South-East Europe In The International Relations At The Turn Of The 20th Century (II)

Part I

The Austro-Hungarian Balkan course

After the unification of Italy (1859−1866), when the Austrian Empire lost all of its Italian provinces,[i] the focal sphere of interest of Viennese foreign policy became South-East Europe, especially its central and southern regions. Following the metamorphosis of the Austrian Empire and its transformation into the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867 (the Aussgleich or the Agreement),[ii] Vienna and Budapest directed its economic and political expansion in the first place toward Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sanjak (Raška), Kosovo- Metochia, Albania, and the Buy of Thessaloniki in the Aegean Sea. For the Austro-Hungarian ruling establishment, this direction of Viennese-Budapest’s foreign policy was determined by both Austro-Hungary’s geographical position and the inner (ethnic) structure of the state, as the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhtold clearly stated on May 2nd, 1913.[iii] In another word, it meant that the planners of the Austro-Hungarian foreign policy saw the Balkans as Habsburg’s colonial dominion with the city of Thessaloniki as a southern focal economic seaport of Austria-Hungary (Trieste was a northern focal economic seaport of the monarchy, while the Bay of Kotor was the main navy base of the Dual Monarchy). The Austrian interest in South-East Europe, principally in Central and South Balkans arose simultaneously with the Italian intention to transform the Adriatic Sea into the Italian mare nostro and to control South Albania with the Strait of Otranto, likewise with the Russian intendment to acquire Istanbul with the Straits. Threatened that Italy would close the Adriatic gate to the Austro-Hungarian overseas trade, Viennese and Budapest’s politicians intended to transform the northern part of the Aegean Sea with the Buy of Thessaloniki to the principal Austro-Hungarian export-import seaport open to the world’s market. The prominence of the territory of present-day Albania for Rome and Vienna-Budapest must be seen in the context of the Italian-Austro-Hungarian conflict for the dominance over the Adriatic Sea. Certainly, for both sides, it was apparent that who is governing Albania is at the same time controlling the Adriatic Sea.[iv]

In order to implement a cardinal goal in its Balkan policy – to dominate over the Morava-Vardar’s valley and the Buy of Thessaloniki, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary obtained significant concessions for the building of the Balkan-Ottoman railway lines. The first direct railway traffic on the line Vienna-Budapest-Thessaloniki-Istanbul started due to the Austro-Hungarian financial capital in 1888. Four years before the beginning of the Balkan Wars in 1912, the Ottoman import from the Austro-Hungarian market was extended to 22% out of total Ottoman import. As it was done with the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary was putting as well as the Balkan states under its financial and political dependence after the 1878 Berlin Congress. Thus, it was signed the Railway Convention with Serbia in 1880, the Trade Contract with Serbia in 1881, the Secret Convention with Serbia’s Prince Milan Obrenović IV in June 1881, the Veterinary Convention with Serbia, the Trade (1875) and the Customs Union with Romania in 1883, etc.[v] For the matter of fact, just before the 1906‒1911 Custom War between Serbia and the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, the Austro-Hungarian financial capital already had the leading role in and control of Serbia’s export-trade. In addition, more than 85% of Serbia’s export was directed to the Austrian-Hungarian market, while 90% of Serbia’s import was coming from the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.[vi]

Berlin Congress 1878
Berlin Congress 1878

For the better understanding of Serbia’s dependence on the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary after the 1878 Berlin Congress,[vii] on the first place of importance, it should be shortly elaborated the 1881 Secret Convention signed between Serbia’s and Austria-Hungary’s monarchs. According to the Convention, the Principality (the Kingdom from 1882) of Serbia could not without Vienna-Budapest’s approval conclude any political agreement with the foreign countries. In addition, Serbia gave up propaganda, political, and all other activities to liberate the Serbs from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sanjak and to annex these two provinces in which at that time the majority of the population were the Serbs. In fact, according to the Convention, the westward (across the Drina River) territorial enlargement of Serbia was unable and for that reason in the coming decades Belgrade’s foreign policy was directed southward, or in another word, toward Kosovo-Metochia, Macedonia, and Albania with one of the main tasks to get direct exit to the sea. By giving up an idea to occupy Sanjak after 1878, Serbia at the same time rejected the option of the Serbian-Montenegrin political unification. Such reality had a serious consequence for the upcoming Balkan Wars as the exit of Serbia to the Adriatic Sea by the unification with Montenegro was impossible, Belgrade intended to acquire the sea cost for continental Serbia by the occupation of present-day North Albania’s littoral on the Ionian Sea (at that time part of the Ottoman Empire). Simultaneously, Montenegro sought to occupy the city of Scutari (Skadar) on the eastern coast of the Lake of Scutari, mainly populated by the Albanians, as the city which was in the 11th century a capital of the Principality of Zeta (according to the Montenegrin historiography, that was the first national state of the Montenegrins).[viii]

