Nastanek Jugoslavije kot manjše zlo

Branko Milanović secira knjigo zgodovinarke Mire Radojević o srbskem narodu in kraljevini Jugoslaviji z namenom ugotoviti, zakaj je nastala nova multietnična država na pogorišču prejšnje. Pride do sklepa, da je bilo to za Slovence in Hrvate, ki so si za nastanek Kraljevine SHS edini zares prizadevali, manjše zlo. Želeli so državo s Srbi, da bi pobegnili iz Avstro-Ogrske, saj realistično niso mogli pričakovati neodvisnosti. Unija s Srbi je bila manjše zlo. Srbi na drugi strani niso imeli hude želje po oblikovanju nove multietnične entitete. Morda bi imeli združitev z ostalimi Srbi na teritoriju nekdanje Jugoslavije, vendar brez Hrvatov in Slovencev. Odločilen je bil pritisk Hrvatov in Slovencev ter dejstvo, da je bila Srbija grdo premagana s strani Avstrije in Nemčije. Oblikovanje nove, velike kraljevine je zanje pomenilo častni povratek v velikem stilu.

Seveda gre za osebno interpretacijo Milanovića, ki pa se zdi dokaj realistična. Za vse je bila kraljevina SHS kot predhodnica Jugoslavije manjše zlo, ki ji je manjkalo širših kohezivnih elementov, kot so etnični ali ekonomski interesi. Tudi zato je tako hitro razpadla, ko je zmanjkalo notranje folklore (Titovo bratstvo in enotnost) in represije.

In that febrile and excitable atmosphere of extravagant nationalism, with ascetic youngers living on bread and water, anarchists’ books (Bakunin was very popular), and national poetry, the objectives of Greater Serbia (unification of all Serbs, but leaving out Croats and Slovenes) and of Yugoslavia (a common unitary or federal state) were almost treated as interchangeable. Foreign historians, like Christopher Clark and Margaret MacMilan in their recent books on World War I, make the same mistake (which of course is less acceptable now than one hundred years ago). But these two objectives were not the same.

Yet the “excitable, nationalistic” part of the public opinion, however intellectually influential, was probably minoritarian in Serbia. The almost perennial Serbian Prime Minister, Nikola Pašić, the man who received the A-H ultimatum in 1914, and his Radical Party, were, to say the least, lukewarm toward the idea of South Slav unity. Pašić thought the cultural differences between Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats were unbridgeable. But by 1916, as the Serbian Army had to withdraw in front of the combined Austrian-German onslaught, his opinion changed. He was now willing to entertain the idea of Yugoslavia (even if he hated the name), and was pushed in that direction, among other things, by a unification movement that sprang up in Croatia, the Yugoslav Council (Jugoslavenski odbor). It was composed mostly of Croat and Slovene intellectuals and politicians from A-H who wanted to see the dissolution of the Habsburgs, and believing (probably rightly) that the independence of Slovenia and Croatia would be impossible to achieve, they either decided to go for what was to some a lesser evil of South-Slav unification, and to others, who were committed to “integral Yugoslavism”, the realization of the dream of South Slav unify.

But how important was this pro-unification position among the Slovene, Croat and (even Serbian) populations in Austria-Hungary? Radojevic does not give a clear answer, but it seems to have had a rather minor appeal probably all the way to the second half of 1918 when the Monarchy started falling apart. It is remarkable that the number of desertions of South Slav soldiers from the A-H divisions that fought against Serbia was minimal. (Tito was one of such soldiers who did not defect; he later got severely injured and surrendered to the Russians in Galicia). Radojevic shows the official Serbian Army numbers on A-H deserters and they are pathetic: just a couple of hundred out of thousands soldiers who served in A-H units on the Serbian front. Moreover, some of these units were for more than 90% composed of, and led by, the presumably oppressed South Slav members;  but they did not rebel nor defect. Some of them even engaged in terrible massacres of Serbian civilian population once Serbian defenses collapsed.

The Serbian government preferred to ignore these facts and censored the detailed data on atrocities because this contradicted the now official Royal Government position that other South Slav peoples were eagerly anticipating their liberation from under the A-H yoke and the unification with their long-lost Serbian brethren.

When the Habsburgs unraveled in the late 1918, a new body sprang up in Zagreb, called the Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (from A-H). They hurriedly travelled to Belgrade to formalize the unification with the Serbian Royal government although a myriad of issues remained unsolved. Everything was done under the time pressure; new borders were being drawn, and everybody tried to get as much as they could in Versailles. It was a bazaar.

The South Slavs from A-H were not part of the Versailles negotiations. Serbia nevertheless included them in its own delegation. Disagreements began almost immediately especially with respect to Italy that was, in a secret London memorandum, promised most of Dalmatia. But Dalmatians did not enter into the unification scheme just to lose all that they claimed was theirs! They accused the Royal Government of not fighting strongly enough to stop Italian irredentism. (One might remember D’Annunzio’s later “occupation” of Fiume/Rijeka, as a prelude to Mussolini’s March on Rome.)

What were the positions of major powers? They were at best indifferent and were, somewhat reluctantly, coaxed into the Yugoslav scheme. Tsarist Russia was throughout the war against because it feared loss of its influence as Orthodox Serbs and Montenegrins would be “diluted” by Catholic Croats and Slovenes. France was against, thinking the idea quixotic, until, after Versailles, when feeling fearful of German revanchism, it realized it needed a cordon of friendly states in the East. Britain took the position of sublime indifference until, also towards the end of the War, it accepted the imminence of A-H dissolution (which did not figure in Wilson’s Fourteen  points), and preferred a mix of Catholics and Orthodox for the same reason that the defunct Tsarist government did not like it.

So why did Serbia want Yugoslavia? The answer is elusive; yes, the unification of all Serbs and further of all Southern Slavs. But it is not a convincing answer. It seems to have wanted it for the same reason that everyone likes more money to less money, bigger territory to smaller territory. Regent (later King) Alexander of Serbia, who gradually began to show his authoritarian bent, was surely excited that after being defeated by the Habsburgs and pushed with his army all the way to Greece, he would come back victorious and take over Habsburg castles.

Vir: Branko Milanovic

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