Speech of Stjepan Radic to the Members of the National Council during a Night Session on Nov. 23-24, 1918
Translated by Sam Condic. Published in American Croatian Review. Year V, No. 3 and 4, December 1998, pp. 36-40.
Gentlemen! A rather large number of speakers have already spoken. And lo, with the exception of Representative Hrvoje, all have spoken as though this chamber is not that of the Croatian National Parliament, as though this is not that Croatian fortress - and, I dare say, shrine - from which, for centuries, were heard courageous and wise words in defense of justice and right, seeking a better future for the Croatian people, and all Slavic peoples. Not only did every single speaker fail to remember Croatia or the Croatian people, but all the speakers, in fact, competed with each other so as to obliterate and demolish us as Croatians. They want to first crunch us and then to trample us. However, the greatest mistake and the most unforgivable sin lies in the fact that all those speakers failed to learn anything from the war. It is as though they do not see the people. It is as though they have no knowledge of the people. For that reason exactly, they speak the very opposite of what our people want and need.
Gentlemen! Your mouths are all filled with words: National Unity - A single, united nation - one kingdom, under the Karadjordjevic dynasty. And you think that it is sufficient to state that we Croatians, Serbians, and Slovenes are one people, because we speak one language, and that, for that reason, we must have a united and centralistic nation, the same kingdom. You think that only linguistic and national unity under the dynasty of Karadjordjevic can save us and make us prosper.
How surface, how shallow, how unjustified is your thinking!
As relates to national linguistic unity, we are all Slavs by language, actually one people. Ask one-hundred thousand of our soldiers and our prisoners of war, who traversed Galicia, Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and Serbia. All will tell you that in all those lands a single Slavic people live, or better said, all Slavs, suffer. But you do not wish to hear about Slavism, nor, in fact, about full South-Slavism. You are presently enthralled by your strange rebus: SHS, one which speaks neither to our hearts, nor to our intellect. And you wonder, then, why the Italians refer to that rebus of yours (In its own fashion, a puzzle.), as a comedy. Is there an example in history wherein a national name is written as abbreviated initials? A given vocation title can be abbreviated, or that of a particular service, a given political party or organization, why even a given country, however, the name of a people is never abbreviated, just as one cannot abbreviate the family name of a particular person, hence, even less, that of an entire particular people, especially in such an insincere fashion as this. SHS first designated Slovenes, Croatians, and Serbs; now it designates Serbs, Croatians, and Slovenes. And, what will it designate tomorrow?
Gentlemen! All of your work here in the National Council is neither democratic, nor constitutional, nor is it just, and, it certainly is not intelligent.
You, in fact, are no democrats because you do not care at all about what this awful war has made of our people, especially of our peasants.
Not in the least do you reflect upon the fact that our entire people, and our Croatian peasants in particular, have, from the depths of their souls, come to hate militarism, to such an extent that it cannot be expressed or described.
You care so little for what the people think and believe. You say and write that the people refuse to serve in the military out of fear and cowardice.
You do not believe that our peasant was in a state of slumber prior to the war. It was the war that shook him mercilessly, awakened him, and made of him a man.
You fail to see how courageous that must be, and how wise, when a hundred and more thousands Croatian peasants, one after the other, abandon the front and refuse to return to it. Some of them leave for the "Green Cadres" [rebellious bands of deserters], while others make use of all means, their money, friendships, or deceit, so as not to deliver their heads in the public market at the command of a foreign master, and, supposedly, in defense of King and the homeland.
In fact, you gentlemen care not a whit that our peasant, in general, and the Croatian peasant in particular, does not wish to hear a thing about the King or the Emperor, nor about the nation which is being forced upon him. Our peasant has matured to such a degree, that he fully knows that a nation and a homeland are to be found in justice and freedom, in prosperity and in education. And, today, as you beat him in the arsenals, and drive him by force to follow along with you, to defend us, supposedly, from the Italians, he declares, or at least thinks it, that you are no different to him than the Magyar, or the German oppressors were. And, do you know why? Because every man of ours, even to the last, comprehends what was said to you this morning in such a direct and incontrovertible manner by Representative Hrvoje: Either Italy has the backing of the entire Entente - and then we cannot even help ourselves - or else, Italy is acting on her own, and then we will succeed on our own against her. In either case, neither a unitary nation, nor a government under the monarchy in Belgrade, nor anyone else, will be of help to us.
