A rotten ally - Britain against Serbia in WW1

2014 October 31
- Serbian original published 2011 November 30, Novi Standard

In 2008, Serbian historian and member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Dr. Dragoljub Živojinović published a book »The Reluctant Warriors: Great Powers and the Salonica Front, 1914-1918« [1]. Due to political upheavals in Serbia, the book went relatively unnoticed outside of academic circles, until Dr. Živojinović gave an extended interview to the magazine Novi Standard in November 2011. The original interview page has been lost in one of the many cyber-attacks against Novi Standard, but the text was preserved here.

Shocking discovery of historian Dragoljub Živojinović: long history of English enmity towards Serbia.

Documents obtained by noted historian clearly indicate the British were doing everything to make Serbia perish as early as World War One.

Recently published capital work by Academy member Dr. Dragoljub Živojinović -- »The Reluctant Warriors: Great Powers and the Salonica Front« seriously shook the foundations of historiography in Serbia as well as the abroad. With the shocking content of documents it presented, this priceless book has dispelled the long-cherished illusions about our friends and allies. It challenges Serb illusions and points the accusing finger at England, which had worked wholeheartedly since the very beginning of Austria-Hungary's attack in 1914 to see the Serbs and the Serbian state disappear.

What is interesting is that Dr. Živojinović began finding documents to this effect at a London archive some thirty-three years ago, and then completely by accident, while investigating relations between the Serbs and the Vatican. He is the first to reveal the content of these documents to the world.

From the end of the Great War to the date this book was published, the Serbs have lived a lie, calling the English their allies and even friends.

Dr. Živojinović: No doubt, the Serbs have invented these delusions about alliances and friendships. The Serbs have invented other delusions, which we yet have to face. But these delusions, nurtured for almost a century, were in the service of maintaining the belief that the French have been our only friend in WW1, while covering up the only truth -- that Russia was our only friend, until its fall.

You were the first person to discover these documents, and the first to tell the world about them. How do you explain this?

Dr. Živojinović: I assume that historians avoided these raw, unaltered, untouched materials -- that no one had dealt with before me -- because it spoke ill of those who created them, or because it painted a very ugly picture of relations between the Allies in WW1. Furthermore, those raw materials simply shattered our delusions about allies and true friends. Until now, we did not know the real truth: that in that entire tragedy, we had only one true friend. These documents revealed the cruel truth of dirty dealings behind our back that even our own historiographers were unaware of. Finally, they revealed that the Serbs bore the brunt of the Great War.

You said we had only one true friend. What country was that?

Dr. Živojinović: I was referring to Russia, a country we did not lean on. Quite the contrary, we had been a barrier to its influence in the Balkans. Yet the July Crisis of 1914 revealed who was our true friend and ally. Back then, Russia took a clear stand, and told both our enemies and her allies that she would not allow Serbia to be defeated or conquered, and would give Serbia every aid.

What was the French position?

Dr. Živojinović: France had a somewhat different position. Because they were in German sights, they relied on Russia -- but they also had their own interests in the Balkans and large investments in the Middle East. The French extended a friendly hand to Serbia mostly because of Russia.

At one point, English subterfuge and dirty dealings were too much even for the French generals, who began to protest openly?

Dr. Živojinović: After open English obstructionism at the Salonica Front, and a threat to withdraw the British troops, the French government reacted. It sent an ultimatum to England threatening to withdraw from the war if the British troops continued to delay offensive operations. The English were truly concerned at that point and gave in, but continued to sabotage the war efforts in that theater. Afterwards, they withdrew their elite forces from Greece and replaced them with units from India, completely unsuited for Balkans warfare.

Yet this English behavior remained a mystery in our historiography until recently?

Dr. Živojinović: The English were anything but friends to Serbia. Never friends. Quite the contrary, they organically dislike the Serbs, both their public opinion and their establishment. In 1914, they wrote the worst and the ugliest things about us. There was not a single daily newspaper, and almost no politician or general, who had any sympathies for the Serbs. This had been the case since 1903 [2]. At our moment of greatest peril, they lynched the Serbs in the media, openly extorting us and blaming us for starting the Great War, and the global carnage that ensued.

How did the English became our allies, then?

Dr. Živojinović: Out of interest. First because of France and Belgium -- to which they had a contractual obligation since 1830. But secondly because Serbia was not conquered. After the brilliant victories of Serbian arms at Cer and Kolubara, we became a factor the Entente needed.

Did the English opinion of Serbia change after these battles?

