The Almost First World War.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Bosnian Crisis
Often touted as the almost First World War, there is no doubt the Bosnian Crisis of 1908-09 can be seen as a precursor of the events in the Balkans that spilled over into the assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo in June 1914. In January 1909, at the height of the Bosnia Herzogovina crisis, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the chief of staff of the Austrian army, approached Helmuth von Moltke, his German counterpart, to ask what Germany would do if Austria invaded Serbia and thus provoked Russia to intervene on the latter’s behalf. Significantly, Moltke replied that, despite the purely defensive nature of their earlier alliance, concluded in 1879, Germany would back Austria-Hungary, even if it was the aggressor in such a conflict, and would not only go to war against Russia, but also against France, Russia’s powerful ally in the west. In the summer of 1914, it would do just that, as the struggle for power in the tumultuous Balkans morphed into the devastating international conflict that would become known as the First World War. This said, the origins of the crisis really date all the way back to the Congress of Berlin (13 June to 13 July 1878).
But also, in 1972, in his famous essay on the origins of the First World War, Paul Schroeder argued that the decline of Austria was ‘the central threat to the European system’. I The Habsburg Empire lived dangerously; internally and externally. Having been expelled from Italy and Germany, it reformed itself in 1867 in such a way as to make further significant reform to all intents and purposes impossible. The ‘Dual Monarchy’ established by the 1867 Compromise enshrined the pre-eminence of the two strongest groups, the Austro-Germans, and the Hungarians. This arrangement, which left so many other nations dissatisfied, saved the Empire for the Habsburg dynasty, but also placed a large question mark over its long-term viability. From the Czechs in the Austrian half to the Croats in the Hungarian half, the disadvantaged nations expected and clamored for reform that would accommodate their own national aspirations. As these objectives turned out to be illusory; ideas about a political existence outside the Dual Monarchy began to gain ground. Even the two ruling nations protested and challenged. Thus in 1897, the Austrian Germans responded with violent riots to Badeni’s language laws. The Hungarians, not content with the supremacy that they had achieved in the lands under the crown of St Stephen, were themselves making separatist demands that brought the Empire to the brink of civil war in 1905. By the turn of the century at the latest, the Habsburg elites for their part were viewing the future in the most pessimistic terms.
The unresolved nationality problems of this Central European hotchpotch of a state would perhaps not have mattered so much if it had not insisted on the continuation of its Great Power status. Externally; the Habsburg Monarchy’s room for maneuver was severely reduced by Bismarck’s success in unifying Germany in 187!. But Emperor FranzJoseph, thirsty as he was for imperial aggrandizement, soon spotted a refreshing new oasis for his Empire, to the south-east, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And so, in 1878, the ‘sick man on the Danube’ duly replaced the ‘sick man on the Bosphorus’ in the heart of the Balkan peninsula. The Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was met with fierce local resistance, producing by far the bloodiest Balkan conflict in the period between the Congress of Berlin and the Balkan Wars. Apart from the routine and cavalier affectation about going into the provinces on a ‘civilizing mission’, the occupation was justified on the flimsy strategic grounds that Bosnia-Herzegovina was a hinterland to the Dalmatian coast, and accompanied by a blast of moral fanfare about the need to implement land reform in the provinces. Yet the new regime never built any railways to connect Dalmatia with its supposed hinterland, and it was not until 1914 that it even began to address the agrarian question.
In 1906, after Germany’s clash with France at the Algeciras Conference on Morocco, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s telegram famously described the Austria-Hungarian Foreign Minister Agenor Goluchowski as the ‘brilliant second on the dueling ground’. No doubt Gohrchowski could have done without a compliment which implied, quite unfairly, a degree of servility to Germany. Retrospectively, however, it is his mismanagement of Balkan affairs which has caused far more damage to his reputation, and justifiably so. His Serbian policy in particular, according to Holger Afflerbach, was ‘a downright failure’.1 Serbian diplomats at the time kept wondering why, with regard to the trade treaty, he had turned this purely economic issue into a political one. The rise of Austro-Serbian discord, has been said, was very much his deed. His bullying tactics were unnecessary at a time when carrot could have done so much more than stick: all the relevant factors in post-1903 Serbia, from the Court camarilla to Serbia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Pasic himself, were quite flexible in their foreign policy orientation. Also in reference to the so-called ‘Pig War’ when Goluchowski demanded Serbia’s artillery orders had to be part and parcel of the next commercial treaty between the two countries, Pasic was willing to buy from Skoda if he could obtain Austria-Hungary’s backing for Serbia’s ambitions in Kosovo and Macedonia. As Wayne Vucinich observed with regard to Pasic’s attempts in 1904 at a rapprochement with Vienna, Serbia’s friendship ‘would obviously go to the highest bidder’.2
Russia, preoccupied in the Far East, was certainly not doing any bidding in the Balkans at this time. Moreover, Goluchowski was getting reports from Belgrade indicating that displeasure with Russia – indeed despair of the big Slavonic brother – was widespread from the top down. But negotiating a modus vivendi with the Serbs was the last thing that the imperious Goluchowski felt it necessary to do. Instead, he waged a trade war on the Monarchy’s small neighbor. Up until 1906, Serbia had been almost totally dependent economically on Austria-Hungary. Goluchowski’s policy, however. made it economically and therefore also politically independent. Little wonder, then, that in March 1907 Edward Goschen, the British Ambassador in Austria-Hungary, recorded hearing some Viennese diplomatic conversation about the tariff war to the effect that Serbia ‘had won all along the line – and that Goluichowski] was the hero of the hour in that country as his absurd policy had made her find out she could do without Austria’.3
Enter Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal
Goruchowski’s successor at the Ballhausplatz was Freiherr (Baron) Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal, formerly the Minister in Bucharest and, since 1899, Austria-Hungary’s Ambassador at the pivotal post in St Petersburg. Among students of the late Habsburg Empire, Aehrenthal is famous for his active, bold, and above all optimistic foreign policy – as opposed to the passive, timid and pessimistic approach adopted by his predecessor Goluchowski. As Solomon Wank has argued, however, the differences between the two men were, in reality, insubstantial: they were both painfully aware of the internal weaknesses of the Empire and their different tactics merely reflected ‘varieties of political despair’.” Aehrenthal, of course, is a more controversial figure than Gohichowski, and also infinitely better known given that his name is forever associated with his annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. This event caused a diplomatic storm across Europe at the time and has long been, as also was the case with the flood of books that came on the market surrounding the 2014 centennial, a compulsory subject for historians investigating the origins of the First World War.
