Category Archives: The Congress of Berlin

Bismarck As The “Honest Broker”

[The complete victory which Russia had won in the Turkish war had
greatly disturbed the European powers, and in Germany much
apprehension was felt for the safety of Austria. England, too, was
much concerned, for she had been displeased at Bismarck's refusal to
intervene in the war. German public opinion was aroused, and the
representative von Bennigsen joined with four colleagues in the
following interpellation, which they made in the Reichstag on February
8: "Is the Chancellor willing to inform the Reichstag of the political
situation in the Orient, and of the position which the German empire
has taken or intends to take in regard to it?" The interpellation was
put on the calendar of February 19, and while Bismarck regarded it as
ill timed he was ready to reply, lest his silence be misunderstood.]


Anton von Werner: "The Berlin Congress, 1878"

February 19, 1878

I first ask the indulgence of the Reichstag if I should not be able to
stand while I say everything I have to say. I am not so well as I
With regard to the question, I cannot deny that I was in doubt, when I
first saw the interpellation, not whether I would answer it--for its
form gives me the right to answer it with a "No"--but whether I should
not have to say "No." Do not assume, gentlemen, as one generally does
in such cases, that the reason was because I had to suppress a good
deal which would compromise our policy or restrict it in an
undesirable manner. On the contrary, I have hardly enough to say in
addition to what is already generally known to induce me, of my own
initiative, to make a statement to the representatives of the empire.
The discussions in the English parliament have almost exhaustively
answered one part of the question "What is the political
situation in the Orient at the present time?" If, in spite of the
paucity of the information with which I am addressing you, I do not
say "No" it is because I fear the inference that I have much to
suppress, and because such an inference is always disquieting,
especially when it is coupled with the desire to make capital out of
my silence.
I am the more pleased to address you with complete
frankness, because the interpellation and the way it was introduced
have given me the impression that if the German policy wishes to
correspond to the majority opinion of the Reichstag--in so far as I
may consider the recent comments an expression of this opinion--
it has only to continue along the path which it has thus far followed.
Regarding the present situation, I suspect that you already know
everything I can say about it. You know from the press and the English
parliamentary debates that at present one can say in the Orient, "The
arms are idle, and the storms of war are hushed"--God grant, for a
long while! The armistice which has been concluded grants the Russian
army an unbroken position from the Danube to the sea of Marmora, with
a base which it lacked formerly. 
I mean the fortresses near the Danube. This fact, which is nowhere 
denied,  seems to me to be the most  important of the whole armistice. 
There is excluded from the Russian occupation, if I begin in the north,
a quadrangular piece, with Varna and Shumla, extending along the 
shore of the Black Sea to Battshila in the north, and not quite to the 
Bay of Burgas in the south, thence inland to about Rasgrad--a pretty 
exact quadrangle. Constantinople and the peninsula of Gallipoli are
also excluded, the very two points on whose independence of Russia
several interested powers are laying much stress.
Certain peace preliminaries preceded the armistice, which at the risk
of telling you things you already know I shall nevertheless review
because they will answer the question whether German interests 
are at stake in any one of them. There is, in the first place, the
establishment of Bulgaria "within the limits determined by the
majority of the Bulgarian population, and not smaller than indicated
by the conference of Constantinople."
The difference between these two designations is not of sufficient
importance, I believe, to constitute a reasonable danger to the peace
of Europe. The ethnographical information which we possess is, it is
true, not authentic nor without gaps, and the best we know has been
supplied by Germans in the maps by Kiepert. According to this the
national frontier--the frontier of the Bulgarian nationality--runs
down in the west just beyond Salonica, along a line where the races
are rather unmixed, and in the east with an increased admixture of
Turkish elements in the direction of the Black Sea. 
The frontier of the  conference, on the other hand, so far as it is possible
 to trace it, runs--beginning at the sea--considerably farther north than the
national frontier, and two separate Bulgarian provinces are
contemplated. In the west it reaches somewhat farther than the
national frontier into the districts which have an admixture of
Albanian races. 
The constitution of Bulgaria according to the preliminaries would 
be similar to that of Serbia before the evacuation of Belgrade and
other strongholds; for this first paragraph of the preliminaries closes
 with these words, "The Ottoman army will not remain there," and, 
in parenthesis, "barring a few places subject to mutual agreement."