You, yourselves, know this well. You know that neither Italy nor the Entente will accede to the will of the Belgrade government. You know well that where the rights of an entire nation have no value, then the influence of one nation or of one person has even less value. Even though you know this, you, intentionally, and knowingly, speak falsehoods, namely, that our people will be doomed, or that we will suffer irreparable harm unless we immediately, head over heels, fail to create a centralistic monarchy, and a united, centralistic kingdom.
You, therefore, frighten our people as though they were children, and you think that you will win the people over to your political point of view. Perhaps you will win over the Slovenes, I don't know. Perhaps, for a short interval, you will win over the Serbs, as well. However, I know, with certainty, you will not win over the Croatians for that cause. You won't succeed in wining them over because the entire Croatian peasantry, as a totality, is against your centralism, and against your militarism; as much for republicanism as for the national agreement with the Serbs. If you wish to impose your centralism by force, this is what will happen: We Croatians will openly, clearly, and directly say: If the Serbians truly wish to have such a centralistic nation and government, God's blessings upon it. However, we Croatians want no other national structure other than an allied Federal Republic.
I have on many occasions, gentlemen, in detailed expositions during the meetings of this Central Committee, stated how it is entirely incorrect to think that I am supposedly "guilty" for having supposedly "misled" the peasantry. I have explicitly and sincerely related to you how, I, myself, was extremely surprised--I must say, pleasantly, when, on the occasion of the first meeting of the Chief Committee during this time of war, namely, July 27, l918, took note of the fact that all the peasants, resolutely and with enthusiasm, were for a Republic, and that, even before the meeting, as I was entering, they greeted me with the exclamation: "Long live our first Republican!" Obviously, they were referring to my recent address in the Parliament, in which I postulated and demonstrated that the Croatian constitutional system is entirely republican in nature, and that the Croatian Banovina is, in fact, the same as is a Republican Croatia. Further, that the Croatian Ban, in the truest sense, is like the president of a Republic.
Nonetheless, you did not give credence to it, or else, you did not care, just as you do not care or believe it now. This is so, because democracy is no more than a word for you, and because it never, not even in your dreams, occurs to you to regulate your actions in accord with the meaning of that word. The word's meaning implies that the people are to be asked their thinking in every point of importance, that all national matters are to be conducted so as to reflect the will of the people and their needs, that is, in our case, the peasant majority, are to regulate our actions, and we are not to act on behalf of the willfulness of an insignificant, lordly, minority...
Gentlemen! Inasmuch as you are democrats in word, and outwardly only, it is completely understandable then, that you do not act in accord with the constitution, that is, you act without regard for any laws, regulations, or customs, and that you carry out your own self-will in the most forceful way. Today's meeting is the most accurate proof that you care not a whit for constitutionality, that is, even for the sake of a so-so respectable and appropriate outward appearance, wherein the people are asked their thinking, at least a little.
Behold! You did not want to call into session the entire National Council, but only this Committee. You know very well that even the Council itself does not represent the people, for the people did not elect it. However, at least nearly all the political parties and factions are represented in that body, and hence, the public at large should be represented here as well. But as soon as the public is present, there cannot be the sheer supremacy of an oligarchy, one of self-will and imposition.
I ask you, why haven't you called the entire National Council into session for so fateful a step? You didn't because you know that you are doing wrong, and that it would become immediately apparent as soon as a public debate within a larger circle of discussants would take place. When I stop to reflect upon it, I can grasp how profound is your unconstitutional behavior, since you by-pass our Croatian National Parliament! Representative Hrvoje already spoke of this, therefore I will not drag it out, but I will warn you that you bitterly deceive yourselves if you think that you can willfully sidestep one-thousand and more years of Croatian history and Croatian statehood.
You hold that history and that nationhood as nothing, supposedly because you feel that we Croatians were under foreign domination, and supposedly because our history is really foreign and not our own. You are doubly wrong in your view. You are wrong firstly, because you knowingly and intentionally remain silent about the fact that we Croatians--at least those of us to the left--always struggled against foreign domination, and that we knew how to be victorious throughout that struggle, at least to the extent that the foreign dominators were never the true or successful masters over the Croatians.
That was the first reason, while this is the second: You, as educated men, know that Croatian history, the 1,000 years of the Croatian past, has great moral significance, without regard to politics. We regard the man who if forgetful of all that has transpired, the man who labors as though he has no memory of his past experiences, to be a fool. The Croatian people do not wish to be such fools, and do not wish to forget their past history, if for no other reason but that they have no desire to do so. Behold, you so eagerly call attention to our progressive brothers, the Czechs. Just read the message of their leading politician Masaryk - who wrote much against historical rights - and you will see that even he, ceaselessly stresses Czech National rights, the Czech historical borders, the thousand years political and cultural heritage of the Czechs. However, gentlemen, you are especially unconstitutional to the extreme as regards all that you said and wrote up to yesterday - you and your predecessors from all the various parties represented here today.
