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80th Anniversary of Serbian Assassination of Croatian MPs in Belgrade

Five Croatian front-bench Members of Parliament were shot during a parliamentary session by a member of the Serbian People’s Radical Party, Punica Racic, on 20 June, 1928. The Croatian leadership was destroyed and, along with it, opposition to Mussolini was silenced in a hail of bullets.
More than an assassination, more than a coup, this cowardly murder of unarmed Croatian deputies in a parliamentary session is a barbaric stain in the history of parliamentary democracy. The Serbian assassin catapulted the European region into despotism, fascism, Nazism, and war.
The Serbian MP from Montenegro opened fire in the Parliament Assembly (Skuptchina), in Belgrade, the capital of the Kingdom of Serbs Croats & Slovenes. The Serbian gunman Racic aimed directly at those Croats who were in the front benches or at those Croatian MPs coming to their rescue. The diagram in the book entitled, ‘Atentat na Stjepana Radica’ by Kulundzic, Zagreb 1967, illustrates where the Serbian gunman was standing and where the Croatian deputies were positioned.
The premeditated murders occurred on the morning of 20 June 1928. But, in weeks preceding there had been demonstrations in Croatian cities regarding tyrannical Serbian police oppression, and regarding Mussolini’s pressure to have the Nettuno Treaty (an article of the Rapallo Treaty) ratified in the Belgrade parliament, which was being obstructed by Croatian MPs within the Opposition Coalition bloc. (In 1927 the Croatian Leadership had formed the ‘Opposition Coalition’ together with Svetozar Pribichevic, President of the Independent Democratic Party of Serbs in Croatia.) Debates in parliament had occurred amidst mounting tension within a kingdom which came into power under an undemocratic feudal parliamentary system when voting rights were restricted to those above an unattainable financial threshold.
Five bullets fired at close range found their target killing or wounding the Croatian deputies.Besides Punisa Racic, another Serbian MP, Lune Jovanovic, had a revolver drawn out, as reported in local newspapers which pointed to an alleged conspiracy. The dead and wounded in order of the shots fired were:
Croat: Ivan Pernar, Member of Parliament, Croatian Peasant Party Secretary.
Wounded: Shot first, and after an operation, Mr. Pernar lived out the remainder of his life, partly as a political prisoner, partly in exile, with the Racic bullet embedded in his heart.
Croat: Djuro Basaricek, Member of Parliament, Croatian Peasant Party Vice-President, lawyer, activist and writer.
Died: Instantly. He received the bullet intended for Stjepan Radic by heroically running between Radic and the gunman. During his career he had been collecting data together with Pavle Radic, in particular, documenting the deliberate Serbian colonization of Croatia.
Croat: Ivan Grandja, Member of Parliament, Croatian Peasant Party Deputy.
Wounded: Heroically, he stepped in front of Stjepan Radic as he sat next to him in the front bench, realizing who the next intended target was, as he witnessed the shooting of Basaricek. He took the next bullet aimed for the Croatian President which struck his watch in the pocket of his vest, saving them both from instant death.
Croat: Stjepan Radic, Member of Parliament, Croatian Peasant Party President, and founder in 1904 (with his brother Ante Radic), founder of ‘Dom’ newspaper, and political prisoner.
Died: after a few weeks on 8 August 1928 in hospital from bullet wound in abdomen. Stjepan Radic had entered parliament that day in spite of rumours and published threats against his life in a Serbian newspaper, ‘Jedinstvo’ on 14 June 1928’. (Today Stjepan Radic appears on the 200 Kuna currency of Croatia. )
Croat: Pavle Radic, Member of Parliament, Croatian Peasant Party Deputy, and nephew of Stjepan Radic.
Died: one hour after being deliberately shot whilst running towards his uncle Stjepan Radic who had just been shot. The gunman, aimed his revolver at Pavle and said, “I have been looking for you” (no doubt because of his active role in collecting data together with Djuro Basaricek regarding the Serbian colonization of Croatia).
Newspapers, around the world such as the London Times or the American Time magazine, reported on the assassination and its consequences. The concern by these journalists for the life of the “kingdom” is evident rather than any apparent regret for the life of the Croatian MPs. In date order some of those articles are listed here:
“Down With Mussolini”, Time, 11 June 1928
“Deputies Shot in Belgrade—Wild Scene in Chamber—Raditch badly wounded”, London Times,
21 June 1928
“The Belgrade Shootings—Croat Anger”, London Times, 22 June 1928
“Tragedy in Belgrade”, London Times, 22 June 1928 (page 17, “…it would be tactless, for foreigners
to express any opinion as to these charges (re Serbian monopoly of the State). But all good Europeans will hope that the very dismay caused by the tragedy in the Skupshtina, and the dangers that may well arise from it, will compel the political leaders on each side to take a broad view and to subordinate party passion and “tribal” advantage to the benefit of the kingdom as a whole…”
“Throwback to Assassination”, Time, 2 July 1928
“Death of Radic”, Time, 20 August 1928 (in this article Radich is referred to as the son of gypsies
whose death “may yet prove to have been for the eventual good of the whole kingdom”. (note: Ironically, it was after WWII that another Serb from Montenegro, Milovan Djilas, remarked that good men had to die so that Jugoslavia could live.)
“Ratification After Assassination”, Time, 27 August 1928
“Chorus of European Dictators”, British Cartoon Archive, January 1929 ...
The grave consequences of the assassination are illustrated in a David Low cartoon, one of many featured by the British Cartoon Archive on their website. The captions refer to a “Chorus of European Dictators” welcoming the new regime of King Alexander, who is depicted sitting on top of his “bound and gagged” ‘Jugoslav’ people. The website also notes below the cartoon that the Croatian politician Stjepan Radic was shot in a meeting of Parliament in June 1928, and that he died soon after. Also the same website notes add the following: “As a result of this assassination ethnic tensions in the region increased. In January 1929 King Alexander dissolved Parliament, abolished the Constitution and established a dictatorship. He re-named the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes 'Yugoslavia'…”
The consequences of the assassination of the Croatian leadership were immediate. Opposition to dictatorship and fascism in Europe was silenced as the Nettuno Treaty was ratified in Belgrade. Political opposition to the despotic Serbian Kingdom was silenced. ‘Jugoslavia’ became a cruel dictatorship in January 1929 with the subsequent dissolution of the parliament, the end of the constitution and all Orthodox believers declared to be Serbian Orthodox no matter what their ethnicity.
It is not difficult to draw comparisons between the reactions of the world powers of 1928 and the early 1990s to the Serbian shooting of unarmed Croats. In 1928 it appears that many were more concerned with the fate of the ‘Kingdom’ than the assassinated Croats. In addition, in 1928 the League of Nations was weak and the Croatian demonstrations and large public funerals in Zagreb were played down by the international community. In the 1990s more concern was demonstrated for the UNESCO listed Dubrovnik architecture than for the thousands of dead Croatian civilians, victims of Serbian bombing of places like Vukovar or Zadar and hundreds of municipalities.
However, two important differences 60 years later lay with the existence of modern satellite communication, and a stable United Nations, as opposed to any notable difference in divided political reaction to Serbian aggression against Croats. The fact is, not only did a Serbian bullet trigger WWI; a Serbian bullet contributed to a sinister chain of events which triggered WWII. And in the 1990s, a Serbian bullet also triggered the biggest European war since WWII in Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina and Kosovo. Thanks to satellite television, this time it was all recorded for the world to witness, and international recognition was forthcoming to Croatia.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
June 2008
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