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Establishment and activities of chetnik associations in the Osijek city and district in the Monarchy of Yugoslavia (1918-1941) (Part 2)

Zdravko Dizdar

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 6.643 Kb

str. 342-401

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Ever since its establishment, the chetnik association, as well as the greatserbian politics at large, included Osijek and the Osijek district within the sphere of their interest. This was not so surprising given that Osijek and its district, as well as all of Slavonia, had always been deemed a part of their myth of Great Serbia. Their attempts to make the myth a reality met with unfailing support of the ruling Serbian expansionist circles, primarily of those from the Radical and the Democratic Party camp, who were the founders of the first chetnik associations in the first place. The administrative partitioning of the Osijek district (extraction of the western areas and foundation of the special Valpovo district) was orchestrated to produce a relative Serbian majority in the newly founded district area. Moreover, after subsequently taking over the government over the new district, they also maneuvered themselves into positions of power in the city of Osijek, which they gradually had to abandon following the 1938 elections and the creation of the Banovina of Croatia. These changes were best reflected in the political trends, and especially in the election results of the time. The chetniks also had a special mission to complete in the Osijek area, given its nationality structure (Croatian and other non-Serb peoples’ majority) and geographical position (along the rivers Drava and Danube, a point of convergence of North-South and East-West traffic routes, but also a link between the Serbs in the East in Vojvodina and Serbia, via the Danube border and the Danube bridge close to Erdut, with those in west Slavonia); the mission was to help the Serbian expansionist authorities first, to suppress the communist movement which had a majority non-Serb membership, especially in Osijek (1920/21), and then, in particular, to suppress the Croatian national movement gathered around the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), while simultaneously performing a serbisation of the area. As a result of this agenda, eight colonies were established which were populated with about 3.000 mostly Serbian volunteers and where a government was established over which the greatserbian parties had a firm hold until they were forced to relinquish the power following the 1938 elections and the establishment of the Banovina of Croatia. The mission had other effects as well. Namely, immediately following the establishment of the Association of Serbian Chetniks Petar Mrkonjić – For King and Fatherland (the so-called Račić chetniks) in 1924, in the same year the Belgrade chetnik authorities established their first board in Slavonia and Baranja in Osijek – Regional Chetnik Board for the Osijek Region and Baranja and launched its publication The Voice of Serbian Chetniks. At the same time the Local Chetnik Board in Osijek was established (which had the competence of a district board), and then the Local Chetnik Boards in Čepin and Dalj which numbered over 100 chetniks at the time. Ever since their inception, all these associations were most intimately integrated into the structures of the local government and of the police force, whose key figures were nonetheless members or heads of such associations. As this chetnik association had a marked Serbian flavor and as it most manifestly represented the greatserbian expansionist politics, its emergence and active presence sparked off strong and decisive resistance of the inhabitants of Osijek and of Osijek county, especially of Croats, but also of Germans and Hungarians, mostly those associated with the HSS. The resistance was even reinforced by a small, though politically significant, portion of Serbs gathered around Pribičević’s Independent Democratic Party (SDS) after 1927, when the party joined with the HSS to form a Peasant-Democratic Coalition (SDK). Thus even those Serbs became targets of chetnik attacks. Following the imposition of dictatorship in July 6, 1929 and the proclamation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, these overly zealous Serb sentiments led to the prohibition of activities of this chetnik association. Their activities were stopped in general, and so too in Osijek and Osijek district area. Most its members then joined the unique chetnik organization – Association of Chetniks for the Freedom and Honor of Fatherland, headed by Voivode Kosta Pećanac. As the chetniks gave their full support to King Alexander’s dictatorship (mostly under the credo: “For King and Fatherland”, and “One King, One People, One Country”) they were given free rein to pursue their activities. This had led to the launching of boards of this chetnik association in Osijek (since 1930), Čepin and Dalj (since the beginning of 1934), in Hrastin (since the end of 1934), Tenja, Bijelo Brdo, Erdut and Petrova Slatina (from 1935) and in the Stepar farms, in the vicinity of Dalj (since 1938). Some of these boards were only active at intervals, however, they gathered around 500 chetniks. These boards worked in unison with around 20 chetnik boards from the surrounding districts, some of which also had members from the Osijek area (such as e.g. in Silaš, Palača, Ada, Šodolovci from the then Vukovar district and Čepinski Martinci from the Valpovo district, which later came to be annexed to the Osijek district). In the mid-1930s their membership started to grow gradually and the network of their organizations started to spread throughout the entire Kingdom of Yugoslavia (to 450 chetnik subboards numbering 213.000 members), and through the Osijek district. The chetniks took special impetus from the assassination of King Alexander in Marseilles (October 1934) and from the 1935 elections, when a host of new subboards of chetnik associations was established in the surrounding districts (especially in those in its closest proximity: the Vukovar, Vinkovci, Đakovo, Valpovo, and Sombor district), with whom those from the Osijek district worked in liaison. Such activities were also encouraged by the president of the chetnik association, Voivode Kosta Pećanac, who visited the chetnik manifestations staged in Osijek, Čepin and Dalj, but also in the surrounding towns and places