The First World War Part 2

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The First World War Part 2

The Almost First World War.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Bosnian Crisis

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. Serfs remained serfs. In fact, the real reason behind the occupation, as Foreign Minister Andrassy explained, was to open up ‘the gates to the Orient’. At the same time, Austria-Hungary’s military presence in the neighboring Sanjak of Novi Pazar served to prevent the formation of a ‘Slavonic great state’, that is, a union of Serbia and Montenegro.

But it was precisely the Habsburgs’ expansion to the south-east that made their concern about the ambitions of the small Slavonic neighbors a self-inflicted strategic predicament. In occupying Bosnia-Herzegovina, Austria-Hungary achieved the unique feat of increasing its ‘insecurity by increasing its size. For given the expected natural loyalties of the large Serbian population living in the newly-acquired Balkan territory, the independent Serbian state next door gradually came to be seen as posing a challenge to the integrity of the Empire itself within its new borders. Hence the emergence of that aspect of the ‘South Slav Question’ which Habsburg officialdom equated with the Serbian question and described as an ‘existential threat’.

Even before its occupation of Bosnia- Herzegovina, the Monarchy faced another and quite separate South Slav headache in the shape of Croat nationalism. The continued Hungarian suppression of the Croats may have made that into an intractable problem. The Croat Party of Right, for example, set out with the objective of complete independence, and Croats were the most persistent assassins in the Empire. With regard to Serbia and the Serbs, however, an early and permanent settlement might have been achieved. In autumn 1870 Consul-General Kallay presented the Serbian Government with Andrassy’s suggestion that Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided between Austria-Hungary and Serbia: the frontier would run along the rivers of Vrbas and Neretva. This would have satisfied Serbian objectives in very large measure. Belgrade was suspicious, but in any case, Andrassy dropped the proposal almost immediately because Bismarck’s victory over France left Prussia dominant in Central Europe, meaning that the only area left for Habsburg Great Power posturing would be the Balkans.

Serbia in the Bosnian annexation Crisis

The decision to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina was sealed at two meetings of the Joint Ministerial Council, firstly on 19 August 1908 in Vienna and then on 10 September in Budapest.98 Of course, the international legal character of Bosnia-Herzegovina was subject to the 1878 Treaty of Berlin. Any changes, therefore, would require the collective approval of the Great Powers. But Aehrenthal argued in those two ministerial meetings that other Great Powers were not likely to challenge annexation and that the moment was now favorable to proceed. Conversely, on 10 September he warned of the danger that the Turkish Parliament could in November take its own decision on Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Young Turk revolution, which had begun in July and which seemed to promise a new era of constitutionalism, is normally seen as the reason why Aehrenthal hurried to bring about the annexation. The Turks, according to P.R. Bridge, ‘were planning to summon representatives from Bosnia and the Herzegovina to the new Ottoman parliament’.99 It seems doubtful, however, that this was seriously contemplated by the Young Turks. The Bosnian Muslims, certainly, were hoping for such an end result, but the Young Turk regime itself did not raise the issue in his detailed study about Austria-Hungary and the Young Turks, the Serb historian Dorde Mikic shows that the Young Turkish press, voicing the views of the new rulers, went further and rejected any suggestions about taking away from Austria-Hungary its mandate for Bosnia-Herzegovina, contending that ‘no man with a sound mind’ could contemplate something that would only complicate Turkish foreign policy at a time when the country was facing burning internal questions.101 Markgrave Pallavicini, Aehrenthal’s Ambassador in Constantinople and an opponent of annexation, made sure of sending Aehrenthal a translated article about Bosnia-Herzegovina taken from a paper close to the Young Turks, its main conclusion being that Turkey, busy as it was with internal reforms, was merely hoping for the retention of the status quo. 102

Be that as it may, the establishment of the Young Turk regime certainly provided Aehrenthal with a useful rationale to proceed apace with the annexation. Significantly, the Hungarians only agreed to it on condition that it would not threaten the Dualist system of the Monarchy.103 The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was announced on 6 October. A day before, in a coordinated move with the Ballhausplatz, the Turkish vassal state of Bulgaria declared its independence from Turkey. This, as Aehrenthal had correctly anticipated, was a far bigger blow to the Young Turks than the formal loss of Bosnia-Herzegovina. What he did not foresee was that the annexation would cause a storm of protest in Europe. In Russia, Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin was fuming at Izvolsky for giving away two Slavic provinces and even the Tsar, ‘who was no Panslav’, stated that their absorp¬tion by Austria ‘sickens one’s feelings’.104 Public opinion and the press in Russia turned against both Austria-Hungary and Izvolsky. The latter, as is well known, was unable to drum up support in Paris and London for the opening of the Straits to Russian warships – but had already bargained away Bosnia and Herzegovina, which put him in an impossible position. In the salons of St Petersburg, he was now mocked as ‘The Prince of Bosphorus’.105

