OCW052: The Coming of War

The Sick Man of Europe

The “Eastern Question” refers to the strategic competition and political considerations of the European Great Powers in light of the political and economic instability of the Ottoman Empire, named the “Sick Man of Europe.”

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the claim that the Ottoman Empire was the “Sick Man of Europe”

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Throughout the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire underwent major changes, first through a series of modernizing efforts that strengthened its power, but ultimately to its decline in terms of military prestige, territory, and wealth.
  • The Ottoman state, which took on debt with the Crimean War, was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1875.
  • By 1881, the Ottoman Empire agreed to have its debt controlled by an institution known as the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, a council of European men with presidency alternating between France and Britain.
  • In response to these changes and crises in the Ottoman Empire, the Major Powers of Europe, especially Russia and Britain, began referring to the Empire as the “Sick Man of Europe,” with various ideas as to how best serve their own interests as this major empire began to collapse.
  • In diplomatic history, this issue is referred to as the ” Eastern Question ” and encompasses the strategic competition and political considerations of the European Great Powers in light of the political and economic instability in the Ottoman Empire, which in part led to outbreak of World War I.

Key Terms

  • Eastern Question: In diplomatic history, this refers to the strategic competition and political considerations of the European Great Powers in light of the political and economic instability in the Ottoman Empire from the late 18th to early 20th centuries.
  • sick man of Europe: A label given to a European country experiencing a time of economic difficulty or impoverishment. The term was first used in the mid-19th century to describe the Ottoman Empire, but has since been applied at one time or another to nearly every other major country in Europe.
  • Concert of Europe: Also known as the Congress System or the Vienna System after the Congress of Vienna, a system of dispute resolution adopted by the major conservative powers of Europe to maintain their power, oppose revolutionary movements, weaken the forces of nationalism, and uphold the balance of power. It is suggested that it operated in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the early 1820s, while some see it as lasting until the outbreak of the Crimean War, 1853-1856.

The Eastern Question

In diplomatic history, the “Eastern Question” refers to the strategic competition and political considerations of the European Great Powers in light of the political and economic instability in the Ottoman Empire from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. Characterized as the “sick man of Europe,” the relative weakening of the empire’s military strength in the second half of the 18th century threatened to undermine the fragile balance of power system largely shaped by the Concert of Europe. The Eastern Question encompassed myriad interrelated elements: Ottoman military defeats, Ottoman institutional insolvency, the ongoing Ottoman political and economic modernization programs, the rise of ethno-religious nationalism in its provinces, and Great Power rivalries.

The Eastern Question is normally dated to 1774, when the Russo-Turkish War (1768–74) ended in defeat for the Ottomans. As the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was believed to be imminent, the European powers engaged in a power struggle to safeguard their military, strategic, and commercial interests in the Ottoman domains. Imperial Russia stood to benefit from the decline of the Ottoman Empire; on the other hand, Austria-Hungary and Great Britain deemed the preservation of the Empire to be in their best interests. The Eastern Question was put to rest after World War I, one of the outcomes of which was the collapse and division of the Ottoman holdings.

A book by Harold Temperley quotes Nicholas I of Russia as saying in 1853, “Turkey seems to be falling to pieces, the fall will be a great misfortune. It is very important that England and Russia should come to a perfectly good understanding… and that neither should take any decisive step of which the other is not apprized…We have a sick man on our hands, a man gravely ill, it will be a great misfortune if one of these days he slips through our hands, especially before the necessary arrangements are made.”

In the 1870s the “Eastern Question” focused on the mistreatment of Christians in the Balkans by the Ottoman Empire and what the European great powers ought to do about it.

In 1876 Serbia and Montenegro declared war on Turkey and were badly defeated, notably at the battle of Alexinatz (Sept. 1, 1876). Gladstone published an angry pamphlet on “The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East,” which aroused enormous agitation in Britain against Turkish misrule and complicated the Disraeli government’s policy of supporting Turkey against Russia. Russia, which supported Serbia, threatened war against Turkey. In August 1877, Russia declared war on Turkey and steadily defeated its armies. In early January 1878 Turkey asked for an armistice, but the British fleet arrived at Constantinople too late. Russia and Turkey on March 3 signed the Treaty of San Stefano, which was highly advantageous to Russia, Serbia, and Montenegro as well as Romania and Bulgaria.