Although he actually died in 1912, quite a few contemporaries subsequently burdened Aehrenthal with heavy responsibility for 1914- ‘Without exaggerating,’ wrote the Romanian statesman Take Jonescu, ‘one may say that he was to a great extent the author of the war’.7 The Austrian banker and statesman Rudolf Sieghart noted that, in practice, Aehrenthal’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina brought ‘not a single square meter’ to the Empire and possibly led to its final liquidation. 6 Scholarly opinion has sometimes been similarly harsh on the Foreign Minister. Eurof Walters, for example, has maintained that ‘by a policy of expediency and of adventure Aehrenthal personally did more than anyone else to prepare the way for the break-up of the empire’.’7 G.P. Gooch, one of the foremost authorities on pre-1914 Europe, also saw Aehrenthal as the man who set in motion forces which were ultimately to destroy the realm of the Habsburgs: ‘For the world war grew directly out of the quarrel between Vienna and Belgrade, a quarrel which he had done more than any other man to foment’. 8
And yet Aehrenthal had initially approached Serbia in what seemed to be a spirit of goodwill. Moreover, he was a severe critic of his predecessor’s Balkan management. As the Serbian Minister Vujic reported from Vienna, Aehrenthal took a dim view of Goruchowski’s ‘petty politics’ over the guns question. VujiC’s first impressions of Aehrenthal were on the whole quite favorable. The new Foreign Minister told him that he had genuine sympathies for Serbia and, more to the point, that he would keep economic and political matters strictly-separate.” Indeed, in June 1907 negotiations resumed between Vienna and Belgrade on a new trade treaty. In October Aehrenthal declared to the Joint Ministerial Council: ‘Our policy of making Serbia economically and politically dependent and treating it as a quantité négligeable has foundered.’10 The main obstacle to now re-establishing trade relations with Serbia was represented by agrarian interests in Hungary, but also those in Austria. Aehrenthal, however, keen to attain economic hegemony for the Monarchy in the Balkans, intervened with the Hungarian and Austrian governments, to help bring a new treaty into being in March 1908, one ratified in August by the Serbian Assembly. It reflected a compromise all round and, not surprisingly, was immediately attacked both in Austria-Hungary and Serbia. In any case, soon thereafter, in October, came the (in violation of the Congress of Berlin) illegal annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary and the accompanying deterioration in Austro-Serbian relations. As a result, by early January 1909, the trade treaty was dead in the water.11
But was there really ever a chance for an Anstro-Serbian reconciliation under Aehrenthal? Soon after becoming Foreign Minister, he was to privately tell his friend the historian Heinrich Friedjung that Goluchowski’s insistence on getting the Serbian artillery orders was ‘excessive’, and something that should not be imposed on a sovereign state. ‘2 It is difficult to believe, however, that he was greatly concerned about the sovereignty and independence of the small Balkan states. As the Hungarian historian, István Diószegi remarked, Aehrenthal was ‘a forceful adherent of the Austrian Great Power idea’.13 He wanted to see the region divided into two spheres of Great Power influence: with the West Balkans as the Austro- Hungarian sphere, and the East Balkans as the Russian. While still serving in St Petersburg in 1899-1900, he began expounding these views both officially and unofficially. Interestingly, in sharp contrast to Gohichowski, he would make the point that it was to no avail to try and keep Russia out of Constantinople; at the same time, he saw Salonika as the end point of Vienna’s Balkan efforts.14 For him, the Western Balkans was the area ‘from Serbia as far as Salonika’. What he envisaged for both the Austrian and the Russian spheres of influence was a form of ‘protectorate’ or rather ‘the establishment of over-lordship’ through alliances, trade agreements, military conventions, and other arrangements.15 As will be seen, in the case of Serbia he had even more radical solutions in mind.
It is not surprising, then, that Nikola Pasic could not arrive at a far-reaching political understanding with Aehrenthal, though not for want of trying. Dimitrije Dordevic, the great authority on Austro-Serbian relations during this period, has shown that Pasic’s desire to renew trade relations with Austria-Hungary was for political rather than economic reasons. When he met with Aehrenthal in September 1907, he laid out the same outline for a deal that he had already sought to achieve with Goluchowski: Serbia had no aspirations in Bosnia-Herzegovina; it would be accommodating on questions of trade, but it wanted the Monarchy’s support in Macedonia. Aehrenthal, however, stuck to trade issues, refusing to discuss such political matters. Had Aehrenthal chosen to accept Pasic’s proposals instead, in the view of Dordevic, it would have ‘fundamentally altered Austro-Serbian relations’. 16
On the face of it, Aehrenthal’s ideas concerning Balkan policy amounted to soft penetration rather than outright conquest. Some historians, in fact, have gone so far as to argue that the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina ‘was essentially a conservative move, and anything but a forward thrust into the Balkans’; that in annexing the provinces, Austria-Hungary was ‘voluntarily setting a limit to its own frontiers’.17 Unfortunately for Aehrenthal’s defenders, there is substantial evidence to disprove such claims. Thus, in December 1907, the Foreign Minister himself explained to Conrad, the Chief of General Staff, that the aim of his Balkan policy was the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the ‘incorporation of non-Bulgarian parts of Serbia’. 18 Even if he had let the Bulgarians define the non-Bulgarian parts, this incorporation would have encompassed at least half of Serbia. In August 1908, when the decision to annex had already been reached, he also composed an important memorandum which, according to Joseph Baernreither, remained the outlook of the Ballhausplatz ‘right down to the outbreak of the war’.19 In this policy paper (Denkschrift), Aehrenthal supported the idea of creating, ‘at Serbia’s cost’, a ‘Great Bulgaria’. Given ‘a favorable European constellation’, he wrote, Austria-Hungary would then be able to lay its hands on ‘what still remains of Serbia’. In this way, he thought, the Monarchy would secure its borders, by means of an ‘Albania becoming independent under our aegis, a Montenegro with which we maintain friendly relations and a Great Bulgaria which owes us a debt of gratitude’.20
In other words, Aehrenthal’s Balkan schemes would have amounted to the destruction and disappearance of Serbia. Moreover, these were plans he had entertained for quite some time. Back in 1895, he approvingly quoted Foreign Minister Kalnoky when the latter wrote that ‘the pivot of our power position towards the South East lies in Belgrade’. In order to secure a dominating position in the Balkans, Aehrenthal also argued, the Monarchy would have to incorporate Serbia.21
That said, he did seem to oscillate between incorporating Serbia into the Monarchy and giving it to Bulgaria. In September 1908, in Berchtesgaden, he told Wilhelm von Schoen, the German State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that the aim of his Balkan policy was ‘the complete removal of the Serbian revolutionary nest’, and that Serbia could be ‘awarded (vergeben)’ to Bulgaria. 22
