The death of the Croatian Republican Peasant Party (HRSS) boss man Stjepan Radić by no means put an end to the Croat people’s desire for greater autonomy and rights from the Serbian-dominated government in Belgrade. On the contrary, it strengthened their resolve. Radić’s successor, Vlatko Maček, tried to broaden the party’s appeal to encompass all levels of Croatian society, not just the peasants.
The HSS under Maček formed a paramilitary organization known as the Croatian Peasant Defence Force. Surprisingly, this group was actually tolerated by the central government because it not only provided an added defense against Italian encroachment but also served as a force to combat against socialism, fascism and Communist agitators within the country.
Special note should be made of these more fringe groups. One of these was the Yugoslav Communists, known as the KPJ. Though outlawed as early as 1920, the KPJ wanted Croatia to become part of a federal Yugoslav state. In December of 1937 with the blessing of Moscow, Josip Broz Tito became their leader.
Another party that was especially hostile to the constitutional monarchy was the right-wing Ustaše. The Ustaše was separatist organization that vehemently hated the Yugoslav monarchy and sought to overthrow it by any means necessary. Its founder and leader was Ante Pavelić. They aligned with the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, or IMRO, and conspired against and assassinated King Aleksandar in October of 1934 in Marseilles, France.
Fearful of increased Croatian nationalism, then Prime minister Milan Stojadinović tried to reach an accord with the HSS and gave them greater freedom to operate. HSS leader Vlatko Maček instead decided to throw in his lot with other Serbian opposition parties to form the Alliance for National Agreement. This coalition eventually went on to win nearly 45% of the vote in the Yugoslav Parliament in 1938.
Now Belgrade was really getting worried about the Croatian question. The new Prime Minister Dragiša Cvetković made a deal with the Croatian nationalists which eventually became known as the Cvetković–Maček Agreement (a.k.a. Sporazum). Signed on August 26, 1939, the Sporazum created an autonomous Croatian territory known as the Banovina that included all of modern Croatia as well as parts of western Bosnia with a large Croat population. Maček was also made the deputy Prime Minister. Within the Banovina, the HSS became the dominant power within the Croatian territories.
The prospects for more autonomy for Croatia seemed to be getting better up until 1939. Then World War II broke out.
Part of the Series, “History of Croatia”
History of Croatia
Early History up until the Ottomans
The Ottoman advance and Austro-Hungarian rule
The Revolutions of 1848 and the Rise of Croatian Nationalism
World War I and the Creation of Yugoslavia
1930s until World War II
Croatia during War II
Croatia under Tito’s Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia: The Beginning of the End
The Homeland War and the Road to an Independent Croatia
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