|Regicide at Marseille|
It was not my intention to captivate the reader of my recollections with a murder story. This book was conceived as a survey of the political disintegration of Europe in the light shed by the Marseille regicide. This narrative, however, would be incomplete, if the responsibility for the murder of King Alexander I. of Yugoslavia were not properly established.
What conclusions did the French Court arrive at, at the trial of the King's assassins? In February 1936, at Aix - en - Provence, it started with a negative sensation: the widowed Queen Marie did not appear in Court, and her civil plaint was withdrawn by her private representative, the distinguished French statesman, J. Paul-Boncour. The Queen - he writes in his Memoirs1 - "bowed to the political considerations put to her and strengthened, to her painful surprise, by the declaration of agreement on the part of the French Government." Stojadinovitch, the Yugoslav Prime Minister, supported the French stand and "did not make a secret of the fact that this was in conformity with Mussolini's wish," who promised he would have Pavelitch and Kvaternik sentenced by a Special Court. Paul-Boncour, prevented from disclosing the political background of the crime, was disappointed of course, but retained his objectivity.
"It would have been exaggerating matters" - wrote this friend of the Yugoslavs2 - "to ascribe any immediate blame to the Fascist Government, and I (P.B.) should not have gone as far as that in my plea (emphasis mine). But it did seem to be an established fact that the Italian Government had accorded generous hospitality to Croat agitators, who served its purpose inasmuch as they created difficulties for Yugoslavia. The Croats had to a great extent abused that hospitality to prepare for their crime. It is perfectly obvious that this fact must needs have rendered the trial very embarrassing to the Italian Government." In complete knowledge of the relevant facts, I concur with Paul-Boncour's judgement.
Paul-Boncour was helpful in straightening out Hungary's record
1 Milichevitch, Ibid., p. 108 - 9, quotcs thcse "Mernoirs"' publishcd by Plon, Paris, 1946.
2 lbid., p. 107.
also. Referring in his Memoirs2 to photographs of ranges where the Ustashis conducted firing practice (these were maliciously submitted to the League of Nations as picturing Yanka Puszta in Hungary), he admitted that he "had thought it strange that such ranges should have been sited in Hungary. In any case, interpretations of this kind were advanced, with a view to sparing Italy, in the Council of the League of Nations, when it dealt with the assassination. However, the mountains in the background hardly fitted into the picture of the Hungarian Puszta, cut by the peace treaties." With no other evidence, but these pictures falsely described as Hungary, Milichevitch yielded to his hostile impulses In accusing Hungary of participation in the Marseille regicide3. He named Mussolini, Pavelitch and Mihailoff, but was unable to mention any guilty Hungarian by name.
During the depressing years of the Second World War, in Washington, D.C., I discussed in good comradeship with the straightforward Serb patriot, Konstantin Fotitch, every detail of the Marseille regicide, so badly garbled by international intrigue. He had ably supported his government in Geneva as the permanent Yugoslav Delegate to the League, but he, as well as I, was familiar with the entire background of the Marseille regicide. He admitted frankly that Hungary had been picked by Laval and Benes as the scape - goat in order to avoid a deterioration of French - Little Entente relations with Italy. Inadvertently, even Milichevitch has admitted4 that "the French Government insisted that the only material used in support of the Yugoslav motion at the League of Nations be that concerning Hungary and Janka - Puszta." [emphasis mine] The truth about Hungary's role was simply the following: for three years Hungary had been granting shelter to persecuted Croat political refugees, not exceeding the hospitality which they were enjoying in any other civilized country, (Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, England, etc.). No Hungarian official or private person was involved in, or accused of any hostile act against Yugoslavia in connection with the crime of Marseille.
The plan followed by the Ustashis in carrying out the King's assassination was identical with the terrorist technique previously developed in Macedonia and Serbia. Paul-Boncour cannot help noting5 how retribution followed the same path which the original evil had
3 Ibid., p. 79.
4 Ibid., p. 85.
5 Ibid., p. 106.
chosen. "Precisely as had been the case in the Sarajevo affair, those charged with the assassination itself were not identical with those who had furnished the weapons. Just as in Sarajevo, two groups had crossed the frontier at different points - before meeting at Aix - en - Provence. In the background, political agitators could be recognized, who, although they played no direct part in the plot, belonged to its spiritual instigators." The ghosts of Sarajevo had revisited Serbia at Marseille.
