2 June 2005, Volume 7, Number 16
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 16 June.
'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 controversies and ideological conflicts. Why are some World War II personages considered heroes by some and traitors by others? Why are accounts of the past subjected to the influence of ideologies and political myths?
Bosnia-Herzegovina has not yet clarified what the antifascist struggle was all about, as our guests agree....
Most of the fighting in former Yugoslavia took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which shows that there was a strong antifascist tradition. Nonetheless, movements to promote a positive image of the Chetniks or the Ustashe have seeped in from Serbia and Croatia, respectively. The president of the Federation of Associations of Veterans of the National Liberation War (SUBNOR), Jure Galic, claims that the current Bosnian authorities have been indifferent to the veterans he represents: "I think that we, our organization and our movement, do not have a fitting status in this organizational system. We share the status of anglers, bird watchers, etc."
Attempts were made both during and after the 1992-95 war to rehabilitate the Chetniks in the Republika Srpska and the Ustashe among the Croats in western Herzegovina. Only recently was a statue honoring Chetnik commander General Draza Mihailovic taken down in Brcko, which is under direct UN rule.
The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) is the main political force seeking to put the Chetniks on an equal footing with Tito's Partisans. Its president, Milanko Mihajlica, is still uncertain about what really happened between 1941 and 1945 and what the roles of the Partisan and Chetnik movements were.
"I am deeply convinced that the Chetnik movement was an antifascist movement," Mihajlica said. "The fact is that the Serbs suffered the fewest losses in those parts of Bosnia where the Chetnik movement was active, and lost the most in Partisan centers, such as Kozara, where there were no Serbian youths available for the draft 20 years after the war. In places like Krajina, the foothills of Grmec, Lika, Banija, and Kordun, where the Partisan movement was very well organized, the Serbs were sent in large groups to the concentration camp in Jasenovac."
Mihajlica admits that he joined the League of Communists (SKJ) when he was 17 and that he studied at the University of Zagreb, but stresses now that subsequent events made him change his views.
"I am a Serb and Orthodox. The fact that I joined the SKJ when I was 17 does not necessarily mean that I had different views from those I have now, as was the case with many Muslims and Croats, too. The fact that one belonged to a party or subscribed to an ideology at a young age does not prevent a person from changing his views and convictions at a more ripe age, when he has learned more. This is especially true if we remember that we used to live in a one-party system and could only dream about a multiparty system and political pluralism," Mihajlica said.
The president of the Executive Committee of the Serbian Radical Alliance, "Dr. Vojislav Seselj," Mirko Blagojevic, says that history should pass the final judgment on the role of the Chetniks during World War II. He adds that his father was a Chetnik.
"My father was born in 1927 and belonged to the Chetnik movement for a while. In 1947, when he began his military service, the time he spent as a Chetnik was acknowledged as a part of the military service he had already done. It means that the Chetniks were acknowledged [as an antifascist force] in those days. This is why he only had to do the training part of his service and after that was sent back home," Blagojevic said.
"I actually find it inappropriate to raise these issues now that we have such an unstable political situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is not the Serbs, but those from the other political camp who have raised the issue in order to complicate an already difficult situation."
Sixty years after the victory over fascism, there are still quarrels over the legacy of that conflict. Recently, younger members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) led a petition drive against the participation of Borislav Paravac in the Moscow celebration of the 60th anniversary of the victory over fascism. Paravac is the current head of the Bosnian Presidency. The protest stemmed from the fact that his father was a Chetnik and that Paravac is proud of it.
Selim Beslagic, a member of the Steering Committee of the SDP, said: "Considering the overall political situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we do not give enough consideration to antifascism. Except for these public demonstrations by the SDP or the Veterans Association, we have simply gone over to criticizing the time that was beneficial for all of us: the period from 1945 until now. We discuss things that took place in the Jasenovac [concentration camp during World War II on the same level as what occurred in the communists' postwar political prison colony on] Goli Otok. I am not against such discussions, but the 1941-45 fight against fascism is a very important chapter in history for Bosnia-Herzegovina and its society. We do not discuss it enough, and there are attempts to discredit or minimize the role of genuine antifascists."