Yugoslavia 1929-1941

The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, 1918-1929

The Establishment of the New State . Already in 1914, the Yugoslav Commitee was founded in Florence (Italy) by politicians (many of whom in exile) from Croatia and Slavonia, Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia (Carinthia, Carniola and Styria), of Slovene, Croatian and Serb nationality; it later moved it'd headquarters to London and supported the Yugoslav idea. On July 20th 1917, the Corfu Declaration was passed expressing the wish of the exile representatives from Croatia, Dalmatia (and of the Dalmatian archipelago), Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia to establish a federation, a constitutional, democratic and parliamentary monarchy headed by the Karadjordjevic dynasty. On December 1st 1918, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was proclaimed by Prince Regent Alexander Karadjordjevic.

The Question of the Borders of SHS . The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes claimed the territory of the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia-Slavonia, Dalmatia with the Dalmatian Archipelago, the Quarnero Islands, Fiume, Istria, Gorizia-Gradisca, Carniola, Carinthia, Styria (Slovenia), Southern Hungary and the Banat.
In Dalmatia, the Dalmatian Archipelago, the Quarnero Islands, Fiume, Istria and Gorizia-Gradisca, SHS claims were challenged by those of Italy. The Italian population element was the strongest in coastal cities such as Trieste, Fiume and Zadar and on the islands, but only in exceptional cases outnumbered the Slavic population. In the Treaty of Saint Germain (Sept. 10th 1919), Austria ceded Dalmatia except for the city of Zara (Zadar) and a few islands to SHS, Zara and the aforementioned islands, as well as Gorizia-Gradisca and Istria to Italy. In the Treaty of Trianon (June 4th 1920) Hungary ceded Fiume and the Quarnero Islands, which were to be administrated as the Free City of Fiume (Rijeka).
The population of Carniola, Carinthia and Styria was composed of Slovenes and Germans, with the Slovenian population outnumbering the Germans in Carniola, Southern Carinthia and Southern Styria. In the Treaty of St. Germain (Sept. 10th 1919), Austria ceded Carniola, Southern Styria and small areas in Southern Carinthia, leaving a region in southern Carinthia where the political future, if as part of Rump-Austria or SHS, had to be decided by plebiscite (Plebiscite Carinthia), on the occasion of which, on October 10th 1920, the majority opted for remaining with Austria.
In the Treaty of Trianon (June 4th 1920), Hungary ceded Croatia-Slavonia and Southern Hungary to SHS. Hungary also ceded most of the Banat, which however was contested between Romania and SHS; in the end it was partitioned between the two, in a way that the larger part with provincial capital Temesvar (Timisoara) fell to Romania. Southern Hungary (the Bachka) and the SHS share of the Banat are since known as the Vojvodina.

