WWI: Four letters from Vienna

M. Yov. M. Yovanovitch, the Serbian Minister at Vienna, wrote three letters to Nikola Pašić, the Prime Minister of Serbia and Minister for Foreign Affairs from Vienna on 15th July 1914.


The most important question for us is, what, if any, are the intentions of the Austro-Hungarian Government as regards the Serajevo outrage. Until now I have been unable to find this out, and my other colleagues are in a similar position. The word has now been passed round here not to tell anybody anything.

The evening before last the Ministers of the Dual Monarchy held a meeting. It has not been possible to learn anything about the object and the result of this meeting. The communiqué issued on the subject was brief and obscure. It appears that the consequences of the Serajevo outrage were discussed at length, but that nothing was decided. It is not clear whether the Chief of Staff [Conrad von Hotzendorf] and the Naval Commander-in-Chief [Anton Haus] were present, as was rumoured. After this meeting Count Berchtold travelled to Ischl to report to the Emperor, who, after the funeral of Franz Ferdinand, had returned there to recover his health. In the Hungarian Parliament Count Tisza has replied to the interpelations of the opposition concerning the Serajevo incident; you are acquainted with his statements. His speech was not clear, and I believe it was intentionally obscure. Some people saw in it signs of an intention quietly to await the development of events and of calmness in the attitude of the Austro-Hungarian Government, while others saw in it hidden intentions for (I should say) an action as yet undecided. It was noted that there was no occasion for haste until the results of the magisterial enquiry were announced. Some time has now elapsed; the matter has been spoken of, discussed, written about and distorted; then came the death of Hartwig and the alarm of Baron Giesl. In connection with this again came the interpellations addressed to Count Tisza in the Hungarian Parliament; you have read his reply. Many hold the opinion here that this second speech is much more restrained than the first, and that this is to be attributed to an order from the Emperor. (The Bourse has now recovered; both the War Minister [Alexander von Krobatin] and the Chief of Staff have gone on leave.) I am loath to express an opinion. In the above-mentioned speech it is to be noted that the possibility of war is not excluded, in the event of the demands of Austria-Hungary in regard to the Serajevo outrage not being complied with.

One thing is certain: Austria-Hungary will take diplomatic steps at Belgrade as soon as the magisterial enquiry at Serajevo is completed and the matter submitted to the Court.

The meeting of the Ministers would have taken place after receiving the telegram from Friedrich von Wiesner that there was no evidence to tie the government of Serbia to the Sarajevo assassination.


It is thought here that the magisterial enquiries and investigations have not produced sufficient evidence to justify bringing an official accusation against Serbia, but it is believed that the latter will be accused of tolerating within her borders certain revolutionary elements. Diplomatic circles here criticise and condemn the mode of procedure of the Austro-Hungarian Government, especially the attitude throughout of the Korrespondenzbureau and the Vienna press. There are many who consider our attitude to be correct and in accordance with the dignity of a nation. They find fault only with the views expressed in some of our newspapers, though they admit that it is provoked by the Vienna press.

In spite of the fact that it appears that the German Foreign Office [Gottlieb von Jagow] does not approve of the anti-Serbian policy of Vienna, the German Embassy here is at this very moment encouraging such a policy.


What steps will be taken ? In what form ? What demands will Austria-Hungary make of Serbia ? I do not believe that to-day even the Ballplatz itself could answer these questions clearly and precisely. I am of opinion that its plans are now being laid, and that again Count Forgach is the moving spirit.

In an earlier report I mentioned that Austria-Hungary has to choose between two courses: either to make the Serajevo outrage a domestic question, inviting us to assist her to discover and punish the culprits; or to make it a case against the Serbians and Serbia, and even against the Jugo-Slavs. After taking into considerations all that is being prepared and done, it appears to me that Austria- Hungary will choose the latter course. Austria-Hungary will do this in the belief that she will have the approval of Europe. Why should she not profit by humiliating us, and, to a certain extent, justify the Friedjung and Agram trials ? Besides, Austria-Hungary desires in this manner to justify in the eyes of her own people and of Europe the sharp and reactionary measures which she contemplates undertaking internally in order to suppress the Great Serbian propaganda and the Jugo-Slav idea. Finally, for the sake of her prestige, Austrian Hungary must take some action in the belief that she will thus raise her prestige internally as well as externally.

Austria-Hungary will, l think, draw up in the form of a memorandum an accusation against Serbia. In that accusation will be set forth all the evidence that has been collected against us since April, 1909, until to-day; and I believe that this accusation will be fairly lengthy. Austria-Hungary will communicate this accusation to the Cabinets of the European Powers with the remark that the facts contained therein give her the right to take diplomatic steps at Belgrade, and to demand that Serbia should in the future fulfil all the obligations of a loyal neighbour. At the same time Austria-Hungary will also hand us a note containing her demands, which we shall be requested to accept unconditionally.

Bosnian Crisis 1908-1909In April 1909 the Treaty of Berlin was amended to reflect what had become the geopolitical reality: on 6th October 1908, Austria-Hungary had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was until then officially within the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire – to protests from all of their neighbours. They scheduled this to happen the day after Bulgaria declared independence from the Ottoman Empire: 5th October 1906. Nearly six years after this unilateral annexation, relations between Russia and Austria-Hungary were not cordial, and between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, both strongly feared and mistrusted each other: Serbia maintained that Bosnia and Herzegovina should have become Serbian.

Alfred Dumaine, the French Ambassador at Vienna, wrote to René Viviani, President of the Council and Minister for Foreign Affairs, from Vienna, on 15th July 1914:

Certain organs of the Vienna Press, discussing the military organization of France and of Russia, represent these it two countries as incapable of holding their own in European affairs; this would ensure to the Dual Monarchy supported by Germany appreciable facilities for subjecting Servia to any treatment which it might be pleased to impose. The Militärische Rundschau frankly admits it. ” The moment is still favourable to us. If we do not decide for war, that war in which we shall have to engage at the latest in two or three years will be begun in far less propitious circumstances. At this moment the initiative rests with us: Russia is not ready, moral factors and right are on our side, as well as might. Since we shall have to accept the contest some day, let us provoke it at once. Our prestige, our position as a Great Power, our honour, are in question; and yet more, for it would seem that our very existence is concerned — to be or not to be — which is in truth the great matter to-day.”

Surpassing itself, the Neue Freie Presse of to-day reproaches Count Tisza for the moderation of his second speech, in which he said, “Our relations with Servia require, however, to be made clear.” These words rouse its indignation. For it, tranquillity and security can result only from a war to the knife against Pan-Servism, and it is in the name of humanity that it demands the extermination of the cursed Servian race.

1 Comment

Filed under World War I

One response to “WWI: Four letters from Vienna

  1. As this series of letters continue, it seems that a combination of vanity and pride was as much to blame for the beginning of this terrible war. Once again, Nationalism, Pride, and all that comes with them, seem to be the source of man’s undoing. This has been very interesting, to get the chance to see what was going on very much ‘behind the scenes’.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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