The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
VOLTAIRE has said that those who have great virtues usually have great faults. The virtues of the Jugoslavs were in evidence during the war. Their faults, those which one might expect to find in a people lacking political experience, are in evidence today when the long-drawn negotiations and disappointments of peace try the reasonableness of men as greatly as the hardships and dangers of war tried their bodies and souls.
This is a suitable moment to reckon up what have been the achievements and failures of the Jugoslav Government in the period since the collapse of the Hapsburg Monarchy gave its subject races a chance to experiment with the freedom of which they had long dreamed. The general elections which have just taken place in Jugoslavia--the first since the adoption of the national constitution--have served to throw into relief the important internal questions pressing for solution at the hands of the government; and in so doing they have shown very clearly how large a bearing the problem of internal organization has upon the country's foreign relations.
I. DOMESTIC DIFFICULTIES
It is difficult to generalize about Jugoslavia,[i] inhabited as it is by three peoples, Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, who though closely united in race and language differ in almost everything else. They are the descendents of three Slavic tribes that moved into the Danube Valley and the western regions of the Balkan peninsula in the seventh century. The Slovenes, inhabiting the northwestern part of the Jugoslav territory, early came under Germanic rule. The Kingdom of Croatia was attached to Hungary (though keeping its own entity) as early as 1102. The Serb kingdom, after varying fortunes culminating in the magnificence of Tsar Stephen Dushan, crowned in 1346 as "Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks" with territories stretching from the Danube to Thessaly and from the Adriatic well into
what is today Bulgaria, went down at last before the Turkish invasion; the fatal blow was received on the Field of the Blackbirds on the 15th of June, 1389, a day remembered by the Serbs each year through five centuries as a day of mourning--now the national holiday.
Remote and mountainous Serbia, the Piedmont of the Jugoslav movement, is in consequence far more primitive, far more eastern, than Croatia and Slovenia, which for centuries have known the uncertain advantages of association with the politicians and business men of Vienna and Budapest. While Croatia was engaged in petty political and trade wrangling with its Austro-Hungarian rulers, Serbia was fighting for life, at first to regain her liberty from the Turks, then to escape the new threat from the north. As a result, the Serbs are more patriotic--one might even say more idealistic--than the Croats. If the Croats look on the Serbs as uncouth and uneducated, the Serbs are inclined to consider the Croats as lacking in stability and moral force. A further difference results from the fact that the Serbs, having been Christianized from the east, belong to the Greek Orthodox Church and, like all Slavs of that church, write with Cyrillic characters, while the Croats and Slovenes are Roman Catholic and, though speaking the same tongue as their Serb kinsmen, write with our Latin characters. The difference in religion is perhaps less important than some writers have said; it is the resulting difference in interest and outlook which has so profoundly affected the psychology of the three groups. The Serbs have looked eastward toward Constantinople; the Croats and Slovenes have looked west across the Adriatic to Rome or north to Budapest and that most Catholic of all capitals, Vienna.
These are only the most elementary and obvious differences between the main racial groups which compose the triune state. There are many others. For example, in Bosnia (over the mountains to the westward of Old Serbia and separated by the Dinaric Alps from the Adriatic littoral) not only is a third of the population Mohammedan, though Serb in race, but there also persist remnants of a feudal land tenure introduced by the Turkish conquerors, extinct elsewhere in Jugoslavia. All along the borders of Jugoslavia, too, are found racial mixtures which were the bane of the Paris peacemakers and which engender distinctive local problems. It obviously is difficult to excite a Macedonian peasant over the prospect that some hundreds of thousands of Croats and Slovenes are to be left under Italian rule around Trieste and in Istria; nor will the farmer on the banks of the Drave roar with indignation because seven or eight hundred miles away the Greeks refuse to carry out their agreement to give Jugoslav commerce special facilities in the port of Saloniki. Yet each problem is a burning one in its own part of the country, to be endlessly discussed and, if need be, fought over. In fact the Belgrade Government has been busy restraining outlying districts from settling in their own way their difficulties with neighboring states.
This situation inevitably has produced two conflicting theories as to the proper way of composing the interests of different regions and of carrying on the national government. One group of leaders have taken the attitude that the Jugoslav Government should be federative in character, leaving large legislative powers to the provinces and even decentralizing the administrative machinery so far as possible. They recognize the special services and sacrifices of Serbia in the fight for liberty and union by accepting her Karageorgevitch dynasty, and they agree that Belgrade should be the capital (though the Croats, remembering the broad boulevards of Zagreb, turn up their noses at the cobbled streets that wander up from the Danube to Belgrade's main square); but they demand local assemblies for the various provinces and wide latitude in settling fiscal and trade matters. Naturally, the proponents of this theory are in the main Croats and Slovenes, both of whom had experience with provincial diets under the Austro-Hungarian régime.
