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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter III. “National projects” and their regional framework

The memorandum to Sir Edward Grey, 7 January, 1915

Frano Supilo
Traduction de Henry Wickham Steed

Texte intégral

1Title: The memorandum to Sir Edward Grey, 7 January, 1915

2Originally published: Originally written in 1915 in Italian and translated into English by Henry Wickham Steed before being delivered to Edward Grey

3Language: English
The excerpt used is from Dragovan Šepić, ed., Pisma i memorandumi Frana Supila (Belgrade: SANU, 1967), letter no. 18, pp. 40–44.

About the author

4Frano Supilo [1870, Cavtat, near Dubrovnik – 1917, London]: journalist and politician. Born into a poor craftsman family, he started his political career in the ethnic Croatian party Stranka Prava (Party of Rights), acting as the editor of the local party newspaper Crvena Hrvatska (Red Croatia) (1890–1899). After he took over the editing of the main party journal Novi list (The new newspaper) in 1900, he joined the pro-Yugoslav fraction of the party and aimed to harmonize Croatian and Serbian politics in Croatia through the resolutions of Fiume and Zara that he drafted: Riječka (1903) and Zadarska rezolucija (1905). Together with Ante Trumbić, he established the movement of the ‘Politics of the New Course’ and founded the Hrvatsko-Srpska koalicija (Croato-Serb coalition) in 1906. After the legal persecution of Serb politicians in the Monarchy following the ‘Annexation Crisis’ of 1908 and 1909 (the so called ‘High-treason and Friedjung Processes’), he withdrew from the Coalition, unsatisfied with its compromising attitude towards the regime. He acted as the editor of Novi list until the outbreak of the First World War. In 1914 he fled to Italy with other prominent advocates of Yugoslavism, forming the ‘Yugoslav Committee’ with the purpose of lobbying in the Entente countries for south Slavic unification. He spent the war years moving between London, Paris, Rome and Petro-grad, fervently advocating the Yugoslav project. Discontented with its conciliatory stance towards the Serbian government, he left the Committee in 1916, continuing his individual political action. Exhausted psychically and mentally, he died in a sanatorium in London in 1917. Supilo’s political work started to be canonized in socialist Yugoslavia, especially during times of debate in the late 1960s and early 1970s about the reconstitution of Yugoslavia. He was unreservedly canonized in the 1990s, when his political thought was reinterpreted to be exclusively Croatian, having a Yugoslav framework only due to historical circumstances.

5Main works: Le procés de Friedjung-Reichspost et de la Coalition Croato-Serbe, Lettre de Frano Supilo (1910); Otvoreno pismo svojim izbomicima [Open letter to my voters] (1910); Politika u Hrvatskoj [Politics in Croatia] (1911).


6The emergence of German expansionist policies at the turn of the century, coupled by Hungarian political and economic expansion, led to a new shift in Croatian politics which had been dominated by the anti-dualist and the anti-Yugoslav project of Croatian political autonomy advocated by the Stranka Prava. A major faction of the party turned towards the centralist, pro-German politics of archduke Franz Ferdinand, while a minority endorsed the politics of Serbo-Croatian cooperation as the only way to achieve political emancipation. The latter group gathered Croat and Serbian political parties in Croatia under the banner of the HSK (Croat-Serb Coalition) in 1906. Inspired by the anti-dualist politics of the ‘Independence Party’ in Hungary (the so called ‘crisis of dualism’), and by the accession of the pro-Yugoslav Karađorđević dynasty to the Serbian throne following the downfall of the pro-Austrian Obrenovićs (1903), the two most prominent HSK members, Ante Trumbić and Frano Supilo, launched the ‘Politics of the New Course.’ This movement refuted the Austro-Slavist project advocated by Stjepan Radić, envisioning, instead, an alliance against Germany, which would bring together Croats, Hungarian anti-dualists, Dalmatian Italians and Serbia. It was also based on the Narodno jedinstvo principle of the ethnic sameness of Croats and Serbs, which would additionally support the emergence of an independent South Slavic state as the ultimate goal. However, the ‘Politics of a New Course’ soon collapsed due to the failure of Hungarian anti-dualist politics and the Italian unwillingness to participate in it. Moreover, the HSK started to cooperate with the Hungarian pro-dualist government in the 1910s after adopting the idea of Serbia’s primacy in the process of south Slavic unification. This was an idea propagated by the Croatian Serbs in opposition to Supilo’s notion of equal roles for the Croats and Serbs. Finally, Supilo’s politics met similar obstacles during the First World War, when, in an effort to convince the Entente to support the project of South Slavic unification, he formed the ‘Yugoslav Committee’ in Italy with other prominent Croatian advocates of Yugoslavism. However, Russia intended to enhance its influence in the Balkans through Serbia’s territorial expansion, while France and England pushed for the preservation of Austria-Hungary and for the partition of Croatian territories between Italy and Serbia as stipulated by the Treaty of London in 1915. Moreover, Supilo’s insistence on Croatian statehood again brought him into conflict with Serbian politics, especially after the Treaty of London made it obvious that the primary goal of Serbia in the war was territorial expansion. The establishment of Yugoslavia in this context seemed only a remote prospect. Disappointed by the mild opposition of the ‘Yugoslav Committee’ to Serbia, Supilo left the organization in 1916, and shortly before his death started to advocate the independence of Croatia as the last resort to preserve Croatian statehood.

