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Lothar Hobelt

Thomas G. Otte

Qi Sbmg Qinac^rom^m ?
European Diplomacy and
the Habsburg Monarchy
Festschrift fiir Francis Roy Bridge
zum 70. Geburtstag

Bohlau Verlag Wien Koln Weimar

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Roy Bridge zum 70. Geburtstag

L O T H A R H o BELT & T . G . O T T E




'Unravelling Silk': Princess Lieven, Metternich and Castlereagh



Palmerston and Austria



Austria and the "Galician Massacres" of 1846



'Knavery or Folly'?: The British "Official Mind" and

the Habsburg Monarchy, 1856-1914



Die Dalmatienreise Kaiser Franz Josephs 1875 im Kontext der

politischen Richtungsentscheidungen der Habsburgermonarchie
am Vorabend der orientalischen Krise



The Bosnian Crisis Revisited: Why did the Austrian Liberals

oppose Andrassy ?



Der menschliche Faktor in der Politik am Beispiel der Botschaftertatigkeit Philipp Eulenburgs



Das Wilhelminische Kaiserreich zwischen Nationalstaat und




The Habsburg Elite and the Southern Slav Question 1914-1918 ... 239
List of Contributors



The Habsburg Elite and

the Southern Slav Question 1914-1918

n 24 July 1914, the day on which the Serbian government in Belgrade was poring over a rigid ultimatum from Austria-Hungary, the
Hungarian capital was struck by a dramatic thunderstorm. Outside the
Budapest parliament, a statue of Gyula Andrassy, one of the architects
of the Habsburg monarchy's dualist system, was supposedly seen to totter in the face of the elements. In Vienna, Lajos Thalloczy, responsible
for Bosnian affairs in the common finance ministry, noted in his diary
that medieval chroniclers usually took such events to be portents of an
upheaval, himself implying that a calamity was about to beset the kingdom of Serbia.' Indeed, the Habsburg elite over the previous three weeks
had resolved to scotch the Serbian 'nest of vipers' as a means of settling
once and for all the monarchy's 'southern Slav question'. If the inclement omens were to be believed, this struggle, which the elite saw as vital
for Austria-Hungary's existence, was one that might have a particular
resonance for the Magyars, challenging the dualist system upon which
Magyar hegemony rested in the empire. On 25 July, as Austria-Hungary
duly rejected Serbia's response, Count Istvan Burian coincidentally applied the same metaphor as Thalloczy, noting in his diary that 'across
the whole of Europe our steps are rumbling like a storm which truly will
decide our destiny'.It is a truism for historians that in 1914 Austria-Hungary went to war
in order to crush Serbia and, in doing so, aimed also to annihilate Russian
influence in the Balkans. The Habsburg elite's decisions in the July crisis
have been endlessly examined and dissected.^ Similarly for the war itself,
1 Ferdinand H a u p t m a n n a n d A n t o n Prasch (eds), Dr Ludwig Thalloczy - Tagebucher, 23. VI. 1914-31.
XII. 1914 (Graz, 1 9 8 1 ) , p . 5 6 ,
2 Bard Buridn Istvdn naploi 1907-1922
[hereafter Buridn naploi], (Budapest,
1 9 9 9 ) , p . l 0 9 : 2 5 July 1914.
3 Over the past twenty years, see especially J o h n Leslie, 'The Antecedents of Austria-Hungary's War Aims. Policies and Policy-Makers in Vienna and Budapest before
and during 1 9 1 4 ' , in Elisabeth Springer and Leopold K a m m e r h o f e r (eds), Archiv und


A Living Anachronism ?

Roy Bridge and others have illuminated how the elite's initially limited
objectives in the Balkans multiplied as the European war snowballed,
and how for the monarchy its most fatal entanglement quickly became
its alliance with the German Reich/ Amid these studies, due attention
has been paid to Austria-Hungary's wartime Balkan mission, particularly
with regard to the military conquest and occupation of Serbia/ Andrej
Mitrovic for instance, in the spirit of the Habsburg elite's obsession in
July 1914, focused on Serbia in his authoritative framework for explaining Habsburg (and German) imperialism in the peninsula/ Generally, the
external or irredentist dimensions of the monarchy's south Slav problem
have been to the fore, largely in keeping with the mindset of the Ballhausplatz and the Austrian High Command.
Far less frequently have historians probed what the southern Slav question meant as a whole, in its domestic as well as its foreign or irredentist
manifestations, for the Habsburg wartime leadership. In the later years of
Yugoslav historiography, some fine works appeared from a Slovene and
Bosnian perspective which incorporated the elite viewpoint to a degree;
and the Croatian historian Dragovan Sepic produced perhaps the best
archive-based synthesis of how the Yugoslav idea evolved in the shifting
political and diplomatic frameworks of the war.' Rarely however has the
Forschung. Das Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv in seiner Bedeutung fUr Geschichte
Osterreichs und Europas (Vienna and Munich, 1993), pp. 3 0 7 - 9 4 ; F.R. Bridge, The
Habsburg Monarchy among the Great Powers, 1815-1918 (New York and Oxford,
1990), pp. 3 3 5 - 4 4 ; Samuel R. WilHamson, Austria-Hungary
and the Origins of the
First World War (Basingstoke, 1991), pp. 1 9 0 - 2 1 6 ; and most recently, Williamson,
'Aggressive and Defensive Aims of Political Elites? Austro-Hungarian Policy in 1914',
in Holger Afflerbach and David Stevenson (eds), An Improbable War? The Outbreak
of World War I and European Political Culture before 1914 (New York and Oxford,
2007), pp. 6 1 - 7 4 .
4 Bridge, The Habsburg Monarchy, pp. 3 4 5 - 7 0 ; Manfried Rauchensteiner, Der
Tod des Doppeladlers: Osterreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg (Graz, 1993).
5 See most recently, Jonathan Gumz, The Resurrection and Collapse of Empire
in Habsburg Serbia, 1914-1918 (Cambridge, 2009), which however appeared too
late for me to consult.
6 Andrej Mitrovic, Prodor na Balkan i Srbija 1908-1918 (Belgrade, 1981). See
also Mitrovic, 'Die Balkanplane der Ballhausplatz-Biirokratie im Ersten Weltkriege
1 9 1 4 - 1 9 1 8 ' , in F. Glatz and R. Melville (eds), Gesellschaft, Politik und Verwaltung in
der Habsburgermonarchie
1830-1918 (Stuttgart, 1987); and Helmut Rumpler, 'Die
Kriegsziele Osterreich-Ungarns auf dem Balkan 1915/16', in Osterreich und Europa.
Festgabe fur Hugo Hantsch zum 70. Geburtstag (Graz, Vienna and Cologne, 1965).
7 Dragovan Sepic, Italija, Saveznici i jugoslavensko pitanje 1914-1918 (Zagreb,
1970). For the Slovenes: Janko Pleterski, Prvo opredeljenje Slovenaca za Jugosalviju



Habsburg elite's stance on how to resolve the question in the monarchy been explored holistically, illustrating not just the leaders' competing
views over the fate of Serbia, but also uncovering their range of schemes
for restructuring Austria-Hungary's south Slav territories. In the early
years of the war most of these plans gained a hearing because of the empire's periodic military successes on the Balkan and eastern fronts, and
were largely conceived as ways of completely eliminating any notion of
south Slav unification. But in 1917-18, as the Yugoslav idea was able to
manifest itself more strongly at home, some of the elite reacted in tandem
and viewed domestic south Slav unity as a way forward for the monarchy
to master the situation pro-actively at the eleventh hour.
Whereas in July 1914 this was a question exercising a small Habsburg
elite in Vienna, by 1918 those contributing to the debate not only included regional experts in Bosnia or Montenegro, but also a new elite: particularly those Slovene or Croat leaders who from the summer of 1917
were re-establishing influence over their popular constituencies and proposing their own agendas for a south Slav solution. In the face of domestic and foreign developments, some among the Habsburg leadership saw
the need to swim with the tide rather than be stranded on a stony beach.
For many, however, the underlying mindset as exposed in July 1914 had
not really changed (even if many of the key players had). Just as in July
1914 the elite was unanimous that the south Slav problem must be finally
settled, so in October 1918 the consensus was that it remained the 'most
burning question' affecting the existence of the monarchy.^ The following
discussion aims with fresh evidence to shed new light on the road that
the elite travelled over these four years, when different priorities tended
to hamper a common engagement with the question. It highlights the
potential opportunities for (and obstacles to) a Yugoslav solution within
the Habsburg monarchy, and also seeks to explain why in 1918 it was

(Belgrade, 1976). For Bosnia: Hamdija Kapidzic, Bosna i Hercegovina pod austrougarskom upravom (Sarajevo, 1962). For Croatia, the focus is narrower (mainly on
Croatian Sabor wartime debates) in Bogdan Krizman, Hrvatska u prvom svjetskoni
ratu. Hrvatsko-srpski politicki odnosi (Zagreb, 1989).
8 See for example, Arthur Baron Arz, Kampf und Sturz der Kaiserreiche (Vienna
and Leipzig, 1935), p.108; and the discussions on this subject in the common ministerial council in October 1918: minutes reproduced in M a r k Cornwall (ed.), The Last
Years of Austria-Hungary. A Multi-National
Experiment in Early Tiventieth-Ce7itury
Europe (Exeter, 2002), pp. 198, 203.


