The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
THE Croatian and Macedonian terrorists who thought that by removing King Alexander they could break up the Jugoslav state and give "freedom" to Croatia and Macedonia, like their patrons in neighboring countries who played upon their fanaticism, ignorance and cupidity, saw in the King's visit to France an opportunity to carry out their long-planned plot. They saw also that it was almost the last moment when the execution of the plot might conceivably accomplish the results they desired.
To their dismay, King Alexander's prestige had been augmenting during the past two years, both at home and abroad. As long ago as 1927 Poincaré spoke to me of King Alexander as "one of the few statesmen of Europe." But not until recently did it begin to be generally recognized that he possessed political talents of the first order. This increase in prestige had come mainly from his patient handling of a series of difficult and dangerous international situations. He had helped strengthen the Little Entente, and had held it firm in the face of Italy's ambition to exercise the balance of power in continental Europe, between Germany and France, by increasing the weight of the discontented states at the expense particularly of the Little Entente. This ambition had been revealed in Italy's vigorous championship of treaty revision and her efforts to secure guardianship over Austria rather than participate in a general guaranty of Austrian independence or see Austria established as a self-reliant member of a Danubian economic confederation. He had succeeded in bridging the gap with Bulgaria; and as a result the rival Macedonian bands which had been plaguing the Bulgarian Government and using its territory as a base for operations in South Serbia had at last been broken up and scattered. He had made the experiment of paying a visit to Ankara, and had impressed Mustapha Kemal by his directness and vigor. This had helped make it possible for him to forward the project of a Balkan Entente without alienating Bulgaria, thereby, to Italy's disgust, securing the collaboration of Turkey and Greece in the maintenance of the doctrine of "the Balkans for the Balkan peoples." He had held his nerve through the trying period when Italy was establishing her suzerainty over Albania; and in the end had been justified by seeing Italian influence there wane coincidently with the decrease in Italy's subventions to her puppet-king, Zog the First. He had welcomed M. Barthou in Belgrade; and, taking advantage of Italy's belated realization that she would have hard work keeping Germany forever out of Austria single-handed, the two statesmen had planned together the first steps of a three-cornered Franco-Italo-Jugoslav rapprochement.
M. Barthou and King Alexander hoped that the rapprochement might be founded on Italy's acceptance, at long last, of the territorial status quo in the Danube valley and the Balkans, in exchange for French concessions regarding the position of Italians in Tunis, rectifications of the Libyan frontier, territorial concessions facilitating Italian projects in Abyssinia, and, finally, Jugoslavia's guaranty, mutually with Italy, of the independence and territorial integrity of Albania. The last would have safeguarded Italy's need for free passage of the Straits of Otranto, even though it did not satisfy fascist dogma that the Adriatic must be an Italian lake. But Italy's acceptance of the proposed agreement would have meant the cessation, for a time at any rate, of her prolonged effort to keep the Central European situation fluid until she could secure a special political and commercial position in Austria and with it a bridge to Hungary.[i] It is far from sure that Mussolini really was ready for a drastic reversal of program, despite the uncomfortable position in which he found himself as a result of having failed to foresee the full implications of encouraging the Nazis to pursue an aggressive revisionist policy. At Milan on October 6 he announced that Italy was so strong that "once again" he could offer Jugoslavia a chance to come to a real understanding. If Mussolini was ready for that, it was not "once again," but for the first time. M. Barthou himself shortly before his death had come to doubt that any understanding could be reached. Certainly there were many obstacles in the way. It was to plan how some of these might be removed that King Alexander embarked early in October for consultations in the French capital. But in the minds of the plotters, who wished at all costs to prevent an understanding which would end foreign support for their schemes, the prospect that the negotiation might be successful seemed sufficiently dangerous for them to decide that their action must be now or never.
It was not only King Alexander's successes in the foreign field that worried his Croat and Macedonian enemies and their patrons abroad. At home as well his position had been strengthened. Dissatisfaction with the dictatorial régime which in desperation he had established in 1929 had certainly not vanished. Many sincere and patriotic opponents remained unreconciled. But the most stubborn opposition consisted of professional politicians whose careers had come to an end and who would not accept the fact. Their plight had not aroused very much popular interest. The people as a whole saw that, although government graft had not been ended, it had decreased. They saw that necessary laws which they had waited for years for Parliament to enact had at last found a place on the statute books. They watched with pleasure the reduced participation allowed professional politicians in successive cabinets, and the increase in the number of ministers who qualified as experts and technicians. They approved the King's strengthening of the army and the improvement of army equipment, but noted with equal satisfaction that despite the attention which he paid to military affairs the influence of the army in politics had not grown but on the contrary had been brought under increasingly strict control. All sections (but Croats in particular) approved the King's foreign policy, especially his firm front against Italy and his efforts to strengthen the Jugoslav rear by coming to terms with Bulgaria. Above all, in the back of their minds the people always held the memory of his service to the country in three wars. They did not forget that he had shared the lot of the common soldier in the darkest days of the country's history, that he had taken part in more actual fighting in the World War than all the heads of all the other states on both sides put together. They admired his courage, initiative and industry even when they did not like some of the particular things which he set out to do single-handed and without constitutional sanction.
The chief flaw in the domestic situation in recent years undoubtedly was the difficulty which King Alexander experienced in trying to institute a more decentralized system of government. The division of the country in 1929 into nine large provinces (banovinas) was a beginning; but the prerogatives given the provincial governors (bans), though important, especially in the field of social welfare, public works and finance, were not satisfactory either to extreme "centralists" or extreme "autonomists." This may have been just what the King wished; but it resulted neither in very efficient administration nor in satisfaction of the peasants' predilection for managing their own affairs. The reconstruction of a Parliament in 1931 showed again the direction in which the King wished to move; but it was a hand-picked body and did not become either authoritative or popular.
