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Vladko Maček and the Croat Political Right, 1928–1941

  • MARK BIONDICH (a1)
Abstract

The Croat Peasant Party was arguably the most important Croatian political party during the existence of the first Yugoslavia (1918–41). Under the leadership of Vladko Maček (1879–1964), it entered the most difficult period of its history: it was forced to contend with the royal dictatorship (1929–34) of King Aleksandar Karadjordjević, the Great Depression, growing nationality tensions and an increasingly volatile political climate in which the extremes of the right and left, represented in Croatia by the Ustaša and Communist parties respectively, contended for power. This article examines the contentious relationship between Maček's Croat Peasant Party and the fascist Ustaša movement between 1929 and 1941, and assesses Maček's legacy and his place in Croatia's 20th-century political history.

On peut affirmer de façon argumentée que le Parti paysan croate était le plus important parti politique de Croatie durant l'existence de la première Yougoslavie (1918–41). Durant la direction de Vladko Maček (1879–1964), ce parti entra dans la période la plus difficile de son histoire: il devait faire face à la dictature royale (1929–34) du roi Aleksandar Karadjordjević; la grande dépression économique; et un climat politique extrêmement volatil dans lequel les extrêmes à droite et à gauche, représentés en Croatie par le mouvement Ustasa et par les partis communistes, faisaient face au pouvoir. Cet article examine les relations conflictuelles entre le Parti paysan de Maček et le mouvement fasciste Ustasa entre 1929 et 1941, et analyse la place et l'héritage de Maček dans l'histoire politique du XXe siècle de la Croatie.

Die Kroatische Bauernpartei war wohl die wichtigste politische Partei Kroatiens im ersten jugoslawischen Staat (1918–41). Unter der Führung Vladko Mačeks (1879–1964) erlebte sie die schwierigste Periode ihrer Geschichte: sie war gezwungen, sich mit der diktatorischen Monarchie (1929–34) von König Aleksandar Karadjordjević, der grossen Depression, wachsenden nationalen Spannungen und einem zunehmend unbeständigen politischen Klima auseinanderzusetzen. Dabei kämpften die extremen Linken und Rechten, in Kroatien durch die Ustaša und kommunistische Parteien repräsentiert, um die Macht. Der Artikel untersucht die schwierige Beziehung zwischen Mačeks Kroatischer Bauernpartei und der faschistischen Ustaša-Bewegung zwischen 1929 und 1941, und beurteilt Mačeks Erbe und seinen Platz in der politischen Geschichte Kroatiens im 20. Jahrhundert.

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1 On Radić, see Biondich, Mark, Stjepan Radić, the Croat Peasant Party and the Politics of Mass Mobilization, 1904–1928 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000).

2 The standard work on Maček is still Boban, Ljubo, Maček i politika HSS, 1928–1941: Iz povijesti hrvatskog pitanja, 2 vols. (Zagreb: Liber, 1974). For other relevant works, see his autobiography, Vladko, Maček, In the Struggle for Freedom, trans. Elizabeth and Stjepan Gaži (University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1957), and the original version, Memoari, ed. Boris Urbić (Zagreb: Hrvatska seljačka stranka, 1992). Among the many émigré works, Jere, Jareb, Pola stoljeća hrvatske politike: povodom Mačekove autobiografije (Buenos Aires: Hrvatska revija, 1960) stands out. A few books have appeared about Maček in Croatia since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, but we still lack a serious historical biography of the man and politician. See Andrej, Maček, Maček izbliza (Zagreb: Disput, 1999); Ivan, Mužić, Maček u Luburićevu zatočeništvu (Split: Laus, 1999); and Ivo, Perić, Vladko Maček: politički portret (Zagreb: Golden Marketing, 2003).

3 For studies of the Ustaša movement see the relevant sections of Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945: Occupation and Collaboration (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001); Martin, Broszat and Hory, L., Die kroatische Ustascha-Staat, 1941–1945 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1964); Holm, Sundhaussen, ‘Der Ustascha-Staat: Anatomie eines Herrschaftssystem,’ Österreichische Osthefte, 37, 2 (1995), 497533; three books by Bogdan, Krizman, Ante Pavelić i ustaše (Zagreb: Globus, 1978), Pavelić između Hitlera i Mussolinija (Zagreb: Globus, 1980), and Ustaše i Treći Reich, 2 vols. (Zagreb: Globus, 1982); and Fikreta, Jelić-Butić, Ustaše i Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 1977).

4 On the interwar Yugoslav state see Ivo, Banac, The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984); the relevant sections of John, Lampe, Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Ferdo, Čulinović, Jugoslavija izmedju dva rata, 2 vols. (Zagreb: JAZU, 1961); and Branislav, Gligorijević, Parlament i političke stranke u Jugoslaviji 1919–1929 (Belgrade: Institut za savremenu istoriju, 1979).