A Living Anachronism ?

the 'new eUte' who eclipsed the old in taking control of the south Slav
5;- i'r

In the July crisis of 1914, the decision-makers in Vienna all agreed that
the chief way to cure the south Slav cancer was to humiliate Serbia. Most
of the discussions were about the tactics for achieving this, militarily
and diplomatically, and resulted in the ultimatum of 23 July. It was also
agreed early on that the crisis in the aftermath of the Sarajevo murders
could not be settled simply by energetic domestic action. For instance,
at the common ministerial council of 7 July, the Austrian prime minister, count Karl Stiirgkh, noted that the issue of confronting Serbia had
eclipsed any Habsburg measures in Bosnia; he echoed the alarmist view
of Bosnia's governor-general, Oskar Potiorek, that the monarchy might
not be able to hold Bosnia if it did not attack and crush Serbia.' The external threat was viewed as preeminent. However, from this perception,
as Helmut Rumpler has emphasized, it is not possible to disentangle the
domestic political roots and expected repercussions of Habsburg foreign
policy: an underlying Primat der Innenpolitik in the case of the south Slav
question.'" Although the elite was focusing on Serbia, there were many
underlying assumptions, usually unspoken or implied because of recent
experiences, about how a settlement with Serbia would produce a settlement within the empire's borders. A few of those present, for instance the
war minister Alexander Krobatin, stressed openly that by not attacking
Serbia the monarchy would be displaying weakness in its own south Slav
provinces; privately he warned the Hungarian prime minister, count Istvan Tisza, about greater Serbian agitation in Croatia and beyond." One
of the major results therefore expected from the local war with Serbia

9 Mikos Komjathy (ed.), Protokolle des gemeinsamen Ministerrates der osterreichisch-ungarischen

Monarchie (1914-1918)
[hereafter Protokolle], (Budapest,
1966), p.144. Stiirgkh made a similar argument to the Austrian cabinet on 9 July:
Leshe, 'Antecedents', p. 356.
10 Helmut Rumpler, 'Die rechtlich-organisatorischen und sozialen Rahmenbedingungen fiir die Aussenpolitik der Habburgermonarchie 1 8 4 8 - 1 9 1 8 ' , in Adam
Wandruszka and Peter Urbanitsch (eds), Die Habsburgermonarchie
Band VI/1: Die Habsburgermonarchie
im System der internationalen Beziehungen,
1. Teilband (Vienna, 1989), p.120.
11 Carvel de Bussy (ed.), Count Stephen Tisza, Prime Minister of Hungary.
Letters 1914-1916 (New York and Bern, 1991), p p . 8 - 9 (Krobatin to Tisza, 14 July
1914); Protokolle, p. 146.



was that the south Slav problem at home would not just be stabihzed but
would disappear altogether.
In July 1914 the underlying agendas and concerns about the future
domestic solution, even if not fully thought through, came to the surface particularly as the leadership squabbled over whether Serbia should
be annexed after victory. Two main stances were evident, both with a
long pedigree from the previous Balkan crises, and both revolving around
the thorny issue of the monarchy's dualist system. On the one hand, as
represented most forcefully by Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, the army
chief of staff, there was the desire to annex Serbia to the monarchy in
some form, completely destroying its independence and its ability to act
as a 'Yugoslav Piedmont' in the future. When Conrad had mooted this
in 1907, it was part of a south Slav solution he had long considered in
favour of Croatia (perhaps since 1878 when he had warmed to the Croat
bishop Josip Strossmayer's antipathy for Hungary). Namely, the monarchy ought to be restructured as a trialist empire, its third state based
in the south around Croatia, Bosnia and the core of annexed Serbia. In
the years after the annexation of Bosnia in 1908, Conrad seems to have
abandoned trialism as the region looked so unstable, but in the crises of
1913-14 his obsession with seizing large parts of Serbia had returned.'^
The underlying implication was still that some restructuring in the south
would eventually ensue, not only scotching the Serbian snake but weakening Magyar hegemony by the abandonment of dualism. As we will see,
Conrad would consistently maintain this stance in the war years.
Its main opponents were the 'imperial Magyars' - Tisza and his minister in Vienna, Istvan Burian - who viewed the world through both an
imperial and Magyar dualist lens. This obsession too would be taken into
the war. In 1907, as common finance minister (responsible for Bosnia),
Burian had set out for the emperor a scheme for calming the south Slav
question while retaining dualism. He proposed that, in tune with Croatian
state right and as set out in the Hungarian-Croatian settlement of 1868,
Dalmatia should be added to Croatia and then Bosnia-Herzegovina also
12 I would give this more emphasis than either Roy Bridge {The Habsburg Monarchy, pp. 3 3 7 - 8 ) or Samuel Williamson ('Aggressive and Defensive Aims', p. 69).
13 Leslie, 'Antecedents', pp. 3 1 1 - 1 8 . See also, for Conrad's earlier pro-Croatian
views: Lawrence Sondhaus, Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf. Architect of the Apocalypse (Boston, Leiden and Cologne, 2000), pp. 19, 24, 62. Conrad, fluent in Serbo-Croat
by 1881, had told Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1901 that he urgently favoured resolving the south Slav question by trialism 'in favour of the Croatians'.


A Living Anachronism ?

loosely attached in a sub-dualist structure under Hungary's control; Serbia could be given to Bulgaria but not annexed to the monarchy. A few
years later, after the Bosnian crisis of 1908-9, Burian continued to urge a
form of this solution in order to settle Bosnia's unresolved constitutional
status within the dualist system. Certainly, one point where Burian was
ready to convince a sceptical Tisza was on the matter of incorporating
more Slavs into Hungary. This might occur through the existing subdualist framework, but the evidence suggests that Burian envisaged the
pieces of the south Slav jigsaw remaining separated, as autonomous satellites that would circle round the 'Hungarian empire' (with Serbia apart,
isolated or dissected).''*
This conservative programme of the Magyar leaders, with its dualist
obsession, was evident in the July crisis even if one often has to read between the lines. Already in early July, Burian felt that the crisis offered an
opportunity to resolve Bosnia's status through annexation by Hungary,
but he himself also veered in a harsher direction over Serbia, euphemistically telling Thalloczy that he favoured tying the Serb hands so tight
that they would remain quiet for a long time." Tisza, as is well known,
favoured a less belligerent course towards Belgrade. A number of arguments would win him over to the majority view of an uncompromising
ultimatum. If perhaps he chiefly needed reassurance about the danger to
Hungary from Romania, he was also constantly perturbed in July by a
war that could result in an annexation of Serbian territory. True, this was
partly due to fears that Russia would then remain eternally intransigent,
but there was also his consistent view that Hungarian interests could be
seriously threatened in the context of some south Slav 'solution'. Thus
he exploded on 7 July when he learnt that count Hoyos had suggested in
Berlin that the monarchy might annex Serbia. The same day, the common
ministerial council was a rancorous affair, and not just because count

14 Leslie, 'Antecedents', pp. 3 2 6 - 3 7 . See also for Burian's Hungarian imperialist

approach to the Balkans, Robin Okey, 'A Trio of Hungarian Balkanists: Beni Kallay,
Istvan Burian and Lajos Thalloczy in the Age of High Nationalism', Slavonic and
East European Review, vol. 80/2 (2002), pp. 2 4 9 - 5 6 ; and Okey, Taming Balkan Nationalism. The Habsburg 'Civilizing Mission' in Bosnia, 1878-1914 (Oxford, 2007),
chapters 8 - 9 .
15 Buridn naploi, 1 and 7 July 1914, pp. 106-7; Thalloczy Tagebticher, p. 37
(7 July 1914).



Berchtold, the foreign minister, gave his guests so little to eat/* A key
point of friction was Tisza's insistence that the monarchy must not be
planning to annex swathes of Serbian territory. He received this assurance from the council, then secured it also from emperor Franz Joseph via
Burian, but once again he returned to insist on it vigorously at the council
meeting on 19 July."
The underlying premise was that dualist Hungary would be under
threat if the monarchy incorporated Serbia. The most Tisza would agree
was that some Hungarian-Serbian border rectifications might occur after
victory and that Serbia could be temporarily occupied.' The force of his
insistence on this point, though rarely emphasized by historians, is striking evidence of his fears for Hungary in some future south Slav solution;
the unspoken paranoia was about a trialist experiment as already floated
for years by Conrad and other 'Great Austrians'. Tisza might feel that his
dramatic performance in July had permanently undercut that possibility.
In fact, the qualifications agreed on 19 July about border changes were a
loop-hole that Conrad and others could later exploit. And since Burian,
the future foreign minister, was also less fearful than Tisza about some
loose south Slav jigsaw, there remained a good chance that in the turmoil
of hostilities Tisza's rigid position might be softened.
Indeed, very early in the conflict the potential for some radical restructuring of the monarchy arose. It was immediately apparent that, while the
elite in the hothouse July atmosphere had focused on Serbia and Bosnia,
the fluidity of war would offer many chances to alter the status quo on a
grander scale. The labyrinth complexity of this was clear when, in early
August, Stiirgkh and Berchtold floated the idea of uniting Russian Poland
to western Galicia in a new PoUsh conglomerate that could be attached
to Austria (an Austro-PoUsh solution). Burian endorsed this scheme of
'enlarged dualism' only if there was 'complete parity' for Hungary in
the southern Slav sphere, namely through his plan of formally attaching
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia to the crown of St Stephen. Tisza was
even more insistent on maintaining both dualism and parity for Hungary,
but as usual was more cautious than his fellow Magyar in regulating
16 Thalldczy Tagebucher, p.35 (report to Thalloczy by Biliriski); and Buridn naploi, p. 106 (7 July) noting that Tisza had poured cold water on Hoyos's suggestion
'and brought it back to reality'.
17 Buridn naploi, 12 July; the emperor's assurance; Protokolle, pp. 143, 146,
18 See Mitrovic, Prodor na Balkan, pp. 192-6.