Dr. Živojinović: It was then the English hostility towards the Serbs manifested itself most openly and cruelly. When we asked for a loan of 800 000 pounds to purchase new arms and ammunition, medical and sanitation equipment [3]. The British replied with vile extortion, demanding of Serbia to cede land in Eastern Macedonia to Bulgaria. I was the first to discover the existence of this document.

How did the Serbian government reply to this demand?

Dr. Živojinović: They rejected it outright. To which the English coldly replied »No loan, then«. And there was no loan. What's worse, this was not the last extortion. Throughout 1915, they were turning up the pressure on Serbia. Their demands were unscrupulously exploiting our weakness and dependency on Allied aid. There were all sorts of pressure...

Even after bloody victories, they punished Serbia?

Dr. Živojinović: Not only did they coldly reject all our pleas for military aid, they were working to weaken our position behind our backs. They abandoned the proposed landing in Salonica. They abandoned the proposed security deployment along the Niš-Salonica railway, allowing the Bulgarians to cut this communication and thus destroy Serbia's last hope of saving its army and people. They punished Serbia by cutting it off from receiving food and medication. And when [Prime Minister] Nikola Pašić in desperation responded that Serbia would have no choice but to lay down its arms and surrender, then a veritable avalanche of insults against the Serbs started in England. After that, Pašić finally realized that Serbia stood alone.

You discovered another detail long hidden from the Serbian public?

Dr. Živojinović: After the Serbian Army and refugees reached the Albanian shore, the new torment began. King Constantine of Greece was an anti-Serb backed by the English to the last moment. So just when the French finally agreed to transport the Serbs to Corfu -- after much back-and-forth -- came the shocking surprise: the Greek government forbid the Serbian Army from setting foot on Greek territory. That was supposed to prevent the transport of our troops and people to Corfu. This English ploy was broken only when the Russian Tsar Nicholas threatened to make a separate peace with Germany. The French then picked up the Serbs without asking the Greeks' permission. But the English did not send a single ship to help. That was another one of their petty acts of malice.

The deceptions continued on Corfu?

Dr. Živojinović: It began with another deception. Under the guise of reorganization, they demanded of our Supreme Command to divide the Serbian Army into six divisions and send them individually (!) to the Western Front. Of course, that diabolical plan was rejected, and the English went berserk. Throughout 1916, their generals sent the ugliest and most hateful reports to London about the Serbian Army, calling it all sorts of names. The English generals continued to work against the Serbs on the Salonica Front, by blocking any attempts to launch an offensive or attack the enemy. They constantly threatened to withdraw their troops. Throughout 1917, they worked behind Serbia's back to preserve the Austrian monarchy, backed Italy over Istria and Dalmatia, urged the Romanians to seize the Banat and the Bulgarians to take Serb lands north of Macedonia. When Russia left the war, it seemed as if Serbia were doomed. But then came the »French turnaround« -- the ascension to leadership positions of Balkans connoisseurs Clemenceau, Guillaume and d'Espère -- and we all know the outcome.

What else have the English done to subvert and weaken Serbia?

Dr. Živojinović: At the Salonica Front, there was a Russian brigade that Tsar Nicholas had sent to aid the Serbian Army. The English were terribly bothered by this brigade, and were openly hostile towards the Russians. Their generals considered it a threat to the British interests, and they would not sit still until it had been removed from the front. That Russian brigade ended up redeployed in the east of Greece, so it would have no contact with the Serbian Army whatsoever.

There are countless examples of Serbs falling prey to their own illusions. However, war leaders like Živojin Mišić did their best to fight misconceptions.

Dr. Živojinović: [Prime Minister] Nikola Pašić and Regent Aleksandar Karađorđević advocated the unification of South Slavs. [4] Warleader Živojin Mišić openly opposed this, saying no one had the right to force Serb soldiers to die for the liberty of Croats and Slovenes; if they wanted liberty, they had to win it themselves. Soon thereafter, Mišić was forced into retirement.


[1] Original title: Nevoljni ratnici: Velike sile i Solunski front, 1914-1918, Beograd, Zavod za udŽbenike, 2008.
[2] In 1903, the Serbian Army overthrew King Aleksandar Obrenović in a coup. Due to the conspirators' murder of the king and his wife, the Serbs were described as »regicide savages« in the Austrian, German and British press.
[3] Following the Austrian defeat at Kolubara, the typhus-infected prisoners left behind (on purpose, one Russian historian argues) set of an epidemic in Serbia, killing tens of thousands in the first half of 1915. Hence the need for medical materials.
[4] For the background of that decision, see this essay by Zoran Čvorović.

Orig. url