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South Slavic: June 16, 2005

16 June 2005, Volume 7, Number 17

The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 30 June.


Part III.

By RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service 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?

Analysts in Bosnia-Herzegovina think that the country is burdened by historical interethnic tensions as well as ghosts from the recent past.

According to Ibrahim Prohic, some people are now trying to pass off fascist ideologies and individuals as antifascist.

"In Belgrade the parliament has made Chetniks and Partisans equal in rights. In Croatia, some Ustashe are described as war criminals but others are hailed as national heroes, just like in Bosnia-Herzegovina. During wartime, fascism uses radical measures for the destruction of lives, while in peacetime, it uses frantic propaganda and blatant fabrications..... And at the celebration of the Victory Day [in May in Moscow], Bosnia-Herzegovina [was] represented by [Borislav Paravac, who is] a leader, a member of the Presidency, who is openly proud to belong to the Chetnik movement."

The fact that fascism and communism are put on the same plane in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the best illustration of the real balance of power here, according to Senad Avdic, editor of the weekly magazine "Slobodna Bosna."

"There is no clarity regarding the official position on fascism or the antifascist character of today's society in a country whose president of the Presidency, Mr. Paravac, has publicly declared himself proud that his family belonged to the Chetnik movement during World War II; where prominent Ustashe are periodically honored at semi-official functions; and where the [postwar] Young Muslims movement [opposed to the communist suppression of Islam] is now presented as antifascist....


Sixty years after World War II and the victory over fascism, Croatia remains ideologically divided. Disputes about Partisans and Ustashe never stop, just like polemics about the character of the antifascist struggle. However, unlike during the Tudjman era, when Croatian antifascism was displayed primarily for foreign audiences, today's Croatian policy has a more sincere and positive approach toward antifascism.

"I wonder when World War II will finally end in Croatia. The way things are now, it seems that the war is still going on here." Professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences and director of the Center for Political Studies Dr. Andjelko Milardovic thinks that the story of antifascism in Croatia is clear, but only up to 1945. "Obviously, it was genuine antifascism that stood against the forces of darkness from 1941-45. So what happened after 1945?"

The leader of the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), Damir Kajin, thinks that progress has been made recently, because Tito and the Partisans were practically proscribed in Croatia for more than a decade. "It is a catastrophic fact that at the very beginning of the creation of the Republic of Croatia [in 1991], some prominent members of [former President Franjo] Tudjman's regime were openly denying the dark side of our recent history."

Kajin thinks that significant changes took place in 2000 with the end of the Tudjman era. "But unfortunately, I must admit that [conservative] Prime Minister [Ivo] Sanader made some moves in that direction with far more determination than his [Social Democratic] predecessor [Ivica Racan]."

For the first time this year, Croatian antifascists will not be the only ones to celebrate Victory Day in the new Croatian state, as the president of the Alliance of Antifascist Veterans of Croatia, Kresimir Piskulic, noted. "For the first time, Victory Day celebrations will be led by the Croatian parliament, the authorities of the city of Zagreb, and the Alliance of Antifascist Veterans of Croatia," Piskulic said.

However, Kajin says that he will not trust the Croatian government's sincerity about antifascism until Partisans enjoy equal rights with veterans of the 1991-95 war for independence, the War for the Homeland.

"We are shocked that the Serbian parliament has made the Chetniks and Partisans equal in rights," Kajin said. "[In effect,] we did the same some 15 years ago. Partisans were deprived of some 60 percent of their pensions, while veterans of the War for the Homeland -- many of whom fought with Ustasha insignia such as the 'U' sign on their caps -- were granted pensions that were even bigger than those previously granted to the members of the Partisan movement. Veterans of the War for the Homeland enjoyed privileges when buying state-owned flats that were not granted to Partisans. The entire Partisan movement was actually humiliated in that period." [Editor's note: during communist rule, Partisans and their families enjoyed special privileges, particularly those who joined what was known for several decades as the League of Communists.]

Even the leader of the rightist Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights (HSP), Anto Djapic, is in principle a supporter of the Antifascist movement. But he refused to sign the explicit Declaration on Antifascism of the Croatian parliament, and he strongly opposes attempts to make Partisans and veterans of the War for the Homeland equal in rights.

"It is primarily a financial issue," Djapic said. "Croatia's situation is complex and one cannot possibly treat those two phenomena as though they were equal. The members of the Partisan movement, whether they were antifascist or not, do enjoy some rights, but veterans of the War for the Homeland have no rights whatsoever, with the exception of disabled veterans."

The president of the Alliance of Antifascist Veterans, Kresimir Piskulic, denies Djapic's claims. "Money is not the point; the problem lies in the revanchist way of treating the issue," he said. "It seems that we will have to keep fighting to resolve open questions, especially where invalids are concerned, since the present situation makes veterans of the antifascist effort second-class citizens."