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Alexander of Yugoslavia

Alexander of Yugoslavia

Alexander (1888-1934) was king of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes from 1921 to 1929 and, after changing the name of his country in 1929, king of Yugoslavia until 1934.

Alexander Karageorgevich was born on Dec. 16 (N.S.; Dec. 4, O.S.), 1888, at Cetinje, Montenegro, the second son of Peter l, King of Serbia, and Princess Zorka of Montenegro. Alexander shared his father's exile in Geneva, Switzerland, until 1899, when he was sent to the imperial Russian court in St. Petersburg to be educated. He returned to Serbia in 1909, succeeding his brother George as heir to the throne held by Peter I since 1903.

Having led the first Serbian army to victory over the Turks at Kumanovo on Oct. 24, 1912, in the First Balkan War, Alexander was also in command during the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria in 1913. Advanced age and declining health led Peter I to appoint Alexander regent of Serbia on June 24, 1914. As commander in chief of the Serbian armed forces, Alexander shared the privations of the Serbian retreat across Albania before the advancing Austro-German armies in 1915. He led his victorious forces into Belgrade on Oct. 31, 1918. On December 1 the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was proclaimed with Alexander as prince regent.

The kingdom's adoption of the centralist "Vidovdan" constitution on June 28, 1921, angered the Croats, who favored a federal state organization guaranteeing autonomy to the historical regions. At the death of Peter I on August 16, Alexander became king. On June 8, 1922, he married Marie (1900-1961), a daughter of King Ferdinand of Romania. They had three sons: Peter (born Sept. 6, 1923), Tomislav (1928), and Andrea (1929).

The murder of the Croatian leader Stefan Radić and a follower in the Skupština (Diet) on June 20, 1928, by a Montenegrin Serb deputy resulted in the withdrawal of the Croatian deputies from the Skupština. Convinced of the failure of the parliamentary system, Alexander abrogated the Vidovdan constitution on Jan. 6, 1929, changed the country's name to Yugoslavia on October 3, and began a period of authoritarian, personal rule. On Sept. 3, 1931, he proclaimed a new constitution, allowing only a "government's" party to exist, which was to receive two-thirds of the Skupština seats upon gaining a plurality in the national elections. This constitution increased Croatian disaffection.

In foreign affairs Alexander, a consistent friend of France, supported the French-backed Little Entente, which opposed Hungarian and Bulgarian revisionism, and hoped for French support against Italy. On a state visit to France, King Alexander and French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou were assassinated at Marseilles on Oct. 9, 1934, by a Macedonian terrorist subsidized by the Croatian fascist organization called Ustaše, which was in the service of Italy and Hungary. The young Peter II succeeded his father under a regency headed by Alexander's first cousin, Prince Paul.

Alexander's death deprived Yugoslavia of strong leadership at a time when, because of internal disorder and the hostility of Germany and Italy, it was most needed. As a founder of the great South Slav state, Alexander was opposed by those favoring the weakening or dismemberment of Yugoslavia, as well as those who resented his authoritarian rule.

Further Reading

Few works have been written dealing primarily with the career of King Alexander. Stephen Graham, Alexander of Yugoslavia: The Story of the King Who Was Murdered at Marseilles (1938), provides a sympathetic picture of the King. The relevant sections of Robert J. Kerner, ed., Yugoslavia (1949), are useful. See also Alan Roberts, The Turning Point: The Assassination of Louis Barthou and King Alexander I of Yugoslavia (1970). A contemporary account of Alexander's Yugoslavia is Charles A. Beard and George Radin, The Balkan Pivot: Yugoslavia, a Study in Government and Administration (1929). For the political background of the Balkans during Alexander's reign see Hugh Seton-Watson, Eastern Europe between the Wars: 1918-1941 (1945; 3d ed. 1962). □

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