July Ultimatum

July Ultimatum

The July Ultimatum was a Demarche issued by Austria-Hungary to Serbia at 6 pm on July 23 1914. The July Ultimatum contained a list of demands and an annex describing the findings of the criminal investigation into the events of June 28 at Sarajevo in which assassins sent from Serbia wounded 20 people and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Archduchess Sophie Chotek. The July Ultimatum used Serbia's March 1909 declaration as its international law basis. The July Ultimatum did not include any explicit threat of war but did include a threat to recall Austria-Hungary’s ambassador if Serbia did not agree to the demands. Contemporary diplomats referred to the note using the term “demarche”, but the harsher term “ultimatum” was adopted by those critical of the note for political reasons and the term has stuck.

Whether the Ultimatum was acceptable or even intended to be so has been the subject of considerable scholarly debate.


On March 31, 1909, Serbia committed to Austria-Hungary and the Great Powers to respect the territorial integrity of Austria-Hungary, to drop its attitude of protest with respects to the newly annexed Austro-Hungarian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and to alter its policies so as to live with Austria-Hungary on a footing of good neighborliness. Serbia made this declaration after receiving assurances from Russian Foreign Minister Izvolsky and Tsar Nicholas II that Russia would bring about the downfall of Austria-Hungary and solve the Serbian question once Russia had rebuilt its military, [Fay,Sidney "The Origins of the World War", pg.385] and so Serbia's March declaration was of dubious sincerity.

In 1911 Serbia set up three listening posts on the Austro-Hungarian border. The staff at these listening posts were entrusted with the official tasks of gathering information on what went on on the other side of the border and to make a study of the terrain in case of war, and the unofficial tasks of organizing revolutionary groups in Bosnia, discovering trustworthy persons, fomenting revolutionary activity, and forming contacts with Bosnian agitators in order to both enroll volunteers and to raise an insurrection in the event of war with Austria-Hungary. [Albertini, Luigi. "Origins of the War of 1914", Oxford University Press, London, 1953, Vol II pp27-28] In the following years, a series of assassination attempts were made against Austro-Hungarian officials in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina culminating in the events of June 28, 1914. Three of the Sarajevo assassins who came from Belgrade, Serbia, confessed the involvement of active duty members of the Serbian Army and Frontiers Service and so Austria-Hungary and Germany asked Serbia directly and through her ally Russia to open an investigation into the Sarajevo outrage. Russia and Serbia flatly rejected these requests. On June 30, for example, Secretary General to the Serbian Foreign Minister Gruić in response to an Austro-Hungarian request to open an investigation falsely replied "Nothing had been done so far and the matter did not concern the Serbian Government." [Albertini, Luigi. "Origins of the War of 1914", Oxford University Press, London, 1953, Vol II pg.273]

Austrian policy turned toward coercive diplomacy and, failing that, war. Winning German support, persuading Hungarian Prime Minister Count Stephan Tisza, collecting sufficient criminal evidence, and drafting demands to place before Serbia took about two weeks. Delivery of these demands was delayed until July 23rd at 6PM to correspond with the end of the Franco-Russian summit.

Delivering the Note

On the morning of July 23rd, Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to Serbia Giesl von Gieslingen telephoned the Serbian Foreign Office to inform Serbia that an important message would be delivered for Prime Minister Nikola Pašić at 4:30PM. The warning was relayed to Pašić but Pašić chose not to return to Belgrade to receive the message, instead instructing Serbian Finance Minister Paču to receive Giesl and his communication. Paču and Gruić received Giesl at 6PM and Giesl delivered the "Ultimatum", an annex describing the results of Austria-Hungary's investigation into the Sarajevo outrage, and a two-page accompanying letter. Giesl verbally delivered the message that unless a satisfactory reply was received within 48 hours he and his legation would return home. Paču objected on various grounds to receiving the note and the time limit but to no avail as Giesl simply put the note on the table and said goodbye.


Austria-Hungary demanded that the Serbian Government publish on July 26th in their official organ and as an order of the day by the King to the Army and published in the "Official Bulletin of the Army" precisely worded statements that:

# condemned and admitted the existence of anti-Austro-Hungarian propaganda.
# expressed regrets for and admitted that Serbia officers and functionaries participated in the propaganda.
# warned that the Serbian Government will crack down against such activities.

