The Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum to Serbia (English translation) - World War I Document Archive
Relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary had been . way to attack France and that helped to tip British opinion in favour of intervention. Austria-Hungary and Serbia hated each other. This article traces the development of tension between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, which was eventually to. The Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Berchtold, to the Minister at Serbia, in accepting the advice of the Great Powers, binds herself to and to live on the footing of friendly and neighborly relations with the latter.
Princip was arrested before he could swallow his poison capsule or shoot himself. Princip too was a minor under Austrian law, so he could not be executed. Instead he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and died of tuberculosis in All were Bosnian by birth.
Most were Serbian, or one might say Orthodox, but one was a Bosnian Muslim: None of the plotters was older than Their anger over conditions in Bosnia seems directed simply at the visible authorities. The assassins were not advanced political thinkers: From statements at their trial, the killing seems to have been a symbolic act of protest.
A closer look at the victims also supports this view: Assassination attempts were not unusual in Bosnia. Some of the plotters originally planned to kill Governor Potiorek, and only switched to the royal couple at the last minute.
Franz Ferdinand had limited political influence. He was Emperor Franz Joseph's nephew, and became the heir when Franz Joseph's son killed himself in his sisters could not take the throne. Franz Ferdinand's wife, Sophie Chotek, was a Bohemian noblewoman, but not noble enough to be royal. She was scorned by many at court, and their children were out of the line of succession Franz Ferdinand's brother Otto was next. Franz Ferdinand had strong opinions, a sharp tongue and many political enemies.
He favored "trialism," adding a third Slavic component to the Dual Monarchy, in part to reduce the influence of the Hungarians. His relations with Budapest were so bad that gossips blamed the killing on Magyar politicians. There have been efforts to say that Serbian politicians had him killed to block his pro-Slav reform plans, but the evidence for this is thin. Who was involved within Serbia, and why?
The planning was secret, and most of the participants died without making reliable statements. Student groups like Mlada Bosna were capable of hatching murder plots on their own.
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During several of the eventual participants talked about murdering General Oskar Potiorek, the provincial Governor or even Emperor Franz Joseph. Once identified as would-be assassins, however, the Bosnian students seem to have been directed toward Franz Ferdinand by Dimitrijevic-Apis, by now a colonel in charge of Serbian intelligence.
Princip returned from a trip to Belgrade early in with a plan to kill Franz Ferdinand, contacts in the Black Hand who later supplied the guns and bombs, and information about the planned June visit by the heir, which Princip would not have known without a leak or tip from within Serbian intelligence.
InApis took credit for planning the killing, but his motives can be questioned: In fact, the Radical Party and the king were afraid of Apis and had him shot. Those who believe Apis was at work point to "trialism" as his motive.
Apis is supposed to have seen the heir as the only man capable of reviving Austria-Hungary. If Franz Ferdinand had reorganized the Habsburg Empire on a trialist basis, satisfying the Habsburg South Slavs, Serbian hopes to expand into Bosnia and Croatia would have been blocked.
In early JuneApis is said to have decided to give guns and bombs to Princip and his accomplices, and arranged to get the students back over the border into Bosnia without passing through the border checkpoints. Pasic and the state While Apis may or may not have been guilty of planning the murder, the murder did not necessarily mean war. There was no irresistable outburst of popular anger after the assassination: Austria-Hungary did not take revenge in hot blood, but waited almost two months.
When the Habsburg state did react against Serbia, it was in a calculated manner as we will see in a moment. For now, suffice it to say that the Austrians chose to blame the Pasic government for the crime. How culpable was the Serbian regime? There is no evidence to suggest that Pasic planned the crime. It is unlikely that the Black Hand officers were acting on behalf of the government, because the military and the Radical Party in fact were engaged in a bitter competition to control the state.
