On 28 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), sent a private telegram to all Austro-Hungarian Missions. His telegram details the Serbian response to Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum, as well as the Austro-Hungarian cabinet’s reaction to it. The following is part II of that telegram (see previous post).
The Royal [Serbian] government cannot be made responsible for enunciations of a private character, such as newspaper articles and the peaceful work of societies; enunciations, such as are made in every country and are absolutely beyond the control of governments. The Royal government should all the less be made responsible, because it has shown great compliance in quite a number of questions, which have arisen between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, so that it was possible to resolve most of them in the interest of progress in the two neighbouring countries.
For these reasons the Royal government was painfully surprised, when the assertion was made, that Serbian subjects were supposed to have taken part in the preparations for the crime of Sarajevo [i.e. the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife]. The government had expected to be asked to collaborate in the investigation of the criminals, and was prepared to give proof of the correctness of its attitude, by proceeding against all persons about whom it would have received information from Austria-Hungary.
The assertion of the Royal Serbian government that enunciations of the press and the doings of societies are private concerns and cannot be controlled by governments, runs counter to the institutions of modern states, even the most liberal ones, which have laws for the press and for societies, and place them under government supervision. The Serbian law is no exception to the rule. We rebuke the Serbian government for what it neglected: the supervision of its press and its societies, whose hostility towards the monarchy must have been well-known to it.
This assertion is incorrect the Serbian government was perfectly well informed that certain persons were suspected, and would, even according to its own laws, have been obliged to investigate on its own account. But it did not make the slightest movement in this direction.
In accordance with the wishes of the Imperial and Royal government, the Royal government is ready to place before a law court any Serbian subject, regardless of position or rank, for whom proof is given, that he has participated in the crime of Sarajevo; it is prepared to publish on the first page of the official gazette of the 13/26 July the following declaration:
“The Royal government of Serbia condemns all propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, it condemns all efforts leading to the ultimate result of disjoining parts of the territory of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and it deeply regrets the sad consequences of such criminal dealings.”
This is what we demanded: “The Royal Serbian government condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary…”
The change, which the Royal Serbian government has made in the text of the declaration we demand, is intended to signify that there is no propaganda specially directed against the monarchy, and that the government knows of no such thing. The formula is insincere and deceitful. It contains the reservation for later on, that the Serbian government did not recognise the present propaganda as being directed against the monarchy, from it which might be deduced that the government could not be asked to suppress a propaganda which would be like the one we have now.
The Royal government regrets that, according to information from the Imperial and Royal government, certain Serbian officers and civil servants have been actively engaged in the above-mentioned propaganda and have thereby endangered the duration of the friendly and neighbourly relations, to which the Royal government had promised to adhere by the solemn declaration of 31 March 1909.
“The government…’ word for word the text as it was demanded.
What we asked the Serbian government to say was this: “The Royal government regrets that Serbian officers and civil servants participated…” In this as in the above, and in the insertion “according to information from the Imperial and Royal government”, the Serbian government is aiming at keeping a free hand for the future.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.