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19: Toward World War I

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It was not before the Revolution of 1905 that the outside world realized the importance of the nationalities problem in the Russian Empire. Before that internal crisis, aggravated by simultaneous defeats in the war with Japan, that empire seemed so powerful that the dissatisfaction of its minority groups appeared not to be too serious. Furthermore, in contradiction to the Habsburg monarchy, where no nationality constituted an absolute majority, in the empire of the czars the Russian majority seemed the more overwhelming because, according to the official interpretation which was accepted by Western scholarship, the Little Russians, as the Ukrainians continued to be called, and the White Russians were not really nationalities that differed from the Great Russians.

    However, at least the former of these two, by far the largest non-Russian group, were making steady progress in their national consciousness which already toward the end of the nineteenth century created a serious revolutionary movement. Furthermore, together with the Byelorussians, the Ukrainians were living in that same western section of European Russia—the most advanced of the whole empire—where several other nationalities, clearly distinct from the Russians, were forming a belt of foreign elements along the whole western frontier. This situation in the large part of East Central Europe which Russia had annexed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, but never succeeded in absorbing, was therefore a much greater threat to the unity of the empire than the ethnic problems of its Asiatic part or even those of the Caucasian frontier region.

    But Russian nationalism which was at its height under Alexander III and during the first part of the reign of Nicholas II, and which was strongly supported by their autocratic regimes succeeded in keeping even the most fully developed nationalities at the western border under a strict control, intensifying all methods of Russification. Therefore for forty years even the Poles had to interrupt their armed struggle for independence, and though always in close cultural community with their kinsmen in Prussia and Austria, they had to postpone their hopes for liberation and political unification, making instead a great effort in the field of economic and social progress. That so-called “organic labor,” taking advantage of a beginning industrialization of Russian Poland, contributed to a rapid democratization of Polish society in the Western sense. This was promoted by two political parties that were founded toward the end of the century, the National Democratic Party under Roman Dmowski and the Polish Socialist Party with Joseph Pilsudski as its most prominent leader, both with branches in the other sections of partitioned Poland. Both had national independence as their ultimate goal. This, however. seemed very distant, even to the friends whom the Poles continued to have in the Western countries.

    In these countries, besides the Poles, only one of the submerged nationalities of the Russian Empire was sufficiently known to meet with sympathetic understanding. These were the Finns, whose autonomy, after being respected by the czars almost throughout the nineteenth century, was severely restricted under Nicholas II. The Finns, who had never revolted before, reacted by killing General Bobrikov, who as governor of Finland from 1898 on consistently violated their rights, but this assassination made the situation only worse. The Finnish Diet lost its constitutional powers, and Russian officials as well as the Russian language were penetrating into the grand duchy. Both the Finnish majority of the population and the small but culturally important Swedish group were, however, so determined to defend their tradition, so deeply attached to their democratic way of life, and in such well-established contact with the Western world through Scandinavia, that Russian oppression simply created another center of resistance there.

    The Estonians on the other side of the Gulf of Finland, though racially close kin of the Finns and influenced by their cultural revival, continued to develop, along with the Latvians, in opposition to both Russification and German social supremacy in the Baltic provinces. Landmarks in the rise of Estonian nationalism were the compilation of the national epic, Kalevipoeg, published between 1857 and 1861, and the foundation of a collection of all kinds of popular traditions under the title of Monumenta Estoniae antiquae a little later. Similarly, the Latvians created their own epic, Lacplesis, and started a collection of popular songs which contributed to the awakening of a truly national spirit. This was further augmented among both of these small ethnic groups by the foundation of cultural societies and newspapers in the native languages, as well as by an interest in archaeological research reviving their prehistory, the only period in which they had been completely free.

    Different in that respect was the Lithuanian national renaissance because here a proud medieval tradition of independence could be evoked. New, however, was the tendency to disregard the tradition of the Polish-Lithuanian Union which had resulted in a Polonization of the upper classes, and to base the new Lithuanian nationalism on ethnic and linguistic grounds. Writing in the Lithuanian language was making progress in spite of all restrictions imposed by the czarist regime. The first Lithuanian periodical, founded in Tilsit, East Prussia, in 1883 under the name of Ausra (Dawn), was regularly smuggled into the Russian-controlled country and its editor, Dr. Jonas Basanavicius, became the leader of a national movement which created secret Lithuanian schools and societies.

