AUSTRIA-HUNGARY DELIVERS ULTIMATUM
TO SERBIA BEFORE WORLD WAR I
Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia in July of 1914 was an incredibly significant event that played a key role in the eventual start of World War I. Both countries became tangled in a web of tensions following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. In fact, the tensions resulted in the July Crisis of 1914, which ended with the start of World War I. Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia was a key event of the July Crisis.
Franz Ferdinand was the Archduke of Austria-Hungary and next in line to rule over the empire. Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated on June 28th, 1914 in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina while there on a visit to inspect the military forces. The assassin was Gavrilo Princip. Just nineteen years old at the time, Princip was a member of the Black Hand, which was a Serbian nationalist organization that existed in the early part of the 20th century. The Black Hand was first created in August of 1901, by members of the Royal Serbian Army. It was a secret society that worked to promote Serbian nationalism. They were opposed to Austro-Hungarian influence in the Balkans, which was the name for the southeastern region of Europe.
Following the assassination, Austrian authorities determined that the murder was carried out by the Black Hand and placed the blame for the killing on Serbia. In fact, rumors swirled at the time about the role of the Serbian government in the assassination. Since many of the prominent members of the Black Hand came from the Royal Serbian Army, the Austrian government wanted to investigate within Serbia to determine the role of the Serbian leadership. This situation between Austria-Hungary and Serbia is what essentially resulted in the July Crisis of 1914.
The tensions of the July Crisis heightened over the new two weeks as Austria-Hungary began preparing an ultimatum for Serbia. An ultimatum is a demand, that if not met would cause a conflict. As a result, Austria-Hungary was preparing to give Serbia a list of demands, and if not met, then Austria-Hungary would carry out a war against Serbia. Austria-Hungary’s hope was that in providing Serbia with an ultimatum, it would give more reason for Austria-Hungary to go to war. Although Austria-Hungary had the support of Germany, it was still worried about other European powers, and wanted to give the image that it was proving Serbia with an alternative to war. On the other hand, Austrian officials knew that Serbia would never meet the demands, and war would be the likely result.
Austria-Hungary finally delivered its ultimatum to Serbia on July 23rd and demanded an immediate response from the Serbian leadership. The main terms of the ultimatum included:
- Prevent information from being spread that speaks of Austria-Hungary or its Emperor in negative way.
- Remove all Serbian nationalist organizations.
- Allow Austro-Hungarian representatives to enter Serbia and investigate the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
- Remove and arrest individuals in the Serbian government that Austria-Hungary considers responsible for anti-Austria actions.
Serbia was angered by the ultimatum and immediately sought assistance from Russia and its leader Tsar Nicholas II. Member nations of the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) all openly recognized that the terms of the ultimatum were harsh. In particular, Serbia was most insulted by the demand that Austro-Hungarian representatives be allowed to enter Serbia to investigate the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. This is because Serbia viewed itself as a sovereign nation and did not want Austria-Hungary undermining its sovereignty.
Following a few last efforts to avoid a conflict, the July Crisis reached its height on July 24th. This is because Serbia did not respond to the ultimatum by Austria-Hungary and began to prepare for a potential war. In fact, the different armies of the European powers all began to mobilize following the ultimatum that was presented to Serbia. World War I officially started on July 28th when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The other major European powers were pulled into the conflict due to the terms of the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance.
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