Illustration of the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in the Italian newspaper La Domenica del Corriere 12 July 1914

At 6 p.m. on the evening of Thursday, July 23, 1914, the Austrian Ambassador to Belgrade, Baron Wladimir Giesl, presented an important note from the Austrian to the Serbian government to the Serbian Minister of Finance Lazar Pacu, who was Prime Minister Nikola Pasić‘s deputy and temporary replacement.

The legate handed Pacu and Gruić, the Secretary General of the Serbian Foreign Ministry, the Austrian demarche, two pages of an annex, and a brief introductory note. The reply, he said, was expected by 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 25, forty-eight hours hence, and he was instructed, should no answer be received or were it unsatisfactory, to leave the capital with his staff immediately and return to Vienna.

The note read:

“On 31 March 1909, the Serbian Minister at Vienna, on the instructions of his Government, made the following declaration to the Imperial and Royal Government:

‘Serbia recognizes that her rights have not been affected by the fait accompli created in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that consequently she will conform to such decisions as the Powers may take in conformity with Article XXV of the Treaty of Berlin. In deference to the advice of the Great Powers, Serbia undertakes henceforward to renounce the attitude of protest and opposition which she had adopted with regard to the annexation since last autumn and she further engages to modify the direction of her present policy with regard to Austria-Hungary and to live henceforward with the latter on a footing of good neighbourliness.’

The history of recent years and in particular the painful events of 28 June have demonstrated the existence in Serbia of a subversive movement the aim of which is to detach from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy certain parts of its territories. This movement, which had its birth under the eye of the Serbian Government, has gone so far as to manifest itself beyond the territory of the Kingdom by acts of terrorism, by a series of outrages, and by murders.

The Royal Serbian Government, far from fulfilling the formal pledges contained in the declaration of 31 March 1909 (in a diplomatic note to Austria, Serbia had to recognize the Bosnian annexation and promise to maintain friendly relations with Austria), has done nothing to repress these movements; it has tolerated the criminal machinations of various societies and associations directed against the Monarchy, unrestrained language on the part of the press, glorifications of the perpetrators of outrages, participation of officers and officials in subversive agitation, unwholesome propaganda in public education; in short, tolerated all the manifestations of a nature to inculcate in the Serbian population hatred of the Monarchy and contempt for its institutions.

This culpable tolerance on the part of the Royal Government of Serbia had not ceased at the moment when the events of 28 June last revealed its disastrous consequences to the whole world.

It is shown by the depositions and confessions of the criminal authors of the outrage of 28 June that the Sarajevo murders were planned in Belgrade, that the arms and explosives with which the murderers were found to be provided had been given them by Serbian officers and officials belonging to the Narodna Odbrana and finally that the passage into Bosnia of the criminals and their arms was organized and effectuated by chiefs of the Serbian frontier service.

The results here mentioned of the preliminary investigation do not permit the Imperial and Royal Government to pursue any longer the attitude of expectant forbearance which they have for years observed towards the machinations concentrated in Belgrade and thence propagated in the territories of the Monarchy; the results on the contrary impose on them the duty of putting an end to the intrigues which constitute a permanent threat to the tranquillity of the Monarchy.

It is to achieve this end that the Imperial and Royal Government sees itself obliged to demand from the Serbian Government the formal assurance that it condemns the propaganda directed against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, that is to say the aggregate of tendencies, the ultimate aim of which is to detach from the Monarchy territories belonging thereto, and that it undertakes to suppress by every means this criminal and terrorist propaganda.

In order to give a formal character to this undertaking, the Royal Government of Serbia shall cause to be published on the front page of the Official Journal of the 26/13 July the following declaration:

‘The Royal Government of Serbia condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, i.e. the aggregate of tendencies, the ultimate aim of which is to detach from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy territories which form part thereof, and it sincerely deplores the fatal consequences of these criminal proceedings.’

‘The Royal Government regrets that Serbian officers and officials have participated in the above-mentioned propaganda and thereby compromised the good neighbourly relations to which the Royal Government had solemnly pledged itself by its declaration of 31 March 1909.’

‘The Royal Government, which disapproves and repudiates all idea or attempt of interference with the destinies of the inhabitants of any part whatsoever of Austria-Hungary, considers it its duty formally to warn the officers, officials and all the population of the Kingdom that henceforward it will proceed with the utmost rigor against all persons who may render themselves guilty of such machinations which it will use all its efforts to forestall and repress.’

This declaration shall simultaneously be communicated to the Royal Army as an order of the day by His Majesty the King and shall be published in the ‘Official Bulletin of the Army’.

