Graf István Burián von Rajecz
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Graf István Burián von Rajecz
István Burián was born at Stampfen near Pressburg on 16 January 1851.  He was twice Imperial Finance Minister and civil Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and twice Imperial Foreign Minister.  The post of Imperial Minister of Finance and therefore Bosnian governorship was in the hands of Benjamin Kállay from 1882 until 1903. He was succeeded by István Burián, who made concessions to the factions.  Burian's military counterpart was General Marian Varesanin. Burián left the post in January 1912, as he was finding it difficult to reconcile the factions, particularly since the Hungarian Premier István Tisza had recently expelled the Ban of Croatia-Slavonia and instituted a dictatorship there.  The repercussions from one Slav state had effects in the other.  Burián was succeeded in that office by Leon Ritter von Bilinski.

A Professor Ascends to the Foreign Office

Following the resignation of
Leopold Graf von Berchtold as Foreign Minister, Tisza gave Burián's nomination to Kaiser Franz Josef, who was unimpressed by the choice because he knew well of the personality traits of his former Finance Minister--traits that might not be suitable for the position. Burián has been described as a professor, a cold personality with a noticeable lack of emotion replaced by a high level of logic; most regarded him as the most intellectual aristocrat they had ever known.

He was the type of man who listened motionless, almost glassy-eyed, without betraying the slightest expression.  One might wonder if he had heard a thing at all.  Then, he would respond robotically in a dry, school lecture without taking a breath.  These were the traits as described by his collegues.  They reveal a person born to serve in the bureaucracy.  If Burián was not much for social behaviour, he was a perfect fit for the Imperial Cabinet. 

At any rate, the almost intimidating nature of Burián caused the Kaiser to mull over the nomination a full two days before answering in the affirmative.  Kaiser Franz Josef was known for his tough persona-now he had an opportunity to wrangle with someone similar practically every morning.  Burián was also regarded as being completely under the influence of Tisza.  Indeed, they were the best of friends, exchanging highly detailed letters on an almost daily basis.

Play Nicely with the Italians

After assuming office, Burián had the important task of dealing with the issue of Italian neutrality.  General
Conrad first proposed to cede the Trentino region of Tirol in exchange for Italy's participation in the war on Austria's side.  However, the next day, he rescinded his scheme and suggested that the Italians should receive nothing and like it.  Chancellor Stürgkh picked up the idea by suggesting a promise to give Italy the Trentino, but at the same time concluding a deal with Germany to renege on the deal after the war.  As Stürgkh believed, "against brigands such as the Italians, diplomatic trickery is in order!" 

Burián himself was leaning toward Trentino-for-neutrality," as clearly Italian participation would cost far more than Austria would be willing to pay.  Tisza was opposed to Burián's proposal, because he feared the repercussions it might have on Roumania, another neutral whose interest in Transylvania was the most well-known secret.  Burián was converted to Tisza's line of logic, so much so, that the Austrians were heard to say "when the Hungarians speak of Trentino, they mean Transylvania."

By 27 January 1915, Zimmerman of the German Foreign Office was insisting on direct concessions to both Italy and Roumania to avert a widening of the war.  Indeed, the situation was daily growing critical as the fierce Battles for the Carpathians intensified and the Empire was pushed to the very brink of disaster.  Zimmerman's assumption that intervention by one or both of the neutrals on the Entente's side would have destroyed the Central Powers is most certainly correct.  Burián did not share the Germans' fears.  He was more nervous about public reaction to a territorial concession (inside and outside the Empire) than about the worsening military situation.  He refused to even publicly agree to a post-war cession of the Trentino, for he considered it a supreme act of weakness, particularly while a majour offensive was underway. 

The result of his vacillation was that the Italian representatives refused to meet with the Austrians as planned on 14 February 1915, in order to apply pressure to Burián.  At the same time, the Prussian Landtag had taken matters into its own hands and approved the cession of the coal-rich Sosnowice district of Congress Poland to Austria as compensation for the loss of the Trentino.  This was the Germans' subtle way of urging the Imperial Foreign Minister into action. Burián, the professor, was not cajoled into action.

By late February, Tisza's mind was being changed by the unhappy results of General
Böhm-Ermolli's offensive to relieve the fortress of Przemysl.  Tisza about-faced and insisted to Burián that the Italians should be mollified.  Suddenly, it was Tisza who suggested ceding the Trentino to Italy. 

