*The Great Cauldron: A History of Southeastern Europe*, by Marie-Janine Calic

This book is perhaps the best general overview of its chosen subject area.  One part I enjoyed were the discussions of how much the Balkans once had numerous transport hubs for Europe, Belgrade being one but not the only example:

Thessaloniki was among the cities that experienced an economic boom.  The city was home to the third most important port in the Ottoman Empire.  Between 1880 and 1912, the volume of goods traded in Thessaloniki doubled from one to two million tons.  There were railway connections to Vienna and Istanbul.  new local factories produced flannel, woolen, and cotton products, as well as cigarettes.  Important exports included leather, silkworms, raw materials for textiles, and especially tobacco, the production of which took off around the turn of the century.  Thirty-eight of fifty large companies in the city were owned by Jewish families…The majority of these families specialized in the import-export business.


Between 1850 and 1913, the value of exports from Serbia increased by a factor of five, and from Romania by a factor of fourteen.

You can order the book here.  I think about the Balkans a great deal (and enjoy visiting there), if only because they are one simple alternate scenario for what the rest of world history will look like.


I often wonder if it were not for the first world war, how long the age of empires would have lasted. Could we still have the Ottoman, Austria-Hungary, Russian, British and French empires still in place?

Austria-Hungary is an easy answer. They did not developed a strong Navy because they spent all their money on the Napoleonic Wars. By the time Napoleon was defeated, Austria was really late into developing a strong navy. Even the newly created Italy defeated the "mighty" Austro-Hungarian empire on the sea. The lack of naval power may explain why they lost access to the sea and all their territories on the Adriatic sea. So, WW1 did not caused the collapse of that empire, it was tumbling even before the war started.

This is an odd interpretation of events. The Austrian-Hungarian Navy decisively defeated Italy in 1866 at Lissa, and generally outperformed the Italians in WWI. Austria-Hungary had ports and coast line on the Adriatic right up to 1918, they never lost access to the sea.

Plus they weren't really in trouble, either, before the war started. The empire was not in the process of blowing itself apart, it had just been through a two decade economic boom and industrialization, and so forth.

Danke fuer die schoene Zeit auf dieser Webseite. Macht weiter
so. Da kommt man gerne wieder vorbei.

This multitude of Imperial thrones would probably have nuked each other to dust in the 1950, owing to disagreement after that family Christmas dinner where Cousin Kyrill II from Russia bad-mouthed Uncle Edward VIII from England, while little Wilhelm-Friedrich of Germany ate all the dessert. Communist France would probably lose the 23rd border war with Italy in the meantime, while the US-Ottoman Jihad for Iraq's oil resources was ongoing with severe losses to both sides. In Asia meanwhile, the Republic of China would be having its own Vietnam War, most liekely a proxy war against Japan and British India.

Too bad; it would have been nice to have heard what odes the Beatles might have penned to dear old Edward in the '60's.

The timeline police had a tricky task, jolting the world out of its pre-WWI local maximum. The parameter they optimized for was surviving the Great Filter of the 20th century, namely the invention of nuclear weapons. Imperial Germany with nukes was not a viable outcome even in the medium term, as you rightly point out.

The Great Filter of the 21st century is, of course, AI. Once again, a robust intervention is regrettably indispensable. As you've noticed, certain minor preliminary disruptions have already begun.

Of course if you subscribe to the multi-verse theory, most people live in successful worlds. So we don't need the timeline police to explain why we live in one.

Ah, but if you subscribe to the simulation hypothesis, most people live in simulations. And each simulation only represents a single timeline.

Of course, multiple simulations are run. But only a finite number, rather than a quasi-infinitude of many-world branches proliferating at every single moment.

Any particular simulation can run undisturbed, or it can serve as the arena for a contest between divergent outcomes. Sometimes the goal is simply to win, as in a chess match; sometimes it's more akin to a chess problem, where the goal is elegantly engineering a seemingly improbable outcome with a minimal number of moves.

