The "sick man of Europe" is a phrase used to refer to a European nation that is experiencing econonic hardship or poverty. Initially created to refer to the struggling Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia is credited for coining the phrase. The empire was at war with Russia for regional control, and during the mid-19th century the Ottoman Empire suffered from numerous challenges including economic problems, military defeats, and ethnic unrest. Due to these difficulties, the empire was compared to an ailing old man. Tsar Nicholas described the Ottoman Empire as a sick man in the hands of Russia and England. Almost all major European countries have been labeled "the sick man of Europe" at some time in their history.
Turkey As the “Sick Man of Europe”
The region that is modern-day Turkey was part of the Ottoman Empire prior to the First World War. The Ottoman Empire was a major power during the 17th century, but was forced to give up control of certain European regions after a major defeat in the Battle of Vienna. Subsequently, the Ottoman Empire lost its influence in the region. Toward the end of the 18th century, the Ottoman Empire struggled to fight off foreign invasions. The empire also encountered countless financial problems. In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had mounting debt with European banks which could not be repaid. The decline of the Ottoman Empire continued late into the 19th century, and as a result the empire was referred to as "the sick man of Europe." Austria and Russia aimed to increase their influence over the Mediterranean region, and the two nations worked together towards defeating the Ottoman Empire. France and Britain supported the Ottoman Empire against the efforts of Russia.
Defeat of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire was overpowered during the First World War. After the war, the empire finally fell apart in 1922 to the delight of Russia. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to the emergence of smaller states such as Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Russia’s influence in the Mediterranean region increased after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
European Countries Described As the “Sick Man of Europe”
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, other European countries have also been described as the "sick man of Europe." For example, shortly after the First World War, Germany suffered an economic meltdown which led to social unrest. The country’s global status steadily declined, which led to numerous problems, and as a result Germany was referred to as "the sick man of Europe." The United Kingdom also held the title during the 1960s and 1970s. The United Kingdom’s troubles began when the British pound was devalued in 1967, which led to economic decline and industrial unrest. The period was one of the hardest times in the country's history. Italy was also described as the "sick man of Europe" in 2005 when it experienced political turmoil, and then again in 2018.