With that, Burián reluctantly informed the Germans on 8 March that the Empire would transfer the region to Italy in exchange for their neutrality, the district of Sosnowice, and a favourable loan from the German government.  He also added that he must prepare the peoples of the Empire for the terrible shock they would experience upon hearing the news.  Of course, the peoples were preparing themselves for the shock concerning the fall of Przemysl.  The double-trouble of the loss of the "Key to the Carpathians" and the Trentino would have unparalleled demoralising results.

Burián's surrender was all too late, however.  On 3 March, Salandra, the Italian Foreign Minister, had  sent London a list of demands in exchange for their participation on the Entente's side; his list far exceeded merely the Trentino, and at first, the British did not know what to do with such formidable demands.  On 3 April, Burián received a note from the Italians with less extreme but still excessive demands.  In exchange for neutrality, the Italians were now demanding the cession of the Trentino, the Isonzo valley, and some Dalmatian islands, as well as a free state of Triest and Istria, and special rights for Italians living in Dalmatia.  It was all a bluff, of course. Salandra was buying time while the British considered his offer. Burián's first action upon receiving the note was to pass it on to the General Staff, and frantic preparations were made for a defense all along the Italian frontier. 

Burián formally rejected the demands on 16 April. The British signed the Treaty of London on 26 April 1915, promising all but the impossible.  Then, on 4 May, the Italians announced their withdrawal from the Triple Alliance.  In response, the Germans pressured Burián to accept most of Salandra's demands; this was because General
Mackensen's Dunajec Offensive had succeeded in breaking the Russians and the theaterwide Eastern Offensive was underway.  Any intervention by Italy would slow the forward movement and possibly turn the situation back over to Russia.  But events in Italy would not have allowed for accomodation. 

The pro-war parties erupted into violence in the parliament at Rome.  There was the threat of street riots and assassination.  The Italian government responded by immediately declaring war on 23 May 1915, before their armies had sufficiently prepared for an offensive.  In retrospect, Burián had played all kinds of delaying tactics, promising last-minute concessions (many of which the Kaiser had never even sanction) in order to hold off the Italians just long enough-all in the hope that the offensive against Russia would modify the Italians' perception of the Central Powers' strength. Burián did not formulate this policy until very late in the game. 

Land of the White Eagle

Burián also had to deal with the future of Poland during this time.  He was generally supportive of Finance Minister Leon Bilinski and his trialist "Austro-Polish Solution;" that is, Congress Poland should be unified with Galicia-Lodomeria and made the third member of the Empire, equal to Austria and Hungary.  Tisza was bitterly opposed to this and suggested that Austria should absorb Poland instead. Burián argued that Austria's population would then exceed Hungary's by 2:1, even if Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina.  In truth, Tisza was reluctant to run with this idea, because both he and Burián were sensitive to the historic friendship of Hungary and Poland, and he offered an independent Poland as the solution.  Even
Andrassy found Tisz'a proposal distasteful-he considered a triune monarchy preferable to both absorption or an independent truncated Poland.  Another "Piedmont" bordering Austria would surely threaten the Empire at a future date.  "Galicia is lost to us if Poland becomes independent," he insisted.  Nevertheless, trialism was out, as Tisza could not bear to have another state challenge Hungary's now-dominant position in the Empire.

What About the Southern Front?

By the summer of 1915, Burián was occupied with the upcoming offensive against Serbia, and he was preparing the diplomatic grounds.  The Eastern Offensive had a positive effect on the Russophile Bulgarians, who watched their traditional saviours humiliated with tremendous losses.  At the same time, the British and French, whose military was renowned throughout Bulgaria, was humiliated on the shores and cliffs of Gallipoli.  In short, the Central Powers were illustrating to the Bulgars just who was the more likely to win a World War.

Burián scooped the Bulgarians into the Central Powers' lap by making excessive offers of Serbian territory.  He touched the raw nerve still exposed from the Balkan Wars, when Bulgaria was humiliated by its former allies and deprived of Macedonian territory it had been promised from the time of its independence in 1878.  Timing was everything for the Bulgarians.  Once Russia had been pushed to Pinsk and the Entente began admitting miscalculations regarding the Straits, Tsar Ferdinand was prepared to exact splendid revenge on Serbia and complete the connection of the Central Powers "from Hamburg to Baghdad," as the Entente liked to refer to it.

