Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Stojan Protic's Final Decade and Serbia's Radical Party, 1913-1923

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Stojan Protic's Final Decade and Serbia's Radical Party, 1913-1923

Article excerpt

Stojan Protic (1857-1923) was a main leader of Serbia's Radical Party from its 1881 creation almost until his 1923 death and an outstanding journalist. In earlier studies, I have described his role in the party and press until 1913. Here I will cover the final turbulent decade of his fine career.

In 1913 a major controversy erupted between Interior Minister Protic, representing the Radical Party, and Serbian ministers and military officers support by May Conspirators, who in 1903 removed the Obrenovic dynasty and murdered its rulers bringing emigre Petar Karadjordjevic to Serbia's throne as King Petar I. He became an excellent moderate ruler, popular with the Serbian people. The May Conspirators' organization, "Black Hand" formed in 1912, was led by capable Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic-Apis, a key player in the 1903 May Coup. The drama of 1913-1914 centered in parts of Macedonia obtained by Serbia in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, and threatened to become a civil-military confrontation endangering King Petar and his regime.

In April 14 Interior Minister Protic issued a Priority Decree giving predominance to civilian officials in Serbian Macedonia opposing the priority Serbian officers had enjoyed there. Colonel Apis became involved in a bitter struggle with Protic's Radical Party and with Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic. Apis declared: "I never believed [Nikola] Pasic, Stojan Protic and the Radical Party would oppose us," i.e., officers in Serbian Macedonia. "I complain most about Pasic and Protic since we had not expected this persecution from them." (1)

Initially, Serbian officers enjoyed clear priority in Macedonia, while Belgrade delayed naming proper civilian officials there. Should the military continue to rule Macedonia, or an interim civil administration? The Pasic cabinet decided on the latter. (2)

Acting briefly as war minister in January 1914, Stojan Protic then strongly opposed the May conspirators. Amidst rumors that Belgrade might name a civilian like Protic as regular war minister, "Black Hand" officers, led by Colonel Apis, met in the Danube Division's staff room January 15th to plan strategy. Rumors spread that the Radical cabinet would retire Apis and other "Black Hand" officers from the army. (3)

"Black Hand's" newspaper, Pijemont, denounced civilian and police officials, named from loyal Radicals, for bribery and corruption. (4) British envoys reported Serbia's Macedonian civilian administration was incompetent since the Radicals had installed uneducated and corrupt cronies. Allegedly, "Black Hand" had sentenced Pasic and Protic to death. (5)

For months in 1913-1914, Pijemont accused Protic and the Radicals of denying the army needed funds, involving it in party feuds, and quarrelling with top officers. Allegedly, Protic "saw praetorians in his sleep," and undermined public confidence in army leaders. Protic, it asserted, "a disturber of the peace, must be removed from the cabinet." (6) Protic's Priority Decree almost toppled the Pasic cabinet, threatening to provoke a military coup by angry officers. Granting most authority to civil police, Protic's Decree confirmed army subordination to the state. (7) In Macedonia, claimed Pijemont, Protic's police plundered the populace and humiliated army officers. His Decree allegedly opened a gulf between policy and army in Macedonia. (8)

Protic's Interior Ministry blocked Pijemont's dissemination in Macedonia. Each passing day revealed officers virtually united against Protic and the Radical cabinet. Several Macedonian garrisons petitioned to rescind the Decree and General Petar Bojovic telegraphed from Skoplje, Macedonia, on recision to the War Minister. (9) As Opposition leaders criticized Protic and backed the officers, Premier Pasic faced a potentially united Opposition which left parliament (Skupstina). Pasic's cabinet clung to a slim majority, so if seven Radical members were absent, no business could be transacted. …

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