Croatian Third Way Politics During The Interwar Period
In 1918, Croatia was occupied by the Serbian army and forcibly united with the Kingdom of Serbia. In the following years, the Serbs implemented a hegemonic policy directed against the Croats, the climax of which was the murder of Croatian patriotic politicians in the National Assembly of Yugoslavia in 1928. It was quite clear that there was no political solution and that the only solution to achieving Croatian Independence was a Revolution.
Croatian “Domobran” Movement
At the beginning of October 1928, the Croatian “Domobran” Movement was founded in Zagreb by Branimir Jelić, which, under the disguise of a legal sports club, was supposed to train young people for revolutionary combat operations. In the beginning, they wore blue shirts, but that was abandoned due to conspiratoriality.
The Ustaša Movement
Ustaša – Hrvatska Revolucionarna Organizacija (UHRO) was a Croatian National Revolutionary Movement which was officially founded in 1929 by Ante Pavelić in the Kingdom of Italy together with a group of likeminded associates (although it was already founded in 1928 in Yugoslavia) as a reaction to Serbian hegemony in Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
According to the Ustasha Constitution published in 1932, the basic goal of the Organisation was to liberate Croatia from foreign occupation and subjugation through an armed uprising (Revolution) so that it would become an Independent State encompassing it’s entire National and historical Territory.
Apart from State legal goals, this document does not present any views on the structure of the imagined Croatian State or any other ideological goals; however a document touching on those subjects would be published a year later in June 1933, titled the Ustasha Principles. It is a fundamental Ustasha programmatic document, which retained it’s significance even after the establishment of the NDH. In them, National and State law topics prevail. 12 of the total 15 Points of the Principles are devoted to the affirmation of Croatian National Identity and the Natural and historical right to the realization of an Independent State, and only the last 3 Points speak about some ideological topics. Specifically, Point 13 emphasizes the role of the Peasantry in Croatia, Point 14 talks about the issue of ownership of “material and moral goods in the Croatian State” and the last Point, Point 15, presents several principled views on Croatian Society and it’s role in the Croatian State.
The Ustaše Movement was founded and led from abroad but already in the early period of it’s existence, a secret Network of Members and Sympathisers was established in the Homeland.
At first, their activities were hampered by State repression which prevented Political Association and the free dissemination of Anti-Regime ideas through the press, so the focus of Ustasha activity was abroad.
However, after the assassination of King Alexander of Yugoslavia on October 1934 in Marseilles, Ustasha work in Italy was less overt and at the same time, as a result of Democratisation and relaxation of repression in Yugoslavia, a much wider Ustasha base was created in the Homeland.
Individuals and Groups associated with the Ustaše movement acted within the broader Croatian Nationalist Movement, from which it is often difficult to separate them with clear distinction. This is especially true for the discourse on social issues, on which a kind of Anti-Liberal consensus was reached on the Nationalist Right during the second half of the 1930s.
For the formation of this consensus, three processes were crucial.
First, during the 1930’s, there was a symbiosis between the remnants of the Pravaš (Right-Wing) Movement and the Croatian Catholic Movement.
The assassination of Croatian Representatives in the Belgrade National Assembly in 1928 and the introduction of the Dictatorship of King Alexander in 1929, with the ensuing State repression directed against advocates of Croatian interests, severely limited the popularity of the Yugoslav Idea among the Croatian Population. Due to the same reasons, the Croatian Catholic Movement, whose majority in the 1920’s accepted the Yugoslav Political framework, in the new Decade gradually became more inclined to the idea of establishing an Independent Croatian State. An additional impetus on this path was the Concordat crisis of 1937, which fully exposed the reluctance of a significant part of the Serbian elite and the public to compromise with the Croatian Catholics.
At the same time, the Spanish Civil War divided the Croatian public into supporters of the Republican and Nationalist sides, so the new ideological polarization helped political Catholicism in Croatia and the remnants of the Pravaš (Right-Wing) Movement to unite around common Anti-Communism and Croatian Nationalism.
There is no doubt that a two-sided ideological influence was achieved: Catholic circles began to express Croatian Nationalism more openly, while (former) Pravaši (Right-Wingers) accepted Catholic Anti-Liberalism along with more pronounced Anti-Communism.
