Written by Vladimir Moss


     The reign of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia contains within itself, as in a microcosm, all the major religious and political dilemmas and controversies of twentieth-century history: Orthodoxy versus ecumenism, autocracy versus democracy, nationalism versus socialism, centralism versus federalism, ethnicity versus statism. We cannot say that he succeeded in resolving these dilemmas in his time. However, we can say that it was a noble failure, the failure of the man who was called, just after his death in 1934, “the last honest man in Europe”, a failure from which we can all learn much…
Early Years
     King Alexander I was born in Ċetinje, Montenegro in 1888 in a house which his father Prince Peter built for his wife Zorka, a Montenegrin princess. Prince Peter, the heir of the Karadjeordjevič Serbian dynasty, had been in exile since 1858, after the rival dynasty of the Obrenovičes took power in Serbia. He was educated in Geneva and in the St. Cyr military academy in France, serving with distinction in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, for which he received the Légion d’Honneur. A man of liberal convictions, he translated John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty into Serbian. Later he moved to Montenegro to help King Nikolai reorganize his army. Princess Zorka died in 1890, and Prince Peter moved with his five children to Geneva, earning his living by copying legal documents. 
     On June 10, 1903 King Alexander Obrenovič and Queen Draga were brutally murdered in Belgrade. On June 10 Prince Peter denounced the murder, and on June 15 the Serbian Skupština, or Parliament, unanimously elected him as king. A delegation came to Geneva to offer him the throne, and he accepted. Meanwhile, in Belgrade the killers were not brought to trial, and the murder was seen by many as an opportunity to move Serbian foreign policy in a more nationalist-irredentist direction, with the aim of recovering lands occupied by Serbs outside the Kingdom of Serbia – especially in Bosnia. For the Serbs viewed their kingdom as the Italians viewed Piedmont or the Germans Prussia – as the focus from which to unify their whole nation under one political roof.
     But the regicide placed the whole venture under a dark cloud. For God is not mocked, and He does not allow anyone to touch His anointed ones. Regicide – especially regicide unrepented of – is one of the greatest of crimes, which has inexorably evil consequences for state life.
     But, as Rebecca West writes, the new King Peter “was entirely surrounded by the conspirators whose crime he abhorred, and he could not dismiss them, because… with these fierce critics all about him perfectly capable of doing what they had done before, he had to keep order in a new and expanding country, vexed with innumerable internal and external difficulties.”  
     West goes on to assert, with pardonable exaggeration, that “when Alexander and Draga fell from that balcony the whole of the modern world fell with them. It took some time to reach the ground and break its neck, but its fall started then…” For it could be argued that the shots in Belgrade in 1903 led to the shots at Sarajevo in 1914, which led to the First World War, which led to the Russian revolution. Moreover, the murder was a symptom of a wider revolutionary malaise, not only in Serbia , but in contemporary Orthodox Christendom as a whole, which took on a predominantly nationalist character in the Balkans and an internationalist character in Russia. Soon it was to bring down the wrath of God and the end of the “Sardian” period of the Orthodox Christian Empire ending in the murder of Tsar Nicholas II… 
     Even if the new king had had the desire to resist the irredentist mood in Serbia, it is doubtful that he would have been able to do so, not only because, as West points out, he was surrounded by a nationalist coterie, but also because Serbia was a constitutional monarchy controlled by elected politicians. This was evident from the very first day of his reign. For after the coronation, the Prime Minister Avvakumovič pointedly introduced him to the Russian minister before the Austrian minister. “That formally signified,” wrote the Belgrade Daily Chronicle, “that Austria-Hungary has no relations with the present cabinet.”  This was because under the old Obrenović dynasty Serbia had been in a subservient position to Austria, an economic colony of the great Catholic empire of the West. But introducing the king first to the Russian minister was equivalent to saying that the old pro-Austrian orientation of Serbian foreign policy was over, and that Serbia’s Great-Power patron was now the great Orthodox empire of the East. And this in turn signified that Serbia was no longer going to take such a passive attitude towards Austria’s occupation of Bosnia with its large Serb population…
     The next day the king swore an oath to “maintain inviolate the Constitution”. And on June 25 he made a proclamation peppered with references to the Constitution: “I will be a true constitutional King of Serbia. For me all constitutional guarantees of freedom and popular rights, which are the basis of all regular and prosperous development as well as of all national progress and constitutional life, are sacred trusts which I will always carefully respect and guard. I expect everyone to do the same.”  This indicated that the real rulers of Serbia would remain the elected politicians… Then he went on: “Imbued with these sentiments, to the past I consign the past, and I leave it to history to judge each according to his deeds…” In other words, the murderers of the previous king would not be threatened by him…
     There was a fundamental contradiction in the new direction of Serbian foreign policy. On the one hand, it was now oriented on Russia – an entirely natural and laudable step in view of the fact that Serbia was an Orthodox and Slav country and Russia was the Orthodox and Slav empire, the Third Rome. On the other hand, Serbia’s constitutionalism and nationalist irredentism had their roots, not in Orthodoxy or Slavdom, but in the French revolution, and were abhorrent to Russia’s tsars. As autocrats, they resisted constitutionalism like the plague it truly was; and as leaders of a multi-national empire, they resisted nationalism and irredentism both within their borders and outside them. The suspicion was, therefore, that Serbia now, under the Karadjeordjevičes, would not so much follow Russia as the leader of the Orthodox world as use her to protect herself when their aggressive foreign policy would bring them into inevitable conflict with the more powerful states of Austria-Hungary or Ottoman Turkey… These suspicions were partially confirmed in 1908, when Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, enraging Serbs and Russians alike. The Serbs began preparations for war and made secret alliances with their Orthodox neighbours, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Greece. But Tsar Nicholas, although humiliated by Austria’s move and under pressure from nationalists at home, tried hard to prevent the passions of the Balkan Orthodox from spilling over into war, which, as he knew better than anybody, would not be confined to the Balkans…
     Meanwhile, Prince Alexander, a godson of Tsar Alexander III, “was enrolled in the St. Petersburg Page School, an Imperial Russian institute where well-born boys prepared for careers in military and court service. There he was described as a hard-working if somewhat solitary boy. His background admitted him to close relationship with Tsar Nicholas II and his family…” 
     Stephen Graham writes that “the boy Alexander… spent over eight years of his youth in Russia between 1898 and 1908. There seemed every likelihood of his becoming more a Russian than a Serb. But that did not happen… The only thing Russian about him in later years was his accent sometimes when speaking Serbian. Although he may have been somewhat mollycoddled in the company of Russian princes, he remained the hard Serb. He did not become sentimental or write poetry, he shed no tears. No one ever saw Alexander weep after he was ten years old. He did not become a philosopher or an intellectual. On the other hand, he got no bad habits. When later he was a military cadet he did not indulge in heavy drinking or get involved in any disturbing love affair. ..”  
     This close relationship of Alexander with Orthodox Imperial Russia, which continued through the world war and into the inter-war period, when he invited the Russian Church Abroad to set up its headquarters in Serbia, was to be a vital influence on the world-view of the young Prince, counter-balancing the constitutionalism and nationalism of his native land. While circumstances decreed that he could never become a full autocrat on the model of the medieval Serbian or Russian tsars, it did mean that he could contemplate creating a truly multi-national state on the Russian model in Yugoslavia – and proroguing the Serbian Skupština in 1929, as his friend Tsar Nicholas had prorogued the Russian Duma in his youth. And it made him, in the fullness of time, into a real ruler, and not a mere puppet of Masonic constitutionalism…
Warrior Prince
     On March 27, 1909 King Peter replaced Prince George as heir apparent with his younger brother Alexander (George was mentally unstable). The new heir, who had just returned from Russia, rose slowly through the ranks of the army. In 1905 he was a corporal. In 1909 he became second lieutenant. In October, 1912, at the outbreak of the First Balkan War with Turkey, he was a colonel. But then he very soon assumed command of the First Army, fought with great valour in the battle of Kumanovo, and made a victorious entrance into Skopje. In June, 1913, during the Second Balkan War, the Bulgars attacked the First Army. But Alexander counterattacked successfully, and in August returned to Belgrade to a hero’s welcome. 
     But there was a dark side to these famous victories. The Balkan Wars were exceptionally savage, and atrocities were committed by all sides, not excluding the Serbs. Thus Misha Glenny writes: “As the Serb soldiery moved to Skopje and beyond, they visited destruction and murder on the local Albanian population. Fired by tales of atrocities committed on Christian peasants during the unrest in the Albanian territories, the Serbs unleashed the full force of nationalist hatred against defenceless villages. A Serb Social Democrat, serving as a reservist, described how ‘the horrors actually began as soon as we crossed the old frontier. By five p.m. we were approaching Kumanovo. The sun had set, it was starting to get dark. But the darker the sky became, the more brightly the fearful illumination of the fires stood out against it. Burning was going on all around us. Entire Albanian villages had been turned into pillars of fire… In all its fiery monotony this picture was repeated the whole way to Skopje… For two days before my arrival in Skopje the inhabitants had woken up in the morning to the sight, under the principal bridge over the Vardar – that is, in the very centre of the town – of heaps of Albanian corpses with severed heads. Some said that these were local Albanians, killed by the komitadjis [četniks], others that the corpses had been brought down to the bridge by the waters of the Vardar. What was clear was that these headless men had not been killed in battle.’ In Skopje, the chief instigator of the massacres was the Black Hand, which set up its headquarters close to the Russian consulate in a building soon known as the Black House. The Black Hand, with its network of agents, had escaped the control of the military authorities and was increasingly assuming the role of an informal government of ‘liberated Old Serbia’. After several weeks, the government in Belgrade started to appoint civilian administrators to these territories, but those who refused to submit to the demands of the Black Hand and the četniks were scared. Branislav Nušić, the writer who had welcomed the war with such enthusiasm, resigned as governor of Bitola in fear and disgust at the activities of these units.” 
     The origins of the Black Hand went back to Austria’s annexation of Bosnia in 1908, when, as Tim Judah writes, “Narodna Odbrana (National Defence), a semi-secret society had been set up in Serbia to organise volunteers to fight in what was believed to be the coming war. It also established a network of agents throughout the South Slav Habsburg lands. With many senior civilian and military figures involved, its aim was a Greater Serbia. In 1909, however, when it became clear that not even Russia would support Serbia in its quarrel with the Habsburgs, the Serbian government was forced to make a humiliating climbdown. A statement proclaimed that henceforth the government would ‘disarm and disband volunteers and their companies’, and would ‘not permit the formation of irregular units on her territory’. Narodna Odbrana’s units were dissolved and the organisation turned to cultural issues, although its espionage network was maintained. By 1911, however, preparations had been made for the foundation of another semi-secret society called Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death). It was conceived by hardline nationalists, many of them army officers, who held the civilian authorities in disdain for what they believed had been their treacherous capitulation after 1908. One of them was Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, always known by his codename Apis. By 1913, he had risen to the position of head of military intelligence of the Serbian Army. Apis had been a leading member of the regicides who had hunted down and killed Alexander Obrenoviat the ultimate absorption of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and the South Slav provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But this was not the suitable moment. If she attained her aims by this method she would have to pay too heavy a price, as, in fact, she did. No country would choose to realize any ideal at the cost of the destruction of one-third of her population. That she did not so choose is shown by much negative evidence. At the time the murder was committed she had just let her reservists return home after their annual training, her Commander-in-chief was taking a cure at an Austrian spa, and none of the Austrian Slavs who had fought in the Balkan War and returned home were warned to come across the frontier. But the positive evidence is even stronger. When Austria sent her ultimatum to Serbia, which curtly demanded not only the punishment of the Serbians who were connected with the Sarajevo attentat, but the installation of Austrian and Hungarian officers in Serbia for the purpose of suppressing Pan-Slavism, Mr. Pashitch bowed to all the demands save for a few gross details, and begged that the exceptions he had made should not be treated as refusals but should be referred for arbitration to The Hague Tribunal. There was not one trace of bellicosity in the attitude of Serbia at this point. If she had promoted the Sarajevo attentat in order to make war possible, she was very near to throwing her advantage away.” 
