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June 12, 2007

Recent books on Twentieth-Century Europe - reviewed by Jeremy Black

Posted by Jeremy Black

Genocide and Resistance in Hitler's Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks 1941-1943
by Marko Attila Hoare
Pp. xiv+386. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006
Hardback, £55

An instructive work for the history of World War Two, more specifically for the partisan struggle not only in Yugoslavia but also more generally. Furthermore, this book looks toward post-1945 tensions in Eastern Europe. Rivalry between the Chetniks and the Partisans is carefully related to ethnic, religious and political tensions in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Hoare argues that the Partisan movement there at its inception involved the fusion of a modern revolutionary organisation with a traditional peasant rebellion. He sees the Bosnian Chetniks as a Serb-nationalist reaction against the Communist leadership of the Serb uprising which was threatening to arm Croats and Muslims and thwart the establishment of a Great Serbia. Thus, there was a tension between a People's liberation struggle and a Serb liberation struggle.

The Partisans are presented as upholding the model of a multinational Bosnia-Hercegovina, although this does not answer the rather different question of the failure of this model to win much support in Kosovo where, instead, there was appreciable support for the Germans. Hoare offers an instructive account of the conflict as well as the politics of the struggle. He argues that the capitulation of Italy was the turning point in the Partisans' effort to build a mass movement among the Croats, Slovenes and Bosnian Muslims, for the Axis were exposed as the losing side and Italian military support for their allies was lost.

France during World War II: From Defeat to Liberation
by Thomas R. Christofferson with Michael S. Christofferson
Pp. xiv+254. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006
Hardback, £45.95; Paperback, £14.95

Useful to students, though written more for the American than the British market, this is an effective and up-to-date account that is divided into six chapters: Defeat of France, National Revolution, Collaboration, Exclusion, Resistance, and Liberation. An epilogue addresses consequences and there is also a section on Further Reading in English. The failure of Vichy and, with it, of a conservative vision of France is the key theme of the book, and thus the birth of modern France is traced to the conflict. During the war, the institutions of France are presented as failing miserably, including the military, the political system, the Catholic Church and the educational system.

In contrast, individuals and communities are presented in a more positive light, not least in responses to the Jews and in supporting the Resistance. Collaboration is regarded as popular among only a small minority. This may well be true, but that is not the same as saying that collaboration proved unacceptable to the majority. Vichy took up themes from France's divided history and contested collective memories, most recently not only the French Fascist movement, the Action Française, but also the conservative reaction to the Popular Front of the 1930s. Vichy also presented the Third Republic and its politics as decadent and weak, and in large part responsible for defeat in 1940.

The descent of Vichy in the latter stage of the war into the Milice is ably captured, and the brutal and arbitrary character of the latter is underlined. Not until the Allies approached Paris in August 1944 did Pétain turn on his collaborationist supporters by attacking the Milice for being an extremist organization, but even then he tempered his remarks by praising its record in combating terrorism. Not until the Pope personally called on the French Church on 13th June 1944 to aid the Maquis spiritually, did the hierarchy cease excommunicating priests who performed mass and other religious services for them. Christofferson, however, contrasts the treatment of the Jews with the more collaborationist situation in the Netherlands. Moreover, in the post-war purges, the French executed more, per capita, than any other nation in Europe, with the exception of Yugoslavia and Greece.

The margin of German military superiority in 1940 is exaggerated, but, otherwise, this is an effective introductory work. The balance is impressive, although some critics might see the book as overly sympathetic to the French. Christofferson closes optimistically, confident that France cannot return to fascism and the plight of the 1940s, and using Le Pen's minority status to support this claim.

Mothers of the Nation: Women, Families, and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Europe
by Pastrizia Albanese
Pp. vii+225. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006
Hardback, £35

An instructive and original assessment of the relationship between gender and nationalism in twentieth-century Europe. Focusing on the interwar and post-1989 periods, Albanese, a professor in the Department of Sociology at Ryerson University, considers the subject with reference to Germany, Italy, Russia and Yugoslavia. Argues that, although nationalists attempted to "re-patriarchalize" gender and family relations in Croatia and Russia in the 1990s, not least through the use of pro-natalist propaganda and policies, they were less successful, particularly in Russia, than their interwar predecessors in Italy and Germany. Moreover, in both time periods, success was generally short-lived.

In Yugoslavia, the rhetoric was egalitarian after World War Two, but in the 1990s, as part of the effort to create nationally-homogeneous entities, women were pressed to adopt new symbolic roles. Croatia advocated the trinity of "home, nation and God", with the female role in the family seen as a means to preserve traditional values and thus the national consciousness. Feminist organisations resisted, but a more potent resistance arose as a result of the need to work. The same was true of Russia, but there, as in Croatia, the need to work was ignored by government. Albanese argues that women were particularly hard hit by the economic crises that struck Yugoslavia after the death of Tito, that they struggled with purchasing problems created by high inflation and scarcities and, especially, when the economic crisis slowed, the development of day-care and other childcare services necessary if they were to enter the labour market. So also with anti-abortion policies and opposition to divorce: female views were ignored, but government effectiveness was limited.

Albanese's interesting work is supported by statistical analysis. It demonstrates the extent to which family policies do not modernize and suggests that nationalism could be profoundly conservative, not least because it is often a response to insecurity.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author - amongst much else - of The Slave Trade (Social Affairs Unit, 2007) and A Short History of Britain (Social Affairs Unit, 2007).


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