Monday, December 21, 2020

Guest Post: 30 July 1914: First Cousins Solve the July Crisis

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"We are readying ourselves to enter a long tunnel full of blood and darkness" - Andre Gide, 28 July 1914

Map courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Tsar Nicholas II made a bold diplomatic move in order to save his throne and avert a disastrous conflict breaking out across Europe. With Austria-Hungary and Serbia already at war, he reached out to his first cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II with an audacious proposal to partition the crumbling Habsburg Empire.

Consequently, when German and Russia began the mobilization of their Armies it was not to fight each other, but to march into Austria-Hungary. The Germans would occupy Austria proper, and also, Bohemia as well as the Trieste and the the main Austro-Hungarian naval base Cattaro. This occupation gave Wilhelm ports on the Adriatic Sea for his navy. As a result, he could more easily transit in support of his overseas colonies without being a threatening stance for the UK by placing those ships in the Atlantic or Indian oceans at the colonies themselves.

Whereas Russia obtained Hungary, Transylvania, Slovakia, and other territories while Serbia obtained freedom under the Tsar's protection. For the time being at least, these cynical moves helped to remove the imminent threat of war that had been hanging over central Europe for years.

Author's Note:

In reality, Russia continued with its mobilization despite a German ultimatum for Russia to stop. Minutes after the expiration of the ultimatum on 30 July, a tense scene between the German and Russian ambassadors in Moscow played out. The German ambassador asked three times if Russia would reconsider, and each time the answer was "no." The German ambassador breathed shakily, pulled out a written note, and handed it to the Russian ambassador. It was a piece of paper that would put Germany and Russia at war by the next morning, plunging Europe into the flames.


Provine's Addendum:

While Wilhelm's sense of pride had been preserved and a Russian intervention with Serbia avoided, the diplomatic actions postponed war in southeastern Europe only by months. Every people-group in the diverse Austro-Hungarian Empire had its own reaction to the partition. The Czechs in Bohemia announced their insult but were changing one German emperor for another and largely shrugged at the occupation. Ukrainians and Poles, some with family already in the Russian Empire, felt that they might have a stronger voice in the long term. Slovaks adapted readily with some even glad to be rid of Czech political influence.

Italians in Trieste welcomed German fervor in controlling the Slovene populace, which had a middle class growing rapidly under industrialization. Tensions grew hotter and hotter, especially as the Croats and Serbians in the south campaigned for their independence. In 1918, rebellion broke out among the former A-H sailors now part of the German fleet due to disagreements with their commanders and sailed for Montenegro. The chaos expanded across the countryside with numerous groups of the western Slavic people calling for independence like Serbia and Montenegro had seen from the Ottomans a few decades before. Used to quick wars such as that with France and Austria, the Prussian-led German forces found themselves in a quagmire of unrest and guerilla warfare. The battles dragged on for years until tactics modeled on the Boer Wars cracked the local nerve with mass prison camps and many thousands of dissenters shipped off to German colonies.

Meanwhile, Russia faced its own growing pains. Hungarians had managed a dual-monarchy in 1866 after the Austro-Prussian War, and now they found themselves as a second class once again. So distant from Moscow, many Hungarians called for outright independence. Similarly, many Romanians in Transylvania argued to be joined with the Kingdom of Romania, which had won independence in its theater of the Russo-Turkish War in 1878. Many Russians agreed with them but feared setting nations loose might make for a dangerous precedent with others who could rebel. Czar Nicholas II, who preferred boating to nation-building or war, relied more and more on the Duma, the elected federal congress that had been born out of concessions from the Russian Revolution. The diversity within the empire became more and more obvious with every election, especially as industrialization freed up serfs and built feelings of nationalism among those minorities in the middle class. This nationalism would feed into a new wave of independence movements that would largely dismantle the Russian Empire in the 1950s and '60s, spinning off some twenty-three nations.

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