File No. 763.72119/2061
The Special Agent at Corfu ( Dodge ) to the Secretary of State
[Received October 8.]
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt, late on the 8th instant, of your telegram of the 7th instant, 6 p.m.,1 informing me-that confidential reports were desired by the Department from time to time regarding the position of the Serbian Government as to the character of the relation to be established between Serbia and the Yugo-Slav provinces of Austria-Hungary in the event that the latter obtained their freedom.
Such reports will be furnished as desired. I may mention that during my residence here I have heard and seen in the Serbian and [Page 829] Yugo-Slav press little as to the details of this matter, the broad outlines of which are laid down in the so-called “Declaration of Corfu”, the text and a translation of which were enclosed in my despatch No. 2 of July 27, 1917.1 The members of the Government and other Serbs with whom I have talked upon this subject always assume that the constitution of the desired Yugo-Slav state will be based upon the principles laid down in this declaration. Unfortunately at present several of the principal members of the Government, including Mr. Pashitch, are absent from Corfu and expecting to remain away for some time. I have, however, taken advantage of my recent trip to Salonica (to be reported in a later despatch) during which I was constantly with Mr. Nintchitch, Minister of Public Works, and Mr. Gavrilovitch, now in charge of the Foreign Office, to ascertain from them what I could as to this matter. In so doing I have of course made no mention of the Department’s desire. The following is the substance of what I learned:
Mr. Nintchitch: The character of the relation to be established between Serbia and the Yugo-Slav populations of Austria-Hungary is determined in its outlines by the Act of Corfu which declares that the new state shall be a free democracy in which all the citizens shall be equal and having equal rights before the state and the law. It also prescribes that all elections whether national, departmental or communal shall be by universal, equal, direct and secret ballot. This act was signed by Mr. Pashitch, representing the Serbian Government, and by Dr. Ante Trumbitch, representing the other Yugo-Slav peoples. It was drafted at conferences at which there took part for Serbia, in addition to Mr. Pashitch, representatives of the principal other Serbian political parties and, in addition to Doctor Trumbitch, who is a Dalmatian, two other members of the Yugo-Slav Committee, one a Slovene and the other a Croatian. All the members of the conference unanimously approved of the act. Its text had immediately been published in Austria-Hungary and in Germany and became well-known to the Austro-Hungarian Yugoslavs and, so far as could be ascertained, won the approval of a very large majority of them. Of course, owing to the strict censorship and the difficulty of direct communication with these Yugoslavs as a whole, their sentiments could not be ascertained as exactly as they could in normal conditions. Nevertheless enough was known to make Mr. Nintchitch feel convinced that a very large majority of the Austro-Hungarian Yugo-Slavs enthusiastically supported the act. Yugo-Slavs abroad in Allied or neutral countries had also shown clearly their entire approval, including those in the United States.[Page 830]
The act only attempted to determine the broad outlines of the future government, as it had been considered unwise to go into details both because the members of the conference might not in that case be able to agree upon them unanimously and because such details might have caused differences of opinion outside the conference leading to discussion which in the present circumstances it was most important to avoid. Further the conference, which was not an elected body and was only in a sense representative, it being impossible to elect a truly representative body at the time, felt that it should not go beyond the outlines which all were practically certain to accept or attempt to bind the Yugo-Slav people as to details.
For the same reason and as freedom of expression was denied to the Yugo-Slavs in Austria-Hungary, it had been considered best to discourage any discussion of the details of the future government in the Serbian and Yugo-Slav press abroad. Very little such discussion had therefore appeared.
According to the Act of Corfu, the future state was not to be a federal one but a centralized state with local autonomies. So much was clear and was considered necessary, as the future state must be strong, as it would have enemies on or near its borders, Bulgaria and Germany: to the latter it must be a barrier to prevent German schemes of conquest in the Near East. Such a centralized state was understood to be desired by the Croatians and Slovenes. Regarding the organization of such a centralized state, Mr. Nintchitch declared that this would be left entirely to the decision of the freely-elected representatives of all the Yugo-Slav people. As soon as practicable after the Yugo-Slavs of Austria-Hungary had obtained their freedom, a constitutional convention would be called and this convention would freely draft the constitution of the future state. According to the Act of Corfu, the members of the convention would be elected by equal, direct, secret and universal suffrage.
Mr. Nintchitch discussed a few further details as to the future form of government but was careful to mention that the ideas he expressed were merely his own personal ones. The capital of the new state he thought should be Belgrade but in that case the King would be obliged to be in residence during regular periods of the year at cities in Croatia, Slovenia, etc., and especially at Agram. He mentioned a strong argument, to his thinking, against the maintenance of the present boundaries of the Yugo-Slav portions of Austria-Hungary in the new state, for the Serbs in Croatia, Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina would in that case desire to be united with Serbia, and as they must have the right of self-disposition this would of itself produce a very material modification of the present boundaries. Moreover the Croatians of Dalmatia, Bosnia [Page 831] and Herzegovina would also be desirous of being united to Croatia. There were, he thought, about three million Serbs left in the present Kingdom and as many more in the Banat, [Bachka], Montenegro, Croatia, Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The new state would include from twelve to thirteen million inhabitants about one-half of whom would be Serbs.
In a general way Mr. Nintchitch thought that the political organization of the new state should be like that of the present Kingdom of Serbia although the departments into which it would be divided might well have more local autonomy. It would be a parliamentary form of government with the Parliament elected, as prescribed by the Act of Corfu, by equal, direct, secret and universal suffrage. Ministers would be responsible to Parliament. Each of the present Serbian departments has a local assembly elected by universal suffrage. Its legislative powers are determined by the various laws passed by the Skupshtina and are usually limited to small local matters such as primary schools, communal roads, minor sanitary and police matters, etc. The acts of these assemblies are, however, subject to the veto of the Minister of the Interior who is himself responsible to the Skupshtina. Under the new constitution the powers of the departmental assemblies might be considerably enlarged.
Mr. Nintchitch did not think that the various portions of the new Kingdom would be found to differ to any great extent in the degree of their culture and civilization nor that the undoubtedly different interests of different portions would present any difficulties to harmonious co-operation. The different interests would be given free expression through local autonomies and the freely elected central parliament. It was true, however, that Serbia would enter the new state in a far more exhausted condition than the other Yugo-Slavs. He admitted that the new constitution would naturally be a good deal of an experiment, but changes would subsequently be made as found necessary, and with the profound desire for union of all the component parts of the new state, an arrangement satisfactory to all would eventually be found.
The statements made to me by Mr. Gavrilovitch were, so far as they went, similar to those of Mr. Nintchitch. Mr. Gavrilovitch, however, appeared anxious to avoid entering into details or expressing any personal opinion, stating that all discussion of such matters should be left for after the war and for the constitutional convention. It was sufficient for the present to fight for the liberation of the Yugo-Slav portions of Austria-Hungary. After their liberation it would be time enough to discuss details of the future state which must be based upon the Act of Corfu.
I have [etc.]