Milan Stojadinović (Serbian Cyrillic: Милан Стојадиновић; 4 August 1888 – 26 October 1961) was a Serbian and Yugoslav political figure and a noted economist. From 1935 until 1939 he served as Prime Minister of Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
|12th Prime Minister of Yugoslavia|
24 June 1935 – 5 February 1939
Prince Paul (Regent)
|Preceded by||Bogoljub Jevtić|
|Succeeded by||Dragiša Cvetković|
|Born||4 August 1888|
Čačak, Kingdom of Serbia
|Died||26 October 1961 (aged 73)|
Buenos Aires, Argentina
|Political party||People's Radical Party|
Yugoslav Radical Union
Milan Stojadinović was born on 4 August 1888 in the Serbian town of Čačak. His father, Mihailo, was a municipal judge who relocated to Belgrade in 1904. It was here that the young Stojadinović finished his secondary education and became a sympathizer of the Serbian Social Democratic Party (SSDP). Later, he came to believe that the liberation of ethnic Serbs who lived in the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires was more important than bridging the gap between the upper and lower classes, and followed in his father's footsteps by joining the People's Radical Party (NRS) of Nikola Pašić.
In the summer of 1906, Stojadinović was sent to Austria to learn German as a reward for successfully completing secondary school. While there, he fell under the influence of South Slavic youth movements and became a supporter of Yugoslav unity. He later returned to Serbia and began his studies at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Law, specializing in economics and finance. He spent three years studying abroad, staying in Munich and Potsdam during the 1910–11 school year, Paris between 1911 and 1912, and London between 1912 and 1913. Stojadinović's stay in Germany had a profound effect on his economic views and led him to write a doctoral dissertation on the country's budget. He was greatly influenced by the German historical school of economics, which argued that economic policies should be developed according to the specific economic and cultural conditions prevalent in a society rather than being based on a universal model.
Stojadinović's competence as an economist became evident during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and during World War I, when he began working in the Serbian Ministry of Finance. Following the Serbian Army's retreat through Albania during the winter of 1915, he withdrew with the Serbian government-in-exile to the Greek island of Corfu. He stayed there between 1916 and 1918 and distinguished himself as a financial expert by helping to stabilize the Serbian dinar.
Stojadinović met his future wife Augusta — a woman of mixed Greek-German heritage — during his stay in Corfu. The two settled in Belgrade following the war. Stojadinović was appointed assistant manager of a local branch of the English Commercial Bank in 1919, but resigned as director-general of the State Accounts Board of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes because of disagreements with the government of Prime Minister Ljubomir Davidović and his Democratic Party. He lectured economics at the University of Belgrade from 1920 to 1921, but quickly gave up on academia.
Stojadinović became the Minister of Finance in 1922, aged only 34. He began writing for the Belgrade daily Politika and the English-language weekly The Economist. Following the proclamation of a royal dictatorship by King Alexander I in 1929, he sided with a faction of the NRS which stood opposed to the monarch being given dictatorial powers. The Radical Party broke into two in 1929, with the largest faction supporting King Alexander's royal dictatorship and Stojadinović joining the opposition faction headed by the party's Main Committee.
Despite being a suspected anti-monarchist by Yugoslav authorities, he was once again appointed to the position of Finance Minister in the government of Bogoljub Jevtić, who became Prime Minister following Alexander's assassination in Marseille in October 1934. By this point, Stojadinović was the vice-president of the Belgrade Stock Exchange, chairman of a river navigation company, the director of a British-owned broadcasting station and a British-owned shipbuilding company. Despite the fact that it was clear that Italy and Hungary were behind the assassination of King Alexander, the fact that the League of Nations failed to take action against either of those countries, despite Yugoslavia presenting evidence of their involvement served to convince Stojadinović that the League was useless.
