Serbia's Reply to the Austro-Hungarian Note

A few minutes before 6 p. m., July 25, 1914, the Serbian Government made its reply to the Austrian note.

This declared that no attempts had been made, or declarations uttered, by responsible representatives of Serbia, tending to subvert Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina, since March 31, 1909, when protests against the annexation of these countries made in the Skupshtina (Serbian Parliament) were cut short by declarations of the Serbian Government. It drew attention to the fact that Austria-Hungary had since then made no complaint in this connection save in regard to a school book, concerning which it had received an entirely satisfactory explanation.

"Serbia has several times given proofs of her pacific and moderate policy during the Balkan crisis, and it is thanks to Serbia and to the sacrifice that she has made in the exclusive interest of European peace that that peace has been preserved. The Royal Government cannot be held responsible for manifestations of a private character, such as articles in the press and the peaceable work of societies—manifestations which take place in nearly all countries in the ordinary course of events, and which, as a general rule, escape official control. The Royal Government are all the less responsible, in view of the fact that at the time of the solution of a series of questions which arose between Serbia and Austria-Hungary they gave proof of a great readiness to oblige, and thus succeeded in settling the majority of these questions to the advantage of the two neighboring countries.

"For these reasons the Royal Government have been pained and surprised at the statements, according to which members of the Kingdom of Serbia are supposed to have participated in the preparations for the crime committed at Sarajevo; the Royal Government expected to be invited to collaborate in an investigation of all that concerns this crime, and they were ready, in order to prove the entire correctness of their attitude, to take measures against any persons concerning whom representations were made to them. Falling in, therefore, with the desire of the Imperial and Royal Government, they are prepared to hand over for trial any Serbian subject, without regard to his situation or rank, of whose complicity in the crime of Sarajevo proofs are forthcoming, and more especially they undertake to cause to be published on the first page of the 'Journal officiel,' on the date of July 26, the following declaration":

[Here follows the declaration required by Austria-Hungary, with alterations intended to lessen the humiliation, which changes will be noted in a following criticism by the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office.]

"This declaration will be brought to the knowledge of the Royal army in an order of the day, in the name of his majesty the king, by his Royal Highness the Crown Prince Alexander, and will be published in the next official army bulletin.

"The Royal Government further undertake:

"1. To introduce at the first regular convocation of the Skupshtina a provision into the press law providing for the most severe punishment of incitement to hatred or contempt of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and for taking action against any publication the general tendency of which is directed against the territorial integrity of Austria-Hungary. The Government engage at the approaching revision of the Constitution to cause an amendment to be introduced into Article XXII of the Constitution of such a nature that such publication may be confiscated, a proceeding at present impossible under the categorical terms of Article XXII of the Constitution.

"2. The Government possess no proof, nor does the note of the Imperial and Royal Government furnish them with any, that the 'Narodna Odbrana' and other similar societies have committed up to the present any criminal act of this nature through the proceedings of any of their members. Nevertheless, the Royal Government will accept the demand of the Imperial and Royal Government, and will dissolve the 'Narodna Odbrana" Society and every other society which may be directing its efforts against Austria-Hungary.

"3. The Royal Serbian Government undertake to remove without delay from their public educational establishments in Serbia all that serves or could serve to foment propaganda against Austria-Hungary, whenever the Imperial and Royal Government furnish them with facts and proofs of this propaganda.

"4. The Royal Government also agree to remove from military service all such persons as the judicial inquiry may have proved to be guilty of acts directed against the integrity of the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and they expect the Imperial and Royal Government to communicate to them at a later date the names and the acts of these officers and officials for the purposes of the proceedings which are to be taken against them.

"5. The Royal Government must confess that they do not clearly grasp the meaning or the scope of the demand made by the Imperial and Royal Government that Serbia shall undertake to accept the collaboration of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government upon their territory, but they declare that they will admit such collaboration as agrees with the principle of international law, with criminal procedure, and with good neighborly relations.

