Croatia in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia

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The Yugoslav Committee

The basis of Croatia and Serbia forming a union in 1918 is to be found in the complex history of the Yugoslav Committee. The Yugoslav Committee was formed by exiles living outside the Croatian homeland during World War I. The Committee was led by Frano Supilo and Ante Trumbić and included the famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. Each repudiated the Committee within a few years of the founding of Yugoslavia. "Yugoslavs" were Serbian, Croatian and Slovene people who identified themselves with the movement toward a single South Slavic state. Exiled Yugoslavs living in North America and Britain were the primary supporters of the Yugoslav Committee. Having established offices in London and Paris as early as 1915, the Yugoslav Committee became an active lobby for the cause of a united South Slav state during World War I.

The concept of a unified South Slavic state had been discussed by Croatian and Slovene intellectuals since the mid-nineteenth century. However, the "Yugoslav Idea" did not mature from the conceptual to practical state of planning. Few of those promoting such an entity had given any serious consideration to what form the new state should take,. Nevertheless, the Yugoslav Committee issued a manifesto calling for the formation of such a South Slavic state on May 12, 1915. The document, like the rhetoric of those who produced it, was vague concerning the form and system of government. It received little official recognition.

At the same time Serbia, led by Nikola Pašić's People's Radical Party, saw the "Yugoslav" concept as a useful tool in the long sought development of a "Greater Serbia."[1] As the War dragged on, the Allies began to think of the concept of Yugoslavia as a blocking force in the Balkans to counter future German expansionism. Although no formal agreement was announced until July 1917, the Yugoslav Committee and the Serbian Government-in-Exile worked hand-in-hand from November 1916 onward. On July 20, 1917 the Serbian government and the Yugoslav Committee issued the text of an agreement known as the Corfu Declaration which called for the formation of a multi-national state. The document was deliberately mute as to whether the government would take the form of Western-oriented Croatia or of the Eastern-oriented Serbia. The vast majority of the Serbian, Croatian and Slovene people had no knowledge of the declaration made by a small group of exiled intellectuals and the Serbian Government-in-Exile. Nonetheless, the signers claimed to speak for all South Slavic peoples and the Corfu Declaration became the justification claimed by Serbia for the forced unification of Croatians and Slovenes under the Serbian crown.

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes

As the War drew to a close, the Austro-Hungarian Empire began to disintegrate. The Croatian Sabor or Parliament met in Zagreb on October 29, 1918 to declare "the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia" to be a free and independent state. The Habsburg Crown recognized Croatia and transferred the Austro-Hungarian fleet to the Croatian government on October 31. The Croatian government in Zagreb was fully formed before the fall of Austria on November 3, Germany on November 11, and Hungary on November 13. The Yugoslav National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs was organized in Zagreb on October 15, 1918. This twenty-eight member Council was self-appointed, not elected. Although its president was a Slovene, the Council was dominated by Svetozar Pribićević,[citation needed] a Serb. On November 24 this self-appointed group called for a common state with Serbia. This is the body so often cited as having "asked" to join Yugoslavia.[citation needed]

Overlooked was Congress held just blocks away on the very next day. This was the Congress of Stjepan Radić's Croatian Peasant Party attended by almost three thousand elected delegates from every part of Croatia.[citation needed] The Peasant Party was the largest and most popular party in Croatia at that time[citation needed] and would remain so during the period between the Wars. It won absolute majorities in every subsequent election.[citation needed] This Congress assailed the National Council as arbitrary and unconstitutional and unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a "Neutral and Peasant Republic of Croatia." Following this Congress, there were huge demonstrations in the streets of Zagreb supporting independence.[citation needed]

Zagreb's brief jubilation quickly changed to the sober realization that Croatia would again be ruled from a foreign capital as Italian, French and French African forces invaded from the west and Serbian troops invaded from the east.

