On 5 July 1914, Count Alexander Hoyos, chef de cabinet of Count Leopold Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs, travelled to Berlin. He presented a handwritten letter by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph to the German Kaiser. The purpose of his mission was to get German backing for Austrian action against Serbia. The following document comprises Franz Joseph’s draft letter of 2 July 1914 and the Matscheko Memorandum, outlining Austria-Hungary’s Balkan policy, revised by Berchtold.
Autograph letter from Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, delivered by Count Alexander Hoyos on 5 July 1914.
I sincerely regretted, that you were obliged to give up your intention of coming to Vienna for the funeral ceremony. I should have very much liked to personally express my heartfelt thanks for your sympathy in my great grief.
By your warm-hearted condolence you have given me a fresh proof that in you I possess a true and reliable friend whom I can trust in every trying hour.
I should have much wished to speak to you about the political situation, as this has not been possible I take the liberty to send you the enclosed memoir of my Minister of Foreign Affairs, written before the terrible catastrophe of Sarajevo, and more worthy of consideration, now that this tragic event has happened.
The crime committed against my nephew is the direct consequence of the agitation carried on by Russian and Servian Panslavists, whose sole aim is to weaken the Triple Alliance and shatter my Empire.
The researches made up to the present have shown that the bloody deed of Sarajevo is not the work of a single individual but the result of a well-organised plot, the threads of which reach to Belgrade, and though it may be impossible to prove the complicity of the Servian government, there can be no doubt whatever that this governments policy, intent as it is to unite all South-slavs under the Servian flag, must encourage such crimes and that if it is not stopped, it will prove a lasting danger to my house and to my realms.
This danger is increased by the fact that Roumania, though it is allied to us, entertains intimate bonds of friendship with Servia and tolerates the same hateful agitation within its realm as Servia does.
I find it difficult to doubt the faith and the good intentions of such an old friend as King Charles of Roumania; but he has within the two last months twice declared to my minister in Bucharest, that in view of the excited and hostile sentiments of his people he would, if serious events arose, find it impossible to do his duty as an ally.
At the same time the present Roumanian government is openly encouraging the aims of the league of culture; it favours an open policy towards Servia and is trying to found a new Balkan league, which cannot but be directed against my Empire.
In the beginning of the reign of Charles similar political fancies, as those which the Culture League is spreading abroad just now, troubled the healthy minds of Roumanian statesmen and the danger threatened, that the kingdom was about to launch on an adventurous course of politics. At that time your late grandfather interfered in an energetic manner and, hitting the mark, through his government showed Roumania the only way in which it could attain a favoured position in Europe, and become a reliable support of order.
Now the kingdom is threatened by the same danger; I fear that merely giving good advice will be of no avail and that Roumania can only be rescued for the Triple Alliance, if we make it impossible for a Balkan league to be founded under the patronage of Russia, by gaining Bulgaria for the Triple Alliance and making Bucharest understand clearly that the friends of Servia cannot be our friends, and that Roumania must not look to us as allies, if it does not break with Servia and does not at the same time stop the agitation directed against my Empire in Roumania.
My government’s efforts must in future be directed to isolating Servia and reducing its size. The first step on this road would be the strengthening of the present Bulgarian government, so that Bulgaria, whose real interests tally with ours, would not be tempted to turn to its old love for Russia.
If Bucharest finds out that the Triple Alliance is resolved not to renounce friendship with Bulgaria, but is prepared to cause Bulgaria to make friends with Roumania and guarantee its integrity, it is possible that Roumania will abandon the dangerous road into which the friendship with Servia has led it and the approaching of Russia has tempted it. If we succeed in this, we might make the attempt to reconcile Greece with Bulgaria and Turkey. A new Balkan league could then be formed under the patronage of the Triple Alliance, whose aim would be to stop the progress of the panslavist flood and ensure lasting peace for our countries. This will not be otherwise possible, but by pushing aside Servia and preventing it from becoming a factor of power in the Balkans, as it is at present the cornerstone of Panslavist politics.
After the recent terrible event in Bosnia, I am certain that you also are convinced, that a conciliation between Servia and us is out of the question and that the peace-loving policy of all European monarchs is threatened, while this centre of criminal agitation continues unpunished in Belgrade.
At the end of the great political convulsions of the last two years, the situation in the Balkans sufficiently cleared up to allow us to judge in some degree of the results of the crisis and to ascertain how much the interests of the Triple Alliance have been involved, especially those of the two central imperial powers and what consequences may be drawn for European and Balkan politics of these powers.
