CROATIA: MYTH AND REALITY
C. Michael McAdams
MYTH: "A CROATIAN USTASE TERRORIST ASSASSINATED KING ALEXANDER"
Myth: King Alexander Karageorgevic was assassinated by a Croatian Ustase terrorist. In an interesting anti-Catholic twist, John Soso, writing in the Hayward, California Daily Review, declared that the Croatian assassin fled to and was harbored by the Vatican.
Reality: King Alexander Karageorgevic was assassinated by a Macedonian named Vlada Gheorghieff, a member of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization. Gheorghieff did not flee to the Vatican. He was attacked on the spot by French police and died the evening of the assassination.
This myth was one of the first to be cultivated by Serbian disinformation artists almost immediately after Alexander's death in 1934. Despite the fact that this was the first assassination to be captured on motion picture film and the identity of the gunman was known throughout the world, the "Croatian assassin" myth can be found in encyclopedias and otherwise scholarly works.
The story of Alexander's death began years earlier when the Croatian pacifist leader Stjepan Radic and four other Croatian leaders were gunned down by a Serbian Deputy on the floor of Parliament. Alexander followed this blow by declaring himself King Dictator on January 6, 1929, abolishing any pretense of constitutionality. Using murder as an instrument of government, he outlawed all political parties, began persecution of Jews and quickly became one of the most hated dictators in Europe. When the famed Croatian intellectual Milan Sufflay was brutally murdered by Alexander's secret police, even Albert Einstein and Heinrich Mann joined in the international chorus of condemnation of the regime writing in New York Times of May 6, 1931:
The facts show that cruelty and brutality practiced upon the Croatians only increase...Murder as a political weapon must not be tolerated and political Serbian murderers must not be made national heros.
By 1934, more than 19,000 Croatians had been sentenced to prison for up to twenty years or more and over two hundred had received the death penalty for violations of the draconian catch-all decree known as the "Act for Defense of the Realm." Hundreds more "committed suicide," died of illness in prison or were shot by gendarmes in the "suppression of rebellion." Montenegrins, Slovenes, Macedonians and even democratic Serbs did not fair much better under Alexander's despotic rule.
Having removed all peaceful options for change, Alexander, like Hitler and Mussolini, lived in fear for his life with good cause. From the founding of Serbia in 1804 to the founding of Yugoslavia in 1918, there were eleven reigns. Over this 114 year period the average reign was less than ten years. Of all rulers in Serbian history, only two, Milos and Petar I, died on the throne of natural deaths, and both of them had come to power after being in exile.
The Karageorgevic dynasty was founded by Karageorge ("Black George") Petrovic, a pig farmer who by his own admission killed 125 men with his own hands, his stepfather and brother among them. He was killed by Milos in 1817. Black George's son Alexander returned to the throne in 1842 but was deposed by the rival Obrenovic "dynasty" and died in exile in 1885. Alexander Obrenovic and his queen were in turn murdered in 1903 by Petar I, father of Alexander of Yugoslavia. Alexander came to power only because his older brother Prince George murdered his valet and was forced to renounce his claim to the throne.
The legacy of Serbia's kings, the oppression of Yugoslavia's nationalities and the wrath of those who escaped it came together on October 9, 1934 when the Yugoslav cruiser Dubrovnik steamed into the port of Marseilles, France with Alexander on board. Under his tight-fitting Navy admiral's unifom the King wore his customary bullet-proof vest. Because of the size of the Dubrovnik, the ship anchored in the bay and Alexander came ashore on a smaller boat, leaving most of his ninty-man bodyguard behind. Alexander had been on French soil less than five minutes when Vlada Gheorghieff mounted the running board of Alexander's car and opened fire with a twenty round Mauser machine pistol, killing the King, French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou and two bystanders. Gheorghieff, a Macedonian by birth and a Bulgarian citizen, was a member of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization which sought to free Macedonia from Yugoslavia. French Colonel Piolet, mounted on horseback beside the car, immediately drew his saber and attacked Gheorghieff who died later that evening. The famed French defender Georges Desbonnes later recalled that "out of respect for His Majesty, the physicians did not examine the king's whole upper torso, missing at first the mortal wound through Alexander's back.
The entire event was captured on film and covered by dozens of journalists and witnessed by hundreds of people. Alexander was among the most hated and feared dictators in Europe and a half-dozen or more other would be assassins of various nationalities were waiting in Marseilles that day. Because Alexander's mortal wound was in his back, and Gheorghieff at his front, Georges Desbonnes was sure that a bullet from one of Alexander's wildly firing bodyguards actually killed him. In any event, there is no historical question that a Macedonian-born Bulgarian citizen and member of the Macedonian Revolutionary Movement by the name of Vlada Gheorghieff mounted the running board, pulled the trigger, was struck down on the spot, died in custody that evening and was laid to rest in a Marseilles cemetery in the presence of two detectives and a grave digger.
Picture:Vlada Gheorghieff, a member of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization is struck down by Capt. Piolet, on horseback, moments after assassination of Alexander. The assassination was the first to be captured on motion picture film.