Monday, 14 August 2017

The Creation of Yugoslavia

"Yugoslavia" means the "land of the South Slavs". The Slavs were a people speaking versions of the language-group known as Slavic, who probably originated somewhere around Poland; some of whom migrated southwards into the Balkans in the 7th century to be the ancestors of the Serbs, Croats and others. A Serb kingdom had formed in the 13th century, only to be crushed by the Turks at the battle of Kossovo in 1389.

My old Bartholomew atlas, published around 1880, depicts a situation in the Balkans very different from today. In the 16th century the entire region, including most of Hungary, had formed part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, but by the late 19th century the Turkish tide had receded. Several new states had appeared: the KIngdoms of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Montenegro, with frontiers settled at the 1878 Congress of Berlin; and looming over them the Empires of Russia and Austria.
   Since 1867 the Austrian Empire had been divided into two different administrations, with Franz Josef being simultaneously Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Most of Croatia formed part of Hungary, but Slovenia and the Dalmatian coast were part of Austria. Although the Serbs and Croats spoke a common language, divisions between them were already deep, for the Croats were Catholic and used the Roman alphabet, whereas the Serbs were Greek Orthodox and used the Greek script. Separate from both was Bosnia, which had a large Moslem population: in 1878 it formed a separate territory under Austrian supervision. Meanwhile the Ottoman Empire still included Albania, Macedonia, Kossovo and all the northern coast of the Aegean.
   Peace prevailed in the Balkans for a generation, only to be threatened, though not broken, in 1908, when the Austrians took advantage of a period of Russian weakness to annex Bosnia outright. This alarmed and disgusted the Serbs. Henceforth Austria and Serbia were enemies: the Serbs now looked to Russia for protection against any Austrian aggression, and the Austrians for their part suspected the Serbs of stirring up subversion within the Empire. The Russians for their part were determined not to be diplomatically humiliated by Austria in the future.
   In 1912 all the Balkan states joined together in a war against the Turks, and drove them back to the very gates of Constantinople, but immediately afterwards the other states turned against Bulgaria, which had made the most gains. The result was a new set of frontiers, with Albania as a new state, Macedonia and Kossovo going to Serbia and most of the north Aegean coast to Greece; but rhe other result was high casualties, great civilian suffering and a legacy of deep, underlying hatreds.

Everyone knows how in 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian Empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, by a group of young terrorists of Serbian race, and how the Austrian government (not without some justification) suspected involvement of the Serbian state in the murder. The Austrians, encouraged by Germany, decided to use this as an opportunity to destroy Serbia, and, after the Serbs had refused to accept a very tough ultimatum, declared war. But, unlike in 1908, the Russians felt they had to take a strong line, and mobilised their armies in Serbia's suport; and then Germany, alarmed by this, also mobilised, declared war on Russia and on Russia's principal ally, France. By these moves a quarrel in the Balkans led to the horrors of the First World War.

Serbia's losses in the war were exceptionally heavy for such a small country. Since 1911, over 1.2 million of her people had died, 28% of the population, two thirds of them being civilians. In addition, she now had to cope with 72,000 disabled veterans and 180,000 war widows. She would expect some recompence.