e.g. Vukovar, Borovo and Đakovo. Around that time most serious clashes occurred at several places in Slavonia, between the authorities and some hetniks on the one side, and Croatian peasants on the other side, which at times ended in bloodshed (for example in Sibinj and Slavonski Brod in February 1935 when 15 villagers were killed, several were wounded and several dozens were arrested, tortured and some sentenced to 8 months up to 3 years of imprisonment). Such clashes were many, mostly brawls arising during celebrations of different kinds, ending in people being wounded or even killed, e.g. in Osijek, Čepin and Erdut. This had led the officials to temporarily dissolve the chetnik boards. However, that did not stop the brutal terrorism of the government and the chetniks in Osijek’s region and surrounding areas of Slavonia from happening over the course of several months, usually resulting in new 399 scrinia slavonica 6 (2006), 342-401. Croatian casualties. Nevertheless, these events also backfired, producing a converse effect – the homogenization of Croatian people around the HSS in the Osijek area (which particularly showed in its landslide victory in the May elections in 1935), but also the emergence of a group of members of the Ustasha movement, whose aim was to establish an independent Croatian state outside the bounds of Yugoslavia. At the same time the worker’s movement gained momentum as well as the activities of the illegal Communist Party of Yugoslavia, notwithstanding occasional raids (such as the one in 1936), arrests and convictions of individuals or groups of communists. That is why, given the altered political scene after 1935, not only in this region but also nation-wide and internationally, the authorities had to let up. Towards the end of 1935 this led to an official ban of chetnik associations’ public activities in many surrounding Slavonian areas, and later in Savska banovina. However, this ban did not apply to the chetnik organisations in Osijek and in the Osijek district. Thus, not only did they not stop their activities until the beginning of the Second World War in 1941, but they even formed new such organizations. The same was the case in the surrounding districts (Vukovar, Vinkovci, Valpovo), and in those across the Drava and Danube (Darda and Sombor) in the Dunavska banovina. There is no doubt that this could not have happened had it not been for the wholehearted support of Grand Serbian political authorities in Belgrade and the network of connections to the key figures of authority in these areas. However, there came to one key moment in the area of Osijek – namely, the 1938 election victory of HSS and SDS, who gradually came to take over the government, a process which was further reinforced by the establishment of the autonomous Banovina of Croatia (August 1939) within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which encompassed Osijek and the whole of Slavonia together with a part of western Srijem. The establishment of the Banovina of Croatia was opposed by all Serbian parties, except the SDS, by the nationalist and greatserbian organizations and associations, the military and the Serbian Orthodox Church, who deemed the Banovina of Hrvatska a thread to Serbs and to the future of the country. To prevent the constitution and operation of the Banovina of Croatia, they launched the movement «Serbs, unite!» aiming to join the other 6 banovinas east of Banovina of Croatia, into a single administrative unit under the name «Serbian lands», i.e. « The Great Serbia ». This unit was also to include all those portions of the Banovina of Croatia where there was a Serb majority, as well as hose areas which leaders of the «Serbs, unite!» movement deemed geo-strategically and politically important, i.e. theirs, including the Osijek area. They set about implementing this agenda by supporting field activities of their members and their like-minded followers. This program involved concerted action of all the chetnik organizations from the Osijek area and the surrounding areas of eastern Croatia. This became most evident following the establishment of the «Serbs, unite!» movement in those areas, and transpired from their common requests that portions of the Osijek and Vinkovci districts, as well as the whole of Vukovar, Šid and Ilok district be severed from the Banovina of Croatia and annexed to the Dunavska banovina, and ultimately to the socalled “Great Serbia”. The authorities of Banovina of Croatia banned further public activities of this movement (in the Osijek district as well) and in the municipal elections in the Banovina in May 1940, HSS and SDS overwhelmingly won over the greatserbian political forces in the Osijek region (namely, the Yugoslav Radical Community (JRZ) only won in Tenje, and SDS in Bijelo Brdo and Dalj, with HSS winning elsewhere). This was of immense importance given that the War was approaching at an ever faster pace. Still, public activities of the chetniks in the Osijek area, whose organizations numbered around 1000 people, mostly Serbs, years of power enjoyed by pursuers of the greatserbian expansionist politics, the colonization of around 3000 mostly Serbian volunteers and posting Serbs at important positions within administrative and government bodies, who then implemented the measures of such politics, had led to a significant deterioration of the inter-national relations at the time. The repercussions of their politics had left a permanent mark on the Croatian and other non-Serb people. This interwar period was thus just a preface to the events that ensued after the War. Namely, after the War the sentiments became extremely radical, which, given the wartime conditions, had tragic consequences for the Serbs who suffered under the Ustasha regime, but also for Croatians and other non-Serbs under the impact of pursuers of the Chetnik agenda during the Second World War (1941-1945). It is no coincidence that chetnik terrorist groups were again formed after the war in 1946, in Dalj, Tenje and Čepin, but they were banned by the communist authorities, and their members were mostly sanctioned. Still, the chetnik ideology persisted, and 45 years later reared its ugly head again, in an even fiercer shape and form and with even more tragic consequences around the city of Osijek.

Ključne riječi

Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes / Kingdom of Yugoslavia; ; chetnik organizations; Osijek; Osijek district

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