     Moreover, the Serbs had warned the Austrian minister in charge of the Sarajevo visit that a plot was afoot. And “the summary time limit gave the game away, as did the peremptory rejection of Belgrade’s answer. The ultimatum had been intended to start a showdown…”  
     In any case, justice required that the trial of the assassins should take place before it could be concluded that the Serbian Government was guilty. But in fact the trial began a full ten weeks after Austria declared war on Serbia… 
     And then nothing implicating the Serbian government was discovered… 
     That it was the German-speaking powers, and not Serbia, that was responsible for the beginning of the First World War was demonstrated by the German historian Fritz Fischer: “The official documents afford ample proof that during the July crisis the emperor, the German military leaders and the foreign ministry were pressing Austria-Hungary to strike against Serbia without delay, or alternatively agree to the despatch of an ultimatum to Serbia couched in such sharp terms as to make war between the two countries more than probable, and that in doing so they deliberately took the risk of a continental war against Russia and France.” 
     In view of his age and poor health, King Peter appointed Prince Alexander as Regent on June 11, 1914. Immediately Alexander had to cope with the Sarajevo tragedy. He wrote to Tsar Nicholas: “The demands of the Austro-Hungarian note unnecessarily represent a humiliation for Serbia and are not in accord with the dignity of an independent state. In a commanding tone it demands that we officially declare in Serbian News, and also issue a royal command to the army, that we ourselves cut off military offensives against Austria and recognize the accusation that we have been engaging in treacherous intrigues as just. They demand that we admit Austrian officials into Serbia, so that together with ours they may conduct the investigation and control the execution of the other demands of the note. We have been given a period of 48 hours to accept everything, otherwise the Austro-Hungarian embassy will leave Belgrade. We are ready to accept the Austro-Hungarian demands that are in accord with the position of an independent state, and also those which would be suggested by Your Majesty; everyone whose participation in the murder is proven will be strictly punished by us. Certain demands cannot be carried out without changing the laws, and for that time is required. We have been given too short a period… They can attack us after the expiry of the period, since Austro-Hungarian armies have assembled on our frontier. It is impossible for us to defend ourselves, and for that reason we beseech Your Majesty to come as soon as possible to our aid…” 
     To this the Tsar replied on July 27: “In addressing me at such a serious moment, Your Royal Highness has not been mistaken with regard to the feelings which I nourish towards him and to my heart-felt disposition towards the Serbian people. I am studying the present situation with the most serious attention and My government is striving with all its might to overcome the present difficulties. I do not doubt that Your Highness and the royal government will make this task easier by not despising anything that could lead to a decision that would avert the horrors of a new war, while at the same time preserving the dignity of Serbia. All My efforts, as long as there is the slightest hope of averting bloodshed, will be directed to this aim. If, in spite of our most sincere desire, success is not attained, Your Highness can be assured that in no case will Russia remain indifferent to the fate of Serbia.” 
     The next day Austria invaded Serbia, which was followed by Russia’s partial mobilization. However, the Tsar made one last appeal to the Kaiser: “I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure brought upon me and forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war.” On July 30 the Kaiser replied that he was neutral in the Serbian question (which he was not). Sazonov then advised the Tsar to undertake a full mobilization because “unless he yielded to the popular demand for war and unsheathed the sword in Serbia’s behalf, he would run the risk of a revolution and perhaps the loss of his throne”. 
     Although the Tsar knew that resisting popular national feeling could lead to revolution, he also knew that an unsuccessful war would lead to it still more surely. So the decisive factor in his decision was not popular opinion, but Russia’s ties of faith with Serbia. This bond became stronger both during and after the war. For as Prince Alexander replied to the Tsar: “Difficult times cannot fail to strengthen the bonds of deep attachment that link Serbia with Holy Slavic Rus’, and the feeling of eternal gratitude for the help and defence of Your Majesty will be reverently preserved in the hearts of all Serbs.” 
     The Austrians attacked the Serbs, but first blood was to the Serbs, at the battle of Cer in August, 1914. Eventually the Austrians conquered Belgrade. But in November the Serbs struck back and drove the Austrians back – an extraordinary feat against a far more numerous foe. A stalemate now set in. “But Alexander began to think of the disintegration of the Austrian Empire and the liberation of the Croats and Slovenes…” 
     A lull in the fighting ensued. And a typhus epidemic took its toll of the troops. The Austrians sued for a separate peace. But in August, 1915 the Serb parliament in Niš voted to continue the war of liberation. The Austrian overtures were rejected…
     In October, the Austrians advanced again, but now stiffened by German troops under General Mackensen and supported by the Bulgarians from the East. The Serbs were forced to retreat through Kosovo, and then over the Albanian and Montenegrin mountains to Durazzo on the Adriatic. Alexander led the terrible and heroic retreat, known as “the Serbian Golgotha”. But when he arrived at Durazzo, the promised Allied help in the form of Italian supplies and transports were not to be seen…
     Alexander “trusted Nicholas II and knew him to be a friend. So from his sick bed he dictated a letter to the Tsar: ‘In hope and faith that on the Adriatic shore we should receive succor promised by our Allies, and the means to reorganize, I have led my armies over the Albanian and Montenegrin hills. In these most grievous circumstances I appeal to Your Imperial Majesty, on whom I have ever relied, as a last hope and I beseech Your high intervention on our behalf to save us from sure destruction and to enable us to recoup our strength and offer yet further resistance to the common enemy. To that end it will be necessary for the Allied fleet to transport the army to some more secure place, preferably Salonika. The famished and exhausted troops are in no condition to march to Valona as designated by the Allied higher command. I hope that this my appeal may find response from Your Imperial Majesty, whose fatherly love for the Serbian people has been constant and that You will intervene with the Allies to save the Serbian Army from a catastrophe which it has not deserved, a catastrophe otherwise inevitable.’
     “No one stirred to save the Serbian Army till the Tsar got busy. The governments of the West paid little attention to the Serbian exploit, which only became famous after the war was over. It needed a sharp note from Sazonov to spur the Allies to activity.
     “Tsar Nicholas replied: ‘With feelings of anguish I have followed the retreat of the brave Serb troops across Albania and Montenegro. I would like to express to Your Royal Highness my sincere astonishment at the skill with which under Your leadership, and in face of such hardships and being greatly outnumbered by the enemy, attacks have been repelled everywhere and the army withdrawn. In compliance with my instructions my Foreign Minister has already appealed repeatedly to the Allied Powers to take steps to insure safe transport from the Adriatic. Our demands have now been repeated and I have hope that the glorious troops of Your Highness will be given the possibility to leave Albania. I firmly believe that Your army will soon recover and be able once more to take part in the struggle against the common enemy. Victory and the resurrection of great Serbia will be consolation to You and our brother Serbs for all they have gone through.’” 
     The Serbian retreat of 1915, heroic though it was, contained a message that few Serbs were ready to receive at that time. In 1912 Serbian troops had conquered Kosovo, and Montenegrin troops – Northern Albania, after inflicting terrible atrocities on the Albanians. Now, three years later, they were retreating across the same territory – and the Albanians inflicted revenge. Was there not an element of Divine justice accompanying this all-too-human vengeance? For while not formally responsible for the assassination at Sarajevo in 1914, or of the retreat through Kosovo in 1915, in a deeper sense the Serbs had been responsible – not solely, but definitely in part – for the terrible cycle of vengeance that took over the whole region in these years, beginning with the struggle for Macedonia and continuing with the Balkan Wars and the First World War. 
     Since the mid-nineteenth century the Serbs had elevated the land and the battle of Kosovo to a mythic status that hardly accorded with Orthodox teaching. Thus in 1889, on the five-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, Serbia’s foreign minister, Ċedomil Mijatovic, told the Royal Academy that “an inexhaustible source of national pride was discovered on Kosovo. More important than language and stronger than the Church, this pride unites all Serbs in a single nation…”  That national pride should be considered “stronger than the Church” was a danger sign. Nothing on earth is stronger than the Divine-human institution of the Church, which, as the Lord says, “will prevail against the gates of hell”, whereas national pride can be crushed, and nations themselves can disappear completely…
     The true significance of the original Battle of Kosovo lay in Tsar Lazar’s choice of a Heavenly Kingdom in preference to an earthly kingdom, heavenly rewards (salvation, Paradise, God’s glory) over earthly ones (lands, power, vainglory). From the mid-nineteenth century the more nationalist among the Serbs completely turned round this message to read: the conquest of the earthly land of Kosovo (and other formerly Serbian lands) is worth any sacrifice and justifies almost any crime. Thus “Apis”, besides taking part in the regicide of 1903, confessed to participation in plots to murder King Nicholas of Montenegro, King Constantine of Greece, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and King Ferdinand of Bulgaria!  That such a murderous fanatic should be in charge of Serbia’s military intelligence tells us much about the influence within Serbia of the nationalist-revolutionary madness. “In fact,” as Stevenson writes, “Serbia’s army and intelligence service were out of control…”  
     It was greatly to the credit of Prince Alexander that he tried to bring these forces back under control. In 1917, in Salonika, Apis and two others were tried and executed, and two hundred of his leading followers imprisoned. The question was: was this enough to uproot the virus from the Serbian state and nation?… 
     But 1917, tragically, was also the year of the abdication of Tsar Nicholas and the Russian revolution. Now the Orthodox Emperor, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, is to be identified with the figure whom St. Paul calls “him who restrains” the coming of the Antichrist (II Thessalonians 2.7). Without the support of “him who restrains”, Alexander faced an uphill task in restraining the power of the revolution in his own land…
     As if to underline this fact, the famous Serbian Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich pointed out that it was the Russians, not the Serbs, who, by sacrificing themselves for the Serbs, “have repeated the Kosovo tragedy in our time. If the Russian Tsar Nicholas II had been striving for an earthly kingdom, a kingdom of petty personal calculations and egoism, he would be sitting to this day on his throne in Petrograd. But he chose the Heavenly Kingdom, the Kingdom of sacrifice in the name of the Lord, the Kingdom of Gospel spirituality, for which he laid down his own head, for which his children and millions of his subjects laid down their heads…” 
     In the spring of 1916 Prince Alexander and his 160,000 troops were gradually recovering on the Greek island of Corfu. He then decided to travel to Rome, Paris and London in order to convince the Allies to re-equip his army and transport them to Salonika to open up a new front. With difficulty, he succeeded in convincing them, and in the summer the Serbian army, together with French, British, Russian and Italian contingents, reassembled in Salonika in “the Army of the East”. In September the Serbs advanced against the Bulgarians, and by November were in Monastir (Bitola). They dug in for the winter. The next year America entered the war, and thousands of Serb, Croat and Slovene immigrants joined the Army of the East. In June, Alexander signed a Corfu Declaration to the effect that he was fighting for a free Yugoslav state combining the three peoples, Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, in one.  In September, 1918 the great offensive began, and on October 29 Alexander entered in triumph into a ruined Belgrade, before taking possession of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slovenia and Voivodina… 
The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
     The post-war world was distinctly unfriendly for Orthodox monarchs – indeed, for any kind of monarch. The three great monarchies of Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary had been overthrown, and “democracy” was now seen almost everywhere as the criterion of legitimate government. Also out of fashion was the concept of the multi-national state: the post-war world was to be recreated on the basis of the American President Wilson’s principle of “national self-determination”.