President Wilson's "14 Points" for a future peace settlement, issued in January 1918, made only brief and somewhat vague reference to the Balkans. Point 10 said that "The peoples of Austria-Hungary should be given the freest opportunity of autonomus development", and Point 11 that "Serbia should be accorded free and secure access to the sea". There was also Point 9, which promised "Readjustment of the frontiers of Italy to conform to clearly recognizable lines of nationality". The ambiguities were to lead to trouble.
   In the autumn of 1918 the Austrian Empire disintegrated, and South Slav troops from her army took control of surrounding territories, including Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and the Dalmatian coast. But what sort of a government should emerge from this? Should it be a centralised state or a loose federation? Yugoslavia, the "Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes", which was envisaged, would actually include substantial minorities of ethnic Germans, Hungarians and Albanians, as well as Bosnian Moslems and considerable numbers of Jews. Furthermore, the Croat leader, Trumbic, despised the Serbs as "half-civilized", and in Montenegro there was civil war, involving groups loyal to the prewar royal family.
   The strongest opposition to a Yugoslav state came from Italy. The Italians had been persuaded to enter the war by the 1915 Treaty of London, which promised them not only the Austrian port of Trieste at the head of the Adriatic, but also some of the Dalmatian coastline and a "protectorate" over Albania. They saw the Slovenes and Croats as enemies who had fought for Austria, and as the war ended, Italian troops entered these territories as conquerors, and Italian agents sought to stir up racial or social disputes. But President Wilson announced that he was not bound by the Treaty of London, and Britain and France,for different reasons, were sympathetic with the creation of a Yugoslav state. The peace negotiations at Versailles saw endless disputes about control of ports on the Dalmatian coast, which culminated in Orlando, the Italian Prime Minister, walking out of the talks in April 1919.
   The future shape of the Balkans was settled in September 1919 by the Treaty of St. Germain with Austria and the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary. Both were reduced to their respective German-speaking and Magyar heartlands, as seen on present-day maps, and treated as defeated enemy powers. New countries emerged: Czechoslovakia in the north and Yugoslavia in the south, and Transylvania was awarded to Romania. Substantial racial minorities found themselves unwillingly placed under new rulers, not least in the new Yugoslavia. The main threat to the infant state came initially from Italy, which claimed the port of Fiume (now called Rijeka). In 1919 Fiume was occupied by a scratch force commanded by the posturing Italian romantic poet and novelist Gabriele d'Annunzio. He withdrew after the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920 awarded Istria and Zadar to Italy, and Fiume was later incorporated into Italy by Mussolini.

The interwar period was far from peaceful for Yugoslavia.  King Alexander of Serbia, became monarch of the new state, to the disgust of many Croats. They voted in large numbers for the People's Peasant Party, whose leader, Sjepan Radic, was then shot and fatally wounded in the Parliament building in Belgrade in 1928. The riots which followed the murder were suppressed, and next year King Alexander abolished the constitution and proclaimed a royal dictatorship. In 1935 a Croat Fascist movement, the Ustase, led by Ante Pavelic, asassinated the King in a visit to Marseilles. Yugoslavia was thus always simmering on the edge of violence, and one only has to read contemporary travellers' accounts, such as Rebecca West's "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" to learn how much Serbs and Croats hated and mistrusted each other. All this was to boil over in scenes of hideous brutality in the Second World War.

(To be continued in a later post)

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Sir Lewis Namier on the popularity of modern dictators

The great historian Sir Lewis Namier (1888-1960) wrote an essayin 1947 entitled "The First Mountebank Dictator" on the subject of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of the great Napoleon, who was unexpectedly elected President of the French Republic in 1848, then four years later staged a coup and declared himself Emperor of France. He was finally overthrown after being defeated in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.
   Louis-Napoleon has always been a mystery to historians: he was first elected by an overwhelming majority of the votes, despite his complete lack of previous achievements; he governed by direct appeal to the masses (who were peasants in the countryside rather than city workers) and was generally despised by the intellectual classes; and his policies were a mixture of authoritarian control from the centre, some measures of social reform, grandiose public building projects, an interventionist foreign policy in Europe (such as his participation in the Crimean War and his crucial role in the unification of Italy) and imperialism throughout the rest of the world. None of his writings show any sign of coherent political thought.
   Namier discusses Louis-Napoleon's popular appeal, which he styles "Caesarian democracy", characterised by:-

    "Direct appeal to the masses; demagogical slogans; disregard of legality in spite of a professed guardianship of law and order; contempt of political classes and the parliamentary system, of the educated classes and their values; blandishments and vague, contradictory promises for all and sundry; militarism; blatant displays and shady corruption".

   Namier was in origin a Central European Jew, and at the time of his writing this essay what particularly interested him was to draw a comparison between Louis-Napoleon and Hitler. Of the early careers of the two future leaders, which were marked by "miserable failures", he writes:-

   "Both men were treated with humane and neglectful forbearance .... Not even at a later stage did the political leaders realise the full gravity of the situation - thinking in terms of their own and not in those of the masses, they could not descry either in Louis-Napoleon or Hitler a possible ruler or dictator".

