27 May 2005, Volume 7, Number 15
'60 YEARS SINCE THE VICTORY OVER FASCISM'
By RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Broadcasters Slobodan Kostic, Dzenana Karabegovic, Ankica Barbir-Mladinovic, Biljana Jovicevic, Gezim Baxhaku, and Blagoja Kuzmanovski.
In early May, the 60th anniversary of the "victory over fascism" was marked worldwide (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 April and 15 May 2005). In former Yugoslav states the topic is still bound up with political controversies and ideological conflicts. Why are some World War II personages still considered heroes by some and traitors by others? Why are accounts of the past subjected to the influence of ideologies and political myths?
SERBIA: ANTIFASCIST HERITAGE ON THE DEFENSIVE
Many people in Serbia marked the 60th anniversary of the victory over fascism by reexamining that country's antifascist traditions. After the parliament's recent passage of the "Ravna Gora Testimonial," which made General Dragoljub Mihailovic's Ravna Gora Chetniks equal in rights with Marshal Josip Broz Tito's Partisans, a line had undoubtedly been crossed. Almost overnight, the previous antifascist heritage was dumped in order to search for sound values in rightist ideologies.
"The Serbs have nationalized antifascism by introducing the Ravna Gora Testimonial," said Todor Kuljic, professor of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. "That is very problematic. One can hardly imagine a radical nationalist to be an antifascist."
Historian Branka Prpa notices that Serbia has joined those countries that have come to doubt some things that remain beyond question for others.
"There have been no attempts to rehabilitate fascism or Nazism in any other European state. There are no other examples of attempts to switch the position of victims and perpetrators in order to rehabilitate the perpetrators and accuse the victims," Prpa said.
A former political commissar of the First Battalion of the First Proletarian Brigade, Partisan and National Hero [of socialist Yugoslavia], Jovo Kapicic is convinced that Serbia is moving in a direction different from that taken by other countries.
"Partisan antifascist tradition does not exist anymore. This government renounced 7 July, the Day of the [Serbian National] Uprising [against the Axis], which was the most glorious day in the modern history of the Serbian people," Kapicic said.
Retired teacher Milomir Tanaskovic is one of the few members of the Ravna Gora movement who lived long enough to achieve the right to a pension based on his Chetnik war record.
"Both [the Chetniks and the Partisans] belonged to the antifascist movement. That is the essential truth. Nobody can say [of the Chetniks]: they were traitors and collaborators," Tanaskovic said.
Such attempts to redefine antifascism have been accepted during the last couple of years by official historiography in Serbia, and particularly by those writing new school textbooks. A research associate of the Institute for Modern History, Kosta Nikolic, is one of the authors of a textbook in which the Chetniks are depicted as the main protagonists of the uprising while Partisans are described as ideological fanatics.
"For me, Communists were national traitors, while members of the Ravna Gora movement were defending Western democracy in Yugoslavia. It is a historical truth that the arrival of the Communists in power meant the end of the liberal society of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and orientation toward western civilization and Western Europe-style development. The Communists brought the East into this country. They were guilty of everything they blamed the Chetniks for," Nikolic said.
However, the biggest confusion over leadership of the antifascist movement was caused by the recent request by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia and Montenegro Vuk Draskovic that the United States finally present the medal that President Harry S. Truman awarded Mihailovic posthumously in 1948 for his role in the rescue of some 500 Americans, primarily downed airmen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005).
"President Truman personally awarded General Draza Mihailovic the highest medal a foreigner can receive," said publicist Bogoljub Pejcic. "He also recognized the Ravna Gora movement as antifascist. During the Cold War, nobody even tried to follow the American example, especially not here, in a communist country surrounded by Communists".
"They gave him a medal, but who knows if it really exists," said former Partisan commander Jovo Kapicic. "Maybe someone went there to beg for it. The Chetnik movement is a quisling one. We called the Chetniks 'servants of the occupiers.' Many of them were killed serving the occupiers fighting against the Partisans. They were fighting against the Partisans with the help of the occupying forces...as their servants."
Philosophy Faculty professor Todor Kuljic says that the issue should have been turned over to experts long ago.
"Naturally, scholars should have been consulted to set the criteria for calling something fascist or antifascist. If we had agreed about those criteria, other things would have probably been clearer. However, in politics things are usually done in a reverse manner," Kuljic said.
"An attempt was made to present a Serbian nationalist movement as antifascist in order to break with the multinational Partisan tradition and enable Serbia to qualify for its own distinct membership in the European antifascist club. This nationalist behavior is not unique to Serbia."