|Regicide at Marseille|
The depth and character of the conflict between the two Southern Slav brothers, the Croat and the Serb, is best revealed if viewed along the winding path of history.
From the beginning of the 12th Century up to the end of the first World War, the Croats had been living in political union with the Hungarians. The Tirpimir dynasty of Croatia having become extinct, the widowed Queen invited her brother, Laszlo, King of Hungary, elevated later to sainthood, to extend his rule over Croatia. His able successor, Kalman, "The Book-Lover," established with Croat consent, a lasting association between the two friendly neighbors in 1102. The kings of Hungary, who at the same time were elected by the Croats also as their kings, preserved the separate statehood and the national identity of their Croat domain. Under a representative of the King of Hungary, called the Ban, the Croats retained the freedoms of their hereditary constitution and the respect for their religion, language and traditions. As a result, during the eight centuries of co - existence, the Croats never resorted to revolt against their Hungarian Kings, but lived in good Christian order within the Realm of Saint Stephen. Never did they practice murder of political opponents to promote their national aims. At the end of the first World War, however, Croatia, together with several other territories, was transferred by the Paris Peacemakers to the then established Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (SHS). In deference to President Wilson's ethnic principles which Hungary bona fide accepted, she did not ask for the return of the Croats. On December 7, 1934, in the Council of the League of Nations, I have made a categorical declaration proprio motu in this sense.
Up to the middle of the 19th Century, in spite of existing ethnic differences, the association of Hungarians and Croats did prove exceptionally successful. A concept of the French Revolution: that of the centralized national state, however, did cause political friction in the last decades preceding the first World War. In regard to nationality, the Middle Ages were more tolerant than our modern era. From the year 1000, when Saint Stephen founded the Hungarian Kingdom, the
precept prevailed that "the King's deeds shall be governed by Christian ethics."1 There was no atom bomb and less demoracy in its present interpretation in that much belittled era. Life was less comfortable, but there was honest striving for spiritual achievements, and a fervent longing for the sublime, as expressed in the Gothic cathedral. In those far-away days, faith, chivalry, fortitude and decency, were regarded, though not always cultivated, as virtues becoming a Christian ruler.
Evil fate had placed both the Hungarian and the Croat nations across the highway of the Turkish invasions. From the beginning of the 15th century, they fought hand in hand against that deadly menace. It was in behalf of these nations, living up to the legacy of Saint Stephen, that John Hunyadi, the victorious Hungarian war leader, solemnly pledged: "We will either free Europe from the cruel Turks, or we will fall for Christianity, earning the Crown of Martyrdom."2 During the 15th Century, successful resistance against the Turks was led by the Hunyadis. But then, after centuries of successful resistance, for two hundred years Hungarians and Croats only averted their final subjugation by paying an excessive price in lives and human values in incessant wars fought against the Turkish invasions. The sacrifice and hardships loyally born together, formed a closer comradeship between the two nations than prosperity and easy living could ever have achieved.
South of the Lower Danube, in the Balkans, the Serbs, meanwhile more exposed to Turkish invasions than their neighbors to the North, were crushed definitively at an early date, 1389, in the battle of Kossovo. Henceforth, up to the beginning of the 19th century, much to their dislike, they formed a part of the Ottoman Empire. Previous to the loss of their independence, the Serbs had been attracted by the Greek Orthodox Church and had established religious, cultural and occasionally also political ties with Byzantium. This deep division of the Christian world between Rome and Byzantium separated the Serbs looking to the East from the Roman Catholic Croats who, up to 1918, had never ceased to form an integral part of the West. This historic fact, and most of all, five hundred years of life under Turkish domination, had hardened and Balkanized the Serbs. This cruel turn of
1 Emphasized in Saint Stephen's admonitions to his son - Prince Imre - who also achieved sainthood.
2 Dominic G. Kosary. The History of Hungary (New York, Cleveland. The Benjamin Franklin Bibliophile Society, 1941), p. 62.
fate accounts for the harsh incongruity of the personalities of these two so-called Southern Slav nations.
