His Life – His party – His politics
Also see one of Radic’s speeches
(Seventieth Anniversary of His Assassination)
American Croatian Review, Year v, No. 3 and 4, December 1998, pp.29-36.
At the turn of the 20th century, when Stjepan Radic entered the political arena, questions of national unity and Slavic equality in the Habsburg monarchy were primary issues in Croatian politics. Various Croatian provinces and regions had different relations with the crown. Some were directly under Austria (Dalmatia and Istria) and others had autonomy within the Hungarian half of the empire. Bosnia and Herzegovina, also a Croatian homeland, was under the shared responsibility of both Vienna and Budapest. The fragmentation of the nation, therefore, prevented the formation of a common political front among Croats.
From the time of the Hungarian-Croatian Agreement of 1868, unification of the country under a common Sabor (Diet) and Ban (viceroy) in Zagreb, and national autonomy were the two major objectives of the Croatian nationalist forces. In their eyes, autonomy would secure for the Croatians equality with the Germans and the Magyars in the Habsburg empire. Political activities and control of the existing parties at the time were in the hands of the upper and middle classes, while the majority of the people did not have the right to vote. Those who were involved in the political process were divided into three principal factions. One supported the existing regime; the other two advocated national autonomy but with different goals in mind: one looked toward a vague idea of South Slavic unity; the other envisioned a Croatian independent state as the ultimate goal.
Stjepan Radic was a member of a new generation of politicians. He was not pleased with the old political framework. His dream was to awake the “sleeping giant” (the peasants) and to make them a political force, as well as to add a social dimension to traditional politics. Radic was a charismatic leader, “the greatest of political acrobats,” 1 and an intellectual whose life-long dream was to achieve freedom, justice, and equality by peaceful means. But Radic and his dream ended as victims of hatred and violence in Belgrade’s parliament in 1928.
Youth and Education
Stjepan Radic was born to a large and poor peasant family in the small village of Trebarjevo Desno about thirty miles southeast of Zagreb on June 11, 1871. He was the ninth of eleven children. His lengthy daily journeys on foot to and from the primary school in the neighboring village did not prevent him from becoming an excellent student. Because of his nearsightedness his parent did not plan a higher education for him. However, his older brother Antun, already a student in Zagreb, managed to secure a small scholarship for Stjepan to enroll in the gymnasium (high school) in Zagreb. Stjepan was constantly plagued with financial problems because the scholarship soon ran out. He did receive some help from wealthy patrons and the Catholic Church because of his academic excellence, but most of the time he was on his own. He made ends meet by tutoring less talented students.
From his youth, Radic was adventurous and enthusiastic. When he was fifteen years old, he traveled alone through the northern parts of Croatia. He went from village to village listening and talking to the peasants. He was interested in not only how they lived, but also what they thought about people living in the cities and city politicians who were far removed from the peasants’ needs. At that early age he already believed that his life would be dedicated to politics, or, as his family would say, “he would teach and defend the people” 2
Radic had his first clash with state authorities when he was seventeen. The occasion was an ordinance issued by the Ban, Khuen Hedervary, to close the Croatian National Theater in Zagreb. An opera dealing with Croatian national history was the last performance before the closure. The moment was tense. At the most patriotic point of the opera, Radic stood up and began to shout national slogans and “Down with Hedervary,” 3 who was seen as the symbol of foreign (Magyar) oppression in Croatia. The affair ended without a trial, but Radic would not be so fortunate in the future.
During his high school years, Radic spent most of his summers traveling. He traveled throughout the Slovene lands because his interest was to see the lives of the common people and to meet as many national leaders as possible. He went to Germany to learn more about the German political system. In 1888 he went to Russia. Radic had always been an admirer of the Russians, but this trip to an “unfriendly country” made him yet more dangerous in the eyes of the Habsburg regime. After his return from Russia, he organized a literary club which subscribed to all major Slavic magazines, including those from Russia. He also began to teach some of his friends Russian. Because of such “anti-government activities” he was expelled from the gymnasium and put into the mental ward of the local hospital .4 He was forced to drop out of school for a year and then to finish his secondary education in the city of Karlovac. After his final examinations, he resumed his travels through Croatia: this time he went to the southern provinces. The trip, however, was cut short because of Serb accusations that Radic was spreading Croatian nationalism. He was detained by police and then escorted to Zagreb.
In 1891, Radic became a student of law at the University of Zagreb but his primary concern was national politics. He and others of the younger generation advocated cooperation among the existing Croatian political parties in order to create a united opposition to the Habsburg regime. This goal was achieved in 1892 to the satisfaction of Radic and all the nationalists. But because of his political activism, Radic very soon clashed with the law again.
In July 1893, he was sentenced to four months in jail for accusing Ban Hedervary of being a Magyar hussar and a tyrant at a public meeting. During the jail term he studied Czech which would be useful to him soon. He was expelled from the University of Zagreb and had to continue his studies outside Croatia. He went to Prague where he resumed not only his schooling but also his political activism.
While in Prague, Radic became a member of Slavia Club, traveled through the countryside regularly, met his future wife, and was an active participant in student political life. Because of his politics, he was expelled from the university of Prague and “the entire territory of the Kingdoms and Lands represented in the Reichsrath” .5 He had no choice but to go to Budapest, if he wanted to finish his studies. However, his stay in the Hungarian capital proved to be short- lived. He did not like the city for political reasons and decided to return to Zagreb for the purpose of organizing an anti-Magyar protest (among other things) on the occasion of the Emperor’s visit to the city.
