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Svetozar Pribičević

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Title: Svetozar Pribičević  
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Subject: Stjepan Radić
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Svetozar Pribičević

Svetozar Pribićević (Serbian Cyrillic: Светозар Прибићевић; October 26, 1875 - September 15, 1936) was a Croatian Serb politician who worked hard for creation of unitaristic Yugoslavia. However, he later became a bitter opponent of the same policy and of the dictatorship of king Aleksandar Karađorđević. As a result, he died in exile.

Early life

Pribićević was born in Kostajnica, and as a youth he studied mathematics and physics in Zagreb and then briefly in Prague. Upon returning to Zagreb, he joined other young, politically active Croats and Serbs in producing the book Narodna misao (The National Idea, 1895) which argued that Croats and Serbs were one nation, and that they should work together in Croatian politics.

He took over leadership of the Serb People's Independent Party (Srpska narodna samostalna stranka) in 1903. In 1905, he and his party sponsored the Zadar Resolution, by which the Independents proposed to work with willing Croatian political parties (and signatories of the Rijeka Resolution) for a new, more assertive Croatian policy vis-à-vis the Hungarian and Austrian governments.

Between 1906 and 1918, he led the Croat-Serb Coalition, which was the political child of the two earlier resolutions. The Coalition dominated Croatian politics during that period. The power of the Coalition, and the appeal of its "Yugoslav" agenda, made it the target of attempts by Austrian and Hungarian authorities to destroy it. The treason trial of 1909 (in which Croatian authorities tried 53 Serbs for treason) and the Friedjung trial (in which Pribićević and other members of the Coalition sued the Austrian historian Heinrich Friedjung for libel on the basis of several articles he wrote in the Reichspost) of the same year were the most obvious evidence of these campaigns.

Until 1910, Pribićević shared leadership of the Coalition with Frano Supilo. Supilo left the Coalition in that year, and Pribićević led it alone from that point.

The Creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes

In 1918 he was leader of the Croato-Serbian Coalition which was then the dominant party in the Croatian Sabor. When the Croatian Sabor voted to join the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, the state formed by the South Slav regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when that state collapsed as a result of its defeat in the First World War, Pribićević became one of the vice presidents of the new states ruling body, the National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. As Italy overran parts of the new state's territory in Istria and along the coast of Dalmatia he urged the council to seek unification with Serbia without delay. In this he received especially strong support from Dalmatian delegates and on the morning of the November 27 a delegation from the National Council set off for Belgrade which was to formally create a new state, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, a few days later.

Svetozar Pribićević became the Minister of Internal Affairs. In this role he implemented an authoritarian policy believing that this was necessary to create a new state in the disordered aftermath of the First World War. Many years later Ivan Meštrović was to challenge him on his role in that period and according to Meštrović he answered "I was mad".

Pribićević's Croat-Serb coalition quickly fused with political groupings from other parts of the former Austria-Hungary and a new party, the Democratic Party, was founded in Sarajevo. This began negotiations with the Pašić's radicals but negotiations quickly fell through. Instead they joined with the Serbian opposition (including the party of Ljubomir Davidović) to form a block that was to dominate the Provisional Representation which served as a Parliament until the election of the Constituent Assembly. This block itself formed into a party which in 1920 adopted the name the Democratic Party in 1920. Even though Ljubomir Davidović was the leader, Pribićević had as much, if not more, influence on the policy of the party. In the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the Democratic Party did significantly worse in the former Austria-Hungarian regions which weakened Pribićević's influence in the Party. However, in alliance with the Radicals the Democratic party managed to ensure that the new constitution would have the centralized form that, at the time, Pribićević supported.

In January 1920, Pribićević had a secret meeting with Đuro Basariček of the Croatian Republican Peasant Party. Basariček told Pribićević that should there be held elections for the provisional representation not only would the Peasant Party participate in the elections but they would also join in the preparations for the Constituent Assembly. However, King Alexander refused to sign the decree. Though Pribićević remained on good terms with Alexander, it was at this point he lost his faith in Alexander's judgment.[1]

In December 1921 the Radicals provoked a government crisis, demanding the portfolio of Minister of Internal Affairs. The Democratic Party refused this point blank but at a meeting of their deputies club they voted, by secret ballot, that Pribićević should step down as Minister of Internal Affairs. Pribićević became, instead, the Minister of Education.

The elections in this period were marred by police harassment of voters and confiscation of pamphlets, and this kind of election rigging also impacted the Democratic Party's success. In addition, some opposition leaders such as Stjepan Radić were imprisoned on charges of treason, but this in turn had mobilized their own electoral base.

Independent Democrats, prison and exile

In 1924 Pribićević's faction made their break with the Democratic Party final by founding a new party, the Independent Democratic Party, with 14 parliamentary representatives.

When Nikola Pašić and Stjepan Radić came to an agreement in 1925 which would temporarily pacify the Croatian Peasant Party, Pribićević switched to the opposition, and started thinking that his prior support for the Radicals had only helped fortify the Serbian domination. After the election of 1927, the Independent Democrats and Croatian Peasant Party both became the opposition, and then decided to form the Peasant-Democrat coalition (Seljačko-demokratska koalicija, SDK).

In the coalition with Radić, Pribićević converted from an advocate of centralism to its adversary, and in the spring of 1928, Pribićević and Radić waged a bitter parliamentary battle against the ratification of the Treaty of Nettuno with Italy,[2] having actually secured a majority in the parliament, but not being able to lead the government. This in turn mobilised nationalist opposition in Serbia but provoked a violent reaction from the governing majority including death threats. In the summer of 1928, Radić was assassinated in Parliament, and the opposition started a boycott of the parliament, insisting on new elections.

In 1929, the January 6th Dictatorship was instituted by the King, and Pribićević was interned by the authorities in Brus, Serbia for a period of two years, when finally in 1931 his health problems allowed him to be released and emigrate.

While in Paris, in 1933 he published the "King Alexander's Dictatorship" (La dictature du roi Alexandre), a book in which he came out openly for a federal and republican structure for Yugoslavia. He also wrote a "Letter to the Serbs" the same year, in which he advocated an understanding between the Serbs and the Croats based on equality of the two nations, stating that "any other way and solution would mean eternal friction, mutual conflicts and wars, which would eventually end disastrously for both" (svaki drugi put i rješenje značilo bi vječite trzavice, međusobne sukobe i ratove, koji bi se na kraju katastrofalno završili za oboje). In May 1933 Pribićević held talks with Branimir Jelić and Stjepan Radić's eldest son Vlatko.[3]

He died in exile in Prague in 1936.


Preceded by
Marko Trifković
Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes Minister of Internal Affairs
Succeeded by
Marko Trifković
Preceded by
Milorad Drašković
Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes Minister of Internal Affairs
Succeeded by
Vojislav Marinković

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