     Serbia was still officially ruled by King Peter together with the Serbian parliament. But the effective ruler was his son and heir, Prince-Regent Alexander. Like his father, Alexander paid lip-service to constitutional government. But he had been influenced by the life and death of his friend, Tsar Nicholas II, so that he was both firmly opposed to revolutionary republicanism and not opposed to the image of the Orthodox autocrat. Moreover, his brilliant victories in the war had given him a prestige and authority that made him invulnerable for the time being to the anti-monarchist tide.
     But the victory of Serbia in the war created a new and very difficult problem: what lands to claim at the post-war Peace Conference in Paris, and in what kind of political configuration to administer them. The pre-war debate had been between the proponents of the “Greater Serbia” idea – these included Prime Minister Nikola Pašić and very many in the army and the countryside – and the “Yugoslav” idea, whose main proponents within Serbia were Prince Alexander himself and his friend, the up-and-coming Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich.  After the war, these parties clashed particularly over the issue of how the Kingdom of Serbia was to relate to the newly liberated, former Habsburg lands of Croatia and Slovenia and their mainly Croat, Slovene and Serb populations.
     Surprising as it may seem in view of more recent history, Serb-Croat relations had by no means always been bad. At the beginning of the century, there had been a Serb-Croat Coalition Party within the Habsburg empire which supported the Yugoslav idea of the union of the Habsburg Serbs, Croats and Slovenes with the Kingdom of Serbia on a federal basis. During the Balkan Wars the Habsburg South Slavs had supported Serbia against the Turks. And during the First World War, while many of them were forced into fighting on the Habsburg side against the Serbs, as at the battle of Cer in August, 1914, nevertheless there were also many, of all three nationalities, who were imprisoned for their support of Serbia opposition to the Habsburg regime.  
     Within the kingdom of Serbia itself there was less support for the Yugoslav idea because of the popularity of the Greater Serbia idea. However, there were many Belgrade intellectuals who agreed with the idea that the Habsburg South Slavs, together with the Serbs of the independent kingdom of Serbia, and the Serbs and Croats and Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina, actually formed one nation and should have one political organization in spite of their minor linguistic differences (the Serbs and the Croats spoke essentially the same language, while the Slovenes spoke a different, but also Slavic language). These intellectuals tended to overlook, in the spirit of modern ecumenism, the important confessional differences between the Slavic peoples (the Serbs were Orthodox, and the Croats and Slovenes – Catholics). They also tended to exclude the Bulgarians and Macedonians from their idea of Yugoslavia because of the recent wars between Serbia and Bulgaria.
     The question was: what kind of political organization should the Yugoslavs have? Most Serbs wanted all the Habsburg South Slavs to enter their strongly centralized kingdom and be subject to their king. They felt that they had liberated the Habsburg South Slavs at an enormous cost in lives, and so should not give up their predominance. However, the Habsburg South Slavs had enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy under the Habsburg emperors, and did not want to exchange this for full subjection to the Serbian king. Instead, they wanted either their own, virtually autonomous state, whether inside or outside the old Habsburg empire, or a union with the free Serbs but as equal members with them in a Yugoslav federation.
     An important complicating factor was the attitude of Italy. At the secret Treaty of London in 1915, Italy had joined the Entente in exchange for the promise, after the war, of parts of Istria, Dalmatia, Albania and Asia Minor. When the armistice with Austria-Hungary was signed on November 3, 1918, Italian troops poured into those parts of Istria and Dalmatia assigned to her by the secret treaty. Of course, one of Wilson’s Fourteen Points had specifically abjured such secret treaties. But neither Italy nor any of the European Great Powers allowed this Point (or, of course, the Points about national self-determination) to interfere with their Realpolitik
     So the South Slavs had to get their act together – quickly. Barbara Jelavich writes: “The most important émigré group for the future organization of Yugoslavia was the Yugoslav Committee, led by Ante Trumbić and Frano Supilo, both Dalmatians, who had previously played a major role in the formation of the Croatian-Serbian Coalition. Its headquarters were first in Italy and subsequently in London. The Committee was entirely unofficial; it represented little more than the opinions and influence of its members. However, it did maintain links with individuals in the monarchy and with Croatian and Slovenian politicians. It was also in touch with the large emigrant organizations in Europe and America. Its major task was to carry on a propaganda campaign to inform the Allies of the position of the South Slavs within the empire and to agitate for South Slav unification…
     “The relations between the Yugoslav Committee and the Pašić government were bound to be uneasy…
     “… Within the Habsburg Empire the Croatian and Slovenian leaders, despite their many points of disagreement, were united in the desire to create first a political unity composed of the Habsburg South Slavs. Once in existence, this authority would come to an understanding with the Serbian government. Should the Habsburg Empire be maintained and separation from it prove impossible, a similar course of action was to be pursued in the relations with the monarchy, with Trialism [the union of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia] as the basic policy. In May 1917 the thirty-three South Slavic members of the Austrian parliament formed a coalition, and their president, Korošec, made the following declaration: ‘The undersigned national deputies who are banded together in the Yugoslav Caucus declare that, on the basis of the national principle as well as of Croatian state rights, they demand the unification of all the lands of the Monarchy which are inhabited by Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, into a single, autonomous political body, free from the rule of alien peoples and founded on a democratic basis, under the sceptre of the Habsburg-Lotharingian dynasty, and that they will bend all their efforts to the realization of this demand by their united people.’
     “Despite many contradictions in their attitudes towards unification, events forced Pašić and the Yugoslav Committee to come to an understanding. The Serbian government in Corfu was itself beset with serious problems. Prince Alexander had difficulty controlling his military leadership, in particular Colonel Dimitrijević and the Black Hand. In an effort to undermine this threat, the regent formed his own organization, called the White Hand. In 1917 he was in a strong enough position to charge Dimitrijević with treason, mutiny, and the plotting of an assassination against his person…
     “In addition, Pašić and Alexander faced problems in foreign relations. King Nicholas [of Montenegro] not only showed no signs of a willingness to accept Serbian guidance, but also put forward Montenegrin claims on territory desired by Belgrade. The Macedonian issue showed signs of re-emerging. Most dangerous, however, was the fall of the tsarist regime in March 1917. The Russian government had previously been the strongest Serbian supporter; without this backing from a patron great power, the Serbian position in international relations was tremendously weakened. Because of these considerations Pašić in March got in touch with Trumbić and suggested that he and other representatives of the Yugoslav Committee come to Corfu. Trumbić and his colleagues held discussions with Pašić and the Serbian leaders from June 15 to July 30. The basic question under debate was the form of the future state, that is, whether it should be organized on a centralized or on a federal basis. In the conversations Pašić was in the stronger position, since Trumbić’s colleagues did not give firm support to his desire for a federal solution. The results of these negotiations were contained in the Declaration of Corfu of July 1917. Here it was agreed that the Serbian government and the Yugoslav Committee would cooperate to establish a Yugoslav state; it was to be a constitutional monarchy under the Karadjordjević dynasty. The constitution was to be drafted by a constituent assembly elected on the basis of universal manhood suffrage. Since the decisions were to be reached by majority vote, the Serbs, with the larger population, would have an advantage. The preamble of the declaration stated that the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes were one people: ‘the same by blood, by language, both spoken and written’. The document, it will be noted, took into account only these three peoples; Macedonians, Montenegrins, Albanians and Bosnian Muslims were not considered separately. The declaration was no more than a statement of intent; it had no legal force. It did nevertheless morally bind the Serbian government to a Yugoslav solution of some kind should the war lead to the breakup of the Habsburg Empire – an open question at the time…” 
     Prince Alexander, while sincerely striving to serve the interests of all his subjects, and not only the Serbs, was nevertheless convinced that only a centralized state could keep the country together. He had strong arguments on his side. First, the Serbian Kingdom had shown unity, strength and resilience over the past decade, and it would have been madness to discard this tried and tested political organization for one in which the Serbs found themselves in a minority on equal terms with recent enemies. Besides, the more homogeneous nature of the Serbian kingdom as against a federal Yugoslavia was more in accord with the principle of national self-determination, and would enable the state to absorb both the gains and the losses of the war years in a more orderly and successful manner. Secondly, there were new and powerful external enemies in the post-war period, such as Italian Fascism, German Nazism and Soviet Communism, especially the latter; and in order to defend itself against these enemies, the state needed a powerful central organization, not a kingdom divided against itself along racial lines. Thirdly, the Serbian kingdom had a relationship with the dominant faith of its citizens, Orthodox Christianity, that was close to the Orthodox ideal of Church-State relations and which maximally facilitated the all-important goal of preserving faithfulness to Orthodoxy. But the Croats and Slovenes had a different religious allegiance, Roman Catholicism, which had proved itself over the centuries to be the avowed enemy of Orthodoxy. 
     “As the Habsburg Empire dissolved,” writes Tim Judah, “a National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs took power in Zagreb on 6 October, 1918. [The Slovene clerical leader, Korošec, became president of the Council, with Serb and Croat vice-presidents.] On 29 October, the Croatian Sabor or parliament declared independence and vested its sovereignty in the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. The Yugoslav Committee was given the task of representing the new state abroad.” 
     Jelavich continues: “Similar actions were taken in Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. By November 3, when an armistice was signed between the Habsburg representatives and the Allies, the South Slavs of the monarchy had established a political organization that had effective control of the national lands. The Council also sent a note to the Allies expressing a desire to join with Serbia and Montenegro.
     “At this point a choice had to be made about the direction in which to proceed. The period was marked by great turmoil and confusion. All of the South Slav leaders strongly feared Italian intentions; they wished to block if possible an Italian occupation of any part of their territory. It was thus necessary to settle the political status of these lands as soon as possible. Trumbić believed that it would be better first to establish a firm union of the former Habsburg lands and then to enter into negotiations with Belgrade on what would be an equal basis. Another group, led by Svetozar Pribičević, the head of the Serbian Independent Party, pushed for an immediate union. In the meeting of the National Council that accepted this latter point of view, only one man, Stephen Radić [leader of the Croatian Peasant Party], spoke out in strong opposition.  The Council then appointed a delegation to go to Belgrade to negotiate the unification. 
     “The acceptance of the Council’s proposals was primarily the responsibility of Prince Alexander, who acted as regent for King Peter. Pašić was not in Belgrade; the members of the Serbian assembly were scattered. Once in the Serbian capital, the representatives of the National Council presented the regent with an official declaration; he in turn accepted it. December 1, 1918 thus marked the official birthday of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which… was the official designation of the Yugoslav state until 1929… These actions by the Croatian, Serbian and Slovenian leaders had the support of national revolutionary organizations in Montenegro and the Vojvodina. In November a national assembly in Cetinje had declared the deposition of [King] Nicholas and union with Serbia, and similar events had occurred in the Vojvodina. Thus the organization of the Yugoslav state was primarily the work of national committees, and the initiative came from the Habsburg South Slavs.” 

Serbs vs. Croats vs. Italians

     The problem was: not only had the leaders of the two most powerful Serbian and Croat political parties, Pašić and Radić, not been present at the founding of the new state: almost nothing concerning its organization had been settled. There was no constitution, and no official recognition by the representatives of the Great Powers assembled at Versailles - although the Corfu Declaration had been blessed by Britain and France. Moreover, the ninety-three members of the Yugoslav delegation to the Conference (to which the new state was known by the acronym SCS) were profoundly divided amongst themselves. 
