Stabilizing a Crisis and the Mürzsteg Agreement of 1903: International Efforts to Bring Peace to Macedonia
„Though I am in the service of the Ottomans for the reorganization of the gendarmerie, my position is essentially an international one and I must consider myself someone working under the mandate of the Great Powers, who have accepted the Mürzsteg Plan.”
General de Robilant
In 1903, the Macedonian Question was at the roots of the first concerted European international intervention. The Mürzsteg Agreement, which was signed by the six great powers and the Ottoman Empire, was an attempt at common European diplomacy.
The Mürzsteg Agreement, which was reached following the failure of the Illinden uprising launched by the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, placed the three vilayets of Macedonia under the collective control of the great powers. Drawing on diplomatic reports, in this essay I emphasize the “spirit of Mürzsteg” and trace the process of the establishment of an international military and civil administration. The Mürzsteg Agreement gave a substantial peace-keeping role to a large group, including diplomats, military missions, two Civil Agents and their Ottoman counterparts. The paper studies the implementation of the Agreement. How did the ill-defined document lead to the emergence of new maps of Macedonia? In addition to the existing Ottoman administrative map, two others appeared as the three vilayets were divided into five international sectors, each of which was under the control of one of the great powers, and a “religious or mental map” of the region the site of bitter, violent religious-civil conflict began to emerge in 1904, when the two Orthodox churches of the Patriarchate and the Exarchate launched a campaign to convince the populations to declare themselves either Greek or Bulgarian.
In conclusion, the paper assesses the legacy of the Mürzsteg Agreement. This short but meaningful episode represented an innovative approach in the policy of the great powers that was based on emerging concepts such as negotiation, collective action, and dialogue in a recognized international mandate. The concerted intervention of the six great European powers in Macedonia belongs to a broader process of evolution in the history of European international relations, a process that yielded more palpable results after 1918 with the establishment of the League of Nations and the emergence of a new, if short-lived, international order.