Strong arguments are brought to bear against the advocates of federalism by those who want a centralized government. The latter point out that Jugoslavia is a new country, surrounded by former enemies likely to seek revenge at the first sign of weakness. They explain that there must be a supreme central government able to unite the full national strength in the face of threatened aggression. They also enlarge upon the country's manifold financial difficulties, which demand coordinated action. In this connection they do not omit to point out that after the armistice Serbia willingly prejudiced her own excellent financial position by assuming jointly with Croatia and the other former Austro-Hungarian provinces the share of these latter in the Dual Monarchy's state debt; they ask whether in view of the fact that the Serbian dinar was brought down to the value of the Croatian and Slovene crown--in the interests of national unity--it is now quite fair for the business men of Zagreb and Ljubljana to demand the exclusive control of their economic and financial affairs, with power to take individual action that might further depress the whole national currency and work fresh hardship to the unfortunate Serbs.
In Nikola Pashitch, now in his seventy-eighth year, the centralists have found a veteran leader who without having lost his preëminent qualifications as a conciliator still retains an extraordinary personal vigor. Pashitch is perhaps the least known of the statesmen who over a period of years have played a really important hand in European politics; his white beard and patriarchal bearing furnished local color for the reporters at the Paris Conference, but his uncommunicativeness in any language save Serbian barred him from gaining publicity for his views and from making Jugoslav aims understood abroad. In fifty years of political life he has encountered every variety of fortune, having twice served terms in prison (during the reign of the pro-Austrian Obrenovitch dynasty) and having more than a dozen times been Prime Minister, first of Serbia and then of the triune kingdom. Through all these fifty years he has always fought Austrian and Hungarian influences in the Balkans and he early became a sponsor for the movement to federate all the Southern Slavs, including the Bulgars. During the most bitter moments of the war, when some counselled compromise with the enemy and some would have sacrificed the ideal of Jugoslav unity to follow the easier plan of setting up merely an enlarged Serbia, leaving the Croats and Slovenes to settle for themselves their own disputes with Austro-Hungary, Pashitch held firm. His determination is still like iron. He is determined that the fruits of so many years of idealistic effort, in Zagreb and Ljubljana and Sarajevo and Ragusa no less than in Belgrade, shall not be thrown aside at the last by a sudden reaction toward particularism in the provinces. He believes that the reaction has birth in the inevitable economic difficulties resulting from a complete reintegration of the political structure of Central Europe, and that with ten years of peace it will disappear.
All the premiers who since the war have alternated with Pashitch in office have been handicapped by the fact that no one party has had a working majority in the national assembly. The two chief parties--the so-called Radicals (a confusing misnomer) led by Pashitch, and the Democrats led by Pribitchevitch and Davidovitch--have stood more or less together as regards the problem of internal organization, and on several occasions they have formed a coalition government. The trouble has been that although the Democratic leaders are centralists the bulk of their followers are found in Croatia, where the federalist idea has taken deep root and where a peasant demagogue, Raditch, has by every means been trying to cultivate it.
Raditch is not himself a peasant but an educated man of erratic habits whose performances during the war, when he wrote odes in honor of the Austrian Emperor, and during the armistice period, when he visited Fiume for secret negotiations with representatives of d'Annunzio, strangely enough do not seem to hamper his ability to represent himself to the Croatian peasants as a patriotic liberator and their patricular patron. The real basis of his hold on the peasants seems to be that they fear the competition of agricultural Serbia; his personal desire to play a lone political hand is supplemented by their desire for economic independence. While the Serbs are openly afraid that the Croats will seize control of the railways and ports which connect them with western Europe, the Croats are afraid that they will be swamped by the produce of Serbia and the other provinces with whom they suddenly find themselves united.
In the recent parliament the Raditch party held a large block of seats; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Raditch himself held them, for the Croatian peasant deputies were in the hollow of his hand and he alone took the important decision that none of them should attend the sitting of parliament at Belgrade. With a make-shift coalition between the two leading parties, and with the third most powerful party abstaining from parliamentary life altogether and its leader conducting a revolutionary propaganda for a Croatian Peasant Republic, one may see that the premiership of Jugoslavia was no sinecure.
The position became intolerable last fall when one group of the Democrats began flirting with Raditch. Pashitch dissolved the coalition and resigned. Upon being called back to office he formed a purely Radical cabinet and set to work laying his plans to gain an absolute majority in the next elections. These elections have now been held, and though Pashitch has increased the Radical seats from 92 in a parliament of 417 members to 109 in a parliament numbering 311 (membership in parliament was cut down to a proportional representation basis by the new constitution), he is still far short of a majority. The following table contrasts the composition of the former parliament with the one recently elected:
|Democrats (Davidovitch, Pribitchevitch)||91||52|
|Croatian Peasant Party (Raditch)||50||70|
|Mohammedans of Bosnia||24||18|
|Mohammedans of South Serbia||8||13|
The Democratic representation is cut down; Raditch has substantially increased his parliamentary forces; the Serbian Agrarians, of whose constructive program much was hoped, frittered away their chances by internecine disputes and have nearly disappeared from the scene; and the Communists have been annihilated, partly no doubt owing to strong-arm methods but perhaps even more because various discontented racial minorities which before voted the Communist ticket as a rebuff to the new government have now given allegiance to one of the major parties or put forward candidates of their own.
