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Updated on December 2, 2010



  • Royalist dictatorship

The shooting of Croat Peasant Party leader Stjepan Radic by a Montenegrin deputy in Parliament exemplified the existing political tensions in Yugoslavia. Such disruptions of parliamentary rule forced King Alexander to suspend constitutional rule and establish a royal dictatorship. The country was renamed the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia." The old provinces were replaced by districts (Banovine) whose borders cut across old historical boundaries. Press censorship was instituted, and police repression of all dissident groups was intensified. Trade unionists, Communists, and national extremists were particularly singled out.

In 1931 Alexander aided in the preparation of a new centralized constitution which provided him with additional authority. It created a bicameral legislature, subservient to the king, and confirmed all that the dictatorship had accomplished since 1929. Opposition came from virtually every corner. The 1932 "Zagreb Manifesto"--supported by Croats, Slovenes, Muslim Slavs, and some Serbs--called for regional autonomy and democratization. Hard-line Serbian nationalists, who gradually gained greater control of the bureaucracy, reacted vigorously with increased arbitrary arrests, political trials, and the use of vigilantes to impose the government's version of law and order. The response from certain antigovernment sectors was increased terrorist activity, particularly on the part of the Croatian Ustashe, a Croatian extreme nationalist and terrorist movement led by Ante Pavelic. In October 1934, Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles, France, by a Bulgarian in Ustash pay, leaving the throne to his 11-year-01d son, Peter.

Due to Peter's age, regency was formed under Alexander's brother, Prince Paul. As regent, Paul's primary objectives were to liberalize the government and effect reconciliation between Croats and Serbs. Abroad, Paul intended to defend Yugoslavia's independence and territorial integrity against German, Italian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian ambitions. However, Germany's expansion into Austria and Czechoslovakia narrowed Yugoslavia's political options. He came to terms with Croat autonomist demands with the Sporazum (understanding) in 1939. This agreement recognized Croatia's unique position within Yugoslavia and provided it with full control of domestic Croatian concerns. By 1941, Paul replaced the fascist-leaning Milan Stojadinovic with Dragisa Cvetkovic, a political moderate. However, growing German influence in Hungary and Bulgaria forced Yugoslavia to come to terms with the Axis. Yugoslavia's short-lived membership in the Axis ended with a Serbian-led military coup that deposed the regency and removed Yugoslavia from the Axis in March 1941. The German and Italian invasion followed quickly.


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