The highlight of the Austrian-Hungarian success in its Balkan policy against the Russian influence in the region was the decision by the Bulgarian Government to accept the Austro-Hungarian project of building the trans-Balkan railway line Vienna-Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul at the expense of the Russian project to construct the railway line Ruse-Sofia. In fact, after this decision, Bulgaria was gradually becoming a part of the Habsburg’s sphere of interest in South-East Europe involving Bulgaria at the same time into the military alliance of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy). Therefore, 50% of Bulgarian export-import was directed in 1910 toward Germany and the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.[ix] Finally, as a consequence, Bulgaria became a member-state of the Central Powers’ alliance in 1915.[x]

The trade contracts with Romania signed in 1875 and 1883 enabled Austria-Hungary to undertake the export of capital into this South-East European country.[xi] Finally, the economy of Bosnia-Herzegovina (after 1878 under the Austro-Hungarian occupation and administration) was totally under Viennese-Budapest’s exploitation especially the wood’s and mine’s industries.[xii]

The territory of present-day Albania and the lands inhabited by the Albanians have very significant value in the concept of Austria-Hungary’s Balkan policy. It was true primarily because of rich Albania’s natural resources and its tremendously important geopolitical and strategic position as the territory located at the very entrance to the Adriatic Sea. Therefore, the Austrian-Hungarian military establishment in Vienna-Budapest did not hide that Albania “must be in close economic, cultural and political relations with the Monarchy”.[xiii] The another reason for such “close” ties between Albania and Austro-Hungary was a plan by the Viennese Military Court Council to transfigure Albania into the chief barrier and counterbalance against both the Serbian-Montenegrin pretensions on the territories of Macedonia, North Albania, and Kosovo-Metochia and the Italian and the Greek aspirations on the present-day South Albania and the littoral of the Adriatic Sea. However, Italy, which after its national and political unification in 1859‒1866 was becoming very significant and respectful economic and political European player[xiv] was the principal and strongest political actor to oppose the Habsburgs to convert Albania into their own economic and political colony. At the turn of the 20th century, Austria-Hungary and Italy became the only masters of the Albanian economic life. For instance, the main part of the export-import trade through the Ottoman-Albanian seaport of Valona was controlled by the Austrian-Hungarian financial capital. Similarly, the Austrian “Lloyd” and “The Fiume Oboti Company” self-possessed the chief portion of Albania’s overseas trade. Lloyd’s steamboats maintained in 1913 around 73% of the Albanian steamboat’s traffic. The most important mines and the best forests in Albania were under the Austro-Hungarian economic exploitation. However, the Austrian-Hungarian domination over the territory of Albania was tremendously challenged in 1913 when Italy in a clean manner disagreed with Vienna’s intention to get a concession to construct the first Albanian railway line from Scutari to Valona. Generally, just before the outbreak of the Balkan Wars in 1912, the territory of present-day Albania was economically much more depended on the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary than on the Ottoman Empire.[xv]

The Austro-Hungarian policy of transforming South-East Europe into its own colonial possession allowed Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Romania to have their own Governments, rulers, diplomacy,[xvi] to use the national languages or to have a fictive autonomy within the Monarchy, but all of them at the same time have to be highly economically, politically, financially and military depended on Vienna-Budapest.[xvii] Probably the Kingdom of Serbia was the main spine in the Austrian-Hungarian eyes at the Balkans since the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1804−1813 when de facto an independent state of Serbia under the Russian protection was established.[xviii]

Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1910The real reason for such Austro-Serbian antagonism, which finally led the world to the Great War of 1914−1918[xix] was, on one hand, the Viennese intention to dominate over the South Slavs at the Balkans and, on other hand, Belgrade’s intendment to include all Serbs from the Ottoman Empire and the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary into unified national state of the Serbs, respectively.[xx] The most belligerent political factor in the Dual Monarchy, the Court War Council, was suggesting to the Emperor (Kaizer) Franc Joseph I Habsburg to resolve the Yugoslav Question by the military occupation of small Kingdom of Serbia. A Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General-Staff, Conrad von Hezendorf was calling for Emperor’s attention that if the Austro-Hungarian army would occupy the city of Niš in South Serbia, South-East Balkans would be under the monopoly of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.[xxi] Nonetheless, the Emperor was not willing to accept such policy as 50% of the population of the Dual Monarchy was of the Slavic origin. In other word, in the case of Serbia’s or both Serbia’s and Montenegro’s annexation by the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Slavic element would prevail over the Germanic and Hungarian ones combined.

