Information and Ideology in three Area-Handbooks



ROBERT J. KERNER, ed., Yugoslavia. Chapters by Griffith Taylor et al. (United Nations Series.) Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1949. XXIV, 558 pp.


WERNER MARKERT, ed., Osteuropa-Handbuch: Jugoslawien. K๖ln and Graz: B๖hlau Verlag, 1954. XIII, 400 pp.


Yugoslavia. With an Introduction by Robert F. Byrnes. (East-Central Europe Under the Communists.) New York: Frederick A. Praeger (for the Mid-European Studies Center of the Free Europe Committee), 1957. XIII, 488 pp.



To paraphrase an old saying, the happiest nations, like the happiest women, must be those about whom no comprehensive manuals have ever been written. On this scale, the three volumes here are bad omens and, as one would expect, they contain ample evidence of the poor luck of the Southern Slavs. There is, however, a second meaning to the same aphorism. Writing about a country as controversial as Yugoslavia requires a painstaking and continuous effort to avoid distortions which can make those involved even more unhappy. When the effort is not made or is unsuccessful, protests of "Hold the thief!" and "Look who is talking!" are likely to be raised by one or the other party in the several sets of fundamental disputes dividing that country and its foreign observers. Since all could be protesting quite justifiably while nobody is particularly right, a reader merely seeking information may find the hardest going. Being innocent in the art of penetrating the fog of Balkan-style facts and artifacts, he can — unlike those who can discount and reinterpret to their own temper of mind — only stand confused, unconvinced, and uninformed.


This is not to say that the three volumes do not provide, among other things, a wealth of information. In the first place, we are dealing with some sixty essays written by nearly two score authors. They discuss matters ranging from geologic structure, population density, and garden produce to philosophy of education, "new economic system," and ecclesiastical development; and from Illyrian Provinces, Serbian Revolution, and Habsburg Empire to people's police, Yugoslavs in America, and "Moscow Permits Limited Titoism." No matter how different the quality of treatment given to various subjects, most readers should be able to profit somewhere along the line. Second, substantial sections are written as well as could be expected, considering the available sources. The economic chapters, for instance, which will be discussed first, are, within the limits imposed by the nature and scope of Communist government statistics, both informative and important — so much so that few students of Yugoslavia can afford to neglect them.


The last statement applies, however, chiefly to the two more recent volumes; for the University of California handbook restricts its economic coverage to foreign trade and a survey of prewar agricultural problems. The Yugoslav volume of the Osteuropa-Handbuch series (hereafter, "Handbuch") and the Free Europe Committee (here-after, "FEC") manual devote to the economy almost half of their pages, providing a convenient compilation of postwar statistics not readily available except in the largest libraries, together with comment which sometimes is illuminating. Among the contributions to the FEC volume, "General Survey of Yugoslav Economy" (by Egon Neuberger) and "National Income, and Product" (by Nicholas Spul'-ber) stand out as attempts to analyze and synthesize, instead of merely rehashing what is already evident from the statistical tables. There are also chapters on basic and consumer industries (by Ivan Avsenek and Egon Neuberger respectively) and on other miscellaneous subjects from "Agriculture" to "Health and Public Welfare" — all descriptive, some spotty, the last one contributed anonymously. Several contradictions adopted from Yugoslav sources are left unexplained: the industrial production indices on pp. 291 and 313 do not agree with each other (and both differ from the figures in the Handbuch on p. 254); the investments in the economy grow from 75 billion in 1949 to 340 billion in 1953 on page 348, while dropping over the same period from 294 to 266 billion on page 288. There are repeated references to foreign aid, in various contexts, but annual figures are given only on loans granted by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in dollars, opposite Yugoslav investment figures given in variable dinars; consequently, the role of aid in Yugoslav budgets remains anybody's guess, although generalizations on this matter are made elsewhere (of all places, in the chapter on "National Security"). Moreover, it is impossible to dis-cover how the rate of growth in the first decade after World War II compares with that after World War I (discounting foreign aid and reparations in both cases), because the statistical tables show only one prewar year (1938 or 1939) when they show any. By way of contrast, anyone interested can find the exact population of every single town with over 10,000 people in what happens to be the longest table, placed in the subsection on economic -and social conditions in the chapter on "The People."


