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About this book

Vesna Drapac provides an insightful survey of the changing nature of the Yugoslav ideal, demonstrating why Yugoslavism was championed at different times and by whom, and how it was constructed in the minds of outside observers. Covering the period from the 1850s to the death of Tito in 1980, Drapac situates Yugoslavia in the broader international context and examines its history within the more familiar story of Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

This approachable study also explores key themes and debates, including:

• the place of the nation-state within the worldview of nineteenth-century intellectuals
• the memory of war and commemorative practices in the interwar years
• resistance and collaboration
• the nature of dictatorships
• gender and citizenship
• Yugoslavia's role from the perspective of the 'Superpowers'.

Drawing on a wide range of sources in order to recreate the atmosphere of the period, Constructing Yugoslavia traces the formation of popular perceptions of Yugoslavia and their impact on policy toward Yugoslavs. It is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the history of this fascinating nation, and its ultimate demise.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
At the time of Yugoslavia’s violent demise in the 1990s there was a considerable degree of bewilderment among many observers. They were shocked by the extent of the disaffection from a regime that they believed was largely benevolent and progressive and that had protected its inhabitants from the worst excesses of Soviet-style communism. Where there was not bewilderment there was recourse to essentialist arguments about the extreme nature of nationalism (or ethno-nationalism) among people on Europe’s periphery who had never fully developed and who were driven by atavistic hatreds. These responses to the collapse of Yugoslavia are clearly inadequate and reveal much about the way in which the state had been created, sustained and mythologized throughout its life. A number of general histories of Yugoslavia have appeared since the 1990s and these cover key events, movements and personalities in the formation, development and demise of the state.1 Almost all of this literature takes the Yugoslav nation-state as the basic unit of analysis and deals with Yugoslavia and Yugoslavs in isolation, historically and historiographically. This book complements and departs from the existing literature in important ways. Its premise is that the history of Yugoslavia is inherently transnational in the sense that it cannot be understood in isolation.
Vesna Drapac

1. Imagining Savage Europe and Inventing Yugoslavia: 1850–1914

Abstract
The following quotation from The Living Races of Mankind, a lavishly produced and illustrated account of ‘the customs, habits, pursuits, feasts and ceremonies of the races of mankind throughout the world’, gives us a sense of the stereotypes about South Slavs that had entered the popular imagination through widely read ethnographic and travel literature by the early twentieth century.
The Servians [sic] are a physical stalwart race. They are hospitable, energetic, and brave. Though proud, quick-tempered, and apt to fight on comparatively slight occasion, they are fond of social intercourse, and cling to old customs and old beliefs. … The Servians are thoroughly democratic in their institutions; each family owns the ground it tills, so that in the country day-labourers are scarce. Few will consent to become household servants, and cooks and men-servants come mainly from Croatia or Hungary. … The Servians are an eminently pious race. The fasts of the Church are rigidly observed, and the peasant never fails in the morning to invoke a blessing on the coming day … . The Croats are a branch of the Slav race and are closely akin to the Servians. They differ in being Roman Catholics and in using the Latin alphabet. … [They] hav[e] for their physical characteristics black or very dark brown hair, and greyish or blue eyes, with a countenance suggestive of cruelty and suspicion. They are lazy and intemperate, but good-humoured and hospitable. Their women, who do most of the work, are both ignorant and superstitious, and do not rank high in the scale of civilization.1
Vesna Drapac

2. The Expansion of Gallant Serbia into Yugoslavia: 1914–1920

Abstract
Robert Seton-Watson made the following pronouncement in the book, The War and Democracy, he co-wrote in 1914 after the war had begun:
We are witnessing the birth-throes of a new nation, the rise of a new national consciousness, the triumph of the idea of National Unity among three Southern Slav sisters — the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes. Fate has assigned to Britain and to France an important share in the solution of the problem, and it is our duty to insist that this solution shall be radical and permanent, based upon the principle of Nationality and the wishes of the Southern Slav race. Only by treating the problem as an organic whole, by avoiding patchwork remedies and by building for a distant future, can we hope to remove one of the chief danger-centres in Europe.1
Vesna Drapac