Either way, Serbia’s prospects never looked particularly good with Aehrenthal. On the eve of the Bosnian annexation, he met with the Austrian statesman Ernst Plener. The latter was doubtful about the proposed action and rather shocked when Aehrenthal suggested that the road to Mitrovica in Kosovo lay through Belgrade. Such a march, Plener objected, ‘would be tantamount to war’. Aehrenthal made no reply.23 Far from pursuing a ‘conservative policy’, he waited like a predator for an opportunity to pounce. ‘The time for an energetic intervention will arrive’, he reassured his friend Friedjung in November 1907. At the beginning of 1908, he told him that Austria- Hungary’s interest in supporting the status quo in the Balkans was not as great as Germany’s. In November 1908, after he had spectacularly proved this point by pocketing Bosnia, he changed tack somewhat, saying that ripping off a part of Serbia was far from his thoughts and that, in the event of an armed conflict, the Serbs would be chastised and rendered harmless by having to pay war reparations.24 Yet in August 1909, in a secret pro memoria, he returned to his old theme, arguing that someday, and under certain circumstances, ‘we could, or we should think about incorporating part of Serbia’. For Austria-Hungary could not allow; he insisted, that ‘this small state on our border becomes a focus of attraction’.25
Attraction, that is, for the South Slavs living in the Habsburg Empire.The Croat historian Mirjana Gross suggested in 1960 that Aehrenthal was the first Austrian minister to really understand the meaning of the South Slav question for the Monarchy In her ground-breaking study of the politics of the Croato-Serb Coalition in Croatia, she brought to attention and analysed two memoranda, written by Aehrenthal in February 1907, on the relationship between the South Slav question and the internal structure of the Habsburg Empire.26 In 1963 Solomon Wank published these secret memoirs (in their original German) and included a third one, also from February 1907.27 They reveal in the first place, according to Wank, that Aehrenthal saw himself more like an imperial chancellor than just another of the Habsburg foreign ministers who had, since 1867, had no constitutional competences in the internal affairs of the Monarchy Indeed, his February 1907 memoranda make sweeping proposals for internal reorganization in the light of the benefit, as he saw it, of grouping together the South Slavs of the Empire to make them into a viable counterweight to the attraction of the ‘the Great Serbian idea’.28
One must bear in mind that Aehrenthal wrote these memoranda at a time when relations between Austria and Hungary left much to be desired, and when their negotiations for a new ten-year economic arrangement, involving the vexed question of common tariffs, had yet to be concluded:
Hungarian nationalism, both political and economic, was alive and well, and that is what Aehrenthal was addressing. He now proposed that a new South Slav group be formed within the realm of the Hungarian Crown of St Stephen. It would consist of Dalmatia (which would be gifted to Hungary by Austria), Croatia, Slavonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. This group would have its gravitational center in Agram (Zagreb). Austria, by action and rather shocked when Aehrenthal suggested that the road to Mitrovica in Kosovo lay through Belgrade. Such a march, Plener objected, ‘would be tantamount to war’. Aehrenthal made no reply” Far from pursuing a ‘conservative policy’, he waited like a predator for an opportunity to pounce. ‘The time for an energetic intervention will arrive’, he reassured his friend Friedjung in November 1907. At the beginning of 1908, he told him that Austria-Hungary’s interest in supporting the status quo in the Balkans was not as great as Germany’s. In November 1908, after he had spectacularly proved this point by pocketing Bosnia, he changed tack somewhat, saying that ripping off a part of Serbia was far from his thoughts and that, in the event of an armed conflict, the Serbs would be chastised and rendered harmless by having to pay war reparations.24 Yet in August 1909, in a secret pro memoria, he returned to his old theme, arguing that someday, and under certain circumstances, ‘we could, or we should think about incorporating part of Serbia’. For Austria-Hungary could not allow; he insisted, that ‘this small state on our border becomes a focus of attraction’.25
Attraction, that is, for the South Slavs living in the Habsburg Empire. The Croat historian Mirjana Gross suggested in 1960 that Aehrenthal was the first Austrian minister to really understand the meaning of the South Slav question for the Monarchy. In her ground-breaking study of the poli¬tics of the Croato-Serb Coalition in Croatia, she brought to attention and analysed two memoranda, written by Aehrenthal in February 1907, on the relationship between the South Slav question and the internal structure of the Habsburg Empire.26 In 1963 Solomon Wank published these secret mémoires (in their original German) and included a third one, also from February 1907.27 They reveal in the first place, according to Wank, that Aehrenthal saw himself more like an imperial chancellor than just another of the Habsburg foreign ministers who had, since 1867, had no constitutional competences in the internal affairs of the Monarchy. Indeed, his February 1907 memoranda make sweeping proposals for internal reorganization in the light of the benefit, as he saw it, of grouping together the South Slavs of the Empire to make them into a viable counterweight to the attraction of the ‘the Great Serbian idea’.28
One must bear in mind that Aehrenthal wrote these memoranda at a time when relations between Austria and Hungary left much to be desired, and when their negotiations for a new ten-year economic arrangement, involving the vexed question of common tariffs, had yet to be concluded:
Hungarian nationalism, both political and economic, was alive and well, and that is what Aehrenthal was addressing. He now proposed that a new South Slav group be formed within the realm of the Hungarian Crown of St Stephen. It would consist of Dalmatia (which would be gifted to Hungary by Austria), Croatia, Slavonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. This group would have its gravitational center in Agram (Zagreb). Austria, by way of compensation for Dalmatia, would in return receive Hungary’s consent to a tariff union that would last twenty-five years, as well as a new Army law of the same duration.
It is fairly clear that Aehrenthal was concerned less with the South Slav question as such, and much more with the need to repair and enhance imperial unity. For without internal political and economic stability Austria-Hungary could not behave like a Great Power. So the immediate problem for him was Budapest, not Belgrade. In fact, he himself frankly admitted that the power of Great Serbian propaganda ‘is certainly not to be overestimated’.29 One thing the Foreign Minister may, however, have overestimated was the feasibility of his own stratagem. His proposed Southern Slav group would, in his view, exert ‘such power of attraction that, in the end, Serbia itself would not be able to elude it’.30 This prognosis, at a time when Serbia had begun to taste economic and political independence following the outbreak of the ‘Pig War’, sounds somewhat sanguine. Furthermore, his plans for the Southern Slavs of the Monarchy would have amounted to the creation of a Catholic-dominated, Zagreb-centred Great Croatia – hardly a tempting prospect for Serbia. His subsequent suggestions about partitioning Serbia with Bulgaria, discussed above, actually made much more sense: by 1907, after Goluchowski had done so much damage to Austro-Serbian relations, a Habsburg Yugoslavia that included the Serbs from the Kingdom of Serbia was probably only possible by force.