With Bulgaria in the bag, the issue of what to do with conquered Serbia came into the fore.  Conrad was the final proponent of annexing Serbia to the Empire.  Such a suggestion was popular in summer 1914, but following the disastrous campaigns in Serbia during 1914, the Austrians were effectively sick of Serbia. Burián advocated a reduced "rump Serbia" to be dependent on the Empire.  This would solve the "Slav flood" issue that ruffled the Magyars' feathers so often.  Tisza adhered to Burián's suggestion, and drew up a partition scheme whereby Bulgaria and Albania would take most of Serbia, leaving the Empire either with the northwest corner as compensation or else the Sanjak of Novi Pazar as a wedge between Serbia and Montenegro.  Then, reduced Serbia would be left entirely surrounded by hostile states, unable to promote its nationalism.  Furthermore, Montenegro would be cut off from the sea and also surrounded.  All of this was debated in September 1915. 

By the time they reached an agreement, the Offensive had begun, and Burián counted as his chief triumph the invasion of Serbia by the Bulgarian army.  When they drove the Entente's expeditionary force back to Salonika, he was justifiably pleased with himself. Burián coined the term "Quadruple Alliance" to describe the new bloc that had formed in Europe, and he described it as unshakeable, dedicated to waging war until all members could make peace together.

While the Invasion of Serbia was occurring, Graf Andrassy travelled to Germany. 
Tisza warned Burián that Andrassy was trying to use the Quadruple Alliance's ascendancy to solve the Polish Question.  Andrassy saw Hungary's future as being tied to Poland rather than the Balkans, and therefore kept his mission secret from Tisza.  But, the latter was well-aware of his collegue's opinions. Burián meanwhile was left in the middle of this issue, sympathetic to both parties and both arguments. In early November 1915, Burián conferred with German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg on the future economic and political alliances of their countries and how it related to Poland, particularly Bilinski's notion of a triune monarchy.  Tisza approved of the closening of Austro-German relations, but he didn't realise that Burián connected it with the Polish Question.  The Germans were evasive, and finally rejected the Austro-Polish Solution.  They preferred to wait-and-see, especially as winter 1915-1916 left the Entente everywhere in defeat, and any decisions made at that time might adversely affect an expected offer of peace from Russia.

The Other Latin Neutral

As early as 25 June 1915, Burián was torpedoing the Germans' efforts to guarantee Roumanian neutrality by offering concessions in Transylvania.  For one, Burián was not amused that the Germans were making offers concerning lands that were not their own.  For another, Transylvania was probably the most sacred part of the Hungarian kingdom, mostly because of its threatened position vis-ŕ-vis the majourity Roumanian Vlach population.  To soften the issue, Burián did find himself inquiring of Austrian Ambassador to Roumania,
Graf Czernin, as to what Bucharest's attitude was and just what they wanted from the Empire.  During the summer, the main issue of contention concerned troop transit through Roumania to Turkey.  Roumania had allowed the transit of military supplies and hardware over their territory-a scandal that outraged the Entente.  However, the Roumanians were adamantly opposed to allowing troops to pass on their way to Constantinople, for fear that the Russians would respond with war. 

This issue was ended in November 1915, as Serbia was destroyed and direct transit to Turkey was assured.  With the evacuation of the Entente from Gallipoli in early winter 1916 crowning eight months of  victories by the Quadruple Alliance, Burián expected the Roumanians to follow Vienna's lead more willingly.  This, in fact, was the case up to the summer of 1916.  Suddenly, the surprise Brussilov Offensive split the Eastern Front wide open at Lutsk, and the Empire stumbled close to disaster.   Germany's Verdun Offensive failed miserably and was replied to with the Somme Offensive.  The Italians captured Görz (or what was left of it) on the Isonzo Front with great jubilation.  The remaining Serb army captured Bitolj (Monastir) from the Bulgars and announced that the liberation of Serbia was at hand.  Finally, another Russian push at Czernowitz caused the Austrians to fall back even further than before.  In the eyes of the Roumanians, the Quadruple Alliance was losing its grip on the edge, and perhaps their intervention could end the war with the promise of great spoils. 

