The New Europe/Volume 1/Count Czernin: the New Emperor's New Foreign Minister
Count Czernin: the New Emperor's New Foreign Minister
[In Austria there has been another and even more surprising shake of the political kaleidoscope. Dr. von Spitzmüller, the financial nominee of Budapest and Berlin, who had replaced Dr. von Koerber, failed to maintain himself and has been succeeded by the Bohemian feudal aristocrat, Count Clam-Martinitz. He, like his colleague without fortfolio, Dr. Baernreither (the well-known German—Bohemian Conservative leader), is known to have enjoyed the confidence of the late Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and to have favoured a revision of the Dual System, and just concessions to the Southern Slavs and the Hungarian nationalities. At the same time another prominent supporter of the same policy, Count Ottokar Czernin, also a member of the high Bohemian aristocracy, has been appointed Joint Foreign Minister. It is too soon to express a definite opinion as to these changes, but they certainly suggest a rally of the "Old Austrian" party against the excessive influence of Prussia and Hungary.
The following interesting study of Austria-Hungary's new Foreign Minister, who till last August was Minister in Bucarest, is from the pen of the distinguished Roumanian statesman, M. Take Ionescu, and appeared in his newspaper La Roumanie a few days before the evacuation of the capital.]
Count Czernin is a thoroughly typical Austrian. We all know, and are always repeating, that there is no Austrian nation. This is true in the real sense of the word. An Austrian people, that is to say, an agglomeration of individuals possessing a collective conscience, does not, and, could not, exist. But "Austrians" there are. They are the members of a clique which is recruited from among all the nations of the earth, who, from generation to generation, have served the Habsburgs, who live by the Imperial favour, and who form a kind of civil General Staff to that family, which itself is the only link which holds together all the different races of the Monarchy. These people speak German among themselves, but their mentality is not German. Whether they be of Czech, Polish, Italian, Croat or German origin, they are, in fact, neither Czechs, Poles, Italians, Croats nor Germans. Until quite lately they might even be of Magyar origin, and yet no true Magyars. These people, the members of this little clique, are Austrians. They are, indeed, the only Austrians in the world. Their essential characteristic is a lack of real intelligence. But, nevertheless, they are not as simple as they appear to be. They have the bureaucratic tradition and a certain cunning which takes the place of intelligence. On first acquaintance one is attracted by their charming manners, and by a certain veneer of omniscience which hides a deplorable vacuum. Then one is apt to fall into the other extreme, and out of sheer amazement at their ignorance and lack of intelligence, to look upon them as harmless. It is only later that the real facts emerge, and then one realises that these people are, at bottom, mere roublards, and that it does not do to count too much upon their intellectual insignificance. Count Czernin is a very representative "Austrian." Intercourse with him is most agreeable, as his manners are, at any rate in appearance, altogether delightful. His intelligence is of the most rudimentary order, but cunning supplies its place sometimes, even to advantage. Added , he has a sense of humour, and is almost witty on occasion. He remarked one day to Radev, the former Bulgarian comitadji, now turned diplomat: "Neither you nor I will ever be good diplomatists; I because I never lie, you because you never speak the truth."
Count Czernin was no longer in the Service when, in 1913, Vienna thought fit to replace Prince Fürstenberg, who had not been able to prevent Roumania's entry into the war against Bulgaria, and in consequence, the Peace of Bucarest. It was the Archduke Francis Ferdinand who chose Czernin. He had long singled him out as his future Minister of Foreign Affairs, and in the meanwhile he sent him to Bucarest with the definite mission of patching up Austro-Roumanian relations once more by means of serious concessions which the Magyars were to make to the Roumanians of Transylvania.
I met Count Czernin, for the first time, soon after his arrival at the opening of the new Industrial Museum. He took me into a corner, and, despite the crowd all round us, explained to me that he had come to Bucarest with the sole object of consolidating our relations by the large concessions which the Magyars were to make to the Roumanians. He assured me that these concessions would be made, whether the Magyars liked it or no, but that it was certain that Budapest would see reason in the end, since it was not merely a matter of justice, but of sheer necessity. Without these large concessions on the part of the Magyars, the Austro-Roumanian alliance could no longer continue.
