Bosnian crisis
The Bosnian Crisis of 1908–1909, also known as the Annexation crisis, or the First Balkan Crisis, erupted into public view when on 6 October 1908, Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

 announced the annexation
Annexation is the de jure incorporation of some territory into another geo-political entity . Usually, it is implied that the territory and population being annexed is the smaller, more peripheral, and weaker of the two merging entities, barring physical size...

 of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina , sometimes called Bosnia-Herzegovina or simply Bosnia, is a country in Southern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula. Bordered by Croatia to the north, west and south, Serbia to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is almost landlocked, except for the...

. Russia
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

, Britain, Italy, Serbia, Montenegro, Germany and France took an interest in these events. In April 1909 the Treaty of Berlin was amended to accept the new status quo bringing the crisis to an end. The crisis permanently damaged relations between Austria-Hungary on the one hand and Russia and the Kingdom of Serbia
Kingdom of Serbia
The Kingdom of Serbia was created when Prince Milan Obrenović, ruler of the Principality of Serbia, was crowned King in 1882. The Principality of Serbia was ruled by the Karađorđevic dynasty from 1817 onwards . The Principality, suzerain to the Porte, had expelled all Ottoman troops by 1867, de...

 on the other. The annexation and reactions to the annexation were contributing causes of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...



Under article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, Austria-Hungary received special rights in the Ottoman Empire's provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novi Pazar
Sanjak of Novi Pazar
The Sanjak of Novi Pazar was an Ottoman sanjak that existed until the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 in the territory of present day Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo.-History:It was part of the Bosnia Vilayet and later Kosovo Vilayet and included...

. Article 25 stated: "The provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall be occupied and administered by Austria-Hungary." and continued "... Austria-Hungary reserves the right to maintain garrisons and to have military and trading roads over the whole area of that portion" (the Sanjak of Novibazar) "of the ancient Vilayet of Bosnia." Austria-Hungary exercised its rights, taking firm control of Bosnia-Herzegovina and jointly occupying the Sanjak of Novibazar together with the Ottoman Empire. This state of affairs persisted from 1878 until the outbreak of the crisis in 1908. The Treaty of Berlin also stated that the Straits of Constantinople would be closed to warships during time of war. This had the effect of bottling up the Russian fleet in the Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...


The Sanjak of Novibazar separated Montenegro from Serbia and prevented the geographic and political union of these two states which were often closely aligned. The Austrian occupation of the Sanjak was also significant because it provided Austria-Hungary with a staging area for possible future expansion towards the Aegean port of Salonika in Ottoman controlled Macedonia. Bosnia and Herzegovina was a state populated by Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. In 1903 a coup in Serbia brought in a new dynasty and shifted political power to elements widely interested in expansion into Bosnia. These patriots wanted to take over Sanjak of Novibazar and Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Austria-Hungary. Relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary gradually deteriorated. By 1907, Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Alois Aehrenthal
Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal
Count Alois Lexa von Ährenthal was an Austrian diplomat who engineered the Bosnian crisis of 1908.Born in Gross-Skal, Bohemia , he entered the diplomatic service of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, beginning as attaché in Paris . In 1906 he replaced Count Goluchowski as minister of foreign affairs...

 began formulating a plan to solidify Austria-Hungary's position in Bosnia-Herzegovina through annexation. His opportunity came in the form of a letter from Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Izvolsky and their well-known meeting at Buchlau castle
The Buchlov castle is a royal castle that, along with Bare Hill and Saint Barbara’s Chapel, belongs to significant dominants of Chřiby mountains in Moravian Slovakia, which is a region in south-eastern Moravia, Czech Republic.-History:The castle was built approximately in the first part of the...

 in Moravia, Austria-Hungary.

Exchange of letters

On 2 July 1908, Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Izvolsky wrote to Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Alois Aehrenthal and proposed a discussion of reciprocal changes to the 1878 Treaty of Berlin in favour of the Russian interest in the Straits of Constantinople
The Bosphorus or Bosporus , also known as the Istanbul Strait , is a strait that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with the Dardanelles...

 and Austro-Hungarian interests in the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novibazar. On 14 July Aehrenthal responded with guarded acceptance of the proposed discussion. On 10 September, after long and complex discussions within Austria-Hungary, Aehrenthal outlined a slightly different bargain to Izvolsky. In exchange for a friendly Russian attitude in the event Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, Austria-Hungary would then withdraw its troops from the Sanjak. The letter then went on to offer to discuss, as a separate matter, the Straits question on a friendly basis.