A Living Anachronism ?

the south Slav problem, warning Burian that including Dalmatia could
be unwise; 'I believe that Croatia, Slavonia and Bosnia will give us quite
enough to digest'."
If Tisza here, under Burian's influence, was already acknowledging a
south Slav domestic settlement largely under Budapest's auspices, others
with a voice on the subject were beginning to set out alternative programmes. Most notable was the emerging scheme endorsed by Berchtold,
Potiorek and Thalloczy (the latter a 'Magyar imperialist' but one opposed
to Hungary swallowing the 'devil's child', Bosnia), that advocated dividing Bosnia-Herzegovina equally between Austria and Hungary.^" All these
plans remained academic and had died down by September as the military events took centre stage on the eastern and southern fronts. However, they already highlighted key sticking points caused by dualism and
the Hungarian-imperial relationship. These would re-emerge periodically,
albeit assumed by new voices with their own perspectives and prejudices
on how to settle the southern provinces.
As winter approached and Potiorek's army pushed forward triumphantly into Serbia, it appeared suddenly that the war was won and that
it was time to finaUze the plans already sketched out for a south Slav settlement. On 14 November, Thalloczy noted in his diary that Serbia could
become not the Piedmont but the (benign) Belgium of the Balkans.^' In
the Ballhausplatz, conscious that a victory would deter Romania from attacking, but that territorial gains in the Balkans would be grist to the mill
of Italy demanding compensation from the monarchy, Berchtold's officials proceeded to draw up both moderate and radical solutions for dealing with Serbia. Admittedly, this reflected the elite's conflicting stances in
July. Thus, if some memoranda emphasized simple border rectifications
to ensure security, others were expansionist, pushing for the empire to
annex western Serbia and attach it to Hungary together with BosniaHerzegovina and D a l m a t i a . W h i l e Potiorek's soldiers began to set the
19 Buridn naploi, 7 August 1914, p. 117; Leslie, 'Antecedents', pp. 347, 358-9;
De Bussy, Tisza, pp. 18-21.
20 Ferdinand H a u p t m a n n , 'Kombinacije oko drzavnopravnog polozaja Bosne i
Hercegovine na pocetku prvog svjetskog rata', Godisnjak druhva istorijskog Bosne i
Hercegovine, XI (1961), pp. 94ff; Thalloczy Tagebiicher, 6 and 7 August 1914.
21 Ibid., 14 November, p. 294.
22 Mitrovic, Prodor na Balkan, pp. 2 0 8 - 1 2 . All these memoranda still advocated
leaving a ' r u m p Serbia' although it would be a completely satellite state (most notably
in the radical agenda set out by Leopold von Andrian-Werburg, dated 6 December).



pace for political decisions, Tisza's views were crucial; how far he was
biddable was the issue. Particularly, he protested on learning that Potiorek in setting up a regime in occupied Serbia planned to source officials
from Hungary, Austria and Bosnia; in the employment of Bosnian officials he smelt a whiff of'trialism', insisting therefore that only Hungarian
or Croatian administrators should be used.^^ This of course would be
a check on any military machinations to annex Serbia in the long run.
Yet on the latter question there had perhaps been a small if temporary
shift in Tisza's thinking. The suspicion of Berchtold and others that the
Hungarian premier's stance might soften when faced with realities was
justified. For when Thalloczy met him on 9 December in Budapest, Tisza
agreed that Hungary might annex not just a few slivers or bridgeheads
of Serbian territory, but the city of Belgrade and the economically rich
Negotin district to the east, thereby ensuring full control of the Danube
and a strategic link to Bulgaria.^'*
In the euphoria of early December, the fate of Bosnia also seemed on
the cards, producing ever more imaginative solutions but usually within
the dualist framework and conceived separately from Serbia. Above all,
Potiorek, supported among others by Berchtold and Thalloczy, pressed
for the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina between Austria and Hungary.
Not only did brutal experiences convince Potiorek that this was the only
means of mastering a province which, he felt, would require firm control for fifty years.^ It was also a way to balance the demands of both
Hungary and Austria (seemingly ignoring any benefits to the latter from
a future Austro-Polish solution). Thalloczy in the common finance ministry was ready in December to tear himself away from his historical
studies and map out a Bosnian solution for the Ballhausplatz. Yet his
talks with interested parties showed once again that, although even Franz
23 H a u s - H o f - und Staatsarchiv, Vienna [HHStA], P.A. 1/ 973,Tisza to Berchtold,
2 December 1914. Tisza also justified this as a quid p r o quo for Austria sourcing the
officials in occupied Poland, but Stiirgkh refused to agree. See also Thalloczy Tagebucher, 7 December, p. 331.
24 Ibid., 9 December 1914, p.334. Admittedly, these gains had been suggested
also in August in a Ballhausplatz m e m o r a n d u m by the Magyar count M a r k u s Wickenburg (Leslie, 'Antecedents', pp. 3 4 4 - 5 ) . By October, Tisza was already tending in this
direction: see Jozsef Galantai, 'Tisza und die siidslawische Frage wahrend des Ersten
Weltkrieges', Annales Universitatis Scientiarum Budapestinensis,
section historica,
21 (1981), p. 249. I am most grateful to Martyn Rady for securing this article for
25 Thalloczy Tagebucher, 12 December 1914, pp. 3 3 8 - 9 .


A Living Anachronism ?

Joseph had been told of the scheme, Hungarian sensitivities would probably scupper or at least substantially delay its implementation. Burian for
one told Thalloczy that he firmly opposed it, wanting all of Bosnia for
Hungary, and that if Austria made a fuss it would come to a 'show-down
over power' in the monarchy. Alongside this 'Magyar imperialist' stance,
Tisza too showed his priorities but a seeming flexibility. He stressed to
Thalloczy that he would first demand all of Bosnia but perhaps in the end
concede a dualist division, making sure that the Hungarian half was colonized with Magyar settlers.^' This frenetic scheming in December came
to nought of course because of the successful Serbian counter-offensive
(including the re-conquest of Belgrade). Amidst the catastrophic disaster,
as Potiorek was dismissed in disgrace, it was clear that any thought of restructuring in the south was on hold. At most, the Ballhausplatz officials
moved to strengthen their future plans for a real obliteration of Serbia
with major annexation of territory." As in July 1914 the implication was
that this would go a long way to eliminating any south Slav agitation in
the monarchy.
Early in 1915, Thalloczy warned Tisza presciently that in solving the
south Slav problem the decision-makers in the future would not just be
Vienna and Budapest but a third party: the military.^ Developments later
in 1915, as the war deepened, would prove this correct. But Thalloczy
typically ignored or refused to admit a fourth element: namely, those
Croat or Serb political leaders across the region who, after months of
ostensibly obeying the patriotic crusade, would begin from mid-1915 to
sound a note of discord. For most of the Habsburg elite in the first half
of 1915 the south Slav issue was eclipsed by more pressing anxieties over
Italy and Romania and fluctuating fortunes on the eastern front. However, a new leadership for Bosnia served to re-focus attention on that
province's perpetual danger. As the new military governor to replace Potiorek, General Stjepan Sarkotic was shocked to learn in January that Tisza
preferred to settle any 'domestic difficulties' after the war. He himself
believed in a strong but calculated strategy to undermine the Yugoslav
26 Ibid., 6 and 9 December 1914. A madder and broader version of this scheme,
one supposedly backed by Berchtold and Krobatin, was that Croatia should be assigned to Austria and Slavonia to Hungary (ibid., p. 340).
2 7 For the more radical Ballhausplatz approach: Mitrovic, Prodor na Balkan,
pp. 2 2 1 - 5 .
28 Luka Djakovic, Polozaj Bosne i Hercegovine u austro-ugarskim
koncepcijama rjesenja jugoslovenskog pitanja (Tuzla, 1980), p. 29.



illusion. This meant not just prohibiting any politics in Bosnia (the Sarajevo diet was dissolved), but targeting the Serb population as disloyal,
and actively curbing any Serb-Croat links whether in Bosnia or between
Bosnia and Croatia.-'
To some extent this was a 'Croatian imperial' agenda to set alongside
that of Magyar imperialists like Burian, for in April 1915 Sarkotic too
suggested that Bosnia might be united with Croatia and attached to Hungary.^" At the same time he was expressing a radical military challenge (on
the lines of Conrad or Potiorek) to supposed 'laxity' from the politicians,
condemning particularly the Hungarian tendency to patronise the coalition of Croat-Serb parties in Zagreb and ignore what Sarkotic saw as
the ubiquitous Serb menace. Although the new common finance minister,
Ernst von Koerber, was ready to agree with Sarkotic that Bosnia required
special attention as 'the most neuralgic and sensitive point' in the whole
south Slav complex, Tisza on 20 April reacted waspishly to Sarkotic's
critique. His own preferred tactic, with an eye on supposedly 'loyal Serbs'
like Dusan Popovic in Zagreb, was to cultivate patriotic elements and to
dissipate any broader Serb unity by a subtle variety of approaches in the
different south Slav regions; a 'real politician', he observed sarcastically,
would understand the necessity of this. Concerning Bosnia, he would
only concede on 16 May that it required strict (but impartial) governance, and implied that it would then be allotted to Hungary either after
the war or 'in the near future'.^' It was a patronising rebuff that Sarkotic
would not accept. He proceeded to go his own way in order to correct the
mistakes that he felt the monarchy had made in Bosnia; he duly targeted
the Serb population, culminating in early 1916 in the Banja Luka trial of
150 Serb suspects.
Tisza's own strategy for settling the south Slav question became sharper in the summer of 1915 owing to two developments: first, political
noise from Croatia, and second, the resurrection of the Austro-Polish
solution. Both together explain his behaviour that autumn. In February
1915, Tisza had spoken with Franz Joseph about disturbing conditions
in Croatia, emphasizing that a new patriotic poHtical party was needed
29 Signe Klein, Freiherr Sarkotic von Lovcen. Die Zeit seiner Verwaltung in
von 1914 bis 1918 (PhD, Vienna, 1969), pp. 3 6 - 9 ; Djakovic,
Polozaj Bosne i Hercegovine, pp. 3 0 - 7 .
30 Kapidzic, Bosna i Hercegovina pod austro-ugarskom
upravom, pp. 2 0 9 - 1 0 .
Kapidzic incorrectly suggests that Sarkotic thereby favoured triahsm.
31 Djakovic, Folozaj, pp. 4 0 - 2 , 4 7 - 5 4 .


