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South Slavic: June 17, 2004

17 June 2004, Volume 6, Number 20


Part I.

In Tito's Yugoslavia, 15 May was celebrated as the Day of Victory Over Fascism. Almost 60 years after that victory, RFE/RL's topic of the week is extreme nationalism, chauvinism, and various forms of fascism in today's Yugoslav successor states.

RFE/RL: In Zrenjanin, on 19 April 2004, Serbian Minister of Culture Dragan Kojadinovi spoke about the reconstruction of the burned out Serbian Orthodox Hilandar monastery in Kosovo.

Kojadinovic: There is one thing we must not allow: the "Siptars" [an insulting Serbian word for Albanians] must not participate in the reconstruction of our holy places. We insist that Orthodox people do the work.

RFE/RL: Publicist Mirko Djordjevic comments.

Djordjevic: These words reflect intolerance and national, confessional, and other forms of narrow-mindedness. The minister of culture does not seem to know that our ancient holy places such as Gracanica and Studenica were built and decorated by great painters and architects from Dalmatia -- Catholics called Latins. One can see their names there: "Brother Vito," etc. There has never been such narrow-mindedness in our culture and on the public stage in our past as there is today.

RFE/RL: The private Serbian news agency Beta later reported that the Information Office of the Serbian Orthodox Church [SPC] declined to comment on the minister's stance, claiming that "none of the arch-priests has heard it," and, according to the same source, expressing doubts about the authenticity of the statement.

Djordjevic: The [Serbian Orthodox] Church failed to react both in this and many previous cases, some of which were even more scandalous. There is an explanation for that: the church has not yet faced up to its own recent past, during which it was more than a witness [to cases of ethnic hatred]; in a way, it was also a participant.

The SPC remains silent in cases of extreme nationalism and racism. [Former Yugoslav President and now Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav] Kostunica said in a public speech that Nikolaj Velimirovic is his spiritual guide. Velimirovic was also the ideologue of [Dimitrije] Ljotic's [interwar and World War II] fascists and was recently canonized by the church, becoming a part of both the national and religious pantheons. Against this background, we can clearly see that our church is becoming a part of the power structure. This is why it actually follows the lead of the political power structure.

RFE/RL: Architect Bogdan Bogdanovic has been living in Vienna for more than a decade. He is a former mayor of Belgrade and former member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts [SANU] -- which he left in the 1990s.

Bogdanovic: As backward as we are, now there is this mental fixation to rediscover Orthodoxy. The Orthodoxy I know is different: liberal and normal, the way I remember it from my childhood.

But this is something new, some sort of militant Orthodoxy. This Orthodox fixation has befallen this unfortunate people -- after all the evil things that have happened -- and the consequences will be very serious.

The worst thing about it is that Serbian young people have never had an opportunity to see anything else for the last 15 or 20 years. Naturally there are some among them who resist this, but sooner or later they will all end up abroad. As far as I can see, for those who stay in Serbia there will be a very obscure new-style version of chauvinism and fascism, something very close to fascism.

RFE/RL: Mirko Djordjevic offers some other examples.

Djordjevic: For instance, the leader of the Radicals [SRS], Tomislav Nikolic, launched his Serbian presidential campaign in Novi Sad with the song "Spremte se spremte Cetnici" [Chetniks, Get Ready].

Even the candidate of the Democrats [DS], Boris Tadic, said there must be some sort of misunderstanding when historians say that Ljotic was a follower of Hitler's fascism....

There are many other examples. Many fugitives from indictments by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal are heroes here in Serbia. There is already graffiti on Belgrade buildings: "Legija [the reputed assassin of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003] is a new Gavrilo Princip [the assassin of Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914] for us."

...We cruelly carried out ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Some 12,000 innocent people were killed, and I am not talking about armed soldiers engaged in combat.

A monk named Atanasije -- until recently the bishop of Zahumlje and Herzegovina -- has prepared a list of "enemies of the nation" with full names and surnames. It was published in some newspapers and amounts to a blessing. It will not be hard to find people who will act on it.

The same bishop publicly called RFE/RL journalists "mercenaries." And to make matters worse, he publicly said that "the Muslims stink."

Belgrade racists and nationalists have recently published their program. Let me just read you a couple of things from it: "We are a white people; others have no right to be citizens of this country." And they are "Jews, Gypsies, Siptars, Turks, Balija" [an insulting Serbian word for Muslims], and national minorities.

Their program openly states, "In the pureness of our blood and faith we must find the strength to fulfill our destiny." Another point from the program: "In a future racial state, the church and the state will be one."

The Roma in Zemun, Srem, and elsewhere have posted guards in order to protect themselves from increasingly frequent bullying and threats.

So, if we ask ourselves -- and I am asking myself -- is there fascism in Serbia, the answer is: not as a strong party organization, but there are forms of fascism in everyday life.

RFE/RL: Academician Pajazit Nushi, who heads the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Liberties in Kosovo, tells RFE/RL that in some respects, the abuses committed by Albanians during the recent March unrest were even worse than those committed during World War II.

Nushi: Unfortunately, there are some similarities, and some things were identical or even worse. Churches and other religious objects were not destroyed during World War II, but they were attacked in March.

There was no damage to cultural monuments in Serbia and Kosovo during World War II, but now, unfortunately, the destruction took place in the very centers of Belgrade and Pristina. Those buildings did no harm to anybody; however, they were eliminated [as a sort of follow-up to World War II].

RFE/RL: Croatia is one of the states in this region that has been very successful in suppressing chauvinism and fascism. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader removed the extremists from his party, the Croatian Democratic Community [HDZ], and, unlike the previous two governments, significantly improved relations with the Serbian minority. In March he visited Jasenovac, the Ustasha concentration camp from World War II.

Sanader: The crimes committed in Jasenovac and elsewhere during the Ustasha regime of the [so-called] Independent State of Croatia [NDH] must not be forgotten. We have no right to forget. It is very important to say, especially to those born after World War II, that time cannot erase the past.

The victory...over Nazism and fascism is also the victory of the values woven into both modern Europe and modern Croatia.

RFE/RL: Zoran Pusic, president of the Civic Committee for Human Rights in Zagreb, tells us about Sanader's policies.

Pusic: It is true that he and many other members of the HDZ used to talk completely differently from the way they do now....

But under Sanader, a group of generals went to The Hague without any protests or demonstrations whatsoever. That was unimaginable under the [Social Democratic-led Ivica] Racan government....

Undoubtedly, the HDZ has clearly realized that they cannot enter the EU with pro-fascist slogans and a policy of intolerance.

Anyway, I find that change of attitude praiseworthy. The truth is that during his first couple of months in power, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader made a series of good and brave moves, given that his is a nationalist party.