‘The Austrian government . . . has allowed horrible attacks on persons and property in Bosnia’

Georges Clemenceau, who would lead France through the last years of the war, was editor of ‘L’Homme Libre’ in 1914. In this front-page editorial he discusses Serb/Austrian and Austrian/French tensions, after Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination – Lara Marlowe

 The French statesman, Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) circa 1919. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The French statesman, Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) circa 1919. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fri, Jul 11, 2014, 01:00

The Repercussions

... The bomb and revolver shots of Sarajevo could not have reverberated more cruelly through the entire expanse of the Empire. When massacres and looting veil themselves in patriotism, few would not protest violently. The Austrian government, which reproaches the Serbian government without reason for having failed to foresee the attack in Sarajevo, has allowed horrible attacks on persons and property in Bosnia, without attempting to intervene.

And since our [French] press has been unanimous in hoping that Vienna will not respond disproportionately to the findings of the investigation in Sarajevo, we have been maligned by certain Austrian newspapers inspired by Berlin, and even by the speaker of the Austrian parliament, who to my mind is not qualified to engage in diplomatic conversation.

At Salzburg, in a meeting organised by the Union of German Liberals, this poor man declared that France and the French language should be boycotted... In spite of his Latin name, this Mr Sylvester appears to me scarcely intellectually superior to the inhabitants of the tropical rain forest. He believes — or feigns to believe, for I dare not call it thought — that we [France] have taken the side of “Serbian pan-Slavism”. If he comes down from his tree one day, and finds someone to translate French newspapers for him, I hope he will recognise his error...

A letter from a Bosnian, published by Le Temps, casts a strong light on the ill-known state of things. One knows that the entire population is of the Serbian race, with the exception of 10,000 Jews. Only religion divides these elements of a single nationality into Orthodox, or Serbs per se (close to 800,000), Muslims (600,000), known as Bosnians, and Catholics classified as Croatians or Dalmatians (400,000).

...Driven out of industry, trade, agriculture and public education, 1,800,000 Slavs do what they can to defend themselves against 35,000 Germans who are scandalously favoured...

That in a milieu overheated by such struggles, nationalist passions armed a criminal hand can be explained without recourse to the hypothesis of cross-border complicity. If, as is possible, agitators organised propaganda committees in Serbian territory to which anti-Austrian movements in Bosnia are linked, the Belgrade government must put an end to such activities without delay...

When the criminal investigation will have been completed, the Austrian government will draw its conclusions, and will provide indications to Belgrade that the Serbian government will certainly use to suppress all source of agitation on its territory...

There is reason to fear that anti-Serb passions, which are growing in Vienna and Sarajevo, transform the trial of a few criminals into the veritable indictment of the people and government of Serbia.

L’Homme Libre

July 11th, 1914