A Living Anachronism ?

there, one that would eHminate any great Serbian agitation and work
loyally with Hungary on the basis of the 1868 Nagodba. These, Burian
noted later, were 'golden words' but were not followed up with any concrete p r o p o s a l s . I n June, it is true, Budapest allowed the Croatian Sabor
or diet to reassemble in Zagreb to discuss the Croatian budget. The deputies however proceeded to proclaim their wish for Croatian lands (Dalmatia and Bosnia) to be united in a separate unit within the monarchy, effectively thereby announcing their own Croatian 'war aim'. Perceptively,
Thalloczy warned Tisza that the Croatian political climate was 'akin to
ashes covering live coals which even a gentle breeze can inflame'."
Some historians have suggested that Tisza's stance over Croatia was
blinkered, based on ignorance and wishful thinking that all was well.'''
He perpetually rejected any discussions with the Croat nationalists (the
Party of Right), driving them into the arms of'Great Austrians' in Vienna,
and gave too much credence to the Serb-dominated Croat-Serb coalition.
There is some truth in this, even if Tisza's prejudices were justified in view
of the course of Croatian politics since 1903. Where commentators have
erred, however, is in claiming that Tisza had no real 'political concept' for
facilitating south Slav unity within Hungary.^^ His moves in the autumn
show that he did, even if it was naturally a 'Magyar imperial' agenda
rather than one sanctioning 'Croatian imperialism' or the dreaded trialism. The major mistake was not to follow the programme through at
an opportune time. Thus in mid-1916 in the Sabor, a loyalist like Dusan
Popovic could publicly express his frustration that Hungary was not actively moving to shape a solution of the 'Croatian-Yugoslav problem'.'
In fact, Tisza's calculated response to the Sabor statements of June
1915 had offered a way forward. On 3 September, there took place in
Vienna an official celebration of the emperor-king and the dualist system with Tisza leading the Hungarian deputation. At a luncheon in the
Konzerthaus, in the presence of Stiirgkh and the Croatian governor {ban)
32 Count Burian, Austria in Dissolution (London, 1925), p. 257.
33 Djakovic, Polozaj, p. 2 7 note 62 (letter of 9 November 1915).
34 Gabor Vermes, Istvdn Tisza. The Liberal Vision and Conservative Statecraft of
a Magyar Nationalist (New York, 1985), pp. 3 1 4 - 1 5 . Burian himself wrote later that
Budapest was 'exceedingly ill-informed on Croatian affairs'; Austria in Dissolution,
p. 258.
35 Gusztav Gratz, A dualismus kora. Magyarorszdg tortenete 1867-1918, vol. 2
(Budapest, 1934), p.326.
36 Krizman, Hrvatska u prvom svjestkom ratu, p. 99.



count Skerlecz, Tisza used the occasion to heap praise on the Hungarian-Croatian relationship, claiming that in the war, standing shoulder
to shoulder, Croatia's patriotic elements had risen up against pointless
nationalist rhetoric. The only way for Croatia-Slavonia to realize its national development, he said, was on the basis of 'historic right' and in
league with fraternal Hungary; the war had demonstrated only too well
the sorry outcome of'great south Slav slogans'. Amidst these sentiments,
which Skerlecz echoed, there were signs that Tisza was moving to preempt the Croat nationalists/trialists with a Hungarian solution grounded
in historic-legal arguments." A month later, he confidently explained his
plans to the Hungarian cabinet. It seemed an opportune moment. Not
only, with Bulgaria entering the war, were the Central Powers about to
launch a new common offensive against Serbia; on the eastern front, Russia had been pushed right back, producing fresh calls for the final settlement of Poland in an 'Austro-Polish solution'.
The combined impact on Tisza of the Polish and Croatian questions
is clear. On 2 October 1915 he set out for the cabinet his programme
for incorporating both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia into Hungary.
Unusually and perceptively (in view of the final radical outcome of the
Yugoslav question), he stressed that it must be carried out during the
flux of hostilities rather than fought over acrimoniously in peacetime.
On the one hand, the renewed plan to incorporate Poland into Austria
enabled Hungary to seek compensation in Bosnia; it thereby settled the
limbo-status of that 'Reichsland' which would be attached to the kingdom of St Stephen but ruled firmly for a long period. On the other hand,
acknowledging the voices from the Sabor, Tisza pressed for Hungary to
make good its historic right to Dalmatia, since any delay could send the
wrong message to loyalists in Zagreb. That crownland would gradually
be incorporated into Croatia, dulling the latter's national-political ambitions while bringing economic and maritime advantages to Hungary. The
whole programme, needless to say, would preserve the monarchy's dualist system and also deal at a stroke with the south Slav question (even
if, as Skerlecz pointed out, Serbia was yet to be conquered). Tisza, who
had been mulling it over for months, could be satisfied that his cabinet


Djakovic, Polozaj, p p . 5 8 - 9 note 143.


A Living Anachronism ?

unanimously supported him in taking the plan forward to discuss with

the monarchy's leadership in Vienna.'
It was at this point, four days later, that the programme hit a sand bunker. The common ministerial council of 6 October was convened principally to discuss Poland's future and guide Burian, the foreign minister, in
his imminent negotiations with Germany." Interestingly, Burian admitted that all must now acknowledge Polish national consciousness and
give the Poles some kind of 'national fulfilment' (a view the elite would
cautiously echo only in 1918 for the south Slavs). In the face of an Austro-Polish solution, as presented by Burian and Stiirgkh, Tisza abruptly
revealed his plans for Hungary annexing both Bosnia-Herzegovina and
Dalmatia. The case for Dalmatia he justified not only in terms of dualist
parity, but on historic-legal, economic and national-political grounds; for
if the opportunity was allowed to sHp, 'it would produce great unrest [in
Croatia] and disagreeably affect the whole south Slav question' both for
Austria and Hungary.'*" Tisza's proposal was a shock to Stiirgkh who declared himself 'most unpleasantly surprised' by Hungary's sudden claim
to Dalmatia. In reply, Tisza stressed that Hungary in this way would be
doing Austria a service by 'taking on its shoulders the greatest part of the
burden of the south Slav question'."'
This rather spiky exchange highlighted once again the major barriers
to restructuring dualism. More surprising perhaps is Tisza's growing conviction that a bold stroke in the south would eventually be necessary. Yet
the conclusions reached at the meeting show that Tisza too was prepared
to hold off for the moment. While the issue of Dalmatia clearly required
more work by Budapest, the fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina was principally
being raised because of the Austro-Polish solution.'*^ Since the latter was
viewed warily even by Stiirgkh and was also dependent on Germany's
agreement (which proved never to be forthcoming), the chances of move38 Ibid., pp. 5 9 - 7 4 ; Vermes, Istvdn Tisza,'pp. 3 1 7 - 1 8 . Djakovic devotes (pp. 76 ff)
much attention to the economic repercussions of this programme in terms of increased Magyar interest in exploiting Bosnia's resources.
39 Protokolle, pp. 290ff. See also for the following discussion: Bridge, The Habsburg Monarchy, pp.353-5; and Helmut Rumpler,'Die Kriegsziele Osterreich-Ungarns
auf dem Balkan 1915/16', in Osterreich und Europa. Festgabe fiir Hugo Hantscb zum
70. Geburlstag (Graz, Vienna and Colgne, 1965).
40 Protokolle, p. 301.
41 Ibid., p. 308.
42 Burian noted this, although he viewed Tisza's argument as 'sensible': Buridn
naploi, 6 October 1915, p.158.



merit on Bosnia's status were minimal in late 1915. Indeed, Tisza himself
was ready to postpone discussion of his south Slav programme to a later
council meeting and Burian, preoccupied with Poland, readily agreed.
Such a meeting never took place, at least in the framework suggested."*^
One reason was that, having been put on the common agenda indirectly
because of the Austro-Polish question, the matter was then raised directly
and in a different form because of the Central Powers' new military offensive against Serbia and Montenegro. As a year previously, the real possibility of victory in the Balkans opened up the question of Serbia's fate
and therefore the broader issue of a south Slav settlement. The debate
over Serbia had been simmering since the spring of 1915 as Berlin and
Vienna sought to entice Balkan allies to their side. Regularly, Germany's
interests had set the pace on questions such as the territory Serbia might
have to concede to Bulgaria; whether Serbia would be allowed access to
the sea through north Albania; or even whether the monarchy might need
to surrender part of southern Bosnia to its traditional enemy in order to
make peace in the region.'^
What remained clear throughout were the opposing stances of Conrad
and Tisza. The latter insisted on reducing Serbia to a satellite state, but
solving the rest of the south Slav question separately in a Hungarian
framework. Conrad in contrast was adamant that Serbia be incorporated
into the empire, either completely, or federally like Bavaria's position in
the German Reich. It meant subverting the dualist mantra in order to impose trialism. As he had noted on 31 May, T have always emphasized that
solving the south Slav question is the monarchy's most important problem and stressed that Yugoslav unification is an unavoidable fact that will
occur either inside the monarchy or outside it to its detriment'. Although
between these two pillars Burian ostensibly inclined towards Tisza, the
pressure from the Habsburg military and Germany gradually pushed him
in a more radical annexationist direction. Perhaps particularly influential
was the German emperor's triumphant visit to Vienna in late November
1915 and his call for Serbia's extermination. As Burian noted drily, 'The

43 In the common ministerial council of 12 December, Tisza briefly alluded to it

but Stiirgkh was absent f r o m the meeting so there could be no discussion: Protokolle,
p. 338.
4 4 Mitrovic, Prodor na Balkan, pp. 2 4 0 - 3 .