    Glenny writes: “If the country’s anomalous diplomatic position was depressing, Yugoslav domestic affairs appeared even more so. Insurgency had gripped large parts of Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia where the Serbian army and assorted vigilantes were imposing a centralized regime in the teeth of dogged resistance by the non-Serb populations. Peasants in Croatia and Dalmatia, and workers in the towns of Austria-Hungary, had taken to the streets to express their despair and anger at the chronic inadequacy of food supplies; to resist the rapacious Italian army; and to protest against the police forces despatched from Serbia. As the Yugoslav delegation made its way to the Paris Peace Conference, the former Habsburg regions were still recovering from the ‘period of “great rebellions and terrible days”’, when ‘stores were looted; landed estates and estate manors plundered and often burned; furniture, clothes, and farm animals were removed; and the forbidden solitude of estate forests was disturbed by the peasants and armed bands… who would finally completely satisfy their yearning for game and firewood. Disorder was rampant. As one leader of a Slavonian local council reported to Zagreb, he was powerless to do anything: ‘He cannot introduce a court martial, because he would have to hang the whole locality.’
     “The stress which these circumstances caused for the south Slav delegation in Paris was immense. Yet still more ominous was the absence of any agreement between the elites of the SCS’s main constituents, the Serbs and the Croats, with respect to the political order of the new state. Their mutual suspicion was typified by the relationship between Nikola Pašić, the head of the delegation and leader of the Radical Party in Serbia, and his de facto deputy, the Croat, Dr Ante Trumbić, formerly the President of the Yugoslav Committee and Foreign Minister of the new state…
     “[Pašić] was determined not to allow Trumbić’s influential friends at foreign courts to undermine his belief that the new state would be an extension of the Kingdom of Serbia, and that the Croats, Slovenes and other nationalities must play a subordinate role to a centralizing government in Belgrade dominated by his own Radical Party. To achieve these aims, Pašić was prepared to sacrifice the legitimate territorial aspirations of the Croats and Slovenes in the north-west of the country in order to obtain satisfaction in Albania and Macedonia, that is in those areas which mattered to him as a Serb nationalist. Trumbić had already noted during the discussions about the armistice in November 1918 that the Radical Party representative ‘agreed to the Italian occupation of the areas in the London Agreement; agreed that the Allies, specifically Italy, could seize the entire commercial fleet sailing under the Austro-Hungarian flag, including of course Yugoslav ships; agreed that the naval fleet which was already under Yugoslav control, should be handed over to the Allies [i.e. Italy] who should be granted the right to occupy at their convenience railways and other strategic points on Yugoslav territory – by which of course Rijeka was directly threatened’.” 
     Rijeka/Fiume had not even been mentioned in the Treaty of London. But the Italians by a series of dubious arguments stubbornly repeated over a long period tried to wear down the resistance of President Wilson. And when Wilson appealed to the Italian people to renounce the unjust claims put forward by their leaders, there was a nationalist reaction in Italy. This propelled to the fore the futurist poet and war hero Gabriele D’Annunzio. In September, 1919, in a famous swashbuckling adventure, he marched on Rijeka; and although the garrison had been ordered by Rome to resist him, he seized it with a force of 2,500 Sardinian Grenadiers.
     “Over the next eighteen months,” writes Glenny, “theatre and politics merged into an astonishing spectacle. The set pieces were D’Annunzio’s impassioned speeches from the balcony of the Governor’s Palace overlooking Piazza Dante in the centre of Fiume. He drove his audience into frenzies of patriotism, worshipping huge blood-bespattered flags as the central icons of the new politics. As a Dutch historian has noted, ‘virtually the entire ritual of Fascism came from the ‘Free State of Fiume’: the balcony address, the Roman salute, the use of religious symbols in a new secular setting, the eulogies to the ‘martyrs’ of the cause and the employment of these relicts in political ceremonies. Moreover, quite aside from the poet’s contribution to the form and style of Fascist politics, Mussolini’s movement first started to attract great strength when the future dictator supported D’Annunzio’s occupation of Fiume.’ Throughout the fourteen-month existence of the Free State of Fiume, the government in Rome denounced D’Annunzio’s adventure but never felt compelled to remove the municipal dictator by force. Fiume attracted thousands upon thousands of mutinous Italian soldiers, so that within five months of having proclaimed his city state, he had to appeal to the troops to stop signing up for his militia. Fiume could no longer accommodate or feed them. On a number of occasions, the Italian government was deeply concerned that D’Annunzio understood Fiume as a prologue to an assault on Rome itself. Yet despite the animosity between D’Annunzio and Nitti, the regime in Fiume bolstered the Italian delegation’s position in Paris. The Italian government also did nothing to prevent D’Annunzio’s attempts to spread his irredentist message into Dalmatia, and when, in the summer of 1920, Italians embarked on a violent spree against Croats and Slovenes inside Italian-occupied areas, Rome was slow to respond.
     “Gradually Yugoslav resistance to Italy’s expansionist programme was worn down. In the middle of January 1920, Clemenceau called in Trumbić and Pašić and told them to give up Fiume or else the entire London Treaty would be implemented while Fiume was still up for discussion. The Yugoslav delegation held out for another nine months with commendable, if progressively less effective, support from Washington. But in November 1920, its representatives were finally forced to sign the Treaty of Rapallo. This created an independent Fiumean state under the control of neither Italy nor the SCS. But the Yugoslavs had to make substantial concessions in Istria and the Dalmatian islands. Fiume-Rijeka had been denied the SCS and would inevitably be dependent on Italy. The only consolation for the Yugoslavs was that the Rome government managed to oust D’Annunzio, installing a more moderate administration. In March 1922, a fascist coup overthrew this government in a dress rehearsal for Mussolini’s seizure of power later that year. Italy then exerted immense pressure on Yugoslavia to concede Italian sovereignty over Fiume, and in January 1924, old Nikola Pašić, in his last spell as Prime Minister, travelled to Rome to sign away the city. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes had been mutilated at birth. As Rijeka, Zadar, most of Istria and the islands of Lošinj, Cres and Lastovo slipped from Yugoslavia’s grasp into the bosom of revolutionary Italy, tensions between Serbs and Croats deepened. The ‘Vidovdan’ (St. Vitus’ Day) constitution, promulgated in 1921 on the sacred Serbian date of 28 June, which commemorated Kosovo Polje and, more recently, Sarajevo, was regarded by all Yugoslavs as a victory for the centralizing aims of the Serbs. In Croatia, it greatly compounded the profound sense of loss and alienation that Croats, and especially Dalmatians, had felt at Italy’s irredentist programme…” 
     The two years that preceded the passing of the Vidovdan constitution had consolidated the Serbian domination over the new country – but at great future cost to the Serbs themselves. The Serbian-dominated ministries, army and police dealt fiercely with all opposition. The Croatian leader Radić was imprisoned for complaining to the Paris Peace Conference; dissidents in Kosovo and Montenegro were ruthlessly suppressed. 
     The struggle between Serbian centralists and Croatian federalists “had its roots in two different perceptions of statehood. When Croat politicians pointed to their state traditions, such as the Sabor, the Croat parliament, and their established legal system, the cry would go up from the Serbs, ‘Ali mi smo ratovali!’ – ‘But we fought the war!’ Convinced that their heroic contribution to the First World War earned them privileges in the new state, the Serbs also believed that the experience of a century of de facto independence should give them automatic seniority. ‘If your lot imagine that we are all going to be on an equal footing,’ Milenko Vesnić, the Serb Radical Prime Minister, warned the Croat sculptor Ivan Meštrović [a supporter of the Yugoslav state] in 1920, ‘then you haven’t yet grasped the reality. Certainly for the next few years, it’s a practical impossibility’, he continued. ‘Serbia was a state in its own right with its own state apparatus which you cannot just dismantle overnight. And I’ll tell you something else… If the Germans and Austrians had by chance won the war, we would all be sitting in Zagreb discussing this. And even though there are more of us Serbs, we would have had to lump the fact that you Croats would have had the most powerful voice.’” 
     Vesnić had a point. But the Croats, too, had a point. And it was the fact that both sides had just points to make that made the struggle so intractable…
     Less controversially, the Communist Party, whose influence had greatly increased since the war, was banned. The result was that the Communists, the Croats under Radić and the Slovenian delegates boycotted the elections in November, 1920. But this was a critical tactical mistake: it allowed the two Serbian parties, having come to a deal with the Bosnian Muslims, to dominate the new parliament, which in turn allowed Serbs, although they constituted only a little more than 40% of the population, to pass their project for a centralist constitution. 
The Vidovdan Constitution
     “We have a state,” said Alexander after the new constitution was passed. But it was a state that a large percentage of its citizens did not recognize. And when Alexander became king on the death of his father in August, 1921, he faced an almost impossible task in reconciling his own and the Serbian people’s centralizing instincts with the demands for a federalism that the Serbs had committed themselves to in the Corfu Declaration. Moreover, while his being formally king should have helped him, he received the title from parliament, not from the Church, which was an important break from tradition that deprived him, if not of legitimacy, at any rate of grace. “He said that [a coronation] was too expensive for his poor country, but it was really because he hated ceremonies. He was never crowned. He was a king who never wore a crown…” 
     It may be that he declined being crowned by the Church not so much because he was not fond of ceremonial, as that he was simply not very religious. Some observers thought that he and his father pursued opposite courses of religious development. Thus, according to Stephen Graham, whereas Alexander “emerged from the war more a European than a Serbian”, his father, by contrasted appeared to abandon his previous liberalism, grew a beard, and became “sheerly Balkan”. 
     Be that as it may, Alexander was certainly inclined to ecumenism – perhaps for purely political reasons, but perhaps also because he, like so many in his time and ours, saw no fundamental difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Thus “he was ready to receive the blessing of Roman bishops and to go to divine service in their cathedrals. He decorated the Archbishop of Zagreb, Mgr. Bauer, with the highest order of the realm, the great star of the Order of Karageorge. Zagreb was worth a mass. He was careful not to attach an Orthodox father confessor to his person. He did not make the sign of the cross in the Eastern way, for fear of offending those who made it in the Western way. He did not emulate the Tsars of Russia in religiosity…” 
     Nevertheless, King Alexander always defended the interests of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Thus early in his reign his brother George put two questions to him. “Can you really combine Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in one person?” and “Can you really deny your Serbian mother and father, your Serbian Orthodox Church?” Alexander replied firmly in the negative, and he stuck to his word… 
     Moreover, his moral probity was never questioned. His marriage to the Romanian Queen Marie in 1922 was a happy one, unmarred by any infidelity. “He sent money gifts to people in distress… He was a man of his word. His loyalties were lifelong. He kept his promises. He told no lies. When asked a difficult question by an interviewer it was noticeable that he did not resort to euphemisms. He had a horror of ministers who used their position to enrich themselves, dismissed them when they were found out, and never reappointed them. He was perhaps too righteous for the people he had to govern. He felt that very few got a beating from the police who did not deserve it…” 
     In 1922 the country “was divided into thirty-three departments, which were administered by prefects appointed by the king. Although some limited autonomy was given on lower levels of administration, the important decisions were in the hands of the prefects. The historic provinces were eliminated. Croatia and Slavonia were divided into four districts and Dalmatia into two.
     “Serbian centralism had thus triumphed, but at a tremendous cost. A major proportion of the Yugoslav population simply never accepted this arrangement. Although the fiercest opposition was to come from Zagreb and the Croatian Peasant Party, many Slovenian, Muslim, Montenegrin, Macedonian and Albanian groups were similarly unhappy with the unitary structure. Unfortunately, the Serbian leadership, in defending its position, tended to treat any criticism of the constitution as ‘treason’, even when it was aimed at the restructuring and not the destruction of the state. Legal opposition thus became very difficult. At the same time, the central authorities were increasingly compelled to use force to control the situation.” 
