Time for NATO to Close Its Door
The Alliance Is Too Big—and Too Provocative—for Its Own Good
RECENT events in Jugoslavia deserve to be recorded because they mark the first instance in which one of the postwar European dictatorships has turned back to democratic processes in the attempt to solve pressing domestic problems. The circumstances which induced the late King Alexander to try dictatorship were too special for the abandonment of that dictatorship to carry immediate implications for other countries. But the proceeding is instructive none the less.
King Alexander proclaimed his dictatorship on January 6, 1929. He had come to believe, after trying to cope for more than ten years with the ceaseless wrangling of Serb and Croat politicians, that a continuance of parliamentary government would destroy the unity of the Jugoslav state, jeopardize the Karageorgevitch dynasty and make it impossible for him to defend national interests against enemies on several frontiers. He did not share the pretentious ideology of the Fascist and Nazi dictators, nor did he assume supreme power in order to satisfy his personal vanity. He simply chose what at the moment seemed to him, rightly or wrongly, the less risky of two risky courses. It is no secret that he considered his dictatorship a temporary expedient, and that he several times made plans for a gradual restoration of political liberty. Indeed, one of his intimate collaborators, Dr. Perovitch, who now serves with Prince Paul as a member of the Regency, was busy at the moment of the Marseilles assassination (October 9, 1934) with a project of law which would have extended the jurisdiction and authority of the provincial governments as the basis for a reconciliation of sectional groups within the state and a step toward the eventual rehabilitation of parliament.[i]
After Marseilles it was an open question whether those entrusted with power in King Alexander's political testament could exploit the sobering effect of the murder to effect a reconciliation between Serbs and Croats and, while curbing the ambitions of old-line politicians, set and hold a course for a return to constitutional and representative government. To these doubts Prince Paul, head of the Regency which acts on behalf of twelve-year-old King Peter, has on three separate occasions given a firm answer. We cannot say that the issue is settled definitively. But at least the intentions of the Regency are plain.
The first test occurred when Prince Paul successfully resisted the bold request of Premier Uzunovitch, made the evening that news of the assassination reached Belgrade, for a delay in the publication of King Alexander's political will establishing a Regency. The second test came when Prince Paul was faced, the day after King Alexander's funeral, with Premier Uzunovitch's demand that he be given a free hand to reform his cabinet. The Premier's obvious aim was to get rid of the ten non-political members introduced into the cabinet by the late King Alexander, pack a new cabinet exclusively with Serbs, and rule with an iron hand. In face of the First Regent's positive attitude this manœuvre also failed, and eventually the Regency handed the reins of government to Foreign Minister Jevtitch, a trusted servant of the late King.
Dr. Jevtitch began well. His cabinet contained a number of non-Serbs; he promised free elections; he released Dr. Matchek from prison; and he proclaimed his intention of following a progressive program of decentralization and Serbo-Croat reconciliation. Unfortunately he proved unable to control his colleagues, if indeed his liberal program did not, as some suspect, undergo considerable modification in his own mind as avenues of greater power seemed to open before him. The candidates which he chose for the spring elections fell far short of proper standards, and the campaign in April and May was marked by the customary charges of the opposition that severe repressive measures were being used against them. A bad feature was the aggravation of regional issues. Dr. Jevtitch put up candidates in every district; but in reality his party was an artificial creation outside Serbia proper. The bulk of the opposition was formed by Dr. Matchek's Croat Peasant Party. In alliance with him were the Serbian Democrats of L. Davidovitch, the Serbian Peasants of Jovan Jovanovitch, and the Bosnian Mohammedans of Mehmed Spaho. The Serbian Radicals, greatest of the old Serbian parties, abstained, as did the Slovene Clericals of Dr. Koroshetz.
The election took place on May 5. The Jevtitch candidates received a total of 1,747,037 votes, while the combined opposition received 1,076,346. According to the terms of the electoral law, this gave Jevtitch 303 deputies and the opposition 67 deputies. The latter protested violently about election abuses and decided to boycott Belgrade. Clearly what threatened was a resumption of the fatal stalemate of the long years when the Croat Peasant deputies remained away from Belgrade, while the Serbo-Croat rift grew wider and wider.