In 1935 he became the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, which with some other parties formed a coalition Jugoslovenska Radikalna Zajednica (Yugoslav Radical Union, JRZ) and won the elections. The JRZ was made of the Serb Radicals, the Slovene People's Party led by Father Anton Korošec and the Yugoslav Muslim Organization led by Mehmed Spaho, which Stojadinović called a "three-legged chair" that was missing a "fourth leg", namely the support of the Croats. Stojadinović wrote in his memoirs: "I called our party the three-legged chair, on which it was possible to sit when necessary, although a chair with four legs is far more stable". On 24 June 1935 he was elected Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He survived a failed assassination attempt by the Macedonian Damjan Arnautović in 1935. The Regent for the boy king Peter II, Crown Prince Paul, appointed Stojadinović Prime Minister partly because he was regarded as a financial expert who would deal with the effects of the Great Depression, and partly because Stojadinović was believed to be capable of making a deal with the Croat politicians to resolve the thorny question over whether Yugoslavia was to be a federation or a unitary state. One of Stojadinović's first acts was to loosen censorship on the press and to free 10,000 political prisoners. Through the JRZ Stojadinović had a submissive skupshtina (parliament), but the JRZ never became the mass movement that Stojadinović had envisioned.
The British historian Richard Crampton wrote that the basis of Stojadinović's power rested on "political jobbery" and corruption as the JRZ functioned more as a patronage machine of a type very common to the Balkans rather than the fascistic mass movement that Stojadinović had intended. Interwar Yugoslavia was characterized by an etatist economic system with the state playing a very large role in the economy. The Yugoslav state owned all or most of the railroads, docks, mines, steel mills, forests, mills, hospitals, banks, publishing houses, hotels, theatres and opera houses in the country, together with the state having monopolies over the manufacturing, distribution and sales of matches, salt, cigarette paper, tobacco and kerosene. As the public sector jobs paid considerably better than the private sector, and there were more opportunities for corruption, there was much competition for jobs in the public sector, especially in a country as poor as Yugoslavia, meaning whatever government that was in power in Belgrade could build much support by operating a patronage machine which would hand out public sector jobs in exchange for votes. Every government in interwar Yugoslavia used the powers of patronage to reward its supporters with public sector jobs and punish its enemies by denying them the chance to work in the public sector. Stojadinović, like his predecessors, created a patronage machine as the basis of his power with JRZ members being rewarded with employment in the public sector. However, the gradual improvement of the Yugoslav economy in the late 1930s after the nadir it had fallen to in 1932, the worst year of the Great Depression, did win Stojadinović a measure of popularity. Stojadinović believed that the solution to the Great Depression were closer economic links with Germany, which lacked many of the raw materials necessary for a modern industrial economy and whose population exceeded the capacity of German farmers to feed it. As Germany needed both food and raw materials such as iron, bauxite, copper and manganese, Yugoslavia enjoyed an economic bloom from 1935, exporting minerals and agricultural products to Germany on an enormous scale, leading to an economic revival and to placing Yugoslavia in the German economic sphere of influence.
The Prince Regent had hoped that Stojadinović would make overtures to the Croats, but Stojadinović's unwillingness to discuss federalisation of Yugoslavia presented major difficulties to this end. As part of an attempt to reach out to the Croats, Stojadinović signed a concordat with the Vatican in 1935. The purpose of the Concordat was to win Croat support for the JRZ as it agreed informally during the negotiations if the Concordat was passed, then the Roman Catholic Church would ensure its moral influence with Croat voters in favor of the JRZ, but opposition from the Serbian Orthodox Church caused Stojadinović to put off submitting the concordat for ratification. In another concession to the Croats, Stojadinović allowed a statue of the assassinated Croat politician Stjepan Radić to be erected in Zagreb and for Croats who went into exile under King Alexander to return, including the son-in-law of Radić who had once called for independence for Croatia. Though in theory a supporter of economic liberalism, in practice Stojadinović favored an etatist economic policy, arguing that the state should intervene to end the Great Depression.
Stojadinović recognized the military threats from Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and surrounding countries as imminent. Right from the beginning of his prime ministership, Stojadinović had worked towards bringing Yugoslavia closer to Germany and away from its traditional ally, France. In late 1935, Stojadinović appointed a well known Germanophile as the Yugoslav minister in Berlin to replace the former minister who had a more critical attitude towards the Reich. Even before the remilitarization of the Rhineland, Yugoslavia under the leadership of Stojadinović was moving towards a pro-German foreign policy. In 1935, Yugoslavia observed the sanctions that the League of Nations had imposed on Italy, which inflicted harm on the Yugoslav economy, and Stojadinović signed his first economic treaty with Germany at the same time. In February 1936, Stojadinović welcomed King Boris III of Bulgaria to Belgrade, marking the beginning of Yugoslav-Bulgarian rapprochement as Stojadinović wanted more friendly relations with Sofia to settle the "Macedonian question" which poisoned Yugoslav-Bulgarian relations in the interwar period.