    Even in the Lithuanian case there was, however, no clearly expressed political aim before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1905. That revolution was primarily of a social and constitutional character. This was also the case among the non-Russian nationalities which first joined the movement with a view to replacing czarist absolutism by a parliamentary form of government. While among the Russian revolutionaries there were only differences among more or less radical parties, socialist and liberal, the socialist already divided into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, the program of the various nationalities had a basically twofold aspect which recalled the role of the non-Germans in the Austrian Revolution of 1848. In all the various ethnic groups there were radical forces that were chiefly interested in a change of social conditions. But the nationalist leaders at once realized that a constitutional reform of the empire would be a unique occasion for obtaining equal rights at least in the field of cultural development. And the trend toward federalism which used to appear among all Russian revolutionaries, beginning with the Decembrists of 1825, seemed to favor the rising claims for national autonomy.

    Autonomy could not satisfy the Poles, as the events of the preceding century had shown so many times, and the Polish Socialist Party of Pilsudski, decidedly aiming at full independence, was completely apart from the so-called “Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania” which put social revolution first. The National Democrats under Dmowski, however, considered it more realistic to work for autonomy as a preliminary step and to take advantage of the opportunities which the czar’s October Manifesto and the creation of the Duma seemed to offer.

    In that first Russian Parliament which opened on May 10, 1906, the Poles, along with other national groups, had indeed a fairly large representation. They continued to cooperate with the Russian liberals not only in the second but also in the third Duma in which the number of their deputies was greatly reduced and the representation of all other nationalities became insignificant. The failure of these latter can be explained not only by the repression of the whole revolutionary movement but also by the lack of clearly defined programs. Only in Finland, which claimed, of course, the re-establishment of her constitutional government, was that aim achieved in November, 1905. But even the Lithuanian Diet, which assembled in Wilno (Vilnius) at the beginning of the following month and which decidedly claimed an autonomous Lithuania with her own parliament, though federated with the other states of the former empire, received only vague promises from the local Russian authorities which were completely disregarded after the doom of the revolution. The social element definitely prevailed in the Ukrainian movement, and even more among the Latvians and Estonians, who like all other nationalities were hoping for some kind of autonomy and claimed it in the first Duma, but chiefly turned against the German landowners only to be ruthlessly repressed by Russian troops.

    What the non-Russian nationalities gained through the 1905 Revolution was therefore very little and mainly of a temporary character. The most shocking restrictions as, for instance, the interdiction of Lithuanian publications printed in the Latin alphabet or the almost complete prohibition of publications in the Ukrainian language, were lifted, thus making possible some progress in the development of national culture. The edict of April, 1905, granting religious tolerance, but not for the Uniate church, was followed by the passing of many former Uniates from Orthodoxy to Catholicism of the Latin rite. The Poles, though disappointed like all the others in their hopes for any autonomy, were at least permitted to open private schools in their own language under the auspices of a voluntary society. But when even that private organization was abolished at the end of 1907, this was a clear indication that the growing reaction which followed after the revolution would also turn against the most modest rights of the non-Russian nationalities. Among several other measures directed particularly against the Poles, the separation of the Cheim district from Congress Poland, where conditions were still somewhat better than in the rest of the empire, which had been announced in 1909 and was carried out three years later, was particularly resented.

    At the same time the old program of Pan-Slavism was revived under the misleading name of “Neo-Slavism,” which was to distinguish it from the earlier movement under an openly Russian leadership. Even now, however, there was no place for the Ukrainians in the Slavic community. And even the Poles, among whom Dmowski had favored the new conception, were soon completely disillusioned and ceased to participate in these Slavic congresses. Dmowski’s own attitude can only be understood in the light of his conviction that Poland’s main enemy was Germany, where indeed the anti-Polish policy of the Prussian government was reaching its climax. However, not only many Poles but also other Slavs, discouraged by Russian imperialism, were looking toward the third of the empires which had divided Poland and, in general, East Central Europe. This was the Habsburg monarchy where the problem of nationalities continued to be discussed in an entirely different spirit from that which prevailed in Russia after the interlude of 1905 and in spite of Russia’s entente with the democratic powers of Western Europe.


The whole history of Austria-Hungary from its constitution as a dual monarchy to its fall half a century later is the instructive story of a serious effort to solve the problem of a multinational state with an unusually complicated composition and structure, particularly after the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878. The annexation of these two provinces, thirty years later, though a natural consequence of the occupation and continued administration, provoked another international crisis which once more disclosed the intimate connection between the internal nationalities problem and the foreign policy of the monarchy.

