Courtesy Reuters

Jugoslavia's Choice

THIS war was bound sooner or later to reach the place where the First World War started. Some Jugoslav leaders thought the contrary. But to point out that this was an illusion is still to tell only part of the story. Prince Regent Paul, working through the Stojadinovich and Cvetkovich Governments, may have hoped that it was possible to isolate Jugoslavia from the main currents of events in Europe. But a more likely explanation of his attitude and that of his ministers is that they were dismayed by the stubborn facts of the European situation -- the growing German military strength, the growing British and French military weakness, and the evidence of a spirit of appeasement in both Britain and France, going back as far as the naval treaty which the Baldwin Government signed with Hitler in June 1935 and the Anglo-French decision not to resist the German occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936.

It was a disaster that Jugoslavia entered the final crisis so unprepared. But it would have been difficult, with the best will in the world, for Jugoslavia to have rearmed sufficiently in 1937 and 1938, when even British and French preparations were still lagging; and it would have been still more difficult for her to have rearmed energetically after the war began in 1939, not only because there was then no place where she could buy the needed arms in sufficient quantities and sufficiently quickly, but because such action would have produced an immediate ultimatum from Germany. This is the general background against which the events of this past winter and spring must be studied. The worst miscalculation of the Jugoslav Governments which preceded that of General Simovich was their belief that the Jugoslav people were not ready to accept any sacrifice, whatever the odds against them, rather than become the slaves of Hitler and rather than facilitate his attack on their neighbors, the Greeks.

A very short study of a map of the Balkan region will show that the Serb Drang nach Osten of German imperial days was revived it was likely to take strikingly similar form. Just as Serbia was an unwelcome barrier to the peaceful fulfilment of the Austro-Hungarian and German dream of conquest in 1914, so in our time her successor, Jugoslavia, was a barrier to the National Socialist expansion. With an area of some 96,000 square miles and a population of some 16,000,000 inhabitants, Jugoslavia dominated the Balkan Peninsula, its waterways and roads, its man power, its mineral and agricultural resources. Her standing army of 200,000 was understood to be, man for man, one of the world's best, although short of modern equipment. Her people, having gained freedom after centuries of struggle and sacrifice, were determined to safeguard it at any price. The Nazis knew that her will had to be undermined or circumvented, or that she had to be smashed by force. They tried the first course first.

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