Conrad was not unaware of the effect of these events, and dispatched a note to Burián, warning him of the vulnerability of the Empire's southern frontier. Burián, however, repeated his intransigence of 18 months before, and claimed that any concessions to Roumania in the midst of these terrible military disasters would be taken as a sign of desperate weakness.  He also insisted that there was no evidence of Roumania's defection to the Entente's camp.  By early August, however, the full impact of the summer had reached him, and he changed his mind.  Cultural concessions were offered to Bucharest, as well as suggestions that southern Bukovina could be ceded to them.  There were increasing reports that Roumania was preparing for war, and so General Arz von Straussenberg was dispatched to his native Transylvania in order to prepare a defense.  He arrived in Klausenburg (Koloszvar, Cluj) and joked that he was an army commander without an army.  Indeed, his newly organised I. Army was nowhere to be found.  By the time it was assembled, it was little more than 30,000 strong.  Across the passes, the Roumanians had assembled 400,000 men for the invasion. 

Roumania declared war on 26 August 1916, and immediately drove deep into Transylvania.  Panic ensued among both the inhabitants of Transylvania and in the Hungarian parliament.  In there,
Karolyi accused Ambassador Czernin of being sympathetic to the Roumanians' irridentist movement, and even demanded that Tisza, his whole government, Burián, and the entire General Staff resign forthwith as a matter of honour.  Karolyi also insisted that the I. Army be replaced by Honved and exclusively Magyar troops, who would defend their soil "like Lions."  Tisza had to warn Karolyi to cease such agitation during times of crisis, for as Magyar troops defended the Trentino from Italian incursions, so too would German and Slav troops defend Transylvania from the Roumanians.   The response by the Quadruple Alliance was immediate.  Within three months, the Roumanians were defeated and driven out of their capital.  Their defeat was a shining cap to an otherwise disastrous year for the Empire. 

An Offering  of Peace That can be Refused

Burián's last act--and failure--was the peace note of 12 December 1916.  Hoping to capitalise on the defeat of Roumania and the counteroffensive that robbed the Russians of all their gains in the summer, Burián drew up a note offering peace to the Entente.  The Germans participated in this scheme, but were annoyed by Burián's insistence that Belgium should be independent and by an additional sentence referring to Austria's intended annexation of Montenegro.  If the Germans were unimpressed by their own note, the Entente was even less so, and rejected it out of hand. Burián had already resigned by this time.  Surrounded by enemies because of his insistence durign the Peace Note debates, he felt powerless-Burián also found it difficult to work with the new Kaiser, who was much younger than he.  Graf Czernin then replaced him as Foreign Minister.  Burián asked for a less exposed office, and on 20 December 1916, he was once more Minister of Finance.  However, he was not finished with the Foreign Office yet.

Once More Into the Breach, Dear Friends!

Burián returned as Foreign Minister on 16 April 1918, after the resignation of Graf Czernin left
Kaiser Karl with little choice of candidates.  Burián remained at this post only until 24 October 1918, after many attempts at securing a favourable peace for both Austria-Hungary and Germany.  He was replaced by Gyula Andrassy, who oversaw the final collapse of the Empire.

Burián published his memoires, "Drei Jahre aus der Zeit meiner Ausführung im Krieg," in 1923.  He died at Bécs on 20 October 1922.

GWS, 3/01 [rev. 11/05]
Neutrality questioned: the U.S. sells arms to the Entente

Burian protests to the United States for selling war munitions to the Entente.  29 June 1915.

"The far reaching effectsof which result from the fact that for a long time a traffic in munitions of war to the greatest extent has been carried on between the United States of America on the one hand and Great Britain and its allies on the other, while Austria-Hungary as well as Germany have been absolutely excluded from the American market, have from the very beginning attracted the most serious attention of the Imperial and Royal Government.

"If now the undersigned permits himself to address himself to this question, with which the Washington Cabinet has been concerned until now only with the Imperial German Government, he follows the injunction of imperative duty to protect the interests intrusted to him from further serious damage which results from this situation as well to Austria-Hungary as to the German Empire. 

"Although the Imperial and Royal Government is absolutely convinced that the attitude of the Federal Government in this connection emanates from no other intention than to maintain the strictest neutrality and to conform to the letter of the provisions of international treaties, nevertheless the question arises whether the conditions as they have developed during the course of the war, certainly independently of the will of the Federal Government, are not such as in effect thwart the intentions of the Washington Cabinet or even oppose them.  In the affirmative case--and affirmation, in the opinion of the Imperial and Royal Government, cannot be doubted--then immediately follows the further question whether it would not seem possible, even imperative, that appropriate measures be adopted toward bringing into full effect the desire of the Federal Government to maintain an attitude of the strict parity with respect to both belligerent parties.  The Imperial and Royal Government does not hesitate to answer also this question unqualifiedly in the affirmative.

