Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal
Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal
Minister Aehrenthal in 1910
|Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary|
24 October 1906 – 17 February 1912
|Monarch||Franz Joseph I|
|Preceded by||Agenor Maria Gołuchowski|
|Succeeded by||Count Leopold Berchtold|
September 27, 1854|
Groß Skal (Hrubá Skála), Bohemia, Austrian Empire
17 February 1912 (aged 57)|
Alois Lexa Graf von Aehrenthal (27 September 1854 – 17 February 1912) was an Austrian diplomat. As Imperial Foreign Minister Aehrenthal formulated and executed the formal and complete annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and, their integration into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1908. With the annexation he sought to permanently block in the Balkan south of the Empire the emergence of inter, and intra-ethnic nationalisms amongst the multiplicity of peoples there on the basis their shared religious beliefs, and/or ethnic affiliations. His actions precipitated an international crisis because he sought to achieve his objectives by negotiation of Russian acceptance of the annexation in exchange for Austrian support for greater Russian access from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean through the Straits of the Dardanelles (at the expense of Ottoman Imperial interests), which Britain and France would supposedly accept since they had recently become allied with Imperial Russia. Aehrenthal, seeking to limit objections in Russia to any support for the annexation began secret negotiations with Russian foreign minister Alexander Izvolsky. The annexation ultimately damaged Austro-Russian collaboration on settling Balkan questions. Also, it stirred chauvinist popular emotion in Russia, which felt humiliated in a sphere of vital interest to it. 
Born at Groß Skal Castle in Bohemia (present-day Hrubá Skála, Czech Republic), he was the second-born son of Baron (Freiherr) Johann Lexa von Aehrenthal (1817–1898), a large-scale landowner in Groß Skal and Doksany, and his wife Marie, née Countess Thun und Hohenstein. His father was a powerful leader of the Constitutionally Loyal Large Landowners party in Bohemia. His great-grandfather Johann Anton Lexa (1733-1824), from a rural background in Kralovice, had founded an insurance company in Prague and was ennobled in 1790.
"His diplomacy" wrote Olof Hoijer, was "composed more of hard arrogance and dissolvent intrigue than of prudent reserve and ingratiating souplesse was a mixture of pretention and subtlety, of force and ruse, of realism and cynicism: his readiness to cheat, to circumvent, to outwit hid a harsh and ruthless will." Asquith regarded him as the cleverest and perhaps the least scrupulous of Austrian statesmen. He undoubtedly showed himself to be an able and ambitious diplomat, a cool negotiator, a wide-awake observer, a patient listener, a discreet talker endowed with great outward calm but with a lively and dominating imagination more passionate than clear sighted.
With no great prospects of inheritance, Aehrenthal studied jurisprudence and politics at the University of Bonn and the Prague Charles University. He began his career in the diplomatic service of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as attaché in Paris under Count Beust (1877). He went in 1878 in the same capacity to St. Petersburg, and from 1883 to 1888 he worked at the Foreign Office in Vienna under Count Gustav Kálnoky, with whom he formed close relations. In 1888 he was sent as councillor of embassy to St. Petersburg, where he exercised considerable influence with the ambassador, Count Wolkenstein.
Recalled in 1894 to service in the Foreign Office, he undertook important duties, and in the following year went to Bucharest as ambassador. Here he succeeded in strengthening the relations between the courts of Vienna and Bucharest, the secret alliance which King Charles had concluded in 1883 with the Central European Powers being renewed on 30 September. In 1899 he became ambassador in St. Petersburg, where he remained until his appointment as Foreign Minister in October 1906. Aehrenthal at this time thought that Austria-Hungary must, even at the cost of some sacrifice, come to an agreement with Russia. In this sense he endeavoured to continue the negotiations successfully begun by his predecessor, Prince Franz Liechtenstein, for the bridging over of the differences on Balkan questions between Vienna and St. Petersburg, in order to create a basis for a permanent friendly relation between Austria-Hungary and Russia.