Thrust from a civilized Western system at the end of the first World War, into the turbulent semi - Oriental Balkans, the Croats could not help feeling unhappy. They refused to renounce their independent statehood immediately following the proclamation of the new Kingdom: Under the popular leadership of Stephen Raditch, the members of the "Croat Republican Peasant Party" elected to the Constituant Assembly, refused from the first day on to take their seats in the Belgrade Parliament, unless the traditional independent statehood of the Croats and their equal rights with those of the Serbs, were recognized. Never straying from the path of legality, Raditch, a truly democratic leader, devoted his considerable talent to the effective organization of the Croat peasantry against Pan-Serbian centralism.
Intransigent Croat middle - class groups (intellectuals, students, a number of ex - officers of the Austro - Hungarian Army, etc.) rejected even more categorically than did the Croat peasantry the concept of a centralized Yugoslavia which would have incorporated the Western - minded Croat people into the more primitive Balkans. A sizeable Croat military group, loyal to the House of Habsburg, preferred exile in Austria to life in Yugoslavia. They were led by the respected Generals Boroevitch and Sarkotitch. After 1526, the year of the tragic Turkish victory at Mohacs - when the King of Hungary, Louis II, and the flower of the nation lost their lives - Hungary, badly in need of Western aid against continuous Turkish invasions, had decided in favor of the Habsburg Dynasty, which reigned over their subjects, Austrians, Hungarians, Croats and others - from their Court in Vienna, where the loyal Croats were liked and well - received. There were however, Croat exiles who preferred to emigrate to Hungary. Most prominent among them was Ivo Frank, President of the Croat Party of Law.
The Peasant Party, meanwhile, continued its hopeless struggle for proper recognition of Croat nationhood. In 1924, having won a victory at the elections, Raditch suspended his boycott of the Belgrade Parliament and forced the uncompromising Prime Minister Pashitch and his Cabinet to resign. But King Alexander returned Pashitch back to power, and before the year's end he outlawed the Peasant Party representing the majority of the Croat nation, and had Raditch himself
3 0n November 24, 1918, by the Yugoslav National Council.
imprisoned. Released next year, Raditch tried again and again to obtain a reasonable compromise, but even after the death of Pashitch, December 10, 1962, the Croat demands were arrogantly denied by the Serb Centralists. Finally, a member of the determined Pan-Serbian group, Punisha Ratshitch, resorted to the ultimate argument. On June 28, 1928, he shot Raditch and two members of his Party in open session of Parliament. It became publicly known that Ratshitch had spent several hours in the King's palace in Belgrade on the evening preceding the murder and had there a conference with the Minister of the King's Court. Two months later, on August 28, 1928, Raditch died of his wounds. In Court, his wife named the King and his Court Minister as personally responsible for the murder. The chasm dividing the Croats from the Serbs became unbridgeable.
Events, tragic for all, followed thereafter in rapid succession. Having exhausted all their efforts at reaching an acceptable compromise, the Croat members of the Yugoslav Parliament left Belgrade for good, and set up in August, 1928, their separatist Parliament in Zagreb, the Croat capital. They also intensified their co-operation with other discontented nationalities. A number of these secessionist leaders met in 1928 in Paris, while Raditch was dying, to protest against the moral sanction given in the Pact of Paris to the odious Peace Treaty which had created Yugoslavia. Having lost all hope of a peaceful solution, the non - Serbian nations, forming the majority in Yugoslavia, declared war on the Serbs and their oppressive rule. A few months later, on January 9, 1929, when revolutionary pressures induced King Alexander I to proclaim his personal dictatorship, the piled - up hatreds of the oppressed nationalities obtained a visible target in the person of the King, on whom henceforth they could concentrate all their wrath. Herein lies the origin and the true motive of the Marseille regicide.
J. B. Hoptner, a sincere friend of the Serbs, describes in "Yugoslavia in Crisis"4 the harsh dictatorial measures imposed by King Alexander on his people: the King "retained all power for himself. He could declare war or peace, promulgate laws, appoint all civil officials, including the Premier, the Cabinet, and Army Officers. He held his own person inviolable and declared that he could not be held responsible or impeached for any act. He restricted freedom of press, person, association, and assembly. He abolished Yugoslavia's historic
4 Columbia University Press, 1962, p. 8.
provinces and reconstructed them into nine administrative units. He dramatized his unitary outlook by transforming the cumbersome title of KINGDOM OF SERBS, CROATS AND SLOVENES into a simpler "KINGDOM OF YUGOSLAVIA." He dissolved all political parties of a regional characters, Serbian, Moslem, or Croatian. He barred not only the formation of new parties but also the activities of those already in existence . . . despite all his efforts, the opposition grew."
