The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book review

The Falcon and the Eagle

  • THE FALCON AND THE EAGLE: MONTENEGRO AND AUSTRIA, 1908-1914, by John D. Treadway; Purdue University Press, 349 pp. $18.00

Reviewed by WK. v. U.-Ziechmann

Aptly titled, The Falcon and The Eagle, while of particular interest to the student of diplomatic historiy, makes absolutely fascinating reading, even for those general scanners who have but the most fleeting impression of the immediate background leading to the outbreak of war in 1914. The author, a professor of history at the University of Richmond, is thoroughly grounded in his subject, having received his doctorate from the University of Virginia, but equally important, having studied at the University of Kiel in West Germany, as well as at the Indiana University extension in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and the University of Belgrade. Thus, he is not merely conversant with documents in English, but also those in German and Serbian. His extensive bibliography will attest to an avid quest, à la Ranke, for source material. Particularly astonishing is his thorough searching and knowledge of the archives and libraries in Belgrade and Cetinje, a task seldom undertaken by Western historians. Nevertheless, the wealth of documents to be found in Vienna’s Hof und Staatsarchiv (some apparently untouched until now) by far outshines and outnumbers those in Cetinje, the old Montenegrin capital, as unfortunately many of the Montenegrin documents were irretrievably lost during the course of the First World War.

Just as unfortunately, the chief formulator of Montenegrin foreign policy, the patriarchal King Nicholas, had a penchant for not committing most of the details of his policymaking to pen and paper.

Heretofore, virtually every major study of the events leading to Sarajevo, 1914 has dealt exclusively with Austrian-Serbian relations, either from neglecting or ignoring Montenegro’s chess game with the vast Habsburg Empire to her north. After all, the Kingdom of Serbia headquartered in Belgrade not its rival, the tiny Serb land of Montenegro (Italian for “Black Mountain") furnished the causus belli that put an end to the beautiful, but catastrophic, summer of 1914. (Montenegro, which began as a theocracy under a prince-bishop [vladik] of the Orthodox church had become a secularized principality under Danilo II in 1852 and a kingdom [with Austrian approval] only four years before in 1910.)

Professor Treadway is not the first historian to illustrate the intrigues, great and small, which filled the vacuum created by the decline of the Ottoman Empire. It would seem that he is the first to fit Montenegro into the disparate Balkan mosaic vis-à-vis the dominating powers of Europe. Further, he demonstrates both the rivalry and the distrust between the dynasties of Belgrade and Cetinje over inheritance of the mantle of Stephan Dusan and the great Serbian Empire of the Middle Ages, an empire which had lasted until its defeat at the hands of the Turks in the l4th Century. It could be said that some 20th Century Serbians looked upon the Montenegrins as boorish louts, it should also be pointed out that Montenegro’s Nicholas I of the Petrovic-Njegos family looked upon the rival Obrenovic family with outrage when the upstart, Milan, assumed the rank of King of Serbia in 1882. Yet he was hardly more enthusiastic when his own son-in-law, Peter Karadjordjevic (Karageorgevic), occupied the bloodstained throne of Belgrade in 1903. With Serbia quickly replacing Montenegro as Russia’s favorite and chief agent in the Balkans, Nicholas was more prone toward rapprochement with Austria, despite ethnic and linguistic differences, than with Serbia.

Montenegro’s and Serbia’s relationship, kinship and feuds are very reminiscent of those of Lebanon-Syria, although the fierce independent Druses are more akin to the hardy mountaineers of the Black Mountain than are the denizens of either Beirut or Damascus. Yet one might be as imprudent as the other, and so Montenegro was eventually (1921) swallowed up undcr the Karadjordjevic standard of Greater Serbian Yugoslavism — much as their spititual brothers of the seething Levant might well fall to a form of Greater Syrianism. The Balkans do not possess a monopoly on either intrigue or intransigence.

The cunning fox of Centinje, Nicola of Cma Gora, descended from Herzogovinian stock, received the nickname “Father-in-Law of Europe.” The temperamental ruler’s comic penury gave inspiration to Franz Lehar’s operetta, The Merry Widow, as he simultaneously sought to replenish his empty coffers and extend his frontiers, often provoking and antagonizing the foreign office of his bigger and more arrogant Austrian neighbor, the Ballhausplatz, but not necessarily the more tolerant Imperial Court, the Hofburg.

In 1911, the wily Nicholas of Montenegro had remonstrated with the Austro-Hungarian Minister to Cetinje, Baron Wladimir Giesl of Gieslingen (who would serve as the minister to Belgrade at the outbreak of war):

We lack Austria’s strength. but we are a small courageous people. We, the falcons of the Black Mountain, yearn to soar ahead of Austria’s eagles.

Foolhardy and reckless abandon, of course, but in his 56 year role (1860-1918) — only the venerable Franz Josef, with a 68 year reign (1848-1916), outdid him on the Continent) — Nicholas followed an anomalous zig-zag course, motivated by a self defeating desire for territorial expansion. His territorial acquisitions in the Balkan Wars (1912-13) did little to alleviate economic misery at home, and probably exacerbated matters, leading to discontent, vexation and isolation.

In his meticulously written volume of maturity and incisiveness, Dr. Treadway has made a judicious contribution to both European diplomatic history and historiography in dispersing two myths: (1) that Montenegro was the servile handmaiden of Serbia and Russia, and (2) that Germany was constantly trying to goad Austria-Hungary into war.

An excellent study, of interest to both the scholar and the historical amateur.