Franz Ferdinand Wants Peace in the Balkans

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in August, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 121st installment in the series. 

June 13, 1914: Franz Ferdinand Wants Peace in the Balkans

Depending who you ask, the meeting on June 12-13, 1914 between Kaiser Wilhelm II and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the thrones of Austria and Hungary, was either a war council—or the exact opposite. Actually it was probably a little bit of both. 

The German emperor was supposedly just paying a friendly visit to the Archduke’s beautiful chateau in Konopischt, Bohemia (today Konopiště, Czech Republic, above), where they could go hunting and stroll in the estate’s enormous rose gardens. But the real purpose was to get Wilhelm—and thus Germany—on board for Austria-Hungary’s new strategy in the Balkans. 

Like all good strategies, this involved a number of contingency plans, including the possibility of war against Serbia, should the truculent Slavic kingdom refuse to bend to Austria-Hungary’s will. Thus Franz Ferdinand asked Wilhelm if Germany would support Austria-Hungary if she moved against Serbia, and probably received assurances that Germany would stand by her ally, in line with Wilhelm’s previous statements (the record here is unclear).

But whatever Wilhelm’s response, the June 13 exchange was hardly evidence of a plot to attack Serbia in the near future, as some historians later interpreted it. For his part the Archduke still opposed war with Serbia, and only inquired about Germany’s attitude at the request of Emperor Franz Josef, who in turn was probably prompted by Foreign Minister Berchtold and chief of the general staff Conrad. If Franz Ferdinand had anything to say about it, this scenario would remain strictly hypothetical.

In fact the Archduke was sympathetic to Austria-Hungary’s Slavic peoples, and hoped to reconcile them to Hapsburg rule (thereby neutralizing the Serbian threat) by reforming the empire—either by adding a third monarchy representing the Slavs, or reinventing it as a federal state with more autonomy at the local level. The obstacle in both cases was certain opposition from the Hungarians, who wielded disproportionate power in the Dual Monarchy and refused to grant their non-Hungarian subjects more rights.

Indeed Franz Ferdinand warned Wilhelm that the Hungarians weren’t just antagonizing the Slavs: the powerful Hungarian Premier István Tisza was also creating a huge foreign policy headache with his repressive measures against Hungary’s ethnic Romanian population, which in turn alienated the neighboring Kingdom of Romania—long associated with the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, but now drifting to the Triple Entente of Russia, France, and Britain. In fact the Romanians were about to host Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II and Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov in a state visit to the Black Sea port of Constanța—yet another ominous development.

The main message the Archduke communicated to the Kaiser on June 13 concerned this complicated situation and what Germany could do to help solve it. Vienna was cultivating an alliance with Bulgaria as a counterweight to Romania, he confided, but the best thing would be to keep Romania in the Triple Alliance, reconcile her with Bulgaria, and thus form a new balance of power that would intimidate Serbia and lock Russia out of the Balkans. To accomplish this, however, the Hungarians had to stop mistreating their own Romanians—and Franz Ferdinand believed the only way Tisza might yield on this issue was if Austria-Hungary’s powerful ally, Germany, sent a clear message that Hungary needed to moderate its domestic policies in order to keep Romania friendly.

The Kaiser promised he would speak to Tisza when he saw him next, but the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 changed everything—clearing the way for war against Serbia and putting the Romanian question on the back burner, where it remained until it finally boiled over in the middle of the Great War.

Meanwhile, Russian intelligence caught wind of the meeting and passed on selected details—specifically, Wilhelm’s promise to support Austria-Hungary if it attacked Serbia—to the chief of Serbian military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević (codename Apis), who would later try to justify the assassination of Franz Ferdinand on the grounds that he was a warmonger preparing a surprise attack on Serbia. Of course this was the exact opposite of the truth, and anyway the plot had been put in motion long before the meeting at Konopischt; in short Dimitrijević was probably just looking for excuses after the fact. 

New French Government Upholds Three-Year Service Law

In France, June 13, 1914 brought the resolution the worst political crisis experienced by the Third Republic since the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Following the victory of the leftist Radicals and Socialists in elections held in April and May, 1914, the stage was set for an all-in battle over the controversial Three-Year Service Law of 1913, which aimed to increase the size of France’s standing army by extending the term of service for army conscripts from two to three years. The leftists were determined to overturn the law but President Poincaré, a conservative, was equally determined to preserve it. 

In the first weeks of June 1914 Poincaré tried again and again to find someone in the new left-dominated Chamber of Deputies who could form a new government that would uphold the law—but failed repeatedly. On June 12 his most recent candidate for Premier, the moderate Alexandre Ribot, was hooted down in the Chamber amid calls for the end of the Three-Year Service Law. But the amusement was wearing off and French public opinion was starting to turn against the entire political class, which seemed incapable of fulfilling even the most basic tasks of government—a feeling familiar to 21st century Americans. As newspapers across the political spectrum heaped ridicule on the Chamber of Deputies, opposition among the Radicals (who despite their name were actually moderate compared to the Socialists) began to crumble, raising hope of a compromise.

