The invasion and partition of Yugoslavia in April 1941 began three and half years of harsh occupation which destroyed the embryonic political structures established during the latter years of Prince Paul’s regency. During this period elements among the Yugoslav peoples openly fought one another, leaving a legacy of violence and bitterness which festered beneath the surface of the post-war régime. Two principal and paradoxical impressions of the occupation emerge. The first, and more conventional view is that German rule was a colonial conquest sustained by dismemberment together with an active policy of ruthless suppression in a manner designed to keep the country divided and at war against itself. The second view is that the Reich’s interest in this region was its use as a thoroughfare and that what the Germans wanted to achieve primarily was the pacification of the Balkans so that it would not be a drain on German manpower resources. The truth, as so often, was a mixture of the two. Initially, the occupiers parcelled out land to parties aggrieved by the First World War settlement. They also sought to appease disaffected elements within Yugoslavia itself, the Croats being the most notable example of this strategy in action. However, this proved unworkable, for reasons arising from the behaviour of the assortment of quisling and fascist Yugoslavs who were placed between the occupation authorities and the people, and as a result of the shortcomings in the relationship between the Italians and the Germans in the region. In short, the lands of Yugoslavia were to provide a constant source of concern to the Third Reich, driving them to implement a progressively more punitive occupation with deleterious results both for the occupiers and for the Yugoslavs themselves.
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