Could be both? i.e. we live in a universe where both simulations are possible and the multiverse happens. Hard to say in that scenario which is more frequent - people in simulations and people in "real" life. It may be that most civilisations develop sims, in which case the former, or the case that most civs get destroyed by (say) AI or other things before they can develop sims. So you have multi-trillions of low tech civs for every civ that eventually develops technology capable of sims.

The Russian Empire is kind of easy too - it basically still exists, though subject to a lot of caveats and definitions. For example, the extent of Russia today is represented in the Pacific by Vladivostok - a city founded less than a century and a half ago, and first connected by rail to Moscow through the Trans Siberian Railway in 1916.

The Russian empire in 1900 was a big part of Europe, having Poland, Finland, Baltic states, Ukraine and a large part of the Caucuses. So it was a European power. It was also a rapidly industrializing state driven a lot by external trade. If WW1 had not happened I think the European part would have continued to grow and Russia would perhaps have looked like the US - combing a high industrialized region with giant agricultural and resource hinterland. In that scenario Russia becomes the dominant power in Europe, with resources and population not even Germany can match.

That is exactly why the German General staff wanted war with n 1914. They knew it was their last chance to stop Russia. Would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those pesky Americans.

Agree with all what you said, except the Americans in WW1 were too late to really have any significant effect (unlike WW2) except on German morale. It was the Brits what won WW1, and the Yanks/Russkies WW2.

Although Jews have been in the Balkans for two thousand years, the bulk of them arrived in the late 15th century and 16th century fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Most died during the Holocaust, as Hitler targeted both Serbs and Jews for Germany's defeat in WWI. Jews who survived made their way to Israel after WWII.

The land that became Romania had the largest Jewish population. They arrived in the 1800s primarily from the North (including from Russia). When Romanian self-rule replaced Turkish rule, Jews were subject to discrimination including not being able to own land. Since they could not own land, most Jews located in the cities. Thus, the link to the import-export business.

Hitler hated all Slavs. Considered them subhuman.

Well, the Romanians in Moldova and Wallachia did have self-rule - they were under the suzerainty of the Sublime Porte, but had full internal autonomy. This is why the only dedicated mosques in Romania today are the ones on the Black Sea, which region was a vilayet of the Ottomans. That is how the powerbase was created for eventual unification and full independence. It's true that there was significant animosity against the Jews, especially from the nascent bourgeoisie, who was entering into competition with them for spots in universities and in elite positions (doctors etc). The Iron Guard was heavily supported by students in Iasi, Cernauti etc, who were seeing the avenues of social mobility being closed off by Jewish over-achievers. This sort of rhymes with how the areas that would become the Confederacy were more philo-semitic than the rest of the US - the Jews had their place in a predominantly agrarian system, whereas the North's mercantile system made them into competitors of the WASPs.

An economic historian friend of mine used to work on what he called The Austro-Serbian Prune War. I suppose it might have been this:

When I was a pipe smoker Balkan Sobranie was my poison. Delish.

I thought Sobranie was Russian, or used to be, since it is probably globalized today.

"Half a league; half a league, half a league . . . "

Of it were not for France and Great Britain, the Russians would have righteously swallowed the Sultan's Edenic empire.

PS: They didn't do it for love of the Grand Turk, but to step on Russian expansion.

The West stopping the Russians from reclaiming Constantinople is a great tragedy of 19th century history, particularly if you are Greek or Armenian.

When I hear discussions of african american reparations I think of the Balkans. Old hatreds and injustices stirred up to cause division.

I've put a lot of thought into this, and I think we can solve that problem by pretending as though race doesn't exist and instead just remind everyone through, like, public service announcements or whatever of a single sentence from the Declaration of Independence that they already know. This will totally work; I'm a very deep thinker.

Obviously, you are not a Democrat and don't understand the political value of dragging up old crimes and creating anger and hatred among minorities, all the while pretending it is 1872 and not 2019.

The Balkans motto might be "diversity is our downfall". The common pejorative "to Balkanize" is telling.

Balkans are all white people. More proof white nationalism doesn't work.

Go back in your hole.


Are you suggesting the United States is currently other than a multicultural empire?

Every area has its high point. Bohemia used to be one of the largest producers of silver in Europe.

Comments for this post are closed