1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Czernin, Ottokar, Count
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Czernin, Ottokar, Count
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CZERNIN, OTTOKAR, Count (1872- ), Austro-Hungarian statesman, a scion of an old Bohemian noble family, was born on Sept. 27 1872. He adopted a diplomatic career, was attached in 1891 to the Paris embassy, promoted to the rank of unpaid attaché of embassy, and then, after a lengthy period of leave, sent to The Hague in 1902. In that year, however, he retired and devoted himself to the management of his estates. In 1903 he was elected to the Bohemian Diet as a representative of the landed aristocracy. Here he attached himself to the German party, but demanded that every inhabitant of Bohemia should regard himself as an Austrian first, and only second as a German or a Czech. Connected by his wife, née Kinsky, with the Czech nobility, he tried to pave the way for a working alliance of the great landowners supporting the existing Constitution with the Conservative group in the Bohemian Diet, and in 1905 published a brochure with this object. In 1911 he published a signed essay on the measures to be taken to preserve the union of the empire (Zur Erhaltung der Reichseinheit), which represented the views of the heir to the throne, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, with whom he had become intimate. In Feb. 1912 he became a member of the Austrian Upper House, attaching himself to the Constitutional party. His speeches, in which he advocated a vigorous internal and external policy, made a great sensation. Czernin at that time was regarded as Francis Ferdinand's candidate for the office of Foreign Minister. In Oct. he went as Austro-Hungarian minister to Bucharest. His dispatches published in the “Red Book” show that even at that time he was of opinion that the secret treaty signed by King Charles with the Triple Alliance was nothing but a “scrap of paper,” and that in an international war Rumania would only be induced to take part on the side of the Central Powers by far-reaching concessions at the expense of the Habsburg Monarchy. He watched with regret the growth of anti-Austrian sentiment in Rumania, whose attitude after the outbreak of the World War proved the correctness of his judgment. He now sought even at a cost to win over Rumania to fight on the side of the Central Powers. But his efforts proved fruitless, because the leading Hungarian statesmen would not agree to Rumanian demands involving the cession of Hungarian territory. For a long time Czernin succeeded in persuading Rumania to remain neutral. When, at the end of 1916, she finally passed over into the Entente camp Czernin returned to Vienna. The foresight which he had shown as minister at Bucharest, the skill and zeal displayed in his intercourse with the Rumanian court and Government, and his good personal relations with influential circles at Bucharest, decided the Emperor Charles to entrust him with the direction of Austro-Hungarian foreign policy in succession to Count Burian.
Czernin was, and remained, a decided advocate of the view that the Central Powers could not obtain so crushing a victory over the enemy in the field as to be able to dictate the conditions of peace. Therefore, from the day of his taking office down to his resignation he consistently maintained that, even at some sacrifice, they ought to seek the conclusion of a peace which should preserve to them their position as great Powers. Czernin did not indeed contemplate the conclusion of a separate peace with the enemy, but as against German statesmen he insisted that Germany also, especially in the questions of Belgium and Alsace-Lorraine, would have to reconcile herself to concessions. By gloomily painted pictures of the military, political and economic situation of Austria-Hungary he sought to influence the German Emperor and the German higher command, and succeeded in awakening sympathy with his peace ideas among the members of the German Reichstag. Czernin was not only cognizant of the peace negotiations which the Emperor Charles opened with England and France through his brother-in-law, Prince Sixtus of Parma, but he approved of them. He knew nothing, however, of the contents of the letter of March 24 1917, in which the Emperor Charles spoke of his willingness to support the “just demand” of France for the return of Alsace-Lorraine by any means and by the use of his whole personal influence with his ally. But he himself was simultaneously engaged in trying to influence German statesmen in the same sense, promising in the event of their making sacrifices in the west to compensate them in the east, chiefly by the acquisition of Polish territory. But his efforts, then and later, broke down on the determination of the German army leaders to obtain a military decision. These men saw in Czernin a danger to the political and military interests of the Alliance, and attacked him violently. During the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk from Dec. 1917 to March 1918, the opposition between the views of the Austro-Hungarian delegation led by Czernin and the German delegation became strikingly manifest. In the negotiations leading up to the convention between Russia and the Quadruple Alliance, signed on March 4 1918, Czernin took a conspicuous part. A few weeks earlier peace had been concluded at Brest-Litovsk with the newly founded republic of the Ukraine. The fact that Czernin, in order to secure this “bread peace,” had ceded to Ukraine the district of Chelm, to which the Poles laid claim, aroused the most violent resentment among the Poles, and led to unsparing attacks upon him by the Austrian Poles. In the beginning of April 1918 his position was no longer tenable. The immediate cause of his resignation on April 14 1918 was the conflict between him and the Emperor Charles over the “Sixtus letter.” Czernin was one of the few active statesmen among the Austrian nobility who sought to continue their political activity under the Austrian Republic. At the end of 1920 he became the representative of the Liberal bourgeois party of central Vienna in the National Parliament.
For Czernin's activity in Bucharest and in the World War see his Im Weltkriege (1919). His despatches from Bucharest are printed in the Austro-Hungarian Red Book, Diplomatische Aktenstücke betreffend die Beziehungen Oesterreich-Ungarns zu Rumänien, 22 Juli 1914 bis 27 August 1916. A favourable view of Czernin's attitude in the “Sixtus Affair” is taken by Count August Demblin in Czernin und die Sixtusaffaire (1920); the standpoint of Prince Sixtus is represented in Prince Sixt de Bourbon. L'offre de la paix séparée de l'Autriche (1921). (A. F. Pr.)