The Great War In 1914 And The Balkans (II)

Part I

Serbia’s war aims                          

Serbia’s war aims during the WWI were designed within the framework of two options. Their realization depended only on the issue of the result of the war and the attitude by the victorious Great Powers to the geopolitical arrangement of the post-war Balkan affairs. These two possible options were:

  1. The first one, and more realistic, was an option of the unification of all Serbian “historical and ethnic territories” into the unified national state of all Serbs living on both sides of the River Drina. In other words, after the war, and under appropriate international political circumstances it should be created a Greater or United Serbia as a national state of all ethnolinguistic Balkan Serbs. That was an original and natural Serbia’s war aim. The first step in the realization of this option or a project was a territorial enlargement of the Kingdom of Serbia after two Balkans Wars (1912–1913), when Serbia gained Kosovo, Metohija, North Sandžak (Sanjak) and Vardar Macedonia. According to this option, an independent state of the Kingdom of Montenegro would join a Greater Serbia only voluntarily, what, in practice, happened on November 26th, 1918.[1]
  2. However, the second option, only accepted in the case that the first one could not be realized primarily because of the opposition by the Great Powers (what practically happened at the end of the war) was more important for the subsequent history of the Balkans and its inhabitants in the 20th Namely, Belgrade accepted the mid-19th century an idea of Yugoslavism by Austro-Hungarian Croats what practically meant the creation of Yugoslavia, or in other words a common state of the South Slavs, but with a final and forever exclusion of Bulgaria (as the causer of the Second Balkan War). That was an artificial war aim of Serbia promulgated during the whole WWI as a minimal compensation to the utopian first option. The second aim was going to be realized only if both Balkan military and an international diplomatic-political situation at the end of the Great War would be lesser suitable for the realization of the first and more natural option. Nevertheless, the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918 (in fact, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) was, practically, an Austro-Hungarian political victory over Serbia.[2]

Balkan aspirations 1912For Serbia’s authorities, behind the realization of the alternative idea of the Yugoslav unification was, in fact, a realization of the prime political task – the unification of all Balkan Serbs. However, the unpleasant price of the realization of second Serbia’s war aim was a post-war life in a common state with Austro-Hungarian South Slavic Roman Catholics (Slovenes and Croats) who committed terrible war crimes in West Serbia in 1914 in Austro-Hungarian uniforms, being as well as occupiers of Serbia from 1915 to 1918.[3]

One of the first pre-WWI war diplomatic steps done by Serbia’s authorities in order to get an international support for the realization of the 1844 Serbian national program[4] was at the beginning of 1912 when a Memorandum, written by the order of Serbia’s Regent Aleksandar Karađorđević (of the Montenegrin origin by birth)[5] and sent to the Russian Emperor Nikolai II Romanov. In the memorandum, Serbia’s authorities asked for the Russian support for the sake of the realization of Serbian national program in the coming Balkan wars. It was stressed the importance of the Serbs for both Russia and the Slavic world – a fact which was put on the first place in this memorandum. The Christian Orthodoxy was, according to the memorandum, the crucial link between the Serbs and the Russians and the main national marker of both nations. The Serbs, historically, after the Russians and Russia are the strongest defenders of the Christian Orthodoxy within the Slavic community in which they have a significant role in the Slavic struggle against the pan-Germanic imperialism. Finally, the memorandum stresses that a creation of unified Serbian state, consisted of Serbia, Montenegro, part of historical-geographical Macedonia (Vardar Macedonia), Ancient Serbia (Kosovo, Metochia, Raška/Sandžak), Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia (including Dalmatia and Slavonia) with 10 million Slavic inhabitants would be an important political-military factor in Europe, and what is most important, it would be a significant pillar and supporter of the Russian pan-Slavic policy in Europe.[6] A united Serbian state would finally stop further Germanic penetration to the Near and the Middle East. At the same time, the Balkan Peninsula would be ultimately put under the Slavic domination.[7] On another hand, Serbia was for Russia of an extreme importance as the only Balkan state, according to the memorandum, on which Russia could rely upon. Namely, Bulgaria was more and more under the Austro–German influence through the personality of the Bulgarian King Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg, who was of the German origin; Greece was put as well as under the strong Germanic control through Greece’s dynastic connections with the German nobility and the Germanophile policy of King Constantine I, while Turkey was already under a total German political-financial control. For those reasons, Serbian national and war aims had to be supported by Russia for the sake of its own political interest in the Balkans. Finally, the memorandum concludes that a Greater Serbia would be for Russia “the last bulwark against the West”.[8]

