Serbia's Great War 1914-1918 (Central European Studies)

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9781557534767: Serbia's Great War 1914-1918 (Central European Studies)
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Mitrovic's volume fills the gap in Balkan history by presenting an in-depth look at Serbia and its role in WWI. The Serbian experience was in fact of major significance in this war. In the interlocking development of the wartime continent, Serbia's plight is part of a European jigsaw. Also, the First World War was crucial as a stage in the construction of Serbian national mythology in the twentieth century.

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About the Author:

Andrej Mitrovic; is Chair and Professor of Modern History at the University of Belgrade. He has written widely on the First World War and the Paris Peace Conference, on interwar Europe, and is the author of books and articles on economic, social, and cultural history and on historiography. He received the prestigious Herder Prize from the University of Vienna and the Alfred Toepfer Foundation of Hamburg, Germany in 2001. In 2004 Germany's Southeast Europe Association awarded him the Konstantin Jiricek Medal

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It is somewhat ironic: Western historiography has virtually ignored the Balkan front in World War I for almost a century not one book existed in English language on Serbia in World War I and now two books on Serbia in World War I are available at almost the same time.Serbia s Great War, 1914 1918 by Andrej Mitrović the chair of the modern history department of the University of Belgrade, who has written numerous books on World War I and interwar Europe was originally published in Serbian in 1984 and has been available in an abridged translation since 2007. A true master of his craft, Mitrović carefully selects and places every word, enabling him to accomplish the remarkable feat of condensing a multifaceted history into one comprehensive yet handy and readable account, which never appears to be superficial or incomplete but instead offers an amazing wealth of information.Unsurprisingly, his publicationshave won multiple prizes. Mitrović achieves this by limiting his account exclusively to the political, diplomatic, and military realm. Moreover, Mitrović is not interested in grand theory or big arguments; his style is descriptive in a matter-of-fact prose and based extensively on primary source material so that almost every statement has a footnote with a source. The content roughly covers the outbreak and military course of the war, the retreat through Albania to Corfu, life under occupation and resistance, Serbian life abroad, and, parallel to all this, the development of Yugoslavism, the project of creating a South-Slavic state.Mitrovi' s talent for condensation is remarkable; he is not content with merely focusing on the Serbian state and government, but excels in shedding light on complicated interrelations and tensions behind the facades, such as the severe tensions among the king, the government of Nikola Pa ić, the secret society known as the Black Hand, and the army, as well as the rivalries among the three actually four, given the differences between Vienna and Budapest occupyingpowers: Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria.The greatest achievement of the book is certainly the inclusion of the wartime attitudes and experiences of all South Slavs, including those in Montenegro (as part of the official relationship between Montenegro and Serbia), inside the Habsburg Empire, and in exile, where Serbians adamantly strove to uphold their sovereignty, education, culture, and political life. Consistent with this Yugoslav approach, the book s final chapter addresses the first stage in the creation process of Yugoslavia.The fairly negligible weaknesses of the book are for the most part probably not even Mitrović s fault. It may be a result of the abridgement that readers, and especially nonexperts, may occasionally have wished for more background information on some of the historical actors (e.g., Pa ić s Radical Party or the Croatian politician Ivan Frank). At times, the translation omits a few articles and reads like a word by word translation from the Serbian original. This leaves a few butchered German names, an overly simplified insistence on the exclusive German and Austro-Hungarian war guilt, and the erroneous mention of Francis Joseph s brother Maximilian (who was shot in Mexico in1867) as a potential candidate for the Serbian throne. As well-researched, comprehensive, lucid, insightful, and rich as Mitrović s book is, it is not the ultimate description of Serbia in World War I, though it certainly belongs in the library of everybody academically interested in World War I. It should serve as a starting point among Anglophone academics for subsequent studies focusing on different subareas or employing different methods as to complement, and possibly also correct, Mitrović s groundbreaking oeuvre.One such study is Jonathan E. Gumz s The Resurrection and Collapse of Empire in Habsburg Serbia, 1914 1918 (New York, 2009), this scholar s first monographic publication, which takes a BOOK REVIEWS 241 closer look at the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbia. Gumz s analysis starts by rejecting the tendency of recent scholarship to view World War I merely as a test run or idea giver for World War II, in