It will, therefore, devolve upon the powers who signed the Paris
treaty of 1856 to discuss and define those sentences which were left
open and indefinite there, and to come to an agreement with Russia, if
this is possible, as I hope it may be.
Then there follow "The Independence of Montenegro * * * also of
Romania and Serbia;" and directions concerning Bosnia and
Herzegovina, whose reforms "should be analogous."
None of these things, I am convinced, touches the interests of Germany
to such an extent that we should be justified in jeopardizing for
its sake our relations with our neighbors--our friends. We may accept
one or the other definition without loss in our spheres of interest.
Then there follows, under paragraph five, a stipulation concerning the
indemnity of war, which leaves the question open, whether "it should
be pecuniary or territorial." This is a matter which concerns the
belligerents in so far as it may be pecuniary, and the signers of the
Paris treaty of peace in so far as it may be territorial, and will
have to be settled by their consent.
Then there follows the provision concerning the Dardanelles. This, I
believe, has given cause for much more anxiety in the world than is
justified by the actual possibilities of any probable outcome. "His
Majesty the Sultan declares his willingness to come to an agreement
with His Majesty the Emperor of Russia with a view of safeguarding the
rights and interests of Russia in the straits of the Bosporus and the
The question of the Dardanelles is freighted with importance when it
means placing the control there--the key of the Bosporus--in other
hands than heretofore, and deciding whether Russia shall be able to
close and to open the Dardanelles at will. All other stipulations can
have reference only to times of peace, for in the more important times
of war the question will always hinge on whether the possessor of the
key to the Dardanelles is in alliance with or dependent on those
living outside or inside the Dardanelles, on Russia or on the
opponents of Russia. 
In case of war, I believe no stipulation which may be made will 
have the importance which people fear, provided the Dardanelles
are in times of peace in the possession of people who are
fully independent of Russia. 
It may be of interest for the people on the shores of the Mediterranean to
know whether the Russian Black Sea fleet shall be permitted in times of
peace to sail through the Dardanelles and to show itself on their shores. 
If, however, it shows itself there, I should infer Peace, like good weather 
from the barometer; when it withdraws and carefully secludes itself, then it
is time to suspect that clouds are gathering. The question, therefore,
whether men-of-war shall be permitted to pass the Dardanelles in times
of peace, although by no means unimportant, is to my way of thinking
not sufficiently important to inflame Europe.
The question whether the possession of the Dardanelles shall be
shifted to other owners is entirely different. It constitutes,
however, a conjectural eventuality which the present situation does
not contemplate, I believe, and on which I shall, therefore, express
no opinion. My only concern at present is to give an approximate
definition, as best I can, of those weighty interests which may lead
to another war after the Russian-Turkish war has been actually
For this reason I deem it important to affirm that the
stipulations of peace concerning the Dardanelles mean less for the
men-of-war than for the merchant marine. The preëminent German
interest in the Orient demands that the waterways, the straits as well
as the Danube from the Black Sea upward, shall continue as free and
open to us as they have been until now. I rather infer that we shall
surely obtain this, for as a matter of fact it has never even been
questioned. An official communication on this point which I have
received from St. Petersburg simply refers to the existing
stipulations of the treaty of Paris. Nothing is jeopardized; our
position can be no worse and no better than it has been.
The interest which we have in a better government of a Christian
nation and in the safeguards against those acts of violence which have
occurred at times, under Turkish rule, is taken care of by the
agreements mentioned above. And this is the second interest which
Germany has in this whole affair. It is less direct, but is dictated
by humanity.
The rest of the preliminary stipulations consists--I will not say of
phrases, for it is an official paper--but it has no bearing on our
present discussion.
With these explanations I have answered to the best of my ability the
first part of the interpellation concerning the present state of
affairs in the Orient, and I fear, gentlemen, that I have said nothing
new to any one of you.
The other parts of the question refer to the position which Germany
has taken or intends to take in view of the now existing conditions
and innovations.
As to the position which we have already taken I cannot now give you
any information, for officially we have been in possession of the
papers to which I have referred only a very short while, I may say
literally only since this very morning. What we knew beforehand was in
general agreement with these papers, but not of a nature to make
official steps possible. It consisted of private communications for
which we were indebted to the courtesy of other governments.
