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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter II. Self-determination, democratization, and the homogenizing state

Speech at the night assembly of the national council on 24 November, 1918

Stjepan Radić
Traduction de Iva Polak

Texte intégral

1Title: Govor na noćnoj sjednici Narodnog vijeća dana 24. studenoga 1918 (Speech at the night assembly of the national council on 24 November, 1918).

2Originally published: Dom, on 25 and 31 March, 1920

3Language: Croatian
The excerpts used are from Stjepan Radić, Politički spisi; autobiografije, članci, govori, rasprave, ed. by Zvonimir Kolundžić, (Zagreb: Znanje, 1971), pp. 323–327, 332–335.

About the author

4Stjepan Radić [1871, Trebarjevo Desno (central Croatia) – 1928, Zagreb]: politician and political theorist. Between 1895 and 1896, he studied at the Prague University, where he endorsed Tomáš Masaryk’s political and social thought. Due to his anti-dualist activities, though, he was forced to abandon his studies in Austria-Hungary. In 1899, he graduated from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris. In 1904, together with his brother Antun, he founded the Hrvatska pucka seljačka stranka (Croatian People’s Peasant Party), acting as its representative at the Croatian Parliament between 1904 and 1918. He became famous for his fervent support of agrarian-ism as the solution to both the social and the national questions, themes that he elaborated in his theoretical writings. In 1918, he was singled out as the most prominent critic of the monarchy in the newly founded ‘Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes’ and the foundation of a new centralist South Slavic state. He was imprisoned for these beliefs between 1919 and 1920. At the same time, the Hrvatska pučka seljačka stranka (HPSS) grew to be the strongest Croatian interwar political force. In 1923, he traveled to Paris, London and Moscow, advocating the federal reconstitu-tion of Yugoslavia, and he even played a major role in the integration of his party into the Peasant International, for which he was again imprisoned during 1924 and 1925. In 1925, Radić finally recognized the regime, and participated in the government as the minister of education between 1925 and 1927. In 1927, together with representatives of the Croatian Serbs, he formed an anti-regime coalition called Sel-jacko-demokratska koalicija (Peasant-democratic coalition). This political act was probably the reason for the assassination attempt against Radić and other Coalition deputies in the National Assembly in Belgrade in July 1928. Radić died two months later in Zagreb as a result of the injuries he suffered during the attack. In socialist Yugoslavia, Radić’s agrarian political thought was interpreted as closely related to the socialist one. However, his canonization was only completed in the 1990s, when he was considered to have achieved Croatian national integration, and was thus labeled as the most important Croatian politician of the twentieth century.

5Main works: Slovanská politika v Habsbugrské monarchii [Slavic politics under the Habsburg monarchy] (1902); Moderna kolonizacija i Slaveni [Modern colonization and the Slavs] (1904); Češki narodna početku XX. stoljeća [Czech nation at the beginning of the twentieth century (1910); Uzničke uspomene, 3 vols. [Memories from prison] (1929).


6As the World War came to an end in the autumn of 1918, almost all South Slavic parties, influenced by Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’ and the Entente decision to dismantle Austria-Hungary, started to push openly for a policy of south Slavic unification outside the Monarchy. As the Empire entered the process of final disintegration, South Slavic activists coordinated with the pro-Yugoslav Serb and Croat political emigres (the ‘Yugoslav Committee’), and founded the ‘National Council of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes,’ which, in late October, proclaimed the independent Država Slovenaca, Hrvata i Srba (State of the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, also known as the SHS). Although it was envisioned as a transitional step towards unification with Serbia on the basis of equality, the state was fiercely contested by the ‘Croat-Serb Coalition’ (HSK), which represented the main political force in Croatia. The Coalition had previously opposed any kind of transitional unification, advocating instead unconditional unification with Serbia (see Frano Supilo, The Memorandum to Sir Edward Grey).