Britain, France, and Austria opposed the Treaty of San Stefano because it gave Russia too much influence in the Balkans, where insurrections were frequent. War threatened. After numerous attempts, a grand diplomatic settlement was reached at the Congress of Berlin (June–July 1878). The new Treaty of Berlin revised the earlier treaty. Germany’s Otto von Bismarck (1815–98) presided over the congress and brokered the compromises. One result was that Austria took control of the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, intending to eventually merge them into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When they finally tried to do that in 1914, local Serbs assassinated Austria’s Archduke and the result was the First World War.

Caricature from Punch magazine, dated November 28, 1896. It shows Sultan Abdul Hamid II in front of a poster which announces the reorganisation of the Ottoman Empire.

Caricature from Punch magazine, dated November 28, 1896. It shows Sultan Abdul Hamid II in front of a poster which announces the reorganisation of the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Decline Up to World War I

Beginning from the late 18th century, the Ottoman Empire faced challenges defending itself against foreign invasion and occupation. In response to foreign threats, the empire initiated a period of tremendous internal reform that came to be known as the Tanzimat, which succeeded in significantly strengthening the Ottoman central state despite the empire’s precarious international position. Over the course of the 19th century, the Ottoman state became increasingly powerful and rationalized, exercising a greater degree of influence over its population than in any previous era.

As the Ottoman state attempted to modernize its infrastructure and army in response to threats from the outside, it also opened itself up to a different kind of threat: that of creditors. Indeed, as the historian Eugene Rogan has written, “the single greatest threat to the independence of the Middle East” in the 19th century “was not the armies of Europe but its banks.” The Ottoman state, which had begun taking on debt with the Crimean War, was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1875. By 1881, the Ottoman Empire agreed to have its debt controlled by an institution known as the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, a council of European men with presidency alternating between France and Britain. The body controlled swaths of the Ottoman economy and used its position to insure that European capital continued to penetrate the empire, often to the detriment of local Ottoman interests.

The defeat and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1908–1922) began with the Second Constitutional Era, a moment of hope and promise established with the Young Turk Revolution. It restored the Ottoman constitution of 1876 and brought in multi-party politics with a two-stage electoral system (electoral law) under the Ottoman parliament. The constitution offered hope by freeing the empire’s citizens to modernize the state’s institutions, rejuvenate its strength, and enable it to hold its own against outside powers. Its guarantee of liberties promised to dissolve inter-communal tensions and transform the empire into a more harmonious place.

Instead, this period became the story of the twilight struggle of the Empire. A proliferation of conflicting political parties created discord and confusion. Profiting from the civil strife, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Ottoman military reforms resulted in a modern army which engaged in the Italo-Turkish War (1911) that ended in the loss of the North African territories and the Dodecanese, the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) that ended in the loss of almost all of the Empire’s European territories. In addition, the Empire faced continuous civil and political unrest with several military coups leading up to World War I.

Militarism and Jingoism

During the 1870s and 1880s, all major powers were preparing for a large-scale war by increasing the sizes of their armies and navies. This led to increased political tensions that many historians consider a major factor in the outbreak of World War I.

Learning Objectives

Assess the rise of militarism in the years preceding WWI

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During the second half of the 19th century, all major world powers began increasing the sizes and scopes of their military forces, although a conflict on the scale of WWI was not expected by anyone.
  • Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Russia, and some smaller countries set up conscription systems whereby young men served from one to three years in the army, then spent the next 20 years in the reserves with annual summer training.
  • Germany struggled to achieve parity with the British navy in a tense arms race, but in the end fell short with Britain remaining the dominant naval power.
  • Many historians point to this increased military preparedness as the major factor that led to the outbreak of WWI, contending that had the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand happened a decade before, war would probably have been avoided.
  • Jingoism is nationalism in the form of aggressive foreign policy, whereby a nation advocates for the use of threats or actual force as opposed to peaceful relations to safeguard what it perceives as its national interests.

