Serbia, Montenegro, and the Serbo-Croats in Austria-Hungary, 1903-8
It was inevitable that, after the sensation which such an event could not fail to cause in twentieth-century Europe, it should take the country where it occurred some time to live down the results. Other powers, especially those of western Europe, looked coldly on Serbia and were in no hurry to resume diplomatic intercourse, still less to offer diplomatic support. The question of the punishment and exile of the conspirators was almost impossible of solution, and only time was able to obliterate the resentment caused by the whole affair. In Serbia itself a great change took place. The new sovereign, though he laboured under the greatest possible disadvantages, by his irreproachable behaviour, modesty, tact, and strictly constitutional rule, was able to withdraw the court of Belgrade from the trying limelight to which it had become used. The public finances began to be reorganized, commerce began to improve in spite of endless tariff wars with Austria-Hungary, and attention was again diverted from home to foreign politics. With the gradual spread of education and increase of communication, and the growth of national self-consciousness amongst the Serbs and Croats of Austria-Hungary and the two independent Serb states, a new movement for the closer intercourse amongst the various branches of the Serb race for south Slav unity, as it was called, gradually began to take shape. At the same time a more definitely political agitation started in Serbia, largely inspired by the humiliating position of economic bondage in which the country was held by Austria-Hungary, and was roughly justified by the indisputable argument: 'Serbia must expand or die.' Expansion at the cost of Turkey seemed hopeless, because even the acquisition of Macedonia would give Serbia a large alien population and no maritime outlet. It was towards the Adriatic that the gaze of the Serbs was directed, to the coast which was ethnically Serbian and could legitimately be considered a heritage of the Serb race. Macedonia was also taken into account, schools and armed bands began their educative activity amongst those inhabitants of the unhappy province who were Serb, or who lived in places where Serbs had lived, or who with sufficient persuasion could be induced to call themselves Serb; but the principal stream of propaganda was directed westwards into Bosnia and Hercegovina. The antagonism between Christian and Mohammedan, Serb and Turk, was never so bitter as between Christian and Christian, Serb and German or Magyar, and the Serbs were clever enough to see that Bosnia and Hercegovina, from every point of view, was to them worth ten Macedonias, though it would he ten times more difficult to obtain. Bosnia and Hercegovina, though containing three confessions, were ethnically homogeneous, and it was realised that these two provinces were as important to Serbia and Montenegro as the rest of Italy had been to Piedmont. It must at this time be recalled in what an extraordinary way the Serb race had fortuitously been broken up into a number of quite arbitrary political divisions. Dalmatia (three per cent. of the population of which is Italian and all the rest Serb or Croat, preponderatingly Serb and Orthodox in the south and preponderating Croat or Roman Catholic in the north) was a province of Austria and sent deputies to the Reichsrath at Vienna; at the same time it was territorially isolated from Austria and had no direct railway connexion with any country except a narrow-gauge line into Bosnia. Croatia and Slavonia, preponderatingly Roman Catholic, were lands of the Hungarian crown, and though they had a provincial pseudo-autonomous diet at Agram, the capital of Croatia, they sent deputies to the Hungarian parliament at Budapest. Thus what had in the Middle Ages been known as the triune kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia, with a total Serbo-Croat population of three millions, was divided between Austria and Hungary. Further, there were about 700,000 Serbs and Croats in the south of Hungary proper, cast and north of the Danube, known as the Banat and Ba[)c]ka, a district which during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the hearth and home of Serb literature and education, but which later waned in importance in that respect as independent Serbia grew. These Serbs were directly dependent on Budapest, the only autonomy they possessed being ecclesiastical. Bosnia and Hercegovina, still nominally Turkish provinces, with a Slav population of nearly two million (850,000 Orthodox Serbs, 650,000 Mohammedan Serbs, and the rest Roman Catholics), were to all intents and purposes already imperial lands of Austria-Hungary, with a purely military and police administration; the shadow of Turkish sovereignty provided sufficient excuse to the _de facto_ owners of these provinces not to grant the inhabitants parliamentary government or even genuine provincial autonomy. The Serbs in Serbia numbered nearly three millions, those in Montenegro about a quarter of a million; while in Turkey, in what was known as Old Serbia (the _sandjak_ of Novi-Pasar between Serbia and Montenegro and the vilayet of Korovo), and in parts of northern and central Macedonia, there were scattered another half million. These last, of course, had no voice at all in the management of their own affairs. Those