     King Alexander had with great persistence sought to find a middle way between Yugoslavism and Great Serbdom. At times he appeared to be close to success. Thus, as Christopher Bennett writes, “at times enthusiasm for the new state was overwhelming in Zagreb and Ljubljana as well as in Belgrade. When, for example, King Alexander visited Zagreb in 1925 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the coronation of the Croatian King Tomislav, tens of thousands of Croats turned out to greet their monarch, who named one of his sons Tomislav as a mark of respect. Indeed, the new state gave Slovenes and Croats many tangible benefits. The language of administration ceased to be German or Hungarian, and ambitious Slovenes and Croats no longer needed to send their children to be educated in Vienna or Budapest if they wanted to secure their future…” 
     However, the abolition of the last traces of Croatian autonomy by the Vidovdan constitution was an open wound in the body of the State that never healed. King Alexander believed that it would heal in time, and always kept his door open to Croatian politicians like Trumbić - and even the obstreperous Radić, whom he came to like. But Radić continued his civil war against the State. Thus, as Brigit Farley writes, “in a Bastille Day speech in 1923, he compared Croats’ life in the kingdom to incarceration in the notorious French prison, after which he went abroad to amplify his complaints in Austria, Britain and Moscow. Seizing upon his Moscow sojourn as evidence of Communist implications, the government arrested him upon his return. It declared his Croat Radical Party illegal based on the 1921 obzana, a law which proscribed Communist activity in the state.
     “Despite these difficulties, Radić remained adamant that the state structure be changed. He and his Peasant Party supporters felt that they had lost in the Vidovdan constitution much of what they valued – the right to administer their own local affairs, their historic Sabor (legislature), the name of their country, their long tradition of equality within a given state structure. Objective data confirmed their suspicion that they were a distant second to Serbs in the competition for jobs and influence in the new state. In time they managed to win over influential allies such as Svetozar Pribičević, a former Habsburg Serb who had backed Aleksandar [and had been interior minister in his government] but now feared the consequences of the Serb-Croat animosity. In 1926 they stood for election to the skupština (legislature) as part of a Peasant-Democratic [nicknamed the ‘R-R, Radical-Radić’] party coalition. Once there they took full advantage of the system to raise their complaint against the constitution repeatedly. ‘The coalition began to practice systematic obstructionism in the National Assembly,’ Maćek [Radić’s successor] remembered. ‘Countless motions were made at every session, all labelled “urgent”, in order to gain precedence over the regular parliamentary business. The coalition thus in effect suspended the Assembly indefinitely.’ These tactics inevitably angered unsympathetic deputies, one of whom pulled a gun and shot Radić along with several colleagues during a rancorous session on June 14, 1928. When Radić died a few weeks later, Croat representatives walked out of the skupština in protest and refused to return. The kingdom’s politics became deadlocked.
     “It fell to Aleksandar, as a popular symbol of unity in the country, to lead his subjects out of the impasse. For allies and friends he put a brave public face on the situation. ‘We shall wait, time is on our side,’ he told French Prime Minister Aristide Briand. ‘The Croats will take no concrete measures.’ In private, however, his trademark stoicism shattered. In July 1928 Pribičević found him angry and contemplating drastic measures. ‘We cannot stay together with the Croats,’ the king stated flatly. ‘Since we cannot, it would be better to separate. The best way to do this would be to effect a peaceful separation, like Sweden and Norway did.’ Pribičević protested that such sentiments bordered on treason [!]. Aleksandar subsequently relented and proposed new elections to the skupština. That effort being unavailing, the king hinted that he would at least consider other solutions, despite his strong commitment to a centralized kingdom. At the beginning of January 1929 he summoned Radić’s successor, Maček, to ask him for his ideas. The new Peasant Party leader replied metaphorically. ‘If a vest is buttoned the wrong way,’ he said, it must be unbuttoned completely, then re-buttoned correctly. In other words, the Vidovdan regime must be abolished, as a prelude to the establishment of a federal Yugoslavia…” 
     But, assuming that the vest was indeed buttoned the wrong way, was this the correct way to re-button it? Could it be re-buttoned at all? Was the problem perhaps that the vest had too many buttons for two few holes, and that the only solution was a more fundamental unravelling and re-sewing of the whole vest with the removal even of the two sleeves?
     Perhaps Alexander should have realized from the beginning that there was no middle path between the opposing political ideals of Yugoslavism and Great Serbdom, and should have listened more closely to his Prime Minister, Nikola Pašić, who preferred using the Serbs’ advantageous position as victors to claim smaller, but more easily digestible territories from, say, Hungary, and absorb them into the old Serbian kingdom, rather than dissolve the old kingdom into a quite different state in which Croats and Slovenes could claim equal rights with the Serbs (but in which Albanians and other nationalities were as rightless as before). Perhaps he should have remembered the episode from the history of his beloved Russia, when Catherine the Great, after conquering most of Catholic Poland in 1792, found that she had absorbed into Russia’s bloodstream a good half of International Jewry and its inexorably anti-Russian and anti-Orthodox revolutionary virus, a virus which Russian tsarist antibodies tried hard to neutralize but which eventually brought down the Russian empire in 1917… 
     However, whether or not these criticisms of his rule in the first decade after the war can be sustained, they are of only marginal significance in assessing the dilemma that faced the king at the beginning of 1929. The dilemma consisted in the fact that, on the one hand, parliament was being exploited by dissident Croats and Slovenes (and also increasing numbers of Serbs) in order to paralyze the country. And now, after the murder of Radić, the Croats were even less inclined to compromise… But on the other hand, any attempt to suspend the constitution, or introduce a new political order, might paralyze the country still more in an age that placed freedom in the sense of unbridled self-will above everything…
     In a last throw of the dice, King Alexander appointed the Slovene cleric Korošec as the first and last non-Serb Prime Minister of the kingdom. But this attempt at conciliating the non-Serbs failed because the Croat delegates continued to boycott parliament, while the beginning of the Great Depression cast a dark cloud of pessimism over the country. The result was that Korošec resigned on December 30, 1928. 
     It was time to change course…
     On January 6, 1929 King Alexander prorogued parliament and took all political power into his own hands. This act was not as unprecedented or radical as might at first appear, for the democratic tide in European politics was ebbing. As Niall Ferguson writes, “Of twenty-eight European countries… nearly all had acquired some form of representative government before, during or after the First World War. Yet eight were dictatorships by 1925, and a further five by 1933. Five years later only ten democracies remained. Russia, as we have seen, was the first to go after the Bolsheviks shut down the Constituent Assembly in 1918. In Hungary the franchise was restricted as early as 1920. Kemal [Ataturk], fresh from his trouncing of the Greeks, established what was effectively a one-party state in Turkey in 1923, rather than see his policies of secularism challenged by an Islamic opposition…
    “… Even before his distinctly theatrical March on Rome on October 29, 1922 – which was more photo-opportunity than coup, since the fascists lacked the capability to seize power by force – Mussolini was invited to form a government by the king, Victor Emmanuel III, who had declined to impose martial law…
     “Italy was far from unusual in having dictatorship by royal appointment. Other dictators were themselves monarchs. The Albanian President, Ahmed Bey Zogu, declared himself King Zog I in 1928. In Yugoslavia King Alexander staged a coup in 1929, restored parliamentarism in 1931 and was assassinated in 1934; thereafter the Regent Paul re-established royal dictatorship. In Bulgaria King Boris III seized power in 1934. In Greece the king dissolved parliament and in 1936 installed General Ioannis Metaxas as dictator. Two years later Romania’s King Carol established a royal dictatorship of his own…” 
     Not dissimilar dictatorships were created in the Baltic states, in Hungary, Poland, Spain, Portugal and Austria. In Germany, the democratically elected Reichstag chose Hitler as chancellor… 
     “Nearly all the dictatorships of the inter-war period,” continues Ferguson, “were at root conservative, if not downright reactionary. The social foundations of their power was what remained of the pre-industrial ancient régime: the monarchy, the aristocracy, the officer corps and the Church, supported to varying degrees by industrialists fearful of socialism and by frivolous intellectuals who were bored of democracy’s messy compromises…” 
     But it is unjust to describe the intellectuals who were frustrated with democracy as “frivolous”. For the post-war idols of democracy and national self-determination, proclaiming only the pseudo-“rights” but never the real obligations of individuals and ethnic groups, had led not simply to “messy compromises”, but to gridlock, paralysis, near-anarchy and civil war in many countries. In the short to medium term, this could only benefit one power – the Soviet Union, the most voracious, God-hating and man-destroying state in history. Western historians routinely describe the dictators as vain, power-hungry men who overthrew the will of the people. Doubtless some, even the majority of them were vain and power-hungry – although by no means always more vain and power-hungry than the democratic politicians they replaced. But their basic aims of preserving order and unity in the state, and suppressing the extreme left whose overt aim was to destroy it, was laudable and necessary. As for the will of the people, this was usually on the side of the dictators: it was the “frivolous intellectuals” of liberal views (Lenin had called them “useful idiots”) who preferred to fiddle and talk while Rome burned, moaning about the loss of their “human right” to pontificate from a public tribunal while the tribunal itself was being sawn apart from below… 
     King Alexander understood this as well as anyone, and his adoption of the dictator’s path was certainly not born of vanity or lust for power, but of love for his country and care for her salvation. As he proclaimed when he prorogued parliament and suspended the constitution, “My expectations and those of my people that the evolution of our internal political life would bring about order and consolidation within our country have not been realised. Both parliamentary life and the political outlook generally have become more and more negative and both the nation and the State are today suffering from the consequences of this state of affairs.
     “All useful institutions within the State and the development of our national life have been jeopardized. Such an unhealthy political situation is not only prejudicial to internal life and progress, but also to the development of our external relations as well as to our prestige and credit abroad.     
     “Parliamentary life, which as a political instrument was a tradition of my late revered father, has also always been my ideal, but blind political passions have so abused it, that it has become an obstacle to all profitable work in the State. The regrettable disputes and the events in the Skupština have undermined the confidence of the nation in this institution. All harmony and even those elementary relations between parties and individuals have become altogether impossible. Instead of developing and strengthening the feeling of national unity, Parliamentarism as it has developed has begun to provoke moral disorganisation and national disunion.
     “It is my sacred duty to preserve by all means national unity and the State. I am determined to fulfil my duty without flinching until the end. The preservation of the unity of the people and the safeguarding of the unity of the State, the highest ideal of my reign, must also be the most important law for me and for all…” 
     National unity was indeed King Alexander’s highest political ideal, and after ten years of failed experiment with his other ideal of parliamentarism, he was now prepared, while not rejecting parliamentarism permanently, to place it temporarily but firmly in subjection to national unity. As he explained to an American journalist, “a house divided against itself cannot stand. The politicians tried to divide our people.” 
     “As a gesture to advocates of federalism he renamed the country ‘Yugoslavia’ and reorganized it into nine banovine, districts named for points of geographical interest. These modifications, along with a strict ban on activities and organizations deemed political or ethnocentric, were to be the basis of a new Yugoslav patriotism that admitted no national distinctions. In order to guarantee cooperation with this new program, the king capped his list of decrees with a new Law for the Defense of the State, an expansion of the 1921 obzana to cover any would-be dissenters. Thus Aleksandar joined the ranks of East European dictators, although he always rejected that interpretation. ‘This was not a dictatorship,’ he said shortly before his death. ‘I only took a few necessary measures to further the unity of the state until political passions cooled.’” 
     Alexander made a major mistake at the beginning of his dictatorship when he appointed General Peter Živković as Prime Minister. Živković was a close friend of the king, but he “had opened the oak gates to Belgrade’s royal residence on the night in May 1903 when Apis and his co-conspirators stormed the palace and murdered King Aleksandar Obrenović”. Later, he turned against Apis. However, his appointment “was greeted with undisguised dismay not only in Croatia but also in Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro…” 
     A more accurate description of what Alexander did in 1929 might be: an attempted transition from constitutional monarchy to autocratic monarchy of the traditional Orthodox kind. Of course, he could not say this, even if he had been fully conscious that this was his goal; for the West, and the westernized classes in the East, no longer understood the concept of the Orthodox autocracy, which they mistakenly equated with an oriental variety of Catholic absolutism. For Orthodox autocracy means a close relationship between Church and State in which the hierarchy is the conscience of the king, advising and correcting him in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel, while according him the supremacy in the political sphere – a supremacy that the Popes did not concede to their Catholic kings. 