Elsewhere, Foreign Minister Tittoni came under savage attack in Italy for agreeing to annexation without any compensations, and in France Prime Minister Clemenceau roundly condemned Austria-Hungary’s unilateral action. I06 France would actually do no more than protest, but the reaction in London was quite severe. Britain would as a result of Aehrenthal’s annexation become a major player in the Balkans. The view of the Foreign Office was mainly shaped by the fact that the Young Turks were enthusiastically Anglophile – Turkey’s previous pro-German course seemed to have been abandoned by the new regime. What worried the British was the damage which the Young Turks sustained by Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian action. As a result, Britain commenced a policy of championing Turkish interests.107 It did not help Aehrenthal’s image among British statesmen and diplomats that he had shortly before the Bulgarian declaration of independence lied shamelessly to Goschen, the British Ambassador in Vienna, in pretending he knew nothing about it. Prime Minister Asquith later described Aehrenthal as ‘perhaps the least scrupulous of the Austrian statesmen of our time’.108 Only Germany; otherwise the Sultan’s great friend, provided support for Austria-Hungary – in what looks, retrospectively; like a Nibelungentreue rehearsal for July 1914. Even so, Kaiser Wilhelm II was enraged by AehrenthaI’s ‘shocking foolishness’. For, as he commented on a telegram from Prince Biilow on 7 October, ‘my Turkish policy; constructed so painstakingly over twenty years, bites the dust!’ 109

Predictably the most furious reaction to annexation came from Serbia. In 1876 Serbia had fought Turkey because of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the Serbs considered the two provinces as Serb lands. So too, incidentally; did many foreign travelers, linguists, ethnologists, and historians – at the very least they thought those were Sorb-speaking lands.110

Maximilian Schimek’s history of Bosnia, the first ever published, drew attention to its Serbian character in the medieval period.’111The 1910 Austro-Hungarian population census for Bosnia-Herzegovina (the very last), recorded 1.898,044 souls, of which there were 825,918 (43-49 %) Orthodox, i.e., Serbs; 612,137 (32.25%) Muslims; 434,061 (22.87%) Catholics (mostly Croats); and 26,428 (13.9%) ‘others’.112 At the time of the annexation, the Bosnian Muslim leaders called their people ‘Serbs of Muslim faith’. The best summary of how the Serbs in Serbia itself felt about Bosnia-Herzegovina was given in 1909 by Jovan Cvijic, the Serb geographer, and ethnologist with a European reputation for scholarship. ‘These provinces’, he wrote, ‘are not for Serbia what Alsace and Lorraine are for France, or Trent and Triest for Italy or the Austro-Alpine regions for Germany They represent rather what the Muscovite province is to Russia and what the most integral parts of Germany and France are to those two countries, that is those parts most strongly representative of the French and German races’r'” To others, of course, the annexation just looked like a formalization of an existing state of affairs. To the Serbs, however, the removal of Turkey as sovereign Power in Bosnia-Herzegovina also meant the removal of even a theoretical chance that the provinces would someday join Serbia following a partition of Turkey in Europe. A new, and for Serbia seemingly hopeless situation had been created by the annexation: despite its internal problems, the Habsburg Empire did not look in 1908 as if it was going to collapse anytime soon.

Once it became known that annexation was about to happen, all hell broke loose in Serbia. The Belgrade daily Politika carried the news on 5 October, a day before the act itself, and massive demonstrations immediately erupted. The next day saw 20,000 people gather at a meeting in central Belgrade -roughly a quarter of the entire population of the city Protest meetings broke out all over the country In Sabac the enraged crowd wanted to kill the Austro-Hungarian Vice Consul. In Montenegro, the Army had to intervene when the protesters were about to pull down the building accommodating the Austro- Hungarian Legation. About this time news arrived that Crete would finally be joining Greece. Coupled with Bulgaria’s declaration of independence, this produced a feeling among the Serbs that they were the only ones left empty-handed. Serbia’s vox populi now demanded war. Volunteers flocked to enlist in the patriotic, para¬military Narodna Odbrana (National Defence) organization which had been hastily organized. Referring to the river Drina which formed a natural border with Habsburg Bosnia, people shouted: ‘To the Drina! War on Austria!’114

Slobodan Jovanovic has pointed out that no one in Serbia actually believed in the success of a military confrontation with Austria-Hungary – war was demanded ‘without faith in victory’. Apart from being seen as the finis of Serbian dreams about national unification, the Bosnian annexation, moreover, was also perceived as a prelude to the destruction of Serbia’s own existence as an independent state. Therefore the view became widespread that it was better for Serbia to go down in a blaze of glory than face a ‘gradual and shameful’ ruination. II) Interestingly, this was precisely the kind of logic, mixed with a sentiment, which was to emerge in Austria-Hungary even before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.

The Serbian Government and Milovanovic, in particular, proved more rational in 1908 than the Serbian public. It understood that nothing could be done to oppose annexation without massive external support. However, as much as the chancelleries across Europe were unhappy about Vienna’s breach of international law; Serbia, in fact, stood alone on the question of whether something should be done about it. Tcharykow; who had since his Belgrade days advanced to become Izvolsky’s deputy, told the Serbian Minister in St Petersburg: ‘No one will help you. The whole world wants peace’.116 Izvolsky himself was equally blunt when he met Milenko Vesnic, the Serbian Minister in Paris. ‘You Serbs’, he said, ‘could not contemplate throwing Austria-Hungary out of Bosnia and Herzegovina by force of arms. And we Russians cannot go to war with her because of these provinces.’ That was fair enough, but Izvolsky lied through his teeth when he told Vesnic that Austria-Hungary was only withdrawing from the Sanjak of Novi Pazar because he, Izvolsky, had demanded this withdrawal in return for his agreement to the proposed annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Austria-Hungary, he said, ‘gains nothing’ with the Bosnian annexation, whereas its abandonment of No vi Pazar opened up the possibility of Serbia and Montenegro pushing their frontiers towards each other. As seen above, it was precisely Izvolsky who had only recently been offering Aehrenthal both Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novi Pazar on a silver platter.117