The economic section of the German volume starts with a survey of the inter-war period, centering on foreign trade and agriculture, followed by five chapters on various aspects of post-war economy. There is, in the Handbuch, an appearance of more systematic treatment of all subjects, but the advantages of its economic part are limited. It is generally based on 1946-53 figures and, here and there, it includes 1954 estimates; but it also occasionally ends (e.g. in the chapter on public finance) with 1950 or 1951. Since the volume was prepared soon after postwar Yugoslav statistics first became available in any detail, and the figures found in regular statistical publications were supplemented by data released ad hoc by Yugoslav authorities, it is now rapidly becoming obsolete — not so much because of new developments in the economy, as because subsequent Yugoslav publications disclose that the figures used in the economic part of the Handbuch were in many cases exaggerated to start with. As to its mechanics, the inclusion of three prewar years in postwar statistical tables, which is more than the FEC manual offers, is still insufficient to make the kind of comparison suggested above. The fact that, in both volumes, prewar data end with 1938 or 1939 is, incidentally, misleading: this disregards the 1939-41 period of fast growth after the delayed end of the depression and thus magnifies the accomplishments of the postwar regime beyond their true proportions.


The picture of the Yugoslav economy that emerges is, although not nearly as complete as one may wish, revealing to a surprising degree. While selected industries expand considerably, the production never seems to be able to catch up with plans and predictions. The consumer industry, and agriculture run at a particularly low rate, although not as far behind the planned figures as some of the items on the basic industry list. Having started from a low base, the rapid upswing in the latter category occured, nevertheless, chiefly in areas where a base was available. More recently, the expansion has slowed down in all fields. This may well be the consequence of the exhaustion of three of the four sources of capital employed in the ambitious early investment program — the confiscations, the depression of the general living standard, and the reparations — while the fourth source — foreign aid — had to be used increasingly for the military and police establishments and for subsistence consumption. It is also interesting to note that the peasants, squeezed hard at first, seem to have regained ground in their purchasing power as compared with other strata, although the agricultural production, compared with the prewar level, remains the weakest item in the official production statistics. Failing both to improve the lot of the workers and to approximate the planned increases in production, the party and some of its foreign supporters may have become resigned to making a virtue of necessity by calling it "de-Stalinization." Nevertheless, one should not take lightly the fact that the growth in the fields of concentration, short as it was of plans, was little short of phenomenal; and what from the consumer's point of view appears as a deficiency was in part planned and to that degree, strictly speaking, was not a failure. In this connection economic statistics are indicated for their therapeutic effect to all who find in the myth of totalitarianism's self-destruction their excuse for complacency. Needless to say, what the statistics do not answer is the question: Was it worth the price in human suffering to those who had to pay it?


If the economic part of the manuals can save some legwork to anybody who wants to pursue the developments in Yugoslavia, the same can hardly be said about all their other parts. True, for those interested in rocks and trees, mountains, roads and rivers, climate, and boundaries, there are descriptions, maps, and more tables, which are as informative as they are inconsequential. All three volumes have "Land and People" sections; yet in two of them the land portion is given by far the more adequate treatment. When it comes to the people, the California handbook treats the reader only to an unenlightening essay on "Racial History." In the FEC manual the chapter on "The People" is the second one by an anonymous author. It is based on miscellaneous demographic statistics on such matters as sex and age distribution and literacy ratios, but the nationalities — hardly a marginal matter in Yugoslavia — are allocated less than one page. The Handbuch gives the subject two chapters: one on nationalities, ana the other on miscellaneous demographic data. It has comprehensive tables covering successive censuses and perhaps the most carefully executed maps on the population structure of Yugoslavia one can find anywhere. Unfortunately, the maps are, with one exception, based on prewar statistics, although the text and the tables include data from both postwar censuses.