The Croats were intransigent and unanimous in demanding separate statehood. But there developed a difference among the political parties regarding the methods to be used in the pursuit of this goal. The Peasant Party, carrying on its political struggle with non - violent means sent three of its prominent members, Krnjevitch, Kossutitch and Kezman abroad to urge France and England, the mainstays of the Yugoslav regime, to withdraw their support of the Serbian dictatorship. Meanwhile, the Peasant Party's new Leader, Dr. Vladko Machek, a loyal successor of the murdered Raditch, was jailed, only to be released when for the sake of democratic appearances, farcical elections were held, which the Peasant Party denounced as such. Utterly disillusioned, Machek published in 1932 a five - point secessionist program of his Party, which demanded a return to the situation that had existed on December 1, 1918, preceding the creation of Yugoslavia. After that, the Croats should freely decide under what form of Government and in association with which nation or nations they wished to live. As the leader of the Hungarian Small Holders Party at that time, I maintained friendly personal relations with the democratic Croat leaders, Dr. Krnjevitch, the Secretary General of the Croat Peasant Party, Mr. Kossutitch, and later also with Dr. Machek, whose common sense and patriotism I held in high regard.
In contrast to the steadfast resistance of the Croat Peasant Party, level - headed and law - abiding, as Peasant movements in Central Europe generally were at that time, the reaction of a sizeable proportion of the Croat middle classes against the royal dictatorship assumed an increasingly radical character.
The period of violence in the struggle for Croat independence started with the royal Putsch of January 6, 1929, which eliminated all hope and the last vestiges of constitutional government in Yugoslavia. The appointment of General Zhifkovitch as Prime Minister, certainly did not mitigate Croat resentment. On January 29, 1929, Ante Pavelitch
left Zagreb via Fiume for Austria on a self - imposed mission, irreconciliably determined to break up the Pan-Serbian Kingdom. Pavelitcb had been a well known Zagreb lawyer elected from that capital to Parliament and the Vice - President of the "Croatian Right Party" which published a newspaper, the Hrvatsko Pravo. Upon his arrival in Vienna, Pavelitch was received at the station by his friends Dr. Branimir Yelitch, and Ivan von Perchevitch, a former Lt. Colonel in the Austrian - Hungarian General Staff, who enjoyed the friendship of official and social circles in Austria. At about the same time, when Pavelitch found a haven in Vienna, his friend Perchevitch escaped via Hungary to Vienna where he participated at first in Pavelitch's organizational work. Later, he went to Hungary where he assumed the role of Chief of the Croat Refugees, who, in increasing numbers, but without papers of identity, and mostly penniless, were arriving there.
Pavelitch soon found himself in Vienna in congenial society among compatriots ready to support the Croat revolutionary cause. Milichevitch, who at that time conducted his Serbian counter - intelligence work from Vienna, writes that "The Austrian capital was the center of various emigrant movements and of the intelligence services of various powers, both great and small. More than that, it was the center of the Balkan countries' Communist organizations, headed by Bela Kun, former Communist dictator of Hungary, Georgi Dimitroff, head of the Bulgarian Communist emigration, and later head of the Komintern, and Dimitri Vlahov, the head of the Yugoslav Communist Party. In addition to those mentioned above, two terrorist organizations in the Balkans had for a long time maintained their standing representation there. They were the "Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization" (IMRO), and the "Kossovari," an Albanian irredentist organization. . . . Occasionally, the skirmishes between the groups within this organization, ended in murder or manslaughter. For instance, during the performance at the Vienna Burgtheater, Mencha Karnicheva, fiancee of the Bulgar terrorist, Ivan Mihailoff, shot and killed another Bulgar, Todor Panica, who was competing with her financee for the leadership of IMRO." This was the milieu in which the Croat revolutionary leaders became acquainted with the techniques of clandestine political warfare.