At the Aix - en - Provence trial, the prosecution raised its accusation purely on legal grounds, characterizing the indicted Ustashis as a gang of hired criminals, and without reference to their political motives. Among the victims killed in Marseille there were four French citizens also and the presiding judge cooled off the protests of the Ustashis by reminding them6 that they "could just as well have used their own country to carry out their revolutionary deed" without coming to France and there claiming innocent victims. "The Croat Association, Pittsburgh, (USA) had briefed Maitre George Desbons of the Paris Chambers for the defense of the accused,"6 and in his role of defending advocate, the fiery Desbons insisted on having the political background of the crime elucidated by the Court. At the demand of the Prosecutor General, Maitre Desbons was ordered out of Court, when he put French justice into doubt. But by provoking his ejection, the shrewd lawyer had bluntly called attention to the political motives of the Marseille regicide which could no more be ignored. When, two months later, the proceedings were reopened, witnesses and the accused themselves brought to light the oppression of the Croats which gave birth to the revolutionary movement of the Ustashis. Dr. Yelitch, in his letter of July 18,1963, called my attention to an important admission by Lava!. He had been a schoolmate of Desbons and, after an estrangement, they renewed their earlier friendship during the Second World War. Laval then confided to Desbons that in the interest of France the truth had to be suppressed at the trial of the Marseille regicide and that injustice had been done to Desbons.6a
In his report on the trial, Alexandre Guibbal, a Commissioner of the French Police Mobile, points to the fact that secret societies in
6 Report by Alexander Guibbal, Commissioner of the Police Mobile, quoted by Milichevitch, p. 129 - 30.
6a According to Yelitch this admission was published in Buenos Aires in the periodical Croat Republic and in Germany in the booklet Croat Republic.
the Balkans, among them the Ustashis, "do not by any means consist of ex - convicts or dishonourable men or women, but, regarded from a general legal aspect, of honourable people who are convinced that they are genuine patriots and are simply obeying their ideals."7
The Prosecutor General asked for a death sentence, but the Jury granted extenuating circumstances in the case of the three accused. Finally, the Assizes passed a verdict as follows: "The prisoners at the bar, Kralj, Rajitch and Pospishil, were found to be accessories before the fact, and sentenced to hard labour for life. Further proceedings were instituted, and three of the organizers, namely Pavelitch himself, Perchevitch, and Kvaternik, whose extradition the French Government had been unable to obtain, were sentenced to death in absentia."8
In his presentation of the trial, Police Commissioner Guibbal9 proceeds to characterize the accused Ustashis present. Mijo Kralj's mental faculties, according to psychiatrists, had suffered somewhat under the strain caused by the attempt on the royal car in Marseille. "His face constantly bore a happy and almost mocking expression." Ivo Rajitch "looked ill, presented the appearance of a somewhat resigned disciple of a fatalist doctrine." Zvonimir Pospishil's masklike face "registered determination - the eyes were those of an illuminate, a little frightening, perhaps, yet reflecting honesty and courage." According to Milichevitch9 the three condemned Ustashis were released from jail in France, in 1940, by the Nazis, but were put to death during the war by Antun Godine,10 at that time Chief of the Croat Secret Police. The three liberated Ustashis had become dissatisfied with their treatment back home and were talking too much for their own good.
I have known personally two leaders of the Ustashis who were sentenced to death in absentia. Ivan von Perchevitch was married to the sister of a Hungarian diplomat and I met him occasionally in Budapest society. Educated in Vienna, he was soft - spoken and refined. This Croat patriot was highly regarded by his colleagues during their struggle for independence, and in 1941, when it was achieved, he was appointed the Chief of Staff of the Croat Army. At the war's end, as a prisoner of war, he was extradited by the Allies to Tito's hangmen.
7 Mi!ichevitch, Ibid., p. 132.
8 lbid., p. 81.
9 Ibid., p.. 130.
10 Tbe husband of the "Blond Lady."
I also met Ante Pavelitch once, in Zurich, some time in 1933. He came to see me so that we could discuss relations between Hungary and the future independent Croatia. Dark and robust, with a sharp profile, he had a strong appeal to the masses. Our meeting was quite successful, for we both accepted the prinicple of self-determination as the solution of the existing territorial problems messed up by the Paris Peacemakers. I assured Pavelitch that Hungary would not claim Croatia, or any part of Croat-inhabited territory, and Pavelitch made to me a similar declaration concerning former Hungarian territories transferred to Yugoslavia in 1919. There remained, however, a relatively small enclave near the Austrian border, wedged in between the Drava and Mura rivers, which both nations could claim bona fide. True to principle, we then and there agreed that this problem should be decided by a plebiscite whenever the occasion would present itself. Pavelitch also showed understanding of my request that independent Croatia should grant to Hungarian trade easy access to the Adriatic Sea.
