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The Boiling Cauldron: The Axis occupation of Yugoslavia and the origins of the wartime internecine conflicts

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  • Political Science


The German invasion of Yugoslavia of 1941 set in motion approximately four years of internecine bloodletting. However, while the invasion itself was the trigger for the subsequent civil war, the basis for much of the ethnic and religious conflict had been laid long before the German invasion. Yugoslavia itself was born out of strategic necessity in the wake of the First World War by the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, but heavy‐handed policies of Serbian political elites prevented the new state from achieving any degree of political or cultural unity. It was during the interwar period that Ante Pavelic's Ustasha movement, which would lay waste to vast swathes of Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian countryside, was born in response to Belgrade's repressive policies. To further aggravate the matter, Yugoslav governments in the interwar period, while desperately trying to maintain a posture of neutrality in international affairs, failed to strengthen the state, thus establishing a weak Yugoslavia entirely dependent on the goodwill of other powers for survival. Even though there was nothing predetermined about the invasion, the Yugoslav way was a dangerous game. As a result, following the German invasion of 1941, largely provoked by the Serbs themselves, the country reaped a grim harvest of violence which blossomed from the seeds of chaos sown in the interwar period. However, despite the intensity of the latent internecine conflict, neither the invasion nor the occupation contributed anything of strategic value to the Allied war effort. Apart from sapping the strength of Yugoslavia's constituent peoples, in the long run resulted in the establishment of a communist regime in the postwar Yugoslavia, which itself failed to permanently address the issues of ethnic and religious divisions.

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