Of the seven deputies elected from Montenegro (included above under "Miscellaneous") only two are separatists, i.e., opposed to the incorporation of Montenegro in the Jugoslav state. The fact that candidates openly opposed to the present regime were allowed to make their campaign unmolested, and that the two elected could proceed to take their seats in parliament at Belgrade, indicates the correctness of the reports of official British observers at the time of the preceding Montenegrin elections, to the effect that the majority of Montenegrins welcome the act of union under Alexander (who is the grandson of their late ruler, King Nicholas) as the fulfillment of historic hopes. The activity of former courtiers of Nicholas who have now lost their posts (such as Col. Plamenatz, who for some reason was recently admitted to the United States on a passport issued to himself by himself in Rome,) may keep alive antagonisms in this country and may serve the ends of a small number of rash Italians who dream of annexations across the Adriatic, but the elections seem to indicate that the propaganda has not had the hoped for effect in Montenegro itself.
Many interesting deductions might be made from the various election results, but for those who are concerned with the question of centralism versus federalism the main point to note is that political and social distinctions have counted less in this election than regional and religious distinctions. The parties with platforms emphasizing questions of social order have lost ground; those with a racial emphasis have gained. This cannot be construed except as a blow to those who think unification of the Jugoslav state is only to be accomplished by complete centralization of all power. Against this view the Radicals argue that after all they are still the chief party, both numerically and in prestige, and they point out that for the first time they have gained adherents outside Serbia proper, presaging the day when they will cease to be a Serbian party and become a Jugoslav party. They also are pleased to think that if it has proved difficult for Pashitch to form a coalition it is next to impossible as things stand for Raditch to come into power, even with the full support of the Slovene and Bosnian federalists.
Lacking a majority, Pashitch on the morrow of the elections had to turn to his old task of forming a coalition. He first sent emissaries to Zagreb. They discussed with Raditch personally the possibilities of reaching a modus vivendi, and reported that though the Croat leader is willing to admit that the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes probably have to live together, the bonds between them must be as shadowy as possible and each province must go its own way--politically, commercially, culturally. In a speech before a great peasant meeting immediately after the Pashitch envoys had returned to Belgrade, Raditch outdid himself in demagogic ardor, saying that he stood for peasant absolutism and a government which levied no taxes and required no military service. For the rest, he said that Russia and Germany are the only two countries worth emulating. This was a political slip if he hopes to obtain foreign support for his separatist movement; as one French paper scornfully remarked, the statement about Germany shows he is "still an Austrian," while England will be no more pleased than France or Italy by this admiration for Soviet Russia. As this article is being written it seems as though Pashitch had given up the idea of coalition with either of the Raditch or Democratic parties, instead contenting himself with the temporary support of one or two minor groups who can give him a majority so long as Raditch abstains from attending parliament. This puts the next move squarely up to Raditch. If he goes to Belgrade he must take the oath of allegiance to king and constitution before he can participate in parliamentary activities; and even if he decides to risk losing his raison d'être by doing so, he will probably only find parliament prorogued and new elections ahead. In other words, the present situation is merely a renewal of the former uneasy and unstable condition, and new elections must in any event be faced in the near future--when each side will undoubtedly resort to any and every means to secure absolute control.
The position of the dynasty in the event of open trouble is not sure. King Alexander is personally very popular in all parts of the kingdom and on his various visits of state to Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia he has reaped the rewards of having proved his personal fighting qualities during the long and racking campaigns in which he participated on equal terms with the officers and soldiers of the Serbian army. He is, moreover, the great-grandson of Black George, who is much more than a purely Serbian liberator--he is an historic figure acclaimed by all parts of the Jugoslav race in their songs and stories as part of their own inheritance. Even to those like Raditch who talk of a peasant republic in Croatia the Karageorgeovitch dynasty is not necessarily an impediment. Raditch has pointed out that the German Empire contained two or three small republics, and
that in any case the real power in Jugoslavia rests not with the king but with the ministers, whom the peasants can control if they will. He stresses the point, too, that Alexander is himself the descendant of peasants and therefore of the same blood as all the peasant nation. Aside from the Raditch movement, there seems no doubt that republicanism is on the wane. During the war it had supporters among the Jugoslavs in the United States, and even in Belgrade in the first months after the cessation of hostilities it was not considered strange or disloyal for men to say openly that they favored the introduction of a republican form of government--perhaps, they remarked politely, with Alexander as the first president. All in all, the dynasty seems fairly safe--certainly in Serbia proper--so long as Alexander is alive. If he were to die there would be difficulties, as he has no children as yet and his brother George is erratic and has no serious following.
To those who had hoped to see the attention of the Jugoslav people turned without more delay to constructive tasks the real danger seems to be that both the Serbs and the Croats and Slovenes are becoming confirmed in the belief that the aims and interests of the one are in the nature of things contrary to the aims and interests of the other. To avoid the widespread acceptance of such an idea will undoubtedly be Pashitch's chief aim in the difficult months ahead. And it may be repeated that his powers as a conciliator are of a very high order. Perhaps he may see that his policy of centralization has been too rigid and has been forced forward too fast. The essential ends of unity would be served if the conduct of foreign affairs, the control of the treasury and all matters pertaining to national defense were wholly in the hands of the central government, even if education, the administration of justice and similar matters were left to local authority. The reform which will bring together Pashitch and Raditch must begin from both sides. At the same time that the Croatian leader gives over his irresponsible talk of a republic and takes up an intelligent form of parliamentary opposition, Pashitch must show his willingness to make concessions here and there to diversites in cultural and political tradition.