7However, the new state was not recognized by the Entente. The threat of an Italian occupation of Istria and Dalmatia according to the stipulations of the Treaty of London, peasant rebellions, the activities of the Zeleni kadar (Green cadre), along with the presence of Austro-Hungarian army deserters influenced by Bolshevism, were factors that pushed the ‘State of the SHS’ towards a centralist unification with Serbia in the Kraljevina Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca (Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) on 1 December 1918.

8Until early 1918, Stjepan Radic adhered to the Austro-Slavist project, strongly opposing the south Slav unification advocated by the majority of Croatian and Croatian Serb parties in the HSK. Envisioning Croatian political emancipation through an alliance with the Western Slavs, Radić developed his program with regard to both national and social agendas. Considering the national question, Radić refused the doctrine of the Croatian historical state right, while adopting Tomáš G. Masaryk’s natural right doctrine. Hence, he recognized Croatian Serbs as a distinct political entity. However, for him, as for Frano Supilo, the latter had the duty to contribute to Croatian political emancipation. This was envisioned primarily as the emancipation of the peasantry, which constituted the majority of the population. This became known as the doctrine of agrarianism, which emphasized the model of ‘peasant democracy’ as a mixture of political democratization and economic corporatism, expressed in the historical Slav economic kinship units called zad-ruga, and involving the subsequent active social role of the state. Thus, Radić strongly opposed not only the unitary Yugoslavism of the HSK and the ‘realist’ pro-dualist politics, but also the ‘corrupted bourgeois’ politics entailing the abandonment of the peasantry. However, by early 1918, Radic was forced to adopt the idea of south Slavic federation due to the unfolding disintegration of the Monarchy. Simultaneously, under the influence of the Russian Revolution and Wilson’s doctrine of national self-determination, Radić began to emphasize the notion of republicanism as the key to national emancipation and the promotion of the rights of peasantry.

9The republican discourse of Croatian autonomy in Yugoslavia was most eloquently expressed by Radić in his famous speech at the National Council session on 24 November 1918. He delivered this speech in a chaotic atmosphere the day before the Council delegation rushed to Belgrade to accomplish the process of unification. Radić started by contesting the HSK’s unitary principle of Narodno jedinstvo (Croat–Serb national unity), which conflicted with his notion of Narodno jedinstvo as an alliance of already nationally emancipated South Slavic nations. Although Radić asserted the ethnic identity of the South Slavs, he advocated that their historical and cultural traditions made them “finished” nations, which would never mix in the new Yugoslav nation. However, he called for the “fraternal” cooperation between Croats and Serbs as the only means to both Croatian and Serbian national emancipation, that is to say, the emancipation of their peasantry. Hence, he refused the project of the unitary south Slav Monarchy, regarding both the Croatian and the Serbian political elites as an embodiment of the ‘old regime’ (representing “militarism, capitalism, bureaucratism and clericalism”), which would be imposed by the Belgrade government in the shape of Serbian hegemony within the new state. Opposing this notion, Radić launched his version of republicanism as an implementation of individual rights as well as national self-determination, with the final goal of land reform which would cede land to the peasantry. He especially praised revolutionary Russia, believing that it liberated the “Slavic republican spirit,” which he already defined in his Austro-Slavist project as an expression of human freedom (see Stjepan Radić, Slavic politics under the Habsburg Monarchy). Subsequently, he hoped that Russia would now inspire the same republican spirit in the smaller Slavic nations, thus delivering them freedom, as he expressed in his articles from the spring of 1918. It is also interesting that in the excerpt presented here, in order to harmonize his republican claims with the preservation of Croatian political autonomy, Radić reinterpreted the Croatian historical state right tradition from a republican viewpoint, thus transfiguring it, under Masaryk’s influence, from a claim based on feudal statehood to one based on national emancipation. As he merged the Croatian state right discourse with agrarianism, the former became inseparable from the claimed republicanism of Croatian peasantry as the fundamental expression of national self-determination. Thus, Radić denounced the attitude of the National Council that defined the tradition of Croatian statehood as a remnant of the past, and pushed for unconditional unification with Serbia. Equally, in the following years, Radić refused to recognize the act of unification, and continued advocating his republican program elaborated in the ‘Constitution of the Neutral Peasant Republic of Croatia’ of 1921. This ideological standpoint, which opposed Yugoslav interwar centralism and advocated Croatian national emancipation, made Radić the indisputable Croatian political leader of the interwar period.

