In 1914, the near-assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand, later Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by a militant Serbian nationalist was a crucial turning point in European history.
Serbian nationalism had been a sore point within the Empire ever since the Kingdom of Serbia was formally recognized as an independent state in 1878. In the years leading up to the attempt on the Archduke's life, there had been a series of diplomatic crises and brushfire wars, between Serbia and Austria-Hungary over the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina and then between Serbia and Turkey, from which the Serbs seized Macedonia and Kosovo. Franz Ferdinand favored a policy known as "trialism", under which the Hapsburg Empire's Slavic lands would be reorganized as a separate monarchy, transforming the so-called Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary into a triple one and making the Slavic lands a bulwark against Serbian expansionism.
The Emergence of Trialism by Eric LippsFollowing the death of Emperor Franz Joseph in November 1916, Franz Ferdinand succeeded to the imperial throne, from which he labored diligently to put his favored policies into effect and improve the position of Austria relative to that of Germany.
An early crisis gave him the opportunity to do so, when the deeply unpopular Tsar Nicholas II of Russia faced a radical uprising in 1917.
Anti-government sentiment had been growing in Russia since the humuiliating conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War, which had actually provoked a revolution which had compelled Nicholas to agree to the creation of a parliament, the Duma. Radicals, however, had considered this reform insuffcient, even after the Duma's power was increased by subsequent measures. The Tsar's dismissal of the first and second Dumas undescored the fact that he remained the real power, and his actions following itas formation inspired little confidence. Although the Duma's creation temporarily divided Nicholas's opposition, resentment over his high-handed treatment of what were supposed to be the Russiaan people's representatives presently swung the pendulum in the opposite direction.
Nicholas was actually forced to abdicate in March of that year, and a parliamentary government established under Alexander Kerensky. When Kerensky's government in turn seemed about to fall to a radical left-wing movement led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Emperor Franz Ferdinand dispatched Austrian troops to "restore order". By March of 1918, the revolutionaries had been crushed and Kerensky, who had fled to Finland in January, had returned to St. Petersburg. Ulyanov disappeared, and rumors had him dead, imprisoned or hiding somewhere in Europe.
At that point, Franz Ferdinand faced a decision: recognize and support the embattled Kerensky regime, or restore his Romanov cousin to the throne. He chose the latter, and backed it up with force. In April, Nicholas reassumed the throne.
The restored Tsar, however, was little more than a figurehead. The events of 1917 had demonstrated how weak his support really was among his own people, and it was soon apparent that if the Hapsburg troops who had helped put him back in his seat were to leave, he would fall once more. That harsh reality compelled him to realize that he had become essentially Franz Ferdinand's subject.
The Hapsburg ruler realized it as well, and took the opportunity to squeeze the weakened Nicholas for trade and territorial concessions, which his Russian cousin had no choice but to grant even though doing so reduced his power and popularity even more. Among the prizes taken by Austria-Hungary were Russian Poland and the Baltic provinces of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
In March of 1923, Vladimir Ulyanov surfaced in Munich, where he attempted to lead a general strike of the city's industrial workers. The Prussian police responded with brutal force, and Ulyanov was among scores of casualties.
Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II regarded the ascendancy of Franz Ferdinand's Austria with growing apprehension. Wilhelm's Germany, dominated by Prussia, had been a bigger, stronger brother to Austria since the nineteenth century; now, it seemed, the scales were tilting in the opposite direction. The Hohenzollern emperor began to worry that the Hapsburgs might, in time, become an actual threat. In an effort to counter that danger, the Kaiser began to extend diplomatic overtures to its longtime rival Britain and even to France, its foe since 1870.
In 1928, Emperor Franz Ferdinand's "trialist" scheme became reality, with a newly established Kingdom of Slavonia, embracing the Hapsburg Empire's Slavic possessions, assuming its place as the third partner in the Emperor's Triple Monarchy under the rule of Prince Aimone Roberto Margherita Maria Giuseppe Torino of Savoy, great-grandson of Italy's King Victor Emmanuel II. At his coronation, Prince Aimon assumed the name Tomislav II, in homage to the first king of medieval Croatia. The new king's ancestry bound him firmly to the Hapsburgs, while his choice of kingly name affirmed his opposition to Serbian ambitions, which had never abated.
By 1930, Europe had been transformed. The alliances of 1914, which, if war had come at that time, would have pitted England, France and Russia against Germany, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Turkey, had given way to a new order in which England, France and Germany faced the newly established Triple Monarchy of Austria-Hungary-Slavonia, Turkey, and a docile but resource-rich Romanov Russia under the frail hemophiliac Tsar Alexander IV, who had succeeded Nicholas II upon the latter's death in 1929.