Key Terms

  • conscription: The compulsory enlistment of people in a national service, most often military service. The practice dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names. The modern system dates to the French Revolution in the 1790s, where it became the basis of a very large and powerful military. Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime so that men at a certain age would serve one to eight years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.
  • jingoism: A form of nationalism characterized by aggressive foreign policy. It refers to a country’s advocacy for the use of threats or actual force as opposed to peaceful relations to safeguard what it perceives as its national interests.
  • militarism: The belief or the desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests. It may also imply the glorification of the military, the ideals of a professional military class, and the “predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state.”

Rise of Militarism Prior to World War I

The main causes of World War I, which broke out unexpectedly in central Europe in summer 1914, comprised all the conflicts and hostility of the four decades leading up to the war. Militarism, alliances, imperialism, and ethnic nationalism played major roles.

During the 1870s and 1880s, all major world powers were preparing for a large-scale war, although none expected one. Britain focused on building up its Royal Navy, already stronger than the next two navies combined. Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Russia, and some smaller countries set up conscription systems whereby young men would serve from one to three years in the army, then spend the next 20 years or so in the reserves with annual summer training. Men from higher social classes became officers. Each country devised a mobilization system so the reserves could be called up quickly and sent to key points by rail. Every year the plans were updated and expanded in terms of complexity. Each country stockpiled arms and supplies for an army that ran into the millions.

Germany in 1874 had a regular professional army of 420,000 with an additional 1.3 million reserves. By 1897 the regular army was 545,000 strong and the reserves 3.4 million. The French in 1897 had 3.4 million reservists, Austria 2.6 million, and Russia 4.0 million. The various national war plans had been perfected by 1914, albeit with Russia and Austria trailing in effectiveness. Recent wars (since 1865) had typically been short—a matter of months. All the war plans called for a decisive opening and assumed victory would come after a short war; no one planned for or was ready for the food and munitions needs of a long stalemate as actually happened in 1914–18.

As David Stevenson has put it, “A self-reinforcing cycle of heightened military preparedness… was an essential element in the conjuncture that led to disaster… The armaments race… was a necessary precondition for the outbreak of hostilities.” If Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated in 1904 or even in 1911, Herrmann speculates, there might have been no war. It was “… the armaments race… and the speculation about imminent or preventive wars” that made his death in 1914 the trigger for war.

This increase in militarism coincided with the rise of jingoism, a term for nationalism in the form of aggressive foreign policy. Jingoism also refers to a country’s advocacy for the use of threats or actual force, as opposed to peaceful relations, to safeguard what it perceives as its national interests. Colloquially, it refers to excessive bias in judging one’s own country as superior to others—an extreme type of nationalism. The term originated in reference to the United Kingdom’s pugnacious attitude toward Russia in the 1870s, and appeared in the American press by 1893.

Probably the first uses of the term in the U.S. press occurred in connection with the proposed annexation of Hawaii in 1893. A coup led by foreign residents, mostly Americans, and assisted by the U.S. Minister in Hawaii, overthrew the Hawaiian constitutional monarchy and declared a Republic. Republican president Benjamin Harrison and Republicans in the Senate were frequently accused of jingoism in the Democratic press for supporting annexation.

The term was also used in connection with the foreign policy of Theodore Roosevelt. In an October 1895 New York Times article, Roosevelt stated, “There is much talk about ‘jingoism’. If by ‘jingoism’ they mean a policy in pursuance of which Americans will with resolution and common sense insist upon our rights being respected by foreign powers, then we are ‘jingoes’.”

One of the aims of the First Hague Conference of 1899, held at the suggestion of Emperor Nicholas II, was to discuss disarmament. The Second Hague Conference was held in 1907. All signatories except for Germany supported disarmament. Germany also did not want to agree to binding arbitration and mediation. The Kaiser was concerned that the United States would propose disarmament measures, which he opposed. All parties tried to revise international law to their own advantage.

Anglo-German Naval Race

Historians have debated the role of the German naval build-up as the principal cause of deteriorating Anglo-German relations. In any case, Germany never came close to catching up with Britain.

