Stjepan Radić

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Stjepan Radić
Stjepan Radić (2).jpg
President of the Croatian People's Peasant Party
In office
28 December 1904 – 8 August 1928
Leader of the Opposition
In office
1 January 1921 – 6 November 1924
Leader of the Opposition
In office
1 February 1927 – 8 August 1928
Personal details
Born Stjepan Radić
11 June 1871
Desno Trebarjevo
Died 8 August 1928(1928-08-08) (aged 57)
Zagreb
Resting place Mirogoj cemetery
Nationality Croat
Political party Croatian Peasant Party
Religion Roman Catholic

Stjepan Radić (11 June 1871 – 8 August 1928) was a Croatian politician and the founder of the Croatian People's Peasant Party (Hrvatska pučka seljačka stranka) in 1905. Radić is credited with galvanizing the peasantry of Croatia into a viable political force. Throughout his entire career, he was opposed to the union and, later, Serb hegemony in the first Yugoslavia and became an important political figure in that country. He was shot in parliament by the Serbian radical politician Puniša Račić. Radić died several weeks later from a serious stomach wound at the age of 57.[1] This assassination further alienated the Croats and the Serbs.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Stjepan Radić was born in Desno Trebarjevo, Martinska Ves near Sisak in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia within Austria-Hungary. After being expelled from his gymnasium in Zagreb, he finished at the Higher Real Gymnasium in Karlovac. In 1888 Radić travelled to Đakovo where he met with bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer to request help for a trip to the Russian Empire.[2] Strossmayer recommended Radić to Metropolitan Mihailo of Belgrade who referred him to a Russian teacher in Kiev. Radić travelled to Kiev and was allowed to stay at the city's Monastery of the Caves where he remained for six weeks before returning to Croatia.[2]

In September 1891 he enrolled in law at the University of Zagreb.[3] He was selected as a representative of the student body at the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Sisak in 1893. After criticizing the ban of Croatia Károly Khuen-Héderváry during the ceremony and referring to him as a "Magyar hussar", Radić was sentenced to four months in prison which he served in Petrinja.[3] He was among a group of students who set fire to the Hungarian tricolour on October 16, 1895 during the visit of Emperor Franz Joseph to Zagreb.

Lead up to the first Yugoslavia[edit]

After World War I he had opposed merging Croatia with the Kingdom of Serbia without guarantees for Croatian autonomy. Radić was selected as a member of the National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. On November 24, 1918 he famously urged delegates attending a session that would decide the country's political future not to "rush like drunken geese into fog". He was the lone member of the National Council's central committee to vote against sending a delegation to Belgrade to negotiate with the Kingdom of Serbia.[4] On November 26, he was removed from the central committee.[4]

Under pressure from the Great powers (British Empire, France, United States), as well as honouring the secret deals that were struck between the Entente and the Kingdom of Serbia, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was established and two representatives of Radić's party (by then named the Croatian Common-people Peasant Party) were appointed to the Provisional Representation which served as a parliament until elections for the Constituent could be held. The party's representatives, however, decided not to take their seats.

Arrest[edit]

On 8 March 1919 the central committee passed a resolution penned by Radić that declared "Croatian citizens do not recognize the so called Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes under the Karađorđević dynasty because this kingdom was proclaimed other than by the Croatian Sabor and without any mandate of the Croatian People." The full statement was included in a Memorandum which was translated into French and sent abroad to be addressed to the Paris Peace Conference.[5] This act provoked a decision by the government to arrest Radić along with several other party members.

He was to be held some 11 months until February 1920, just before the first parliamentary elections of the Kingdom of SHS, which were held in November. The result of the November was 230,590 votes, which equaled to 50 seats in the parliament out of 419. On November 8, before the first sitting of parliament, Radić held a massive rally in front of 100,000 people in Zagreb. Stjepan Radić and the CCPP held an extraordinary meeting, in which a motion was put forward and voted on that the party will not be part of parliamentary discussions before matters are first resolved with Serbia on the matters of governance, the most sticking issues being the minorisation of the Croatian people and the overt powers of the King with the central government in Belgrade. The party was subsequently renamed to the Croatian Republican Peasant Party, highlighting the party's official stance. On November 11, ban of Croatia Matko Laginja was dismissed by the cabinet of Milenko Radomar Vesnić for allowing the rally to take place.

The new Constitution[edit]

On 12 December 1920, the Parliament of SHS had their first sitting, without the representatives of CPP (50 representatives) and the Croatian Party of Rights (2 representatives). On the 28th of June 1921, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Vidovdanski ustav, or Vidovdan Constitution)was made law after a vote of 223 representatives out of the present 285, the total number representatives in the parliament being 419, which is only 53.2% of the possible votes, or if looked at the number of present representatives it is a more impressive 78.24%. The representatives turnout and subsequent vote is quite poor considering that it was a constitutive parliament, which was supposed to have created the new constitution.

