Pavelic, Ante (1889–1959)

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PAVELIĆ, ANTE (1889–1959)


Croatian politician and dictator.

The Croatian politician Ante Pavelić was born on 14 July 1889 in Bradina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and died in 1959 in Madrid, Spain. Pavelić was the son of a railroad foreman of Croatian extraction who worked in Bosnia. In 1910, as a student in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, Pavelić joined the Croat Party of Rights, which invoked the model of Ante Starčević (1823–1896), "Father of the Croat Fatherland," in calling for a Croatian state and struggling against both Austrian domination and the Yugoslav project. He was briefly detained by the Austrians in 1912.

Yugoslavia was created in 1918. As a lawyer in Zagreb, Pavelić actively opposed the new state, which was dominated by Serbs. Stjepan Radić's (1871–1928) Croat Peasant Party, supported by the vast majority of Croat voters, defended the same cause but was committed to peaceful methods and ready to make compromises. Pavelić adopted a far more radical posture. In 1927 he became a member of the Yugoslavian parliament representing Zagreb. At this time he established contacts with Fascist Italy and, as a lawyer, defended terrorists of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, who had mounted violent attacks against Serbian rule in Macedonia.

After the assassination of Radić and two other Croatian deputies on the floor of the Yugoslavian parliament in Belgrade and the institution on 6 January 1919 of "royal dictatorship" under Alexander Karadjordjević (r. 1921–1929 abandoned legal political activity and took refuge abroad, first in Austria and then in Italy, where he settled. He received support from the Italian and Hungarian governments. He declared that he intended to fight against the Yugoslavian regime "by all possible means" and publicly espoused fascism. He created the Ustaše ("insurgent") movement, and 1929–1934), Pavelic committed to clandestine terrorist struggle. Ustaše militants, who numbered no more a few hundred, received military training in camps in Italy and Hungary. In 1934 the Ustaše movement, on Pavelić's orders, organized the assassination in Marseille of King Alexander; the act was carried out by a Macedonian terrorist supported by a group of Croatians. Pavelić was condemned to death in absentia by a French court, but Mussolini refused to extradite him, merely imprisoning him for two years and placing constraints on Ustaše activity.

When the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941 they would have preferred to entrust power in Croatia to the very popular Vladko Macek (1879–1964), head of the Croatian Peasant Party, but he declined. As early as 10 April 1941, the very day that the German forces entered Zagreb, the Ustaše leader Slavko Kvaternik (1878–1947) announced the creation of an Independent State of Croatia (NDH), to be led by a poglavnik or führer, namely Pavelić, who returned immediately from exile with his small group of expatriates.

The new state was independent in name only. It was subordinate from the outset to the German—and until 1943 the Italian—occupiers. Pavelić was thus obliged to cede parts of Dalmatia to Italy and he submitted completely to the wishes of Germany, sending Croatian troops to fight on the Russian front.

His domestic policies were a textbook application of fascist principles. Unbridled power was exercised by a single leader, Pavelić himself, and his orders were executed by a single party, the Ustaše movement, whose membership nevertheless remained quite small. The state was supposed to belong to the Croat nation, which, according to the official doctrine, was confined to Catholics and Muslims. All other groups—Orthodox Serbs, Jews, Gypsies—were massacred on a vast scale from the very first days of the new regime. The Serbs, who represented 30 percent of the population, had no choice but to rebel by joining one of the two movements of armed resistance: either the Četniks (Serbian nationalists) or the Partisans (communists).

The Croatian population overall at first welcomed the creation of an independent state as a liberation. But before long total subjection to the Germans—the arbitrariness of the regime, with its racist policies, arrests, and massacres—combined to create an ever-more-powerful opposition. More and more Croats joined the partisans, who eventually came to control a large portion of Croatia.

In 1944, anticipating the German defeat, two Croatian ministers, Mladen Lorković and Anté, wanted to approach the Western Allies and propose that Croatia change sides. When they brought this idea up with Pavelić, however, he had them arrested and later executed.

In May 1945, with the partisans at the gates of Zagreb, Pavelić organized the evacuation of thousands of Croatians, both soldiers and civilians, to Austria, where they could surrender to the British. In the event, the British handed them over to the partisans, who killed a great number of them. Pavelić himself separated from the group and managed to hide in Austria.

With the assistance of underground networks of Catholic priests, he later reached Italy and then Argentina. There he sought to organize the Croatian émigrés on a political basis. He even negotiated in 1954 with a former Yugoslavian prime minister, the Serb Milan Stojadinovic Vokić (1888–1961), about how to set up a united exile front against Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980) that would bring together Serbs and Croats, though no agreement could be reached.

In 1957, in Buenos Aires, Pavelić was wounded in an assassination attempt. He left Argentina for Chile, and later moved to Spain, where he died as a result of his wounds in 1959.

See alsoBosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Tito (Josip Broz); World War I; World War II; Yugoslavia.


Hory, Ladislaus, and Martin Broszat. Der kroatische Ustascha-Staat 1941–45. Stuttgart, 1964. Emphasizes foreign policies and the persecution of minorities.

Tanner, Marcus. Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. New Haven, Conn., and London, 1997. Includes an excellent chapter on the Ustaše regime.

Tomasevich, Jozo. War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945: Occupation and Collaboration. Stanford, Calif., 2001. The most thoroughgoing and up-to-date study of Croatia in World War II.

Paul Garde