The First Murder of the Black Hand
At the same time of the turn of the nineteenth century that Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek of Austria-Hungary were attempting to convince Emperor Franz Josef that their marriage would not lead to the end of the Empire, another culturally inappropriate marriage was taking place between Alexander I of Serbia and Draga Lunjevica Mašin.
Draga, one of the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Natalja of Serbia, was not only older than Alexander, but she was encircled by dark rumors.
In the light of today’s Me, Too Movement, the treatment of Draga Mašin can be understood in terms of profound mental, and most likely physical, abuse. Draga’s father died in an insane asylum. Her mother died of severe alcoholism. Her brothers managed to demand a constant stream of money and benefits from their sister without offering even the slightest modicum of respect along the way.
But Draga’s problems did not end with her immediate family. In 1883 she married a Czech engineer named Svetozar Mašin who was known to be a violent alcoholic. Although no stories of abuse of Draga survive, it was not necessarily frowned upon to correct a wife physically at that time.
When Mašin died in 1886, his family disregarded his history alcoholism and publicly declared that Draga had poisoned him. Those stories, never proven, remained attached to her name.
But Draga and her reputation were not the only problem facing the Obrenović dynasty. Alexander himself was not well liked at all – a dislike that was then transferred in exponentially larger amounts to his new wife Draga, and he swung in a mercurial manner between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian superpowers.
His weakness created a vacuum in which one of the most famous terrorist organizations in history began to coalesce. In 1901 a group of Serbian military officers (and one Russian spy) formed The Black Hand Society, but they were not triggered into action until rumors began to circulate, probably by Draga’s drunken and braggart brothers, that the childless Alexander and Draga planned to name her brothers as heirs to the Serbian throne.
After a few thwarted attempts, on the night of 10/11 June 1903 the officers who made up The Black Hand Society (including Draga’s former brother-in-law Alexander Mašin, who led the search for the royal couple) invaded the palace with the intention of executing the royal couple.
The King and Queen managed to hide themselves well, and after two hours of searching the palace, The Black Hand Society killed two of the guards. They then demanded that Alexander’s aide-de-camp identify any hiding places under threat of death. The AdC, General Lazar Petrović waited out the deadline in silence.
The King and Queen were discovered in their hiding place, and a nearly orgiastic flurry of violence occurred, with the royal couple being shot, slashed with sabers, stabbed, and thrown out of a window into a pile of trash.
The coup was ended with the execution of Draga’s two brothers.
The assassination of the Obrenović King led to the installation of their rivals, the pro-Russian Karađorđević family, on the Serbian throne. It caused enormous earthquakes in the political make-up of the Balkans, and the aftershocks continued through to the events of 1914.
To read more about the history of Serbia, please click here.
- June 14, 2021