During the first days of the Balkan Wars in 1912–1913, Serbia’s Regent Aleksandar I addressed his army with the words that it came a moment to finish the process of liberation and unification of all Serbs, a process which started with the First Serbian Uprising against the Turks (1804–1813).[9] He precisely marked, at the very beginning of the WWI, Serbian lands which have to be liberated and unified with Serbia and Montenegro in his Proclamation to the soldiers of Serbia’s army: Bosnia, Herzegovina, Banat, Bačka, Croatia, Slavonia, Srem and Dalmatia.[10] Obviously, for him, all Austro–Hungarian Christian Orthodox South Slavs belonged to the ethnic community of the Serbdom.[11]

WWI war crimes
War crimes against Serbs in WWI

Following the idea of pan-Serbian unification, Serbia’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Pašić, presented his own vision of the new (Yugoslav or unified Serbian) state to his the most closed political associates on July 29th, 1914 – an idea that should be realized during the war. Namely, on the question asked by Jovan Cvijić with regard to the new boundaries with Austria-Hungary after the war, N. Pašić answered that “our borders are going to be set up on the line Klagenfurt-Marburg-Szeged”.[12] The first official act issued by Serbia’s government in which the Yugoslav program is presented, as Serbia’s maximal war aim, was N. Pašić’s Circular Note, sent on September 4th, 1914. In this document, it was emphasized that at the Balkan Peninsula, a strong national (Yugoslav) state has to be created, composed by all Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes[13] (but not Bulgarians). According to N. Pašić, the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes were a single nation, who, on the basis of their history, language, literature and the rights to self-determination, had all conditions to create their own independent state.[14] This Circular Note also emphasized that such a state would represent a single ethnic and economic region with a unified people of the same national background.[15] At the end of September 1914, N. Pašić sent to all Serbian ambassadors in the capitals of the Entente states a map with very clearly marked territorial boundaries of the future Yugoslav state, after the defeat of Austria-Hungary. N. Pašić anticipated that this state would have approximately 12 million Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and about 230.000 sq. km. It has to be noticed that in the case of the annexation of Trieste and Klagenfurt the “first” Yugoslavia would be territorially bigger than the “second” Yugoslavia, which was created after the WWII.[16]

Remainder of Serbian Army arrives on Corfu
Remainder of Serbian Army arrives on Corfu

The Yugoslav program, as the maximal war aim of Serbia’s government, was recognized as a legitimate and official one on the session of the People’s Assembly of Serbia (the Parliament) in the city of Niš on December 7th, 1914.[17] The principal result of the assembly’s session was an adoption of the Declaration of Niš that publicly presented Serbia’s war aims to the Entente.[18] The fact is that Serbia’s Prime Minister understood the creation of Yugoslav state as the best “secondary” option in order to finally resolve the “Serbian Question” at the Balkans (i.e., to politically unite all Serbian population and lands into a single state) but only in the case that the “prime” solution (the creation of only a pure pan-Serbian national state – a Greater Serbia) cannot come true.[19] This declaration especially stressed that Serbia’s war efforts for the independence are at the same time and the efforts for the liberation and the unification of “all our not free brothers, the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” (i.e., the South Slavs who lived in Austria-Hungary).[20] Nevertheless, the 1914 Declaration of Niš presented the integral Yugoslav program as an official war program of the Kingdom of Serbia. On another hand, the principal shortcoming of the declaration was the fact that only one side – the Royal Serbian Government – announced it. The Declaration of Niš was delivered to the diplomatic representatives of the Entente states – France, the UK, and Russia, who have been at that time together with the Royal Serbian Government in South Serbia’s city of Niš.[21] The declaration opened a path towards a long process of the internationalization of the “Yugoslav Question” during the whole war and after it at the peace conferences in France. Subsequently, Serbia by this declaration tried to beat back a diplomatic pressure on herself by the Entente in regard to the requirement to make the territorial concessions to Bulgaria, Romania, and Italy for their participation in the war on the side of France, the UK, and Russia.[22]

Montenegro’s war aims

The proclamation of similar war aims was announced by Montenegro’s King Nikola I Petrović in which he called all Montenegrins to fight for the liberty of all Serbs and the Yugoslavs against Austria–Hungary, whose authorities proclaimed a war against both the entire Serbdom and the entire Slavdom. The Montenegrin Proclamation ends with a note that Serbia and Montenegro, in their “justifiable struggle”, would be supported by almighty Russia. Here is of the crucial importance to emphasize that Montenegro declared the war to Austria-Hungary immediately after Austria-Hungary did the same to Serbia in July 1914. Basically, Montenegro entered the war in 1914 only as a matter of the solidarity with the sister Serbia and scarifying in 1916 its own independence and freedom for the sake of supporting Serbia’s war aims. In other words, to help Serbia, that was the only war aim by the Kingdom of Montenegro in the Great War.

