Primary Documents - Explanatory Letter to Austria's Ultimatum to Serbia, 23 July 1914

Archduke Franz Ferdinand The Austro-Hungarian government waited three weeks following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand - heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne currently held by Franz Josef - before issuing its formal response to Serbia, which comprised a harsh ultimatum despatched on 23 July 1914.

Aware that the terms of the ultimatum might appear designed to prompt an inevitable Serbian rejection - and thus provide a plausible excuse to go to war against Serbia - an explanatory letter from the Austro-Hungarian government was despatched to each of the major European powers, and was sent attached to a copy of the ultimatum.

Letter of Explanation Transmitted to the Various European Powers

On the 31st of March, 1909, the Royal Serbian Government addressed to Austria-Hungary the declaration of which the text is reproduced above.

On the very day after this declaration Serbia embarked on a policy of instilling revolutionary ideas into the Serb subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and so preparing for the separation of the Austro-Hungarian territory on the Serbian frontier.

Serbia became the centre of a criminal agitation.

No time was lost in the formation of societies and groups, whose object, either avowed or secret, was the creation of disorders on Austro-Hungarian territory.  These societies and groups count among their members generals and diplomatists, Government officials and judges-in short, men at the top of official and unofficial society in the kingdom.

Serbian journalism is almost entirely at the service of this propaganda, which is directed against Austria-Hungary, and not a day passes without the organs of the Serbian press stirring up their readers to hatred or contempt for the neighbouring Monarchy, or to outrages directed more or less openly against its security and integrity.

A large number of agents are employed in carrying on by every means the agitation against Austria-Hungary and corrupting the youth in the frontier provinces.

Since the recent Balkan crisis there has been a recrudescence of the spirit of conspiracy inherent in Serbian politicians, which has left such sanguinary imprints on the history of the kingdom; individuals belonging formerly to bands employed in Macedonia have come to place themselves at the disposal of the terrorist propaganda against Austria-Hungary.

In the presence of these doings, to which Austria-Hungary has been exposed for years, the Serbian Government have not thought it incumbent on them to take the slightest step.  The Serbian Government have thus failed in the duty imposed on them by the solemn declaration of the 31st of March, 1909, and acted in opposition to the will of Europe and the undertaking given to Austria-Hungary.

The patience of the Imperial and Royal Government in the face of the provocative attitude of Serbia was inspired by the territorial disinterestedness of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the hope that the Serbian Government would end in spite of everything by appreciating Austria-Hungary's friendship at its true value.

By observing a benevolent attitude towards the political interests of Serbia, the Imperial and Royal Government hoped that the kingdom would finally decide to follow an analogous line of conduct on its own side.  In particular, Austria-Hungary expected a development of this kind in the political ideas of Serbia, when, after the events of 1912, the Imperial and Royal Government, by its disinterested and ungrudging attitude, made such a considerable aggrandizement of Serbia possible.

The benevolence which Austria-Hungary showed towards the neighbouring State had no restraining effect on the proceedings of the kingdom, which continued to tolerate on its territory a propaganda of which the fatal consequences were demonstrated to the whole world on the 28th of June last, when the Heir Presumptive to the Monarchy and his illustrious consort fell victims to a plot hatched at Belgrade.

In the presence of this state of things the Imperial and Royal Government have felt compelled to take new and urgent steps at Belgrade with a view to inducing the Serbian Government to stop the incendiary movement that is threatening the security and integrity of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

The Imperial and Royal Government are convinced that in taking this step they will find themselves in full agreement with the sentiments of all civilized nations, who cannot permit regicide to become a weapon that can be employed with impunity in political strife, and the peace of Europe to be continually disturbed by movements emanating from Belgrade.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. I, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

"Boche" was a disparaging term used to describe anything German.

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