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THE PROBLEM OF THE NEAR EAST.
The courses of domestic and foreign affairs are more or less connected in every country, but nowhere so intimately as in the Dual Monarchy. Nearly all its peoples have their racial centre of gravity outside its frontiers. On every side external events may exercise the most vital internal effect. The transformation of Austria proper by the introduction of universal suffrage has been recognised. If it had been realised that matter of course these internal changes must exercise a strong and, perhaps, decisive influence upon external policy, the surprises of the last few weeks would have been received with less amazement. British public opinion, and even British policy, would have found themselves better prepared. Baron Aehrenthal's diplomatic antagonists might have riposted with a surer hand. Sufficient warning might well indeed have been taken from Baron Aehrenthal's action in securing the right of direct railway communication from Salonika; from the vigour and obstinacy of his resistance to Sir Edward Grey's projects for Macedonian reform. These things, however, were regarded as the evidences of mere obstructiveness rather than as the serious signs that an innovating, an adventurous, and even an aggressive régime had been introduced at the Ballplatz. The internal distractions of Austria-Hungary, it was passively assumed, would still incapacitate that power for positive action abroad. The venerable maxim was repeated that from the Hapsburg point of view, even more unconditionally than from the British, peace must be regarded as the greatest of interests, and peace at any price must be maintained. However sweeping might be the triumph within the monarchy of the democratic spirit, it was held, in a word, that Austria-Hungary was condemned among the Great Powers to a rôle of compulsory conservatism. However unpalatable to the recipients might be the most maladroit of all the German Emperor's compliments, the policy of Vienna could never be more than a brilliant second ” to that of Berlin, and could not again play an initiating role in Europe. The events of a single week have swept away that assumption. Austria has shown that she can still act, and has dared to act
with a vengeance.
The Dual Monarchy was supposed to be of all Powers the most anxiously concerned for the preservation of the status quo. It is Austria which has destroyed the diplomatic basis upon which
that status reposed. Without the assurance of Austrian support Bulgaria would not have risked a daring coup. Then followed the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in repudiation not only of the general engagement to Europe by the Berlin Treaty, but of the pledges to Turkey contained in the secret clause of 1878, and repeated with less emphasis in the the Convention of
of 1879. In preparing this action Baron Aehrenthal took certain Powers into his confidence, but not others. This country was conspicuously ignored. Not only so. Baron Aehrenthal's refusal to regard our signature to the Treaty of Berlin as a matter of practical importance is described by the organs of the Ballplatz as a deliberate blow at British influence. The Austro-Hungarian Minister must have been perfectly well aware that the Servian race-already as effectually vivisected by the original occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina as was Poland by the first partition-would be thrown into a perilous agitation which would not soon subside ; that Montenegro and Crete would repudiate in their turn such clauses of the Berlin Treaty as affected them; that in view of the relations existing between Turkey and Bulgaria the peace of all Europe would hang upon a hair; that a heavy blow would be struck at the prestige of the reform movement in the Ottoman Empire; that the danger of a Mussulman reaction, almost certain in any case to lift its head sooner or later, would be hastened and increased. All this Baron Aehrenthal well knew.
If this were all, it would argue that external affairs at Vienna are once more in the hands of a personality to be reckoned with, and capable of action certain to disturb Europe to its depths. The Neue Freie Presse, once more a semi-official organ, not obscurely hints that all contingencies have been considered and provided for with triumphant ability; that more far-reaching plans than the world generally suspects have been framed; that the epoch of passive adhesion to the status quo is at an end for more than one Power. This is not directly stated, but this or nothing is meant by the unmistakable suggestion of the Neue Freie Presse that M. Isvolsky and Baron Aehrenthal have arrived at a tacit but tolerably comprehensive understanding.
Many ninepins have gone down before the balls set rolling by Baron V. Aehrenthal. The tumult that now prevents a clear survey will pass away. Then it will perhaps be seen that new connections between the nations have become necessary, and that an Austria-Hungary which does not mean to go to Salonika, will probably be more powerful in the Balkans than before. If we could only live to see what the memoirs will have to say as to the conversation between Baron v. Aehrenthal and M. Isvolsky at Buchlau! The discussion was perhaps not so important as at the
memorable interview between the Emperors at Alexandrovo, where the germ of the Double Insurance Treaty between Germany and Russia was already dimly revealed. Nevertheless, important traces upon the relations between Austria and Russia will remain from Buchlau. Changes are preparing, and the great interests brought into play show to the world that the policy of ententes has arrived at its turning point.
This may be no more than a verbal game of diplomatic bluff rather poorly played by the sort of journalism that is more vivacious than adroit. But it would be unwise to underestimate the usefulness of the indications it affords. It may exaggerate Baron Aehrenthal's ability, and distort his achievements out of all proportion to the facts, but it had better be taken as a fairly clear guide to the mind and temperament of the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister. To acquire a closer view of his position and purposes we must go a little back.