II. THE PROBLEM OF COMMUNICATIONS
Differences in political ideals resulting from differences in race and tradition are not the only factors interfering with the cohesiveness of the new state. The author of the standard history of Serbia[ii] has pointed out that until man could tunnel mountains, dry up marshes and render rivers navigable, Jugoslav unity was an impracticable dream. A glance at a contour map of the Balkans will show that the statement is true. Recognizing its truth, the Jugoslavs ever since the war have been giving whatever time they could spare from partisan and diplomatic disputes to developing plans for uniting their country by aid of modern science. It will perhaps be useful to consider these plans briefly in the present estimate of Jugoslav conditions.
In all the sweep of Europe from France eastward to Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey there is no country fundamentally stronger than Jugoslavia. This is not because she is militaristic. Her population of twelve millions are sturdy and, to their sorrow, only too thoroughly experienced in warfare; she is practically self-contained as far as food is concerned; her mineral resources, though largely undeveloped in modern times, were the subject of classic and mediæval legend and will be the basis for great wealth in the future. Moreover, she stands at the gateway of east and west, and through her territory pass the railroad routes between Berlin and Constantinople, Paris and Constantinople, Paris and Bucharest, and Vienna, Budapest, the Danube Valley in general and Saloniki. In addition, there may soon be the through route along the 45th parallel from Bordeaux to Odessa, of which only two links are now missing. It will be noticed at once that though all these lines cross Jugoslav territory they neither begin nor end in Jugoslavia, and that as far as Jugoslav commerce itself is concerned--on these main routes as well as on the lesser routes--it must submit to levies at foreign customs houses and run the danger of discrimination and delay.
In 1908 when Count Aerenthal, Foreign Minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was testing European sentiment in preparation for his sudden annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, he proposed in the Austrian delegations that a railroad be built southward into the Sandjak of Novibazar. Such a line, he urged, would not only promote Austrian expansion southward--Saloniki being the first objective of the Drang nach Osten--but would also serve important strategic and political purposes by dominating Serbia from a new angle. At once Russia entered her protest. The form it took was an offer to Serbia to build another railroad, running in the opposite direction, which would connect the Slav hinterland with the Adriatic and start a current of commerce at cross-purposes to the southward Germanic stream.
But greater events came to monopolize the attention of the two powerful rivals, as well as their Balkan pawns, and for the time being both plans were abandoned. Austria found other means of accomplishing her ends, Russia let her project lapse (if she had ever seriously intended carrying it out) and no more was heard either of the Austrian railway southward to Macedonia or of a rival transverse line to some Adriatic port. The Balkan wars came and went, leaving heritages of poverty and economic disorder that made great investment schemes out of the question. And finally the Great War broke out.
One of the chief problems of the Paris Peace Conference was to secure for the Southern Slavs an adequate outlet on the Adriatic. In Belgrade immediately after the armistice it was obvious that the bitterness occasioned by Italy's desire to hold the keys to all possible doors to Balkan commerce was already souring the temper of a people who ought to have been partners in Italian projects rather than mistrustful rivals. From purely selfish motives Italy should have made every effort to avoid transforming into an enemy the most promising purchaser of her manufactured goods and the country best able to supply her with needed wheat and meat and lumber. She not only failed to make this effort; she deliberately chose the opposite course. Her hostility to the new Jugoslav state, which she considers as merely the old Hapsburg power in new dress, has barred Italy for many years to come from acquiring the economic power which in the natural course of events would have been hers in the Balkans; and it has appreciably strengthened the very military force which she fears by showing the Croats that they are largely dependent for the preservation of their rights along the Adriatic on the prestige of the Serbian army and the diplomatic efforts of the united Jugoslav state. It is interesting in this connection to note that the Croatian separatist movement has gained strength progressively as the Italian menace in Fiume and Dalmatia has been lessened.
Denied the natural route through Trieste or Fiume, the Jugoslavs have turned back to the more difficult project of tunneling the Dinaric Alps and constructing on the shores of the Adriatic their own port to handle their shipments of lumber, wheat, wine, livestock, meat, and copper. As was inevitable, the choice of the proper point for the terminus of this railway has been the subject of heated controversy between the various provincial elements, the Croats and Slovenes wanting a port in the north as near Fiume as possible, the Serbians noting the advantages they would derive from a southerly terminus on the borders of Albania.
Since the "pig war" of 1905 with Austria, Pashitch has been convinced that without a convenient seaport the farms and forests and mines which Serbia hopes soon to develop on a large scale would be at the mercy of her neighbors, in particular those controlling Fiume, Saloniki and the Danube. The Croats, however, consider that they have even a prior claim to fix the site of the new port, for they were accustomed to at least some of the facilities of Fiume when it was under Hungarian control and the produce of their wheat fields in the rich flats between the Drave and the Save rivers is ready for immediate and profitable export, whereas Serbia's claims are based on the needs of the future rather than the present.
