Thursday, 24 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 27. 24 July: Vienna's Note to Belgrade. Does Austria-Hungary want war?

One hundred years ago today, on Friday 24 July 1914, Martin’s crew of railwaymen would have discovered from the Manchester Guardian that the heavily trailed Note from the Austrians to the Serbs had been delivered. And, it seemed, the tone was nothing like as moderate as optimistic commentators had previously suggested.

The future Emperor Charles inspecting a guard of honour at Budapest



Austria-Hungary has addressed a strong Note to Servia, attempting to place upon her a great part of the responsibility for the murder at Sarayevo of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife. That crime was, it is known, the outcome of the Greater Servia propaganda, which aims at joining the Serb provinces of the Dual Monarchy to Servia.

The Austrian Note is severer in tone than well-informed persons thought probable, and its delivery may be followed by a grave international crisis.

“That doesn’t sound good,” Martin interrupted the young man reading the article.

“Crises seldom do,” said the Cynic.

The reader continued.

The Austro-Hungarian Minister this evening presented the Servian Government a Note upon the Sarayevo crimes, demanding a reply before six o’clock on Saturday evening, July 25.

There was a list of grievances, not just the Archduke’s assassination on 28 June.

The history of recent years, and in particular the painful events of June 28 last, have shown the existence in Servia of a subversive movement, with the object of detaching a part of Austria-Hungary from the Monarchy...

The Royal Servian Government... has permitted the criminal machinations of various societies and associations, and has tolerated unrestrained language on the part of the press, apologies for the perpetrators of the outrages, and the participation of officers and functionaries in subversive agitation.

Criminal machinations: the Austrians weren’t mincing their words. And what did they want Serbia to do?

The Royal Servian Government shall publish on the front page of its official journal for July 26 the following declaration:-

“The Royal Servian Government condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary and the whole tendencies of which the final aim is to detach from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy territories belonging to it, and it sincerely deplores the fatal consequences of these criminal proceedings... [It] considers it its duty formally to warn officers and functionaries and the whole population of the kingdom that henceforward it will proceed with the utmost rigour against persons who may be guilty of such machinations...”

And the article ended by pointing out that:

Among other demands Austria-Hungary asks for the suppression of Pan-Servian societies, to purify the public instruction, to dismiss officers and functionaries implicated in the propaganda, to arrest stated persons, and to admit Austrian co-operation in enforcing such measures.

Just the day before the paper had suggested that in Austria-Hungary’s Note, “no demands will be made upon Servia to which she will not be able to accede without loss of dignity.”

“Now they want Serbia to let them in to enforce their demands on Serbia’s own territory?” exclaimed Martin.

“Perhaps they’re not that concerned about Serb dignity after all,” said the Cynic.

What’s more, this was all to happen by – well, the next day now, 25 July, just two days after the delivery of the Note.

King Peter I of Serbia with his officers
In Skopje, Macedonia during his successful war against Turkey
For the first time Martin felt a distinct chill. Though perhaps also a slight thrill. This wasn’t women’s suffrage. It wasn’t further degeneration of the bitter atmosphere in Ireland. It wasn’t an uprising in Mexico or a massacre in the Levant. This was Europe. This was Austria-Hungary whose behaviour directly impinged on Britain and its standing in the world. 

And damned if it didn’t feel as though it was trying to get itself into a war.

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