In the years immediately preceding the First World War all the European countries were facing increased political dissent from the growing working class. The influence of socialist parties in France, Germany and Austria was growing. The 1912 elections for the Reichstag, the German parliament, returned 110 Socialist deputies, as the members of the German parliament were called.
In Britain there was increased political pressure to extend the vote to women and the working class. The years 1912-1914 were years of major strikes organised by a powerful union movement.Britain also faced increased pressure on the Irish question as Nationalist, those in favour of an independent Irish state, and Unionists, who wanted Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom disagreed violently over the imposition of Home Rule. The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 led to the 1905 Revolution in Russia, forcing the Tsar Nicholas II to introduce some reforms.
At the same time increased industrialisation led to a huge demand for raw materials such as rubber, copper, iron and gold. This caused intense imperial rivalry among European countries resulting in the colonisation and carving up of the African continent. This also led to an increased build up of military and naval power among the major European countries. Governments whipped up national sentiment in an attempt to gain popular consent for their aggressive colonial and imperial policies and to distract attention from domestic political crises.
Instability in the region known as the Balkans ignited the spark that would plunge the world into four years of carnage.
The Balkans is a region that takes its name from the Balkan Mountains, that stretches from Bulgaria in the east to Serbia in the west. It is a geographical region home to Slavic ethnic groups, and includes countries such as, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzogovinia, Serbia, Croatia, Romania and parts of Turkey.
It is generally accepted that the assassination of the Austria-Hungarian Crown Prince and his wife was the immediate cause of the outbreak of hostilities. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was an amalgamation of different nationalities and ethnic groups, many of which desired independence and self-determination. The leader of this movement in the region was the independent state of Serbia, which also provided political refuge for radical Slav nationalist movements in the Balkans.
On 28 June 1914, Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia, by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the radical Serbian nationalist group, The Black Hand. Austria- Hungary hoped to use the incident to subdue Serbia and the problem of Slavic nationalism within her borders. The problem was that Serbia had the support of a Russia, a major international power, who would come to her defence should she be attacked. Once the Austro-Hungarian government received assurance from the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, that Germany will provide military support to Austria if Russia intervened, Austria declared war on Serbia on the 28 July.
This declaration led to a number of armed mobilisations on the part of European countries in support of their allies. When Russia mobilised her forces on the Austro-Hungarian border, Germany began to patrol her French Border. France then ordered the mobilisation of her army on the German border. On the 1 August 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. On the 3 August, France and Germany declared war on each other. When Germany invaded Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany, as she was a guarantor of Belgium neutrality.
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