If we compare the present situation impartially with the situation before the crisis, we must admit that the whole result cannot be judged favorably either from the point of view of Austria-Hungary or of that of the Triple Alliance.
Some favorable points may certainly be observed. It has been possible to balance the advance of Servia by the creation of an independent Albanian state, which will after a number of years, when its internal organisation is completed, serve as a military factor in the accounts of the Triple Alliance. The relations of the Triple Alliance with the Greek kingdom, which has gained in size and importance, have become such, that Greece, notwithstanding its alliance with Servia need not be regarded in the light of a decided enemy.
What is more important is, that the development, which has led to the second Balkan war has caused Bulgaria to awake from its hypnotic Russian dream, and that it need no longer be regarded in the light of an exponent of Russian policy. The Bulgarian government seems on the contrary to be anxious to enter into close relations with the Triple Alliance.
These favorable instances are outweighed by a number of disadvantages. Turkey, whose interests aligned with those of the Triple Alliance, and which weighed heavily in the balance against Russia and the Balkan countries, has been almost entirely driven out of Europe, and has suffered considerably in its prestige as a Great Power. Servia, whose policy has for many years been hostile towards Austria-Hungary and stands entirely under Russian influence, has gained both in population and in territory, much more than it ever expected. Its territorial proximity to Montenegro and the visible growth of the idea of a Greater Servia makes an aggrandisement achieved by a union with Montenegro seem a not unlikely event. And last, not least, the relations of Roumania with the Triple Alliance have undergone a considerable change in the course of the crisis.
Whilst the Balkan crisis has brought about results, which are in themselves unfavorable to the Triple Alliance, and which bear the germ of further developments, that must be undesirable to Austria-Hungary, we observe on the other hand that Russian and French diplomacy have launched upon a course, which aims at improving the advantages obtained and modifying the results of what is to their disadvantage.
A brief survey of the European situation will explain why the Triple Entente— or we should rather say the Double Entente, since England has for obvious reasons adopted a reserved attitude —could not be satisfied with the changes brought about in the Balkans in its favour. The policy of the two Empires and to a certain degree that of Italy is conservative and the character of the Triple Alliance is purely defensive. The policy of Russia and also that of France has a tendency to bring about certain changes, and the alliance between Russia and France, being the result of these parallel tendencies, must in its last consequences be of an offensive nature. If the policy of the Triple Alliance has hitherto triumphed and Europe’s peace has not been disturbed by Russia and France, this is entirely due to the military superiority of the armies of the Triple Alliance, especially of those of Austria-Hungary and Germany, when compared to those of Russia and France. The alliance with Roumania being also considered an important factor.
The idea of liberating the Christian Balkan peoples from the yoke of Turkey with a view towards using them as a weapon against the Triple Alliance has always been the true reason of the traditional interest shown by Russia towards these peoples. In Russia this idea developed to the wish appreciated and seconded by France, of reuniting all the Balkan states into a Balkan league, which would have put an end to the military superiority of the Triple Alliance. The first condition for the realisation of this plan was to exclude Turkey from the territory inhabited by the Christian Balkan peoples, so as to increase the latter’s importance and give them full freedom towards the West. The last war has in a general way realised this condition. But on the other hand the war caused a division of the Balkan states, which now stand against each other in two equally strong opposing groups, Turkey and Bulgaria on one side, the two Servian states, Greece and Roumania on the other.
The next task, which Russia wished to accomplish with the aid of France, was to annul this division, or at least to change its proportions, so as to obtain the greater number of Balkan states when the European forces are measured against each other.
As Servia and Greece had already concluded an alliance and Roumania was in harmony with them, at least as far as the Peace of Bucharest was concerned, the two allied powers in the West were anxious to remove the rancour which exists between Bulgaria and Greece and more still between Bulgaria and Servia on account of Macedonia: moreover to find a basis on which it would be possible to draw Roumania over to the side of the Entente, and if possible to overcome Bulgaria’s distrustful attitude and enter into some political combination with it, lastly to bring about a peaceful solution of the question of the islands, that would induce Turkey to approach the Balkan states, perhaps even to join them.
There can be no doubt as to the basis upon which Russian and French diplomacy intends bringing about the adjustment of all this opposition and rivalry and forming a new Balkan league. A league of the Balkan states, now that Turkey is no longer in question, must be founded on a programme directed against Austria-Hungary, at the expense of whose territorial integrity the members of the league might be promised an advance of their frontiers toward the West. It is scarcely possible to imagine any other basis for a Balkan league; the basis as above mentioned, is by no means out of the question and even on the way to become a fact.