Finally, the third important process in the shaping of the Social discourse of Croatian Nationalism in the second half of the 1930’s is the entry into the political arena of the younger generation, which matured politically during the 6 September Dictatorship, the great economic crisis and ideological polarization in Europe.
Unlike the older Nationalist generation, which had almost no elaborated views on Social issues, in the political discourse of the new generation, although the State legal program still has more weight, special social ideas also appear.
The most important objective causes of this kind of “Social turn” are certainly the experience of the great economic crisis from the beginning of the 1930’s and the growth of economic inequalities.
In addition, Bonifacije Perović, then Clergyman of the Croatian Catholic Academic Society Domagoj, points out that the growth of interest in Social issues among students and young people was due to the spread of the popularity of the “Peasant ideology” of the Radić brothers and the publication of the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno by Pope Pius XI, but also as a reaction to attempts by Marxists to spread their ideas at Universities.
The new generation of Croatian Nationalists did not believe that the old Liberal economic policy could solve the Social issue, but also rejected the Marxist ideology. Instead, they looked for their role models in the ideologies of the “Third Way”.
Ustaštvo played a significant role in the shaping of social ideas in the Homeland.
Their ideas were French inspired, which came about partly through the somewhat older generation of Croatian Catholic intellectuals who studied at the Universities of Paris in the period after the First World War (Milan Ivšić, Ivan Merz, Juraj Šćetinec, as well as B. Perović himself) and partly through the Magazine Esprit and Magazines associated with the Jeune Droite and Ordre Nouveau Movements, which were also read in Croatian Catholic circles in the 1930’s, especially among members of the Crusader Organization.
Common to all of them was Anti-Capitalism, Anti-Marxism and opposition to “Formal Democracy” and the promotion of the ideal of the New Spiritual Man.
On the other hand, Domagojians were allegedly closer to the ideology of Integral Nationalism of Charles Maurras, also a harsh critic of Capitalism.
Among the Croatian Members of Maurras, Ivo Bogdan stood out, one of the Leaders of the Domagoj Organization and the broader Croatian Catholic Movement in the Interwar Period and from the end of the 1930’s an important figure of the Ustaštvo in the Homeland. Feliks Niedzielski is also worth mentioning, a catholic activist who was a strong critic of capitalism and marxism.
An important inspiration was Italian Fascist Corporatism.
During 1934, in the Magazine Hrvatska Smotra, Božidar Stari published two positive reviews of the news in the development of Fascist Trade Unionism and the Corporate System in Italy.
He sees the Principles of Fascist Corporatism as “the most interesting creations of modern Civilisation in the economic field” and Corporatism as “a new creation, a creation of the peaceful Italian Revolution”, so he concludes that other Countries should accept it as such, of course with adaptations to domestic conditions.
In the same Magazine, in 1939, Eugen Sladović published an extensive positive analysis of the new reform of the Italian Political System, as part of which the House of Representatives of the Italian Parliament was transformed into a Representative Body of Corporations and in early 1941, an unknown author under the pseudonym Socialis called for the copying of the Fascist Corporate Model of relations between Employers and Workers in Banovina Croatia.
According to Bogdan Radica’s memories, sympathy for Fascism was not limited to Ustasha Groups but was also present among prominent Croatian intellectuals such as Ante Trumbić and Filip Lukas, as well as in Conservative circles.
Much more attention was paid to German social Policy in pre-War Ustasha journalism.
Already in November 1933, barely ten months after the National Socialists came to power, the “Hrvatska Smotra (Croatian Review)” praised Hitler’s Germany for reducing the unemployment rate and organizing joint work actions of Students and Workers with the aim of “destroying the gap between the Classes and again create a spiritually unified Nation without Class and Political-Religious struggles”.
In March 1934, on the pages of the same Magazine, on the occasion of the First Anniversary of the National Socialist Victory in the elections, Vladimir Mintas, later a diplomat and high ranking official in the NDH, celebrated the social and economic successes of the new German Government, while on July 1, Zubcić praised the work of the Voluntary Labor Service in Germany.
Ernest Bauer’s book “Today’s Germany” from 1937 particularly helped the affirmation of the Social Policy of the Third Reich in the Ustasha and broader Nationalist ranks.