Official steps, therefore, have not yet been taken, and would be
premature in view of the conference, which I hope is at hand. All this
information will then be available and we shall be in a position to
exchange opinions concerning these matters. Any alterations,
therefore, of the stipulations of 1856 will have to be sanctioned. If
they should not be, the result would not necessarily be another war,
but a condition of affairs which all the powers of Europe, I think,
have good cause to avoid. 
I am almost tempted to call it making a morass of matters. Let us assume
that no agreement about what has to be done can be reached in the
conference, and that the powers who have a chief interest in opposing
the Russian stipulations should say: "At the present moment it does not
suit us to go to war about these questions, but we are not in accord with
our agreements, and we reserve our decision"--would not that establish
a condition of affairs which cannot be agreeable even to Russia? 
The Russian policy rightly says, "We are not desirous of exposing
ourselves to the necessity of a Turkish campaign every ten or twenty
years, for it is exhausting, strenuous, and expensive." 
But the Russian policy, on the other hand, cannot wish to substitute
for this Turkish danger an English-Austrian entanglement recurring
every ten or twenty years. It is, therefore, my opinion that Russia is
equally interested with the other powers in reaching an agreement
now, and in not deferring it to some future and perhaps less 
convenient time.
That Russia could possibly wish to force the other powers by war to
sanction the changes which she deems necessary I consider to be
beyond the realm of probability. If she could not obtain the sanction
of the other signers of the clauses of 1856, she would, I suppose, be
satisfied with the thought "_Beati possidentes_" (happy are the
Then the question would arise whether those who are
dissatisfied with the Russian agreements and have real and material
interests at stake, would be ready to wage war in order to force
Russia to diminish her demands or to give up some of them. 
If they should be successful in forcing Russia to give up more than 
she could bear, they would do so at the risk of leaving in Russia, when the
troops come home, a feeling similar to that in Prussia after the
treaties of 1815, a lingering feeling that matters really are not
settled, and that another attempt will have to be made.
If this could be achieved by a war, one would have to regard, as the
aim of this war, the expulsion of Russia from the Bulgarian
strongholds which she is at present occupying, and from her position
which no doubt is threatening Constantinople--although she has given
no indication of a wish to occupy this city. Those who would have
accomplished this by a victorious war, would then have to shoulder the
responsibility of deciding what should be done with these countries of
European Turkey. 
That they should be willing simply to reinstate the Turkish rule in its entirety
after everything said and determined in the conference, is, I believe, very
improbable. They would, therefore, be obliged to make some kind of a
disposition, which could not differ very much in principle from what is being
proposed now. It might differ in geographical extent and in the degree of
independence, but I do not believe that Austria-Hungary, for instance, the
nearest neighbor, would be ready to accept the entire heritage of the present
Russian conquest, and be responsible for the future of these Slavic
countries, either by incorporating them in the state of Hungary or
establishing them as dependencies. I do not believe that this is an
end which Austria can much desire in view of her own Slavic subjects.
She cannot wish to be the editor of the future in the Balkan
peninsula, as she would have to be if she won a victory.
I mention all these eventualities, in which I place no faith, for the
sake of proving how slight the reasonable probability of a European
war appears to be. It is not reasonably probable that the greater or
lesser extent of a tributary State--unless conditions were altogether
unbearable--should induce two neighboring and friendly powers to start
a destructive European war in cold blood! The blood will be cooler, I
assure you, when we have at last come together in a conference.
It was to meet these eventualities that the idea of a conference was
first proposed by the government of Austria-Hungary. We were from the
start ready to accept it, and we were almost the first to do so.
Concerning the selection of a place where the conference should be
held, difficulties arose which I consider out of proportion to the
significance of the whole matter. But even in this direction we have
raised no objections and declared ourselves satisfied with the places
which have been mentioned. 
They were Vienna, Brussels, Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden, Wildbad, 
a place in Switzerland--I should, however, say Wildbad was mentioned
by no one but itself. Stuttgart was also mentioned. Any of these places 
would have been agreeable to us. It now seems--if I am correctly informed,
and the decision must be made in a few days--that the choice will fall on
Baden-Baden. Our interest, which is shared by those powers with whom 
we have corresponded, is the despatch of the conference irrespective of
the choice of a place, which is for us of little consequence.
As regards places in Germany I have expressed no opinion beyond this, 
that on German soil the presidency would have to be German. This view 
has nowhere been opposed. After the general acceptance of this principle
it will depend on the men sent to attend this conference whether for reasons of
expediency it must be adhered to. Personally I believe the conference
is assured, and I expect that it will take place in the first half of
next March. 