"6. It goes without saying that the Royal Government consider it their duty to open an inquiry against all such persons as are, or eventually may be, implicated in the plot of June 28, and who happen to be within the territory of the kingdom. As regards the participation in this inquiry of Austro-Hungarian agents or authorities appointed for this purpose by the Imperial and Royal Government, the Royal Government cannot accept such an arrangement, as it would be a violation of the constitution and of the law of criminal procedure; nevertheless, in concrete cases communications as to the results of the investigations in question might be given to the Austro-Hungarian agents.

"7. The Royal Government proceeded, on the very evening of the delivery of the note, to arrest Commandant Voislav Tankossitch. As regards Milan Ziganovitch, who is a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and who up to June 28 was employed (on probation) by the directorate of railways, it has not yet been possible to arrest him.

"The Austro-Hungarian Government are requested to be so good as to supply as soon as possible, in the customary form, the presumptive evidence of guilt, as well as the eventual proofs of guilt which have been collected up to the present, at the inquiry at Sarajevo for the purposes of the later inquiry.

"8. The Serbian Government will reinforce and extend the measures which have been taken for preventing the illicit traffic of arms and explosives across the frontier. It goes without saying that they will immediately order an inquiry and will severely punish the frontier officials on the Schabatz-Loznitza line who have failed in their duty and allowed the authors of the crime of Sarajevo to pass.

"9. The Royal Government will gladly give explanations of the remarks made by their officials whether in Serbia or abroad, in interviews after the crime which according to the statement of the Imperial and Royal Government were hostile toward the [Dual] Monarchy, as soon as the Imperial and Royal Government have communicated to them the passages in question in these remarks, and as soon as they have shown that the remarks were actually made by the said officials, although the Royal Government will itself take steps to collect evidence and proofs.

"10. The Royal Government will inform the Imperial and Royal Government of the execution of the measures comprised under the above heads, in so far as this has not already been done by the present note, as soon as each measure has been ordered and carried out.

"If the Imperial and Royal Government are not satisfied with this reply, the Serbian Government, considering that it is not to the common interest to precipitate the solution of this question, are ready, as always, to accept a pacific understanding, either by referring this question to the decision of the International Tribunal of The Hague, or to the Great Powers which took part in the drawing up of the declaration made by the Serbian Government on March 31, 1909."

The Austro-Hungarian Minister to Belgrade, Baron Giesl von Gieslingen, to whom the reply was delivered, on comparing it with his instructions, declared it unsatisfactory, and informed M. Pashitch, the Serbian Prime Minister that he and his legation would leave Belgrade that evening, turning over his Government's interests in Serbia to the German Legation. Rupture in diplomatic relations between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, he said, was a fait accompli. These events M. Pashitch reported on the same day to all the Serbian Legations abroad, and further announced:

"The Royal Serbian Government have summoned the Skupshtina to meet on July 27 at Nish, whither all the ministries with their staffs are proceeding this evening. The crown prince has issued, in the name of the king, an order for the mobilization of the army, while to-morrow or the day after a proclamation will be made in which it will be announced that civilians who are not liable to military service should remain peaceably at home, while soldiers should proceed to their appointed posts and defend the country to the best of their ability, in the event of Serbia being attacked."

The Austrian Minister left Belgrade at 6.30 p. m. for Vienna. On the same day the Serbian Minister at Vienna, M. Yov. Yovanovitch, received his passports. On the same day the Serbian reply was presented at Vienna, where it received the following commentaries by the Foreign Office:

"The Royal Serbian Government limits itself to establishing that since the declaration of March 31, 1909, there has been no attempt on the part of the Serbian Government to alter the position of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"With this she deliberately shifts the foundation of our note, as we have not insisted that she and her officials have undertaken anything official in this direction. Our gravamen is that in spite of the obligation assumed in the cited note, she has omitted to suppress the movement directed against the territorial integrity of the monarchy.

"Her obligation consisted in changing her attitude and the entire direction of her policies, and in entering into friendly and neighborly relations with the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and not to interfere with the possession of Bosnia.