On October 22nd, 1906, almost exactly two years ago, Count Goluchowski was threatened by an adverse vote in the delegations, and resigned after many years in office. It was the fall of a system as well as of a man. His successor was Baron Aehrenthal, who had been for a long time Ambassador in St. Petersburg, and who knows Russia through and through, probably as well as the Tsardom is known to any person living. The hour was critical. Universal suffrage was about to be adopted in Austria—the boldest electoral leap in the dark ever taken by any country. But the happy results soon afterwards won were not yet certain. The recent struggle between Hungary and its sovereign had seemed to prophesy the doom of Dualism, and few dared to think out a system that could replace it. Count Goluchowski had retired in the face of the total failure of his policy with regard to Servia. A customs union between that country and Bulgaria had been threatened. The commercial war at once declared by Austria-Hungary against Servia had utterly failed to bring the Servians to their knees. To the amazement of the Ballplatz, the little kingdom secured through French support fresh markets for its pork, holding its own with unprecedented vigour against that economic boycott of a whole people which Vienna hitherto had always found an equally easy and crushing method of coercion. This result was received with exultation by that vast majority of the Servian race—including the Croats, of the same stock, though of a different religionwhich is already under Hapsburg rule. To grasp the full significance of this fact and what has followed, it must be thoroughly understood that Bosnia and Herzegovina form the very heart of that Greater Servia or Greater Serbo-Croatia which is the political ideal of nearly nine millions of people.
This huge mass is, in one sense, a geographical expression, for the Serbo-Croats are divided into sections variously ruled from Vienna, Serajevo, and Agram, from Belgrade and Cettigne. Less than a third part of the whole race is independent under King Peter or Prince Nicholas. More than two-thirds of it is under German or Magyar ascendancy. Yet all these lines of demarcation are as artificial as the diplomatic frontiers separating the several divisions of the Poles. The Serbo-Croats also form a continuous racial block, filling up the territory between the Danube and the Adriatic-capable either of commanding or closing the route to Salonica, according as the region does or does not remain to a sufficient extent under Austro-Hungarian control. Bosnia and Herzegovina are the heart, then, of the Serbo-Croat lands. They are the key to the Servian problem, and that problem--as we shall realise if we remember that the Servian kingdom is only a minor fragment of it-is without exception the most interesting, the most complicated, and according as it may be handled, will prove either the most promising or the most dangerous part of the whole Austrian question. The region of the South Slavs has often been called, not untruly, the Achilles heel of Hapsburg power; though it is equally true that the federal policy supposed to be contemplated by the Archduke Franz Ferdinand might once more make the Serbo-Croats, as against the Magyars, the spear-point of that Power. This, in the opinion of the present writer, is the real clue to recent developments. Throughout the two years in which Baron Aehrenthal has held office, the Serbo-Croat question has been with him in various aspects indeed, but in a more and more acute form. It is just to denounce the arbitrary and inopportune violation of the Treaty of Berlin. At the same time, it is useless to forget that, since Count Goluchowski's overthrow, the simultaneous developments of the Servian question in Austria proper, in Hungary, in the occupied provinces, in Novi Bazar, in the relations with Montenegro and Belgrade, have never ceased to engage Baron Aehrenthal's serious attention.
At first he was not understood. He began to act at once, but for a long time he was singularly successful in lending an air of unimportance to his proceedings. There current the most conflicting accounts of his intentions, and he kept up the mystery with a prudence he has lately flung aside. To public opinion in foreign countries he was practically unknown. Hardly anyone had seen his portrait. His first speech as Foreign Minister was as colourless as a calculated reserve could make it. He had, of course, three main problems to deal with :-(1) Relations with Germany; (2) relations with
Russia ; (3) relations with Servia and with the Balkans generally. Apart from these and other external affairs with which it was his business directly to deal, Baron Aehrenthal, by his manipulation of foreign policy, can do much as we have seen to determine the lines upon which the reorganisation of the Hapsburg dominions must ultimately take place--if the break-up is indeed to be avoided, and if a splendid renaissance is to be realised. In all these things rumour was true when it declared Count Goluchowski's successor to be the heir-apparent's man. The real Baron Aehrenthal we now know, nor can there be any reasonable doubt as to his objects, or as to the methods by which he will endeavour to approach still nearer to them.
It is known that the Emperor Francis Joseph, with admirable sagacity, has already transferred much of the responsibility, if not the name of sovereignty, to his heir. It would hardly be too much to say that the influence of the future Emperor-King is already paramount with regard to all new developments of policy. In the sixtieth year of his reign, Francis Joseph has only one desire. He has devoted the closing period of his life with quiet moral heroism to removing difficulty after difficulty from the path of his successor, that his own withdrawal from the mortal scene may make as little change as possible, and the new reign begin with every initial advantage. The aged Kaiser's prestige is a priceless solvent of problems, and even yet there may be surprises. While Francis Joseph is on the throne things may be done with impunity which his successor could only attempt at the greatest hazard to the existence of his dominion.
Now of the ideas of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Baron Aehrenthal is the exponent; and those ideas are characterised through and through by the democratic Imperialism advocated by every successful political leader in our time. Based upon universal suffrage and racial equality, the Austria-Hungary of the future is to be a federal, not a dual system. Its Imperial unity, paradoxical as the statement may seem, can only be restored by such an increased division of its parts as would mean the effective subordination of every one of them.
And Imperial Austria is to be not only a vital and progressive State within. Without it is to be an independent, active, and expanding Power. Franz Ferdinand is now forty-five. No man ever passed through a more thorough education for the duties of coming rulership. He was never so popular as to-day among the great majority of his future subjects. He is believed to have been the most resolute promoter of the universal suffrage which has restored to Austria the sense of life. He is thought to be behind the foreign policy which is looked upon as having at a stroke reasserted Austria's rightful influence in the world. He is