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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter Oldenbourg March 20, 2018

Balkan Legacies of the Great War. The Past Is Never Dead

  • Claudia Mayr-Veselinović

Reviewed Publication:

Anastasakis Othon David Madden Roberts Elizabeth, eds, Balkan Legacies of the Great War. The Past Is Never Dead, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. XIV, 90 pp., ISBN 978-1-137-56413-9, $ 69.99

This book gives an overview of the legacies of the Great War in Southeastern and Eastern Europe. In addition, the authors discuss how the war was started and give detailed information on the historical situation of each of the countries that were later involved in the war. In particular, attention is given to the national uprisings in the mainly Slav populated countries of the Balkans, the political divisions in Greece, and the contexts of the Black Sea region.

The authors take different positions on the historical events that led to the First World War. Especially Margaret MacMillan (‘Too Much History and Too Many Neighbours: Europe and the Balkans before 1914’, 13-22) raises ‘What if’-questions, emphasising how the Great War could have started many times before it actually did. She mentions earlier crises such as Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 and the two Balkan Wars of 1912/13, as well as the imperial territorial crises between France and Great Britain in Africa (1898) and the Russian-Japanese war of 1905. Richard Crampton (‘Was the First World War the Turning Point at Which Bulgaria Failed to Turn?’, 50-58) and Basil C. Gounaris (‘Unwanted Legacies: Greece and the Great War’, 66-80) in their respective chapters echo MacMillan’s argument of so many earlier indications that a global conflagration was imminent.

The chapters by Margaret MacMillan, Ivo Roberts (‘The Black Hand and the Sarajevo Conspiracy’, 23-42), and Ivo Banac (‘The Contrasting Legacies of the South Slav Question’, 43-49) focus on the conflicts between the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Kingdom of Serbia. As the Yugoslav question was solved neither in the Monarchy nor in the Kingdom, underground movements like Ujedinjenje ili smrt (Union or Death) developed, also called the Black Hand. The way in which, the Sarajevo assassin Gavrilo Princip is commemorated differently in Austria, Serbia, and Bosnia today tells much about the forces that structure remembrance practices. Especially Banac’s chapter draws links between the processes of Pan-Slavism and Yugo-Slavism at the threshold of the 20th century, and the identity crises that struck the successor states of Yugoslavia after the break-up of the socialist state. One focus lies on homogenising identity politics in regions with mixed population such as Istria, Dalmatia and Vojvodina, for example in the context of language politics in schools.

Apart from Basil C. Gounaris, also Eugene Rogan (‘World War I and the Fall of the Ottomans: Consequences for South East Europe’, 59-65) focuses on Greece, especially on the consequences of the population exchange between Turkey and Greece. In a rash attempt to compare this ‘arranged’ ethnic cleansing with the genocide against the Armenians, he maintains that the genocide occurred because Armenians, contrary to the Greeks, had nowhere to be deported to (63).

The central theme of the book is the historical legacies of the Great War, among them persisting geopolitical tensions. Less conflictual matters have their place in the volume too, such as the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in Bulgaria, which occurred in the midst of the war in 1916. Altogether, the authors provide for a comprehensive overview of the core legacies of the First World War that still shape social realities in Southeastern Europe today. Among the most innovative aspects is the inherent comparison of narratives and remembrance practices that have usually been dealt with rather exclusively in the respective nation-state frameworks.

Published Online: 2018-03-20
Published in Print: 2018-03-26

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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