3/8/1917 Kerensky shuts down the Finnish parliament but loses Czernowitz to Austria #1917Live

Kerensky has been emboldened by the recent failure of radicals to overthrow the Provisional Government. Now the Russian Prime Minister flexes his muscles, arranging for loyal troops to shut down Finland’s parliament, the Sejm. The Sejm had a socialist majority following elections earlier this year and it recently passed a resolution declaring Finland’s effective independence from Russia. This unilateral separation is unacceptable to Kerensky (and to many on both right and left in Russia); his shutting down of the unruly Finnish parliament is widely supported in Russia. Even in Finland many conservatives support the measure, fearing that without the link to Russia the Finnish socialists would be uncontrollable.
Kerensky finds it harder to bend the army to his will. He has appointed Kornilov as its commander in chief and accepted his demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty for desertion. But Kornilov’s attempts at repression are a failure. The army continues to disintegrate and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians continue their advance that began with their counter-attacks against Kerensky’s offensive. Now they recover the Galician town of Czernowitz, captured by the Russians in Brusilov’s offensive last year. The Russian army looks increasingly unable to prevent further advances by the enemy.

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The Eastern Front (Wikipedia)

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary salutes the liberators of Czernowitz (Wikipedia)

2/7/1917 Emperor Karl frees Austria-Hungary’s political prisoners

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary is attempting political reforms in an effort to revitalise popular support for the Empire. He has revoked some emergency powers and curtailed the powers of the army within Austria. There is also talk of relaxing censorship. And today he undertakes the bold step of declaring an amnesty for all political prisoners. The amnesty sees thousands of malcontents released into society, from socialist radicals to nationalists seeking greater rights or outright independence for their particular part of the Empire.

Karl hopes that releasing the political prisoners will allow for a fresh start in relations between the regime and the peoples of Austria-Hungary. But the effect is not quite what he hoped for. Many German-speaking Austrians are shocked to see political prisoners from other nationalities released, fearing that this will strengthen centrifugal forces. And the large numbers of prisoners released only serves to emphasise how repressive the regime has previously been. In Bohemia and Moravia the release of over a thousand Czech prisoners is a particular boost to nationalist elements that were already on the rise. And Karl’s renunciation of the imprisonment of the regime’s political enemies now leaves it looking weakened.

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Emperor Karl (Wikipedia: Croatia during World War I)

26/6/1917 Justice catches up with the last of the conspirators against Franz Ferdinand

It is nearly three years since Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo, lighting the spark that engulfed the European continent in war. Gavrilo Princip, the man who pulled the trigger, languishes in an Austro-Hungarian jail, his youth saving him from the death penalty. Other members of his gang have either been executed or are also in prison (where Chabrinovitch, who threw a bomb at the Arch Duke, died last year).

But there are other conspirators who did not fall into the hands of the Austro-Hungarians. Princip and his comrades were aided by elements within the Serbian intelligence service led by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, generally known by his code-name Apis. Apis ran a secret organisation called the Black Hand that supplied arms to Princip and his associates. Whether the Black Hand was operating in defiance of Serbia’s political leaders or with their connivance remains a mystery.

Since Franz Ferdinand’s assassination Serbia has reaped the whirlwind. Its territory has been overrun and its army chased out of the country. Famine and disease have decimated the country. What remains of the Serbian state now exists in exile in northern Greece. These straitened circumstances may have encouraged some reflection by Serbian leaders on whether allowing the Black Hand a free hand had really been such a good idea. Earlier this year Prince Alexander, Serbia’s regent, and Pašić, the prime minister, had Apis and his Black Hand associates arrested on charges ostensibly unrelated to Franz Ferdinand’s murder. Today they are executed by firing squad.

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary has been engaging in back channel negotiations with the French. He may also have made contact with the Serbians and demanded the execution of Apis and the others as a pre-condition for the restoration of Serbian territory. Or perhaps Alexander and Pašić simply feel that Apis represented a political threat and had to be eliminated. Either way, justice of a kind has now caught up with these men whose actions brought death and destruction to the continent.

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Dragutin Dimitrijević in 1915 (Wikipedia)

Dimitrijević and his fellow conspirators (plus an unidentified woman) (Wikipedia, which says that this picture was taken after Dimitrijević and the others had been sentenced to death)

30/5/1917 Emperor Karl reconvenes Austria’s parliament

Austria-Hungary’s young Emperor Karl is keen to reform and revitalise his increasingly troubled empire. In an attempt to restore some political legitimacy to the regime and perhaps to spread the blame for unpleasant decisions more widely he decides to reconvene the Reichsrat, the parliament of the Austrian half of the empire. The Reichsrat has not met in over three years, with the Austrian government using powers of decree to bypass it.

