Joy here; misery there—neither guaranteed permanent
As soon as an armistice was agreed, a peace conference in Bucharest went into action, beginning on July 30. (The fighting had lasted 33 days.) The belligerents’ representatives did all the negotiating, though the powers kept a watchful eye on them through their ambassadors in Romania. As Hall puts it, “they did not dominate the proceedings, but they did remain very influential.”

When the Ottomans asked to participate, Romania rejected the request, declaring that this was a matter to be decided among the Balkan states. Bulgaria had to wait until the Bucharest negotiations were finished and then negotiate separately with the Turks.
British cartoon on Romanian wickedness
Romania, the host of the conference, didn’t want any more of Bulgaria than the Southern Dobrudja. Their main reason for ensuring that Bulgaria lost was to make sure they’d be able to keep what they’d taken—and, of course, to keep Bulgaria from displacing them as the preeminent Balkan power. Having succeeded on both counts, they became a force for moderation in the peace negotiations. This Punch cartoon—in which Romania’s King Carol holds off Kings Constantine and Peter (of Serbia), pretending to save Tsar Ferdinand from their banditry while filching Southern Dobrudja from his purse—makes Romanian behavior look sneakier than it really was. No doubt Romania’s effort to keep Bulgaria from being stripped bare in the negotiations was partially motivated by reluctance to see either Serbia or Greece gain too much power. But, as previously mentioned, those two countries had eagerly pressed Romania to get into the war, and in all probability they owed their victory to the success of this effort.
Bulgarian prime minister Vasil Radoslavov
Bulgaria hoped to benefit from disagreements between their opponents, especially Serbia and Greece, but found that it faced a united front. Romania already had the Southern Dobrudja, and was making no further demands. The Bulgarian delegation to the conference was led by Dmitar Tonchev, finance minister of a new government. Danev's Russophile government had resigned two weeks into the war and was now replaced by a Germanophile government whose prime minster, Vasil Radoslavov, avoided the conference and sent Tonchev in his place—partly because he was not a diplomatic sort, but mostly because he wanted to avoid being identified with the national humiliation. The Romanian, Greek, and Serbian delegations were all headed by their prime ministers.
Negotiations over Macedonia
In negotiations with the Serbs, Bulgaria wanted its part of Macedonia to extend to east bank of the Vardar, Macedonia’s biggest river, which runs southeast from Skopje to the Aegean at Salonika. Serbia, sitting in the winner’s seat, thought the Struma, 40 to 70 miles east of the Vardar, would do very nicely for a border. (In this cutout from a German map, I’ve highlighted the two rivers’ courses in red [Vardar] and blue [Struma].) Accepting the Serbian proposal would have left Bulgaria without a shred of Macedonia, and the powers, joined by Romania, persuaded the Serbs to go just a bit easier.

In the end, Serbia kept the entire watershed of the Vardar, and the border ran along the mountain range that separated this from the watershed of the Struma. Just below the mountains, however, Bulgaria was given a little piece that extended far enough westward to include the city of Strumica, a gesture that the Serbian prime minister, Nikola Pašić, said he was willing to make “in honor of General Fichev,” the head of the Bulgarian general staff, who was a member of the delegation.

The Bulgarian negotiators did no better with the Greeks. They knew that Salonika was lost. Their force there (which the government had kept in place contrary to its generals’ advice) was just big enough to annoy the Greeks, but was quickly overwhelmed on the first day of the war. The Bulgarian delegation hoped for Kavala, the second biggest Macedonian seaport, which Venizélos had offered them before the war, but his response contained more realism than warmth. He told General Fichev “Before [June 29] we were afraid of you and offered you Serres and Drama and Kavala, but now when we see you, we assume the role of victors and will take care of our interests only” [quoted by Hall]. The cities he mentioned are visible on the map above. All are west of the Struma, which Venizélos may have been considering as a Greek-Bulgarian border in southern Macedonia. But whatever he meant to offer, that was then and this, obviously, was now.
Who got what in the Balkans
This map shows the final division of the conquered territory. Only that territory has been colored, to emphasize the changes visually; I’ve also colored in the area the Turks took back in the war, although this was settled in a bilateral treaty signed at Constantinople rather than the Treaty of Bucharest, and therefore was not shown on the original map. (A little farther on, you’ll find a version of the German map excerpted above that shows all the belligerent countries within their postwar boundaries, with both original and new territory all colored the same.)

