Dimitrije Ljotić is an unfamiliar name outside of Serbia. Before you is the first article in a series dedicated to this man, his teachings and his work, all in chronological order beginning with his short, but comprehensive biography dealing with his background and early years. The Series will deal with his political life, his role as founder and teacher of a political movement and later armed forces in World War 2, his relation to specific people and specific events.
By the end of this series you’ll know why he was called the “Politician with the Cross“.
Dimitrije Ljotić was born in 1891 in Belgrade. Most of his life he spent in his hometown of Smederevo. His oldest known ancestors Đorđe, known as Ljota and Toma Dimitrijević came from the village of Blac, now in Greek Macedonia, in first half of 18th century. First they settled in a village of Krnjevo, close to town of Smederevo. Around 1750’s these two brothers built a wooden church in Krnjevo and dedicated it to saint George, their patron saint. At the end of 18th century, they resettled to Smederevo. According to legend, in their house the leader of the First Serbian Uprising, Đorđe Petrović Karađorđe, received the keys of Smederevo fort from the Turks. The family of Ljotić stayed loyal to the Karađorđević dynasty till the end. Dimitrije’s father, Vladimir Ljotić, had to leave Serbia in 1868, because he was wanted as conspirator against Obrenović dynasty, a rival dynasty to Karađorđević. He returned only after the abdication of of king Milan Obrenović in 1889, when first radical government of Sava Grujić was formed. Already in 1890 he was appointed as Serbian consul in Salonika. Later, Vladimir Ljotić was the president of Smederevo municipality and member of parlament. Between 1904 and 1909 he was again a consul in Salonika. He died in 1912.
As stated before, Dimitrije Ljotić was born in 1891 in Belgrade. He finished grade school in Smederevo, where he enrolled in high school. Upon relocation of his family to Salonika, Dimitrije Ljotić, barely 16 years old, graduated from the Serbian high school of Salonika, approved by the ministry of foreign affairs. In his early youth, in part because of his parents’ influence and partly because of the books he read, Dimitrije became very religious. He was thinking of becoming a priest and dropping out of faculty of law, but because of his father’s disapproval he gave up on that idea. His understanding of Christianity partially matched that of Tolstoy, in context of total refusal to defy evil. He became a vegetarian, abstainer, devoted with his whole being to the purity of Christ. He was so devoted to this path that when recruitment for the Balkan war begun, he was determined to refuse giving the military oath. Luckily for him, the time for giving the oath never came as he was underage. However, in order to express his patriotism, Dimitrije Ljotić volunteered to the medical service. During Balkan wars he worked in quarantines and healed the people infected with typhus.
In autumn of 1913. he went to Paris, where he stayed until the break of World War 1. His trip to Paris was the idea of King Peter the Ist who wanted to prepare him for diplomatic service, and education in France was a thing of prestige. In Paris, his commitment to monarchism and his rightist spirit developed more and more. He often visited the meetings of French royalists, and on one of those meetings he said: “All the more we should be monarchists, because we have our own national dynasty!“
On his return to Serbia on September 1st 1914, he received a call to the army. With it, as one of 1300 corporals, he survived the Albanian Golgotha and recovered from it on island of Corfu. During the pursuit of Germans and Bulgarians through Serbia, Dimitrije was wounded on Ovčije field. After all his combat experience, Dimitrije lost the sense of pacifism he had before. After the end of the war he was appointed commander of the railway station in Bakar (between Rijeka and Zadar). His observation of Croat peasants from Bakar and Serbs in military was interesting, seeing how in first days Croats were more for Yugoslavia than the Serbs were. That changed dramatically very quickly. For that drastic change in Bakar, Ljotić blamed the Jews who through usury begun to get rich, exploiting the hunger that was present in first days of new country.
On 16th of April 1920, a railwaymen strike broke out, orchestrated by the Communist party of Yugoslavia. Their intention was to on the one hand prevent the delivery of ammunition that was intended against (((Bela Kun)))’s Hungary, and on the other hand with prevention of demobilization to instigate riots in the military among reservists. Dimitrije broke the strike in Bakar in a single day, arresting 36 railwaymen, sending them all to the authorities. He was demobilized on June 17th 1920. In Bakar he found his future wife Ivka with whom he had three children.
After demobilization he returned to Smederevo where he opened his lawyer office after he graduated in Belgrade in 1921. He joined the People’s Radical Party and soon became president of it’s youth wing. From 1926 he was considered a dissident by some circles in the party because of his deep religious stances. As a party dissident, Dimitrije Ljotić ran for parlament in 1927. In these elections he won 5614 (19,7% of) votes and it wasn’t enough for him to win a seat, while in his hometown of Smederevo the Democratic party won. This was the last time he ran as a candidate of the regime’s party. In his later political life he would deal with criticism of Yugoslavian regime and it’s work and even form his own political movement.
Today he is most remembered for his role in warn-torn Serbia during the Second World War, trying to salvage anything he could from the mistakes of his predecessors.