Supported by Wilhelm II’s enthusiasm for an expanded German navy, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz championed four Fleet Acts from 1898 to 1912, and from 1902 to 1910, the Royal Navy embarked on its own massive expansion to keep ahead of the Germans. This competition came to focus on the revolutionary new ships based on the Dreadnought, launched in 1906, awhich gave Britain a battleship that far outclassed any other in Europe.

The overwhelming British response proved to Germany that its efforts were unlikely to equal those of the Royal Navy. In 1900, the British had a 3.7:1 tonnage advantage over Germany; in 1910 the ratio was 2.3:1 and in 1914, 2.1:1. Ferguson argues that, “So decisive was the British victory in the naval arms race that it is hard to regard it as in any meaningful sense a cause of the First World War.” This ignores the fact that the Kaiserliche Marine had narrowed the gap by nearly half, and that the Royal Navy had long intended to be stronger than any two potential opponents; the United States Navy was in a period of growth, making the German gains very ominous.

In Britain in 1913, there was intense internal debate about new ships due to the growing influence of John Fisher’s ideas and increasing financial constraints. In early to mid-1914 Germany adopted a policy of building submarines instead of new dreadnoughts and destroyers, effectively abandoning the race, but kept this new policy secret to delay other powers following suit.

The Germans abandoned the naval race before the war broke out. The extent to which the naval race was one of the chief factors in Britain’s decision to join the Triple Entente remains a key controversy. Historians such as Christopher Clark believe it was not significant, with Margaret Moran taking the opposite view.

A political cartoon show US, Germany, Britain, France and Japan engaged in naval race in a "no limit" game, depicted as each nation, in caricature, seated around a card table using battle ships as chips in a poker game.

Naval Arms Race: 1909 cartoon in Puck shows the United States, Germany, Britain, France, and Japan engaged in naval race in a “no limit” game.

The Balkan Powder Keg

The continuing collapse of the Ottoman Empire coincided with the rise of nationalism in the Balkans, which led to increased tensions and conflicts in the region. This “powder keg” was thus a major catalyst for the outbreak of World War I.

Learning Objectives

Define the Balkan Powder Keg

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • By the early 20th century, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia had achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire, but large elements of their ethnic populations remained under Ottoman rule. In 1912 these countries formed the Balkan League and declared war on the Ottomans to reclaim territory.
  • Four Balkan states defeated the Ottoman Empire in the first war; one of the four, Bulgaria, suffered defeat in the second war.
  • The tensions and conflicts in this are often referred to as the “Balkan powder keg” and had implications beyond the region.
  • There were a number of overlapping claims to territories and spheres of influence between the major European powers, such as the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German Empire and, to a lesser degree, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom, and Kingdom of Italy.
  • Relations between Austria and Serbia became increasingly bitter and Russia felt humiliated after Austria and Germany prevented it from helping Serbia.
  • The powder keg eventually “exploded” causing the First World War, which began with a conflict between imperial Austria-Hungary and Pan-Slavic Serbia.

Key Terms

  • Pan-Slavism: A movement which crystallized in the mid-19th century concerned with the advancement of integrity and unity for the Slavic people. Its main impact occurred in the Balkans, where non-Slavic empires—the Byzantine Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Venice—had ruled the South Slavs for centuries.
  • Balkans: A peninsula and a cultural area in Southeastern Europe with various and disputed borders. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch from the Serbia-Bulgaria border to the Black Sea. Conflicts here were a major contributing factor to the outbreak of WWI.
  • irredentism: Any political or popular movement intended to reclaim and reoccupy a “lost” or “unredeemed” area; territorial claims are justified on the basis of real or imagined national and historic (an area formerly part of that state) or ethnic (an area inhabited by that nation or ethnic group) affiliations. It is often advocated by nationalist and pan-nationalist movements and has been a feature of identity politics and cultural and political geography.

The “Balkan powder keg,” also termed the “powder keg of Europe,” refers to the Balkans in the early part of the 20th century preceding World War I. There were a number of overlapping claims to territories and spheres of influence between the major European powers, such as the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German Empire and, to a lesser degree, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom, and Kingdom of Italy.

In addition to the imperialistic ambitions and interests in this region, there was a growth in nationalism among the indigenous peoples, leading to the formation of the independent states of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania.

