In Search of a Place in the Shadow of Totalitarianism: Discourses of Serbian Radical Right-Wing Intellectuals in the pre-1941 Kingdom of Yugoslavia
With Hitler’s advent to power in Germany and the ascendance of Axis Powers in the international arena from mid-1930s onwards, Serbian intellectuals prone to radical right-wing and outright fascist ideas and concepts started to advocate their visions of Yugoslavia’s role in the new world order. Far from being concerned with foreign policy alone, radical rightists and fascists among prominent public figures envisioned a Yugoslavia reborn and reconfigured along anti-liberal, viscerally anti-communist, corporatist and overtly authoritarian lines. Despite favourable circumstances, their task was a difficult one: Germany, an ex-enemy country, was not popular among the Serbian population, while Italy was the main antagonist of the young Yugoslav state, and their regimes and ideologies found little sympathy. At the same time, Yugoslavia underwent the prolonged internal crisis that centred on the Serbian-Croatian dispute regarding the internal structure of the country, a clash between centralist and (con)federal constitutional arrangement. The late King Alexander’s ideology of integral Yugoslavism proved to be a failure and only exacerbated tensions in the country. With this in view, radical rightist and fascist thinkers sought to offer an alternative path for the country. At the heart of it was a national rejuvenation that would draw inspiration from the traditional Serbian values enshrined in the lessons of the glorious past. This cultural overhaul was meant to provide an authentic cultural expression, as opposed to a mere copying of foreign models and adoption of foreign influences, in which the best of Serbian traditions and historical legacies would come to the fore. Whether it was framed in the Yugoslav spirit, or reflected a disappointment with the failed Yugoslav nation-building project, it was Serbian nationalism that underpinned these reinterpretations which were to serve as a guiding light “for reorientation and a revision of values”, as one admirer of totalitarian powers put it. In the discourse of Serbian radical rightist/fascist intellectuals, national and social restoration was the order of the day, as the German and Italian example demonstrated so convincingly, but they could be realised to Yugoslavia’s satisfaction only if grounded in the inherent national strength, historical traditions and time-honoured social institutions of the Serbian peasantry. In parallel with internal transformation, it was necessary to do away with the post-1918 foreign policy illusions and take Yugoslavia’s rightful place in the emerging Axis-dominated south-eastern Europe.