In the fall of 1895, the Emperor and King Franz Joseph came to Zagreb. Besides the Croatian flags there were also Hungarian colors flying in the main square and government buildings. This was used as a pretext for demonstrations. About two hundred students dressed in the traditional uniforms of Jelacic regiments and under the national colors marched to the city’s main square, named after Ban Josip Jelacic — the symbol of anti-Magyar struggle from the time of the 1848 Revolution. There, at the foot of Jelacic’s monument, they burned the Magyar flag, shouting “Glory to Jelacic” and “Down with the Magyars.” Most of the students were arrested and Radic served a jail term of six months.
Soon after his release, young Stjepan went to Russia. He wanted to finish his university education in Moscow, but he had overestimated Russian friendship. The Minister of Education, Nikolai Pavlovich Bogolepov, informed him that a man with his personal history should be sent to Siberia instead of being admitted to the university .6 From Moscow he proceeded to Paris and there graduated in political science. In 1899, Radic and his wife returned to Prague, but shortly thereafter they were expelled from the country. In 1900, they returned to Croatia and from that point on, besides his interest in his family, politics became the main focus of his life.
Despite his poverty, his peasant background, and his visual impediment, Radic somehow managed to befriend a good number of leading political and cultural figures in Croatia and abroad. Without their recommendations and financial help he would not have had a chance to travel or to finish his formal education. It seems that many people recognized his special talents and ambitions and were willing to support him in his efforts. On the other hand, he was more interested in learning from the lives and experiences of important people than in getting their material help. He felt a need to prepare himself for his future political mission, for which, he believed, he was destined. For example, in a letter written in 1893 he stated: I would be completely happy, if I did not constantly think about our oppressed and humiliated homeland…[But] I am fully happy even now, because I am preparing myself as much as possible to be able sooner or later, by the help of the just and eternal God and sincere and faithful friends, to unite and to liberate Croatia, our God-given homeland” .7
Intellectual and Political Influences
Radic’s intellectual development was influenced by various people. First, he was affected by the leading Illyrian and post-Illyrian Croatian writers. Illyrism in Croatian was a mixture of nationalism and a vague idea of South Slavic solidarity. His friend and mentor, historian Franjo Racki, made a strong impression on young Radic, especially in the area of national struggle against the Habsburgs and Magyars, as well as in promoting the idea of Slavic unity. His Czech friends and professors also influenced his intellectual orientation: although Thomas Masaryk, a leading Czech intellectual, was once his next door neighbor, the ideas of Frantisek Palacky, a Czech of the mid-19th century, were more important to him.
Radic was also a Panslav, but his Panslavism never took a pragmatic shape. It was an ideal which he never tried to incorporate into his practical politics. Russian Populism was another movement whose ideas were reflected in his writings and his political program .8 During his stay in Paris, Radic absorbed the teachings of some of his professors, as well as of some French writers of the time. The democratic ideas of the French Revolution and the works of the French historian Jules Michelet had an important impact on his future political work .9 Although a man of faith, Radic was a strong opponent of clericalism.
Some historians claim that Stjepan’s older brother Antun was actually the original thinker and the true ideologist of the Peasant Party, and that he was the strongest intellectual influence on his younger brother .10 But others consider both brothers equally important in the development of the peasant ideology in Croatia. In fact, neither contributed more than the other: they contributed equally but in different ways .11
Croatian People’s Peasant Party
Not only was the rule of Khuen Hedervary as Ban of Croatia a long one (1883- 1903), but it was also detrimental to political life in the country. Hedervary secured an election law that guaranteed him an obedient Sabor (Diet). Magyarization through domestic terror and other policies were the main features of his political program. In addition, he followed the Habsburg example of a divide et impera policy. He inaugurated the era of Serbian-Croatian antagonism by using the Serb minority in Croatia for his political goals at the expense of the Croatians.
The year 1903 marked a turning point in Croatian politics. As a united opposition developed, Khuen began to lose power. The Emperor recalled him in order to subdue political opposition in Budapest, hoping that he would be able to handle the Hungarian opposition as he had done in Zagreb. After Khuen’s departure a number of new political parties emerged, one of which was the Croatian People’s Peasant Party/Hrvatska pucka seljacka stranka (HPSS), organized by the two Radic brothers.
Stjepan and his brother Antun tried at first to work within the framework of the old political formations. Soon they realized that the old parties were not suitable for new ideas, nor would the older political leaders change their frame of reference. The Radic brothers’ belief that the peasantry should become the main political force in the country did not appeal to the ruling middle class. Even their younger friends were reluctant to accept the peasantry as the future backbone of national politics. Thus, the idea that the peasants were the “strongest political party in Croatia” 12 was attacked by both the conservatives and the progressives. Despite such opinions, the party was established on December 5, 1904. Stjepan became its president and the chief propagator. The founding committee expressed the main goal of the party in the following words: Having assessed the Croatian past and present, it became imperative that we should pursue a policy that will not only lead to a united Croatia and her complete independence, but will also provide for all her people a better education and general social progress. For that worthy cause the Croatian People’s Peasant Party has been founded and we are confident that it will fulfill its calling as the party of the people .13
Ideology of the Party
At the end of the last century, the existing political parties in Croatia were becoming obsolete. Their programs were too narrow and legalistic and did not address contemporary social and economic problems. One of their main concerns was to retain and expand the historic rights, through which Croatia had preserved the core of its medieval statehood while under the Hungarian or Habsburg crown and which gave Croatia the right to seek unification of its lands and full self-rule, or even independence. The Radic brothers also adhered to those historic rights and goals, but they added new dimensions to national politics: to educate the peasants, to improve their economic and cultural life, and to bring the majority of the people into the political processes. In order to achieve such goals Croatian villages had to be mobilized and politicized. Moreover, the party ideologues called for democratization of the existing political system, universal male suffrage, and freedom of speech, assembly, and the press .14 The HPSS, therefore, incorporated four major principles into its program: statehood, Slavism, people (peasants) as the majority political force, and political liberalism .15 Freedom for the nation was a primary goal but it meant not only freedom from external oppression, it meant freedom for all the people, not only the gospoda (elite). The party’s Slavism was to be expressed primarily through Croatian and Serb cooperation in Croatia and then in the sharing of common interests with Slovene lands and other Slavic countries, especially with “the progressive Czechs and the strong Russians” .16 In concrete political terms, Radic’s Slavism basically meant cooperation of the Slavic peoples within the Habsburg empire.
