Saturday, August 30, 2014


Serbia

Tensions Mount As Rehabilitation Push For Serb General Progresses

Draza Mihailovic, the controversial World War II-era commander of the Chetnik movement
Draza Mihailovic, the controversial World War II-era commander of the Chetnik movement
By Richard Solash and Branka Mihajlovic
Amid mounting public tension driven by months of delay, the Municipal Court in Belgrade has declared an official date of death for Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic.

The commander of the Serb-nationalist, royalist Chetnik movement during World War II, Mihailovic led forces against Josip Broz Tito's Communist Partisans -- as fighting against the Axis Powers gave way to a bitter civil war.

With the conflict raging, Chetnik forces hunted and killed not only their opponents, but Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and others on Yugoslav territory. Historians say tens of thousands were murdered by the Chetniks because of their ethnicity.

In 1946, with Tito at the helm of post-war Yugoslavia, Mihailovic was captured and tried. He was found guilty of war crimes, collaborating with the Axis Powers, and agreeing a ceasefire with the Nazis. He was reportedly shot on Belgrade's Ada Island. A protracted search for his grave in recent years has yielded nothing definitive.

Nevertheless, the court said it had determined July 31, 1946 to be the day Mihailovic's died, based on an examination of official record..

But today's ruling is far more than a just a belated death certificate. It is a precondition for the possible legal rehabilitation of one of the most divisive figures in modern Serbian history.

Essentially a state pardon, rehabilitation would allow for a new funeral to be arranged and would extend greater social benefits to Mihailovic's descendants.

'Flawed' Revision Of History

Most historians, however, insist the move would mean a flawed revision of history, or at least a selective reading -- one that could set a dangerous precedent for official reinterpretation of the region's highly charged past. The prospect has already fanned tensions both within Serbia and beyond its borders.

While some characterize Mihailovic's trial as biased, most Western scholars -- and many in Serbia -- consider his dealings with the Axis Powers and his oversight of ethnic massacres to be incontrovertible facts.

Ranko Koncar, a historian at the University of Novi Sad, maintains that casting doubt on these points is indefensible.

"This [rehabilitation push] is not a simple revision of historical judgments. Revisionism is nothing unusual in historiography, but only when new documents emerge that either complete or contradict existing scholarship or shed new light on past events," he says. "In this case we are dealing with a politically-motivated revisionist project inspired by a Serbian nationalist reading of twentieth-century Yugoslav history."

Protesters demonstrate against the possible rehabilitation of Draza Mihailovic in Belgrade earlier this year.
Protesters demonstrate against the possible rehabilitation of Draza Mihailovic in Belgrade earlier this year.

Branka Prpa, the director of Belgrade's city archives, says the rehabilitation of Mihailovic would serve nationalist elements in the country that look to the Chetniks for historical inspiration.

He says such elements could seek to "negate the anti-fascist tradition… and say, 'Like Chetniks, we stand for Greater Serbia.'"

Initial court proceedings have spurred protests and a warning cry from leading Serbian NGOs.

Unfairly Victimized?

But other scholars in Serbia disagree, arguing that Mihailovic has been misunderstood by history and unfairly victimized.

The debate also reverberates in Serbian society.

While both World War II and Tito's Yugoslavia are now in the past, the Chetnik-Partisan split within the country is not. While many nationalists tend look favorably upon the Chetniks, many liberals and leftists take pride in the Partisans' struggle against the Nazis.

A neo-Chetnik movement emerged after the break-up of Yugoslavia, where it had been banned, and it is not uncommon today for Serbs to describe grandparents killed by one side or the other.

Mihailovic, then, is a national hero and "Uncle Draza" to some, while for others, both in Serbia and surrounding countries, he is a hated villain.

In the 2000s, several laws on the rehabilitation of Chetniks were enacted as a stated attempt to help heal historical wounds. They have remained controversial, and some have recently been overturned.  Nevertheless, over 1,500 rehabilitations have been granted.

Mihailovic's case, however, was apparently kept at arm's length until a 2010 petition by the general’s grandson, Vojislav. Serbian authorities ruled that the facts of Mihailovic's burial must first be established before the courts revisit his trial.