The real problem remained: how provide a competent decentralized administration while reserving to Belgrade the conduct of national affairs and the protection of national interests? To solve this problem would have been the crowning achievement of Alexander's dictatorial phase (he often said privately that the dictatorship was only a phase), for he then would have seen some prospect that if he permitted the reformation of political parties they would embody national instead of sectional ideals. The existence of truly national parties, based on differing theories of social policy, was in his mind an absolute prerequisite to the restoration of the normal prerogatives of Parliament. None of this, of course, would have satisfied the old-line party politicians; nothing that he had in mind would have done that. But it would have satisfied all but them and that small section of the political émigrés whose feelings had become so inflamed that they were willing to adopt terroristic methods and even to work with their country's national enemies provided only they could harm the hated régime.
It need be no secret today that for some time a group of the King's advisers had been at work, under his direction, on a project of law considerably broadening the jurisdiction of the banovinas; that it was the King's intention to introduce this new law in Parliament soon after his return from France; and that he would not have been particularly distressed if some of the political members of the cabinet had opposed it, for that would not have prevented its adoption and would have afforded a suitable opportunity for completing the process of retiring the "old guard" from all posts of high responsibility in the government.
In the domestic field, then, as well as from the international point of view, if the murder of King Alexander were to provoke really disastrous consequences for the Jugoslav state, it could not longer be delayed. An attempt to kill the King during his visit to Zagreb in December 1933 had been foiled, and the warmth of his reception in the old Croatian capital had in itself constituted a political fact which opponents of the régime had to take into account. The confession of the would-be assassins on that occasion that they had been trained for the task in émigré camps in Italy did not save two of them from execution.[ii] The plot to kill the King at Marseilles was better planned, and was favored by the inexplicable failure of the French police to provide the most elementary protection.
The Marseilles assassins struck a blow at the Jugoslav union and a blow at the post-war structure of Europe. They succeeded in killing King Alexander, and with him his friend and collaborator, M. Barthou. But they failed to achieve their real objectives. The admirable sang-froid of the Jugoslav government and people, and the strong will to peace which still prevails in a number of European capitals, permitted the Continent to weather the blow as it had not been able to weather that struck at Sarajevo twenty years before. And as the world watched the funeral train pass slowly through weeping crowds, from one edge of the land almost to the other, it wondered whether the King by his death might not have established even more firmly than he could in life the unity of the Jugoslav state and the determination of the Jugoslav people that no power should rob them of that unity, bought dearly in a century of struggle and now sealed with the blood of the great-grandson of their first national leader.
Something must now be said about the origins of King Alexander's dictatorship. Most Americans and West Europeans are instinctively opposed to a dictatorial form of government, not merely because of the toll it gradually takes in a people's intellectual and moral fibre, and because it lends itself to adventurous foreign policies, but because it has no satisfactory exit. It seems bound to end either in a chaotic struggle for power, or at the best -- and this may be the case in Jugoslavia today, because it is a comparatively small and backward country -- in a period of dangerous uncertainty as to what forces and persons are to direct the necessary reorganization and chart the new paths, domestic and foreign.
Alexander did not become a dictator because he was avid for personal power, or because he was vainglorious, or because he dreamed of pursuing a policy of prestige and national expansion. His father had translated Mill "On Liberty" into Serbian; and he himself had been reared on principles of individual and national freedom. He did not imagine that he was founding an original philosophy of government, or that the government forms which he adopted were anything but the best that seemed available at the moment. He had nothing in common with the dictatorial demagogues of post-war Europe who grimace or shriek. He had no high-pressure advertising agents and no propaganda machine for hurling his opinions through the ether upon the ears of his subjects and neighbors. There was nothing theatrical or meretricious about him, either in appearance or action. He simply had come reluctantly to the conclusion that there could be no further delay in clearing the government of financial scallawags and party hacks, most of them veterans either of the little pre-war Serbian political arena or of party life in the Jugoslav provinces of the old Hapsburg Empire where obstructionist tactics formed the sum total of political activity. There were some able and conscientious men in public life; but their efforts seemed always to be dissipated in the endless permutations and combinations of party politics. The King felt that party intrigues and bickerings had destroyed the prestige of Parliament and reduced to the vanishing point popular faith in government itself. The country seemed not far from civil war and was certainly in no condition to stand up to hostile neighbors. In the King's judgment, his duty as sovereign required him to take the hazardous step -- he knew its drawbacks perfectly well -- of assuming direct control of and responsibility for the conduct of affairs. He thought that not to act would be more dangerous than to act. He imagined fondly that he would be able to clean house in a year or so, perhaps even in a few months; that after rallying to his service non-partisan experts and the more honest and self-sacrificing of his former political advisers, he could foster the establishment of at least one party able to rise above sectional interests; and that he would then be able gradually to restore political liberties.
