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Balkan Inferno: The Yugoslav Vortex

Balkan Inferno: The Yugoslav Vortex

Update: 2023-06-27
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“[B]y strange contrast, which in fact isn't so strange, and could perhaps be easily explained by careful analysis, it can also be said that there are a few countries with such firm belief, elevated strength of character, so much tenderness and loving passion, such depth of feeling, of loyalty and unshakable devotion, or with such a thirst for justice. But in secret depths underneath all this hide burning hatreds, entire hurricanes of tethered and compressed hatreds maturing and awaiting their hour.”—Ivo Andrić

“I had come to Yugoslavia because I knew that the past has made the present, and I wanted to see how the process works. Let me start now. It is plain that it means an amount of human pain, arranged in an unbroken continuity appalling to any person cradled in the security of the English or American past. Were I to go down into the marketplace, armed with the powers of witchcraft, and take a peasant by the shoulders and whisper to him, 'In your lifetime, have you known peace?' wait for his answer, shake his shoulders and transform him into his father, and ask him the same question, and transform him in his turn to his father, I would never hear the word 'Yes,' if I carried my questioning of the dead back for a thousand years, I would always hear, 'No. There was fear, there were our enemies without, our rulers within, there was prison, there was torture, there was violent death.'”—Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

Long before there was a Third Reich, long before there was an Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, long before there were any world wars, long before there was a Hajj Amin al-Husseini or Palestinian nationalist movement, long before a state of Israel was a twinkle in Theodor Herzl’s eye—there were the South Slavs of the Balkan peninsula, languishing under the weight of teetering empires entering their period of decline. Sensing weakness and frustrated with not being able to determine their own destiny, a nationalist spirit awakened in the hearts of thousands, and, in some cases, a sort of freedom was carved out for the region’s many peoples, something through violent revolution, others through diplomacy and politics. And then, one day, the empires were gone. And a new kingdom had to rise from the ashes. This is when the real problems began.

In this prelude to the return of History Impossible's long-running Muslim Nazis series, we’re going to look at the conception, the birth, and rapid death of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. There are peasant rebellions, countless wars and assassinations, democratic malaise and poorly addressed ethnic tensions, extreme violence breaking out within the halls of state, seizures of power, radical terrorism, and the invasion and dismemberment by a far more powerful foreign adversary—and we’re not even talking about the United States in the near future!

This story, as stated in the very first episode of the original series, has taken two years to return, thanks to the historically complex mosaic this part of the world has turned it into. But return we have, and we’ve just begun; this is why we are going to be spending a number of episodes focusing on the history of the Balkans. Don't worry, it will all fit together soon; the Kingdom of Yugoslavia not only sets the stage for so many of the characters we’ve come to know and love (to hate, hopefully), but it gives us an unprecedented snapshot of how a young democracy dies and, crucially and nightmarishly, what happens afterward.

Welcome to the real graveyard of empires.

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Balkan Inferno: The Yugoslav Vortex

Balkan Inferno: The Yugoslav Vortex

Alexander von Sternberg