Bauer was the offspring of a Zagreb family with German roots, and even during his high school days he joined the Nationalist ranks and became friends with future high Ustasha officials Eugen Dido Kvaternik, Mladen Lorković, Vilk Pečnik, etc. On the way back from his study year in France, he spent some time in 1935 traveling around Germany. What he saw in the Third Reich deeply impressed him, so he decided to write a book about it. In his words, “it was still the first attempt to portray National Socialist Germany objectively, and not just as some legendary spectre according to the Communist understanding.” It is therefore not surprising that the book, especially taking into account that the publisher was Matica Hrvatska with it’s wide distribution network, according to the author’s memory, had a strong resonance in the Croatian public and that it was positively evaluated in Nationalist circles. What is important is that, in addition to political and historical topics, the book has a relatively large space devoted to the relationship of National Socialism towards Labour and Social issues, with special references to the activities of the German Labor Front, the principle of Leadership in companies, the Programs “Strength Through Joy” and “Winter Aid”, drop in unemployment, etc.
At that time, in the midst of the World War into which Yugoslavia was soon dragged, the Ustasha press in the Homeland increasingly emphasized the compatibility of it’s interests and ideology with those represented by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, so this was also reflected in the field of Social ideas.
When Ivan Oršanić writes in “Hrvatska Smotra” about the War between Germany and Italy with Great Britain and the USA, for him it is not just a conflict of opposing National interests or two Geopolitical conceptions, but a fight against the Anglo-American Plutocracy, a fight between the old and the new Social Order with it’s specific views on the solution of Social issues. In this struggle, Oršanić believes, there must be no neutrality, but “fitting into the new Order must be psychologically, Politically, Culturally and economically completely clear and determined precisely because it is not about occasional phenomena, but about the historical beginning of a new Era that will include the life of the whole world.”
Croatian Worker’s Movement
At the instigation of the carpenter Stjepan Severinc, on February 12 1939, the Croatian Workers’ Movement was founded in Zagreb for the gathering of Croatian Workers.
According to the rules, drawn up by the lawyer Dr. Jurjo Veselić, the Movement had to spread National Socialism and promote friendship with the German people.
The Croatian Labour Movement was joined by many younger Croatian Labour champions, who claimed that the “People’s Front” prevailed in the Croatian Workers’ Union in 1938 with the help of engineer August Košutić.
The Leadership of the Croatian Workers’ Movement was taken over by: Dr. Juraj Veselić, Stjepan Severinac, Slavko Govedić, Ivan Crnković, Josip Mustaf and Pavao Rašić. They had their premises at Medulićeva Street 20.
Branches were soon established in Našice, Zlatar, Zajezda, Golubovac Divuški, Osijek, Banja Luka, Daruvar, Bjelovar, Split, Koprivnica, Križevci, Podsused, Đakovo, Karlovac, Slavonski Brod, and in Sušine- Đurđenovac. Thus, in the same year, around 10,000 members were organized in the Croatian Workers’ Movement, who strove for the revival of an Independent Croatian State and for a New European Order under German Leadership, which the delegation of the Croatian Workers’ Movement stated on April 20 1939 in Zagreb to the German Consul General Dr. Alfred Freundt, who was informed that the Croatian People are represented only by Dr. Ante Pavelić.
At the beginning of October 1939, there was a fierce conflict in Zagreb between Marxists and Croatian Ustasha University Students. In that conflict, several Croatian Ustasha were lightly wounded, while the Leftists fared much worse because in addition to the greater number of lightly wounded, they also had more seriously wounded. The newspapers pointed out that it was a “fiery Veni sancte”.
On November 17 1939, there were great manifestations of Croatian National Revolutionary thought at the Croatian University.
University Students cheered for the “Poglavnik” Dr. Ante Pavelić and the Independent Croatian State. These manifestations were later continued on the streets and squares of Zagreb.
At the beginning of 1940, the Movement began preparing Combat Squads for the Liberation of Croatia; however, the Police soon discovered the Movement’s intentions, which is why they conducted frequent searches in the apartments of champions of the Croatian Workers’ Movement. Numerous Members were persecuted. Dr. Juraj Veselić and Stjepan Severinac were imprisoned for 25 days each.
On May 31 1940, the “Banska Vlast” Government dissolved the Croatian Workers’ Movement due to suspicions that it had connections with Dr. Ante Pavelić and that it was sending Croatian Workers to Germany with the intention of creating Croatian Legions there that would eventually cross back into Yugoslavia and initiate an uprising in Croatia.
