Austro-Hungarian Red Book: Count Berchtold to the Austro-Hungarian Missions, 25 July 1914 – Part I

On 25 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), circulated a memoir to all Austro-Hungarian diplomatic missions, with slight variation to the introductory paragraph depending on the mission. The memoir formed the basis of Austria-Hungary’s view of Serbia, and the Dual Monarchy’s rational during the July Crisis. From the Austro-Hungarian perspective, it lists the different forms of Serbian aggression endured since the beginning of the century. The following is part I of the memoir.

Leopold Count Berchtold

Leopold Count Berchtold

Circular Note to the Austro-Hungarian Mission. Vienna, 25 July 1914.

You will find enclosed the dossier, announced in the Circular Note to the Powers, which contains details on the propaganda for Greater Servia, and its connection with the crime of Sarajevo. This dossier is for your information and for communication to the government to which you are accredited.


The movement, which has its origin in Servia, and aims at removing the South-Slav portions of Austria-Hungary from the Monarchy and incorporating them in the Servian State was to be observed many years ago.

Its aims were always the same, only the means used by this propaganda and its intensity have changed, and its most active time was on Servian territory when the [1908] annexation crisis broke out. It was then that the veil was withdrawn from its secret doings and its tendencies were openly confessed, while at the same time attempts were made, with all the means at its disposition, to realize the ambitions entertained for so long.

While the entire Servian press was inciting the population to show its hatred against Austria-Hungary, while facts were distorted and the necessity to combat Austria-Hungary was proclaimed, associations were founded which were to prepare for the war that must be fought out sooner or later.

The most important of these associations was the ”Narodna odbrana” (i.e. the Black Hand). Originally a revolutionary committee, this society was founded by Servian military and civil functionaries as a private association, which was however entirely dependent upon the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade. Among their founders, we mention General Bozo Jankovic, the ex-ministers Ljuba Jovanovic, Ljuba Davidovic, and Velislav Vulevic; the Director of the State Printing Office, Zivojin Dacic and captains in the army, who are now majors, Voja Tankosic and Milan Pribicevic. This society had undertaken the recruiting and equipment of volunteer companies for the expected war against Austria-Hungary.

A lively picture of the activity of the “Narodna odbrana” of those days is given by a witness, examined in the District court of Sarajevo, one Trifko Krstanovic, a Bosnian-Herzegovinian, who was in Belgrade at the time, and had, with other Austrian-Hungarian subjects, been enlisted in the “Narodna odbrana” as a Komitatschi. Krstanovic had been taken with 140 members of the band, to a military school in Guprija (district of Jagedina), which had been founded for the military educa- tion of the bands and which was directed by the captains Voja Tankesic and Dusan Putnik. The teachers in this school were all Servian officers. General Bozo Jankovic and Captain Mila Pribicevic inspected the course of instruction, which lasted three months, at regular intervals.

In this school the volunteer Komitatschis were taught shooting, the throwing of bombs, the laying of mines, the blowing up of railways, tunnels and bridges, as also the destroying of telegraphic connections. They were told that they would have to make practical use of what they had been taught, by order of the commanders in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

By this activity, which was not carried on in secret and was promoted by the Servian government, the “Narodna odbrana” was preparing the war of the bands against Austria- Hungary. Subjects of the Monarchy were induced to commit treason against their country, and were systematically taught to be Servian emissaries, whose duty it was to treacherously attack the means of defense of their home.

This period of aggressive aspirations ended when the Serbian government on 31 March 1909 declared that it approved of the new lawful order of things, created by the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and solemnly promised that it would in future live on friendly and neighbourly terms with the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

This declaration in fact seemed to have put an end to the movement, which was a continual source of disquiet for Austria-Hungary and a really friendly rapprochement to Servia seemed to be on the way. If the support of the Servian government had been withdrawn, and the movement combated, as the declaration promised, the propaganda could not have been kept up and must in time have ceased to exist. At the same time the points of contact between the South-Slav parts of the monarchy and Servia, which exist with regard to language, customs and culture, must, if friendship and parallel interests were cultivated, have led to mutual progress.

These justified hopes and expectations were not fulfilled. The aspirations, hostile to the monarchy, remained what they were before, and under the very eyes of the Servian government, which did not move a hand to suppress the movement, propaganda against Austria-Hungary increased and extended. The hatred against the Monarchy was kept alive and through continuous incitement has become irreconcilable. New means and new methods adapted to the changed situation were called into action and the people of Servia were summoned to take part in “the inevitable war of annihilation’’ against Austria-Hungary. Secret threads were spun between Servia and the South-Slav districts of the Monarchy, and Austrian subjects were tempted to betray their country.

The Servian press especially never ceased its work in this direction.

No less than 81 Servian newspapers had to be excluded from transmission by the post, on account of their violating paragraphs of the Austro-Hungarian Press-laws.

The Servian papers may be said to have violated all the ordinances, by which the exalted person of our Monarch and the members of his House are protected. In Supplement 1 we have given a few examples of this rich material, collected at different periods.

Though we will refrain from detailed comments on these enunciations of public opinion in Servia, still we must remark, that notwithstanding the declaration of 1909, the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has continued being regarded as a theft committed against Servia, which called for reparation. This idea is not only conceived and propounded by news- papers of a radical tendency and always repeated in most objectionable language, but even the Samouprava, a paper which is intimately connected with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade, speaks of it in scarcely disguised form.

Nor can we neglect to call attention to the fact that the Servian press made use of the attempt of Bogdan Zerajic to murder the chief commander of Bosnia and Herzegovina, F. Z. M. von Varesanin, in Sarajevo on the 15. June 1910.

It will be remembered that Zerajic committed suicide immediately after the deed and had destroyed all his papers. Under these circumstances the motive of the crime was never quite cleared up. But an emblem which he carried on his body was a proof that he followed the principles of Krapotkine and the results of the examination seemed to show that the crime was inspired by anarchist notions.

This did not prevent the Servian press from making a national hero of Zerajic and praising his deed. Politica even protested loudly against the supposition that Zerajic could have been an anarchist, and claimed him for a heroic Servian, whose name every Servian will ever mention with reverence and grief.

On 18 August of the same year Politica seized the opportunity of writing about Zerajic and his crime, saying that Zerajic’s name was sacred among the Servians, and published a poem in honour of the deed.

In this manner, a crime, which had nothing whatever to do with the aspirations to parts of the Monarchy’s territory, was made use of for promoting these, and by glorifying Zerajic, murder was proclaimed as a means of realising these aspirations, which should be admired and imitated. This sanctioning of murder, as a fully justified method in combating the Monarchy is later on repeated in the Servian newspapers, when the attempt to murder the Royal Commissioner in Guvay was made by Jukic.

These newspapers, which were not only circulated in Servia, but by organised smuggling were introduced into the Monarchy, produced that feeling among the masses which later on made it easy for the associations, hostile to the Monarchy, to sow their evil seed.

To be continued…

Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.


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