Who's Who - Count Istvan Tisza de Boros-Jeno

Count Tisza Count Istvan Tisza de Boros-Jeno (1861-1918) served as Hungarian Prime Minister from the war's inception until his ousting in May 1917 with the accession of Karl I as Emperor in place of the ageing Franz-Josef.

Himself the son of a Prime Minister, Tisza first came to power as head of the Liberal Party from 1903-05.  Re-appointed premier in 1913 for a second time, Tisza was a tireless campaigner for the recognition of Hungarian rights within the Dual Monarchy.

Tisza was well aware of the dangers that war posed to the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Noting that Slavs already outnumbered Magyars, Tisza was fearful of the nationalist effects a war would engender among the empire's invariably discontented Slav peoples.

He also understood that even a successful war came with its own set of dangers.  He was at pains to avoid the possibility that Serbia could find itself annexed by a victorious Austria-Hungary, thus perhaps creating a Triple Monarchy with yet more Slavs among its population.

Consequently Tisza acted as the dove in the Austro-Hungarian government during the July Crisis of July 1914, restraining the more impetuous Imperial Foreign Minister Berchtold and Chief of Staff Conrad from launching a pre-emptive strike at Serbia in early July (without even a declaration of war beforehand).  Both Berchtold and Conrad were keen to achieve a final settlement with Serbia at the point of a gun.

Tisza's insistence that all diplomatic avenues be explored before a military solution settled upon did however rob Austria-Hungary of the element of surprise during the early phase of the war.

Nevertheless, once war was finally declared on 28 July 1914 Tisza threw his whole weight behind the Austro-Hungarian war effort.  He remained nonetheless as keen as ever to ensure that Hungary was not treated as the junior partner in the prosecution of the combined war effort.  In practical terms this required that Tisza exercise a degree of blackmail over Vienna (which was certainly not lost upon Vienna).

For example he halted the free passage of food from Hungary to Austria in the spring of 1915 - placing local needs above that of the empire (1914 had seen a poor harvest) - and declined to join a Joint Food Committee until February 1917.

In short, Tisza used the threat of withdrawing food supplies as a method of securing Hungarian influence at Imperial level.

Reigning at home in what amounted to a dictatorial manner, Tisza nevertheless took care to retain the Magyar parliament in session.  The parliament had little actual sway over policy but Tisza could still point to it as legitimising his government, a point of more political value in Vienna than in Hungary.

In terms of funding the war effort Tisza gambled upon a short war.  By declining to raise new taxes or to increase existing levels of taxation, he was staking all on winning the war: he would then ensure the defeated nations paid back the loans he had secured to fund the war.  Short-sighted as this policy seems it yet ensured that Magyar support for the war remained high.

With Karl's accession to the throne in December 1916 Tisza's hold on power - and certainly his influence - already weakened by continued military defeats began to slip.

Suffering from a popular perception as a man determined to see the war through to the bitter end (by no means the case), and as an opponent of social and political reform (certainly true), Tisza's resignation was forced by the more pro-Allied Emperor in May 1917.  He thereafter served, for a short while, in the Hungarian home army.

Still associated with the aggressive prosecution of a hopeless war a year later, and even (ironically) blamed for its inception, Magyar Communists assassinated Tisza in Budapest on 31 October 1918.

Prevalent dysentery among Allied soldiers in Gallipoli came to be referred to as "the Gallipoli gallop".

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