While official Belgrade has been tight-lipped, critics accuse the nationalist government under President Tomislav Nikolic of tacitly supporting the effort.

Speaking to RFE/RL ahead of the announcement on October 5, Bojan Dmitrijevic, a member of the national commission tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding Mihailovic’s death, conceded that some in the Justice Ministry may have viewed the grave search as "introductory work," considering eventual rehabilitation a given.

“1941-1945,” an upcoming television series co-produced by Serbian public broadcaster RTS, is also arousing suspicion.

Its director, Rados Bajic, has referred to Mihailovic as a "martyr" and says his series will "talk about the great national injustice that was done to the patriotic movement of the Serbian people led by Draza Mihailovic."

Speaking to RFE/RL in July, Bajic said that "all the relevant people in Serbian society and politics," including “Serbian Orthodox Church dignitaries,” have been "very supportive" of the project.

Concerns Beyond Serbia

Cedomir Antic, is a historian at the Balkan Institute of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Science, an institution with close links to the state. He is among several experts who point to Western honors bestowed on Mihailovic as proof of his innocence.

"Dragoljub Mihailovic's movement -- when we talk about the unit he was leading and when we talk about him and the people under his command -- never made any kind of agreement with Germans nor Italians," he says. "The units of [his] Yugoslav Royal Army in the Fatherland saved 524 airmen and parachutists, mainly American and British, but also French and even Russian. [U.S.] President [Harry] Truman in 1946 awarded Mihailovic with a medal. In 1943 [French] General Charles de Gaulle awarded Mihailovic with a medal. None of these medals were taken back."

But Marko Attila Hoare, an expert on modern Balkans history and the Chetniks at London's Kingston University, believes it's not so simple.

"The point about Mihailovic's Chetniks was that they were opportunists," he says. "They tended to collaborate with both sides, so [the rescue of U.S. pilots] didn't really represent any kind of anti-fascist commitment. They did rescue these American pilots, but on other occasions they rescued German pilots and handed them over to the Germans."

Hoare also says the rehabilitation of Mihailovic would be a "divisive move" beyond Serbia, and the possibility has captured headlines in Croatia and Bosnia.

In March, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said rehabilitation would be a "bad step."

There are also concerns in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Chetnik insignia were used by Serb paramilitary units during the 1992-95 war.

"We are seriously worried about sovereignty and peace in our country and we are afraid because we don’t know whether the atrocities and deaths which we experienced 20 years ago are behind us forever," the Movement of War Victims, a Bosnian NGO, said of potential rehabilitation.

With the date Mihailovic's death now officially recognized, rehabilitation hearings are set to begin right away, on October 8.

There will hardly be a disinterested party in the Balkans.

Writing and reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash in Washington with reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondents Branka Mihajlovic and others in Belgrade
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by: Anonymous
October 05, 2012 19:51
With the conflict raging, Chetnik forces hunted and killed not only their opponents, but Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and others on Yugoslav territory. Historians say tens of thousands were murdered by the Chetniks because of their ethnicity.

Yes, but you failed to mention that those opponents were active members of the SS and collaborated with Germany.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 07, 2012 15:55
It is not bad collaborating with Nazi Germany, when you want to liberate your land from ANOTHER Nazi occupier. As Russians say: "Klin klinom vishibayut".