In the next parliamentary elections, which were held in March 1923, the stance of Stjepan Radić and the CPP against the central government managed to turn into extra votes. The results of the election were, 70 seats or 473.733 votes, which represented the majority of the Croatian vote in Northern and Southern parts of Croatia, as well as the Croatian votes in Bosnia, as well as Herzegovina.

Again imprisoned[edit]

Radić still held on to the idea of an independent Croatia, and kept the party out of parliament in protest. This in effect afforded Serbian prime minister Nikola Pašić the opportunity to consolidate power and strengthen his Serb-dominated government. Returning from an unsanctioned overseas trip in 1923 in which Stjepan Radić visited England (for 5 months), Austria (5 months) and the Soviet Union (2 months). upon his return in 1924, Radić was arrested in Zagreb and sentenced for associating with Soviet Communists and imprisoned. The trip was used for the purpose of internationalising the plight of Croatians in the Kingdom of SHS.

After his release, Stjepan Radić soon reentered politics, but this was not without problems. On 23 December, the Serb dominated central government declared that the political party CRPP was in contravention of the Internal security law of 1921 in the infamous Obznana declaration, and this was confirmed by King Alexander on 1 January 1924, thus arresting the CRPP executive on 2 January 1925, and finally arresting Stjepan Radić on 5 January.

After the parliamentary elections in February 1925, the CRPP even with its whole executive team behind bars, and with only Stjepan Radić at its helm, CRPP managed to win 67 parliamentary with at total of 532,872 votes. Even though the vote count was higher than the previous election, the gerrymandering by the central government ensured that CRPP received less parliamentary seats. In order to increase his negotiating power the CRPP entered into a coalition with the Independent Democratic party (Samostalna Demokratska Stranka), Slovenian People's Party (Slovenska Ljudska Stranka) and the Yugoslav Muslim Organization (Jugoslavenska Muslimanska Organizacija).

Return to the parliament[edit]

Immediately after the parliamentary elections in March 1925, the CRPP changed the party name to Croatian Peasant Party (Hrvatska seljačka stranka). With the backing of the coalition partners, the CPP made an agreement with the major conservative Serbian party - the People's Radical Party (Narodna radikalna stranka), in which a powersharing arrangement was struck, as well as a deal to release the CPP executive from jail. The CPP had to make certain concessions like recognising the central government and the rule of the monarch, as well as the Vidovdan constitution in front of the full parliament on 27 March 1925. Stjepan Radić was made the Minister for Education, whereas other CPP party members obtained ministerial posts: Pavle Radić, dr. Nikola Nikić, dr. Benjamin Šuperina and dr. Ivan Krajač. This powersharing arrangement was cut short after the passing away of the president of the Peoples Radical Party, Nikola Pašić, on 10 December 1926.

Radić soon resigned his ministerial post in 1926 and returned to the opposition, and in 1927 entered into a coalition with Svetozar Pribićević, president of the Independent Democratic Party, a leading party of the Serbs in Croatia. The Peasant-Democrat coalition had a real chance to end the Radicals' long-time stranglehold control of the Parliament. Previously they had long been opponents, but the Democrats became disillusioned with the Belgrade bureaucracy and restored good relations with the Peasant Party with which they were allies in the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With this arrangement, Stjepan Radić managed to obtain a parliamentary majority in 1928. However, he was not able to form a government. The Peasant-Democrat coalition was opposed by some of the Croatian elite, like Ivo Andrić, who even regarded the followers of the CPP as "...fools following a blind dog..." (the blind dog being Stjepan Radić).

In his elder days, Radić was nearly blind.[6]

Assassination in the parliament[edit]

With the power of the Radical Party now weakened, and the Peasant-Democratic coalition not being able to form a government, the environment in the parliament had become increasingly unstable, contentious and provocational on ethnic lines. Provocations and accusations flew on both sides, in one such session Radić answered one of the provocations with the following:
"Our Serbian friends are always reminding us of the price they paid in the war. I would like to invite them to tabulate the costs, so we may square accounts and be on our way.".[citation needed] Death threats and threats of violent beatings were made against Stjepan Radić in parliament, without any intervention by the president of the Assembly (Parliamentary speaker). On the morning of 20 June 1928, Radić was warned of the danger of an assassination attempt against him and was begged to stay away from the Assembly for that day. He replied that he was like a soldier in war, in the trenches and as such it was his duty to go but he nevertheless promised not to utter a single word.