Because the peasantry in Croatia and other agrarian lands constituted the majority of the population, Radic believed that it should be the ruling majority. According to him, the peasants should create a “peasant state” not by a revolution, but by peaceful means. In such a state there would be no privileged classes or extreme individuals. The higher classes would realize that they are one with the common people. Social differences would disappear, and all the classes would become one people and one nation. The peasant ideology rejected oppression and dictatorship and “peasant democracy” was essential to individual and national progress. The peasant ideal, according to Radic, was not to oppress other classes but to harmonize and to cooperate with all in order to have full freedom and justice .17 Therefore, the republic was the ideal type of state in which equality and democracy would rule.
The right to hold private property was also one of the basic principles of the peasants’ ideology. The ideology did not single out the rich, rather it advocated that government introduce laws which would decrease the gap between the rich and the poor. Minimum possessions should be guaranteed to every family, and should not be violated for any reason .18
Political Activity (1904-1918)
In his policies toward the Habsburg monarchy, Radic advocated a reorganization of the empire from the dualist (Austria-Hungary) system into a federation .19 In his article “Slavic Politics in the Habsburg Monarchy,” published in 1906, Radic outlined his party’s proposal for a structural change of the empire. The following are the main points of the proposal: Czech would be the official language of the Slavs in the monarchy; dualism would be abolished and five equal political units created (Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia; Galicia and Bukovina; Hungary, Slovakia, and Transylvania; Croatia and Slovenia; and German Austria); Vienna would remain the capital of the federation; civil liberties, economic and social policies would be the same throughout the empire; a Common Imperial Council would be in charge of all collective affairs; the country would be neutral in its foreign policy, and the title of Austria-Hungary would be changed into “Danubian Federation of States and Nationalities” .20 Radic also dreamed of future united countries in other parts of Europe. According to him, the Danubian Federation would be the nucleus for a Central European Federation. But his proposal was not welcomed even by other Slavic political leaders. Masaryk, for example, dismissed the idea as unrealistic. Radic was considered too Panslavist and Russophile by the leading Slav politicians in the monarchy.
In the 1905 Sabor elections, Radic became a political candidate for the first time. Although he was not elected at that time, from 1908 till his death in 1928, he won every election he entered. It is interesting to note that he and other candidates from his party took an oath for the 1908 elections which was also published in the party newspaper. The oath reflected the Peasant party program. They vowed, among other things, to never go to Pest (Hungary’s capital), to work for the breaking of all ties with Hungary, and to fight for universal male suffrage, equality, economic and legal reforms .21
In the 1910 elections the Peasant party won nine out of eighty-eight seats in the Croatian Sabor. It was an important victory for Radic. For the first time in the history of the Sabor there were five peasants as representatives. It was proof that the peasants were entering political life and that Radic’s program was being slowly accepted and implemented. However, at this time, the party was not able to gain the political power Radic desired because most peasants did not have the right to vote. The real power of the peasantry would be felt only after World War I because of the new state’s universal manhood suffrage.
Even though Radic was elected to the Sabor a number of times, he could not pursue any meaningful political action in that representative body because either the Sabor was dissolved or Radic was jailed or prevented in some other way from parliamentary participation. For that reason most of his activities were devoted to political activism outside the Sabor. He went to the countryside to deliver speeches and organize the peasantry. He published newspapers, pamphlets, booklets, and almanacs. At the same time, Radic corresponded with many Slavic political and cultural leaders that helped him to get international exposure. For example, while in Prague during the Second Panslavic Congress in 1908, he was invited to come to Russia to give lectures on the Balkans and the Slavs in the Habsburg monarchy .22
Throughout the pre-World War I era, Radic’s popularity grew among the common people and even among some progressives of the middle class. The regime did everything it could to prevent his party form gaining strength. He was accused of being an enemy of the Monarchy, as well as being an agent of Russia, Serbia, and even France. On the other hand, when he was lecturing in Russia he was denounced as an agent of Austria. Despite the persecutions, prison terms, and derision, Radic continued to dedicated his life and all his capabilities to the ideals of his party. The peasants were more and more attracted to him and to his political program. He was becoming their true spokesman.
Radic did not believe in violence. He advocated fundamental changes but always by peaceful means. He, therefore, condemned the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo as a cowardly act. When the war started he hoped it would cause a radical change in the monarchy without causing its destruction. He joined others in the public predictions of a final victory for the Central Powers. However, his private desires were different. He expressed his opinions on the war to his friend and successor Vladko Macek: The only chance for the Croats lies in a total defeat of Austro-Hungary, without, however, causing its dissolution. A victory of the Dual Monarchy, allied with Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, would have catastrophic results for all nationalities within its frame, except Germans and Magyars. On the other hand, the crumbling of the Habsburg Empire would spell disaster for all of them, Germans and Magyars included .23
Radic kept in touch with the soldiers on the front by means of letters. The government accused him of anti-war propaganda because he published many letters from the soldiers and their relatives. Despite his poor vision, he almost ended up in the Habsburg army. Only after the second medical examination, he was declared unfit to serve. Although the Sabor was reopened in 1915, Radic was banned from the parliamentary sessions most of the time. His federalist demands and attacks on the government caused the ruling majority to exclude him from the Sabor.