    In order to understand that connection, it must be remembered that the numerous nationalities of Austria-Hungary were clearly divided into two groups. The really important distinction is, however, not that usually made between the so-called historic and non-historic nationalities, but that between nations which in their entirety were living within the boundaries of the monarchy, and fragments of nations whose larger part was outside these frontiers. As to the latter, an additional distinction must be made between such minorities as were attracted by an independent national state on the other side of the border, as was the case of the Italians, Serbs, and Rumanians, and those nations which had no state of their own at all, their major part remaining under a foreign rule much more oppressive than that of the Habsburgs. This was the case of the Poles and the Ukrainians.

    The relatively most numerous group, the German Austrians or Austrian Germans, could hardly be placed in any of these categories. If their German character is emphasized, they would seem to be in a situation analogous to that of the Italian, Serb, or Rumanian “irredenta.” And there was indeed among them a certain number of Pan-Germanists with a loyalty divided between Berlin and Vienna if not influenced more by the former than by the latter. Conscious of a racial and linguistic community and inspired by the tradition of the Holy Roman Empire, they were disappointed at not belonging to that second purely German Empire which the Hohenzollerns were making much more powerful than the empire of the Habsburgs where the Germans had to share their influence with almost a dozen other nationalities. But on the other hand, only by remaining in the Dual Monarchy could these Austrian Germans continue to control these other groups, all of which were economically and socially weaker than the Germans and, according to the German interpretation, on a lower cultural level. And only through the Austrian Germans could the Habsburg monarchy be kept under the political influence, if not direction, of the new German Empire as its “brilliant second.” Furthermore, there were many German-speaking Austrians who were indeed first, if not exclusively, loyal subjects of the Habsburgs, who were definitely opposed to the Prussian spirit which inspired the Reich of the Hohenzollerns, who were devoted to the separate Austrian tradition and interested in what they considered their historic mission of unifying the Danubian region in cooperation with its non-German populations.

    How far these German Austrians, practically a distinct nationality, would go in recognizing the equal rights of the non-German nationalities of Austria, that was another problematic question. In any event they had to recognize the equal rights guaranteed to the Hungarians in the Compromise of 1867, and it was only natural for them to do so, since the Hungarians, or strictly speaking, the Magyars of Hungary just one-half of the kingdom’s population were next to the German Austrians most interested in the existence of the Dual Monarchy in which they enjoyed a privileged position. And since most of the Magyar leaders, fearful of Slavic influence, were also in favor of the alliance with the German Empire, their understanding with all Germans of Austria was one of the foundations of the whole policy of the monarchy, internal and external, irrespective of the claims of the German minority in Hungary and of occasional friction in the parliamentary delegations, chiefly on financial issues.

    Even jointly, however, Germans and Magyars, about twenty-two millions, were inferior in number to the twenty-four million Slavs of the monarchy. And without even speaking of almost totally Slavic Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the Austrian part the Slavs constituted more than two-thirds of the population. Fully aware of the impossibility of keeping that Austrian part under the supremacy of the German minority which thanks to an unfair electoral law continued even after 1867, prime minister Count Edward Taaffe, of Irish descent, who was appointed to his office in 1879 and held it for fourteen years, decided to base his administration on the respect of nationality rights. He was supported by the Poles, who at least had the chance of free cultural life only in Austria, and who gradually developed the self-government of Galicia. He was also supported by most of the Czechs who under the Taaffe regime received numerous concessions. These included the opening of a Czech university in Prague in 1882 alongside the old one which had long since been Germanized. Along with all the other Slavic nationalities they profited from new regulations with regard to respect for their linguistic rights. The social progress made during these same years was to be implemented by a democratic reform of the electoral law.

    But when that project was attacked by both conservatives and radicals, the Germans, who had always been opposed to the Taaffe ministry which as they said kept them in an “iron ring,” reversed it at last. And it was only three years later that another prime minister, this time a Pole, Count Casimir Badeni, returned to the idea of similar reforms in the direction of both a strict enforcement of linguistic equality and a gradual extension of the right to vote. The following year, however, Badeni fell victim to German obstructionism in parliament and it was not until 1907 that universal equal suffrage was established in Austria.

