Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Milosevic and Tudjman in the ‘Oxford Handbook of Fascism’

The Oxford Handbook of Fascism, edited by Professor Richard Bosworth, was published by Oxford University Press last month. It is a multi-authored volume with sections on the origins and legacies of fascism, Italian Fascism, the Nazi-Fascist comparison and fascism outside of Italy and Germany. The latter section has chapters by different authors on different countries, from Spain to Japan, and includes a chapter on Yugoslavia and its successor states. This chapter traces the history of ultranationalist, fascist and far-right phenomena, from Serbia’s ‘Black Hand’ and Croatia’s ‘Pure Party of Right’, through the World War II quisling regimes of Milan Nedic and Ante Pavelic, up to the regimes of Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman and Radovan Karadzic in the 1990s. I reproduce here some extracts:

On the Milosevic regime:

In Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina in the late 1980s and early 1990s, authoritarian former Communists seeking new bases for their power and legitimacy came together with dissident nationalist opponents of the Titoist order to produce regimes that were arguably, to a greater or lesser degree, fascist or semi-fascist. Above all, the regime of Slobodan Milosevic was fascist in practice, if not in self-identification…

Milosevic began, like earlier fascists and proto-fascists such as Georges Sorel and Mussolini, as a radical socialist who decided that nationalism provided a better weapon than the class struggle and internationalism with which to overthrow the liberal (in this case, quasi-liberal) order. He centred all power in Serbia in his own hands and proceeded to tear up the Titoist settlement of the national question, much as Hitler had torn up the Versailles settlement. As President of the League of Communists of Serbia, he effectively seized power against his Communist rivals in September 1987. He consolidated it by using Serbian party, police and media organs to carry out a mass nationalist mobilisation of the Serbian population, above all over the Kosovo issue. Post-Titoist Yugoslavia was governed by a quasi-pluralist system, with power divided between different institutions and individuals, and it was this system that Milosevic’s ‘anti-bureaucratic revolution’ brought down. A series of mass nationalist rallies between October 1988 and February 1989 overthrew the governments of Vojvodina and Montenegro, replacing them with ones loyal to Milosevic, and pressurised the Yugoslav Federal leadership first to pass legislation restoring Serbian control over Kosovo and Vojvodina, then to deploy the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) against the Kosovo Albanians. These rallies were Milosevic’s ‘March on Rome’, establishing his power through crowds and intimidation. Milosevic became President of Serbia on 28 May 1989.

This mass nationalist mobilisation used to consolidate power flowed seamlessly into ill-conceived wars of conquest…

Serbian forces – the Serbian-controlled JNA and Croatian Serb and Bosnian Serb militias – engaged in systematic massacres and forced expulsions of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. This involved concentration camps, most notoriously at Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje in north-west Bosnia. In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces conquered the East Bosnian town of Srebrenica and massacred 8,000 Muslim civilians, an act that constituted genocide according to the International Court of Justice. By the war’s end in late 1995, the territory of the self-proclaimed ‘Serb Republic’ in occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina, under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, had been almost wholly emptied of the 50% non-Serb part of its population…

At the height of his power, Milosevic’s control over his country’s political life was probably greater than the pre-Salo Mussolini’s had ever been; unlike Mussolini, his power was unconstrained by king, church or army, and he could not be removed constitutionally but had to be overthrown…

Ultimately, however, Milosevic fell because, like Hitler and Mussolini, he could not stop the boulder of nationalist mobilisation that he had set in motion from rolling; he could never rest on his laurels, but needed continuously to provoke crises and pick fights with ever-stronger opponents until he destroyed himself.

On the Tudjman regime:

The regime of Franjo Tudjman and the ‘Croatian Democratic Community’ (HDZ) in Croatia, in power from 1990 until 1999-2000, also had some affinities with fascism…

Yet while Tudjman formally upheld the Titoist legacy, he sought also to incorporate elements of the Ustasha legacy in his stated goal of ‘national reconciliation’. The Croatian currency was renamed from the Yugoslav ‘dinar’ to ‘kuna’, as the NDH’s had been. Tudjman prominently stated: ‘The Independent State of Croatia was not merely a quisling creation and a fascist crime, but also an expression of the historical aspirations of the Croatian people for an independent state of their own’. The HDZ politician Stipe Mesic, who served as Croatia’s last representative on the Yugoslav presidency and speaker of the Croatian parliament before breaking with Tudjman’s nationalist policies and eventually succeeding him as president, stated in 1991 that ‘we won on 10 April [1941] when the Axis powers recognised Croatia and we won after the war, when we again found ourselves with the victors, at the victors’ table.’ In this respect, Tudjman and the HDZ were readier than Milosevic and the SPS to appropriate elements of the World War II fascist heritage.

Tudjman and the HDZ waged their own war of conquest in Bosnia-Hercegovina, directed primarily against the Muslims and involving massacres and expulsions of both Muslims and Serbs and the establishment of concentration camps, particularly at Dretelj near Capljina.

Comparing the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes:

Nevertheless, Tudjman’s Croatian regime was ultimately less fascistic than its Serbian counterpart. Tudjman was a quieter and more conservative figure than Milosevic. He did not come to power through mass nationalist mobilisation in a fascist manner, aimed at bending the existing institutions, but through a traditional electoral campaign. His use of violence against domestic opponents was much less than Milosevic’s. His territorial expansionism was also on a smaller scale and did not flow from nationalist mobilisation and rhetoric, but was covert and underhand: Tudjman sought to partition Bosnia-Hercegovina through a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Milosevic, modelled on the Sporazum of 1939. Despite its anti-Serb and anti-Yugoslav rhetoric, Tudjman’s policy was collaborationist in relationship to Milosevic and the JNA, with whom he sincerely hoped to avoid war; he defused Croatian resistance activities in 1990-92 to the point where he clashed with Croatia’s own defence minister and almost provoked his own overthrow. The difference in political character may explain the divergent fates of the two despots: unlike Milosevic, Tudjman did not overextend himself; he died quietly in office, after which his HDZ was peacefully voted out of power.

As to the identity of the author of these lines, readers are free to guess…

Update: The Oxford Handbook of Fascism has been reviewed by Roger Griffin, one of the world’s most eminent historians of fascism.

Sunday, 22 March 2009 - Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia

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