Milovanovic realized from the beginning that he could only conduct a damage limitation exercise. Even before the annexation took place, he had asked the Army Chief of Staff about Serbia’s military strength. The answer he was given was that no more than 40,000 soldiers could be armed and that they could not wage war for more than fifteen days. IIS It is true that, in emergency session, the Serbian Assembly voted to allocate 16 million dinars on armaments, but this was more a step to placate bellicose public opinion. It did, however, leave the Russian Foreign Minister unimpressed. ‘Presumably, you do not believe’, a contemptuous Izvolsky put it to the Serbian Minister in London, ‘that you can go to war on 16 million dinars?’119

It has already been pointed out, in chapter four, that the Bosnian Serbs themselves were not keen on a fight. Todor Petkovic, Serbia’s Consul General in Hungary, had been in contact with the Bosnian Serb leaders who had arrived in Budapest where the Delegations were meeting. He reported back to Belgrade that in Bosnia-Herzegovina ‘there is no enthusiasm for war’ and that one should not count on an insurrection. The prevailing feeling in the provinces was that any insurrection would be unsuccessful and that it would only ‘bring misery on to the people’.120

In Vienna, Minister Simic was carefully monitoring the situation in Bosnia- Herzegovina and passed on his assessment that, while both the Orthodox and the Muslims were keeping quiet, it was the Muslims who were more likely to offer armed resistance to Austria-Hungary’.121 If Belgrade had conducted so much agitation and spread so much propaganda as Aehernthal and his envoys abroad were alleging, it seems to have had remarkably little effect on the Bosnian Serbs.

The only thing that Milovanovic could do was to cry foul. He certainly did so in the protest note of the Royal Serbian Government, dated 7 October, which he had personally put together and which demanded the restoration of Bosnia’s status within the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin. However, the weakness of the Serbian position was revealed in the first sentence of the note which invoked ‘incontestable Serbian national rights’. Although the ‘principle of nationality’ was talked about in Europe, ‘national rights’ were not recognized in international law; Austria-Hungary may have displayed utter contempt for an international treaty (to which it was itself a signatory), but Serbia, a non-signatory Power, had no locus standi ‘.122 Nevertheless, Serbia had every right to put its case to the Great Powers, since it was they who were mandated to decide, collectively, on the fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Milovanovic’s protest note actually offered a way out: if the restoration of Bosnia’s pre-annexation situation proved impossible, it demanded that Serbia be given ‘corresponding compensation’. What this demand meant was that Belgrade was in principle ready to accept the annexation.123

The protest note severely undermined Milovanovic’s position in Serbia, inviting attacks on him from nationalist circles: ‘Instead of demanding the maximum, he set out with the minimum’. The Foreign Minister’s critics argued, for example, that Cavour did not seek compensation, telling the Austrians instead: ‘Get out of Italy!’ But Milovanovic was totally opposed to war over the issue and successfully resisted suggestions that the Serbian Army should attack in the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. ‘We have to preserve our strength’, he wrote at the time, ‘for the decisive, great conflict’.124 The compensation that he had in mind was a strip of Bosnian (i.e., Austro Hungarian) territory linking Serbia with Montenegro which could serve a corridor for the construction of the Adriatic railway line. James Whitehead, the British Minister in Belgrade, reported that this proposed compensation would only cover some 800 square miles – out of the 20,000 square miles which Austria-Hungary had gained through annexation.125 A physical link between Serbia and Montenegro, however, was anathema to Austria-Hungary.

Milovanovic’s alternative to territorial compensation was ‘Bosnian Autonomy’. He meant by this not just administrative autonomy, but rather political or ‘international-political’ as he called it, which would give Bosnia the right to regulate independently its relations with Serbia and Montenegro.126 These demands, whether territorial or political, were never likely to be seriously considered at the Ballhausplatz, and Milovanovic knew it. What was realistic, however, was that a conference of the Great Powers would be staged to address the fallout from Vienna’s illegal action. Such a conference could conceivably bring some benefits to Serbia. Following the annexation, quite a few chancelleries in Europe were anticipating the possibility of some kind of new Congress of Berlin. It was even speculated that this would take place in Rome. But Aehrenthal would only go to such a conference provided the annexation was accepted beforehand as a fait accompli. So he refused to discuss the annexation (‘ indiscutable ‘, he said), and he was equally against territorial or political compensations. At most, he might consider some economic concessions to Serbia.127