The Reichsrat meets for the first time today. If Karl had hoped that the parliamentarians would approach their duties in a spirit of loyalty and cooperation towards his government then he is mistaken. Czech, Serb, Slovene and Croat members use the occasion to assert the rights of their own nationalities. While they pay lip service to the idea of loyalty to the imperial crown, their demands are dangerously threatening to the established order of the empire.

Disaffection is not confined to the parliamentary chamber. War has led to a collapse in living standards across the empire, particularly among those whose ability to purchase food has been eroded by inflation. Industrial workers are increasingly unruly. Strikes occur in war industries in Vienna. In Prague today workers stage a one day strike and demonstrate in the city centre, demanding the release of jailed anti-monarchist Václav Klofáč of the National Social Party.

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Opening session of the Reichsrat (Die Welt der Habsburger / The World of the Habsburgs)

23/5/1917 Tisza steps down as Hungarian Prime Minister

Back in 1914, it was only after winning over Prime Minister Tisza of Hungary that the pro-war faction in Vienna was able to issue an ultimatum to Serbia. The main Austrian authors of the war have now left the stage. Emperor Franz Josef has died, Foreign Minister Berchtold has retired, Austria’s Prime Minister Stürgkh has been assassinated and army commander Conrad has been demoted.

And now Tisza is obliged to step down as prime minister of Hungary. Since his accession, Emperor Karl has been intent on reforming his empire. He wishes for a more liberal and federal structure for Austria-Hungary, one in which all the peoples would be equally privileged. This is problematic for Hungary, as the Hungarians there rule over many people of other ethnicities. Karl talks also of widening the franchise, which would both dilute the power of ethnic Hungarians and shift power away from the gentry class who are Tisza’s base.

Tisza seems unable to resist Karl. His position is undercut be increasing demands within Hungary for greater democracy. Now he agrees to resign and is succeeded by Moritz Esterházy, who declares himself a supporter of democracy, so long as it is “Hungarian democracy”. Now he must set to work on the negotiation of a renewal of the 1867 compromise that established self-rule in Hungary.

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István Tisza (Wikipedia)

3/4/1917 Austria-Hungary puts the case for peace

Austria-Hungary’s current situation is paradoxical. Internally the empire is suffering terribly, with food shortages, increasing social unrest and mounting tensions between the regions and peoples. But its military situation is good, largely thanks to German support. The Italians are being held back along the Isonzo, Serbia has been crushed (Austria-Hungary’s main goal at the start of the war), the impertinent Romanians have largely been overrun and now Russia is showing signs of war weariness.

For the Austro-Hungarians therefore it would be ideal if the war could be ended now. Emperor Karl and Czernin, his foreign minister, today visit Berlin to put this point to the Kaiser. They warn that Austria-Hungary is in danger of disintegrating into revolution if the war is prolonged.

But the Germans will not accept any kind of peace without victory. The Kaiser follows Ludendorff‘s line that any peace must be a German peace, one that sees the Reich retain its gains and which sees Europe reordered to its advantage. This kind of peace will only be accepted by the Allies when they have been bludgeoned into submission. So the war will go on. Karl and Czernin return home empty-handed.

1/3/1917 Emperor Karl puts out peace feelers, sacks his army’s chief of staff

The situation within Austria-Hungary is increasingly desperate. The dislocation of war, Allied blockade and the breakdown of trust between the different parts of the Empire are leading to food shortages. The urban poor of Vienna are going so hungry that men are volunteering for the army in order to be fed.

Emperor Karl fears that if the war continues it will mean the end of his empire. But Austria-Hungary is too tied to Germany for him to simply defect from the alliance and sue for peace. Instead, through aristocratic contacts, he puts forth secret peace feelers to the French, so secret that even Ottokar Czernin, the current foreign minister, is kept in the dark about them. The British and French are interested by Karl’s desire for peace but Germany is their main enemy and they fear that pursuing negotiations in earnest with Austria-Hungary would be a waste of time. They also suspect that it will be impossible to agree a settlement with Austria-Hungary that will satisfy the demands of the Italians.

Karl is also trying to reform the military and civil structures governing the empire. Today he makes a key move in this regard, removing Conrad from his role as army chief of staff. Conrad was one of the main cheerleaders for war back in 1914 but the performance of the army since then has been disastrous. It is perhaps surprising that Conrad has held onto his job for so long, but perhaps it needed a new emperor to realise that he was a liability rather than an asset.

After being relieved of his post, Conrad is not forced into retirement but appointed to command one of the armies fighting on the Italian front. His replacement as army chief of staff is Arthur Arz von Straussenburg. Arz is a less political general than his predecessor. He is content to defer to Karl on matters of grand strategy.

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Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary (Wikipedia)