Most unbalanced, however, are the parts devoted to history, culture, and politics. Serious doubts are raised not only by the overall scope of coverage and organization, but also by the methodology and the fundamental values that underlie several individual contributions. Part of this is, of course, due to the greater methodological difficulties which have always plagued the disciplines concerned with those fields and which, consequently, make caution in criticism imperative. Yet, there is also such a phenomenon as excessive discrepancy from the ways, however vaguely defined, of selecting, ordering, and interpreting which make the results of scholarly endeavor meaningful; and there may be a limit to the acceptability of propositions even when they are, admittedly, not refutable in the literal sense.


To talk about coverage first, it is at a glance quite impressive. The California volume has a part on the historical background proper, another historical part entitled "Political Development," further parts on "Social Conditions," "Cultural Development," and foreign relations, each with from two to four chapters. The FEC manual has a 15-page "Brief History" and a chapter on "Foreign Relations Since 1945," which together form its introductory part; and there is a section on "The Government and the Party" with five chap ters, including one on "Education" and one on "National Security." In the Handbuch, "Politics and State" consists of four political chapters (covering, respectively, the inter-war, war-time, 1945-48, and 1948-53 periods), a chapter on postwar foreign relations, and others on religions, education, literature, and emigration. Its documentary part covers subjects ranging from treaties and cabinets since 1918 to current party and government officials and alternate geographical names. The emphasis varies: the California volume centers on the past, with only glimpses of the war-time and postwar developments; the Handbuch purports to cover the period since World War I; the FEC manual seeks to show "what has happened in Yugoslavia under Communist rule," but most of its chapters actually start with the inter-war period.


Within such limits, what was omitted is as impressive as what was included. To the authors of the California volume, the history of the southern Slavs is mainly the history of Serbia from about 1830 to 1941 (with apparently no fundamental break at 1918). In spite of this, no attempt was made to relate the respective influences of the Serbian-Orthodox church, Byzantine culturเl heritage, and the tradition of conspirative political techniques to the recent practices in government and struggle for power, and to collateral matters, such as the writing of Serbian history. Along the same line, the concept of culture is conceived so narrowly that nothing beyond language and literature is included in the part on "Cultural Development" — an approach which by-passes some important and universally comprehensible indices of the depth of the cleft between the Oriental and the Occidental in Yugoslavia. There is, however, a brief discussion of the role of secret societies in the prelude to World War I. in the chapter on the relation of Serbia to the Habsburg Empire (by Bernadotte Schmitt); and for the lacunae in the cultural part, there is some compensation in other sections, such as that on "Social Conditions."


The FEC volume repeats these omissions and adds others. Its introduction properly warns the reader that among the "most significant and fascinating problems and factors" which were omitted at the outset are the "viability of Yugoslavia" in general and the popularity of the Communist regime in particular (p. vi); later on, such subjects as religion, literature, and labor had to be left out because "the staff of the Center and the authors were unable to prepare high-quality, brief chapters" on them (p. vii). This being the case one may at once begin to wonder what made the publication of this volume appear worth while, In any event, there is little left that has to be added to that list of omissions.


Turning to methodology and organization of the material which was included, one notes first that signs of vigorous editing are discoverable only in the Handbuch. Even where its substance, as noted for the economic part, would tend to age rapidly, the fact that the contributions are reconciled with each other in their content, quality, and form makes the Handbuch appear superior to the other two volumes. Another of its valuable features are the notes to the maps and tables explaining how the incorporated data were computed — information witheld only too often in similar works. Nevertheless, there are flaws in the organization of the Handbuch: one wonders, why the discussion of inter-war foreign relations is dispersed among the material on domestic politics (at the sacrifice of clarity of presentation for both); or, why the literary development forms part of "Politics and State," unless it is on grounds that there are no apolitical activities in a Communist state — in which case, why exclude other subjects? The general bibliography at the end of the volume is classified and numbered, but because it is (as those of the other two volumes) unannotated, it is) far less useful than the extended `guide to further study' variety of footnote, which is found at the end of some chapters. One wonders, why all chapters were not so equipped.