From 1878 onward, the Viennese policy toward only two free, sovereign and independent Yugoslav states, Serbia and Montenegro, was focused on thwarting Belgrade to unite Serbia and Montenegro into a single national state.

Subsequently, as the best instrument to keep Serbia and Montenegro in political separation, Austria-Hungary found to build the railway line from Sarajevo to Kosovska Mitrovica via Sanjak of Novi Pazar.[xxii] This railway line should become a part of the Austro-Hungarian wider railway network which was connecting Vienna and Budapest with Istanbul, Thessaloniki, and the Albanian seaport of Valona.[xxiii]

to be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.


[i] About the Italian unification and the Habsburg Monarchy, see in [Rene A. C., Italy from Napoleon to Mussolini, New York: Columbia University Press, 1962; Delzell C. F. (ed.), The Unification of Italy, 1859−1861. Cavour, Mazzini or Garibaldi?, New York, 1965; Beales D., The Risorgimento and the Unification of Italy, London, 1981; Hearder H., Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento, 1790−1870, London, 1983; Smith D. M., Cavour and Garibaldi, 1860: A Study in Political Conflict, Cambridge, 1985; Coppa F., The Origins of the Italian Wars of Independence, London, 1992; Smith D. M., Mazzini, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994; Lucy R., The Italian Risorgimento. State, Society and National Unification, London−New York: Routledge, 1994; Beales D., Biagini F. E., The Risorgimento and the Unification of Italy, London-New York: Routledge, 2002; Riall L., Garibaldi: Invention of a Hero, New Haven−London: Yale University Press, 2008; Riall L., Risorgimento: The History of Italy from Napoleon to Nation State, New York−London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009; Clark M., The Italian Risorgimento, London−New York: Routledge, 2013].

[ii] Taylor J. P. A., Habsburgų monarchija 1809‒1918: Austrijos imperijos ir Austrijos-Vengrijos istorija, Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos institutas, 1999, 167‒181. Austria-Hungary was a dual monarchy from 1867 to 1918 composed by the Austrian part and the Hungarian part in which each of these two countries had complete control over their own internal affairs. However, they have been linked by a Council of Ministers responsible for common affairs, and by the ruling dynasty coming from the House of Habsburgs. A common ruler was at the same time both the Emperor of Austria and the King of Hungary [Palmowski J., A Dictionary of Contemporary World History from 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 40]. About the transition to constitutional Government of the Austrian Empire from 1860 to 1867, see in [Kann A. R., A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526−1918, Berkeley−Los Angeles−London: University of California Press, 1980, 326−342]. On Aussgleich, see in [Рокаи П. и други, Историја Мађара, Београд: CLIO, 2002, 460−471].

[iii] Hobus G., Wirtschaft und Staat im südosteuropäischen Raum 1908−1914, München, 1934, 24−27. On this issue, see more in [Williamson R. S., Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, Bedford−St Martins, 1991; Hanebrink P., Gero A., Gaspar Zs., The Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, 1867−1918, New Holland Publishers Uk Ltd, 2009]. 

[iv] As a part of the policy of the Italian economic, financial, and political penetration into the Balkans, the Italian Government established in 1900 the Department of the Albanian Language and Literature in the Instituto Orientale (Oriental Institute) in Naples [Ference C. G. (ed.), Chronology of 20th-Century Eastern European History, Detroit‒Washington, D. C.‒London: Gale Research Inc., 1994, 4].

[v] Стенографске белешке Народне скупштине Србије 1881; Јакшић Г., Из новије српске историје. Абдикација краља Милана и друге расправе, Београд, 1953, 70−142; Збирка закона, уговора и погодаба о српским зајмовима (од 9. авг. 1876. до 11. јан. 1899), Београд, 1899, 603−630; Карлсбадски аранжман и страна контрола у Србији, Београд, 1908; Недељковић М., Историја српских државних дугова, Београд, 1909, 157−172; Јовановић С., Влада Александра Обреновића I (1889−1897), Београд, 1929, 315−318.   

