The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Chapter 4
The German Government, however, was not contented to play the fool in its own house alone. It felt impelled to make itself accountable also for the stupidities of Austrian policy, which likewise threatened to kindle a world-war, not indeed for objects oversea, but in relation to the independence of States in Europe itself, which were directly threatened by Austria.
The world-policy of Germany had brought it about that she had now scarcely a friend among the independent and durable States in Europe. Even relations with Italy, her ally, had grown cool. Two States alone were on terms of close friendship with Germany—two States which had lost their vitality and could only maintain themselves by powerful help from without—Austria and Turkey.
The Habsburg State, like that of the Sultan of Constantinople, was a State of nationalities which maintained itself not through the common interests of these nationalities, not through its superiority in well-being and in freedom, but solely through military force. This type of State was growing ever more irreconcilable with modern democracy, which was developing irresistibly under the influence of modern means of communication.
Austria and Turkey, at least Turkey in Europe, were thus irretrievably doomed to perish. So little did the statesmen of Germany understand this, that it was precisely these Powers on which they chose to lean. But indeed what others had their world-policy now left to them?
Both these States stood in a position of traditional hostility to Russia, which was always straining towards an outlet on the Mediterranean, towards Constantinople, but which had learned by repeated experiences that this goal could not be directly arrived at. Russia decided therefore on a circuitous route, by dissolving Turkey into a collection of small independent States, of which it was hoped that, related as they were by religion, and also in part—in the case of Serbia and Bulgaria—by language, to the Russian people, they might become vassal States of the Tsardom. In opposition to the Austrian and the Turkish Governments, Russia therefore favoured the movement for independence in the Balkans, and therefore advanced on the inevitable course of historical progress, while the other Governments set themselves against it. The same monarch whom his own subjects cursed as a hangman and the Tsar of Blood was hailed in the Balkans as the Tsar of Deliverance. Russian imperialism, indeed, would not have attained its object among the Balkan peoples. The more their strength and their independence of the Sultan increased, the more independent they tended to become as against the Tsar also. They felt themselves drawn to him so long only as they needed his protection, so long as their independence was threatened from another side.
This other side, in the decades immediately preceding the war, was revealing itself more and more as Austria. In view of the national movements which were growing up at home among the Rumanians and Yugo-Slavs, who were particularly oppressed by the ruling classes in Hungary, a strong Serbia and Rumania seemed to the leaders of Austro-Hungarian policy a highly dangerous development. To the agrarian party in the Monarchy—and again more particularly to the Hungarian section—the agrarian export territories of Serbia and Rumania were a thorn in the flesh. Finally, to the imperialists, militarists, bureaucrats and capitalists of Austria, who all desired to control the road to Salonika, the existence of an independent Serbia appeared an obstacle which they could not but desire to remove.
The policy of all these Austrian elements forced Serbia and Rumania into the arms of Russia.
While the Austrian statesmen believed that they had to crush Serbia in order to bolt the door against Russian intrigues in the Balkans, the true state of the case was exactly the reverse. It was just through Austria's hostility that Russian influence was strengthened.
To eliminate it, the leaders of Austrian policy would have had to pursue a policy of concessions to the Serbs and Rumanians in Austria, and also towards the neighbouring States of Serbia and Rumania. Such a policy was impossible to the rulers of Austro-Hungary. To save the State on these lines they would have had to act contrary to their own interests of the moment.
If the national democratic and proletarian opposition in Austria failed to bring about the downfall of these rulers, then Austria was doomed, just as Turkey was; and doomed also was anyone who had bound himself to this State for weal or woe.
At the same time Austria felt itself as a Great Power, wished to behave as if it were independent, and made continued attempts at an independent policy, which grew ever more futile according as difficulties increased, within and without.
Nor was the situation helped by any personal quality in the Government of the State. At its head stood a monarch who had never been noted for intellectual ability, to whom age and a series of heavy blows of fate had made repose imperative, and whose régime had taken on the character of senility. But it was his misfortune that the peoples of Austria took no account of this need of repose, and that their revolt against the impossible State into which they were compressed grew continually more violent. Under the influence of this growing unrest in the realm, the Emperor's senile need of repose gave rise to the most contradictory phenomena; among other things, it brought about some astonishing capitulations. But these had not the desired effect in calming the popular mind, for they only touched individual points, they made nothing but patchwork. Of any radical reform the régime was incapable.
If concessions did not effect the desired end in producing peace, then the need of repose brought about a recourse to extreme harshness, so that the disturbers of the peace might be suppressed by force. And if this was in the first instance directed to home affairs, foreign politics were also affected by it. In Austria home and foreign affairs were very closely related, from the fact that of the eight nationalities represented in the realm only two dwelt wholly within its borders—the rest were to a great extent outside it, and in some cases were organized in independent national States. The national movements of Rumanians, Ruthenes and Poles had their influence on Austrian foreign policy, and still more those of the Italian and Yugo-Slav Irredenta.
To all this we must add that besides its Emperor, Austria obtained a second ruler in the person of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who in 1896 became heir to the throne, just about the time when Germany was embarking on her fatal naval policy. The imperialistic tendencies which at this period seized on all the Great Powers, began from that date to be felt in Austria too. Austria, however, could have no designs on oversea dominion. Austrian imperialism, like the Russian, sought to extend its territories on land. That was best to be attained in the south by conquering the road to Salonika, a policy which required that Albania and Serbia should be turned into an Austrian colony. What no State in Europe had dared to attempt since 1871, since the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine—the forcible incorporation against its will of a politically independent population—this was what the senile though extensive Power of Austria now undertook to accomplish through the systematic maltreatment of the small but youthfully vigorous State of Serbia.
Franz Ferdinand, young, energetic and even reckless, who knew no need of repose, no vacillations between concession and suppression, but built on force alone, became the incorporation of these imperialist tendencies, which he was able to emphasize all the more since, as the Emperor grew older, the influence of his heir with the army and on foreign policy increased. Since 1906, when Goluchowski was superseded by Aehrenthal, foreign policy was directed by Franz Ferdinand.
Ignorant braggarts, he and his tools did not shrinz from the grossest provocations, caring nothing that they were thus challenging Russia, the protector of Serbia, and endangering the peace of the world. Why should they care, so long as the big German brother with his mighty, mailed fist stood behind them! And he stood behind them because his own position in the world was threatened, if the only military Power of any consequence on whose support he could reckon were to suffer loss in power or prestige.