Alexander I of Yugoslavia
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2011) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)|
Alexander I (Aleksandar I Karađorđević, Serbian Cyrillic: Александар I Карађорђевић, pronounced [aleksǎːndar př̩ʋiː karad͡ʑǒːrd͡ʑeʋit͡ɕ]), also known as Alexander the Unifier (Aleksandar Ujedinitelj, Serbian Cyrillic: Александар Ујединитељ [aleksǎːndar ujedǐniteʎ], 16 December 1888 [O.S. 4 December] – 9 October 1934) served as a prince regent of the Kingdom of Serbia from 1914 and later became King of Yugoslavia from 1921 to 1934 (prior to 1929 the Kingdom was known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes).
He was the last European monarch to be assassinated.
Alexander Karađorđević was born on 16 December 1888 in the Principality of Montenegro as the fourth child (second son) of Petar Karađorđević (son of Prince Alexander of Serbia who thirty years earlier in 1858 was forced to abdicate and surrender power in Serbia to the rival House of Obrenović) and Princess Zorka of Montenegro (eldest daughter of Prince Nicholas of Montenegro). Despite enjoying support from the Russian Empire, at the time of Alexander's birth and early childhood, the House of Karađorđević was in political exile, with different family members scattered all over Europe, unable to return to Serbia, which had recently been transformed from a principality into a kingdom under the Obrenovićes, who ruled with strong support from Austria-Hungary. The antagonism between the two rival royal houses was such that after the assassination of Prince Mihailo Obrenović in 1868 (an event Karađorđevićes were suspected of taking part in), the Obrenovićes resorted to making constitutional changes, specifically proclaiming the Karađorđevićes banned from entering Serbia and stripping them of their civic rights.
Alexander was two when his mother Princess Zorka died in 1890 from complications while giving birth to his younger brother Andrija, who also died only 23 days later.
Alexander spent his childhood in Montenegro; however, in 1894 his widower father took the four children, including Alexander, to Geneva where the young man completed his elementary education. Alongside his older brother George, he continued his schooling at the imperial Page Corps in St Petersburg, Russian Empire. In 1903 while young George and Alexander were in school, their father Petar along with a slew of conspirators managed to pull off a bloody coup d'état in the Kingdom of Serbia known as the May Overthrow in which King Alexander I Obrenović and his consort Queen Draga were murdered and viciously dismembered. The House of Karađorđević thus retook the Serbian throne after forty five years and Alexander's 58-year-old father became King Peter I of Serbia, prompting George's and Alexander's return to Serbia to continue their studies.
Becoming crown prince
One of the key moments in Prince Alexander's life occurred on 27 March 1909 when his older brother Crown Prince George publicly renounced his claim to the throne after strong pressure from political circles in Serbia. George was long considered unfit to rule by many in Serbia including powerful political and military figures such as prime minister Nikola Pašić, as well as high-ranking officers Dragutin "Apis" Dimitrijević and Petar Živković who didn't appreciate the young man's impulsive nature and unstable, incident-prone personality. George was the perpetrator of the tragic incident in 1909 when he kicked his servant Kolaković in the stomach, causing the unfortunate man to die from the injury several days later. The incident served as the final straw. It grew into a huge scandal in the Serbian public as well as in the Austro-Hungarian press, which reported extensively on it, and 21-year-old Prince George was forced into renouncing his claim to the throne.
In 1910 Prince Alexander nearly died from stomach typhus and was left with stomach problems for the rest of his life.
Balkan Wars and World War I
In the First Balkan War in 1912, as commander of the First Army, Crown Prince Alexander fought victorious battles in Kumanovo and Bitola, and later in 1913, during the Second Balkan War, the Battle of Bregalnica. After the Turks' withdrawal from Skopje, Prince Alexander was met with flowers by the local people. He stopped and asked 7-year-old girl, Vaska Zoicheva "What are you?" (Pa shta si ti?) When she replied "Bulgarian!" (Bugarka!), the prince slapped her. This event spread quickly around Bulgaria. In 1920 and 1921, Serbian authorities searched for girl's father, Danail Zoichev, and offered him money to announce the event as fictional, but he refused.
In the aftermath of the Second Balkan War Prince Alexander took sides in the complicated power struggle over how Macedonia should be administered. In this Alexander bested Col. Dragutin Dimitrijević or "Apis" and in the wake of this Alexander's father, King Peter, agreed to hand over royal powers to his son. On 24 June 1914 Alexander became Regent of Serbia.
At the outbreak of World War I he was the nominal supreme commander of the Serbian army - true command was in hands of Chief of Staff of Supreme Headquarters - position held by Stepa Stepanović (during the mobilisation), Radomir Putnik (1914–1915), Petar Bojović (1916–1917) and Živojin Mišić (1918). The Serbian army distinguished itself in the battles at Cer and at the Drina (the Battle of Kolubara) in 1914, scoring victories against the invading Austro-Hungarian forces and evicting them from the country.
In 1915 the Serbian army with the aged King Peter and Crown Prince Alexander suffered many losses being attacked from all directions by the alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. It withdrew through the gorges of Montenegro and northern Albania to the Greek island of Corfu, where it was reorganized. After the army was regrouped and reinforced, it achieved a decisive victory on the Macedonian Front, at Kajmakcalan. The Serbian army carried out a major part in the final Allied breakthrough on the Macedonian Front in the autumn of 1918.