Let me mention you Slovenes first. You raised your voices to the heavens, entirely of your own initiative and voluntarily, saying that you are one in soul with us Croatians, and that you wish to be united with us on the basis of our Croatian historic state rights. All you Slovenes were as one on that point, those of you who are Clericals: Dr. Sustersic, Dr. Krek, Dr. Korosec; and Liberals: Dr. Tavcar, Triller, Hribar; and Radicals: Dr. Ravnikar and his followers; in fact, even Socialists. All your newspapers wrote as much, and in that vein, you placed your signatures on the May Declaration (May 30, 1918), and what is most important, you told your people their only salvation lay in that course of action. On the basis of that proposed union, on the basis of the union of the Croatian and Slovene populace at the national level, you garnered the trust of the people, and came to this meeting.
Undoubtedly, you will respond: "We not only stand by that basis, in fact, we expand it to include the union of the peoples and nations of the Slovenes, Croatians, and Serbs." Good! Good! However, did you receive the authority and assent of your people for that course, and for such an expansion? You did not! In fact, you did not even ask your people's permission, and you do not even intend to ask them, but rather, you simply maintain that the Slovene people desire that which you now propose, that is, the union of the populace within a national union with the Serbs, wherein the entire government and its legislature will be in Belgrade - that Zagreb and Ljubljana be, not equal to, and alongside Belgrade, but rather subject to Belgrade.
I tell you loud and clear, that is not the truth, and what is more important, you, yourselves, just four days ago, said that it was not the truth. Just four days ago, Dr. Remec announced at the meeting of this Committee, that he "fully agrees with Mr. Radic, and that he declares in the name of the entire Slovene people, that all Slovenes are Republicans." Mr. Svetozar Pribicevic snarled his response to that statement and said: "Why, Dr. Kramer is here present, and he and his Party are not for a republic." Dr. Remec, the representative for the pan-Slovene peoples Party, corrected him by saying that in the name of nine-tenths of the Slovene people, he can announce that they are all republicans." Even though you Slovenes know that well, you knowingly and intentionally, and contrary to the will of your people, therefore entirely unconstitutionally, propose a centralized national union with the Kingdom of Serbia.
And, gentlemen, what am I to say about you Dalmatians?! The entire political history of Dalmatia through five centuries - from the 7th through the 12th century - was purely Croatian. Dalmatia, at that time was but a few towns and islands, as all of you know, while all of the present-day Dalmatia, and even up to the River Kupa, was, and is, the real and true Croatia. However, you will respond: "Spare us that ancient history." But behold: through the last fifty years, the Dalmatian Croatian hardly offered a gasp politically, except for union with Croatia's Banovina into a united nation and homeland: Croatia. Now that you have the opportunity to make that national Croatian-Dalmatian program a reality, you, gentlemen, have, without the consent, and against the will of the people, severed yourselves from Croatia. Without the approval of the people, you wish to subject yourselves under Belgrade, in a centralistic national union within the Kingdom of Serbia. And, you act so unconstitutionally that you do not even intend to ask the people about this matter, but, rather, you simply intend to force your new program upon the populace of Dalmatia!
And you, Serbian gentlemen from Vojvodina, you also forgot, entirely, the program and plea of your immortal leader, Svetozar Miletic: "Our trust is in the Triune Kingdom [Croatia-Slavonia-Dalmatia]." You now make of this Triune a "two-une", and wish to make of it a "non-une."
The same applies to you, gentlemen, from Bosnia. One of your leaders, Dr. Alaupovic, in fact, utters the phrase: "You Croatians," as though he intends to imply that he is no longer a Croatian. All of you trample all of your promises, all of your public oaths to the people, and on all that you have spoken or written. You now wish to create something which you have never spoken about to the people, and which you have never debated, much less, given the people an opportunity to vote upon.
I know how you will respond to me: "The great moment has arrived," you will say, "opportunity knocks, and the moment we have dreamed of for centuries can now be made a reality, a reality of which we were unable to speak of or even dream of while under foreign domination."