Dr. Branimir Yelitch - in the early thirties a Croat Youth Leader,
5 A King Dies in Marsielle (Hohwacht, Bad Godesberg, 1959) pp. 28 - 30.
who rose to prominence in the Croat Independence Movement- has related to me how the national policy of the Croat people gradually developed in a revolutionary spirit.6 The Croat Youth Movement was similar to those which had existed in Turkey or in South Korea, and other countries under oppressive rule. It sprang into life with unexpected vigor with its center in the University of Zagreb at about the same time when Raditch, the Croat National Leader, was murdered. This Movement called The Domobrariski Pokret published a paper, the Hrvatski Domobran, which under the impact of Raditch's tragic demise, spread like wild fire among the Croat people. Pavelitch, at the request of the 21 - year old Yelitch, joined the Youth Movement and accepted its leadership. Spurred on by the dynamism of the students, the Croat National Movement assumed from then on a revolutionary character.
There can be no doubt that the proclamation of his personal dictatorship was King Alexander's answer to the success of the Croat Revolutionary Movement. Toni Schlegel, the editor - in - chief of the Zagreb newspaper Novosti, a bitter opponent of Croat independence, had appealed to the King to stamp out that menace. Yelitch tells that Schiegel was a member of the same Masonic Lodge as King Alexander, and that it was there that he met and warned the King that the State would shortly fall apart, unless the King personally held it together. The Croat reaction, however, to the King's bold move was quite alarming. On the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Yugoslav State (January 12, 1929) the Yugoslav Army had to be ordered off the streets of Zagreb, such was the pressure of the mass-demonstrations turning into riots. Shortly thereafter Pavelitch left for Vienna, where with Perchetch and Yelitch, they established the headquarters of the Croat Movement for Independence.
Wholesale Serbian terrorism unleashed against the Croat menace filled the jails in Yugoslavia with Croat patriots. Many of the persecuted Croats fled abroad and, accepting Pavelitch's program of Croat independence, enthusiastically joined his Movement. They looked up to him everywhere, even as far away as in America, in expectation of their homeland's liberation, and accepted him as the Croat National Leader.
6 Yelitch, at present medical doctor in West Berlin, has published his Memoirs in the magazinc "Kroatischer Staat" disclosing these facts. He a!so is now president of the Croatian National Committee, with headquarters in Munich.
Yelitch truthfully states that during the first two years which Pavelitch spent in exile, he was opposed to all kinds of terrorism. Without saying so, the Serbian Milichevitch confirms this fact, in so far that in his story about the King's assassination there is no mention of any Croat act of violence organized abroad by Pavelitch prior to 1931. In the spring of 1929, the murderers of Toni Schiegel - the editor whom the Croat Nationalists bitterly hated - had not been sent from abroad, but were members of a youth group in Croatia proper. Pavelitch only decided to retaliate when after his visit in Sofia he learned that he had been sentenced to death by Belgrade. His would-be murderer had followed him to Livorno, Italy, and confessed that he was sent with the order to liquidate Pavelitch. It was then (1931) that a hard group was organized within the Croat National Movement charged with terrorist activities. This hard core was given the name of Ustasha, and Pavelitch became its chief, the Poglavnik.
The Ustashis7 were determined to conduct their uneven fight against the Serbs with all available legal and illegal means, somewhat like the Irish Sin Feiners did against the British. Mistreated Croats at home and persecuted refugees abroad, considered the country as being actually at war with their Serbian oppressors. They felt entitled to retaliate in kind. Dr. Branimir Yelitch8 has published a list of prominent Croat patriots murdered or executed at that time by the Pan-Serbian regime for political reasons.
Intellectuals among them, even priests, such as Svetozar Rittig, the parish priest of St. Mark's in Zagreb, and his clique, were hired by the Serbian government to organize demonstrations in favor of the dictatorship; severe beatings of the remonstrant peasants, particularly in the region of Lyka; arrests of Croat patriots all over the country could not intimidate the revolutionary Croat spirit. King Alexander, in the end, had to die, for hundreds of thousands of Croats, Mace-
7 Members of the Ustasha.
8 "Fight for the Croat State," published in the Croat language, in 1960, in Munich. This pamphlet tells that, in 1931, on February 18, two police agents killed in the street, in Zagreb, Milan Shuflay, the editor of Hroatka Pravo. The next day, the Croat freedom fighter Antun Pogorelec, was hanged. On June 11, the Croat revolutionary Ivan Roshitch was hanged in Belgrade; on July 25, the same fate befell Marko Hranilovitch and Matij Soldin, in Belgrade. In 1932, on April 21, Franjo Zrinski was executed in Belgrade; on June 7, an attempt was made against the life of Dr. Mile Budak, who later became the Minister of Propaganda in the Croat Independent Government; on Ju!y 14, the Vice - President of the Croat Independent Party, Josip Predavec, was murdered in Dugo Selo, on September 21, Stipe Devnitch was murdered in Velebit.