He played a principal part in concluding the Mürzsteg Agreement of 1903. During the Russo-Japanese War he took a strong line in favour of a benevolent attitude on the part of the Vienna Cabinet towards Russia. In October 1906, he replaced Count Goluchowski as minister of foreign affairs. He at first maintained the views which he had professed as ambassador. He was determined to preserve the interests of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans, but also showed himself prepared to meet the Russian wishes in the Dardanelles question. However, in the course of the Bosnian Crisis, he abandoned the idea of a friendly accommodation with the Russian Government.
The principal players in the Bosnian Crisis of 1908-09 were the foreign ministers of Austria and Russia, Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal and Alexander Izvolsky, respectively. Both were motivated by political ambition; the first would emerge successful, and the latter would be broken by the crisis. Along the way, they would drag Europe to the brink of war in 1909. They would also divide Europe into the armed camp that it would remain until 1914.
Aehrenthal was thoroughly convinced that the Slavic minorities could never come together, and the Balkan League Would never accomplish any damage to Austria. 1912 he rejected an Ottoman proposal for an alliance that would include Austria, Turkey and Romania. His policies alienated the Bulgarians, who turned instead to Russia and Serbia. Although Austria had no intention to embark on additional expansion to the south, Aehrenthal encouraged speculation to that effect, expecting it would paralyze the Balkan states. Instead, it incited them to feverish activity to create a defensive block to stop Austria. A series of grave miscalculations at the highest level thus significantly strengthened Austria's enemies.
Under the Treaty of Berlin, the Dardanelles, controlled by Turkey, would not allow the passage of warships of any country to or from the Black Sea. This agreement bottled up a portion of the Russian Fleet that could have been well used at Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese war four years earlier. Izvolsky wanted this changed to allow the passage of only Russian ships through the straits. This would give Russia a Mediterranean presence and, it was perceived, help her recover some face after the bitter defeat by Japan. Aehrenthal wanted full control of Bosnia-Herzogovina through annexation even though Austria-Hungary had administered the provinces since 1878. His reasons for this lay in the possible recovery of the "sick man of Europe", Turkey. The "Young Turk" revolution of 1908, led in part by Enver Pasha, convinced some that the Ottoman Empire might be on the rise again. Thus, Aehrenthal reasoned, it was now or maybe never. He would discuss this matter with Izvolsky to ensure the Russians would not interfere with the annexation plans. The two ministers held a meeting on 19 September 1908 at Buchlau Castle owned by Count Leopold von Berchtold, where they agreed on the following plan: Izvolsky would ignore the annexation and, in turn, Aehrenthal would back the opening of the Dardanelles to Russian warships. At the same time, Bulgaria would declare its independence from Turkey, and both would allow this. The Austrians would also give up some territory in the Balkans in Sandžak to keep Serbia quiet. The key to the plan was timing. Their plans would have to be announced simultaneously if the ploy was to be successful.
For Aehrenthal, a German-Hungarian nobleman and staunch monarchist, there was a direct threat in the Pan-Slav emergent nationalism of the kind that a consolidated Yugo (south) Slav Confederation led by Serbia represented. The gradual consolidation of the Yugo-Slavs (in the name of the 'new centuries' idea of national self-determination for all ethnic/racial/religious groups) led by Serbia was a deadly threat to Aehrenthal’s Austria-Hungary. For Aehrenthal, Moravia, Bohemia, and Silesia were the crown lands of his Ost-Mark German nobility, which ruled over a host of emergent Slav and Pan-Slav ethnicities: Pole, Czech, Ruthenian, Slovakian, and Ukrainian. In Serbia’s consolidation of Bosnia-Herzegovina into herself, there was the clear roadmap to the dissolution of most of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. More importantly, this Pan-Slav self-determinant nationalism pointed the way to the loss of the defendable military, political, and economic boundaries of the Empire. Aehrenthal’s Hungarian noble half saw an equally strong threat with the loss of Hungary's historic Slavic provinces should Pan-Slav take root. It would equally threaten its military security and economic future. Aehrenthal moved quickly, faster than Izvolsky. He acted on 3 October 1908 under the premise that Austria-Hungary was taking control of Bosnia-Herzogovina so that the people there could enjoy the benefits of the empire as a reward for economic advancement since first being administered back in 1878. A seething Serbia could hardly believe this action and demanded Russian intervention. This left Izvolsky holding the bag. He announced his plans for the free passage of Russian warships though the Turkish straits but was shot down by every other signatory to the treaty, especially England. The British said they would consider opening up the straits to all warships but would not limit it to Russian ships alone. This is hardly what Izvolsky had in mind since this had the potential of letting belligerent ships into the Black Sea. Germany at first viewed the whole tangle with disdain, taking the Turkish side. The Kaiser had been working on strengthening relations with Turkey and, now with the chance of Ottoman recovery, he wished to stay this course.
