Primary Documents - Austrian Ultimatum to Serbia, 23 July 1914

Arrest of Gavrilo Princip 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.

Seizing the opportunity presented by Ferdinand's assassination (who in any event had not been viewed with any great favour, either by Franz Josef or by his government), the Austro-Hungarian government decided to settle a long-standing score with near-neighbour Serbia.

Austria-Hungary's response, following a Ministerial Council Meeting on 7 July, - its ultimatum - comprised a lengthy list of demands made upon the Serbian government.  It took as its basis an assumption that the Serbian government was implicated in events at Sarajevo.

The ultimatum was presented by the Austrian government to Belgrade on Thursday 23 July 1914 at 6 p.m.  A response was demanded within two days, by Saturday 25 July at 6 p.m.  Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, commented that he had "never before seen one State address to another independent State a document of so formidable a character."

The text of the ultimatum follows, as does the Serbian response, which virtually conceded all demands made by the Austro-Hungarians bar one or two minor clauses.  Nonetheless, war was declared by Austria-Hungary shortly afterwards.

Click here to read the text of an explanatory letter sent by the Austro-Hungarian government to each of the major European powers as a means of explaining the Austro-Hungarian approach.

Austria-Hungary's Ultimatum to Serbia

On the 31st of March, 1909, the Serbian Minister in Vienna, on the instructions of the Serbian Government, made the following declaration to the Imperial and Royal Government:

"Serbia recognizes that the fait accompli regarding Bosnia has not affected her rights and consequently she will conform to the decisions that the Powers may take in conformity with Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin. In deference to the advice of the Great Powers, Serbia undertakes to renounce from now onwards the attitude of protest and opposition which she has adopted with regard to the annexation since last autumn.

She undertakes, moreover, to modify the direction of her policy with regard to Austria-Hungary and to live in future on good neighbourly terms with the latter."

The history of recent years, and in particular the painful events of the 28th of June last, have shown the existence of a subversive movement with the object of detaching a part of the territories of Austria-Hungary from the Monarchy.

The movement, which had its birth under the eye of the Serbian Government, has gone so far as to make itself manifest on both sides of the Serbian frontier in the shape of acts of terrorism and a series of outrages and murders.

Far from carrying out the formal undertakings contained in the declaration of the 31st of March, 1909, the Royal Serbian Government has done nothing to repress these movements.  It has permitted the criminal machinations of various societies and associations directed against the Monarchy, and has tolerated unrestrained language on the part of the press, the glorification of the perpetrators of outrages, and the participation of officers and functionaries in subversive agitation.

It has permitted an unwholesome propaganda in public instruction; in short, it has permitted all manifestations of a nature to incite the Serbian population to hatred of the Monarchy and contempt of its institutions.

This culpable tolerance of the Royal Serbian Government had not ceased at the moment when the events of the 28th of June last proved its fatal consequences to the whole world.

It results from the depositions and confessions of the criminal perpetrators of the outrage of the 28th of June that the Serajevo assassinations were planned in Belgrade; that the arms and explosives with which the murderers were provided had been given to them by Serbian officers and functionaries belonging to the Narodna Odbrana; and finally, that the passage into Bosnia of the criminals and their arms was organized and effected by the chiefs of the Serbian frontier service.

The above-mentioned results of the magisterial investigation do not permit the Austro-Hungarian Government to pursue any longer the attitude of expectant forbearance which they have maintained for years in face of the machinations hatched in Belgrade, and thence propagated in the territories of the Monarchy.  The results, on the contrary, impose on them the duty of putting an end to the intrigues which form a perpetual menace to the tranquillity of the Monarchy.

To achieve this end the Imperial and Royal Government see themselves compelled to demand from the Royal Serbian Government a formal assurance that they condemn this dangerous propaganda against the Monarchy; in other words the whole series of tendencies, the ultimate aim of which is to detach from the Monarchy territories belonging to it and that they undertake to suppress by every means this criminal and terrorist propaganda.

In order to give a formal character to this undertaking the Royal Serbian Government shall publish on the front page of their "Official Journal" of the 13-26 of July the following declaration:

"The Royal Government of Serbia condemn the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary - i.e., the general tendency of which the final aim is to detach from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy territories belonging to it, and they sincerely deplore the fatal consequences of these criminal proceedings.

The Royal Government regret that Serbian officers and functionaries participated in the above-mentioned propaganda and thus compromised the good neighbourly relations to which the Royal Government were solemnly pledged by their declaration of the 31st of March, 1909.

The Royal Government, who disapprove and repudiate all idea of interfering or attempting to interfere with the destinies of the inhabitants of any part whatsoever of Austria-Hungary, consider it their duty formally to warn officers and functionaries, and the whole population of the Kingdom, that henceforward they will proceed with the utmost rigor against persons who may be guilty of such machinations, which they will use all their efforts to anticipate and suppress."

This declaration shall simultaneously be communicated to the Royal army as an order of the day by His Majesty the King and shall be published in the "Official Bulletin" of the army.