In the new Parliament a savage attack was launched against Dr. Matchek by government supporters. In particular a deputy named Banitch revived a charge heard during the campaign that Dr. Matchek was "morally responsible" for the Marseilles assassination. Obviously it was essential to put an end to such a dangerous state of affairs, and here for the third time the First Regent's intervention was important. General Zhivkovitch, Minister of War and former Premier, announced that since he represented Croatian as well as Serbian soldiers and officers he could not remain in a cabinet which tolerated such talk among its supporters. He was joined by his Croatian and Slovene non-party colleagues and by Dr. Milan Stoyadinovitch, Minister of Finance, a former leader of the Serbian Radical Party often spoken of as a possible factor in some moment of crisis.
Prince Paul at once called into conference the principal party leaders, including Dr. Matchek. Apparently he and the Croat leader had a most cordial conversation. Dr. Matchek assured Prince Paul that he had confidence in him personally, and that he supported the dynasty and the national union. He declined to join a coalition cabinet and enter Parliament as presently constituted. But he said that he would not pass adverse judgment on the new cabinet to be formed by Dr. Stoyadinovitch, and that later, if and when a new electoral law had been adopted and free elections held, he would come to Belgrade and participate in a parliamentary effort to settle the proper bases of the state organization.
The cabinet which Dr. Stoyadinovitch formed reversed the dangerous trend of recent months. Dr. Koroshetz, the Slovene leader, was given the key position of Minister of Justice, and Dr. Spaho, the Bosnian leader who had been an ally of Dr. Matchek in the elections, was included, as also were four non-party Croats. Whereas the result of Jevtitch's activity had been to isolate Serbia from the other regions, Stoyadinovitch was able to form a government which included responsible leaders from Bosnia and Slovenia as well as from Serbia.
The importance of the friendly meeting between Prince Paul and Dr. Matchek was emphasized by the new government's relaxation of the censorship and by its request that Parliament give it full powers to amend the electoral law and the laws regulating the press and political meetings. Political parties began openly organizing, political rallies were held, the newspapers reported these events fully, and a general amnesty was proclaimed for "political offenses" connected with the recent elections. In general, both "centralists" and "federalists" gave evidence of having been sobered by the evident decay in Jugoslavia's prestige at a time when European conditions demanded that she be united and strong.
We must not conclude that all is now clear sailing. While Dr. Stoyadinovitch, with the collaboration of Dr. Koroshetz and Dr. Spaho, is preparing the new electoral law, he is also busy forming a new nation-wide political party, the "Jugoslav Radical Union." Will he find it feasible and will he consider it expedient to hold elections as promptly as promised? On the other hand, will Dr. Matchek stick to his statement that all he wants is a fair election, when he sees the government using the interval to organize its electoral strength? The Croatian psychology is also a factor to be reckoned with. No matter how sincerely he tries, Dr. Matchek will not easily throw off the traditional Croat habit, developed in Hapsburg days and perfected by Raditch, of asking the maximum in the hope of getting the minimum. Once the elections have been held, will he bring himself to do what neither Raditch nor he ever yet did, namely state publicly precisely how it is possible to satisfy Croatia's legitimate demand to manage her own provincial affairs without damaging the state's political, economic and military unity?
Obviously Prince Paul will need all his store of persuasive good sense, all his prudent instinct for compromise, if on the one hand he is to retain the confidence of Dr. Matchek and persuade him to wait quietly for the right moment to put forward a moderate program, and if on the other hand he is to hold the government to its avowed intention of preparing and holding a fair election, and then of accepting a fair compromise with the Croats. To both sides he can argue that the new European unrest caused by Italy's adventurous foreign policy, and the possibility that it will induce either an attempted Hapsburg restoration in Austria or (an only slightly less obnoxious eventuality, from the Jugoslav viewpoint) a new German attempt at annexation, require that there be in existence a Jugoslav Government able to negotiate abroad in the name of a united people.
H. F. A.
[i] Cf. "After the Assassination of King Alexander," by Hamilton Fish Armstrong, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January 1935.