The final decision regarding the proper location of the new Jugoslav port on the Adriatic will depend largely on the facilities meantime given Croatian commerce in Fiume. By the Italo-Jugoslav agreement reached at Rapallo in 1920, Fiume was made a Free State and its easterly suburb, Susak, was attributed to Jugoslavia. Susak is of great commercial importance because the railway from the interior divides there, one line descending by a spiral tunnel to the important Baros docks, the other continuing by a gradual descent to the main port of Fiume. Susak is inhabited almost exclusively by Jugoslavs, some of whom are employed in Fiume proper while some work on the Baros docks where the Croatian lumber has always been loaded for export. Whether by bad management or because no exact compromise could be effected, the Rapallo Treaty left the precise frontier between the Free State and Jugoslavia somewhat in doubt at this critical point. The treaty specified that the frontier should follow the little stream Rechina; but near its mouth this forms a delta, one canalized branch connecting directly with the Baros basin, the other reaching the sea a few hundred yards to the eastward. The insignificant strip of territory intervening is the crux of the present dispute, for if the Treaty of Rapallo be construed to leave the delta to the Jugoslavs they will possess excellent, if small, docking facilities and an unbroken rail connection, whereas if the frontier be drawn along the easterly branch of the stream, Baros and the delta will remain in the Free State and a customs barrier can be set up between the mouth of the tunnel and the docks.
While Count Sforza was Italian Foreign Minister he admitted the Jugoslavs' claim to Baros in order to gain their consent to the loss of the main Fiume harbor, and went so far as to make a formal statement in this sense in a note sent to Belgrade, but the present Italian Government repudiates the arrangement and demands that Baros be included in the Free State. It further suggests that a consortium be set up to administer the whole Free State, the governing commission to consist of two Italians, two Jugoslavs, and two Fiumans.
Jugoslavia's reasons for refusing this plan are plain to anyone familiar with the background of Italo-Jugloslav relations. Briefly, it may be noted that the Treaty of Rapallo binds the two contracting parties to recognize the permanent independence of Fiume. Since that treaty was signed the aim of Italian diplomacy has been to find a method of honoring the letter of the agreement while in some way establishing Italian commercial supremacy in Fiume and preventing its absorption into the Balkan commercial system. Italy is convinced that not only would the latter event give Jugoslavia a threateningly powerful economic position but that unless the development of Fiume is regulated from Rome the commerce of the port of Trieste will be wiped out. But Jugoslavia is not ready to concede that the status or method of administration of the Free State is under discussion or subject to revision any more than she is willing to relinquish her claim to Baros, explicitly promised her by Count Sforza in return for concessions regarding Fiume proper.
It is with these difficulties that the Italian and Jugoslav representatives must wrestle this summer. The present political uncertainty at Belgrade does not hasten a decision, for the Serbs perforce are less active in gaining advantages in Fiume for a Croatia given over to the heresies of Raditch than for a Croatia firmly established as part of the present Jugoslav political and economic system. So once more we see the ruinous effect on Jugoslav destinies of a partisan disagreement which at the same time that it paralyzes internal political life postpones the solution of international problems of vital concern to the country's prosperity and peaceful development.
It is unfortunate that the Sforza arrangement should have been repudiated by Italy. It seemed to offer an opportunity not only for Italy and Jugoslavia to write finis to their protracted and dangerous territorial disagreements, but also for the Jugoslavs to settle between themselves the dispute regarding the proper location of the new terminal port on the Adriatic. For with Baros in Jugoslav hands minor railway readjustments would fit it to take care of the most pressing needs of Slovenia and western Croatia, and these districts would then have no cause for complaint if a point convenient to Serbia proper and Bosnia were selected for the new port.
In these circumstances the logical geographic point for the new port would be Spalato. Fortunately it is also the point best fitted by nature for development by man. The old-time port of Spalato is a typical relic of Venetian days, built on the scale of the Venetian galley. But on the inland side of the peninsula on which stands Diocletian's town there opens up a great bight sufficiently sheltered to give anchorage to the largest modern vessels and with adjoining land for adequate wharves and railway terminal facilities. The mountains rising behind do not offer insurmountable difficulties to the engineer, and once past them the railway can join up with existing branch lines in Bosnia and tap the main line from Belgrade to Zagreb.
Of course even under the most favorable conditions (which are not likely to prevail) the opening of this railway is far off, but if Jugoslavia continues to exist as a national entity the day will come, very possibly with American financial help. And although Fiume should keep the trade of its immediate hinterland and will probably develop also into an outlet for commerce from Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, it will rue the time when national rivalries over-rode plain economic facts, handicapping its natural process of development into the premier port of the Adriatic.
III. INTERNATIONAL PROBLEMS
On every frontier Jugoslavia is faced with military, diplomatic or commercial difficulties.
To the north lie the two main fragments of the great power which the Jugoslavs once so hated and feared. One of them, Austria, they no longer either hate or fear. Comparatively good feeling prevails between Belgrade and Vienna, the two governments having recently completed negotiations for a commercial treaty besides having come to an understanding regarding sequestered properties, the disposition of the gold in the Austro-Hungarian Bank belonging jointly to all the citizens of the former Empire, and mutual good treatment of racial minorities.