Meeting at Buchlau

On 16 September, Izvolsky and Aehrenthal met face-to-face at Buchlau
The Buchlov castle is a royal castle that, along with Bare Hill and Saint Barbara’s Chapel, belongs to significant dominants of Chřiby mountains in Moravian Slovakia, which is a region in south-eastern Moravia, Czech Republic.-History:The castle was built approximately in the first part of the...

. No minutes were taken during these private meetings which lasted a total of six hours. Izvolsky accepted the responsibility to write up the conclusions of the meeting and forward them to Aehrenthal. On 21 September Aehrenthal wrote to Izvolsky asking for this document to which Izvolsky replied two days later that the document had been sent to the Czar for approval. This document, if it ever existed, has never been produced.

Aehrenthal’s version of the agreement

By Aehrenthal’s account given by Albertini, Izvolsky agreed that Russia would maintain "a friendly and benevolent attitude" if Austria-Hungary were to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina. Reciprocally, Austria-Hungary, should Russia move to open “the Straits to single ships of war” would maintain a benevolent attitude. The two agreed that a likely consequence of the annexation was Bulgaria would declare its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Austria-Hungary would offer no territorial concessions to Serbia or Montenegro, but if they supported the annexation then Austria-Hungary would not oppose Serbian expansion in the Balkans, and support the Russian demand to revise Article 29 of the Treaty of Berlin which restricted Montenegrin sovereignty. The parties agreed "these changes could receive sanction after negotiation with the Porte and the Powers", but "there would be no more talk of Bosnia-Herzegovina". Annexation would probably take place at the beginning of October. The original of Aehrenthal’s account has not been found and so historians have had to make do with an undated office copy of the document.

Izvolsky’s version

On 30 September, Austria-Hungary informed Izvolsky, who was in Paris at the time, that the annexation would take place on 7 October. On 4 October, Izvolsky prepared a report at the request of the British Ambassador to France, Bertie
Francis Bertie, 1st Viscount Bertie of Thame
Francis Leveson Bertie, 1st Viscount Bertie of Thame GCB GCMG GCVO PC was a British diplomat.- Biography :...

. Izvolsky stated that his position was that annexation was a matter to be settled between the signatories to the Treaty of Berlin. With the compensation of Austro-Hungarian withdrawal from the Sanjak of Novibazar, Russia would not consider the annexation as reason to go to war, but Russia and other governments would insist on changes to the Treaty favorable to themselves, including opening the Straits, Bulgarian independence, territorial concessions to Serbia, and abolition of restrictions on Montenegrin sovereignty under article 29. Bertie told British Foreign Minister Grey that he felt Izvolsky was not being completely honest.


On 5 October, Bulgaria declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire. On 6 October, Emperor Franz Joseph announced to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina his intention to give them an autonomous and constitutional regime and the provinces were annexed. On 7 October, Austria-Hungary announced its withdrawal from the Sanjak of Novibazar. Bulgarian independence and the Bosnian annexation were not countenanced by the Treaty of Berlin and set off a flurry of diplomatic protests and discussions.


Serbia mobilized its army and on 7 October the Serbian Crown Council demanded that the annexation be reversed or, failing that, Serbia should receive compensation, which it defined on 25 October as a strip of land across the northern most portion of the Sanjak of Novibazar. In the end these demands were rejected, although Serbia later took control of the Sanjak.

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire protested Bulgaria’s declaration of independence with more vigor than the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina which it had no practical prospects of governing. A boycott of Austro-Hungarian goods however did occur, inflicting commercial losses on Austria-Hungary. On 20 February, Austria-Hungary settled the matter and received Ottoman acquiescence to the annexation in return for ₤2.2 million. Bulgarian independence could not be reversed.

France, Britain, Russia and Italy

The annexation and Bulgarian declaration were viewed as violations of the Treaty of Berlin. France, Britain, Russia and Italy therefore were in favor of a conference to consider the matter. German opposition and complex diplomatic maneuvering as to the location, nature and preconditions of the conference delayed and ultimately scuttled it. Instead, the Powers reached agreement on amendments to the Treaty through consultations between capitals.

Italy expected compensations in the Italia Irredenta's territories ruled by Austria-Hungary in exchange for its recognition of the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as it was agreed upon in the Triple Alliance
Triple Alliance
Triple Alliance may refer to:* Aztec Triple Alliance - Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan; better known as the Aztec Empire* Triple Alliance - England, France and the Dutch Republic...

 treaties with Austria-Hungary. However this didn't happen and this became one of the reasons for Italy to break its alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1915.
The mutual compensation clause was first included in art. 1 from the Italian-Austrian agreement added to the 1887 version of the Triple Alliance treaty, then reproduced in art.7 of the 1891 version of the Triple Alliance treaty and finally in art.7 of the 1909 and of 5 December 1912 versions of the same treaty.