It is important to recall, even if only briefly, the exact circumstances in which King Alexander acted on January 6, 1929, when he dismissed Parliament and called on General Zhivkovitch, commander of the royal guard, to form a non-party cabinet.[iii]
Six months earlier the leader of the Croatian peasantry, Stephen Raditch, a man of capricious temper and limited knowledge of the world, but sincere in the sense that one can say a demagogue is sometimes sincere, had been killed in Parliament by a fanatical Montenegrin who became enraged by the obstructionist tactics and taunts of the Croatian deputies. These latter, who had finally come to Belgrade in 1924 after protracted negotiations entered into by the Serbian politicians at the absolute insistence of the King, packed up and went back to Croatia en masse, announcing that never again would they have any dealings with Belgrade. The death of Raditch was calamitous, for though he had fluctuated between devotion to the Hapsburgs, Croatian republicanism, allegiance to Moscow, and acceptance of the Jugoslav kingdom, he was susceptible to friendly suggestion and skilful handling, and King Alexander in the end had been able to establish excellent personal relations with him.[iv] A protracted crisis set in. The fury of the Serbian and Croatian press vied with the vituperations and menaces of politicians on both sides. Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria were enchanted.
It was a situation with which King Alexander had become only too familiar. In ten years he had been faced with twenty-five cabinet crises. Immediately after the war he had been introduced to what an editorial in the London Times[v] called Raditch's "indefinite ideas of irresponsible opposition to which Croatia was habituated under the old Hungarian régime." In the elections to the first Constituent Assembly the Croatian Peasant Party of Raditch had won fifty seats, forming the fourth largest single group; but they had refused to participate in the work. All through 1921, 1922, 1923 and well into 1924 they had similarly refused to have anything to do with the Parliament at Belgrade, the while Raditch preached something which one day sounded like "separatism" and "republicanism," the next like "confederation" and "autonomy." On a number of occasions I talked with Raditch about his program. I do not think he ever decided just what he wanted, or that he would have been satisfied for long even if once he had made up his mind and then had been granted his demands in toto. On the other hand, even during the war Alexander had had to cope with the entrenched ideas of Serbian leaders like Pashitch (and others still narrower than he) who never really understood the idea of a Jugoslav union. In the critical first years of the new state's life he had seen these turn away from any genuine acceptance of the obligations which a union of equals entailed; their Serbian patriotism had been so hardened in the fires of the Balkan Wars and the World War that it was impossible for many of them ever to become Jugoslavs.
The difficulty of finding middle ground between Raditch's constantly shifting position and that of the Serbian leaders who were obstinately set on pressing ahead with a centralized form of government did not deter the King from persisting in the attempt. A particularly favorable moment seemed to come when the Raditch party lost ground in the elections of February 1925. The King was determined if possible to secure Croat representation in a concentration cabinet. In July he actually succeeded; and in November Raditch himself entered the Cabinet as Minister of Education. The next couple of years were neither calm nor harmonious. But at least Parliament was a national body so long as the Croat deputies were present, and there were grounds for hoping that in course of time, perhaps as various intransigent or erratic leaders disappeared naturally from the scene, national parties would evolve to take the place of the sectional parties and the groups formed around autocratic personalities. To that hope the murder of Raditch seemed to put an end.
As the situation went from bad to worse King Alexander came to the conclusion that bold action alone could forestall the actual dissolution of his young country, the various sections of which, though of the same race, had received very different sorts of training and were quite unbroken to the give-and-take of family life. In a conversation some months earlier he had told me that he was determined at any cost to prevent the break-up of the country due to the inability of the Constitution and Parliament to compromise discordant interests and safeguard the rights of various sections. He added that if ever he felt compelled to act he would proceed on his own responsibility and would avoid either a military dictatorship or a dictatorship by party or sectional leaders. But before he felt impelled to drastic action an opportunity arrived for a further attempt to conciliate Raditch's successor as head of the Croat Peasant Party, a small-town lawyer named Dr. Vlatko Matchek, an honest but borné man, and his colleague Svetozar Pribitchevitch, a prominent Serb from Croatia who had recently joined the Croatian opposition.
The King was encouraged to believe that a fresh effort was justified because Mr. Davidovitch, the leader of the Democratic Party, one of the component elements in the coalition cabinet of the day, told him that the latest Croat demands had been communicated to him and that they were not unreasonable. Davidovitch said that as the Croats would not negotiate officially with the existing cabinet, he intended to bring about the cabinet's fall by proposing (a demagogic measure) to indemnify the peasants for recent bad crops, even though no resources were in hand to permit such a cash disbursement. His idea seemed to be that during the ensuing elections he could make peace with the Croats, that the slogan of a bonus for the peasants would win him wide support, and that he then would form a cabinet with the Croats as partners. The King requested Davidovitch to avoid provoking a cabinet crisis until after the new budget had been adopted; but he refused. When the cabinet actually fell, the King according to parliamentary custom sent for all the party chiefs. Among these, of course, were Matchek and Pribitchevitch. Here was the occasion for a final effort to persuade these leaders to recognize the national government and return to parliamentary life.
With Pribitchevitch, as a matter of fact, the King could have little commerce. He had joined the Croatian opposition after running with lightning rapidity through every shade of political opinion, at one moment calling for Raditch to be hung, the next clasping him to his bosom -- a man of energy, mercurial temper and a strange combination of fanatical patriotism and an egoism which led him to identify his personal well-being with the wellbeing of the state.[vi] His ambition was to form a patriotic front on fascist lines; and the King had no intention either of pursuing a violently nationalistic foreign policy or of playing a Victor Emmanuel to the strutting of a Mussolini from Croatia. But with Matchek the King talked earnestly for two days. Not long thereafter the King gave me an account of those conversations and an exact description of the demands posed by Matchek, reading them to me from the entries which he had made in his diary in Matchek's presence. Incidentally, the demands harmonized with what I had previously been able myself to ascertain in talks with Matchek, though they now were expressed in much more detail and with solemn finality.