There was a measure of true courage in this firm declaration. I had no doubt whatsoever that Count Czernin was under an illusion as to the possibility of serious concessions, but it was very honourable on the part of an Austro-Hungarian Minister to acknowledge that they were necessary. At the same time, it seemed very strange that he should make such a definite declaration to me at our first meeting, and in the midst of a crowd which jostled us at every turn. It merely confirmed my former opinion of Austrian diplomatists. In course of time it became obvious, even to Count Czernin, that the story of Magyar concessions to the Roumanians of Hungary would remain a mere Arabian Night's Entertainment, and he spoke of it less and less whenever I met him. . . .
In the early days of the war . . . I often met Count Czernin at Sinaia. . . . He stopped me once in the street to ask whether it was true that Talaat and Zaimis were both coming to Roumania in order to try and adjust the Turko-Greek differences with regard to the Islands. When I answered that it was quite true, he asked me, with a malicious smile, whether I really thought that it was merely for that that Talaat was coming? I answered him bluntly: No. Talaat had stopped in Sofia on the way, and it was obvious to me that he was coming to Roumania in order to try and conclude a Turko-Roumano-Bulgar alliance against Russia.
"Well," said Czernin, "if they make a proposition of this sort to you, what will you answer?"
"I am not the Government." I said, "but if I were, and if they made me any such proposition, I should simply reply that in the event of wishing to ally myself with Austria I should prefer to discuss the matter with her and not with her servants.". . . . Some days after the fall of Lemberg, Czernin asked me, by telephone, if I could receive him. Naturally I said yes. . . . This was our last conversation. . . . The Austrian Minister began by saying that he had a favour to ask of me: "We shall soon be at war with each other," he said. "But after the war there will be the peace. Promise me, that when I have the pleasure of meeting you after the war we shall be friends again, as we have been." . . . Then, when I answered that the issues of war and peace did not rest with me, he declared:
"You will go to war with us. That is an understood thing. It is both your interest and your duty. Why, if I were a Roumanian I should attack Austria, and I do not see why you should not do what I would do in your place. It certainly is not a noble action to turn against an Ally, but history is full of such villainies, that of Austria as well as of other States, and I do not see why Roumania should be the only exception. . . . Only," he went on, "I ask you one thing. Wait two weeks longer. In two weeks' time the whole military situation will be changed in our favour; and whatever interest you may have in making war on us, you will see then that it would be a mistake."
I smiled, and Czernin continued: "No, not two weeks, but three. That's all that I ask. If in three weeks' time the situation is unchanged, then attack us, I repeat. I should do it in your place." "But I insist upon these three weeks. For, you see, this will be a war of extermination. If we win, we shall suppress Roumania. If we are beaten, there will be no more Austria-Hungary." I repeated that our entry into the war did not depend on me, and that, so far as I could see, he might count not merely upon three weeks, but upon far longer, even if it should eventually come to war between us." I also added that to speak of extermination was an exaggeration. "But with regard to all this," I said to him, "our positions are not the same. I, if Romania were suppressed, should lose everything. I should be a pariah wandering on the face of the earth. Whereas you, who claim to be a good German, would lose nothing by the disappearance of Austria. You might even gain by it, since Germany can never be suppressed."
It was thus that we parted. This was in the course of the afternoon. In the evening I heard from Nicu Filipescu that Czernin had spoken to him, on the same day, in exactly the same sense.
This last conversation with Count Czernin is the strangest that I have ever had with a diplomatist. If I had not heard it with my own ears it would seem to me not merely extraordinary, but absolutely incredible that the representative of Austria-Hungary should declare that if he were a Roumanian he would go to war with Austria, that being both the interest and duty of Roumania.