    Prime Minister Baron Beck who carried out that reform, as well as the emperor who approved it in spite of his conservative leanings, hoped that a larger representation of the Left, concerned with class interests, would reduce the friction among the various nationalities. But at the same time the representation of the non-German peoples was increased, and it soon became obvious that the lower classes too, including the peasant parties and to a certain extent even the Socialists, were animated by strong nationalist feelings which continued to create difficulties in the legislature, whether central or provincial, and in the administration. Even minor issues affecting the weakest of the various national groups aroused a great deal of excitement, a frequently quoted example being the dispute over the opening of a Sloven high school in the town of Celje (Cilli) in southern Styria.

    Like most of the others, that province had an ethnically mixed population so that the autonomy of the various Crownlands was no solution to the problem. Therefore, among the many projects of fundamental change which were supposed to put an end to all these conflicts, was also the idea of cultural autonomy for each individual person. This was favored by some Socialist leaders. Projects of territorial readjustment seemed to have more chances of success but encountered basic difficulties. First, in many cases there were different nationalities in one and the same territory, with German minorities scattered almost everywhere, sometimes in isolated islands. Among the conflicts between non-Germans, that between Poles and Ruthenians was the more intricate. There were many Poles even in the predominantly Ruthenian eastern part of Galicia, particularly in Lwow and other cities. The Ruthenians themselves were divided into Ukrainian nationalists and the so-called Old Ruthenians who considered themselves a branch of the Russian nation. Equally tense were the relations between Italians and Slavs—Slovenes, or Croats—in the maritime provinces. But by far the greatest difficulty resulted from the position of Hungary in the dualistic system that was fixed in 1867.

    After Deák’s death in 1876, the trend toward Magyarization of all other nationalities of the kingdom became even stronger, and an electoral law, much less democratic than in Austria and quite unsatisfactory even when eventually reformed in 1913, gave these nationalities no chance for a fair representation in the Hungarian Parliament. Thus, for instance, the Slovaks remained not only separated from the Czechs but in a much less favorable position; such was the position of the Rumanians in Transylvania if compared with those of the Austrian Bukovina. Yet any change in the “Compromise” which would have ameliorated the conditions of the various nationalities in either part of the monarchy was excluded by the Magyars. Their Independence Party was claiming, on the contrary, additional concessions from the common ruler. Furthermore, even Croatia’s autonomy was hardly respected, particularly during the long period when a Hungarian, Count Khuen-Héderváry, governed that kingdom as ban.

    The controversies between Magyars and Croats were a special danger because they opened the whole Yugoslav question, certainly the most thorny aspect of the nationalities problem in the monarchy. In spite of the old rivalries which separated Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs, both speaking the same language, the movement toward Yugoslav unity, including also the Slovenes, was making progress, as evidenced in the Fiume Resolution of 1905. Yet some of these Yugoslavs were under Austria, facing either German or Italian antagonism in five different provinces. Others were under a joint Austro-Hungarian administration in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Serbs of Hungary proper had special reasons to complain, and since even autonomous Croatia-Slavonia now had to suffer from Magyar penetration, there was among practically all these southern Slavs a dissatisfaction greater than among any other national group and an unrest which was increased by influences coming from the independent Yugoslav states of Serbia and Montenegro.

    There appeared, therefore, among the politicians and writers who saw the necessity for a further federalization of the Habsburg monarchy, the bold idea of changing its dualistic into a trialistic structure which would give to the Yugoslav part a position equal to that of the Austrian and the Hungarian. However, such a solution, which was not unacceptable to the Germans since it would have reduced the number of Slavs in Austria, was always rejected by the Magyars as a threat to the territorial integrity of the kingdom of St. Stephen and to their favorable position in a partnership of two states only. Furthermore, such a concession to the Yugoslavs meant a revival of the Czech claims for a restoration of their historic statehood. And most important, even if trialism were adopted, the Yugoslav question was one of those which could not be completely solved within the limits of the Habsburg monarchy since Serbia and Montenegro obviously had no desire of being included.

    On the contrary, their fear of Austro-Hungarian imperialism was greatly increased when in 1908 the inclusion of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the monarchy became final through the formal annexation of that territory. Therefore that step which changed little in the internal problems of the Habsburg realm had immediate repercussions in international relations and contributed to another of those European crises which threatened the peace of the Continent almost from the beginning of the twentieth century.