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[1] Никола Ђоновић, Црна Гора пре и после уједињења, Београд: Политика, 1939, 81; Branko Petranović, Istorija Jugoslavije 1918−1988, Prva knjiga, Beograd: NOLIT, 1988, 23.

[2] The creation of a common Yugoslav state was proclaimed in Zagreb on November 23rd, 1918 and confirmed on December 1st, 1918 in Belgrade [Snežana Trifunovska (ed.), Yugoslavia Through Documents: From its Creation to its Dissolution, Dordrecht−Bosnot−London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1994, 151−153, 157−160].

[3] About the war crimes of genocide committed by Austrian-Hungarian army in West Serbia in 1914, see in [Бранислав Станковић, Светланка, Милутиновић, Миодраг Гајић, Шабац и српска победа на Церу 1914, Шабац: Народни музеј Шабац, 2014].

[4] On this issue, see in [Vladislav B. Sotirović, Lingvistički model definisanja srpske nacije Vuka Stefanovića Karadžića i projekat Ilije Garašanina o stvaranju lingvistički određene države Srba, Vilnius: Vilniaus universiteto leidykla, 2006].

[5] He was born on December 17th, 1888 in Cetinje – a capital of Montenegro at that time. His mother was a Duchess of Zorka – the oldest daughter of the Montenegrin Prince Nikola I [Бранислав Глигоријевић, Краљ Александар Карађорђевић, Књига прва: Уједињење српских земаља, Београд: БИГЗ, 1996, 24].

[6] About Serbian-Russian connections on the basis of the Russian pan-Slavic policy there are indisputable indications in: Международные отношениа в епоху империализмаДокументы из архивов царского и временного правительства, 1878–1917 (ДЦА), Москва, 1935, V/55, “Letter by Aleksandar Karađorđević to Nikolai II”. After the Sarajevo assassination on June 28th, 1914, Austro-Hungarian Emperor/King Franz Joseph I clearly indicated in his letter to the German Emperor that Serbia is the principal pillar of the Russian pan-Slavic policy in the Balkans.

[7] Archives of Yugoslavia (Arhiv Jugoslavije), Beograd, Fond Vojislava Jovanovića, f. 119, “Projekat memoranduma za ruskog cara”, Salonika, February 3rd, 1912.

[8] Serbian consul in Odessa, Marko Cemović, proposed to Serbia’s Prime Minister Nikola Pašić to ask Russian authorities to send three divisions to the Balkans in order to help Serbian army to finally “realize Serbian national program” [Archives of Serbia, Beograd, Ministarstvo inostranih dela (MID), Političko Odeljenje, 1916, IX/415, “Cemović’s Memorandum to Pašić”]. In general, Tsarist Russia had been “the principal champion of Serbia among the Great Powers and, without the support of St. Petersburg, the Serbs were in urgent need of friends” [John B. Allcock, Explaining Yugoslavia, New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, 224].

[9] Archives of Military-Historical Institute (Arhiv Vojnoistorijskog instituta), Beograd, p. 2, k. 35, Operacijski dnevnik, “Naredba Komandanta I armije za 18. X 1912”.

[10] Бранислав Глигоријевић, Краљ Александар Карађорђевић, Књига прва: Уједињење српских земаља, Београд: БИГЗ, 1996, 364.

[11] Aleksandar I is called the “Unifier” after 1918 by Serbian historiography and his inter-war Yugoslavia was originally understood by Serbian historiographers and politicians (at least up to 1924) as a Greater Serbia [Владимир Ћоровић, Велика Србија, Београд: Култура, 1924]. However, the King of Montenegrin origin created in 1929 a Greater Montenegro within Yugoslavia under the name Banovina Zeta (one out of nine administrative units) but not a Greater Serbia. Further, on August 26th, 1939 it was created a Greater Croatia in Yugoslavia – a state within the state, under the name of Banovina Hrvatska (a separate administrative unit designed for ethnic Croats). Nevertheless, a separate Serbian administrative unit was never created in inter-war Yugoslavia. According to Croatian historiography, in Banovina Hrvatska, 19,1% of its inhabitants were ethnic Serbs (the 1931 census) [Dr. Stjepan Srkulj, Dr. Josip Lučić, Hrvatska povijest u dvadeset pet karata, Prošireno i dopunjeno izdanje, Zagreb: Hrvatski informativni centar, 1996, 101].