Although Aehrenthal’s idea of creating a Southern Slav unit under the Hungarian Crown would have left the Dualism of the Empire intact, being by definition sub-dualist, he did see the logic of his project in terms of ‘ the path to Trialism’.31 It is of course highly doubtful that Budapest would ever have consented to such a Great Croatia within its own borders, let alone outside of them. Moreover, as seen in chapter three, Archduke Franz Ferdinand would have been opposed to Austria giving up Dalmatia. Interestingly, Aehrenthal argued that Hungary, as a defender of the Dalmatian coast, would then pay much more attention to the Navy than it had done hitherto.” Mirjana Gross considers that Aehrenthal made this point precisely for the benefit of the Archduke, the chief supporter of the Austro-Hungarian Navy.33
Needless to say, nothing ever came of the proposals by Aherenthal contained in the three secret mémoires. According to Solomon Wank, however, the latter is ‘crucial for an understanding of Aehrenthal’s diplomacy. Taken together, they explain his long-range plans and reveal the substance of the much-heralded policy of action’.34 There is certainly something to be said for Wank’s viewpoint, but the emphasis must be on ‘long-range plans’. The short-term action plan was annexation: for if the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina were to become part and parcel of the projected South Slav, Habsburg entity, they would first have to be annexed. In this light, the mémoires indeed confirm that Aehrenthal was conducting an aggressive foreign policy (i.e., annexation) in order to prepare the ground for internal consolidation and thus augment Austria- Hungary’s position as a Great Power. As has already been suggested, however, the obstacles to the kind of internal reform advocated by Aehrenthal would have been formidable. The late Professor Wank, indisputably the greatest authority on Aehrenthal, referred to ‘the blend of reality and unreality which characterizes the mémoires’.35
In the meantime, the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina seemed both realistic and desirable as an immediate boost to the Great Power prestige of Austria-Hungary The Austrian statesman Ernst Plener left a valuable recollection of his encounter with Aehrenthal after the annexation. Plener had himself taken a position resembling the one Aehrenthal had advocated in the three mémoires: annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina would only make sense if these lands were then joined with Croatia and Dalmatia into a single body to form the basis for a ‘purposeful’ South Slav policy Yet when they met Aehrenthal told him that he did not want to be ‘burdened’ with this matter, and would, in any case, be unable to overcome the ‘obdurate’ opposition of the Hungarians. Plener concluded that Aehrenthal had been interested only in the ‘momentary success’ of his diplomacy, and that, as a result, the annexation remained ‘a half-measure, without real benefits for the position of the Monarchy towards the South Slav movement’.36
Whatever his motives, Aehrenthal’s push to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina was bound to lead to renewed complications with Serbia. In the meantime, he announced, in January 1908, the Sanjak of Novi Pazar railway project. This was for a railway to link the existing line ending in eastern Bosnia with the Turkish line ending in Mitrovica (Kosovo), Its construction would have established a direct connection between Vienna and Salonika. Solomon Wank suggested that this railway plan of Aehrenthal’s was an integral element of his foreign policy The project was part of a programme of economic imperialism designed to penetrate the Balkan countries, ‘making them economically and diplomatically dependent on Vienna, ultimately leading to Austro-Hungarian political hegemony in the region’)? Aehrenthal also envisaged additional railway projects, two of which would link the Serbian rail system with Bosnia and Dalmatia, while a third would link Dalmatia with Lake Scutari by way of Montenegro. The idea was, according to Wank, ‘the subordination of the transport system of the entire western half of the Balkan peninsula to Austro-Hungarian control’.38
Aehrenthal’s railway programme was greeted with hostility by nationalist and Pan Slav circles in Russia. Alexander Izvolsky, who had in 1906 succeeded Lamsdorff as Foreign Minister, did not belong to those circles but was left no less aghast by Aehrenthal’s scheme. Austro-Russian relations were suddenly in a crisis. The Goluchowski-Lamsdorff partnership had been stable and had kept the Balkans reasonably quiet. Aehrenthal, rather arrogant, vain and excitable, and Izvolsky, every bit as arrogant, vain and excitable, were about to wreck the Austro-Russian pact dating from 1897. It did not help this relationship, or indeed the peace and security of Europe, that both these men were at the same time inveterate and accomplished liars. To the reactionary Aehrentahl, Izvolsky was suspect because of his liberal tendencies and, more importantly, because he had begun to steer Russia towards Britain with the 1907 Anglo-Russian agreement over Persia. This had created profound European consequences by giving birth to the Triple Entente of France, Russia, and Britain. Izvolsky, on the other hand, was offended for not having been briefed by the Ballhausplatz in a timely fashion and saw Aehrenthal’s announcement as undermining Russia’s Balkan position. And so, ‘a personal estrangement began which was to leave its mark on the history of Europe’.39
In Serbia, the railway project was seen as a threat to Salonika – the country’s trade gateway to the West – and as an overture to the complete Austro- Hungarian occupation of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. ‘Across the cemetery of Serbia to the Aegean Sea’, screamed a headline in a Belgrade newspaper. 40 Hysterical as this may sound, it should be borne in mind that Serbia and Austria-Hungary were in the middle of a tariff war. The Government in Belgrade quickly dusted off plans for the construction of a railway line between the Danube and the Adriatic which it had been seriously considering in the first half of 1907. Under these, the Turkish port of San Giovanni di Medua (today Shengjin in Albania) was meant to become Serbia’s new point of commercial escape from the Monarchy’s clutches. For his part, however, Aehrenthal had actually miscalculated badly with regard to the financial viability of his own planned railway through the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. So he was most probably bluffing when he announced the project in January 1908. For he had already the previous year learning about a damning feasibility study which stated that the narrow-gauge Bosnian lines would need to be widened at enormous cost and that even then there could be no real competition to the Belgrade-Salonika railway line. Told about this study, Aehrenthal turned ‘deathly pale’.41