Yugoslavia had signed a treaty of alliance with France in 1927, at a time when the Rhineland was still occupied by France, and during Franco-Yugoslav staff talks, it was promised that France would take the offensive into western Germany if Germany should start another war. As long as the Rhineland remained a demilitarized zone, there was always the possibility of the French launching an offensive into western Germany, which reassured Yugoslavia. Weinberg wrote that the demilitarized status of the Rhineland the treaty of Versailles had imposed was "...the single most important guarantee of peace in Europe" for as long as the Rhineland was demilitarized, it was impossible for Germany to attack any of France's allies in Eastern Europe without exposing itself to the risk of a devastating French offensive into western Germany. The remilitarization of the Rhineland on 7 March 1936 meant that Germany started building the West Wall along its border with France, which ended any hope of a French offensive into western Germany. From the Yugoslav viewpoint, the remilitarization of the Rhineland and the construction of the West Wall meant that Germany could now launch offensives into eastern Europe without fear of France, which led Stojadinović to break with the traditional pro-French foreign policy of Yugoslavia and to seek an understanding with the Reich. On 15-20 June 1936, the chiefs of staff of the Little Entente (Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) met in Bucharest to discuss their plans now that the Rhineland was re-militarized. The gloomy conclusion of the Bucharest meeting was that France was not a factor in Eastern Europe, and henceforward there were only two great powers in Eastern Europe, namely the Soviet Union and Germany, and the victory of either in another war would mean the end of their independence. Stojadinović viewed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia's future sustainable only if a neutral status akin to that of Switzerland could be established. His foreign policies pushed consistently towards this goal. Examples are the non-aggression treaty with Italy and Yugoslavia's extension of its treaty of friendship with France.
The policies pursued by Fascist Italy towards Yugoslavia were usually hostile, but starting in 1936, Benito Mussolini made a major effort to try to persuade Yugoslavia to renounce its alliance with France. After the election of the Popular Front government of Léon Blum in France, Italian foreign policy had turned very anti-French, and Mussolini as part of his anti-French strategy wanted to detach Yugoslavia from the cordon sanitaire as Yugoslavia was the only one of France's eastern European allies that had a common frontier with Italy. Besides for his anti-French goals, Mussolini had plans to annex Albania and to use it as a base to conquer Greece, which was allied to Yugoslavia in the Balkan Entente, making an alliance with Belgrade useful from his viewpoint. Mussolini had expected that the assassination of King Alexander in 1934, which he had financed, to cause a civil war between the different peoples of Yugoslavia, which in turn would allow the Italians to seize the parts of Yugoslavia that they had long coveted. The assassination of Alexander on 9 October 1934 while on a state visit to France did not cause the expected civil war, showing Mussolini that Yugoslavia was more stable than he thought, causing him to temporarily abandon his plans against that country, and instead work for a rapprochment with Belgrade, which Stojadinović welcomed. From 1936 onward, there were increasing signs that Italy and Germany were putting aside their differences caused by the "Austrian Question" to work together with Mussolini proclaiming in a speech in Milan in October 1936 that there was now a "Berlin-Rome axis" in Europe. The existence of the "Berlin-Rome axis" ended whatever hopes the Yugoslavs might had of playing off Italy against Germany.
In October 1936, Stojadinović visited Istanbul and while on his way back to Belgrade stayed at Kricim castle, which was the rural residence of King Boris. During his stay at Kricim castle, Boris and Stojadinović agreed to sign a friendship treaty. Under the terms of the Balkan Pact, approval by the other members was required if any member wants to sign a treaty with another Balkan state. Stojadinović faced little opposition from Turkey, but both Romania and Greece objected strenuously, believing that Yugoslavia was deserting the alliance, and only reluctantly gave permission in January 1937. Both Romania and Greece only gave their assent when Stojadinović threatened to sign the pact without their permission, which would had broken up the Balkan Pact.
