The Irony of Franz Ferdinand | 24 July 1914

The actual chronological events of today are contained in this post.

However, I’d just like to take a moment here (well, okay, a few moments) to fully explore the dual irony at work (appropriate for the heir to the Dual Monarchy, no?) in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. It’s the absolute pinnacle of black comedy. The top layer of irony, the more obvious layer, is explained neatly by Joseph Redlich, an Austro-Hungarian politican, who later quoted an unnamed Austrian diplomant.

The world has no idea that the archduke was against war. Through his death, he has helped us find the energy that we would never have found as long as he lived!

This is entirely accurate. In previous crises, Franz Ferdinand was a consistent voice of moderation. He was planning to get Conrad von Hotzendorf sacked as chief of the army, to ensure that he couldn’t hijack any future crises with his consistent bellowing for war. Had the Black Hand chosen instead to kill (for instance) General Potiorek, the widely-disliked governor of Bosnia, Franz Ferdinand would surely have been an important voice for calm.

Our Advertising Feature

Nice to see that somebody's taking an interest in foreign affairs!
Nice to see that somebody’s taking an interest in foreign affairs!

Irony upon irony

However, it’s not nearly as simple as all that. As heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand had been deeply concerned with ensuring that he still had a country to rule when his father died. His original thought had been to turn the Dual Monarchy into a Triple Monarchy of Austria, Hungary, and the rest, anyone whose lands were geographically contiguous and who didn’t seem to fit neatly into Austria or Hungary.

However, by 1914, he’d evolved his views further, and was then exploring the possibility of something rather smaller and federal. Austria and Hungary would be split into smaller constitutent states, and then joined on an equal footing by Croatia, a Czechland, a Slovakland, and so on, each to govern as much of their own affairs as possible. It almost looks not entirely unlike a southern/eastern precursor to the European Union. Sounds great, right? Not so fast.

Many stable political systems are underpinned by a consensus of some sort, in which there are certain issues on which all major political parties agree. In Serbia, there is a very definite consensus that Serbia is too small. (This is why Serbia and Bulgaria aren’t very happy with each other right now, and why Bulgaria has just aligned itself with the Central Powers; Serbia used the Balkan Wars to significantly expand its territory at the expense of Bulgaria.) Large numbers of ethnic Serbs (as they see it) are living, oppressed, in foreign lands. Serbia is entirely committed to an expansionistic foreign policy in which these Serbs will be liberated and taken under the protection of a Greater Serbia.

Greater Serbia

And the only way that Greater Serbia can be created is at the expense of Austria-Hungary. They don’t want an intelligent younger man on the Dual Monarchy’s throne who might come up with a way to keep the faintly ridiculous arrangement functional, who might prevent (for example) revolution in Bosnia. It’s directly and entirely opposed to the world they want to create. So, the Black Hand ends up quite logically targeting for assassination a man who might have been critically important in preventing a war from breaking out after that, had it not been he who was marked for death.

Now that’s irony.

The events of the day

Today’s events are recounted in this post.

Leave a Reply