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Chapter 13

Epilogue: The First World War

Europe in 1914 had much cause for tension. In the West, Franco-German antagonism had been bottling up since the war of 1870-1871 and was ready to explode at the least incident; the 1911 Agadir crisis nearly provided the spark. No one dismissed the probability of impending war, even though the French elections of April, 1914, in which anti-war elements gained, had been reassuring. In the East, Russian imperialism in the Balkans and Constantinople had been colliding with Austro-Hungarian interests since 1908. Anti-Austrian propaganda from Belgrade directed toward the Slavic subjects of the Austro-Hungarian empire merely accentuated the antagonism.

The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary in 1908 and the Balkan wars of 1912-1913 had made a veritable powder keg of eastern Europe and had aggravated rivalries and antagonisms among the recently liberated Balkan peoples. Peace was further threatened by alliances that the various warring factions in the Balkans had made with the Great Powers. Serbia and Montenegro knew they had Russia's support, especially since Peter Karageorgevitch had taken the throne. Russia had been a military ally of France since 1892. Russia had also normalized its relations with Great Britain in 1906, and Great Britain had reconciled with France in the Entente Cordiale of 1905. Serbia thus had reason to think that Russia, France and even Great Britain -- the countries of the Triple Entente -- would back it up in case of conflict with Austria-Hungary. Bulgaria, on the other hand, was deeply disturbed by its losses in the second Balkan War, and looked to

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Austria-Hungary for support. To exacerbate matters, Austria-Hungary was alarmed by the expansionist ambitions of Serbia and its Russian ally. Since 1872, Austria-Hungary had maintained close ties to the German Empire and to a lesser degree, Italy, through an agreement known as the Triple Alliance. Rumania was in a special situation. The Rumanian people and most politicians, especially those of the Liberal party, were Francophiles and Irredentists. They hoped to create a Greater Rumania by annexing Hungarian Transylvania and Austrian Bukovina. But their king, Carol I, was personally committed to the Germans and, on the advice of most of his ministers, signed an alliance with the Central Powers.

In the year between the end of the second Balkan War and the outbreak of World War I, Austro-Serbian relations deteriorated rapidly. In close contact with the Russian embassy at Belgrade and Serbian military headquarters, Serbian nationalist and secret societies stepped up their anti-Austrian propaganda--under cover in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but openly in Serbia, where they had the scarcely concealed support of the Serbian prime minister, Nikola Pashitch. By far the most important of these secret societies was the Black Hand, led by Colonel Dimitrievitch of the royal Serbian general staff and a highly placed secret service agent. Dimitrievitch was in close contact with young terrorist groups operating in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

At the instigation of the Black Hand, Bosnian students decided to stage a terrorist attack in Bosnia-Herzegovina during maneuvers of the Austro-Hungarian army in June, 1914, when the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, would be present. Terrorists went to Sarajevo from Serbia, and it was there on June 28, 1914, that the student Gavrilo Princip and his accomplices shot and killed the archduke and his wife, the Archduchess Sophia. In assassinating Franz Ferdinand, the murderers and those who recruited them were after the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne; but even more importantly, they wanted to eliminate the man who made no secret of his intent to coax the Slavic population of the Empire back to Vienna from Belgrade. In this, the archduke posed a special threat to Serbia and Russia, for if the Habsburgs succeeded in winning over the Slavs, it would put an end to Russian hopes for hegemony in the Balkans and along the Adriatic.