In late 1936, Stojadinović sabotaged a diplomatic effort on the part of the Qua d'Orsay to strengthen the Little Entente of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia by having the terms of the Little Entente apply against aggression by any state, instead of only Hungary. Both King Carol II of Romania and President Edvard Beneš of Czechoslovakia supported the French proposal, and Stojadinović was the lone holdout who refused to discuss amending the treaty which created the Little Entente. When a French envoy arrived in Belgrade in an attempt to persuade Stojadinović to change his mind, he stated that Yugoslavia was now so deeply into Germany's economic sphere of influence that he could simply not risk a war with the Reich, which had become Yugoslavia's largest trading partner and investor by far. Yugoslavia was so deeply into the German economic sphere that it was considered unnecessary in Berlin to sign an alliance with Belgrade, as it was calculated that economic interests alone would ensure that Yugoslavia was a de facto German ally. By 1938, 60% of Yugoslavia's trade was with Germany, making the Reich into Yugoslavia's largest trading partner with Germany importing bauxite, copper, and manganese as part of its preparations for war while the majority of consumer goods and capital equipment in Yugoslavia were German imports.
On 24 January 1937, Stojadinović signed the friendship pact with Bulgaria. Although the pact was actually a banal document saying that the peoples of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were henceforward to live together in peace and friendship, at the time of the signing Stojadinović and his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Kyoseivanov verbally agreed that Bulgaria would cease making claims on Yugoslav Macedonia in exchange for which Stojadinović would support Bulgarian claims against Greece. Stojadinović wanted much of Greek Macedonia for Yugoslavia, especially the port city of Thessaloniki, and the purpose of the friendship pact was to lay the basis of a Yugoslav-Bulgarian alliance against Greece. At the time of the signing, Stojadinović and Kyoseivanov agreed that Alexandroupoli would go to Bulgaria while Yugoslavia would take Thessaloniki. As Bulgaria was an ally of Italy because Boris was married to Princess Giovanna, the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, improving relations with Sofia fitted in with Stojadinović's plans to improve relations with Rome. Stojadinović intended to end the problem of Ustasha terrorism in Croatia by a rapprochement with Italy that would cause the Italians to cease supporting the Ustasha, which would help with his plans to settle the "Croat question".
In January 1937, Stojadinović met with Vladko Maček of the Croatian Peasant Party at a meeting chaired by Prince Paul. Stojadinović rejected Maček's demands for a federation, and instead preferred that Maček establish ties with Serbian opposition leaders in order to divide Yugoslav politics into two blocs that would transcend ethnicity, language and religion. One bloc would be a federalist bloc and another bloc would be unitarist, which Stojadinović saw as the solution to Yugoslavia's problems of unity as it would create pan-Yugoslav ties that would ultimately weaken the prevailing ties of language, ethnicity and religion. Stojadinović tried to make himself the "national" leader of the Serbs in a way comparable to how Maček was viewed as the "national" leader of the Croats, Father Korošec as the "national" leader of the Slovenes and Spaho as the "national" leader of the Bosnian Muslims, but the heterogeneous values of the Serb voters caused the failure of his bid to be the Serb "national leader". The fact that the Serbs were the largest single ethnic group in Yugoslavia meant that Serb voters did not feel the need to rally around a single "national" leader in the same way the minorities - who felt that they could not afford disunity and tended to vote for one party - did.