in Montenegro lived under the patriarchal autocracy of Prince Nicholas, who had succeeded his uncle, Prince Danilo, in 1860, at the age of nineteen. Though no other form of government could have turned the barren rocks of Montenegro into fertile pastures, many of the people grew restless with the restricted possibilities of a career which the mountain principality offered them, and in latter years migrated in large numbers to North and South America, whither emigration from Dalmatia and Croatia too had already readied serious proportions. The Serbs in Serbia were the only ones who could claim to be free, but even this was a freedom entirely dependent on the economic malevolence of Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Cut up in this way by the hand of fate into such a number of helpless fragments, it was inevitable that the Serb race, if it possessed any vitality, should attempt, at any cost, to piece some if not all of them together and form an ethnical whole which, economically and politically, should be master of its own destinies. It was equally inevitable that the policy of Austria-Hungary should be to anticipate or definitively render any such attempt impossible, because obviously the formation of a large south Slav state, by cutting off Austria from the Adriatic and eliminating from the dual monarchy all the valuable territory between the Dalmatian coast and the river Drave, would seriously jeopardize its position as a great power; it must be remembered, also, that Austria-Hungary, far from decomposing, as it was commonly assumed was happening, had been enormously increasing in vitality ever since 1878. The means adopted by the governments of Vienna and Budapest to nullify the plans of Serbian expansion were generally to maintain the political _emiettement_ of the Serb race, the isolation of one group from another, the virtually enforced emigration of Slavs on a large scale and their substitution by German colonists, and the encouragement of rivalry and discord between Roman Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serb. No railways were allowed to be built in Dalmatia, communication between Agram and any other parts of the monarchy except Fiume or Budapest was rendered almost impossible; Bosnia and Hercegovina were shut off into a watertight compartment and endowed with a national flag composed of the inspiring colours of brown and buff; it was made impossible for Serbs to visit Montenegro or for Montenegrins to visit Serbia except via Fiume, entailing the bestowal of several pounds on the Hungarian state steamers and railways. As for the _sandjak_ of Novi-Pazar, it was turned into a veritable Tibet, and a legend was spread abroad that if any foreigner ventured there he would be surely murdered by Turkish brigands; meanwhile it was full of Viennese ladies giving picnics and dances and tennis parties to the wasp-waisted officers of the Austrian garrison. Bosnia and Hercegovina, on the other hand, became the model touring provinces of Austria-Hungary, and no one can deny that their great natural beauties were made more enjoyable by the construction of railways, roads, and hotels. At the same time this was not a work of pure philanthropy, and the emigration statistics are a good indication of the joy with which the Bosnian peasants paid for an annual influx of admiring tourists. In spite of all these disadvantages, however, the Serbo-Croat provinces of Austria-Hungary could not be deprived of all the benefits of living within a large and prosperous customs union, while being made to pay for all the expenses of the elaborate imperial administration and services; and the spread of education, even under the Hapsburg regime, began to tell in time. Simultaneously with the agitation which emanated from Serbia and was directed towards the advancement, by means of schools and religious and literary propaganda, of Serbian influence in Bosnia and Hercegovina, a movement started in Dalmatia and Croatia for the closer union of those two provinces. About 1906 the two movements found expression in the formation of the Serbo-Croat or Croato-Serb coalition party, composed of those elements in Dalmatia, Croatia, and Slavonia which favoured closer union between the various groups of the Serb race scattered throughout those provinces, as well as in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Hercegovina, and Turkey. Owing to the circumstances already described, it was impossible for the representatives of the Serb race to voice their aspirations unanimously in any one parliament, and the work of the coalition, except in the provincial diet at Agram, consisted mostly of conducting press campaigns and spreading propaganda throughout those provinces. The most important thing about the coalition was that it buried religious antagonism and put unity of race above difference of belief. In this way it came into conflict with the ultramontane Croat party at Agram, which wished to incorporate Bosnia, Hercegovina, and Dalmatia with Croatia and create a third purely Roman Catholic Slav state in the empire, on a level with Austria and Hungary; also to a lesser extent with the intransigent Serbs of Belgrade, who affected to ignore Croatia and Roman Catholicism, and only dreamed of bringing Bosnia, Hercegovina, and as much of Dalmatia as they could under their own rule; and finally it had to overcome