No. XLIV (2013)

Patterns of National Identity Development among the Balkan Orthodox Christians during the Nineteenth Century

Slobodan G. Markovich
University of Belgrade, School of Political Sciences

Published 01.12.2013


  • the Balkans,
  • national identity,
  • proto-nationalism,
  • Serbs,
  • Greeks,
  • Bulgarians,
  • Romanians,
  • Macedonian Slavs
  • ...More

How to Cite

Markovich, S. G. (2013). Patterns of National Identity Development among the Balkan Orthodox Christians during the Nineteenth Century. Balcanica - Annual of the Institute for Balkan Studies, (XLIV), 209–254.


The paper analyses the development of national identities among Balkan Orthodox Christians from the 1780s to 1914. It points to pre-modern political subsystems in which many Balkan Orthodox peasants lived in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Serbian and Greek uprisings/revolutions are analysed in the context of the intellectual climate of the Enlightenment. Various modes of penetration of the ideas of the Age of Revolution are analysed as well as the ways in which new concepts influenced proto-national identities of Serbs and Romans/Greeks. The author accepts Hobsbawm’s concept of proto-national identities and identifies their ethno-religious identity as the main element of Balkan Christian Orthodox proto-nations. The role of the Orthodox Church in the formation of ethno-religious proto-national identity and in its development into national identity during the nineteenth century is analysed in the cases of Serbs, Romans/Greeks, Vlachs/Romanians and Bulgarians. Three of the four Balkan national movements fully developed their respective national identities through their own ethnic states, and the fourth (Bulgarian) developed partially through its ethnic state. All four analysed identities reached the stage of mass nationalism by the time of the Balkan Wars. By the beginning of the twentieth century, only Macedonian Slavs kept their proto-national ethno-religious identity to a substantial degree. Various analysed patterns indicate that nascent national identities coexisted with fluid and shifting proto-national identities within the same religious background. Occasional supremacy of social over ethnic identities has also been identified. Ethnification of the Orthodox Church, in the period 1831–1872, is viewed as very important for the development of national movements of Balkan Orthodox Christians. A new three-stage model of national identity development among Balkan Orthodox Christians has been proposed. It is based on specific aspects in the development of these nations, including: the insufficient development of capitalist society, the emergence of ethnic states before nationalism developed in three out of four analysed cases, and an inappropriate social structure with a bureaucratic class serving the same role as the middle class had in more developed European nationalisms. The three phases posed three different questions to Balkan Christian Orthodox national activists. Phase 1: Who are we?; Phase 2: What to do with our non-liberated compatriots; and Phase 3: Has the mission of national unification been fulfilled?


Metrics Loading ...