21 July 2005, Volume 7, Number 19
'60 YEARS SINCE THE VICTORY OVER FASCISM'
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?
The poet Branko Banjevic, who heads the Matica Crnogorska cultural and scholarly foundation, firmly believes that Montenegro continues to cultivate its antifascist tradition:
Banjevic: "Unfortunately, there are still forces in Montenegro which I cannot call rightist, but rather regressive and genocidal, that still exercise influence over small groups of followers. However, because of the general antifascist mood in Montenegro, their influence is insignificant."
But what about attempts to rehabilitate local fascists or collaborators, as in some neighboring countries? Could it happen in Montenegro, too?
Banjevic: "I do not think it would be acceptable in Montenegro...."
Although most of the pro-Serbian parties in Montenegro advocate national reconciliation and the rehabilitation of Chetniks, the Serbian National Party (SNS) is the only one that took any concrete steps in that direction. The party is backed by the Serbian Orthodox Church and hopes to build a church in honor of reconciliation on Mt. Strazica near Pljevlja, opposite the Partisan memorial. So far, the plan remains on the drawing board. One of the party's top officials, Novica Stanic, says that national reconciliation is a necessity:
Stanic: "Unfortunately, World War II is not yet over in Montenegro. The United States [recently gave] General Draza Mihajlovic a posthumous decoration President Truman decided to award him in 1948, and similarly, we are still at war here. Better days will not come to this people...until national reconciliation has taken place. This is why we from the Serbian National Party launched the idea of building a church dedicated to reconciliation on Mt. Strazica near the memorial for those killed in a battle that took place on 1 December 1941, but also near the pit where Communists twice dumped bodies of those who fought for their king and fatherland. There are fewer than 100 meters between the memorial and the proposed church. It means going only a small distance to put flowers on the memorial and then light candles for the souls of those who fought for their king and fatherland."
Building a church is not the only attempt at reconciling the Chetniks and Partisans or at rehabilitating the Chetnik movement. Two years ago in Gornje Zaostro near Berane, some sought to build a monument to the Chetnik military commander Pavle Djurisic, but the authorities prevented it, in spite of strong protests by the local population. This is what Partisan Andrija Nikolic, the president of the Veterans' Association of Montenegro, thinks about it:
Nikolic: "Why do we keep looking back to the past? At the end of World War II, the majority of those who belonged to the Chetnik movement were pardoned. Their children had proper education, they did not overwork themselves during the reconstruction of the country, and they had everything other people were entitled to, except for veterans' pensions. It means in essence that a sort of reconciliation has already taken place, although people have not forgotten [what happened during the war]."
The family of Cedomir Vukmanovic is an example of the internal divisions among Montenegrins. His father Luka Vukmanovic was a Chetnik, killed near Zidani Most, in Kamnicka Bistrice, Slovenia, in 1945, during their postwar withdrawal from Yugoslavia, while his uncle was the famous revolutionary Partisan Svetozar Vukmanovic (aka Tempo). Cedomir Vukmanovic was among the refugees with his father, but because he was a minor and not a member of the Chetnik movement, he was sent back to Montenegro, where he grew up with Tempo. On 16 June, Cedomir Vukmanovic and his NGO "We Will Determine the Truth" [held] a religious service in Slovenia for the Chetniks and priests killed there:
Vukmanovic: "Divisions between Chetniks and Partisans have been exacerbated over the past 50 to 70 years, and the trend continues. I am the one who decided to do something about it through the nongovernmental organization 'We Will Determine the Truth' in order to paint a true picture of things as they really were. One cannot talk about the Partisans being the only liberators while the Chetniks were traitors and collaborators of the occupiers. One should see the facts realistically."
Does it mean that you approve the attempts to rehabilitate the Chetnik movement?
Vukmanovic: "I am not talking about the rehabilitation of one side or the other.... What I am trying to say is that files should be opened."
Historian Zvezdan Folic thinks that one should resist attempts to rehabilitate the Chetniks on the grounds that they were victims of atrocities committed by the Partisans at the end of the war:
Folic: "There is an attempt by some individuals and political forces to characterize the national liberation struggle [of the Partisans] as having been based on class rather than national criteria and therefore essentially anti-Serb. This is completely false and does not correspond to the facts."
Just like his father, Cedomir Vukmanovic -- who spent most of his life in Belgrade -- is now one of the protagonists in a new series of Montenegrin divisions. At the end of January 2005, he was elected president of the Assembly of the Movement for the Preservation of the Commonwealth of Serbia and Montenegro, which is an alliance of pro-Serbian parties in Montenegro.
Vukmanovic: "I am very concerned about the situation in Montenegro because of the burden of those divisions, since throughout our history divisions have always led to fratricide."
The Socialist People's Party (SNP) is the only party of the pro-Serbian group that does not belong to Vukmanovic's movement. It was the SNP that prevented the municipal assembly in Pljevlja from approving the construction of the church dedicated to reconciliation. The party was created after the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) split eight years ago. The SNP then joined the group of pro-Serbian parties, remaining faithful to Slobodan Milosevic's policies until his removal from power in October 2000. But the SNP, like the DPS, grew out of the former League of Communists and remains true to its heritage, as explained by one of the party's top officials, Momcilo Vucetic:
Vucetic: "One should not go back and start falsifying historical facts. I think that any attempt at rehabilitating the Chetnik movement amounts to a fascist revival in both Montenegro and Yugoslavia."
Is reconciliation possible?
Vucetic: "I do not think it is needed, since any attempt at reconciliation would only serve to open an old wound. This sort of thing should be left to historians and other professionals."
Vucetic rejects the widely held view that the Chetnik-versus-Partisans divide remains the primary political fault line in Montenegro.
Vucetic: "I do not consider it the main line of division. But the current regime, led by [Prime Minister Milo] Djukanovic, keeps trying to divide the citizens of Montenegro any way it can."