5 The banovine were Drava (the Slovene lands), Sava (Croatia-Slavonia without Syrmia), Littoral (Dalmatia, western Herzegovina), Vrbas (northwestern Bosnia), Drina (south-eastern Bosnia, western parts of Serbia, parts of eastern Slavonia), Vardar (Macedonia and part of Kosovo), Zeta (Montenegro, with parts of eastern Herzegovina and southern Dalmatia), Morava (Serbia proper, part of Kosovo), and Danube (Vojvodina, Baranja), with the city of Belgrade as a separate prefecture.

6 On the political opposition at the time of the dictatorship, see Todor, Stojkov, Opozicija u vreme šestojanuarske diktature, 1929–1935 (Belgrade: Institut za savremenu istoriju, 1969). On the HSS and Svetozar Pribićević during this period, see the two works by Ljubo, Boban, Maček i politika HSS, 1928–1941: Iz povijesti hrvatskog pitanja, 2 vols. (Zagreb: Liber, 1974), and Svetozar Pribićević u opoziciji, 1928–1936 (Zagreb: Institut za hrvatsku povijest, 1973).

7 See Christian Axboe Nielsen, ‘One State, One Nation, One King: The Dictatorship of King Aleksandar and His Yugoslav Project, 1929–1935’, Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 2002, which makes an original contribution to the literature on King Aleksandar's dictatorship. The Croatian Serb politician Svetozar Pribićević was the first to write a book on King Aleksandar's dictatorship, which was published in 1933 while he was an émigré in France. The remaining works on Aleksandar in Serbian and Croatian are of dubious value; they tend to be tendentious, either hagiographies or demonisations. See Svetozar Pribićević, Diktatura kralja Aleksandra (Zagreb: Globus, 1990); Jacques, Augarde and Emile, Sicard, Alexandre Ier, le roi chevalier (Paris: Baudinière, 1935); and Stephen, Graham, Alexander of Yugoslavia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939).

8 For example, during the May 1935 elections voting was conducted in the open. The regime party, the JNS of Bogoljub Jeftić, won 60.6 per cent of the vote while the United Opposition (UO) of Vladko Maček won 37.4 per cent. See Dušan, Bilandžić, Hrvatska moderna povijest (Zagreb: Golden marketing, 1999), 100.

9 Aleksa, Djilas, The Contested Country: Yugoslav Unity and Communist Revolution, 1919–1953 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 131.

10 On the Sporazum, see Ljubo, Boban, Sporazum Cvetković – Maček (Belgrade: Institut društvenih nauka, 1965).

11 In 1928 the HSS had despatched Ante Trumbić to Vienna, Paris and London to explain the Croat position to government officials. The choice of Trumbić was a calculated one. He had served as wartime president of the Yugoslav Committee (1915–18) and the first Yugoslav foreign minister (1919–20). As such, he had a number of influential contacts abroad. See Bogdan Krizman, ‘Trumbićeva misija u inozemstvu uoči proglašenja šestojanuarske diktature (oktobar-decembar 1928)’, Historijski pregled, 3 (1962); and Todor Stojkov, ‘O spoljno-političkoj aktivnosti vodjstva Seljačko-demokratske koalicije uoči šestojanuarske diktature’, Istorija XX veka: Zbornik radova, 9 (1968).

12 Boban, Maček i politika HSS, I, 52–3. For a discussion of Italian support for Croat separatists in the 1930s, see James, J. Sadkovich, Italian Support for Croatian Separatism (New York: Garland, 1987).

13 The memorandum expressed Pavelić's hope that Italy would support Croat separatism, and even included a map of the future delineation of borders between an expanded Italy and an independent Croatia. See Bogdan, Krizman, Ante Pavelić i ustaše (Zagreb: Globus, 1978). The memorandum is reprinted in I documenti diplomatici italiani, Series VII, vol. 5 (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1967).

14 These were held in May. The United Opposition consisted of the HSS, the Independent Democratic Party, the Democratic Party, the Serbian Agrarians, and the Yugoslav Muslim Organization. Boban, Sporazum Cvetković-Maček, 266.

15 ‘Mi nismo Srbohrvati!’ Hrvatski narod, 14 July 1939, 2.

16 ‘Osjećaj političke realnosti’, ibid., 30 June 1939, 1.

17 Hrvoje Hrvatinić, ‘Mačekova “umjetna borba”‘, Nezavisna Hrvatska Država, 10 Dec. 1938, 1.

18 ‘Hrvatski sveučilištarci!’, ibid., 10 June 1939, 8. All translations of quotations from untranslated sources are by the author.

19 ‘Hrvatska borba i hrvatska politika’, ibid., 18 March 1939, 8.