the hostility of the Mohammedan Serbs of Bosnia, who disliked all Christians equally, could only with the greatest difficulty be persuaded that they were really Serbs and not Turks, and honestly cared for nothing but Islam and Turkish coffee, thus considerably facilitating the germanization of the two provinces. The coalition was wisely inclined to postpone the programme of final political settlement, and aimed immediately at the removal of the material and moral barriers placed between the Serbs of the various provinces of Austria-Hungary, including Bosnia and Hercegovina. If they had been sure of adequate guarantees they would probably have agreed to the inclusion of _all_ Serbs and Croats within the monarchy, because the constitution of all Serbs and Croats in an independent state (not necessarily a kingdom) without it implied the then problematic contingencies of a European war and the disruption of Austria-Hungary. Considering the manifold handicaps under which Serbia and its cause suffered, the considerable success which its propaganda met with in Bosnia and Hercegovina and other parts of Austria-Hungary, from 1903 till 1908, is a proof, not only of the energy and earnestness of its promoters and of the vitality of the Serbian people, but also, if any were needed, of the extreme unpopularity of the Hapsburg regime in the southern Slav provinces of the dual monarchy. Serbia had no help from outside. Russia was entangled in the Far East and then in the revolution, and though the new dynasty was approved in St. Petersburg Russian sympathy with Serbia was at that time only lukewarm. Relations with Austria-Hungary were of course always strained; only one single line of railway connected the two countries, and as Austria-Hungary was the only profitable market, for geographical reasons, for Serbian products, Serbia could be brought to its knees at any moment by the commercial closing of the frontier. It was a symbol of the economic vassalage of Serbia and Montenegro that the postage between both of these countries and any part of Austria-Hungary was ten centimes, that for letters between Serbia and Montenegro, which had to make the long detour through Austrian territory, was twenty-five. But though this opened the Serbian markets to Austria, it also incidentally opened Bosnia, when the censor could be circumvented to propaganda by pamphlet and correspondence. Intercourse with western Europe was restricted by distance, and, owing to dynastic reasons, diplomatic relations were altogether suspended for several years between this country and Serbia. The Balkan States Exhibition held in London during the summer of 1907, to encourage trade between Great Britain and the Balkans, was hardly a success. Italy and Serbia had nothing in common. With Montenegro even, despite the fact that King Peter was Prince Nicholas's son-in-law, relations were bad. It was felt in Serbia that Prince Nicholas's autocratic rule acted as a brake on the legitimate development of the national consciousness, and Montenegrin students who visited Belgrade returned to their homes full of wild and unsuitable ideas. However, the revolutionary tendencies, which some of them undoubtedly developed, had no fatal results to the reigning dynasty, which continued as before to enjoy the special favour as well as the financial support of the Russian court, and which, looked on throughout Europe as a picturesque and harmless institution, it would have been dangerous, as it was quite unnecessary, to touch. Serbia was thus left entirely to its own resources in the great propagandist activity which filled the years 1903 to 1908. The financial means at its disposal were exiguous in the extreme, especially when compared with the enormous sums lavished annually by the Austrian and German governments on their secret political services, so that the efforts of its agents cannot be ascribed to cupidity. Also it must be admitted that the kingdom of Serbia, with its capital Belgrade, thanks to the internal chaos and dynastic scandals of the previous forty years, resulting in superficial dilapidation, intellectual stagnation, and general poverty, lacked the material as well as the moral glamour which a successful Piedmont should possess. Nobody could deny, for instance, that, with all its natural advantages, Belgrade was at first sight not nearly such an attractive centre as Agram or Sarajevo, or that the qualities which the Serbs of Serbia had displayed since their emancipation were hardly such as to command the unstinted confidence and admiration of their as yet unredeemed compatriots. Nevertheless the Serbian propaganda in favour of what was really a Pan-Serb movement met with great success, especially in Bosnia, Hercegovina, and Old Serbia (northern Macedonia). Simultaneously the work of the Serbo-Croat coalition in Dalmatia, Croatia, and Slavonia made considerable progress in spite of clerical opposition and desperate conflicts with the government at Budapest. Both the one movement and the other naturally evoked great alarm and emotion in the Austrian and Hungarian capitals, as they were seen to be genuinely popular and also potentially, if not actually, separatist in character. In October 1906 Baron Achrenthal succeeded Count Goluchowski as Minister for Foreign Affairs at Vienna, and very soon initiated a more vigorous and incidentally anti-Slav foreign policy than his