Dušan T. Bataković

Institute for Balkan Studies

Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts


Storm over Serbia

The Rivalry between Civilian and Military Authorities (1911–1914)

Abstract: As a new force on the political scene of Serbia after the 1903 Coup which brought the Karadjordjević dynasty back to the throne and restored democratic order, the Serbian army, led by a group of conspiring officers, perceived itself as the main guardian of the country’s sovereignty and the principal executor of the sacred mission of national unification of the Serbs, a goal which had been abandoned after the 1878 Berlin Treaty. During the “Golden Age” decade (1903–1914) in the reign of King Peter I, Serbia emerged as a point of strong attraction to the Serbs and other South Slavs in the neighbouring empires and as their potential protector. In 1912–13, Serbia demonstrated her strength by liberating the Serbs in the “unredeemed provinces” of the Ottoman Empire. The main threat to Serbia’s very existence was multinational Austria-Hungary, which thwarted Belgrade’s aspirations at every turn. The Tariff War (1906–1911), the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1908), and the coercing of Serbia to cede her territorial gains in northern Albania (1912–1913) were but episodes of this fixed policy. In 1991, the Serbian army officers, frustrated by what they considered as weak reaction from domestic political forces and the growing external challenges to Serbia’s independence, formed the secret patriotic organisation “Unification or Death” (Black Hand). Serbian victories in the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) enhanced the prestige of the military but also boosted political ambitions of Lt.-Colonel Dragutin T. Dimitrijević Apis and other founding members of the Black Hand anxious to bring about the change of government. However, the idea of a military putsch limited to Serbian Macedonia proposed in May 1914 was rejected by prominent members of the Black Hand, defunct since 1913. This was a clear indication that Apis and a few others could not find support for their meddling in politics. The government of Nikola P. Pašić, supported by the Regent, Crown Prince Alexander, called for new elections to verify its victory against those military factions that acted as an “irresponsible factor” with “praetorian ambitions” in Serbian politics. This trial of strength brings new and valuable insights into the controversial relationship between the Young Bosnians and the Black Hand prior to the Sarajevo assassination in June 1914.

Keywords: Serbia, internal strife, King Peter I Karadjordjević, army, Austria-Hungary, Black Hand, Balkan Wars, Nikola P. Pašić, Dragutin T. Dimitrijević Apis, Bosnia