20 B.‘ranko’ J.‘elić’, ‘Nema Sporazuma!’, ibid., 15 April 1939, 1.

21 Pavlaković, ‘Maček, the Croatian Peasant Party, and the Spanish Civil War’, 12.

22 ‘Još jedan ustaški proglas hrv. narodu!’, Nezavisna Hrvatska Država, 22 April 1939, 8; and Mile Budak, ‘Zdravlja, zdravlja, gospodine!’, Hrvatski narod, 17 Feb. 1939, 1.

23 ‘Izdajstvo nad Hrvatskom’, Nezavisna Hrvatska Država, 29 April 1939, 1. See also ‘Zašto su Jeftićevci Bosne i Hercegovine za “sporazum”’, Hrvatski narod, 18 Aug. 1939, 2, which makes the point that the HSS's policy of seeking a compromise with Belgrade would preserve Yugoslavia and leave many ‘Croats’ (i.e., Bosnian Muslims) outside the borders of autonomous Croatia, and thus undermine Croat (i.e., Catholic-Muslim) national unity.

24 ‘Hrvatsko pitanje pred beogradskom skupštinom’, ibid., 10 March 1939, 2.

25 By the late 1930s, most of the followers of the Independent Democrats (SDS) supported Croatian autonomy within Yugoslavia. For example, their party herald Nova riječ, published by Vjećeslav Vilder, referred to the Croatian banovina as the party's most important political achievement, and regularly lashed out against attempts by Serb nationalists, particularly the JRZ and JNS, to rally Serb opposition against the Sporazum. Most of the Serb nationalist opposition to the Sporazum was associated with the military, the Serbian Orthodox Church and political parties such as the JRZ and JNS.

26 ‘Iz straha za Jugoslavenstvo’, Hrvatski narod, 4 Aug. 1939, 1.

27 ‘Koga svrbi, taj se i – ćeše!’ ibid., 11 Aug. 1939, 2.

28 ‘Nezadovoljstvo’ nekih pravoslavaca u Banovini Hrvatskoj?’ ibid., 26 Jan. 1940, 2.

29 ‘Početak obračuna HSS s beogradskom Udruženom opozicijom’, ibid., 25 Aug. 1939, 1.

30 ‘Politička agitacija SDS’, ibid., 14 April 1939, 7; and X., ‘Jedan dokaz više’, ibid., 19 May 1939, 1.

31 See Fikreta, Jelić-Butić, ‘Prilog proučavanju djelatnosti ustaša do 1941’, Časopis za suvremenu povijest, 1, 1–2 (1969), 83 n. 92.

32 ‘Hrvati izvan banovine Hrvatske’, Hrvatski narod, 1 Sept. 1939, 2. See Mladen, Lorković, Narod i zemlja Hrvata (Zagreb, 1940), 225; and Matija, Kovačić, Od Radića do Pavelića: Hrvatska u borbi za svoju samostalnost (Munich, 1970).

33 Ivo, Rojnica, Susreti i doživljaji, 1938–1945 (Munich, 1969), 28.

34 ‘Predaja, a ne Sporazum’, Nezavisna Hrvatska Država, 23 Sept. 1939, 1.

35 ‘Ruglo od Sporazuma’, ibid., 30 Sept. 1939, 1

36 Mato Jagatić, ‘Značajeva nam treba’, Hrvatski narod, 31 March 1939, 1.

37 See Vjeran Pavlaković, ‘Maček, the Croatian Peasant Party, and the Spanish Civil War’, presented at ‘Vladko Maček in Croatian History’.

38 a.r.b., ‘Frankovci’, Hrvatski narod, 29 Sept. 1939, 1.

39 ‘Smiješna akcija “narodnih srpskih novina”’, ibid., 8 Dec. 1939, 1; and ‘“Nove žrtve” nezadovoljnih hegemonista’, ibid., 15 Dec. 1939, 1. See also ‘Uzaludni napori “samostalaca”’, ibid., 15 Dec. 1939, 6.

40 ‘Zahtjevi nekih doseljenika vukovarskog kotara’, ibid., 17 Nov. 1939, 1.

This article was originally presented as a paper on the panel ‘Vladko Maček in Croatian History’, at the 37th National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 4–6 November 2005. I would like to thank Sabrina Ramet, Ludwig Steindorff, Vjeran Pavlaković and Matjaz Klemenčić for their many helpful comments and suggestions.

1 Mark Biondich is a historian with the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Section of the Department of Justice, Canada, and an adjunct lecturer at the Institute of European and Russian Studies of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He is the author of Stjepan Radić, the Croat Peasant Party and the Politics of Mass Mobilization, 1904–1928 (2000). He is currently completing his second book, A History of Croatian Fascism: The Ustaša Movement, 1929–1945.

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