Book Review: The Resurrection and Collapse of Empire in Habsburg Serbia, 1914-1918


by Jonathan E. Gumz

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 275. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $80.00. ISBN: 9-780-5-2189-627-6

Although there has been a considerable revival of interest in World War I over the past decade, there are still serious gaps in scholarship on the war.  The broadest gap concerns the Eastern Front.  Most major campaigns in the east have yet to be addressed.  Another sub-topic on this front is that of occupation.  Between 1915 and 1918 the Central Powers occupied vast tracts of territory, inhabited by many millions of people.  To some degree the lack of attention to the matter of occupation has been addressed over the past few years by the works of Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius and Mark von Hagen on Lithuania and Ukraine , respectively.  The latest entry in this field is the study by Jonathan Gumz on the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbia .

For comparative purposes, Gumz's subject is ideal, for the occupation of Serbia was the exclusive province of the Austro-Hungarian Army, just as Lithuania was that of the German Army.  While the German Army's focus in Lithuania was on culture, Gumz argues that the Austro-Hungarian Army saw its mission as  bringing of law and justice to Serbia , a place regarded by the Austro-Hungarians as a den of lawlessness, ruined by politics and nationalism, alike anathema to the Austro-Hungarian Army.  In effect, the Army's approach to the occupation of Serbia reflected its own institutional attitudes towards certain aspects of the empire it was tasked to defend.

The goal of the Austro-Hungarian Army was to create a Serbia from which politics, nationlism, and criminality had been excised.  By and large, argues Gumz convincingly, the Austro-Hungarian Army succeeded in this endeavor through the efforts of the Military General Government of Serbia , or MGG/S.  The key element here was food, in that the MGG/S was able to turn Serbia into the breadbasket of the Austro-Hungarian Army.  With Army purchases of food putting money in the pockets of Serbia's peasants, and the most politically committed and nationalistic elements largely driven out with the Serbian Army, by the winter of 1916-1917 the country was rather quiet.  The 1917 partisan uprising proved to be rather a flop, although the perceptions of both sides proved the truthfulness of the adage that in an insurgency, each side always overstates the strength of its opponent.

Gumz's book, while not the easiest read, is based on meticulous research in a variety of primary and secondary sources.  The approach taken by Gumz towards very complex and thorny issued is nuanced, and his judgments are equally subtle.  Gumz has broken much new ground here, and both casual students and serious scholars of the war will find much here to pique their interest.

Reviewer: Richard L. DiNardo, USMC C&S College, Quantico   

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