The demands put forward by Dr. Matchek in his talks with King Alexander on January 4 and 5, 1929, were of historic importance, because they led directly to the royal coup d'état of January 6. In their first conference the King asked Matchek to state the Croatian sine qua non. In reply, the Croat leader demanded that elections be called at once for a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new Constitution. The King must agree, he said, that under that Constitution the country would be divided into seven states with "historic frontiers," each with a separate legislature and a separate administration.[vii] Delegations from these state legislatures would meet at Belgrade to supervise foreign relations. But the control of education, commerce (except foreign), finance (except international loans), railways, telegraphs and even the post-office, would remain in the hands of the local assemblies. Finally, the army was no longer to be national, but each state would raise its own forces and these could not be called upon for service outside its borders except with the approval of the local legislature. The King did not hide from Matchek that these demands seemed to him impossible of acceptance. But he discussed them in great detail and in a friendly spirit, and said that the conference would be resumed the next day after Matchek had had a final consultation with his colleagues. The next day Matchek said that he stood pat on what he had asked, except that on reconsideration the Croats thought that their state should include parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Dalmatia, thus giving it control of the whole Adriatic coast as far south as the Bocche di Cattaro, and that in return they would allow the Serb state to include Macedonia and the remainder of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The number of proposed states would thus be reduced from seven to five.
In other words, King Alexander was faced with a demand for the creation of an autonomous Croatian state, probably with boundaries which had never existed in history and including large numbers of Serbs, and in any case possessing functions which he was convinced could not be exercised without disrupting Jugoslavia's economic and political unity. Moreover, the acceptance of Dr. Matchek's demands touching the army would have meant that military service would no longer play a part in domestic unification and that the army could not efficiently protect Jugoslavia against foreign aggression. When the King informed Davidovitch of the Croatian program he threw up his hands in horror. It was apparent that in order to give his party an occasion to make a demagogic electoral appeal he had been willing, without having reached any solid basis of understanding with the Croats, to plunge the country into a crisis at a moment when sectional passions were already at a dangerously high pitch. The King saw no ordinary exit from the situation. He told Dr. Matchek that the Croat demands were impossible, and the next day, January 6, he dissolved Parliament and issued his famous proclamation addressed "To my beloved people, to all the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes."
"The hour has come," said King Alexander in his proclamation, "when there must no longer be any intermediary between the People and the King." Parliamentary institutions, he said, had remained his ideal. "But," he added, "blind political passions abused the parliamentary system to such a degree that it became a hindrance to all profitable national work . . . . Agreement -- even the most ordinary relations between parties and individuals--became utterly impossible. Far from developing and strengthening the idea of national unity and the state, parliamentary methods began to provoke spiritual collapse and national disunion." "It is my sacred duty," he continued, "to safeguard the national unity of the state at all costs. I have resolved to fulfill this duty unhesitatingly to the very end. The supreme ideal of my reign is to maintain the union of the people. This ideal ought to be the supreme law not merely for me but for each individual. It is imposed upon me by my responsibility toward the people and before history, by my love for the country, and by my sacred regard for the innumerable and precious victims who fell in behalf of this ideal. To seek to remedy the present evil situation by a parliamentary change of governments or even by new elections, as has been done heretofore, would be to lose valuable time in more futile attempts of the sort which have absorbed us for several years. We must look for new working methods and blaze new trails."
It has been possible to set down here only a scanty outline of the situation which seemed to the King so dangerous that he felt justified in taking the risky course of imposing a dictatorship on a virile and liberty-loving people. Nor will there be room to indicate more than a few of his subsequent energetic actions.
With General Zhivkovitch as Premier, and with the help (or hindrance) of various political leaders, some newcomers, some selected from the old ranks, the King set himself to the task of administrative reform. Abandoning the 33 small administrative subdivisions, and cutting across the old "historic frontiers," he created nine new provinces, or banovinas, with boundaries based on economic considerations and with capitals in Zagreb, Ljubljana, Cetinje and other main cities. He changed the name of the state to Jugoslavia, a name satisfactory to the Croats and Slovenes because it eliminated the priority implicitly accorded the Serbs in the name "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes." He promulgated a legal code (in ten years of debate Parliament had never succeeded in establishing a uniform code superseding the contradictory codes inherited from pre-war Serbia, Montenegro, Austria and Hungary). He established an Agrarian Bank. He increased the representation of Croats and Slovenes in Jugoslav diplomacy and in the Jugoslav army. He ordered the dismissal of large numbers of superfluous officials, and cut salaries drastically. He undertook the pacification of Macedonia, not so much by reinforcing the troops there as by spending money on roads, markets and schools, and by arming the peasant communities so that they themselves were in a position to resist comitadji incursions from Bulgaria.
Little by little the King squeezed the "professionals" out of posts where experts and technicians could serve more efficiently and honestly. He of course met with bitter opposition from the entrenched political interests of the country, nor were his difficulties diminished by his dynasty's obligations to those who had served it in the dark days when all that was left of Serbia was an army in exile. Moreover, he soon found how great was the dearth of suitable new personnel for carrying out all his projected reforms. Despite these obstacles he persevered, and the measure of his success can be gauged from the composition of his last cabinet, in which one can say that out of the fourteen members at least ten had been chosen for merit and efficiency in their special line of work, and that not more than four were to be counted as professional politicians with old party ties.
