Friday, September 14, 2018

Obsession, hubris and downfall: Austria-Hungary and the Great War

Folly and Malice: The Hapsburg Empire, the Balkans, and the Start of World War One by John Zametica
Shepheard-Walwyn, London, 2017

The centenary of the Great War has occasioned many historical retrospectives of the event that fundamentally changed the world, with not a few historians attempting to retroactively reshape the narrative to suit the current political and ideological climate.

Simply put, the 21st-century revisionists are seeking to project the blame for the war onto their once and future favorite bogeymen, Russia - and Serbia, on whose behalf Nicholas II entered the war - going so far as describing the 1903 May Coup as the root cause of all ills that befell European empires in 1914-18.

I've referred to this phenomenon before, and written not a few essays about WW1 myself, before work diverted my time and resources from further dwelling on the matter. The short answer is that the above-referenced argument is entirely bogus. For the long answer, I urge you all to read an exhaustively researched tome by John Zametica, "Folly and Malice."

And I do mean exhaustively: of the book's 766 pages, over 100 are taken up by endnotes and bibliographical references. The hardcover edition is a doorstop, no getting around it. My running criticism of Serbian historians is that they tend to produce hefty academic volumes, suitable for scholars and university libraries but at best impractical for the masses - leaving them at the mercy of fake pulp "histories" penned by the ilk of Noel Malcolm instead. Yet to level the same criticism of Zametica's book would be both folly and malice; he had to go into great detail in order to not only rebut the modern mainstream "scholarship," but also show the extent to which Austria-Hungary and its obsession with the Serbs are at the root of the Great War.

The title itself pays homage to a quote from Anton Mayr-Harting's 1988 tome "Der Untergang: Österreich-Ungarn, 1848-1922" (Downfall: Austria-Hungary, 1848-1922), which actually clocks in at a whopping 932 pages and as far as I can tell is only available in German. Zametica's bibliography includes many German sources, as well as English, French and Serbian (or Serbo-Croatian, if you prefer), to paint a comprehensive picture of relations between Vienna and Belgrade that led to the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the subsequent declaration of war.

Rather than the centenary revisionist narrative blaming post-1903 Serbia for supposedly provoking Austria-Hungary, in the 18 chapters of 'Folly and Malice' Zametica walks us through the Hapsburg monarchy's crisis of identity and existence that led Vienna to regard Serbia as an existential threat.

Zametica looks not just at the Viennese court, but at the politics behind the occupation and annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Austrian-backed Croat nationalism seen as a counterweight to the allure of a free Serbia, the Austro-German relations that led Vienna to believe it had a carte blanche in the Balkans, and the "red herring" of blaming the June 28 Sarajevo assassination on the Serbian secret society "Black Hand" - among other things. It would be doing his volume an immense injustice to try and distill those chapters here.

If you consider yourself a scholar of history, or if your heritage goes back to these troubled lands, or if you merely wish to learn more about a region systematically and deliberately misrepresented for the past century, this book is for you. And while Zametica did not set out to create a parable about the madness of empires, the clear takeaway from 'Folly and Malice' is that obsession with a perceived adversary can quickly turn into self-fulfilling prophecy, and that the war seen as the only way to salvation can instead become the instrument of one's demise.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

America's 'junkyard dogs' : Operation Storm, 23 years on

(The original version of this article appeared on on August 5, 2015)

‘Operation Storm’ in August 1995, when Croatia overran the Serb-inhabited territory of Krajina, was the biggest single instance of ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav Wars, Because the attack was backed by the US, however, it was never treated as a crime.

Between August 4 and August 7, up to 2,000 people were killed and over 220,000 driven from their homes by the Croatian army. No “invaders,” these Serbs had lived in the Krajina – their word for borderlands – for centuries. The 1995 onslaught was not just a final phase of the war that began in 1991, but a continuation of the 1940s Nazi atrocities, and a long, sordid history of oppression and betrayal going back to the 1800s.

In the late 1600s, the Hapsburg Empire (later Austria-Hungary) established a buffer zone along the border with the Ottoman Turks. in exchange for military service, the Orthodox Serb frontiersmen were granted religious liberties by the Catholic Hapsburgs. By the 1800s, the Ottomans were in retreat and Austria became obsessed with subjugating the Serbs and trying to subsume them into the Catholic Croat population. When Austria-Hungary disintegrated in 1918, the Croats chose to join the Serbs in a new South Slav kingdom – Yugoslavia – rather than be partitioned between Hungary, Austria and Italy. In April 1941, as Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis powers, Croatian Nazis known as “Ustasha” declared an independent state with the backing of Hitler and Mussolini.

This Ustasha Croatia conducted a campaign of mass murder, expulsion and forced conversion of Serbs to Catholicism, which outright disgusted the Italians and made even some Germans recoil in horror. A Croatian legion was sent to the Eastern Front, where it perished under Stalingrad. When the Communist regime of Marshal Tito took over Yugoslavia in 1945, however, Croatian atrocities were hushed up for the sake of “brotherhood and unity.”

The end of Communism in 1990 saw a revival of Nazi symbols and vocabulary in Croatia. President Franjo Tudjman denied Ustasha atrocities and expressed joy his wife was “neither Serb nor Jewish.” Serbs were stripped of equal citizenship and declared a minority. When Tudjman declared independence in June 1991, the Serbs saw 1941 all over again. They took up arms and declared the Krajina Republic – not denying the Croats their right to independence, but disputing Zagreb's claim to lands Croatia acquired under the same Yugoslavia it now sought to leave.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


Today is Vidovdan.

Gavrilo Princip sends his regards.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

'Kosovo' at 10: Still wards of Washington

When they declared "independence" ten years ago, the KLA terrorists no doubt it was a transit stop on their 130-journey towards "Natural Albania." They had forgotten the crucial characteristic of the Atlantic Empire: any deals with it are Faustian in nature.

Ten years later, "Kosovian" independence is stalled, the promised prosperity is nowhere to be found, and instead of supporting Albanian expansionism the Empire is setting up special courts to keep KLA chiefs under control. Nor are "Kosovians" the first or only ones to have their hopes so dashed - but that's another topic, for another time.

Read more in my latest at