Within these nations, there were movements to create “greater” nations: to enlarge the boundaries of the state beyond those areas where the national ethnic group was in the majority (termed irredentism). This led to conflict between the newly independent nations and the empire from which they split, the Ottoman Empire. Additionally, it led to differences between the Balkan nations who wished to gain territory at the expense of their neighbors. Both the conflict with the Ottoman Empire and between the Balkan nations led to the Balkan Wars, discussed below.

In a different vein, the ideology of Pan-Slavism in Balkans gained popularity; the movement built around it in the region sought to unite all of the Slavs of the Balkans into one nation, Yugoslavia. This, however, would require the union of several Balkan states and territory that was part of Austria-Hungary. For this reason, Pan-Slavism was strongly opposed by Austria-Hungary, while it was supported by Russia which viewed itself as leader of all Slavic nations.

To complicate matters, in the years preceding World War I, there existed a tangle of Great Power alliances, both formal and informal, public and secret. Following the Napoleonic Wars, there existed a “balance of power” to prevent major wars. This theory held that opposing combinations of powers in Europe would be evenly matched, entailing that any general war would be far too costly to risk entering. This system began to fall apart as the Ottoman Empire, seen as a check on Russian power, began to crumble, and as Germany, a loose confederation of minor states, was united into a major power. Not only did these changes lead to a realignment of power, but of interests as well.

All these factors and many others conspired to bring about the First World War. As is insinuated by the name “the powder keg of Europe,” the Balkans were not the major issue at stake in the war, but were the catalyst that led to the conflagration. The Chancellor of Germany in the late 19th century, Otto von Bismarck, correctly predicted it would be the source of major conflict in Europe.

The powder keg “exploded” causing the First World War, which began with a conflict between imperial Austria-Hungary and Pan-Slavic Serbia.

A cartoon depicting Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Britain attempting to keep the lid on the simmering cauldron of imperialist and nationalist tensions in the Balkans to prevent a general European war.

A cartoon depicting Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Britain attempting to keep the lid on the simmering cauldron of imperialist and nationalist tensions in the Balkans to prevent a general European war.

Balkan Wars

The continuing collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to two wars in the Balkans, in 1912 and 1913, which was a prelude to world war. By 1900 nation states had formed in Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia. Nevertheless, many of their ethnic compatriots lived under the control of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912, these countries formed the Balkan League. There were three main causes of the First Balkan War. The Ottoman Empire was unable to reform itself, govern satisfactorily, or deal with the rising ethnic nationalism of its diverse peoples. Secondly, the Great Powers quarreled among themselves and failed to ensure that the Ottomans would carry out the needed reforms. This led the Balkan states to impose their own solution. Most importantly, the members of the Balkan League were confident that it could defeat the Turks, which would prove to be the case.

The First Balkan War broke out when the League attacked the Ottoman Empire on October 8, 1912, and was ended seven months later by the Treaty of London. After five centuries, the Ottoman Empire lost virtually all of its possessions in the Balkans. The Treaty had been imposed by the Great Powers, dissatisfying the victorious Balkan states. Bulgaria was dissatisfied over the division of the spoils in Macedonia, made in secret by its former allies, Serbia and Greece, and attacked to force them out of Macedonia, starting the Second Balkan War. The Serbian and Greek armies repulsed the Bulgarian offensive and counter-attacked into Bulgaria, while Romania and the Ottoman Empire also attacked Bulgaria and gained (or regained) territory. In the resulting Treaty of Bucharest, Bulgaria lost most of the territories it had gained in the First Balkan War.

The long-term result was heightened tension in the Balkans. Relations between Austria and Serbia became increasingly bitter. Russia felt humiliated after Austria and Germany prevented it from helping Serbia. Bulgaria and Turkey were also dissatisfied, and eventually joined Austria and Germany in the First World War.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot dead in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six assassins coordinated by Danilo Ilić, a Bosnian Serb and a member of the Black Hand secret society. This event led to a diplomatic crisis and the outbreak of World War I.