Good! And what, precisely, is that of which we were not permitted to dream of? For the Serbs, if what you say is true, and I hear that it is not, it was that Serbia be enlarged and glorified, that King Peter be crowned as emperor, so that he can renew Dusan's Empire. In your opinion, the Serbians have no other thoughts on the matter. To be sure, I hear that the majority in Serbia are already republicans. While there are no brothers from Serbia present, you Serbs from Croatia, and from Hungary, and from Bosnia are, in truth, exclusively Dusanites. You are for a Greater Serbia, for a powerful and glorious empire, and for the idea of the "Vow of Kosovo," for revenge on all sides, for the nine Jugovic's, for Kraljevic Marko, etc. etc. We Croatians are not for that. Our Croatian peasant - and that means nine-tenths of our population--came of age during the war: he no longer intends to be a servant to anyone, to slave for anyone - neither a foreigner nor his brother--neither for a foreign nation, nor for his own. He wishes his nation to be built upon the base of freedom, republicanism, and social justice, in this hour of momentous decision. And you, gentlemen, who are but a tiny fistful, you are opposed! And by being opposed to such a free, republican, and socially just desire, the willful desire and need of all our people--especially the Croatian people, in whose name I now speak - you do not, even for a moment, reflect upon the fact that you commit an awful and tremendous, forgive me for saying it, stupidity.
It is an awful fault when the torrents of martyr blood--you refer to it as hero's blood-- the blood of Serbs, and Croatians, and Slovenes is as nothing to you, for you say that same blood was spilt for King Peter and for a new, greater kingdom. All the tears, prayers, and sighs of all our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, are as nothing to you. You say those tears are to be jewels in the crown of King Peter, and are to be the shining rays of some sort of kingly glory and greatness! You have no clue, or else wish to have none, that all our people, especially our Croatian people, wish, want, seek, and demand that all their spilt blood result in a just, and completely republican freedom, the sort that was tasted by many of our people in America. Our people desire that those countless innocent tears procure for them the justice they fought for, and the kind their peasant brothers in Russia will soon achieve.
When you are so unjust, to the extreme, then, naturally, you cannot be wise.
Lo, the telegram of those Serbian Ministers who are already in Belgrade, was read here. Those Ministers, quite wisely, state that they are willing to meet and to discuss with the delegates to the National Council about that which the full National Council agrees upon. They will then submit those proposals to the Serbian Parliament, and, to the extent it applies in particular, also, to the Croatian National Parliament.
Their proposition is insufficient for you. You are in a hurry to impose your power upon all the people as quickly as possible, especially upon Croatia. You do not sense, in the very least, that it is unwise, that it is imprudent, that it is, in fact, irrational to act without the consent of the people, never mind, against the will of the people. You learned nothing from the fall of [Istvan] Tisza [in Hungary] or of [emperor] Wilhelm [in Germany]. You became the N.V. (National Council) by means of the supposed revolution, and you evidently think the National Council to be the new "His Royal Highness." I say to you again, and you heard me say it so often before: there is no firm or justified power without the consent of the people.
I know. I know. You hold that you are not only with the people, but, in fact, that you represent the people. I proved to you that you are not. The entire Croatian people are for republican freedom, and for social justice. You are for the old and bankrupt use of force, as well as for economic selfishness and robbery. You, therefore, are no longer with the people, and hardly, can you be said to speak for the people. For that reason, nothing will come of your scheme...You will go to Belgrade. You will declare, without the support of, and contrary to the wishes of the Croatian people, a united and centralistic nation. Without shame, and with no fear, you will rule on the basis of the old corrupt and unjust Austrian and Hungarian laws, and with the aid of the entrenched, submissive, and corrupt officials. Perhaps you will even rule without laws--by force and despotism. The people will see from this that you are not a part of them, and they will not be for you. Wherever you beckon them to go, they will not follow. Least of all, they will not respond to you by giving you their trust, nor will they, of their own freewill, recognize and approve your use of power and your deceit. In pursuit of this effort, should you gain the support of the Entente, and should the Entente be so unwise, and so weak, as to help you, you will not, in that case, have the trust of the people. As soon as it is time for the first elections, be they of whatever sort, either for a constitutive or a simple parliament, the people will no longer elect such gentlemen who have trampled upon all their promises, and all of their programs, and who have, without question, forced upon them all the same old power, injustice, and brigandry. The people will elect to the Parliament only peasants of the plow and hoe, and of the gentlemanly class, only those who have, under the present conditions, stood by the will of the people, that is, stood for republican freedom, and social justice. And I, whom you dismiss and exclude from you midst, and upon whose head, in fact, you have put a price, will, God willing, be the fish in the water not only among the Croatian Peasantry, but also among the Slovene and Serbian peasantry.