Curiously enough, the way for this satisfactory Austro-Jugoslav understanding was paved in Italy not long ago when the Austrian Chancellor, Monsignor Seipel, visited Milan in order to discuss with Premier Mussolini the future relations of their two countries. The Fascisti premier offered Austria a comprehensive alliance, both political and economic. Seipel saw that such an alliance entailed Austria's complete political subordination to Italy, a break with Jugoslavia and probably with Czechoslovakia (who has been her best friend since the war), the failure of attempts on the part of the League of Nations to revive Austria by means of a strict supervision of her industry and finance, and the loss of French sympathy and diplomatic support. An added difficulty appeared in the fact that both Italy and Austria live by their industries. Austria quickly realized that she would not get enough commercial advantages from Italy to compensate for her losses elsewhere or to outweigh the dangers of accepting Italian political dictatorship. A commercial treaty has since been drawn up, but its scope is limited and political matters are wholly excluded.
The comparative failure of the negotiations with Italy demonstrated to Austria her dependence on the three states forming the Little Entente--Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia and Rumania--and made it possible for Seipel to proceed on his visit to Belgrade, with such useful results.
Parenthetically, it may be noted that probably this is the piecemeal way in which an improvement in the relations of the various small states of Central and Eastern Europe will gradually come about. The Danubian customs union often talked about in the British and French press as the salvation of these new states sounds to them far too much like a revival of the Hapsburg system. They realize that Vienna and Budapest are strategically situated at the center of a carefully planned web of railway connections, and they are prepared to utilize them as natural clearing-houses of international commerce, but they want to deal with them independently rather than as members of the same commercial group.
Jugoslavia's feeling towards Hungary is noticeably less friendly than towards Austria. The Magyars never lose an opportunity of expressing their contempt for what one former Hungarian premier described as "those barbarous blacks," and in return the Jugoslavs recount the inhumanities practiced by the Magyars during the invasion and occupation of Serbia and described the shorn but unregenerate Hungarian state as the center of all the plotting for the overturn of the Paris treaties and the resumption of armed conflict. As a result there is always a verbal war in progress between the Budapest and Belgrade press, frequent disturbances occur in the frontier districts, and commercial intercourse between the two countries is more hampered than between any two other states of Eastern Europe.
Jugoslav apprehensions regarding Hungary are shared by others, as the formation of the Little Entente bears witness. The Little Entente is a tripartite agreement between Hungary's three most powerful neighbors for unified resistance to any attempts to reestablish the Austro-Hungarian Empire, revive the Hapsburg dynasty, or in any way to overturn or evade the provisions of the treaties which laid down the present frontiers in Central Europe. It is not a hard and fast political federation, and those who see in it the genesis of a customs union are not familiar with the special circumstances which brought it into being and which still make cooperation necessary. Neither is the Little Entente a pact of military aggression. On the contrary, its aims are wholly defensive, the object being to discourage the Magyars from attempting to translate into action their talk of revenge and reconquest. There is no necessity for going beyond the plain facts of its being to justify it; those who set it too complicated tasks do it no service, for the treaties which bind the member states to each other are not of a nature or a permanence to work miracles. It is an instrument of peace, but of reconstruction only in so far as providing an opportunity for peace leads indirectly to reconstruction.
Of the three states members of the Little Entente, Jugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are the most natural partners and will probably continue to cooperate diplomatically. Before the war most of the disaffected Slavs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire used to get their education and inspiration in Prague; both countries are of Slav blood and both have an enormous admiration for Russia and a faith that when she emerges from her present condition they can again turn to her as the Mother of the Slavs for advice and assistance; finally, the agricultural products of the one admirably supplement the manufactures of the other and, with a reasonable allowance of peace, the trade between the two will become highly important and profitable. It has been said in disparagement of Czechoslovakia's support of the Little Entente that she will fight in defense of the treaties of Saint Germain and Trianon "to the last Jugoslav." It might have been said with equal force that Jugoslavia would fight "to the last Czechoslovak gun, cartridge and army truck." In war as in peace each has what the other needs, and together they form a powerful combination.
On the other hand, it seems not improbable that sooner or later Rumania will slip out of the Little Entente. Although for a thousand years Rumanians and Serbs have existed side by side without an armed conflict between them (the only such example, probably, in Europe), they are as different as oil and vinegar. Since the war they have been held together by common difficulties, but once the Hungarian situation becomes less alarming they will drift apart. For one thing, the frontier question in the Banat is not yet settled. A more remote cause of friction is very likely to be presented by the Rumanian annexation of Bessarabia, which Russia is sure to contest as soon as she resumes a leading role in European diplomacy, and which she will expect the other Slav states to contest also. The death of Take Jonescu will increase the divergence. Not only was he the statesman of highest ability in Rumania and the one most determinedly hostile to German and Hungarian influences, but he joined with Dr. Benes of Czechoslovakia and M. Vesnitch of Jugoslavia in originating the Little Entente and was its chief Rumanian supporter. The present premier, Bratianu, is of different calibre and has different aims. However, speculation regarding the extent and nature of Rumania's future participation in the Little Entente may be suspended for the present, as her agreements with Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia expire this year and positive indications of her intentions will soon be forthcoming. The treaty between Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia has just been renewed for a three-year term.