Of the foreign policy pursued by the King after the coup d'état something has already been said. Basing himself on the alliance with France and the preservation of the peace treaties, he was a firm supporter of the Little Entente. His main preoccupation, of course, was to find the means to resist Italy's efforts to spread her influence across the Adriatic into Albania and to secure a dominant position in Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria by supporting the revisionist claims of those states. On at least one occasion of which the writer has detailed knowledge King Alexander made personal advances to Mussolini with a view to bettering the political and economic relations of the two countries, asking only Italy's recognition of the territorial status quo. Mussolini's excuse for refusing was always the same: the Jugoslav state and the Karageorgevitch dynasty were so unstable that he could not afford to come to a final settlement with them.
Towards Bulgaria, King Alexander showed unusual qualities of statesmanship. Indeed, the Jugoslav-Bulgar rapprochement which he and King Boris inaugurated something over a year ago was one of the most promising events in post-war Europe. In King Boris he found an intelligent collaborator, one who showed that he too was willing to take personal risks for what he considered the good of his country. Some nations claiming superior wisdom and a more ancient culture might well emulate the good sense and initiative of these two Balkan rulers. The full measure of their accomplishment in bringing to more friendly terms two peoples divided by the memories of recent and bitter wars can be appreciated, perhaps, only by those who remember the condition of Jugoslav-Bulgar relations a few years ago and who recognize, as those who have not been frequently in the two countries in question can hardly do, what would have been the dangers of the month of October 1934 if the Marseilles murder, in which the Jugoslav King fell victim to the shots of a Macedonian terrorist in league with Croatian émigrés, had occurred before the Bulgarian Government, encouraged by King Alexander's friendly intervention, had proved that it was master in its own house and had cleared Bulgaria of the Macedonian bands.
Belgrade was half-deserted -- politically speaking -- when the news of the assassination arrived. Parliament was not in session. Mr. Jevtitch, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, had gone to France to be with the King and Queen. It was on Prince Paul Karageorgevitch, the King's first cousin, aged 41, that the burden of the initial decisions fell.
This was as the King had planned, for he had left with Prince Paul a political will in which a regency was set up with him at its head. Prince Paul sent at once for Prime Minister Uzunovitch, General Zhivkovitch, the Commander of the Royal Guard, the Prefect of Belgrade, and one or two others. The Prime Minister, it is said, went to the Palace rather unwillingly, being busy with ideas of his own as to what sort of regency should be set up and not yet knowing how far-sighted King Alexander had been and what detailed provisions he had made in case of his death. In the presence of this gathering Prince Paul handed the Prime Minister a sealed envelope inscribed in the King's hand, "This is my autograph will which I have prepared in accordance with Article 42 of the Constitution of September 3, 1931." Briefly, the will set up a regency of three, the two others beside Prince Paul being Dr. Radenko Stankovitch, a former Minister of Education, Alexander's physician and personal adviser, and Dr. Ivo Perovitch, the Ban of the Save (Croatia). Of the two co-regents neither was a product of pre-war Serbia -- Perovitch having been born near Zara, in Dalmatia, Stankovitch at Sokolovac, in Slavonia. And, most strikingly, neither was a military man and neither was a professional politician. A suggestion by Premier Uzunovitch that publication of the will might be delayed is reported to have brought from Prince Paul the statement that if the Premier did not publish it he would.
The choice of regents at first surprised the country. But surprise gave way to relief that the King in this final act had been able to indicate how he wished the country to be steered, without generals or politicians in posts of power above whatever might be the government of the day, and -- of supreme importance -- in the spirit of national unity and reconciliation. The King's choice took on added significance when it was remembered that Dr. Stankovitch had resigned from the Srshkitch Cabinet because the Premier disapproved of negotiations which he had been carrying on with leaders of the Croatian opposition, including Raditch's son-in-law, August Kosutitch. As for Dr. Perovitch, he had been the chief of the group of officials engaged in elaborating the project of law, already referred to, by which the King planned to extend the jurisdiction and authority of the banovina governments. That the King should have chosen these two men as regents reveals the whole tenor and direction of his policy: the reconciliation of sectional groups within the state on the basis of the maintenance of the union, enlarged local autonomies, and equal treatment for all. Was it not recognition of this fact, besides natural abhorrence for the crime itself, that prompted many chiefs of the extra-Parliamentary opposition (including Dr. Koroshetz, the Slovene leader, Dr. Matchek, the Croatian leader, and Dr. Spaho, the Moslem leader from Bosnia) to forget their personal bitterness toward Alexander when they heard of his murder and to dispatch to Belgrade messages of sorrow and sympathy?
The question of the regency settled, the regents, the army and the members of Parliament promptly took the oath to the new King, little Peter, born September 6, 1923; the Cabinet of Mr. Uzunovitch resigned, but was asked by the regents to continue in office; and the country turned to the sad duty of burying Alexander.
There probably has never been a funeral of just such a nature. It was not the presence in this little Balkan city of European royalty and of the Presidents of France and other republics that gave it a particular character; nor was it that in the funeral procession marched military detachments sent by the governments of Great Britain, France, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Rumania and Greece, though such an assortment was varied and picturesque beyond precedent. It was the unanimity and depth of the national sorrow, manifested with particular emphasis in parts of the country reputed to be discontented and disloyal, that made so profound an impression. Among those who were most surprised were some of the American and British correspondents who came on assignment from Vienna or Rome, capitals where it had long been coffee-house doctrine that King Alexander ruled by force alone and -- the precise contrary of the truth -- with the design of preserving the hegemony of the Serbs over their Croat and Slovene brothers. Along the whole route of the funeral cortège, up the winding railway from the Dalmatian coast through Bosnia to Zagreb, thence across the Croatian plains to Belgrade, the peasants flocked in by the hundreds of thousands, to kneel weeping in the little stations where the train paused or beside the tracks as it passed slowly by. The up-surge of national sorrow -- real as tears are real, for propaganda can do much but it cannot make people weep -- must have been a surprise to those who had plotted the assassination, and grievously disappointing to them in whatever degree they had participated in the plot for any reasons except to revenge some personal suffering, some wrong, real or imagined, at the hands of King Alexander's government. For when the country realized that the King was indeed dead, and how he had died, at that moment it felt more closely knit in the spirit of the national policies which he had adopted than it had been since the day in November 1918 when the Croatian and Slovene national delegations, meeting exultantly in Zagreb, had called on the young Prince Regent to accept the throne of the new triune kingdom.