None of these Balkan railways were ever built. In announcing his project, Aehrenthal may have simply wanted to break with Russia.” It may also have been conscious bravado. As G.P. Gooch noted, the project had placed Aehrenthal on the centre stage of European affairs, whereas until then he had played a secondary role.f Be that as it may, he certainly managed to upset Izvolsky and public opinion in Russia as well as that of Serbia. At a time when the Great Powers, Britain above all, were seeking to continue the reform process in Macedonia, particularly in the judicial field, Aehrenthal was consigning to history the entire Miirzsteg programme from 1903 and with it a decade of Austro-Russian camaraderie in the Balkans, begun in 1897. What is also significant is that immediately afterward, in February 1908, Dimitrije Popovic, the Serbian Minister at St Petersburg, asked Izvolsky for Russia’s help to stand up to this ‘Germanic Drang nach Osten’ since, he said, Serbia could not prevent it alone. In other words, this was the very first time, following the putsch of 1903, that Serbia actually turned to Russia for assistance in foreign policy. It had therefore taken the supposedly ‘Russophile’ post-1903 Serbian regime almost five years to start considering a Russia option. A rather ‘reserved’ Izvolsky did promise backing for the Adriatic railway provided Serbia solved the technical and financial questions.44
Nevertheless, Serbia was now backed by Russia. And not just Russia. Aehrenthal’s Sanjak railway proposals had only boosted Serbia’s international position. Suddenly, Serbia had important friends in Europe: in Italy, France and even in Britain. All these Powers were ready to line up behind Serbia’s alternative scenario of an Adriatic railway. Tittoni was disgusted by what he called Aehrenthal’s ‘double-faced policy’. Stephen Pichon, the French Foreign Minister, talked about the need ‘de la liberation de la Serbie’. In Britain, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey was upset by Aehrenthal because, he thought, to press for railway concessions just when the reform process in Macedonia was at a standstill, ‘would produce the very unfavorable impression that the Powers were abandoning the reforms in order to pursue their own interests’.” From now on, Christer Jorgensen has argued, ‘the Monarchy which had been trusted to keep the peace and ensure stability in the Balkans was a force for turbulence and insecurity herself’.46
Tales and Propaganda
Although the diplomatic history of the Bosnian annexation crisis is well known, the relevant Serbian documents have only recently been published, the last two tomes as late as 2014.47 This body of evidence demonstrates that, prior to annexation, Serbia’s chief foreign policy effort consisted of reacting to the perceived threat of Vienna’s Sanjak railway project. Gathering international support for the rival Danube-Adriatic railway remained a major preoccupation for Belgrade right up to October 1908.48 In 1907-1908 considerable attention was also paid to Kosovo and Metohija (‘Old Serbia’), to Macedonia and, most importantly, to the growing prospect of a war against Bulgaria. Relations with Montenegro also came under considerable strain at this time. It is striking how little Bosnia and Herzegovina figure in the Serbian documents for 1907 and most of 1908. This is an important point to emphasize because Aehrenthal and his diplomats were to claim that Belgrade-directed Great Serbian ‘agitation’ in the provinces necessitated their annexation – a piece of propaganda which is echoed even today in some literature.
One of the problems for Serbia’s foreign policy during 1907-1908 came from an unexpected direction: Montenegro. The Montenegrins were furious with Serbia for projecting its Adriatic railway to end up in a Turkish, Albanian port, rather than their own port of Bar. They conveniently ignored the fact that Bar was within easy range of Austro- Hungarian artillery, and even of rifle fire. However, what really poisoned relations was the so-called bombaška afera (Bombs Affair). In October 1907 the Montenegrin police discovered seventeen bombs and arrested scores of students. There was a connection to Serbia in both cases: the bombs were of Serbian manufacture, and the students had spent time in Serbia. They were accused of plotting to assassinate Prince Nicholas and planning to overthrow the dynasty’.50 Whether there existed an actual assassination plan is very doubtful. But the whole affair was exploited – and to some extent staged – by the Montenegrin authorities in order to create an excuse for stepping up the persecution of domestic political opponents.50 Particularly glaring was the appearance in court, during the trial of the students, of one Dorde Nastić, a journalist from Sarajevo, already suspected at that time of being an agent of the Bosnian Landesregierung. Nastić was, in fact, chief witness for the prosecution. Even Lazar Tomanovic, the Montenegrin Prime Minister, admitted later that Nastic was Austria’s man.51
Nastić alleged that the supposed plot had been prepared in Belgrade, and hinted broadly at the involvement of King Peter and Crown Prince George. The students, he said, were merely obedient tools in the hands of the true organizers.? In June 1908 the Serbian Minister in Cetinje, who had closely observed the trial, broke off diplomatic relations, telling Tomanovic that practices in Montenegro were ‘reminiscent of Africa’. 53 The Montenegrin historian Novica Rakocevic was to conclude that no one from Serbian officialdom was planning or instigating a revolution in Montenegro.54 Serbo-Montenegrin relations were quickly patched up in the wake of the Bosnian annexation, and although some of the accused had received death sentences, all were pardoned by 1913. There is a consensus among historians that Austria-Hungary was involved in the ‘Bombs Affair’, out of a desire to set Montenegro and Serbia against each other as it prepared to annex neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina while being anxious at the same time that Serbia is seen as the aggressive, sinister, expansionist state.
Apart from the ongoing tariff war with Austria-Hungary, Serbia’s most serious foreign policy problem for quite a time before the Bosnian annexation concerned relations with Bulgaria. As seen above, the Serbo-Bulgarian friendship and customs union treaties concluded in 1905-1906 were of short duration. The main issue between the two countries remained Macedonia. Bulgarian irregular bands’ activities in the province had begun in 1897 and were then emulated by Greece and Serbia. These bands occasionally fought the Turkish Army, but they mostly attacked each other and also, as a rule, targeted each other’s teachers and priests because education and church propaganda activities were viewed as the most potent tools in this struggle. After 1903, with the introduction of the Mürzsteg agreement reform programme for Macedonia, the fighting came to be seen as a serious obstacle to the work of the Powers involved in the reforms. The Serbs were anxious to try and keep the Bulgarians completely out of the vilayet of Kosovo. However, the latter included the sanjak of Üsküp (Skopje), a region that happened to be of great interest to Bulgaria, so all attempts by Belgrade to convince Sofia to agree to a division of spheres of influence fell on deaf ears.