After the Balkan Wars, both military and civilian figures claimed the right to administer the newly liberated lands the so-called Priority Question. AfterPasic knew that Apis' clique would kill to get their way. Pasic's responsibility revolves around reports that he was warned of the intended crime, and took inadequate steps to warn Austrian authorities.
Despite Pasic's denials, there is substantial testimony that someone alerted him to the plot, and that Pasic ordered the Serbian ambassador in Vienna to tell the Austrians that an attempt would be made on the life of the heir during his visit to Bosnia.
However, when the Serbian ambassador passed on the warning, he appears to have been too discreet. Instead of saying that he knew of an actual plot, he spoke in terms of a hypothetical assassination attempt, and suggested that a state visit by Franz Ferdinand on the day of Kosovo June 28 was too provocative. Austrian diplomats failed to read between the lines of this vague comment.
By the time the warning reached the Habsburg joint finance minister the man in charge of Bosnian affairs any sense of urgency had been lost, and he did nothing to increase security or cancel the heir's planned visit.
After the murders, the Serbian government was even more reluctant to compromise itself by admitting any prior knowledge, hence Pasic's later denials. If we agree that the Pasic government did not plan the killings, what can we say about their response to the crisis that followed?
War in was not inevitable: Blame in Austria-Hungary Before we can answer that question, we must look at the official Austrian reaction to the killing. This took two forms. First, the police and the courts undertook a wide-ranging series of arrests and investigations. Hundreds of people were arrested or questioned, sometimes violently. Twenty-five people were finally tried and convicted, though only a few were executed, because so many of the defendants were minors.
Second, the Austrian foreign ministry and the emperor's closest advisors considered what to do about Serbia's role in the plot. Investigators quickly learned that the murder weapons came from Serbian sources, but Austrian intelligence failed to distinguish between the roles of the Pasic administration and the unofficial nationalist groups: Austria's blame for the war attaches to its calculated response to the murders.
Early councils were divided. The chief of staff, General Franz Baron Conrad von Hoetzendorf, wanted a military response from the beginning. Conrad had previously argued that the Monarchy was surrounded by enemies who needed to be defeated individually, before they could combine. In other words, he wanted a war against the Serbs and Russians, followed later by a confrontation with Italy.
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Leopold Count von Berchtold, the Habsburg foreign minister, generally agreed with Conrad's analysis. Berchtold took no strong position in the crisis: The only real opposition to a policy of confrontation and war came from the Hungarian Prime Minister, Count Stephan Tisza. Tisza was personally opposed to militarism and took the risks of war more seriously than Conrad. Also, as a Magyar, Tisza realized that a Habsburg victory would be a domestic defeat for Hungarians: Either the Slavic population of Hungary would increase, leaving the Magyars as a minority in their own country, or trialism would replace the dualist system, again discounting Magyar influence.
The early Austrian deliberations included another, calculated element that shows their limited interest in peace: The Austrian ambassador in Berlin found that the Germans, especially Kaiser Wilhelm, supported a war to punish Serbia and offered their full support.
This was in clear contrast to events during the Balkan War ofwhen Berlin refused to back Vienna in any intervention. Like the Austrians, the Germans feared a future war with Russia, and preferred to fight soon, before their enemies grew stronger.
When the Austrian Council of Ministers met again on July 7, the majority favored war. To satisfy Tisza, the council agreed to present demands to Serbia, rather than declare war at once.
In the belief that a diplomatic victory alone would not be enough to destroy Serbia as a threat, the demands were deliberately to be written in such extreme terms that Serbia could not accept them. Serbia's refusal to comply would then become the excuse for war.
Within a week, Tisza himself consented to this plan: The final point ultimatum demanded the suppression of anti-Austrian newspapers and organizations including Narodna Odbranaa purge of anti-Austrian teachers and officers, and the arrest of certain named offenders. Two points seriously interfered in Serbian sovereignty: Austrian police would help suppress subversives on Serbian territory, and Austrian courts would help prosecute accused conspirators inside Serbia.
