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

On 25 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), circulated a memoir to all Austro-Hungarian diplomatic missions. 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 II of the memoir.

Leopold Count Berchtold

Leopold Count Berchtold

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

The centre of all this agitation was the Narodna obrana [i.e. the Black Hand, the organisation thought to be behind the assassinations of Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo]. The same persons, who had founded the society at the time of the annexation [of Bosnia-Herzegovina], were still its leaders; again the most energetic organisers were the bitterest enemies of the Monarchy: General Bozo Jankovic, the director of the State Printing Office, Zivojin Dacic and the majors Milan Pribicevic and Voja Tankosic. The Association was placed on a broad basis, well-organised and divided into hierarchies, commanding no less than 400 committees, all busy with violent agitation.

Moreover, the Narodna odbrana is closely connected with the Sharp-Shooters League (762 Societies), with the Sokol-League Dusan Silni (2500 members), the Olympian Club, the Riders Society Knez Mihaijlo, the Hunters League and the League of Culture, along with many other societies, which all recognize the leadership of the Narodna odbrana. In the course of time, all these different societies have amalgamated, so that at present they really form only one great association: the Narodna odbrana.

The Narodna odbrana has succeeded in spreading one great net over all Servia, inside of which, all those who are amenable to its ideas are busy organs of agitation. The work, which the Narodna odbrana has undertaken to perform, can be appreciated by all those who take an interest into its official publications.

In its statutes the Society pretends to serve culture, and has the spiritual and bodily development of the Servian population at heart, as well as the material welfare of the country. But in its Society organ (Vide Supplement 2) it reveals the true and only reason of its being, its so called “reorganised Programme”, that is:

To preach to the Servian people “in fanatical incessant work” under the pretext that the Monarchy is attempting to rob it of freedom and speech, and to crush it altogether, the “sacred truth”, that it is an absolute necessity to wage a war of annihilation with rifle and gun against the first and greatest enemy, Austria-Hungary, and that the people must be prepared for this war with all means obtainable. The “subjugated territory on which 7 million brothers are sighing in captivity, must be freed from this yoke”.

The cultural aims and efforts of the Narodna odbrana for the organisation and education of the Servian people are dictated by the long-desired war of annihilation against the Monarchy.

All the affiliated societies act in exactly the same spirit as the Narodna odbrana; the Sokol Society in Kragujevac may serve as an example (Vide Supplement 3). The founders and leaders of this Society are also officers, professors, and government officials.

In the speech, with which the president of the Society, Major Kovacevic opened the Annual Meeting for 1914, he completely forgot to mention Gymnastics, which are the ostensible element of a Sokol Society, and only spoke of preparation for battle with the “dangerous, heartless, wanton, cumbersome, greedy enemy in the north”, who “robs millions of our brothers of freedom and rights, and keeps them in slavery and in chains”.

The administrative report of the society scarcely alludes to business, but confesses that the true aim and ambition of the management is to prepare for the national development and the strengthening of a suppressed nation, so that it may be able to fulfil its incomplete programme and do the work that is still waiting for it, the great deed at the end, which it will be called upon to achieve in a very short time, “the liberation of the brothers across the Drina, who are enduring the sufferings of the Crucified One”. Even the cashier embellishes his work-a-day report with the remark: “we must bring up falcons” who will be capable of giving freedom to our brothers in slavery.

Just as the Narodna odbrana does not consider culture the aim of its being, so do the Sokols consider Gymnastics as merely a means in the service of propaganda, of which both Societies speak in the same way and nearly with the same words.

The Narodna odbrana, in addressing the people and calling them to the battle of annihilation against the Monarchy, does not only mean the Servian people, but all the South-Slav peoples. In the eyes of the Narodna odbrana the South-Slav territory of the monarchy is “our subjugated Servian territory” (Vide Supplement 4). The South-Slav subjects of the Monarchy were called upon to participate in the “national work”, “this healthy and necessary piece of work” was to be achieved with the help of those across the Servian border. On the territory of the monarchy the Narodna odbrana seeks “the heroes for the Sacred War”, for whom Obilic, the murderer of Murad is to serve as an example of national devotion to be striven after and imitated.

The Narodna odbrana, to encourage the “brothers outside Servia” in taking part in the “work due to private initiative”, kept up lively relations with the “brothers across the border”. How these relations are brought about, the Society organ does not say, probably because this forms part of the “total work” which “for diverse reasons must not and cannot be communicated”.

We may suppose that this branch of the Society’s activity is rather extensive, from the fact that not only the Central Committee of the Narodna odbrana itself, but also several district Committees have special sections for “foreign concerns”. This foreign activity of the Narodna odbrana and its affiliated societies is very complicated.

The least dangerous means of agitation,on which the authorities can keep a watchful eye is the lecture tours undertaken by distinguished members of the Narodna odbrana, in the South-eastern parts of the monarchy, where cultural and national subjects are discussed. These occasions give the lecturer a chance of introducing words and sentences, which reveal, to the initiated, the true aim of what is said at so much pains.

Among these emissaries, an important part is played by the director of the Servian State Printing Office, who has been mentioned before, Zivojin Dacic; the same Zivojin Dacic, who on 18 August 1909 addressed an appeal to the Servian people in which he designated Austria-Hungary as the arch- enemy of Servia and admonished everyone to prepare for the war against the Monarchy. Dacic undertook several journeys to the South-eastern portions of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. On one occasion, during a lecture in Karlovci (1912) he was less cautious than usually and spoke up for a “union of all Servians against the common enemy”, and he did not fail to make it understood that thereby he meant Austria-Hungary.

More dangerous than these lectures are the relations which the Narodna odbrana entertains with corporations and societies in the Monarchy under the pretext of promoting common interests and culture, because when the delegation and corporations exchange visits, they cannot be controlled by the authorities and the occasions for Servian intrigue abound.

Thus a member of the Narodna odbrana sent as delegate to the anniversary of the Prosvjeta-Society in Sarajevo (1912), was shameless enough to secretly enlist Bosnian members for his Society. The sending of a member of the Kragujevac Sokol Society to this celebration was a message to the “Brothers in Bosnia” meaning; We have not forgotten you; the wings of the Sumadja falcon are still powerful, a thought, which in the intimate circle may have been otherwise expressed, and certainly in the sense of the tendencies followed by this Society (Vide Supplement 3). What is spoken in meetings of this kind in Servia, cannot be reported with perfect certainty, since what we know is based upon more or less reliable confidential communications. We will only mention the visit of the students of Agram in Servia in April 1912, when an official military reception took place, and a parade of the troops was held in honour of these students, giving their visit the character of a suggestive demonstration. The consequence was, that the administrative report of the Sokol Society of Kragujevac, alluded to this visit as “an event which meant the beginning and the germ of a great deed which will be accomplished in the near future”, a “germ which will ripen when the soul of the people rises so high that there are no obstacles that it will not pull down.”

The authorities of the Monarchy have only recently learnt that the Sokol Societies of Servia have designated some corporations in the Monarchy to join them in a secret Association, the intended character of which is not yet clear, the researches on the subject not being completed. But it may already be assumed from what is known to this hour that one of the secret means has been discovered by which the Servian Sokols and their friends are tampering with groups of Austro-Hungarian subjects, to whom they are giving the infection of their subversive tendencies.

To be continued…

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

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