After Empire: Ethnic Germans and Minority Nationalism in Interwar Yugoslavia

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Lyon, Philip
Lampe, John R
This study traces the (ethnically German) Danube Swabians' embrace of national identity in interwar Yugoslavia with attention to the German national movement's antecedents in Croatia-Slavonia and Vojvodina under the Habsburgs. We examine the important role of German national activists in Yugoslavia and survey the institutions they built to stimulate, shape and mobilize Yugoslavia's German population as a specifically national minority based on the Swabians' history and collective memory as colonists in the region. Thereafter, we discuss the rift that emerged inside the German minority during the 1930s, when the German leadership and its conservative variety of German nationalism were confronted by brash, young challengers who sought to "renew" the German minority in a Nazi image. These young enthusiasts for National Socialism directed their extreme nationalism not at the repressive Yugoslav authorities, but rather at their older rivals in the Germans' main cultural and political organization, the Kulturbund. German culture and national authenticity became key criteria for German leadership in this struggle to control the Kulturbund. Meanwhile, German Catholic priests also resisted the Nazi-oriented Erneuerungsbewegung insurgency. Ultimately, we see in this clash of generations both support for and resistance to local manifestations of Nazism in Southeastern Europe. One of this study's major finds is the stubborn endurance of national indifference and local identity in Southeastern Europe throughout interwar period, when national identity was supposed to be dominant. Many Germans embraced national identity, but certainly not all of them. The persistence of this indifference confounded the logic of twentieth century nationalists, for whom national indeterminacy seemed unnatural, archaic, and inexplicable. Even after years of effort by German nationalist activists in the nationalized political atmosphere of interwar Yugoslavia, some ethnic Germans remained indifferent to national identity or else identified as Croats or Magyars. There were also those who pined for Habsburg Hungary, which had offered a dynastic alternative to national identity before 1918. Still others' identity remained shaped by confession as Catholic or Protestant. We conclude therefore by observing the paradoxical situation whereby Nazi-oriented extreme nationalism coexisted with instances of German national indifference in Yugoslavia until the eve of the Second World War.