Black Hand (Serbia)
Unification or Death's logo
Unification or Death (Serbian: Уједињење или смрт / Ujedinjenje ili smrt), popularly known as the Black Hand (Црна рука / Crna ruka), was a secret military society formed on 9 May 1911 by officers in the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia, originating in the conspiracy group that assassinated the Serbian royal couple in 1903, led by captain Dragutin Dimitrijević "Apis".
It was formed with the aim of uniting all of the territories with a South Slavic majority not ruled by either Serbia or Montenegro. Its inspiration was primarily the unification of Italy in 1859–70, but also that of Germany in 1871. Through its connections to the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which was committed by the members of youth movement Young Bosnia, the Black Hand is often viewed as having contributed to the start of World War I by precipitating the July Crisis of 1914, which eventually led to Austria-Hungary's invasion of the Kingdom of Serbia.
Apis' conspiracy group and the May Coup
This section needs expansion with: events occurring in the long time span between the described regicide and the events of the next subsection. You can help by adding to it. (April 2017)
In August 1901, a group of lower officers headed by captain Dragutin Dimitrijević "Apis" established a conspiracy group (called the Black Hand in literature), against the dynasty. The first meeting was held on 6 September 1901. In attendance were captains Radomir Aranđelović, Milan F. Petrović, and Dragutin Dimitrijević, as well as lieutenants Antonije Antić, Dragutin Dulić, Milan Marinković, and Nikodije Popović. They made a plan to kill the royal couple—King Alexander I Obrenović and Queen Draga. Captain Apis personally led the group of Army officers who killed the royal couple in the Old Palace at Belgrade on the night of 28/29 May 1903 (Old Style).
On 8 October 1908, just two days after Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, some Serbian ministers, officials, and generals held a meeting at the City Hall in Belgrade. They founded a semi-secret society, the Narodna Odbrana ("National Defense") which gave Pan-Serbism a focus and an organization. The purpose of the group was to liberate Serbs under the Austro-Hungarian occupation. They also undertook anti-Austrian propaganda and organized spies and saboteurs to operate within the occupied provinces. Satellite groups were formed in Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Istria. The Bosnian group went under the name Mlada Bosna ("Young Bosnia").
The Unification or Death was established in the beginning of May 1911, the original constitution of the organization being signed on 9 May. Ljuba Čupa, Bogdan Radenković and Vojislav Tankosić wrote the constitution of the organization. The constitution was modeled after similar German secret nationalist associations and the Italian Carbonari. The organization was mentioned in the Serbian parliament as the "Black Hand" in late 1911.
By 1911–12, Narodna Odbrana had established ties with the Black Hand, and the two became "parallel in action and overlapping in membership".
The organization used the magazine Pijemont (the Serbian name for Piedmont, the kingdom that led the unification of Italy, under the House of Savoy) for the dissemination of their ideas. The magazine was founded by Ljuba Čupa in August 1911.
By 1914, there were hundreds of members, many of whom were Serbian Army officers. The goal of uniting Serb-inhabited territories was implemented through the training of guerilla fighters and saboteurs. The Black Hand was organized at the grassroots level in 3 to 5-member cells, supervised by district committees and by a Central committee in Belgrade whose ten-member Executive Committee was led, more or less, by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević "Apis". To ensure secrecy, members rarely knew much more than the members of their own cell and one superior above them. New members swore the oath:
I (...), by entering into the society, do hereby swear by the Sun which shineth upon me, by the Earth which feedeth me, by God, by the blood of my forefathers, by my honour and by my life, that from this moment onward and until my death, I shall faithfully serve the task of this organisation and that I shall at all times be prepared to bear for it any sacrifice. I further swear by God, by my honour and by my life, that I shall unconditionally carry into effect all its orders and commands. I further swear by my God, by my honour and by my life, that I shall keep within myself all the secrets of this organisation and carry them with me into my grave. May God and my brothers in this organisation be my judges if at any time I should wittingly fail or break this oath.
The Black Hand took over the terrorist actions[which?] of Narodna Odbrana, and worked deliberately at obscuring any distinctions between the two groups, trading on the prestige and network of the older organization. Black Hand members held important army and government positions. Crown Prince Alexander was an enthusiastic and financial supporter. The group held influence over government appointment and policy. The Serbian government was fairly well informed of Black Hand activities. Friendly relations had fairly well cooled by 1914. The Black Hand was displeased with Prime Minister Nikola Pašić. They thought he did not act aggressively enough towards the Pan-Serb cause. They engaged in a bitter power struggle over several issues, such as who would control territories Serbia annexed in the Balkan Wars. By this point, disagreeing with the Black Hand was dangerous, as political murder was one of their tools.
It was also in 1914 that Apis allegedly decided that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir-apparent of Austria, should be assassinated, as he was trying to pacify the Serbians, and if this happened then a revolution would never occur. Towards that end it is claimed that three young Bosnian Serbs were recruited to kill the Archduke. They were definitely trained in bomb throwing and marksmanship by current and former members of the Serbian military. Gavrilo Princip, Nedeljko Čabrinović and Trifko Grabež were smuggled across the border back into Bosnia via a chain of underground-railroad style contacts. The decision to kill the Archduke was apparently initiated by Apis, and not sanctioned by the full Executive Committee (assuming Apis was involved at all, a question that remains in dispute). Those involved probably realized that their plot would result in war between Austria and Serbia, and had every reason to expect that Russia would side with Serbia. They likely did not, however, anticipate that the assassination would start a chain of events leading to World War I. Others in the government and some of the Black Hand Executive Council were not as confident of Russian aid. Russia had let them down recently. When word of the plot allegedly percolated through Black Hand leadership and the Serbian government (the Prime Minister Pašić was definitely informed of two armed men being smuggled across the border; it is not clear if Pašić knew the planned assassination), Apis was supposedly told not to proceed. He may have made a half-hearted attempt to intercept the young assassins at the border, but they had already crossed. Other sources say the attempted 'recall' was only begun after the assassins had reached Sarajevo. This 'recall' appears to make Apis look like a loose cannon, and the young assassins as independent zealots. In fact, the 'recall' took place a full two weeks before the Archduke's visit. The assassins idled around in Sarajevo for a month. Nothing more was done to stop them.
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The group encompassed a range of ideological outlooks, from conspiratorially-minded army officers to idealistic youths, sometimes tending towards republicanism, despite the acquisition of nationalistic royal circles in its activities (the movement's leader, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević or "Apis," had been instrumental in the June 1903 coup which had brought King Petar Karađorđević to the Serbian throne following 45 years of rule by the rival Obrenović dynasty). The group was denounced as nihilist by the Austro-Hungarian press and compared to the Russian People's Will and the Chinese Assassination Corps.
In 1938 a conspiracy group to overthrow the Yugoslav regency was founded by, among others, members of the Serbian Cultural Club (SKK). The organization was modeled after the Black Hand, including the recruitment process. Two members of the Black Hand, Antonije Antić, and Velimir Vemić were the organization's military advisors.
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Y августу 1901. нижи официри су, под руководством капетана Драгутина Димитр^евиhа — Аписа, створили заверенички покрет против ди- насти е ("Црна рука").
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- "The Constitution of the Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Unification or Death)". "Black Hand over Europe" by Henri Pozzi, 1935. Projekat Rastko. 1935 .
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