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 III of that telegram (see previous post).
The Royal Serbian government, moreover, binds itself to the following agreements:
- When the Skuptschina [i.e. Serbian Parliament] next meets, a paragraph will be inserted threatening severe punishment to whoever incites to hatred or contempt against the Monarchy, and to all publications, whose general tendency is directed against the territorial integrity of Austria-Hungary. When the forthcoming revision of the constitution takes place, an addition will be made to Article XII of the constitutional law, by which it will be possible to confiscate such publications, a thing that cannot be done according to the present wording of the article.
- The government has no proof, nor does the Note of the Imperial and Royal government [i.e. the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia] give any such proof, according to which the ‘Narodna odbrana’ [i.e. the Black Hand] and similar societies have up to this time committed criminal actions, such as are here in question, through any of their members. Still the Royal [Serbian] government will comply with the demand of the Imperial and Royal government, and dissolve the ‘Narodna odbrana’ and every other society which shows itself hostile to Austria-Hungary.
What we asked was: “1. To suppress every publication which might incite to hatred or contempt against the Monarchy, or whose general tendency was directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy.”
We wished Serbia to undertake the obligation of preventing similar attacks by the press in future; we were anxious to ensure success in this matter.
Instead of this, Serbia offers to propose certain laws, which may serve as a means for attaining the desired end, that is;
- a) a law, by which the hostile enunciations of the press might be punished in a subjective way, a thing to which we are altogether indifferent, all the more because we know by experience that it is rarely possible to obtain punishment for an offence committed through the press; our demand in this case is therefore not complied with, since there is no guarantee that we shall be successful in what we are striving after.
- b) an additional law to Article XII of the Constitution, which would make confiscation possible; a proposition which again cannot satisfy us, because the government does not promise to apply the law, when it has been decreed and we have no means of compelling the government to apply it. These propositions are therefore absolutely unsatisfactory, and they are, moreover, evasive, since we are not to know when the laws would be decreed, nor what the government would do, if the Skuptschina refused to vote on them, in which case we have no doubt, everything will remain as it is.
The propaganda of the “Narodna odbrana” and its hostility to the Monarchy dominates public life in all Serbia, it cannot therefore be taken seriously when the government declares to know nothing about it.
Besides our demand is not fully complied with, for to our demand for the society’s dissolution, we have added: (1) that the means used for propaganda by these societies must be confiscated, and, (2) the reorganisation of the societies under another name must be prevented.
On both these points the Belgrade cabinet is silent, so that the half-promise given, offers us no guarantee that the hostile dealings of the societies, especially the “Narodna odbrana” will end definitely, when the society is dissolved.
- The Royal Serbian government promises to eliminate without delay everything from public instruction in Serbia, which might serve the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary if the Imperial and Royal government shows effective proof of this propaganda.
In this case again the Serbian government asks for proof that hostile propaganda is taught in the public schools, whereas it certainly knows that in all the schoolbooks used in Serbia under the eyes of the government is contained material of the kind objected to, and that a great proportion of Serbian teachers are members of the “Narodna odbrana” or of kindred societies.
In the fulfilment of this demand, the Serbian government has also left out a part. We had asked for a revision of “the body of teachers as well as the means with which they taught”. Of this sentence no notice was taken, though it showed clearly where hostile propaganda is to be found in Serbian schools.
- The Royal Serbian government is prepared to dismiss from military and civilian service those officers and civil servants who will be proven by judicial inquiry to have been guilty of actions directed against the integrity of the monarchy; the government expects to receive from the Imperial and Royal government the names of these officers and civil servants and the acts of which they are accused, so that an inquiry can be set up.
The Royal Serbian government promises to dismiss from the military and the civil service the officers and civil servants in question only when they have been found guilty by judicial proceedings, and hereby limits its promise to such cases where an offence, subject to penal law, has been committed. What we demand, is that those officers and public officials, who were busy with hostile propaganda, should be removed, which in Serbia is generally speaking, not punishable, so that our demand remains unfulfilled.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.