     King Alexander had such a close friend and advisor from the hierarchy in the person of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich of Ohrid. Bishop Nikolai appears to have gradually changed his political position from his earlier enthusiastic Yugoslavism and ecumenism to a closer concentration on the preservation of Serbia and her Orthodox traditions. This “conversion” appears to have taken place in the mid-1920s and almost certainly influenced his friend the king. Always a fervent anti-communist, Nikolai retained his close friendships in the democratic powers of Britain and America – a fact that later made the Germans imprison him in Dachau. But his political ideal was the Serbian Orthodox autocracy of the Nemanjas. 
     Having said that, neither king nor bishop spoke openly about the Orthodox autocracy. That would have been impossible in an age in which the only political choices seemed to be between democracy and totalitarianism – or half-baked mixtures between them. Besides, a transition from constitutionalism to autocracy had never been attempted in history, and would probably have been possible only in a country, like Russia, with a recent strong tradition of autocracy. 
     So the king’s only alternative was to hold on grimly, forced to repress those dissidents whom he was unable to persuade. At least he could not be accused of discriminating in favour of the Serbs - his repressive measures landed many Serbs, too, in prison. And “he underscored his personal Yugoslavism [and ecumenism] by vacationing in Slovenia, naming a son after the Croatian king Tomislav, and standing as godfather to a Muslim child.” 
     Perhaps surprisingly, many democrats accepted the necessity of his dictatorship - at first. “Generally,” writes Farley, “Aleksandar’s new regime received favourable reviews. Yugoslavia’s Great Power allies swallowed their distaste for non-parliamentary solutions. The London Times expressed confidence that the end-result would be a ‘well-knit state’, while the erstwhile leftist French Prime Minister, Briand, said only that Aleksandar should avoid ‘fascist-style bombast’. None of the king’s allies wanted to see Yugoslavia, the crucial link between Danubian and Balkan Europe, fractured and disunited. At home Croat leaders expressed their relief at the end of an era. ‘This was a necessary step,’ declared Ante Trumbić, who had continued to promote his vision of an equal partnership among the leading groups in the state. Despairing of effecting change through the Skupština, they turned hopefully to Aleksandar after its suspension. Maček’s metaphorical vest now unbuttoned, they believed that the end of politics-as-usual would lead to initiatives addressing their fundamental grievance…” 
    But this optimism did not last long; and by the summer of 1929 Croatia’s politicians resumed the offensive. Indeed, the whole province was not simply discontented but seething with revolutionary violence. And so, as a result of the continuous, uncompromising demands of the Croats, the “Dictatorship, which Alexander had hoped to raise above Nationalism, became essentially anti-Croatian”.  For, despite his efforts “to be a colorless Yugoslav, he was the symbol of the hegemony of the Serbs”.  And so, “whatever his intentions, Aleksandar’s personal rule stripped Croats of what little influence they had had in the state”.  
     Recognizing that his policy was not working, he decided on a cosmetic change.  In November, 1931 elections were permitted - but all opposition to the government list was banned. And so 306 members of parliament were returned, all belonging to the pro-government National Party. Yugoslavia had become a one-party state, even if the appearance of genuine democracy was maintained.  And her king was now a real dictator, albeit less cruel and more genuinely impartial than other dictators of the time. 
     Increasingly prominent in the political struggle now was the Catholic Church under Archbishop Stepinac, who was already showing evidence of those viciously anti-Serb and anti-Orthodox tendencies that were to explode into mass murder in 1941. This was evident already in 1932, when Metropolitan Dositheus (Vasič) was appointed to the see of Zagreb. Alexis Gerovsky, the Carpatho-Russian political and religious activist, wrote: “Dositheus’ appointment to Zagreb elicited great discontent among the Catholics. The name of Bishop Dositheus was already blacklisted because he ‘by his propaganda has converted the Carpatho-Russians to Orthodoxy’… When some years before the Second World War Bishop Dositheus told me that he had been appointed as metropolitan in Zagreb, I besought him not to accept this appointment, since he had never been there and did not know the religious fanaticism of the Zagreb Croats… I mentioned to him [the Catholic Archbishop] Stepinac, who was already famous for his religious intolerance, and I warned him that he would suffer many unpleasantnesses from him. ‘Stepinac, who was educated for seven years in a Jesuit seminary in Rome,’ I said, ‘will feel offended that an Orthodox metropolitan should be implanted in his capital’… I advised him to convince the members of the Synod to send to Zagreb a bishop from those who had been born before the First World War and raised in Austria-Hungary, and who was already familiar with types like Stepinac. But Vladyka told me that it was his duty to obey the will of the patriarch, and he went to Zagreb. When, several months later, I again met him in Belgrade, he told me that I had been right. He was often insulted in the street. Sometime the windows of his house were broken at night. Stones even fell into his bedroom. I asked Vladyka whether he had spoken to the police. He replied that it was not fitting for a bishop to call the police. But when I told him that in such a case his enemies would think that he feared them, and would be still more brazen, Vladyka replied: ‘No, they know that I am not afraid of them. When they revile me or spit at me, I simply raise my hands and bless them with the sign of the cross.’” 
     Another important new factor allied to this militant Catholicism was the rise of the Ustaše Party under Ante Pavelić, who fled Yugoslavia in 1929 in order to organize the training of his terrorists in Italy and Hungary. Pavelić’s Ustaše (literally: “Rebel”) Party was an extreme offshoot of the Croatian Party of Rights, founded in 1861 by Ante Starčević. As John Cox writes, “Starčević advocated Croatian unity and independence. His party pursued a line that was both anti-Habsburg and anti-Serbian… Starčević… advocated the construction of a ‘greater Croatia’ which would include territory inhabited by Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and even Slovenes. He wrote that, on the whole Serbs were simply Croats who had wandered away from their Catholic Christianity; other members of the substantial Serbian minority living in Croatia were either recent arrivals, encouraged to settle by the Habsburgs, or members of other groups such as ‘Vlachs’ who had taken up Orthodoxy. The Catholic Slovenes to the north, with whom Croats have traditionally had few conflicts, were supposedly not a distinct nation but merely ‘mountain Croats’ who spoke a different dialect. Furthermore the Muslims of Bosnia were just islamicized Croats, and actually very admirable Croats indeed since they had even been willing to adopt Islam under the Turks to gain autonomy and maintain their political and economic control over what had been medieval Croatia. This point would be very important to Pavelić later, when he tried to justify Croatia’s annexation of Bosnia after the Axis invasion of 1941. He would argue that NDH [the independent state of Croatia] was a Croat state with two religions: Catholic Christianity and Islam.
     “While Starčević was right about the Bosnian Muslims being overwhelmingly of Slavic origin, he was grossly over-estimating their Croatian or non-Serbian character. Starčević’s ethnic nationalism meant that the Bosnian Muslims would be co-opted later by the Croatian fascists, but that they would also, at least initially, be spared much of the violence directed at Croatia’s Serbs and Jews.
     “The Party of Rights had moved through various declarations of who were its allies and what were its goals. Pavelić belonged to the most anti-Serbian branch of the Party, initiated by Josip Frank in 1894. By Pavelić’s day the Ustaša line was that Croatia needed to get out of Yugoslavia fast and take Bosnia with it, and that it should use any means necessary to carry out its goals. This is what the Axis invasion of April 1941 allowed Pavelić to do. A tragic fate then awaited the Serbs: as Ustaša leaders publicly boasted, one-third of them were to be slaughtered, one-third forcibly converted to Catholic Christianity, and the rest expelled from the country.” 
     Unlike the Croatian Peasant Party under Maček, which continued to negotiate with King Alexander, and in 1939 even came to an agreement or sporazum on Croatian autonomy with his successor, Prince Paul, Pavelić and the Ustaše were hate-filled terrorists with whom it was impossible for the king to negotiate. Thus Pavelić once “visited Bulgaria, where he made several public appearances with leading members of Vanche Mihailov’s VMRO, the wing of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization which was committed to the violent overthrow of Yugoslav rule in Macedonia: ‘We cannot fight against those forest bandits [Serbs/Yugoslavs] with a prayer book in our hands,’ Pavelić told large crowds of VMRO supporters in Vidin and Sofia. ‘After the World War many believed that we would have peace… But what sort of peace is it when Croats and Macedonians are imprisoned? These two peoples were enslaved on the basis of a great lie – that Serbs live in Macedonia and Croatia and that the Macedonian people is Serbian… If we tie our hands and wait until the civilized world helps us, our grandchildren will die in slavery. If we wish to see our homeland free, we must unbind our hands and go into battle.’
     “Pavelić’s appeal for the violent overthrow of Yugoslavia and the secession of Croat lands led to a Belgrade court sentencing him to death in absentia on a charge of high treason. Persona non grata in Austria, Pavelić chose Italy as his place of exile. With the financial assistance of the Italian government, Pavelić set about the construction of two main training camps, one in Hungary, one in Italy, for his new organization, the UHRO [Ustaše Hrvatska Revolucionarna Organizacija].”  
     Soon Pavelić felt ready to strike. On March 23, 1929 he sent a hit team to Zagreb to kill Toni Schlegel, the Croat editor of the pro-Yugoslav newspaper Novosti, and a personal friend of King Alexander.  Then, in 1932, “a unit of the Ustaše ‘invaded’ the town of Brušani in Like by stealing across the Italian border (Italy had annexed large amounts of Croatian territory after the World War); it attacked some government buildings and many of the men were then caught. Inside the country they inspired sporadic bombings and shootings.”  
     Finally, in December, 1933 Pavelić sent three men from Italy to kill the king in Zagreb. But the leading conspirator, Peter Oreb, couldn’t carry it through, partly because he did not want to kill innocent civilians and the Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb, who was blessing the king, but also because he was amazed at the warmth with which the Croats greeted the king, which was not what he had been led to believe. And so he “made a full confession, incriminating Pavelich and compromising Italy. The trial [took place] in March, in Yugoslavia, in a blaze of publicity. The position of Pavelich, suborned by Italy, was made clear to the Yugoslavs, perhaps to the world. On April 1 the three men [were] condemned to death.” 
International Diplomacy
     At the beginning of the 1930s, as both Fascism and Communism were becoming stronger on the international stage, Alexander’s task was not becoming any easier. Within, his kingdom was seething with malcontents and revolutionaries. From outside, hostile powers such as Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria were helping his internal enemies. Faced with this mounting, and increasingly united opposition, King Alexander was forced to seek friends - or rather, counterweights to his enemies - in one or other of the European blocs: the communists, the fascists and the democrats. 
    There was no question of him, the main protector of the White Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, entering into an alliance with the communists, especially after the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia came out in defence of the Ustaše’s incursion into Lika…  The fascists were also unacceptable allies because of Italy’s territorial incursions into Yugoslavia and support for the Ustaše. 
     That left the democrats, who at least supported the idea of a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, and had close brotherly (i.e. masonic) links with many of Yugoslavia’s leading politicians, bankers and industrialists. And so in February, 1933 Alexander joined a “Little Entente” consisting of the democratic powers of France, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia… 
     The problem, however, was that these nations were militarily weaker and geographically more disconnected from each other than the fascist bloc, and that they included none of Yugoslavia’s main trading partners. Besides, the leaders of the “Little Entente” were angry with Alexander for betraying their masonic-democratic ideals on January 6, 1929. Perhaps that is why both Britain and France were rather slow in coming to the aid, political or economic, of their former wartime ally… 
     And so Alexander decided, while not abandoning his democratic allies, to make feelers towards the fascist bloc... 