Radic greeted the 1917 February/March Russian revolution with enthusiasm. He regarded it as neither bourgeois, nor intellectual, nor socialist, nor agrarian, but as a compound of “English aristocracy – Prince Lvov; French bourgeois – Miliukov; and peasant intelligentsia – Kerensky” .24 He also began to advocate the principle of self-determination in his arguments against centralism, stressing that the people alone should make their political choices. They would no longer be the objects but rather the subjects of political life. Thus, he demanded the immediate and full emancipation of Croatia within the empire. In September 1917, he declared: Croatian loyalty to the Monarchy cannot without impunity be mistaken for loyalty to Germano-Magyar dualism, and if they continue to refuse us a fair deal in the future, I shall be among the first who, unafraid of the gallows, will shout: ‘Down with the Habsburgs!'”25
For the above words Radic was expelled from the Sabor one more time, to which he returned in the second half of 1918, when the empire was already crumbling.
A Slow Road to Belgrade
Even before Vienna asked for an armistice in October 1918, Radic, like many others, realized that the end of the Monarchy was near. A number of Slavic politicians in the Monarchy, including Radic, went to Prague in April of the same year to discuss their political options. Radic declared that the policies of Vienna and Budapest had lost all support among the Croatians and that a union with Slovenia, Serbia, and Montenegro was feasible on the basis of complete equality. Upon his return to Zagreb he wrote: True and lasting peace can be achieved only if all peoples, those from within the borders of the former Russian Empire as well as those from the Danubian area and from the Balkans, are allowed wholly to exercise their rights to self- determination. In this way they will be able to enter later into a common federation of their own free will and on equal terms in their new quality as popular national states .26
In October 1918, the National Council of Slovenes, Croatians, and Serbs was established in Zagreb. It had two bodies: The Plenum and the Central Committee. The Plenum had never been called to a meeting. The Central Committee made all decisions. Radic was pushed aside from the decision making process in such crucial and historic moments because it was known that he opposed the hasty establishment of the new South Slavic country. The National Council, however, proceeded to work for the creation of the unified state of Slovenes, Croatians, and Serbs. Radic, on the other hand, claimed that the people supported independence from the Habsburgs, but were reluctant to jump into another union, especially another monarchy. He claimed that Croatia wanted a republic. He was not against the union in principle, but he opposed the hasty unification without making a sound foundation for it and a well-defined agreement with the other nations entering the union .27 If the unification of the South Slavs were to take place, Radic proposed the following terms: a federation based on national unity and equality; three equal regents (the Serbian Crown Prince, the Croatian Ban, and the Slovene National Council President); a federal government consisting of three ministries (foreign, defense, and national food supply and production); the Supreme Council of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs should be the supreme body of the federal government, and each nation should have its autonomous government .28
Radic’s proposal, as well as four similar proposals were dismissed. A special committee was created by the National Council to make the final draft of the motion that proposed the immediate proclamation of the union of the state of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs under the Serbian Karadjordjevic dynasty. The Central Committee rushed to pass the motion of unconditional unification as soon as possible in order to prevent any potential disruption. The most important meeting in this regard was held during the night of November 23-24, 1918. During this meeting, Radic delivered not only one of his best but truly a prophetic speech. He opposed this rush action as treasonous. Radic declared if the Serbs wanted a centralist state, they can have it. The Croatians wanted a federalist republic and nothing less. He also stressed that the Committee had no right to make final decisions because its members were not elected by the people but were self- appointed. He concluded that the Committee was making the gravest political mistake by placing before the people the fait accompli ; deciding “without the people and against the people” .29
At this meeting Radic and the Central Committee split into two radically different directions. The Committee went to Belgrade to make a centralist state under a new monarchy. Radic, considering the act irresponsible and treacherous, proceeded to organize the strongest possible opposition to the regime in the newly organized state.
During the period of the first five years in the new state, Radic continued to work for the long-desired goal: political autonomy and civil liberties. All of his political undertakings should be seen in this light. That had been his principal desire in the old and now in the new monarchy; however, one of the main differences between the old and the new situation was the growing political awareness of the peasants and their right to vote. In his speech to the National Council during the night of November 23-24, he declared: Our Croatian peasant–and that means nine-tenths of our population–came of age during the war: he no longer intends to be a servant to anyone, to slave for anyone–neither a foreigner nor his brother–neither for a foreign nation, nor for his own. He wishes his nation to be built upon the base of freedom, republicanism, and social justice, in this hour of momentous decision .30
Radic knew the peasants as did no other politician at the time. By his hard work he had built a firm foundation for his party. He knew the needs and desires of his constituency, and they were willing to give him their vote of confidence.
The Croatian People’s Peasant Party had its first convention after the war in February 1919. Over six thousand delegates met in Zagreb. Among other things they resolved to change the name of the party. In order to point out their main political goal, the new name of the party became Croatian Republican Peasant Party (HRSS). The convention also demanded the creation of a “neutral Croatian Republic” based on the principles of self-determination and Croatia’s historic state rights. Accepting the Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points at face value, the party leaders sent a Memorandum to United States’ President Wilson and other leading members of the Paris Peace Conference. They asked for a special commission which would implement the principles of self-determination in Croatia. Under its supervision a “neutral republic of Croatia” would be created and then incorporated into a “neutral federated republic of Yugoslavia,” which would also include Bulgaria. Although the Memorandum was signed by 167,669 people 31, no one paid attention to their requests or wishes. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes became a member of the family of nations on June 28, 1919.