At the beginning of the twentieth century, the peace of Europe which, except in the Balkans, had not been disturbed since 1871, seemed so well established that wars in distant extra-European lands, in which some of the leading European powers were engaged, had no repercussions in Europe itself. This is even true for the most important of these wars, the Russo-Japanese, which in spite of the simultaneous revolution in Russia was not used by any of her neighbors to threaten her security in the West. On the contrary, a few months before peace was made with Japan at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a Russian-German alliance was negotiated at Björkö, in the Baltic region, where Czar Nicholas II and Emperor Wilhelm II met on July 24, 1905.

    If that treaty, which was a return to an old tradition, and, in view of the German-Austrian alliance, to the conception of the Three Emperors  League, never came into force, it was because it seemed incompatible with the earlier French-Russian alliance. This, in connection with the Anglo-French Entente of 1904, was to lead to the Triple Entente of France, Britain, and Russia which from 1907 opposed these three powers to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. But even that alignment seemed no immediate threat to international peace but rather the establishment of a durable balance of power in Europe.

    From 1905 onward, however, there followed a whole series of crises which made it quite clear that such a balance, precarious as usual, was no guaranty against clashes of conflicting interests among the great powers. Some of these issues, particularly the dangerous Morocco crises of 1905—1906, 1908—1909 (the Casablanca incident), and 1911, had little if anything to do with the real aspirations of the European peoples and certainly nothing with those of the peoples of East Central Europe. It was therefore only natural that Austria-Hungary, the only great power which had no colonial ambitions and instead had so many internal problems typical of the unsettled conditions in East Central Europe, avoided any direct entanglements in these problems, although the Habsburg monarchy remained faithful to the Triple Alliance. In general, Austro-Hungarian foreign policy remained cautious and well balanced so long as it was directed by Count Agenor Goluchowski, a son of the Polish statesman of the same name who fifty years before had played such a constructive part in the internal politics of the monarchy.

    But in 1906 Goluchowski was replaced as foreign minister by Baron (later count) Alois von Aehrenthal, an ambitious diplomat who after long negotiations at the Buchlau conference of September, 1908, accepted a proposal of the equally ambitious Russian foreign minister Alexander Izvolsky. This proposal was strangely similar to that which preceded the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now, forty years later, Russia offered Austria-Hungary her consent to the final annexation of these provinces on the condition that the Habsburg monarchy would in turn consent to opening the Straits to Russian warships. The whole delicate Eastern question was thus reopened. As usual, it affected not only the Ottoman Empire and all powers interested in its fate but also the non-Turkish peoples of the Balkan Peninsula, who were liberated only in part and looking for a final division of the European territories still held by Turkey.

    This was, however, not the only reason why the announcement of the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary, on the sixth of October of the same year, combined with the proclamation of Bulgaria’s full independence under “Czar” or King Ferdinand I, provoked a particularly violent European crisis which this time created the greatest possible interest among all peoples of East Central Europe, especially the Slavs. Izvolsky complained that Aehrenthal made his announcement by surprise and without waiting for approval of the Russo-Austrian deal by the other powers which, as a matter of fact, opposed the opening of the Straits to Russia only. The latter therefore gained nothing and proved to be as indignant about Austria-Hungary’s unilateral action as were France and Britain.

    Nevertheless an open conflict was avoided, since the countries which were directly touched by the annexation felt obliged to recognize it. So did Turkey, still formally the sovereign of the two provinces but with little hope of ever regaining possession of them and therefore satisfied with financial compensation. Serbia resented that final incorporation of a territory with a predominantly Serbian population by Austria-Hungary even more than the occupation of 1878. Besides, under King Peter—a Karageorgevich who after the assassination of Alexander in 1903 had again replaced the Obrenovich dynasty—the Serbs had rather bad relations with Austria-Hungary. But even Serbia finally accepted the accomplished fact. In her note of March 31, 1909, she admitted that her rights had not been affected and she even promised to change her policy toward the Habsburg monarchy in a spirit of friendly neighborliness.