In March 1937, Stojadinović told Raymond Brugère, the French minister in Belgrade, that France was secure behind the Maginot Line, but the construction of the West Wall meant that the French Army would probably stay behind the Maginot Line if Germany should attack any of France's allies in Eastern Europe, which led him to the conclusion that Yugoslavia must not "provoke" Germany in any possible way. Without informing France, Czechoslovakia or Romania, Stojadinović opened negotiations in the winter of 1936-37 for an Italo-Yugoslav treaty intended to resolve all of the outstanding problems between the two countries. On 25 March 1937, the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, arrived in Belgrade to sign the treaty alongside Stojadinović. Under the terms of the Italo-Yugoslav treaty, Italy promised to rein in the Ustasha; respect the borders of Yugoslavia; and accept Yugoslavia's membership in the Little Entente, the League of Nations and the Balkan pact in exchange for which Yugoslavia accepted Albania as being in the Italian sphere of influence. Although Stojadinović did not formally repudiate either alliance with France or the Little Entente, the Italo-Yugoslav treaty brought Yugoslavia much closer to the Axis powers and did much to weaken its existing alliances, and brought a definitive end to the French effort to strengthen the Little Entente. The American historian Gerhard Weinberg summarized the effects of the Italo-Yugoslav treaty: "Having signed with Italy, he [Stojadinović] could hardly be expected to sign an agreement with France that was designed to protect Yugoslavia against her new associate. Conversely, he could not promise to assist Czechoslovakia against Germany, Italy's Axis partner. Stojadinović could, therefore, now safely assure the Germans that there would be no Yugoslav assistance pact with France".
The attempted Concordat with the Holy See caused severe protests from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1937 and thus never came into effect. When the Concordat came up for ratification by the skupshtina on the night of 23–24 June 1937, protests broke out in Belgrade by Orthodox priests who called the concordat a sell-out to the Roman Catholic Church. The very night that the parliament was holding the vote to ratify the Concordat, the Patriarch Varnava of the Serbian Orthodox Church died, which for the Orthodox faithful was a sign that God disapproved of the Concordat. The fact that the Patriarch died the same night caused an immense backlash against the Concordat amongst the Serbs, and the Orthodox Church announced that all Orthodox deputies in the skupshtina who voted for the Concordat were now penalised. Stojadinović withdrew the Concordat in a bid to save his popularity with the Serbs, which damaged his reputation as a fair-minded negotiator with the Croats, with Maček accusing him of dealing in bad faith. The consequence of the failed Concordat was that Stojadinović lost popular support in both Croatia and Serbia. In October 1937, Maček signed an accord called the Bloc of National Agreement which brought together his own Croatian Peasant Party with the anti-Stojadinović faction of the Serb Radicals, the Democrats, the Agrarian Party and the Independent Democrats. By this time, despite the economic upturn, Stojadinović was widely unpopular owning to the rampant corruption within his government. The British novelist Rebecca West who went to Yugoslavia in 1937 to research her book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon reported that ordinary people had told her that Stojadinović was "a tyrant and enemy of freedom" who was "hated throughout the length and breath of the land" as persistent rumors had it that Stojadinović and company were looting the public treasury. In December 1937, Stojadinović visited Rome to meet Benito Mussolini and his son-in-law, the Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, both of whom he regarded as friends. Ciano wrote in his diary that Stojadinović: "...liked the Mussolini formula: strength and consensus. King Alexander had only strength. S[tojadinović] wants to popularize his dictatorship". Ciano reciprocated Stojadinović's admiration of Fascist Italy, writing in his diary he is "our sincere friend... a strong, full-blooded man with a resonant laugh and a strong handshake... a man who inspires confidence... Of all the political men I have encountered so far in my European wanderings, he is the one I find the most interesting". Although Stojadinović brought along his wife, Ciano arranged parties "with the most beautiful women of Rome society", knowing that Stojadinović was a womanizer who took many of the Roman beauties he met to his bed.