The Attitude versus the New State : I. Serbia . The chain of events which had escalated into World War I had been started by Serbian secret agent Gavrilo Princip when he assassinated Austrian crown prince Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo June 28th 1914. Serbian nationalists dreamt of enlarging the Serbian nation state by including Bosnia-Herzegovina, what is today known as the Vojvodina, and Serb-majority pockets of territory in Croatia-Slavonia (the Krajina, Eastern Slavonia). The Yugoslav idea, developed by Croat patriots in the 19th century, was a concept which could be used to an even greater expansion, and, at the moment, to avoid conflicts with Croats over territory in ethnically mixed areas; within a federative state consisting of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes core Serbia would occupy a dominant position, as it was the most populous region, and the Croats depended on Serbia in order to settle the border questions with Italy and Austria. The Serbian capital of Belgrade was to become the capital of SHS, the Serbian king the king of SHS. The conversion rate of Austrian Kronen to SHS Dinar, the taxation rates favoured Serbia over the newly gained territories; the bulk of state investnment was concentrated in Serbia proper; ethnic Serbs were given preferential treatment when positions in the administration were filled. Thus, the new kingdom was generally approved in Serbia.
II. Montenegro . The population of Montenegro consisted of Serb Orthodox Christians, with a small Muslim minority. The Montenegrin Skupstina (assembly) opted for union with SHS; King Nikola, residing in Italy, insisted on Montenegrin independence and demanded the Herzegovina to be ceded to Montenegro. A 1919 Montenegrin uprising against the new regime failed.
III. Bosnia-Herzegovina . This province has seen foreign rule under changing regimes - an Ottoman province from 1463 to 1878, Austro-Hungarian from 1878 to 1918. Bosnia-Herzegovina was an ethnic caleidoscope, her population consisting of Serb Orthodox Christians, Bosnian Muslims and Catholic Croats; the Bosnian Serbs approved of the new state, as did many of the Croats, for different reasons. The Bosnian Muslims were, in those days, not regarded a distinct group, rather Serbs or Croats of Muslim religion; some identified with Serb nationalism, others were rather indifferent to the events.
IV. Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia . The Serb minority, concentrated in areas such as the Krajina and Eastern Slavonia, approved of the new state. Among the Catholic Croats there were those who supported SHS, even if it were Serb-dominated, because only in union with Serbia could they hope to gain the contested territories of Dalmatia, Istria, Fiume and the islands. On the other hand, Croat regiments had fought on the side of Austria-Hungary during World War I, participated in the occupation of Serbia, motivated by a the alliance of Serbia and Italy, the latter threatening the Croat claim on Dalmatia (NIYB). Others wanted to see Yugoslavia having a republican constitution, feared Serb domination of the state (NIYB). With the political borders of Croatia/SHS undecided, the urban Croat patriots of Croatia-Slavonia favouring SHS dominated public opinion.
V. Slovenia . What was to become Slovenia did not contain pockets of Serbian-speaking population elements; fear of a Serbian domination of the entire state was felt here to a lesser extent than in Croatia. SHS was needed in order for the Slovenes to overcome the century-old partition in Carniola, Carinthia and Styria (hopes for including Gorizia-Gradisca, in the years following WW I, did not materialize). SHS was also needed to fend off contesting Italian and Austrian claims for territory the Slovenes regarded theirs. Needless to say, the ethnic German minority (the Gottschee Germans, the Germans residing in Maribor (Marburg) would have favoured for their homeland to have remained within the borders of Austria.
VI. The Vojvodina . What since is known as the Vojvodina not only formed a complex ethnic caleidoscope, composed of Serb, Vlach (Romanian), German, Hungarian, even Slovak settlements, but lacked historic tradition; as a territorial unit it was shaped in the time immediately following World War I; hitherto it had been partly part of the Kingdom of Hungary, partly part of the Banat of Temesvar. The borders were drawn in order to include the areas with a significant Serb population into SHS; here, the population element of the nations which combined to form SHS was the lowest in all regions of the new kingdom (Kosovo and Vardar Macedonia disregarded, which since 1912 were part of Serbia). SHS and Romania settled their differences and partitioned the Banat; the ethnic Germans of the Vojvodina were happy to escape Magyarization and accepted the status of being an ethnic minority in the new state. The ethnic Hungarians resented annexation of their homeland into SHS.

The Constitution . The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (SHS) was proclaimed on December 1st 1918; it was to be a constitutional monarchy, with Serb king Peter I. becoming king of SHS, the capital being Belgrade. SHS did not have a written constitution until 1920, but the negotiations preceding the establishment of the state had produced a set of agreements by which the country was to be governed. The lack of a written constitution was felt when Regent Alexander rejected the first cabinet proposed by the Skupstina (Dec. 1918) and when politicians could not agree on the issue of women's suffrage; the agreements contained universal suffrage but failed to specify by gender (Wikipedia). The name of the Kingdom suggested federative structure; yet political autonomy for the individual regions was not included in the agreement, and the issue of centralism versus federalism was contested throughout the 11 year history of the kingdom (1918-1929). The Yugoslav idea, conceived by mid-19th century Croat patriots, regarded Serbs and Croats as brothers estranged by centuries of foreign rule/exposure to different religions, which could and should be reunited; among the Croats were thus those who identified themselves as Croats, others as Yugoslavs; this situation made a federal constitution with regional autonomy, at the time, illusory.
In 1920 a constitution was adopted (by 223 to 35 votes, with the Croat Peasant Party, the second strongest in the country, abstaining. It did not provide for a federal structure, but defined SHS as a unitary state; the constitution was abolished in 1929. The electoral map allocated 158 parliament seats to Old Serbia, 8 to Montenegro, 63 to Bosnia-Herzegovina, 25 to Batchka (S. Hungary), 20 to the SHS part of the Banat, 11 to Dalmatia, 93 to Croatia and Slavonia, 38 to Slovenia (NIYB 1920).

Economic Policy . Following a transition period marked by the usage of Serbian Dinars in Serbia, Montenegrin currency in Montenegro and Austrian Kronen in the newly acquired territories, as well as by inflation, the SHS (Yugoslav) Dinar was introduced in 1920 as national currency. The new state econiomically consisted of the more advanced regions of Slovenia, Croatia including Dalmatia and the Vojvodina, Serbia proper being the administrative center, with a mining industry, and the comparatively backward regions of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Austrian administration had been accused of neglecting the region), Montenegro and "New Serbia" consisting of the Kosovo and Vardar Macedonia. While the name of the state, SHS, emphasizes federative nature, the various regions were not granted political autonomy, but the state was treated as a unitary one instead. In 1920 the branding of cattle ordered by the government caused a peasant uprising in Croatia (Wikipedia).
The infrastructure of the various regions of SHS had not been built with the new state in mind; investment was necessary to improve for instance railway connections between core Serbia and the Vojvodina (NIYB), investment which had to be procured from foreign banks. The economy was largely agricultural; there was a textile and a mining industry.
The national debt of SHS in 1921 consisted to one third of pre-war debts of the component territories and to the remainder of war-related debt, to the larger part procured from foreign banks. In 1922, SHS procured another American loan.