That Serbia should be so preoccupied with events across its southern frontiers was hardly surprising, for dangerous escalations always appeared very likely. Thus in April 1907 Pasic was tipped off by Italy’s Foreign Minister Tittoni about an imminent Bulgarian attack on Serbia. This turned out to be a false alarm, but the atrociously bad relations with Bulgaria justified Pasic in immediately warning Britain, France and Russia _ he did not bother with Germany, let alone Austria- Hungary’? The Serbian Prime Minister was incidentally far more interested in Kosovo and Macedonia than he would ever be in Bosnia-Herzegovina and was jumpy if anything looked like threatening the Serbian position in those lands. That position was actually quite weak. As the Serbian diplomatic agency in Sofia admitted, the Serbs had made little impression in the vilayet of Salonika, equally little in the vilayet of Monastir (Bitolj), and were inferior to the Bulgarians even in the sanjak of Skopje.56
A further concern in this region related to the Albanians. Report after report from consulates in Skopje and Pristina talked about the terror to which the Serbian population was being subjected at the hands of the Albanians – a terror which led many Serbs to migrate to the United States of America.57 In 1914 Professor Masaryk estimated that, since the eighteenth century, under Albanian pressure, half a million Serbs had been forced out of Old Serbia and northern Macedonia.58 The main danger that Pasic perceived here was the failure of the Great Powers to extend the Mürzsteg reform action to Kosovo (especially the reform of the gendarmerie), a failure that would, in effect, deliver the remaining local Serbians to the Albanians. In March 1908 he was so upset by what he saw as the embryo Albanian region being created in Old Serbia that he decided to blackmail the Russians, sending them the message that ‘such prospects for the future could force the Serbs to seek their salvation within the framework of the Austro Hungarian Monarchy’.59
The main worry, nevertheless, was Bulgaria. News of Bulgarian atrocities against the Serbs multiplied in the second half of 1907. And whereas Serbia got no sympathy from Izvolsky over this issue, Aehrenthal, while not directly criticising Bulgaria, did tell the Serbian Minister in Vienna that Serbia’s conduct in Macedonia was ‘correct and loyal’. 60 The Serb cetnil: bands, however, also committed atrocities. One of these took place in the village of Stracin, in May 1908, when six civilians were killed, including a woman. The action was led by Vojislav Tankosic, the officer who had taken part in the 1903 palace putsch against King Alexander, and who had commanded the execution of Queen Draga’s two brothers. In Bulgaria, not surprisingly, the press launched a furious campaign against Serbia over the Stracin incident, accusing it at the same time of colluding secretly with Greece. Sveta Simic, Serbia’s Diplomatic Agent in Sofia, warned on 4 June that relations could be broken off at any time and that Bulgaria was contemplating war against Serbia. A week later, Stefan Paprikov, the Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, confirmed this view by openly talking to Sirnic about the possibility of war. 61
In the end, Russia acted swiftly and decisively to prevent a conflict. Izvolsky, committed to the reform process in European Turkey, but also fearing wider consequences, was not going to allow this ‘folie furieuse’, as he called it, to happen, and he intervened forcefully in both Belgrade and Sofia. Just in case, however, fifteen ships from the Russian Black Sea fleet, including three cruisers, suddenly appeared at the Bulgarian port of Varna. This naval demonstration reportedly produced a ‘heavy impression’ on Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria. 62
Accordingly, for many months before October 1908, Serbia did not and could not think about Bosnia-Herzegovina. The future of the provinces was not even remotely on the agenda of Serbian foreign policy at this time. Some historians say otherwise. ‘Agitators from Serbia’, writes Margaret MacMillan, ‘were already busy in Macedonia and, after 1900, they increasingly moved into Bosnia-Herzegovina’. She adds: ‘The Serb-language press in both Belgrade and Sarajevo denounced Austria-Hungary’s tyranny and called on the peoples of the provinces to rise up’.63 Now; if true, this sounds like a dangerous pre-revolutionary situation. Yet, Burian, the Minister for Bosnia since 1903, was of the firm and repeated view that the Bosnian Serbs were not to be feared. Though some in the Habsburg establishment did not share Burian’s view, that the Bosnian Serb leadership was anything but rabble-rousing. To be sure, inflammatory articles against Austro- Hungarian rule did on occasion appear in the Bosnian Serb press during the Burian regime. In May 1908, for example, the Banja Luka Serb paper Otadzbina (Fatherland) published a particularly fiery piece, in connection with Aehrenthal’s Sanjak railway project, which, anticipating a war, called on the Serbs of the provinces to be ready to fight together with their brothers in Serbia. Significantly, however, the Bosnian Serb leaders distanced themselves from the article and the rest of the Bosnian Serb press condemned it.64 Another Bosnian Serb anti-Habsburg article, from March 1908, is cited at some length in a memorandum by Conrad, the Austro-Hungarian Chief of General Staff.65 Yet though Conrad saw the ‘Serbian agitation’ in the Habsburg Monarchy in terms of a grand conspiracy; an irredenta ‘fomented from the outside’ (i.e., from Serbia), such occasional instances of writings as exist should not lead historians into following him (or indeed their fellow historian Margaret MacMillan) by lumping together the press in Belgrade and the Bosnian Serb press.66 For even Conrad could not cite any evidence from the Belgrade press in support of such a scenario, let alone provide evidence of any connections with the Serbian Government, though one presumes he must sorely have wanted to do both.
The truth is that any articles in the Serbian press calling for the overthrow of Habsburg rule would have immediately provoked the reaction of the Ballhausplatz. Both Goluchowski and later Aehrenthal would never fail to bring to the attention of the Serbian Minister in Vienna even the most trifling Belgrade press items that had annoyed them. Yet there is no trace in Austrian documents, or for that matter in Serbian ones, of any complaints by Vienna about the grave matters indicated by MacMillan. An Austrian doctoral dissertation from 1971 which looks specifically at the writing of the Serbian press in relation to Austria-Hungary from 1903 to 1914, diligently lists all its main lines of attack until 1908 – which were the Murzsteg Programme, the tariff war and the Sanjak railway project – but does not mention any calls to the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina to ‘rise up’ against the tyranny of Habsburg rule.67
The first time that Dorde Simic, Vujic’s successor as the Serbian Minister in Vienna, reported to Belgrade on the possibility of annexation was in early December 1907 – but he had only read about it in newspapers. Later that month Simic looked into the matter again and, having got his information from a ‘very reliable’ source, triumphantly concluded that ‘we should in the near future not fear an annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary’.68 Thereafter, from the end of 1907 until mid-May 1908 there is nothing in the Serbian documents that relate to Bosnia-Herzegovina in any significant way. Then, on 13 May 1908, Popovic reported from St Petersburg on a meeting with Izvolsky. The latter said that he had received information about a ‘certain tension’ in Austro-Serb relations over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Austria-Hungary; Izvolsky explained, was ‘complaining’ that Serbia was agitating in the provinces and ‘stirring up’ the people. Clearly surprised, Popovic expressed his private opinion that such complaints were ‘absolutely unfounded’ and designed to provide justification for Vienna’s ‘egoist’ plans in Bosnia-Herzegovina.69
