WWI: Plans for Hague Peace Conference

On Tuesday 14th July Dr. M. Yovanovitch, the Serbian Chargé d’Affaires at Berlin, telegraphed to Nikola Pašić, the Prime Minister of Serbia and Minister for Foreign Affairs:

The Secretary of State has told me that he could not understand the provocative attitude of the Serbian press and the attacks made by it against Austria-Hungary, who, as a Great Power, could not tolerate such proceedings.


The same day, M. Yov. M. Yovanovitch, the Serbian Minister at Vienna, wrote to Nikola Pašić:

Once more public opinion has been excited against us by the Literary Bureau of the Austro-Hungarian Ministry for Foreign Affairs [the Korrespondenzbureau]. With the exception of the Zeit and the Arbeiter Zeitung, all the Austro-Hungarian newspapers have obtained from that Bureau the material and tone of their articles on the subject of the Serajevo outrage. You have yourself seen what kind of material and tone this is.

Neue Freie Presse 14 July 1914I am reliably informed that official German circles here are especially ill-disposed towards us. These circles have had some influence upon the writings of the Vienna press, especially upon those of the Neue Freie Presse.

This latter paper is still anti-Serbian à l’outrance. The Neue Freie Presse, which is widely read and has many friends in high financial circles, and which–if so desired–writes in accordance with instructions from the Vienna Press Bureau, briefly summarises the matter as follows:

“We have to settle matters with Serbia by war; it is evident that peaceable means are of no avail. And if it must come to war sooner or later, then it is better to see the matter through now.”

The Bourse is very depressed. There has not been such a fall in prices in Vienna for a long time. Some securities have fallen 45 kronen.

That day, the Serbian Prime Minister telegraphed to “All the Serbian Legations Abroad” two long messages.

The first outlined the Serbian view of the Austrian press:

(1) The Austrian Korrespondenzbureau is showing a marked tendency to excite public opinion in Europe. This Bureau interprets neither correctly nor sincerely the tone adopted by the Belgrade press. It selects the strongest expressions from such articles as contain replies to insults, threats and false news designed to mislead public opinion, and submits them to the Austro-Hungarian public.

(2) The Korrespondenzbureau quotes especially extracts from articles from those Serbian newspapers which are not the organs of any party or corporation.

(3) As far back as the annexation crisis, Austria-Hungary prohibited the entry into the country of all Serbian political and other newspapers, and thus our Press would not be in a position to excite public opinion in Austria-Hungary and Europe if the Neue Freie Presse did not lay stress on and spread broadcast the items of news which it gathers from various Serbian papers, in every instance exaggerating them. Six days ago the entry into Austria-Hungary of the Odyek, the organ of the Independent Radical Party [Samostalna demokratska srpska strank], was prohibited, thus all our papers are now prevented from entering Austria-Hungary.

(4) With us the press is absolutely free. Newspapers can be confiscated only for lèse-majesté or for revolutionary propaganda; in all other cases confiscation is illegal. There is no censorship of newspapers.

In these circumstances, you should point out for their information, where necessary, that we have no other constitutional or legal means at our disposal for the control of our press. Nevertheless, when the articles in our papers are compared with those of Austria-Hungary, it is evident that the Austro-Hungarian papers originate the controversy, while ours merely reply.

Please also emphasise the fact that public opinion in Serbia is relatively calm, and that there is no desire on our part to provoke and insult Austria-Hungary. No one in Europe would know what our newspapers were writing if the Korrespondenzbureau did not publish these items of news with the intention of doing as much harm as possible to Serbia.

Somewhat later the same day, the Serbian Prime Minister again telegraphed all the legations abroad:

During the past few days the Austro-Hungarian newspapers have been spreading reports to the effect that there have been demonstrations at Belgrade against the Austro-Hungarian Legation, that some Hungarian journalists were killed; that Austro-Hungarian subjects in Belgrade were maltreated and are now panic-stricken; that at the funeral of the late M. Hartwig Serbian students made a demonstration against the Austro-Hungarian Minister, &c. All these reports are absolutely untrue and imaginary. Complete calm prevails in Belgrade and there were no demonstrations of any kind this year, nor has there been any question of disorder. Not only do the Austro-Hungarian Minister and his staff walk about the town without being molested in any way, but no Austro-Hungarian subject has been in any way insulted, either by word or deed, as is reported by the Viennese papers; still less was any attack made upon the house of any Austro-Hungarian subject or were any of their windows broken. Not a single Austro-Hungarian subject has had the slightest cause for any complaint. All these false reports are being purposely spread in order to arouse and excite Austro-Hungarian public opinion against Serbia.

The whole of Belgrade and the entire diplomatic body were present to-day at the funeral of the late M. Hartwig; there was not the slightest sign of resentment shown by anybody. During the whole ceremony exemplary order was maintained; so much so that foreigners were impressed with the good behaviour of the crowd, which was such as does not always prevail on similar occasions even in their own countries.

Be good enough to communicate the above to the Government to which you are accredited and to the press.

On the same day the German Ambassador in Vienna, Heinrich von Tschirschky telegraphed to Kaiser Wilhelm II, then on his annual North Sea cruise:

The Count [von Bertchtold] told me that he had been the man who had always advised prudence, but that every day had strengthened his opinion that the Monarchy must come to an energetic decision in order to give proof of its vitality and put an end to the intolerable state of affairs existing in the south-east. As to the time for the delivery [of an ultimatum] to Serbia, it has been decided that it would be better to await the departure of [the French leader] Poincaré from St. Petersburg on July 25th.

Wilhelm wrote on the telegram: That is too bad.

The First Hague Peace Conference was held in 1899 and the second in 1907. On 14th July 1914 in the House of Commons, Philip Morrell, the Liberal MP for Burnley, asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs:

whether the suggestions made by the United States of America for the formation of an International Committee to prepare for the third Hague Conference have yet been finally approved by His Majesty’s Government; whether they have received the assent of any other Powers; whether the proposed Inter-departmental Committee to advise His Majesty’s Government as to the views to be put forward at the Conference on behalf of this country has yet been formed; what Member of the Cabinet is to preside over it; and whether the date of the Conference has yet been fixed?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was, in 1914, Sir Edward Grey, Viscount Grey of Fallodon, the Liberal MP for Berwick-on-Tweed. His answer was, in part:

We have not heard what views other Powers have expressed on the proposals of the United States Government, but on the 29th ultimo we received an invitation from the Netherland Government to send a representative to an International Committee to meet at The Hague on 1st June, 1915.

We are accepting this invitation, but with the same comment as we made respecting the proposal of the United States Government. In accordance with the resolution passed by The Hague Conference of 1907, the next Conference should meet not earlier than two years after the assembly of the International Committee.

The third Hague Peace Conference was held in May 1999 on “The Peaceful Settlement of Disputes: Prospects for the Twenty-First Century”.

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