The Congress of Laibach: Conservative Intervention Against Liberal Revolutions

The Congress of Laibach was a conference that the allied Powers of Europe held from January 26 until May 12, 1821 in modern day Ljubljana, Slovenia. Laibach was then the German name of Ljubljana, as the city was part of the Austrian empire. This congress was another attempt of the five European Great Powers (France, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia) to settle affairs in Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. It was attended by plenipotentiaries of all Powers, such as Counts Nesselrode and Capodistria for Russia, Metternich and Baron Vincent for Austria, and Lord Stewart for Great Britain. There was strong dissension between them, as France and Great Britain were friendly to the revolutionary movements, while the other powers were in favor of the totalitarian suppression of the revolutions, especially Austria under Metternich (more here) (Britannica, 2022). The British and French protested the suppression, thereby encouraging unsuccessful resistance among the revolutionaries. In fact, the British during that period supported the Greek revolution against the Ottomans on March 25, 1821. A result of the Congress was the authorization of Austrian intervention in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in order to quell the liberal revolution. The purpose of this article is to review the Leibach Congress as another conference of the conservative forces of Europe against the liberal revolutions that broke out at that time.

Celebration in Ljubljana during the Congress of Laibach, 1821. The square in the picture is named Congress Square in memory of the event.
Celebration in Ljubljana during the Congress of Laibach, 1821. The square in the picture is named Congress Square in memory of the event.

Background

On December 8, 1820, the three autocratic powers; Russia, Austria and Prussia, had issued the right and duty of the countries responsible for the peace of Europe to intervene and suppress any revolutionary movement that might threaten peace in Europe. Against this view, Castlereagh, Minister of Great Britain, protested in a circular dispatch, in which he clearly differentiated his position from this of the three powers. This agreement between the three members of the Holy Alliance was, of course, not accidental. A few months ago, a revolution broke out in southern Italy and specifically in the kingdom of the two Sicilies. Liberal army officers, members of the Carbonari (an informal network of secret revolutionary societies), revolted against Ferdinand I, the King of the Two Sicilies, demanding a constitution. This revolution was a threat to peace in Europe and had to be stopped before it could be further extended (Berstein & Milza, 1992/1997).


Disputes and Consultations

From the first moment it was clear that a breach between Britain and the other powers was inevitable. Metternich was anxious to secure an apparent unanimity of the states to back the Austrian intervention in Naples. His attempt failed and Lord Stewart was forced to an open protest, as said above. Capodistria then read to the assembled Italian ministers, who were by no means reconciled to the large claims implied in the Austrian intervention, a declaration in which the Russian emperor offered to his allies the aid of his arms in order to suppress any revolution that may occur. An attempt was made to revive that idea of a universal union based on the Holy Alliance against which Britain had consistently protested (Phillips, 1911).


The objections of Britain were, however, not so much to an Austrian intervention in Naples as to the conservative principles Austrians intended to impose. King Ferdinand had been invited to Laibach, because he might act as mediator between his erring peoples and the states whose tranquility they threatened. The result of this action was the Neapolitan declaration of war and the occupation of Naples by Austria, with the sanction of the congress. This was preceded, on March 10, by the revolt of the garrison of Alessandria and the military revolution in Piedmont, which in its turn was suppressed, as a result of negotiations at Laibach, by Austrian troops (Phillips, 1911).

Satirical sketch of the representatives in the Congress of Leibach.
Satirical sketch of the representatives in the Congress of Laibach.

The Case of Greece

It was at Laibach too that, on March 19, the emperor Alexander of Russia received the news of Ypsilanti's invasion of the Danubian Principalities, which heralded the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence. From Laibach, Capodistria, who himself was of Greek origin, addressed to the Greek leader the tsar's repudiation of his action. In this case, too, the British supported the Greek revolutionaries (Phillips, 1911).


The conference closed on May 12, 1821, when Russia, Austria and Prussia issued a declaration to proclaim to the world the principles which guided them in coming to the assistance of subdued peoples. The issue of the declaration without the signatures of the representatives of Britain and France proclaimed the disunion of the alliance. Within the alliance existed a triple understanding which bound the parties to carry forward their own views in spite of any difference of opinion between the conservative regimes of Austria, Prussia, and Russia and the two great constitutional governments of Great Britain and France (Berstein & Milza, 1992/1997).


The Congress of Laibach was not the only attempt by Europe's conservative forces to quell any possible revolution. It was preceded by the pivotal Congress of Vienna in 1815 (more here), the Congress of Troppau in 1820, and followed by the Congress of Verona in 1822. However, the Laibach Conference was the first organized by European powers to deal with an already existing revolution in Naples. And even more exciting is the fact that during the conference its members were informed about another liberal and democratic revolution, the Greek one. The revolution in Spain was the subject of discussion at the Verona conference the following year. Unfortunately, this congress was a triumph for antiliberal Austrian policy and for all the conservative powers. But the spark of the revolution had already turned into a flash and was not going to stop not in the following years, but in the following decades. The first revolution that shocked Metternich was the Greek one, as it was the first successful one and the demands of the Greek revolutionaries were purely democratic and liberal rejecting any manifestation of authoritarianism.


References

  • Berstein, S. & Milza, P. (1997). History of Europe, the European Agreement and the Europe of Nations 1815-1919, (A. K. Dimitrakopoulos, Trans.). Athens: Alexandria (Original work published 1992). p. 27.

  • Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2022, January 19). Congress of Laibach. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/event/Congress-of-Laibach

  • Phillips, W. A. (1911). Laibach. Cambridge University Press. pp. 82–83.


Image Sources

Peunik, A. (2021). The Congress. [Photo]. City Museum of Ljubljana, Kongres Magazine. Retrieved from: https://kongres-magazine.eu/2021/06/ljubljana-congress-exhibition-city-museum/


Russ, L. (1845). Celebration in Ljubljana during the Congress of Laibach, 1821. [Watercolor]. Albertina Museum's archive, Wikimedia. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leander_Russ_-_Parade_zur_Begr%C3%BC%C3%9Fung_des_Kaisers_in_Laibach_-_1845.jpeg

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Miltos Spiratos

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