10In socialist Yugoslavia, Radić’s National Council speech was praised as one of the most important texts opposing the ‘hegemonic’ foundation of interwar Yugoslavia, with a special emphasis on his republican observations. However, its full canonization took place only in the 1990s, when it was reinterpreted as an indisputable claim for Croatian independence despite Radić’s subsequent shift towards accepting the incorporation of Croatia into Yugoslavia, extorted, presumably, only by political contingency. As such, it was considered as representing the sole voice of reason within an atmosphere of political immaturity among the Croatian political elites, eventually drowning the idea of Croatian statehood within a multitude of anti-Croatian national projects (the Austrian and Yugoslav). Consequently, in Croatian historiography, the speech is extolled as the most significant political document of the twentieth century.


Speech at the night assembly of the National Council on 24 November, 1918


  • 1 Dragutin Hrvoj (1875–1941), politician and lawyer.

13We have already heard a significant number of speakers. Alas, all but representative Hrvoj1 have spoken as if this is not the hall of the Croatian National Parliament, as if this is not the same Croatian line of defense, and I daresay the shrine, from which bold and wise words have been uttered for centuries in order to defend righteousness and rights for a better future of the Croatian people and all Slavic peoples. Moreover, not only have the speakers forgotten to mention Croatia and the Croats, but it seems that they are competing to erase and destroy Croatia, to subdue us, the Croats, and then to trample us underfoot. But the major mistake and the unforgivable sin lies in the fact that all these speakers have learnt nothing from the war, as if they do not see the people, as if they have not heard about the people which is exactly why they talk in opposition to what our people want and need.


  • 2 The dynasty that ruled Serbia (1903–1918) and Yugoslavia (1918–1945).

15You all preach big words: national oneness—a single and uniform state, one kingdom under the dynasty of Karadordević.2 And you think that it is enough to say that we, the Croats, Serbs and Slovenes, are one people because we speak one language, which is why we must be in one centralized state, moreover, in one kingdom, and that only this type of oneness, this linguistic and political unity under the dynasty of Karadorđević can save us and make us happy.

16How shallow, how empty and how unjustifiable your words are!

17As regards the linguistic national oneness, we are actually all Slavs according to our language. Ask hundreds of our soldiers and our prisoners of war who have fought in Galicia, Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Dobrudja, Slovakia and Serbia. They will all tell you that in all of these countries one and the same Slavic nation lives—or better to say, suffers. However, you do not even want to hear about Slavism, let alone total Yugoslavism. You are all blown away by your amazing rebus, the Kingdom of the SHS, which means nothing to our hearts and minds, and then you are surprised to hear that the Italians call your rebus (a riddle of a kind) a comedy. Are there any other examples in history where the name of the people is written in an abbreviated form? You can abbreviate the name of a profession, service, party and organization, and even a state, but you cannot abbreviate the name of a people, as you cannot abbreviate the surname of an individual, let alone the name implying several peoples, and especially not in such a dishonest manner. The SHS used to signify the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs: now it stands for the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes! God knows what it will stand for in future!


19Your work in the National Council is neither democratic nor constitutional, neither righteous nor wise!

20You are no democrats because you do not care for all that this atrocious war has brought upon our people, especially upon our peasants.

21You completely neglect the fact that all our people, especially the Croatian peasants, have come to hate militarism from the bottom of their hearts to an extent which is hard to imagine or describe.

22You care so little for this people’s opinions and convictions that you say and write that people do not want to join the army due to cowardice and fear.

23You do not believe that our peasant was in a state of slumber before the war and that the said war has relentlessly shaken him, woken him up and made a man out of him.

24You do not see at all what courage and wisdom it takes for over a hundred thousand Croatian peasants to leave the front, one after another, not wishing to return there; some of them have joined the “green cadre,” others have used all available means, money and friends, and fraud, just to avoid risking their lives for the sake of defending the king and homeland whenever the foreign master commands it.

