Monday, July 28, 2014

AUSTRIA-HUNGARY: Kaiservilla...Emperor Franz Josef declares war on Serbia!

One hundred years ago today, Emperor Franz Josef, who by then had sat on the throne for nearly sixty-years made the decision that would ultimately obliterate the continent of Europe as his contemporaries  knew it.

At the Kaiservilla, his Alpine retreat, Franz Josef signed the declaration of a state of war with Serbia, blaming Belgrade for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, gunned down (along with his wife)  a month earlier while on an official visit to Sarajevo.

EUROHISTORY's Issues XCIX and C will commemorate the events that led to war and the utter destruction of the three continental imperial structures: Russia, Austria-Hungary and the German Emkpire.

In the meantime, enjoy this article:


Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914)
Eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig, a younger brother of Emperor Franz Josef, Franz Ferdinand's position in the line of succession was catapulted by the untimely death of his first cousin Crown Prince Rudolf. The ghastly deed took place at Mayerling, a Habsburg hunting lodge Rudolf frequented. Along with his body, lifeless due to a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head, was that of his mistress, Baroness Marie Vetsera, whom Rudolf had shot prior to ending his life.

Franz Ferdinand was not popular within the confines of the Imperial Court. His precarious health convinced many that he would never succeed the old Emperor Franz Josef. However, Franz Ferdinand recovered and his lung disease was cured. His unpopularity within the Hofburg only increased in 1900 when against all counsel he married for love. His bride was a Bohemian noblewoman, Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkova und Wognin. Sophie, however, lacked the pedigree to marry into the Habsburg dynasty. An impasse ensued and the only viable solution was for Franz Ferdinand to renounce the rights of any children from his marriage to Countess Chotek.

They were a devoted couple, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. She was highly responsible for turning him into a softer, more likable fellow. They had three surviving children, who were the first orphans of the Great War.

Gavrilo Princip (1894-1918)
A Bosnian Serb associated with a radical political movement demanding a greater land of Slavs (Yugoslavia), Princip was a wastrel, dilettante without much of a future. Had it not been for his political activities and thirst for Bosnian greatness he would have ended where he was destined, nothingness. However, the deaths of millions of human beings rest on the shoulders of this assassin.

 An Austrian cartoon showing the Dual Monarchy's plans toward Serbia.

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918)
 One wonders: if he had known what devils his decisions would unleash, surely he would have chosen a different path. Nicholas, the All-mighty Tsar of Russia, was not as strong as he liked to believe himself to be. Once the machinery of war was set in motion, control over Russia escaped his weak hands and instead of a leader, Nicholas II became a spectator, a marionette controlled by the war faction.

Nicholas II's folly would eventually bring down the Russian Empire in March 1917. Placed under house arrest at the Alexander Palace, he, along with his family and loyal servants, was sent to Tobolsk, Siberia, before ending imprisoned at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. There on the night of July 17-18, 1918, Nicholas II, with his wife and children and their last loyal servants, was brutally gunned down and butchered by rogue and drunken Bolshevik guards under the orders of the blood-thirsty Yakov Sverdlov, one of Lenin's henchmen.

Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary (1830-1916)
 He succeeded to the throne in 1848 and for nearly seven decades ruled Austria-Hungary with minimal success. There was not a single war that Franz Josef won during his reign. In 1859 he lost most of the Italian possessions. In 1866 he was defeated by Prussia and pushed out of Germany. His involvement in Balkan politics served to bring the dual monarchy untold enemies. The Great War, which he started on July 28, 1914, he did not live long enough to see end in Austrian debacle.

Too soon a monarch, Franz Josef lacked vision. He was a man of custom, a slave to it. His realm needed astute leadership, not just an imperial administrator.

Convinced that his nephew's assassination was the perfect excuse to extort further concessions from Serbia, while strengthening the Habsburg hold over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Franz Josef allowed the war part in Vienna to run rampant. In the end, it was his decision to sign the declaration of war what brought untold suffering to his realm, the same legacy he had done so much to preserve in an ever-changing political landscape.

Franz Josef was a fatalist. Luckily for him, death prevented the old Emperor from witnessing the destruction of his realm. He died in November 1916. Two years later Austria-Hungary was no more.

German Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941)
A throughly complex man, Wilhelm II bears great responsibility for allowing Vienna's war party to push Europe into the abyss of war.

A man with a penchant for saber-rattling and bombastic statements, when confronted with the decaying political situation responsible for the outbreak of war, he found himself unable to bring the machinery of war to a standstill, much less a stop. Once he gave control to his generals, Wilhelm II, much like Nicholas II, became their puppet.

Unlike his Russian and Austrian colleagues, Wilhelm II survived to witness the fall of the German Empire. He sought refuge in the Netherlands, where once under Dutch protection he avoided facing a war crimes tribunal.

Wilhelm II died in 1941.

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