Shadow over Serbia: The Black Hand

A.W. Palmer describes how the troubled politics of Serbia played a large part in precipitating the first World War. By a policy of violence and assassination, a group of army conspirators, known as the “Black Hand,” laid a fuse to the Balkan powder-keg.

Early in the morning of June 11th, 1903, King Alexander Obrenovic of Serbia and his Queen were brutally murdered by a group of insurgent officers, who ransacked the royal palace of Belgrade in a fervour of inebriated patriotism. Ostensibly, the officers were angered by the King’s servile foreign policy and his suspension of the constitution, and by the intrigues of Queen Draga and her ambitious brothers.

Some of the conspirators were men of high principles, who had joined the regicides out of a genuine sense of public spirit. Many were members of the Radical Party and had not expected the assassination, for the actual killings were the work of young fanatics, steeped in a wilder revolutionary tradition than the Radicals. The murder of Alexander Obrenovic was, in fact, the prelude to a conflict between civil and military authority that was to transcend the limitations of Serbian politics and help plunge Europe into war.

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