Croatian National Socialist Party
In order to be able to continue to act, the champions of the Croatian Labour Movement founded a special Croatian National Socialist Party in Zagreb on June 15 1940.
Dr. Juraj Veselić drew up a Political Program for the Party containing 7 Points, with the same goal of establishing an Independent Croatian State in the closest Political friendship with Germany.
Along with Veselić, the main Members of the Croatian National Socialist Party were: Merchant Đuro Medved, Carpenter Stjepan Severinac, Personal Clerk Viktor Košutić, Ivan Crnković, Josip Keliš, Dragutin Samobor and Janko Oslaković, who were later joined by Dr. Milivoj Uroić, Dr. Jozo Budak and a dozen other Croats.
The Party spread so rapidly in Croatian Cities and Villages that the “Banska Vlast” Authorities in Zagreb calculated that the Croatian National Socialist Party had a huge number of members.
In 10 months of it’s work, the party printed 15 types of posters with various different content in over 100,000 copies, which were further multiplied by Party Members.
Therefore, the “Banska Vlast” Government began to persecute the Party Leadership. Thus, in August 1940, Dr. Veselić was chained in Split and sent to Zagreb, where he endured a long stay in prison after a hunger strike.
After numerous raids, on October 3 1940, Severinac, Dr. Veselić, Đuro Medved, Ivan Bela, Janko Oslaković, and the brothers Slavko and Milan Govedić were arrested in Zagreb. On October 7 they were all taken to Lepoglava, where they were interned in a penitentiary.
After a few months, Severinac, Medved, Bela and Oslaković were sent home due to illness, while Dr. Veselić and the Govedić brothers were transferred to the Krušćica camp near Travnik on March 1 1941.
Another 17 members of the Party were interned there from Karlovac: Zvonko Martinčević, Vilko Završki, Josip Gubenšek, Zvonimir Jakuš, Rudolf Završki, Josip Ilijanić, Ivan Erdeljac, Josip Jakuš, Miško Brajković, Josip Rogar, Zvonimir Kovačić, Nikola Tucibat, Stjepan Mikac , Dragutin Lončarec, Ilija Struna, Petar Hranilović and Nikola Sertić. They were interned until April 10 1941.
Then about 100 members of the HNSS were imprisoned on April 6, 1941 in Zagreb, which was the same day the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia began, so consequently they were released.
On July 12 1941, Members of the Party were accepted into the Ustasha Units.
Antisemitism and racialism in Ustaša Movement
In the beginning from 1929 to 1934, antisemitism and racialism wasn’t a key part of the Ustaša movement. From 1934 to 1938 antisemitism and racialism slowly started to develop and from 1938 to 1941 it became a key part of Ustaša movement.
Violence and revolution occupy the most important position in the ideological foundations of the Ustasha movement. The main enemy was called “Belgrade” by Ustaša propaganda, but soon hatred for Serbs would intensify and rhetoric directed against all foreigners would increase.
The idea of destruction of enemies, foreigners and cleansings is increasingly used in the Ustasha press which shows that organic nationalism had a great influence on the development of Ustasha ideology. The main goal of the Ustaša was to clean the Croatian lands from “parasites who drink Croatian People’s blood” (Ustaša: Journal of Croatian revolutionaries, “Ustaša in Action”, November 7, 1932).
In point 11 of the Ustasha principles, it is written that no one, who is not of Croatian blood, may decide on national and state affairs in the Independent State of Croatia, furthermore, point 12 primarily targeted cosmopolitan values, civic morality and capitalism. This point also applies to Jews, since they were seen as the main symbol and bearer of trade, industry and cosmopolitanism in Croatian cities.
National Socialism popularized anti-Semitism even before it came to power, for example, as early as October 1932, hooked crosses appeared on the building of the Jewish Municipality and on other locations that are considered gathering places for Jews in Zagreb.
Croatian nationalists and German National Socialists cooperated a lot. German Nationalsocialism was associated with Pavelić even before the establishment of the Third Reich. Pavelić negotiated in Berlin with Manfred von Killinger. As soon as the Nationalsocialists came to power, Pavelić came to Rosenberg, and from then on, the Ustaša had set up a general staff not only in Italy but also in the Reich. The entire press of the organization (‘Gric’, ‘Nezavisna Hrvatska Drzava’, Croatia Press’, ‘Ustascha’) was financed by Rosenberg. When attempts at rapprochement with Yugoslavia began, Pavelić’s press moved to Danzig, but it remained under the care of the Nationalsocialists. The last number of the ‘Independent Croatian State’, immediately before the Marseille murders, appeared again in Berlin. In Berlin lived and came to prominence Eugen Kvaternik, who led and supervised the assassination of king Alexander. His sister was married to an influential nationalsocialist. Ante Pavelić even took sides with Germans and against Italy during the Austrian conflict.
