The political history of Eastern Europe between 1870 and 1918 falls neatly into two parts. For about a generation the system arising from the collapse of revolutionary hopes in the 1860s was consolidated and strengthened. Then, from the 1890s, as new social forces appeared, increasing signs of tension accompanied them until the whole region was thrust into a great war which shattered its political structure for ever, replacing the great empires by a pattern of small and medium-sized nation states, approximately as they are today. The events of this period, therefore, still retain their resonance. Why did such diverse social tensions resolve themselves in the issue of national self-determination, and was this outcome an adequate response to the problems they raised? These questions are perhaps almost too loaded for academic discussion, but they must be faced because so much historiographical discussion implicitly revolves around them.
An understanding of the final denouement requires a brief summary of the period of stabilization which preceded it, since these years shaped the assumptions that guided governing circles right up to 1918. On the international level, stabilization owed much to the diplomacy of Bismarck who, till his fall in 1890, was concerned to safeguard the new balance of power he had created by the establishment of the German empire and the annexation of French Alsace-Lorraine. Assured of the rancour of France, Bismarck sought successfully to dispel that of Austria-Hungary and bind her in an alliance of the so-called central powers. The Near Eastern crisis of 1875-8, a late ironic echo of the revolutionary hopes of the previous decade, gave him his chance.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina a spontaneous Serb revolt pressurized the little Serbian state into the long-planned national liberation war against the Turks. With only Montenegro for an ally, she failed