File No. 763.72119/1541
The Minister in the Netherlands ( Garrett ) to the Secretary of State
[Received 3.22 p.m.]
2234. The Imperial and Royal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count Czernin, on the 2d of April delivered the following address to a delegation of the Common Council of Vienna which, headed by the Burgomaster, called on him on his return from Bucharest:
Excellency, highly honored gentlemen: I am very glad and ready to answer the questions put by His Excellency the Burgomaster and thus to give you, as well as the broader public, an exact insight into the political conditions as I now see them. I had hoped to speak further in the proper forum but the circumstance that one of the two committees cannot be convened at this time prevented, and I [Page 190] take this opportunity to unfold to the gentlemen here present in a few words a picture of the international situation.
Peace with Roumania brings the war in the east to an end. Three treaties of peace have been concluded with Petersburg, with Ukraine and with Roumania. A chapter of the war is closed.
Before turning to the several treaties and going more minutely into their particulars I would revert to the declarations of the President of the United States in which he replied to my speech delivered on the 24th of January to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Austrian Delegation. In many parts of the world the speeches of Mr. Wilson are looked upon as an attempt to drive a wedge between Vienna and Berlin. I do not believe it because I have too high an opinion of the statesmanlike acumen of the President of the United States to believe him capable of such a thought. Mr. Wilson does not want to sunder Vienna from Berlin. He does not want that and he knows that it cannot be done. Mr. Wilson perhaps says to himself that Vienna is a promising soil in which to sow the seed of peace generally. He says to himself, perhaps, that the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy is blessed with the good fortune of having a ruler who sincerely and honestly wants peace but that this monarch will never be guilty of a breach of faith, never will he conclude a dishonorable peace, and that 55 million souls stand behind the Emperor-King. Mr. Wilson perhaps says to himself that this compact mass represents a force that is not to be undervalued, that this honest strong will for peace with which the Monarchy is imbued, which binds the peoples of the two states together is apt to be the mainstay of that great idea which has enlisted Mr. Wilson’s services.
Before going into Mr. Wilson’s last declarations, I must dispel a misunderstanding. In reply to a question on that point I declared in my last speech to the committee of the Austrian Delegation that Mr. Wilson must already have had my declarations in his possession. Mr. Wilson later corrected this and made it plain that this was a mistake. In order to avoid the semblance of possible misapprehension or distortion, I had drawn up the text beforehand and I thought that that text should have already arrived in Washington at the time I made my speech. This in no wise alters the case. The object I had in view, that the President of the United States should have knowledge of the exact text of my declarations, has been achieved, and the slight delay of a few days is altogether secondary.
As for the President’s answer I can only say that I attach great value to the fact that the German Imperial Chancellor in his remarkable speech of February 25 took the answer out of my mouth and declared that the four principles developed by Mr. Wilson in his speech of February 11 afford a basis upon which general peace may be discussed. I fully concur. The President’s four points are a suitable foundation upon which to start a discussion of a general peace. Whether the President has succeeded in his effort to rally his allies on that basis is an open question.
God is my witness that we have tried in every possible way to avoid the new offensive. The Entente would not have it so. Mr. Clemenceau some time before the offensive was launched in the west inquired of me whether I was ready for negotiations and on what [Page 191] basis. I immediately answered, in accord with Berlin, that I was ready and could see no obstacle to peace with France but her hankering for Alsace-Lorraine. From Paris came the answer that no negotiation could take place on that basis. There was no choice left. The tremendous strife in the west is already on. Austro-Hungarian and German troops are fighting shoulder to shoulder as we have fought together in Russia, Serbia, Roumania and Italy. We are fighting united in the defence of Austria-Hungary and Germany. Our armies will show to the Entente that the French and Italian longings for our territory are idle dreams for which frightful penalty will have to be paid. An explanation, however, for this course bordering on insanity that has been taken by the Entente Powers can be, in a great degree, found in certain occurrences in the interior of our country to which I shall yet advert. Come what may we shall not forsake Germany’s interests as she will not leave us in the lurch. Loyalty along the Danube equals German loyalty. We are fighting not for imperialistic or annexationist aims of our own or of Germany’s but we will go together to the very end for our defence, for our political life, for our future.
The peace negotiations with Russia battered the first breach in our enemies’ war lust. It was the outbreak of the peace idea. To overlook the close, intimate contact in which the several peace treaties stand to one another is to give evidence of childish amateurishness. The constellation of the powers opposing us in the east was like a net in which when a mesh is cut the others fall apart of themselves. We first gave international recognition to the separation of Ukraine from the Russian Empire that had been consummated in the interior of Russia; we turned the favorable situation thus created to advantage by concluding with the Ukraine the peace she was striving for. This led to the peace with Petersburg, whereby Roumania was so isolated that she too had to conclude peace. Thus did one peace draw in another in its wake and bring on the desired result, the end of the war in the east. On technical and material grounds we had to begin with the Ukraine; the blockades had to be broken up and the future will show that the peace with Ukraine is a thrust in the heart of the rest of our enemies. With Roumania a peace has been concluded which can become the starting point for friendly relations. The insignificant frontier rectifications that we have secured are not annexations; the territory they take in is almost unpopulated and will exclusively answer the purpose of military safety. …
I repeat that I see the surest guarantee in future international agreements which will prevent war. If drawn up in a binding manner I would have seen far stronger guarantees in such treaties against assaults by neighbors than in boundary rectifications, but with the exception of the President of the United States I have not yet found an earnest desire among any of our opponents to act on this idea. Notwithstanding the fact that the idea was at first but little understood, I believe it will be put through.