  • 3 United Kingdom, France and Russia. The term seized to be used when Italy joined the Entente.

25You, gentlemen, do not care at all that our peasant, and especially the Croatian peasant, does not want to hear anything about the king or emperor, or about a state that is being forced upon him. Our peasant has matured to the extent that he knows that the state and homeland is about righteousness and freedom, wealth and education. And today, when the gendarmerie beats the hell out of him and when you force him to side with you in order to defend us, as it were, from the Italians, our peasant claims or at least thinks that you are exactly what the Hungarian and German oppressors have been. And do you know why? Because each and every one of our men knows what the representative Hrvoj proved to you in a simple but indisputable manner when he said this morning: “Either the entire Triple Entente3 stands by Italy—in which case we cannot help ourselves on our own, or Italy is working on its own accord—in which case we will rise against it by virtue of our right. But in neither case shall a uniform state, the royal government in Belgrade or anybody else, be of any help to us.”

26You yourself, gentlemen, know that well; you know that neither Italy nor the Entente powers will act according to the wishes the government in Belgrade. You know very well that where there is no rule of the whole people, there can be no influence of one government and one person.

27Even though you are well aware of it, you knowingly and willingly lie when you say that our people will be destroyed or will suffer immensely unless we quickly form a centralist kingdom and one centralist royal government.

28Hence, you frighten our people like small children and think that you will win us over for the benefit of your own politics. Maybe it is the Slovenes you want, I cannot tell; maybe you will immediately win over the Serbs as well; but I do know that you will not win over the Croats to your cause because the whole Croatian peasant folk is against your centralism as it is against your militarism, and is for the republic as well as for a national agreement with the Serbs. Moreover, if you try to force your centralism upon us, this is what will happen. We, the Croats, will say openly, clearly and transparently: “Well, if the Serbs really want to have such a centralist state and government, may they receive God’s blessing; but we, the Croats, want no political entity but a federal republic.”

  • 4 The Central Committee of the National Council had the role of the Council’s provisional government
  • 5 Banovina here means the autonomous Croatian unit, governed by a ban.

29Gentlemen, I have elaborated on several occasions at the meetings of this Central Committee4 about the manner in which the war has made republicans out of our peasants, and that it is totally wrong to believe that I am, as it were, to “blame” for having, as it were, misled the peasants. I have honestly told you that I was very surprised when, at the first meeting of the Central Committee during the war, on 27 July 1918, I noticed that all peasants were decisively and enthusiastically pro–republic. And even before the meeting, when I was entering [the hall], they greeted me with cries, “Long live the first republican!” They obviously had in mind my recent parliamentary speech in which I had managed to prove that the system of the Croatian ban is totally republican and that the Croatian Banovina5 means the same as the Croatian republic, and the Croatian ban actually means a specific kind of president of the republic.

30However, you did not believe or cared for it as you do not believe or care for it now. And this is all because democracy is an empty word for you; because you do not even dream to pursue its meaning which implies that the people must be consulted first in any matter of grave importance, that all state affairs must be pursued according to the will and need of the people, in other words, that our country must be governed according to the will and needs of the peasant majority and not according to an autocracy of an insignificant aristocratic minority.


  • 6 Srbobran was the main turn-of-the-century political organ of Croatian Serbs. The article Radic men (...)

