Published: 17 January 2023
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
New book by Doughboy Foundation board member highlights World War I connections that still affect the Balkans today.
Among Honest Communists – Slovenia and Yugoslavia 1973 – 1975, by Daniel J. Basta (Dorrance Publishing, 2022) describes how the “Great War” that emerged in the Balkans changed forever the political and social character of that troubled region.
Basta describes that the Yugoslavia in which he arrived in 1973, is a direct result of the Great War and is still wrestling with the arbitrary decisions of the 1919 Versailles Treaty. The very same pressures which the Treaty sought to resolve are in 1973 still smoldering beneath the surface when he arrives and ultimately tear apart the nation fabricated at Versailles.
Tito the Yugoslavian strongman was himself a product of the Great War. As a Croatian Sergeant in the Austrian Army he is wounded and captured by the Russians in Galicia and is a prisoner in Russia when the Bolshevist revolution tears apart the Russian Dynasty. He makes his way back to Croatia but his experiences changed him for life and led him to prominence in WWII and as the leader of his people until his death in the 1980s. But even his iron grip could not contain the fragile union created at Versailles. It collapses into civil war ten years after Tito’s death. The lingering legacy of the Great War still affects the Balkans today.
Most of the people, places, and experiences that are related in the book all have some connection to those days in August 1914 when the Balkans nudged the world over the edge. Below is an short excerpt from the book that describes this period.
“The end of the Great War resulted in the creation of a new Nation to deal with the troublesome “Balkan States” and their ethnic communities. It was a Nation designed to bring together the troublesome southern Slavs -Yugoslavs – under one roof. After all it had been in the Balkans, at Sarajevo, where in August 1914 the spark was lit that had ignited the catastrophic Great War. World War l had changed everything and everyone. It even still affects us to this day.
“The Balkans (Map 2.1.) are at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. They have for many centuries been the scene of dramatic events and warfare among the ethnic groups living there and with powerful external forces. Most recently the Turks, Russians, Austrians, Hungarians, Italians, and British, had vied for the control and domination of the region. The blood-letting and swirling alliances in the Balkans had set new standards for such things and the Europeans coined a new word to describe it: “Balkanization.” Which is defined as: “A geopolitical term for the process of fragmentation or division of a larger region or state into smaller regions or states, which maybe hostile or uncooperative with one another.” A century later this very same process is driving many parts of the world. It would do us well today to reflect on what can be learned from the Balkan experience(s) – especially the birth and collapse of Yugoslavia.
“The new Yugoslav Nation that been created incorporated the former provinces or states of Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia – Herzegovina, and various small ethnic minority communities on their borders comprised of Italians, Hungarians, and others. Each of the parts incorporated into the new Nation had their own traditions, languages, and religions. The new Nation had four official languages: Serbian, Croatian, Slovene, and Macedonian; and three dominant religions: Catholicism, Serbian Orthodox, and Muslim. To call this new Nation a mixing pot is a vast understatement. The allies had helped promote Yugoslavia to be a “Constitutional Monarchy” under the King of Serbia. Serbia had been the major Balkan partner of the Allies during the Great War and had suffered very heavy losses. Serbian domination of the new Nation had proved to be a major dislocating factor throughout Yugoslavia’s short life. My sense is that the Allies had just wanted the “Balkan” problem(s) to go away and to never again threaten the peace of Europe. The new Nation had been their answer and after it had been formed they considered the problem fixed and mostly walked away.”
Among Honest Communists can be purchased on line from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and from the publisher @ dorrancepublishing.com.