donians, and other exasperated patriots, in and out of Yugoslavia had staked their lives and honor on his destruction. His death sentence was publicly announced by the Ustasha in Belgium, its motivation was explained at a meeting in Pittsburgh, in the United States two days before the King was killed. Did the delegates sitting in Geneva around the Council table need an investigation to determine the responsibility for the regicide of Marseille? They all knew that the King had unleashed furies of vengeance which he could not recall any more. This is the truth, the whole truth about the regicide of Marseille, which was obscured in the autumn of 1934, by intrigue and hypocrisy centered in the League of Nations.
The moral aspect of the Serbo - Croat fratricidal struggle also deserves elucidation, for war-time passions and extremist policies have elevated the Communist Tito in Western eyes and have sullied the reputation of the Serb General Mihajlovitch as well as the Croat Ustashis. The unvarnished truth, however, is - and it has to be restated - that Mihajlovitch and his Serbs were the first guerillas fighting on the Allied side honorably and until death against Hitler and his Croat Allies. It is equally true that the Ustashis have never fought against the Western Allies, and had never invaded Serbian territory. Had the Serbs sided with the Nazis, it is the Croats who would have gone to the other side, that is the Allied. It must also be stated that, in 1941, when, following the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Ustashis installed their regime in Zagreb, they took an inexcusably cruel revenge on their opponents and continued the internecine fight against the Serbs until the cunning Tito knocked out all of them, the Serbs of Mihajlovitch together with the young King Peter II, as well as the Croat Ustashis, whom he exterminated to the last man.
I still feel perplexed while brooding over the Croat tragedy, because of the wanton destruction of the remnants of the Croat Army after the war had come to an end. It is not alone the cruelty of Tito who killed more than half a million Croat soldiers and civilians, but also the inexplicable behavior of the British Army Command. "For it was the refusal of the British Military Command to accept the Croatian Army's surrender - when it was bound by the Geneva Convention, and the moral principles of war to do so - that allowed for the slaughter of the Croatian Army by the partisans" (of Tito).9 On May 16, 1945, near
9 Stephen W. Skertitch, The Massacre of the Croatian Army. ( Cleveland, 1960), pp. 7 - 8
the Austrian-Yugoslav border, "on the Bleiburg field, an estimated 50,000 Croatian soldiers were slaughtered." ..."other huge contingents of Croatian soldiers and refugees, who also surrendered to the British military authorities on Austrian territory, were shipped back . . for extradition to Tito, despite promises that they would be sent to prisoner of war camps in Italy."10
"Actually, the total post-war Croatian dead numbered close to 600,000."11 That means fifteen per cent of the Croat nation, most of them young men! No worse fate befell any nation during the war on either side.
Shocked by the brutality of the reprisals taken against his people, the Croat Cardinal Stepinac12 asked the question, in a pastoral letter:
"does there exist a moral justification for the persecution of thousands of Croatian officers and hundreds of thousands of Croatian soldiers who in the greatest good faith and with many sacrifices, in order to serve the Croatian people, fuilfilled their duty as soldiers? . . It will not be too much to point out also in defense of these Croatian officers and soldiers the fact that they considered their fight to be a defensive fight against all the injustices that were committed, admitted injustices," by the Yugoslav regime.
It is a tragic fact that in the Yugoslav civil war both sides fought, not only with courage and patriotism, hut also with excessive brutality.
Each act of terrorism committed bred increased terrorism, piling up their victims, many of them innocent, until the entire structure generating such supreme evil was consumed by the fires which they themselves had ignited. During the bloody holocaust, all notion of right and justice was swept away. As a result of Allied victory, the loyal Serbian General Mihajlovitch was ignominiously hanged by the worst offender against Christian morale, the Communist Tito, who was allowed to oppress with armaments and funds supplied by the Allies, both the Serbian and the Croat nations.
10 Skeritch, p. 3.
11 Skertitch, p. 7.
12 Richard Pattee, The Case of Cardinal Stepinac. (Milwaukee; the Bruce Publishing Co., 1953), pp. 426 - 442.
|Regicide at Marseille|