"It cannot certainly have escaped the attention of the American Govenment, which has so eminently coöperated in the work of the Hague, that the meaning and essence of neutrality are in no way exhaustively dealt with in the fragmentary provisions of the pertinent treaties.  If one takes into consideration particularly the genesis of Article 7 of the Fifth and Thirteenth Conventions, respectively, upon which the Federal Government clearly relies in the present case, and the wording of which, as is in no way to be denied, affords it a formal pretext for the toleration of traffic in munitions of war now being carried on by the United States, it is only necessary, in order to measure the true spirit and import of this provision, which moreover appears to have been departed from in the prevention of the deliveries of vessels of war of belligerent nations, to point out the fact that the detailed privileges conceded to neutral states in the sense of the preamble to the above-mentioned convention are limited by the requirements of neutrality which conform to the universally recognised principles of international law.

"According to all authorities on international law who concern themselves more particularly with the question now under consideration, a neutral government may not permit traffic in contraband of war to be carried on without hindrance when this traffic assumes such a form or such dimensions that the neutrality of the nation becomes involved thereby.

"If any one of the various criteria which have been laid down in science in this respect be used as a basis in determining the possibility of commerce in contraband, one reaches the conclusion from each of these criteria that the exportation of war requisites from the United States, as is being carried on in the present war, is not to be brought into accord with the demands of neutrality.

"The question now before us is surely not whether American industries which are engaged in the manufacture of war material should be protected from loss in the export trade that was theirs in the time of peace.  Rather has that industry soared to unimaginable heights.  In order to turn out the huge quantities of arms, ammunition, and other war material of every description ordered in the past months by Great Britain and her allies from the United States, not only the full capacity of the existing plants but also their transformation and enlargement and the creation of new large plants, as well as a flocking of workmen of all trades into that branch of industry, in brief far-reaching changes of economic life enompassing the whole country, became necessary.  From no quarter then can there come any question of the right of the American Government to prohibit through the issuance of an embargo that enormous exportation of war implements that is openly carried on and besides is commonly known to be availed of by only one of the parties to the war.  If the Federal Government would exercise that power it possesses, it could not lay itself open to blame if, in order to keep within the requirements of the law of the land, it adopted the course of enacting a law.  For while the principle obtains that a neutral state may not alter the rules in force within its province concerning its attitude towards belligerents while war is being waged, yet this principle, as clearly appears from the preamble to the Thirteenth Hague Convention, suffers an exception in the case "oů l'expčrience acquise en dčmontrerait la nčcessitč pour la sauvegard de ses droits" [where experience has shown the necessity thereof for the protection of its rights.]

"Moreover, this case is already established for the American Government through the fact that Austria-Hungary, as well as Germany, is cut off from all commercial intercourse with the United States of America without the existence of a legal prerequisite therefor--a legally constituted blockade.

"In reply to the possible objection that, notwithstanding the willingness of American industry to furnish merchandise to Austria-Hungary and Germany as well as to the Great Britain and her allies, it is not possible for the United States of America to trade with Austria-Hungary and Germany as the result of the war situation, it may be pointed out that the Federal Government is undoubtedly in a position to improve the situation described.  It would be amply sufficient to confront the opponents of Austria-Hungary and Germany with the possibility of prohibition of the exportation of foodstuffs and raw materials in case legitimate commerce in these articles between the Union and the two Central Powers should not be allowed.  If the Washington Cabinet should find itself prepared for an action in this sense, it would not only be following the tradition always held in such high regard in the United States of contending for the freedom of legitimate maritime commerce, but would also earn the high merit of nullifying the wanton efforts of the enemies of Austria-Hungary and Germany to use hunger as an ally. 

"The Imperial and Royal Government may therefore, in the spirit of the excellent relations which have never ceased to exist between the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and the United States of America, appeal to the Federal Government in sincere friendship, in view of the expositions here set forth, to subject its previously adopted standpoint in this so important question to a mature reconsideration.  A revision of the attitude observed by the Government of the Union in the sense of the views advocated by the Imperial and Royal Government would, according to the convictions of the latter, be not only within the bounds of the rights and obligations of a neutral government, but also in close keeping with those principle dictated by true humanity and love of peace which the United States has ever written on its banner."
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