Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Bosnian Crisis: Russia's 1909 Not-To-Be-Forgotten Humiliation

Franz Josef and Tsar Nicholas Pulling the Carpet from Beneath the Sultan

The Young Turks' effort at reforming the Ottoman Empire, for both the great powers and smaller nations on the periphery of the empire, were a signal of weakness. Bulgaria,for instance decided it needed its independence and declared it in October 1908. Russia was looking for free access to the Bosporus and Dardanelles, and Austria-Hungary desired to get better leverage on it nationalities problem.  The foreign ministers of the two empires entered into negotiations out of which Austria got away with its annexing of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Russia gained, well, nothing.

In 1909 Russia was still reeling from the defeat of her army, the annihilation of her main battle fleet in its war with Japan, and an unsettling revolution. The embarrassment over the settlement of the Bosnian Crisis added to the Russian sense of humiliation. This was understood by all observers at the time, as this contemporary account shows. Five years later, the tsar would choose not to be humiliated again over another Balkan dispute. How it looked to contemporary observers is shown in this article from the Wellington, New Zealand Evening Post of 31 March 1909 ~

Baron Aehrenthal's [of Austria-Hungary] success, then, is practically complete. One can now see that his appreciation of  the international situation was the result of broad and, on the whole accurate survey. . . .Russia. . . the head of the Slav family, has been brought low. She has been ousted from the Balkan Peninsula without shedding a drop of blood, and at the cost of a trifling sum. Constantinople, which more than once might have been hers, has definitely slipped from her grasp. Her prestige among her kindred has faded into nothing.

Austrian Foreign Minister Aehrenthal
Thus wrote Dr. E. J. Dillon in last month's Contemporary Review, and for once the rhetoric of that exceptionally well-informed authority on Eastern affairs seemed [at first] to have overshot the mark. . .But [now] the collapse of Russia, reported on Saturday, is complete. Her humiliation is abject and undisguised. The only chance of getting anything for Serbia was by postponing the recognition of Austria's right to Bosnia and Herzegovina for simultaneous settlement with the Austro-Serbian differences. To [this] end British and Russian diplomacy has been steadily striving for weeks past, and with a fair prospect of success, when we were suddenly informed that "two factors have suddenly arisen making for peace in the Balkans," and that one of them was Russia's willingness as a prelude to the proposed conference to recognize the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is always easy to purchase peace by surrendering everything that your antagonist is fighting for, and this is what Russia has done. 

Sometimes, however, a capitulation can be disguised as a compromise which secures something, or a semblance of something, for the defeated party, but here there is absolutely nothing to save Russia's face. "The greatest possibly excitement" is reported as prevailing in the Russian capital when the news became known, and the shame has been aggravated since by knowledge of how the surrender was brought about. The inducement was not a compensating concession of any kind of Russia or her protege, but what the Daily Mail describes as "the free use of the mailed fist." 

Russian Foreign Minister Izvolsky
When the German Ambassador reminded the Russian Foreign Minister that Austria was Germany's ally--a fact of which the Minister must be presumed to have had at any rate some inkling before--he appears to have entirely lost his nerve, and to have reported to the Russian Cabinet "the probability of a German mobilization on the Russian frontier within forty-eight hours". . . .We need not wonder that the St. Petersburg newspapers are reported to be "profoundly indignant at what they deem the unreasonable panic behind M. Isvolsky's [sic] volte face," or that they speak of the betrayal of Serbia as involving "the eclipse of Russian influence in the Balkans for a century." 

If Russia had stood alone, the humiliation would not have been so abject. But in the present case she was supported by the same combination which successfully thwarted German aggression on France at the Algeciras Conference [which settled the First Moroccan Crisis to France's advantage over Germany]. Britain, France, and Russia stood together then as they were standing together now, until M. Isvolsky showed the white feather and told Germany not to shoot. The fall of M. Déclassé, to which the critics are comparing the collapse of the Russian Foreign Minister, was brought about by German dictation to the Republic while her ally was fully occupied with war with Japan. After that war was over Germany made the mistake of supposing that Russia was still a negligible factor in the politics of Europe, but at Algeciras the Kaiser learnt that Russia was still a power, and her combination with Britain in support of France was more than he could resist. The Kaiser has now had his revenge.

Sources:  Over the Top, November 2009; the New Zealand National Archives

1 comment:

  1. "Five years later, the tsar would choose not to be humiliated again over another Balkan dispute": chilling words.