this case the brutality of Austro-Hungarian occupation foreshadowing the National Socialist population policies during World War II, with Austrians serving as experts for the Balkans.Gumz rightly insists that World War I should be examined as an event with its own historicity, and he argues that the admittedly unprecedented brutality of the Habsburg occupiers was not inspired by ancient ethnic hatred or more modern colonial or racially guided notions, nor was this violence merely motivated by revenge and punishment or an effect of increasing mobilization. Instead, it was the consequence of the k.u.k. army s attempt to reassert the values of bureaucratic absolutism in the form of an idealized empire (one that was centralized, anational, objective, and just) in Serbia, which was seen as the nationalistic and politicized state. Although this view of Serbia was extreme, it was no different from how the army perceived the rest of the empire and Europe. This view originated in the international order of 1815 1848, which aimed to avert another devastating war by restraining violence through the strict separation of homeland and front and by preventing the mobilization of mass armies.Although this order was largely in a shambles by 1914, the k.u.k. army still regarded war as an elite affair between states and their armies and saw itself allegedly neutral vis-à-vis politics and national conflicts as the only protector of the true soul of the empire, so to speak. The crucial factor was that in Serbia nothing prevented the army from implementing its vision, so that eventually, and paradoxically, the army s idealized empire existed only in Habsburg Serbia, whereas elsewhere it was collapsing. This development involved the following main aspects: (1) a draconian military legal system rooted in the paranoia of 1914 when the army thought it was at war with the entire Serbian population and cracked down in the form of taking hostages, burning down villages, and executing civilians for anything that remotely could be interpreted as stirring up a levée en masse. This legal severity, however, did not aim at complete devastation.It was ultimately limited by conservative moral constraints and feelings of cultural superiority, and the army wished to apply it to the entire empire. (2) the suppression of all public political life, including monitoring the intelligentsia and taking over school education, out of principle, not merely as punishment, so that Austria-Hungary was actually not unhappy that the political leadership had managed to escape. (3) turning Serbia from a threatening country into a productive country by gaining total control over Serbian food production that was used exclusively for the army s supply, which underlined the strict separation of home front and army, but concurrently contributed to the empire crumbling from within into semiautarchic units contending for access to food. (4) the separation, after 1917, of the partisans, the comitadjis, from the civilian population by using new special forces, the Jagdkommandos, to hunt down individuals and small groups instead of cracking down on the entire population. The partisan war essentially became an often very personally and locally motivated civil war between Serbians who collaborated and Serbians who felt mistreated by the former, so that the Habsburg army increasingly became the protector of civilians. In sum, the Habsburg army employed harsh measures but only to prevent further escalation of violence; and in so doing, it was more motivated by the past rather than foreshadowing the most extreme social warfare practiced by National Socialist Germany.Gumz provides an excellent piece of scholarship; and in bolstering his argument through rich use of primary source material, he manages to dispel several misconceptions that are key to his argument, namely, by showing that the Habsburg occupiers actually prevented a famine in Serbia, and that partisan warfare in Habsburg Serbia was neither irrelevant as Western historians believed, nor did it represent the entire Serbian population as Serbian historiography claimed.The occasional sections where Gumz delves into theories of social power are perhaps unnecessary for his method.242 AUSTRIAN HISTORY YEARBOOK 42 (2011) By drawing a fine portrait of the Austro-Hungarian army and its attitudes, Gumz s argument is convincing as far as the k.u.k. army and its intentions are concerned.However, his study cannot prevent scholars of World War II from continuing to explore World War I as the potential precursor for certain aspects of World War II. Indeed, even if it were generally accepted that the k.u.k. army s experience did not influence any of the mindsets of Austrians in World War II, which would surely be wrong, they did not need to have emanated from within the army. As Mitrović s study indicates, the Hungarian Prime Minister István Tisza, for example, proposed the settlement of Germans and Hungarians in northern Serbia in order to separate the Serbian Serbs from the Austro-Hungarian Serbs, and the Bulgarian occupation of Serbia by far outdid the Austro-Hungarians with a brutality that differed only marginally from that witnessed in Poland in 1939. All told, three years before the one-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, these two important works should spark more research on Serbia in this war.Thomas R. GrischanyUniversity of Arkansas

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