Austria-Hungary made 10 enumerated demands. Serbia was to pledge itself to:

# suppress publications which incite hatred and contempt of the Austrian Monarchy;
# dissolve Narodna Odbrana (National Defence) and similar societies, confiscate their means of propaganda, and prevent the societies from reforming under new names;
# eliminate from public instruction in Serbia, both as regards the teaching body and the methods of instruction, all that serves or might serve to foment propaganda against Austria-Hungary;
# remove from the military service and the administration in general all officers guilty of propaganda against Austria-Hungary, names of which Austria-Hungary reserved the right to provide; (Serbia agreed to remove those officers proven guilty by judicial inquiry. As propaganda was not yet a crime it is unclear how any officers would be removed).
# accept the collaboration in Serbia of organs of the Austro-Hungarian government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the territorial integrity of the monarchy;
# begin a judicial inquiry against the accessories to the plot of June 28th who are on Serbian territory, with organs delegated by the Austro-Hungarian government participating in the investigation; (this was later rejected by Serbia)
# immediately arrest Major Vojislav Tankosić and Milan Ciganović who were implicated by the preliminary investigation undertaken by Austria-Hungary;
# prevent by effective measures the cooperation of Serbian authorities in the illicit traffic in arms and explosives across the frontier and to dismiss and severely punish those in the Serbian Frontiers Service who assisted the authors of the Sarajevo outrage;
# furnish Austria-Hungary with explanations regarding statements from high Serbian officials both in Serbia and abroad, who have expressed hostility towards Austria-Hungary; and
# notify Austria-Hungary without delay of the execution of these measures.

The Serbian Response

The Serbian government ordered General Mobilization on July 25th and sent its reply just before the deadline expired. It said:

# During the next regular meeting of the Skupština to embody in the press laws a clause, to wit, that the incitement to hatred of, and contempt for, the Monarchy is to be most severely punished, as well as every publication whose general tendency is directed against the territorial integrity of Austria-Hungary. It binds itself in view of the coming revision of the constitution to embody an amendment into Art. 22 of the constitutional law which permits the confiscation of such publications as is at present impossible according to the clear definition of Art. 12 of the constitution.
# The Government possesses no proofs and the note of the Imperial and Royal (referring to Austro-Hungarian) Government does not submit them that the society Narodna Odbrana and other similar societies have committed, up to the present, any criminal actions of this manner through any one of their members. Notwithstanding this, the Royal Government will accept the demand of the I. and R. Government and dissolve the society Narodna Odbrana, as well as every society which should set against Austria-Hungary.
# The Royal Serbian Government binds itself without delay to eliminate from the public instruction in Serbia anything which might further the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary provided the I. and R. Government furnishes actual proofs of this propaganda.
# The Royal Government is also ready to dismiss those officers and officials from the military and civil services in regard to whom it has been proved by judicial investigation that they have been guilty of actions against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy; it expects that the I. and R. Government communicate to it for the purpose of starting the investigation the names of these officers and officials, and the facts with which they have been charged.
# The Royal Government confesses that it is not clear about the sense and the scope of that demand of the I. and R. Government which concerns the obligation on the part of the Royal Serbian Government to permit the cooperation of officials of the I. and R. Government on Serbian territory, but it declares that it is willing to accept every cooperation which does not run counter to international law and criminal law, as well as to the friendly and neighbourly relations.
# The Royal Government considers it its duty as a matter of course to begin an investigation against all those persons who have participated in the outrage of June 28th and who are in its territory. As far as the cooperation in this investigation of specially delegated officials of the I. and R. Government is concerned, this cannot be accepted, as this is a violation of the constitution and of criminal procedure. Yet in some cases the result of the investigation might be communicated to the Austro-Hungarian officials.
# The Royal Government has ordered on the evening of the day on which the note was received the arrest of Major Voislav Tankosić. However, as far as Milan Ciganović is concerned, who is a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and who has been employed till June 28th with the Railroad Department, it has as yet been impossible to locate him, wherefore a warrant has been issued against him. The I. and R. Government is asked to make known, as soon as possible for the purpose of conducting the investigation, the existing grounds for suspicion and the proofs of guilt, obtained in the investigation at Sarajevo.
# The Serbian Government will amplify and render more severe the existing measures against the suppression of smuggling of arms and explosives. It is a matter of course that it will proceed at once against, and punish severely, those officials of the frontier service on the line Šabac-Loznica who violated their duty and who have permitted the perpetrators of the crime to cross the frontier.
# The Royal Government is ready to give explanations about the expressions which its officials in Serbia and abroad have made in interviews after the outrage and which, according to the assertion of the I. and R. Government, were hostile to the Monarchy. As soon as the I. and R. Government points out in detail where those expressions were made and succeeds in proving that those expressions have actually been made by the functionaries concerned, the Royal Government itself will take care that the necessary evidences and proofs are collected.
# The Royal Government will notify the I. and R. Government, so far as this has not been already done by the present note, of the execution of the measures in question as soon as one of those measures has been ordered and put into execution.

Drafts of the Serbian reply had initially conceded more such as accepting point 6 with reservations, but after receiving Russian assurance that Serbia would be supported even if it did not fully accept the ultimatum, the reply was hardened.

