- Visions of Annihilation: The Ustasha Regime and the Cultural Politics of Fascism, 1941–1945 by Rory Yeomans
Compared to other European fascist regimes of World War II, the so-called Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH) has suffered relative neglect in the English-language historiography, which until recently has considered the regime mostly in surveys of Yugoslav history or in reference works. Rory Yeomans’s monograph on the Croatian fascist movement therefore is a welcome contribution.
Yeomans structures his case study into six thematic, though overlapping, chapters. For example, his first chapter treats Ustasha students and the second deals with the related “cult of youth.” Chapter three examines male and female ideals in Ustasha [End Page 146] ideology, marking a solid foray into gender analysis. The fourth chapter focuses on social justice and cultural values. The esoteric linguistic policies and Ustasha literature are analyzed in the fifth chapter, a topic that bleeds into the sixth chapter’s discussion of martyrdom and “moral rebirth.” Yeomans acknowledges in the introduction that he has had to omit a number of topics, including racial politics, the relationship between the regime and Muslims, and the role of the Catholic Church. Given the length of this book and often repetitive analyses of the selected themes, this is a weakness.
Yeomans argues that the Ustasha movement and regime were not monoliths, but rather ideological arenas in which divergent views and policies contended. Unlike émigré and present-day Croat apologists (unfortunately numerous), however, Yeomans demonstrates that even the mildest adherents of the regime held fascist and racist views and did not question the fundamental tenets of Ustasha ideology. While on several occasions the regime carried out significant modifications or reversals of cultural policies, it remained fascist and intensely hostile to all inhabitants of the NDH whom it defined as cultural, genetic, religious, or racial outsiders. The stilted nature of both nationalist and Communist historiography perhaps permits Yeomans to somewhat overstate the originality of his arguments.
The book’s chronological scope is greater than the title suggests. Although the Ustasha regime lasted only from April 1941 until spring 1945, the movement had operated throughout the 1930s in exile and underground inside Yugoslavia. Yeomans charts the development of both Yugoslav cultural politics and the Ustasha movement during that decade. This analysis is both necessary and interesting, yet the book’s thematic structure entails repetitive presentations of facts and analysis. This is unfortunate because the shallowness of the main tenets of Ustasha cultural politics simply makes such extensive treatment unnecessary.
The best chapter of Visions of Annihilation is the first, which analyzes the radicalization of Croatian university students in the 1930s and examines their place in the later NDH. The analysis compares favorably with analogous treatments of fascist students elsewhere in interwar and fascist Europe. Yeomans aptly describes the consequences of a “hyperproduction of intellectuals” in a volatile and economically depressed area, still a problem in parts of Southeast Europe today. As elsewhere, radicalization on the right accompanied simultaneous left-wing radicalization; actors and policies at the extremes sometimes overlapped. Yeomans provides some examples of the fluidity of the line separating communist and fascist youth, but it would have been interesting had he teased it out more. Similarly, Yeomans might have reflected upon how the notions of blood, sacrifice, and martyrdom in the Ustasha’s belief system were in ways overdetermined by their pervasive presence in integral Yugoslavism. Yeomans’s arguments in the first two chapters and in the conclusion regarding the “inherently contradictory” nature of Ustasha ideology and the “fascist cult of youth” do not fully persuade.
Yeomans notes that cultural policies in the NDH varied considerably across regions, both in implementation and reception. However, he provides relatively [End Page 147] few examples. A chapter focused on Bosnia and Herzegovina and among Bosnian Muslims would have been a significant plus. How did the German and Italian overlords differ in their reactions to the Ustasha regime’s cultural policies? Indeed, the non-expert will probably...