There can be no doubt that Servia, compelled by Russia, would consent to an alliance with Bulgaria, directed against Austria-Hungary, the result of which would be the acquisition of Bosnia and the surrounding, country, even if the price to be paid were Macedonia.
There are greater difficulties to be overcome in Sofia.
Russia has made propositions to Bulgaria on this basis before the Second Balkan War and has repeated them after the peace of Bucharest. Bulgaria, which does not trust agreements with Servia, has refused to comply with the plans of Russia, and is following a course of politics, which promises anything rather than a peaceful understanding with Servia under the patronage of Russia. But in Petersburg the game has not been given up. In the interior of Bulgaria, Russian agents are busy undermining the present system, and the diplomacy of the two allied powers is hard at work to bring about the complete isolation of Bulgaria with a view to making it more pliable to the wishes of Russia.
Since Bulgaria sought to approach Turkey after the war and succeeded in doing so, and since the Porte shows an inclination to ally itself to Bulgaria and to approach the Triple Alliance, Russian and French influence is busy on the Bosporus to oppose this Turkish policy, with whom it is trying to make friends, hoping either to isolate Bulgaria completely, or else to induce it to take a different course with the help of Turkey. There are reports from Constantinople, which are to a certain degree confirmed by the journey of Talaat Bey to Livadia, that these efforts have not been without success, at least as far as Turkey is concerned. Russia has succeeded in deviating the historical distrust of Turkey from itself, by calling attention to the alleged intentions of other powers threatening the Turkish possessions in Asia Minor. France has given its support, inasmuch as it drew advantage from Turkey’s financial difficulties and the result was, that instead of approaching the Triple Alliance, the Statesmen of Turkey gave serious consideration to joining the opposed set of powers.
Talaat Bey’s journey to Bucharest was also the result of the activity of Russian and French diplomats, who brought about Roumanian mediation in the question of the islands and encouraged friendly relations between Bucharest and Constantinople with a view towards furthering the detachment of Bulgaria. Up to the present the policy of isolating Bulgaria has not borne visible fruits, perhaps because there has as yet been no reason why Sofia should distrust the intentions of Turkey. Still Russia is justified in expecting that the complete isolation of Bulgaria in the Balkans and in Europe would make it necessary for Bulgaria to give up its present course of politics and to accept the conditions which Russia would enforce, before it granted Bulgaria its protection and its patronage.
Macedonia plays a prominent part in the home and foreign politics of Bulgaria. If its government finds out that peaceful relations and an alliance with Servia are the only way towards saving at least a portion of Macedonia for Bulgaria, disappointments notwithstanding, no Bulgarian statesman would dare to refuse the offer. It is only by a proceeding which would strengthen Bulgaria, would make it indifferent to Russian tempting and threats, and would preserve the country from isolation, that it could be prevented from ultimately accepting Russia’s plan of a Balkan league.
As to Roumania the action of Russia and France became intense before the crisis in the Balkans and with the help of extraordinary distortions and by cleverly encouraging the old idea of a Greater Roumania which in this country always smoulders under the fire, had inspired public opinion with hostile feelings against the monarchy and had persuaded Roumania to a military cooperation with Servia, which was scarcely fair, when its duties as an ally of Austria-Hungary are taken into consideration.
This action has not in any way been interrupted; on the contrary it was continued most emphatically with impressive and demonstrative means, such as the Tsar’s visit to the court of Roumania.
At the same time a complete change took place in Roumanian public opinion and there can be no doubt by this time, that wide circles in the army, among the intelligent classes and among the people are in favour of a new course, and in favour of approaching Russia, of a policy which would have the aim of liberating “our brothers on the other side of the Carpathians”. There can be no doubt that the ground has been well prepared for the eventuality of Roumania joining a Balkan league, if it were put in place.
Official Roumania has so far resisted the current of popular feeling and the temptations offered by Russia and France, so that it cannot be said that Roumania sides with them or follows a course of politics hostile to Austria-Hungary. But it cannot be denied that a change has come over Roumania’s foreign policy, which offers the perspective of future development in the same direction and already has an undeniable effect not only upon the political and military situation of Austria-Hungary, but of the entire Triple Alliance.