The document had a hour deadline. The council finalized the demands on July 19th and sent them to Belgrade on the 23rd. The war party in Vienna hoped that the Serbs would fail to agree, and that this could be an excuse for war.
The hour time limit is further evidence that the document was not meant as a negotiating proposal, but as an ultimatum. We can say three things about how the Austrian process of decision bears on Austria's responsibility: First, the majority in the Council of Ministers assumed from the first that war was the appropriate response.
Only Count Tisza opposed it, and he did so largely for reasons of domestic politics. His objections were overcome by the promise to seek no annexation of Serbia. The negotiations with Serbia were really a sham, to create a good impression: A second clue to Austria's intent is Vienna's approach to Berlin for Germany support in case of war. After the Berlin government responded with the so-called "blank check," the war party saw no further reason to seek peace.
Third, the terms of the ultimatum show that the Austrians came to a decision even though they were acting on incomplete information. The ultimatum was issued well before the trial of the assassins could establish the facts of the crime.
Vienna knew nothing about the Black Hand or its role, but it made no difference: The Serb reply The Serbs in turn failed to do their utmost to defuse the crisis. When Serbia first received the ultimatum, Pasic indicated that he could accept its terms, with a few reservations and requests for clarification. As time passed, however, it became clear that Russia would support Serbia regardless of the situation.
After that, Pasic gave up seeking peace. While a long reply was written and sent, Serbia rejected the key points about Austrian interference in domestic judicial and police work. Pasic knew that this meant war, and the Serbian army began to mobilize even before the reply was complete.
While mobilization was prudent, it did not imply a strong commitment to peace. Because the Serbian reply did not accept every point, Austria broke off relations on July The tough positions taken by both Austria and Serbia brought the situation too close to the brink to step back, and in a few days matters were out of control.
Again, the specific arguments raised by each side matter less than their mutual willingness to take risks. Why a Balkan war?
This leads us to the last question: The local police chief reported that Sarajevo was tense and asked for reinforcements to guard the visitors' route or, at the very least, that its details be kept secret.
The governor of Bosnia, General Oskar Potiorek, refused all suggestions; he was determined to show that he had successfully pacified the new province.
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- The Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum to Serbia (English translation)
- Austria–Serbia relations
The committee responsible for arranging the visit spent its time on such matters the Archduke's favourite wine or music. On the evening of June 27, the imperial couple gave a reception for Bosnian dignitaries. Sophie playfully reprimanded a leading Croat politician who had begged them not to go to Sarajevo the following morning. In Sarajevo, the conspirators were making their final preparations. They did not expect to survive the attempt; each had a cyanide capsule ready.
One of their number, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, had given away all his possessions and said farewell to his family. The plan was simple: As the imperial party arrived at the Sarajevo railway station the next morning, the sun was clearing away the mountain mists.
The Archduke and his wife took their place in an open car, Sophie in a white dress with a red sash and a large bunch of red roses, Franz Ferdinand in the blue dress uniform of a cavalry general. The procession set off for the town hall for a formal reception by the mayor. Story continues below advertisement Cabrinovic hurled his bomb as the procession passed along the main road beside the river that runs through Sarajevo.
It missed the Archduke's car but exploded under the next one, injuring the passengers as well as several bystanders. Sophie's white dress was splattered with blood and the Archduke's speaking notes were soaked. The shaken party carried on, and there was a hasty ceremony at the town hall. The Archduke's staff wanted him to leave immediately for the relative safety of the railway station but he insisted on going to the hospital to see an aide who had been badly injured in the attack.
So the procession set out again. It was at this point that accident, as it so often does, intervened in history. The plan was to go the safer, long way around, rather than through the narrow streets of the old city, but the chauffeurs apparently hadn't been told. The lead car mistakenly turned right too soon and the Archduke's car followed.