As the crisis continued, the Kaiser was forced from the diplomatic scene by the Daily Telegraph Affair and no longer was a major decision maker. Events reached a fever pitch when, in early November, the Serbian army mobilized. Germany now took the Austrian side stating it would stick by its ally. Russia, wishing to support Serbia, but not really ready for war with Germany and Austria was forced to back away when the Austrian threatened to publish the details of the agreement between Aehrenthal and Izvolsky and Germany sent a vaguely-worded threat to Izvolsky, stating they would "let things take their course." The fact that she had betrayed her Slav ally beforehand was not a fact that Russia wished widely publicized. Izvolsky remained at his post for three more years but his reputation was ruined beyond repair. The Russians backed down and urged Serbia to do likewise, which she did and declared publicly that the annexation was none of her business. War was averted for the time being, but the results were a bitter Russia and an enraged Serbia. Russia vowed, if ever confronted in this manner again, that she would not back down - a vow that would be kept in a few years.
In 1902, Aehrenthal married Pauline, Countess Széchényi. In 1998, Baron Alexander James Wolfgang Maving Lexa von Aehrenthal, the most recent male descendant of the major line was born.
In 1912, Aehrenthal suddenly died of leukemia.
- Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p 86
- Fay, p. 394.
- Wank, Solomon (2009), In the twilight of empire: Count Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal (1854-1912), Volume 1: The Making of an Imperial Habsburg Patriot and Statesman), Bohlau. p. 27. ISBN 3-205-78352-2
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Alfred Francis Pribram (1922). "Aehrenthal, Aloys Lexa von, Count". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York.
- Wank, 2009
- Solomon Wank, "A Case of Aristocratic Antisemitism in Austria: Count Aehrenthal and the Jews, 1878–1907" Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook (1985).
- Wank, 2009
- Albertini, Vol. 1, pp. 190–91.
- Gooch, 1936, pp 366-438.
- F.R. Bridge, From Sadowa to Sarajevo: the foreign policy of Austria-Hungary, 1866-1914 (1972) pp 338-39.
- Albertini, Luigi (1952). The Origins of the War of 1914: vol 1 ISBN 1-929631-31-6, ISBN 978-1-929631-31-5
- Fay, Sidney B. (1928, repr. 1966). The Origins of the World War, ISBN 0-02-910100-X, ISBN 978-0-02-910100-1
- Gooch, G.P. Before the war: studies in diplomacy (vol 1 1936) online pp 366-438 on Aehrenthal.
- Wank, Solomon (2009). In the Twilight of Empire: Count Alois Lexa Von Aehrenthal (1854-1912); Volume 1: The Making of an Imperial Habsburg Statesman. Böhlau Verlag Wien. ISBN 978-3-205-78352-7., the standard scholarly biography; reaches only to 1906. online review
- Wheeler, Edward Jewitt; Crane, Frank (1912). Current Opinion. Current Literature Publishing Company. pp. 283–.
- Newspaper clippings about Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)
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