Prince Paul possesses one virtue of superlative importance in the head of a regency -- he is entirely loyal and entertains no selfish ambitions. Another quality which goes far to counter-balance his lack of experience in the actual conduct of affairs is the fact that he has no political ties or obligations (he promptly expressed a desire for the collaboration of the younger generation). The fact remains that at best a regency is not a strong or satisfactory method of government, and it is hard to think of a regency composed of three persons acting vigorously on its own initiative as King Alexander was accustomed to act. It would not be strange if some politician or military man were tempted to try to play the dictator; nor can the members of the regency count on always finding themselves in harmony. The difficulties ahead of the regents are enormous. But it is a good omen that so far they seem to have been able to checkmate the political manœuvres which they at once began to face.
The day after King Alexander was buried, Prime Minister Uzunovitch presented his resignation for a second time, giving as reason that he thought the government should be strengthened, but more probably, many suppose, with the idea of forcing the regency to allow him to reform his cabinet by expelling the ten non-political ministers and replacing them by his own henchmen. Certain Serb nationalists had been talking of something the same thing, namely a strong all-Serb cabinet to rule with an iron hand. On the other side, it had been suggested in many quarters that the regency ought at once to call for Uzunovitch's resignation and set up a cabinet of "national union" containing political leaders of all factions. To Premier Uzunovitch, Prince Paul presumably said that he approved his idea of strengthening the cabinet, and suggested that it could be done by adding two former Prime Ministers as ministers without portfolio, and by nominating General Zhivkovitch as Minister of War. He intimated that any other reformation of the cabinet would have to begin at the top. Thus Mr. Uzunovitch's manœuvre failed. The suggestion to abandon King Alexander's objective of national union and set up an exclusively Serb government was of course not even considered. To the other suggestion, that a cabinet at once be formed containing all factions, Prince Paul seems to have replied that the basis for collaboration would not be lasting if it were agreed upon hurriedly, implying that, pending a settlement of fundamental questions of state organization, a non-party cabinet would be more in harmony with the policies of the late King than an allparty cabinet.
At the moment the decision probably was wise. The regency could not risk opening the door to a renewal of the party dogfights of 1920-28; without King Alexander's firm hand and personal prestige they would be disastrous. But that does not mean, one hopes, that the present opportunity to heal old wounds and gradually to abandon old and entrenched positions will be passed over. Serb "centralists" and Croat "autonomists" may both have become somewhat chastened by now and ready to participate as equals in a régime intended to evolve slowly in the direction of moderate liberalism. Petitions have been presented to the regency by leading personalities in economic, academic and literary life in all parts of the Kingdom, asking amnesty for political prisoners and the holding of free municipal elections. The character of the regents should make them favorable to a policy of appeasement. They have already been able to arrange for the resignation of one of the ministers least in harmony with such a policy and least suited to office -- Minister of Justice Maximo vitch. All that is known of Foreign Minister Jevtitch indicates that he will transmit sympathetically to his colleagues the advice of friendly foreign governments that the basis be laid as rapidly as possible for the collaboration of all parties which recognize the national union. Army support for such a policy will be particularly useful and it is to be hoped that through General Zhivkovitch the regency can secure it on the terms established by King Alexander, i.e. that it shall not lead on the one hand to military interference in the conduct of the government or on the other to the intrusion of political considerations into army affairs.
While those charged with the conduct of domestic affairs were busy trying to bridge the gulf caused by the King's assassination, the international repercussions of the crime were reverberating throughout Europe, not only in France and the states partners of Jugoslavia in the Little Entente and the Balkan Pact, but also in the two capitals where dislike and fear of Jugoslavia has long been most pronounced -- in Rome and Budapest. It was inevitable, in the light of the vigorous political support long given by Italy to Jugoslavia's national enemies, and in particular since the trial of Oreb had revealed the use of Italian territory for hatching plots against the life of King Alexander, that the first tendency of Jugoslav opinion was to blame Italy for what had been done at Marseilles. This was counteracted by the Italian Government's generous expressions of sympathy and by the moderation and dignity displayed by the Jugoslav Government and press.
It soon came to light, however, that the actual assassin, Vlada Gheorghieff, alias Kelemen, a Macedonian émigré, had recently been a member of Gustav Perchetz's band of Croat émigrés at Jánka Puszta, a farm in southern Hungary less than four miles from the Jugoslav frontier, where (according to the confession which his comrade Rajitch made to the Swiss police) they were trained by former Hungarian army officers to shoot and to throw bombs. It was recalled that the Jugoslav Government had protested to the Hungarian Government in a note dated March 13, 1934, against the training of these émigrés almost on the Jugoslav frontier, at the same time citing the names of Hungarian officials, officers and professors who had maintained relations with them over a long period.[viii] As these matters became understood in Jugoslavia, popular wrath against Hungary could not be restrained. And it also soon revived against Italy when it became known that the head of the terrorist organization, Dr. Pavelitch, and his lieutenant Kvartenik, had been living in Italy (although they also were often seen in Vienna, Budapest and Berlin), and actually were there at the time of the Marseilles shooting; further that Perchetz, the head of the camp at Jánka Puszta, had been one of the men mentioned in Oreb's confession as a frequent visitor at the émigré camps in Italy, and that the Italian Government had previously refused to extradite these men to Jugoslavia to answer charges of terrorist activities brought against them in Jugoslav courts.
