25/2/1919 More trouble in the west Balkans

As Clemenceau recuperates after his recent shooting, the work of the Paris Conference continues. Albanian delegates have presented their nation’s case to the conference, affirming their desire to remain independent and free of Greek or Italian rule. They also claim the region of Kosovo for their country; this territory has a large majority of Albanians living in it but has been under Serbian control since 1913. Mediaeval historical events mean however that Kosovo is of sentimental value to the Serbs, now a constituent people of Yugoslavia. The Allies are not disposed to transfer territory from a nation that has fought on their side to a chaotic entity like Albania.

Italy is separately doing its best to assert its control over as much of the Western Balkans as it can. Italian forces are occupying the Dalmatian coast and islands off it. Disturbing reports are emerging of their harassment of the local Slav population. The Italians are also blocking the transport of food from the coast to the Yugoslav interior, which is not exactly endearing them to their Allies. In Paris, Orlando and his delegation are doing their best to prevent any arbitration of Italy’s dispute with Yugoslavia; the Italian premier hopes to create facts on the ground that the conference will simply have to rubber-stamp.

30/10/1918 National revolution in Hungary #1918Live

The collapse of Austro-Hungarian forces in the field has convinced the various peoples of the Empire that their future lies in independence. National committees have appeared across Austria-Hungary and are taking over powers that would previously have belonged to officials appointed from Vienna or Budapest. The local civil administrations are transferring their allegiance to these new bodies, leading in many cases to a surprisingly seamless transition. It is as though the Empire is just fading away.

In Zagreb a national committee of Croats has taken over the local administration. Now it declares Croatia part of a new united nation of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, to be colloquially known as Yugoslavia. With Serbian and Allied forces advancing up the Balkans the Austro-Hungarian authorities are in no position to block this new state’s emergence. Meanwhile in Hungary the situation is more tense. A power struggle has emerged in Budapest between the national committee of Károlyi and forces loyal to the Habsburg crown. Demonstrators have been killed by the security forces, but the tide is flowing towards the nationalists. Nationalism has made inroads into the city’s garrison and now Hungarian army officers are themselves joining the revolution. The city’s telephone exchange is taken over by rebel troops, leaving Lukachich, Budapest’s loyalist commander, isolated and unable to exercise any control over events.

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Revolutionary crowds & Mihályi Károlyi (The Orange Files: The First Hungarian Republic)

7/10/1918 New states begin to emerge from the ashes of German and Austro-Hungarian defeat

Germany has sent a request for an armistice to President Wilson. Austria-Hungary meanwhile is visibly on the brink of collapse. With defeat staring the Central Powers in the face, nationalists are seeking to establish new countries from the ruins of their empires. In Zagreb a council has proclaimed the independence of those parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire inhabited by Croats, Slovenes and Serbs; should they join with the inhabitants of now resurgent Serbia they will be able to establish Yugoslavia, land of the southern Slavs. Now in Warsaw the German-appointed Regency Council (an advisory body that has proved itself to have an unruly streak) declares an independent Poland, comprising both former Russian territory (still under German occupation) and Austro-Hungarian Galicia. In Prague Czech nationalists are also meeting, preparing both to declare their independence from Austria but also to detach Slovakia from Hungary and create a new state of Czechoslovakia.

These nationalist visions are still somewhat dreamlike; they remain vulnerable to any unexpected resurgence of German and Austro-Hungarian military fortunes. But with the power of the German and Austro-Hungarian emperors visibly waning it looks like these dreams could soon become reality.

20/7/1917 The Corfu Declaration: plans for a future Yugoslavia

No country is doing very well out of the war but Serbia is having a worse time of it than most. The Central Powers have overrun the country and driven the Serbian government into exile. Occupied Serbia is now a land of famine and pestilence.

Yet the Serbian government in exile, now based on Corfu, is still looking forward to the post-war future. Serb nationalists have long dreamed of uniting all Serbs into single kingdom; this after all was what motivated Gavrilo Princip when he shot Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Up to now the great power patron of the Greater Serbia project was Russia. With Russia now succumbing to revolutionary chaos, Serbian leaders are having to fine-tune their plans for the post-war settlement.

Some politicians from the other Slavic peoples of southern Austria-Hungary went into exile at the start of the war and began to agitate for the formation of a new country for all the southern Slavs, to be called Yugoslavia. Their aims were antithetical to those of the Serbs, as they want a federal country in which the separate Slavic peoples will enjoy equality while the Serbs want a unified Greater Serbia. But the Yugoslavs fear Italian plans for expansion on the Dalmatian coast and want to use the Serbian army as a counter-weight. The Serbs meanwhile are willing to make concessions now that their Russian patron is no longer able to fight their corner.

So it is that today that Nikola Pašić, exiled prime minster of Serbia, and Ante Trumbić of the Yugoslav Committee issue the Corfu Declaration, proposing to establish a Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (with the existing King of Serbia becoming the King of the Yugoslavs).

Britain and France are supportive of this new endeavour, but Italian politicians regard it with immediate suspicion. They had entered the war with dreams of establishing an empire on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. Perhaps if Italian armies had spent the last few years winning a string of impressive victories then Italian politicians would be better able to press their claims, but alas, successive failures on the Isonzo have made Allied leaders less receptive to Italian demands.

Text of the declaration

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Page one of the declaration (Wikipedia)