Even those readers with at most a rudimentary understanding of the collapse of Yugoslavia might be aware of the issues between Croatia and Serbia. They may only really know of this because of football, but knowledge is knowledge after all. It might surprise those folk to hear that things weren’t always total guff between political Serbs and Croats, and that 100 years ago co-operation was the name of the game. The faeces became acquainted the fan thanks to one of the first assassinations in a government building in history.
The man on the wrong end of the bullet was Stjepan Radić, a Croatian politican who founded the Croatian People’s Peasant Party (today simply the Croatian Peasant Party) just before Christmas in 1904 and was as fiery as they come. Radić was the 9th of what would eventually become 11 kids when he was born on June 11, 1871, in a little village near the town of Sisak.
His issues with authority started early when Radić was expelled from school, beginning a lifetime of his beliefs and outspoken nature getting him into trouble. A meeting with Josip Strossmayer (who you can read more about in our glorious book) in 1888 led to a trip to Kiev, after which Radić went on to study law at the University of Zagreb.
Radić predictably became a radical student, and a visit from Emperor Franz Josef was too good an opportunity to ignore. Radić burnt the Hungarian flag during the visit of the top dog, and was subsequently kicked out of university and banned from all higher education institutions in the empire. Radić swanned off to Paris to complete his studies, before returning to become a member of the National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. The South Slavs were on the cusp of becoming a state for the first time, and Radić couldn’t think of anything worse. Well, he probably could, but you get the point.
Radić was the only individual who voted against sending a delegation to Belgrade to negotiate with the Kingdom of Serbia, but his protest came to nothing. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes came into being on December 1, 1918. Just a few weeks later, Radić was arrested.
Radić would be in and out of prison over the next year, finding himself incarcerated for refusing to acknowledge the authority of the state and finding his popularity among Croats exploding with every passing arrest. He was able to command a protest of some 100,000 Croats in December of 1920, and he became the voice of the people, the loudest one rallying against attempts to turn Croats into a minority.
His protests continued into the early 1920s, but his decision to keep his popular party out of parliament proved to be a wrong move. The Serbs were able to consolidate power as the major Croat voice went AWOL, and Radić’s attempts to spread the word abroad led to him being arrested (again) for meeting with the Soviet Commies. The time to start making concessions had arrived.
1925 saw Radić try to get on with things, accepting the authority of the state and establishing a number of coalitions, but these all came to an end in 1926. In his heart of hearts Radić clung to the idea of an independent Croatia, but not even a parliamentary majority (achieved in 1928) made that any more likely. He was constantly threatened with assassination, but like a blind dog he just kept on trudging forward (he was practically blind as the years crept up on him).
Chris Parnell taught me that if someone tells you that they are going to kill you, the chances are they have no intention of doing the deed. June 20, 1928 may have seemed like just another day for Radić then, as his colleagues pleaded for him to avoid parliament that day. Stjepan insisted, but promised not to make any feisty remarks. It would be his last chance to do so.
Parliament was characteristically feisty that day, as a member of Montenegro’s People’s Radical Party called Puniša Račić gave a speech that would best be described as being ‘stormy’. Radić stayed silent, but his colleague Ivan Pernar had heard enough. Insults were traded back and forth, before Puniša pulled a gun from his pocket and implored the speaker of the house to stop the madness. The madness would not be stopped.
A struggle ensued, and Pernar was shot. Puniša aimed at Radić, but Đura Basariček and Iva Granđo got in the way, receiving bullets for their troubles. Stjepan Radić had nowhere to go, and Stjepan Radić went nowhere. He was shot in the stomach and left for dead, somehow managing to survive before dying weeks later.
Whatever goodwill there may have been between Serbs and Croats dissipated with the violence in the parliament. Radić’s funeral became a major event, something of a Croatian national outpouring of grief and emotion, and any pretence of a cohesive Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was gone.
King Aleksander I knew this, and in January 1929 he abolished the constitution, dissolved parliament and established a royal dictatorship, renaming the country the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the process. Stjepan Radić was dead, but for the first time in history Yugoslavia was alive.
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