"The assertion of the Royal Serbian Government that the expressions of the press and the activity of Serbian associations possess a private character and thus escape governmental control, stands in full contrast with the institutions of modern states and even the most liberal of press and society laws, which nearly everywhere subject the press and the societies to a certain control of the state. This is also provided for by the Serbian institutions. The rebuke against the Serbian Government consists in the fact that it has totally omitted to supervise its press and its societies, in so far as it knew their direction to be hostile to the [Dual] Monarchy.

"The assertion [that the Serbian Government was ready to proceed against all persons in regard to whom it would receive information] is incorrect. The Serbian Government was accurately informed about the suspicion resting upon quite definite personalities and not only in the position, but also obliged by its own laws to institute investigations spontaneously. The Serbian Government has done nothing in this direction."

The Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office objected to the alterations made by Serbia in the declaration published in the official organ. This, in the Serbian reply, began:

"The Royal Serbian Government condemns every propaganda which should be directed against Austria-Hungary.

"The Austrian demand reads: 'The Royal Serbian Government condemns the propaganda against Austria-Hungary....' The alteration of the declaration as demanded by us, which has been made by the Royal Serbian Government, is meant to imply that a propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary does not exist, and that it is not aware of such. This formula is insincere, and the Serbian Government reserves itself the subterfuge for later occasions that it had not disavowed by this declaration the existing propaganda, nor recognized the same as hostile to the [Dual] Monarchy, whence it could deduce further that it is not obliged to suppress in the future a propaganda similar to the present one."

Objection was similarly made to the alteration in the Serbian apology for acts of Serbian officers. This apology began:

"The Royal Government regrets that according to a communication of the Imperial and Royal Government certain Serbian officers and functionaries have participated in the propaganda.

"The formula as demanded by Austria reads: The Royal Government regrets that Serbian officers and functionaries ... have participated.... Also with this formula and the further addition 'according to the declaration of the Imperial and Royal Government,' the Serbian Government pursues the object, already indicated above, to preserve a free hand for the future.

"Austria had demanded:

"1. To suppress every publication which incites to hatred and contempt for the [Dual] Monarchy, and whose tendency is directed against the territorial integrity of the monarchy.

"We wanted to bring about the obligation for Serbia to take care that such attacks of the press would cease in the future.

"Instead Serbia offers to pass certain laws which are meant as means toward this end, viz:

"(a) A law according to which the expressions of the press hostile to the [Dual] Monarchy can be individually punished, a matter which is immaterial to us, all the more so, as the individual prosecution of press intrigues is very rarely possible and as, with a lax enforcement of such laws, the few cases of this nature would not be punished. The proposition, therefore, does not meet our demand in any way, and it offers not the least guaranty for the desired success.

"(b) An amendment to article 22 of the constitution, which would permit confiscation, a proposal which does not satisfy us, as the existence of such a law in Serbia is of no use to us. For we want the obligation of the Government to enforce it and that has not been promised us.

"These proposals are therefore entirely unsatisfactory and evasive as we are not told within what time these laws will be passed, and as in the event of the not passing of these laws by the Skupshtina everything would remain as it is, except in the event of a possible resignation of the Government.

"2. The propaganda of the Narodna Odbrana and affiliated societies hostile to the [Dual] Monarchy fills the entire public life of Serbia; it is therefore an entirely inacceptable reserve if the Serbian Government asserts that it knows nothing about it. Aside from this, our demand is not completely fulfilled, as we have asked besides:

"To confiscate the means of propaganda of these societies to prevent the reformation of the dissolved societies under another name and in another form.

"In these two directions the Belgrade Cabinet is perfectly silent, so that through this semiconcession there is offered us no guaranty for putting an end to the agitation of the associations hostile to the monarchy, especially the Narodna Odbrana.

"3. The Serbian Government first demands proofs for a propaganda hostile to the monarchy in the public instruction of Serbia while it must know that the textbooks introduced in the Serbian schools contain objectionable matter in this direction and that a large portion of the teachers are in the camp of the Narodna Odbrana and affiliated societies.

"Furthermore the Serbian Government has not fulfilled a part of our demands, as we have requested, as it omitted in its text the addition desired by us: 'as far as the body of instructors is concerned, as well as the means of instruction'—a sentence which shows clearly where the propaganda hostile to the monarchy is to be found in the Serbian schools.