Political persecutions of Radic and his party, economic exploitation of Croatia, 32 and terror in general began immediately after the union was created. The leader of the Serbs in Croatia, Svetozar Pribicevic, became the Minister of Interior. He was more Serb and more unitarist than the leaders of the ruling Serbian Radical party. He was a “specialist” on Croatian affairs and was given a free hand to do whatever was needed to keep the opposition under control. Radic was jailed in March of 1919 and spent almost a full year in prison. Other leaders of the party were also imprisoned. As soon as Radic was released from jail he delivered an anti-regime speech and was arrested again. This time he was sentenced to a two and a half years prison term. The situation in the country was getting tense, but Radic opposed violence. Commenting on the situation he stated: There is not a single Croatian who would not sincerely desire a peaceful settlement with the Serbs…but there is neither a single Croatian who would want to betray his people by submitting to violence .33
The first elections in the new state took place in November 1920. On election day, November 28, Radic was pardoned and released from prison. The Croatian Republican Peasant Party received an absolute majority of all votes cast in Croatia. It became clear now that Radic was right when he stated to the “representatives” in the National Council that they did not speak in the name of the people. His party was the true voice of the nation, and he was its main political leader. The elected candidates of the HRSS gathered in Zagreb in December to plan their political strategy. They made the decision to abstain from the work of the Constitutional Assembly in Belgrade. The main reason for such a move was based on two fundamental disagreements with the major Serbian parties, Radicals and Democrats. First, Radic proposed that the new constitution be prepared by a special assembly in which each of the nations would be represented equally. Serbians, on the other hand, demanded the rule of the majority. Second, representatives of the Croatian Republican Peasant Party, as well as of some of the other groups, rejected the demand to take the oath of allegiance to the Serbian king before the constitution was promulgated. Radic wanted freedom of debate in the Assembly on all issues including the dynasty .34
The so called “Vidovdan Constitution” was passed on St. Vitus Day, June 28, 1921 by 223 out of the 419 votes in the Assembly. This date was very symbolic for the Serbs because it was the date of the Kosovo battle in 1389. The document was an extension of the pre-war Serbian constitution, which provided a centralized administrative system. All of the Croatian and Slovene parties opposed the decision, as well as the Communist party. While the Constitutional Assembly was working in Belgrade, most of the Croatian elected representatives gathered in Zagreb and drafted a “Constitution of the Neutral Peasant Croatian Republic.”
Thus, two radically different approaches were taken in building the foundations of the country. One was unitarist and the other federalist. Radic declared: If for eight hundred years the Croatians did not surrender to Hungary and Austria, why in the world should they now suddenly surrender to Serbia 35? Serbian centralists considered Serbia’s dominant role in the new country as a natural outcome of the war and a fulfillment of their traditional dream of a greater Serbia under another name. The new Constitution therefore gave the king remarkable political powers. The Government was responsible to the King and to the National Assembly, however, it was the king who appointed the Government and the members of the judiciary. He had the power to dismiss the Assembly, which in practice meant he had absolute powers. In contrast, the non-Serbs looked for a union of equal partners. For Radic and many others such a Constitution was not acceptable. It was antithetical to his republicanism and “peasant democracy.”
Leading Serbian politicians underestimated the Croatian opposition to the centralist state .36 They claimed that Radic and his party did not represent the Croatian people; that he spoke “only in the name of the illiterate and misled peasants” .37 But as soon as the Constitution was promulgated, Radic formed a Croatian Bloc, which included most of the elected Croatian representatives. This political coalition enabled Radic to be even more persistent in his political demands. He was now recognized as the national leader by other Croatian parties as well.
New hopes were raised during the preparations for the Genoa Conference in 1922. Radic thought that the conference might put pressure on Belgrade to solve the “Croatian question.” He wanted to send a special delegation to the Conference to make the participants aware of the national and constitutional problems in the newly formed Balkan state. However, the delegation was not permitted to leave the country. Instead a memorandum in the name of the Croatian bloc was smuggled to the conference. After enumerating the outstanding problems and Croatian political goals, the memorandum offered a solution to the most important problem, Serbian centralism, the establishment of “a sovereign Croatia within the boundaries of the commonwealth of Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia” .38 Radic’s hopes were not realized. Nothing positive resulted from the Memorandum and it precipitated a new crisis in the Government.
The leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, Ljuba Davidovic, and the former leader of the Radical Party, Stojan Protic, were willing to negotiate a settlement with Radic and other opposition leaders. But the Prime Minister and the leader of the Radical Party, Nikola Pasic, and the leading Serb from Croatia, Svetozar Pribicevic, who was a member of the Democratic Party, opposed any compromise with the Croats and the opposition in general. Pasic decided to call for new elections, hoping that he would gain an absolute majority in the Assembly. Despite various manipulations from the ruling Radicals, the elections turned out to be a new victory for Radic and his party. Although Pasic did gain new seats in the Skupstina (Assembly), the elections did not turn out as he had hoped. Radic’s party, now running for the first time in Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Dalmatia, won 70 mandates, 20 seats more than in previous elections, and the popular vote for his party doubled .39 Some Serbian leaders were beginning to talk openly about the “amputation” of what they regarded to be Croatia (only a small region around Zagreb) and of creating a pre-defined and ethnically pure greater Serbia. But that proved to be only a momentary reaction to Radic’s election victory. Still, a Serbian dominated common state was preferred.