Under the Little Entente of 1921, Yugoslavia was obligated to go to war if Hungary attacked either Czechoslovakia or Romania. In January 1938, Stojadinović visited Germany to meet Adolf Hitler and assured him that he was a personal admirer of der Führer who wanted much closer German-Yugoslav ties. Hitler for his part, assured Stojadinović that as long as he continued his pro-German policies that not only would Germany never attack Yugoslavia, but would also not support Hungary's claims against Yugoslavia, which for Stojadinović validated his foreign policy. Stojadinović promised Hitler that Yugoslavia would accept any Anschluss with Austria as Yugoslavia regarded the question of annexing Austria as an "internal" German matter. Stojadinović stated that Yugoslavia had always enjoyed good relations with Germany except when it viewed the Reich through "somebody's else spectacles" (a reference to France), leading Hitler to say that Germany no longer viewed Yugoslavia "through Viennese spectacles". In 1938, Germany was planning to attack Czechoslovakia and Mussolini, in a bid to assist Hitler, worked to detach Yugoslavia from the Little Entente. In June 1938, Stojadinović met with Count Ciano and promised him that Yugoslavia would do nothing if Germany attacked Czechoslovakia. In return, Stojadinović asked that the Italians use their influence with the Hungarians to keep Hungary from attacking Czechoslovakia, saying the Little Entente was directed against Hungary, and as long as Hungary remained neutral, so would Yugoslavia. After the Munich Agreement, Stojadinović appeared quite comfortable with the idea of Germany as the hegemonic power in Eastern Europe, and German-Yugoslav relations had improved so much that in late 1938, Stojadinović began talks about buying weapons from Germany for Yugoslavia. Stojadinović started to call himself vodja, Serbo-Croatian for "leader", but abandoned the title when he realized that the word vodja, when pronounced repeatedly in Serbo-Croatian, sounds like the word djavo ("devil"), which the Prime Minister's opponents took advantage of by mocking the JRZ supporters for seemingly hailing the "devil". However, Stojadinović calling himself "the leader" led the Prince Regent Paul to doubt his loyalty to King Peter II.
A day before the elections on 11 December 1938, Stojadinović told a group of journalists at a press conference in Belgrade that the JRZ's platform was: "One King, one nation, one state, prosperity at home, peace on the borders". During the election, Stojadinović presented himself as a strongman with campaign pamphlets proclaiming the slogan "one king, one nation, one state" and featured photographs of Stojadinović giving speeches to his uniformed followers. In late 1938 he was re-elected, albeit with a smaller margin than expected, failed in pacifying the Croats, raised a military-like legion of his own followers ('Green Shirts'), and did not formulate any clear political programme, providing the regent Paul with a welcomed pretext upon which to replace Stojadinović, on 5 February 1939, with Dragiša Cvetković. Prince Paul had by early 1939 come to see the ambitious Stojadinović with his dreams of being a fascist leader as a threat to own power.
Following his replacement, the Prince Regent went further by detaining Stojadinović without proper cause until he had managed, with the help of his strong personal ties to King George VI of the UK (who had been the Prince Regent's best man in 1923) to enlist the support of the United Kingdom to have Stojadinović sent into exile to British Crown colony of Mauritius, where he was kept during World War II. On 17 March 1941, Stojadinović was handed over to a British Army force in Greece, from where he was sent on to Mauritius. By this point, Paul favored exile as he feared Stojadinović could be the focus of a pro-Axis coup directed from Berlin. Paul wanted to ensure that there was no alternative leadership in Belgrade for which the Axis powers could do a deal with. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill justified interning Stojadinović in the Mauritius as he was a "potential Quisling and an enemy".
In 1946 Stojadinović went to Rio de Janeiro, and then to Buenos Aires, where he was reunited with his wife and two daughters. Stojadinović spent the rest of his life as presidential advisor on economic and financial affairs to governments in Argentina and founded the financial newspaper El Economista. Stojadinović was close to the Argentine president Juan Perón to whom he was an economic adviser. The affluent lifestyle of Stojadinović in Buenos Aires suggested the rumors of personal corruption on his part during his time as prime minister had some foundation in fact. In 1954, Stojadinović met with Ante Pavelić, the former Poglavnik of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) who also lived in Buenos Aires, and agreed to cooperate with him on the creation of two independent and enlarged Croatian and Serbian states. Since Pavelić's regime during World War II had killed between 300,000 and 500,000 Serbs, Stojadinović's willingness to work with Pavelić largely discredited him both in Yugoslavia and among the Serb diaspora overseas. The Ustasha campaign against the Serbs in World War II is viewed by the Serbs as an act of genocide, and the photographs of Stojadinović shaking hands with Pavelić finished off whatever was left of his good reputation. He died in 1961. Stojadinović's memoirs, titled Neither War, Nor Pact (Ni rat, ni pakt), were posthumously published in Buenos Aires in 1963 and were re-printed in Rijeka in 1970.
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