I take a pencil in my hand and figure out the burdens with which the nations of the world will emerge from this war, and I ask myself in vain how they will meet the military expenditures if there is any further free competition in preparedness. I do not believe that any nation will be able after this war to meet the requirements so greatly [Page 192] increased by the war. I rather think that financial necessity (vis major) will compel the nations to enter an international compromise regarding reduction of armaments. My calculation is neither idealistic nor fantastic. It is a real political calculation in the truest sense of the word. I should consider it a great misfortune if it were not eventually possible to reach general agreements as to the decrease of military preparations.…
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Those who are constantly urging me to make annexations are dissatisfied with the peace already concluded. I can only say to them that I consider their tendencies wrong. In the first place, the forcible annexation of foreign peoples will render general peace difficult, and, secondly, such increases of territory are not absolutely a strengthening of the Empire. On the contrary, in the constellation of the Monarchy they would rather signify a weakening. What we need are not territorial annexations but economic assurances for the future. On these we must work.
We will make every effort to create a condition of permanent quiet in the Balkans. We must also not forget that only through the collapse of Russia did the factor cease to exist which had hitherto made it impossible for us to bring about a final internal peaceful condition in the Balkans. And now, as for Servia, we know that in Servia the desire for peace is very great, yet the country is prevented by the Entente powers from concluding peace. Bulgaria must receive certain territories inhabited by Bulgarians, but we do not wish to annihilate Servia or to lay her in ruins. We wish to afford her an opportunity to develop and to bring about a closer economic connection between Servia and ourselves. We do not wish to influence the future relation of Servia and Montenegro with the Monarchy by factors which will oppose a status of friendly and neighborly relationship. The best political selfishness is that which seeks to place beaten neighbors on such a footing as will make lasting friends of them. I have had to exercise this sort of selfishness for Austria-Hungary in order that our enemies, after being conquered in a military way, may also be conquered morally. Only then can we disarm. Then the victory will be a complete one. Here diplomacy must take over the work.
Since I have been in office I have had only one aim, namely, to bring an honorable peace to the Empire and to create conditions which shall insure Austria-Hungary free development in future and furthermore to do everything within the range of human possibility in order that this horrible war may be the last for an immeasurable length of time. I have never said or tried anything else, but I do not try to beg this peace, to bring it about by entreaty and complaint; I rather wish to force it through our moral right and our physical strength. I consider any other tactics as tending to prolong the war, and unfortunately I must say that in recent weeks and months much has been spoken and said in Austria that pro longs it.
The prolongers of the war are divided into different groups, according to their motives and their tactics. There are, firstly, those who uninterruptedly ask for peace. They are contemptible and foolish and they prolong the war. In France this sort are called [Page 193] defaitistes (advocates of defeat). However, they are treated less softly there than among us. The strife for peace at any price is contemptible because it is unmanly, and it is foolish because it continually affords fresh food to the already dying aggressive spirit of the enemy, and therefore artificially accomplishes the contrary of what is intended. The desire for peace of the great masses is both natural and comprehensible and it is no peculiarity of Austria-Hungary, but a world-wide manifestation. But the leaders of the people must remember that certain utterances in the land of our enemies accomplish the opposite of what they aim at. I should like to cite to these men the example of our Monarch, who certainly wishes peace but will never conclude any other than an honorable peace, and I should like to remind you of Goethe’s beautiful words “Womanly despondency, timorous lamentation, will avert no misery and not make me free. Preserve yourself in spite of all violence, never give in, stand up robustly, and this will bring to you the help of the gods.”
By virtue of my firm confidence in our strength and the justice of our cause, I have thus far concluded three moderate but honorable treaties of peace. Even those who still remain our enemies are beginning to understand that we want nothing else than the assured future of the Monarchy and of our allies, but that we wish to and can and will secure this future by force. I shall pursue this path in spite of all odds and take up the fight with any one who stands in my way.
