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Europe at Present [Spring 2003]

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In 1914 Serbia and Montenegro started negotiations concerning the creation of a confederation, which would be the origin of a future nation, then called for the first time “Yugoslavia.” The successes of Serbs and Montenegrins considerably increased the pro-Yugoslavian state of mind among Croatians, Slovenians and Bosnians. 102

28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, a group of assassins belonging to a terrorist group “Young Bosnia” manipulated by the “Black Hand” killed the heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne, arch prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife, princess Sophie. In result, on 28 July Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The existing military alliance system in Europe caused the quick expansion of World War I onto the whole of Europe and its colonies.

Despite Austria-Hungary’s advantage, Serbian and Montenegrin troops were resistant and only after German and Bulgarian armies entered in September 1915 were they defeated. In December 1915, most of the Serbian army and civilians retreated over the Albanian mountains and to the sea, where they were evacuated by the British-French fleet to Greece. This winter “death march,” in which around 250 thousand people died due to hunger and cold, is the key element of Serbian national memory.

The Serbs, who were evacuated to Greece formed a regular army and government under supreme power of the regent, prince Alexander Karadjordjevic. After long negotiations regent Alexander and the Serbian prime minister, Pasic came to an understanding on 20 July 1917 with the emissaries of the Yugoslavian Committee (Croatian and Slovenian) in London, in order to create the nation of Yugoslavia after the war, under the rule of the Karadjordjevic dynasty. After the capitulation of the Central Powers, on 1 December 1918 in Belgrade, regent Alexander announced the formation of the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.


The Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia was a nation of many nationalities. Among 12 million residents, besides the three main nationalities there were 500 thousand Germans, 470 thousand Hungarians, 440 thousand Albanians, 231 thousand Romanians and 150 thousand Turks revealed in the 1921 census. Including the Jews, Gypsies, Greeks and Bulgarians the minorities counted about 2 million people. The Macedonian population was not then distinguished. 49% of the population was Orthodox (Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians) and 38% was Catholic (Croatians, Hungarians, Slovenians and Germans). Muslims, who determined 11% of the population, were Bosnians, Albanians from Kosovo and Montenegro, as well as Turks and Macedonians. 103

From the very beginning, the kingdom’s government had to confront many conflicts concerning the countries’ intricate ethnic structure. From 1920, the number of terrorist attacks organized by Croatian extremists and communists, as well as by the Macedonian independence organization, VRHO significantly were increasing. On 16 August 1921, Alexander Karadjordjevic took up the throne. He was a decided partisan of centralism and he depended mainly on the Serbs and the dominated by them army. The instability of the following governments, the terrorist attacks and the bad economic situation resulted in the dissolution of the parliament by king Alexander and his taking up full control. In addition, in order to break away from the past he changed the name of the country to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Croatian and Macedonian extremists continued their bloody attacks, using the help of Yugoslavian enemy countries, like Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria. Croatian Pravases turned out to be especially dangerous. Their leader was Ante Pavelic, who in the year 1930 formed a terrorist organization, “Ustashe” (Insurgent) with the alliance of Italy and Hungary.

In agreement with the Macedonians from VMRO, Ustashe assassinated king Alexander and the French Foreign Affairs Minister, Barthou on 9 November 1934. The death of the king deeply weakened the central government in Yugoslavia and deprived the country of a strong leader in the following years. Peter Karadjordjevic, became the new king, however, in his replacement the government formed a 3-person regency.

Despite the rise in power of the III Reich and the increasing tension in all of Europe, an agreement between Serbia and Croatia was made in August 1939. Banovina Croatia was formed within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on the strength of this agreement. In effect, Pavelic’s radical nationalists were pushed on the side of political life, while the Yugoslavian government strengthened its position. The main goal of the Yugoslavian government during World War II was to maintain neutrality, when the country was surrounded from all sides by potential enemies: the III Reich controlling Austria; Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy presenting territorial pretensions. This type of politics was presenting good results until the beginning 1941, when it was Yugoslavia who entered the Three Monarchy Pact (Germany, Italy and Japan). Its goal was the formation of a new order in the world.

However, the pact with Germany was unpopular, and on the night of 26 March 1941 conspiracy creators lead by general Dusan Sinovic, performed in Belgrade a coup d´état (attack on the nation). The revolution was supported by the English intelligence, which wanted to involve Hitler in the Balkan conflicts. The new government accepted the countries entrance into the Three Monarchy Pact however; they also made a pact concerning friendship and peace with the USSR.

Hitler saw this as a sign of open provocation and one day after signing this pact (6 April 1941), the axis countries attacked Yugoslavia from the north, east and south. Meanwhile, the Ustashe caused an uprising in Croatia. The first day of war, thousands of bombers attacked Belgrade killing one thousand people. On 17 April the Yugoslavian army surrendered, while the prime minister and king fled to Greece.

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