Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, on the day of their assassinations, 28 June 1914, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, © IWM, Q 81831

Serbia claims letter from 1913 absolves it of blame for the outbreak of the First World War

Posted on on 16 January 2014
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The Director of the National Archive of Serbia, Dr. Miroslav Perisic, has unveiled a copy of a document from 1913 which he claims absolves Serbia of any "guilt" for the outbreak of the First World War and highlights Austria-Hungary's preparedness for war with Serbia.

Dr. Perisic exhibited the letter on the 5th January 2014 at the Andric Institute in Bosnia.

It was written by the Austrian Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Oskar Potiorek, to the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Finance and is dated the 28th May 1913.

The document is a 1930 typewriter copy of the handwritten letter.

"Questions of guilt"

Governor Potiorek highlights the importance of preventing a "union of all Southern Slavs" in the letter and that the Austro-Hungarian Empire should prepare for "an inevitable large-scale war in a few years".

He also warns that "one can never make Serbia a trusted friend", as it "will fight in any future war openly and bitterly on the side of our enemies".

Dr. Perisic stated that the letter - of which the original cannot be located - is "a primary source and one of the most important historical sources for the study of questions of guilt and responsibility for the First World War".

He highlighted how the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Bosnian-Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip had been "misused" and was "a smokescreen for the persecution of the Serbian people" at the outbreak of the First World War.

Mainstream histories of the First World War have traditionally attributed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as a central cause of the First World War, but this theory has been challenged, and is increasingly being done so in light of the Centenary of the conflict.

Although the document was released in 1928, Dr. Perisic claims that it was not used in writing the history of the conflict because it did not fit into the "stereotypical" reading of the origins of the First World War.

Critics of the document have stated that it is "incorrectly" translated and that the entirety of the document has not been translated.

The document has received a hostile reception in the Austrian press.

Also at the presentation of the document was Serbian-Bosnian director Emir Kusturica, who will produce a documentary depicting the "whole truth" about Serbia's role in the outbreak of the First World War for the Centenary.

"100 times repeated lie"

Dr. Perisic's announcement comes after he and the National Assembly Speaker, Dr. Menjsa Stefanovic, opened an exhibition in November 2013, containing primary documents from the First World War.

At the opening of the exhibition, Dr. Perisic condemned the "partial and scientifically unsubstantiated thesis on Serbia’s First World War guilt", whilst Dr. Stefanovic referred to Serbia's war guilt as the "100 times repeated lie".

Source: National Archive of Serbia/Radio Television Serbia

Posted by: Daniel Barry, Centenary News