It fell to René Viviani, Poincare’s first choice for premier a few weeks before, to form a new government through some political sleight-of-hand, otherwise known as lying. On June 13, 1914 Viviani formed a new cabinet dominated by moderate leftists who told their constituents they were committed to overturning the Three-Year Service Law – but then reversed their position as soon as the Chamber voted to approve the cabinet. Indignant, the Socialists withdrew their support, but the Radicals were able to muster enough votes to keep the government in power. The Three-Year Service Law was safe … for now. 

“Russia is Ready, France Must Be Ready Too!”

Upholding the Three-Year Service Law was crucial to preserving France’s alliance with Russia, the cornerstone of French national security. Just in case anyone forgot was at stake, on June 13, 1914 the Russian war minister, Vladimir Sukhomlinov, published an anonymous op-ed in Birzheye Vedomosti, a Russian newspaper that often served as an official mouthpiece, titled “Russia is Ready, France Must Be Ready Too!” 

The article pointed out that Russia was building strategic railroads and preparing to increase its standing army to 2.3 million men and urged France to maintain the Three-Year Service Law, raising the French standing army to 770,000 men. Only then could would they have a decisive advantage against Germany and and Austria-Hungary, with standing armies of 880,000 and 500,000, respectively.

Sukhomlinov’s opinion piece sent a clear message to friend and foe alike, including Germany, where its inflammatory rhetoric only stoked paranoia about encirclement. When Kaiser Wilhelm received a translated version he scribbled angry notes in the margins, noting that Russia’s strategic railroads were “All against Germany!” and concluding “Well! Finally the Russians have shown their hand. Any person in Germany who does not now believe that the Russo-Gauls are not working together at high tension for a war with us very soon and that we should take corresponding counter-measures deserves to be sent to the lunatic asylum…” 

A few days alter Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg passed the article along to the German ambassador to London, Prince Lichnowsky, with this gloomy note: “The reaction on German public opinion has been unmistakable and serious. Whereas formerly, it was only the extremists among the Pan-Germans and militarists who urged that Russia was making systematic preparation for a war of aggression upon us very soon, even moderate public men are now inclined to this view…”

See the previous installment or all entries.

Kit Harington Reveals Which Harry Potter Character He'd Want to Play in a Prequel

Kit Harington is clearly drawn to dark, brooding characters.

Winter is Coming reports that Harington, who is best known for his role as Jon Snow in the hard-hitting HBO series Game of Thrones, spoke on a panel at ACE Comic Con this past weekend. Though he was there to discuss his upcoming role as Dane Whitman, a.k.a. Black Knight, in the upcoming Marvel Studios film The Eternals, his involvement in—and love for—other franchises came up during the conversation.

The moderator of the panel surprised the audience by bringing up Harington’s love for the Harry Potter series, and, of course, asked him which Hogwarts house he aligns with. The 32-year-old actor responded, “I am a Gryffindor. I’ve thought very deeply about it.” Though Harington himself identifies with the lion-hearted, he does believe that Jon Snow would be a Hufflepuff because of his undying loyalty.

Harington was then asked which character he would want to play in a hypothetical Harry Potter prequel movie about the Marauders—a group of Gryffindors that included James Potter (Harry’s dad), Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew, who attended Hogwarts a generation before Harry and his friends. And who were often at odds with Slytherin Severus Snape.

Harington's response was immediate, and enthusiastic:

Severus Snape is the most tragic, wonderful, brilliant [character] ... He’s a character you hate, and then end up loving. He’s just phenomenal. I don’t think I’m right for him, so I’ll play Sirius. But, whoever gets to play Snape, that’s a great character.”

[h/t Winter Is Coming]

Disney's 10 Scariest Movies

Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney: Known for catchy songs, cute animal sidekicks, brave Princesses … and occasionally scarring children for life. A lot of Disney’s more famously upsetting moments have to do with deathBambi’s mother and Mufasa’s father, for instance—but sometimes the studio goes plain horror movie with it. As Halloween approaches, here are 10 of Disney’s scariest movies.

1. Return to Oz (1985)

Return Oz establishes its “wait, what the hell am I watching?” cred early on, when Dorothy Gale—back in Kansas following her adventures in Oz—is shipped off to the doctor for a round of electroshock therapy to cure her insomnia and “delusions.” Dorothy is saved from her One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fate and whisked off to Oz again, where she finds that the Nome King and Princess Mombi—Nicol Williamson and Jean Marsh, who also played the doctor and head nurse—have destroyed the Emerald City and turned most of its inhabitants to stone. Playing Dorothy in her first feature film role is Fairuza Balk, who would go on to star in perpetual Halloween favorite The Craft. Return to Oz is the only film directed by legendary editor Walter Murch, most famous for his work on Apocalypse Now.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

The collected works of Ray Bradbury have been adapted into dozens of films, only a handful of which were written by the late author himself. The final feature film to be written by Bradbury is 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which in its first act is a typical, sweet—if somewhat dark—drama about two young boys growing up in a small town in the Midwest. Then a carnival rolls into town, and things get real messed up. Running the carnival is Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), who grants the townspeople’s wishes in ways that … well, let’s just say they’re not very nice.