There can be no doubt, indeed, that the "Ustacha" organization which carried out King Alexander's murder was widespread and that it was generously supplied with funds; and it was difficult for the Jugoslavs to believe that large camps of a semimilitary nature could be maintained in countries where police supervision is so thorough as it is in Italy and Hungary without the connivance of the authorities. It was recalled that the murder of the Rumanian Premier, Ion Duca, had been carried out only nine months earlier by members of the Rumanian "Iron Guard," a Rumanian fascist organization with close connections in Italy. Nor was the killing of Dollfuss, on orders from Nazi Germany, forgotten. True, assassination is one traditional method of political action. But did not assassination organized on a large scale with the connivance of governments or groups of governments introduce considerations different from those of former days when individual fanatics, carried away by nationalist or religious or social zeal, killed some ruler or chieftain who stood in their way? Was the world not faced with a new phenomenon in these carefully hatched plots, in which the assassins were widely recruited, carefully trained, supplied with arms, a variety of passports and large amounts of money, and then systematically transported across three or four countries to do their work?
The governments of the Little Entente -- Jugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Rumania -- took this view, and they were supported by the governments which had joined Jugoslavia and Rumania in the Balkan Pact, namely Turkey and Greece. In a joint meeting held in Belgrade the day after King Alexander's funeral the Foreign Ministers of these five governments issued a sober but strong communiqué. They noted the systematic efforts being made to overturn the peace treaties and to weaken certain states by assassinating their leaders, pointed out that these attempts were planned on foreign soil, called for the identification and punishment of the guilty parties, and added this warning: "If the necessary international measures are not taken, and carried out in loyalty and good faith, new and most serious disputes will necessarily follow."
One Italian paper headed the communiqué of the Little Entente and Balkan Entente: "Blackmail!" The term seems a strange one to apply to those who wish to maintain peace, keep their own property, and prevent murder. It ought not to take the sacrifice of others engaged in holding together the European fabric -- Masaryk or Benes or Titulescu or Jevtitch or (now a particularly likely target) King Boris -- before it seems natural and reasonable to say "Stop!" As a matter of fact, no action that Jugoslavia has yet taken as these lines are written can be described as precipitate. It was not until six weeks after the Marseilles crime that (acting under Article XI, Paragraph 2, of the League Covenant) she laid before the League of Nations the full dossier assembled by the French, Jugoslav, Swiss and Belgian police, together with a summary of her protracted correspondence with Hungary regarding the alleged connivance of Hungarian authorities in the preparation of terrorist acts. She demanded that the Council study the case, fix responsibilities and suggest methods of preventing further outrages. It was in harmony with her calm demeanor at the height of the crisis that she should have appealed to the conciliatory provisions of the Covenant, not to its punitive provisions. France meanwhile requested Italy to extradite Dr. Pavelitch and his associate, Kvaternik, specifically implicated in the plot by the confession of the actual assassin's arrested accomplices -- Kralji, alias Malny, Pospichil, alias Novak, and Rajitch, alias Beneš. Pavelitch has long been well known internationally as the head of the Croat terrorist movement and author of bloodthirsty threats against King Alexander in the Croat émigré papers printed in Berlin and elsewhere. The French request for extradition was refused. Italy had precedents justifying her in refusing to comply; and it is fair to say that, legal considerations aside, she would have found it difficult to do so.
Perhaps one result of the affair might be the adoption of an international convention to regulate the future behavior of political émigrés who have been convicted at home of specific crimes of violence. They might be required to register with the police of the country where they seek refuge, to report weekly, and to give notice of changes of domicile. This would put responsibility for assassinations, bombings and other terroristic acts planned abroad not only on the actual conspirators but also on the police of the country supposed to supervise their daily activities. Limitations might also be set on the right of states to issue passports to non-citizens. It is hard, however, to imagine that Jugoslavia can exact any tangible satisfaction for the killing of King Alexander, or indeed that satisfaction can ever be exacted for such crimes unless the aggrieved nation is prepared -- as Austria-Hungary was prepared in 1914 -- to resort to the hazards of war.
In trying to chart the probable course of events in the Balkans, observers in the next few months will attentively watch Italy's policy toward Austria, especially in the light of Chancellor Schuschnigg's negotiations with the Austrian Nazis; the efforts of Premier Gomboes of Hungary to devise some basis of understanding -- even if only temporary -- between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany; and above all the progress of the impending negotiations between Rome and Paris. They will also be interested to see whether they can detect any change in Belgrade's attitude toward Berlin. So long as King Alexander lived, the tie with France was unalterable. The murder of the King on French soil in circumstances discreditable to the French police authorities chilled Jugoslavia's traditional admiration for France; and even the extraordinary efforts made by the French Government to demonstrate its sorrow and dismay were not entirely successful in removing the impression caused by the inefficiency of the French Minister of the Interior and his agents. That does not necessarily portend a weakening of Jugoslavia's reliance on France and the other states of the Little Entente, much less her entrance into the German orbit. German economic interests have always been pronounced in the Danube valley and the Balkans, and doubtless they will revive and increase. Jugoslavia will attempt to profit from German efforts to make her a good customer; and if she sees evidence that Italian policy continues to be dominated by the wish to weaken and destroy her, then she may indulge a tendency to exploit German economic favors as a counterweight. Something of the sort occurred last spring, when the German and Jugoslav Governments chose the moment of the signature of the Rome Protocols between Italy, Austria and Hungary to themselves make a new commercial treaty.