predecessor. What was now looked on as the Serbian danger had in the eyes of Vienna assumed such proportions that the time for decisive action was considered to have arrived. In January 1908 Baron Achrenthal announced his scheme for a continuation of the Bosnian railway system through the _sandjak_ of Novi-Pazar to link up with the Turkish railways in Macedonia. This plan was particularly foolish in conception, because, the Bosnian railways being narrow and the Turkish normal gauge, the line would have been useless for international commerce, while the engineering difficulties were such that the cost of construction would have been prohibitive. But the possibilities which this move indicated, the palpable evidence it contained of the notorious _Drang nach Osten_ of the Germanic powers towards Salonika and Constantinople, were quite sufficient to fill the ministries of Europe, and especially those of Russia, with extreme uneasiness. The immediate result of this was that concerted action between Russia and Austria-Hungary in the Balkans was thenceforward impossible, and the Muerzsteg programme, after a short and precarious existence, came to an untimely end (cf. chap. 12). Serbia and Montenegro, face to face with this new danger which threatened permanently to separate their territories, were beside themselves, and immediately parried with the project, hardly more practicable in view of their international credit, of a Danube-Adriatic railway. In July 1908 the nerves of Europe were still further tried by the Young Turk revolution in Constantinople. The imminence of this movement was known to Austro-German diplomacy, and doubtless this knowledge, as well as the fear of the Pan-Serb movement, prompted the Austrian foreign minister to take steps towards the definitive regularization of his country's position in Bosnia and Hercegovina--provinces whose suzerain was still the Sultan of Turkey. The effect of the Young Turk coup in the Balkan States was as any one who visited them at that time can testify, both pathetic and intensely humorous. The permanent chaos of the Turkish empire, and the process of watching for years its gradual but inevitable decomposition, had created amongst the neighbouring states an atmosphere of excited anticipation, which was really the breath of their nostrils; it had stimulated them during the endless Macedonian insurrections to commit the most awful outrages against each other's nationals and then lay the blame at the door of the unfortunate Turk; and if the Turk should really regenerate himself, not only would their occupation be gone, but the heavily-discounted legacies would assuredly elude their grasp. At the same time, since the whole policy of exhibiting and exploiting the horrors of Macedonia, and of organizing guerilla bands and provoking intervention, was based on the refusal of the Turks to grant reforms, as soon as the ultra-liberal constitution of Midhat Pasha, which, had been withdrawn after a brief and unsuccessful run in 1876, was restored by the Young Turks, there was nothing left for the Balkan States to do but to applaud with as much enthusiasm as they could simulate. The emotions experienced by the Balkan peoples during that summer, beneath the smiles which they had to assume, were exhausting even for southern temperaments. Bulgaria, with its characteristic matter-of-factness, was the first to adjust itself to the new and trying situation in which the only certainty was that something decisive had got to be done with all possible celerity. On October 5, 1908, Prince Ferdinand sprang on an astonished continent the news that he renounced the Turkish suzerainty (ever since 1878 the Bulgarian principality had been a tributary and vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, and therefore, with all its astonishingly rapid progress and material prosperity, a subject for commiseration in the kingdoms of Serbia and Greece) and proclaimed the independence of Bulgaria, with himself, as Tsar of the Bulgars, at its head. Europe had not recovered from this shock, still less Belgrade and Athens, when, two days later. Baron Aehrenthal announced the formal annexation of Bosnia and Hercegovina by the Emperor Francis Joseph. Whereas most people had virtually forgotten the Treaty of Berlin and had come to look on Austria as just as permanently settled in these two provinces as was Great Britain in Egypt and Cyprus, yet the formal breach of the stipulations of that treaty on Austria's part, by annexing the provinces without notice to or consultation with the other parties concerned, gave the excuse for a somewhat ridiculous hue and cry on the part of the other powers, and especially on that of Russia. The effect of these blows from right and left on Serbia was literally paralysing. When Belgrade recovered the use of its organs, it started to scream for war and revenue, and initiated an international crisis from which Europe did not recover till the following year. Meanwhile, almost unobserved by the peoples of Serbia and Montenegro, Austria had, in order to reconcile the Turks with the loss of their provinces, good-naturedly, but from the Austrian point of view short-sightedly, withdrawn its garrisons from the _sandjak_ of Novi-Pazar, thus evacuating the long-coveted corridor which was the one thing above all else necessary to Serbia and Montenegro for the realization of their plans.