Unsuccessful Deal with Pasic
After the elections of 1923, an attempt was made by Croatian, Slovene, and Bosnian Muslim representatives to form a Federalist Bloc. The main goal of the Bloc was to revise the Vidovdan Constitution and to introduce federalism. The regime reacted vehemently against the united opposition, especially to Radic as the leader of the group. The leading Belgrade newspapers threatened with bloodshed. One wrote: Let Zagreb see its streets sprinkled by blood… The law of protection of the state and the criminal laws have to be implemented against today’s separatism in Zagreb and Ljubljana… Who tries to stir trouble must grease the rope [to be hung]. According to our belief, that is the best cure for separatism .40 There were also personal threats to Radic: Let it be known to Mr. Radic…if he starts an open action against the Kingdom of SHS that the machine-guns will be in action right away…..41
Faced with the demands of the Federalist Bloc, with opposition from the Serbian Democratic Party, and especially from the British, French, and Czech governments’ suggestions to improve the relations with the Croats, Pasic began to negotiate with Radic and other leaders of the Bloc. A Protocol was signed. The main points were as follows: Croatia would not be divided into regions (oblasti); a royal Governor would be appointed for Croatia; political persecutions in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina were to be stopped immediately; and in return, Radic and other representatives of his party would stay away from the Skupstina. In this way Pasic secured a majority in the Assembly and prolonged the rule of his Government. However, this arranged modus vivendi did not last long. Pasic continued his old policies. Radic, realizing that Pasic did not bargain in good faith, returned to his old attacks and demands. In one of his speeches, commemorating Bastille Day, Radic alluded to Karadjordjevic’s possible fate. His arrest became imminent. He and his wife left the country in July 1923 to avoid imprisonment and to work for his political goals from outside the country.
In the European Capitals
Radic used his exile to seek understanding and help for his cause in major European capitals. He visited Vienna, Paris, London, Berlin, and Moscow. While in London, he was in touch with some important members of the Labour Party. He delivered a few lectures on the “Croatian question.” But even there he was under the watchful eye of the Belgrade secret police. He did not find sympathy for his case in England. His British friends, including R. W. Seton-Watson, a leading and very influential expert on Central and Southeastern Europe, urged Radic to go to Belgrade and make a working deal with “honest Serbs.” Neither the British nor the French governments desired any important changes in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. On the contrary, they favored the Serbian strong hand and centralist state because someone had to be “policeman” of the region.
After his return to Vienna in February 1924, Radic proceeded to work on two fronts. One was to make a deal with the Serbian Democratic Party, which was in opposition at the time, and the other to continue to pressure the Belgrade regime by his activities outside the country. He was ready to send his party’s elected delegates to the Skupstina in order to strengthen the opposition. His dealings with the Serbian Democrats caused problems for the Radical government in Belgrade. Pribicevic split from the Democratic Party, and formed an Independent Democratic Party in order to join Pasic’s Radicals and retain the majority. Furthermore, in order to prevent Radic’s plans to bring down the Government, Pasic adjourned the Assembly from March to October.
In order to put external pressure on the government, Radic was working with the representatives of the Peasant International (known as Krestintern) centered in Moscow. Even though Radic was a great friend of the Czechs, he did not show any enthusiasm for the Green International, organized in 1921 and centered in Prague. He considered it to be an instrument of Czech politics, and above all the Green International showed no sympathy for the Croatian cause .42 On the other hand, the Krestintern was eager to enlist Radic and the Croatian Peasant Party because Moscow had important plans for Radic. The New Economic Policy was in progress and the cooperation with the Soviet peasants was still promoted and Radic was seen as a man who could become the main ally of Moscow among the peasants in Southeastern Europe. Furthermore, in 1924, even the Comintern recognized the right of the Balkan nations to self-determination, therefore it stood for the breakup of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.
Radic went to Moscow and had talks with George Chicherin, Christian Rakovsky, Mikhail Kalinin and other high officials. The Croatian Peasant Party formally became a member of the Peasant International but this had little practical significance. It is said that Radic stated: “Communists do no want allies, only servants” 43
After an effort to find understanding and support outside the country for the plight of the Croatian people and its national rights and goals, Radic realized that the leading world powers did not have much interest in South Slavic affairs and that the principles of self-determination, freedom, democracy, and equality were not to be applied to everyone. Thus, after all other efforts, he decided to take his fight to the Belgrade Skupstina.
Truce with Pasic
While Radic was outside the country, the leader of the Serbian Democrats, Davidovic, was asked by the King to form a new Government in June 1924. Radic’s collaborators in the Croatian Peasant Party tried to make a deal with Davidovic, but the alliance turned out to be unsuccessful. Shortly thereafter Davidovic resigned. Pasic and Pribicevic organized a coalition and formed a new Government in November 1924. As soon as Radic returned from the Soviet Union he attacked monarchism, militarism, and many other aspects and practices of the Belgrade regime. In return, Pasic extended Obznana (an extraordinary law against the Communists passed in 1921) to the Croatian Republican Peasant Party. The HRSS was outlawed and the entire party leadership, including Radic, was arrested.
Interestingly, the party was permitted to participate in the election of February 8, 1925. Radic and his party received more popular votes than ever. The elected delegates of the party, except those in jail, showed up in the Skupstina on the opening day of the Assembly. The result was that Pasic opened negotiations with Radic while the Croatian peasant leader was still in jail and the result was that Radic accepted the “Vidovdan Constitution” and Karadjordjevic dynasty. His party removed the term “Republican” from its name. It became simply Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and it replaced Pribicevic’s Independent Democrats in the new coalition. Radic’ was released from jail and went directly to Belgrade to be Minister of Education.
