Book Review: Stjepan Radic, the Croat Peasant Party, and the Politics of Mass Mobilization, 1904-1928

    Biondich, Mark. Stjepan Radic, the Croat Peasant Party, and the Politics of Mass Mobilization, 1904-1928. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.

The national question in the former Yugoslavia is often confusing to outsiders and is mainly examined through the myopic prism of personal and relative national interests by insiders. An attempt to bring light to the controversial matter of Croat nationalism, Mark Biondich's Stjepan Radic, the Croat Peasant Party, and the Politics of Mass Mobilization, 1904-1928 makes a good start in explaining South Slavic nationalism by dissecting and particularizing it. Biondich's book is focused on a very limited period of time and is centered on one influential Croat historical figure; it is not only a study of party politics, or a monograph, but an account of a top-down nationalist movement. The Croat Peasant Party's 'third way ideology' (79) - with emphasis on state rights, as opposed to the all-encompassing Yugoslavism and the separatist Croat nationalist movement -went on to become an influential mass (rather than class) party, mostly because of Radic's skillfulness in attracting peasants and in making political deals with the intelligentsia (66-67).

A fine monograph, Mark Biondich's Stjepan Radic is clearly not a hagiography. Stjepan Radic is depicted as both an enlightened, bright, and intuitive politician as well as an overly idealistic and romantic believer in the political self-determination of the Croat nation. Radic used the principle of Croat and Serb cultural (but not political) narodno jednistvo - national oneness - (162-163), as a political tool. Before 1918, this was to create a political counterforce to Hungarian domination when Croatia was a Hungarian-administered component of the Habsburg Empire. Later on, he drew upon it to alleviate the social divide between village and city, and foster Croat national unity within the context of the postwar Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (KSCS).

Radic himself and his Croat Peasant Party emerged as prominent players on the interwar Croat and Yugoslav political arena (50-51). Radic was assassinated at a point when authoritarianism was on the rise in both the Peasant Party and the KSCS. As a result, Radic's political legacy could not be continued by his followers. Although not dwelling much on it, Biondich interestingly makes the point that Radic's death marked the failure of the first Yugoslav attempt at democracy (250).

Mainly preoccupied with Stjepan Radic's charismatic figure, and his impact on the nascent Yugoslav and Croat political environments, Biondich is, surprisingly, less concerned with Radic's legacy in recent Croat ideological and national developments. Although a study dealing with Croatian nationalism and nation building (vii), Biondich's discourse only briefly touches upon the use of Radic's name and martyrization in Ustasha, Socialist and post-1989 nationalist Yugoslav contexts (251-252). This is not fatal, given that the stated purpose of the book is to examine the Croat Peasant Party, its program, and the creation of national congruence, but the survey would have definitely gained in depth through the analysis of the transposition of Radic's myth into present.

Although restricted to a very limited historical time and place, which makes the text a bit rigid in terms of expanding its essence to a wider context, Biondich's Stjepan Radic gives an excellent and thoroughly detailed starting point not only in understanding the seemingly ever recurrent Yugoslav national question, but also in grasping the particularisms of Croat nationalism.