"4. By promising the dismissal from the military and civil services of those officers and officials who are found guilty by judicial procedure, the Serbian Government limits its assent to those cases, in which these persons have been charged with a crime according to the statutory code. As, however, we demand the removal of such officers and officials as indulge in a propaganda hostile to the monarchy, which is generally not punishable in Serbia, our demands have not been fulfilled in this point."
5. The Serbian reply declared that Serbia was willing to permit that cooperation of officials of the [Dual] Monarchy on Serbian territory which does not run counter to international law and criminal law.

"The international law, as well as the criminal law, has nothing to do with this question; it is purely a matter of the nature of state police which is to be solved by way of a special agreement. The reserved attitude of Serbia is therefore incomprehensible and on account of its vague general form it would lead to unbridgeable difficulties.

"6. The Austrian demand was clear and unmistakable:

"1. To institute a criminal procedure against the participants in the outrage.

"2. Participation by Imperial and Royal Government officials in the examinations ('recherche' in contrast with 'enquête judiciaire').

"3. It did not occur to us to let Imperial and Royal Government officials participate in the Serbian court procedure; they were to cooperate only in the police researches which had to furnish and fix the material for the investigation.

"If the Serbian Government misunderstands us here, this is done deliberately, for it must be familiar with the difference between 'enquête judiciaire' and simple police researches. As it desired to escape from every control of the investigation which would yield, if correctly carried out, highly undesirable results for it, and as it possesses no means to refuse in a plausible manner the cooperation of our officials (precedents for such police intervention exist in great numbers) it tries to justify its refusal by showing up our demands as impossible.

"(In reference to arrest of conspirators).

"7. This reply is disingenuous. According to our investigation, Ciganowic, by order of the police prefect in Belgrade, left three days after the outrage for Ribari, after it had become known that Ciganowic had participated in the outrage. In the first place, it is therefore incorrect that Ciganowic left the Serbian service on June 28. In the second place, we add that the prefect of police at Belgrade, who had himself caused the departure of this Ciganowic and who knew his whereabout, declared in an interview that a man by the name of Milan Ciganowic did not exist in Belgrade.

"9. (In reference to expressions made against Austria-Hungary by Serbian officials in interviews.)

"The Royal Serbian Government must be aware of the interviews in question. If it demands of the Imperial and Royal Government that it should furnish all kinds of detail about the said interviews and if it reserves for itself the right of a formal investigation, it shows that it is not its intention seriously to fulfill the demand.

"10. (In reference to referring the dispute to arbitration of the powers.)

"The Serbian Note, therefore, is entirely a play for time."

In nearly four weeks of fighting since 8 August over 100,000 German prisoners were taken, 75,000 by the BEF and the rest by the French. Since "The Black Day of the German Army" the German High Command realized the war was lost and made attempts for a satisfactory end. The day after the battle Ludenforff told Colonel Mertz "We cannot win the war any more, but we must not lose it either." On 11 August he offered his resignation to the Kaiser, who refused it and replied, "I see that we must strike a balance. We have nearly reached the limit of our powers of resistance. The war must be ended." On 13 August at Spa, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Chancellor and Foreign minister Hintz agreed that the war could not be ended militarily and on the following day the German Crown Council decided victory in the field was now most improbable. Austria and Hungary warned that they could only continue the war until December and Ludendorff recommended immediate peace negotiations, to which the Kaiser responded by instructing Hintz to seek the Queen of Holland's mediation. Prince Rupprecht warned Prince Max of Baden "Our military situation has deteriorated so rapidly that I no longer believe we can hold out over the winter; it is even possible that a catastrophe will come earlier." On 10 September Hindenburg urged peace moves to Emperor Charles of Austria and Germany appealed to Holland for mediation. On the 14th Austria sent a note to all belligerents and neutrals suggesting a meeting for peace talks on neutral soil and on 15 September Germany made a peace offer to Belgium. Both peace offers were rejected and on 24 September OHL informed the leaders in Berlin that armistice talks were inevitable.