December 1

This Day in History

World War I

Dec 1, 1919:

New state declared in the Balkans

Three weeks after the armistice, and on the same day that Allied troops cross into Germany for the first time, a new state is proclaimed in Belgrade, Serbia.

As the great Austrian and German empires were brought low in defeat, the new "Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" sprung to life, bolstered by the League of Nations promised support for Europe s minority populations. Included in the new state were 500,000 Hungarians and an equal number of Germans, as well as tens of thousands of Romanians, Albanians, Bulgarians and Italians.

Crown Prince Alexander, the son of the ailing king of Serbia who had commanded Serbian armies in the Great War, was named regent of the provisional government of the new state. In 1921, with the support of the Serbian representatives in the government and against the opposition of Croatian federalists, who favored a broader distribution of power, a new constitution was put into effect that created a strong central government; Alexander became king after his father died that same year.

Tensions continued to mount with the Serbian-dominated government s denial of autonomy to different ethnic groups, notably the Croats and Slovenes, and in the summer of 1928, in response to the fatal shooting of the Croatian leader Stjepan RadiÆ and two colleagues by a Montenegrin deputy in the national parliament, the Croatians withdrew from parliament and organized a separatist regime based in Zagreb. In January 1929, with the nation on the brink of civil war, Alexander suspended the constitution, dissolved the parliament and all political parties, and took dictatorial control of the country. As part of his effort to impose national unity on the country s warring ethnic groups, he renamed the country Yugoslavia.

Conflict continued to simmer in the Balkans, however, and in 1934, Alexander was assassinated by extreme right-wing Croatian nationalists during a state visit to Marseilles, France. His son, Peter, managed to maintain unity until 1941, when the German army invaded Serbia and Croatia declared its independence.

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