A Living Anachronism ?

words of Kaiser Wilhelm were just like the fireworks - exploded brilliantly, but little remains'."'
It was particularly in the wake of this that the Conrad-Tisza clash
came to a head as the two powerful characters tried to assert their views
in Vienna. All the elite were agreed that Serbia, as the key 'nest' of south
Slav agitation, should be made harmless for ever; the disagreement, just
as in July 1914, was how best to achieve this in order to settle the broader
south Slav idea. Tisza fully realized the enormity of the problem, writing
urgently to Franz Joseph on 3 December that 'the task is very heavy and
must fill all statesmen responsible for the fate of their fatherland with
serious anxieties'. His modest solution now was that Hungary should annex only a corner of north-west Serbia (including Belgrade), colonizing it
with Magyars and Germans as a wedge between Hungary's Serb population and what would remain of Serbia to the south." While he also drew
on the argument (now dear to Burian) that the monarchy must not prejudice the chances of European peace by publicly announcing Serbia's complete destruction, Tisza was still primarily motivated by Hungary's 'vital
interests'. He argued that incorporating the remains of Serbia into the
monarchy (therefore into greater Hungary) would not staunch the poisonous Serb agitation but simply bring it closer to home."' It could also
destabilize Hungary's relationship with sub-dualist Croatia, for implicitly
there was likely to be a swamping of Croatia with a mass of new and hostile Serbs (not to mention the complication of eventually incorporating
Serbs and Croats from Bosnia as well). Here, Tisza naturally had his recent programme for Bosnia and Croatia in mind when he concluded that
while Serbia and Montenegro would be kept detached, Hungary would
work to influence the monarchy's Serbs in a patriotic direction. Tisza
thus felt that maintaining the region in splinters was crucial to prevent
any chance of south Slav unity in the future. His concern about the possible impact on Croatia was especially significant, highlighted once again

45 Buridn napldi, 29 November, p. 162. See also Mitrovic, Prodor, pp. 299,
3034. In his memoirs Burian blandly suggests full agreement with Tisza over the
annexation issue: Austria in Dissolution, p. 260.
46 Grof Tisza Istvdn osszes munkdi [hereafter Tisza munkdi], vol. 4 (Budapest,
1927), pp. 2 9 6 - 3 0 1 . (A shortened and bad English translation is in De Bussy, Tisza,
pp. 168-75).
4 7 For the following, see Tisza to Burian, 30 December 1915, in Tisza munkdi,
IV, pp. 3 3 6 - 4 5 ; and in HHStA, P. A. 1/499.



at New Year when he stressed pubUcly the supposed harmony between

Budapest and Zagreb.
Conrad meanwhile, in the wake of the Kaiser's visit, had been bombarding Burian with a series of memoranda wholly at variance with Tisza's arguments. On 1 December he had told Franz Joseph and the foreign
minister that western Serbia and Montenegro must be fully incorporated
into the monarchy and the southern border reorganized as a new 'military frontier'.'*^ There was no alternative to wiping Serbia off the map. In
his fatalistic scenario, which more than matched anything envisaged by
Tisza, Conrad repeatedly wrote to Burian that the only way to end the
south Slav question was to destroy the real source; if Serbia remained in
any form, its 'great Serb agitation' would continue, enticing the monarchy's south Slavs and making the sacrifice of the war completely pointless. Understated, but quite clear in Conrad's argument, was his underlying opposition to the duahst system and his overall view of the Yugoslav
idea. On 31 December he prophesied to Burian that southern Slav unity
was only a matter of time and therefore the monarchy must take control: 'I can only repeat myself. If we don't carry out this unification now,
radically and without delay, it will take place inevitably against us with
the loss of all our south Slav territory and notwithstanding Magyar hegemony'. This sentiment was of course toned down in a letter to Tisza
on 4 January where he tried to counter some of the latter's claims that
annexing Serbia would endanger Croatia or block the chances of peace
with the Entente.'*'
Burian, noting that the two sides were 'diametrically opposed', called a
meeting of the common ministerial council to settle the matter. He himself had sensed a possible compromise, favouring the full destruction
of Serbia but naturally committed to a settlement on Hungary's terms
within the dualist structure.^" Above all, however, the decision (or lack of
decision) taken on 7 January 1916 set the subject in aspic for a considerable time.^' Although at the start of the meeting Burian said that the time
had come to solve the south Slav question while all was now in flux and
48 Mitrovic, Prodor na Balkan, p.299. See also Conrad's letters to Burian (5, 26
and 29 November) in HHStA, P. A. 1/499. And for a recent summary in English of the
clash: Andrej Mitrovic, Serbia's Great War 1914-1918 (London, 2007), pp. 193-8.
49 HHStA, P. A. 1/499, Conrad to Burian, 7, 21 and 31 December 1915; Conrad
to Tisza, 4 January 1916 (the latter also reproduced in Protokolle, pp. 3 7 4 - 8 1 .
50 Buridn naploi, 3 and 31 December 1915, pp.163-4.
51 Protokolle, pp. 354-73.


A Living Anachronism ?

Serbia conquered, he proceeded, after outHning the options for Serbia's

fate, to stress that the 'moment for decisive decisions has still not arrived'
[!]. Particularly in view of any prospective peace terms from Russia, the
monarchy must keep its hands free to respond flexibly. While Tisza and
Conrad forcefully set out their positions (and Tisza threatened to resign
if the decision went against him), Burian's flabby compromise was what
prevailed. According to this, although it was agreed that the north-western corner of Serbia would probably fall to Hungary, any more substantial annexation of Serbian territory was left for a future decision. The fact
that part of Serbia was now under an Austrian regime of occupation also
offered flexibility in that regard, since it might be prepared for eventual
annexation by the monarchy (as all except Tisza preferred) or it might be
conditioned to be a future satellite state. Burian summed up the result in
his diary; 'The Serb question is difficult, but it is not possible to decide it
today, the future will force out the correct solution."
This was partly true, but it had the fatal effect of leaving any broader
south Slav settlement within the monarchy on hold. Most notably, Tisza's
programme for Bosnia and Croatia had not been raised at the meeting by
Burian or anyone else. Not surprisingly, Conrad was completely dissatisfied with the outcome, steadily complaining to Burian that if Serbia was
not annexed the monarchy would lose its great Power position." Tisza in
turn was to be vigilant in trying to forestall any military efforts to make
the occupation of Serbia a prelude to annexation. Already in late 1915
he had openly told the Budapest parhament that occupied Serbia was to
be in Hungary's sphere of interest.^'* In May 1916, after touring Belgrade
and northern Serbia and then visiting Conrad at army high command, he
was alarmed to find that the military authorities were pursuing their own
political agenda in Serbia and dismissing the decisions of 7 January as of
'academic significance'. Especially, Tisza asserted, Hungary at that meeting had been accorded the primary responsibility for the southern settlement, something now being ignored as the occupation regime established

52 Buridn naploi, 1 January, p. 167. See also the revealing entry on 13 March
(p.170), after a talk with Tisza, Stiirgkh and Krobatin about war aims: 'Concerning
Serbia still dense uncertainty in our opinions' .
53 HHStA, P.A.1/499, Conrad to Burian, 24 January 1916.
54 Galantai, 'Tisza und die siidslawische Frage wahrend des Ersten Weltkrieges',
p. 245.



firm roots rather than just keeping order amongst an unruly population."
The upshot was that Burian took this complaint straight to the emperor,
who decided to dismiss and replace the military governor in Belgrade. For
Tisza it was a small victory. And since the civilian commissioner in the occupation regime was Lajos Thalloczy, a Magyar-imperialist, Tisza could
rest more easily about maintaining Hungarian influence.^''
Nevertheless, however significant the fate of Serbia, it remained something of a distraction in that it postponed any wider settlement of the
south Slav issue. As one of those at the council meeting on 7 January had
noted, the Serbian state might be extinguished, but the south Slav idea
could not be eliminated so easily; it required the monarchy's leaders to
assert their control of the agenda." Since this was not done in any positive way at this crucial juncture, the 'idea' could re-emerge in mid-1917
in a new guise.

On 1 December 1916, Burian learnt that Thalloczy, who was returning

to Belgrade from Vienna after attending the funeral of Franz Joseph, had
been killed in a train crash. In his diary, the foreign minister noted how
only the day before they had lunched together, and on that occasion spoken once again about the undecided fate of Serbia. A week later, when
Burian saw the new emperor Karl, he mentioned the radical idea of finally uniting Serbia with Montenegro and then annexing both to the monarchy.^^
The circular debate had therefore found no resolution. Unforeseen
circumstances were also intervening to change its parameters. Some adjustment in perspective seemed inevitable as certain Habsburg decisionmakers left the scene (either through violent death in late 1916: Stiirgkh,
Thalloczy; or through summary dismissal in the early months of the new
emperor's reign: Burian, Conrad, Tisza). More significantly, the domestic
and foreign contexts for settling the south Slav question were shifting.
On the one hand, domestically, the new emperor's regime witnessed both
a determination to reconvene the Austrian parliament in Vienna, and a
campaign by the new Austrian government to push through some 'Ger55 See the documents in HHStA, P.A. 1/973, especially Tisza to Burian, 3 June;
and Tisza to Archduke Friedrich, 26 M a y 1916 (also in Tisza munkdi, V, pp. 8-19).
56 HHStA, P.A. 1/973, Szechenyi to Burian, 22 July 1916.
5 7 Protokolle, p.369: Ernst von Koerber, common finance minister.
58 Buridn naploi, 1 and 8 December 1916, p. 185.