The second group of war prolongers are as it were the defeaters of peace. Both prolong the war. It is a perversion of the truth to assert that Germany has made conquests in the east. The Lenine anarchy drove the border peoples into Germany’s arms and induced them to seek refuge, by depending on the German Empire, from the awful conditions which prevail in Russia. Is Germany to be obliged to refuse the voluntary annexation of neighboring foreign states? The German Government no more wishes to commit acts of violence than we, and I am firmly convinced that neither the annexationists who are filling the world with their cries of conquest and instilling into it a fear of plans of world conquest and oppression, nor the weaklings who are constantly asking for peace and indicate to the enemy that we are at the end of our strength, will be able to permanently prevent a moderate but honorable peace. They delay it but they cannot prevent it. A good chapter of the great world drama is breaking upon us and we shall pull through; perhaps the time is no longer far off when we can look back upon the last few years as on a wicked dream.
The “defeatists” as well as the annexationists accomplish the same result in spite of their opposite tactics, but I am willing to admit that both groups are acting in good faith. Both probably believe that their tactics will bring about the desired peace. Unfortunately there is a third group of war prolongers in whom I cannot admit this good intention. This group consists of individual political leaders of Austria. And here I come back to that on which I touched before in connection with the Paris inquiry. This hope of our enemies for eventual victory is no longer based solely on military expectations and the blockade. This has been broken by our armies. [Page 194] The hopes of our enemies are rather based in great part on our internal political conditions and—what cruel scorn!—on certain political leaders, not last in the Czech camp, as we know perfectly from numerous consistent reports from abroad. A short time ago we were, as already mentioned, near to entering upon negotiations with the Western Powers. Then the wind suddenly shifted about, and as we well know the Entente decided it would be better to wait a while, because the parliamentary and political conditions in our country justified the hope that the Monarchy would soon become defenseless.
What fearful irony! Our brothers and sons are fighting like lions on the battlefield. Millions of men and women in the interior are heroically bearing their hard lot. They are sending ardent prayers to the Almighty for an early termination of the war, and certain leaders of the people, popular representatives, are ranting against the German alliance which has proven itself so effective, making resolutions which have no connection with the idea of the state, find no words of reproach for Czech troops who fight criminally against their own native land and their brothers in arms, would like to bite parts out of the Hungarian state, deliver with impunity speeches which cannot be construed otherwise than as an invitation to our enemies to continue the fight, all in order that their political aspirations may be furthered, and continually rekindle the smouldering war flame in London, Rome, and Paris. The wretched Masaryk is not unique in his kind. There are also Masaryks within the boundaries of the Monarchy.
I would much rather have spoken of these sad cases in the Delegations, but as stated the present convocation of the committees has proven impossible. And I cannot wait. I must in a few days return to Rumania to complete the peace negotiations, and in view of the slowness of these negotiations hitherto, I do not know how long my enforced absence will last. The public, however, which longs for any honorable conclusion of the war, wished to know what above all has lengthened this war.
I am not making any general accusation. I know that there are Czech leaders whose Austrian patriotism is pure and clear, but I am making my charge against those leaders who wish to end the war and attain their purposes by a victory of the Entente. We shall also overcome these difficulties. Certainly! But those who act thus assume a fearful responsibility. They are the cause of the falling of further thousands of our sons, of the prolongation of the misery, and of the continuation of the war. Do they not shudder at this responsibility? What will German and Hungarian mothers some day say when, after the war, the war-prolonging activity of these men is clearly laid before the world? What is more, I do not need to refer to Germans and Hungarians. I have said before that the peoples themselves whom these gentlemen represent do not think as they do. I am thoroughly acquainted with Bohemia. I know how to distinguish between the Bohemian (Czech) people and certain of their leaders. The Bohemian people, the Bohemian mothers, do not think as do these men. The mother who is anxious about her son, the wife about her husband, is international. She is also the same in all the peoples of the Monarchy. The misery of war binds [Page 195] all peoples together, all want the war to come to an end. But they are misled, they are led astray, they do not see that it is certain of their representatives who are systematically prolonging the war and their sufferings.
I regret that circumstances so seldom enable me to speak to the chosen representatives of the people. It is bad for a foreign minister when his official duties compel him nowadays to remain for months abroad, but I belong where the peace treaties are being concluded; perhaps if I could live more here at home I might, with the help of the loyal parties (and thank God we have such!), more successfully combat these tendencies. But I appeal to all who wish an early and honorable termination of the war to join together and in common wage a fight against high treason. No one claims that the Austrian Constitution is not capable of improvement, and the Austrian Government is willing to proceed to revise it in common with the other competent authorities. But those who hope for a victory of the Entente in order thereby to realize their political aims are committing high treason and this high treason is going on in the very arteries of the Government and constitutes the last war-prolonging hope of our enemies. If we can eliminate this poison, the general honorable peace is nearer than the great public imagines. I appeal to all; I appeal above all to the Germans and the Hungarians who have accomplished superhuman things in this war. But I also appeal to millions of citizens of all other peoples of the Monarchy who are loyal to the bone and do not think like certain of their leaders. Every Austrian, every Hungarian, must step into the breach. No one has a right to remain aside. The last, the decisive struggle is at hand. All hands on deck. Then we shall win.
- Translation made in the Department from text telegraphed in German; verbal corrections have been made of errors due to faulty reception.↩