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The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes is founded

1919

During World War I there was great pressure to unite the Southern Slavs of Europe--the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and form a nation whose slogan would be "Brotherhood and Unity." Ideologically this may have seemed appropriate since all are descendants of Slavs who settled the southeastern region of Europe and are therefore regarded as an immediate ethnic family. However, that is the extent of the similarities between these three groups of people. There is no one universal language or religion that they share. Serbians are Eastern Orthodox, while Croatians and Slovenians are strict Roman Catholics. Serbians use both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabet, where as Croatians employ only the latter. The Slovenian language, although Slavic, is quite different from both Serbian and Croatian. Even Serbo-Croatian, as it is often called, has so many varied dialects that native Serbs and Croats have difficulty deciphering it when people of a different region speak it. Despite these vital differences, many intellectuals and politicians strongly advocated the formation of a new kingdom which would unite the south Slavs.

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In 1914, the Serbian government stated that, "the struggle for the liberation and unification of all our captive brethren Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" (Nish Declaration December 7, 1914) would be one of its chief war aims. This marked an important first step on the road towards South Slav unification. As the result of several rapid developments, hasty decisions, and outside pressures, this bumpy road quickly came to an end on December 1, 1918, when the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was founded.

Despite early speculation in 1914 and 1915 regarding the formation of a kingdom for "the three-named people," decisive action did not begin until 1917. It was as a result of strained relations and increased tensions between the Serbian government and the Yugoslav committee, coupled with outside political pressures, that a meeting was scheduled on the Greek island of Corfu. The purpose was to discuss the problems relating to the formation of this new kingdom in hopes of reaching an agreement.

These talks resulted in the Corfu Declaration of July 20, 1917, which outlined the basic structure of the future South Slav state. Both the Serbian government, under the premiership of Nikola Pasich, and the Yugoslav Committee members, under their president Ante Trumbich, agreed to the following terms: 1) the country was to be a parliamentary monarchy under the Serb Karadjordjevic dynasty, 2) some local autonomy based on social and economic conditions was to be worked out and 3) constituent assembly was to adopt a constitution by a numerically qualified majority. However, there was a major problem with the Corfu Declaration-- it was based on the assumption that the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes were one people with one common goal.

The Corfu Declaration was merely the starting point of the domino effect which would result in the swift creation of a united Slavic state. This Declaration was followed by President Wilson's Fourteen Points on January 8, 1918. President Wilson's speech, points ten and eleven in particular, confirmed Serbia's high international prestige and its good standing among the Allies. Furthermore, Serbia was offered most of Slavonia and almost half of Dalmatia. Croatia and Slovenia on the other hand, found themselves in a no-win situation. They were disliked by the Allies for their alliance with the Central powers and as a result Italy had been promised vast amounts of Croatian and Slovenian land. Therefore, their only alternative was to become strong advocates of the new kingdom. Although they each wanted their own independent nation, at least this union would allow them to salvage some of their land that would otherwise be distributed to the Italians. At the same time, the Croatians and Slovenians could prosper from their alliance with the prestigious and highly regarded Serbs.

Soon after this, pressure began to mount. By November 26, 1918, Vojvodina and Montenegro had announced their union with Serbia. Both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia gave the National Council in Zagreb, Croatia an ultimatum: reach a decision within five days or they, too, would join Serbia. The National Council found itself in a very arduous situation-- it had no real control over Croatia and Slovenia, troops in Croatia were becoming restless and Italian troops were quickly occupying the Croatian and Slovenian lands which the Allies had promised them. Left with no other viable option, the National Council agreed to a meeting in Belgrade, on November 28, to discuss a union with Serbia. By December 1, 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was formed, with Prince Regent Aleksandar Karadjordjevic named as its sovereign.

 


Edited by: Elizabeth Caliendo
Researched by: Zoki Vidljinovic
Written by: Natilie M Small

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