Foreign Policy . Relations with Italy were strained over the Dalmatia issue (Italians were slow in evacuating their troops from sections of Dalmatia they had occupied at the end of WW II) and took a turn for the worse when Italian novelist Gabriele d'Annunzio, with a troop of volunteers, in 1920 in a coup took possession of the Free City of Fiume; in 1924 Italy annexed the city state. Relations with Hungary were similarily poor, as Hungarians regarded the Treaty of Trianon unfairly being imposed upon them.
In 1921 SHS, together with Czechoslovakia and Romania, founded the Little Entente, a defensive alliance directed against Hungary, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria and the USSR, and supported by France.
SHS was a founding member of the League of Nations.
The border with Albania was fixed by treaty in 1926.

Domestic Affairs . Political parties emerged largely on ethnic-regional bases. The Democrats were mainly Serbs, the Serbian Radicals also, the Communists and Social Democrats drew support from all regions and ethnicities. The Peasant Party represented countryside Croatia; then there was the Serb Agrarian Party, the Slovene Popular Party, and two Muslim parties. The parliament elected in 1923 saw representatives of 16 political parties being returned, another 19 parties failing to gain a seat. Cabinets changed frequently.
Serb politicians regarded Serbia as the standardbearer of Yugoslav unity, as Piemont had been for Italy and Prussia for Germany. Over the years, Croat resistence against a Serbocentric policy increased. In 1925, Croat Peasant Party leader Stjepan Radic was arrested, tried for high treason, released because of the lack of evidence. The Croatian Peasant Party, the strongest political force in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, continued to demand fundamental change; the administration in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, largely composed of ethnic Serbs, found it extremely difficult to function; in 1928 most of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia was virtually under martial law (NIYB).
In 1928 Stjepan Radic was shot in parliament by Punica Rasic, a Montenegrin deputy. On January 6th 1929, King Alexander II. abolished the constitution, the Skupstina and dissolved the existing political parties.

Yugoslavia, History of, from Library of Congress, Country Studies
Miroslav Jovanovic, The Immigration of Russian refugees into The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes 1919-1924, from Association for Social History
Ljubodrag Dimic, The Cultural Policy of The Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the Period 1918-1941, from Association for Social History
Mile Bjelajac, "Military Elites - Continuity and Discontinuities : the Case of Yugoslavia, 1918-1980", from Association of Social History
Category : Kingdom of Yugoslavia, from Wikipedia
Articles Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Carinthian Plebiscite, Stjepan Radic, from Wikipedia
Global History of Currencies : Serbia
What Kind of Yugoslavia ? The 1920 and 1923 elections, by Adam Boltic
DOCUMENTS Banknotes of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money, also from Currency Museum
Elections of 1923, from Wikipedia
REFERENCE Fred Singleton, A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples, Cambridge University Press (1985) 1999
Dejan Djokic (ed.), Yugoslavism. Histories if a Failed Idea, University of Wisconsin Press 2003, KMLA Lib.Sign. 949.7103 D626y
Robert Stallaerts, Jeannine Laurens, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Croatia, Lanham Md. : Scarecrow 1995 [G]
Article : Serbia, in : Statesman's Year Book 1919 pp.1236-1244 [G]
Article : Serb, Croat and Slovene State, in : Statesman's Yearbook 1924 pp.1268-1276, 1925 pp.1275-1283, 1926 pp.1238-1247, 1928 pp.1278-1287, 1929 pp.1255-1264 [G]
Article : Jugoslavia, in : Americana Annual 1927 pp.473-475, 1928 pp.429-431 [G]
Article : Serbia, in : New International Year Book 1919 pp.605-606, 1920 p.615, 1921 p.650, 1923 p.684, 1925 p.636, 1928 p.684 [G]
Article : Jugo-Slavia, in : New International Year Book 1919 pp.369-370, 1920 pp.381-382, 1921 pp.397-399, 1923 pp.396-398, 1925 pp.358-359, 1928 pp.378-381 [G]
Henry Baerlein, The Birth of Yugoslavia (1922), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Stephen Graham, Europe - Whither Bound ? Being Letters of Travel from the Capitals of Europe in the Year 1921 (Toronto 1922), chapters V, VI : Belgrade, posted online by Gutenberg Library Online

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First posted in 2000, last revised on October 17th 2007

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