3. Mr. Boogedy (1986)

“Made-for-TV ‘80s movie about a gag gift salesman and his family” doesn’t scream terror, but Mr. Boogedy defies the odds to have some legitimately creepy moments. Granted, it’s not a subtle film: a family that moves into a dilapidated mansion in a town called called Lucifer Falls shouldn’t really expect to have an easy go of things. The mansion, believe it or not, is haunted by not one but three spirits: a widow, her child, and the eponymous Mr. Boogedy, who back in Colonial times sold his soul to Satan for a cloak that gives him magical powers. It’s Mr. Boogedy’s character design that gives the movie its biggest ick factor; the film’s makeup designer, Rick Stratton, would go on to win two Emmys. Mr. Boogedy’s cloak is eventually sucked into a possessed vacuum cleaner.

4. The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Director John Hough’s The Watcher in the Woods isn’t only scary because it gives Bette Davis and current Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star (and then-child actress) Kyle Richards a decent chunk of shared screen time. Based on a 1976 novel, the film—like Mr. Boogedy—follows a family that moves into a mysterious house haunted by some mysterious presence. In The Watcher in the Woods, that presence is thought to be Karen, the long-disappeared daughter of the house’s owner, played by a collecting-those-paychecks Davis. Spoiler alert: There are actually two presences. One is Karen. The other is an alien. The original ending of The Watcher in the Woods actually showed the alien, but the effects were so bad that the premiere audience broke out laughing, causing Hough to reshoot the climactic final scene with the aliens as a vague blur of light.

5. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Released in 1949, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is made up of two half-hour, kid-friendly literary adaptations, the first from The Wind in the Willows and the second from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Neither segment is particularly scary … up until the last few minutes of “Sleepy Hollow,” when the animators went all-out to make schoolteacher Ichabod Crane’s flight from the Headless Horseman a contender for Disney’s scariest scene. Clyde Geronimi, who with Jack Kinney directed the “Sleepy Hollow” sequence, would go on to co-direct Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmatians.

6. Pinocchio (1940)

Jiminy Cricket hopping around and The Blue Fairy singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” might be the most enduring images from Disney’s second-ever animated feature, but let’s not forget that Pinocchio could be scary when it needed to be. The film’s most potent bit of nightmare fuel comes in the scene where a bunch of children are magically transformed into terrified, crying donkeys so they could be sold away as slave labor. Looks like Disney had a taste for causing childhood trauma early on.

7. “The Skeleton Dance” (1929)

Spooky and cute: Why not both? The 1929 short “The Skeleton Dance” threads the needle deftly, with its depiction of a quartet of skeletons dancing around a graveyard maintaining the goofy tone that marks most of the early Disney shorts while still providing an ample dose of the shivers. “The Skeleton Dance” was drawn by Ub Iwerks, who several years earlier had designed Mickey Mouse.

8. Fantasia (1940)

Most of the segments in Disney’s Fantasia are markedly un-creepy—unless you consider ballet-dancing hippos disturbing, which makes a fair amount of sense—but with “Night on Bald Mountain,” Disney went full dark and stormy night. Set to the title song by composer Modest Mussorgsky, the film depicts the ancient Slavic deity Chernabog (whose name means “black god) calling all sorts of assorted demonic creatures to him before being driven away by the rising of the sun. Bela Lugosi served as a live-action reference for Chernabog, spending a day at Disney Studios striking a series of ominous poses. Nothing that Lugosi provided was ultimately used, as animator Bill Tylta was unimpressed by it.

9. The Black Cauldron (1985)

The Black Cauldron was an infamous failure for Disney, earning a mere $20 million domestically against a budget that made it, at the time, "the most expensive animated feature ever made.” With the film, Disney ditched the songs and lighthearted feel that marked its animated features up to that point in favor of a darker fantasy epic; notably, The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature to earn a PG rating. Though it’s notoriously regarded as a flop, there’s one area in which The Black Cauldron is quite successful: making its villain, the Horned King, absolutely terrifying. Even the way he dies is nightmare-inducing: The magical black cauldron that the Horned King hoped would give him power to take over the world with an undead army instead melts his flesh off. It’s a bit more gruesome than the typically death-by-falling most Disney villains get.

10. Hocus Pocus (1993)

Initially released in 1993 to middling box office returns (Disney made the odd choice to release this Halloween-themed movie in July), director Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus has gone on to achieve cult status. Omri Katz, since retired from acting, stars as Max Dennison, who with neighbor Allison and younger sister Dani must defeat the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches who were hanged during the Salem witch trials. One of the witches was played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose ancestor Esther Elwell was accused of being a witch in 17th-century Salem; she escaped execution when prosecution from witchcraft was done away with.

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