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Austria-Hungary's Declaration of War on Russia

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  • 0:08 Serbian Question
  • 1:37 Question of Nationality
  • 2:40 Central (Power) Confusion
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

The Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Russia was the first big domino in the road to World War I. This lesson explains the background of the story, as well as provides some insight as to how the countries had doomed themselves to war.

Serbian Question

Late in the 19th century, nationalism finally came to the Balkan Peninsula. Having been a stronghold for the Austrian and Ottoman Empires for some time, things were definitely changing. For the Austrians, it meant giving many ethnic minorities more power, including a name change to recognize the power of the Hungarian part of the empire. For the Ottomans, it meant a great deal of territory loss.

Much of this was encouraged by the traditional rival of the Ottoman Empire: Russia. For the Russians, this had the added benefit of liberating many other Slavic nations. As Russia was itself Slavic, it was thought that these countries would be especially friendly to Russia. In short, while the Austrians had managed to adapt, the Ottoman Empire was quickly proving true to its name as the Sick Man of Europe due to its extensive territorial losses.

Among the first of these new states to gain its independence was Serbia, and Slavic heritage aside, the Serbs never forgot that the Russians had been instrumental in freeing them from Ottoman rule. Russia quite appreciated having such a fervent admirer and worked to guarantee Serbia's independence. However, many people who wanted to be a part of Serbia still lived in the two other empires: Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Needless to say, this could not end well.

Question of Nationality

For a variety of reasons, from language to terrain to religion, the Balkan Peninsula has many different ethnic groups. While these groups could not agree on much, they all knew that they didn't want to be ruled from the Austro-Hungarian capital at Vienna or the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. Many of these groups were encouraged by the Serbs and in fact, a number of those Serbian minorities in other empires really wanted to join Serbia. This meant that over the rest of the 19th century and into the 1910s, a number of small wars were fought which not only expanded Serbian territory, but created new countries like Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania.

These countries would slowly find their own way, with Bulgaria siding against the Russians, while the Romanians remained loyal. However, nothing was as unshakable as that first relationship with the Serbs and the Russians. It would soon be seen just how strong that relationship was.

Central (Power) Confusion

Germany and Austria-Hungary both hated Russia and were weary of the newfound influence that country had. As a result, in 1879, the two signed the Dual Alliance, which promised mutual aid if attacked by Russia and neutrality if attacked by anyone else. Suddenly, there was a major block in the middle of Europe, aptly named the Central Powers. Also, Austria-Hungary was eager to maintain its empire which, like the Ottomans, was actually made up of many different ethnicities. All this talk of nationalism that the Russians were supporting just sounded dangerous to the Austro-Hungarians.

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