That same month of October, Milovanovic organized a three-pronged action. Stojan Novakovic, the former Prime Minister, was sent to Constantinople to negotiate a military convention with Turkey, though after many weeks it became clear that nothing would come of this because the Turks had decided not go to war against Bulgaria and to negotiate their own deal with Vienna. Also in October, Milovanovic sent Crown Prince George, accompanied by Pasic, to St Petersburg, while he himself embarked on a West European tour to plead Serbia’s case. He should not perhaps have bothered with the Crown Prince, a problematic young man. The Russian Empress was succinct about him, and in English: ‘ … as for the Crown Prince, I am afraid that his case is a hopeless one’.128 And so it was: in 1909 after he had beaten his valet to death, he was made to renounce all his rights to the succession in favor of Alexander, his younger brother. It was in any event Pasic, with his Russian contacts and good standing at the Russian Court, who mattered on this visit. What emerged from it was that Russia supported Serbia’s demand for territorial compensation in theory only, and even this level of support was at best half-hearted. Izvolsky, moreover, was cagey about whether or not he would recognize the annexation. One thing, however, was quite clear: Russia would not fight. As the Tsar put it to Pasic on 30 October: ‘Russia cannot wage war at the moment’.129 By 6 November Pasic had essentially given up on his Russian friends, informing Belgrade that Russia was reluctant to pursue ‘a firm foreign policy’, and advising that the Serbian Army should get ready – ‘just in case’.130

Indeed, the likelihood of armed conflict seemed very high. Serbia mobilized its first reserve, while Austria-Hungary poured reinforcements into Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia. Simic reported from Vienna as the crisis began that Aehrenthal was irked against Serbia and ‘ready for anything’.131 In this war psychosis, the Serbian Government moved the state archive to the southern city of Nis.132 After the initial 16 million dinars approved in October, further war credits were voted through by the Serbian Assembly in December. The third prong of the diplomatic offensive, Milovanovic himself, though averse to war, nevertheless warned Foreign Secretary Grey, at their meeting on 28 October in London, that Serbia would be preparing itself to fight. War was ‘inevitable’, he insisted, if Serbia’s demands for territorial compensation were not satisfied. Grey did promise him Britain’s support for territorial compensation (‘so long as Russia maintained it’, he said), but made it very clear that Britain could not be expected to ‘push matters to the point of provoking a conflict’.’33 Only days before, in Berlin, Milovanovic had been told by Wilhelm von Schoen, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that Germany stood ‘completely’ behind Austria-Hungary.134 In Rome, Tittoni informed his old friend Milovanovic that, while Italy had much sympathy for Serbia, it was ‘not ready for war’. 135 If there was to be conflict, it seemed clear that Serbia would have to fight it alone.

The Balkan Wars

Serbian historiography pertaining to the Bosnian annexation crisis has repeatedly stressed that, if nothing else, Milovanovic had during his West European peregrinations succeeded in placing the Serbian question on ‘the agenda of Europe’. But this is a rose-colored perspective. Even relatively friendly countries could not wait to get Serbia off the European agenda. As the crisis dragged on into 1909, what was worrying the foreign ministries in London, Paris and St Petersburg was the increasingly likely prospect that Austria-Hungary would decide to crush Serbia militarily, thereby creating the risk of a wider war. The French were the first to lose their nerve, and late in February 1909 they complained to Izvolsky about the Serbian insistence on territorial compensations which, in their view; ‘are difficult to justify’.136 Izvolsky, too, in a major turnabout, now urged Serbia to abandon territorial claims because he insisted, they ‘must lead to an armed conflict with Austria’.137 The Serbs were at this point quite resigned about the Russians. ‘No reasoning here’, Popovic wrote from St Petersburg, ‘can overcome the fear of war, which has been the key to the whole conduct of the Russian Government since the beginning of the crisis.138

Concurrently with Izvolsky’s urgings from St Petersburg, the Foreign Office in London was also advising Belgrade to drop its demands for territorial compensation.139 Keen to end the Balkan wrangle, Britain had two months previously suggested to Aehrenthal that he make Turkey ‘a generous pecuniary offer’ to compensate it for the loss of sovereign right over Bosnia-Herzegovina.140 On 26 February, only a day or so before Serbia began to be pressed into abandoning its territorial claims, Vienna and the Sublime Porte finalized a deal whereby the latter would receive two and a half million Turkish pounds. This settlement with Turkey was a major boost for Aehrenthal. Having flagrantly violated international law by the act of annexation, he now began to lay down the law on a new relationship between great and small Powers. This became evident despite Belgrade surprisingly agreeing, in a note presented to the Powers on 10 March, not to claim from Austria-Hungary ‘any compensations, whether territorial, political or economic’. The note had been drafted by Izvolsky and it represented, needless to say, a massive climb-down by Serbia.141 Sergeyev, the Russian Minister in Belgrade, reported that Milovanovic was able to get his colleagues on board’ only with the greatest difficulty’.142 Yet the Serbian note was still not good enough for Aehrenthal. For he wanted to force the Government in Belgrade to be dealing directly with Vienna, instead of addressing itself to all the Great Powers. Moreover, the Serbs had in their note of 10 March declared that the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was ‘a European question’ to be settled by the Powers – in other words, they had still not recognized the annexation. Having himself recently reached an agreement with Turkey, Aehrenthal now insisted that Serbia acknowledge the annexation as a settled matter ‘no longer open to discussion’.143

