Austro-Hungarian Red Book: von Merey to Count Berchtold, 28 July 1914

On 28 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to Italy, Kajetan von Merey (pictured), sent a coded private telegram to the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold. In his telegram, von Merey refers to the question of Italian compensation with regards to Austria-Hungary’s actions in Serbia.

Kajetan von Merey

Kajetan von Merey

Herr von Merey to Count Berchtold. Rome, 28 July 1914.

Cyphered.—Private.

From what I know of the situation in this country, and from what Herr Biancheri [a functionary from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs?] told me yesterday, I feel compelled to warn your Excellency against a mistaken or too optimistic interpretation of the Italian Ambassador [to Austria-Hungary]’s démarche, which is mentioned in the telegram of 26 July.

The démarche was, if not exclusively, certainly principally made on account of the claims to compensation and the vague and by no means binding phrase added afterwards, was no doubt only a captatio benevolentiae [i.e. a winning of good will].

I consider the somewhat overdone reception of Italy’s assurances, coupled with the avoidance of discussing the subject, as dangerous, because Italy might take it for silent acquiescence, or it might interpret our attitude, as if we did not believe in any military conflict and did not therefore think it worthwhile to discuss the compensation question.

It is characteristic that the news of the friendly assurances of Italy came to the Roman newspapers from Vienna only, whereas the Consulta has not informed the press on this subject at all.

My ceterum censeo would be to deny all rights to compensation and certainly not to enter into delicate discussions or to take any engagements. If we act otherwise, we should allow Italy to play the part of the man, who says to a friend struggling in the Danube: “I won’t fetch you out. But if you get out by your own efforts, you will have to pay me an indemnity.”

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

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