war, as found for example in the literature of Vsevolod Garshin or Leo Tolstoy.

Krisztián Csaplár-Degovics: Austria–Hungary as a humanitarian interventionist: the Albania-Cause

Austria–Hungary can be regarded not only as a forerunner of European integration but also as a precursor of a heterogeneous Europe. Today Europe is still an economic great power but is forced to develop coexistence mechanisms with the partly Europeanized, now collapsing or transforming Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa, without being able to adopt a coherent foreign and military policy towards them. As Austria–Hungary did at the turn of the century.

While in the 19th century Europe the questions of intervention and non-intervention incited heated debates, from the 17th century on the Habsburg Monarchy had been continuously exercising over the Catholics of the Ottoman Empire its permanent right to intervene as their cult protector. For Vienna, the cult protectorate rights had been secured by capitulationes, which, in the Habsburg Monarchy, de facto were regarded as genuine parts of the international law. The protectorate over the Catholic Albanians had transformed into an interest representation over all Albanians. This explains why Austria–Hungary became the first great power ready to launch a humanitarian intervention for the benefit of Muslims as well.

It happened so during the 1912–1913 Balkan wars, when ethnic cleansing started against the Albanian population. Austria–Hungary pursued an independent humanitarian interventional policy and also cooperated with other great powers. The two most significant instances where the great powers exercised joint humanitarian intervention were the following: firstly, they introduced a joint military governance in the city of Shkodёr, and secondly, they intended to organize the independent Albanian state through a joint International Commission of Control. State building thus became and was considered as a form of humanitarian intervention.

Leonidas Karakatsanis: Dealing with the biases of the past: Humanitarian intervention in the 19th century, the Ottoman perspective and the its reflection in contemporary Turkish historiography

The present paper explores the way in which Turkish historiography examines, assesses and represents foreign military or diplomatic interventions in the Ottoman territories during the nineteenth century. The specific focus is on events of the period where concerns about a ‘humanitarian crisis’ and/or extensive civilian casualties formed the basic discursive justification for such interventions, at the tables of diplomatic negotiations but also at the register of public opinion formation in Western Europe and the Ottoman lands.

The paper shows that in the majority of historical research produced in Turkey since the 1940s, the same dipoles dominating the public or diplomatic discourses during the 19th century (Islam vs Christianity/Europe, combatants vs unarmed villagers, humanitarian reasons vs political expediency, etc.) are uncritically reproduced in the historiographical accounts of the period. The paper tries to discern the reasons behind such a reproduction of biases and suggest ways to overcome them by focusing on the more recent production of critical historical work in Turkish-Ottoman historiography.

Leonidas Karakatsanis received his PhD in Ideology and Discourse Analysis from the University of Essex. He joined the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA) initially as a post-doctoral fellow in 2012, and in 2015 he was appointed as the new BIAA Assistant Director (2015-2018). Leonidas is the author of the research monograph: Turkish-Greek Relations.  Rapprochement, Civil Society and the Politics of Friendship (London & New York: Routledge, 2014). He has researched and published on issues related to the politics of identity and reconciliation, contemporary and historical nationalism, civil society, minority rights, immigration, the role of emotions in politics, and theories of qualitative methods in social and political sciences.

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