The Royal Serbian Government shall further undertake:

(1) To suppress any publication which incites to hatred and contempt of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the general tendency of which is directed against its territorial integrity;

(2) To dissolve immediately the society styled "Narodna Odbrana," to confiscate all its means of propaganda, and to proceed in the same manner against other societies and their branches in Serbia which engage in propaganda against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.  The Royal Government shall take the necessary measures to prevent the societies dissolved from continuing their activity under another name and form;

(3) To eliminate without delay from public instruction in Serbia, both as regards the teaching body and also as regards the methods of instruction, everything that serves, or might serve, to foment the propaganda against Austria-Hungary;

(4) To remove from the military service, and from the administration in general, all officers and functionaries guilty of propaganda against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy whose names and deeds the Austro-Hungarian Government reserve to themselves the right of communicating to the Royal Government;

(5) To accept the collaboration in Serbia of representatives of the Austro-Hungarian Government for the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy;

(6) To take judicial proceedings against accessories to the plot of the 28th of June who are on Serbian territory; delegates of the Austro-Hungarian Government will take part in the investigation relating thereto;

(7) To proceed without delay to the arrest of Major Voija Tankositch and of the individual named Milan Ciganovitch, a Serbian State employee, who have been compromised by the results of the magisterial inquiry at Serajevo;

(8) To prevent by effective measures the cooperation of the Serbian authorities in the illicit traffic in arms and explosives across the frontier, to dismiss and punish severely the officials of the frontier service at Shabatz Loznica guilty of having assisted the perpetrators of the Serajevo crime by facilitating their passage across the frontier;

(9) To furnish the Imperial and Royal Government with explanations regarding the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian officials, both in Serbia and abroad, who, notwithstanding their official position, have not hesitated since the crime of the 28th of June to express themselves in interviews in terms of hostility to the Austro-Hungarian Government; and, finally,

(10) To notify the Imperial and Royal Government without delay of the execution of the measures comprised under the preceding heads.
 The Austro-Hungarian Government expect the reply of the Royal Government at the latest by 5 o'clock on Saturday evening the 25th of July.  (See Note 1)

(Note 1) The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in a private letter on the 24th of July sent to the French Minister for Foreign Affairs the following correction:

"In the copy of the dispatch which I had the honour to send to your Excellency this morning, it was said that my Government expected an answer from the Cabinet at Belgrade at latest by 5 o'clock on the evening of Saturday the 25th of this month.  As our Minister at Belgrade did not deliver his note yesterday until 6 o'clock in the evening, the time allowed for the answer has in consequence been prolonged to 6 o'clock to-morrow, Saturday evening.

I consider it my duty to inform your Excellency of this slight alteration in the termination of the period fixed for the answer to the Serbian Government."

The Serbian Reply

(Preamble) ...[Serbia] cannot be held responsible for manifestations of a private character, such as articles in the press and the peaceable work of societies ... [The Serbian government] have been pained and surprised at the statements, according to which members of the Kingdom of Serbia are supposed to have participated in the preparations of the crime...

[However, Serbia is] prepared to hand over for trial any Serbian subject . .of whose complicity in the crime of Sarajevo proofs are forthcoming [as well as officially condemn all propaganda against A-H].

  1. [Serbia will] introduce ... a provision into the press law providing for the most severe punishment of incitement to hatred and contempt of the [A-H] Monarchy...
  2. The Serbian govt.] possesses no proof ... that the Narodna Odbrana and other similar societies have committed up to the present any criminal act of this nature ... Nevertheless, [Serbia] will ... dissolve the Narodna Obrana and every other society which...
  3. [Serbia will] eliminate without delay from public instruction ... everything that serves or might serve to foment the propaganda against [A-H], whenever [Austria] furnish them with facts and proofs...
  4. [Serbia] also agree to remove from the military service all such persons as the judicial inquiry may have proved to be guilty of acts directed against the integrity of the territory of [A-H], and they expect [Austria] to communicate ... the names and acts of these officers for the purpose of the proceedings which are to be taken against them.
  5. [The Serbian govt. does] not clearly grasp the meaning or the scope of the demand ... that Serbia shall undertake to accept the collaboration of the representatives of [A-H], but they declare that they will admit such collaboration as agrees with the principle of international law, with criminal procedure, and with good neighbourly relations.
  6. ...As regards the participation in this inquiry [which Serbia intends to hold] of Austro-Hungarian agents... [Serbia] cannot accept such an arrangement, as it would be a violation of the Constitution...
  7. [States it has not yet been possible to arrest one of the persons named; request proofs of guilt from Austria]
  8. [agrees to reinforce measures against illegal trafficking of arms and explosives across the frontier with Bosnia-Herzegovina]
  9. [offers explanations of anti-Austrian comments by Serb officials if Austria sends examples of their actually having been made]
  10. [Serbia will duly notify the measures taken, but if Austria is not satisfied with the reply] the Serbian government . . are ready . . to accept a pacific understanding, either by referring this question to the decision of the International Tribunal of the Hague [i.e., the World Court], or to the Great Powers...

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

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