The California volume incorporates foreign trade of 1918-41 in the part on "Economic Conditions," but the postwar continuation of the same subject is found, along with prewar diplomatic history, under "Yugoslavia Among the Nations"; "Constitutional Development" and "Yugoslavs in America" add up to "Political Development" (the connection is not shown, and no other chapter is included); there is an amassing and well written chapter on the language (by G. R. Noyes), followed by a summary discussion of the literature which repeats much of the same material. There are scores of major and minor factual errors, ranging from "fifteen hundred years of common historical experience" of the "Yugoslav people" (p. 107) to the consistent substitution of Karlovac for Karlovci by three different authors (pp. 38, 245, 296). Furthermore, while the volume abounds with sweeping statements, documentation is almost entirely absent: foot-notes, if any are relegated to the back of the volume and, in some instances, they substitute for bibliography; for the "Selected Bibliography" selects the sections of the book for which bibliographical information is included.


In the FEC manual, the three political chapters ("The Constitutional System," "Politics and Political Organization," "The Government") are repetitive, although listed under the same author (Alexander Rudzinski); and altogether they hardly begin to scratch the surface of the problems they promise to deal with. On what principle the material presented was divided into three chapters is a puzzle in itself. Each begins with a summary of past events already summarized in the introductory historical chapter. Each goes on to expound several aspects of the formal governmental structure, paying little attention to the political forces and processes which predetermine and give actual content to the governmental framework. There are assurances in all three chapters that the Yugoslav Constitution was adopted for propaganda purposes; yet the main support to the thesis that the Constitution is a sham is taken from the vagueness of, and the contradictions in, the wording of that document — a method which can prove little except that Bel-grade Communists are poor propagandists. A similar overemphasis of structure in political analysis can be found in the other two volumes; neither went overboard, however, to include three essays by the same author on the same and least important feature of government. Compared with this throwback to the primeval era in political science, other defects in method and organization might appear as mere technicalities. Documentation is, for instance, as deficient as in the California volume; the bibliography fails to register, in addition to other important works, the German manual reviewed here; and the basis of selection of the "leading Communists" whose biographies are appended is not disclosed (several has-beens are included, but only one of the six presidents of the Executive Councils of the Republics — Bakarić — and only a sprinkling of the Central Committee and of the Federal Executive Council). More damning, however, there is obvious plagiarism, including the verbatim transcript of a passage rationalizing, in part, the Yugoslav regime under the dictatorship of Alexander I (Cf. p. 132, FEC manual, with p. 126 of the California volume).


There remains to be discussed the problem of fundamental values and propositions which are implicit or explicit in the contributions to the three volumes. Short of writing a manual on the manuals, what can be done with reference to this problem is, mainly, to refer to some of the more conspicuous examples of positions taken in various chapters which one would normally not expect to find in current writings of Western scholars. If a broad generalization can be made, it is that too many of the included essays suffer from that combination of neo-Hegelianism and romanticism which places a premium on such concepts as "The State," "Unity," "Leadership," "Authority," and "Military Virtue" at the expense of human dignity, individuality, liberty, and self-government. Applied to the level of the concrete sets of conflicts permeating the Yugoslav scene, such fundamental values would tend to support, or to justify the activities of, the successive ruling circles representing centralization, state security, and charismatic splendor against the "disturbances" ascribed to the uncooperative underdogs. Thus, among the contributors to the Handbuch, two disclose their fondness for Serbian authoritarians formerly allied with Germany and, more generally, impatience with opposition and complacency towards dictatorial methods of government. (See von Reiswitz, p. 79 on "state-political destructiveness`" of opposition, p. 82 on the "necessity" of dictatorship, pp. 93-96 on the greatness of Stojadinović; and the kind words of Professor Matl for Nedić, Ljotić, and Mihajlović — all three devoted to "humanitarian tasks" — on pp. 109-112.) The California volume is in places quite outspoken in its support of authoritarian methods. Freedom of education is associated with "strongly nationalistic" measures rather approvingly as an "interesting" and "appropriate" development (Severin K. Turosienski on p. 231); "praetorian nationalism" serves to rationalize murder and dictatorship and to make a "National Revolution" out of a coup d'้tat (Malbone W. Graham on pp. 116, 126, and 133); parliamentary government is "unessential," "obsolete," and charged with "empty paper maneuvers" (id. on pp. 128, 123, and 133); and to oppose "the positive tradition" (of unity and authority) is to show "particularist mentality" and to exploit "the disputatious possibilities of a theological trinitarianism" (id. on pp. 121 and 120).