General Potiorek shouted at the chauffeurs to back up. Princip was standing there, armed with a pistol. The conspirators had scattered in confusion after the first attempt, and he had wandered back into the crowd with no clear plan. Now he saw his target about six feet away in a stationary car. At such a range it was hard to miss.
He fired twice, hitting Franz Ferdinand as well as his wife. The Archduke said, "Sophie, you must live for the sake of the children. A muted response News of the assassination spread rapidly through Europe.
In Belgrade there was some rejoicing, hastily tamped down by the authorities. Elsewhere, reactions ranged from sympathy to indifference. Many Europeans were already on their summer holidays or about to start. Their governments had other things to worry about. Russia was dealing with a series of increasingly militant strikes; the British feared civil war over the thorny question of Irish home rule; and the French were preoccupied with a complex scandal involving adultery and possibly treason on the part of one its leading politicians.
The German Kaiser was sad at the loss of a friend but not particularly concerned that there would be serious repercussions. The French president, who heard the news at a race track outside Paris, noted that most of his guests were of the same opinion.
In Austria-Hungary, the Archduke had not been much loved. He was demanding, frequently bad tempered and authoritarian. His reputed anti-Semitic and anti-Hungarian prejudices did not endear him to many of his future subjects. The funeral in Vienna was noticeably low key. Even in death etiquette held; Sophie's coffin was both smaller and on a lower dais than the Archduke's. That the killing set off a chain of events that led Europe in five weeks from peace to a general war — a war whose scale and destructiveness few had imagined possible — was the result of what those in power chose to do next.
There had been much more dangerous crises recently in the Balkans; two wars among its nations, one in and the second a year later, had threatened to drag the great powers into a wider conflict. Yet those had been settled by international agreement.
What made it different this time was that the hawks in the Austria-Hungary capital of Vienna — and they included the chief of the army — seized on the chance to deal once and for all with Serbia, even at the risk of a general war. They did not have firm evidence that the Serbian government was complicit in the assassination, but they felt they had enough to go on. European public opinion was likely to be on their side, especially in the immediate aftermath of the deaths.
They decided to present an ultimatum to Serbia that, if accepted, would bring Serbia under Austria-Hungary's control and, if refused, provide the pretext to attack. The danger was that the war might rapidly become more than a local one; that Russia might well intervene to support Serbia.
In recent years, the Russians had made much of their little Slavic brother. Their interest was more than mere sentiment, though; the long-term goal was to gain control of the crucial strait from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean through which some 40 per cent of Russia's exports flowed.
As well, Serbia was one of the largest nations in the region and made a useful ally. The only way Austria-Hungary could counter the Russian threat was to have the firm backing of Germany, which in those days shared a border with Russia.
The worry was that Berlin would decide, as it had done before, that it would not commit itself to backing Austria-Hungary if it meant risking a large-scale conflict. On July 6, just over a week after the assassination, the German government took the step that brought a European war much closer. It gave Austria-Hungary what came to be known as the "blank cheque" — it would support its ally, come what may. But if Germany found itself at war with Russia, it would also have to attack Russia's ally France, which might in turn bring in Britain on the side of the French.
The previous decade's alliances and treaties, which had effectively divided Europe into two armed camps, helped to propel the continent toward the brink. Secure in the backing of its ally, Austria-Hungary prepared an ultimatum to Serbia.
It was designed to be unacceptable. The Austrian ambassador in Belgrade delivered it on July 23 and demanded a reply within 48 hours. The Serbian government struggled in vain to come up with an acceptable response.
On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war. Two days later, Russia announced that it would mobilize its armies against both Austria-Hungary and Germany. Germany followed by a declaration of war on Russia on Aug. The following day German troops violated Belgian neutrality on their way to attack France and that helped to tip British opinion in favour of intervention. We all know something of what that war, started so casually, cost. The bill includes more than 9 million men dead and many more injured, regimes toppled, and empires destroyed.
Europe and indeed the world were never to be the same.