Sunday, 31 March – Saturday, 6 April 1912
Troubles in Hungary; French Take Control of Morocco
The eastern half of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy caused Emperor Franz Josef and his imperial cabinet no end of troubles in March and April 1912. The Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Károly Khuen-Héderváry, had resigned back on 7 March over the issue of the annual conscription authorization bill. The Hungarian parliament, never enthusiastic about providing troops for the common defense of the empire, had been unwilling to agree to a provision in the annual law that in case of necessity (i.e., war) the Emperor could extend the three-year period of service of the latest annual class and mobilize the three preceding classes. This was a traditional prerogative of the monarch and was insisted upon by the joint Austro-Hungarian defense ministry, which was seeing the country fall behind in the build up of European armies. The problem for the Dual Monarchy was that the number of exemptions and the lax enforcement of the conscription law meant that its armed forces were weaker relative to its size than that of any of the other European powers. Its forces represented 0.29 per cent of its population compared to 0.47 per cent in Germany and 0.75 per cent in France. (When war broke out in 1914, Austria-Hungary was only able to mobilize 49 army divisions compared to 62 by France, which had a smaller population.)
During the last three weeks of March, Khuen-Héderváry had sought to resolve the ministerial crisis by trying to find new ministers to serve in the cabinet and by searching for formulations of the law that would allow it to gain support from the Hungarian Chamber of Deputies, where he was faced with obstructionism from the two branches of the nationalist Independence party. He was too clever by half. His solution consisted of a side “declaration” to the law that said that the extension of service and additional call-up would not take place unless approved by parliament. In other words, it negated the whole point of the provision. Franz Josef had had enough. He summoned Khuen-Héderváry from Budapest to Vienna on Friday, 29 March, and told him, in effect, that if the law was not approved then he would abdicate. This frightened Khuen-Héderváry – the Hungarians were very worried about the succession, which would put Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the throne. Franz Ferdinand was known to believe in a centralized empire with universal suffrage representing all nationalities, the antithesis of the Compromise of 1867, which had put Hungarian magnates in charge of half the empire.
On Saturday, 30 March, Franz Josef sent a letter over his hand-written signature to Khuen-Héderváry laying out his position. The Emperor said that throughout his reign he had scrupulously respected the rights of his Kingdom of Hungary as laid out in the Compromise of 1867. Since 1888, the law had given him the power to call up reserves in case of need and he had no intention of relinquishing that right and duty. “As it is my inflexible will to keep intact the constitional rights of the nation, I must also defend with equal resolution the rights of the crown if I can exercise them within my dual role. With complete confidence, I ask the nation to help me accomplish my duty according to my conscience and to ensure the continuation of my constitutional role based on the understanding that exists between the king and the nation.”
Khuen-Héderváry made an urgent telephone call to his colleagues in Budapest and asked them to come to Vienna for an immediate consultation on the Emperor’s ultimatum. The members of Khuen-Héderváry’s party, the National Labor Party, which had a majority in parliament, agreed that they would form a cabinet immediately and pass the conscription law without further ado, without trying to get the support of the two factions of the Independence Party — one led by Gyula Justh and the other by Ferenc Kossuth. On Monday, 1 April, the prime minister presented a new cabinet to the parliament and called on it to approve the recruitment law without the “declaration”. “It is our duty to reassure the King and to prevent incalcuble risks.”
Following Khuen-Héderváry’s appeal to parliament, he then undertook a dangerous tactic to try to win the support of the nationalists. For many years (1883-1903), he had served as the Ban (Viceroy) of the autonomous Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, which was part of the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy. The population of Croatia-Slavonia was mainly Croatian and Serbian and in recent years had seen an increase in anti-Habsburg and pro-south Slav (“Yugoslav”) activity. Suddenly, on Thursday, 4 April, the current Ban, Slavko Cuvaj de Ivanska, suspended the Croatian constitution, dissolved the local legislature, instituted press censorship, suspended the right of assembly and nominated special police commissioners for the cities and towns of Croatia. On the next day, Cuvaj was named as royal commissioner for the province, signifying its demoted status. As expected, the outcry in Croatia was immediate and vociferous, which was matched by indignation in the press in Vienna, which said that the new decrees were a political ploy that could only lead to more unrest in the future. Cuvaj himself was the object of two assassination attempts in the coming months, including a narrow escape on 8 June 1912. Within a year, he was kicked upstairs with the title of “Baron” and forced into retirement.
For Khuen-Héderváry, neither his appeal to parliament or his heavy-handed tactics in Croatia met with success. The parliamentary faction led by Justh refused to give up its obstructionism unless the ruling party agreed to pass a universal suffrage bill, which the nationalists assumed would lead them to victory in the next elections. For three weeks, the parties squabbled and the conscription bill came no closer to passage. Finally, on 22 April Khuen-Héderváry resigned. The real leader of his National Labor Party, Istvan Tisza, became speaker of the house in May and then took over as prime minister in 1913, in time for him to give Hungarian acquiescence to the ultimatum to Serbia in July 1914 that led to war. Although Franz Joseph never did abdicate, it is interesting to speculate what might have happened if he had followed through on his threat of 29 March. It is unlikely that his successor would have been visiting Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.
Elsewhere in the world, an important event took place in Fez, Morocco, on Saturday afternoon, 30 March, although the news did not reach the French Foreign Ministry at the Quai d’Orsay until the following afternoon. Its representative in Morocco, Eugène Regnault, had been able to get the Sultan of Morocco, Moulay Abd el-Hafid, to sign a protectorate agreement that to all intents and purposes turned his country over to France. The protectorate agreement had been pending since France and Germany had concluded a treaty in February that allowed France a free hand in Morocco, following the Agadir crisis of May 1911. Abd el-Hafid had brought the conclusion on himself by first overthrowing his brother and then, unable to quell the resulting unrest, had called on French troops to protect him, thus setting off the Agadir crisis. Under the new protectorate agreement, he lost all his power. In exchange for maintaining his title and a titular religious role, control of finances, justice, schools and armed forces was taken over by the French with a French military and police presence installed to ensure it. The Sultan could not make any decree without the approval of the French Resident Commissioner and could undertake no public or private loans without French approval. Abd el-Hafiz’s humiliation was so complete that he abdicated on 12 August 1912 in favor of another brother, the father of the future King Mohammed V, who was to regain independence for Morocco in 1956.
The signing of the protectorate agreement effectively took Morocco off the plate of international politics – there were no further crises to mirror those of 1905 and 1911. However, the situation in Morocco was not fully resolved. Spain and France were still in protracted negotiations about control of the northern part of the country opposite the Straits of Gibraltar. One reason for pushing through the protectorate agreement was to give France an upper hand in those negotiations. Notably, the protectoriate provided that the city of Tangier, claimed by the Spanish, would come under an international regime (which was not instituted until after World War I). It was forecast that now that the Franco-Moroccan agreement had been signed, the Franco-Spanish one would follow quickly, which would establish a khalifate under Spanish control in the north of the country. In fact, such an accord was not signed until 27 November 1912. More to the point, the Moroccan people objected to the new arrangements: there were riots in Fez in the weeks following the conclusion of the protectorate and endemic resistance to the European presence in the interior for decades. This culminated in the Rif War of 1921-1926, which resulted in major Spanish defeats before a joint French-Spanish force was able to defeat insurgent general Abd el-Krim.