Russia and Serbia back down

British opposition to amending the Treaty of Berlin with respects to the Straits left Russia with empty hands and therefore Izvolsky and the Czar regarded the annexation and Aehrenthal's maneuvers as made in bad faith. Cognizant of Aehrenthal's heritage, Izvolsky exploded making the remark:
"The dirty Jew has deceived me. He lied to me, he bamboozled me, that frightful Jew."

To bring Izvolsky to heel, Austria-Hungary threatened to release and then ultimately began leaking documents, in which, over the course of the previous 30 years, Russia had agreed that Austria-Hungary had a free hand to do as it liked with Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novibazar. These documents were an embarrassment to Russia, especially with regards to its relations with Serbia. Czar Nicholas II wrote to Emperor Franz-Joseph and accused Austria-Hungary of betraying a confidence and relations between the two countries were permanently damaged. Under Germany’s advice, Austria-Hungary kept in confidence the 2 July and 23 September correspondence from Izvolsky to Aehrenthal and these were a continued threat to Izvolsky’s position if Russia did not firmly and publicly accept amendment of Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin to accept the annexation. On 22 March, Germany put Russia on the spot, demanding that Russia give a clear and unequivocal "yes" or "no" as to whether it committed to accept this amendment. Failure to give a positive reply would cause Germany to withdraw from the diplomatic discussions "and let things take their course". Under such pressure, Izvolsky caved and advised the cabinet to accept the amendment of Article 25 for fear that otherwise Austria would be free to act against Serbia. The cabinet agreed. On 23 March the Czar accepted the decision and communicated the decision to German Ambassador to Russia Portales. Britain however was not quite ready to acquiesce and stated that it would do so only once "the Serbian question had been settled in a pacific manner." France fell in line behind Britain.

On 26 March, Austria-Hungary provided Britain with the negotiated text of Serbia’s March declaration committing Serbia to accept the annexation. It ran:
"Serbia recognizes that she has not been injured in her right by the fait accompli created in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that consequently she will conform to such decision as the Powers shall take in regard to Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin. Submitting to the advice of the Great Powers, Serbia undertakes already now to abandon the attitude of protest and opposition which she has maintained in regard to the annexation since last autumn and undertakes further to change the course of her present policy towards Austria-Hungary to live henceforward with the latter on a footing of good-neighborliness. Conformable to these declarations and confident of the pacific intentions of Austria-Hungary, Serbia will reduce her army to the position of spring 1908 as regards its organization, its distribution and its effectives. She will disarm and disband her volunteers and bands and will prevent the formation of new units of irregulars on its territories."

The next day Austria-Hungary asked for Britain’s firm assurance that once the negotiations with Serbia were complete, Britain would accept the amendment of Article 25. Without such assurance Austria-Hungary stated it would break off negotiations with Serbia. Later that day Austria-Hungary decided to partially mobilize its armed forces. On 28 March Britain committed as requested. On 31 March Serbia made its formal declaration of acceptance to Austria-Hungary representing a complete Serbian climb down. The crisis was over. The Great Powers signed the amendments to the Treaty of Berlin in the various capitals from 7 April to 19 April.

A little over a year later, as a result of this diplomatic defeat, Izvolsky was demoted and made ambassador to France. He was permanently embittered against Aehrenthal and the Central Powers. The Russian Diplomat and newspaperman de Schelking relates Izvolsky's political downfall: "In the Salons of Petrograd he" (Izvolsky) "was given the Sobriquet 'Prince of the Bosphorous'. In his conceit Iswolsky could not see he was being mocked."

Secondary sources

  • Albertini, Luigi
    Luigi Albertini
    Luigi Albertini was an influential Italian journalist and politician.Albertini was an outspoken antifascist, even though at one time he did support the National Fascist Party in their opposition to the Left...

    . 2005. Origins of the War of 1914 – Vol. 1, Enigma Books, New York.
  • Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey
    Amos Shartle Hershey
    Amos Shartle Hershey was an American professor of political science, born at Hockersville, Pa. He was educated at Harvard College and Law School , and studied also at the University of Heidelberg and at Paris...

    ; Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870–1914. Prepared for the National Board for Historical Service; Government Printing Office, Washington; 1918.
  • Goldberg, Harvey. 1968. The Life of Jean Jaurès, The University of Milwaukee Press, Milwaukee.
  • Joll, James, & Martel, Gordon. 2007. The Origins of the First World War. Pearson/Longman, London.
  • Shelḱīng, Evgeniǐ Nīkolaevīch and Makovskī, L. W. 1918. Recollections of a Russian Diplomat: The Suicide of Monarchies. The Macmillan company, New York.

External links

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