Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Genocide and Resistance in Hitler's Bosnia" by Marko Attila Hoare [6]


This chapter covers events in Western Bosnia, which became the center of Partisan resistance after the collapse in eastern Bosnia under Chetnik, Nedicite, and Axis assault. In order to explain the dynamics at work in this region, Dr. Hoare moves back in time to the period just before the outbreak of the rebellion, in order to examine the regional particulars at work in this region; and also to explain why the Partisans were ultimately more successful in western Bosnia, and why this became the heart of the movement.

These developments are covered in extensive detail; rather than summarizing them all, I will merely note that in very broad terms some of the underlying challenges for the Partisans were the same--the chasm between city and country, the political immaturity of the Serb peasant soldiers, distrust between Partisan units and Croat and Muslim peasants, competition from Chetnik-sympathetic leaders, and so forth. There wasn't a war between Partisan and Chetnik armies, but rather a competition within one disparate resistance force from competing ideologies.

The Communists realized that they needed to increase their political presence in order to combat the appeal of crude Serb nationalist propaganda, and to make other institutional changes as well. When warfare finally did break out between the two groups, the Chetniks--further removed from Serbia than those in eastern Bosnia--were forced to turn to, of all possible allies, the Ustasha and the NDH state; the alliance between the two was never very stable or wholly productive, but along with the cooperation of the Italian and German occupiers this put the Partisan forces at an overwhelming disadvantage. Yet the inevitable defeat was almost temporary; for reasons which are complex and I haven't summarized here, the Partisans had greater public support and a more developed political infrastructure than in eastern Bosnia; once Axis troops pulled out, Partisan forces were easily able to resume control in spite of having been "defeated" the the Chetniks and their allies.

In short, the Partisans were ultimately more successful because in western Bosnia they not only realized that their best hope of defeating the Chetniks and uniting the people behind them was to put their multinational rhetoric and ideals into practice, they were--for a variety of local demographic, political, economic, and social factors--actually able to do so.

By the end of this chapter, the seeds of the future multinational Partisan army are beginning to bear fruit; the Croats of the Livno area were providing a solid base of Croat support, and Croats and Muslims of Bosanka Krajina were beginning to sense that there was a real difference between the Partisans and their Chetnik opponents. Real efforts were made to restrain the bigoted passions of peasant soldiers, to educate them in Partisan ideology and the nascent dogma of what would become known as "Brotherhood and Unity", and to articulate a Bosnian patriotism which could serve as a tangible, livable counter to Great Serb propaganda.

The chapter ends with a consideration of how Partisan efforts on behalf of gender equity were crucial to their ultimate success; Chetnik ideology was conservative in all respects, while Partisan rhetoric about the equality of women and their political and cultural liberation spoke to half of Bosnia's population. This was ultimately a great advantage for the Partisans--and their opponents knew it, as shown by the frequency of Ustasha and Chetnik propaganda about "women of low morals" and such.

It cannot be overstressed how much of Dr. Hoare's book focuses on the fact that the Partisans succeeded because they were ultimately able to impose an urban, literate, cosmopolitan leadership onto an army filled with recruits from rural, provincial, conservative villages and hamlets. The Chetniks--proudly rural, anti-urban, and conservative in all ways--ceded the cities to the Partisans, as well as the potential of Bosnia's women, and they would pay for their stubborn provinicialism.

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