The Ustasha: Terrorists and War Criminals

Ustasha Black Legion Troops
Ustasha Black Legion Troops. Wikimedia Commons

The Ustasha are a group intimately related to the wartime history of Yugoslavia, both for their actions and atrocities during World War 2, and their ghosts which haunted the Wars of the Former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

The Ustasha Form

The Ustasha started out as a terrorist movement. In 1929 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was turned into a dictatorship by King Alexander I, in part because of years of tension between Serb and Croat political parties. The dictatorship was designed to unite the Kingdom under one identity, and so was renamed Yugoslavia and divided along deliberately non-ethnic lines. In reaction one of the former members of parliament, Ante Pavelić, retreated to Italy and created the Ustasha to fight for Croatian independence. The Ustasha were modeled on the fascists of their adopted Italy but were a largely terrorist organization which aimed to divide Yugoslavia by creating discord and rebellion. They tried to create a peasant uprising in 1932 and managed to incite the assassination of Alexander I in 1934 while he visited France. Rather than dividing Yugoslavia, if anything the Ustasha strengthened it.

World War 2: The Ustasha’s War

In 1941, Nazi Germany and its allies invaded Yugoslavia after growing frustrated with a lack of co-operation during World War 2. The Nazis hadn’t planned this much in advance and decided to split the county up. Croatia was to be a new state, but the Nazis needed someone to run it, and they turned to the Ustasha. Suddenly, a fringe terrorist organization was handed a state, which included not just Croatia but some of Serbia and Bosnia. The Ustasha then recruited an army and began a major campaign of genocide against Serbs and other residents. Resistance groups formed, and a large proportion of the population died in the civil war.

Although the Ustaha lacked the organization of Germany, who welded industrial know how to mass execution to create vast genocides, the Ustaha relied on brute force. The most infamous Ustasha crime was the creation of the concentration camp at Jasenovic. Throughout the latter part of the twentieth century, there was much discussion as to the death toll at Jasenovic, with figures ranging from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands being cited for mostly political purposes.

The Ustasha remained in nominal control until May 1945, when the German army and the remainder of the Ustasha retreated away from communist forces. As Tito and the Partisans took control of Yugoslavia, captured Ustasha and collaborators were executed en masse. The Ustasha were finished with the defeat of the Nazis later on in 1945, and might have vanished into history had the post-war history of Yugoslavia been one of building pressure which exploded into more war.

Post War Ustaha

After the break-up of the communist Yugoslavia and the start of the wars in the 1990s, Serbian and other groups raised the spectre of the Ustasha as they engaged in the conflicts. The term was frequently used by Serbs to refer to the Croatian government or any armed Croatian. On the one hand, this paranoia was deeply seated in the experiences of people who had, fifty years before, suffered at the hands of the real Ustasha, lost parents to them or been in camps themselves. On the other, claims that there were deep-seated hatreds which would re-surface or ethnic propensities to brutal violence, were mostly aimed at putting off international intervention and hyping Serbs into fighting. The Ustasha were a tool that was wielded like a club ​and proved that people who know history can be just as destructive as those that don't. Even today, you can find references to the Ustasha in the names of online gamers and their characters and nations.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Wilde, Robert. "The Ustasha: Terrorists and War Criminals." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Wilde, Robert. (2020, August 26). The Ustasha: Terrorists and War Criminals. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "The Ustasha: Terrorists and War Criminals." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 25, 2021).