Whilst formerly there was no positive reason for doubting Roumania’s good will to comply with the duties imposed by the agreement with powers of the Triple Alliance—though it was kept secret — recently competent Roumanian factors have repeatedly and publicly declared that Roumanian policy must be led by the principle of keeping a “free hand”. The agreement with Roumania being secret, the Triple Alliance had to refrain from recriminations on this subject. King Carol, with the sincerity that beseems his noble character, declared to the Imperial and Royal Minister in Bucharest, that as long as he lived, he would always strive to prevent the Roumanian army from taking the field against Austria-Hungary, but that he could not follow a course of politics contrary to public opinion in Roumania, that therefore in the eventuality of Russia going to war against Austria-Hungary, action on Roumania’s part was not to be thought of, notwithstanding the existing alliance. The Roumanian Minister of foreign affairs went one step further—immediately after the Tsar’s visit to Costanza—and in an interview, admitted without reserve, that an approximation to Russia had taken place and that a community of interests existed between the two countries.
The relations between Austria-Hungary and Roumania are at present such that the Monarchy fully adheres to the alliance and would, if a casus foederis happened, support Roumania with all its power, whilst Roumania throws off the alliance and promises no more than a neutral attitudie. But even Roumania’s neutrality is guaranteed by nothing more than a personal promise of King Carol, which only holds good for the duration of his reign, and which he can only keep, if the management of foreign affairs remains in his hands. The whole country being in a state of national excitement, the King’s power might not suffice, and indeed the King himself refers to the general feeling, when he explains why it will be impossible to come up to the full standard of an ally’s duties. Also it must be remembered that already Roumania is attached by ties of friendship and common interests to the Monarchy’s bitterest enemy in the Balkans.
The Monarchy has hitherto limited itself to friendly speech on the change in Roumania’s politics in Bucharest and has not seen fit to draw serious consequences from Roumania’s deviation from its course of politics. The Vienna cabinet was induced to adopt this course, because the German government held the belief that Roumania was subject to transitory vacillations, consequences of misunderstandings at the time of the crisis, which would disappear of themselves, if we remained calm and patient. But we have seen that these tactics of patience and friendly observations did not have the desired effect, that the process of estrangement between Austria- Hungary and Roumania far from stopping, has thereby been accelerated. A proof that these tactics can give no hopes for the future, lies in the fact that the present situation of a “free hand” is very much to the advantage of Roumania and quite as much to the detriment of Austria-Hungary.
The question now arises whether Austria-Hungary could mend its relations towards Roumania by speaking out and putting the kingdom before the choice of either breaking off relations altogether, or giving sufficient guarantees to prove that it is willing to fulfil in their entirety the duties arising out of the alliance with the Triple Alliance—which could be done by the publication of the secret agreement. This way of solving the question, which would revive the thirty year old tradition, would certainly be after the heart of Austria-Hungary. But in the present circumstances, it is very improbable that King Carol or any Roumanian government would consent to offend public feeling in Roumania by advertising the country as an ally of the Triple Alliance, even if the conditions of the present agreement were improved. A categorical diplomatic assault on the monarchy’s part might bring about an open rupture. We cannot judge in Vienna whether serious and impressive representations on the part of the German cabinet, combined with the offers above mentioned, might induce Roumania to adopt an attitude, which would guarantee its full and lasting loyalty as an ally—but we very much doubt that this would be the case.
Under these circumstances it is practically impossible that the alliance with Roumania should ever again become so reliable and so trustworthy, that it might be regarded as the pivot for Austria-Hungary’s Balkan politics.
The political and military importance of Roumania make it imperative for Austria-Hungary not to continue remaining passive and possibly imperil its own defences, but to commence military preparations and political actions that will dispel or at least attenuate the effects of Roumania’s neutrality and eventual hostility.
The military value of the alliance with Roumania consisted in the case of a conflict with Russia, in having from a military point of view an absolutely free hand towards Roumania, whilst a considerable portion of Russian troops would be engaged by an attack of the Roumanian army. The present relations between Austria-Hungary and Roumania would in the case of an armed conflict with Russia have pretty much the contrary effect. Russia would not have to fear an attack on Roumania’s part and would not have to protect its frontier on the Roumanian side, whilst Austria-Hungary would not feel sure of Roumania’s neutrality and would have to place its troops in large numbers, where an attack on Roumania’s part might be feared.
