Accessibility links

Balkan Report: May 13, 2005

13 May 2005, Volume 9, Number 15

FORMER YUGOSLAVIA: TOO MUCH 'PAST' AND NOT ENOUGH HISTORY. The recent commemorations reflected the complexity of World War II's legacy across the region. Some leading historians also used the opportunity to draw important lessons from the past for today.

The 60th anniversary of the end of World War II was marked in former Yugoslavia on or around 9 May with the customary laying of wreaths and holding of speeches, most of which centered on the role of the "antifascist" Partizan movement led by Josip Broz Tito. Some ceremonies in Serbia honored the Ravna Gora Chetnik movement led by royal Yugoslav General Draza Mihailovic, whom some regard as a hero but others consider a collaborator (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 April 2005).

In Sarajevo, a protest took place against the presence of Borislav Paravac, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency and its current chairman, at the head of Bosnia-Herzegovina's delegation at the Moscow festivities because his family supported Mihailovic rather than Tito. In Montenegro, the government and opposition traded charges as to who better preserves the antifascist legacy of the resistance.

Elsewhere, the Croatian survivors of the May 1945 Bleiburg tragedy made plans for a commemoration on 14 May. Croatian historian Ivo Goldstein notes that up to 55,000 conscripts and civilians, as well as pro-Axis Ustashe troops, died after the war officially ended at the hands of the Partizan forces at Bleiburg, Austria, or on subsequent death marches. Among those scheduled to be present at the commemoration are Vladimir Seks, who is speaker of the Croatian parliament, and Roman Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic, who is the first cardinal in Bosnian history.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb on 7 May, however, that Croatia stood on the Allied side, "the side on which every honest man at that time should have been. This won't be diminished by any attempt to rehabilitate the defeated side by portraying them as the real winners." He argued that the Ustashe's so-called Independent State of Croatia (NDH) "was founded on crime [and was] an unfortunate episode and a disgrace for the entire Croatian people."

In Serbia, President Boris Tadic used the anniversary to take issue with present-day thuggishness. Speaking in Belgrade on 9 May, he warned that there must be no sympathy for those who "flirt with atrocities...[including the] killing of journalists or of people of a different race, religion, or skin color." He argued that World War II was not just a struggle against fascism or Nazism but also "a battle against the evil within us." Tadic stressed that it is always important to identify both the victims and the perpetrators of atrocities, "regardless of whether they were committed against us at the hands of others or against others by our side."

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski chose to draw attention to the role of Tito himself, not only "in the fight against fascism...[but also as] a historic personality who made an extraordinary, positive contribution to the Macedonian national question [by recognizing the Macedonians as a distinct people] and through the creation of Macedonian statehood" by setting up a Macedonian republic within the Yugoslav federation. Accordingly, Crvenkovski continued, "I launch a project to build a memorial dedicated to Josip Broz Tito in Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia."

The broadcasters of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service marked the anniversary by interviewing several historians. One was Stevan K. Pavlowitch, who was born into a diplomatic family in interwar Belgrade and is professor emeritus of history at the University of Southampton. His books include "Serbia: The History of an Idea," which appeared in 2002.

Pavlowitch noted that the dichotomy between fascism and antifascism in discussing World War II is itself a product of communist ideology. It is a black-and-white approach to history, which continued after the fall of communism in many places when the communists were then cast into the dock and their opponents lionized in a reversal of roles.

This phenomenon, the professor argues, is an example of history placed in the service of ideology. In reality, World War II in former Yugoslavia involved multiple conflicts -- or wars within a war -- operating on multiple levels. Dividing history into periods is difficult in such an environment, as is choosing the nature of the particular geographical unit to be studied.

Pavlowitch believes that the problem is compounded by the typically "Balkan" practice of dwelling on and misusing "the past," which is actually a collection of self-serving nationalist myths rather than scholarly history. In this Balkan way of viewing the world, one's own people is always good and in the right, whereas the others are not. In light of this practice, he argues that the Balkans suffer from an excess of "the past" but not of real history.

The professor feels that one can break out of this Balkan narcissistic syndrome by applying the same objectivity shown in some other countries, where people began to take a critical look at their own history after the fall of Nazism or communism. Such a process requires a recognition that others also have legitimate concerns, and that their overall situation actually has much in common with one's own. In the last analysis, Pavlowitch argues that "it is never disgraceful to admit one's own mistakes."

A second professor who spoke to RFE/RL's broadcasters was Rade Petrovic, who was born in Dubrovnik but spent most of his academic career in the History Department of the University of Sarajevo. He subsequently became Bosnia-Herzegovina's first ambassador to Italy, a country that is also one of his academic specialties.

Like Pavlowitch, Petrovic argues against the black-and-white view of history favored by the communists. He also notes that the juxtaposition of fascism and antifascism is problematic, if only because nobody -- and certainly not the communists -- can claim a monopoly on antifascism. Petrovic points out that the late Pope John Paul II certainly was an antifascist but could scarcely be called a communist. The wartime opposition to fascism, the professor argues, was really a broad movement.