The Royal Serbian Government further undertakes:

1.               To suppress any publication which incites to hatred and contempt of the Monarchy and the general tendency of which is directed against its territorial integrity;

2.               To dissolve immediately the society styled Narodna Odbrana, to confiscate all its means of propaganda, and to proceed in the same manner against the other societies and their branches in Serbia which engage in propaganda against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; the Royal Government will take the necessary measures to prevent the dissolved societies from continuing their activities under another name and form;

3.               To eliminate without delay from public instruction in Serbia, both as regards the teaching body and the methods of instruction, all that serves or might serve to foment the propaganda against Austria-Hungary;

4.               To remove from the military service and the administration in general all officers and officials guilty of propaganda against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and of whom the Imperial and Royal Government reserves to itself the right to communicate the names and deeds to the Royal Government;

5.               To accept the collaboration in Serbia of organs of the Imperial and Royal Government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy;

6.               To take judicial proceedings against the accessories to the plot of 28 June who are on Serbian territory; Organs delegated by the Imperial and Royal Government will take part in the investigations relating thereto;

7.               To proceed without delay to the arrest of Major Voija Tankosić and of a certain Milan Ciganović, a Serbian State employee implicated by the findings of the preliminary investigation at Sarajevo;

8.               To prevent by effective measures the cooperation of the Serbian Authorities in the illicit traffic in arms and explosives across the frontier; to dismiss and severely punish the officials of the Sabac and Loznica frontier service guilty of having assisted the authors of the Sarajevo crime by facilitating their crossing of the frontier;

9.               To furnish the Imperial and Royal Government with explanations regarding the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian officials both in Serbia and abroad, who, notwithstanding their official position, have not hesitated since the outrage of 28 June to express themselves in interviews in terms of hostility towards the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy [and] finally

10. To notify the Imperial and Royal Government without delay of the execution of the measures comprised under the preceding heads.

The Imperial and Royal Government expects the reply of the Royal Government at the latest by Saturday 25 of this month at 5 p.m (this was crossed out and replaced by “6”).

[A memorandum dealing with the results of the preliminary investigation at Sarajevo with regard to the officials mentioned in Points 7 and 8 is annexed to this Note]


The criminal investigation opened by the Sarajevo Court against Gavrilo Princip and associates on the count of assassination and complicity therein, in respect of the crime committed by them on 28 June, has up to the present led to the following conclusions:

1. The plot having as its object the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand on the occasion of his visit to Sarajevo was formed at Belgrade by Gavrilo Princip, Nedeljko Cabrinović and one Milan Ciganović and Trifko Grabez with the help of Commander Voija Tankosi6.

2. The 6 bombs and 4 Browning pistols with ammunition with which the malefactors committed the outrage were delivered to Princip, Cabrinović and Grabez at Belgrade by a certain Milan Ciganović and Commander Voija Tankosić.

3. The bombs are hand grenades from the munitions depot of the Serbian Army at Kragujevac.

4. To assure the success of the outrage, Ciganović instructed Princip, Cabrinović and Grabez in the use of grenades, and, in a forest near the rifle-range at Topcider (Park), gave Princip and Grabez shooting practice with Browning pistols.

5. To enable Princip, Cabrinović and Grabez to cross the frontier of Bosnia-Herzegovina and to smuggle in clandestinely their contraband arms, a secret system of transport was organized by Ciganović. As a result of this organization the introduction into Bosnia-Herzegovina of the criminals and their arms was effected by the frontier captains of Sabac (Rade Popović) and Loznica, and the customs official Rudivoj Grbić of Loznica with the aid of various individuals.”

This document, it has been said, marked the end of the nineteenth century. Its terms were harsh, yet not entirely without precedent, and certainly more lenient than the conditions the Treaty of Versailles would impose five years hence on Germany, which empowered an Allied Control Commission to roam the length and breadth of the country in search of contraband in addition to imposing reparation payments and giving German territory to every neighbour state except Switzerland and Austria. The demands inflicted on Belgrade in 1914 might also be compared – favourably, as Christopher Clark points out – to the ultimatum of Rambouillet the NATO addressed to the Serbian government in 1999 to stop the genocide of non-Serbs in Kosovo. The Rambouillet memorandum commanded that NATO forces “shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft and equipment free and unrestricted and unimpeded access through the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, including associated airspace and territorial waters,” and gave the troops the right of manoeuvre in and the utilization “of any areas or facilities as required for support, training and operations.”

In comparison, the Austrian demands of 1914 almost appear quaint. It is true that Points 5 and 6 impeded Serbian sovereignty, but some of the evidence was unimpeachable – the hand grenades, say – and Austria had good reasons to doubt the efficiency of Serbian law-enforcement. “Vienna,” Christopher Clark diagnosed, “did not trust the Serbian authorities to press home the investigation without some form of Austrian supervision and verification. And it must be said that nothing the Serbian government did between June 28 and the presentation of the ultimatum gave them any reason to think otherwise.” Certainly the possibility of subsequent negotiations on the more intrusive points was not excluded per se, and all that Belgrade had to do in this respect would be to send a few suspected conspirators abroad or into Russian exile for some months until the affair had died down. What real harm could a few more Austrian detectives do, when Dr. Wiesner had already been in Belgrade since July 10 and the heavens had not fallen?

It is not clear, however, whether the Austrians realized that Belgrade’s problem was not the conspiracy in itself or the identity of the true conspirators – that is, the Black Hand instead of the Narodna Odbrana – but the fact that its extent reached into Belgrade’s highest places and neither Pasić’s civilian government, nor, of course, the Black Hand itself could allow their mutual relations to see the light of day. But the carefree absence of rationality in Balkan politics pretty much guaranteed that Serbia would reject the note, which was exactly the outcome Austria sought to achieve. Vanity, they knew, would prevail in Serbia, as vanity had prevailed in 1870 when Napoleon III declared war on Prussia over a telegram that seemed to infringe on France’s Imperial self-esteem. In comparison, Austria had a reasonably valid reason for war.

The last war.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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