The newspapers “Mlada Hrvatska” and “Nezavisnost” are the newspapers that most promoted nationalism, national socialism, anti-Semitism and racialism. Most of the authors of these newspapers write positively about National Socialism and propose measures against Jews. Also, the authors of the newspaper Mlada Hrvatska often quote other fascists and national socialists from other countries, for example from France.
Another approchement between the Ustaše and the German National Socialists happened in 1937 when Pavelić’s memorandum “Croatian Question” was sent to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Alfred Rosenberg had a lot of contacts with the Ustaša underground and the Croatian National Socialists, and further radicalization of Ustaše and Croatian National Socialists was contributed by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
In 1937, an agreement was reached between Yugoslavia and Italy in which they undertake not to support terrorists who threaten one or another country on their territory. Instead of weakening the Ustaša Movement, the exact opposite happened. According to the agreement, every Ustaša who didn’t commit murder or terrorist attacks against Yugoslavia could return back to Yugoslavia, this included Mile Budak who was the main organizer and ideologue of the Ustaša movement and about 250 people. Instead of destroying the Ustasha movement, this Italian-Yugoslav treaty actually strengthened the homeland Ustaštvo and enabled it to organize the disorganized Right.
By 1938, the Croatian Nationalist Movement has already been formed and stood in opposition to the HSS party. This opposition also includes Šimrak’s Hrvatska Straža, Hrvatska smotra, Nezavisnost of Stjepan Buć and Matica Hrvatska under the leadership of Filip Lukas.
Mile Budak, describing the situation in his homeland in 1938, during interrogation in the Yugoslav detention center in 1945, stated that the entire Croatian university youth was nationalist oriented. There were more and more clashes between nationalists and leftists, for example the cases from 1937 when the communist Krsto Ljubičić was killed and from 1939 when the communists had many lightly and seriously wounded.
In 1940, in his two messages to the Croatian people, Ante Pavelić expressed anti-communist, anti-democratic, anti-liberal and anti-Jewish views and thus they became a fundamental part of the Ustasha ideology.
Fearing an invasion by the Axis powers, Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact on 25 March 1941, pledging cooperation with the Axis. This move was highly unpopular with the Serb-dominated officer corps of the military, Serbian organizations such as National Defense and the Chetniks Association, the Serbian Orthodox Church, a large part of the Serbian population as well as liberals and Communists. Massive anti-Axis demonstrations followed in Belgrade and military officers (predominantly Serbs) executed a coup d’état on 27 March 1941, forced the Regent to resign, and declared 17-year-old King Peter II to be of age. On 6 April 1941, the Axis powers launched the invasion of Yugoslavia and quickly conquered it. On 10 April 1941, Independent State of Croatia was declared and Judeo-Serbian tyranny ceased to exist.
Ideologija ustaškog pokreta i socijalno pitanje (Ideology of the Ustaša movement and the social question) by Leo Marić
Studies by Nevenko Bartulin (The Racial Idea in the Independent State of Croatia, Honorary Aryans)
Radicalization at the University of Zagreb during the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 by Vjeran Pavlakovic
Europäische Hefte vereinigt mit Aufruf, Revue für Politik und Kultur (for cooperation between Croatian nationalists and German Nationalsocialists)
Bogdan, Ivo (ur.), Dr. Ante Pavelić riešio je hrvatsko pitanje (dr. Ante Pavelić solved the Croatian question), Europa, Zagreb 1942.
Guberina, Ivo, Komunizam i Hrvatstvo (Communism and Croatia), Tiskara “Jadran”, Šibenik, 1937.
Bauer, Ernest, Današnja Njemačka (Today’s Germany), Matica Hrvatska, Zagreb 1937.
Zdravko Dizdar, Tko je tko u NDH (Who is who in Independent State of Croatia)
Newspapers: Mlada Hrvatska, Ustaša, Hrvatski Narod