A Living Anachronism ?

man course' in the western half of the monarchy.^' Both moves would
provoke a vocal response from Slovene politicians in particular. On the
other hand, the monarchy's foreign and mihtary landscape had been triumphantly transformed in late 1916. The Central Powers had conquered
most of Romania, and had publicly announced the creation of an independent kingdom of Poland. How precisely these developments would
affect a future European settlement was a crucial consideration when the
monarchy's elite, ever mindful of peace, gathered to discuss war aims and
peace terms in the winter of 1916/17.
When on 12 January 1917 the common ministerial council met in
Baden (the new army headquarters), the divergent approaches to a settlement in the south were ever present, with forceful voices on both sides.
The emperor presided and suggested, as Austria-Hungary's maximum
goals, correcting the border with Serbia, replacing Serbia's Karadjordjevic
dynasty, and annexing occupied Montenegro. (Stiirgkh a year earHer had
suggested turning Montenegro into an American-style national park).'"
Tisza however took issue, prioritising the monarchy's major need for security in the Balkans, something only possible through a fundamental
weakening of Serbia by reducing her to an economic satellite. For Heinrich Clam-Martinic, the new Austrian prime minister, this opened up the
whole south Slav question. Sounding a new voice (though Conrad was
there too to repeat his usual stance on annexation), he suggested that
south Slav unity was unstoppable; it was far better, surely, to incorporate
all south Slav lands into the monarchy and take control of the movement?
Naturally this was something that Tisza immediately stamped on - 'unrealisable, dangerous dreams' - and since the new foreign minister, count
Ottokar Czernin, concurred, Conrad's own last chance to put his case for
a radical solution fell on deaf ears. As Karl summed up, the 'consensus'
was that a diminished Serbia should become an economic satellite.'"'
While this meeting of the elite had focused on Serbia, the following
council on 22 March encouraged a broader discussion for it touched
59 The 'German course' was intended to soHdify German-Austrian control of
Austria: under an anticipated Austro-Polish solution the Polish lands would be excluded from representation in the Austrian parliament, thereby giving Germans a majority over Slavs (Slovenes and Czechs). In addition, German would be made the 'state
language', and Bohemia would be administratively divided on ethnic lines so that
Czechs could not continue to outvote German Bohemians in provincial business.
60 Protokolle, p. 367.
61 Ibid., pp. 4 4 6 - 5 1 .



upon Bosnia's fate and thereby provoked challenges to the dualist system. Significantly, the emperor had just dismissed Conrad, and his compliant successor, Arthur Arz von Straussenburg, made no intervention in
the lively debate. Yet the south Slav question was again still only being
addressed indirectly. Since it surfaced primarily as a result of other foreign
and strategic concerns, most of the discussion was inherently speculative
and particularly dependent on what Germany might agree to. Czernin at
the start signalled that since the Germans were now determined to take
full control of the Polish kingdom as their spoils of war, the monarchy
had to insist on territorial gains in the Balkans and specifically to annex most of Romania. For Tisza, this was only feasible if it became a
'Magyar solution', with Romania incorporated fully into the Hungarian
kingdom. Tisza here, to the surprise of many in the room, showed a certain flexibility but also his set of priorities as a Transylvanian landowner.
In an 'about-turn' from his plans of late 1915, he proposed that Hungary, while annexing Romania, would be prepared to renounce claims on
Bosnia-Herzegovina and allow its incorporation into Austria as a definite
solution for that troubled 'Reichsland'.
Although this showed Tisza's concern to settle Bosnia, it proved also
his detachment as well as his underlying preference for south Slav disunity. It was Clam-Martinic again who took up this baton, expressing
his alarm that by the end of the war both the monarchy's Polish and
south Slav questions would remain unsolved. In terms of the latter, he
countered that Austria would have to annex not only Bosnia but also
northern Serbia, the region being 'reserved' for Hungarian control. Clam
was framing his argument partly in terms of territorial compensation for
Austria (pre-empting the possible demise of any Austro-Polish solution as
well as offsetting Hungary's gain of Romania). But as on 12 January he
had a broader perspective, one in tune with his own programme for restructuring the western half of the monarchy. Thus, his main justification
for annexing north Serbia was that it would 'round off Austria's possession of Bosnia and ensure a 'healthy and secure' policy in the southern
Slav lands." This was completely anathema to Tisza because it would
mean the encirclement of Hungary with a band of Serb-inhabited territory outside Budapest's control. Since he continued to insist on his own
plan, Karl rather weakly asked the two prime ministers to consider that

Ibid., pp. 4 8 4 - 9 1 .
Ibid., p.489.


A Living Anachronism ?

solution further. In fact it was the death of the scheme, not least because
as in October 1916 it was so dependent on Germany's indirect approval
and especially agreement over Poland; later in the year the Austro-Polish
solution would resurface with all the implications this had for domestically restructuring the monarchy.
Burian, since December 1916 relegated to being common finance minister, had been present at the meeting of 22 March but had left the talking
to Tisza and Clam. He had been genuinely surprised at Tisza's ideas, noting that 'perhaps he feels the hand of fate is in control'. His own interpretation was that Tisza saw in Romania a chance for Hungary to have a really free hand, while any Hungarian management of the south Slav lands
would involve a labyrinth of historic claims and constructions. It is clear
from Burian's diary that he himself saw the south Slav question as postponed and unresolved.*^" Wary of the monarchy annexing too much extra
territory (including Romania) since this could lead to a federal state, his
preference in the south remained the sub-dualist solution for both Bosnia
and Croatia under the Hungarian crown.
On this point there was agreement with General Sarkotic. As the key
individuals now responsible for Bosnia, both Burian and Sarkotic were
initially very wary of each other. While Sarkotic saw Burian as surly and
reserved ('a man who makes the worst conceivable impression on me'),
Burian would write of the 'delusions of grandeur and hypersensitivity
in this otherwise honest man'.' The two were therefore astonished on
meeting in Sarajevo in February 1917 to find that they shared the same
basic views over the governance and fate of Bosnia. For Sarkotic in 1917,
the priority in Bosnia was to manage the escalating food crisis, maintain
order, and keep abreast of rising political activity as local Moslem, Serb
and Croat politicians called for the reconvening of the Bosnian Sabor.
Occasionally there was time to consider the broader south Slav question.
In June for example, at an audience with the emperor, Sarkotic proposed
a 'Croatian' but still dualist solution: uniting Dalmatia with Croatia but
keeping Bosnia as a separate administrative unit under Hungary.^'' It was
a settlement that sat well with the wily new Hungarian prime minister.
64 Buridn naploi, 20 and 22 March 1917, pp. 194-5.
65 Ibid., p. 207; Klein, Sarkotic von Lovcen, p.120 (Sarkotic diary, 26 December
66 Klein, Sarkotic von Lovcen, p. 163: Sarkotic on this occasion also suggested
that the western crownlands of Istria and Carniola be united.



Sandor Wekerle, who in talks with both Sarkotic and Burian in the summer readily confirmed Budapest's old line that Bosnia should be made a
corpus separatum under Hungary. Sarkotic nevertheless was wary about
how the Magyars might proceed. In his diary he warned that the southern
Slav might be 'cooked in advance in Budapest', producing in the end a
'south Slav monstrosity'; the comment partly explains his move thereafter in a more radical direction. By the autumn he was also frustrated
that while Budapest at least seemed to have a clear stance, the Austrian
government was dragging its heels and thereby prolonging uncertainty
amongst the Bosnian public.^
Indeed, since May 1917, developments in Austria had cast the whole
subject of south Slav unity in a new light from an unexpected angle. In all
of the elite's deliberations over the previous three years, the Slovenes had
barely been mentioned. In the last eighteen months of hostilities they assumed the mantle of Yugoslav agitation which in the early years, at least
from the Habsburg elite's perspective, had been worn chiefly by Serbia
and Serb accomplices in the monarchy. In early 1917 there were signs,
as shown in the ministerial council, that Clam-Martinic saw south Slav
unity as a challenge, something the monarchy must control and direct.
Yet at the same time, he was manoeuvring with German and Polish politicians in Vienna to push through by imperial decree (oktroi) a 'German
solution' for Cisleithania with little regard for either Slovene or Czech
This proposed coup, backed by Czernin, was fully indicative of Clam's
own (Bohemian) German outlook and his emphasis on German centralisation. It sets his comments in the ministerial council in some perspective.
In January 1917, when the Entente had called for Slav liberation and
the destruction of the monarchy, the Slovene leader Anton Korosec had
dutifully repudiated the demand, probably reassuring Clam. In fact, the
evidence that then leaked out about the Austrian government's 'German
course' could only accelerate Slovene clerical moves towards cooperation
with Croat politicians, both within Austria in a newly formed 'Yugoslav
parliamentary club' and across the dualist border to Uke-minded Yugoslavs in Zagreb. Clam on 22 May also made his views abundantly clear
6 7 Ibid., p. 164; Buridn naploi, 6 September 1917, p.209; Kapidzic, Bosna i
Hercegovina pod austro-ugarskom upravom, p. 230.
68 Felix Hoglinger, Ministerprdsident
Heinrich Graf Clam-Martinic (Graz and
Cologne, 1964), pp. 132ff, 145-6.


A Living Anachronism ?

to the veteran Slovene clerical Janez Krek: he reaffirmed dualism, and

rejected not only south Slav unity outside dualism but even any Slovene unity within Austria.'"' Clam's government, like its successors, was in
thrall to the German-Austrian political parties and would consistently
ignore Slovene sensitivities, with dire results.
It was against this background, and stimulated by Czech and Polish
examples, that on 30 May 1917 at the opening of the Austrian Reichsrat,
the Yugoslav club of 33 south Slav politicians made a ground-breaking
declaration. Following soundings since late 1916 with religious and political leaders in Croatia, they demanded unification of Slovenes, Croats
and Serbs in a special democratic entity under the Habsburg dynasty, basing their claim on the 'national principle' and also that of 'Croatian state
right'. This major challenge to dualism was ignored by Clam and, after
his resignation in June, was resisted even more tactlessly by his successor,
the bureaucrat Ernst von Seidler. In September 1917, himself committed
to a German radical course, Seidler told the Yugoslav club that any constitutional reform could only be within the dualist framework and only
involve some national autonomy in the Austrian crownlands. These
were crumbs to Korosec and his colleagues. Moving into opposition, and
joined by illustrious figure-heads such as bishop Jeghc of Ljubljana, they
proceeded over the next six months to launch a movement on behalf of
the May declaration in the Slovene communities. What began as a campaign of mass-petitions became, from March 1918, a series of mass-rallies at a grassroots level. It spread southwards into the starving villages of
Istria and Dalmatia, and resonated in Croatia too amongst liberal clergy
and the small Starcevic party in the Sabor. Since Korosec had made an
early tour of Sarajevo to publicize the declaration, it even began to infect
the political life in Bosnia, much to the alarm of Sarkotic and Burian."
How the Habsburg leaders approached this very sudden manifestation
of the Yugoslav question reveals their reticence about thinking outside
old parameters at a time when they were facing a powerful new challenge
to their own legitimacy. Many realised the need to act, just as in the past
69 Pleterski, Prvo opredeljenje Slovenaca, p. 149.
70 Ibid., p. 206.
71 For a recent assessment of this phenomenon, see M a r k Cornwall, 'The Great
War and the Yugoslav Grassroots: Popular Mobihsation in the Habsburg Monarchy,
1 9 1 4 - 1 9 1 8 ' , in Dejan Djokic and James Kerr-Lindsey (eds), New Perspectives on
Yugoslavia: Key Issues and Controversies (Basingstoke, 2009). For Korosec's visit to
Sarajevo in September 1917: Kapidzic, Bosna i Hercegovina, pp. 2 2 1 - 3 1 .



