A note to the reader: It is often presumed that the “world” was ignorant about the national problems in the so-called First Yugoslavia, especially the fact that it was a terrorist state. The Serbian regime treated Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Vojvodina, and Montenegro as occupied lands, and open terror was implemented on non-Serbs, mostly on the Croatians. We bring here an article published in the Melbourne Advocate, Australia, dated February 22, 1934, informing clearly to all those who wanted to hear the cries of the oppressed, about the plight of the Croatians at the time.
CROATIA – A TRAGEDY by “SULLA”
THAT monument of Liberal ineptitude, the Treaty of Versailles, has sown a harvest of dragons’ teeth in Europe which draws nearer to its ripening. In the name of liberty and self-determination, the historic tradition of the Western world was outraged, and the elaborate economic network which had grown up in the European States was rudely torn to fragments. The resulting chaos has produced appalling misery among the population of Central Europe; and the injustices committed in the hurried carving out of the new States have resulted in the reappearance of racial conflict in a more acute form among the people „liberated“ from the rule of Russia and Austria. We intend in the present study to give a detail picture of one corner of this scene of confusion by describing the tragic enslavement of an ancient Catholic people, the Croats, whose land has become part of the kingdom of Yugo-Slavia. This name – both new and ugly – has been given to a „Nation-State“ artificially created out of heterogeneous mass of races in the region east of the Adriatic Sea. These people – Servians, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Croats, Turks, Bulgars and Albanians – differ in history, culture, religion and even language, though most belong to the racial group of „Slavs“ – as Spaniards, Italians and Romanians are „Latin“. They have been flung together against their will under the supremacy of the least civilised of the larger groups, the Servians, under whose oppression they struggle. In particular, the inclusion of Croatia, Catholic and Latin, with a long tradition of political connection with Hungary, in a union with half barbarous people professing Eastern Orthodox, and only recently delivered from the de-civilising rule of Turkey, has weakened the whole structure of this part of Europe.
The Origins of Croatia
Croatia is a land with a heroic past. Situated at the north-western gate of the Balkans, the Croats defended the Catholic frontier for centuries against the onslaught of Islam, forming the outworks of Christendom – „Antemurale Christianitates“ (sic!) from the 15th to the 19th century. The race is anciently established, having migrated into the region between the Drava and the Adriatic in the fifth century A.D. The Croats were converted to Christianity by Italian missionaries under one Abbot Martin, and seven Bishoprics were set up – a number which was later increased. The Latin origin of Croatian Christianity made a gap between these Slavs and the Serbs and Bulgars, their neighbours, who were converted from the East, and fell into Schism with the Byzantine Church. Croatia formed the south-eastern frontier region of Charlemagne’s empire. The rule of the great Frank was willingly accepted; but the misgovernment of his successor led to a revolt. Under the Pope’s protection, Croatia became an independent kingdom until its peaceful union with Hungary in 1102.
The Middle Ages
The first period of Magyar rule was a happy one. The Balkans were still Christian land, and the Turkish menace to the West remote. Feudalism – alien to Slav tradition – grew up under the Arpad kings; the Church flourished and grew rich, its Bishops wielding great political power; and the religious Orders flourished, spreading learning through the land.
In 1301 came a break with Hungary. A French dynasty was established – the House of Anjou; and the King’s power increased. Marriage brought Croatia into the orbit of Holy Roman Empire; and in the late 14th century it was disputed between German and French-Neapolitan dynasties. Dalmatia, the coast region, was sold to Venice.
The Struggle with Islam
Then, at last, came the first Turkish raids in 1414-15, opening a new age of war for the defence of the West. Mohammed II occupied Bosnia after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the Turkish war soon became almost continuous. Hungarian rule had been restored in Croatia, though the real Government was that of the military chiefs, or „Bans.“ But in 1526 came the great Christian disaster of Mohacs. The Hungarian King was slain and Hungary overrun. What remained of it passed, with Croatia, under the rule of the Austrian Hapsburgs.
The Reformation reached Croatia after considerate success in Austria and Hungary; but though the new doctrines infected some of the powerful Zrinski family, they were refused toleration by the Ban, and made little headway.
The frontier with Turkey 1688, and a compulsory military levy established for its defence, which was maintained until 1873; so that all Croatia was an armed camp for the defence of Christendom. Turkish tyranny led to an influx of Orthodox Slavs into Croatia, and an attempt was made to secure the loyalty by persuading them to „Uniatise“ – that is, become Catholics, while retaining the Eastern rite – but without much success. The menace of Protestantism was removed by the influence of the Jesuits, who were established at Zagreb, and did much to improve education. Croat students regularly attended Italian universities in the eighteenth century, so that the Latin character of the people’s culture was fully maintained.
The National Revival
Under Austrian rule, Croatia had become increasingly Germanized; but the French Revolution, as in Italy led to changes which brought about revival of the national spirit. Napoleon in 1809 made Croatia part of his kingdom of Illyria; and French ideals made some headway during the period of his rule, which ended in 1814. In 1835 a reaction in favour of the Slav language began. The Croats demanded autonomy, but their loyalty was secured by the establishment as Ban of Josip Jellachich, who saved the Austrian throne in the 1848 revolution.
