‘They haven’t made any military steps! But military trains are coming to our borders. . .’
With the final hours of a two-day ultimatum ticking away, Serbs wondered how Austria-Hungary would react if Belgrade did not meet its demands
Kaiser Wilhelm II distributing iron crosses on the Western Front in the first World War in 1916. Only days before the outbreak of the war in 1914, Serbs hoped a conflict could be averted. Photograph: PA
Yesterday was one of Belgrade’s most interesting and important days. The situation was very serious but Belgrade stayed dignified, cool-headed and calm. Throughout the day, news came in about a great accumulation of military forces at Serbia’s northern borders and in Zemun, but Belgrade stayed calm and aware of what must be done and how it must to be done...
Here is the government communiqué about the situation, issued by the press bureau:
Belgrade, July 11th [according to the contemporary Serbian calendar; July 24th in western Europe]
The Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Belgrade, Baron Giesl, yesterday at 6pm delivered an official letter from the Austrian government to the Finance Minister Lazar Paèu, regarding the St Vitus Day assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th] event in Sarajevo. With this letter, that contains very difficult terms, Austria is giving a very short period in which to respond. The situation can be considered very serious and critical.
Yesterday morning the crown prince wanted to learn the opinion of opposition leaders regarding the situation and they were summoned to court.
The opposition view on the situation
Possessing all the information about the situation, the three opposition leaders were asked to give their views about a possible solution. They all gave almost the same answer — according to them, the Royal Serbian Government should act according to the national interest, while also trying to preserve the dignity of the country. Obviously, their answer was not very clear, but the implication of yesterday was clearer. It is that all the Austrian requests, if really formulated in the way that is being said, would be unacceptable to any Serbian government.
... Half the reports from the Austrian government say it will wait until the end of the 48 hours, and if Serbia does not fulfil all the requests, then all measures necessary must be used to ensure the demands are met. At the same time, it has been reported that Austria has not made any military steps because, they are saying, Austria hasn’t lost hope that Serbia will fulfil those requests. They haven’t made any military steps! But military trains are coming to our borders for a couple of days already, and the entire day and night and all the places between Pancevo, Temisvar, Novi Sad and Zemun are filled with Austrian troops.
Fear in Vienna
There are very different opinions in Vienna about the outcome of this Austro-Serbian conflict. They mostly concern the reaction of Russia and the Triple Entente. If Russia decides to view this situation as a conflict only between Austria and Serbia, then, it is believed, there are not going to be serious complications. In that case Serbia will respond to the ultimatum in a way that will not completely fulfil Austria’s demands but will prove that Serbia is capable of dealing with these requests in a serious and responsible way. If this happens, we have to assume that [prime minister Nikola] Pasic’s government is strong enough to deal with this crisis.
But the situation will be completely different if Russia does not see the Austrian government’s move that way.
July 25th, 1914