Gentlemen! I will conclude with that of which you speak most about, and of which you least reflect upon, that which is of the least concern to you: I will conclude with the unity of the people. There are enough of you present who know quite well that I have openly, publicly, fearlessly, and with determination defended the unity of our people - the unity of all the South Slavs, especially that of the Croatians and Serbs, as far back as twenty years and more ago, when a man's head would be in a bag for it, or else would end up behind bars. There are enough of you who know in particular that I placed my life, that of my wife and children, on the line in September of l902, when I publicly, by word and deed, spoke out against the destruction of Serbian property in Zagreb, at the time when Zagreb was consumed with bitterness and rage because of the incomprehensible insult on the part of the Serbs, which was thoughtlessly published in Belgrade's Literary Messenger , and, foolishly reprinted in Zagreb's Srbobran , namely, that the Serbian battle must endure unto "extinction," that is, until the destruction of one of us, the Croatians or the Serbs. From that time forward, I only broadened and deepened my thinking about national unity: I broadened it to include all Slavs, and I deepened it to such an extent, that after this awful war, I now say to you, before it is too late: Gentlemen! Don't just speak hollow words about national unity. Do not say and write that our common language is sufficiently strong a tie for our people. Grasp, once and for all, that a people is something much deeper and broader than is their language. Grasp, once and for all, that nationality matters, especially after this war in which millions of peasants, workers, and townsfolk have participated, at the war front or the home front, that, from now on nationality matters only to the extent to which it defends and develops a sense of humanity, that is, only to the extent that with the aid of nationality men gain more advantage and get along better. Grasp, once and for all, that the old class, military, capitalistic, bureaucratic, and clerical days are forever gone.
Our people especially no longer wish to hear talk of militarism, capitalism, bureaucrats, and clericalism. All our people, especially our Croatian people, want, desire, seek, and demand that every peasant feel the new freedom and new justice for themselves, in their homes, in their villages, in their counties, and in their region. For that to be a true reality, you must first, remove all the old tyrants, all the old, unfair laws and arrangements; secondly, you must grant the right to the people themselves to have the chance to rule and regulate themselves. If you fail to grant these opportunities to them, and if you fail to recognize those rights, the people will take for themselves these rights and conditions, without your consent and against you.
Gentlemen! It is still not too late! Do not rush forward as geese in a fog! Do not conclude a unitary government with the Kingdom of Serbia if for no other reason but for the fact that no one in the name of the Kingdom of Serbia is present, in fact, nothing more is present than that single telegram, which, in fact, also proposes something entirely different than you do. Do not proceed in such a manner that, today or tomorrow will have to be said of you Slovenes, and you Serbs from Vojvodina and Bosnia, and you our own Croatian Dalmatians, and most especially you, our local Croatian Serbs, that you have gathered here so as to only carry out a conspiratorial act against the people, especially against Croatia and against the Croatians. At least see that this decision is extremely important and of great consequence, and that it is necessary to call into session the entire National Council and, of course, the Croatian Parliament. Based on your present proposition that twenty-eight members of the Central Committee immediately leave for Belgrade, and in that there are no more than twenty-eight members in the Committee, it is obvious that every one will say that the Committee authorized itself to proclaim a unitary government with the Kingdom of Serbia. Obviously, the Committee is not authorized to do so, and does not have that right.
Gentlemen! The entire world recognizes the right to national self-determination. We have to thank that right for our very own freedom. That right to self-determination belongs, in an international sense, to all three of our peoples, namely, the Slovenes, Croatians, and Serbians, in the determination of our national boundaries in relationship to other nations. That right belongs to all three of our nations, and especially to us Croatians in Croatia as regards the formation and the advancement of our common nation.
We are three brothers, Croatian, Slovene, Serbian, and not one brother. Each brother is to be asked. Serbs from Serbia are not even present here, while you well know how we Croatians from Croatia are here represented. No one and nothing is forcing you, except, perhaps, your guilty conscience, to rush this cause, which you know will not be approved by the Croatian people, and which you wish to carry out, and ratify as quickly as possible against their will.
Gentlemen! It is an awful thing, the greatest sin, and the most grave political error to present to your very own people an accomplished fact, that is, to carry on politics according to your own gentlemanly whims without consulting the people and contrary to the will of the people. If you do not believe me - God grant that all of you live long enough, and that won't be too long off, to see as to how the Croatian people in their sense of republicanism and humanness will blow you away in the very moment you think they have quieted down, and at the time you feel you have saddled and ridden them well. Long live the Republic! Long live Croatia!
Stjepan Radic: his life, his party, his politics, by Ante Cuvalo