Learning Objectives

Discuss Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, a member of the Austrian royal family and heir presumptive to the Austrian throne, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Young Bosnia movement connected to the Blank Hand secret society.
  • The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s South Slav provinces so they could be combined into Yugoslavia.
  • The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sent deep shock waves through Austrian elites. The murder was described by Christopher Clark as “a terrorist event charged with historic meaning, transforming the political chemistry in Vienna.”
  • The assassination triggered the July Crisis, a series of tense diplomatic maneuverings that led to an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to the Kingdom of Serbia, who rejected some of these conditions as a violation of their sovereignty. This led to Austria-Hungary invading Serbia.
  • The system of European alliances led to a series of escalating Austrian and Russian mobilizations. Eventually, Britain and France were also obliged to mobilize and declare war, beginning World War I.

Key Terms

  • Young Bosnia: A revolutionary movement active in the Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina before World War I. The members were predominantly school students, primarily Serbs but also Bosniaks and Croats. There were two key ideologies promoted among the members of the group: the Yugoslavist (unification into a Yugoslavia) and the Pan-Serb (unification into Serbia).
  • July Crisis: A diplomatic crisis among the major powers of Europe in the summer of 1914 that led to World War I. Immediately after Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo, a series of diplomatic maneuverings led to an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to the Kingdom of Serbia and eventually to war.
  • irredentism: Any political or popular movement intended to reclaim and reoccupy a “lost” or “unredeemed” area; territorial claims are justified on the basis of real or imagined national and historic (an area formerly part of that state) or ethnic (an area inhabited by that nation or ethnic group) affiliations. It is often advocated by nationalist and pan-nationalist movements and has been a feature of identity politics and cultural and political geography.
  • Black Hand: A secret military society formed on May 9, 1911, by officers in the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia, originating in the conspiracy group that assassinated the Serbian royal couple (1903) led by captain Dragutin Dimitrijević “Apis.”

Franz Ferdinand was an Archduke of Austria-Este, Austro-Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia and, from 1896 until his death, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination in Sarajevo precipitated Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. This caused the Central Powers (including Germany and Austria-Hungary) and Serbia’s allies to declare war on each other, starting World War I.

Franz Ferdinand was born in Graz, Austria, the eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria (younger brother of Franz Joseph and Maximilian) and his second wife, Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. In 1875, when he was only 11 years old, his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena died, naming Franz Ferdinand his heir on condition that he add the name Este to his own. Franz Ferdinand thus became one of the wealthiest men in Austria.

In 1889, Franz Ferdinand’s life changed dramatically. His cousin Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide at his hunting lodge in Mayerling. This left Franz Ferdinand’s father, Karl Ludwig, first in line to the throne. Ludwig died of typhoid fever in 1896. Henceforth, Franz Ferdinand was groomed to succeed him.

Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, occurred on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo when they were shot dead by Gavrilo Princip. Princip was one of a group of six assassins (five Serbs and one Bosniak) coordinated by Danilo Ilić, a Bosnian Serb and a member of the Black Hand secret society. The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s South Slav provinces so they could be combined into Yugoslavia. The Black Hand, formally Unification or Death, was a secret military society formed on May 9, 1911, by officers in the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia. with the aim of uniting all of the territories with a South Slavic majority not ruled by either Serbia or Montenegro. Its inspiration was primarily the unification of Italy in 1859–70, but also that of Germany in 1871.

The assassins’ motives were consistent with Young Bosnia, a revolutionary movement active in the Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ruled by Austria-Hungary) before World War I. The members were predominantly school students, primarily Serbs but also Bosniaks and Croats. There were two key ideologies promoted among the members of the group: the Yugoslavist (unification into a Yugoslavia), and the Pan-Serb (unification into Serbia). Young Bosnia was inspired from a variety of ideas, movements, and events, such as German romanticism, anarchism, Russian revolutionary socialism, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the Battle of Kosovo.

In 1913, Emperor Franz Joseph commanded Archduke Franz Ferdinand to observe the military maneuvers in Bosnia scheduled for June 1914. Following the maneuvers, Ferdinand and his wife planned to visit Sarajevo to open the state museum in its new premises there. Duchess Sophie, according to their oldest son, Duke Maximilian, accompanied her husband out of fear for his safety.