In Vienna the military chief of staff, Marshal Konrad von Hotzendorf, with the strong support of his German counterparts, called for quick military action to settle the Serbian affair once and for all. Emperor Franz Joseph and the Hungarian prime minister, Istvan Tisza, feared that such action would provoke a Russian reaction and set off a European war. Russia had in fact assured Serbia of total support from the beginning, and in late July, the president of the French republic, Raymond Poincare, accompanied by most of his ministers, made an official visit to St. Petersburg to reinforce the

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Franco-Russian alliance. After long debates in the crown council, during which Tisza tried to play a moderating role, Austria-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Belgrade on July 23, 1914, requiring total acceptance within 48 hours. The ultimatum included the demand that Austria be allowed to participate in the investigation of the assassination. On July 25, the Serbian government refused to accept the ultimatum that would have allowed Austrian police on Serbian soil. Austria-Hungary immediately broke off diplomatic relations with Serbia. Serbia decided on full mobilization of its troops, and Austria-Hungary began a partial mobilization. Despite English offers to mediate, Austria-Hungary knew it had the unconditional support of Germany, and exactly one month after the assassination at Sarajevo, on July 28, 1914, declared war on Serbia, making it known to all the powers that this was to be a localized conflict. But the Russian government could not let Serbia be crushed without losing credibility in the eyes of France, and mobilized at once. From then on, the situation became a test of alliances. The German government, also a partisan in the localized war, insisted that Russia stop preparations for war and that France declare neutrality. St. Petersburg refused, as did Paris, and the result was quasi-general warfare. Great Britain hesitated, then joined in on August 4, when German troops violated Belgian neutrality. Later, on November 1, the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers and joined Germany and Austria-Hungary in battle in hopes of keeping Russia out of the Dardanelles Straits. The alliance game had thus made a European war out of the Austro-Serbian conflict. The people of eastern Europe, whose rivalries and antagonisms had been at the root of the conflict, found themselves involved in a larger struggle in which they were the stakes.

World War I had a profound effect on the fate of the peoples of central and eastern Europe. Although split into two opposing camps, the divisions between the people were not always clear. Austro-Hungarians fought for the Central Powers with an energy and a loyalty that lasted until the summer of 1918, while the Serbs and the Slavs of southern Austria-Hungary fought the Serbs of Serbia, their brothers, with no apparent second thoughts. The Rumanians from Transylvania were Hungarian subjects as well, and beginning in the summer of 1916, pitted themselves against the Rumanians from Russia who had sided with the Triple Entente. Even stranger was the situation in Poland. Those Poles who were German or Austro-Hungarian subjects found themselves face to face with brothers who had been taken into the Russian army. At first, the people generally showed a loyalty to the flag under which they fought. On September 9, 1914, the commander-in-chief of the Russian army, the Grand Duke Nlcholas, attempted to win the Poles over to the Russian cause, promising in the name of the czar to restore Poland to an autonomous state "under the scepter of the Russian emperor." At the

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same time, Austria-Hungary was organizing along with its Polish contingents a legion to liberate Poland from the Russian yoke! After the successful summer campaign of 1915, the German and Austro-Hungarian authorities allowed an embryonic Polish state to develop under their protection.

In the camp of the Triple Entente, Serbia carried the heaviest load of the war. In spite of a few early victories, the Serbian army was in an awkward position when the Bulgarians went over to the side of the Central Powers and invaded, or "liberated" Macedonia. The remnants of the Serbian army fled along with the government and King Peter, first to Albania where they were clearly unwelcome and then to the island of Corfu -- escaping the Austro-Hungarian troops who had occupied all of Serbian territory and were preparing to do the same with Albania. In principle, Albania maintained neutrality, but was nonetheless soon involved in the conflict. After being pillaged by what was left of the Serbian army, Albania was occupied by Austria-Hungary. But Albania had already been destined for sacrifice by the countries of the Triple Entente; in a secret treaty signed in London in April, 1915, bringing Italy into the war, Italy and Serbia were to get key bases in Albania!

Until early 1918, the war seemed to be balanced in favor of the Central Powers. Rumania, whose new king, Ferdinand, had entered it into war on the side of the Allies in 1916, was beaten after six weeks of combat and was nearly totally occupied by German, Austria>Hungarian and Bulgarian troops. After much hesitation, the Rumanian government agreed to sign the Treaty of Bucharest with the Central Powers on March 16,1918. The Serbian army was powerless in refuge on Corfu, and Montenegro had given up fighting in 1916. Poland, under Austro-German protection, was supposed to have gained territory won from Russia.