If the FEC manual avoids such extremes, it is, in part, because it skips over the most important issues; yet it also attempts to achieve objectivity by mechanically balancing claims and accusations and distributing blame and praise to all parties in dispute. When "the warlike attributes" of Serbs and Montenegrins are exalted, the Croats and Slovenes are allowed the dubious honor to "share the same military virtues" (Bernard Ziffer, p. 145). After a "strongly centralistic constitution," pushed through "with the aid of pressure and bribery," has had its day and is supplanted by a decree "which legalized the dictatorship without significantly altering its essence," the opposition forces are labeled "chauvinistic," whereas the supporters of the central dictatorship become "patriotic" (Thomas T. Hammond, pp. 12-13). The three political essays criticize the prewar regime as one characterized first by police powers "in practice with-out limit" in spite of "customary phrases of Western liberalism" (p. 94), second by "the insistence of the Serbian politicians ... on ruling Yugoslavia with little regard for the interests of the other peoples" (p. 112,) and third, by a government structure which since its inception to its end "reflected extreme centralism, autocratic rule, corruption, and political instability. (p. 131). Yet, such criticism is, as in other parts of the volume, moderated by its being directed chiefly against human errors in execution of what is still assumed to be a sound scheme. It is a criticism of the failure of the dynasty and its advisers to provide "effective political leadership" (p. 112) and of the "unconstructive" attitudes of party leaders emphasizing "factional and regional interests" (p. 113), of centralism and "separatism" and "particularism" alike — not a recognition of the intrinsic inability of the Yugoslav scheme to satisfy fundamental democratic values. When the last of the three political chapters reverts to a rationalization of the dictatorship (p. 132), it only demonstrates too well that a blending of claims from both sides of the fence does not by itself constitute objectivity and scholarship.


In conclusion, it is only proper to point out that there is necessarily an impressionistic factor present in reviewing such multi-authored volumes. Since the more conspicuous methodological and ideological aberrations tend to mar the overall picture more than warranted, it may be permissible to recall — at the risk of stating the obvious — that there are exceptions to the general impression among the many individual contributions, all of which could not be discussed. To sum up, the Handbuch, needs its statistics brought up to date; in its other parts, provided it is read with caution, it should be useful to many even as it stands now. The FEC volume, to become serviceable beyond economics, would require the inclusion of what its introduction lists as omitted and the elimination of the methodological inadequacy of its political part. To believe that in its present form "this volume reflects the state of American scholar-ship and of Western scholarship generally, on developments within Communist Yugoslavia" (p. vii) would be unkind to American and Western scholarship. The California handbook should be of use principally to those interested in the opinions on Yugoslavia during World War II and its aftermath; what it has to offer on its subject matter is of little consequence and is overshadowed by unacceptable propositions. For that matter, the volume is appropriately described as part of a series started as a "contribution to the war effort" and being continued as an offer "to the peace effort" (p. vii); only it should be hoped that in any future attempts of a similar nature, the scholarly tradition of knowing before fighting will be given a more prominent role.


George Stambuk