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
October 05, 2012 23:18
D. M.-hero or villain.Lets see who says villain-the communist comintern titoist bandits who killed in a most democratic way tens of thousands of their political opponents sending further tens of thousands to death camps-including many of their own.The `communist` atrocities are not mentioned anywhere in this `article` and shall never be mentioned in any future RFE/RL piece.We must not offend the feelings of the `anti-fascists`,so their crimes will be glossed over,there will never be a Nuremberg Process for the crimes of the RED FASCISTS let alone any zionist style compensations for their crimes against humanity!!!We can also find some NGO morons who will sell their mothers for a few pennies,if only they knew who their mothers were,of if they were born of mothers.Their may be 7 or 8 of them but they deserve a prominent colour photograph in this article as representatives of mass public opinion.Others who would cry wolf would be the current starlets of RFE?RL posts-Goody good EU Genio from`Vienna` and hid ersthwile buddy from US-SR- kommissar Jack-of-all trades!!!The croat ustasha fascists,pardon,catholics will also say he is a fascist.In this line of thinking we may also say President Truman,gen.Dwight Eisenhower,gen.DeGaulle and even good old Winston Churnchill are fascists for praising the man.There are also some more than 500 american fascist airmen who said:`The unparalleled rescue of over 500 US servicemen from capture by nazis in Yugoslavia during WWII by general Dragoljub Mikhailovich& his chetnik freedom fighters for which this ``Legion of Merit`` is awarded by pres.Harry Truman is a token of deep respect and appreciation by all rescued who will forever be grateful`-National committee of US airmen rescued by Gen.Mikhailovich-all of them fascists ,revisionists and only God,the Zionists and RFE/RL know what else!!! This Legion of Merit was kept secret for half acentury as not to offend the professional patriots,communist bandits and other too many to mention creeps.60 years after his death-on March 29th,2005,his daughter was presented with this posthumous decoration by president George Bush.,shame on him!!! One can understand an article like this being written by kgb luminaries such as the Vienna genius or Jack ,now joined by people supported by the American Con gress.Come on RFE/RL brothers and sisters,your credibility gap gapes like Grand Canyon-do yourself and your listeners a favour-stick to writing bout things you understand-like american football and baseball.And maybe basketball,too!!! But I guess you are basket cases!!!

by: Frank
October 07, 2012 11:45
This article is severely flawed.

Tito and some of his Partizans have plenty of blood on their hands. Captured WW II documents and confirmation from some of Tito's inner circle confirm Nazi-Partizan collaboration.

"The most historians" bit is stated in a broadly propagandistic way. Most historians don't know this subject well. Some others like the referenced Marko Attila Hoare are charletans.

Hoare doesn't mention that Mihailovic and his forces opposed the Nazis before the Nazi attack on the USSR, unlike Tito, who (at the time) was Stalin's stooge. Tito's eventual break with Stalin can be cosidered opportunistic, as well as his later seeking a middle ground between the USSR and the West.

Mihailovic's forces periodically refrained from all out battle against the Nazis, knowing the Nazi policy for executing many Yugoslavs (especially Serbs) for every Nazi killed.

A bloody conflict existed with Mihailovic's forces killing many who were armed combatants against them - something the above propaganda piece deemphasizes.

There's no denying that elements allied with Mihailovic were involved in some atrocities that don't come anywhere close to matching those of the Croat Ustasha - once again noting that the Partizans committed atrocities as well.

The photo of the anti-Mihailovic demonstrators shows a limited number.

Once again, RFE/RL sohws its anti-Serb bias in not highlighting the kind of pro-Ustasha sentiment that has been evident in Croatia.

by: njegos from: usa
October 07, 2012 18:55
Since 1945, a full 67 years, the Serbian people have been fed revisionist history. Tito's communists shamefully won the civil war in WWII Yugoslavia and therefore, wrote the history books. Fot nearly seven deades the world has been told that Draza Mihailovich was a traitor to his country and a Nazi collaborationist. He was never given a fair trail, rather Tito's kanagroo court executed him the they did with thousands of other honorable Serbian leaders. So, for the author of this article to say that 'most historians' consider the rehabilitation of Mihailovich as revisionism is evidence of communist-era, brainwashed backward thinking. I suggest that the author contact the family members of the more than 500 plus US airmen saved by Mihailovich and his Chetniks and tell them that he was a Nazi collaborator. For years the Croat propaganda machine along with the communist rulers of Yugoslavia distorted the history books and tried to equate the Chetniks with the Ustasha, but eventually the truth will prevail. The Chetniks were the first organized resistance to oppose the Nazis in WWII. Even Churchill admitted that his biggest mistake in WWII was pulling his support from Mihailovich and giving it to Tito. Recognizing Mihailovich's rightful place in Serbian history is long overdue. Even the millions of dollars paid to US based PR firms like Hill & Knowlton and Rudder Finn by the Croats and Muslims can't supress the truth forever. And when the truth is made official, I dare say that our own US government's image will be greatly tarnished as well.
In Response

by: Frank
October 08, 2012 08:25
If I'm not mistaken, Hoare's mother was a fairly well known Croat Communist, with his father having a left perspective as well.

Not that sons always share their parents views.

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