[12] Archives of SANU (Arhiv Srpske akademije nauka i umetnosti), Beograd, The Memoires by General Panta Draškić, 14, 211; Милорад Екмечић, Ратни циљеви Србије 1914–1918, Београд: Политика−БМГ, 1992, 84.

[13] Ђорђе Ђ. Станковић, Никола Пашић и југословенско питање, Књига прва, Београд: БИГЗ, 1985, 148; Милорад Екмечић, Ратни циљеви Србије 1914–1918, Београд: Политика−БМГ, 1992, 87–89; Драгослав Јанковић, Србија и југословенско питање 1914–1915, Београд, 1973, 101; Драгослав Јанковић, “Нишка декларација”, Историја XX века: Зборник радова, бр. 10, Београд, 1969, 97.

[14] Ђорђе Ђ. Станковић, Никола Пашић и југословенско питање, Књига прва, Београд: БИГЗ, 1985, 150.

[15] Милорад Екмечић, Ратни циљеви Србије 1914–1918, Београд: Политика−БМГ, 1992, 177.

[16] Алекс Н. Драгнић, Србија, Никола Пашић и Југославија, Београд: Народна радикална странка, 1994, 124. According to the author, these territorial intentions were “everything but only not the intentions for the creation of a Greater Serbia”, Ibid., 124. It is interesting to present opinion by Seton-Watson that the future capital of Yugoslavia should be Sarajevo or to be shifted from one place to another [Милорад Екмечић, Ратни циљеви Србије 1914–1918, Београд: Политика−БМГ, 1992, 182]. Nevertheless, the idea that Sarajevo would be a capital of Yugoslavia was rejected by both dictators of Yugoslavia: King Aleksandar I Karađorđević and President Josip Broz Tito.

[17] At that time, South Serbia’s city of Niš was a temporal capital of the country.

[18]“Декларација владе Краљевине Србије о ратним циљевима Србије”, Српске новине, бр. 282, 7. децембар, 1914, Ниш.

[19] Ђорђе Ђ. Станковић, Никола Пашић и југословенско питање, Књига прва, Београд: БИГЗ, 1985, 154. According to Miodrag Zečević, Nikola Pašić and Aleksandar I Karađorđević favored the creation of Yugoslavia, while Serbia’s military establishment was against the union with the (Roman Catholic) Croats and Slovenes and, therefore, supporting the creation of a Greater Serbia [Миодраг Зечевић, Југославија 1918–1992: Јужнословенски државни сан и јава, Београд, 1994, 31–32].

[20] Ibid., 157; Ferdo Šišić, Dokumenti o postanku Kraljevine Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca (1914–1918), Zagreb, 1920, 10; A. Arnaoutovitch, De la Serbie la Yougoslavie: Notes et Documents, Paris, 1919, 2–3; Александар Белић, Србија и јужнословенско питање, Ниш, 1915, 83; Станоје Станојевић, Шта хоће Србија?, Ниш, 1915, 21–27.

[21] After Austrian-Hungarian armies attacked Serbia in the summer 1914 Serbia’s Government with the General-Staff of Serbia’s Army left Belgrade and moved to South Serbia’s city of Niš that was located nearby the border with Bulgaria.

[22] With regard to the problem of Italian territorial aspirations on the territory of East Adriatic littoral during the Great War, see in [Dragoljub R. Živojinović, America, Italy and the Birth of Yugoslavia (1917–1919), New York: Columbia University Press, 1972]. It is important to present a project created by the Croatian politician Dr. Ivan Lorković very soon after the break out of the war, who was at that time a leader of the Croatian part of the Croatian-Serbian parliamentary coalition in Zagreb. Namely, he sent to the Czech deputy in Prague – Prof. Masaryk  – a Memorandum in which proposed the destruction of the Dual Monarchy and the formation of a single state of all Balkan South Slavs (including and the Bulgarians). However, this state was imagined as a federal union of sovereign states, like it was the Holy Roman Empire, in which every state would have its own assembly and a ruler. The crucial point of this proposal was to create with Serbia one single state but in which it would be fully preserved (alleged) continuity of Croatian (imagined) statehood [Franjo Tuđman, Hrvatska u monarhističkoj Jugoslaviji, Knjiga prva, Zagreb, 1993, 154–155].

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