On either map you can see the Serbian-Bulgarian border settlement described above, and also the new eastern boundary between Greece and Bulgaria, fixed at a river that the Greeks called Néstos and the Bulgarians Mesta. This river is the traditional boundary between Macedonia and Thrace, so all of coastal Macedonia was now in Greek hands. East of that boundary, Bulgaria still had 70 miles of Aegean coast—something it had previously possessed for only the 15 months between the Treaties of San Stefano and Berlin, 35 years earlier—but the part they had now was relatively undeveloped. The closest thing it had to a seaport was the town of Dedeagach, Turkish for “grandfather tree.” (It was said to be named for a wise old dervish who at some time in the past used to spend his days in the shade of a certain tree there, and was eventually buried next to it.) Picturesque legend aside, the town was far less of an asset than Kavala.

The Bulgarians had to sign the treaty, but they regarded it as a disaster. They refused to consider the settlement permanent, and Hall quotes Tonchev, the head of their delegation, as saying “Either the Powers will change it, or we ourselves will destroy it.”
Enver Pasha
Bulgaria still had to negotiate peace with the Turks, and this process went no better. Except for a narrow strip running from the Aegean to the Black Sea, which enlarged the country by a few kilometers along the border with Turkey-in-Europe, the Bulgarians recovered none of what Enver Bey’s soldiers had taken back. (He was now Enver Pasha; the sultan had promoted him in gratitude for his back-door conquest.) The Bulgarians declared in vain that they could not surrender the site of every single glorious victory they had won in the first Balkan war, at the cost of much patriot blood. Such arguments cut no ice with the Turks, who came out of the war with a much more defensible frontier than the Treaty of London had left them. Edirne was not only a substantial obstacle on the road to Istanbul; it had long been more a Turkish than a Bulgarian city.

Greece also signed a bilateral peace treaty with the Ottoman empire. The Treaty of Athens was a cut-and-dried affair, little more than a formalization of the current state of things. Crete was formally ceded at last, along with Ioánnina, Salonika, and other territory the Greeks had acquired during the wars. Greece promised to grant minority rights to all Turks living within its new borders. The fate of the Aegean islands was still in the hands of the great powers, who finally awarded all but two, Imbros and Tenedos, to Greece. The Turks, who had insisted that the defense of Istanbul required that they possess Lemnos and Samothrace also, refused to yield sovereignty over them. There might have been another naval conflict if World War I hadn’t started when it did.
The map as changed by the Balkan wars
Here’s the final map. (Sorry about the German names, but it was the best map available for free.) In the Balkan wars, Greece had increased both its territory and its population by more than half. Serbia had done equally well, and was now considered by some to have replaced both Bulgaria and Romania as the dominant military power in the Balkans. Bulgaria, too, had grown in size, though its gains were minuscule by the measure of its prewar ambitions.

Bitterly disappointed by Russia, Bulgaria transferred its alienated affection to Germany. Russia, no longer able to count Bulgaria as a Balkan ally, moved closer to Serbia—although that country’s geographical position would make it a less useful ally in the future wars with the Turks that Russia (still lusting for Constantinople) fully expected to fight. Only one year later, Russia’s support for Serbia in the aftermath of the assassination at Sarajevo played a large part in turning a Balkan dispute into the First World War, and Bulgaria’s ties with Germany brought it into the war on their side—allied, ironically as it would seem, with the Ottomans.

In fact, though, Bulgaria’s chagrin over its losses caused the government to begin talking to the Turks about an alliance almost as soon as the Treaty of Bucharest was signed. It was clearly the only possible means of reversing their losses to Serbia and Greece. Though the talks produced no definite result, Bulgaria wasn’t at all reluctant to fight side by side with the Ottoman empire in alliance with the central powers. During the Great War, they took advantage of Serbia’s defeat to seize the part of Macedonia the Serbs had annexed.
Changes in Bulgaria's borders after World War I
After the war, however, this territory was of course taken away from Bulgaria and given back to Serbia, along with Strumica (Pašić’s ‘gift’ to Gen. Fichev) and a few other frontier areas that made the two countries’ common border harder to defend for Bulgaria and easier for Serbia—or rather, for the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later renamed Yugoslavia. Not only that, but the 70-mile strip of Aegean coast the Bulgarians had been left in the Treaty of Bucharest was also taken away and given to Greece. This final definition of the Greek-Bulgarian border has lasted to the present day.

