Dušan T. Bataković
NIKOLA PAŠIĆ, THE RADICALS AND THE “BLACK HAND” CHALLENGES TO PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY IN SERBIA 1903–1917
Given that the issue of the functioning of parliamentary democracy in Serbia 1903–1914 has not been thoroughly explored, an attempt is made to define the capacities of Serbia’s parliamentary system confronted with military interferences in political processes. The paper looks at the conflict between the democratic forces, led by the Prime Minister Nikola Pašić and his Radicals, and a group of conspirators within the army, which in 1911 formed a clandestine society “Unification or Death” (Black Hand), led by D. Dimitrijević Apis. Political influence of the army significantly increased with the dynastic change effected in 1903. In a predominantly rural society (almost 90 percent of the population) the army took up the function of the middle class and its mission to expedite the process of national liberation. Due to unconstitutional and non-parliamentary actions of military circles, the period may be described as one of fragile but functional democracy. Seeking to suppress the army’s praetorian aspirations, Pašić and the Radicals took various measures to force it into its constitutional role. Sharpened during the First World War, the conflict led in 1917 to a show trial known as the Salonica Trial. The leaders of the Black Hand were sentenced to death and executed. Similar trials stood by military conspiracies in other European countries during the Great War show that democracy is always threatened in times of extreme crisis such as war. In that sense, Pašić may have deemed the extreme measures against the Black Hand necessary for the preservation of the democratic system established in 1903.