Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century and After

By R. J. Crampton | Go to book overview
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The beginnings of the new state and its constituent elements

The new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, like all states in 1918, faced enormous problems. In the short term the most daunting problem and the one first tackled was that of preserving the fragile social fabric. The central issue was land. In February 1917 the Serbian government had offered land to south Slav volunteers from the Habsburg Monarchy; fighting men were to be given five hectares and non-combatants three hectares. In November 1918, in the face of widespread disorders, the national council in Zagreb had given a promise of land reform which was confirmed in the first public declaration of policy by the regent, Prince Alexander, who insisted that, ‘In our free state there can and will be only free landowners.’ On 25 February 1919 came the interim decree on the preparation of the agrarian reform which applied to all the kingdom except pre-1912 Serbia and which provided for the redistribution of estates in excess of one hundred cadastral yokes, though in some less favoured areas the figure was five hundred yokes. 1 Priority in the redistribution was to be given to volunteers and to victims of the war; compensation was to be paid to all except the Habsburgs and members of other enemy dynasties. Over two million hectares, excluding forest land, were to be redistributed to some half a million households, over a quarter of the national total. On the other hand, the reform was a preliminary enactment and its implementation was frequently delayed, in some cases by as much as fifteen years, though it served its immediate purpose of containing radical passions.

In addition to this immediate and essential service the reform served other political functions. In Bosnia-Hercegovina and in Macedonia the dispossessed landowners were predominantly Muslim and therefore the redistribution increased the relative social and political power of the Christians, whilst in Slovenia, Croatia, the Vojvodina, and Macedonia those who lost property were frequently non-Slav and those who received it were Slav. The land reform therefore benefited the Christian Slavs who dominated the new state.

This did not mean that there was unity amongst those Christian Slavs. The Serbs found it difficult to think of the new state as anything other than an


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