Yugoslavs and the Irish Revolution 1916-1923 (Belgrade 2009)
During the Easter Rising in Dublin of 1916, Austro-Hungarian newspapers in occupied Belgrade Beogradske novine, and Obzor in Zagreb, reported on the conflicts, trials and executions in Ireland. Both dailies, in accordance with the war policy, took the side of Irish revolutionaries whom they considered their allies. The Beogradske novine in comparing the Serb and Irish questions attempted to depict British political hypocrisy in the treatment of small nations. The Beogradske novine took an exclusively negative tone in writing about their British enemy, accentuating their brutality and failed policy towards Ireland. Obzor’s view on British rule in Ireland and the Easter Rising was identical, with more informative reporting of greater scope. On the other hand, the Belgrade daily Pravda, published in exile in Thessaloniki as of 1916, did not report on the Easter Rising.
The attention of the Belgrade and Zagreb press in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (SCS) was oriented towards the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921) and Irish Civil War (1922-1923). The civil war, nonetheless, caused less interest. Each newspaper had its own editorial stand on the Irish question, but almost all, disregarding sympathies or antipathies towards the Irish, accepted the fact that Ireland was a security issue for Britain, due to its geographic position and Ulster minority, complicating the resolution through complete recognition of independence. The Yugoslav press made mention of how links were established between the Germans and Irish during the World War, as well as between the Irish revolutionaries and Soviets later on.
Left-liberal daily Politika reported, more often than other Belgrade newspapers, on the wars in Ireland between 1919 and 1923. It offered trustworthy information and was sympathetic to the Irish Republicans. It also demonstrated being versed in the historical context of British-Irish relations. Politika accepted the self-proclaimed Irish Republic as a fait accompli. For Politika, the conflict between the Irish and British was a war between two warring factions. The Anglo-Irish Conference and Republican disagreements, which later led to the civil war, were of interest to Politika and its Paris, London and later Dublin correspondents. Politika took a neutral stand during the Irish Civil War. In the meantime, the paper devoted more attention than the remainder of the Belgrade press to news coming out of Ulster where the Republican paramilitaries continued their fight with British forces.
Pravda, close to the Democrats, in contrast to Politika, did not accept the self-proclaimed Irish Republic and took an adversarial stand towards the Republicans. Seldom, such as during the Republican hunger strike in 1920, did Pravda report in more detail than Politika. During the Irish Civil War, Pravda was sympathetic towards the Irish Provisional Government. The Belgrade daily Vreme, close to the Yugoslav Crown, supported the Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War in a similar manner like Pravda. It did not restrain from taking a harsh tone towards the Irish Republicans. Vreme’s reporting mirrored the position of the Yugoslav Crown on threats to legitimately elected bodies of government.
Samouprava, daily newspaper of the Serb Radicals, took the side of Britain, however with strong criticism directed at British rule in Ireland. Nonetheless, Samouprava was convinced to the very end, that the British would resolve the Irish Crisis “with wisdom and generosity”. Samouprava’s reporting, although offering excellent commentary on Irish circumstances, lacked daily briefing of the Anglo-Irish War. Samouprava showed no particular interest for the Irish Civil War, taking the side of the Irish Free State.
Demokratija, newspaper of the Belgrade’s wing of Yugoslav Democrats, took a more balanced approach to the Anglo-Irish War but did not report in too much detail on daily happenings in Ireland. Demokratija, like Samouprava, was of the persuasion that the British had already made quite a lot of conceits and that a dominion was the best the Irish could get. During its irregular publication, in time of the Irish Civil War, the paper did not report on these events.
The Serb Republicans, a marginal yet vociferous parliamentary party, uncompromisingly supported the Irish Republicans. The party organ Republika qualified British rule in Ireland as repressive and so-called. They accepted the Irish Republic as a fact. Republika was also scarce on daily events in Ireland.
Obzor reported on the Anglo-Irish War objectively, although with more understanding for the Irish. It took more interest in the peace process than Politika. It presented the positions of Sinn Féin, British and Ulster governments thus giving a wide spectrum of viewpoints on the Irish question. Obzor saw no other solution to the Irish crisis than the status of a dominion.
Although initially pro-British in its reporting, newspaper of the Zagreb’s wing of Yugoslav Democrats, Riječ was with the passing of time all the more balanced in its approach to the Irish problem and the Anglo-Irish War. Despite that, the paper’s sympathies remained with the British to the end. Riječ, like Obzor, wrote of the Roman Catholic Church’s support to the peace accord, mentioning the Austro-Hungarian model as a possible resolution to the Irish crisis. In time of the Irish Civil War, Riječ was favourable to the Irish Free State. During the simultaneous hostilities in Ulster, on which Riječ reported more often than Politika, it took the side of the British Government.
The Zagreb press had more frequent news and more detailed commentaries on Ireland than the Belgrade press. The Zagreb public was apparently more interested in the Irish crisis. The Nova Evropa, pro-Yugoslav journal based in Zagreb, presented both British and Irish arguments. However, newspaper of the Croat Republicans Slobodni dom and later other newspapers, began a different, more cunning approach to the Irish question.
The Serbian and later Yugoslav Government received reports, from its embassy in London, on war occurrences in Ireland between 1916 and 1923. The reports were informative, analytical and of great quality. They alerted to the seriousness of the situation and were more disposed to the British. Nikola Pašić, long standing Serbian and Yugoslav Prime Minister, also gave such support in the Parliament of Serbia, later Kingdom of SCS. However, it was just in that Parliament of the Kingdom of SCS that some Croat members, in reason of their indentifying the Irish with the Croat question, verbally clashed with Serbs and Pro-Yugoslav Croats.