32I will finish with what you have mostly been talking and writing about, but what you actually do not consider and what you care the least for: I will finish with national oneness. There are many among you who know well that I have publicly and openly, decisively and courageously, defended our national oneness—the oneness of all South Slavs, and most of all the Croats and Serbs—I did so more than 20 years ago when one risked one’s life or could have easily ended up behind bars for it. There are many amongst you who know explicitly that I risked my life and the lives of my wife and children in September 1902 when I spoke and acted publicly against the destruction of Serbian property in Zagreb by those who were bitter and furious because of that unimaginable insult published recklessly in the Belgrade newspaper Književni glasnik and reprinted insanely in the Zagreb journal Srbo-bran, that our fight must last until the total destruction of one or the other.6 I have only extended and deepened my opinion on the national oneness since then; I have extended it to include all the Slavs and deepened it so that I can tell you now, after this terrible war, while it is not too late: Gentlemen! Do not speak just empty words about national oneness. Do not talk and write that our common language represents a strong and sufficient connection for our people. It is high time you realize that nationality is something much deeper and wider that the national language itself. Do try to realize that nationality counts, especially after this war in which millions of peasants, workers and citizens participated on the front line as well as at home as part of the war economy, that from now on nationality counts only insofar as it defends and develops humanity, or in other words, only in so far as nationality enables the people to earn more and live in better harmony. It is high time you realize once and for all that the era of the old aristocratic rule of militarism, capitalism, bureaucracy and clericalism is forever gone.

33Most of all, our people do not want to hear another word about militarism and bureaucracy—about bureaucratic force and autocracy. All our peoples, especially our Croatian people, want, wish, seek and demand that everyone feels new freedom and righteousness on his own skin, at home, in his village, in his municipality, in his region. To make it work, first, you have to remove at once all old oppressors and all old and invalid laws and regulations; second, you must give the people a chance for self-regulation and self-government. If you do not give them this chance and acknowledge these rights, the people will make it happen and earn this right without you and despite you.


35It is not too late! Do not put your head in the lion’s month! Do not accept a uniform government with the Kingdom of Serbia, because, if anything else, what we have before us is just a single telegram in the name of the Kingdom of Serbia and it stands for something completely different from what you want. Do not act in a manner in which eventually we will have to say that you, the Slovenes, and you, the Serbs from Vojvodina and the Bosnians, and you, our Croatian Dalmatians, and most of all, you, our domestic Croatian Serbs, have gathered today only to commit a conspiracy against the people, most of all, against Croatia and the Croats. At least try to understand that this matter is so crucial and fateful that it is important to call the meeting of the whole National Council, and, naturally, the Croatian Parliament. According to your present proposal, you have concluded that 28 members are to be dispatched immediately for Belgrade in the name of the Central Committee, and since there are no other members left on the Central Committee, it is obvious that it will be concluded that the Committee has dispatched itself and authorized itself to adopt the uniform government with the Kingdom of Serbia when it is obvious that the Committee has no such authority and right.


37The whole world accepts and acknowledges the right to national self-determination. We owe our liberation to the right to self-determination alone. In terms of international affairs, this right applies to all three nations—the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs—in the sense of determining our state borders with those of foreign nations, but this right also applies to our three nations, and especially to us, the Croats in Croatia, in terms of establishing and governing our common state.

38We, the Croats, Slovenes and Serbs, are three brothers and not one person. Each brother should be asked individually. There are no Serbs from Serbia here, and you already know how we, the Croats from Croatia, are represented here. Nothing and nobody is pursuing you, unless it is your bad conscience that forces you to complete your deed as soon as possible, the deed you know the Croatian people are against, which is why you wish to carry it out as soon as possible and ostensibly strengthen it against Croatian will.


40The most terrible thing, the greatest sin and the greatest political error is to present one’s own native people with a done deal, in other words, to govern according to the will of the aristocratic minority without the people and against the people. If you do not believe my words, may you live long enough—though this will not be very long—to see the Croatian people blow you away with their republican and humane consciousness just when you think that the people have calmed down and that you have mounted it properly.

41Long live the republic!

42Long live Croatia!


1 Dragutin Hrvoj (1875–1941), politician and lawyer.

2 The dynasty that ruled Serbia (1903–1918) and Yugoslavia (1918–1945).

3 United Kingdom, France and Russia. The term seized to be used when Italy joined the Entente.

4 The Central Committee of the National Council had the role of the Council’s provisional government.

5 Banovina here means the autonomous Croatian unit, governed by a ban.

6 Srbobran was the main turn-of-the-century political organ of Croatian Serbs. The article Radic mentions was published in the context of the political alliance of Croatian Serbs with the pro-Hungarian Croatian government.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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