    Serbia had to do this because Russia was at that moment not prepared to go to war. She was, however, aware that the czarist empire remained as resentful as herself, and more than ever before she regarded Russia as her only real friend and protector. She also looked for compensation in another direction, though Austria-Hungary was opposed to any further change of the status quo in the Balkans. But the lasting tension which resulted from the annexation crisis did not line up all the Slavic peoples of Europe against the Habsburg monarchy, which was supported by Germany. Not only was Bulgaria, which herself had profited from the crisis, now rather inclined toward the Triple Alliance to which her Rumanian neighbor had also formally adhered as early as 1883, but many of those Slavs who suffered from Russian domination and were better treated in Austria were preparing themselves for another struggle against Czardom in case of an Austrian-Russian war which seemed to be only postponed. Such was the program of the Polish independence movement under Pilsudski, who started military preparations in Galicia. But even those Poles who continued to regard Austria’s German ally as their main enemy, and in general all peoples who hoped for an improvement in their condition, saw a serious chance in any conflict among the empires which controlled East Central Europe.

    The first conflict which broke out soon after the annexation crisis was another war against the Ottoman Empire which the liberated Balkan states, encouraged by Turkey’s defeat in the Tripolitan War against Italy, started in October, 1912. All neighbors of what still was European Turkey, not only Serbia and Bulgaria—in a rather exceptional agreement—but also little Montenegro, a kingdom since 1910, which first declared war, and Greece, disappointed by the outcome of her isolated struggle with Turkey in 1897, were convinced that even without any assistance from the great powers they could completely free the Balkans from Turkish rule which after the revolution of the Young Turks in 1909 was even more nationalistic than under the corrupt regime of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

    The allies indeed made astonishing progress, including a victory of the Serbs near the place where medieval Serbia had fallen in 1389 and an advance of the Bulgarians almost to the gates of Constantinople, similar to that of their ancestors a thousand years before. The dream of retaking the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which also inspired the Greeks, did not come true, but in spite of a reorganization of their forces under Enver Bey, the Turks also lost the second phase of the first Balkan War. After an armistice and preliminary negotiations under the auspices of the great powers, in the treaty which was eventually signed in London, on May 30, 1913, they had to cede all territories west of a line drawn from Media on the Black Sea to Enos on the Aegean. In Europe this left them hardly more than Constantinople and the coast of the Straits.

    But it remained to be decided how these territories would be divided among the victors. That problem, difficult in itself because the largest section, Macedonia, with her mixed population, had been a trouble spot for many years, was made even more intricate by big power interference. Not only was Bulgaria requested to cede part of Dobrudja to Rumania, which had remained neutral, but Austria-Hungary, opposed to an aggrandizement of Serbia to the Adriatic coast, pressed with Italy’s support for the creation of an independent Albania under a German prince on a territory which she wanted to enlarge at the expense of the claims of Serbia and Montenegro. When Serbia, in secret alliance with Greece, tried to get compensation in the part of Macedonia originally assigned to Bulgaria, that country, encouraged by the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, attacked her former allies.

    In the second Balkan war which thus started, Bulgaria also had to fight against the Rumanians and the Turks. In the Treaty of Bucharest, signed on August 10, 1913, Bulgaria lost even more of Dobrudja to Rumania, Adrianople to the Turks, and Macedonia to Serbia and Greece which received a common frontier. Although access to the Aegean Sea was left to them, the Bulgarians remained deeply resentful toward Russia, which seemed to favor the other side. But Serbia too felt humiliated and disappointed when, after a few more months of tension, which the London discussions of the great powers tried with little success to mitigate, the Austrian ultimatum of the 18th of October forced the Serbian army to evacuate what was declared to be Albanian territory.

    What was deplorable in the final outcome of the two Balkan wars was not the attribution of this or that territory or the drafting in detail of the new frontiers. In ethnically mixed regions, these boundaries had to be based on compromise. In general, the restoration of almost the whole peninsula to the peoples of that region, constituted as independent states, including Albania, was a fair solution. But besides the renewed antagonism between Bulgaria and her neighbors, especially Serbia, the interference of the great powers, in disagreement among themselves, left general dissatisfaction behind and projected their rivalries into a part of Europe which after so many centuries of foreign domination and penetration was in an atmosphere of excitement even after complete liberation.

    It seems, therefore, that the so-called European concert which was meeting in London contributed to creating a situation leading to much deeper conflicts in the future, even though it succeeded in localizing the conflicts of 1913. In particular, Austria-Hungary, without obtaining anything for herself, once more unnecessarily antagonized her Yugoslav neighbors who had so many sympathizers among their kinsmen within the boundaries of the Dual Monarchy. Even the creation of Albania was no unqualified success for that monarchy. Italy’s interests in that new state, which was placed under the weak rule of Prince Wilhelm von Wied, added another element to the misunderstandings between the two minor partners in the Triple Alliance. And Rumania’s association with that alliance became a mere fiction since she now entered into some kind of coalition with her allies in the Second Balkan War, all of them looking for protection toward the Triple Entente. The balance of power was therefore shifting toward the latter, and Austria-Hungary’s dependence on Germany was dangerously increased.


