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

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, culminating in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo. The following is part IV of the memoir.

Leopold Count Berchtold

Leopold Count Berchtold

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

A few months previously, research with regard to treasonable propaganda had been instituted on Luka Aljinovicz’s account. In the course of these investigations three witnesses had testified against Aljinovicz, who, they said had in 1913 received 100 dinar from the Narodna odbrana for purposes of propaganda, but more especially for an attempt upon the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and a secret student society had given him the same sum.

This shows how the criminal agitation of the Narodna odbrana was recently concentrated upon the person of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

All these facts lead to the conclusion that the Narodjia odbrana, and the elements hostile to Austria-Hungary grouped around it, had recently considered the time come, for putting their theories into practice.

It is however remarkable that in this the Society was satisfied, if it gave the inspiration of the deed, and where the seed had fallen on fertile ground, the material means for realising the idea, but that it never undertook the only dangerous role in this propaganda, but made the youths of the Monarchy, after tempting and inciting them to some deed, bear the entire responsibility of the sad heroism inspired.

All the traits of this kind of intrigue are found in the history of how the grievous crime of 28 June [1914, i.e. the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo] came about.

Princip and Grabez are both of the type of youths, who from the time of their school days have been poisoned by the ideas of the Narodna odbrana.

Living in Belgrade among a score of students full of these ideas, Princip was planning the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose widely announced journey to the annexed countries, pointed him out most especially to all the enemies of the Monarchy in Servia.

Gabrinovic, who lived in the same circle, made friends with him. This young man’s radical, revolutionary views were subject to changes, but by his own confession the influence of his Belgrade surroundings and much reading of Servian papers made him turn to the propaganda of deeds directed against the Monarchy.

Grabez previous dispositions made him an easy victim.

Though the plot may have been far advanced, and though the intentions of the conspirators may have been quite serious, the deed would no doubt have remained undone, if, as in the case of Jukic, there had not been persons ready to give the accomplices the means wherewith to realise their plans. Both Princip and Gabrinovic affirm implicitly that neither possessed the necessary weapons nor the money to buy them with.

It is interesting to learn how the accomplices sought to procure these necessary weapons. Milan Pribicevic and Zivojin Dacic, the leading men of the Narodna odbrana were the first they thought of, who might help them in their need. No doubt because there was already a tradition among those who planned political murder, that the Narodna odbrana was the right place to go to. But this plan came to nothing, because the two were not at that time in Belgrade. Princip and Gabrinovic remembered that there was another member of the Narodna odbrana whom they could apply to, Milan Giganovic, once a Komitatschi, now an employee of the Railways Direction in Belgrade, who in 1909 had played a part as one of the pupils of the Bands school in Guprija. Princip and Gabrinovic were not disappointed in their expectation, for Giganovic gave them what they required.

Giganovic and through his intercession, his friend, the Royal Servian major Voja Tankosic, also a leader of the Narodna odbrana and in 1908 director of the Bands-school in Cuprija, now became the moral manager and promoters of the plot, which they fully approved, in a revolting way characteristic of the whole movement, as a matter of course. They had a slight doubt at first, whether the three conspirators were firmly enough resolved to perform the deed to the very end. When this doubt was removed, their suggestive arguments helping, they were ready to give their full aid. Tankosic contributed four Browning revolvers with their ammunition and money for the journey; six hand-grenades from the Servian army stores completed the equipment, the nature and origin of which calls up reminiscences of the Jukic case. Anxious that the action should be fully successful, Tankosic arranged for the instruction of the conspirators in rifle practice, and Ciganovic was the man who successfully carried out this part of the plan.

Tankosic and Ciganovic took another precaution, for which the conspirators had not asked; they provided prussic acid and gave instructions that it was to be taken immediately after the deed had been perpetrated. This precaution was taken in their own interest in the first place, since by ensuring the secrecy of the plot, it removed the slight danger to which they had exposed themselves in this enterprise. Certain death for the victims of their seduction, entire safety for themselves, that is the well- known motto of the members of the Narodna odbrana.

If the plot was to be successfully carried out, the bombs and firearms had to be smuggled across the border to Bosnia. This is where Ciganovic again helped. The conspirators must travel by a prescribed route, and he makes sure of the border authorities, who will help them to cross into Bosnia. The way in which this journey was organised and achieved, which even Princip admits to have been mysterious, leaves no doubt that it was well thought out, and often made use of by the Narodna odbrana. As a matter of course, which cannot have been applied for the first time, the border captains in Sabac and Loznica gave their assistance. Without a hitch, the mysterious journey with its ever-varying guides, who appeared as in obedience to a magic signal, was accomplished. Without questioning the purpose of the journey of a couple of beardless students, the Servian authorities and only because a former Komitatschi [i.e. Serbian guerilla soldier] and a subordinate railway official (Ciganovic) gave the order, allowed this complicated apparatus to be used. There was indeed no reason why questions should be asked, since the instructions they had received, made it clear, that a “mission” of the Narodna odbrana was about to be fulfilled. The sight of the arsenal of bombs and revolvers made the border captains smile complacently, a sufficient proof that on this “road” one was well accustomed to such contraband goods.

The Servian government made itself guilty of a serious offence, when it tolerated such doings.

Bound by its promise to cultivate friendly and neighbourly relations with Austria-Hungary, it allowed its press to preach hatred against the monarchy, it allowed associations to open a public campaign against Austria-Hungary under the leadership of superior officers, government officials, teachers and judges, a campaign which was intended to revolutionise the Monarchy’s citizens; it did not prevent men without a vestige of moral feeling, who are nevertheless employed in its military and civil administration, to poison the public mind to such a degree, that common murder was considered the best and most effective weapon in this unequal war.

End of memoir.

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

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