7The ‘Memorandum to Sir Edward Grey’ from January 1915 represents Supilo’s most elaborate appeal for the establishment of a South Slavic state within a broader south-central European alliance against German expansionism. This approach reversed the Croatian historical antemurale christianitatis discourse towards a notion of the defense of the East against German expansionism. In this memorandum, Supilo mostly focuses on Italian-Croat relations and the question of the preservation of Austria-Hungary, labeled as the two greatest obstacles for the establishment of an independent South Slavic state. He addresses these questions to Gray, as England was the most fervent advocate of the preservation of Austria-Hungary, supporting, at the same time, Italian claims on Dalmatia and Istria as the price for Italy’s joining the Entente. Italy maintained its claims on these provinces by employing the discourse of historical and cultural influence. Supilo opposes these claims by emphasizing the strategic importance of South Slavic territorial integrity for the efficiency of the envisioned south Slavic-Italian alliance against Germany. He also rejects specific Italian visions regarding a prospective cooperation. Here, Supilo was inspired by the nineteenth century Croatian project of an Italian-Croatian alliance against Viennese absolutism, rooted in Giuseppe Mazzini’s ideas with respect to the Slavs. These ideas had spurred Croatian enthusiasm for the Risorgimento as a model for South Slavic unification. Informed by the tradition of the Risorgimento, Supilo proposes the ethnic principle as a road map, thus justifying Croatian claims to the Slav dominated eastern Adriatic coast. Moreover, Supilo emphasizes in his later writings the importance of Italian support for Croatian territorial unity, perceived as a crucial element in Serbo-Croatian disputes over the constitution of a future South Slavic state. In the memorandum presented here, Supilo appeals to the British for help in resolving these disputes, due to the general belief among Croatian Yugoslavists that the multinational Great Britain had a much better understanding of south Slavic cultural differences than centralist France or despotic Russia. Since Serbia had declared in 1914 that the unification of the south Slavs was its ultimate aim, Supilo only alludes to Serbo-Croatian disputes, elaborating on them in subsequent memoranda to Grey following the implementation of the Treaty of London, from September 1915 to January 1917. In these memoranda, Supilo argues for a gradual process leading to unification, where initially Croatian and Serb political statehood would be preserved to prevent political disputes between the two ethnicities. He claims that Serbian domination would lead to the political subjugation of Croatia, a kind of domination not very different from that imposed by Austria-Hungary. Therefore, he maintains that he would consent to the incorporation of Croatia into Serbia only if Serbia “abandoned its Orthodox exclu-sivism and refashioned itself into a real Piedmont of the South Slavs.” Elsewhere, Supilo advocates the establishment of an independent ‘rump’ Croatia, which would stay outside the territories partitioned between Italy and Serbia as stipulated by the Treaty of London. Slovenia would also be incorporated into such a state, since, due to his adherence to the ideology of Stranka Prava, Supilo considers Slovenians to be part of the Croatian political nation. In the memorandum presented here, Supilo tries to reinforce his notion of an independent South Slavic state by rejecting even a federalized Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, as he deems such an entity to be only subservient to German imperialism. As it turned out, Supilo also hoped that the dismantling of Austria-Hungary under the Treaty of London would be reassessed, thus allowing for the implementation of the principle of nationalities, which would enable the incorporation of the ethnic Croatian, Serbian and Slovenian territories into one state. However, Supilo’s plans failed after the war, as Italy secured its territorial expansion in Istria and parts of Dalmatia in 1921. This was followed by the establishment of Yugoslavia as a unitary state, which was subsequently drawn by France, together with Czechoslovakia and Romania, into the Little Entente, formed as a safeguard against possible Austrian and Hungarian attempts to revise the interwar Versailles system.