When the revolutions in Russia broke out in 1917, the Russian army was caught up in the turmoil. Lenin and the Bolsheviks, in power since the October revolution, wanted peace at all costs. Thus, a separate treaty was signed by Soviet Russia with Germany at Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918. The Russians gave up all of their western possessions, namely Finland, which had declared its independence in December, 1917, the Baltic provinces of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Poland, and also the Ukraine and a large part of White Russia (Bielorussia).

With the successes of the Central Powers in early 1918, a new political geography was beginning to take shape in central and eastern Europe; there was the proposed restoration of a Greater Poland loosely linked to Austria-Hungary, a Greater Bulgaria as master of the Balkans, and an Austria-Hungary supervising the Serbian state. Many of those in Austria-Hungary who had hoped for a union of all southern Slavs within a renovated Empire, now pinned their hopes on the young emperor, Charles,

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who had succeeded Franz Joseph in November, 1916. It appeared as though the young sovereign would adopt the policies that Franz Ferdinand had advocated. In early 1917, the Club of Southern Slavic Delegates of the Empire meeting in Vienna had presented the emperor with a petition requesting the union of all southern Slavs into an Illyrian state within the Empire. Profound changes were expected of the new emperor. He had, after all, ordered Prime Minister Tisza to resign for opposing reforms, and had just pardoned certain Czech nationalists condemned to death for treason, among them, Kramarj, head of the Young Czech party.

A breath of hope seemed to fill the Empire, to the despair of the Pan-Germanists. A Pax Austriae could reasonably expected. But actually, the outcome of the war was far from settled. The Triple Entente, even after the defection of Russia, still held a few trump cards: the United States had entered the war in 1917; frequently reinforced French expeditionary troops were in Salonika; Greece followed Italy and Rumania in entering the war on the side of the Triple Entente; and finally, the Central Powers had no decisive victories on the western front. The war was not yet over.

In Rumania and Serbia the local populations under Austro-Hungarian and German occupation hoped for liberation, counting on a victory of the Triple Entente on the western front to redress their unfortunate situation.

The Austrian and Hungarian leadership seemed certain of victory and were backed by the leadership of the various nationalities; they were already confidently planning the reorganization of central and eastern Europe. Others were less certain, foreseeing a possible victory by the Triple Entente, and so they tried to keep their options open in case their hypothesis proved true.

In Hungary, the majority of the politically aware supported the government, but a few members of the Independence party, grouped around a liberal aristocrat, Count Mihaly Karolyi, made no secret of their Francophile sentiments, even at the risk of appearing to be traitorous.

There were certain Czech and southern Slav politicians as well, who kept in contact with the Entente in order to escape the common fate should the Central Powers lose. The Croatians and Serbs who had left the Empire when war broke out and who had started a Yugoslavian committee in London in April, 1915, made contact with the Serbian government in exile on Corfu. These contacts led to the July 7, 1917, Declaration of Corfu, signed by the delegates of the committee in London, by Pashitch, head of the Serbian government, by the Croatian Ante Trumbich and by the Dalmatian Frano Supilo. This document stated that in case of an Entente victory, the Croatians, the Slovenes and the Serbs would unite to form a Yugoslavian state under the Karageorgexitch family. The Montenegrin delegates also agreed with the provisions, despite the opposition of their king, Nicholas.

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But acts like those of the Yugoslavian committee of London were rare. Most of the empire's southern Slavs could imagine no outcome other than remaining within some sort of reworked Habsburg framework.