This was a moment of profound crisis when it looked as if diplomacy could easily give way to warfare. In the previous few weeks, the Foreign Ministry in Belgrade had been receiving alarming reports about Austro-Hungarian military preparations on Serbia’s borders. On 21 February the Russian Military Attache in Vienna even predicted to Simic the date of the Austro-Hungarian attack as being between first and third of March.144 Although no attack was launched, Milovanovic had every reason to be concerned since he also heard from St Petersburg that Austria-Hungary was amassing troops towards Russia.145 For the time being, however, he remained defiant. On 17 March, in a circular to the Serbian legations abroad, Milovanovic still maintained that Serbia could not give up its national aspirations, ‘nor can it abase itself by playing the role of Austria-Hungary’s assistant in speedily and successfully solving the Bosnian question’.146

Very soon, however, a major change occurred. The Serbs had known for a long time that Izvolskywas of little use to them. He confirmed this most emphatically on IO March when he said that Russia would not go to war even if Serbia were occupied by Austria-Hungary.147 But at least he was still giving assurances that Russia would not recognize the annexation. On 4 March, for example, Popovic reported him as declaring that he would ‘never put his signature to it’.148 On II March, however, Count Berchtold, the Austro- Hungarian Ambassador in St Petersburg, walked into Izvolsky’s office, looked him in the eye and informed him that if Russia did not act to make the Serbs recognize the annexation, Aehrenthal would reveal to Belgrade, and possibly also to London and Paris, the contents of the Austro-Russian exchanges from the summer of 1908 which had preceded the annexation. As he looked back at Berchtold, Izvolsky must have felt that his own duplicity had finally exploded in his face: he could no longer oppose the annexation which he had done so much to facilitate. Certainly, the blackmail had the desired effect on the Russian Foreign Minister who, Berchtold reported, appeared ’eminently taken aback’.149

Things now moved rapidly. In his desperation, Izvolsky turned for help to the Germans, asking Chancellor Bulow to extricate him from his ‘very painful situation’. ‘So Berlin had played second fiddle to Vienna from ~ the beginning of the crisis, but this was an opportunity to take the initiative. Izvolsky was told that Germany wished to bring about ‘a clear situation’. What this meant was that the Powers would recognize the annexation and the proposed conference would merely register this fact – ‘or it would not take place at all’.151 Izvolsky, in his reply of 20 March, accepted that the Powers should recognize the annexation through an exchange of notes, but he would still not ‘exclude the necessity of the meeting of a European conference’.152 Now it so happened that State Secretary von Schoen was not well at this time, and the German Foreign Office was being run by Alfred von Kiderlen-Wachter, an energetic diplomat who ‘thought of himself as a second Bismarck’. No keener on Balkan entanglements than his hero, he thought it would be just too stupid (trop bete ) to have a European war because of ‘those pigs, the Serbs’.153 But as for the Russians, he had an aversion to Izvolsky.154 It was Kiderlen who now drafted on Chancellor Bülow’s behalf the famous  ja   oder   nein  de facto ultimatum to Russia. Dated 21 March, it instructed Count Pourtales, the German Ambassador in St Petersburg, to clarify with Izvolsky whether Russia would declare, ‘without any reservation’, its formal agreement to the annexation. Germany expected ‘a precise answer – yes or no; we shall have to consider any evasive, conditional or unclear answer as a refusal.’ As for the question of a conference, that was a separate matter and subject to ‘an exchange of views among the Powers’.155

The collapse in St Petersburg was total. In its reply of 23 March Russia gave ‘unconditional assent’ to the German demarche.156 Izvolsky had thus dragged himself and his country into a humiliating surrender. But it was worse than that. On 24 March Popovic reported to Belgrade on the sudden importance of the German Ambassador in St Petersburg: ‘Izvolsky does practically nothing without prior agreement with him’.157 The Russian volte face infuriated Britain, which was still refusing to recognize the annexation and was the only Power genuinely concerned that an Austro- Hungarian diplomatic victory over Serbia should not expose the latter to subsequent bullying. In the circumstances, however, Foreign Secretary Grey joined the other Powers in the effort to persuade Belgrade that the game was up. The Serbian Government, indeed, decided on 30 March to give way, submitting on the following day a pro memoria, every detail of which had been dictated by Aehrenthal. Not only did this document recognize the annexation, it also emphasized ‘changing the course’ of Serbia’s policy towards Austria-Hungary and promised to maintain good neighborly relations.158

The British had attempted to moderate the final text in Serbia’s favor, but Aehrenthal would have none of it, secure as he was of Izvolsky’s backing. Sir Charles Hardinge, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, complained bitterly about Izvolsky’s subservient conduct towards Aehrenthal in the drafting of the pro memoria which Belgrade would be required to sign on the dotted line.159 Soon after Russia’s capitulation to Germany; Popovic mentioned to Sir Arthur Nicolson, the British Ambassador in St Petersburg, that Izvolsky was justifying his policy as having been motivated by his desire to help Serbia. Nicolson ‘laughed’ and commented: ‘That’s nice of him.’160

The Serbo-Bulgarian Alliance

In annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina and – with a little help from Berlin diplomatically defeating all opposition in Europe, Baron Aehrenthal certainly did a great deal to rescue the ailing prestige of the Habsburg Empire. In August 1909, Emperor Franz Joseph duly made him a Count. Shortly before the conclusion of the crisis, however, the Foreign Minister himself predicted that his victory would be an empty one. ‘What’s the use’, he complained to the German Ambassador, ‘if the existing antagonisms between Austria-Hungary and Serbia are now bridged over by patched up, basically worthless Serbian declarations’. There would be, he thought, no definitive stability on the south-eastern borders of the Monarchy; and one would still, in a few years’ time, have to march into Serbia. That is why; indeed, he had ‘silently’ hoped until the last moment that ‘England’ or Serbia would do something to wreck the ongoing diplomatic effort.161 It is interesting that he had supplied Friedjung with forged documents about ‘Great Serbian’ activities precisely because he thought a war was just around the corner. But when push came to shove he could not quite summon up the courage to provoke one.

