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Count Ottokar von Czernin : biography

26 September 1872 - 4 April 1932

Ottokar (Theobald Otto Maria) Graf Czernin von und zu Chudenitz () (26 September 1872 – 4 April 1932), was an Austro-Hungarian diplomat and politician during the time of World War I, notably serving as Foreign Minister from 1916 to 1918.



Born in Dymokury () on 26 September 1872 into an ancient Bohemian noble family. In 1897, he married Marie née Gräfin Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau (1878–1945) in Heřmanův Městec (). His younger brother Otto was also a diplomat and served inter alia as envoyé to Sofia during World War I.

Early career

After studying law at the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague, he joined the Austro-Hungarian foreign service in 1895 and was dispatched to the embassy in Paris. In 1899, he was sent to The Hague but only three years later he had to resign as a result of a lung infection and retired to his Bohemian estates.

In 1903, Count von Czernin became a member of the Bohemian Lower House as a representative of the Deutsche Verfassungspartei. He quickly became a champion of conservatism and a defender of 'monarchical principles' and favoured upholding the monarchy and opposing universal suffrage and parliamentarism.Johann Christoph Allmayer-Beck, 'Czernin v. und zu Chudenitz, Ottokar Theobald Otto Maria Graf', Neue Deutsche Biographie, vol. 3, Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 1957, pp. 458–460. This brought him to the attention of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the throne of the Dual Monarchy.Bert Becker, 'Czernin von und zu Chudenitz, Ottokar, Count (1872–1932), in Spencer C. Tucker & Priscilla Mary Roberts (eds.), Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social, and Military History , Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2005, p. 330. As a leading member of Franz Ferdinand's so-called Belvedere Circle, Count von Czernin was appointed a member of the Austrian Upper House (Herrenhaus) in 1912.Holger H. Herwig & Neil M. Heyman, Biographical Dictionary of World War I, London, Greenwood Press, 1982, p. 123f.

Minister to Bucharest

At the heir apparent's request, Count von Czernin re-entered the diplomatic corps in October 1913 when he was selected as minister to Bucharest. The appointment initially caused some controversy as he was considered a notorious Magyarophobe, but he managed to persuade the Hungarian Minister President Count Tisza to agree.William D. Godsey, Aristocratic Redoubt: The Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office on the Eve of the First World War, West Lafayette, Purdue University Press, 1999, p. 141f. However, an interview in a Hungarian newspaper in January 1914 nearly cost him his job with Hungarian calls for his resignation.Godsey, op. cit., p. 148f.

As minister to Bucharest, Count von Czernin's mission was to investigate the value of the alliance with Romania and the possibilities to strengthen it.Godsey, op. cit., p. 141 However, he quickly reported back to Vienna that one could not trust the Romanian government if a war would break out. Following the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, he strove successfully to keep Romania neutral, thanks in part to the support of the aged King Carol I. Most Romanians did not share Carol's strongly pro-German sentiments, including Prime Minister Brătianu and his government. Count von Czernin recommended that Vienna should offer the withdrawal of Siebenbürgen (now Transylvania) and parts of Bukovina in order to persuade Romania to prolonge their neutrality, but the plan was strongly opposed by the Hungarian government. Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies in August 1916 and Count von Czernin returned to Vienna.William L. Mathes, 'Czernin, Count Ottokar (1872–1932)', in Spencer C. Tucker (ed.), The European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia, New York, Garland, 1996, p. 205f.

Count von Czernin at [[Laxenburg in 1918]]

Imperial Foreign Minister

Following the accession of Karl I as the new emperor, Count von Czernin was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs on 23 December 1916, replacing Baron Burián von Rajecz. Both men shared the view that a rapid conclusion of peace was necessary to avoid the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire.Becker, op. cit.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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