France is in a dilemma. Is the prospect of reaching a definite and dependable understanding with Italy sufficiently promising to make it worth while to accelerate negotiations at Rome which might easily turn out to weaken French ties with the Little Entente? Foreign Minister Laval will have to determine this in his first talks with Signor Mussolini, or perhaps even in advance. It is indeed to be hoped that the Italian Government will have become so conscious of its present isolation in Europe, and will feel it so desirable to strengthen every possible defense against Germany's eventual absorption of Austria, that she will bring herself to accept the status quo on the Adriatic and along the Danube.
England's advice in that direction would be useful. That it may perhaps be offered can be inferred from the unusually explicit statement made by Sir John Simon on October 20, in which he said:
"Jugoslavia is now a great state created by a combination of elements which came together under a single sovereignty after the war, and, whatever may be the difficulties and problems of its internal government and organization, the sentiments of its various peoples show no wish for its dissolution . . . . As firm friends of peace, we feel sure that it is in the interests of Europe as a whole to facilitate the difficult task which confronts the new Jugoslav Government, and that a strong, united, prosperous, and contented Jugoslavia is a major European interest."
With that statement of his country's position King Alexander would have been well content. And for a personal epitaph he would have asked nothing more than the following words of the London Times: "It is to his credit that the Balkans have become more peaceful than at any time during the last sixty years."
[i] Recent instances of this Italian policy: 1. The failure in 1932, before German and Italian opposition, of the Tardieu Plan for a general Danubian economic confederation. 2. Italy's proposal that the Four Great Powers assume responsibility, over the head of the League of Nations and hence without the participation of the Little Entente Governments, for decisions regarding treaty revision, disarmament and equality of rights, specific reference being made in the original draft of the Four Power Pact handed Ramsay MacDonald by Mussolini on March 18, 1933, to the situation of Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria. 3. Mussolini's insistence in his talks with Dollfuss at Riccioni in August 1933 that Dollfuss destroy Austrian socialism, one of the two principal Austrian bulwarks against Anschluss with Nazi Germany, but also the chief Austrian force opposed to Italian tutelage and the establishment of fascism in Austria. (This was a sequel to the Hirtenberg affair, in which the Austrian Socialists revealed that Italy was secretly arming Hungary. The "clean-up" of Austrian democracy finally occurred February 12, 1934.) 4. The Italian memorandum of September 29, 1933, which rejected the idea of a Danubian economic confederation and proposed bilateral commercial agreements, preferential treatment for Danubian agricultural produce, preferential treatment for Austria's industrial output, and preferential treatment by the Danubian states for imports from other states which purchase more in the Danubian area than they sell there. (The scheme departed from the Stresa proposals in favoring Austrian at the expense of Czechoslovak industry; and it promised important advantages to the commerce of Italy, the only nation not having a favorable balance of trade with the preferred states.) 5. The Rome Protocols of March 17, 1934, establishing a special economic relationship between Italy, Austria and Hungary. 6. The successful effort of Italy's delegates at Geneva, in September 1934, to prevent the adoption by the League of a resolution giving a new and general guaranty of Austrian independence, and the substitution of a colorless endorsement by Great Britain, France and Italy.
[ii] For an account of the trial of Oreb, the man assigned to make the attempt at Zagreb, and of two of his accomplices, see the daily press of Belgrade and Zagreb during the course of the trial, March 19-24, 1934, when the testimony of the accused was printed verbatim. They confessed that they had been trained in Italy, at Borgotaro and Vischetto, where there were camps of 50 or 60 Croat and other émigrés belonging to Dr. Ante Pavelitch's terrorist organization "Ustacha." There they had lived in barracks, worn uniforms and learned to drill, shoot, tap telephone wires and throw bombs. Of much interest, in view of later events, was Oreb's statement that the training camp in Italy was often visited by Dr. Pavelitch, Dr. Milo Budak, Pertchevitch, Dr. Gustav Perchetz, and others of the "Ustachis" whose names since Marseilles have become well known. No comment on the revelations made at the trial ever appeared in the Italian press, nor did the Italian Government make any protest or denial concerning the confessions and allegations brought forward in circumstantial detail in public court. For recent light on the case, with photographs of the camps at Borgotaro and Vischetto, see Vreme, Belgrade, October 24, 1934.
[iii] For a contemporaneous account of the royal coup d'état see the author's "Where the East Begins" (New York: Harpers, 1929), Chapter I.
[iv] The King's action in hurrying to the bedside of Raditch after he had been shot possibly saved the country from civil war.
[v] April 5, 1922.
[vi] Those interested in forming their own picture of Pribitchevitch, and in studying his case against King Alexander, are referred to "La Dictature du Roi Alexandre," by Svetozar Pribitchevitch (Paris: Bossuet, 1933).
[vii] These seven states were to be Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Voivodina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia.
[viii] To that note the Hungarian Government had replied on April 26, 1934, that it had taken steps to evacuate the camp at Jánka Puszta "some time ago." Cf. League of Nations documents C. 190. M. 79 (Geneva, May 12, 1934) and C. 239. M. 99 (Geneva, June 15, 1934).