Bulgaria did reoccupy what it considered its rightful share of Macedonia and Thrace during World War II, but alliance with Nazi Germany proved to have been another in the sequence of bad decisions, and Bulgaria was again a loser.
It can be argued that the Balkan wars did none of the nations who fought them very much good in the long run. The Treaty of Bucharest made Bulgaria the biggest loser in the short run, and this clearly had a malign influence on its choices of allies (and the consequences that followed those choices) in later wars.

Greece was a big winner, even though it had narrowly escaped a devastating loss in the Kresna Gorge at the very end. But their success in the Balkan wars played a part in tempting the Greeks into the Anatolian adventure that ended in the catastrophe of 1922, a national humiliation at least equal to that suffered by Bulgaria in 1913.

Serbia, the other big winner made it (as the foremost part of Yugoslavia) almost to the end of the 20th century before coming to grief, but the process of Yugoslavia’s disintegration both began and ended in conflict between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, the product of an antagonism that’s easy to trace back to the Balkan wars, even though it may also have older roots. Macedonia is still disputing the ethnic identity of its Slavic components, and, like Kosovo, also has a substantial Albanian population jealous of its rights.

Turkey, ironically, may have gained more from losing the war than the Balkan nations gained from winning it. Defeat—not only in the Balkan wars, but also in World War I immediately afterwards—ultimately brought about changes in Turkey that included a redefinition of what kind of state it was, and from being an outmoded empire trying vainly to maintain its rule over foreign nations Turkey remade itself into a modern nation-state, and a fairly strong one at that. Of course this wasn’t achieved without a good deal of suffering on the part of the Turks themselves as well as other peoples with whom they came in conflict.

All of that said, however, it wouldn’t be right to conclude that the Balkan wars did no good for anybody, or that the modern nation of Turkey was the only beneficiary. As is inevitable in the world we inhabit, the truth is never that clear-cut. Every part of the former Turkey-in-Europe contained some people whose yearning for independence was satisfied or whose material well-being was improved by the result. Subsequent population exchanges, regardless of the pain they caused, put still more people on the side of this or that border where, in the long run, they really wanted to be. As we've seen, no perfect solution was ever possible.

It’s true that the leaders on all sides often behaved voraciously in one way or another, but we should balance that with the realization that their appetite for aggrandizement was, at least in part, founded on a genuine anxiety for their small countries’ survival. Surrounded by powerful and often unfriendly neighbors—sometimes each other, but also the Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires—each small Balkan nation felt that it needed every human, natural and geographical resource it could acquire in order to fend off the genuine possibility of being wiped off the map.

National hopes were generally expressed in the form of grandiose visions like Greece’s Great Idea and its Serbian and Bulgarian counterparts. These dreams of restoring past glories regardless of any changes history had dealt out in the meantime understandably put modern observers off—at least, those without a personal reason to buy into any particular country’s vision. The Balkan dreamers saw the world through spectacles tinted by 19th-century romantic nationalism. To a certain extent, they couldn’t help viewing it in a way that our hindsight reveals as distorted and misguided.

A world without the competing interests that sometimes cause violent conflict has never been achieved. Possibly it can’t be achieved without a perfect stasis that’s incompatible with human nature and history. Of course that’s not a reason to give up trying to coexist in peace, or to deny or shrug off the evil we continually do to one another in spite of our imperfect attempts to do the right thing.

The Balkan wars offer many examples of such evil. They were probably the first in modern times to exemplify on a large scale the form of violence we’ve recently come to know by the name of ethnic cleansing (appropriately enough, a phrase born in the former Yugoslavia and first uttered in Serbo-Croatian). Irredentist nationalism always involves an idealized vision of an ethnically pure band of brethren suffering under tyrannous oppression. When the facts on the ground turn out not to correspond to this vision, the would-be liberator’s impulse is to rectify the situation by getting rid of whatever doesn’t support the ideal. Civilians become military targets. Atrocities are committed. The Balkan wars were certainly not exempt from this tendency, and no participant can claim a clean record.

Hall refers to a report issued after the wars by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It was written, he says, by “a committee of seven men, one from each of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States and two from France,” who conducted a thorough investigation, visited battlefields and annexed territories, interviewed eyewitnesses and survivors. They found, and described in their report, revolting brutalities and atrocities committed by all sides. Hall’s quotation from their conclusion is perhaps the best seal to put on this topic:
“The main fact is that war suspended the restraints of civil life, inflamed the passions that slumber in time of peace, destroyed the national kindliness between neighbors, and set in its place the will to injure. That is everywhere the essence of war.”