Rezension 61

Stevan K. Pavlowitch: Hitler’s New Disorder: The Second World War in Yugoslavia. London: Hurst, 2008. 333 pages. Includes bibliographical references and index. Euro 34.99.- (Hardcover)

 

Hitler’s New Disorder is the much revealing title of the new book by Stevan K. Pavlowitch, the doyen of Balkan historians in Britain. In its unbiased and multi perspective approach and coverage of sources, the book follows in the footsteps of another Yugoslav émigré Jozo Tomasevich, who in his two-volume oeuvre provided the most elaborate if not strictly scholarly English language account of the tumultuous years of WWII in occupied Yugoslavia.[1] The importance of WWII in Yugoslav history can not be overemphasized, not only for its violence and ruptures, but also for how deeply it permeated post-war development. Moreover, Yugoslavia’s collapse in the 1990s and the wars that ensued revived the rhetoric, symbols and memories if not the weapons of WWII prompting some of the foreign observers to wonder whether WWII in Yugoslavia ever had really ended. It is thus praiseworthy that the author and publisher realized the need for a book which would both integrate new research and some previously overlooked sources and offer a synthetic and readable account. The dire need for a new synthesis is strengthened by the fact that the Yugoslav mass historiographic production on WWII is now largely discarded, especially the propagandistic works published for foreign audiences. Among its many shortcomings, Yugoslav historiography notoriously denied or downplayed fratricidal and interethnic conflict during WWII, interpreting events within the simple fascist-antifascist binary. On the other hand, the numerous works of émigré Četnik, Ustaša or Ljotić adherents and their British or American supporters retain only their documentary value of distorted views of losers who continued their struggles albeit on paper.

Drawing on archival sources, interviews and literature Pavlowitch unveils the myriad of interrelated struggles that took place in occupied Yugoslavia and that escape the perennial fascist-antifascist dichotomy. Today the fact that in Yugoslavia, more people died in massacres and genocide of civilians committed by local actors than in the hands of the Nazi, Italian and Bulgarian occupiers regardless of how brutal their occupation was, can hardly be disputed. Nazi brutality was namely in the function of establishing Hitler’s New Order in Europe which in Yugoslavia, maybe more than anywhere else, resulted in mayhem of unforeseen proportions. The disorder in Yugoslavia was caused by various interests of several occupying powers and most of all by the untenable Nazi backed and criminally led Independent State of Croatia. These two factors were largely responsible for the appearance of the multitude of armies, insurgents and militias, which in turn embroiled in constant shifts of policies, alliances and political and ideological agendas as Pavlowitch skilfully demonstrates. Using Italian sources and documenting heavily both the events in the Italian occupied zone and Italian views Pavlowitch opens another new perspective as almost all previous works were based on Yugoslav and/or German sources, most of which are also available in US on microfiches.

Pavlowitch’s narrative is cold and factual allowing no space for ideological bias, glorification or discrediting remarks. He incorporates the achievements of most previous works that dispelled numerous myths surrounding WWII in Yugoslavia such as the path breaking study of Bogoljub Kochovich on the number of victims, the new research demystifying the Kragujevac massacre, research on the number of victims in concentration camps, etc. What is missing are the results of recently revised and analysed data on the 1964 war victims census by Dragan Cvetković in Belgrade and the new synthesis on Jasenovac camp research produced by the Jasenovac Memorial Centre in Croatia.[2] While numbers in themselves certainly can not account for all aspects of the Yugoslav war tragedy, some appalling figures which Pavlowitch present do help to situate the events often obscured by the heroic prism of Partisan victors. According to usually reliable German accounts the initial insurgence in Serbia was put down with the cost of thirty three thousand lives of Partisan fighters or Serbian hostages while German casualties numbered 203. Similarly the number of Partisan casualties and executed prisoners after the Kozara battle reached twenty six thousand with German casualties being thirty three killed, eighty injured and thirty three missing in action (67, 122).

Another aspect illuminated by Pavlowitch is the Nazi German strategy of looting and economic exploitation, a key component of the new order, or disorder, policy as Goetz Aly recently has clearly pointed out once again. Unfortunately Pavlowitch does not present the results of the research done by Holm Sundhaussen, Sabine Rutar and other German scholars on various aspects of German economic plans and actual exploitation in the Yugoslav lands. What is also lacking and what are at the same time the few most enthralling passages in the book are descriptions of everyday life under occupation and other issues not directly related to ideological formations, factional strife and conflicts. One example is a nice episode on the Vrnjačka Banja spa resort in occupied Serbia and its wartime visitors. Yet looking at war beyond armed conflict would require a book on its own and one is left to desire Pavlowitch does it with his style and erudition.

On a final note and despite the publisher’s intentions this reviewer remains in doubt as to the potential readership of Pavlowitch’s book. In a very detailed and dense synthesis and for the sake of brevity Pavlowitch gives references only occasionally if he deems an issue very controversial or when he uses an unusual source. Thus, the book is hardly of use for professional researchers and at the same time a heavy reading for students or the general audience. For the latter a review of existing research and literature would have been very helpful. With only few maps and pictures and a short list of important figures in its apparatus this history of WWII in Yugoslavia stays on half way between scholarly and popular reading.

 

Reviewed by Bojan Aleksov (School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, University College London). Email: b.aleksov@ssees.ucl.ac.uk

 


[1] Jozo Tomasevich: The Chetniks: war and revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945and War and revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: occupation and collaboration (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975 and 2001).
[2] Nataša Mataušić: Jasenovac 1941-1945: logor smrti i radni logor (Jasenovac: Javna ustanova Spomen-područje Jasenovac, 2003).

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