Everyone was surprised and many shocked by Radic’s complete reversal of political strategy. As a result, some of his Croatian friends left the party and formed the Croatian Federalist Peasant Party. Croatian nationalists and even Communists condemned Radic’s compromise with Pasic and the Karadjordjevic regime .44 It was believed that he had betrayed the basic principles of the Croatian national strategy. Radic himself never gave a full explanation as to why he made such a drastic move. It is most likely that he concluded that, while rejecting all violent means, other methods did not work. He tried passive resistance and looked for help in the West and the East, but in vain. Terror and imprisonment had become daily occurrences. His own life was in danger. He believed that his last chance to achieve at least some of his desired goals and to alleviate some of the hardships in Croatia was to work within the existing system.
The Radical-Peasant coalition traveled a bumpy road during its short existence. Radic’s proposals for reforms were constantly rejected. Shortly after the coalition was organized, Pasic himself got into trouble because of corruption. The King and many Radicals wanted to get rid of him .45 In April 1926, Pasic submitted his resignation and in December of the same year he died. Even though the Croatian Peasant Party was still in the coalition, Radic found himself outside of the new Government, formed by Nikola Uzinovic on April 14, 1926. A few months later the HSS demanded the resignation of the Minister of the Interior, Boza Maksimovic, because of his terrorism in Croatia. The regime would not give in to HSS demands, and the short-lived coalition broke up. A new Government was formed by the Serbian Radicals, Slovene Clericals, and some Serbian Democrats. On the other hand, the former two main antagonists, Radic and Pribicevic, found themselves on the same side of the aisle. Moreover, they became political allies.
In the new elections, of September 1927, Radic’s party received more than a hundred and sixty thousand votes less than in the previous election. This was an indication that Croatians were not pleased with his political maneuvering and deals. He became increasingly attacked as a renegade and as a “traitor of everything that is Croatian” 46 Although Radic’s and Pribicevic’s move to create the Peasant- Democratic coalition was a logical one, it surprised most contemporary political observers. The two did bury old animosities and differences, and became new leaders of the opposition in Belgrade’s Skupstina.
Blood Spilled in the Assembly
After the short-lived Uzinovic government, a new one was formed by Velja Vukicevic. It was a coalition of the Radicals, Serbian Democrats, Slovene Clericals, and Muslims. Radic and Pribicevic began to criticize the new government on a number of issues. The economic exploitation of Croatian lands, tax inequalities, corruption, Serbian hegemony, mismanagement, militarism, police terror, and many other problems were brought to the floor in the Skupstina. The Democratic-Peasant opposition demanded the formation of a “non-political government” and free elections to determine the true will of the people.
The atmosphere for bloodshed was steadily growing. The more Radic and Pribicevic were disclosing the injustices of the regime, the more voices were heard demanding “effective measures” against Radic. A person close to the government declared only a few days before the shots were fired in the Skupstina: If the country as a juridical entity proves itself unable to bring Mr. Radic to his senses, then Mr. Radic shall see one day that the citizens of this country themselves will deal with him effectively the best way they know how .47
A similar message was published in Jedinstvo (June 14, 1928), the paper of Vulkicevic’s forces. The title of the article was “With the swines we can talk only swine language.” It claimed that Radic and Pribicevic had “placed themselves outside the law.” It also announced that “the heads of traitors and rogues will fall if necessary.” The author of the article also quoted his own letter from 1922 in which he had suggested that Radic should be assassinated, concluding that he upheld the same opinion at the moment of writing the article .48 Only a few days later, Radic and his closest political collaborators in the HSS were the targets of an assassination. A day before the shooting, a resolution was proposed by a Serb Deputy, Punisa Racic, and a few other Radicals to deprive Radic of his mandate in the Assembly on the grounds of mental incapacity. The text of the parliamentary motion ended: We make this emergency motion in order to avoid undesired events, which otherwise must take place due to the behavior of Stjepan Radic, regardless of what kind of consequences will follow .49 That same evening Radic was making reconciliatory moves toward the Government. But the rumors of Radic’s imminent assassination were widely spreading in Belgrade. Radic’s friends tried to convince him to stay away form the Skupstina for a while, but Radic told them:I, too, can sense that something is in the air, but…like a soldier in the trench I am fighting a battle for the rights of the Croatian peasant people and shall leave it either victorious or as a corpse carried out by the Croatian people .50
On the next day (June 20, 1928), Punisa Racic fired six shots from a revolver in the National Assembly. Two Croatian deputies were killed and three seriously wounded, including Stjepan Radic. Stjepan Radic was the real target, but other members of the Assembly were in the way. For a while it seemed that Radic would recover from his wounds, but his condition turned for the worse at the end of July, and he died on August 8, 1928.
The possibilities of a Serbian-Croatian reconciliation were shattered by the assassination of Radic and other Croats in the Assembly and also as a consequence of the regime’s unwillingness to change its centralist and unitaristic policies. Radic told his successor Vladko Macek:After what happened in the Assembly, we shall want to have little or nothing to do with them [Serbians] anymore. Maybe we will just settle for common foreign affairs and common defense; maybe not even that much. It will depend on the circumstances, and you are clever enough, I have no need to teach you. I merely beg you to abide by the peaceful methods of struggle which I have always used .51
Another important consequence of the Assembly shooting was the radicalization of the political struggle on both sides. On January 6, 1929, King Aleksandar abolished political parties, dissolved the Assembly, and introduced a personal dictatorship which lasted until his assassination by Croatian and Macedonian radicals in 1934. The Croatian Peasant Party continued to play an important role in the political life of the nation, but the new leadership lacked Radic’s charisma and popular appeal. Moreover, Croatians began demanding complete national independence and more radical means to achieve it, and for that purpose the revolutionary Ustasha movement was formed by the radical forces at the end of 1929.
