Austria-Hungary and Serbia

The melting Pot of World War I


Austria-Hungary and Serbia hated each other.    This article traces the development of tension between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, which was eventually to explode into the First World War.



A Timeline of Events

1804-19thC  Serbia was ruled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, whilst Austria-Hungary was a major European power.   In 1815 the Serbs successfully rebelled, and in 1835 they proclaimed their own constitution.   Austria-Hungary, which was a dynastic empire comprised of MANY different races - it was nicknamed 'the polyglot (many-languages) empire' - was terrified of the 'panslavism', the nationalism by which the Slav races of the Balkans aspired to set up their own nation-states.   Austria-Hungary regarded Serbia as the leading, and the worst, example of this.   Austria-Hungary HATED Serbia.

1876           Serbia went to war with Turkey and conquered Bosnia, and area of the Balkans where many Serbs lived.   HOWEVER, at the Congress of Berlin, two years later, Austria-Hungary persuaded the great powers to give back Bosnia to Turkey, under Austria's 'protection'.

1878           Treaty of San Stefano: Serbia was declared an independent state.  

1906           The Pig War: Austria-Hungary dominated the Balkans economically.   To try to reduce its dependence on Austria-Hungary, Serbia began to build trade links with France (1904) and Bulgaria (1905).   Austria-Hungary reacted by banning all imports of Serbia pork (so the quarrel was called 'the Pig War'), and Serbia responded by selling its pork to France - it sent it through Bosnia to the Adriatic, and then by sea to France.

1908           The Bosnia Crisis: Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia.   The Serbs were furious, not just because Serbs lived there, nor even because they had hoped to conquer Bosnia themselves, but also because Austria stopped Serbian pork going through Bosnia.   Serbia appealed to Russia, but Nicholas would not go to war with Austria, and Serbia was forced to recognise Austria's right to Bosnia.

1912-13      The Balkan Wars: in 1912 Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria (calling themselves the Balkan League) attacked Turkey and all but drove the Turks out of Europe.   Next year, Bulgaria attacked Serbia, but was defeated, leaving Serbia as the leading Slavic power in the Balkans.   Pasic, the Serbian prime Minister, declared: 'the first round is won.   Now for the second round - against Austria.'

1913          The Austrians told the Italian government that they were going to invade Serbia.   (The Italian Prime Minister in 1914 cited this fact to claim that: 'The telegram indicates that the assassination of the Archduke was the occasion rather than the cause of Austria's ultimatum to Serbia, and it reveals the reason for Austria's action [invading Serbia] in July, 1914').   In fact, the Austrian Chief of Staff General Hotzendorf had asked for a 'surprise' war to destroy Serbia more than 25 times in the eight years after 1906.

1914           The Ultimatum: Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Bosnians - inhabitants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - so the Austrian government (strangely) judged that it did not have justification to attack Serbia straight away.   Instead, it sent an ultimatum to the Serbs on the grounds that it had not kept its promise of 1909 to suppress the Black Hand.

The terms of the Ultimatum demanded that the Serb government:


1.    Stop all publications attacking Austria,

2.    Suppress the Black Hand and all other anti-Austrian terrorist groups,

3.    Stop schools teaching anything that would make pupils hate Austria,

4.    Dismiss any civil servants or army officers who were anti-Austrian,

5.    help the Austria government suppress all anti-Austrian terrorist groups,

6.    Allow Austrian police to help in an investigation of Serbia's links to Franz Ferdinand's assassination,

7.    Arrest two officials who were believed to have helped plan the assassination,

8.    Stop Serbs smuggling weapons from Serbia into Bosnia,

9.    Stop criticising Austria,

10.  Accept all the above points without delay.


                     The Ultimatum was extreme on purpose - the Austrians hoped that the Serbs would reject it, giving them the excuse to invade:

Did You Know

2 out of three questions