3. A State in Search of a Nation: the Kingdom, 1920–1940

Abstract
The impact of the First World War is the single greatest factor to take into account in a transnational history of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929). The outcome of the war determined who had power and who did not and therefore which conception of Yugoslavism would prevail. Further, the devastating loss of a generation of young men in ‘the war for democracy’ and the search for stability and a new balance of power in Europe led to the investment of a great deal of hope in the successor states. The unshakeable view that peace had to be maintained above all else, and that it depended on the presence of a strong South Slav state, permeated the way outsiders framed their discussions about the Kingdom’s progress and determined its place in international affairs.
Vesna Drapac

4. ‘The future lies with the federative idea’: War and Dissolution, 1941–1945

Abstract
Communist Yugoslavia was a product of the Second World War. The Yugoslavs’ experience of that war and the way it was interpreted by outsiders and historians shaped the nature of the new state and how it was perceived through to Tito’s death. The memory of war was a crucial factor in the resurgent Serb nationalism of the 1980s prior to the final collapse of the country, and it is commonly held that revisionist interpretations of the Second World War fed into that nationalist rhetoric. Commentators drew on the received understanding of the war in their explanations of events in the 1990s. Often the Wars of Yugoslav Succession were depicted as a re-enactment of aspects of the 1941–5 conflict. Clearly, the war invites serious reflection from historians, and there are a number of valuable books on the subject. Yet nowhere is the general poverty of Yugoslav historiography more obvious than in works relating to the period 1941–5. A partial explanation for this may be found in the decisive shift in international thinking about what constituted Yugoslavism that took place in these years and the impact of this shift on the Yugoslav state in the postwar world.
Vesna Drapac

5. ‘A society almost free’: Tito’s Yugoslavia

Abstract
In Tito’s Yugoslavia the government’s main challenge was containing the difference between the rhetoric of the state’s raison d’être and the Yugoslav ideal, and the reality of the people’s lived experience. In this sense, the second Yugoslavia strongly resembled the first. This chapter brings together a number of the strands of our story. We will observe some continuities in perceptions of the first and second Yugoslavia and the general outside acceptance of the mechanics of government. There was also continuity in the role of Yugoslavia in international politics, as alliances largely remained intact through from one world war to another. The parallels between King Aleksandar and Tito, notably their standing resulting from their involvement in wartime struggles and victories, are also significant. Transgressions such as abandoning or withholding democratic rights did not diminish their reputations. Outsiders continued to rationalize that Yugoslav democracy was dispensable. The context of the Cold War made the partition of Europe seem permanent and was not conducive to deep reflection on the future of its unfree citizens. It was not entirely satisfactory that the ‘necessary’ Yugoslav state was also a communist dictatorship, but justifying it came easily enough in the wake of total war.
Vesna Drapac

Conclusion

Abstract
Yugoslavia was constructed, promoted and sustained by a combination of international and transnational forces. Nothing remotely resembling the state as it had been imagined either in 1918 or 1945 ever existed. Just as Europe’s history is much more than a history of nations and nation-states,1 so too is Yugoslavia’s history much more than the history of a state in isolation. Yugoslavia was never outside the strategic and diplomatic orbit of European and global politics. In this book I have exposed the hollowness of the exceptionalist approach to Yugoslav history. Exceptionalism focuses not simply on Yugoslavia’s difference from European historical trends but on its fundamental incompatibility with them and its allegedly unique experience of particular phenomena, such as nationalism, and events, such as the Second World War. Throughout I have emphasized the role of outsiders in the construction of Yugoslavia and how their perceptions of its various political and national actors influenced perceptions of the state as a whole. From the outset Yugoslavia was deemed a necessary state, one that would promote peace and stability in the region dubbed the ‘powder keg’ of Europe. Over time, the Yugoslavs themselves began to take greater prominence in the construction of this history, as was evident in the Second World War.
Vesna Drapac
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