A particular topic in the Yugoslav press was just the use of the perception of the Irish Revolution in the resolution of Serbo-Croat disputes as well as the Croat status in the Kingdom of SCS. The Slobodni dom was of the opinion that the Croat question should be resolved in the context of the Irish question’s solution. Obzor later joined it in that stance. Great efforts to resist this form of comparison of the Croat and Irish questions were given by Riječ, which had the support of the second party organ Demokratija. The Belgrade Republika pointed to possible complications in Serbo-Croat relations, including the eventuality of an Irish scenario, in the absence of change in the Government’s policy towards Croat demands.
Croat revolutionaries gathered by and close to the Frankist Croat Committee, both abroad and at home, were preparing a guerrilla war against the Kingdom of SCS from its very creation; similar to the Irish Republican Army’s against Britain. They termed this form of armed conflict the “Irish method” and were thus convicted and jailed in 1921 for high treason. Their codeword was “Sinn Féin”.
Several foreign interests and factors entangled the Croats in the struggle against the Kingdom of SCS, for now we know but of the Hungarians being familiar with the “Irish method”. The British Embassy in Belgrade informed its government of the Croat readiness to battle the Kingdom of SCS in the Irish manner. Simultaneous to the secret preparations for the armed “Irish method”, the Croat press and politicians were comparing the Croat and Irish fates and national questions.
The Croat Republicans sinisterly began demanding a political solution for the Croats in the Kingdom of SCS that would be similar to Irish revendications from Britain. They were later joined in their demands by the Croat Union. All ethnicities and both groups, later on fractions, of the Democratic Party warned of the incomparability of the two national questions. The Serb Radicals also did not believe that the Croats and Irish had anything in common.
Following the unification of the Frankists, Croat Republicans and Croat Union into the Croat Bloc, their parallels between the Croat and Irish questions gained swing. The Croat Bloc, during its political confrontation with the Yugoslav authorities, Radicals and Democrats, used the Irish example more than any other for resolving the Croat question. Threats of armed struggle according to the Irish scenario were not uncommon.
The Croat Bloc sent a felicitation to the British following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, however the Yugoslav authorities stopped the telegram. The political leadership of Croat secessionists, republicans and federalists took all the more affirmative stands on British policy hoping to gain support for resolving the Croat question in the Kingdom of SCS in fashion similar to the Irish. However, during the fratricidal conflict of the Irish Civil War, the Irish example became ever the less desirable for Croats who began stepping away from it. Britain certainly never accorded them support.
Finally let us review certain parallels of Irish-Serb similarities that have occurred during the resolution of British-Irish and inter-Irish disputes.
While summing up impressions from the failed talks at the conference on the Irish question and the delimitation of Ulster counties, members of the British Government were read Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia. Churchill considered that the Irish problems would disappear “in mists and storms” before this ultimatum.
During the World War, Germany had not given up on attacking Britain from behind. The possibility of German troop debarkation on the Irish isle was considered along with talk of an uprising with Irish Republicans in Ireland and the USA. One of the leaders of the Irish revolutionaries, Sir Roger Casement, wrote in 1915 in Berlin how the British press was “indignant” because Austria did not allow Serbia access to Adriatic ports all the while failing to notice that the best Irish ports were completely empty because of British policy towards the Irish. This was an interesting parallel between Ireland and Serbia, and far from being the only one.
On the other side, the Northern Irish Protestants considered Serbia their ally and friend. Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Unionists, demanded in 1915 that Britain implement mobilization in Ireland in order to complete its troops that would then be sent to assist attacked Serbia. Other Ulster leaders shared his opinion. But, the British Government was not ready to implement mobilization and in turn further aggravate circumstances in Ireland. In protest, Carson resigned his post in Government. He viewed the issue of military assistance to Serbia a question of honour.
The exclusion of Ireland from mobilization awoke further suspicions in Protestants towards Catholics. Relations were bad before, but they were, despite the differences, two communities that felt Irish. However, the avoided mobilization was one in a series of triggers that led to divisions. Sir James Craig, who was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1921, said during the World War that he was no longer an Irish, but rather a Briton or Ulsterman.
Following the crushing of the Easter Rising, all of its leaders with the exception of Éamon De Valera were executed. During the trial of two leaders of the Irish uprising, Pádraig Pearse and Roger Casement, it was said in the courts and newspapers that their inspiration or pretence for resolving the Irish question was, among others, in the resolution of the Serb question. Pearse and Casement asked why Ireland was prohibited what Serbia was allowed.
De Valera was of the opinion that the Irish question should not be compared to the Serb during the Anglo-Irish peace talks in 1921. He probably thought that Serbia, through the creation of the Kingdom of SCS, received such territorial expansion that the two national questions were incomparable at the moment. Any Irish comparison to Serbia would probably seem pretentious. Besides, the British viewed Irish revolutionaries from the time of the Anglo-Irish War as extension of the same anti-British policy from the time of the Easter Rising which should be offered as little as possible.
As world opinion became ever more informed of the internal weaknesses of the Yugoslav state, strained by Serbo-Croat relations, conflicts on the borders of the Kingdom of SCS, in Dáil Éireann would be heard giving warnings, during the Irish Civil War, to the renegade Irish Republican Army that the Irish Free State would not be “little Serbia in the West of Europe” and that it would solve the civil war by force.