     First, in 1932, he entered into secret negotiations with Mussolini. But in spite of intense diplomatic activity, these came to nothing. “To the proposal for a meeting with the King [Mussolini] replied arrogantly. Alexander must first of all consolidate the internal divisions of his country, then if he would apply again Mussolini would consider it. ‘I wait at my window,’ said Mussolini.
     “That amounted to an affront. From that time on Alexander worked more vigorously to thwart Italian policy in the Balkans. But the phrase, ‘I wait at my window’, was seen afterwards to have a sinister meaning. Mussolini was staging a revolt at Lika on the boundary of Croatia and Dalmatia. His window looked across the Adriatic. He was going to drop a lighted match into the supposed powder factory of Croat and Dalmatian disaffection and watch the effects. Perhaps Yugoslavia would be blown to bits. Then he could move in and impose Fascist order on the other side of the Adriatic…” 
     But Yugoslavia did not blow up, and “there are signs that in 1933 the Fascists became discontented. Yugoslavia had not been obviously weakened by terrorism. There was no unrest, no political ferment. The various political parties remained passive under the dictatorship. The propaganda conducted in the foreign press had raised no agitation against the Yugoslav government. Great Britain had privately expressed her desire that Yugoslavia should return to democratic institutions, but she was too occupied with other pressing problems to take sides in Balkan politics. France was engrossed by the spectre of resurgent Germany. Travellers to Yugoslavia heard little or nothing of the train wrecks and outrages. They reported an uncommonly peaceful country. Tourists swarmed to the Dalmatian resorts…” 
     As Italy fumed, Hungary, the other main supporter of the Ustaša, began to rethink her relations with Yugoslavia. For Yelka Pogorolets, the girlfriend of the Croatian terrorist Perchets, had revealed the role of both Italy and Hungary in financing Ustaša camps on their soil, and Yugoslavia protested to the League of Nations. Admiral Horthy sent Alexander a diplomatic representative, who was warmly received. The Ustaša camp in Hungary was closed , and relations with Hungary developed well. By October, 1934 they appeared to have achieved a break-through.  
     Italy still threatened – in December, 1933 the Italians and the Ustaša were behind an attempt on Alexander’s life in Zagreb. But his stock internationally was rising, and in the summer of 1933, only a few months after Hitler came to power, the king decided to approach the most powerful country in the fascist bloc. He travelled incognito by car to southern Germany, where he met Goering…  
     However, French diplomats still hoped to enlist both Yugoslavia and Italy into their anti-Hitler alliance, in spite of Alexander’s annoyingly dictatorial and anti-Croatian ways. “If Aleksandar solved the Croat problem, they thought, Mussolini’s opportunities for troublemaking with the Ustaša would vanish and France would enlist both states in the campaign to limit German expansion. The king reacted badly to this request, curtly informing the French ambassador, Emile Naggiar, that federalism condemned the country to anarchy. Why was Italy not being pressured to stop its support for the Ustaša? Aleksandar then accepted some overtures from the German government, whose representatives were probing weak links in the French alliance system. They hastened to assure the king that Serbs were the rightful rulers of Yugoslavia and proffered economic assistance that addressed pressing needs. For a time Aleksandar contemplated using his German connections as leverage against unreasonable French demands – until his diplomats learned that Germany was secretly bankrolling various Ustaša activities both in Germany and elsewhere…” 
     Nevertheless, common interests continued to draw Alexander and the Germans together. 
     On the one hand, the French and the Czechs appeared to want to expand the Little Entente to include Soviet Russia.  Alexander could not countenance that… 
     On the other hand, the Germans had their own reasons, both political and economic, for talking to Alexander. “On the political front, Hitler was disturbed by the defence pact signed by the leaders of the Little Entente… By improving Germany’s relations with Belgrade and Bucharest, he hoped to drive a wedge between them, on the one hand, and Prague, on the other, which would help to isolate Czechoslovakia, a country on which Hitler had lethal designs.
     “On the economic front, closer ties with Yugoslavia and Romania (and, indeed, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey) would provide Germany with the agricultural and mineral resources it needed for rearmament and, ultimately, a policy of imperial expansion in Europe…” 
     As the Germans had anticipated, Alexander’s negotiations with the fascist powers began to alarm some of his allies in the “Little Entente”, notably France and Czechoslovakia. The Parisian newspaper Le Temps was furious, as were the Czechs. Already years before, the Czech President Tomas Masaryk had expressed a dislike for King Alexander, whom he found “uncultured and undemocratic, a typical product of military mentality”.  Now the Croatian architect and sculptor Meštrović, who was a friend of the king, reported a conversation with Jan Masaryk, the son of the President and his country’s ambassador in London in 1933, in which Masaryk stormed against Alexander and the Serbs, saying that they would “ruin themselves and us”, and that in the end it came down to a choice: “either Alexander’s head, or the fall of your and our lands, which are allies”.  
     Although Alexander never broke with the masonic-democratic camp represented by Masaryk, his feelings against Masonry were becoming more intense. In August, 1934, less than two months before his death, the king expressed his frustration to Milan Banić. Denying that he occupied a mid-point between democracy and authoritarianism, he said that he “had to chase away all the Masons, because they are the root of all evil. No dirty business takes place without them!”  
     His estrangement from them was deepened by their lurch to the left in 1934. Until that year, the Comintern had refused to enter into any alliance with left-wing socialist parties, which it regarded as “social fascist”. But the rise of Hitler alarmed these parties, who began seeing “no enemies to the left”; and Stalin, sensing an opportunity, decided that these parties were no longer “social fascist”, but simply socialist, and blessed the formation of “Popular Fronts” in union with them. In May an article appeared in Pravda commenting favourably on socialist-Communist collaboration. Then, in June, Léon Blum's Socialist Party signed a pact for united action with the French Communist Party, and the Radical Party joined the pact in October…
     While lurching to the left, French politicians still wanted to keep King Alexander on side. Thus the French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou thought that Alexander’s regime might be a powerful asset for an anti-Hitler alliance in spite of its dictatorial nature. “His foreign policy was to create an anti-Hitler defense ring to be achieved by what was known as the Eastern Pact - binding the Soviet Union and Poland and the Little Entente, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania, to France… Barthou went to Belgrade… at the end of June 1934 for successful introductory talks regarding a Franco-Yugoslav alliance, and it was agreed that King Alexander would pay a two week state visit to France starting on October 9th to lay the groundwork for an anti-Hitler alliance…” 
     In the midst of these complicated manoeuvres with the western powers, “King Alexander had his own plan for securing peace in the Balkans, and peace in the Balkans concerned him much more than peace in Western Europe. He believed that a solidarity of the nations on the Balkan Peninsula was a first requirement. Let it become unprofitable for a Western Power to start a war there and impossible through diplomatic intrigue to set one Balkan State against another. He received assistance to that end in an unexpected quarter. The King of Bulgaria made a move to reconcile Bulgars and Serbs.” 
     In the end King Boris was unable, for internal political reasons, to join the pact – but relations between the two countries greatly improved. However, Romania, Greece and even Turkey responded well to King Alexander’s overtures. In some ways, this must be seen as one of the greatest of Alexander’s achievements, and one that might have changed European history but for his own untimely death…
     The godfather of King Alexander, Tsar Alexander III, once told his son, the future Tsar Nicholas, that Russia had no friends. However, Imperial Russia herself had been a true friend to the Balkan and Middle Eastern Orthodox financially, diplomatically and militarily. It followed that with the fall of the last Russian tsar in 1917, all the other Orthodox states found themselves essentially on their own, friendless and under sentence of death. The most significant of these was Alexander’s Yugoslavia. From every direction, Alexander was surrounded by enemies: by Croats, Slovenes, Muslims, Kosovans, Macedonians and even some Serbs from within the country, and by Italians, Austrians, Hungarians and Albanians from without. The Romanians were allies, and perhaps in King Boris of Bulgaria he had a real friend – but only on a personal level. For the history of bad blood and the territorial claims and counter-claims between the two countries made real cooperation impossible…
     Already during the 1920s, Alexander was a marked man. For indeed, “many sides wanted his death for many reasons... political mainly... either from [an] international point of view or from [a] national point of view - and he knew it!”  By assuming dictatorial powers in 1929 he had given his regime a few more years of life, but it was a temporary expedient – and it created for him yet more enemies. And so during the “dark valley” of the 1930s the wild beasts of communism, fascism and masonic democracy circled closer and closer around the wounded lion until one of them delivered the mortal blow. The question is: who was it?
     The main facts about the death of King Alexander are not disputed. He was shot and killed while on an official visit to France by “Vlada the Chauffeur”, a well-known Bulgarian terrorist working for Pavelić. Thus representatives of two of the Yugoslav illegal nationalist organizations that rejected Alexander’s suzerainty – Croatia’s Ustaše Party and Macedonia’s IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) – combined to wreak revenge on their enemy.
     This much is clear, and the motivation is clear. However, from the beginning there have been persistent rumours that International Freemasonry was also involved. Some say that the Masons wanted him killed because he had once been a Mason but had withdrawn from the lodge under the influence of Bishop Nikolai. According to one variant of this theory, Alexander had refused to trample on the Cross in a Masonic rite… Although we do not believe this hypothesis, it will be useful to examine what evidence there is for it.
     Now “there is no firm proof that King Peter Karageorgevic or his son Aleksandar were Freemasons. However a number of Serbian Masonic writers claim that King Peter and King Aleksandar became Masons in Switzerland and were probably raised Master Masons in one of the Lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge Alpina.”  Moreover, there is some anecdotal evidence that Alexander confessed to King Boris of Bulgaria that he had belonged to a lodge in his youth, but abandoned it in later life.  And the fiercely anti-communist and anti-Masonic Bishop Nikolai may well have had something to do with that decision…  So may the Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad, then resident in Karlovcy, which on August 15/28, 1932 decreed the condemnation of Masonry as a teaching and organization hostile to Christianity.
     But we do not have to assume that King Alexander ever became a Mason in order to understand why they may have wanted to kill him. Another hypothesis is that having had to rely on Masons both domestically and on the international stage for many years, his suspension of the constitution in 1929 and subsequent inching towards a more neutral position between the European power blocs could not fail to enrage his former patrons, who then hired the Ustaše to kill the “traitor”. Let us examine this hypothesis more closely… 
     Historically speaking, Masonry has not been consistent in its ideological allegiances. In the first phase of its existence, especially in England, it was closely associated with royalty and aristocracy, even absolute monarchy. However, from 1789 it attached itself firmly to the cause of the revolution, and even became its chief motor. Democracy, constitutionalism, secularism, anti-clericalism, anti-monarchism and internationalism became its watchwords. But Masonry also included extreme nationalists (like the leaders of the Black Hand) and even communists (like Radek). In spite of this diversity, however, by the 1930s there can be no doubt that Masonry was identified with the democratic group of nations led by America, Britain and France, which controlled powerful elites in many other countries. Meanwhile, the two other major political blocs in European politics, the Fascists and the Communists, were officially anti-Masonic.
     One of the powerful elites that the Masons controlled was the majority of the Yugoslav parliamentary deputies. Apart from the contribution of Alexander himself, the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918 was largely the work of Habsburg Masons, both Serbs and Croats. They were supported by other Masons from Serbia proper.   Thus those attending meetings in the Masonic lodges in the period 1918-29 included the Croat leader Ante Trumbić and the Serbian Democratic Party leader Svetozar Pribičević, whose common membership of the lodge may go part of the way to explaining why Pribičević changed sides late in the decade and joined Trumbić in opposing King Alexander’s politics in relation to Croatia. 