It would be desirable that the conference should take
place sooner--and the uncertainty concerning it be ended. 
But before the powers join in a conference, they naturally desire an 
exchange of opinion the one with the other; and the connections with the 
seat of war are really very slow. The delay of the communications which
reached us was, and still is, explained by the delay with which news
comes from the seat of war. The suspicion which has for some time been
felt in the press that this delay was intentional becomes unfounded
when one realizes that the advance of the Russian army following
January 30 was in consequence of the stipulations of the armistice,
and did not constitute an advantage taken of an opportune moment. 
The boundaries within which the Russian army is stationed today are the
lines of demarcation expressly mentioned in the armistice. I do not
believe in any intentional delay from anywhere; on the contrary, I
have confidence in the good intentions everywhere to send
representatives to the conference speedily. We certainly shall do our
part to the best of our ability.
I now come to the most difficult part--excuse me if I continue for the
present seated--I come to the most difficult part of the task set me,
an explanation, so far as this is possible, of the position which
Germany is to take in the conference. In this connection you will not
expect from me anything but general indications of our policy. Its
programme Mr. von Bennigsen has developed before you clearly and
comprehensively, almost more so than any strength at the present
moment permits me to do.
When from many quarters the demand has been made upon us--to be sure
from no government, but only from voices in the press and other well
meaning advisers--that e should define our policy from the start and
force it on the other governments in some form, I must say that this
seems to me to be newspaper diplomacy rather than the diplomacy of a
Let me explain to you at once the difficulty and impossibility of such
a course. If we did express a definite programme, which we should be
obliged to follow when we had announced it officially and openly not
only before you, but also before the whole of Europe, should we not
then place a premium on the contentiousness of all those who
considered our programme to be not favorable to themselves!
We should also render the part of mediation in the conference, which I
deem very important, almost impossible for ourselves, because
everybody with the _menu_ of the German policy in his hand could say
to us: "German mediation can go just so far; it can do this, and this
it cannot do." It is quite possible that the free hand which Germany
has preserved, and the uncertainty of Germany's decisions have not
been without influence on the preservation of peace thus far.
If you play the German card, laying it on the table, everybody knows how to
adapt himself to it or how to avoid it. Such a course is impracticable
if you wish to preserve peace. The adjustment of peace does not, I
believe, consist in our playing the arbiter, saying: "It must be thus,
and the weight of the German empire stands behind it." Peace is
brought about, I think, more modestly. Without straining the simile
which I am quoting from our everyday life, it partakes more of the
behavior of the honest broker, who really wishes to bring about a
As long as we follow this policy we are in the position to save a
power which has secret wishes from the embarrassment of meeting with a
refusal or an unpleasant reply from its--let me say, congressional
opponent. If we are equally friendly with both, we can first sound one
and then say to the other: "Do not do that, try to arrange matters in
this way." 
These are helps in business which should be highly esteemed. I have an
experience of many years in such matters, and it  has been brought home to
me often, that when two are alone the thread drops more frequently and is not
picked up because of false shame. The moment when it could be picked up
passes, people separate in silence, and are annoyed. If, however, a third person
is present, he can pick up the thread without much ado, and bring the two together
again when they have parted. This is the function of which I am thinking and
which corresponds to the amicable relations in which we are living
with our friendly neighbors along our extensive borders. 
It is moreover in keeping with the union among the three imperial courts
which has existed for five years, and the intimacy which we enjoy with
England, another one of the powers chiefly concerned in this matter.
As regards England we are in the fortunate position of not having any
conflicting interests, except perhaps some trade rivalries or passing
annoyances. These latter cannot be avoided, but there is absolutely
nothing which could drive two industrious and peace-loving nations to
war. I happily believe, therefore, that we may be the mediator between
England and Russia, just as I know we are between Austria and Russia,
if they should not be able to agree of their own accord.
The three-emperor-pact, if one wishes to call it such, while it is
generally called a treaty, is not based on any written obligations,
and no one of the three emperors can be voted down by the other two.
It is based on the personal sympathy among the three rulers, on the
personal confidence which they have in one another, and on the
personal relations which for many years have existed among the leading
ministers of all three empires.
We have always avoided forming a majority of two against one when
there was a difference of opinion between Austria and Russia, and we
have never definitely taken the part of one of them, even if our own
desires drew us more strongly in that direction. We have refrained
from this for fear that the tie might not be sufficiently strong
after all. 
