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South Slavic: July 4, 2002

4 July 2002, Volume 4, Number 21


Part III

This is a recent program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Ugljesa Krstic, who wrote the script for a recent Serbian television series on Mihajlovic, and Todor Kuljic, who is a professor in the Sociology Department of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade.

The recent television series "Ravna Gora Reader" about Draza Mihajlovic, which was broadcast by state-run Radio-Television Serbia, has led to controversy. Some say that the real truth about the royalist commander based in Ravna Gora during World War II has finally been presented to Serbian viewers, while others say that the broadcast is a whitewash of a collaborator.

Todor Kuljic: Reading the papers published during the occupation -- such as "Nase Vreme," "Srpski Narod," and Ljotic's "Nasa Borba" -- I found typical fascist propaganda.

One cannot excuse the commissars who were ideological bosses, but they also had another role within the communist movement. Their job was to maintain discipline and punish acts of violence and theft. Finally, they also spread literacy among the people.

The British said -- and this was accepted by other foreigners as well -- that they wrote off the Chetniks as defeatists who would not fight against the occupier. The Partisan movement had a completely different sort of ethos. One does not need to prove that a movement fighting an uncompromising war, having so many dead and wounded, and creating its own saints and martyrs did so [only] in order to strengthen its own morale.

On the [Chetnik] side, there was a movement that waited, hesitated, rotted from the inside, and decayed.... Those are some of the most important differences, regardless of what each of the two sides achieved against fascism.

Hitler also realized the difference. During a conversation with the Romanian [leader] Ion Antonescu in 1943 -- I found it in Boris Suvarin's book "About Stalin" -- Hitler said about Tito: "Just look at what kind of man that Tito is. He keeps fighting against us with all available means. That is a role model for a fighter." I do not remember that anyone has ever called Draza an "unbending anti-fascist," while it has been proven that the British had written him off because of his passivity.

And there is one more thing. It was said in [the television series] "Ravna Gora Reader" that the Chetniks made much trouble for [Marshal Erwin] Rommel by disrupting railway transportation in the Morava and Vardar valley, which was essential for supplying his Afrika Korps. That is historically false. Rommel's main supply line went through Italy.

Ugljesa Krstic: Dear professor, you are greatly distorting the facts. Talking about Tito as anti-fascist and not as anti-Serb is simply wrong....

Draza was against individual killings of German soldiers since it led to German retaliation: a hundred [Serbian civilians] killed for [every German] soldier. Draza was not the first Serbian leader to have this attitude. There is a popular epic poem called "The Turks won't allow the guests to drink to the glory of God." According to the poem...our national hero Kraljevic Marko let the local Turkish lord Becir Aga go free rather than risk massive retaliation by the Turks against innocent Serbs....

As far as the commissars are concerned, I have nothing more to say.... Many of them were illiterate. I had commissars [while I was at] the Srem front, so please do not teach me about them.

Todor Kuljic: It is true that the Germans retaliated because of the Partisans' attacks, but also because of the Chetniks' attacks as well. You should read Nedic's newspapers from that period and see who were the perpetrators of those illusory and catastrophic attacks against the Germans. They were both communists and Chetniks.

Was Tito a Serb or anti-Serb? [Editor's note: he was actually of mixed Croatian and Slovenian origin.] Tito belongs to what is basically a Serbian political culture of liberation. Serbs have always adored a military leader who saves them. When such a leader seizes power, they are usually highly obedient.

A liberator does not only liberate but also demands obedience. Starting with the Kosovo myth, there has always been a tradition of liberation political culture in Serbian history. Tito was a logical continuation of this.

Furthermore, under Tito's rule, [all] Serbs lived together in the same state for the longest period in their entire history. One cannot find a better argument for the claim that Tito was not anti-Serb. That actually makes him very important for the Serbs.

Ugljesa Krstic: That means nothing if the state was not the right one.

Todor Kuljic: What makes you think it was not the right one?

Ugljesa Krstic: The fact that we are paying the bill now. He destroyed Yugoslavia. He did not hold it together. He destroyed it with his policies and deeds.

Todor Kuljic: One should approach this issue from many angles. By saying that Tito destroyed Yugoslavia, you automatically forget about all the nationalistic elites. I agree that he is partly responsible, but comparing his state with what came before and what followed, one can better understand the very essence of Tito's Yugoslavia.

I think that basically it was an authoritarian state, but at the same time it was a modernizing one, too. Historical truth is often contradictory and sometimes even paradoxical.

Neither Draza Mihajlovic's Chetnik movement, nor the World War II communist movement, nor Tito's Yugoslavia can be defined in simple terms, but only by complex ones, which can sometimes be paradoxical....

RFE/RL: If you agree, we should bring this conversation to an end. Mr. Krstic, what would be your conclusion?

Ugljesa Krstic: Professor Kuljic cites primarily [pro-fascist] Ljotic sources, and those people were the enemies of the Ravna Gora movement, as well as of the national and democratic way of thinking in Serbia.

National democracy was the main ideal of those of us who belonged to the Ravna Gora movement. Without democracy, nationalism becomes fascism, chauvinism, or whatever.

All I am asking is that another voice be heard. Let us listen to that for a year or two, and then we can make an evaluation. Finally, we should wait and see what the proposed Rehabilitation Law will bring.

Todor Kuljic: There cannot be democracy where nationalism is the supreme value, since it easily becomes transformed into chauvinism, and in some situations into fascism. There is no objective truth if attention is focused on the idea that one's own people is both the victim and the liberator.