Petrovic also cautions against the misuse of history for political ends. If one wants to study complex phenomena like unemployment, emigration, or European Islam, one must dig deep into the past and not behave as though history began with one's own generation or with the collapse of former Yugoslavia in 1991-92.

He notes a general tendency to put one's own history in a good light, which he considers counterproductive. Echoing Pavlowitch's comments about political abuse of "the past," Petrovic argues that history should be left to the experts, namely trained historians. He suggests that the new post-Yugoslav political elites should instead concentrate their energies instead on promoting progress, contacts between peoples, and international integration, which, he concludes, is what the modern world is all about. (Patrick Moore)

KOSOVA VISA ROW HIGHLIGHTS PROBLEMS WITHIN MACEDONIAN LEADERSHIP. A dispute over the possible introduction of visas for travel between Macedonia and Kosova has sparked a controversy between Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski and President Branko Crvenkovski. Although both men deny there is a deeper rift, there are indications that relations between them are quite strained.

The controversy between Crvenkovski and Buckovski was triggered by a statement Crvenkovski made during an official visit to Sofia on 27 April, when he said the recent decision by the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) to issue a regulation on the movement of persons into and out of the province amounts to the introduction of a visa requirement for Macedonian citizens. "We have more reasons than they do" to require visas in order to better control the border, he said. He stressed that introducing visas for Kosovars will promote "the fight against the infiltration of individuals and groups with an extremist and militant background, as well as a more efficient fight against crime and illegal trade."

Crvenkovski made it clear that Macedonia need not wait for Prishtina to make the first move. In recent weeks, the Macedonian media have reacted nervously to unconfirmed reports that the Kosovar government has decided to levy a seasonal 25 percent customs tariff on Macedonian agricultural products. Crvenkovski accordingly argued that the introduction of a visa requirement would strengthen Macedonia's position in the upcoming talks with the Kosovar authorities about a free-trade agreement.

But the president faced opposition from Buckovski, who was once regarded as Crvenkovski's closest ally (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 17 December 2004). And the president also faced criticism from UNMIK representatives, who vehemently denied that the regulation amounts to a visa requirement for foreigners (

An attempt by UNMIK deputy head Larry Rossin to sort things out with Crvenkovski on 4 May apparently failed. Rossin and Buckovski issued a joint statement on 4 May saying the public was misled by incorrect information about the so-called introduction of a visa requirement. But Crvenkovski insisted after speaking with Rossin that the UNMIK regulation does amount in practice to the introduction of a visa requirement, adding that Macedonia should respond in kind (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April and 3 and 5 May 2005).

For Macedonian Economy Minister Fatmir Besimi of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), Crvenkovski's stance is counterproductive for trade relations between Kosova and Macedonia. Besimi told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 3 May that introducing visas for Kosovar citizens would also violate the spirit of the EU-sponsored Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, which envisions the creation of a free-trade zone including all Balkan states. Besimi also said that he does not expect any changes in the trade regulations between Kosova and Macedonia once both partners sign a free-trade agreement. Talks on the free-trade agreement are expected to resume later in May.

The conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-People's Party (VMRO-NP), dismissed Crvenkovski's demand for visas for Kosovars. Introducing visas for Kosovar citizens could amount to a unilateral recognition of Kosovar sovereignty and independence -- by treating Kosovars differently from citizens of Serbia and Montenegro -- even before talks on the final status of the internationally administered province begin, former Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule of the VMRO-NP said.

Given the critical reactions by both the government and the opposition, one might ask why Crvenkovski triggered the discussion about visas for Kosovars in the first place. There are two possible explanations.

First, if it is true when Buckovski says that there are no differences between him and Crvenkovski -- who was Buckovski's predecessor both as prime minister and as Social Democratic Union (SDSM) chairman -- then the two leading politicians might be trying to win back support the SDSM lost in the recent local elections by deliberately saying different things to appeal to different kinds of voters (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 9 April 2005). Buckovski holds much of the power (and responsibility) and therefore must play the moderate part. But Crvenkovski, who has little real power, has little to lose by appealing to the sentiments of the more radical followers of the SDSM.

However, there are also reasons to believe that Crvenkovski resents his loss of real power and might simply be trying to weaken Buckovski's position within the government and the SDSM. The fact that Crvenkovski recently summoned a group of legal experts who were previously sacked by Buckovski was widely interpreted by the Macedonian media as a challenge to the prime minister. The experts had advised Buckovski on questions related to planned judicial reforms.

Whatever the case might be, either possible explanation could mean a difficult choice for those SDSM members who had no trouble being loyal to both Crvenkovski and Buckovski as long as they were allies. And it may also leave Macedonia's foreign partners puzzled as to why Crvenkovski chose such a sensitive international issue to score points. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I'd rather Radovan put a bullet in his own head than hand himself over to The Hague. God will judge him, not The Hague. And what I know of my son is that he wouldn't squash an ant." -- Jovanka Karadzic, Radovan's mother, who died on 5 May in Niksic. Quoted by Reuters that day from an interview made in 2001.