War or no war, the year 1909 in Austro-Serbian relations suggested, perhaps for the first time, that any armed conflict with Serbia would also serve the cause of domestic Habsburg politics. The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina represented a step in the direction of imperial consolidation and little independent, protesting Serbia had thus been sucked into the internal affairs of its large neighbor. The idea was simple: revitalization at home through military success abroad. Thus the Austrian-Bohemian statesman Count Clam-Martinic argued, in March 1909, for a military solution to the Serbian question on ‘internal grounds’.’62 As will be seen, the same clamor for war against Serbia as a means of resolving in-house issues of the Empire would be much in evidence among imperial elites in 1912-1914.

Belgrade did try to improve relations with its powerful neighbor soon after the Bosnian crisis. However, when, in November 1909, Milovanovic came to Vienna hoping for a ‘fundamental change’ in Austria-Hungary’s policy towards Serbia, Aehrenthal was non-committal. Like Pasic before him, Milovanovic had assumed that he might, in some quid pro quo negotiations, get Habsburg backing for Serbian interests in Macedonia. Aehrenthal’s refusal to even consider the matter left Milovanovic ‘fully in the dark about Austria’s intentions’.163

In retrospect, 1909 would have been a very favorable moment for Austria-Hungary to strike. Russia was still in bad shape, and Britain and France quite determined not to be dragged into an Austro-Serbian quarrel; before the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), Serbia was a small country with less than three million inhabitants; moreover, the Bosnian Serbs and Muslims were docile. Furthermore, it was perfectly understood in Berlin that Austria-Hungary had to be backed or it would be lost as an ally Also, at this time (March 1909), Franz Ferdinand not only approved of military preparations, he actually wanted to take command of any operation against Serbia.164 But the person who would have been the  most glad  to give Aehrenthal a war against the Serbs was Conrad von Hotzendorf the Chief of the General Staff When it did not happen, Conrad concluded that the Habsburg Empire could no longer be saved. ‘You will see’, he announced prophetically to his assistant Theodor Zeynek, ‘in ten years the Monarchy will be reduced to the size of Switzerland.165

It was not a scenario which Aehrenthal would live to see. The most important event which took place during the remainder of his life was the Italo-Turkish war over Tripoli, which began in September I9II when Italy invaded this North African possession of Turkey’S. Three years earlier, while preparing the Bosnian annexation, Aehrenthal had hinted to Tittoni that Austria-Hungary stood ‘in obligation’ towards Italy with regard to Tripoli.166 Little did he anticipate at the time that he was encouraging the Italians to start a war that would lead to a fundamental weakening of the Habsburg position in the Balkans. When Italo-Turkish hostilities commenced, and the Italian Navy engaged some Turkish torpedo boats off the coast of Albania, he was suddenly rather upset at the prospect that the conflict would not stay localized and that it could threaten the Balkan status quo.167 Not that he was concerned about maintaining Balkan peace, he just did not wish to see the regional situation develop beyond his control.

Aehrenthal’s fears were entirely justified. Almost as soon as Italy and Turkey began fighting, Balkan politicians naturally saw new, attractive possibilities. However, they also feared Vienna’s intentions and understood that no Balkan country could take proper advantage of the new situation if it acted alone. The initial overture for an alliance of Balkan states came in the end from Bulgaria. Here, apart from King Ferdinand (who was actually ‘Tsar’ Ferdinand, as the Bulgarian language has no word for ‘King’), the chief actors were now Stojan Danev, the President of the National Assembly, and Ivan Gueshoff, the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Significantly, both men represented the Russophile current in Bulgarian politics. No one, however, expected Russia to be more than a diplomatic Great Power protector of the interests of small Slavic nations in the Balkans. Any fighting would have to be done by the Balkan states themselves. Danev and Gueshoff realized that, in practical terms, only an alliance with old rival Serbia could generate enough force to stand a chance against either of the two likely enemies: the Ottoman Empire or the Habsburg Empire. It should perhaps be emphasized here that the agenda of the Balkan League of 1912 was not connected exclusively with plans to divide up Turkey-in- Europe: fears about Vienna’s intentions in the region also played a role.

