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The Sporazum, Tripartitate Pact, and Outbreak of World War II

Nationalist strife and portents of war induced Pavle to shore up national unity by reconciling the Serbs and Croats. On August 26, 1939, after months of negotiation, Cvetkovic and Macek sealed an agreement, the Sporazum, creating an autonomous Croatia. Under the Sporazum, Belgrade continued to control defense, internal security, foreign affairs, trade, and transport; but an elected Sabor and a crown-appointed ban would decide internal matters in Croatia. Ironically, the Sporazum fueled separatism. Macek and other Croats viewed autonomy as a first step toward full Croatian independence, so they began haggling over territory; Serbs attacked Cvetkovic, charging that the Sporazum brought them no return to democracy and no autonomy; Muslims demanded an autonomous Bosnia; and Slovenes and Montenegrins espoused federalism. Pavle appointed a new government with Cvetkovic as premier and Macek as vice premier, but it gained little support.

World War II began on September 1, 1939. The collapse of France in June 1940 crushed Yugoslavian hopes of French support. When Greece repelled Italian attacks in October 1940, Mussolini requested aid from Germany. Berlin in turn pressed the Balkan countries to sign the Tripartite Pact and align themselves with the Axis powers--Germany, Italy, and Japan. Romania signed in November 1940, and Bulgaria in March 1941. Now virtually surrounded by enemies, neutral Yugoslavia desperately sought allies. It recognized the Soviet Union in 1940 and signed a nonaggression agreement with Moscow in 1941. When Adolph Hitler redoubled pressure on Yugoslavia to sign his pact, Pavle and the cabinet stalled, hoping that Germany would attack the Soviet Union and ease the pressure on them. Time ran out for Yugoslavia on March 25. Convinced that the military situation of the country was hopeless, the government ignored pro-Western public opinion and signed a protocol of adherence to the Tripartite Pact. In return, Hitler guaranteed that Germany would not press Yugoslavia for military assistance, move its army into Yugoslav territory, or violate Yugoslav sovereignty.

On March 27, military officers overthrew the Cvetkovic-Macek cabinet, declared the sixteen-year-old Petar II king, and formed a new cabinet under General Dusan Simovic. Anti-German euphoria swept Belgrade; Yugoslav, British, French, and United States flags flew; and crowds shouted anti-Tripartite slogans. The demonstrations, however, unnerved the new government, which affirmed Yugoslav loyalty to the Tripartite Pact because of the country's perilous position. But the declaration did not convince Hitler. On April 6, 1941, the Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade, killing thousands. Axis forces then invaded, the Yugoslav army collapsed, the king and government fled, and on April 17 remaining resistance forces surrendered unconditionally.

Data as of December 1990