It is frequently stressed that both world wars started in East Central Europe, and the first one in particular in Serbia. This is, of course, correct so far as the formal and immediate origin of the conflict is concerned, but it requires two important qualifications if the whole background of war is to be envisaged and the real issue explained.

    First, even in 1914 the basic unrest in East Central Europe was not limited to Serbia and the Serbs alone, or even to the Balkan peoples liberated from Turkish rule. The Serb or rather Yugoslav question was not only part of the Balkan problem but also of the general nationalities problem in the Danubian region which was controlled by the Habsburg monarchy. And the aspirations of the various peoples of that monarchy, who were much better off than fifty years before but all of whom were far from being completely satisfied, were again only part of the trend toward full national freedom which was becoming increasingly strong among the oppressed nationalities of the Russian Empire and also among the non-German minorities under Prussian rule.

    On the other hand it is evident that nowhere was that trend of nationalism, directed against the well-established states and their power, leading to wars or even to new revolutions which could have resulted in foreign intervention and international, or more correctly, interstate, conflicts. In Prussia a revolution against the dominant German majority and the powerful German Empire was out of the question. In Russia a violent revolutionary movement had recently failed in spite of the empire’s defeat in a foreign war and without leading to any other outside trouble. And neither in Austria nor even in Hungary was the dissatisfaction of any nationality great enough to lead to any outbreak in time of peace and so long as evolutionary reforms were in progress or at least remained possible.

    This was also true for the particularly dissatisfied Yugoslavs of the Habsburg monarchy, including even the Orthodox Serbs. Therefore the fear of some elements in the army and bureaucracy that the nationalist agitation coming from the kingdom of Serbia would endanger the whole empire was hardly justified. That fear seemed, however, to receive an apparent justification when on the fateful day of June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was murdered in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist from Bosnia as the result of a plot in which organizations and most probably even officials of Serbia proper were involved. Coming in the midst of a tension between the two states which had been greatly intensified by the events of the preceding year, that outrageous assassination necessarily provoked a dangerous diplomatic conflict, but a conflict which for both sides was rather a question of prestige than an issue of nationalism and which did not necessarily have to lead to a war and certainly not to a European or world war.

    To make the first of these points quite clear, it must be recalled that the slain Archduke, far from being hostile to the Slavs in general—his morganatic wife assassinated at his side was of Czech origin—and even less to the Yugoslavs, was in favor of a trialistic reorganization of the monarchy and opposed to that Magyar supremacy which the Yugoslavs particularly resented. The issue, rather obscured by the Sarajevo crime, was whether the Yugoslav problem would be solved through another internal reform of the Habsburg Empire or under the leadership of the Karageorgevich kingdom. Many of the Yugoslavs outside Serbia, especially among the Catholic Croats, were rather in favor of the former solution.

    If the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum and the rejection of the conciliatory Serb reply went far beyond legitimate claims for investigation and reparation, that truly imperialistic attitude toward a much smaller power was mainly caused by the certainty that such an attitude would have the full support of the allied German Empire which was the leading representative of the imperialistic conception in the western part of Europe. And if Serbia preferred to risk an invasion rather than to yield completely, as she had done in 1913, it was because this time she was sure to be supported by the whole might of Russian imperialism.

    Russia gave that support not because of any interest in Serb nationalism but because she was fearful of losing her prestige among the Slav and Orthodox peoples. Influence among these peoples was indeed a valuable instrument of Russia’s imperialistic policy. But that policy, closely associated with aggressive Russian nationalism, had so little appeal for smaller, even Slavic, peoples in the neighborhood of the empire and for the non-Russian nationalities kept within its boundaries that from the Russian point of view it was a great mistake to contribute in whatever degree to the outbreak of a war which, even as a Russian-Austrian war, could not be localized around Serbia or in the Balkans and which in consequence of the existing system of alliances, was to become a European war.