Indeed, Habsburg predatory instincts were very much on the minds of the Bulgarians. Danev was on 30 September already suggesting to the Serbian Charge d’Affaires in Sofia that Serbia and Bulgaria should start talking. What made him want to talk was the Austrian threat: ‘If Austria-Hungary intends to descend down to Sanjak’, he said, ‘she will not stop there. Inevitably, she would have to continue on the road to Salonika.168 Salonika, of course, was very much a Bulgarian objective. Gueshoff was similarly concerned about Aehernthal’s plans. ‘Aehrenthal’, he told Spalajkovic who had become the Serbian Minister in Sofia, ‘wants to create an anti-Slav state in the Balkans. Austria is working to establish a great, autonomous Albania which would encompass the greater part both of Old Serbia and Macedonia, as well as Epirus. Austria wants to reach Salonika, that I know for sure.169 In Serbia, where Milovanovic had remained the Foreign Minister and had also in June 1911 become the Prime Minister, such thinking was well received. In  September  th  political radical Milovan  Milovanović,  fearing just such an Austro-Hungarian thrust decided to impress on Nicholas Hartwig, the Russian Minister in Belgrade, the need for a Serbo-Bulgarian agreement, ‘with Russia as its witness and guarantor’. Hartwig agreed and promised to report to St Petersburg.170 The Russians did not need a great deal of convincing. ‘Our policy’, declared Anatole Nekludov, the Russian Minister in Sofia, ‘is to arrive at an agreement between Serbia and Bulgaria.171 Such a new Balkan configuration was intended by the Russians to be a force for maintaining the status quo or, to be more precise; preserving it from Austrian encroachments. Nekludov did gloat, however, that ‘Austria-Hungary can allow anything in the Balkans except an agreement between Serbia and Bulgaria’.172

It goes without saying that any agreement between Serbia and Bulgaria had to tackle their differences over Macedonia. Early in October 19II the Bulgarian emissary Dimitri Rizov approached Milovanovic, asking for an alliance, the need for which he assessed as ‘urgent’, and expressed for the first time Bulgaria’s willingness to divide Macedonia with the Serbs, as part of which Bulgaria would be willing to sign over the city of Skopje to Serbia in advance. Milovanovic could hardly believe what he was hearing. But there was a snag: a large strip of Macedonia, from the town of Veles south of Skopje, and extending all the way to the northern shores of Lake Ohrid, was claimed by both sides. So Rizov suggested that the matter could’be resolved later, through the arbitration of the Russian Tsar. Milovanović accepted this formula partly because he believed that Russia ‘feels a moral obligation towards us after the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’.173

Both the Bulgarians and the Serbians were in a hurry. ‘Everyone in Bulgaria’, a Bulgarian diplomat told the Serbs, ‘wants a war’ – against Turkey, that is.174 The Serbs, for their part, were increasingly apprehensive about Austria’s next move. Milovanovic had been told by Fairfax Cartwright, the British Ambassador in Vienna, that Austria-Hungary was rapidly preparing the ground for an autonomous Albania, ‘which will be the first manifestation of her conquest of Balkan land up to Salonika’, The Serbian Prime Minister had no doubt that an alliance with Bulgaria was an urgent necessity. ‘Without an agreement with Bulgaria’, he wrote, ‘Serbia stands helpless vis-a-vis Austria-Hungary’ Without it, he inferred dramatically, ‘Serbia will have no choice but to lay down its arms before Austria-Hungary and become her servant.175

Adding to the sense of urgency in Belgrade was unease about the increasing likelihood of an improvement in Austro- Russian relations, particularly after Aehrenthal’s death in February 1912.176 There was no time to lose: on 13 March Serbia and Bulgaria signed their friendship alliance and a secret annex in which they undertook, in the event of a territorial dispute, to accept the Tsar’s decision on the matter. Two months later, on 12 May, the parties also concluded a military convention which, on paper, contained some very serious provisions: if Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia, Bulgaria was bound to help Serbia with at least 200,000 troops; and if Romania attacked Bulgaria, Serbia was obliged to send at least 100,000 troops to Bulgaria’s aid.177 Although it seems quite doubtful that King Ferdinand of Bulgaria would have consented to fight Austria-Hungary, it has been seen how wary, ever since Murzsteg, Bulgaria’s politicians had been of Vienna’s designs on Salonika and Macedonia.178 Prime Minister Danev, for example, was terrified at the prospect that Serbia could drift into Austria- Hungary’s orbit.179 It is also a fact that in November 1912, after the Balkan War had begun, Bulgaria let the Russians know in no uncertain terms that it would ‘go to war’ on behalf of Serbia’s right to acquire a port on the Adriatic.180

Be that as it may, it became increasingly clear that the Balkan Alliance would actually be fighting the Turks. Towards the end of May the Serbo-Bulgarian combination was in effect joined by Greece when the latter signed a treaty with Bulgaria, Russia, it should perhaps be emphasized, had done nothing to encourage Greece’s accession to the Balkan League. Serbia and Greece were still conducting their separate negotiations right up to the outbreak of the Balkan War in October 1912. Greece, like Bulgaria, wanted to fight Turkey So too did Montenegro. In August, Montenegro and Bulgaria concluded a military convention verbally by which, typically, Montenegro would receive a Bulgarian financial subsidy Finally, on 6 October, an alliance was concluded between Montenegro and Serbia.181 Whatever other plans Milovanović may have had, a coalition had emerged by the autumn of 1912 which intended to destroy the remnants of Turkish power in Europe. The Russians were powerless to stop it. Sergey Sazonov; who had in 1910 succeeded the hapless Izvolsky as Foreign Minister, was initially delighted by the Serbo-Bulgarian Alliance, believing that it gave Russia control over Serbia and Bulgaria and provided at the same time a bulwark against Austria-Hungary.182 When, however, he saw that the Alliance plan was to wage a war against Turkey, his attitude quickly changed and he started issuing threats, both to Bulgaria and Serbia. Gueshoff, the Bulgarian Prime Minister, was quite amused by this, asking Nekludov; the Russian Minister in Sofia, whether Sazonov’s intent to stop an action in the Balkans would involve enlisting the help of Austria or Romania.183