     And yet after January 6, 1929 both names disappear from the attendance lists.  The timing cannot be coincidental. Perhaps Trumbić and Pribičević left in protest at Alexander’s suppression of democracy on that day. Or perhaps – more likely - they became apprised of a decision to murder him, and, being decent men (at least by comparison with the more extremist politicians in Yugoslavia), could no longer remain in an organization that sponsored the killing of their king…  
     The king and Barthou were shot together in an open car in Marseilles on October 9, 1934. From the beginning doubt was cast on the official version of events, viz., that it was only the work of the Macedonians and the Ustaše, who, as was well known, were supported by Mussolini. Perhaps, however, the last link in the plot was not Mussolini, but the Grand Orient, who hired the assassins, and suborned their man, the French Interior Minister Albert Sarrault, to weaken the security around the two victims…
     Certainly, there were puzzling elements in the case. While not disproving the generally accepted theory that Mussolini and Pavelić were primarily responsible, they suggest that there were other parties who at any rate wanted the king’s death. Thus security preparations for the king’s trip had been very slack on both the Yugoslav and French sides, and after the assassination Sarrault was forced to resign. Pavelić, writes Graham, “obtained confirmation that no Serbian police agents would be allowed to go to Marseilles. He learned that General Dimitrievich – who was attached to the King’s person and was to some extent responsible for his safety – had come to Paris by rail instead of accompanying the King by sea. He was being held up by the French, who obstinately refused to modify any detail of the program. It was unlikely that he would get to Marseilles in time to be able to insure any special arrangements for the monarch’s safety. Pavelich gathered that no special precautions would be taken at Marseilles and that Vlada the Chauffeur had a fine chance. There were French officials in the pay of Italy and Pavelich had access to some of these. A party favourable to Italy was being organized in France. Arms and ammunition were already being stored with a view to a rising of the French Fascists. Pavelich had nothing to fear from those who were in the secret. The removal of Alexander might shock French democracy, but there were Frenchmen who would profit by it.” 
     The Yugoslav Interior Minister Lazich said that the King did not wish to be guarded in France. “He said that the French had guaranteed in advance the security of the King and that they would not countenance the presence of Yugoslav police upon their national territory. Scotland Yard had also proferred its services and had been refused. That the exit of certain of Pavelich’s men from Hungary had been reported did not impress Lazich. Hungary had, during the preceding summer, agreed to disband the terrorists encamped on her territory and it was natural that some bad characters should be leaving. Dimitrievich had no say. He was only the Court Marshal and it was not part of his duties to organize police protection…” 
     After the assassination, the French appeared to do everything possible to protect the Ustaša and their paymaster, Mussolini. No effort was made to extradite Pavelić and his co-conspirators from Italy. At the League of Nations France again protected Italy. And when the trial of the assassins finally got under way, after a great delay, in Aix-en-Provence (not Paris, as might have been expected) the defence counsel, Desbons, acted in such an extraordinarily obstructive manner that it was suspected that he wanted to be expelled from the bar, with the result that the case could not go on, the jury would be dismissed and a new trial called. 
     All this does not add up to a convincing argument that it was the French Grand Orient that masterminded the assassination. All the evidence points to the truth of the generally accepted theory, that Mussolini and Pavelić planned it. After all, it is established that they were behind another attempt to kill the king only ten months earlier in Zagreb. So they had the motive and intent and will to kill. And in spite of all attempts to muddy the waters, Pavelić’s agents were eventually convicted and executed.
     The most that we can say about possible masonic involvement is that the French authorities, most of whom were Masons, appeared to have tried to protect Mussolini and Pavelić and save the face of Italy. Why? Because the French Masonic politicians were trying to extend their anti-Hitlerite Little Entente or “Eastern Locarno” to include Italy, which had vowed to protect Austria against Germany. The fact that by protecting the Italians from implication in the assassination (which, let us remember, also included the assassination of the French Foreign Minister!) they offended the Yugoslavs, who were also members of the Little Entente, seems not to have worried them. And so, in fitting recompense for their injustice, they attained none of their aims, neither Italy’s adherence to the Little Entente, nor Yugoslavia’s remaining in it; for under the regency of Prince Paul Yugoslavia gravitated more and more towards Germany…
     Six months before the assassination, an Italian magazine had reported that the French Grand Orient was planning to assassinate the king because he was planning an alliance with Hitler. But this was probably a lie designed to draw the world’s attention from the Italians’ own nefarious designs… 
     We can safely conclude, therefore, that King Alexander was killed by Croatian and Bulgarian terrorists in the pay of the Italian fascists…
Summary and Conclusion
     The tragedy of Alexander’s reign consisted in the fact that, through no fault of his own, he found himself in the middle of a profound, complex and ultimately insoluble conflict of interests and ideologies. His father King Peter was a liberal brought up on Rousseau and John Stuart Mill. But in 1903, involuntarily profiting from the horrific murder of King Alexander Obrenović, he found himself propelled to the Serbian throne by a most illiberal group of nationalist revolutionaries, whose evil designs he was compelled, if not to approve, at any rate turn a blind eye to. Prince Alexander was brought up on his natural father’s ideology, and never renounced it. But from 1903 to 1909, while living in Russia, he was also exposed to his godfather Tsar Alexander III’s ideology of Holy Autocratic Rus’, which undoubtedly left a profound impression on him. Then from 1912 he found himself in command of the army, part of which, being deeply infiltrated by the nationalist revolutionary ideology, was forming a “state within the state”. 
     For the next few years, Alexander was spared the need to resolve these ideological contradictions by the more urgent necessity of leading his army to a series of brilliant victories against his country’s age-old oppressors (Turks), intruders (Albanians) and invaders (Bulgarians, Austrians and Germans). But by 1917 it was no longer possible to put off planning the structure and ideology of the state that would emerge in the vastly changed conditions of post-war Europe. He made a good start by bringing the leading nationalist revolutionaries to trial and executing or imprisoning them. But then, in the Corfu Declaration of 1917 and in the negotiations with the Croats and Slovenes in late 1918, he made what many consider to be the fatal mistake of his reign in blessing the formation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. And there can be no question: this was a huge, unprecedented and extremely risky political experiment: the merging of a well-established, highly centralised and militarised constitutional monarchy with two other South Slavic nations that had created de facto independent states on the territory of the former Habsburg empire.
     The first mistake was in the title: “the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” implied that only these three nations entered the new state on equal terms, while the others that found themselves, voluntarily or involuntarily, parts of it – Bosnian Muslims, Kosovan Albanians, Montenegrins (whose monarchy was abolished), Macedonians, Germans, Hungarians and Jews – were not even worth a mention. 
     Secondly, no constitution had been agreed, so for the first two and a half years, until the passing of the Vidovdan constitution in 1921, the question of the rights of minorities could not be resolved, and was “solved” only by the army and police force of the old Serbian kingdom. No wonder that so many thought that this was no more or less than the old Serbian kingdom upgraded to the status of an “empire”, and that the Croatian and Slovene lands had simply been annexed to it – albeit not by force, but by cunning diplomacy… 
     Thirdly, while the smaller nations grumbled, the leaders of the largest parties of the two largest nations, Pašić for the Serbs and Radić for the Croats, were not present at the formation of the new state. And so as Pašić tacitly withdrew from the obligations he had undertaken in the Corfu Declaration, Radić simply rejected the legitimacy of the new state and resorted to gross obstructionism – while Alexander desperately tried to keep the peace between them.
     If this sounds as if Alexander was the righteous peace-maker amidst a bunch of self-interested and irresponsible politicians, this is true, but only partly true. For while Alexander’s intentions were pure, and probably purer than those of the politicians, the fact was that he was under an illusion that Pašić and Radić were not under. This was the illusion shared by most of western humanity at that time, that all that was needed to unite the nations in peace and brotherhood was goodwill and a common adherence to the ideal of democracy, regardless of different historical traditions, different political systems and, above all, different religious beliefs. Both Pašić and Radić, each in their own very different ways, understood that the idea of Yugoslavia as multi-ethnic yet Serb-dominated, democratic yet monarchical, multi-faith yet officially Orthodox state was an illusion; and while they can be blamed, as Alexander did blame them, for not trying a little harder to bridge the unbridgeable, they could not be blamed for believing that it could not work in the long run.
     However, while officially wedded to the Yugoslav idea, Alexander instinctively stepped back from taking the measures that would have brought it fully into being. Thus he always resisted making the state into a confederation, insisting on its centralist character. And he continued to rely almost exclusively on Serbs from the old kingdom to staff the major posts in the army, police and administration. 
     Most importantly, he always protected the status of the Orthodox Church. After his death, the Concordat of 1938 granted equal status to the Roman Catholic church, provoking mass protests in the Serbian population. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, forcing the two humps, Orthodox Serbia and Catholic Croatia, to separate into two virtually autonomous states in 1939 that made the country easy prey for the Nazis in 1941…
     That the Yugoslav idea could not work was proved, not once but twice – in the Fall of Royal Yugoslavia in 1941 and of Communist Yugoslavia in 1991. 
     For “the path to hell is paved with good intentions…”
     King Alexander refused fully to implement the Yugoslav idea that he formally embraced partly for political reasons, to save his regime from potential Serbian insurgents. For “the king understood, perhaps better than anyone, that his father had come to the throne in 1903 because a group of officers had condemned the Obrenovićs for neglecting historic Serbian objectives. It would not be difficult to imagine like-minded individuals plotting to do away with Aleksandar for accommodating Croats and others at the expense of Serbs. In fact the king discussed with Meštrović the threat he believed that element posed to him.” 
     But his motives for finally leaning towards Serbdom rather than Yugoslavism were deeper than mere self-preservation. He had given the best part of his youth fighting for the old kingdom of Serbia, and felt that agreeing to a federation would be “stabbing Serbs in the back”.  Nor, when the Catholic Church reared its despotic head in the last years of his reign, was he ready to give ground to the oldest enemy of the Serbian Church and State. 
     However, the deepest reason for what can only be called his noble failure to unite his warring subjects was eschatological: the Age of Empire, of multi-ethnic states united under truly Christian kings or emperors, was over. Yugoslavia could never reproduce the achievement of the Russian empire, even on a much smaller scale. The Russian empire had grown in an organic way over the centuries, inheriting the role of Christian Rome from Byzantium after 1453, and growing through a series of defensive wars from its sixteenth-century Muscovite core to the limits of its territorial expansion after the re-conquest of Galicia in 1915. In the process it had absorbed many alien peoples of different faiths, some of whom, such as the Poles and Jews, never recognised its legitimacy. But the legitimacy of the Russian empire was the legitimacy of the 1600-year-old Christian Roman empire founded by St. Constantine the Great – the model and source of all true political legitimacy. The kingdom of Serbia, too, was a legitimate state that had liberated itself in the course of more than a century from its Turkish oppressors, laying legitimate claim to be the heir of the medieval Nemanja empire… Yugoslavia, by contrast, was an artificial, Masonic-inspired fudge of a state, whose legitimacy as a mini-empire was rejected, not by a minority, but by the majority of its subjects. And so, being a kingdom fundamentally divided against itself, it could not stand…  
     In spite of this, the achievements of Alexander’s Yugoslavia were real and important: the preservation of Orthodoxy in the Serb-populated lands, the offering of the possibility of finding the true faith to the non-Serbian peoples of Yugoslavia, and, perhaps most important, the provision of a refuge to the Russian Church Abroad… And yet these were like the last gleanings of a harvest after the reapers and gatherers have gone home… The fundamental fact is that Yugoslavia was born “out of season”, after the death of the last Orthodox Christian emperor, who alone had the authority from God to restrain the coming of the Antichrist. The time for Orthodox autocracies and Orthodox kingdoms was past – at least for some generations. The time of the Antichrist had come…
August 14/27, 2012.
Forefeast of the Holy Dormition of the Most Virgin and Mother of God Mary.

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