    An even greater mistake was the unconsidered action of Austria-Hungary. The numerous nationalities which composed that empire, though not dissatisfied enough to disrupt the monarchy in time of peace, were not satisfied enough to obediently suffer the hardships of a war over an issue in which they were not really interested. Nor were they willing to fight against countries with which many of them were in sympathy—frequently against their own kinsmen—or to sacrifice themselves for an indispensable ally to whose policy most of them were completely opposed. In 1914 it was not easy to foresee that under such conditions the war, which lasted much longer than was expected, would lead to a complete disintegration of the monarchy which otherwise could have been avoided. But it was much easier to anticipate that in any case, even in the case of victory, that war, which was impossible without the backing of Germany’s so much stronger military might, would result in a complete subordination of the Habsburg to the Hohenzollern Empire, intolerable to the non-German nationalities and therefore undoing all the achievements of the gradual reorganization of the Danubian monarchy in the direction of multinational federalism.

    Without again discussing here the whole problem of Germany’s war guilt which was not exclusive but was certainly very heavy—or the question as to what extent Hohenzollern imperialism was identified with German nationalism, it must be recognized that Germany’s chances in the war were much greater than those of the other empires. But her victory would have meant complete control of at least that Mitteleuropa which in the German interpretation also included the whole non-German East Central Europe, and therefore the eventual domination by the Germans of all nationalities of that region, on whatever side they might have been fighting or rather had been obliged to fight in the war. Here, however, another conclusion is even more important.

    Whatever the evils of the frequently excessive nationalism of these comparatively small peoples of East Central Europe, whatever their own mistakes and their diplomatic rivalries amongst themselves, it was not that nationalism which was responsible for the end of the period of relative peace which Europe had enjoyed before 1914. On the contrary it was big-power imperialism, combined with the nationalism of the ruling nations in two of the empires, whichafter so many other crises, only precariously appeased, so intensified the crisis after the Sarajevo murder that a local conflict between one of the empires and one of the small national states evolved into a world war. The formal and immediate cause of that catastrophe and the whole issue of Serbia’s independence was soon obliterated, becoming only one of the many unsettled questions of European and world politics which immediately appeared in the war aims of both sides.

    The most delicate and controversial of these questions indeed appeared in East Central Europe, but the peoples of that region, after suffering most from all the shortcomings of the European order in the preceding century, now had to suffer more than any others, with the exception of Belgium and the occupied part of France, from a war of unprecedented horror fought to a large extent on their own soil. With the exception of the Balkan nations which had been freed before the outbreak of that war which they entered, one after the other and not without strong pressure from both sides, the peoples of East Central Europe had no initiative of their own, at least in the first phase of a war which, therefore, not without good reason though with misleading implications, is in some quarters called an imperialistic war. Even as far as the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires are concerned, it was almost exclusively the part of their territories inhabited by non-German and non-Russian peoples which was a badly devastated battlefield, much larger than that on the Western front.

    It was therefore just compensation that this time the peoples which at the beginning of the war were practically helpless under their foreign rulers were not deceived in their expectations that after the failure of their revolutions a European war would be a chance for liberation. The mere fact that the empires, with which they were incorporated and which for such a long time had cooperated, were now fighting each other, increased that chance, although the immediate consequence was much fratricidal fighting for those peoples which were subject to two or more of the hostile powers. At the same time this brought about great difficulty in deciding to which side these peoples should give their real sympathy. As usual, the case of the Poles was typical though not unique. In the course of the war Russia would cease to be an idly of the democracies of Western Europe, which the great American democracy would join instead. This was of course impossible to foresee at the beginning. Yet it was only then, in the third year, that the war turned into a struggle between imperialism, represented by Germany only, Austria-Hungary making desperate efforts for a separate peace, and national self-determination as the legitimate form of nationalism was now being called.

    Although the idea of equal rights for all nations was used even before in the war propaganda of both sides, it was only in the case of the Poles that in the first month of the war efforts were already being made by both to win their sympathies by rather vague promises of liberation or autonomy and unification. Thus the same question, which through the partitions of old Poland had marked the beginning of a period more than one hundred years long, when the history of the submerged East Central European peoples was nothing but the resistance of their growing nationalism against imperialistic domination, was reopened at the very beginning of another period in which the national rights of almost all these peoples were to triumph at least temporarily. But even the Polish question, in spite of the formation of Polish legions under Joseph Pilsudski which as in the days of Napoleon fought for the freedom of their country in conjunction with foreign forces, made little progress until the very character of the war was basically altered.

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