Who's Who - Nikola Pasic

Photograph of Nikola Pasic Nikola Pasic (1845-1926) dominated the Serbian political scene for the first two decades of the twentieth century, forming no fewer than 22 cabinets during his numerous periods served as his country's Prime Minister.

Born in Zajecar, on the borders of Serbia and Bulgaria, Pasic engaged himself in radical politics and was elected a member of the Skupstina (National Assembly) in 1878, forming the Radical Party in 1881.  In 1883 Pasic was condemned to death for plotting the death of King Milan; he promptly fled to Austria, where he remained in exile until 1889.

His political career was more eventful than most: he formed his first ministry in 1891-92, and in 1899 was imprisoned following a dispute with the Obrenovic dynasty under King Alexander.  Four years later he returned to power with the violent overthrow of the Obrenovic monarchy; in their stead King Peter I was installed as the country's first constitutional monarch.

From 1903 onwards, until 1918, Pasic continued as Prime Minister, aside from a brief spell in 1908 when he temporarily fell from grace.

His years at the helm of the Serbian political scene prior to the outbreak of war in 1914 were marked by continuing dissent with the Serbian military, who were vocal in their demands for a Greater Serbia of the southern Slavs - which would have required a determinedly aggressive foreign policy.

Nonetheless, Pasic supported the conduct - and territorial gains consequent from - the Balkan Wars of 1912-13; emerging from the Balkan Wars Serbia's territorial boundaries were doubled in size.

Allied with the military high command's demands for a more expansionist foreign policy were a number of secret societies led by the Black Hand, led by Dragutin Dimitrijevic (who worked within the Serbian intelligence department, and who was later shot along with other Black Hand conspirators in 1917).

Bubbling discontent between Pasic's government and the military erupted in June 1914 with disagreements concerning the administration of conquered territories in Macedonia, resulting in a constitutional crisis.  As a consequence (and also on account of increasing illness) Crown Prince Alexander - King Peter's second son - was made regent and took over executive authority on behalf of the King.

With the Black Hand's assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914, Pasic found himself implicated in the murder as a Serbian government accomplice of Gavrilo Princip and his co-conspirators.

Controversy continues today in determining Pasic's involvement, although it is generally considered unlikely; there is evidence that having heard of the assassination plot he gave orders for the arrest of the conspirators as they left Serbia (which were not however acted upon).

Nevertheless, Austria-Hungary - who were long displeased with Serbian agitation - saw an opportunity to lay charges against the Serbian government, and to consequently take punitive action.

The Austro-Hungarian waited some three weeks before presenting Serbia with its ultimatum, the nature of which prompted the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey to note that he had "never before seen one State address to another independent State a document of so formidable a character."

Austria-Hungary gave Serbia two days in which to reply to the ultimatum.  Pasic's reply was masterly.  Although he recognised the inevitability of war - and consequently sought assurances from Russia that she would upheld her pledge to protect her Slav friends - he sent a reply which conceded virtually all of Austria-Hungary's demands save one or two minor clauses.  He succeeded however in placing responsibility for the coming war with Austria-Hungary, while establishing the Serbian government's innocence.

As usual, the outbreak of war temporarily halted internal political disputes; Pasic meanwhile busied himself with seeking declarations of support from the western Allies for military and diplomatic support (the latter for an enlarged Serbian state).

Although the first invasion of Serbia, at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian army in 1914, had been heroically beaten off, the second, led by Germany's von Mackensen in the autumn of 1915, swept the Serbian government and army out across the Albanian mountains to Corfu at the start of 1916.

Once in Corfu, Crown Prince Alexander, until then relatively complaisant, began to assert greater control and influence over Serbian policy - he found himself at odds with Pasic in his support for a wider state comprised of the southern Slavs.

Once again agitation for the Greater Serbia idea resurfaced until, in July 1917, Pasic agreed to the Corfu Declaration - essentially a compromise solution with the so-called 'Yugoslav Committee' under Ante Trumbic.  Pasic remained opposed to the notion of a union of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and would rather have settled for an enlargement of Serbia via territory gains from a beaten Austro-Hungarian empire.

Having agreed the Corfu Declaration Pasic nonetheless sought to undermine the Yugoslav Committee's influence among Serbia's western Allies, chiefly to prevent the Committee being viewed as the rightful Serbian government in exile.

With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian government in late 1918 Pasic's hand was forced.  Alexander emerged as the dominant force in determining the outcome of the post-war Serbian state.  Throughout November Alexander effectively led discussions which led to the creation, on 1 December 1918, of the 'Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes' (renamed Yugoslavia in October 1929).

Pasic found himself out of power but nevertheless served as the Serbian representative at the Paris Peace Conference, winning considerable territorial gains for the new state through the treaties of Neuilly and St. Germain.

Pasic returned as premier in 1921, and again for two years shortly before his death in 1926.

The first zeppelin raid on London was on 31 May 1915.  Earlier raids in January 1915 had avoided London.  The London raid resulted in 28 deaths and 60 injuries.

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