the subject had regularly been raised at the Ballhausplatz and elsewhere;
now a major obstacle to any solution was having to engage with emerging and vocal national elites. Among those who sounded the alarm was
Clam-Martinic who since July 1917 had been governor-general of Montenegro. In November, he gave a memorandum to Czernin, urging that
the monarchy must take command of the inevitable process of south Slav
unity in view of the rising agitation at home and increasing echoes abroad
of Entente support.'^ Clam's solution followed familiar lines. He favoured
full south Slav unity under Hungary while in the north there would be
an Austro-Polish solution; it was therefore as usual a dualist settlement,
but involved annexing Serbia-Montenegro and excluding the Slovenes.
To his credit. Clam did suggest taking the Serb-Croat slogans of selfdetermination seriously and using them as a way to convince the Magyar
regime. Unfortunately the memorandum, written from the tranquillity of
Cetinje, was directed at a foreign minister immersed in peace negotiations
at Brest-Litovsk and largely unsympathetic. Czernin not only rejected any
radical solution during the war, but expressed his scepticism as to whether the south Slavs actually wanted to unite. A few weeks later he would
pin his colours to the mast at Brest, publicly rejecting the notion of any
national self-determination for peoples. It deepened the gulf between the
Habsburg elite and the Yugoslav club."
Clam's feeling that southern Slav unity (minus the Slovenes) was inevitable inclined him increasingly towards triahsm, but it came up against
the forceful views of Sarkotic when he visited Sarajevo in mid-May 1918.
For Sarkotic, as for the Magyar government, there was no question that
the monarchy needed territorial restructuring, but any solution had to
be sub-dualist under Hungary. It should not pander to the 'passing phenomenon of Yugoslavism' (Sarkotic's words) by allowing broader unity
with Serbia and Montenegro.''' Between Sarkotic and Budapest by 1918,
however, there was also developing a clear difference of emphasis. Sarkotic was shifting his stance by wanting Hungary to pursue an openly pro72 Hoglinger, Clam-Martinic, pp. 2 1 0 - 1 3 ; Sepic, Italija, Saveznici, p.244. Enemy
support for the Yugoslav cause was increasingly noticed by the Habsburg elite in
the last year of the war, both in terms of Allied official statements and in a vigorous
propaganda campaign launched on the Italian front: see M a r k Cornwall, The Undermining of Austria-Hungary. The Battle for Hearts and Minds (Basingstoke, 2000).
73 Leo Valiani, The End of Austria-Hungary
(London, 1973), pp. 2 0 9 - 1 1 .
74 Bogdan Krizman, Raspad Austro-Ugarske
i stvaranje jugoslavenske drzave
(Zagreb, 1977), p. 23.


A Living Anachronism ?

Croat agenda of unification in the south. Wekerle remained ever wary of

anything smacking of triahsm and therefore anxious to preserve south
Slav disunity in the spirit of Tisza. When Sarkotic visited Budapest in
early March, alarmed by new evidence of Yugoslav machinations in
Zagreb," he set out for the Wekerle government his 'Croatian course'.
Dalmatia should be incorporated into Croatia immediately, and BosniaHerzegovina gradually annexed later to the sub-dualist unit after being
carefully administered by Croat officials. Only through such a unit could
Croats be satisfied and Serbs be kept in their place. Wekerle seemed to be
in agreement, but it was deceptive.
Most revealing is the audience that Sarkotic had with the emperor
at Baden on 6 March. When questioned about the urgency of a south
Slav solution, Sarkotic duly explained his dualist-based proposal, adding that Austria would have to deal with the Slovenes and that in the
east Croats and Serbs should be kept apart as far as possible. When Karl
opined (in the spirit of his Austrian prime ministers) that the south Slavs
would all have to come together, Sarkotic was blunt. Occident and orient
could not be united: 'a correct solution of the south Slav question is only
theoreticallv possible, but practicallv not'. It had to be a dualist solution
that was imposed on Dalmatia and Bosnia, with a firm hand especially
in Bosnia since 'the Bosnian is never satisfied'. Karl's concluding words
were not very inspiring: 'It is so terribly difficult to find the right solution
but it must happen'."
Nevertheless, in late May, the emperor made a fresh effort to confront
the problem with his advisers. Earlier in the month, with evidence that
the 'Korosec agitation' was beginning to infect military units in the hinterland, the authorities had officially banned the declaration movement.
Both Seidler and the emperor also prescribed a bitter pill, announcing
again to Slovene leaders that there could be neither Slovene nor Yugoslav
75 On 2 - 3 March a meeting organized in Zagreb by the Yugoslav club and the
(Croatian) StarCevic party gathered together delegates f r o m across the region, including politicians from Bosnia and Dalmatia. It was one further step towards a concentration of Yugoslav forces and the later founding of a 'national council' for the south
Slav region: see Sepic, Italija, Saveznici i jugoslavensko pitanje, pp. 2 8 0 - 3 .
76 Hrvatski drzavni arhiv [HDA: Croatian state archives], Sarkotic MSS, Sarkotic diary, 4 March 1918.
77 Ibid., 6 March 1918. Burian too was alarmed to find at this time that the
emperor 'plays a little freely with the idea of "Yugoslavia". I warned him': Buridn
naploi, 16 March (p. 222).



national unity. When on 30 May, at Sarkotic's suggestion, Karl convened

a crown council, he knew it was to discuss a question of the 'greatest
importance'. Burian (once again foreign minister) proceeded to introduce
the subject at length. In the face of mounting nationalist agitation, he
said, the monarchy had to offer a positive alternative; only in that way
would - what he termed - the 'artificial' agitation be subdued and the
danger appear as 'passing clouds'. All at the meeting could agree on preserving dualism, all could agree that the Slovenes would have to be handled separately by Austria. The real sticking point as usual was over how
Hungary would manage the rest of the south Slav region. While Sarkotic
set out his 'Croatian course', Wekerle would still only agree to Bosnia as
a corpus separatum, something that Sarkotic felt would provoke Croat
Neither Karl nor Burian seemed able to push the meeting towards a
final decision. Instead, fatally, it was agreed that both Vienna and Budapest would discuss the matter further. As Sarkotic noted angrily, the
whole problem had been handed over to a triumvirate of Seidler, Wekerle
and Burian, and therefore postponed ad calendas graecas. Like Conrad
in earlier meetings, he wanted action: 'The south Slav question is a Gordian knot which can only be cut by someone with intense determination
backed by force (the army). N o w we have all the south Slavs in our hands
- so, fairly divide them up, separate Croats from Serbs, the former to Austria, the latter to Hungary in a sub-dualist arrangement. He who knows
a better solution, come out with it'."
Notwithstanding the myriad responsibilities facing the Habsburg leaders in the final months of the war, their inability to advance after this
78 Proto^o/Ze, pp. 6 6 1 - 8 .
79 Burian's diary captures well the bland conclusion of the meeting: 'Agreement
in principle that the t w o governments are authorized to discuss with one another
procedures for a solution of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia' (Buridn naploi , 30
M a y 1918, p. 224).
80 HDA, Sarkotic diary, 30 M a y 1918 (pp. 41-2). As this indicates, Sarkotic
wanted if possible to divide up the Croat and Serb territories between Austria and
Hungary respectively, although the difficulty of achieving this was immense, not least
the need to persuade Hungary to break its historic bond with Croatia. It also implied
that the ehte had agreed over annexing Serbia and Montenegro, yet Burian for one on
30 M a y had brought up his old reservation that such an annexation might obstruct
peace with the Entente. See also HDA, Sarkotic MSS, Sarkotic to Burian, 16 June
1918 (where Sarkotic emphasizes the need for a clear programme in order to fight
Yugoslav agitation).


A Living Anachronism ?

meeting is striking testament to the cumbersome decision-making process when any common questions were at stake. All seemed aware of the
urgency. By July even General Arz, usually averse to political questions,
was insisting to Burian that the Yugoslav problem must soon be radically
solved.^' Yet when Sarkotic had an audience with the emperor at the end
of the month, both regretted that the triumvirate had made no progress;
Karl despaired that 'as a constitutional monarch' he could do little more.
Why discussions were delayed is unclear. Burian with some justification
would later point the finger at Seidler, although he himself (still common
finance minister) seems to have done little in view of his own workload
at the Ballhausplatz. In fact it was Wekerle, not usually known for his
initiatives, who on 20 July cranked the machinery into motion, finally
sending Seidler his proposals for linking Bosnia to Hungary as a corpus
separatum. The move, he suggested, would solve the south Slav question
once and for all and eliminate all other dreams of Yugoslav unity.
This 'Hungarian course' continued to be challenged by Sarkotic but
also by Seidler's successor, Max von Hussarek. The latter however did not
deviate in the summer from Vienna's own 'German course' - he meant to
put it into practice. Thereby the Slovene leaders, whose Habsburg loyalty
even at this late stage was biddable, were alienated even further from
Austria and proceeded in mid-August to launch their Slovene national
council in Ljubljana. Where Hussarek showed more imagination (and
naturally more detachment), was in supporting Sarkotic's Croatian solution in the Balkans. On first delving into the question he sensed that the
monarchy was 'on the edge of an abyss'. His own strong Catholicism
possibly inclined him towards Sarkotic's Croat programme as a way of
defusing the Yugoslav agitation, but he was also pragmatic for giving
Dalmatia to Hungary would facilitate German dominance in Austria;
the fullest south Slav unity under Hungary also matched the continued
advice of Clam-Martinic and other imperial advisers. It is questionable
therefore whether one can term Hussarek's programme in August 1918
81 Andrej Mitrovic, 'Die Kriegsziele der Mittelmachte und die Jugoslawienfrage 1 9 1 4 - 1 9 1 8 ' , in Adam Wandruszka, Richard Plaschka, Anna Drabek (eds), Die
und die siidslawische Frage von 1848 bis 1918 (Vienna, 1978),
p. 150.
82 Helmut Rumpler, Max Hussarek. Nationalitdten und Nationalitdtenpolitik
Osterreich im Sommer des Jahres 1918 (Graz and Cologne, 1965), p. 93. Also, HDA,
Sarkotic diary, 26 July 1918; Burian, Austria in Dissolution, p. 364. Burian's basic
agreement with the Hungarian course is clear: Sarkotic diary, 4 August.