On December 1, 1918, Serbian Prince Alexander announced the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, with a Serbian King ruling from the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Despite the neutral sounding name, the country was called Yugoslavia by the diplomatic community almost from the beginning. Ironically, at the Paris Peace Conference the Yugoslav delegation openly insisted that it be known as the "Serbian Delegation."[citation needed]

The period of Croatia within ex-Yugoslavia (1918–1941)

The greatest promoters of creating a state of the Southern Slavs, i.e. the idea of Yugoslavia, were the Croats (Josip Juraj Strossmayer on the first place), but they did not conceive of it as a centralized, Serb-dominated state. Their aim was to preserve the Croatian national identity and the sovereignty of Croatia and to organize the new state of South Slavs on a confederative basis.

That is why the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, established in 1918, did not obtain the confirmation and permission of the Croatian Parliament. This state, created in 1918 from Austro-Hungarian part, (Slovenia, Croatia, Vojvodina, Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Serbia and Montenegro, which were opposing sides during the First World War (1914–1918), contained a germ of numerous future conflicts. It was composed of different traditions, religions, nations, languages and scripts.

At that time, the region of Vojvodina did not include Srijem (the territory between rivers Sava and Danube), that before 1918 belonged to Croatia (though it had belonged to Serbia, earlier).

The idea of Yugoslavia was the best opportunity for extreme Serbian nationalists to create the Greater Serbia, but this was not realised because King Alexander I banned national political parties in 1929 – a regime met by opposition from Croatia.

The Serbian legislature, juridical and military 19th century law was simply implemented into the new state without changes and without consultations with the Croats. It resulted in unbearable terror and persecutions of Croatian peasants and intellectuals. Croatian teachers were retired and persecuted.

Equally difficult was the economic terror of the Belgrade government. The Croats were not proportionally represented in the government and diplomatic corps. The old currencies – Serbian dinars and Croatian (Austrian) crowns, which in 1918 had the same value – were in 1919 changed for the new dinar in the following ratio: 1 dinar = 4 crowns[citation needed]

On the other hand,

  • taxes were lower in Serbia,
  • the major part of foreign loans was spent in Serbia,
  • high administrative posts were filled exclusively with the Serbs,
  • civil servants in Croatia were appointed by the central administration in Belgrade.

In 1918. Croatia and Vojvodina had much better economic situation than Central Serbia.[2] In 1920 only 20% of adults in Central Serbia were literate[3] compared to 88% ,52% and 36% in Slovenia, Croatia-Slavonia and Dalmatia respectively.[3] Their rate of literacy has been 2.5 times higher. Croatia had double more elementary schools than Serbia. Croatian and Vojvodina had 4910 km of railway track compared to 1187 km in Central Serbia.[2]

Persecutions of the Muslims by the Serbs resulted in their massive emigration to Turkey soon after the foundation of Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, where Serbia was the leading and privileged nation. The same happened to several hundred thousand Muslims soon after the Second World War.

On November 28, 1920 elections to the Constitutional Assembly were held. The Assembly was to be charged with adopting a constitution for the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The Croatian People's Peasant Party emerged as the largest Croatian party in the assembly, with 50 seats. The party subsequently held a congress in Zagreb on December 8 where it was renamed to the Croatian Republican Peasant Party, and a republican platform for the new constitution was adopted.[4] In response to this, King Peter removed Matko Laginja from the position of ban on December 11. In turn, the Croatian Republican Peasant Party boycotted the assembly.

The concept of “Greater Serbia” in Yugoslavia was put in practice during the early 1920s, under the Yugoslav premiership of Nikola Pasic. Using tactics of police intimidation and vote rigging,[5] he diminished the role of the oppositions (mainly those loyal to his Croatian rival, Stjepan Radic) to his government in parliament, creating an environment to centralization of power in the hands of the Serbs in general and Serbian politicians in particular.[6]

One of the most significant personalities in the Croatian political history was Stjepan Radić (1871–1928), the leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, assassinated in the Yugoslav parliament in Belgrade in 1928 together with his colleagues. Radić strived to renew the Croatian sovereignty and the economic and cultural emancipation of Croatia. He wanted the state of the Southern Slavs to be reorganized on confederative basis, without Serbian hegemony.