   What struck me when reading this essay was how much of this could be applied to certain leaders of the present day - mentioning no names!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Dubrovnik and Kotor

(This is a continuation of my previous blog entry, describing my recent visit to Croatia)

I can recommend our hotel at Dubrovnik, which was the Valamar Argosy, on the coast at the outlying district of Babib Kuk (which, we were told, means “Grandmother’s Hip”, owing to a Turkish misunderstanding of the Serbo-Croat name). It had good rooms, good food and a splendid outdoor pool, and had the inestimable benefit of being the terminus of the No. 6 bus to the old city, so it was impossible to get lost. Ciccadas were very noisy in the trees, and swifts were flying very low.
We had two days in Dubrovnik, separated by an expedition into Montenegro; a very strange country. The only currency accepted there is the Euro, which is surprising because Montenegro is not a member of the E.U. It was suggested to us that the principal business was money-laundering, as shown by the fact that there were no British banks to be seen, but plenty of Russian ones. To coin a phrase: I couldn’t possibly comment… In the wars of the 1990s, the Montenegrans supported Serbia in the bombardment of Dubrovnik (see later).
We had two stops there, at Perast on the Bay of Kotor,
 where we had a boat-trip to a little island with a pretty church, 
and then at the city of Kotor itself. Both these places were devastated by a massive earthquake in 1979, and were rebuilt as they had been; but as my parents’ Communist-era guidebook said, it was unlikely that all the architectural details could ever be reconstructed.
So Kotor is still a mediaeval city, with defensive walls running up the precipitous mountainside behind, and a tangle of alleyways from which motor vehicles are excluded. We were issued with maps, but since hardly any of the narrow, twisted streets bore names, it was very easy to get lost.
 I found the easiest strategy was simply to hand the map to a shopkeeper and ask to be shown where I was. Eventually I managed to find the cathedral and other impressive buildings.

But the highlight of the week was always going to be Dubrovnik. It was once known as Ragusa: a strongly-walled mercantile city-state on the Dalmatian coast, which for centuries managed more or less to retain its autonomy by striking a balance between the neighbouring powers of Venice, the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary. It was even occupied by Napoleon’s troops for a brief period in 1806. In 1815 it was incorporated into the Austrian Empire, and after 1918 assigned to Yugoslavia. This was the position when my parents visited in the 1970s, but when the Yugoslav state fell apart Dubrovnik came under attack from Serbian and Montenegran forces in 1991-2, and was badly damaged by shellfire. Repairs have been made, but the episode has not been forgotten: there are maps posted around the city showing the extent of the destruction.

The classic view in Dubrovnik is the street called the Stradun, which leads eastwards from the Pile gate. 
Alleyways climb steeply on the north side. It passes the Large Onofrio Fountain 
and the Franciscan monastery
 before reaching the Square of the Loggia; the centre of the city.


Here you can find the church of St. Blaise, the patron saint of the city, with a statue of the hero Roland in front of it,

and close by the Rector's Palace, with a splendid interior courtyard, a museum, and most elaborate capitals to the columns in fornt of the entrance



From the harbour nearby 
you can take boat trips along the sea-walls
or out to the Elaphite Islands.

Fine views over the city can be gained by walking a circuit of the walls
but the classic view is obtained by taking the cable-car to Mount Srd, where there is also a monument to those who died defending the city in the 1991-2 "Homeland War"


All this barely scratches the surface of what there is to see in Dubrovnik!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Croatia


My parents visited Yugoslavia, as it then was, some forty years ago, and took masses of photographs. This summer I signed up for a tour of Croatia and neighbouring republics, eager to see Split and Dubrovnik for myself, and find out what had changed in the interim, with the death of President Tito and the collapse of the Yugoslav state.
We flew into Dubrovnik airport and embarked on a coach drive to our first base, which was at Omis, some distance to the north. This took even longer than appeared likely on the map, because it is not possible to drive very far northwards along the coast from Dubrovnik whilst remaining in Croatia. Soon you come to the small resort town of Neum, which Tito had granted to Bosnia. Going through two border crossings within a handful of miles necessitated stopping the coach for passport checks. We had to go through this process several times in a week, and it was impossible to predict how long one would take. Would the officials scan each passport individually, or wouldn’t they bother? Also, Croatia and Bosnia now have their own currencies, though Bosnia also accepts Euros. (Montenegro is different again, as we found out later).
Eventually we arrived at Omis. My parents’ guidebook from the 1970s dismissed this as a scruffy place, but now it has new hotels along the beach, with a network of tiny stone alleyways behind. The setting is dramatic, being overlooked by massive cliffs.

 It lies on the estuary of the river Cetina, and in earlier centuries was the home of notorious pirates who preyed on Venetian galleys sailing down the Adriatic, and then retreated upriver out of sight behind deep limestone gorges. We took a boat-trip to these waters.

 Nowadays the overwhelming majority of businesses are cafes, restaurants and tourist shops; but our hotel, the Plaza, was comfortable, with a good selection of food. There is a castle above the town, but I didn't climb up to see it.


