Friday, October 09, 2009

75 Years Ago: The Regicide of King Aleksander I of Serbia & Yugoslavia

H.M. Aleksander I of Yugoslavia and The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes

On October 9th 1934 King Aleksander of Yugoslavia (also the last King of Serbia) arrived in Marseilles France to complete diplomatic negotiations on a treaty aimed at isolating Nazi Germany. The King was an ardent anti-Nazi who saw Hitler as a danger to the peace of Europe. En-route to the rail station in an open touring car Alexander was poorly protected by only an escort of mounted police. Riding with him and enjoying the enthusiastic public reception was French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou.

Suddenly and with no warning Vlado Chernozemski, a Bulgarian nationalist, leaped from the crowd onto the side board of the limousine and opened fire with an automatic pistol. King Aleksander was killed almost instantly along with the unlucky chauffeur. In the chaos of the moment Minister Barthou was tragically and fatally wounded by a policeman aiming for the gunman. The assassin was immediately cut down by a saber wielding mounted police officer. However before police could remove him from the scene he was seized by the hysterical crowds and beaten to death. The entire event was captured on newsreel footage.

In a sad coincidence King Aleksander rarely made public appearances on Tuesdays as several members of his family had died on that day and he was quite superstitious. However official duty could not be avoided in this case.

The consequences of this infamous but largely forgotten crime were significant. Aleksander was one of very few European statesmen in the early 30's who clearly saw Hitler for what he was. His death derailed the planned strengthening of the so called Little Entente treaty (of which the King was a major architect) that was aimed at providing a unified front against German aggression or expansionism a full two years before the Nazis reoccupied the Rhineland.

His son succeeded as King Petar II. However given his age (11) the new King was unable to rule and his cousin Prince Paul was appointed as regent. Prince Paul quickly abandoned the anti-Nazi policies of the late sovereign and against the wishes of the royal court and the new King began adopting a progressively more friendly foreign policy towards Nazi Germany. This culminated in the signing of the Tripartite Pact on March 25 1941 in Nazi occupied Vienna. This was the last straw for King Peter and his supporters who with massive public support overthrew the unpopular regent. But the damage was long since done.

King Aleksander was an imperfect ruler and no one has suggested he be glorified as a saint. His reign was largely authoritarian in style and some of the ethnic groups in his kingdom felt the heel of his boot firmly planted on their necks. This was certainly a contributing factor in his murder (despite persistent rumors that it was actually a Nazi conspiracy).

But he was also quite clear in his grasp of international and domestic politics. He perceived the menace of Nazi Germany long before almost anyone else on the continent and was working diligently to put Hitler in a box right up to the day of his death. His assassination radically altered the balance of power in central Europe and removed one of the linchpins from the carefully crafted alliances designed to isolate Germany. France would later abandon its ally Czechoslovakia in 1938 and again in early 1939 citing as a partial excuse for their dishonorable conduct the lack of any other credible ally in the region.

The tomb of H.M. King Aleksander I

Note: This post was slightly modified to more closely reflect the Serbian spelling of the King's name.


Anonymous said...

You and I are probably as theologically different as it is possible for two Christians who affirm the Nicene Creed to be- not least because I affirm the filloque.

However, I thank you for bringing this forgotten statesman to my attention. I enjoy learning more historical information.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think you are right about our divergent views on theology. But thanks for stopping by and the kind note.

Yours in ICXC