8During the interwar period, Supilo’s Yugoslav idea was incorporated into the official canon of integral Yugoslavism as a marginal element. His ideas were revived in socialist Yugoslavia, when Miroslav Krleža interpreted the latter’s political activity during the war as the “only morally astute voice against the Realpolitik,” as well as the symbol of the self-confidence of a small nation. Later, Supilo’s memoranda to Sir Edward Grey were appropriated by the ‘Croatian Spring’ reformist movement in the 1960s and 1970s as a historical reference to justify their claim for a more autonomous Croatia within Yugoslavia. In the 1990s, the memoranda were reinterpreted by proponents of a new ‘nation-building’ historiography which claimed that the Croats compromised their independence as an outcome of the historical circumstances privileging a unitary Yugoslav state.


The memorandum to Sir Edward Grey, 7 January, 1915

10[...] A glance at the map shows that these Southern Slavs stand as the chief natural obstacle across the path of the Germanic “Drang nach Osten,” the great political concept that links Hamburg and Berlin with Vienna and Budapest, crosses the Balkans and Asia Minor and extends thence towards Baghdad, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. It is on this ground that, for so many years and decades the Southern Slavs have been exposed to the attacks of an unscrupulous Germanic policy which has left no means untried to divide, stupefy and morally poison them, in order to open for itself a road through them, or over them if need be, by annihilation.

11The successive waves of the German attack supported by the strength of the Magyars constantly, during the second half of 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, against the Southern Slav barrier. We Southern Slavs have held out as best we could, determined neither to be swept away nor to serve German purposes. Hard necessity and our very position as an anti-German breakwater should, however, render us an element of common utility to all those States and peoples that have had, have and may to withstand German aspirations. It is therefore in our own interest, and also in the interest of those states and peoples, that the natural Southern Slav barrier should be consolidated and fortified as to offer effective resistance to the Germanic invasion which, though beaten back today, will return tomorrow with redoubled intensity and methodical persistence.

12It is therefore a question of helping us to build on solid foundations our national unity and freedom, and to form the 12,700,000 Southern Slavs into an organized, well-coordinated and independent State.

13For us Southern Slavs this question is one of honour, of national consciousness, of very existence. For other States and peoples that have to combat Teutonic pretensions it is a question of moral, political and economic importance.

14On this point I need scarcely insist. But, in addressing Your Excellency as the representative of the foreign policy of Great Britain, I would venture to draw Your Excellency’s attention to some questions of detail that, according to the way in which they are handled, may greatly facilitate, or impede, the future work in the South-East of Europe.

15First among these questions is that of the relationship, between the Southern Slavs and Italy.

16In regard to the Southern Slavs Italy cherishes aspirations of which some are well—and others ill-founded. Her well-founded aspirations are those which are in accordance with the racial feelings of the majority of the population in certain regions; the others may properly be termed ill-founded when they exceed the limits of the majority and are used as a basis for Italian national claims in regard to those Southern Slavs who have long employed and still employ the Italian language of education and culture. Italy would lose nothing of her own were she to restrict her national program in this direction to the acquisition of the elements really of her own race. She would, on the contrary, gain, inasmuch as we Southern Slavs, especially on the Adriatic coast, are predisposed towards the Italian spirit and inclined to open all our gates to the Italian language—as an element of Italian civilization and culture and as our natural ally against the pernicious influence of the so-called German “Kultur.

17On the other hand, the very necessity of things and the exigencies of our respective geographical positions, ought to lead Italy to form with the Southern Slavs of the Adriatic, not merely a platonic friendship but an alliance which would greatly strengthen both her and us in our joint defense against the German menace. Unluckily, few Italians perceive and fewer still feel our common need. They regard us mostly as barbarians—unworthy to treat with them, although we have, shown, and when free and united will show stall better, that the best sons of our people are able duly to bear their part in the work of civilization. But there remain prejudices and antipathies against which the two parties in. question may, if unaided, contend in vain.

18In this difficult position the only influence that could be brought to bear with unquestioned authority and likelihood of success, is that of England. The work for urging the Southern Slavs and Italians along the road towards a broad understanding deserves British attention even when it is viewed exclusively in the light of British interests.

19The second issue of importance concerns the union or rather the fusion of the different Southern Slav elements.

20As has been observed, our adversaries have long striven with forces greatly superior to our own, to apply against us—the system “Divide et Im-pera” and to sow among our people hatred and division. They have achieved little; and, indeed, the reaction against their policy has been strong and beneficent, particularly among our younger generations. Nevertheless there remain influences ready, when opportunity offers, to spin into strong threads of intrigue the strands of our diversity of creed and tradition.