In the Assembly, Puniša Račić, a member of People's Radical Party from Montenegro, got up and made a provocative speech which produced a stormy reaction from the opposition but Radić himself stayed completely silent. Finally, Ivan Pernar shouted, "thou plundered beys" (referring to accusations of corruption related to him). Puniša Račić made his way to the speaker podium facing the Croats. He put his hand in his pocket, where he held the revolver, and faced the president Ninko Perić and told him: "I ask of you, Mr. president, to sanction Pernar. If you fail to stop me, I shall punish him myself!" After that threat shouting started in the room. But Račić continued his threats: "Whoever tries to stand between me and Pernar will be killed!" At that moment Puniša Račić took out his parabellum. Minister Vujičić, sitting at the bench behind Račić, grabbed his hand in order to stop him. At the same time, minister Kujundžić came to his aid, but Račić, however, being very strong, broke himself free. At exactly 11:25 AM shots were fired - Pernar was hit 1 cm above the heart. When he collapsed, Račić took aim at Stjepan Radić. Dr. Đuro Basariček noticed this and leaped to help him. Račić, however, turned his way and shot him, bullet entering his loins and exiting around his scapula. Basariček fainted immediately. Ivan Granđa ran in front of Stjepan Radić and Račić shot him in the arm. As soon as he was down, Račić aimed, peacefully, at Stjepan Radić, and shot him in the chest. At that point Pavle Radić jumped towards Račić, who didn't get confused, but remarked: "Ha! I've been looking for you!" and shot him 1 cm below the heart. It was believed Račić would shoot Svetozar Pribičević, sitting next to Stjepan Radić, next, but Račić instead peacefully left the room through the ministers' chambers. The whole assassination was over in less than a minute. It was one of the first assassinations in a government building in history.[7] Radić was left for dead and indeed had such a serious stomach wound (he was also a diabetic) that he died several weeks later at the age of 57. His funeral was officiated by archbishop Antun Bauer of Zagreb. His burial was massively attended and his death was seen as causing a permanent rift in Croat-Serb relations in the old Yugoslavia.

Assassination in Belgrade

What exactly happened to Puniša Račić is still contested. One version (conservative) states that he was sentenced to 20 years of house arrest and later pardoned by the Serb authorities while another (communist) contends that he was sentenced to 20 years of hard labour and freed by the invading Nazis in WWII. He led a usual life during the Nazi occupation of Serbia and was captured and killed by Communist partisans in 1945 or 1946.

Following the political crisis triggered by the shooting, in January 1929, King Aleksandar Karađorđević abolished the constitution, dissolved parliament, and declared a royal dictatorship, changing the country into the first Yugoslavia and oppressing national sentiments.

Radić is buried in the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb.

Legacy[edit]

Radić's violent death turned him into a martyr and he was turned into an icon of political struggle for the peasantry and the working class, as well as an icon of Croatian patriots. The iconography of Stjepan Radić was later used not only by his successor Vladko Maček, but also by other political options in Croatia: right wing or left wing.

The Ustaše used the death of Stjepan Radić as proof of Serbian hegemony, and as an excuse for their treatment of Serbs, however many leading CPP figures were imprisoned or killed by the Ustashe to whome they were political opponents. The Partisans on the other hand, used this as a recruiting point with CPP members who were disillusioned with the Independent State of Croatia, and latter had one brigade named after Antun and Stjepan Radić in 1943.

The image of Stjepan Radić was used extensively during the Croatian Spring movement in the early 1970s. There are many folk groups, clubs, primary and secondary schools which bear the name of Stjepan Radić. Many Croatian cities have streets, squares in his name and statues of Stjepan Radić are common. His portrait is depicted on the obverse of the Croatian 200 kuna banknote, issued in 1993 and 2002.[8]

In 1997, a poll in Croatian weekly Nacional named Stjepan Radić as the most admired Croatian historic personality.

Assembly seats
Preceded by
Member of Croatian Parliament for Ludbreg
1908 – 1918
Succeeded by
Parliament abandoned
Party political offices
Preceded by
Post established
President of the Croatian People's Peasant Party
1904 - 1928
Succeeded by
Vladko Maček

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Norman M. Naimark, Yugoslavia and its Historians: Understanding the Balkan Wars of the 1990s (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 105, 127
  2. ^ a b Ivo Očak, Stjepan Radić i Rusija, Zavod za hrvatsku povijest, Vol 25, Zagreb, 1992.
  3. ^ a b Branka Boban, Mladi Stjepan Radić o Srbima u Hrvatskoj i odnosima Hrvata i Srba, Radovi Zavod za hrvatsku povijest, Vol 28, Zagreb, 1995.
  4. ^ a b Zlatko Matijević, Narodno vijeće Slovenaca, Hrvata i Srba u Zagrebu, Hrvatski institut za povijest.
  5. ^ Zlatko Matijević, Prilozi za političku biografiju dr. Ljudevita Kežmana: od “Memoranduma” za Mirovnu konferenciju u Parizu do odlaska u Sjedinjene Američke Države (1919.-1922.), Časopis za suvremenu povijest, God. 38., br. 3., 757.-778. (2006)
  6. ^ CROATIA AND THE CROATIANS – Retrieved on 13 January 2011.
  7. ^ Zvonimir Kulundžić: Atentat na Stjepana Radića (The assassination of Stjepan Radić)
  8. ^ Croatian National Bank. Features of Kuna Banknotes: 200 kuna (1993 issue) & 200 kuna (2002 issue). – Retrieved on 30 March 2009.

External links[edit]