Franz Ferdinand was an advocate of increased federalism and widely believed to favor trialism, under which Austria-Hungary would be reorganized by combining the Slavic lands within the Austro-Hungarian empire into a third crown. A Slavic kingdom could have been a bulwark against Serb irredentism, and Ferdinand was therefore perceived as a threat by those same irredentists. Princip later stated to the court that preventing Ferdinand’s planned reforms was one of his motivations.

The day of the assassination, June 28, is the feast of St. Vitus. In Serbia, it is called Vidovdan and commemorates the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottomans, at which the Sultan was assassinated in his tent by a Serb.

The assassination of Ferdinand led directly to the First World War when Austria-Hungary subsequently issued an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, which was partially rejected. Austria-Hungary then declared war.

The assassins, the key members of the clandestine network, and the key Serbian military conspirators who were still alive were arrested, tried, convicted, and punished. Those who were arrested in Bosnia were tried in Sarajevo in October 1914. The other conspirators were arrested and tried before a Serbian court on the French-controlled Salonika Front in 1916–1917 on unrelated false charges; Serbia executed three of the top military conspirators. Much of what is known about the assassinations comes from these two trials and related records.

The first page of the edition of the Domenica del Corriere, an Italian paper, with a drawing by Achille Beltrame depicting Gavrilo Princip killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, driving through a busy street in a car.

The first page of the edition of the Domenica del Corriere, an Italian paper, with a drawing by Achille Beltrame depicting Gavrilo Princip killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, driving through a busy street in a car.

Consequences

The murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife produced widespread shock across Europe, and there was initially much sympathy for the Austrian position. Within two days of the assassination, Austria-Hungary and Germany advised Serbia that it should open an investigation, but Secretary General to the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Slavko Gruic, replied “Nothing had been done so far and the matter did not concern the Serbian Government.” An angry exchange followed between the Austrian Chargé d’Affaires at Belgrade and Gruic.

After conducting a criminal investigation, verifying that Germany would honor its military alliance, and persuading the skeptical Hungarian Count Tisza, Austria-Hungary issued a formal letter to the government of Serbia. The letter reminded Serbia of its commitment to respect the Great Powers ‘ decision regarding Bosnia-Herzegovina and maintain good relations with Austria-Hungary. The letter contained specific demands aimed at preventing the publication of propaganda advocating the violent destruction of Austria-Hungary, removing the people behind this propaganda from the Serbian Military, arresting the people on Serbian soil who were involved in the assassination plot, and preventing the clandestine shipment of arms and explosives from Serbia to Austria-Hungary.

This letter became known as the July Ultimatum, and Austria-Hungary stated that if Serbia did not accept all of the demands in total within 48 hours, it would recall its ambassador from Serbia. After receiving a telegram of support from Russia, Serbia mobilized its army and responded to the letter by completely accepting point #8 demanding an end to the smuggling of weapons and punishment of the frontier officers who had assisted the assassins, and completely accepting point #10 which demanded Serbia report the execution of the required measures as they were completed. Serbia partially accepted, finessed, disingenuously answered, or politely rejected elements of the preamble and enumerated demands #1–7 and #9. The shortcomings of Serbia’s response were published by Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary responded by breaking diplomatic relations. This diplomatic crisis is known as the July Crisis.

The next day, Serbian reservists transported on tramp steamers on the Danube crossed onto the Austro-Hungarian side of the river at Temes-Kubin and Austro-Hungarian soldiers fired into the air to warn them off. The report of this incident was initially sketchy and reported to Emperor Franz-Joseph as “a considerable skirmish.” Austria-Hungary then declared war and mobilized the portion of its army that would face the (already mobilized) Serbian Army on July 28, 1914. Under the Secret Treaty of 1892 Russia and France were obliged to mobilize their armies if any of the Triple Alliance mobilized. Russia’s mobilization set off full Austro-Hungarian and German mobilizations. Soon all the Great Powers except Italy had chosen sides and gone to war.

Political cartoon caricature shows an Austrian hand crushing a Serb.

Serbia Must Die!: Serbien muss sterbien! (“Serbia must die!”) This political cartoon shows an Austrian hand crushing a Serb.


Source: World History