Critique of The Serbian Response

Austria-Hungary prepared and circulated a point-by-point set of remarks regarding the inadequacy of the Serbia reply; it arrived at world capitals too late to strongly affect events:

a. The Serbian reply failed to deal with the basis of the demarche, instead setting up a straw man. The basis of the demarche was that Serbia had failed to live up to its commitment of changing the direction of its policy to one of good neighborliness toward Austria-Hungary, but instead Serbia replied (falsely) that the Government of Serbia and its agents refrained from actions hostile to Austria-Hungary as though that was the extent of Serbia's commitment.

b. The Serbian reply stated that the Serbian press was beyond the government's control. Austria-Hungary contradicted this claim.

c. The Serbian reply expressed pained surprise over the (accurately) supposed involvement of members of the Kingdom of Serbia in the Sarajevo assassination. Austria-Hungary (accurately) pointed out that Serbia here was lying, that Serbia had received definite information of the plot and had taken no action.

d. The Serbian reply rephrased the statements to be published in their official organ and as an "Order of the Day" to the Serbian military so as not to admit the existence of anti-Austro-Hungarian propaganda and the involvement of the Serbian Military and functionaries in this propaganda (involvement that the Serbian Government was very aware of having recently shut down the Serbian Officers Club on charges of siphoning off money for the propagandistic journal "Piedmont".) The Austro-Hungarian critique accurately pointed out these failing. Austria-Hungary indicated that it believed Serbia's motive was so that it could preserve a "free hand" to deny these facts in the future without contradicting itself.

1. The Serbian reply promised to introduce legislation to its parliament to control the press. The Austro-Hungarian critique pointed out the demand was that Serbia commit to stop the propaganda and the Serbian reply did not commit to do that. No date was set to introduce the law. The law might not be passed. If passed it might not be enforced.

2. The Serbian reply stated (falsely) that Serbia had no proof that the Nardodna Odbrana and similar societies had done anything illegal but would nevertheless disband them. Austria-Hungary accurately pointed out that Serbia's reservation was laughable and further, that the Serbian reply had failed to reply to other aspects of this demand such as confiscating these organizations means of propaganda and preventing them from reforming under new names.

3. The Serbian reply stated that Serbia would remove anti-Austro-Hungarian propaganda from public instruction in those instances where Austria-Hungary provided proofs. The Austro-Hungarian critique pointed out that the demand was that Serbia remove such material from its public instruction and that the burden of identifying and providing proofs should not fall on Austria-Hungary and further points out that Serbia had failed to commit to the removal of anti-Austro-Hungarian teachers as had been demanded.

4. The Serbian reply agreed to remove from the military those found guilty by judicial inquiry. Austria-Hungary pointed out that the demand was that the officers who had engaged in anti-Austro-Hungarian propaganda be removed even though such propaganda was not in general a crime in Serbia.

5. The Serbian reply stated that it would collaborate with the Austro-Hungarian police so long as this was consistent with international law, criminal procedure and good neighborliness. Austria-Hungary described these reservations as unintelligible and vague and thereby open to future abuse by Serbia.

6. The Serbian reply stated that Serbia would open an inquiry, but involvement of Austro-Hungarian officials in the Serbian inquiry was unconstitutional and a violation of criminal procedure. Austria-Hungary responded that Serbia had intentionally misinterpreted Austria-Hungary's very clear demand to be involved in the police investigation, for which there were many precedents, as a demand to be involved in the judicial proceedings.

7. The Serbian reply stated that Milan Ciganović could not be arrested because he could not be found. Austria-Hungary accurately pointed out that the reason he could not be found was because the Belgrade Chief of Police had told him to go into hiding. [ Ciganović was apparently the Prime Minister's undercover agent informing him on the progress of the assassination plot and Serbia moved quickly to cover his tracks; Tankosić was arrested but immediately released by Serbia. Albertini, Luigi. "Origins of the War of 1914", Oxford University Press, London, 1953, Vol II pg. 283]

8. Serbia committed to block the flow of arms and munitions across the border and Austria-Hungary made no comment.

9. Serbia agreed to provide explanations for anti-Austro-Hungarian remarks made by its diplomats in those instances where Austria-Hungary might bring these remarks to its attention and where an investigation verifies the accusation. Austria-Hungary replied that the demand was for explanations and the burden of identifying and proving the offending remarks took place should not fall on Austria-Hungary.

10. Serbia agreed to notify Austria-Hungary when each demand was fulfilled. Austria-Hungary made no comment. [Albertini, Luigi. "Origins of the War of 1914", Oxford University Press, London, 1953, Vol II pp 365-371]

The Ultimatum to Serbia in the July Crisis

The Serbian reply was judged unsatisfactory on the spot by Austria-Hungary's ambassador and he and his staff immediately departed Belgrade without the need to consult Vienna, and Russia moved into open support of Serbia. As the July Crisis developed Russia would adamantly insist that certain points be eliminated from the ultimatum and Austria-Hungary would insist that the note be accepted integrally as Austria-Hungary had indicated when the note was delivered.


External links

* [http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1914/austro-hungarian-ultimatum.html The Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum]
* [http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/1914/serbresponse.html The Serbian Reply]

ee also

* World War I
* Powder Keg of Europe

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