[vi] British Documents on the Origins of the War. 1899−1914, Vol. V, 157−170; Стенографске белешке Народне скупштине Србије 1906, 250−270; Стенографске белешке Народне скупштине Србије 1905−1906, књ. III, 1350−1410; Jugoslaviens Entstehung, Amaltthea Verlag, 1929; Дело, XXXI, Београд, 1904. Аbout the Serbian trade dependence on the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, see more in [Ђорђевић Д., Царински рат између Србије и Аустро-Угарске 1906−1911, Београд, 1962]. On Serbia’s state’s loans, see more in [Недељковић М., Историја српских државних дугова, Београд, 1909].

[vii] At the Berlin Congress (June 13th,‒July 13th, 1878) the representatives of the twelve European states tremendously redesigned the 1878 San Stefano Peace Treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (March 3rd) [Pasaulio istorijos atlasas: Mokymo priemonė, Vilnius: Naujoji Rosma, 2001, 190]. According to the Congress’ final accords, one can say that the main winner became the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, while the principal loser was Russia.

[viii] The most important articles of the Secret Convention are № 2 and № 4. About the Convention, see in [Јакшић Г., “Историја једне конвенције”, Архив за правне и друштвене науке, Београд, 1924].

[ix] About the Bulgarian history from the 1878 Berlin Congress to the end of WWI when Bulgaria was within the political, economic, and financial spheres of influence by Germany and Austria-Hungary, see in [Crampton J. R., A Concise History of Bulgaria, Second Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 85‒143].

[x] Živko Avramovski, Ratni ciljevi Bugarske i Centralne sile 1914−1918, Beograd: Institut za savremenu istoriju, 1985, 99−172.

[xi] About that time of Romania’s history, see in [Treptow W. K. (ed.), A History of Romania, Iaşi: The Center for Romanian Studies−The Romanian Cultural Foundation, 1996, 351−363].

[xii] Вучо Н., Привредна историја народа ФНРЈ до првог светског рата, Београд, 1948, 260−271.

[xiii] Feldmarschall Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit 1906−1918, Vol. III, Leipzig− München, 1922, 558.

[xiv] Di Scala M. S., Italija nuo revolucijos iki respublikos: Nuo 1700‒jų iki šių dienų, Vilnius: Tvermė, 1998, 167.

[xv] About this period of time of the Albanian history, see in [Frucht R. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe from the Congress of Vienna to the Fall of Communism, New York‒London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000, 9‒11; Бартл П., Албанци од Средњег века до данас, Београд: CLIO, 2001, 92−161].

[xvi] About the concept, functioning models, and different types of diplomacy in international relations, see in [Chatterjee Ch., International Law and Diplomacy, London‒New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2007: Cooper F. A. et al. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2015].

[xvii] According to Berhard Singer, a member of Vienna’s trade chamber.

[xviii] On this issue, see in [Ђорђевић Р. М., Србија у устанку 1804−1813, Београд: Рад, 1979].

[xix] About old and new controversies on the causes of WWI, see in [Бјелајац М., 1914−2014: Зашто ревизија? Старе и нове контроверзе о узроцима Првог светског рата, Београд: Медија центар „Одбрана“, 2014].

[xx] Стефановић Караџић В., “Срби сви и свуда”, Ковчежић за историју, језик и обичаје Срба сва три закона, У штампарији Јерменског манастира, 1, Беч, 1849, 1−27; Гaрашанин И., Начертаније, Београд, 1844 (secret manuscript); Чубриловић В., Историја политичке мисли у Србији XIX века, Бeоград, 1958, 90−95. On this issue, see more in [Љушић Р., Књига о Начертанију. Национални и државни програм Кнежевине Србије (1844), Београд: БИГЗ, 1993; Sotirović B. V., Srpski komonvelt: Lingvistički model definisanja srpske nacije Vuka Stefanovića Karadžića i projekat Ilije Garašanina o stvaranju lingvistički određene države Srba, Viljnus: Štamparija Pedagoškog univerziteta u Viljnusu, 2011]. On the road to the First World War, see in [Clark Ch., The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012; MacMillan M., The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2013]. On Serbia’s war aims in 1914, see in [Екмечић М., Ратни циљеви Србије 1914, Београд: Просвета, 1990].

[xxi] Потемкин В. П. (уредник), Историја дипломатије, књ. 2, Београд, 1949, 163−164.

[xxii] Pribram A. F., Die politischen Geheimverträge Österreich-Ungarns 1879−1914, ester Band, Wien, 1920, 267−275.

[xxiii] Архив српског посланства у Паризу, Извештај из Беча, 28. I 1914, број 19; Die Grosse Politik, XXXVII, 738−740; Die internationalen Beziehungen im Zeitalter des Imperialismus, I, 95, II, 155−156, 257.

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