Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Genocide and Resistance in Hitler's Bosnia" by Marko Attila Hoare [2]

CHAPTER ONE: THE COMMUNISTS AND THE SERB REBELLION, c. APRIL-SEPTEMBER 1941

I will make no effort to systematically summarize and review the entire contents of this substantial work, which manages to synthesize a great deal of archival information, documentation, and historical data into a coherent and readable narrative without sacrificing clarity or comprehensiveness. Instead, I will very briefly summarize the general focus of each chapter so that I might communicate some minimal sense of the larger framework Dr. Hoare richly illustrates. This entire review comes with the implied caveat that I cannot hope to do full justice to the book.

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This 80-page chapter covers the initial uprising in Bosnia, which was initially a home-grown resistance to the Ustasha genocide committed by the NDH fascist regime. Because my summary will be far too brief to do justice to the themes covered in this chapter, I will take the liberty of quoting the entire opening paragraph--which serves as something of an extended thesis statement--in full:

"The Partisan movement in Bosnia-Hercegovina was the product both of long-term socio-economic developments at home and of the short-term 'accident' of foreign invasion and occupation; it involved the merger of a traditional Serb-peasant uprising and a modern urban-revolutionary movement; and it represented both a characteristic chapter and a turning-point in modern Bosnian history. The Axis powers of Germany and Italy, by destroying the Yugoslav kingdom, changed the course of Bosnian history. Their installation in power of the Ustasha regime, and the latter's genocide of the Serb population in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, unleashed a resistance movement that would take shape as the Partisans. Yet the Partisans were not simply an armed response to the new order, but a revolutionary movement of a specifically Bosnian kind."

The Axis invasion of Yugoslavia led to an occupation where the country was split into German and Italian zones of control; the Nazi leadership made sure to control the parts of Yugoslavia essential to their greater strategic aims as well as assuring control over key mineral deposits in Bosnia, for example. The Axis also set up puppet regimes, both in a truncated Serbia and in a greatly enlarged Croatian Ustasha state, the NDH.

The necessity of maintaining some degree of independence ultimately proved a boon to the resistance, as the armed forces of the NDH were inadequate for the task of successfully defeating a mass armed uprising. The creation of this "greater Croatia" in fact if not in name actually exacerbating the Ustasha's difficulties, as ethnic Croats made up just barely over half of the population of the NDH, and the Ustasha were of course only a minority faction of this bare majority.

So while the ruling party dutifully carried out their duties as Nazi allies in committing genocide against the Jewish and Gypsy minorities, the demographic realities of their new state combined with their toxic ideology led the Ustasha leadership to simultaneously pursue a policy of genocide against the sizable Serb population (Muslims being considered Croats who had converted to Islam). Whether this genocide had been planned from the outset, or was a decision that was arrived at later is a matter of debate; what is clear is that the genocide was a product both of Ustasha ideology and the circumstances of World War II but not of Croat nationalism itself.

The Ustasha genocide was brutal and savage, but limited by the military weakness of the NDH state. Dr. Hoare wades briefly into the controversy over the numbers killed both in the genocide generally and at Jasenovac specifically; no need to rehash that argument here. The relevant point is that the genocide was real, it did happen, but it was neither as efficient nor as thorough as the Holocaust both because of the lack of manpower and logistical support that the Nazi state had at its disposal, and also because it does seem that the genocide was carried out with varying degrees of ruthlessness and systematic thoroughness from place to place. The infamous Ustasha aim of (to paraphrase) killing one-third of Serbs, expelling another third, and converting the final third to Catholicism, while vile beyond measure, actually serves to illustrate the difference; one cannot fathom a high-ranking Nazi contemplating assimilating any number of the Jews of Europe.

