Serbia, Europe, Historical Profile (1922), #028-Ultimatum to Serbia


The secret of the ultimatum was jealously guarded, and the long delay created, as was intended, a false sense of security in some quarters. Its delivery at Belgrade, which took place at 6 P.M. on July 23, was carefully timed for the moment after President Poincare's departure from St. Petersburg after his state visit, the object being to disorganize the diplomacy of (he allies. The ultimatum, after reminding the Serbian Government of its formal undertakings of March 31, 1909, charged it with "culpable tolerance" of terrorist propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, and accused Serbian officers and functionaries of planning the Sarajevo murders.

It therefore demanded that the Narodna Odbrana and any similar society guilty of anti-Austrian propaganda should be dissolved, that objectionable passages should be expunged from Serbian educational works, that all officers or officials whom Austria-Hungary might name as guilty of propaganda should be dismissed, and that the Belgrade Government should not merely arrest certain specified persons charged with complicity, but should order the trial of others, allow Austro-Htingarian delegates to take part in the inquiry and accept the collaboration of Austro-Hungarian officials "in the suppression of the subversive movement."

The general impression produced by this document upon European opinion is best summarized in the words of Sir E. Grey, who telegraphed the next day to Sir M. de Bunsen that lie "had never before seen one State address to another independent State a document of so formidable a character." The fifth demand in particular, that of collaboration, he pointed out, "would be hardly consistent with the maintenance of Serbia's independent sovereignty." None the less, Serbia in her reply actually consented to "such collaboration as agrees with the principle of international law, with criminal procedure and with good neighbourly relations." Only on one point did she reply definitely in the negative-the share of Austro-1 Iungarian officials in the actual inquiry would, it was argued, be a violation of the Constitution and the criminal code; but even this.could be met by "communications in concrete cases." As a final proof of sincerity, Serbia offered to submit any outstanding points to the decision of The Hague Tribunal or even to the Great Powers which had imposed upon her the declaration of March 31, 1909. Thus Serbia for the third time in six years offered to submit herself to the verdict of The Hague (the two previous occasions being the Bosnian crisis and the Eriedjung trial), and each time Austria-Hungary rejected the proposal.

Austria-Hungary had left a period of 4S hours for either reply or mediation. The official documents published in Berlin and Vienna since the war make it abundantly clear that the Ballplatz deliberately couched the note in such terms as to be unacceptable. They also reveal that even William II. (to judge from his marginal notes) was impressed by the moderation of the Serbs, regarded Vienna's essential wishes as fulfilled and expressed the view that Giesl ought to have remained in Belgrade.

His ministers, however, had failed to support Sir E. Grey's proposal for a prolongation of the time limit, and were thus responsible for bringing Russia into action. On July 27 the tsar replied to a despairing appeal of the prince regent for assistance lo Serbia by a telegram strongly urging him to "neglect no step which might lead to a settlement, " but conveying the assurance that "Russia will in no case disinterest herself in the fate of Serbia." On July 28 Austria-Hungary formally declared war upon Serbia. Henceforward the Austro-Serbian quarrel is merged in the larger diplomatic conflict between Alliance and Entente;"and the reader may be referred to the special articles dealing with that subject.

      "Serbia, Europe, Historical Profile (1922), #028-Ultimatum to Serbia," The Encyclopedia Britannica. (New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1922); digital edition, ( : posted 15 Jan 2013)

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