WWI: Meanwhile on the other side of Europe

The Franz Ferdinand was a very interesting guy. He was born in Graz, Austria in 1865 and never expected to inherit the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His Uncle was Franz Joseph the very involved and strong Emperor who would rule for almost 70 years and had a son/heir, the Crown Prince Rudolf.

Franz Ferdinand's uncle Franz Joseph, Austrian-Hungarian Emperor. Wikimedia Commons.

Franz Ferdinand's uncle Franz Joseph, Austrian-Hungarian Emperor. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1889 Franz Ferdinand's cousin and the heir to the throne, the Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide at his hunting lodge at just 30 years old. His father, Franz Joseph was devastated. Their father/son relationship had been a struggle mixed with some sweet moments. Rudolf had held conflicting liberal views to those of his fathers and while preparing Rudolf for taking over the empire. He had made many political enemies in his fiery youth and Franz Joseph tried to strip him of the influence of liberal views and expose him to the realities of running their vast empire.

General Beck of the Austrian army wrote in his journal of his serious concern that there would be trouble with the young heir:

"The young, over-excited mind of the Crown Prince, the immaturity of his way of thinking, the extravagance of his undoubtedly high intelligence, make me worry that he will assimilate ideas and tendencies which would not be compatible with the conservative character of a future monarch." (Palmer, 215)
Crown Prince Rudolph and his wife. Wikimedia Commons.

Crown Prince Rudolph and his wife. Wikimedia Commons.

But a number of years later with some experience under his belt his father and the general had begun to trust Rudolf's judgment and character which was much more like his mothers. It was a true shock to Franz Joseph when he learned of the Crown Prince's suicide. 

Rudolf was Franz Joseph's only son so the line of succession then went to Franz Joseph's younger brother who was in poor health; so Franz Joseph started to prepare his nephew Franz Ferdinand as the new heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

Training in the heir was to be a big deal as Franz Joseph had spent his entire reign keeping the Empire together as it was plagued by waves and waves of nationalism uprising's in Vienna, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and tough defeats in the Crimean War, the second Italian War of Independence, Austro-Prussian War, and the establishment of the dual monarchy known as Austro-Hungary.

But like his cousin Franz Ferdinand had more liberal views towards running the empire. He advocated for greater representation of ethnic groups, specifically the Czechs and the Slavic people in Croatia and Bosnia. He butted heads with many of the other leaders within the government convinced that their policies would be the ruin of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Wikimedia Commons.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Wikimedia Commons.

Ironically, it was Franz Ferdinand that promoted and stressed a careful approach towards Serbia claiming that treating them unfairly and harshly would end in war with Russia, resulting in disaster for both empires that were barely holding on. In reality he promoted a three-pronged monarchy with Austrians, Hungarians, and Serbs giving the Serbs equal rights as those of Austria and Hungary. But having Franz Ferdinand on your side in the empire was not what they wanted. The Serbians feared that it would lead to them being ruled by foreigners for even longer and the dream for a true united Serbia would never happen.

This simply would not due. Their fear of being ruled by foreigners and never having a united Serbia fueled fear and resistance to the Empire. They had been ruled by the Ottoman Turks since 1389 and continuously fought for their independence from the Ottomans until they finally gained some success in the early 1800's by winning their independence, creating the country of Serbia and establishing their own monarchy.

But more than a half a million Serbs remained under rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed the Austro-Hungarian's simply just annexed the countries. The Slavic people throughout the world were outraged claiming that the Austro-Hungarian Empire had stolen their independence that that they had no right too.

This my friends, is a recipe for disaster. The Austro-Hungarian Empire became the symbol of oppression. Revolutionary resistance started popping up everywhere within the Slavic countries creating many different secret societies with cultural and violent goals. 

**So just a quick review, Serbia at this time is a country, gaining their their independence from the Ottoman Turks. But Bosnia and Herzegovina, home to a half a million more Slavs, was annexed by Austria-Hungary, destroying their dream of independence as Serbia had achieved.

The late 19th century and early 20th century was a scary time to be a leader of any country. The popular way to try and bring change about throughout the world was through assassinations. And not necessarily behind-closed-doors-lets-poison-them assassinations...but very public and bloody ones.

It was a time where 4 kings, 3 American presidents, the Empress of Austria, 2 monarchical heirs...as well as dukes, barons, governors, legislators, and political figures had been gunned down or stabbed to death by 1911. Regardless whether or not these assassinations brought about swift change they remained very popular means of getting points across.

A young Gavrilo Princip would begin his plot to assassinate the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne long before his plan was carried out.

 

Sources:

 Palmer, Alan. Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and times of Emperor Francis Joseph. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1995.