a 'masterstroke of compromise' (as does Helmut Rumpler), for it is clear

that the new prime minister was producing little new.^^ The only novelty,
perhaps, was in proposing a sub-dualist solution which in fact concealed
and envisaged the slow introduction of trialism. Unfortunately it was
exactly the kind of manoeuvre that Budapest's antennae were alert to
detecting and blocking.
On 31 August, Wekerle's own underhand methods were on display
in Budapest when he finally met Sarkotic and Hussarek together. At the
morning talks there was no agreement, the visitors holding firm to their
Croatian solution. In the face of this, Wekerle's tactic was to ply Sarkotic
with quality wine over lunch so that he would have a long siesta and
be entirely absent from the afternoon discussions. Although there was
no overall agreement (since Hussarek still held his ground), the 'political
fox' Wekerle seemed quite content with the result: Budapest would simply continue negotiating with the Croat-Serb coalition in Zagreb, even
though those politicians were singularly averse to making promises at
this stage of the war. Sarkotic returned to Sarajevo feeling that the Entente could only rejoice at the monarchy's indecisiveness. He wrote to
Burian, complaining that Wekerle's plan for Bosnia was a dangerous proSerb course that would outrage the monarchy's Croats who wanted unity.
On the basis of Wekerle's behaviour, he concluded that Hungary was
moving far too slowly, ignoring Croatia, and misjudging the character of
the 'Yugoslav infection'.''
The Hungarian and German 'courses' that Wekerle and Hussarek were
pursuing respectively in the two halves of the monarchy continued well
into October 1918. Wekerle's guarded response to the Yugoslav idea and
his famous dilatoriness (he never even brought the subject to cabinet)
was wholly inadequate to meet the national concerns of educated Croats
in Croatia or Bosnia. Yet equally, we should stress that Hussarek's policy
in Austria was bhnd to Slovene insecurities; he shared a common elite
perception that any Slovene support for south Slav unity was 'skin deep'
or 'artificial'. As for Bosnia, the supposed route to a south Slav solution
83 Rumpler, Max Hussarek, pp. 9 3 - 5 . Clam continued to give the emperor his
views on the subject (for example on 4 August).
84 HDA, Sarkotic diary, 31 August 1918, and letter to Burian, 5 September
(pp. 64-72); Sepic, Italija, Saveznici i jugoslavensko pitanje, p.346. M o r e research is
needed on the nature of Budapest's failed wartime relationship with Croatia, but see
Krizman {Hrvatska u prvom svjetskom ratu, pp. 2 4 9 - 5 0 , 294-5) for some notes on
the talks of the final months.


A Living Anachronism ?

in Wekerle's eyes, there was to be a shock for the Hungarians in late

September. When count Tisza visited Sarajevo on 21 September, specifically at the emperor's request, he was insulted to his face by local politicians of all creeds who demanded self-determination/^ It was clear that
Budapest's favourite plan of a corpus separatum, one supposedly backed
by Bosnia's Moslem and Serb leaders, was dead in the water and would
have to be imposed by force. There is evidence that this affront caused
Wekerle to doubt the viability of a 'Hungarian solution', but if so, it did
not incline him towards a Croatian alternative. As Bulgaria collapsed and
the military threat from the Allies loomed ever larger, Sarkotic acted as
Cassandra, pleading in vain that the Habsburg elite at this eleventh hour
could launch a 'political counter-offensive' by adopting his Croat solution for the Balkans.
Indeed, as the southern front drew closer to the south Slav region,
there were some new voices in the elite council who suggested that only
a form of trialism would satisfy the agitators in the south. One was the
new common finance minister, Alexander Spitzmiiller who had been won
over through talks with Sarkotic." Wekerle however, backed by Burian,
held fast to the dualist structure, while Hussarek, primarily obsessed with
implementing the 'German course' for Bohemia, would only hint at the
need for a Yugoslav unit subject to Hungary. The domestic south Slav
problem in any case was once again being overshadowed by the foreign
policy dimension, as Serbian troops began to retake southern Serbia and
as the Habsburg elite focused on how best to impress the western Allies.
At most, the crown council could vaguely agree that the regime should
make a public pronouncement about south Slav unity, partly to quieten
the native populations but especially to influence the Allies with an eye on
the forthcoming peace talks.**
In fact, the statements were never made or at least were wholly insufficient to dominate the public discourse. Hussarek might speak in parliament about limited national autonomy in Austria; but on the crucial
Hungarian side there was silence, perhaps not least because on 6 October
85 Vermes, Istvdn Tisza, p p . 4 3 4 - 9 ; Klein, Sarkotic von Lovc'en, pp. 2 3 7 - 4 7 ;
Krizman, Hrvatska, pp. 2 5 1 - 6 1 .
86 Rumpler, Max Hussarek, p.100; Klein, Sarkotic, p. 258.
87 Klein, Sarkotic, p. 255; and Alexander Spitzmiiller, Memoirs (New York,
1987), pp. 1 9 0 - 3 , 1 9 6 - 7 .
88 Cornwall (ed.), The Last Years of Austria-Hungary, pp. 1 9 8 - 2 0 3 . A thorough
treatment of Wekerle, a key individual for these months, is sorely needed.



the poUticians in Zagreb finally threw off their masks and coalesced in a
Yugoslav national council. In the final weeks therefore, any last Habsburg
pronouncements were swamped by radical voices from Ljubljana and
Zagreb. This was a new elite that was preaching south Slav unity and
offering a national and economic security that the Habsburg monarchy
seemed incapable of providing.'

If in 1914 the south Slav question was largely an imperial problem with
Serbia as the target, by 1918 most of the Habsburg elite acknowledged it
as a Hungarian problem and one that would require major adjustments
to the monarchy's structure in the south. Here there was a consistency
in the Magyar regime's perspective, namely that any solution had to reaffirm south Slav disunity or at least never acknowledge the viability of
trialism or lend any credence to 'Yugoslavism'. As Burian observed, 'we
need to fight against the south Slav state as long as our powers permit'.'"
In retrospect, the ideal time to implement the Hungarian solution was
in the winter of 1915-16 when most of the Croat-Serb lands were under Habsburg control; it seemed opportune, even to Tisza, to impose a
wartime settlement before the start of any awkward peacetime debates.
But as we have seen, this moment was not seized due to a number of
obstacles, including the prickly question of Austro-Hungarian dualist parity and, particularly, a continued elite obsession with the fate of Serbia.
Tisza's and Conrad's viewpoints in that regard were fatally irreconcilable.
The elite's discussions in early 1916 did pave the way for a primacy of
Hungarian interest in the question that lasted until the end of the monarchy. Yet implementing a settlement became ever more complex. While
the Austrian elite (post-Stiirgkh) might be prepared to permit a domestic
sub-dualist solution that included Dalmatia, by 1917-18 a rising tide
of opinion in the south Slav region itself was multiplying the number of
89 The emperor's desperate 'manifesto' of 16 October was primarily focused
on the Czech problem and, in applying only to the Austrian half of the monarchy,
ignored the south Slav question as being chiefly the responsibility of Budapest. This
despite the fact that since early October the Ballhausplatz and Hussarek's prime ministerial office had been planning their own imperial declaration supporting a south
Slav sub-dualist (Hungarian) solution. See Helmut Rumpler's stimulating study; Das
Vdlkermanifest Kaiser Karls vom 16. Oktober 1918. Letzter Versuch zur Rettung des
Habsburgerreiches (Munich, 1966), especially pp. 55-9.
90 Buridn naploi, 1 January 1918, p. 218.


A Living Anachronism ?

people who would need to consent to such a settlement under Hungary's

leadership. In this environment, Sarkotic's Croat solution offered one viable way forward for the monarchy, but it always smacked too much of
trialism for Budapest's taste.
The historian who views this subject from the perspective of 2009 inevitably conceives it differently to the Yugoslav historians of forty years
ago. Now, after the bloody spHntering of Yugoslavia, we may appreciate
as rather realistic those voices among the Habsburg elite who warned
about south Slav disunity or, like Sarkotic, stressed an incompatibility between the various national elements. Even so, the monarchy in the last ten
years of its existence was faced with a major and concrete dilemma: how
best to pre-empt the Yugoslav agenda by setting out a clear Habsburg
alternative that could entice a majority of interested parties. This was
very difficult to achieve because the Yugoslav idea was rarely static and
it assumed a different character when viewed from Ljubljana, Zagreb
or Belgrade. The Austro-Hungarian elite also had their fatal GermanMagyar blind spots, grounded in the dualist system, which prevented a
flexible response to the question. In particular, Slovene anxieties were
consistently neglected, while the problem of Serbia was, arguably, given
too much weight to the detriment of pushing through a radical settlement
for Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Nevertheless, if the elite usually found it impossible to achieve a common position on the south Slav question, it is easy to over-emphasize their
blind spots and obstinacy as constituting the whole picture. To achieve
any radical domestic change in the middle of a war on three fronts was
ambitious (many urged delay until the end of hostilities). By 1918, the
Habsburg elite - even the Hungarian leadership - was recognizing the
need to accelerate a south Slav settlement. Some, like the emperor himself
even inclined to a Yugoslav unit within the monarchy. The Magyar regime however had the final say in 1918 as in 1914. Budapest had its own
agenda, but it moved too slowly to pre-empt the shifts in allegiance that
were fast taking place in the south as the empire's military defeat became
clearer. Political legitimacy was ebbing away from Habsburg Vienna and
Budapest in the direction of Yugoslav Zagreb and Belgrade. With the collapse of the monarchy, power passed into the hands of a new elite, one
that would find a solution of the south Slav riddle just as intractable as
their Habsburg predecessors.