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The Habsburgs' war


The Guardian, Monday 20 January 2014 21.00 GMT

Most historians would question the claim that the Habsburgs should not be blamed for causing the first world war (Report, 16 January). In 1914, certainly, each European state including Britain embarked on war to protect its vital interests. It is also true that the Habsburg archduke Franz Ferdinand was usually a peacemaker and, had he lived, would have argued against war with Serbia in July 1914. However, most of the Habsburg elite in Vienna following Emperor Franz Joseph's mindset were determined to crush "the Serbian snake", and knew this risked provoking war. They took that risk and therefore bear a large portion of blame for events spiralling out of control. The elitism of Austria-Hungary's rulers and their paranoia about the Balkans has always been a key factor in explaining why the Great War finally occurred. Mark Cornwall Professor of modern European history, University of Southampton Sign up for the Guardian Today
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