21Yet our very diversities may be fruitful of good if they are rightly dealt with. Since nearly one-half of the Southern Slavs are Western and the other half Eastern in civilization, they might prove a new and useful factor in the relationship between East and West, between Roman Catholicism and Greek Oriental Orthodoxy. It is in this work of fusing minds and civilizations that England could lend us moral and political aid, supplying impulse or restraint as need might anise. Such British influence upon our people is greatly to be desired. It might prevent much evil and do great good; it would be gratefully welcomed by the overwhelming majority of our cultivated men. This is a matter of vital importance for the future of our nation. Would that I could find words to rivet upon it Your Excellency’s attention.

22The fusion of the different elements of our national spirit would, however, be much impeded, were districts and provinces to be sacrificed—and condemned to definitive denationalization—in which the great majority of the population is unquestionably Slav. Our adversaries would immediately make capital out of such a sacrifice and use it to weaken the position of Serbia in regard to the Catholic Croats and Slovenes, and the position of the latter in regard to Serbia. Austria-Hungary, it is true, holds us in bondage; but, composed, as is the Habsburg Monarchy, of peoples of so many tongues and races, it has not hitherto been able to efface our ethnic individuality. We have been in bondage but have remained alive. Were a part of our own race to be cut away and handed over to a State racially unified, it would not only be condemned to death, but the dying fragment would serve our enemies as a potent means of impeding the moral unification of the remainder.

23But, in order to promote complete union, it is above all necessary that the Allied Great Powers and Serbia should make every effort to vindicate the principle in the eyes of even the lowest and least educated strata of our rural population that this war is not a war of conquest but of redemption and liberation...

  • 1 . Leopold von Berchtold (1863–1942): Austro–Hungarian foreign minister in the years 1912–1915.
  • 2 . István Tisza (1861–1918): prime minister of Hungary between 1913–1917.
  • 3 . Karl von Stürgkh (1859–1916): prime-minister of Austria between 1911–1916.

24The third question for consideration consists of the “national (i.e. racial) autonomy” promised and to be promised to the Slavs of the Monarchy by the Austro-Hungarian authorities in agreement with Germany; as also the suggestions of peace already thrown out here and there. In regard to these promises of “national autonomy” I have irrefutable proofs. They were made during the recent conferences between Counts Berchtold,1 Tisza2 and Sturghk3 and sundry Slav politicians who remain in Austria-Hungary. Their object, as of the suggestions of peace, is to secure Austro-German-Magyar rule in future as in the past over the 35,000,000 Slavs; 28,000,000 Catholic and 7,000,000 Orthodox, who have hitherto inhabited Austro-German lands.

25The German race, even though vanquished, will not be destroyed; no civilized man can wish that it should be.

26But the German race, though vanquished, will ever weigh like a nightmare upon Europe and will not be cured of its pretensions, unless it is reduced to its true terms and limits by having wrested from its grasp these 35,000,000 Slavs who, against their will, have lent weight and strength to the unbridled militarism of Germany. The palliative of Slav “autonomies” under the German yoke, suggested by Austria-Hungary in agreement with Germany, cannot remedy the evil but can only prolong it and render it finally incurable. The Germans with patient and diligent tenacity will quickly recover from their defeats now suffered, and will assuredly be careful not again to be guilty of the lack of diplomatic foresight which left them isolated in the civilized world and abandoned even by those upon whom they might have reckoned.

27For all these reasons the complete liberation of the Slavs in Austria-Hungary and Germany becomes indispensable to the peace of non-militarist Europe; and, above all, the liberation and the union of the Southern Slavs, and the creation of an understanding between them and Italy. This union and this understanding would mean the definitive closing of the gate of the East to the great dream of the world-conquest cherished by German Imperialism.

28Herein lies the great and reciprocal interest of us Southern Slavs and of England who, by ensuring the redemption of our people, would assure our and her own weal.

29Translated by Henry Wickham Steed in Dragovan Šepić, ed., Pisma i memorandumi Frana Supila, (Belgrade: SANU, 1967), letter no. 18, pp. 40–44.


1 . Leopold von Berchtold (1863–1942): Austro–Hungarian foreign minister in the years 1912–1915.

2 . István Tisza (1861–1918): prime minister of Hungary between 1913–1917.

3 . Karl von Stürgkh (1859–1916): prime-minister of Austria between 1911–1916.


Henry Wickham Steed (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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