Chauvinistic rhetoric and martial sabre-rattling dominated the critical days of July 1914. The belligerent vocabulary of the political elites struck a chord in hearts and minds all over Europe.
‘If the Monarchy is to go, then at least it should go with honour.’ This saying attributed to Franz Joseph is often quoted as being symptomatic of the general exhaustion of the traditional elites of the Habsburg monarchy.
On 23 July 1914 the Austro-Hungarian government issued Serbia with an ultimatum containing concrete demands in order to prevent an escalation. When the ultimatum is examined closely, it becomes clear that Vienna was concerned to make the demands as unacceptable as possible.
On 7 July 1914 the Common Council of Minsters of Austria-Hungary called for a ‘swift resolution of the conflict with Serbia, through war or through acts based on Serbia being an enemy country.’ This resolution meant that the sails had been set for war.
The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne on 28 June 1914 is generally regarded as the cause of the First World War. However, the causal relationship between the two events is by no means as clear as it at first seems.
Around 1900 there was a change of generation in the political leadership. Increasingly, the aged Emperor withdrew from day-to-day politics and became more of a symbolic figure.
Around the turn of the century the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy enjoyed a glorious flowering in the arts, scholarship and science. At the same time, however, the country was shaken by apparently insoluble social and national conflicts. Under a dazzlingly brilliant surface the Habsburg imperium was struggling with a profound crisis.
In connection with the Ottoman Empire’s inexorable nineteenth-century decline, Tsar Nicholas II coined the expression of the ‘sick man on the Bosphorus’. Another empire in crisis was Austria-Hungary.
At the end of the nineteenth century distinct fault-lines began to appear in the traditional system of great powers that had been established at the Congress of Vienna (1814/15) to promote the balance of power. Significant shifts were taking place in the European power structure.