It has to be said that Russian input into the creation of the Balkan League has in any case been vastly exaggerated in the relevant historiography In particular, historians like to focus on the Russian ambassador to Serbia Nicholas Hartwig in Belgrade, and portray him as some kind of viceroy of Serbia and the ultimate arbiter of the country’s domestic and foreign policies. ‘Hartwig’, according to Christopher Clark, ‘pushed the Serbs to form an offensive alliance with Bulgaria against the Ottoman Empire’.184 Whereby in fact the initiative for an alliance came from Bulgaria. Milovan Milovanović, who was far more concerned about the Austrians than the Turks, accepted the overtures from Sofia and merely sought Hartwig’s, that is, Russia’s, retrospective blessing – since neither the Serbs nor the Bulgarians needed to be ‘pushed’ into a mutually beneficial alliance. This has been well understood by some. In 1965 the American historian Edward Thaden argued convincingly that the Balkan alliance ‘was originally conceived by the Balkan peoples themselves, not Russia’. Thaden also pointed out that, after 1908, Russia was consistently avoiding military and diplomatic adventures in the region. ‘This caution’, Thaden noted, ‘is at odds with the common view that the tsarist government repeatedly and energetically tried to create a Balkan alliance directed against either Turkey or Austria-Hungary.’185

Milovan Milovanović was not able to see the fruits of his work because he died on 1 July 1912. A Serbo-Bulgarian alliance had been his idee fixe.186 Nikola Pasic, his party colleague and greatest rival on the Serbian political scene, had taken part in the negotiations with Rizov and initially been quite unbending in his maximalist territorial demands in Macedonia, before reluctantly accepting Russian arbitration. As Dimitrije Dordevic has argued, Pasic did not trust the Russians. Dordevic also suggests, however, that though Pasic was not strong enough to dethrone Milovanovic at this time, he wished nevertheless to make known his opposition to a deal with the Bulgarians over Macedonia.187 In Western literature Milovanovic is invariably portrayed as a ‘moderate’ and Pasic as a ‘nationalist’. This distinction, it may be suggested, is not particularly helpful. In 2000, Richard Hall wrote in his study of the Balkan Wars: ‘Six weeks after his [Milovanovic’s] death, the ardent nationalist Nikola Paschich became prime minister and minister for foreign affairs.188 In his recent and more widely read book, Christopher Clark writes: ‘Six weeks after his [Milovanovic’s] death, the ardent nationalist Pasic took office as prime minister and minister  for  foreign affairs’.189 What is noticeable here is not just the remarkable coincidence in the expression of these two historians, but also their insistence on Pasic being an ‘ardent nationalist’. Had it been left to Pasic, it is doubtful that Serbia and Bulgaria would have reached an agreement. Had it not been for Milovanovic, there would probably have been no Serbo-Bulgarian Alliance which was to enable Serbia to achieve that most eminent of nationalist goals: territorial aggrandizement.

Reluctant Bear: Russia, Serbia and the Balkan Wars

With Milovanovic dead, it was then Pasic who led Serbia through both the Balkan Wars. Although he had only grudgingly accepted Milovanović’s legacy of an alliance with Bulgaria, he was nevertheless prepared to exploit it for what it was worth. This meant joining Bulgaria in a war against Turkey. The Serbian Army, no less than popular sentiment, was impatient for action, especially after the Bosnian annexation crisis. Even if he had wanted to, Pasic would not have been able to resist the pressures to go to war. Keen as he was for Serbia to gain as much as possible in Macedonia, he was perhaps even more anxious to extend Serbia’s territory in order to secure an Adriatic commercial port on the Albanian coast. Serbian documents for 1907 and 1908 reveal his absolute dedication to Serbia’s Adriatic Railway Project, a desire which had nothing to do with Macedonia. Strategically, an Adriatic port looked like the more important objective. Now; in 1912, came the opportunity.

By now; however, Pasic’s famous Russophilia – if it had ever existed had evidently deserted him. In September 1912, he argued against informing Hartwig, the Russian Minister in Belgrade, about the Serbo-Bulgarian resolve to go to war, for ‘he would be duty-bound to report this to his Government, and the latter would do everything to prevent us’. 190 So much for Pasic’s reliance on Russia and his confidence in its policies. In the light of the July Crisis of 1914, it is important to understand how the Russian position was really perceived by Pasic and his diplomats in the run-up to the Balkan Wars. Their perspective, it should be noted, did not reflect some minor tactical concern vis-ii-vis Russia. Milovanović believed in a Serbo- Russian partnership only if Russia had powerful friends, such as France. Pasic’s outlook was similar, but he also made sweeping proposals about what should be done if allies did not deliver. After once again becoming Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, he wrote to his friend Vesnic, the Serbian Minister in Paris: ‘We have gone along with Russia and the Triple Entente, and should they be unable to restrain Austria and Germany; it would then be better if we come to an agreement with our enemies as soon as possible since we would be getting no help from where we were expecting it.’191

References upon request.

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