How We Made the Balkans | The Nation


How We Made the Balkans

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The strains within multi-ethnic Yugoslavia (ruled by the Serbian king) were visible from the beginning. Apart from internal instability, Yugoslavia was the subject of territorial designs on the part of all its neighbors except Greece. Mussolini's Italy actively supported Croatian secessionists. The outbreak of World War II produced a new wave of ethnic retribution and massacres in Yugoslavia, directed mainly against Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. The orgy of killing was carried out by Serbia's neighbors--Hungarians, Bulgarians, Croats and Albanians--as well as by the Germans and Italians. In almost every part of the former Yugoslavia, governance was replaced by state terror on a horrifying scale. Those who found themselves under Italian rule were the least unfortunate.

About the Author

Dusko Doder
Dusko Doder, a former Moscow correspondent for the Washington Post, is the author of Shadows and Whispers: Power...

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The new Croatian state, run by a gang of fascist thugs brought to power by German guns and Italian politicians, announced its plans to "solve" the Serbian question and quickly moved to implement it: One-third of the 2 million Serbs in Croatia were to be expelled, one-third assimilated through conversion to Catholicism and one-third killed. More than half of the 40,000 Jews who lived in Croatia were slaughtered; others were sent to labor camps. Some 1,500 Jewish girls and women were held at the Loborgrad camp, where they were routinely raped.

In Serbia, which was under direct German rule, tens of thousands of Serbs were murdered due to Hitler's notorious order that 100 Serbs be killed for the death of a single German and fifty if a German was wounded by resistance fighters. In one town, where the Germans suffered ten dead and twenty-six wounded, the Wehrmacht could fill the required quota only by going to the local high school and executing students together with their teachers. Glenny also offers compelling evidence that the Wehrmacht planned and carried out the murder of more than 20,000 Serbian Jews and Gypsies without any prompting, an action that gives "the lie to Wehrmacht claims that it took no part in the genocidal programs of the Nazis." The Germans were assisted by several thousand ethnic Germans in Belgrade as well as by members of the small Serbian fascist movement.

After gunning down more than 10,000 Jewish men, the German Army refused to execute women and children, on the grounds that it was dishonorable; instead, they were gassed to death inside a special "delousing truck." Of the 8,000 women and children held in a camp at Sajmiste, only six remained alive; all six were foreign citizens married to Serbian Jews.

This helps explain why, uniquely in fascist Europe, Serbs were the first to mount organized resistance, either by joining the royalist Chetniks or the Communist Partisans, and were joined by relatively large numbers of Yugoslav Jews. It also explains why Marshal Tito and his Communists were able to seize power in Belgrade in 1944 without Communist Russia's assistance.

Glenny's otherwise excellent book seems to run out of steam in the last chapter, which shows signs of haste. In dealing with the most recent events he is less satisfactory, in contrast to his firm grasp of historical facts in the preceding chapters. For all his insights, Glenny does not provide a clear view as to what would have been an intelligent and constructive Western response to the outbreak of wars in the former Yugoslavia. The West did not cause them; and while subsequent Western involvements did indeed frequently make matters worse, that was more the result of diplomatic ineptitude and domestic political considerations than ulterior imperial designs in Washington, London and Paris.

We are now stuck in the Balkan morass without an exit strategy or a credible political program. The only constructive way out lies in sustained economic and political reconstruction of the entire region. One can make a strong case for political and economic restitution; in the long run this would serve the interests of Europe and the United States. Failure to engage the region actively will insure more civil strife, more nationalist vengeance, less stability and decades of Western military presence to keep the peace. At least, in dealing with the realities and hypocrisies of past international events, Glenny swings the pendulum in the right direction. Few people writing on the Balkans during the past decade have been able to resist the fashionable spin of the moment; Glenny did. This makes The Balkans very well worth reading.

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