Emma Hatto introduces the Yugoslavian delegation at Lausanne, and notes their ambivalent relations with the Greeks during the negotiations.
Emma recently completed a PhD at Southampton on the Slovene politician Anton Korošec and his role in interwar Yugoslav state-building
The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes’ (SHS Kingdom) inclusion in the Lausanne Conference and resulting treaty among the ‘Allied and Associated Powers’ was one of notable significance for both the Allied Powers and the Kingdom itself. Having been created in the immediate aftermath of WWI to combine formerly independent Serbia with the South Slav-inhabited lands of the defeated Habsburg Empire, the majority of the Kingdom’s borders had been defined at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Its remaining territorial disputes in the Adriatic were resolved through the Treaty of Rapallo the following year.
As a WWI successor state, the SHS Kingdom’s involvement at Lausanne, therefore, constituted something of a triumph for the Allied Powers’ national self-determination-orientated reconstruction of post-war Europe. By the conference’s commencement in November 1922, the Kingdom had succeeded in ratifying a state constitution – albeit a controversial, highly centralised one strongly opposed by its most prominent Slovene and Croatian political parties. The British Foreign Office regarded the Vidovdan Constitution’s imposition of centralism as the primary source of disruption faced by the Kingdom’s Serb Radical Prime Minister Nikola Pašić’s government in the months immediately prior to the Lausanne Conference. It also acknowledged the ‘gigantic internal problem’ the kingdom faced in constructing a cohesive multinational state. However, the Foreign Office still regarded the Kingdom as a Paris Peace Conference success story, in that it was providing territorial security and relative political stability in the Balkans. The Lausanne Conference would see the Allied Powers attempt to recreate this success in the Near East.
For the SHS Kingdom itself, the period of its participation at the Lausanne Conference was one in which more western-orientated Yugoslav politicians were advocating closer ties with Britain and France. Among these politicians was the Slovene People’s Party (SLS) leader Dr Anton Korošec, who argued that the Kingdom should model itself on Western European, rather than Balkan styles of democracy and diplomacy. He pushed for the prioritisation of English and French in Yugoslav schools, believing that the foundations of diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties to Western Europe could be built for future generations through educational reform.
Within this context, the SHS Kingdom’s participation in the Lausanne Conference as an associated power alongside Britain and France represented a national progression of sorts, with the Kingdom associating itself with Western Powers on the diplomatic stage. Korošec’s SLS expressed concern that the Lausanne Conference would fail to result in a peace treaty due to what it perceived as conflicting British and French interests in the Middle East, citing its own experience of negotiating with Pašić’s Serb Radicals in Geneva prior to the creation of the Kingdom as an example of how such discussions could break down. But on the whole, it regarded Yugoslav participation at the conference as a positive and prestigious development, adopting a generally neutral tone in its commentary on Lausanne.
The Serb Pašić and his Serb Radical Party elite who represented the Kingdom at the Lausanne Conference, however, did not share the SLS’s Western European ambitions. Rather, their own perspective was shaped by Balkan affairs, and the threat posed by Stamboliyski and his Bulgarian territorial ambitions in the region. In the decade prior to the Lausanne Conference, Belgrade and Athens had typically maintained amicable relations in order to present a united front against Bulgaria.
But as their respective delegations arrived in Lausanne, the Serb Radicals’ attitude began to shift. Pašić did not fully support Athens’s ambitions in Asia Minor, and Greco-Serb relations were further strained by rumours that Greece intended to expel Serb minorities in Greek Macedonia, in order to accommodate the influx of Greeks from Asia Minor resulting from the Lausanne-ordered population exchange. Consequently, he, Momčilo Ninčić and the rest of his Yugoslav delegation adopted an inherently neutral stance at Lausanne. Indeed, Ninčić stressed repeatedly that the Serb Radical government in Belgrade’s priority in its participating in the conference was to ensure peace in the region. In stark contrast to the Serb element of the Yugoslav delegation’s tactics at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, any Yugoslav-Greek cooperation at Lausanne was restricted to Bulgarian issues, such as the persistent attacks both states faced from Bulgarian komitadji along their borders. This neutrality came despite Venizelos’s repeated attempts to secure the Yugoslav delegation’s support for Greek ambitions in Thrace.
As a result of this neutrality, the SHS Kingdom left Lausanne with Yugoslav-Greek relations in a rather unamicable state. But it in turn bolstered its image as an emerging, reliable diplomatic support for the Allied Powers in the Balkans, albeit not in the intentional manner Korošec had envisioned. The internal political instability which plagued the SHS Kingdom for the remainder of the 1920s would prevent it from strengthening this position, and its eventual descent into civil war in 1940 would render it difficult to view the state as a success in terms of the Allied Powers’ attempts to ensure peace in post-war Europe. Ultimately, the Lausanne Treaty would outlast the SHS Kingdom entirely, with the peace its delegation played a part in negotiating enduring to this day.
FEATURE IMAGE: ‘DELEGUES SERBES’ (L to R: CHRISTITCH, NINTITCH, ANTONYEVITCH, MILANOVITCH, GEORGEVITCH, NICOLITCH). SOURCE: AGENCE ROL COLLECTION – GALLICA.