All Austria-Hungary’s past military preparations for the eventuality of a conflict with Russia were based upon the supposition of Roumania’s cooperation. If this supposition proves fictitious, if there is not even the certainty that Roumania will not become aggressive, the monarchy must change its dispositions for the eventuality of a war, and must take into consideration that fortifications against Roumania will become necessary.
From a political point of view Roumania must be shown that we are fully able to choose a different point of support for our Balkan policy. While this is being achieved the necessity arises to take effective measures for paralysing the efforts made by the Entente powers for the establishment of a new Balkan league. Both actions cannot be otherwise realised, than by accepting the offer of Bulgaria, made a year ago and repeated several times since, the offer of concluding a definite treaty with that state. At the same time the monarchy must direct its policy towards bringing about an alliance between Turkey and Bulgaria, in favour of which both states are so well disposed, that a short time ago a draft for such a treaty has been worked out, though it has not been signed. This is another instance in which the monarchy, if it continued delaying action out of consideration for Roumania, a feeling which is by no means reciprocated, might seriously prejudice its own interest. Further delay and especially indolence on the part of Bulgaria would give France and Russia free scope to promote their plans. Roumania’s attitude literally propels Austria-Hungary in the direction of granting Bulgaria what it has long asked for, and what will frustrate Russia’s policy of isolating Bulgaria. But these things must be done, while the road to Sofia and Constantinople are still open.
The treaty with Bulgaria, the details of which will have to be well considered, must avoid any particulars which might in any way violate the obligations contracted in the agreement with Roumania. It is moreover not advisable to make a secret of the alliance with Bulgaria, since there is no hostility against Roumania in this step, but a serious warning by which the responsible factors in Bucharest may learn to understand the consequences of a lasting, one-sided political dependence upon Russia.
Before Austria-Hungary undertakes the action in question, it is most anxious to establish a full understanding with the German Empire, not only in consideration of old traditions or of what is due to a close ally, but more especially because vital interests of the Triple Alliance and of Germany are at stake and the safety of common interests can only be ensured if the joint action of Russia and France is opposed by a joint action of the Triple Alliance, especially of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
It must be considered that if Russia, sustained by France, tries to unite the Balkan states against Austria-Hungary, if it undermines the relations with Roumania, which are already not the best, these hostile actions are not directed against Austria-Hungary alone, but quite as much against the German Empire, whose geographical situation and internal structure make it the more exposed and accessible part of the Central European block, which stands in the way of the realisation of Russia’s world-politic plans.
It is the aim of the two allied powers to check the superiority of the two Empires by making sure of helpful troops on the Balkan, but this is by no means the ultimate aim of Russia.
Whilst France hopes to weaken the monarchy, because this would promote its aspirations of revanche, the intentions of Russia are much more comprehensive.
If we analyse the development of Russia during the two last centuries, the extension of its territory, the growth of the number of its inhabitants, so much more rapid than that of the other Great Powers in Europe, the progress of its economic resources and of its military command of power, and if we consider that this enormous Empire is still as good as barred from the sea, partly by its situation and partly by treaties, it is not difficult to understand why Russia’s policy has at all times borne an immanently aggressive character.
It is not unreasonable to assume that Russia harbours territorial plans of conquest at the expense of Germany, still the extraordinary armaments and the extensive preparations of war, the building of strategically railways towards the West certainly point more to Germany than to Austria-Hungary.
Russia has found out that the realisation of its plans in Europe and Asia, arising from internal necessities, would violate Germany’s vital interests and would meet resistance.
The policy of Russia is determined by unchangeable circumstances and is therefore constant and far-seeing.
The manifest tendencies of Russia to isolate and detach Austria-Hungary, which is not following a course of world-policy, have the ultimate aim of making it impossible for the German Empire to continue its resistance against final success and against its political and economic supremacy.
The above memoir had only just been completed, when the terrible events of Sarajevo happened.
The entire signification of the villainous murder could not be conceived at this time. Most certainly, if a proof was necessary that the gulf between the monarchy and Servia is beyond bridging over, or that the ambition of Greater Servia in its intensity and recklessness does not stop before anything, that proof has been given.
Austria-Hungary has shown good-will and friendliness to bring about tolerable relations with Servia.
We have a fresh opportunity of judging that all these efforts were in vain and that the monarchy must in future look to the tenacious, irreconcilable and aggressive enmity of Servia.
It is all the more necessary for the monarchy to seize the threads which its enemies are weaving into a net over its head, with a strong hand and tear them off once and for all.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungrian Red Book, with minor edits.