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Twilight of the Idols? Balkan Paramilitarism 1923 - 1941: Interactions, Experiences, and the Dilemmas of Demobilization

The interwar years, from the end of the ‘Greater War’ (that is, 1923, see Gerwarth, 2016) until the beginning of the Second World War throughout the Balkans (1941) are an ambiguous and still imperfectly understood time for Balkan paramilitarism. On the one-hand, the high-tide of the anti-imperial struggle and world war had receded by 1923, leading to an existential crisis on the part of many paramilitary veterans at the loss of their occupation, on the other hand, outstanding territorial disputes and the influx of new European ideologies of mass mobilization created new opportunities for mobilization. Was this, then, a twilight of the heroes of the Balkan revolutionary tradition - or the dawn of a new era? Through the study of so-called ‘ego-documents’ (published journals, pamphlets, memoirs, and other self-produced sources) and approaching paramilitarism as a transnational phenomenon, the project analyses how paramilitary actors in the Yugoslavia, Bulgaria/Macedonia, Albania/Kosovo, Greece, and Romania responded to the new regional and European environment in the interwar period. It addresses the psychological and physical impacts of combat, the problem of upholding or contesting regional borders, the generational shift (especially acute by 1930s), and responses to the new political programmes of mass mobilization: Wilsonian self-determination, revolutionary communism, fascism, and anti-fascism.

The research is part of a larger project currently in preparation: a book-length study of guerrilla warfare and paramilitary violence in the Balkan region from the Ottoman period until the present-day, provisionally titled Freedom or Death: A History of Guerrilla Warfare in the Balkans. The time spent at CAS will be used to research Bulgarian and Macedonian materials (both primary sources and literature) for the relevant sections of this manuscript and to make use of the Bulgarian-language training provided as part of the fellowship.

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