Our first expedition was to the Krka national park, inland from Split. The this part of Croatia proved to consist of rough scrubland, with few trees more than 6 feet high, with plenty of bare rock showing. We were told that wildfires were common. I saw signs of stones having been piled up for field boundaries and terraces, but these appeared to have been abandoned. Krka park consists of a large area where the river tumbles over a series of small waterfalls, and a broadwalk meanders through the woods and across the many small streams. 


It was all very pretty. The water was very clear, slightly blue, and there were plenty of fish to be seen, though not, unfortunately, any of the terrapins, frogs or snakes also advertised. 

My only complaint would be that there were far too many people about; which proved to be an annoyance throughout the holiday. We were then taken by boat to the little town of Skradin further down the river


Next day we drove north to Split; a fair-sized town with a harbour and sea-front promenade but unpleasant suburbs, famous for Diocletian’s palace.

 Diocletian was a native of the district: a rough soldier who rose to be Roman Emperor and revived the crumbling empire in the late 3rd century. He then, uniquely, abdicated and retired to his homeland, where he built this huge rectangular structure which more resembles a fortified military camp than a palace as we would understand the term. 
Much of it is still inhabited, with four gates known as Gold, Silver, Iron and Bronze, 



and alleyways laid out in a regular grid pattern.


Since my parents' visit the vast storerooms beneath the palace have been opened to the public


 Diocletian was the last great persecutor of Christians, so it was ironic that his mausoleum at the heart of the palace was later converted into an ornate cathedral.

 The peristyle and vestibule next to the cathedral must be the most photographed places in the country, and it was a shame we couldn’t get a better view of them. 



But alas, there was a new invasion of barbarian hordes, in the shape of several huge cruise ships had anchored in the harbour, and we had to elbow our way through dense crowds, particularly of Chinese intent on taking selfies in front of any place of interest. It was amazing that we all kept in touch with our guide and didn’t get lost.

After some time wandering inside and outside the palace, our group reassembled and were taken a few miles along the coast to Trogir, a mediaeval city on a small island reached by a single bridge.

 Fortunately there were fewer tourist parties about. Like every other place we visited, the construction was of a particularly hard white limestone, with the streets polished like marble by the feet of generations of visitors. There was a Venetian fortress at the western end. 

The cathedral was particularly fine, with splendid carvings around the west door. 



I climbed the hazardous steps up the campanile for a view over the town.


On the next day, a Sunday, we said farewell to Omis and passed through a very long tunnel through the mountains en route to Bosnia. (Technically we were to enter Hercegovina, a matter of considerable importance to the inhabitants). As soon as we crossed the frontier, the sparsely inhabited grazing-land was replaced homes with small market-garden plots, notably of tobacco. There was also a profusion of car-breakers’ yards: we were told that most of the stolen cars of Europe ended up in these. Finally we reached Mostar, just before midday.

The city is built in a bowl in the mountains, and is incredibly hot. It used to be a city with a mixed Moslem and Christian population, famous for its bridge over the river Neretva, constructed for the Sultan Sulemein the Magnificent in the 16th century. 

The bridge was deliberately destroyed by shellfire in 1993, in the wars that marked the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and a replacement, closely copying the old bridge, was opened in 2004.
 Nowadays the city is segregated, with Christians on the west bank and Moslems on the east. A new Franciscan monastery has been built, with a tower deliberately planned to overtop any of the Turkish minarets. Despite the heat I climbed the minaret of the Koski Mehmet Pasha mosque to get the best view of the bridge and the city.




 Then we drove south, once again passing through Neum, to reach our next base, at Dubrovnik. I shall describe this in my next entry.    

Friday, 30 June 2017

The Bridge at Mostar

Mostar, in what is now Bosnia, was famous for its great bridge over the river Neretva, built for the Ottoman Sultan Sulemein the Magnificent in the mid-16th century.
This is a photograph my father took of the bridge 40 years ago:-

Unfortunately the bridge was destroyed by shellfire in November 1993, in the wars that followed the collapse and disintegration of Yugoslavia. A film showing the fall of the bridge can be seen at a local bookshop.
Since then, the bridge was reconstructed and reopened in 2004, and is once again a tourist attraction. I took these pictures this year:-


Although the new bridge manages to resemble the ancient one as far as is possible, somehow it doesn't have the same effect.