Poland would more than fill the gap left in the ranks of the Little Entente by the defection of Rumania, and negotiations have been taking place between Prague and Warsaw looking toward such action, but here again Russia comes in as a factor. Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia would never be willing to commit themselves to the support of Poland in case of a dispute with Russia, while Poland would not care to participate in agreements to preserve the Treaty of Trianon, in which she is comparatively little interested, without reciprocal guarantees. Her charter of liberty is the Treaty of Versailles and she is concerned in the corollary treaties only in so far as their observance or violation tends to uphold or weaken the prestige of the central settlement. If Austria were to unite with Germany there would at once be a new bond between Poland and the Little Entente states. Meanwhile, expectations that Poland will become a full fledged member of the Little Entente seem over-optimistic (despite the recent visit by Marshal Foch to Warsaw and Prague) and grandiose projects for a Slav-controlled Danzig-Saloniki railway will remain in the clouds.
In considering the relations of Jugoslavia and Bulgaria, to which we now come, it must be remembered that in former days the two countries were not the comparatively free agents they are now that Russia's tutelage is withdrawn from Belgrade and since the influence of Austria, exercised at Sofia through King Ferdinand, has disappeared. The elimination of the two powers who for their own ends most bedeviled Balkan politics opens a new opportunity for independent action on the part of the Balkan states, one which they will probably seize if only they are left to their own devices long enough and provided new difficulties do not descend upon them from other directions. But, lest it be imagined that nothing now prevents a prompt rapprochement between Jugoslavia and Bulgaria, it must be admitted that even were the memory of past disputes wiped out many Serbian statesmen, among them Premier Pashitch, would be most loth to see Jugoslavia undertake any further tasks of amalgamation or absorption as long as the Croatian question remains unsolved. Thus once again we are confronted with the unhappy results of Jugoslavia's internal dissension, for it may be said without exaggeration that in a strengthening of ties between Bulgaria and Jugoslavia, culminating perhaps in union, lies the best hope of ending the Macedonian question, for generations the source of constant Balkan quarreling.
Although the Bulgars have a large proportion of Slav blood and though they have from time to time been partners of the Serbs, the feeling between the two peoples has in recent years been as thoroughly bad as possible. In 1912 the Balkan states, worried by Turkey's repeated acts of provocation, came to a joint understanding, the cornerstone of which was a convention between Serbia and Bulgaria. The victory of the Balkan allies in the war which followed was turned into disaster by the refusal of Italy and Austria to allow Serbia an outlet on the Adriatic in northern Albania, and by Serbia's consequent delay in accepting the arbitration which promised to result in the award of practically all Macedonia to Bulgaria. On June 29, 1913, the Bulgars suddenly attacked the Serbs, whose heavy artillery only three months before had been aiding them to take Adrianople. In coöperation with Greece and aided by Rumania, the Serbs brought Bulgaria to terms, but the affair has never been forgiven or forgotten in Serbia, where the word Bulgar means anything but brother. Again in 1915 when Bulgaria after holding off to see which side would bid highest for her services finally joined Turkey and the Central Empires, it was Serbia who suffered most bitterly in consequence. Those who crossed the Albanian mountains in the winter of 1915, after Bulgaria suddenly put her troops between the retreating Serb army and the French expedition advancing slowly from Saloniki, can not immediately cease thinking of Bulgaria as their most immediate enemy nor forget that she was willing to make common cause with the hereditary opponents of Balkan freedom.
It is on this discouraging foundation that the statesmen of the two peoples, who perforce will always live next to each other and who have much in common, must try to build. Remarkable progress has been made since 1918. Immediately after the armistice Bulgaria adopted the course of repudiating the statesmen who had led her to back the wrong horse. The task of rehabilitating her reputation she wisely placed in the hands of Stambulisky, a forceful peasant leader who had been strongly Ententophile during the war and had suffered imprisonment from Ferdinand's ministers in consequence. As premier Stambulisky has proved that in addition to energy and independence he possesses intelligence and tact. He has not always ruled Bulgaria by quite constitutional means but he has held the country's diverse political groups firmly in hand and has bent every effort towards satisfying the greater Allies of Bulgaria's repentance for past errors and towards proving to the Jugoslavs that he sincerely wants to cooperate with them.
One constant cause of friction has been the activity of bands of Bulgarian komitadji along the Serbian frontier in Macedonia. It has been recognized in Belgrade that the control of these bands presented a serious problem to the Bulgarian Government, whose power in Bulgarian Macedonia has been more or less openly defied on several occasions; in fact, the various attempts against Stambulisky's life and the successful attacks on other leading Bulgarian officials originated in the Macedonian "clubs" in Sofia itself. But only in the course of the past winter did Belgrade begin to realize that the very activity of the komitadji was symptomatic of the Macedonian Bulgarians' discontent over the conciliatory attitude pursued by Stambulisky toward Serbia. The realization of this fact has measurably increased the warmth of relations between Sofia and Belgrade, and only a month or so ago an agreement was drawn up in Nish for the joint regulation of bandit bands and the maintenance of order along the frontier. This looks remarkably like cooperation between Sofia and Belgrade against all Macedonians, whatever their race, who seek to stir up fresh troubles. If so, Stambulisky is to be congratulated on taking a courageous and most encouraging step.
