Potiorek’s letter – Testimony of the Austro-Hungarian war intentions

5. January 2014.

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Thirteen months before the Assassination in Sarajevo and fourteen months before the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war to Serbia on the 28th May 1913 the Governor of BiH Oskar Potiorek sent a letter to the Minister of Finance, Leon Bilinski, to Vienna. The content of this letter convincingly testifies about intentions of Austria-Hungary to begin the Great War.

In the letter, published today in the Department of History of The Andrić Institute in Andrićgrad, Potiorek states that “as the main task of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy must be seen in the systematically preparing for, in a few years, the inevitable Great War that will be fought in extreme and severe situations.”

“It is interesting that during this quiet, better to say the preparatory period, we must try to create a tolerable relationship with Serbia. Of course, it would be a grave misconception, if we believed that, even at the cost of the greatest courtesy in the foreign and internal policy, we could achieve to make Serbia a reliable ally.

If, as it is likely to be, we do not use the current situation to unite Serbia with our Monarchy, at least in the form of trade, customs, and military convention, in order to make Serbia harmless, then we will have to unconditionally count on that this country will in every war, that is to come, fight with as an open and bitter opponent on the side of our enemies,” says the letter.

Potiorek says that we also must take into consideration the fact that Serbia will use this period before the war “to prepare the ground for themselves for the future war in Bosnia, Dalmatia, Croatia and southern kingdom of Hungary.”

“We should be satisfied if we manage a rural Serb population be hold in its lethargic state, and if we prevent Croat and Muslim intelligentsia and half-intelligentsia from crossing over to Serbian camp, to hold the unification of all the South Slavs, what is a common aspiration of people that are on anti-dynasty basis, “says the letter.

Potiorek states that this, in his opinion, will be the “Rule book for the conduct of our government towards local Serbs for upcoming period.”

“Peasantry should be treated with respect and caution, also, as much as it is possible we should support its economic interests, and where necessary they should be treated with ruthless severity. With intelligentsia and half-intelligentsia we should be compliant, but not above the measure that could lead to distrust and dissatisfaction among Croats and Muslims.

The highest principle must be and remain, that is to rely on the ones mentioned last, so that in the whole country in general and in the Assembly will govern the Croats and Muslims, and Serbian opposition should be accepted as something that can not be avoided, ” states Potiorek’s letter.

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Regarding the issue of “obligate serfdom redeem in”, Potiorek points out that with that should be ended, because ” only a mention of this issue at the last delegation meeting very irirtated Muslims.”

“Your Excellency knows, that I would also support the “obligatory redemption of serfdom”, as soon as the foreign crisis definitely straightens. But while this straightening is being ‘postponed’, I must firmly advise you to desist from this action.

After all, when the time comes for that we will not have enough money for it, because our military preparation, construction of railways, investments … will deplete our financial power to the utmost, ” says the letter.

Potiorek states that he could not agree with the proposal of “creation of a Faculty of Philosophy and a Faculty of law” in the shortest possible time, because in that case, he says, regardless of the large financial outlays, we will have problems with undisciplined high school pupils and also with analog college-educated students.

“First of all, we have to put in order our high school students by extermination of teachers who ban politics, creating boarding school … Also, high school students should wear uniforms based on galician model, but I still have not decided about that,” the letter states.

Potiorek points out that, in his opinion, the most essential thing is to create a normal situation in Croatia, “because if Zagreb begins to gravitate towards Belgrade – instead to serve as a counterweight for Belgrade, the danger will be eminent.”

Potiorek adds that he will submit as soon as possible a list of the completed political state processes, as well as those that are in progress, and he also expresses doubt that he will ever be in a position to propose amnesty or abolition.

“Something similar I have done in the first year of my residence here in order to clear up the last remnants of the annexation, but the success has been negative, because in this country leniency is always interpreted as weakness,” says Potiorek.

Oscar Potiorek was an Austro-Hungarian general, who from 1910 preformed duties of the Army Inspector of Austro-Hungarian troops in BiH, and from 1911 was the Provincial Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina and because of that he had an extensive written correspondence with Vienna.

Originally, he was germanized Slovene and, according to some opinions, he showed a great hatred towards the Serbs. He was present in the car in which the Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sofia was killed in June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo.

Leon Bilinski was the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Finance, who at the time of written correspondence with Potiorek was responsible for BiH.


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