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ON October 3 one of the states of Europe changed its name: the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes became the Kingdom of Jugoslavia. The event passed without notice from the American press, along with the equally important action taken simultaneously by the Jugoslav Government, namely the abolition of the administrative system in existence since 1924. Since the war the official Jugoslav map has not borne the historic names of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina or Montenegro; and now the thirty-three administrative divisions, or departments, which were decreed in 1922 to supplant the old pre-war divisions have been replaced by nine provinces, or "banovines." Eight of the banovines have been named for historic rivers, the ninth being called the "Littoral Province." The influence of King Alexander is seen not only in the division of the state into larger units, each possessed of considerable local autonomy, but even in the names given them; for the Serbian army divisions were always called after the river valleys where they were recruited, and it was probably in that way that the King (a soldier before he was a statesman) got his idea for the new provincial nomenclature.
The new frontiers have been deliberately arranged to cut across old national and provincial lines, and also to diminish the importance of religious and party factors. Nevertheless, heed has been paid to the susceptibilities of the different sub-divisions of the Jugoslav race as well as to the preservation of economic unities.[i] Thus, Zagreb and Ljubljana, respectively the principal Croat and Slovene cities, retain sway over the major portions of the Croat and Slovene lands: the territory allotted Zagreb, indeed, is the second largest of any of the provinces. The other provincial centers are: Sarajevo, the principal city of Bosnia; Skoplje, the growing metropolis of Macedonia; Split, the chief port of Dalmatia; Novi Sad, a prosperous Danubian town on the former Hungarian plain; Nish, the ancient capital of little Serbia; and Banjaluka, a market town south of the Sava. Belgrade and its suburbs form a separate entity outside the scheme of provincial administration. Though the Croat and Slovene lands are left nearly intact, Bosnia and Herzegovina (both Mohammedan strongholds) and Dalmatia are considered as mere geographical expressions; as such they are sacrificed to the obvious advantage of having the narrow coastal strip, which formerly comprised two administrative regions, joined up with its complementary hinterland in two substantial banovines. A further improvement is the tendency not to use rivers as administrative frontiers (as in the old arrangement), but to turn them into regional arteries.
Although full details as to how the banovines will function are not yet available, the bans, or governors, have been already appointed by King Alexander, and he has shown regard for local wishes and needs in choosing local celebrities in several key posts. The bans will have quite wide latitude in the exercise of their powers, and will name and dismiss all the lower officials employed in their districts. Part of the work of the Ministries of Trade, Public Works and Social Welfare will be turned over to them, as well as control over the finances of each province, which are to be handled separately. They are to be assisted by deputy bans (chosen from among experienced public officials) and by departmental chiefs, all named by royal decree on nomination of the ban and with the approval of certain of the Ministries at Belgrade competent in this matter. Perhaps elected provincial diets will come as a later development.
As was to be foreseen, neither extreme "centralists" nor extreme "autonomists" seem very much satisfied with the arrangement. The centralists, most of them strong Serb nationalists, look with foreboding on the grant of local autonomies and dislike seeing the historic name of Serbia disappear from its premier place in the title of the state. The autonomists, mainly Croats,
are not to be reconciled to any plan which does not provide a Croatian diet, and fear that the compromise offered by the King may appeal to the Croatian masses and weaken the devotion of these to the thorough-going federalist tenets propagated by the late Stephen Raditch.
It will be remembered[ii] that on January 6, 1929, King Alexander marked the opening of the eleventh year of his triune realm by dissolving Parliament, rescinding the Constitution and placing the government in the hands of a non-party cabinet responsible directly to himself. His action was taken, in his own words, because parliamentary habits of delay and conflict had begun "to provoke spiritual collapse and national disunion." He said he assumed the duty of safeguarding the unity of the state at any cost, and proposed to "look for new working methods and blaze new trails."
Of the large number of new decrees which it was known King Alexander would promulgate, none was awaited with more impatience than this move to reorganize the national administration. The change in the title of the state is significant of the spirit of pacification and unification which the King aims to
make the keynote of his whole policy; the abolition of the system of small subdivisions (copied after the French administrative model) is conceived in the same way. He seems to have realized that although the Croat autonomists went much too far in proposing the division of the country "on historic lines" into seven large provinces or states (these to be represented at Belgrade by delegations empowered only to decide questions of foreign policy), nevertheless local autonomy ought to be granted in a great variety of matters. This being impossible through an "atomized" administration, he has now created entirely new machinery. Its success in meeting the King's three chief demands of efficiency, economy and national solidarity, and in satisfying the bulk of the Jugoslav people as a means of safe-guarding both their local and their national interests, remains to be seen. But it is plainly a step on the road to decentralization and the fusion of the three chief elements of the state into a harmonious whole.
The population, area and capital cities of the nine banovines are as follows:
|Area in Sq.|
The law of October 3 stipulated that the new arrangement should come into effect in two months. Subsequently the date was advanced and the bans assumed their functions on November 11.
[i] Cf. "The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes: Administrative Divisions in Relation to Natural Regions," by B. Z. Milojevitch: American Geographical Review, Jan. 1925.
[ii] Cf. "The Royal Dictatorship in Jugoslavia," by Hamilton Fish Armstrong: FOREIGN AFFAIRS, July 1929.