The defeat of Austria by Prussia in 1866 led to a reconstruction of the Empire as a dual monarchy by the „Ausgleich“ of 1867; and the next year Croatia concluded a compromise which secured her liberties within the Hungarian kingdom. The country was given self-government under a „Ban“ appointed by Hungary, who presided over the Legislative Assembly or „Sabor.“ This Assembly attended to local administration; but Croatia had also representation in the Hungarian Parliament and Cabinet; and it had a right to its own flag and language. There were grievances of various kinds, it is true – chiefly connected with overtaxation and maladjustment of tariffs – but it is instructive to compare the condition of Croatia in 1914 with its present state after „liberation“ by the arms of the Allies.
The Betrayal of Croatia
The Croats fought loyally for the Empire until its break-up became imminent. They then proclaimed their independence, setting up a seperate Government at Zagreb in 1918, which was recognised by Servia. The Allies, however, were determined to form a great Southern Slav State of all the groups in this region, and France – probably fearing the increase of Italian influence in Croatia – urged its union with Servia. This was attempted on a basis of equality at a series of conferences at Geneva. Croatia was to be associated in a federal bond with Servia and the other Slav States, but was not to be subject to the Servian dynasty. The Serbs, however repudiated this settlement. Their military predominance, at the close of the war, was complete, and they were able to force a Union on Croatia on their own terms. Since then, the Servian General Kalafatovich, has represented the Union as a result of the conquest and occupation of Hungarian territory; but this is entirely false. It was the freedom of a friendly Republic which was invaded after the Serbs had failed to secure their own terms by negotiation.
The imposed „Union“ was accompanied by a promise to call a free convention in six months; but the meeting was postponed for two years. During this time all power was concentrated in the Servian capital, Belgrade; and Serb soldiers and police occupied Croatia, setting up a reign of terrorism and corruption, whose object was the dissolution of the Croat State organisation.
At last the convention met. From the first the rule of the Servian dynasty was assumed, though the Croats had not recognised it. Their representatives, therefore, boycotted the Convention. Even so, the influence of the other combined groups was such that opposition to the new constitution – which divided Croatia into several provinces – could only be overcome by „rigging“ the electoral lists. Premier Pashitch threatened the Turkish group that if they did not serve his cause „they would never return home alive.“
The Convention of the new „Yugoslav“ State was ignored by the Croats until 1925, when their leader, Raditch, decided, on English advice, to act in the new Parliament, where it was hoped to obtain concessions by a combination of the minority groups with the Servian opposition. Vague promises of change were made by the Government itself, by the way of encouragement.
Raditch was overborne by the feeling of the „Moderates“ in his own camp; but he had prophesied that the reappearance of the Croats would lead to the union of the Servian parties in a „bloc“; and so it proved. The party of „The Strong Castle“ was formed on the initiative of King Alexander; and every effort was made to break the Croat leader’s power by compromising him in the eyes of his nation. When this failed, Raditch was simply shot dead in the House by a fellow member of Parliament, and the murderer – like the assassin of the Austrian Archduke in 1914 – was hailed as a national hero.
The Royal Tyranny
The Croats succeeded to Zagreb and the Parliament at Belgrade continued to legislate for the whole country without their consent. But it was necessary to take stronger measures in order to maintain the Servian predominance against the rising tide of opposition. In autumn 1928, therefore, on his return from Paris, the King tore up the former Constitution and declared a Royal Dictatorship, composing a new constitution of a highly autocratic character, in which all the provincial liberties were abolished and the country unified. While many of the Serb politicians took office under the regime, the new Croat leader, Dr. Matchek, was imprisoned. The King played the part of Richard II., and took over the „leadership“ of the Croat people. The commemoration of Raditch and visits to his grave were forbidden. The Croat flag might no longer be displayed; this prohibition also applied nominally to the old Servian colours; but the latter could be flown freely as the standard of the Orthodox Church. Young men, however, who bore the Croat flag as a banner, with religious emblems upon it, at the Eucharistic Congress of Dalmatia Croatia were attacked and some of them killed by the Servian police.
Croatia is at present under the rule of Servian police and soldiers, who exercise complete power. The law courts are merely police institutions; the torture of prisoners is freely practised. The education in Croatian schools is Servianised in its historical section, and an effort is being made to impose changes in the language and writing of the people. The banks and financial institutions at Zagreb are subjected to every kind of pressure in order that the savings of the people may be transferred to Belgrade. Meanwhile, the existence of a Croatian question is officially denied since Croatia has been absorbed in Yugo-Slavia, how―it is asked―can there be a Croatian question?
The attempt to destroy this brave and unhappy Catholic nation will, no doubt, meet with the failure which has always attended such brutalities. Meanwhile, the State of Croatia is a danger to Yugo-Slavia since it places her in a weak situation in face of the possible aggression of Italy, the neighbour whom she fears. There can be little doubt of what attitude the Croats would assume in such a case.
It is obvious that the regime of stupid violence in Yugo-Slavia cannot last. The problem is not touched by it. There are several possible solutions of this minority question. The idea of a federation of autonomous States under the Servian Crown has much to recommend it: but in the case of Croatia, the persecution has led to a growing demand for nothing less than complete separation. Indeed, historic, religious and cultural affinities are stronger here than those of race; and a revival of the older political ties with Austria and Hungary might be the most satisfactory solution. Croatia would thus become a member of the new Danube federation, which seems likely to be formed eventually, in order to solve the problem of the former territories of the Austrian Empire.
Transcribed by Nikola Dedić, Student of History at the University of Mostar