Introduction: Understanding the Partisan-Chetnik ConflictIn the wake of my review of How Bosnia Armed by Dr. Marko Attila Hoare, I am now reading another excellent work by the same author: Genocide and Resistance in Hitler's Bosnia, subtitled "The Partisans and the Chetniks 1941-1943".
The Introduction begins--after briefly defining the geographical and temporal parameters of his subject--in 1992:
"The war that erupted in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1992 involved the clash of two mutually exclusive political projects. On the one hand was the goal of a sovereign Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a state of Muslims, Serbs, Croats, and others, for which the majority of Bosnia-Hercegovina's citizens had voted and to which the Republic's leadership was formally committed. On the other hand was the goal of the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina into separate Serb, Croat, and Muslim entities. This second goal was supported by the leadership of the principal Bosnian Serb political party, increasingly by the leadership of the principal Bosnian Croat party, and was gradually accepted de facto by the leadership of the principal Bosnian Muslim party. "
I quoted this section at length because it is noteworthy for what it does not say--that the war in Bosnia was an ethnic between different ethnic groups. No honest inquiry into the root causes of the Yugoslav wars is possible unless one first understands the ideological and political roots of the situation. One must study the past in order to understand the present; but the past cannot illuminate the present unless one is willing and able to recognize current realities.
This is important, because Dr. Hoare goes on to elaborate that while Western supporters of Bosnia-Hercegovina "argued on the basis of contemporary values--multiethnicity, democracy, state sovereignty, and human rights", supporters of the Serb nationalist project relied more on historical arguments, with an emphasis on the events of World War II. Serbs, it was argued, had sound historical reasons to fear living in a multiethnic republic they did not dominate.
The pro-Serb nationalist version of WWII history depicted it as a period of ethnic civil war between heroic, anti-Nazi Serbs fought against pro-Nazi and/or avowedly fascist Croats and Muslims. Dr. Hoare also points out that all to often, Westerners sympathetic to Bosnia reversed the ethnic stereotypes and portrayed 'the Muslims' as good and tolerant and 'the Serbs' as evil and intolerant.
Dr. Hoare argues that the reality of World War II in Yugoslavia was quite different, that members of every national group fought on "both" sides (he understands quite well that the situation in Yugoslavia during the occupation was complex and that it is often quite difficult to generalize about the loyalty and motivations of disparate military units across time and space); it is also true that many Yugoslavs were caught up in the internal war between Partisans and Chetniks without being loyal to or supportive of either side.
That is not to say that the "national question" wasn't present in or important to events in World War II; rather, Dr. Hoare notes that:
"...it is often forgotten that the national question is not just about the claims of one nation set against those of another, but about different concepts of the nation held by members of the same nation."
More specifically, it needs to be explained how the Partisans came to triumph over the Chetniks while following an ideology of multiethnic cooperation and coexistence versus the Chetniks Great Serb ideology which soon led to genocide against non-Serbs in areas they controlled. While outside observers have assumed that the answer is self-evident--the Partisans were able to appeal to all Yugoslavs, while the Chetnik appeal was necessarily limited to Serbs--the answer is actually more complex, because while the Partisan movement ultimately became truly multiethnic at the grassroots level, it began as an anti-Ustasha uprising by almost exclusively Serb peasants. How did the Partisans succeed in establishing leadership over a resistance movement of mostly provincial and often chauvinistic Serbs? Why were the Partisans originally willing and able to cooperate with the Chetniks, and why did this cooperation eventually break down? These are some of the questions Dr. Hoare addresses in this fascinating study.
Finally, Dr. Hoare is determined to show that the Partisan struggle in Bosnia was not merely an important battlefield in a larger Yugoslav resistance movement, but also the creature of a distinct "Bosnian revolution," in which an ideology of multiethnic cooperation and a Bosnian patriotism triumphed over a Chetnik movement and its diametrically opposed ideology of Serb nationalism and ethnic exclusivism; what is more, the Bosnian Partisan rank-and-file numbered thousands of ethnic Serbs who fought and died for this Bosnian revolution.
How did all this happen? These are some of the major themes of this excellent book.