Ever since his involvement in politics as a young man, Radic was a controversial figure. He was either loved or hated. He was called a dreamer, a manipulator, a traitor, a lunatic, as well as a genius, a patriot, a national leader, a pacifist, and a lover of liberty. But regardless of the varied opinions, Radic was a man of great political talent, energy, and charisma who dedicated his entire life to the cause of the Croatian people and the peasantry, and being well aware that his enemies were about to kill him, he faced his death courageously as the ultimate sacrifice for his life-long ideals.
1 Charles Beard, “The Last Years of Stephan Raditch,” Current History, Vol. 29, October 1928 – March 1929, p. 82.
2 Zvonimir Kulundzic, ed., Stjepan Radic – Politicki spisi, (Zagreb: Znanje, 1971), p. 53.
3 Bogdan Krizman, ed. Korespodencija Stjepana Radica, Vol. 1. (Zagreb: Institut za hrvatsku povijest), 1972, p. 26.
4 Stjepan Gazi, “Stjepan Radic,” Journal of Croatian Studies, Vol. 14-15, 1973-74, p. 19.
5 Ibid., p. 22.
6 Ibid., p. 24.
7 Krizman, Korespodencija, p. 25.
8 Jozo Tomasevich, Peasants, Politics, and Economic Change in Yugoslavia, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1955), p. 254.
9 Ibid., 254.
10 Feliks Gross, ed. European Idologies, (New York: Philosophical Library, 1948), p. 427; L. S. Stavrianos, The Balkans Since 1453, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), p. 621.
11 Branka Boban, “Shvacanje Antuna i Stjepana Radica o mjestu i ulozi seljastva u gospodarskom, drustvenom i politickom zivotu.” Radovi, Institu za hrvatsku povijest, Vol. 12, 1979, p. 274.
12 In 1902 Stjepan Radic published a book entitled The Strongest Political Party in Croatia, meaning the peasantry.
13 Josip Horvat, Politicka povijest Hrvatske, (Zagreb: Binoza, 1936), p. 352.
14 Rudolf Bicanic, How the People Live, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1981), p. 3
15 Branka Boban, “Shvacanje,” p. 271.
16 Bogdan Krizman, “Osnivnje Hrvatske Pucke Seljacke Stranke,” Radovi, Institute za hrvatsku povijest, Vol. 2, 1972, p. 140.
17 Branka Boban, “Osnovna obiljezja ‘Seljacke Drzave’ u ideologiji Antuna i Stjepana Radica, Radovi, Institut za hrvatsku povijest, Vol. 13, 1980, p. 76.
18 Ibid., pp. 79-83.
19 C.M. Macartney and A.W. Palmer, Independent Eastern Europe, A History, London: Macmillan, 1962), p. 22.
20 Gazi, “Stjepan Radic,” p. 31-32.
21 Krizman, Korespodencija, pp. 58-59.
22 Stephen Raditch, “The Story of My Political Life,” Current History, Vol. 29, 1928-1929, p. 96. Kulundzic, Politicki spisi, p. 74-75.
23 Vladko Macek, In the Struggle for Freedom, (University Park and London: Pennsylvania University Press, 1957), p. 62.
24 Gazi, “Stjepan Radic,” p. 44.
25 Miroslav Krleza, Deset krvavih gopdina, (Zagreb: Bibloteka nezavisnih pisaca, 1937), p. 166.
26 As quoted in Gazi, “Stjepan Radic,” p. 46.
27 Joseph Rothschild, East Central Europe Between the Two World Wars, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974), p. 205.
28 Horvat, Politicka povijest, Vol. II, p. 148.
29 Kulundzic, Politicki spisi, p. 323-335.
30 Ibid., p. 325.
31 Franjo Tudjman, “Stjepan Radic i hrvatska drzavnost,” Kalendar Hrvatski Glas, 1977, p. 44.
32 On economic questions see Rudolf Bicanic, Ekonomska podloga hrvatskog pitanja, (Zagreb: V. Macek, 1938), pp. 207-224.
33 Horvat, Politicka povijest, Vol. II, p. 266.
34 Franjo Tudjman, “Hrvatska politika u prvim godinama borbe protiv Vidovddanskog centralisticko-hegemonistickog poretka,” Kritika, 14, 1970, p. 577.
35 Gazi, “Stjepan Radic,” p. 54.
36 Stevan K. Pavlowitch, Yugoslavia, (New York: Praeger, 1971), p. 63.
37 Tudjman, “Hrvatska politika,” p. 587.
38 Horvat, Politicka povijest, II, p. 279-283.
39 Zvonimir Kulundzic, Atentat na Stjepana Radica, (Zagreb: Stvarnost, 1967), p. 173.
40 Horvat, Poiticka povijest, II, p. 311.
41 Kulundzic, Atentat, p. 174.
42 George D. Jackson, Jr., Comintern and Peasant in Easter Europe 1919- 1930, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), p 104; John D. Bell, Peasants in Power, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press 1977), p. 193.
43 Macek, In the Struggle, p. 100.
44 Mladen Ivekovic, Hrvatska lijeva intelegencija 1918-1945, (Zagreb: Naprijed, 1970), p. 117-126.
45 Milan Stojadinovic, Ni rat ni pakt, (Buenos Aires: El Economista, 1963), p. 244-251.
46 Kulundzic, Atentat, p. 191.
47 Horvat, Politicka povijest, II, p. 420.
48 Kulundzic, Atentat, p. 300-302.
49 Horvat, Politicka povijest, II, p. 422.
50 As quoted in Gazi, “Stjepan Radic,” p. 66.
51 Macek, In the Struggle, p. 113.
His Life – His party – His politics