Even more significant were the activities of Czech emigrants. During the first years of the war, Bohemia seemed to be calm, and most Czech soldiers fought loyally, though they did have a few more desertions and surrenders than other groups. In November, 1914, however, one of the leaders of the Czech opposition, Professor Masaryk, left Prague and went via Italy to France and then to England. He was joined by his friend and disciple Eduard Benes. Together they instigated the Czech National Council in France in 1916, which brought a young Slovak officer living in France, Milan Stefanik, over to their cause. The idea of a Czechoslovakian state began to take shape. The Czech emigrants presented it to the Allies, Aristide Briand and Lloyd George in particular, with such success that early in 1918, the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary had become one of the Entente's objectives for the war. These emigrants proved to be valuable aides to the Entente because they were able to provide the Allies with first-hand information through their highly-placed connections in the Austro- Hungarian administration.

The Polish leadership began to adopt a similar policy. Inside the country, they collaborated with the Central Powers to assure that they would create a Polish state in case they won the war. Outside, Polish emigrants made contact with the Allies in order to obtain the same advantages from them should the Entente win the war.

The leaders of nationalities not yet fully independent thus practiced a double policy through the rest of the war. Those who remained inside demonstrated their loyalty to the Dual Monarchy so that this loyalty would be repaid if the Central Powers won the war. On the other hand, those who emigrated and sided with the Entente worked at convincing the Allies that their people were with them in spirit and had nothing in common with Austria-Hungary. In this way, they were in a good position to obtain their country's independence if the Allies won. The people of the Empire generally remained loyal to it. Although the initial enthusiasm for the war had disappeared by early 1918 and was replaced by signs of serious discontent, this was due more to war weariness and difficulties of day-to-day existence than from a desire to overthrow the government.

The year 1918 marked a decisive turning point in the history of the peoples of central and eastern Europe. As the Arnerican troops arrived, new hope surged through the countries of the Entente. They now took more interest in plans worked out by Czech and Yugoslavian emigrants outlining the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary. The Allies became ardent defenders of an independent, reorganized Poland, no longer restrained by

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the need to humor Russia -- which had withdrawn from the war. The Congress of Oppressed Nationalities was held in Rome in April, 1918, instigated by France and Italy. It ended with a vote to dismember Austria-Hungary and free the Slavic, Rumanian and Italian nations. The fate of the eastern European peoples hung on the balance of the war. If the Central Powers won -- and until July, 1918, this was still possible -- Austria- Hungary would dominate the Danubian and Balkan regions of Europe; the nationalities of the Empire would be given autonomous status within a reorganized federalist Empire as envisioned by the Emperor Charles, and Poland would regain its independence, or at least wide-ranging autonomy under a Habsburg king. If the powers of the Entente won, however, Austria-Hungary would be dismembered into as many states as there were nationalities, with the southern Slavs gathered into a large state ruled by the Serbian dynasty, and the Czechs and Slovaks united into a Czechoslovakia. Poland was to be an independent state in this case as well, a buffer between Germany and the Soviet Union.

The war turned around rapidly as the Allies began to win on the western front in wake of the failed offensives at Ludendorf. The French Marshal Foch began a counter-offensive on August 8, 1918, and another one was launched from Salonika by the Allied army under General Franchet d'Esperey. Within a few weeks, hopes for victory changed sides. On September 29, Bulgaria became the first nation to lay down its arms, quickly followed by Turkey; the allied army was now permitted to occupy Bulgaria and the Straits, and to liberate Serbia and Rumania from where they could directly attack Austro-Hungarian territory. Simultaneously, Italian troops under Marshal Diaz began an offensive which led to an armistice with Austria-Hungary on November 4, 1918, followed by armistice with Germany one week later.

In autumn 1918, the victory of the Entente powers seemed to be a victory of the people over the monarchs. Three great empires, those of the Habsburgs, the Hohenzollerns and the Romanovs, had crumbled in the turmoil.

The people of these empires were about to become masters of their own fate. But would they be able to assume this weighty legacy? Could they live as good neighbors, forgetting their differences and working to build a future of peace and fraternity in this part of Europe? Or, on the contrary, would national antagonisms and various rivalries set them against each other?

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