The course followed by Greece since the armistice could not have been better planned had she wished to see the Bulgars and Jugoslavs draw close together instead (as was actually the case) of wishing by all means to keep them apart. It will be remembered that by the peace treaty Bulgaria was promised facilities at some port in Western Thrace, which is now Greek territory. Bulgaria attributes the delay on the part of the Allies in carrying through this undertaking to Greek opposition; and Serbia, having her own difficulties with Greece, is inclined to sympathize. Serbia's grievance goes back to 1914. At that time Greece decided to accord Serbian commerce special advantages at Saloniki, the prosperity of which port is largely dependent on traffic from the north, just as some five millions of Jugoslavs are dependent on it for the proper movement of their exports and imports. But on receipt of an imperious demand from Austria-Hungary that her commerce also be given whatever privileges were enjoyed by Serbia, Greece annulled the agreement. Serbia had no recourse but to consent, as the award of privileges to Austria-Hungary would have played directly into the hands of Vienna and placed the Balkans once for all under its commercial sway.
Since the war, negotiations have been in progress between Belgrade and Athens regarding the nature of the privileges to be given Jugoslav goods at Saloniki and the control of the railway between the Jugoslav frontier and the port. These negotiations have not yet been concluded, and the Jugoslavs are becoming more and more restive. The feeling is not bitter as yet, because the railway down the valley of the Vardar was crippled in the German war machine's most thorough manner and is still barely functioning. But once the roadbed is repaired and the bridges are rebuilt the impatience of the Jugoslavs will be redoubled, and--particularly should the Fiume questions still be hanging fire--it is conceivable that they will be led into making common cause with Bulgaria, even to the extent of demanding that Greece transfer to them outright territorial corridors to the Aegean. If Greece is wise she will not delay in soliciting Jugoslav friendship by conciliatory action regarding Saloniki and in modifying, so far as public opinion will permit, her official attitude toward the Bulgarian Government.
Perhaps even this cursory review will have served to indicate that the many problems before Jugoslavia, though seeming rather remote, are of immediate importance in European politics. The chain forged by the peace treaties stretches--little links and big--from the Pyrenees to the Straits and beyond. One of the points of greatest strain is in the Balkans, and the chief pressure is evidently upon Jugoslavia.
But if it is true that serious subversive forces are at work within the state, and intrigues against it without, it is also true that there are in Jugoslavia very powerful cohesive tendencies, as was seen in all parts of the country in the patriotic days just succeeding the armistice. These tendencies are weakened from time to time by short-sighted action in Belgrade or by the stress of inevitable post-war economic difficulties; and then again they are strengthened by the over-eagerness of some foreign propaganda or by the sudden pang of realization that the Jugoslav ideal is a reality today, even though an imperfect one, that it is in jeopardy, and that if it is defeated now generations will pass before it can be reincarnated.
There is an old Serbian proverb, "A brother is dear whatever his faith." The native idealism and sentimentality exemplified in that saying will probably win Jugoslavia through its present difficulties, if only no unforeseen event produces a sudden crisis and provokes rash acts which cannot afterwards be righted. In general, the Jugoslav question may be said to be one of time--time for economic conditions to improve--time for old railways to be restored and new ones laid down--time for roads and hotels and schools and banks and houses to be built--time for old Belgrade legislators to adopt new ways to meet new conditions, for impetuous Zagreb politicians to realize that purely negative methods used in Hapsburg days are no longer necessary or effective, and for new young blood gradually to gain power in the life of the country and to exert its conciliatory and patriotic influence.
There unquestionably is such a thing as a Jugoslav national spirit. It was awakened through the last century by a long line of high-minded and resourceful leaders such as the Croats Gaj and Bishop Strossmayer and the Serbian Vuk Karadjitch, who created the literary language and put the epics of the heroic past into written form; it was intensified and hardened in the struggles against Magyarization and Germanization and in the fierce conflicts of the Balkan Wars; it was brought out of the realm of dreams by the steadfastness of the Serbians in the Great War, who lost their country but not their determination to live in it only if it were free and if their kinsmen were united with them; it was materialized at last by the Pact of Corfu and legitimized by the treaties of peace signed at Paris. Is that spirit to die now because the present is always more difficult than the future, because conciliation is more trying than battle? The works of too many patriots, living after them, say no. It will be good for Europe and good for the Jugoslavs--all of them--if that no is made definite and final as soon as possible.
[i] "Jug" means "south" in Slavic, so that "Jugoslavia," as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes is commonly called, is the equivalent of "Southern Slavia." The term is not usually used, however, as including the Bulgars, whose blood is partly Slav and partly Turanian.
[ii] H. W. V. Temperly: History of Serbia. London: G. Bell, 1917.