The culmination of the Serbian police terror took place during the personal dictatorship of king Aleksandar Karađorđević since 1929. One of the historical documents from that period, showing "methods" of the Serbian police and administration, is a bill on 13 dinars and 15 paras charged to a Croatian family in 1934 for five bullets fired at the father, who was sentenced to death. The families were persuaded even to pay the "expenses" of the execution within eight days, under the threat of confiscation of their property. Croatian archbishop Alojzije Stepinac reported about this event to the French diplomat Ernest Pezet in 1935. Belgrade also made use of the world economic crises in 1929 to destroy the Croatian banking system, which had been the strongest in Yugoslavia.

Croatian scientists were also victims of the Serbian terror. Milan Šufflay, historian of international reputation known by his numerous scientific contributions, especially in the field of albanology, was assassinated by a steel rod on a street in the center of Zagreb in 1931. After the dramatic events that followed, Albert Einstein and Heinrich Mann sent an appeal to the International League of Human Rights in Paris to protect Croats from the terror and persecutions of the Serbian police. It was also published in the New York Times (6 May 1931). As is learned from this letter, the newspapers in Zagreb were not allowed to report about Sufflay's activity; it was not allowed to attach a half-mast flag on the main building of the University of Zagreb in his honour; the time of the funeral could not be announced publicly, and even condolence messages were not allowed to be telegraphed. In their letter Einstein and Mann hold the Yugoslav king Aleksandar explicitly responsible for the state terror over the Croats. The letter concludes that it should not be tolerated that killings be allowed as a means to achieve political goals. "We should not allow killers to be promoted as national heroes." The king himself was assassinated by a Macedonian patriot in Marseille in 1934 (there are indications that there was a collaboration of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization with the Ustasha organization).

An extremely valuable account on the terrorist methods of the Pan-Serbs in Yugoslavia between the two World Wars has been written by Henri Pozzi, a French diplomat (his mother was English) and a close witness, in his book Black Hand over Europe, London, 1935. "The Black Hand" is the name of the Pan-Serbian secret terrorist organization, very close to the Royal court in Belgrade. It was the "Black hand" that organized the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, which meant the beginning of the First World War.

All the best posts in Croatia were occupied by the Serbs. Around 1930 the situation in Croatia was to following:[citation needed]

  • at the Croatian Ministry of the Interior 113 out of 125 officials were Serbs,
  • at the Foreign Office 180 out of 219,
  • at the Presidency of the Council 13 out of 13,
  • at the Ministry of Justice 113 out of 136,
  • at the Securities Bank 196 out of 200,
  • at the Court 30 out of 31.
  • Croatia had to keep about sixty thousand Serb gendarmes, police and soldiers.

The tendency of administrative parcelization of Croatia that started in 1922 was revised by the establishment of the autonomous Croatia - Banovina of Croatia - in 1939. It also included parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.


All this led to the formation of the Croatian separatist group called Ustasha, which gathered around Ante Pavelić (1889–1959). It had been supported by the fascist Italy. Croatia after the first Yugoslavia would be called the Independent State of Croatia (NDH, Nezavisna drzava Hrvatska, 1941–1945).

The actions of King Alexander Karadjordjevic and the state terror in the First Yugoslavia has also contributed to the Ustasa's method of revenge of genocide against the Serbs in World War Two-era puppet state of the Independent State of Croatia.

However, Serbian hegemony would be severely restricted in Tito's Yugoslavia, with the five out of the nine Prime Ministers of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia of Croat descent.

See also


  1. ^ Elections, TIME Magazine, February 23, 1925
  2. ^ a b Sadkovich, James J. (2010). "Yugoslavia , 1922-1960". Tuđman, first political biography. Večernji posebni proizvodi d.o.o., Zagreb. pp. 44. ISBN 9789537313722. 
  3. ^ a b Sadkovich, James J. (2010). "Tuđman's Yugoslavia". Tuđman, first political biography. Večernji posebni proizvodi d.o.o., Zagreb. pp. 314. ISBN 9789537313722. 
  4. ^ Šitin, Tonći.Stjepan Radić i Dalmacija (1918.-1928.)
  5. ^ Balkan Politics, TIME Magazine, March 31, 1923
  6. ^ The Opposition, TIME Magazine, April 06, 1925

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