King of Yugoslavia
On 1 December 1918, in a prearranged set piece, Alexander, as regent, received a delegation of the People's Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, an address was read out by one of the delegation, and Alexander made an address in acceptance. This was considered to be the birth of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
In 1921, on the death of his father, Alexander inherited the throne of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which from its inception was colloquially known both in the Kingdom and the rest of Europe alike as Yugoslavia.
At response to the political crisis triggered by the assassination of Stjepan Radić, King Alexander abolished the Constitution on 6 January 1929, prorogued the Parliament and introduced a personal dictatorship (the so-called "January 6th Dictatorship", Šestojanuarska diktatura). He also changed the name of the country to Kingdom of Yugoslavia and changed the internal divisions from the 33 oblasts to nine new banovinas on 3 October.
In 1931, Alexander decreed a new Constitution which transferred executive power to the King. Elections were to be by universal male suffrage. The provision for a secret ballot was dropped and pressure on public employees to vote for the governing party was to be a feature of all elections held under Alexander's constitution. Furthermore, the King would appoint half the upper house directly, and legislation could become law with the approval of one of the houses alone if it were also approved by the King.
As a result of the previous deaths of three family members on a Tuesday, Alexander refused to undertake any public functions on that day of the week. On Tuesday, 9 October 1934, however, he had no choice, as he was arriving in Marseilles to start a state visit to France, to strengthen the two countries' alliance in the Little Entente. While Alexander was being slowly driven in a car through the streets along with French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou, a gunman — the Bulgarian Vlado Černozemski, stepped from the street and shot the King twice and the chauffeur with a Mauser C96 semiautomatic pistol. Alexander died in the car, slumped backwards in the seat, with his eyes open. Barthou was badly wounded in the arm but died later due to inadequate medical treatment.
It was one of the first assassinations captured on film; the shooting occurred straight in front of the cameraman, who was only feet away at the time. While the exact moment of shooting was not captured on film, the events leading to the assassination and the immediate aftermath were. The body of the chauffeur (who had been killed instantly) became jammed against the brakes of the car, allowing the cameraman to continue filming from within inches of the King for a number of minutes afterwards.
The assassin was a member of the pro-Bulgarian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO or VMRO) and an experienced marksman. Immediately after assassinating King Alexander, Chernozemski was cut down by the sword of a mounted French policeman, and then beaten by the crowd. By the time he was removed from the scene, the King was already dead. The IMRO was a political organization that fought for secession of Vardar Macedonia from Yugoslavia and becoming independent, and the leader of the organization in that time was Ivan Mihailov. IMRO worked in alliance with the Croatian Ustaše group led by Ante Pavelić. Chernozemski and three Croatian accomplices had travelled to France from Hungary via Switzerland. After the assassination, Chernozemski's fellows were arrested by French police. Although there is no final evidence that either Italian dictator Benito Mussolini or the Hungarian government were involved in the plot, the public opinion in Yugoslavia was that Italy had been crucial in the planning and directing of the assassination. The incident was later used by Yugoslavia as an argument to counter the Croatian attempts of secession and Italian and Hungarian revisionism.
The film record of Alexander I's assassination remains one of the most notable pieces of newsreel in existence, alongside the film of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia's coronation, the funerals of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A 20th Century Fox newsreel presented by Lowell Thomas was manipulated in order to give the audience the impression that the assassination had been captured on film. Three identical gunshot sounds were added to the film afterwards, when in reality Chernozemski fired his handgun over ten times, killing or wounding a total of 15 people. A straw hat is shown on the ground, as if it belonged to the assassin, while in reality it did not. A Mauser C96 semi-automatic pistol with a 10-round magazine is shown as the assassination weapon, while the actual one had a 20-round magazine. The exact moment of assassination was never filmed. Just hours later, Chernozemski died of the injuries inflicted on him by the crowd in the chaos.
The following day, the body of King Alexander I was transported back to the port of Split in Croatia by the Yugoslav destroyer JRM Dubrovnik. After a huge funeral in Belgrade attended by about 500,000 people and many leading European statesmen, Alexander was interred in the Memorial Church of St. George, which had been built by his father. The Holy See gave special permission to bishops Aloysius Stepinac, Antun Akšamović, Dionisije Njaradi and Gregorij Rožman to attend the funeral in an Orthodox church. As his son Peter II was still a minor, Alexander's first cousin Prince Paul took the regency of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Unknown to the public, King Alexander I had a large heraldic eagle tattooed over his chest.
A ballistic report on the bullets found in the car was made in 1935, but the results were not made available to the public until 1974. They revealed that Barthou was hit by an 8 mm Modèle 1892 revolver round commonly used in weapons carried by French police.
In popular culture
The song "Don Juan" by British synth duo Pet Shop Boys (the B-side to their 1988 single "Domino Dancing") contains the phrase "King Zog's back from holiday, Marie Lupescu's grey and King Alexander is dead in Marseilles".(21)
In Upton Sinclair's historical novel, "Wide Is The Gate" (novel 4 in the Lanny Budd series published 1941) the assassination is attributed to the Nazi German government. The novel claims funds and a forged passport were obtained by the Croatian assassin from the head of German foreign policy department.
Titles, styles, honours and arms
Titles and styles
References and notes