His career was a series of sharp political turns as he tried to reconcile Croatian national interests with the idea of a South Slav unity and simultaneously resist the imperial aspirations of Serbia, Italy, Hungary and the great European powers.
As a journalist, he was one of the sharpest and most articulated Croatian political writers, with surprisingly modern concepts and ideas.
Supilo was born in Cavtat and completed elementary education in Dubrovnik. He had to drop out of naval high school because of a lack of funds, and instead finished a two-year school of agriculture by baron Frano Gondola. He travelled around Dalmatian vineyards educating wine-growers on peronospora.
His political career started when he became the founder and editor of Crvena Hrvatska ('Red Croatia') from Dubrovnik (1890–99), a social/political paper based on the ideas of the Croatian Party of Rights and fighting for the unification of Dalmatia with Croatia.
Supilo played the main role in changing the public opinion, which expressed itself in several elections that brought down the Autonomous Party (pro-Italian) and Serbian coalition that had gained power in the municipality of Dubrovnik in the 1880s with the support of the Habsburg court, which followed the policy of divide et impera. He became one of the leaders of the Croatian Party of Rights in 1895. After the party split, he campaigned against Josip Frank.
In 1900, he worked in Rijeka as the commissioner of the party's Dalmatian section, trying to use the paper he edited (Novi list, renamed into Riječki novi list in 1907) to influence Croatian politics, orienting it towards a political cooperation between the South Slavs and an agreement with the other peoples of Austria-Hungary that were suffering the policy of Germanization.
The Croato-Serb Coalition
Along with Ante Trumbić and Josip Smodlaka, he was one of the initiators of the policy of the "New Course" and the creation of the Rijeka Resolution (1905) and the Croat-Serb Coalition and its rise to power. Supilo made a radical turn from the traditional policy of the Croatian Party of Rights from two aspects: ideological and pragmatically political.
Ideologically, Supilo became the proponent of a "soft" Yugoslav unitarism. He thought that Croats and Serbs (and later Slovenes) were a single people with three "tribes". This idea, which seems strange today, was shared by many of his contemporaries, based on the late national awakening of Croats, Serbs and Slovenes (not to mention Macedonians, Bosniaks and Montenegrins), the territorial closeness of Serbs and Croats, and the facts that the two peoples have very similar official languages. In practice, it meant the creation of a coalition that virtually recognized Serbs as a political entity in Croatia for the first time in its history.
An even stronger turn was the negotiation of the coalition and Supilo with the Hungarian and Italian politicians from Austria-Hungary. It was a very brave and innovative move, but a total flop. Supilo played on the temporary conflict between the Vienna court and the Italian irredentists and Hungarian imperialists, the traditional Croatian opponents who claimed their rights to some Croatian lands. He wanted to turn them into Croatian allies in the fight for the general democratization of the monarchy, which he believed would profit all peoples. But he estimated wrongly: the Italian and Hungarian imperialism was so deeply entrenched that it fell only after the world wars. As for Serbian nationalism, Supilo did not realize how stubborn were Serbian territorial claims over large parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
When the Croat-Serb Coalition won the elections of 1906, Supilo became a representative in the Croatian parliament and the leading figure of the Coalition. When the Hungarian parliament in spring 1907 decided that Hungarian would be the official language of the Croatian railroads, Supilo led the Croatian opposition in obstructing actions in the Hungarian parliament. He waged a strong campaign against the ban Levin Rauch, who supported the Hungarians. Supilo also initiated the fundamental constitutional issues on the status of Croatia. His radical attitude brought him in conflict with the Coalition leadership, which promoted a more careful policy with a view of another mandate.
Supilo tried to bring Croatian policy to the forefront of the South Slavs of Austria-Hungary in their fight for unification, while the Serbian part of the Coalition and some of its Croatian members wanted to harmonize Croatian policy with the Kingdom of Serbia, which would bring Croatia to a politically inferior position in relation to Serbia. At the time of the "High Treason Trial" (1909), the politically motivated trial against the Serb public officials in the monarchy, initiated by the Viennese court because of the crisis around the annexion of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, Supilo advocated a strong support of Croats to the endangered Serbs to preserve the harmony of Croats and Serbs based on the principles from the Rijeka Resolution and the Zadar Resolution.
A desperate fight
His attitude caused a strong reaction of the Austrian circles, who used the Friedjung Trial, started by the Coalition, to try to compromise and politically discredit Supilo. Although the slander against him was unmasked at the trial by Thomas Masaryk, Supilo left the Coalition to make its position easier. The Coalition then accepted a compromise in the trial, which brought about the downfall of the ban Rauch, but also the agreement between the Coalition and the new ban Nikola Tomašić. From that time until the death of the monarchy and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918), the Coalition was a tool in the hands of the most influential and ablest pragmatic politician of the time in Croatia, Svetozar Pribićević, a Serb, who advocated unitarism and waited for the death of the monarchy to achieve unity with Serbia at any cost. Supilo accused the opportunist policy of the Coalition leadership of compromising Croatia and giving it an inferior position in the unification with Serbia. He was right, but Pribićević never intended to give Croatia a significant position in the future South Slave state.
After the assassination in Sarajevo, Supilo fled to Italy. He, Trumbić and Meštrović started the action to free Croats, Serbs and Slovenians from Austro-Hungary and unite them with Serbia and Montenegro. He also participated in the creation of the Yugoslav Committee. He tried to persuade the governments of the Triple Entente to create a Yugoslavia that would cover all the South Slav regions. On his missions in Bordeaux, London and Sankt Petersburg in 1914–15, Supilo stood against the imperialist ambitions of Italy on the Adriatic and promoted a compromise in that issue. When he found out about the secret negotiations between the Triple Entente and Italy, he started a vigorous action to prevent the sacrifice of Croatian and Slovenian Adriatic regions to Italy.
Supilo proposed a democratic unity of the South Slavs and their national equality in a federal Yugoslavia. Such views brought him in conflict with the Serbian prime minister Nikola Pašić, the main realpolitik figure in the idea of Greater Serbia, and the compromising and politically immature majority in the Yugoslav Committee. All this made him leave the Committee in June 1916.
Supilo continued trying to make the Entente interested in Croatia and an integral solution of the South Slav question based on national equality (his well-known letters to British, Italian and Russian politicians Grey, Sozzino and Sazonov). The hard and hopeless situation of Croatia within the colonialist manipulations and secret plans (Treaty of London), already divided between the Italian and Serbian imperialism, was too much for Supilo, who had a nervous breakdown and died in a mental hospital in London shortly after, at the age of 47.
His death was immortalized by Krleža in his Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh: "Sopilovog Frana,/kem serce pregrizla horvacka je rana" (Frano Supilo, whose heart was eaten by the Croatian wound).
Along with Stjepan Radić, Frano Supilo seems to be the greatest tragical figure of modern Croatian politics. Machiavelli once said that armed prophets succeed, while the unarmed ones fail. This is true for Supilo: as the representative of the Croatian people in dark and insecure times, this unarmed prophet failed and was destroyed.
- Politika u Hrvatskoj (Politics in Croatia), reprint, Zagreb, 1953
- Politički spisi, članci, govori (Political writings, articles, speeches), Zagreb, 1970
- Izabrani politički spisi (Selected political writings), GM, Zagreb, 2000
- Ivo Perić (1996). Mladi Supilo. Školska knjiga.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Frano Supilo.|
- Ivo Perić: Mladi Supilo (Young Supilo), Zagreb, 1996
- A series of articles in Kolo, No. 8, Zagreb, 1998
- Frano Supilo