What Izvolsky told Popovic is quite important because it points to the beginning of Aehrenthal’s effort to create the right climate for the eventual annexation. Interestingly; Aehrenthal had seen Dorcte Simic on 5 May, but said not a word about Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their next meeting took place on 13 May (the day when Izvolsky talked to Popovic), but again the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister found it unnecessary to draw attention to any supposedly subversive action by Serbia in Bosnia- Herzegovina.70 In fact, when he did mention the subject to others, Aehrenthal talked about it in the most general terms. At a meeting with Tittoni in Salzburg on 5 September, he complained about the ‘Great Serbian movement in Bosnia’ and about the Serbian Government which was ‘aiding’ that movement.71 Towards the end of September, he told Tschirschky, the German Ambassador in Vienna, that the annexation would be Austria- Hungary’s ‘answer to the Great Serbian propaganda’ which was being ‘driven from Belgrade’, adding, amazingly, that the situation in the provinces had become ‘untenable’.72 This was at a time when, as seen in chapter four, the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, Orthodox and Muslims, representing four-fifths of the population, had fully expected annexation and had actually demanded of Burian an assembly for Bosnia-Herzegovina, that is to say, had indicated their willingness to work constitutionally within Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Not only was the Serbian Government in the first half of 1908 more than busy with foreign policy issues unrelated to Bosnia-Herzegovina, it was also engrossed in domestic political problems. Because of parliamentary obstruction by the Independent Radicals, Finance Minister Pacu was unable to get his budget passed, while the trade agreement with Austria-Hungary, concluded in March 1908, came under sustained opposition attack. Pasic’s administration finally collapsed after early elections in June weakened the Radical Party to such an extent that a coalition with the Independent Radicals was the only way forward. Negotiations about the formation of the new government, however, lasted well into the summer. The Independent Radicals agreed in the end to form a government with the Radicals, but only on condition that Pasic, Protic and Pacu, the most prominent and hated Radical leaders, were excluded from it.73
The new Prime Minister, taking office on 20 July, was Pera Velimirovic, a Radical. As was Milovan Milovanovic, the new Foreign Minister, until recently the head of the Serbian Legation in Rome. Milovanovid, a Paris-educated constitutional lawyer, was perhaps Serbia’s most talented and sophisticated statesman of that period. He enjoyed a high reputation in Europe’s diplomatic circles, one which, Slobodan Jovanovic noted, ‘bore no relationship to Serbia’s reputation at the time’.74 His biographer Dimitrije Dordevic cites an assessment of Milovanovic as the ‘the greatest European of the Balkans’.75 He was actually supposed to be a Russophile, but because he did not view Russia as particularly powerful, he believed that Serbia should tie itself to Russia only if France had already done the same. As for his country’s future shape, Milovanovic was ‘not a fanatic’, and ‘did not carry in his head a geographic map of Serbia’.76
Milovanovic’s major concern, on becoming Foreign Minister, was to try and repair ties with Vienna. Unlike Pasic, he had no illusions about Austria¬Hungary and knew just how dangerous it could become. However, he opposed the tariff war, convinced that a trade agreement with the Monarchy was a pre-condition for Serbia’s economic progress – as the country could not, he thought, find a better market for its exports than that of Austria-Hungary. Slobodan Jovanovic, who knew him well, repeatedly emphasized in his essay on Milovanovic that he was a man of compromise, one who would avoid confrontation if at all possible.77 It is interesting to note just how anxious he was in the weeks before the annexation not to allow anything that could upset Austro- Hungarian sensitivities. In August a large group of Serbs from Belgrade arrived in Skopje where they were cordially received by Young Turk officers – those being the early days of the new; constitutional regime when much fraternization occurred between different national groups in the Ottoman Empire. At a banquet held for the visiting Serbs, there were loud calls of ‘Freedom for Bosnia and Herzegovina’ and shouts of ‘Down with Austria!’ As soon as he was informed of this by the Serbian Consul in Skopje, Milovanovic sent instructions demanding that all talk about Bosnia and remonstrations against Austria-Hungary should cease.78
Like Pasic, however, Milovanovic was unable to make any headway with Aehrenthal when they met on 14 September in Vienna. According to the relatively scant Austrian record of the meeting, Milovanovic immediately revealed his intention to work for the betterment of relations between their two countries. Putting Serbia in a position of permanent opposition to its ‘powerful neighbor’, he said, would be ‘downright lunatic’. Aehrenthal, however, replied that, since the new Serbian Government had only been in power for a short time, he had to remain skeptical. He described the policy of the previous cabinet in Belgrade as ‘hazardous’, one that had made enemies of all of Serbia’s neighbors. With regard to Austria-Hungary, Aehrenthal continued, that policy had fostered and fomented ‘every hostile agitation’. This, he warned, could be ‘nothing less than dangerous’ for Serbia. It is not clear from the record of the meeting whether Milovanovic had reacted to these charges, and if so how But he was clearly infuriated, in early October, by articles in the Vienna and Budapest press alleging Great Serbian agitation, articles he succinctly described as ‘tendentious fabrications’.79 At any rate, Aehrenthal concluded their meeting by saying, significantly, that there now existed between Austria-Hungary and Russia ‘a complete harmony of views’ regarding the Near East, i.e., the Balkans.80
All of which represented a declaration of scarcely concealed hostility towards Serbia. Milovanovic must have left the meeting a rather worried man. He already knew; before seeing Aehrenthal, that the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was very much on the cards. At the beginning of September, at Karlsbad, he had met with Izvolsky who had told him that Aehrenthal wanted to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina. ‘That has to be prevented at any cost!’ Milovanovic protested. ‘Impossible!’, insisted Izvolsky and suggested that ‘compensations’ be demanded instead.81
What Milovanovic did not realize at the time was that Izvolsky was about to sell Bosnia-Herzegovina down the river. On 6 July the Russians had presented the Ballhausplatz with an aide mémoire, dated 2 July, in which they declared readiness to discuss the status (‘annexation’) of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, together with the question of Constantinople and the Straits.82 This was the prelude to perhaps the greatest diplomatic fiasco of the twentieth century. On 16 September, two days after he had talked to Milovanovic, Aehrenthal met with Izvolsky at Schloss Buchlau (Buchlovice), the splendid Baroque country seat of Count Berchtold, Austria- Hungary’s Ambassador in St Petersburg. It is entirely immaterial whether, at this famous meeting, Izvolsky was somehow misled by Aehrenthal into believing that the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina would not proceed as quickly as it ultimately did. The point is that he was ready to bargain with the occupied provinces in return for what really mattered to him: the unrestricted passage of Russian warships through the Straits. Of course, with the possible exception of Slavic Orthodox solidarity, Russia owed nothing to Serbia and had every right to put its own interests first. Incredibly, however, in the aide mémoire of 2 July Izvolsky stipulated that the Sanjak of Novi Pazar could also be annexed by Austria-Hungary.