[Note: In the interests of keeping this post at a manageable length, I will be grossly oversimplifying the narrative; my apologies to the author if I neglect any important nuances or fail to properly emphasize certain key points. Any incoherence in the following account is entirely my own, and does not reflect the much more comprehensive and well-developed account in the book]

In the meantime, the KPJ (Communist Party of Yugoslavia) was preparing and organizing for resistance, while waiting for authorization from Moscow (which would come after the German invasion). Dr. Hoare has done an admirable job of explaining the process by which the party organized, and by which connections between Bosnia's small but growing urban working class and the villages were developed and utilized. For example, seasonal timber workers were often exposed to Communist ideas while working at mills with other workers, then took those ideas home with them. Schoolteachers were another important conduit of Communist indoctrination, since they brought ideas to the villages they had picked up at universities and in cities; the author points out that educated and literate people often served as important providers of news and information in provincial isolated villages where illiteracy was common and there was little if any access to broadcast media.

Because of the unique nature of the uprising in Bosnia, Communist proclamations usually stressed Bosnian--rather than Yugoslavian--patriotism; appeals were made to all the peoples of Bosnia. This was a multinational, inclusive ideology, but it often jarred with the sentiments of the fighters in the field, and would not go unchallenged by rebel leadership.

I should note that there is a great deal of material detailing the political development of the Bosnian branch of the KPJ and its relation to the central organization, as well as a great deal of information regarding key figures involved; in the interests of brevity I will not dwell on these admittedly important aspects to the story.

The uprising, when it came, was fought largely in rural areas at first, and most soldiers were Serb peasants from the countryside; yet the majority of Bosnian KPJ cadres and leaders were urban-based, and frequently non-Serbs. The KPJ was not in a position to create this rebellion on its own, nor to completely control it. However, the KPJ was able to "ride the tiger" with an admirable degree of success and step into a leadership role once events were underway; the hard work of organizing throughout the towns and cities of Bosnia had born fruit, as the Partisans were able to provide the logistical and institutional leadership apparatus necessary to coordinate and direct disparate rebel units--the countryside needed urban centers to act as the "nerve centers" of the uprising. Hoare writes:

"Bosnia-Hercegovina created the Bosnian KPJ organization, not vice versa, and the Communists and the peasant rebels formed an organic whole."

The revolt spread across all of Bosnia, although it broke out at different times and with differing levels of success and participation, some of which was arguably due to institutional in-fighting which I won't recount now, and some of which was due to jurisdictional issues; i.e., some areas fell into a no-man's land between regional organizations. In the meantime, the KPJ was busy trying to normalize the structure of the Partisan movement; a thorough reorganization of the military and civilian institutions was carried out. The Partisan army was reordered, and the introduction of Communist insignia, flags, and other symbols was introduced. In liberated areas, governing was carried out by "People's Liberation Councils" (NOOs), which combined Communist organization with traditional village government quite effectively.

None of these potentially positive developments could obscure the central challenge to the Partisan effort at multinational Bosnian state-building--the fact that the military rank-and-file was overwhelmingly Serb. This was no matter for idle ideological speculation, either, once the the Chetnik movement became active.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

"...Their installation in power of the Ustasha regime, and the latter's genocide of the Serb population in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina."

Genocide against the Serbs occured in Jasenovac, just as genocide of Bosniaks occured in Srebrenica. It is wrong to say that genocide against the Serbs occured in Croatia and Bosnia. That's simply not true. The genocide is confined to Jasenovac only. By the way, I am surprised Dr Hoare hasn't mentioned the Chetnik-fascists' genocide against Bosniaks? Or did he? He probably did in different segments of the book.

Quote:

"The relevant point is that the genocide was real, it did happen, but it was neither as efficient nor as thorough as the Holocaust both because of the lack of manpower and logistical support that the Nazi state had at its disposal, and also because it does seem that the genocide was carried out with varying degrees of ruthlessness and systematic thoroughness from place to place. The infamous Ustasha aim of (to paraphrase) killing one-third of Serbs, expelling another third, and converting the final third to Catholicism, while vile beyond measure, actually serves to illustrate the difference; one cannot fathom a high-ranking Nazi contemplating assimilating any number of the Jews of Europe."

Well said. But the Serbs have been exploiting their suffering by comparing it to the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust. And I think that's wrong.

Srebrenica Genocide Blog Editor