World War II

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, 1929-1941

Domestic Affairs . King Alexander's coup of 1929 had ended the country's experiment with democracy. The constitution was abolished, the Skupstina (nat'l assembly) dissolved, as were the existing political parties. The country was given a new constitution (1931), the country newly divided in administrative districts (Banovinas), following the French model, named after rivers. The idea was to overcome historic-ethnic lines.
Governments were formed by prime ministers appointed by the king. In 1934, King Alexander was assassinated while on a visit to France. He was succeeded by his minor son Peter; in his place, Prince Paul governed as Prince Regent. The most important politician was prime minister Milan Stojadinovic (1935-1939).

Relations between Yugoslavia's Ethnicities . Croatia was under military administration. Stjepan Radic's successor as head of the Croat Peasant Party, Vlatko Macek, in 1930 was tried for treason. The Banovinas did not achieve the degree of autonomy non-Serbs may have hoped for, their administration was appointed by Belgrade. Positions in the administration were overwhelmingly filled with ethnic Serbs.
Following Italy's recognition of the Vatican City as an independent state (1929), anti-Catholic sentiment spread among the Serbian Orthodox community.
In 1931-1932, even among the Serbian population, the demand for the restoration of parliamentary representation was raised, "the dictatorship seemed on the verge of collapse" (NIYB), "the movement for the establishment of a federal state .. made great headway" (NIYB). Terrorist attacks, committed by Croats as well as some targeting Croat nationalist leaders, increased in number; the state responded by having all non-Serbian political leaders arrested or exiled (by January 1933, NIYB). These measures caused international protest.
Following the assassination of King Alexander in October 1934, the regency pursued a policy aiming at reducing the tensions between Yugoslavia's ethnic groups; Croat Peasant Party leader Vlatko Macek was released from prison. However, opposition expectations were not met, and the standoff between a government insisting on a unitary state and the supporters of a federal constitution continued. In 1935, parliamentary elections were held, which resulted in the strengthening of the Croat Peasants Party in Croatia and of Fascist parties in Serbia; the conciliation policy of Prince Paul had little success. The new cabinet headed by Milan Stojadinovic (since 1935) operated in a precarious position, regarded a temporary caretaker by the Croat Peasant Party which insisted on new elections being held under fair conditions, having to pursue a policy which would not deepen the alienation of the Croats and Slovenes further, but would maintain the unitary nature of the Yugoslav state - while the Great Depression was going on. In elections of 1938, the parties supporting the Stojadinovic administration won the majority of the votes.

The Economy . King Alexander's coup of January 6th 1929 preceded the Wall Street Crash of the same year. Under his administration, the policy of Serbian domination of the kingdom was intensified, and the policy of economic discrimination against the newly gained territories, was continued.
By the early 1930es, the Great Depression began to have an impact on Yugoslavia's economy; foreign trade declined drastically. In April 1932, Yugoslavia declared a partial moratorium on debt payment. A series of trade agreements with Hungary, France and Greece was signed; one with Germany followed in 1934.
In 1935 the Yugoslav government gave up the gold standard and introduced state-financed employment programmes to tackle unemployment; the measures resulted in a gradual improvement of the overall economic situation. Yugoslavia became economically increasingly dependent on Germany, which in 1938 took almost half of the country's exports and provided a similar percentage of her imports.

Foreign Policy . Yugoslavia continued the policy of her successor, of her membership in the Little Entente, the functionality of which came into question because of Romania's oscillation between a pro-French and a pro-German policy; Yugoslavia, exposed to the hostility of Italy, leaned on France for support. Yugoslavia, fearing Italy's hostile policy, signed the Balkan Pact in 1934, with Greece, Turkey and Romania.
The assassination of King Alexander (1934) initially was blamed on Italy, and triggered anti-Italian riots in Zagreb, Ljubljana and Sarajevo.
When a Popular Front government was elected in France and France concluding a mutual assistance pact with the USSR, French-Yugoslav relations cooled down. Yugoslavia pursued a policy of improving relations with Italy, Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria; treaties with Bulgaria and Italy were concluded in 1937
A concordat negotiated with the Vatican State was opposed by the Serbian Orthodox Church and caused anti-concordat riots in 1937; in view of its unpopularity the Yugoslav cabinet did not submit it for senate approval (1938).
The Munich Pact of 1938 and the subsequent disintegration of Czechoslovakia openly showed how precarious the situation of Yugoslavia was, with Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary claiming Yugoslav territory, and with separatist organizations such as the ultraright Croat Ustasa, blamed for the assassination of King Alexander, striving for an independent Croatia.
In June 1940, Yugoslavia's former protector, France, surrendered to German forces.

Yugoslavia, History of, from Library of Congress, Country Studies
Milan Ristovic, Yugoslavia and Jewish Refugees 1938-1941, 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 for Social History
Articles Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Milan Stojadinovic, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, King Alexander I. of Yugoslavia, Vlatko Macek, Croatia in the First Yugoslavia, from Wikipedia
Hikmet Öksüz, The Reflections of the Balkan Pact in Turkish and European Public Opinion, in : Turkish Review of Balkan Studies 2007 pp.147-171
DOCUMENTS Yugoslav banknotes, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money and from Curency Museum
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
Chapter XXXI : Jugoslavia after Alexander, pp.453-467, in : John Gunther, Inside Europe, 1940 war edition, NY : Harper & Bros. 1940 [G]
Article : Yugoslavia, in : Statesman's Yearbook 1932 pp.1363-1376, 1937 pp.1394-1405 [G]
Article : Jugoslavia, in : Americana Annual 1930 pp.421-423, 1931 pp.422-424, 1932 pp.388-391, Yugoslavia 1933 pp.412-415, 1934 pp.648-650, 1935 pp.782-785, 1936 pp.797-799, 1937 pp.761-764, 1938 pp.761-763, 1939 pp.835-836, 1940 pp.844-845 [G]
Article : Jugoslavia, in : New International Year Book 1930 pp.407-410, Yugoslavia 1932 pp.852-854, 1933 pp.851-853, 1934 pp.754-756, 1935 pp.769-771, 1938 pp.792-794, 1939 pp.814-817, Events of 1940 pp.813-816 [G]
Article : Jugoslavia, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1932 pp.336-338, 1933 pp.296-298, 1934 pp.313-314, 1935 pp.307-310, 1936 pp.283-286, 1937 pp.289-292, 1938 pp.292-295, Yugoslavia 1939 pp.540-542, 1940 pp.540-541 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on August 24th 2007

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