‘Izvolsky’, Aehrenthallater told Friedjung, ‘had himself made us the offer to annex not just Bosnia but also the Sanjak’. Friedjung was ‘amazed’ and he wanted to hear that again. ‘What, also the Sanjak’.83 he asked. ‘Yes’, replied Aehrenthal, ‘also the Sanjak’.83 Needless to say, Izvolsky’s gratuitous offer would have entailed a permanent Habsburg wedge between Serbia and Montenegro. In his classic account of Austro-Russian relations in the pre-annexation period, WM. Carlgren commented on Izvolsky’s largesse regarding the Sanjak: ‘No Russian Foreign Minister had after the Congress of Berlin offered as much as Izvolsky’.84
With such friends in Russia, Serbia hardly needed any enemies elsewhere. As it turned out, Aehrenthal was not in the least interested in the Sanjak and actually wanted to get the garrisoning troops out of there as fast as possible. He had received a military opinion that cast doubts on the value of the Sanjak for the Austro- Hungarian Army and saw it rather as a cul-de-sac. From then on he tended to describe the Sanjak as a ‘deathtrap’. This did not, however, mean that Vienna was now giving up the option of moving further south into the Balkans – a claim Aehrenthal was to trumpet with much smug moralism following the annexation. In private, as seen above, he told Ernst Plener that Mitrovica in Kosovo could be better reached via Belgrade. That, certainly, was also the view of Conrad and the Army General Staff Pulling out of the Sanjak thus conveniently enabled Aehrenthal to profess to Turkey, Italy, and others that annexation had fully satisfied the Balkan ambitions of the Habsburg Monarchy.
At the same time, Aehrenthal was promoting the story about Great Serbian (on the Great Serbia myth see almost WW1 part three) agitation to explain what had impelled him to act in the first place. On 7 October Count Lajos Szechenyi, the Austro-Hungarian Charge d’Affaires in London, presented a note at the Foreign Office, announcing Vienna’s step. He said that ‘the real reason’ for acting speedily to annex the provinces ‘was the Serbian propaganda that was being carried on there, in which King Peter himself was implicated’.85 Towards the end of the month the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador, Count Albert Mensdorff-Pouilly, similarly attempted to convince Foreign Secretary Grey that a main reason for the annexation was the ‘agitation driven from Serbia’. Grey commented that he knew ‘next to nothing’ about this propaganda and that, since so little had been heard about it, one was not expecting it to be a motive for Austria-Hungary’s sudden decision to annex.86
The truth was that Aehrenthal required for the annexation of the occupied provinces a modicum of apologia, and for that reason, he peddled his tales about Great Serbian agitation instigated from Belgrade. Charges of subversive Serb activities before the annexation actually emerged not in Bosnia but rather in Croatia. There, the new Ban (Viceroy) since the beginning of 1908 was Baron Rauch, a determined opponent of the Serbs. When the Croat politician Iso Krsnjavi put it to him that the Serbs of Croatia should be made politically harmless, he agreed. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘we cannot exterminate 700,000 Serbs’.87 Rauch’s main task in Croatia was to destroy the Croato-Serb Coalition. The latter had in the February elections gained a majority in the Sabor, whereas the Rauch (i.e., government) party failed to win a single seat. The aims of Budapest and Vienna happened to coincide for once: the Hungarians were worried about the Croato-Serb Coalition as a force driving towards Trialism, with the Serb Independent Party being the main prop of the Coalition. Meanwhile, Aehrenthal, by now already pursuing a forward policy in the Balkans, was keen to promote the image of subversive Serb activities within the Empire.88
And so, in July 1908, the Austro-Hungarian agent Borde Nastić, of the above Montenegrin ‘Bombs Affair’ fame, suddenly re-emerged in Budapest where he published a pamphlet entitled Finale. 89 Here, Nastić named prominent Serbs of Croatia, connecting them to Slovenski jug (The Slav South), an allegedly Pan Serbian organization in Belgrade, suggesting they were planning terrorist activities on Austro- Hungarian territory. The whole pamphlet is riddled with contradictions and unlikely constructions. Slovenski jug, which also published a journal under the same name, had indeed existed and Nastić had known the people around it from his agent provocateur days in Serbia. But judging by the articles in its journal, Slovenski jug was a platform for the idealist, Yugoslav-oriented young intellectuals advocating ‘a union of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro’ which would then be joined by ‘all South Slavs’. 90 This was no Pan Serbian agency. Interestingly, the journal was frequently attacked by Samouprava, the mouthpiece of Pasic’s Radical Party, and even had to close down on one occasion.91The whole outfit existed on a town council subsidy. At any rate, soon after the publication of Nastic’s Finale, many leading Croatian Serbs from the Croato-Serb Coalition were locked up and held for months before being tried for high treason in 1909. At the court in Zagreb (Agram) the pamphlet was used as cardinal evidence against fifty-three accused Serbs, thirty-one of whom received sentences. Political bias on the part of the court at the expense of the accused was clearly visible. Europe was scandalized, and eventually, the Emperor was to pardon all those who had been imprisoned. But the Ballhausplatz likewise used Nastić ‘s material: only days before the annexation, the prestigious Oesterreichische Rundschau published an article about ‘King Peter and the Great Serbian Movement’, basing itself on Nastic.91 In the absence of better material, Nastić ‘s pamphlet would have to do.
It was Aehrenthal who was also responsible for the next and easily the greatest embarrassment to the Habsburg Monarchy during his time in office. At the height of the annexation crisis, he supplied his friend Friedjung with some documents from Serbia and let him publish, on 25 March 1909, an article in the Neue Freie Presse. This incendiary piece accused the Croato-Serb Coalition of receiving money from the Government in Belgrade (Friedjung named Miroslav Spalajkovic, Secretary General of the Serbian Foreign Ministry) and from Slovenski jug, and painted Serbia as a state which, ‘through conspiracies, dynamite and dagger’, worked to destroy the work of the Congress of Berlin.i” This was rather rich coming from an ardent supporter of the annexation which had just months earlier torpedoed the Treaty of Berlin. In any case, Aehrenthal was at this stage determined to wage war on Serbia if the latter did not recognize the annexation, and the Friedjung article did indeed sound like ‘a prelude to an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war’.94 Poor Friedjung did not know that the documents were forgeries, supplied by Janos Forgach, the head of the Austro-Hungarian Legation in Belgrade. 95 The leaders of the Croato-Serb Coalition promptly sued for libel. The ensuing ‘Friedjung Process’ in Vienna (December 1909) clearly revealed that the documents on which the article was based were falsifications. In one instance Friedjung said that he had minutes of a subversive meeting in Belgrade presided over by Professor Bozidar Markovic in November 1908. Markovic, however, pointed out that he was actually in Berlin at the time – and this was duly confirmed by the Berlin police. Spalajkovic himself volunteered to testify and proved a most eloquent witness.96 The trial attracted great attention in the Monarchy and indeed in the whole of Europe. A compromise was reached in the end whereby charges were withdrawn, but the damage had been done. Friedjung subsequently broke off all relations with Aehrenthal.97
References available upon request.