It surely cannot be so strong that it could induce one of
these great powers to disregard its own incontestably national
interests for the sake of being obliging. That is a sacrifice which no
great power makes _pour les beaux yeux_ of another. Such a sacrifice
it makes only when arguments are replaced by hints of strength. Then
it may happen that the great power will say: "I hate to make this
concession, but I hate even worse to go to war with so strong a power
as Germany. 
Still I will remember this and make a note of it." That is
about the way in which such things are received. And this leads me to
the necessity of vigorously opposing all exaggerated demands made on
Germany's mediation. Let me declare that they are out of the question
so long as I have the honor of being the adviser of His Majesty.
I know that in saying this I am disappointing a great many
expectations raised in connection with today's disclosures, but I am
not of the opinion that we should go the road of Napoleon and try to
be, if not the arbiter, at least the schoolmaster of Europe.
I have here a clipping given me today from the _Allgemeine Zeitung,_
which contains a noteworthy article entitled "The Policy of Germany in
the Decisive Hour." This article demands as necessary the admission of
a third power to the alliance of England and Austria. That means, we
shall take part with England and Austria and deprive Russia of the
credit of voluntarily making the concessions which she may be willing
to grant in the interest of European peace. 
I do not doubt that Russia will sacrifice for the sake of peace in Europe
whatever her sense of nationality and her own interests and those of eighty
million Russians permit. It is really superfluous to say this. And now please
assume that we took the advice of the gentlemen who think that we should play
the part of an arbiter--I have here another article from a Berlin
paper, called "Germany's Part as Arbiter"--and that we declared to
Russia in some polite and amicable way: 
"We have been friends, it is true, for hundreds of years, Russia has ever 
been true-blue to us when we were in difficulties, but now things are different. 
In the interest of Europe, as the policemen of Europe, as a kind of a justice
of the peace, we must do as we are requested, we can no longer resist
the demands of Europe ...," what would be the result?
There are considerable numbers of Russians who do not love Germany,
and who fortunately are not at the helm now, but who would not be
unhappy if they were called there. What would they say to their
compatriots, they and perhaps other statesmen who at present are not
yet avowedly hostile to us? They would say: "With what sacrifices of
blood and men and money have we not won the position which for
centuries has been the ideal of Russian ambition! 
We could have maintained it against those opponents who may have 
a real interest in combating it. It was not Austria, with whom we have lived on
moderately intimate terms for some time, it was not England, who
possesses openly acknowledged counter-interests to ours--no, it was
our intimate friend Germany who drew, behind our back, not her sword
but a dagger, although we might have expected from her services in
return for services rendered, and although she has _no_ interests in
the Orient."
Those approximately would be the phrases, and this the theme which we
should hear in Russia. This picture which I have drawn in exaggerated
lines--but the Russian orators also exaggerate--corresponds with the
truth. We, however, shall never assume the responsibility of
sacrificing the certain friendship of a great nation, tested through
generations, to the momentary temptation of playing the judge in
To jeopardize the friendship which fortunately binds us to most
European states and at the present moment to all,--for the parties to
whom it is an eyesore are not in power,--to jeopardize, I say, this
friendship with one friend in order to oblige another, when we as
Germans have no direct interests, and to buy the peace of others at
the cost of our own, or, to speak with college boys, to substitute at
a duel--such things one may do when one risks only one's own life, but
I cannot do them when I have to counsel His Majesty the Emperor as
regards the policy of a great State of forty million people in the
heart of Europe. 
From this tribune I therefore take the liberty of saying a very definite 
"No" to all such imputations and suggestions. I shall under no condition 
do anything of the kind; and no government, none of those primarily
interested, has made any such demands.  Germany, as the last 
speaker remarked, has grown to new responsibilities as it has grown
stronger. But even if we are able to throw a large armed force into the
scales of European policies, I do not consider anybody justified in
advising the emperor and the princes (who would have to discuss the
matter in the Bundesrat if we wished to wage an offensive war) to 
make an appeal to the proven readiness of the nation to offer blood
and money for a war.
The only war which I am ready to counsel to the emperor is one to protect 
our independence abroad and our union at home, or to defend those of our
interests which are so clear that we are supported, if we insist on them, not
only by the unanimous vote of the Bundesrat, which is necessary, but
also by the undivided enthusiasm of the whole German nation.