Following Pavelitch's condemnation to death, Italy refused to extradite him to France. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941, he became the "Poglavnik" (Leader) of his tortured homeland. I do not quite see why the regicide of Marseille should be judged more severely than recent identical crimes in Irak or Yemen where the assassins were shortly thereafter ceremoniously recognized by the Great Powers as legally constituted governments. Yet, the cruelty with which Pavelitch took revenge not only on his political opponents, but on the Serbs generally, sets a mark of disgrace upon his "grim and brutal"11 role. The leader of the Croat Peasant Party, the moderate Dr. Vladko Machek had condemned Pavelitch in no uncertain terms; and also the one time Ustasha leader, Dr. Branimir Yelitch, the present Chairman of the Croat National Committee, has expressed his resentment at Pavelitch's misdeeds. In 1945, Pavelitch fled before the advancing Allies, first to Italy and then to Argentina, where in 1957 an attempt was made against his life. Recovered, he moved to Paraguay, and finally to Germany, where he recently reached the end of his tempestuous journey.
There still remains a question of historic interest. To what extent was Mussolini involved in the regicide of Marseille? Let us raise the
11 Mr. Eden's words.
question asked in such cases in ancient Rome: "Cui prodest"? In whose interest had it been to do away with King Alexander? Following the murder of the Austrian Chancellor, Dollfuss, it became an urgent endeavor of Mussolini to steer King Alexander away from Hitler. Mussolini was negotiating with Chambrun, the French Ambassador, a policy of rapprochment which very shortly, in January, 1935, led to the French - Italian Pact of Rome, and in April to the Conference of Stresa. Would Mussolini deliberately upset his own foreign policy by having the King of Yugoslavia, a highly valued ally of France, murdered? Unquestionably, Italy had given shelter, and material and political aid to the Croat refugees; their leaders had been received by leading Fascist functionaries Mussolini maintained an extremely benevolent attitude toward the Ustasha, which he eventually intended to use against Yugoslavia in case of an emergency. The Italian Secret Service established intimate ties with the Ustashis, as almost any Intelligence Agency would have done. That Croat sword may even have been sharpened in Italy - but it was kept there, in its scabbard, It was the Leaders of the Ustasha who decided to strike, when they had become aware of the rapprochment between King Alexander and Mussolini which was being secretly negotiated and which appeared dangerous to Croat national ambitions.
In his judiciously written book, "Hungary, the Unwilling Satellite,"12 John F. Montgomery, Roosevelt's envoy to Hungary for eight years, has published interesting documents on secret negotiations conducted by Guido Malagola, an Italian friend of King Alexander, with Mussolini. "Judging from these documents," comments Montgomery,13 "if the latter did connive in the assassination of Alexander, it would seem to have been one of the most stupid moves possible." Exactly as Francis Ferdinand, the Crown Prince of Austria and Hungary, was murdered by Serb extremists because he sought a peaceful solution of the menacing Southern - Slav aspirations, King Alexander of Yugoslavia was murdered by Croat extremists because he betrayed willingness to come to terms with Italy. That compromise might have relegated into the background the Croat demand for independent statehood.
Italian responsibility for the Marseille regicide was on the same level as the complicity of Bulgaria for tolerance of the illegal acts of
12 The Dcvin - Adair Co., New York, 1947
13 Ibid., p. 74.
Imro. Mihailoff's pro - Soviet policies secured for the Imro, NKVD assistance, when needed. Peter Danov, the founder of the Danovist sect, became an intimate collaborator of the Soviet Embassy in Sofia, while enjoying favors of the Bulgarian Government. Danov provided asylum to political criminals, such as Georgiyeff-Kerin, the murderer of King Alexander, who at one time had been a member of the Communist Party.14 Surviving the Communist takeover of Bulgaria after the war, Danov retained the friendship of the Soviets. Living most dangerously, he seems to have had seven lives, like a cat.
Most responsible among all the factors which contributed to the regicide of Marseille, are, in my mind, the secret organizations in the Balkans which in our century have infested life in Southeastern Europe. They were instrumental also in infiltrating International Communist agents into organizations of the free world. It is not the card - carrying Party members, and not even the spies of the Soviet Intelligence Services, but the third, deeply hidden level, the clandestine network of executioners and saboteurs which is mainly responsible for the criminal acts committed or abetted by International Communism. Terrorism has been on the increase in recent years. At the service of pan - Arab extremism, various secret organizations have sprung into life, soaking the oil - rich soil of the Near East with human blood. And Black Africa, with its Lumumbas is just entering the infamous terrorist circle.
Soon it will be thirty years since the defunct League of Nations decided to conclude an international convention against political crimes. Would it not seem timely for the United Nations to accomplish this task which its predecessor has left undone?
14 Papasissis, Ibid., p.47.
|Regicide at Marseille|